The Ottoman years

Frustrated With West, Turks Revel in Empire Lost:

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.

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12 Responses to The Ottoman years

  1. Clay Sills says:

    If, by engaging their culture instead of proscribing it, Turkey can provide a counterweight to the Wahabbists and the Shiites in the expression of Islam, this should be a good thing. And it gives us someone to turn Iraq over to.

  2. Liesel says:

    I agree that Turks aren’t European. Kemal Ataturk however was. What else could one make of his blond hair and blue eyes?

  3. Clay Sills says:

    You could make a Big Ol’ Turkish Delight out of him. IF you know what I mean.

  4. mnuez says:

    Muslim conspiracy theorists, in Turkey and without, have claimed that Attaturk (and many of his colleagues and followers) was at least half Donmeh, a.k.a. Jewish.

    Not that I understand the recently common “Aryan” looks of some Jews.

  5. David Hume says:

    mnuez, liesl was joking right? the comment was so dumb that seems the only plausible assumption.

  6. Liesel says:

    Sorry, I was referring to the (apparently not very widely known) accusation by some of his opponents that he was not even Turkish, just a foreign interloper, perhaps illegitimate. As mnuez mentioned he was also accused of being secretly Jewish.

  7. John says:

    I think what Ataturk did was worth a try. He gave Turkey a nice dose of Western culture. It seems that the medicine didn’t take too well, and Turkey is falling back to its old ways, but he might have planted some seeds that will sprout later when radical Islam dies down.

  8. Clay Sills says:

    John :

    I think what Ataturk did was worth a try.

    It was certainly worth a try for the Turks, the same way Japan’s modernization was worth a try for the Japanese in the latter part of the 19th century: the alternative was subjugation into one of the European empires. It turns out what Ataturk did was a boon for western civ in the battle against Communism and has helped so far in our war against the Islamists. But he didn’t DO it for Western civ. He did it for Turkey.

  9. Apathy Curve says:

    “The future will be based more on half-remembered glimpses and recreated myth than the flesh and substance of the past.”

    I would say that becomes true of all cultures at some point in their history. In fact, it applies to people, as well: The older I get, the better I was.

    As to Turkish reminiscing, remember that the power of their culture goes back much, much further than just the Ottoman era. Various portions of Anatolia were home to the Akkadians, the Assyrians, and the Hittites. Of course, they then were subjected to centuries of Hellenism before Islam came along and swept it all to the curb. I’m not a Turk — my family history is considerably further west — but I’ve always found the history of area fascinating. It’s the true crossroads of Eurasia.

    So if they want to wax nostaglic, Islam or no, I say no harm. And for once I actually agree with the New York Times; the EU is dealing from both sides of the deck. They’re not really about unionization, but rather centralizing power and wealth in Western Europe. The EU is in many ways an Old White Gentleman’s Club, hearkening back to the “good ol’ days” of inter-related royals squabbling over rich farmland and doweries. I’ve no sympathy for them or their goals.

  10. Mike H says:

    I don’t know that what Atatürk did can necessarily be defended. After all the equivalent would roughly be that an American President decides that Chinese civilization is where progress is at and then decides to impose it on America with the help of the military and a loyal bureaucracy. All jokes about current attempts to introduce Europe-style welfare state legislation in America aside that’s a pretty crazy thought.

    Of course, we agree with what Atatürk wanted to achieve and I’m not going to be extremely squeamish over democratic Rights in mid 20th century Turkey, but surely there is no way the project could actually succeed at the popular level. A system and ideology held in place only by coercion can’t really be described as successful.

    Without Atatürk Turkey might look more like Jordan or maybe Egypt but who knows, it’d probably be a more genuine article. What we have now is a Turkey that is secular but not really, democratic but probably not really, respectful of civil rights but..wait no we can’t even claim that. It’s the kind of semi-democracy which is so typical for the edges of the developing world these days with a bubbling cauldron of Islamic sensibilities underneath the carefully maintained image of a state that wants to be seen as European.

  11. Trevor says:

    The destruction of the Ottoman language is one of the greatest tragedies of history in my opinion. Very similarly to Japanese, it had absorbed Arabic, Persian, and much French, giving it a tremendously vast and subtle vocabulary. Ataturk et al. cut the nation off from its highest literary forms and attempted to delete foreign influences on the language, much as the Chinese communists attempted to do…

    A Turkey that could revive some of its previous culture, and promote a more modern, thinking, version of Islam based in Sufism, would be a great stabilizing (and possibly a very positive cultural) force, but would not be without its opponents.

  12. Anthony says:

    That would explain this.

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