What war re­ally does to us all

AS­SOC. PROF. NERGİS CANEFE York Univer­sity, Toronto

Turkish Review - - REVIEWS BOOKS & REPORTS -

What we know about the Ot­toman ex­pe­ri­ence in the Great War (19194-1918) is rather dis­mal; it is as if all the name­less soldiers of the Anatolian heart­land, with their non­de­script places of burial -- if they were lucky enough to have any -- just dis­ap­peared from his­tory. While the rup­ture of the Turk­ish War of In­de­pen­dence and the ed­i­fice of the new re­pub­lic marked the year 1923 as a new be­gin­ning, it was upon the shoul­ders of these men -- the Ot­toman war dead, war pris­on­ers, repa­tri­ated soldiers, and the ex­hausted and hun­gry thou­sands -- that this story of re­birth rose. Yü­cel Yanıkdag’s work is a timely tes­ti­mony to the fact that Turks were de­lib­er­ately and wrong­fully taught to close the chapter about the Ot­toman hu­man de­bris of end­less wars at the turn of the last cen­tury. As the au­thor il­lus­trates in painstak­ing de­tail, the nexus of war, psy­chi­atric medicine and nascent Turk­ish na­tion­al­ism cre­ated an in­sti­tu­tional need for cleans­ing the Turk­ish past of the Ot­toman sto­ries of de­feat. Dur­ing the open­ing decades of repub­li­can his­tory, the phys­i­cal em­bod­i­ment of these char­ac­ter­is­tics was most com­monly iden­ti­fied with repa­tri­ated pris­on­ers of war (POWs) and war vet­er­ans who suf­fered from men­tal ill­nesses and break­downs. The ti­tle cho­sen by the au­thor thus aptly sum­ma­rizes the en­su­ing moral panic in the young na­tion: the fear that these “de­gen­er­ates” car­ried the seeds of a weak and tor­mented na­tion and thus must be con­cealed. Fur­ther­more, this heal­ing process was to take place in si­lence and away from the pub­lic gaze so as to re­duce fur­ther shame for the young Turk­ish na­tion who needed, more than any­thing else, morale and self-be­lief -- not the kind of clouds of doubt cast by the lost souls of World War I.

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