Mr. Osman’s send-off was just the latest manifestation of what sociologists call “Ottomania,” a harking back to an era marked by conquest and cultural splendor during which sultans ruled an empire stretching from the Balkans to the Indian Ocean and claimed the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world.
Ataturk’s assertion by fiat that Turks were “European” is bound to fail, because a flower can not blossom without its roots. If the Turks had accepted more aspects of European civilization, such as Christianity, then a civilizational shift might have been viable. But for nearly 1,000 years the Turks were the rulers of Islam. In 1600 all three great Islamic powers, the Ottomans, the Safavids of Persia, and the Mughals of India, were of Turkic provenance. Though Turkish potentates accepted the supremacy of the Arab religion and cultivated Persian poetry, their identity was fused with their role as the ruling race of the Muslim world. The iron hand of Kemalism kept this past from intruding upon the present for nearly a century, but I suspect that that time of ham-handed exclusion of what came before is coming to an end. Of course not all that Ataturk achieved can be reversed, his Romanization of Turkish and purging of Arabic and Persian loanwords, means that Ottoman literature is closed off to all except specialists in modern Turkey. The future will be based more on half-remembered glimpses and recreated myth than the flesh and substance of the past.