Role of the Foreign Expert: Charles Abrams in Turkey, 1954
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA
This study re-examines the role United Nations (UN) experts played within the political context of the Cold War in the Middle East. The sojourn works of architects, planners, and other professionals in foreign lands have been well-documented in canonical histories and in post-colonial critiques. However, this study shows that, during the postwar period, foreign experts operated quite differently than the way they have been framed usually as sole agents of positivist discourse. Through an analysis of Charles Abrams' UN mission to Turkey in September-October 1954 and his subsequent report, this study shows how Abrams acted more as a mediator, and less as an expert, in order to construct a project that would ensure the support of involved parties. Operating within a context of diverging interests of local and international agents and agencies, Abrams found himself in a position to recalibrate the scope and content of his mission and to convince, not the client government in this case, but his own agency, of the validity of what he had decided to propose. The analysis of the resulting correspondence and report raises further questions about the interpretation of primary documents from this period as well. The study finds that Abrams' correspondence and report did not accurately reflect his findings and intentions. Instead, they were carefully scripted to appeal to the interests of their audience, the UN in this case. Consequently, while a direct reading of these documents was intended to frame the project as a product of a singular ideology or a program, a careful analysis reveals that Abrams' final proposal to establish a school of architecture and planning in Turkey was actually a product of contentious politics and diverging interests.