Monday, June 2, 2014

Fatih Follow-Up

From Cumhuriyet's May 29th 1953 front page.

I'm excited to finally post a link to an overview of my research on the politics of Ottoman history in modern Turkey. It focuses on the elaborate 1953 celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul, a subject I thought was only of interest to me until I saw Gavin Brockett's excellent piece on the same event in, of all places, the most recent issue of the American Historical Review. If you're truly interested, I encourage you to read both. Taken together, I think these articles clearly show how the 1953 celebrations marked the incorporation of Ottoman history into a mainstream Turkish nationalist narrative, and an important turning point in the redefinition of all things Ottoman as Turkish. In addition to providing a theoretical background and some sweet pictures, Gavin Brockett argues that these celebrations signified a shift towards a more Islamic version of Turkish identity, with Fatih Sultan Mehmet serving as a "paragon of Muslim virtue." I try to make the opposite case, arguing that 1953 marked the success of earlier Kemalist efforts to secularize Ottoman history in order to use it for their own purposes. Looking at the domestic and international politics behind the celebration, I've tried to show how politicians, academics and journalists presented Fatih as a revolutionary, Western-looking sultan, patron of humanist arts and champion of religious tolerance. I can also promise some new information on the US State Department's anti-Fatih conspiracy, as well the concerted CHP effort to brand the Democratic Party as Greek-loving traitors for not doing enough to celebrate Fatih.

The image above is from the introduction to Ibrahim Alaettin Govsa's Meşhur Adamlar (Istanbul: Yedigün, 1935). This book, which featured a mix of contemporary Turks, Ottoman heroes and European historical figures, serves as a nice prelude to the approach that the state would take toward commemorating the Ottoman past in 1953. The picture itself insists that there is nothing incompatible about a modern Turkish man wearing a smoking jacket and sitting at his desk with a bust of Ataturk fantasizing about such universally-recognized greats as Cleopatra, and, of course, Barbarossa. 

Anyways, thanks for indulging me in one last Fatih post. That will be it till May 29th comes around again next year.