Factories of Memory: Cinematic Representations of the 12 September Military Coup

Textbook 2013 56 Pages

Communications - Movies and Television





Research QuestIons




A Brief Historical Background

Theoretical Background
What is memory?
Individual vs Collective Memory
Cultural Memory
History vs Memory : The Past Present and the Present Past
Film, History and Memory

Rationale For the Selection of Cases
Limitations and Criticism

Synopsis of film
Beynelmilel as a 12 September Film
Silence and Peace: How Does Beynelmilel Construct Memory?
Communicative Memory
Memory of Objects
Seeing Reality On the Ground: Comparison of My Readings to The Reviews
WIll It Be the Last?: Sılencıng Socıety ın Bu Son Olsun
Synopsis of film
Bu Son Olsun as a 12 September Film
Communicative Memory
Memory of Objects
Reality On the Ground Two: Comparison of My Readings To the Reviews




There has been a vehement public as well as scholarly interest for memory, the history to know and a desire to comprehend history and memory by means of such circulated media as books, documentary, films and TV series. Ample germination of memorial sites in most societies such as museums (e.g. the Museum of Shame recently opened in October 2011 in Turkey) and public monuments venerating the past is also included in this mobilization[1]. However, cinematic representation assumes a pivotal role in the formation, preservation and transmission of collective memory. Cinema has served as a medium for representing history, and therefore rivaling other mnemonic devices today[2].

Usurping the country’s administration as the third triumphant coup d’état in Turkey, 12 September 1980 can be defined as one of the most cogent contemporary interventions of the military into politics. These interventions have been engendered in disparate forms ranging from seizing the power directly to influencing the policies of the government. 12 September 1980 coup has been the most powerful of these recent interventions in transforming the substance and means of political life in Turkey. The impact of the coup has been dioristic in reconfiguring the political and social settings of the country.

The military coup had an immediate impact on the social and cultural life of the citizenry. NGOs, associations and as such were banned from engaging in political life. Censorship, restrictions, imprisonment, torture and the death penalty became the main tools for spreading fear, depoliticizing and silencing society. The cinema industry in Turkey was one of many cultural instutitions subject to extensive censorship and, thus representation of the military coup could not find space on the screens for seven years following the aftermath of 12 September, which meant that collective remembering was hampered and repressed. However, beginning in 1986, a gradual change in public policy allowed for the creation of films dealing with this seminal event.

Cinema is just one form of media that contributes to the dialectic process of history and memory by opening up new avenues for re-thinking the past, and maybe coming to terms with it. Turkish cinema has taken steps towards coming to terms with the 1980 military coup particulary as of 2004. Since then, the event has occupied a significant place in cinematic productions of Turkey, and has been worked as a theme in the Turkish film industry. There is even a classification titled ‘’12 September films’’ in the Turkish cinema literature[3].

A myriad of films dealing with the coup have been shot since its aftermath. Among these films are Zincirbozan [4] (2007), Uçurtmayı Vurmasınlar (Don’t Let Them Shoot the Kite) (1989), Eylül Fırtınası (September Storm) (1999), Eve Dönüş (Homecoming) (2006), Babam ve Oğlum (My Father and My Son) (2005), Dikenli Yol (The Thorny Path) (1986), Prenses (The Princess) (1986) and Yol (The Way) ( 1981)- one of the most acclaimed films of Turkey[5] which was awarded various prizes at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, and Yol (The Way) was first screened in Switzerland as it was a harsh critique of the state whilst touching upon the Kurdish issue, and it was not screened in Turkey until 1999 due to the restrictive Turkish constitution[6]. Cinematic products revolving around the theme of 12 September now appear as popular, mass products watched by hundreds of thousands of people. The narratives in these films contain many elements of previously forgotton or unknown accounts of the event and its aftermath[7]. Personal and collective remembering recur to a great extent in these cinematic products.


This study sets out to examine how Beynelmilel (2006) and Bu Son Olsun (2012) (both 12 September films) reconstruct an earlier point in time reflected on screen, and the manner in which these popular products have affected the way 12 September is remembered in contemporary Turkey coupled by an interpretation of their reception as demonstrated by online film reviews. While accounting for the same traumatic event, each visual product has a different narrative, stylistic approach, ultimately, different visualization strategies. The intention of this thesis is to use collective memory theory to provide a reading of the films as indicators of wider social and cultural attitudes, and to discover what can be derived from the abovementioned cinematic texts, rather than to use the films to examine collective memory as a concept and practice.

Research Questions

- How do the films produced at different points in time reconstruct the 1980 military coup?
- Have/ has the collective memory(ies) of this event been challenged by these two popular fiction films?


In order to answer the research questions, Chapter I deals with the concepts of memory, collective memory and cultural memory, types of memory (individual vs collective). This section will elaborate on Jan Assman’s memory typology whilst allocating space for an overview of memory studies and its origins. In this way, I will be able to track differences and similarities in the reconstruction of the same event. Both cinematic products appear to have divergent narratives, stylistic approaches, namely, different visualization strategies. Chapter II lays down the methods and materials to be used for the analysis. The following section is allocated for the analysis of the concerned cinematic products, Bu Son Olsun and Beynelmilel, followed by the analysis of the reception of these films (reactions of the audience on online film databases such as IMDB, beyazperde and sinemalar.com), and their comparison. Ultimately, the conclusion part presents a concise summary of the thesis and the results.


The myriad of cinematic products has everlastingly contributed to the understandings of past, present and future. Cinema frames the ways of imagining the past and affects the content of collective remembrance and forgetting. ‘’Films now serve as mnemonic self-referents woven into the social fabric’’[8]. Film is a way of confronting the issue of trauma/ repression in addition to healing the collective and individual psychological pain that trauma inflicts. By means of repeating the military coup and stories emanating from it, the public can derive meaning(s) from cinematic products. Consumers can experience a common heritage, memories of a past to which they have no organic relationship by means of cinema and electronic mass media.

Influence of a film on the society can affect those who do not have direct experiences of a significant historical event. From this standpoint this paper argues that the depiction of 12 September in Turkish fictional films serves as the reflection of and influence on the Turkish society at large. Hence, it is worth analyzing them as evidence of some significant Turkish attitudes towards and understandings of the past, present and future. Drawing strength from the aforementioned statements, it is a manifest fact that cinema bears a robust impact on human mind and memories. By the same token, the 12 September 1980 military coup has occupied a significant place in cinematic productions of Turkey, and the way they are representing, depicting this past has its impacts on the collective memory of the citizenry. It is also crucial to keep in mind that media does not simply reflect nor determine collective memory but are inextricably involved in its construction and evolution[9].


This paper attempts to inquire into the depictions of the 12 September military coup as communicated and transmitted via the following cinematic products produced at two distinct temporal points in time:

- The first film considered for the purposes of this paper is titled ‘ Beynelmilel(The International) (2006), and was directed by Muharrem Gülmez and Sırrı Süreyya Önder who has gained acclaim in Turkey. Beynelmilel focuses on the story of a group of local musicians who are to perform at a large military parade in a small South-Anatolian town in 1982, two years following 12 September.
- One of the latest films embarking upon the theme of 12 September military coup is ‘ Bu Son Olsun (Let it be the last)’, which was directed by Orçun Benli and has been screened in cinemas since 6 January 2012. ‘ Bu Son Olsun’ is a political comedy berating the 12 September military coup, and thus might be categorized as a ‘popular political’ film. Bu Son Olsun focuses on five homeless individuals in the aftermath of 1980, and their apprehension as a result of ridiculing the military in order to escape adversary effects of street life, and their experiences in prison.

A Brief Historical Background

The military possesses a pivotal role as a political actor in Turkey in that it has frequently intervened in politics, confirmed by three successful military coups following the nation’s transition to a multiparty system in 1946[10]. As the third successful military coup in the history of the Turkish Republic, 12 September 1980 can be interpreted as one of the most important manifestations of the intervention of the armed forces into politics[11]. Throughout the history of the Turkish Republic these interventions meant either direct take-over of the administration or influence and manipulation on the policies of the government. 12 September 1980 coup has been the most effective of these interventions in reshaping the content and the means of political activity in Turkey. The effects of the coup have been decisive in restructuring the political and social configuration of the country. The oppression, violence and restrictive policies of the military administration had an impact on all levels of the society, and every aspect of the social life.

Mal-administration of the government, the economic situation as well as the chaotic political situation in the country were the main reasons for the military to stage an intervention. The military determined (unofficially) the 1961 constitution and its embroiling impact on the society and distinct political powers as the most important reason for taking action: the left and the right[12]. The military administration blamed the 1961 constitution for political animosity, social turmoil, violence, and as the ‘guardian and protector of the Turkish state’[13], it took over the administration, and thus created a new constitution which contained restrictive policies which usurped the rights of civil society.

With an overwhelming ballot turnout (92.06 % ‘’yes’’ vote)[14], a new constitution devised by the National Security Council was accepted by public opinion[15]. The following years were full of enforcing the restrictions stipulated by the new constitution., Dissolution of such crucial civil society groups as DISK (Confederation for Revolutionist Workers’ Syndicates), MISK (Confederation for Nationalist Workers’ Syndicates) also restricted the activities of the cinema association of Turkey, Sin-Der (Cinema Association) bearing a negative influence on the cultural and social constitution of the Turkish populace[16]. Within the framework of the policies and the new constitution, any opposing opinion, including the media, would be punished. This situation would continue until a new government was formed in 1987. Considering this situation, productions criticizing the state and depicting this traumatic period were not created and film production rates severely dropped.

These years were relatively barren in terms of productivity. The number of annual productions dropped from 126 to 76. According to the constitution and the new media law, public dissent against the state was rendered illegal and would lead to anyone being apprehended and punished[17]. Due to all these reasons, the cinema sector lost blood, and no films regarding this violent act could be released for nearly the next six years following the coup d’état. As a result of this, comedy and socio-realist films focusing on the urban-rural dichotomy bloomed and took over the cinema market.

Despite the fact that films depicting the 1970 and 1980 military coups were produced within the following two decades, these products were either censored by the state or failed to have access to a larger audience. New liberal trade policies of the state opened the cinema sector to foreign productions, most of which were US productions. This brought about a change in the cinema sector in terms of focusing on popularity and American popular culture. Turkish cinema was affected by these changes, particularly, in terms of film genres. Melodrama in the form of love stories occupied a wide space in the cinema sector. On the other hand, censorship as a tool of political and social repression was omnipresent throughout 1980s and 1990s in the Turkish cinema sector. The political atmosphere impacted on the number of films and their content. Films released as of 1987 and categorized as 12 September films revolved around autobiographical accounts of political ideologies which were suppressed rather than treating 12 September as their main referent.

Theoretical Background

This section will shed light on contemporary debates on collective memory theory however, this study does not intend to focus on the theory of collective memory as a historical method since this project has its foundations in media studies and pertains to content, information to be derived from the cinematic products in question. Conclusively, memory studies has already received notable academic attention as will be laid down later in this section, and I am of the opinion that more original and relevant conclusions can be drawn in the analysis of military coup as a traumatic event in 12 September films.

What is memory?

Memory has been a major preoccupation for social thinkers since the Greeks[18]. In an important synthesis, Jacques Le Goff (1992) identifies five distinct periods in the history of memory :first, peoples without writing possessed what Le Goff calls ethnic memory[19] ; second, the move from prehistory to Antiquity, which enabled commemoration and documentary recording; third memory in the Middle Ages; fourth, memory as it developed from the Renaissance to the present involved the gradual revolution in memory brought about by the printing press, which required the long development of a middle class readership to complete its effect. In the nineteenth century, Romanticism generated multifarious forms of commemoration such as coins, medals, inscriptions, archives, libraries and museums. These forms were manifestations of building up shared identities within the citizenries of different nations. Developments taking place in the twentieth and twentyfirst century have brought about the invention of electronic means of recording and transmitting information which not only change the way individuals remember but also provide new means of conceptualizing memory[20].

But what does memory mean? Memory is defined as the capacity for conserving information and referring to a group of psychic funtions which allow us to actualize past impressions or information that we represent to ourselves as past[21]. For Maurice Halbwachs, memory is ‘’a reconstruction of the past using data taken from the present’’[22], thus attracting our attention to the interaction of the past with the present, and raising questions in relation to history and its meaning. According to William Guynn, memory is the individual faculty for reviving images of things past, and refers to two distinct concepts of memory which are memory as the (passive) presence of the image to the mind, and memory as the intentional activity of recollection[23]. As understood from this definition, we encounter images and pictoriality as the most significant features constituting memory. Based on this definition of memory as defined in the discipline of psychology and neurology, memory studies have come up with different conceptualizations such as individual, collective, social, cultural and prosthetic memory[24]. However, the most discussed of these concepts are individual and collective memory. I will attempt to explain the differences and similarities between individual and collective memory and the discussions relating to both concepts in the following lines focusing on the transmission of memory/ memories in the filmic products by means of images.

As witnessed from the history of memory described by Le Goff (1992) beginning from peoples without writing to electronic means of recording and transmitting information (together with the invention of cinema), it should be pointed out that memory will not be treated as a reified, unchanging phenomenon which carries the past into the present but instead as a process, as working differently at different points in time.

Individual vs Collective Memory

In sociology, history and cultural theory, the phrase, collective memory, proposes that practices of remembrance are shaped and reinforced by societies and cultures[25]. Memory studies in a wider sense is a multi-disciplinary field to which psychology, neurology, sociology, anthropology etc. have contributed. However, there is an ongoing debate in collective memory studies which concerns the relation between the individual and collective[26]. In the following lines, this disputed area will be put forward based on prominent scholars from both strands of memory studies by focusing on discussions and definition of both concepts.

Contemporary usage of the term collective memory is largely traceable to Emile Durkheim and his student, Maurice Halbwachs in the Social Frameworks of Memory (1925) [27] . Embarking upon the concept of memory as a purely individual phenomenon, Henri Bergson[28] (1896) was challenged by Maurice Halbwachs in his fundamental work where Halbwachs asserts that studying memory does not pertain to ruminating on properties of the subjective mind. Instead, for Halbwachs, memory is a matter of how minds work together in society and how their operations are structured by social arrangements[29]. According to Halbwachs, it is not possible for individuals to recollect or remember in a coherent and consistent way out of their group contexts. He examplifies this with the impossibility for an individual to remember with certainty regarding particular childhood memories as individuals recollect these memories based on the narratives of their parents[30].

Halbwachs explains his collective memory concept by using what he calls “social frameworks”[31]. By defining collective memory in terms of social frames, Halbwachs adopts a constructivist perspective, which distances him from collective mythmakers and essentialists[32]. Halbwachs’ thesis has been today verified by contemporary psychological and neurobiological studies which highlight the social nature of individual remembering and forgetting, and assert that narrative patterns used to express individual memories including autobiographical ones cannot be separated from the social[33]. Therefore, both individual and collective memory interact, for remembering is categorized as a social phenomenon and individual remembering is influenced by the social frameworks (as suggested by Halbwachs) that exist in a society bounded by limited space and time. It is not productive to polarize the individual and collective strand of memory as they interact.

Considering the fact that past is not a given but reconstructed, it might be said that our memories (individual and collective) of past events can vary to a great degree. There are different modes of remembering identical past events[34]. Individuals or societies might remember (or simply forget) a war, a coup d’état, for example, as a mythic event, as part of political history, as a traumatic experience, as a part of family history. Myth, religious memory, political history, family remembrance, national commemorations, films and different type of media (television etc.) are counted as different modes of referring to the past. Based on these assertions, Astrid Erll suggests that history is another mode of cultural memory and historiography its specific medium[35]. Drawing on Halbwachs’ collective memory concept, Erll categorizes memory on two levels: individual and collective. Erll maintains that cultural memory is concerned with biological memory and draws attention to the fact that no memory is purely individual but intrinscially shaped by collective contexts. In Erll’s account, individuals remember in socio-cultural contexts and, therefore she prefers the “cultural memory” concept to “collective” or “social” memory as cultural memory encapsulates both collective and social memory. The other level of cultural memory pertains to the symbolic order, the media, institutions and practices (such as commemorative rituals) by which social groups construct a shared past[36]. Societies do not practice collective remembering per se however, the process of reconstructing a shared, common past bears some resemblance to such individual memory processes as selectivity and perspectivity intrinsic in creating versions of the past according to present knowledge and needs[37]. In other words, institutions, larger social groups such nations, governments, religious groups, a company or the church do not bear a memory, instead they construct one for their own use by means of memorial signs such as symbols, texts, images, rites, ceremonies, places and monuments[38].

Cultural Memory

I have decided to use communicative and memory of objects (material memory) concepts as culture is considered as a three dimensional framework comprised of social (people, social relations, institutions), material (artifacts and media) and mental aspects (culturally defined ways of thinking, mentalities) according to anthropological and semiotic theories[39]. Based on this assertion it is, therefore, appropriate to analyze both cinematic products as they are materials/ media of culture. Considering the fact that cinema is a social phenomenon and hints at a larger cultural meaning, analyzing the reception of both movies is therefore suitable to confirm and test the social side of cinema and memory construction or collective amnesia.

One of the leading figures in the field of cultural memory is Astrid Erll and her definition of cultural memory calls for the interplay of present and past in socio-cultural contexts. An understanding of cultural memory allows for an inclusion of a broad spectrum of phenomena as possible objects of cultural memory studies[40]. In Erll’s account, the concept of collective memory is the most important and most frequently used concept of cultural memory studies. Erll’s cultural memory concept complements Assman’s typology, and this concept will allow for a better and more in-depth analysis of the cinematic products in question by means of application of these concepts to moving images.

Basing his ideas on Halbwachs, Jan Assmann follows a similar vein apropos of collective memory. He upholds that an individual constructs, constitutes his/her memories in communication and interaction with others. Thus, he distinguishes between two memory concepts, one of which is communicative memory and the other being cultural memory. Daily communication renders individuals able to constitute a memory which is socially mediated and relates to a group[41]. Individuals acquire collective memory by means of a common image of their past, particularly, by means of cinematically different films. These image(s) are situated in multiple group contexts. This signals the multiple character of collective images and these collective memories might exist on the level of families, professions, political generations, ethnic and regional groups, social classes and nations[42]. Therefore, it is possible to discern collective remembering on multifarious scales encompassing private settings as well as the public sphere.


[1] Fuyuki Kurasawa. ‘’Cinema, or an Art of Urban Memory in an Age of Forgetting’’.in Public 29 (2004):28.

[2] Other examples of mnemonic devices are electronic devices such as computers and calculators. These devices change the way we remember the past, our daily activities etc. It is also important to point out to the fact that collective memory is categorized into different sub-categories defined by Paul Connerton (1989) as memory of daily activities etc.(Kurasawa, 2004:26).

[3] ‘’ Şükran Esen, 2000, p.224’’ cited in Nazmiye Karadağ, Toplumsal Belleğin Sinematografik Sunumu: 2000 Yılı Sonrası Türk Sinemasında 12 Eylül Filmleri (Cinematographic Presentation of Social Memory:12 September Films in Post-2000 Turkish Cinema), İstanbul, 2008: 51.

[4] Zincirbozan is the name of a small town on the Aegean coast where several Turkish politicians such as Süleyman Demirel, Bülent Ecevit and Deniz Baykal (all of whom were political party leaders) were detained in the aftermath of 12 September 1980.

[5] Asuman Suner , New Turkish Cinema: Belonging, Identity and Memory, 6.

[6] For detailed information, please refer to Dönmez-Colin, G. Cinemas of the Other. (UK: Cromwell Press), 2006.

[7] Eylem Atakav ‘’There are ghosts in these houses!: on New Turkish Cinema: Belonging, Identity and Memory’’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 12:1 (2011): 141.

[8] Fuyuki Kurasawa. ‘’Cinema, or an Art of Urban Memory in an Age of Forgetting’’.in Public 29 (2004):31.

[9] Steve Anderson, ‘’Loafing in the Garden of Knowledge; History, TV and Popular Memory’’, Film and History, (30, 2007): 16.

[10] Tanel Demirel. The Turkish Military's Decision to Intervene: 12 September 1980 in Armed Forces and Society 29 (2003): 253.

[11] The other successful military coup d’etats were staged on 27 May 1960, 12 March 1971.

[12] Veli Boztepe. ‘’1960 ve 1980 Askeri Darbelerinin Türk Siyasal Sinemasına Etkileri (Impacts of 1960 and 1980 Military Coup d’états on Turkish Political Cinema)’’, (Marmara University, 2007): 17.

[13] Korkut Boratav et al. Türkiye Tarihi 5: Bugünkü Türkiye 1980-2003 (Turkish History 5: Turkey Today 1980 2003). İstanbul: Cem Yayınevi, 2005.

[14] Bayram, Sibel. ‘’12 Eylül’ün Siyasal Hayatımıza Etkileri (Impacts of 12 September on Our Political Life’’, MA Thesis, Cumhuriyet University, 2008.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid, 169-170.

[17] Boztepe, Veli. ‘’1960 ve 1980 Askeri Darbelerinin Türk Siyasal Sinemasına Etkileri (Impacts of 1960 and 1980 Military Coup d’états on the Turkish Political Cinema)’’, (Marmara University, 2007): 158.

[18] Olick and Joyce Robbins, ‘’Social Memory Studies: From Collective Memory to a Sociology of Mnemonic Practices’’. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 24. (1998), 106.

[19] For a detailed description of the concept of ethnic memory, please see Le Goff, History and Memory, 55-58.

[20] For example, appearance of large calculating machines in the Second World War, invention of computer technologies etc. in Le Goff, History and Memory, 90-91

[21] Le Goff, History and Memory, 51.

[22] Cited in Gerome Turc, ‘’Memory of places, places of memory: a halbwachsian socio-ethnography of memory’’, 119.

[23] William Guynn,’’ Film: A Place of Memory’’ in Writing History in Film (New York, London: Routledge, 2006), 168.

[24] Robert Burgoyne. Film Nation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

For a detailed description, see Alison Landsberg's "Prosthetic memory: Total recall and Blade runner," in Cyberspace/cyberbodies/cyberpunk: cultures of technological embodiment, eds. Mike Featherstone and Roger Burrows (London: Sage, 1995), 175-89.

[25] Micheal Rossington and Anne Whitehead eds. Theories of Memory: A reader. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), 7.

[26] Wulf Kansteiner. ‘’Finding Meaning in Memory: A Methodological Critique of Collective Memory Studies’’. History and Theory, 41 (2002): 180. doi: 10.1111/0018-2656.00198.

[27] Jeffrey K. Olick. ‘’Collective Memory: The Two Cultures’’. Sociological Theory, 17 (1999) :333-348. Doi:10.1111/0735-2751.00083.

[28] For a better understanding of Bergson’s memory concept, please refer to Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory. New York : Cosimo Classics, 2007.

[29] Rossington, Theories of Memory: A Reader, 129-134.

[30] Olick, ‘’Finding Meaning in Memory: A Methodological Critique of Collective Memory Studies’’334.

[31] Social frameworks, such as institutions, memorial statues, festivities etc. function at the same time as instruments for reconstructing the past. For that reason, social frameworks are flexible and dynamic.

[32] Alieda Assmann, 51.

[33] Wulf Kansteiner. ‘’Finding Meaning in Memory: A Methodological Critique of Collective Memory Studies’’. History and Theory, 41 (2002): 185.

[34] Astrid Erll et al. (eds.) Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook. (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 2008), 7.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid, 4.

[37] Ibid, 5.

[38] Aleida Assmann, 55.

[39] Ibid, 3-4.

[40] Ibid, 2.

[41] Jan Assmann and John Czaplicka. “Collective Memory and Cultural Identity”. New German Critique No.65 (Spring-Summer 1995) :126.

[42] Kansteiner,’’ A Methodological Critique of Collective Memory Studies’’, 188.


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Title: Factories of Memory: Cinematic Representations of the 12 September Military Coup