The Ottoman ‘Westwardness’
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