A Suitcase of Museum: Update on ITP research grant (Meltem Yaşdağ, Turkey, ITP 2011)

Written by Meltem Yaşdağ, Culture and Tourism expert, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Ankara (Turkey, ITP Fellow 2011)

Hello everyone,

In May, I informed you that my ITP Research Grant application had been accepted. In the same blog post, I also included the general outline of my research and information about its historical background. The name of the project is “A Suitcase of Museum: A research on the effectiveness of Aigaleo Asia Minor Culture Museum in Athens and İzmir Immigration and Exchange Memorial House in expressing the 1923 Turkish-Greek Population Exchange to the public.”

As I told you before, my project is about how the common history (1923 Compulsory Population Exchange) is told through museums in Greece and Turkey. In this context, I was in Athens between 01-05 October 2022. In Athens, I met many people, especially the founders of local exchange museums and associations. In these meetings, I had conversations about how exchange museums emerged in Athens, why they are needed and what they are aimed at. Similarly, they asked questions about the number, effectiveness and future of exchange museums in Turkey. Thus, we discussed how the common history is shared in the museums of the two partner countries.

I visited the Aigaleo Asia Minor Culture Museum, which is the main subject of my project. This museum is different from the general museology rules in some respects. First of all, the museum is not always open to the visitors. Since they work completely on a voluntary basis, they provide a service on certain days of the week and at certain hours by making an appointment. In order to make better observations, the museum manager allowed me to be there at the same time as a visiting teacher group. I would like to thank my dear Athina Daskalaki once again from here. In addition, we had a long conversation with the director of the museum, Mr. Yiannis Koutoulias, who also works at the Acropolis Museum. After telling the story of his family’s population exchange and where they came from, he talked about his future plans for the museum.

Aigaleo Asia Minor Culture Museum

Aigaleo Asia Minor Culture Museum

Meltam Yasdag with the director of the museum

During my research in Athens, I also visited the Center for Asia Minor Studies, which contributed greatly to exchange historiography. Because most of the exchange museums in Athens, even all of them, obtain most of their written and visual documents from the Center for Asia Minor Studies. The institution has archived the photographs and oral expressions of the Orthodox Greeks who came to Greece from Anatolia after 1923. Here I worked on documents and talked to the Deputy Director of the Institution, Mr. Stavros Anestidis about how they work with the transfer of visual materials to museums and their support to museums.

Meltem sitting with ITP colleague Yolanda

With my dear friend Yolanda

Apart from the two museums and research centre, by a great coincidence, I visited the museum exhibition opened at The Benaki Museum on October 1st, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the seizure of Izmir by the Turks that is the symbol of the Greeks leaving Anatolia. Most of the artefacts in the exhibition belonged to the Center for Asia Minor Studies and some at the Filio Chaidemenou Museum. The museum exhibition described the period from the beginning of Hellenism in Anatolia to 1922 with different themes.

During these research trips, thanks to Yolanda Theodoropoulou from the 2016 ITP, I saw the Acropolis Museum and the ongoing excavations under the museum’s ground. After the Acropolis Museum, I visited the Parthenon and then the National Archaeological Museum of Athens on my last day. Although these areas I visited seem to be in close connection with a archaeological research, I think they were noteworthy in terms of showing the historical relationship of the partnership between Turkey and Greece.

After Athens, I was in Izmir between 30 November-1 December 2022 to complete the second part of the research. I visited İzmir Migration and Exchange Memory House. After taking a detailed photo shoot here, we talked to the museum officer, Ms. Hazal Beytaş, about the emergence of the museum, how a museum design and scenario was constructed with its limited artefacts. In these discussions, I understood the importance of its communication with the exchange associations in the district where the Migration and Exchange Memorial House, which was established with the support and auspices of the Municipality. I have observed in the archive records that the museum hosts various immigration-themed organisations along with its collection.

İzmir Migration and Exchange Memory House

Apart from İzmir Migration and Exchange Memory House, I also visited 100th Anniversary Memorial House. This museum was opened to commemorate the 100th anniversary of İzmir’s liberation from Greek occupation and focused on the urban history of İzmir. There were various ethnographic artefacts exhibited by donation. During my visit here, I saw the work done with student groups. I observed how recent history was transferred to future generations through museums.

100th Anniversary Memorial House

The first results of my research in population exchange museums in both countries in the short term demonstrated that exchange museums are not only necessary to preserve cultural heritage, but also an emotional need. These museums, which take the migrant families years back and make them yearn for places they have never seen, serve the same purpose in both countries. In these museums, I saw how things that fit into a single suitcase become powerful objects of communication in memory spaces. The exchange museum serves as a ‘live’ and ‘lived’ version of the 100-year-old story in its examples in Athens and Izmir.

Thanks again to ITP for this opportunity. This research grant has been a great opportunity not only for scientific work, but also for generations of immigrants who want to make their voices heard more and who have made museums their travel companions.