The Ot­toman ‘West­ward­ness’

Turkish Review - - REVIEWS - DR. AH­MET ÖZ­CAN

Re­cently pub­lished un­der the ed­i­tor­ship of four Ph.D. can­di­dates, “Well-Con­nected Do­mains: To­wards an En­tan­gled Ot­toman History” is the con­crete out­come of a re­search pro­ject on, in the ed­i­tors’ words, “pro­cesses of ex­change, in­ter­ac­tion, and en­tan­gle­ment be­tween the Ot­toman Em­pire and its neigh­bors in the west” -- and hence on the “well-con­nected do­mains” of the early mod­ern Ot­toman Em­pire. Such an ap­pli­ca­tion of the re­cently ris­ing method­olog­i­cal ap­proach of “en­tan­gled his­to­ri­og­ra­phy” to the Ot­toman case bears rel­e­vance as well as sig­nif­i­cance for the theme of Tur­key’s mod­ern­iza­tion from em­pire to re­pub­lic. This de­fies the the­o­ret­i­cally es­tab­lished di­vide be­tween a Chris­tian-Euro­pean and an Is­lamic-Ot­toman world, as pre­dom­i­nated in ear­lier stud­ies on the history of mod­ern Tur­key that can be grouped un­der the main head­ing of the so-called “bloc par­a­digm.”

This vol­ume un­der­lines more con­nec­tions and ex­changes than di­vi­sions and con­flicts; plu­ral­ity and en­tan­gle­ment of do­mains as op­posed to a mono­lithic or rather a dis­con­nected en­tity; and a mul­ti­plic­ity of cen­ters rather than a mono­cen­tric struc­ture. By fo­cus­ing on the western fron­tiers of the Ot­toman state dur­ing its early mod­ern­iza­tion phase, such an “en­tan­gled” point of view con­trib­utes to the schol­arly at­tempt to read the Ot­toman Em­pire not only as a struc­tural com­po­nent but also as one of the “cul­tural oth­ers” of the history of Euro­pean mod­ern­iza­tion. There­fore, the Ot­toman ob­scu­rity -- be­ing at the same time an in­sider and an out­sider of Europe -- char­ac­ter­ized and thus con­trib­uted to the for­ma­tion of the Ot­tomans’ West­ward-look­ing state of ex­is­tence. For the re­con­sid­er­a­tion of the well-con­nect­ed­ness of the Ot­toman Em­pire, it may not be ir­rel­e­vant to briefly ex­am­ine the link­age be­tween the Ot­toman and repub­li­can con­cep­tions of West­ern­iza­tion through dis­cussing the self-im­posed ob­scu­rity to­ward the in­her­ited Ot­toman legacy in the repub­li­can state dis­course.

The “ar­ro­gant in­fancy” of rev­o­lu­tion­ary minds4 rarely, if ever, al­lows them to ac­knowl­edge the legacy of the ob­ject that they aim at de­struc­t­ing, and al­most al­ways defin­ing them­selves as the “zeropoint of history,” few, if any, rev­o­lu­tions have suc­ceeded in es­cap­ing from the dis­cur­sive state of the “poverty of tra­di­tion.” Be­yond any­thing else, the French Revo­lu­tion was, in this re­spect, a the­atri­cal de­fi­ance against any­thing as­so­ci­ated with the An­cien Régime. In his un­fin­ished “L’An­cien Régime et la Révo­lu­tion,” Alexis de Toc­queville, the icon­o­clas­tic po­lit­i­cal philoso­pher whose stud­ies re­lied more on painstak­ing em­pir­i­cal work than those of many, if not all, of his con­tem­po­raries, demon­strated through a vast quan­tity of of­fi­cial state records that the French Revo­lu­tion, as op­posed to its self-his­to­ri­og­ra­phy, was more of an “awk­ward” tran­si­tory pe­riod from the An­cien Régime to the Con­sulate than a rup­ture, which tem­po­rar­ily dis­turbed the struc­tural con­ti­nu­ity of ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tral­iza­tion.

In the case of Tur­key, it is cu­ri­ous that the new­born na­tion­state, which dis­cur­sively re­con­structed the Ot­toman state as its “other” on the mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive di­chotomies of “re­ac­tion” vs. “progress,” “old” vs. “new,” “bar­baric” vs. “civil” and so forth at home, em­braced both struc­turally and dis­cur­sively its sta­tus as the Ot­toman state’s suc­ces­sor, if not that of a full-fledged heirdom, abroad. While the repub­li­can course of West­ern­iza­tion or­gan­i­cally, thus not only di­rectly, em­anated from the Young Turks’ wholly prag­ma­tist and there­fore philo­soph­i­cally shal­low han­dling of “Western civ­i­liza­tion” only to come up with al­most en­chanted short­cut

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Turkey

© PressReader. All rights reserved.