Tag Archives: Kemalism

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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Memo to: a certain generation of “progressive” Turks

4 Aug

From: NikoBakos

Re: the final and total castration of the Turkish military

Date: August 2017

Ataturk Mausoleum Yildirim Chiefs of staffPrime Minister Binali Yildirim of Turkey, front right, and the chief of staff, Gen. Hulusi Akar, third from left, visit the Mustafa Kemal Ataturk Mausoleum before the Turkish Supreme Military Council meeting in Ankara on Wednesday. Credit Adem Altan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

ARE YOU HAPPY NOW???

I have two groups of friends in Constantinople:* one a group of mostly Alevi**, first-generation urbanites (from Dersim and Antiocheia); another of at least several urban generations, who are pure “White” Turks in every way.

A sub-category of this second group of friends (who are fast becoming ex-friends) are/were or considered themselves to be “leftists” (“I should cough” as one of the characters in Hester Street says).  These were always violently allergic to anything that had to do with the military, Turkish or otherwise.

Peaceniks, of course, our rift began when it proved completely in their interest to paint me as a super-American hawk during the Iraq war, even if I’m deeply un-American in my self-identification and was never a supporter of Bush’s adventure.  I simply did not know what to think about the idea of invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein and took issue with their knee-jerk, anti-American attitude, with their facile certainty they knew what to think.  In the end I just decided that anybody who was automatically against the completely justified invasion of Afghanistan and the removal of the Taliban — and if that’s a tragically uncompleted project, that doesn’t mean the initial result or victory was not worthwhile…ASK ANY AFGHAN — was going to be a robot-thinker about any kind of American intervention or just about war of any kind, so I couldn’t be bothered.

Of course, these types DON’T KNOW ANY AFGHANS to ask, because they’re shameless hypocrites living in their pleasant, sheltered suburbs in C-Town, who know our Cyclades better then they know the rest of their own country — certainly better than I do — and wouldn’t dare head out to Afghanistan, even on a dare.  Why do they irritate me so much?  It’s simple.

If the original sin of the Right is selfishness, the original sin of the Left is self-righteousness, by which I mean the need to see one’s self as morally correct no matter what, even if this means a breezy indifference to the realpolitik or the reality of what’s really happening on the ground.***

Of course, they were steadfast in their belief that the Turkish military was an institution of bastardized Kemalism that was the greatest anti-democratic force in their society.  This was their justification for eventually rejecting their parents’ admittedly corrupt CHP as well, Turkey’s Kemalist Republican party.  And yet it’s ironic that the Turkish military’s “anti-democratic” orientation has repeatedly prevented the complete descent of that society into chaos.  One of these types has a whole sob story she used to recite to me about how, as a young girl in the 70s, she was terrified every day when her father left the house that he wouldn’t come home because of the terrible and constant terrorist violence that was then occurring on the streets of Constantinople.  But it was the military that put an end to that violence in 1980, like it was the military who got rid of Menderes, architect of the 1955 anti-Greek pogrom, in 1960.  And as soon as Erbakan started exceeding his limits (btw, he was the first who tried talking about limiting alcohol consumption and tables on the street in Pera and Galata), the military got rid of him too in 1997 — not exactly cause and effect there.

As a Greek, there’s obviously little love lost on my part for the Turkish military.  I just feel that if Turkey’s twentieth-century history, culminating in the Erdoğan phenomenon, has proven the country to be incapable of forming a democratic civil society that doesn’t spin out of control into violence, corruption and chaos, then you just don’t have the luxury of being anti-military.  Furthermore, from our perspective, Erdoğan’s pre- and post-“coup” military is a far more threatening force than it was previously.  Violations of Greek air space have increased exponentially under Erdoğan’s tenure, as has his, and formerly Davutoğlu’s, irresponsibly imperialist Neo-Ottoman language.  And just like it wasn’t a military junta that organized the pogrom of 1955, it wasn’t a military government that invaded Cyprus in 1974, ethnically cleansing and occupying 40% of the island to protect a Turkish minority that is only 18% of the island’s population.

Lately there had been a weird shift in their attitudes though, as it has slowly sunk in that they had supported (“I voted for him!  My God!!”) the most un-democratic, anti-consitutional, religiously retrograde, paranoid, chip-on-the-shoulder lunatic to rule Turkey since Abdülhamid (photo below).  After the takeover and purging of the daily Zaman in March of 2016, I ran the idea past a few of them: “do you think it’d be a good idea for the military to step in? …they already have more unconstitutional dirt on him than on most Turkish heads of state.”  And even the Teşvikiye girl who had worried so much about her father, didn’t get apoplectic on me like she would’ve done in the past; she simply mumbled passively, in the static cadences of Turkish passivity: “I don’t even think they’re in a position to do anything at this point.”****

AbdülhamidAbdülhamid

Worse was one who said to me: “What Turkey needs now is unity.”  Well, your compatriots have actually shown a quite impressive amount of unity in the face of the Erdoğan challenge.  Every time he has engineered some sort of spectacular violence to terrify them over the past almost three years, they have unitedly come back, in elections and referenda and the mob-mobilization they have always been so good at, to give this “most un-democratic, anti-consitutional, religiously retrograde, paranoid, chip-on-the-shoulder lunatic to rule Turkey since Abdülhamid…” an even greater mandate on power than he had before: Daddy please save us!

Infantile beyond belief.  Is that the “unity” you wanted?  There was great unity in the mob hysteria that this supposed coup was met with (no, I don’t believe it was Gülen; no, I don’t think it was the army, unless it was army that already knew it was going to be sacked; no, I don’t think he didn’t know; I’d probably refuse to believe that Erdoğan wasn’t the architect of the whole thing — see the New Yorker‘s great Dexter Fillins’ “Turkey’s Thirty-Year Coup”).  They displayed impressive unity lynching poor little Mehmetçiks just following orders on the Bosporus Bridge (scenes guaranteed to make the hair of Greeks and Armenians stand on end), impressive unity in the Nazi-style rallies the Great Leader has convened, impressive unity in heckling men from the army and journalists and writers being led into a show trial that can quite possibly end in their execution or certainly life sentence (see “Inside Erdoğan’s Prisons” in the Times) and with the kerchiefed teyzes screaming for blood outside the courthouse in Ankara — and I’m sure they’ll show impressive unity in supporting the reinstating of capital punishment if that goes up for a referendum soon.

Turkish thugs and soldiersTurks beating up young conscripts on the Bosporus Bridge, defending their democratic right to elect a dictator who has abolished Turkish democracy for the most part and soon will have the power to go after whatever’s left…Turkish “unity” in action.

IS THAT THE UNITY YOU WANTED?  The unity of Kristallnacht? (or the “Septembriana” — same difference.)  The unity of Nüremberg?  The unity that comes with thinking that you can enfranchise the newly rich, provincial pious, those with absolutely no democratic education — or education of any kind — and that they won’t turn on you like swine before which pearls have been cast?  (Plato said that the “demos” — the people — shouldn’t have the right to vote because they’ll always vote for the tyrant — τυραννόφρων; Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor says precisely the same thing.)  Did you want the unity of the Italians and the Germans who respectively put Mussolini and Hitler in power with their vote?  Or the Americans who voted for Trump?  Or the Russians who voted and will again vote for Putin?

Tabrik migam, then.  You got it.

And this is the cherry on your birthday cake: Erdoğan replaces the military chiefs of staff with his own men.  Good luck ever getting rid of him now.  He’s now in a position of total control, with no challenges whatsoever.  You’re stuck for life.

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* The days when in the p.c. stupidity of the metapoliteuse we used to refer to Constantinople as “Istanbul” — I mean when speaking Greek…airport announcements and newspaper by-lines used “Ιστανμπούλ“…in Greek…are over.  I’ve now taken to calling it Constantinople in English as well, as Turks are free to call Salonica Selanik or Bulgarians and Macedonians Solun and I have no problem.  I’m not going to tell others what to call cities historically important to them; it actually makes me happy.  For more on this see my: Names: “Istanbul (not Constantinople)”…and Bombay! and keep an eye out for my “Boycott ‘Mumbai” campaign” post.  In general except an upswing in South Asian posts as we approach the seventy-year anniversary of Partition.

** My friends bear out the truth that Turkey’s Kurdish-Zaza Alevis and Syria and Lebanon’s Alawites are religiously the same branch of semi-Shia Islam.  The ones from Dersim have recognized that Syrian Alawites are also Alevi like them, even if that hasn’t made them Assad supporters; and the ones from Antiocheia (Antakya in Turkish or Hatay province in the logic of Turkish science fiction nationalist narrative) are just plain Alawite Arabs, who have understood that if there’s anything separating them from Syrian or Lebanese Alawites, it’s only the Turkification campaign they were subjected to when Turkey annexed that part of then-French-mandate Syria in the 1930s.  If papers like the Times feel the need to add the caveat that they’re different in every article they publish on the subject, it’s because they’re ignorant, the Turkish Press Office has made a fuss every time they don’t add that caveat, and it’s easy to think that people separated into difference by the ethnic nation state aren’t religiously brothers.  I’ve written extensively on this in a Twitter dialogue I had with a Turk who thought everybody should fight “lies and defamation” against their country when they appear in the media:

Syrian Alawites and Turkish Alevis: closer than I thought

Turkish Alevis and Syrian (or Lebanese…or Turkish?) Alawites — a Twitter exchange

Alevis and Alawites addendum: a “p.s.” from Teomete

More on Alevis and Alawites…or Alevis and Kurds…or Iraqi Kurds…or…Christian Kurds…or Assyrians…or…

Look out for Alevis in the current struggle in Turkey.  Whereas Kurds proper are not trusted by the political establishment or most Turks because they’re convinced they’ll never give up their separatist aspirations, Alevis, who suffered terribly under the Ottomans and the early republic and still do on some level, are still loyal to the Turkish Republic and Turkey itself.  This puts them in the position to become the secular backbone of all democratic impulses that still exist in that country, something like African-Americans in the United States were in the mid-twentieth century, since their form of Islam does not aspire to becoming the State itself, as all forms of conventional Sunni Islam do.  They were a disproportionate share of the casualties and deaths that occurred during the crackdown of the 2013 protests, not because they were targetted specifically, but simply because they were already a disproportionately large percentage of the protesters.

*** It may seem irrelevant, but this type always reminds of a passage in Chesterton’s Orthodoxy in which he trashes this kind of moral correctness by trashing the New Agers of his time:

“Only the other day I saw in an excellent weekly paper
of Puritan tone this remark, that Christianity when stripped of its
armour of dogma (as who should speak of a man stripped of his armour of
bones), turned out to be nothing but the Quaker doctrine of the Inner
Light. Now, if I were to say that Christianity came into the world
specially to destroy the doctrine of the Inner Light, that would be an
exaggeration. But it would be very much nearer to the truth. The last
Stoics, like Marcus Aurelius, were exactly the people who did believe in
the Inner Light. Their dignity, their weariness, their sad external care
for others, their incurable internal care for themselves, were all due
to the Inner Light, and existed only by that dismal illumination. Notice that Marcus Aurelius insists, as such introspective moralists always do,
upon small things done or undone; it is because he has not hate or love
enough to make a moral revolution. He gets up early in the morning, just
as our own aristocrats living the Simple Life get up early in the
morning; because such altruism is much easier than stopping the games of
the amphitheatre or giving the English people back their land. Marcus
Aurelius is the most intolerable of human types. He is an unselfish
egoist. An unselfish egoist is a man who has pride without the excuse of
passion. Of all conceivable forms of enlightenment the worst is what
these people call the Inner Light. Of all horrible religions the most
horrible is the worship of the god within. Any one who knows any body
knows how it would work; any one who knows any one from the Higher
Thought Centre knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god
within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones.
Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light;
let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street,
but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in
order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards,
but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a
divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian
was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely
recognised an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible
as an army with banners.”  [All bold emphases mine.]

**** “yanlış oldu” — See Loxandra‘s amazing “duck with bamya” chapter; I never tire of recommending it.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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