Tag Archives: Hittites

NikoBako reads: Dangers of Convenient Universalism: Power Relations and Responsibility of Scholars on the Hagia Sophia — Axel B. Çorlu: “The reconversion of Hagia Sophia is about power…”

23 Dec

I once got into an argument with a Turkish art historian friend of mine after I referred to the eight round canvasses with the first caliphs’ names on them (I think) in Hagia Sophia as “the hideous green billboards”. She, of course, thought they were “cool” or “pastiche-y” or “palimpsest-y”. I thought, and think, that they not only mar the space by covering the joints between the massive square space and the massive dome which are perhaps the most ingenious aspect of this miracle of Roman engineering, but that they were meant to send a clear message of who was now in charge. Hers is a typical “woke” take on these things. In the article below, Axel Çorlu highlights the dangers of such gleefully amoral, post-modern celebrations of funky “conjunctures” and how they essentially elide the historical facts of violence, persecution and appropriation from our picture of the past, and how — in the particular case of Hagia Sophia — these academics end up feeding the discourse of both Ottoman/Muslim triumphalism and the oppression and displacement of religious minorities by the nationalism of the Turkish Republic.

In short, you may want to get past “conquest narratives”; Erdoğan — who justified the reconversion by the “right of conquest” — doesn’t.

My money quotes:

They [Patricia Blessing and Ali Yaycıoğlu, titled “Beyond Conquest Narratives: Hagia Sophia, Past and Present”] conclude this section with the heart of their essay: “…in this essay, we would like to divert the conversation and discuss how the conquest narrative, which is shared by those who oppose and support the decision, does not do justice to Hagia Sophia and its architecturally, spiritually, and emotionally charged history.” This sort of interjection, very appealing to the academic mind, nonetheless includes ominous terminology such as “doing justice” to the Hagia Sophia and its “…emotionally charged history.”

This narrative at once establishes the issue of “justice,” not in the sense of the expropriation and destruction of Christian and/or minority populations and the appropriation of their cultural heritage, but as in, “Let us not be unfair to the Ottomans or the Turkish Republic…” and the fact that those who respond to the Hagia Sophia issue might be affected by the same “emotionally charged” aspects. In other words, the authors are guiding us to focus on “justice,” as long as it is to protect the powerful who do not need any protection –there appears to be no need to consider the concept of justice for the dispossessed, whom the Hagia Sophia also symbolizes. […]

While the republican regime was indeed interested in recasting the Ottoman past (usually not in a very bright light, as it also distanced itself from many of its aspects and dictated a highly selective version of its history) and kept busy trying to prove that “Turks” had existed in Anatolia for millennia through the Hittites and other ancient peoples with an eclectic mix of the racial theories and pseudo-science of the time (including the infamous obsession with the morphology and measurements of skulls), it hardly made an effort to understand, teach, or preserve its Byzantine past, let alone “making a claim” to it, if what we mean by “making a claim” is anything more than a possessive but not inclusive approach.

Indeed, the Byzantine past of Turkey remained either buried, neglected, or carefully molded in the public imagination, as nothing more than the “other” that had happened to be there before.At no point did the republic genuinely try to make a direct connection to the Byzantines beyond their role as the adversary in history textbooks, the adversary that had been vanquished, the adversary that had nothing to do with the ethnicity or cultural heritage of the people in Turkey. […]

Beyond its [the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a museum] practical use as described, it was neither part of a grand historical or intellectual vision, nor a noble gesture of “tolerance” by a regime that did its very best to eliminate the remaining diversity of cultures and religions in its lands for decades to come through acts ranging from the population exchange with Greece, to the Izmir Economics Congress of 1923 where the elimination of “foreign” bourgeoisie and its replacement with a “national” one was planned, to the Varlik Vergisi (Capital Tax) of 1942, among many other examples. Such a regime surely could not care less about multiculturalism, inclusivity, or the Byzantine past as the authors suggest. […]

This idea also worked very well for the urban Kemalist elite and their newly created middle class throughout the 20th century, because it did not require them to symbolically come to terms with the vast destruction visited upon the minorities of the land, from whom they had acquired significant aspects of their material and cultural wealth via direct or indirect appropriation

I agree that a narrative that “equates Ottoman approaches to Hagia Sophia with iconophobia and iconoclasm is incorrect” but I do not think it is necessarily “marked by Islamophobia and Orientalism” given the fact that Byzantine art and architecture suffered tremendous degradation and damage, sometimes in the name of Islam, and other times at the hands of unscrupulous republican bureaucrats, treasure hunters, or the common public in more recent times. Any scholar, casual observer, or visitor of Byzantine, Armenian, or Syriac heritage sites in Turkey will be more than cognizant of the intentional damage done to frescoes, mosaics, and other elements of Christian architecture. The damage was done over a period of centuries under different conditions, the perpetrators were/are not a homogeneous group, and the practice ranges from officially undertaken projects to “simply” neglected sites. This is an undeniable fact, and it would be disingenuous to suggest that the few token examples in the Ottoman era, republican era or today somehow represent a “preservationist” or “tolerant” attitude when in the vast majority of locations they were covered at best and destroyed at worst. …..Today, the Turkish state uses sites such as the restored Aghtamar Cathedral of the Holy Cross or the Sumela Monastery as tokens of its hollow “multiculturalism” and “tolerance.” As scholars, we have a grave responsibility to challenge this narrative. This multiculturalism narrative and tokenism of Turkey is a propaganda tool designed to cover the simultaneous appropriation and destruction of the past and the present, motivated to a significant extent by the conquest narrative. The conquest narrative was a real factor in history, and it is a real factor today. Ignoring it, reducing it to merely an “incorrect” historical interpretation, or diminishing it to an ahistorical approach is dangerous. […]

The reconversion of the Hagia Sophia is about power; in a world where power relations past and present influence the lives of millions of people, and history is weaponized for various agendas, we do not have the luxury of pretending to “stay above it” in a noncommittal manner.

The interior of Hagia Sophia with the eight “hideous green billboards”. Getty Images.

For full article, please read below:

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Dangers of Convenient Universalism: Power Relations and Responsibility of Scholars on the Hagia Sophia

2020-08-08

By Axel B. Çorlu, Ph.D.

The recent reconversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque by the (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan regime generated heated debates among scholars, politicians, and the public. A recent article by Patricia Blessing and Ali Yaycioglu, titled “Beyond Conquest Narratives: Hagia Sophia, Past and Present” offers sophisticated but ultimately convenient universalism, where both the past and the present are presented from a distorted lens, with strategic omissions.[1]

According to Blessing and Yaycioglu, there is a binary “conquest narrative” that both the supporters and opponents of the Hagia Sophia reconversion utilize, and that in essence this simplistic view does not reflect the “complex history of Ottoman Hagia Sophia.” The authors go on to label the concerns about the protection of the structure, especially regarding the issue of the mosaics as ahistorical “disinformation,” and offer a “correct” version of history.

I will follow their text in the same order, and point out the multiple issues… (see below)

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Another NikoBako I-told-you-so: Antiocheia, Idlib, Turkey and goddamn “referenda”

7 Oct

In a recent post (September 22): Do Kurds need to do this right now, just at this very moment?“, I re-examined some of the assumptions and hopes I had made and wished for in an older post from December 2015: Syria, Russia, ISIS and what to do about everything“.

From just two weeks ago, this September:

“I hate, more than anybody, to look like I’m catering to Erdoğan’s peeves, but an Iraqi Kurdish referendum on independence just at this time is a provocation for him that may turn out to be disastrous.  Erdoğan is already massing troops on Turkey’s southern borders, and though I doubt he’ll have the balls to invade what’s pretty much an American satellite, Iraqi Kurdistan, I don’t put it beyond him to send troops into the Idlib region in Syria — maybe even hold a “referendum” and annex it like the Turkish Republic did to the neighboring region of Antiocheia in the 1930s.”

Well, the man’s deranged mind functions like clockwork.  Reuters announced a few hours ago that Turkish army operations in Idlib have already begun:

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that a major military operation was underway in the Syria’s northwest province of Idlib, which Free Syrian Army rebel groups earlier said they were preparing to enter with Turkish backing.

“There is a serious operation in Syria’s Idlib today, and this will continue,” Erdogan told members of his AK Party in a speech.

Much of Idlib is currently controlled by an jihadist-led alliance of fighters. “We will never allow a terror corridor along our borders in Syria,” Erdogan said. “We will continue to take other initiatives after the Idlib operation.”

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The reason this is so dangerous a move is that it’s so blindingly easy for Erdoğan to justify it.  In case you’ve ever wondered why the Greco-Syrian city of AntiochΑντιόχεια, one of the three great urban centers of Greco-Roman Christianity, is today in Turkey and not Syria, it’s because in 1939, the Turkish Republic strong-armed the French Mandate of Syria (I don’t know how) into holding a plebiscite in the Sanjak of Alexandretta (see map below) in order to determine its future incorporation into the Turkish state.  And as with all such votes — like Putin’s elections, Puigdemont’s referendum — the response was overwhelmingly approving.  We’re supposed to believe that 90% of the population of this region, the hinterland of Antiocheia (Antakya), where a majority of the population were, and still are, Arab Alawites/Alevis (see second to last map at bottom) who already had a little-sister, special relationship with France like Maronites did in Lebanon, followed by Turco-Kurdish Alevis and a sizeable Arab Christian community (most of which has now long moved to İstanbul), had — even after almost twenty years of watching the vicious war the Turkish Republic had been waging against Kurds, the crazed massacres of Alevis in Turkey, and the Republic’s systematic campaign to either expel or forcibly assimilate its Christian population — voted in their delighted majority to become part of Turkey.

An independent Iraqi Kurdish state, with neighboring Syrian areas already under YPG, would only need Idlib (only 100 kilometres from Turkish Antiocheia) to connect it to the strongly Assadite, Alawite region of Laodicaea (Latakya) and give a something-like-a-Kurdish state access to the Mediterranean; it would certainly end Erdoğan’s dream of a Sunni-run Syria.  I don’t even know what to think or what predictions to make.  Hopefully Russia will say no.  Hopefully the U.S. and the EU will too and go for serious sanctions, by which I mean not bullshit sanctions, but the cutting off of military aid completely.  Erdoğan deserves a serious back-hander — not just German pissiness — from some-one, for eff’s sake, and I can’t think of a better one than to have the Turkish army, deprived of its fancy American toys, “eat its face”, as we say in Greek, against Kurdish peshmerga in northern Syria.

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Hatay, where the name comes from — Hittites, I think – Hittites who came from the Sun, I think — and how there’s been a Turkic presence in the region for forty centuries (were there even homo sapiens forty centuries ago? …hmmm…maybe that’s the point) are all contained in the sacred texts of Turkish nationalism.  Like I’ve said many times before, nationalism is always funny (if it weren’t at the cost of so much blood) but Turkish nationalism is hysterical, Star Trek as a SNL skit.  Check it out if you’re bored at work some afternoon: Sun Language Theory.

More maps:

1579px-Hatay_in_Turkey.svgThe Sanjak of Alexandretta — Antioch — “Hatay” province — little red corner of Syrian Mediterranean, that Turkey bullied out of French hands in 1939.

1024px-alawite_distribution_in_the_levantDistribution of Alawites/Alevis in Turkey (Antiocheia), Syria and Lebanon, indicating, clearly, regions of ALAWITE MAJORITY.

And Idlib governate below.

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See “Alawite”, “Alevis” and then “Kurds” tags from other Jadde posts for more on this.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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