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Friday, June 02, 2006

History Revisited

For many years I have been interested in the nation of Turkey and its predecessor the Ottoman Empire. I cannot actually finger why I had such interest in the Ottomans other than the idea of an empire that stretched from the edge of Vienna through the Middle East and throughout North Africa for such a long period of time (the 1400s through World War I) was fascinating to me. The idea that the decline and eventual collapse of one empire led to the formation of over 25 nation states just seemed too interesting to some one as curious about history, geography and travel as myself.  Or perhaps it was my interest in Roman History that drove me to an fascination with the Ottomans because the Turks who captured Constantinople in 1453 and deposed the final (Eastern) Roman Emperor were the closest thing to an actual successor state Rome had, because unlike the Barbarians who toppled the west in the 400s and 500s, Ottoman Sultans were interested in promoting learning, literature and many other “Greco/Roman” ideas.

As a buff of Turkish history my ability to get information was basically limited to age old texts at university libraries. In fact Turks themselves made a concerted effort to distance themselves from their past through institutional means that avoided Ottoman History totally. When Kemal Ataturk modernized Turkey following the dismissal of the final Ottoman Emperor in 1922, he went out of his way to undermine any legacy the Empire for which he had served ably as a military commander in first World War might have had for the Turkish people.

But following the events in Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Iraq a major revival in Ottoman Turkish history has taken place in the west. After all historians finally have realized, many of the problems caused by modern day political boundaries only began after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, with some exceptions (the treatment of Kurds and Armenians being the major exceptions) the Ottomans were able to kid a lid of ethnic and religious strife. Heck, the Turks were so progressive towards Jews in the Empire and the Holy Land which the Turks had ruled since the early 1500s that Winston Churchill claimed the Sultan had aligned with Germany in 1914 because of his “Jewish advisors.”

In the last two years I have seen countless books on the Ottoman Empire’s history on the shelves at major bookstores. For me it is a nirvana because for years I have sought knowledge on the great Turkish Empire and its legacy and now I have an embarrassment of riches to choose from. More importantly then my own interest in the subject these books serve as important studies as to why the Balkans, Central Asia and Middle East are today so volatile. It would be wise for American and British policymakers to read Ottoman History and understand the world they have inherited and how to be proper caretakers.



Nishant said...

The Turkish experiences provides interesting perspective on the debate regarding religious orthodoxy and associated violence. For many in the Middle East, strong religious sentiment was fueled by the internal belligerance perpetuated by the secular-minded Ataturk regime.
Some historians argue that the bellicose nature of the Ataturk regime even outweighed the current atrocities perpetuated by Middle-Eastern fundamentalists. Turkish strife under Ataturk is a counter-example to arguments suggesting that a more secular Middle-East may presage regional peace.

Anonymous said...

Good job, I totaly agree. The near and middle east have not been understood by Europeans for years and now finally the west is playing attention.

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I am the host of the Major League Soccer Talk and EPL Talk Podcasts and am frequent guest on other (world) football shows. I am also the publisher of various other websites including this one. I work in public/government relations in addition to my soccer work and have a keen interest in history, politics, aviation, travel,and the world around us.