Photo Captions

A Soviet-Turkish Factory in Anatolia


This photograph was taken inside the repair room of the now closed Kayseri Sümerbank Textile Factory, roughly 300 kilometers southeast of Ankara in central Turkey. The statue that towers over the room – purported to date from the 1930s and to have been designed by a Soviet artist – shows a stylized Mustafa Kemal Atatürk participating in the country’s industrialization, a task depicted here in Sisyphean terms. The factory was built in the 1930s with extensive assistance from the Soviet Union, and the statue points to ways that a similar iconography of industrialization could work for both Turkey and the Soviet Union.

The Turkish government had appealed to the Soviet Union for financial assistance in the midst of the Great Depression, when Ankara was impressed with the USSR's economic development and hoped that Soviet aid could help to advance Turkey’s economy. As part of an aid package negotiated in 1932, the Soviet Union helped build two large textile plants in Nazilli and Kayseri. Both of these cities were small towns in inland Anatolia, and the choice to build factories in them was designed to contribute not only to Turkey's overall development, but also to the transformation of areas considered to be under-developed.

The photograph was taken in Kayseri in 2018, on the 81st anniversary of the Kayseri factory's opening. The factory continued to operate until the 1990s, when it was privatized and much of the machinery sold off. The former workers who had gathered for the anniversary spoke with sadness and bitterness of the plant's closing, and remembered the factory not only as a site of production but also as an important social space for the city. The factory had a theater that functioned as a cinema as well, a swimming pool, and its own football team. Currently, ownership of the old factory has been assumed by a state university, named after former Turkish president Abdullah Gül. Several of the old buildings have already been repurposed and serve as classrooms and faculty offices. Ultimately, the administration hopes to turn the repair room into a museum or educational space.

For more on the overlap in the transformative projects pursued by the Soviet and Turkish states, see Samuel J. Hirst, “Anti-Westernism on the Eurasian Periphery: The Meaning of Soviet-Turkish Convergence in the 1930s,” Slavic Review 72, 1 (Spring 2013).


Sam Hirst