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).
The tragedy of rejecting the (recent) past
20 Thursday Jun 2013
Posted NEH Seminarin