Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Northern Tier and the Myth of Enduring Turkish Militarism

This striking image is the cover of a 1950s issue of Son Çağ, a United States Information Agency publication devoted to promoting US-Turkish relations, both in terms of cultural ties and Cold War anti-communism. Dramatically illustrated here is the concept of the Northern Tier, a defense arrangement in which Turkey, Iran and Pakistan were expected to prevent Soviet expansion into the Middle East. As the map shows, the Northern Tier concept replaced earlier ideas of a broader Middle Eastern alliance when Arab states proved unwilling to join an anti-Soviet alliance. Based on their colonial histories, countries such as Iraq, Syria and Egypt were more worried about the threat posed by British, and to a lesser extent Turkish, power than they were about the Soviet Union. As Syria, and after its 1958 coup Iraq, drew closer to Moscow, Turkish and American statesmen increasingly came to see them as hostile Soviet clients (See our podcast on Turkish views of Arabs for more on this).  Hence the depiction of the Northern Tier as a thin line holding out against a veritable sea of red.

Rather than just illustrating a particular early Cold War strategic concept, I think this map offers a partiala rebuke to a particular narrative of Turkish history that has become increasingly popular: that the circumstances of Turkey's emergence from World War I created a political culture defined by militarism and nationalist paranoia that has continued to plague the country whether in the form of the "Sevres Syndrome" or the army's involvement in politics. It's an appealing political narrative, but it leaves out at least half a century. Sure, Turkey emerged from World War One, not just the War for Independence but the CUP period as well, with a political culture marked by these phenomenon. But so did most of the world. In fact, compared to some of the European countries that embraced fascism, Turkey was less militarized and less intensely xenophobic in the Republican period. And to suggest that these impulses were waiting to erupt just below the surface, kept in check only by Ataturk's personal charisma, really does seem to ignore the contingency of history. In this case I would argue that the experience of the Cold War, culminating in the 1980 coup, did more to enshrine these impulses in modern turkish political culture than did the social and political climate of Turkey's founding. In connecting the dots directly from 1919 to the present, it's easy to forget that Turkey spent almost a half century regionally isolated by Cold War geopolitics. There was the Soviet Union was to the North and East, Warsaw Pact Bulgaria to the West and the Soviet-aligned states of Iraq and Syria to the South (seriously, that leaves Greece and Iran). While the Turkish military undoubtedly milked its position as "NATO's Southeast flank" and "a bulwark of the free world" for its own benefit, the reality behind these cliches also took its toll. Too often now discussions of the Sevres syndrome imply it's merely an outdated bit of paranoia that was kept alive for a hundred years by the cynically authoritarian Kemalist state. But other things happened during this time, and their impact shouldn't be overlooked.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

History with Maps and Pictures

As I try to find time to actually write my dissertation I'm forced to continue with our ongoing series of cool maps I don't have anything particularly interesting to say about. This is the cover of "Resimli ve Haritali Osmanli Tarihi" published by the Ikbal Kutuphanesi in 1327. I haven't read the book, but am obviously of the opinion that all history should include maps and pictures.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Mapping the Mystique

Sometime around 2005 the New York Times seems to have discovered that any article about Iran - its nuclear program, relations with Israel, whatever - could be illustrated with pictures of attractive Iranian women, headscarves pulled back as far as possible, reacting to the news of the day on the streets of Tehran. Foreign Policy recently took this trend to its logical extreme with a photo essay that looks behind the veil, and under the shirt, challenging our preconceived ideas about Iranian women by showing that they too are topless when you photograph them in dressing rooms. This latest example of our ongoing collective obsession with Iranian women finally inspired me to finish up the map above, based on almost a decade of anecdotal data about what nationalities random people I've talked to over the past ten years seem to be into. It is by no means scientific, and is limited to white, upper middle class straight Americans simply because they represent the vast majority of my sample size. I have no real evidence for how different things would be for other  groups. Are gay guys more into Germans? Is that just an offensive stereotype? Or is Joseph Massad right in claiming gay Westerners are actually all into Arab guys? I just don't know.

From "Iranian Mystique," a foto essay by Hossein Fatemi 
Still, I think this map does reveal something more generalizable than just the idiosyncrasies of people I happen to have talked to (though lots of readers will no doubt disagree for legitimate and ridiculous reasons alike. I'm sure everyone you know just started dating a Welsh guy, but in some normative sense that is just not normal). Seriously though, if nothing else many of these privately expressed preferences, taken in total, reveal the extent to which long-standing, well-document and obviously culturally-constructed stereotypes have an impact that is inescapable, if sometimes inexplicable (I really can't emphasize enough that this is my attempt to be objective, not just map my own feelings. I know plenty of hot Albanians, but apparently no one else does).  These stereotypes have a weird impact on people's romantic and sexual interests, whether in the form of men who hit on Iranian women by saying they want to "help liberate them" or Norwegian women who claim they are learning Turkish because they want to meet "real men who get jealous instead of just make documentary films about their emotions." In the Middle Eastern context, of course, Lawrence Durrell is our trusted authority on this subject, but we would be curious to hear from readers about the writers who articulate these cliches for other regions. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Resizing Africa

A while ago I tried to make the case that its silly to get upset about the biases inherent in the standard mercator map. Among other things, I think it's misguided to say this projection devalues Africa by making the continent appear smaller, especially relative to places at higher latitudes like Greenland, Labrador or Spitzbergen. Africa, of course, looks smaller because it is in the very center of the map, which for much of history was considered pride of place. Also, saying that people would better appreciate Africa's importance if only it appeared larger on our maps is a bit optimistic. Those inclined to be condescending could just as easily argue that the larger Africa looks the more embarrassing it is that the continent isn't even more powerful. But still the carto-critics persist, pushing the equally distorted Peters map as a politically preferable projection. So rather than argue any more, I used MS paint to solve this problem for once and for all. Here is a Mercator map showing Africa at an appropriate size without the stretching that mars the Peters....

Africa, as soon as you're done thanking Bono, feel free to thank me too. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Anavatan 1927

And now, just a quarter of a century later, a great map of Turkey in Turkey with the title Anavatan (The full sized image is here  courtesy of the Big Map Blog). We could discuss the role of gender in nationalist imagery, or why badly printed photos from this period always make people look like zombies, but instead let's just enjoy this nice map of Ankara in its infancy from the inset.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Turkey in Asia

Not much to say about today's map. Just a good old fashion cartographic representation of Turkey-in-Asia from a 1903 atlas printed in Buffalo, New York. The provinces are particularly clearly colored, which is always handy if you want to discuss their relationship to modern middle eastern borders. Anyways here's the full size image.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Otto-Erotic Extravaganza

Having finally had the chance to say my piece about the politics of Ottoman history in modern Turkey at Foreign Policy today, I feel like I can finally stop talking about it obsessively and move on to to all the more relevant and depressing things happening right now.** But anyone still interested in the upcoming 30,000 word version of the article from Middle East Studies, complete with footnotes and lots of long quotes from the likes of Affet Inan and Fuat Koprulu, can check back in a few weeks when it will be on For everyone else, here are some examples of what happened in the 1950s when the Turkish press discovered toplessness as a way to talk about history while simultaneously selling papers and and convincing condescending Western observers how modern and sophisticated they were (this was the 50s remember). The cartoon at right is from a satiricial magazine making fun of risqué treatments of Ottoman history in film, like the scene below from a big-budget dramatization of the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul:

Popular history magazines from the period provide the most impressive source for this kind of material though. Some editors simply reprinted 19th century European orientalist art, but more often they got artists and illustrators like the incomparable Munif Fehim to illustrate their stories. The picture below is from Feridun Fazil Tulbentci's novel about the pirate Barbarosa, serialized in the arch-Kemalist newspaper Ulus in 1948. In keeping with the politics of the era, it shows wine drinking Turkish mariners protecting Arab women from sinister Christian knights while also chastely winning their hearts (the novel never gets more explicit than descriptions of people "flaring their nostrils with lust"). The caption reads: "Is there no good Muslim left to save me from the hand of these infidels."

Sexualized Ottoman history was a staple of popular magazines like Ahmet Banoglu's History World, the first issue of which included a retelling of the Ottoman Empire's most famous stoning complete with the picture below (read the accompanying article here). On the right is an image of the cover of a magazine celebrating the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul with Byzantine women showing their love for Fatih.

A less subtle rendition of the same theme comes from Munif Fehim in the 1939 classic "Don't Touch the Lion," in which he patriotically warns Italian fascists not to mess with Turkey while reminding them that the Ottomans once "planted and sowed Turkish seed in the blood of a thousand Venetian girls." "Ask around," he continues "what Janissary lion rests in your great grandmother's heart?"

Finally, it would be impossible to ignore the work of Reşat Ekrem Koçu, one of the most erudite authors of popular Ottoman history who combined serious scholarship with a Ripley's Believe it or Not style. Works like his  1953 "From Osman Gazi to Ataturk" will be familiar to readers of Orhan Pamuk's "Istanbul," who were undoubtedly delighted to learn about the precise sexual feelings that the image below inspired in young Orhan. Koçu delighted in including strange and macabre details from the city's Ottoman history, detailing strange executions, love affairs, carnival amusements or monkey-murderers. It was an approach that proved perfectly compatible with nationalist glorification of military heroes from the Ottoman and Republican eras alike.

** Some people might rightly ask if it isn't a little ridiculous to write an article about neo-Ottomanism claiming people should stop talking about neo-Ottomanism all the time at a moment when so many more important things are happening in Turkey. I would only point out that I wrote this about a month ago in response to the New Yorker's piece on Muhteşem Yüzyıl. The publication was delayed on account of Crimea.