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I’ve just been reading in Donald Quataert’s The Ottoman Empire about how the successor states of the Ottoman Empire almost without exception viewed the Empire as a loser and/or an oppressor, and so sought to minimize and ignore that part of history. This gave me a strange feeling of nostalgia. It is completely understandable that groups seeking to produce a new group identity (usually nationalist) would set themselves up in opposition to the past. Still, it seems that to reject such a rich heritage, one of hundreds of years in most cases, is a powerful loss. I also never knew that “Ottoman” was a language that could be distinguished from modern Turkish, and though I did know about the shift of scripts from Arabic to Latin, I had not reflected on the daily implications. Am I right that a modern Turk could not read a book or inscription printed prior to the language reforms of 1928? How fascinating, and sad, in a way, that current Turks can be surrounded by writings less than a century old that they cannot read, and even if transliterated might not understand! I love poking around in used bookstores and stumbling upon really old printings. I once came across a fascinating book called something like “The Religion of the Hindoos,” printed in the late 19th Century (it contained a wild mix of real appreciation for the people and a clear sense of the author’s superiority as a Christian missionary). It was exciting to hold that actual book, and I recalled it when Quataert wrote that modern middle class Turks, now seeking to recapture their past, “buy Ottoman books they cannot read” (p. 198).

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