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Ghosts of Turkey - At Stones, Rubbles, and Ruins

Published onOct 01, 2022
Ghosts of Turkey - At Stones, Rubbles, and Ruins

Ghosts of Turkey: At StonesRubbles, and Ruins

 Meral Akbaş - Özge Kelekçi

Translated by: Meral Camcı

Hereupon in this article and in the following one, we would like to read and analyze the reconciliation and conflict problematiques of Turkey’s recent and distant past walking through the axes of stones, rubbles, ruins and the ghosts in which we would like to open up to the worlds that are more-than-human. In this first article, we would try to construct a theoretical points of view and conceptual frameworks, as well in the second one we would like to disclose the memory box of Turkey, and follow the stories of stonified ghosts and haunted stones.

Tim Edensor writes about how focusing onto stones, becoming attentive to stones, orientated towards stones provides new ways of visibility on once not noticed objects, textures, absences and traces: “Stony objects gather associations and summon up extant and vanished relations. They solicit stories and spawn unexpected affects and sensations”.[4] Getting next to stones, wandering through stones is to witness how different temporalities and spatialities are opening on each other, is to witness how temporalities and spatialities accumulated, intertwined in a piece of stone, on stones, in stones, under stones. In the words of Birhan Keskin: “All the world is in a touch of stone”.[5] Thereby, to project or recede away past or future, utopic or distopic spaces, songs or griefs, hopes or loss is possible only by stones, only by being around stones via some fractalization, mostly through a crack in which the light comes, in which wound of the land opened, is possible only, again by the words of Birhan Keskin, in “the oldest of here womb of the world”.[6]


That which stone hid 

This is the story of a woman, thousands of women who reflected every pain witnessed onto their eyelids, their white hairs, their lines on the foreheads, who had to leave all these pains and pleasures behind and had to live and “wait” in an unknown city. This “pebble” is the story of a woman who cried on a this pebble coming from her own land, while in where she has to live, in the middle of a tragedy where the notion of pebble is always spoken up repeatedly.[7]

 Evrim Alataş, in her column named as Stone tells the story of a woman from Mardin who had to live in the suburbs of Istanbul. The woman wants Alataş to bring a stone from Mardin and Alataş takes a stone from a corner of Mardin, gives it to the woman. Alataş’s small text ends such that: “When I gave her the stone, she kissed it for three times just like refugees who returned their homeland. And after that in Kurdish again she said that Here there is blood of our dead ones”… Then, she cried over the stone”.[8]

Pierre Nora, while contrasting history and memory as well as trying to save history in a theoretical sense, mentions that history is the representation of the past while memory and remembrance is about present, and binds present to an eternal temporality: “Memory situates

remembrance in a sacred context… Memory wells up from groups that it welds together… Memory is rooted in the concrete: in space, gesture, image, and object”.[9] One of the most important textures, what Nora named as lieu de memoire which make possible remembrance by the way of opening time and space towards each other are stones and stone structures. Stones and stone structures carry on individual and social binds, secrets, stories, “once upon a times” and “the futures that last long”. Stone orientates and re-orientates by mostly forces of water, rivers, seas, fluctuations. It crosses over generations. It surpasses geographies. It protects the mysteries of which could not be forgotten. Just like the stone that came from a land corner of Amed and Mardin border, from a field standing against a military space, just like that stone who make two women touch each other, just like the stone which fell upon a struggling in the city war from a past war of occupation, just like the stone that lies in a woman’s hand as past and future, in between of death, pain, longing, anger and maybe a possibility and, just like a hope, just like that stone which stood against all. 


That which stone lived through 

Stone intensifies [memory] more than arrests. Even unwilled petric alliance may yield strange and forceful vitality. Too often reduced to a metaphor for death, entrusted with history and remembrance, stone also engenders unpredetermined futures and unexpected thrivings.

                                                                                                               Stone holds life.[10]

The relationality of stone and life is even pre-historic. Life is intertwined by forces of stones and stones itself long before written and oral history. Since the first tools were made of stone, the new shapes and forms of the stones and the ways they were used bring about the endings and startings of eras. Mills and millstones are important parts of a settled and new life, of rural revolution, and signs of construction of a new sociality. It is such an agony, that the mills and millstones that were once the sign of life of peoples who have been oppressed and massacred by Turkey have become plundering areas of treasure hunters, trying to find something valuable. In a social media entry, the treasure hunters give each other advises how to dig into an old mill: “Once you enter a mill, the first place to look for is under millstone.”[11]

In his article Building, Dwelling, Thinking, Martin Heidegger analyzes the potentialities that become apparent with the dwelling and building acts in tempo-spatiality and highlights that while looking at a space, it should not be read as an enclosure of spatiality but unfolding of temporalities.[12] In its relation with life, stones maybe analyzed in the same way. The unfolding of temporalities and at the same time the disclosure of geological eras’ traces may be possible via an invitation to rebirth of living beings that are encapsulated in stones, but not by hunting in stones. On Twitter, the user @sapinuwa writes a thread of tweets on 23rd of May, 2022; explaining the fossils in the granit structures in modern buildings. Through these tweets, @sapinuwa shows with photos the fossil nummulites in granits of Presidency Symphony Orchestra Old Building, the stone walls that had millions years old of fossils in an hotel in Bartın, echinoid sections in Guray Museum, the fossils sleeping in all walls of Ankara Numune Hospital, and the millions years old fossils recognized by her seven year old daughter in the granits of a school building. This enormous diversity and aliveness is one of the most expressive examples of how stone structures could carry the earth beyond the human.[13]


That which stone collapsed

The heritage industry has turned countless ruins into tightly managed places where visitors pay to contemplate a relic that they are ordered to photograph but not to touch. These ruins are objects without afterlife: dead things from a dead past, whose value originates far in time. The best-kept secret of the heritage industry is that its ruins are rubble that has been fetishized.[14]

Gaston Gordillo starts his book Rubble by interpreting the dynamic between the ruins and rubbles and emphasizes that ruins are abstract and in a sense dead object – like abstract labor –in a Marxist manner, making reference to Henri Lefebvre’s discussion of space. Viewed from outside, actually from the point of view of local people, these ruins are touchable, changeable, livable, reconstrucable, and thus contestable rubbles.[15] For Gordillo, out of the mentioned features, rubbles are equivalent of concrete labour and there is no room for fetishization in them, they can be relatable and competable. Borrowing logics of disintegration from Adorno, Gordillo reconceptualizes rubbles and ruins, talks about more powerful potentialities of confrontation with pasts that occured in these spaces. Here, let’s turn our faces towards Georg Simmel’s Ruin text[16]: Simmel pictures the ruins as “where the lives pass”. However, because in the very same ruin in which “lives have passed away”, “at some point in time lives were also dwelt”, the ruin conflates the past with the present, letting emerge a new and fully different unity that comprises what was left behind as well as what was added on top. Thereby, ruins – just like Gordillo pointed out – represent a different tempo-spatiality in which the tension between past and present is fractured/dissolved/interrupted. 

In Turkey, stone structures, ruins, rubbles, and relics are proliferated ways of understanding the violent history of this geography since what is protected, not protected, fetishized, destructed, erased, accepted as rubbles or occupied are not the decisions of local people but local municipalities, archeological authorities and especially by the state and military forces. For example, in heritage sites, if there is huge voids in Turkey’s context it most probably means that there is something to forget about there, there is a past that cannot be confronted. If a historical space is not protected, this site most probably can not find space in the official history. If the relics at the site are considered rubbles, they most probably carry the traces of state-military violence and/or negligence, such as the bombardments in Kurdish towns, or the earthquake and flood caused by security breaches. Here in Turkey, ghosts wander around stones, ruins, and rubbles; ghosts try to disclose a room and open possibilities amongst the fractures of stones, depths of waters, and piles of rubbles. 


That which stone is telling

And for the true collector, every single thing in this system becomes an encyclopedia of all knowledge of the epoch, the landscape, the industry, and the owner from which it comes. It is the deepest enchantment of the collector to enclose the particular item within a magic circle, where, at least shudder runs through it (the shudder of being acquired), it turns to stone. Everything remembered, everything thought, everything conscious becomes socle, frame, pedestal, seal of his possession.[17]

 Collectors while looking at stone as an object of collection wait for it to talk. They fall in love with the stones and stone structures for carrying the traces of recent and distant pasts and bringing them to the present by making these traces visible. Because of this, they remove the stones from their initial places, carry them and collect them. Thereby, the stones are displaced from their histories, meanings and everything else they carry, just to be assembled with completely different stones. If this technique of montage, this act of  juxtaposition does not erase what the stone has assembled, but instead opens the stone up for other meanings, enables it to communicate with the world in a new and different way, then the collector has – in Benjamin’s sense – done their work. This is because the ghosts in the stones now move towards other ghosts and start to speak in the tongue of silence with other silences. 

While Simon Effendi, also known as Master Sigi, who was an active soldier in the Workers’ Battalion that was comprised of Armenian stone masters, carpenters, ironsmiths, blacksmiths, plumbers, and locksmiths, was struggling to construct military barracks and lodgments at the other end of Zara, Enver Pasha who had been defeated in Sarıkamış and could not protect the soldiers and caused their deaths was returning to Istanbul and after a while it was declared that all Armenians were to be taken from their lands and forcefully deported to Al-Jazirah and the Syrian deserts. With a sad and shaky voice, the brunet Syrian Commander Yahya Beg who had gathered the battalion that Master Sigi was part of, the Workers’ Battalion of Zara and started talking “Friends”. He mentions his satisfaction with them, their loyalty and their skills. And then he tried to explain the reasons for the order he had received that day, that “all Armenian subjects were to be deported” .[18]

The stone’s power of gathering and accumulating is high. Even the power of remembering and reminding. Then what about the voices of those who had once made the stone talk? How do those spaces of processed stone tell about their masters? Which historical events that have not been written on pages, documented and entered into archives pour out of stone structures in buildings? The mosques of Istanbul, palaces, those spectacular buildings that are used as banks, museums or some kind of official building, were they not the arts of Balyan Family? Gaziantep Kurtuluş Mosque was once upon a time a church, just after Armenian Genocide this church turned into a prison, and then a mosque. How come that a church that has been planned by Sarkis Balyan, built by Sarkis Tasciyan turns into a prison all of a sudden? This is what stones tell, what stones confess. 

 There is thus a politics of absence, a politics of the ghost at work in the way these images [the photos of Armenian houses and their remnants] are animated through the spectral presences of a violent history of ruination and erasure. The images zoom in and thereby magnify the consistent process of destruction, decimation and disappearance… They resound with ghostly murmurs and beyond that largely with silence, the silence of the dead to whom we continue to owe justice.[19]

Hence, the absence of what was once present starts finding its voice through the stone. Stone does not forget. Stone tells the story of what happened to it, tells what was scratched onto it, how it was destroyed and maybe first and foremostly, it tells with its absence. All these enormous existences, Armenian stone master’s labor on those lands, the everyday lives in Greek houses, Assyrian voting stones, they are embodied by ghosts now. From village to village, from village to cities, from cities to villages, legends come and go. Lots of people hunt after the jewels that are believed to have been hidden in the aftermath of the capital tax, in walls of houses, by the Armenians under millstones and gravestones, while they were running away, or just about to be massacred. Treasure hunting by itself turns the rejection of presence into a lie. The hunters who trace the valuable stones have to acquit their grandfathers’ wrong to be able to capture the trophies. However, these stones had hidden the dreams of Armenian women for centuries. The stone that hid is now in the hands of captor: “There is a stone in front of our home. Just about the size of this table. The stone is written all over… But it is such a beautiful stone that you could not look at it for a long time. It stands just as it is in front of our door… There are two peacocks carrying grapes in their mouths. On the stone. They told us that grapes are the signs of diamond. I cracked it with a hammer… I broke the grapes but there was nothing inside”.[20]


That which the stone blacked out

The darkening power of stone maybe starts with walls. With borders. Walls that protect home from home, the inside of house from the outside, sites from shanty towns, a country from a stranger/enemy/refugee. The darkening power of stone gets strongest inside prison walls. What is dark about the stone is its bordering, limiting and closing power. However, in every darkness there is a fracture through which sometimes water, sometimes light, sometimes memories, sometimes a letter, sometimes a song come in. Today’s world makes disciplining by closure a rule. It excludes by enclosure, it includes by enclosure; it individualizes by enclosure; it copies by enclosure and again it differentiates by enclosure. The archeology of isolation and segregation by differentiation and aggregation signifies the foundation of society. The high security sites that make the inner borders of cities explicit or create new internal borders, the houses with narrow window and schools look like prisons. Hospitals look like schools. In the inside and outside of every concrete building, it collects sameness and difference. Stone walls build by enclosure. 

Some would doubtless argue that the ultimate foundation of social space is prohibition, adducing in support of this thesis the unsaid in communication between the members of a society; the gulf between them, their bodies and consciousnesses, and the difficulties of social intercourse; the dislocation of their most immediate relationships (such as the child’s with it’s mother), and even the dislocation of their bodily integrity; and, lastly, the never fully achieved restoration of these relations in an ‘environment’ made up of a series of zones defined by interdictions and bans.[21]

Although the distances, prohibitions, and segregation practices as negative teological[22] tools, seem to be executed only in concentration camps, prisons, mental hospitals, or quarantines, they operate on every level of society. Walls and stones make the distances and prohibitions explicit, starting from the inside and outside of houses, and create a distinction of private and public, society and individual. The segregational and differentiative power of walls and concrete buildings is now even more working. With that power, stone signifies the “not” of everything. It is this what stone blacks out.

The cemeteries of the nameless in Turkey are the radical and marginal spaces of death. This is because these graveyards are not only for homeless people, but also for those who are unrecognized by state. According to Turkish law, if no family member of the deceased takes on the funeral, the person will be buried in a cemetery of the nameless. This is why the cemetery of the nameless has also turned into a space of punishment. In these spaces, those who have not been recognized by the state and their family get buried. As universal spaces of remembrance/reminding and immortality, the graveyards in Turkey seem closed for minorities, for those who are against state, for refugees and LGBTQIs. While graveyards of minorities and Kurdish people turn into spaces of raid and violence – by treasure hunting and/or committing hate crimes against the minorities, and erasing all traces of struggle by and for Kurdish people–; the cemeteries of the nameless work as the continuation of destruction and erasure. Hence, even to have a gravestone is part of the struggle in Turkey. It is this,that the stone absented. 


That which stone resisted

 Homo species starts to throw with a full performance of capability and consistency over a two million years ago unlike other primates. Throwing stones and other objects becomes one of the main tools of struggling against other species and hunting them. With the revolution of two million years, now Homo Sapiens is the best thrower on earth.[23]

After the monopolization of violence in the hands of states, mafiatic organizations, and global companies, stones have become once again one of the main tools of mass resistances. The spaces of protest in which stones meet resistance, the stone which Edward Said threw against the Western occupation, the backs of barricades from the Paris Commune to Thailand, from Gezi Protests to Kurdish children, all these spaces crack open another world’s door. All demonstrate the possibility of creating another world. A stone is thrown and after that, time and space turn another way, towards resistance. The cracks on the walls of prisons, the ghosts on gravestones, the silences accumulated around the ruins, all grow bigger by any movement of a stone, all turn into reality, all may start to tell their stories. 

Here no one has any time, any patience, no one listens. We, who are newcomers, go to corners and walls with an instinctual move, to take guard for our backs.”[24] Sometimes, just like Levi has written, in concentration camps and prisons, walls and stones turn into the places of a safe touch against torture, against complete destruction. A Jew scratches her name on the wall, her name survives. A person holds onto wall to be remembered at the last station of death and human ethics. This is which walls resisted. 

Graffitis and wall slogans on the walls of shanty towns, under bridges, just before they became tools of gentrification by local municipalities and art monopols, have spoken as the  language of young poor people. Old houses’ walls in shanty towns carry the traces of slogans of those who were killed just because of these writings. A stadium in Middle East Technical University is named after what was written on its stairs, REVOLUTION, and the stadium gains its presence by the very fact that this slogan cannot be overwritten or destructed. It was engraved onto stone. 

In a short video, we see a group of old women with their white scarves sitting on the roadside of a highway.[25]Tired smiles seem to be on their faces. There are five stones in their hands. They are playing the oldest known play. Maybe they are coming from a protest or going to one. Maybe it is before or after a prison visit. Stones play, move in the hands of Kurdish women; the stone is thrown, collected, gets away, hides and meets with other stones there, in the hands of women, again. This is how stone creates change, is changed.[26]


Ghosts of Stones, Stones of Ghosts 

Jacques Derrida, against Western metaphysics of presence, in his book Spectres of Marx, calls for the construction of hauntology[27]. He opposes ontology as the concept of infinite nows, and tries to bring back the past and future to the present. Derrida talks about making past and future respectable research projects by carrying their ghosts into the now. The notion of an infinite present (presence) comes with an irreplaceable occupation movement, expands through all temporality and tries to get rid of ghosts. Becoming out of temporality makes ghosts silent and also makes them non-conceptualizable. Here, Derrida highlights that it is the responsibility of an intellectual to carry the ethical burden of ghosts that cannot be epistemologically known but that should anyways be protected. Mentioning that the now cannot be satisfactory to create a tempo-spatiality for itself, Derrida underlines that talking with ghosts, apart from grieving, apart from revealing secrets from a romantic point of view, or apart from telling a truth that cannot be told out of shame, is about hearing the past voices in today’s livings beings and creating the changing voices of future here and now. Derrida mentions that ghosts should be recalled through the temporalities in which they have been abandoned. Hauntology as the science of forgotten potentialities of past and future dreams of the defeated is to trace the concrete, material consequences of the abstract the immaterial.

Patricio Guzmán starts the documentary of The Cordillera of Dreams (2019) with these sentences: “As if everything was lost and leaked into the earth’s fractures”. Maybe because of this, he tells us how he opens up the rocks from the Andes, how he curiously looked into them to find something. He tells in another scene that the Andes stood still throughout all the dictatorship in Chile, actually they watched everything and the mountains turned into witnesses. In these three different parts of the documentary, he shows how powerful stones are, hiding/hidden, living, destructed, talking, darkening and resisting grounds of memory, remembrance and future potentialities, grounds of conversation for lost futures, unlived past. This is the whole argument of this text. And from the very beginning “a long long echo of stone language” tells us: 

 Seas, waves beat me, harsh winds settle on my peaks.

Broken, raveled, crumbled; turned back into my conjoined self

if you open, break, look inside;  the whole earth in all my grains.[28]


* Sponsored by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung with funds of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of the Federal Republic of Germany. This publication or parts of it can be used by others for free as long as they provide a proper reference to the original publication. The content of the publication is the sole responsibility of Off-University. Organisation für den Frieden e.V. and does not necessarily reflect a position of RLS.




[1] Nietzsche tells us to live this very life as if we please to live it for infinite times, and only in this way we may construct our own ethics. 

[2] Karin Karakaşlı, “Taş Քար Stone”, in Boşluğun Gücü, ed. Norair Chahinian, İstanbul: Aras, 2015, p. 34.  

[3] Karin Karakaşlı, ibid., p. 34.

[4] Tim Edensor, Stone: Stories of Urban Materiality, Manchester, UK: Palgrave MacMillan, 2020, p. 296.

[5] Birhan Keskin, “Taş”, in Ba, İstanbul: Metis, 2007, p. 35.

[6] Birhan Keskin, ibid., p. 35.

[7] Evrim Alataş, Biz Bu Dağın Çiçeğiydik, İstanbul: İletişim, 2010, p. 149. 

[8] Evrim Alataş, ibid., pp. 151-152.

[9] Pierre Nora, “General Introduction: Between Memory and History”, in Realms of Memory: The Construction of The French Past I Conflicts and Divisions, New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, p. 3.

[10] Jeffrey J. Cohen, Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015, pp. 196-197.

[11] The whole quotation is like that: “Where the treasure is hidden in mill? The history of millstone starts from centuries before Christ and comes today. They are trade spaces, main function of which is to turn cereals into wheat. We cannot say that there is treause in every mill but we can say that they are the specific spaces of treasures to be find. Just like a wheel, church or bridge, mills are the important spaces of hidings. Millstones: when you go into any mill, first point to look is under the millstone. Be careful, there are two millstones, one is upper, the other one is lower. You must look under the lower millstone. This is stable on the land. Under these stones there lies the money of miller. We should say that”: 375143430551091/?type=3 [Access date: 25 June 2022].

[12] Martin Heidegger, “Building, Dwelling, Thinking”, in Basic Writings. Ten Key Essays, plus the Introduction to Being and Time, San Francisco: Harper, 1993, pp. 343-364.

[13] [Access date: 24 May 2022].

[14] Gaston R. Gordillo, Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction, Durham: Duke University Press, 2014, pp. 8-9.

[15] Analyzing the Spanish ruins as a tool for the confrontation with the colonization history, Gordillo talks about how local people’s relation to stones changed him and also his anthropological view. 

[16] Georg Simmel, “Harabe”, in Harabe Kapı ve Köprü, Kulp, translated by. Alp Tümertekin and Nihat Ülner, İstanbul: Janus, 2020, pp. 7-38. 

[17] Walter Benjamin, “The Collector”, in The Arcades Project, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002, p. 205. 

[18] Doğan Akhanlı, Kapıyı Çalan Kimdi?, Bakış Dergisi, 1999; [Access date: 1 June 2022].

[19] Alice von Bieberstein, “Holes of Plenty”, Etnofoor, 2021, 33 (2), p. 82.

[20] Kübra Kurt Çalışkan, Bir Yeraltı Ekonomisi Olarak Definecilik: Van Örneği, Unpublished Master Thesis, İstanbul: Mimar Sinan Güzel Sanatlar Üniversitesi, 2019, p. 85. 

[21] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, Oxford: Blackwell, 1991, p. 35.

[22] Giorgio Agamben defines negative theology as to describe something with the attribute that it does not know. For example, it was one of the main ways to describe God in orthodox christian theology, such as “God is not finite”, “God is not here and now”; Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

[23] Michael P. Lombardo and Robert O. Deaner, “Born to Throw: The Ecological Causes that Shaped the Evolution of Throwing in Humans”, The Quarterly Review of Biology, 2018, 93 (1): 1-16.

[24] Primo Levi, Bunlar da mı İnsan, İstanbul: Can, 2013, p. 48

[25] [Access date: 30 May 2022].

[26] Of course, the stones create changes. We would like to thank our friend Taylan Özgur Öz who believes in stones and started to see stones everywhere with us. 

[27] Derrida here plays with onto-logos toward haunt-o-logos. 

[28] Birhan Keskin, “Taş”, p. 35.

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