Tag Archives: Constantinople

"Ottoman": final assessment; plus: the Notarades, and a "what-if" on our Turkish centuries

3 Feb

I’ve had more than one old Constantinopolitan Greek say to me: You [metropolitan Greeks] call us Byzantines but we’re not any more “Byzantine” than you. “Because when the Conqueror entered the city,” Kyra Smaro says, “he slaughtered any Greeks that had remained.” And this is born out by legit historical sources. Greeks — and other ethnicities of the empire — started repopulating Constantinople, now the Ottoman capital, after Mehmet consolidated his rule; ironically often brought in large numbers by force by the Ottomans to repopulate the almost empty city.

In my comments on the first two episodes of Netflix‘: “Ottoman”: It’s pretty good: understanding an opponent’s mythology — I expressed my apprehensions about how the violence of the final fall would be portrayed:

Maybe the inevitable escalation of violence, especially against civilians after the entry of the Turks into the City will make later episodes more disturbing, since The Religion of Peace gives an army three days’ right to loot, murder, rape and enslave if a city resists and doesn’t capitulate on its own.

Instead of glorifying the violence, though, the production totally whitewashes it, and I don’t know what’s worse or what I find more annoying. None of the massacring or enslavement of the remaining inhabitants of the City is shown, and though we know for a fact that large mobs of Greeks had packed themselves into a barricaded Hagia Sophia, hoping to be saved there, and that when the Turks finally broke in, everyone in the church was put to the sword (try and remember the butchery in the cathedral in Andrey Tarkovsky’s Andrey Rublev, when the Tatars finally break in), Netflix gives us an infuriating segment of Mehmet tranquilly walking into an empty, sanitized, already de-imaged Hagia Sophia and beatifically walking about in wonder, amazed at the building and the fulfillment of his own miraculous destiny.

And then there’s the sidebar story of Loukas Notaras, megas doux, the Grand Duke, something like a Prime Minister or Grand Vizier, to Constantine XI:

I do dread the thought of how they’re going to treat the fate of the Notarades, though. It’s much too scintillating to just leave out of the whole narrative, yet to show it to us they’d have to admit that their revered Fatih Mehmet was what we would today call bisexual, and that he was also a cruel sadist, and I don’t know how that would have sat with the Turkish side of the production.

I think we do know that Notaras tried to cooperate with the new rulers and perhaps tried to buy Mehmet off in exchange for his and his family’s safety. But apparently, soon after the fall, Mehmet ordered that he be sent one of Notaras’ handsome sons, Jacob, a notably beautiful teenager, who had inevitably caught Mehmet’s eye, to do…well…whatever with. Notaras refused and Mehmet then had the boy and perhaps his other brothers decapitated in front of his father and then decapitated Notaras himself.

A daughter of the family, Anna, somehow ended up in Venice — whether she had escaped before the fall of the City or not is not clear — but became a sort of Queen Mother in exile and benefactress to the large Greek community there, (Notaras, being a “spins-gold-out-of-thin-air” Greek, had invested most of his wealth in real estate in the Venetian Republic) creating a Greek school and setting in motion the construction of the first Greek church in Venice, San Giorgio dei Greci (below) or St. George of the Greeks, a truly gorgeous church, with an adjacent icon museum that shouldn’t be missed if you’re in Venice next; seriously, it’s one of the sites in the city critical for understanding its role and position in the larger Mediterranean.

And it might seem odd, given that so much of this blog is dedicated to making Greeks’ understand (or accept) their relationship to the East, that I’m now musing on our relationship to the West. But San Giorgio itself is — along with the glorious icons from Venetian Cretan School, along with other things that then come to mind…the unique urban beauty of the city of Corfu, or the couple dances, balos, of the Aegean islands, and the liltingly beautiful music that accompanies them, or reading Erotokritos, or El Greco — among the things that beg the question: “What if?” What if the Ottomans hadn’t prevailed? At least not for so long and over such a huge piece of territory? What would we “look” like now?

Anyway, the story of Mehmet and Notaras’ son, Jacob, is so lurid and full of orientalist tropes about sexually depraved Muslims that it’s hard to know if it’s apocryphal or not (that Mehmet was bisexual, or at least what we would call bisexual today, is not in doubt, however. But, again however, bisexuality was par for the course in the mediaeval Muslim world, as it was in the classical Greco-Roman world which had preceded it, so it was not a particularity or idiosyncrasy of Mehmet’s nor would it have been considered immoral at the time). And some historical sources claim that Jacob wasn’t beheaded but ended up in Mehmet’s harem or serving him at his new court, and later escaped to Venice to join his sister Anna and two other siblings of his. I can tell you one thing: the whole story of the Notarades is so fascinating and complicated that someone should give it a historical fiction chance, print or screen, at some point.

There is this fascinating and kinda wacky book out there, The Age of Beloveds: Love and the Beloved in Early-Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society, by Walter G. Andrews and Mehmet Kalpaklı, that describes a homoerotic and bisexual court culture that the authors argue existed in both East and West in the early modern Mediterranean, that starts off with the story of Mehmet and the Notaras boy, and that claims the whole incident was a cultural misunderstanding, and that Mehmet was honoring the Notaras family by seeking the intimacy of the handsome young Greek boy. I’m not doing the book justice; it’s complicated and parts are actually very beautiful. Check it out; it’s very interesting.

As for “Ottoman”, it ends up being an atypically Netflixian anodyne treatment of a fascinating historical moment.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

"Ottoman": It's pretty good: understanding an opponent's mythology

28 Jan

“Understand an opponent’s mythology…”

Last night I figured I’d just buck up, get over with it, and start watching the Netflix docudrama — got through first two episodes — and it’s actually pretty good. Some key notes: The Turkish perspective is not insufferably jingoistic or Islamically triumphalist, like it was in that trashy 1453 film that came out a few years ago, which I also put off watching for a while because I thought it would be disturbing, but I ended up turning off after 20 minutes, not because I was disturbed or offended but because the script and acting were so horrendous and the production values so cheap — it looked like the set was composed of stuff bought wholesale from a Moroccan antique shop in the East Village or Çukurcuma– that it was simply unwatchable.

* We’re not portrayed as craven cowards or decadent dinosaurs à la Gibbon, whose destiny it was to float off into extinction. Both Constantine and Mehmet are portrayed as equal opponents, Hector-Achilles style: it’s probably no accident; both were, I’m sure, as acquainted with the Iliad as the other. Constantine’s heroic and complex combination of resistance and resignation are portrayed as thoroughly as possible: he did everything he could until there was nothing to be done anymore; Mehmet’s impressive intellect, cosmopolitanism and warrior skills are highlighted without going overboard. And both are pretty sexy, as is Giustiniani, as is even Notaras père (costumes and sets are beautiful too). I do dread the thought of how they’re going to treat the fate of the Notarades, though. It’s much too scintillating to just leave out of the whole narrative, yet to show it to us they’d have to admit that their revered Fatih Mehmet was what we would today call bisexual, and that he was also a cruel sadist, and I don’t know how that would have sat with the Turkish side of the production.

* Unexpectedly, I thought, we’re called “Romans” from the beginning of the series, in the fictional segments (and I think some of the Italians, Giustiniani even, calls us “Greeks” at one point); there’s more “Byzantine” used in the doc segments obviously. Either way, it’s hard to say whether they wanted to take a calculated risk in doing that, because using “Romans” probably leaves all non-Greek viewers baffled, or because “baffling” and confusing were the desired result for what’s always been the Turkish state’s policy: that is, separating us from the Byzantines/Romans and not giving us our due rights to claim descent for ourselves there, by calling us something different, the same reason Turkey calls Istanbul’s 3,000* remaining Greeks “Rum” to this day, while the rest of us are “Yunan”. It’s satisfying to hear, in any event.

* Whether advertently or not, it punctures some pretty giant holes in the Turkish mythology of heroic feat. One, by admitting the fact that we were outnumbered by the tens of thousands, so that the speed with which, for example, Rumelihisarı was built doesn’t seem quite so miraculous, plus there were already foundations on the site from an older Roman fortress. Two, by showing the glaring technological disparities between the two sides, meaning, that the Siege and Fall of Constantinople was the last great military event between mediaeval fortifications and early modern cannons and artillery, so that instead of being an incredible military achievement, it was more like the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán, with as dogged and determined a defense. And enough already with the “genius” of dragging the ships over from what, I would guess, would be somewhere near Kabataş, over the ridge, down Dolapdere into the Horn. It must have taken an enormous amount of manpower — too bad Erdoğan’s tunnel wasn’t there yet — yet not everything that’s just super-hard is necessarily “genius”.

* And stop comparing it to fucking Game of Thrones. GOT was Tolkien with sex and was the most maddening piece of trash to enthrall the masses in a long time. Ottoman is about a series of deeply traumatic events in the history of a real people that still exists, and who have been persecuted and are still threatened and harassed by Mehmet’s descendants to this day: US.

All in all it’s good; watch it. I mean, wtf, whatever. Maybe the inevitable escalation of violence, especially against civilians after the entry of the Turks into the City (The Religion of Peace gave an army three days’ right to loot, murder, rape and enslave if a city resisted and didn’t capitulate on it own) will make later episodes more disturbing. And the long arm of Erdoğanism is always felt throughout the whole thing. If Netflix were to produce a series portraying the destruction of the Second Temple and the horrendous brutality with which the Romans massacred and expelled most Jews from Judaea that made the Romans look even slightly heroic for even a second — “due to be released next Tisha B’av” — there’s not even a question of whether it would face a howling riot of protest or not; it would simply never have been produced. That’s not a “Jews control Hollywood” argument. It’s the truth. Just too many people would be offended. But even as Turkey sinks deeper into self-isolating dictatorship, it does wonders projecting a certain image to the rest of us and the rest of the Ummah.

But, at best it’s an exercise in what Helequin above calls “understand-[ing] an oppenents [sic] mythology”. You don’t have to be a trained Jungian to understand (or at least try) that “myth” is the only “reality”. That means understanding the other’s myth/s is crucial to the development of empathy, the one form of intelligence that homo sapiens [?] are still tragically deficient in.

It’s certainly the only thing in Palestine, or between Hindu and Muslim in India, and in the continuing bad divorce that is Greek-Turkish relations that will inevitably make a difference. Put yourself in a Turk’s position. Think about the massive baggage of tradition around the idea of taking Constantinople that animated them. And then [smerk]… put yourself in our position: if everybody wanted it so badly for 1,200 years, it must have been one puta madre of a city we had built there.

And in the 19th and 20th centuries, we built them another real city — “over there” — the likes of which they also had never known, and they threw us out of there too.

What are you gonna do? After a certain point, anger is too tiring. And they pay and are paying the price for their political culture anyway.

************************************************************************* The number of Greeks today in Istanbul is somewhere in the 2,000 to 3,000 range, there’s an issue of whether deaths and marriages and births will keep things in the range of critical mass… Near 300,000 in a city of around a million in the 1920s, three-thousand — in a city of 15 million today.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

November 19th post: Who IS that in photo? Alison Miner, old time reader, writes; Tried to get snarky about covered Muslim women and turns out Orientalist joke’s on me:

27 Nov

MY original post:

What is this a photo of?

19 Nov

Jeez, you know, I don’t want to be snide, but what’s being photographed here?  Is it the umbrella?  Is it so her children and grandchildren can remember how blindingly white her mandyli always was?  How gracefully the kimono-like folds of her doulama always fell?  The embroidered edges of her salwaria against her elegant pasoumakia?

Why is she, herself, even in the picture?

Vah, but Ayşe Teyze‘s eyes always gliterred when she smiled…   Vah va…

But wait…  Is that Ayşe Teyze?………

Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 6.55.11 PM

Portrait of a Woman, Istanbul, 1870s Bir İstanbul Kadını, 1870’ler

Ottoman Imperial Archives

@OttomanArchive

 

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Well Alison came up with the smartest answer:

Do you think these photos were actually used as family photos?  I always saw these photos (and there are a LOT of them) as made for westerners, and serving a few purposes.
I think there’s the “look at how strange/exotic these musselmans are!” angle, for sure. But have you ever seen a studio photo of a tribal woman with a veil on? I haven’t seen any that I can think of.
More often than not, these studio photos feature (very pale) women in very fashionable Western clothes, with either a super sheer veil, or a super (blindingly white, for instance) obvious one. I think they were intentionally designed as sexual objects – they demanded the viewer imagine what was underneath. And I’m sure some Victorian dudes were more than happy to oblige.
The other photos of women that were part of these commercial sets tend to be darker women lounging seductively with nargiles. Those are pretty clear in their intentions, I think.
These “hidden” ladies are just a sexy lady with the added benefit of performing their upper classness, right? I don’t see religiosity in them anywhere.
Maybe this is all obvious, and you were just being funny. But I spend a lot of time typing “Istanbul” into digital image collections and not having anyone to share my critique of what I find. ;)

 

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Alison,

I was trying to be funny but I’ve clearly failed.  Here I was trying to be snarky about Islam and the covering of women (I’ve seen plenty of these photos around C-town and it never occurred to me — naivëly  that they were posed any tourist objects of any kind.  As you rightly point out: “These “hidden” ladies are just a sexy lady with the added benefit of performing their upper classness, right? I don’t see religiosity in them anywhere.)  Instead they flipped a perfect Orientalist ippon on me.

Share some more of these with us?  I and reader will greatly appreciate.  Come to New York, chavala

Thanks again,

Niko

What is this a photo of?

19 Nov

Jeez, you know, I don’t want to be snide, but what’s being photographed here?  Is it the umbrella?  Is it so her children and grandchildren can remember how blindingly white her mandyli always was?  How gracefully the kimono-like folds of her doulama always fell?  The embroidered edges of her salwaria against her elegant pasoumakia?

Why is she, herself, even in the picture?

Vah, but Ayşe Teyze‘s eyes always gliterred when she smiled…   Vah va…

But wait…  Is that Ayşe Teyze?………

Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 6.55.11 PM

Portrait of a Woman, Istanbul, 1870s Bir İstanbul Kadını, 1870’ler

Ottoman Imperial Archives

@OttomanArchive

Venice floods, worst in decades

13 Nov

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This is seriously disturbing.  I mean I theoretically “hate” Venice as much as the next Roman, but there are wacky amateur Byzantinists on-line who are gloating about the destruction because they’re loons who consider this disaster retribution for 1204 and the Fourth Crusade and they’re just ridiculous.  We’re losing what may be humanity’s most beautiful city.  I, at least, think only Rome and Paris even come close.

Even jokes about this are obscene. And I’m the Greek who theoretically should be relishing our cold-dish revenge. You’re the Franco-Teutono-Visigotho-Norman descendants of the 1204 sackers, looters and murderers themselves.  So drop it.

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The infuriating thing is that so much can be done.  The dam walls that can be raised in storm conditions to keep the lagoon safe from Adriatic floods have been held up for years by Italian bureaucracy and corruption.  The siphoning off of the city’s ground water tables by mainland industries has not been stopped.  Even something that should be as easy as banning huge cruiseships, which cause waves that eat at buildings’ foundations has not been banned, as far as I know.  The destruction of Venice is not inevitable.
See Guardian article for full-size photos.
A tourist carries her luggage in a Piazza San Marco

 

The flooded crypt of St Mark’s Basilica

 

Venetians cross the Piazza San Marco

 

People walk past a stranded taxi boat on Riva degli Schiavoni
Police patrol across the flooded St. Mark’s square
Employees of the Gritti Palace protect furniture

 

The flooded San Marco square
A room in the flooded Gritti Palace

 

A tourist walks near the Rialto bridge

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

My buddy M. from Novi Sad writes: “You clueless Frangoi with your Pierre-Loti infatuation with Istanbul…”

12 Nov

“I would love to see these people try and live somewhere like Pendik or Küçükçekmece, and commute to work for 4 hours total/per day in crowded public transport for 3,000 TL/month… like most of Istanbul… and then see what they have to say.

“At least these people aren’t as terrible as the (appallingly numerous) Westerners who think Dubai is a lovely holiday destination.”

Dubai?  Who needs Dubai when Erdoğan builds hideous and hubristically six-minaretted mosque monstrosities like this:

Çamlica mosqueScreen Shot 2019-11-12 at 1.18.37 AM

For 2,676 years, the Megaran Greeks who founded the city, the Romans, meaning the  the Italian ones and us, and the Ottomans only built things that added to the beauty of Istanbul.  Only Erdoğan had the arrogance to build something so hideous on a site so conspicuous that it mars the entire sea-landscape, horizon and view of the City.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

You clueless Frangoi with your Pierre-Loti infatuation with Istanbul…

10 Nov

…are so blissfully ignorant of how much ugliness and violence went into creating the questionably “beautiful” city you see today.  Your type probably wept in the 90s (if you’re even that old), along with Susan Sontag and Angelina Jolie, for the violent segregation and ethnic cleansing that evil Serbs inflicted on poor Sarajevo.  But there’s apparently a statute of limitations on such crimes where Istanbul is concerned.  And if, like most ex-pats, your existence is pretty much limited to the axis between Karaköy to Bebek — maybe some 0.5% of the territory of the city — with an occasional foray to the islands or to Kadıköy to go eat at AKP Çiya, and you’ve ingested enough Turkish tourist propaganda, then you’ll believe anything.

You know nothing about Istanbul.  You know nothing of the violence, massacre, pogroms, property destruction and confiscation, discriminatory taxation and imprisonment, expulsions and deportations that created the wonderful East-West playground you love so much.  You know nothing of the genuine Mediterranean worldliness that’s been displaced by rural Anatolian puritanism.  You know nothing of the last muhallebici in Pera that’s been replaced by another kitschy restaurant with women in salwar and headscarves kneading flatbreads in the window.  You know nothing of the subtlety and sophistication of the City’s cuisine that’s been totally replaced by the monotony of kebab/köfte joints that you think are authentic and cool.

Yes, it still has a modicum of its old charms.  And it’s hard to beat its stunning physical location, though the Padishah’s monster kitschario-mosque has managed to mar even that.  But mostly, Istanbul today is a Baudrillardian simulacrum of the city that it was for centuries.  And you buy it up.  It’s a massive — and aside from the axis mentioned above — hideous monstropolis of 15 million, 99.9% of whom are Turkish or Kurdish Muslims, and yet still manages to sell itself as multicultural.

Look at what a tiny bit of the actual city you really have any relation to:

bosphorus-satelitte

And how ignorant you are of even the neighborhoods that you do move about in.   How clueless you are about who used to live there. (see below)*  About who was displaced to house you and your Turkish yuppy friends.  The zoning corruption that’s destroyed neighborhood after neighborhood and the woodlands and wetlands of the City’s environs and replaced them with massive high-rise developments that make the Queensbridge Houses in New York look like the Place des Vosges.  The megalomaniacal mega-mosques disfiguring Taksim or Çamlica, that are more Riyadh or Dubai than Istanbul. The cheezy, glitzy Gulfie shopping malls…

And now the new zoning law that will take the Bosporus away from the authority of the Istanbul municipality and give imperial rights to development there directly to Erdoğan and his Divan — punishment because Istanbul (and Ankara) booted him and the AKP in one election and then a recount…double slap in the face.  So they’ll be able to build Allah-knows what kind of monstrosities along what remains of that waterway’s beauty.

Plus, how glibly non-concerned you seem to be about political developments…Islamist dictatorship…more imprisoned journalists than any other country in the world…whatever..  It’s exhausting to even talk to you.

This “DAMN” city is right.

Enjoy your Turkish Life.

Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 1.19.00 AM

Oh, that’s the Sülemaniye on the right, isn’t it?  and the Yeni Camii in the distant left?

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* From my 2013 Nobody really cares about Gezi Park: Greek thoughts on the protests of 2013:

“All – I thought a lot about whether I should use “almost all” in this sentence and decided against it –because all the hippest, funkiest, most attractive, gentrified neighborhoods in the historic parts of İstanbul are neighborhoods that were significantly, if not largely, minority-inhabited until well into the twentieth century: not just Pera and Galata, but Cihangir and Tarlabaşı, and even Kurtuluş — of course — and up and down the western shores of the Bosphorus and much of its eastern towns too, and central Kadiköy and Moda and the Islands.  (And if serious gentrifying ever begins in the old city it’ll be in Samatya and Kumkapı and Fener and Balat; I wouldn’t put any big money into Çarşamba just yet.)  If young Turks are fighting to preserve the cosmopolitan character of areas made cosmopolitan by a Greek presence, among others, is it a recognition of that presence, however vestigial, that I want?  Yes.  Is it because some recognition might assuage some of the bitterness of the displacement?  Perhaps.  Is the feeling proprietary then?  Does the particular “cool” quality of these neighborhoods that protesters have been fighting to protect register for me as a form of appropriated “coolness?”  I’m afraid that yes, sometimes it does.  In darker moments this spring and summer, these Occupy Gezi kids annoyed me: “What’s wrong mes p’tits?  The Big Daddy State threatening to break up your funky Beyoğlu party?  Do you know the Big Daddy State made life so intolerable for the dudes who made Beyoğlu funky that they not only had to break the party up, but shut down shop altogether and set up elsewhere?  That your own daddies and granddaddies probably stood by and watched, approved even?  Do you know that now?  Do you care?”

Some pics: The morning of September 7, 1955. a bad Beyoğlu hangover

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Devastation-Pogrom-1955-568x420

Septembriana_1955-1-790x400

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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