Turkey emerged from the ruins of the multiethnic Ottoman Empire to become a secular, ethnically Turkish, and culturally Sunni Muslim nation. While the Ottoman legacy refers to an ideal of multiethnic tolerance located in the distant past, and is deployed as a critique against a presumably intolerant state, this legacy is produced by a diversity of social groups that compete for different imaginations of Turkey's national identity. This essay argues that the Ottoman legacy, and the discourse of tolerance it represents, has two important geographic dimensions. First, the Ottoman legacy relies on and is reproduced through Istanbul's urban geography; places and landscapes that represent a multiethnic tolerant past come to serve as evidence for what the Ottoman legacy represents. Second, while discourses of Ottoman tolerance are grounded in a local past, they are informed by, and thus respond to, very contemporary geopolitical notions of cosmopolitanism and of an imagined dichotomy between East and West. The Ottoman legacy is produced locally, in engagement with national imaginaries, while it is also meant to locate Istanbul internationally as a global city. The open struggle to critique state intolerance by invoking and representing an Ottoman legacy of multiethnic harmony illuminates the dynamic and contested nature of national identity in Turkey even while it is employed in processes that redraw national boundaries of belonging and exclusion.

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