A review of the Turkish Republican Archive (Cumhuriyet Arşivi) (Ankara, Turkey)
Back in 2009, when I did my doctoral research in the Republican Archive of the Prime Ministry (Cumhuriyet Arşivi) in Ankara, I stayed in town for a miserable, lonely month. When I came back for post-doctoral research in 2014, I merely spent a day. Today, most people,will not even have to go to Ankara in the first place: Most of the archive’s materials are available in digitized form and accessible from the premises of the Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi in Kağıthane, Istanbul. (Theoretically, this works the other way round, too. However, only a fraction of the Ottoman stuff has been digitized yet).
During my doctoral research, I worked with petitions that so-called ‘exchangees’ (i.e. people who had come to Turkey in the course of the Greek-Turkish population exchange) had sent to the Ankara government in the 1920s. Through these documents, I studied the politics of the distribution of property to these people, and thus their relationship with the new Republican regime. Though it took some time to retrieve the documents, they were all available in digitized form, and I eventually went home with a CD-ROM full of nice Ottoman documents. When I went back to check on some petitions in 2011, the whole fund (the ‘iskan we muhacirin fonu’) had disappeared. It was neither searchable in the catalogue nor available in the archive. The staff informed me that the fund was being reorganized, and would not be available for an unknown period of time. (Today, most of it is accessible again- however, the documents do only appear in the catalogue at the archive, but not on the online catalogue).
I learned my most important lesson then: Never hesitate to get copies of the documents you are interested in! When you find anything of any importance to you, get your copies and run! (And make sure to make a lot of back-ups).
As its name suggests, the Başbakanlık Cumhuriyet Arşivi in Ankara holds documents produced during the Republican period. The materials available, however, continue to be rather limited because most ministries (Inner and Foreign Affairs, for instance) continue to maintain their own archives, which are only accessible upon special permission. At the time of writing (January 2014), the CA held the archive of the Prime Ministry (which functions as an office of co-ordination between the other ministries, and thus contains many interesting documents that the prime ministry received from them) and those of a number of “directorates” (müdürlük): refugee settlement, religious affairs, mining and so forth. The CA also holds such vital stuff as the archive of the Republican People’s Party, materials produced in the trials following the coup of 1960, and the ministry of public works, the last-mentioned fund going back to the 1850s. An incomplete list of the available funds can be found on the CA’s website. A better one is available in the online catalogue, which I shall discuss below.
How to get there
The premises are located in Gayret Mahallesi 95. Sokak No: 3 06180 Yenimahalle/Ankara. Don’t be confused if you also find the former address Ivedik Caddesi 59 – that’s simply the other side of the property. Yenimahalle is a rather boring residential high-rise neighborhood which features supermarkets, barber shops and the likes, but not much in the way of lunch. The closest metro station is Demetevler, a 15 minute-ride from Kızılay. From Demetevler, it will take you less than five minutes to walk to the archive. Both the metro and the archive are equipped with ramps and elevators for wheelchairs. Streets and sidewalks might require some help (which passers-by will be happy to provide).
There is no need to apply for a research permit in advance, it is sufficient to show up with a valid ID and visa at the entrance gate. If you have both a passport and ID, bring both, so you can leave the ID at the entrance and bring the passport inside for registration. Your research permit will be issued for the duration of your visa or entrance stamp, you will be registered as an archive user, and be asked to name your research topic. Opening hours are 9 to 19 on regular working days, and reliably so.
The archive’s yemekhane (cafeteria) is open to researchers and operates between 12 and 1:30 p.m (no ramp there!). The food is not great, but cheap, and vegetarians will at least get some soup, salad and rice. You will notice that people usually sit with people of the same gender, it is a good idea to respect this. Many archive employees are historians, and some will be happy to chat with you about their current work.
Free drinking water is available in the entrance hall, and tea for a small fee, simply ask the reading room staff. For sweets and other nibbles, you will have to stack up in the near-by supermarket.
The reading room
Unlike the Ottoman Archive in Istanbul, the CA is a rather empty place. Whenever I went, there were no more than three other people present in the reading room. There are no restrictions as to writing materials, cameras or computers to be brought in. However, if you take pictures, you will be asked to pay per picture. All desks in the reading room are equipped with computers, which are connnected both to the Cumhuriyet and Ottoman catalogues (but not to the internet). All documents can be ordered from there, and digitized ones can also be viewed. There is no restriction as to the number of digital copies you may order. If you order original documents, there is a limit of 25 per day. Ordering times are 9 am and 2 pm, the files are usually delivered an hour later. The fee for both paper and digital copies is currently 20 kuruş per page. (30 for DIN A 4 copies). Once you have finished, you will have to go next door and pay for your digital or paper copies. The guys in that office also sell publications of the archives (mostly on the Ottoman period), many of which might be nice to have.
The catalogue is available online. In order to use it, you will need to register on the website (http://www.devletarsivleri.gov.tr/katalog/), choosing a username and password. Anyone registered can then enter both the Republican and Ottoman Catalogues. Note that this catalogue and the username/password you create there is different from the ones you will use at the premises of the Archive themselves. Moreover, some documents may only be found in the archive computer catalogue (both in Ankara and Istanbul) but not online. Despite this small limitation, the online catalogue will give you a fairly good idea of what you will be able to find in Ankara. It also offers you the possibility to save a list of the documents you are interested in and will thus help you to make your stay as short as possible.
Unlike the Ottoman archive, the CA does NOT offer any older paper catalogue or a finding book. This means that you can only search with keywords, limiting your search to certain funds or time periods. The catalogue will only come up with individual documents, not files, or folders, or anything like that. You will be able to see that these documents are located in the same file- but will have to order each one individually.
Strangely, every single document is listed with a short abstract (request of Fatime from Salonica for a settlement permit and a house in Izmir“). This is useful if you are looking for certain types of documents, but rather problematic if you are interested in the way the bureaucracy actually worked. Moreover, abstracts are not necessarily correct, or may not cover the one aspect of the document that you are interested in. I am not sure if this system is preferable to digging in cardboard boxes. Judge for yourself, and good luck!
The Martin Buber Society of Fellows in the Humanities
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Image: Scan from the Republican Archive taken by the Author.
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