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As if the Ottoman Period Never Ended

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

A scene from “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny.”

By
Published: October 29, 2012

ISTANBUL — Since the lavish, feel-good Turkish epic “Conquest 1453” had its premiere this year, its tale of the taking of Constantinople by the 21-year-old Sultan Mehmet II has become the highest-grossing film in Turkey’s history, released in 12 countries across the Middle East and in Germany and the United States. But its biggest impact may be the cultural triumphalism it has magnified at home.

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

Visitors at the Panorama Museum in Istanbul. Large crowds are flocking to the institution, which features a 360-degree painting of the siege of Constantinople.

“Conquest 1453” (known as “Fetih 1453” in Turkish) has spawned a television show with the same title and has encouraged clubs of proud Turks to re-enact battles from the empire’s glory days and even dress up as sultans and Ottoman nobles. The producers of “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny,” a television series about the 18th-century insurrection against Sultan Ahmet Khan III, said they planned to build a theme park where visitors will be able to wander through a reproduction of Ottoman-era Istanbul and watch sword fights by stuntmen. At least four new films portray the battle of Gallipoli, the bloody World War I face-off between the Ottomans and Allied forces over the straits of Dardanelles and one of the greatest victories of modern Turkey. The coming “In Gallipoli” even includes Mel Gibson starring as a British commander.

The Ottoman period, particularly during the 16th and 17th centuries, was marked by geopolitical dominance and cultural prowess, during which the sultans claimed the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world, before the empire’s slow decline culminated in World War I. For years the period was underplayed in the history taught to schoolchildren, as the new Turkish Republic created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 sought to break with a decadent past.

Now, as Turkey is emerging as a leader in the Middle East, buoyed by strong economic growth, a new fascination with history is being reflected in everything from foreign policy to facial hair. In the arts, framed examples of Ottoman-era designs, known as Ebru and associated with the geometric Islamic motifs adorning mosques, have gained in popularity among the country’s growing Islamic bourgeoisie, adorning walls of homes and offices, jewelry and even business cards.

The three-year-old Panorama Museum, which showcases an imposing 360-degree, 45-foot-tall painting of the siege of Constantinople, complete with deafening cannon fire blasts and museum security guards dressed as Janissary soldiers, is drawing huge crowds.

And in the past few years there has been a proliferation of Ottoman-themed soap operas, none more popular than “The Magnificent Century,” a sort of “Sex in the City” set during the 46-year reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The Turkish show pulpishly chronicles the intrigues of the imperial household and harem, including the rise of Suleiman’s slave girl-turned-queen, Hurrem. Last year it was broadcast in 32 countries, including Morocco and Kosovo.

The empire’s rehabilitation has inspired mixed feelings among cultural critics. “The Ottoman revival is good for the national ego and has captured the psyche of the country at this moment, when Turkey wants to be a great power,” said Melis Behlil, a film studies professor at Kadir Has University here. But, she warned: “It terrifies me because too much national ego is not a good thing. Films like ‘Conquest 1453’ are engaging in cultural revisionism and glorifying the past without looking at history in a critical way.”

Faruk Aksoy, the 48-year-old director of “Conquest 1453,” said that he had dreamed of making a film about the conquering of Istanbul ever since he arrived there at the age of 10 from Urfa, in Turkey’s rugged southeast, and had been mesmerized by Istanbul’s imperial grandeur. But he had to wait 10 years to make a big-budget film because the financing and technology were not available.

The film’s budget of $18.2 million was a record in Turkey, but it has more than recouped that, grossing $40 million in Turkey and Europe, Mr. Aksoy said. So stirred was a crowd at a recent screening that it roared “God is Great!” as the sword-wielding Ottomans scaled Istanbul’s forbidden walls. Mr. Aksoy recalled that one cinema manager debated calling the police, fearing a real fight.

“We Turks are hot-blooded people,” he said. “The Turks are proud about the conquest because it not only changed our history but it also changed the world.”

But others warn of a dangerous cultural jingoism at work. Burak Bekdil, a columnist for Hurriyet Daily News, mused in a recent column that the time was ripe for a film called “Conquest 1974,” to celebrate the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, or “Extinction 1915,” to commemorate the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I. Death threats followed.

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

A tourist in Ottoman attire inside a Topkapi Palace photo booth.

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

The actress Aslihan Guner on the set of “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny.”

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

A traditionally dressed military band on the streets of Istanbul.

Adem Altan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A poster for “Fetih 1453.”

Critics have also faulted the film for inaccuracies and hyperbole, though Mr. Aksoy stressed that he had employed Ottoman scholars. Members of the court of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI — portrayed as hedonistic boozers surrounded by nubile dancing girls — talk in Turkish rather than Greek or Latin. Even Mehmet II, the conquering Sultan famed for his prodigious nose, has been retooled as a heroic pretty boy.

Alper Turgut, a leading film critic, deplored this one-dimensional universe even as he lauded the film’s epic ambitions. “If they had exaggerated just a bit more, it would be an absurdist comedy,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Aksoy expressed annoyance that a film meant to entertain was being politicized. “Would you ask Ridley Scott if he was politically influenced?” he asked.

Cultural critics noted that the film’s religious underpinning — there’s even a cameo by the Prophet Muhammad predicting that Constantinople will be conquered by believers — had made it popular with the growing Islamic bourgeoisie in a country that has increasingly turned its back on the crisis-ridden Europe and instead looks increasingly eastward. (The movie has also been embraced by some members of the governing Islamic party as an alternative to Hollywood’s “crusader mentality.”)

Religious conservatives had been marginalized during the secular cultural revolution undertaken by Ataturk. “For the first time we are seeing this new Islamic bourgeoisie, its tastes and its mores, reflected on the small and big screens,” Mr. Turgut said.

Ms. Behlil noted that the advent of big-budget television shows and films depicting the Ottoman era owed something to the country’s popularity in the Arab world, which was bringing in new revenues for production companies. Last year Turkey was Europe’s largest exporter of soap operas, pocketing $70 million in revenues.

But it is at home that the series and films are having a profound impact, educating a new generation of Turks.

Burak Temir, 24, a German-Turkish actor who played a prince on “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny,” said he had initially been intimidated about portraying an era he knew so little about.

To prepare for his part, the show gave him a four-month crash course in Ottoman manners that included learning how to ride horses, sword fight, use a bow and arrow and puff out his chest. Even when not filming the show, he sports a Sultan-like beard and skinny Ottoman-style pants. “It makes me proud to be Turkish,” he said.

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Caucasus Activist Feels Heat in Turkey

By SUSANNE GÜSTEN
Published: July 11, 2012, nytimes.com

ISTANBUL — Midnight was long gone and the back streets of Istanbul lay dark and deserted, when Kuban Kural was walking home from an evening’s campaigning for the Circassian cause one night this spring.

Kuban Kural fears he is being stalked by Russian agents.

Suddenly, the interior lights of a parked car flared on, and Mr. Kural found himself staring straight into the pale eyes of his pursuers.

Then, the motor started up, and the car began to move slowly toward him.

“That was perhaps the worst moment of all,” Mr. Kural, 29, said in an interview in Istanbul this week, recounting a month of such encounters that the police and prosecutors in Istanbul are still studying.

Neither the authorities nor, indeed, Mr. Kural would have taken these incidents so seriously, were it not that six other Caucasian activists have been gunned down in the streets of Istanbul over the past four years.

In the most recent attack, three Chechen militants were shot and killed last September with silencer-equipped guns as they were getting into a car outside their home in Istanbul. Three other Chechen activists were killed in similar fashion in separate attacks in September and December 2008 and in February 2009.

None of the victims were Circassian; all were living in Turkey as refugees from the Chechen war, in which they had fought for independence from Russia. For that reason, analysts suspect that the perpetrators, who have not been apprehended, are linked to Moscow.

“It is quite open, quite clear who did it,” Guner Ozkan, an expert on security issues in the Caucasus with the International Strategic Research Organization in Ankara, said this week. “Russia does that,” he added, pointing to similar killings of Chechen militants in Vienna, Dubai and other places.

Oliver Bullough, the author of “Let Our Fame Be Great,” a recent book about the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century, agreed. “The balance of probability is overwhelming that at least some of these were committed by Russian agents or people sent by Russia,” Mr. Bullough said by telephone from England this week.

The Russian Embassy in Ankara did not reply to requests for comment by telephone and e-mail. The Russian authorities have offered no comments on the killings, except for a statement by Russian investigators last year, quoted by Interfax, saying that two of the three men killed in the most recent Istanbul shooting were suspects in the bombing of Domodedovo Airport, which serves Moscow, in January 2011. Previously, the office of the Chechen president, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, a Moscow ally, has denied his involvement in the killings of any of the Chechens.

The case of Mr. Kural, the Circassian activist, is different from the others: Not only is he not Chechen, but also he is a Turkish citizen.

Mr. Kural’s first name comes from the Caucasian region, Kuban, from which his forebears hailed. He is one of several million Turkish descendants of the Adyghe and Ubykh peoples, commonly known as Circassians, who were forcibly evicted from their homeland in the Caucasus by Russian troops in 1864.

About a million Circassians, 90 percent of their total number, were expelled from their lands on the eastern shores of the Black Sea at the time, according to Mr. Bullough’s research, and 300,000 to 400,000 perished.

Today, most Circassians live in Turkey as a relatively well-integrated ethnic minority of three million to five million. Other Circassians are in Israel, Jordan and Syria as well as the United States, where there are sizable communities in New Jersey and California.

The Circassian community in Turkey has recently begun to join Kurds, Laz and other minorities in calling for recognition of its ethnic identity and protection of its language and culture. The Ubykh language became extinct with the death of its last native speaker a decade ago.

“It is partly a result of the democratization process of the past 10 or so years,” Mr. Kural said of the fledgling Circassian movement. A recent rally to commemorate the events of 1864 drew around 5,000 participants in Istanbul in May.

The jolt that galvanized Circassians in Turkey and around the world into action came when Sochi, a Russian resort town built on former Circassian lands, was named a candidate for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in 2006. It won the Games a year later.

“We will never agree to the Olympics’ being held on soil where genocide was committed against our forebears, where their bones still lie,” said Mr. Kural, who has been deeply involved in a Circassian diaspora campaign against the Sochi Games since 2006.

Mr. Kural suspects that his role in this campaign, “No Sochi 2014,” has earned him the unwanted attentions of Russia. He has described his mysterious encounters in detail to the police and the news media.

His pursuers would routinely make eye contact with him. Whenever he found them waiting outside his home, at the university where he works as an administrator or at Circassian campaign events, they would turn on the dome light of their car.

On another occasion they were waiting outside a restaurant in a part of Istanbul that he was visiting for the first time. They also once chucked a balled-up piece of paper at him. “You will die” was written on it in Russian.

Though cautious, analysts do not rule out the possibility that Mr. Kural is indeed being stalked by Russian agents.

“Russia takes the No Sochi movement very seriously, perhaps too seriously,” Hasan Kanbolat, chairman of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies in Ankara, said by telephone this week. “But harassing an activist is not behavior that can be condoned.”

Mr. Bullough, the author, said Russia had been “stunned” and “blindsided” by the Circassian protests against the Sochi Games.

“They thought Chechnya was going to be the problem, and suddenly this happens,” he said.

Mr. Bullough said Mr. Kural’s account reminded him of his own experiences being followed by Russian agents in the Caucasus. “They do make sure you know, they are very demonstrative about it,” he said. “So this does ring a bell.”

Mr. Ozkan, the Caucasus expert, said that although Russia was more focused on the Chechens, by stalking Mr. Kural “they might be sending a message” to the Circassians “to stay away” from the Olympic issue.

The Turkish government has said little about the subject. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said this week that the police were looking into the threats against Mr. Kural, while the security authorities were still investigating the killings of the Chechens. On July 12 Mr. Kural was placed under police protection and provided with a bodyguard.

Mr. Ozkan said he suspected Ankara was trying to protect its blossoming relationship with Russia.

“Turkey is not willing to go into identifying who killed those Chechens; even if they know, they will not come out and say it,” he said. “Relations between Turkey and Russia are flourishing, especially in economic terms. Both sides are keeping this low-level.”

Mr. Kural fears that Turkey’s silence on the Chechen killings may have encouraged Russia to come after him. “They know now that they can act easily and with impunity in Turkey,” he said.

But all experts interviewed agreed that the assassination of a Turkish citizen is of another order and highly unlikely.

“The fact that he is a Turkish citizen changes the color of things” compared to the Chechens’ killings, Mr. Kanbolat of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies said. “We hope they wouldn’t risk that.”

The police in Istanbul, who have been investigating the threats for several weeks, summoned Mr. Kural to another meeting on Monday. They said that his request for police protection was still being weighed by the provincial governor’s office.

Mr. Ozkan said he did not expect the matter to end there. “Will we see more such attacks? Probably yes,” he said. “Because the violence in the Caucasus is ongoing.”


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The Ketchaoua Mosque

Dey Baba Hassan Fort

Statue of Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha in Algiers

The Casbah Quarter


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WISPS OF THE PAST Beyond Istanbul’s landmarks, a legacy of cosmopolitan interchange of goods and ideas.

GAZIANTEP, Turkey

LESS than a mile from the Syrian frontier, in the land of Kemal Ataturk, Ahmed Sheikh Said defies the identities that borders inspire.

Mr. Said was born in the Syrian town of Azaz and raised across a line on the map in Kilis, Turkey. A grocer, he speaks Turkish like a native to his customers, while holding an ear open to the Arabic telecasts of Al Jazeera playing in his store. His wife and his mother are Turkish, but Arab blood runs through his veins, he says, “till the end of time.”

“The bread of Azaz comes from Kilis, and the bread of Kilis comes from Azaz,” said Mr. Said, whose shop sits just off a road that once carried the business of the far-flung Ottoman Empire and now marks Turkey’s limits. “We’re the same. We’re brothers. What really divides us?”

As the Arab world beyond the border struggles with the inspirations and traumas of its revolution — a new notion of citizenship colliding with the smaller claims of piety, sect and clan — something else is percolating along the old routes of that empire, which spanned three continents and lasted six centuries before Ataturk brought it to an end in 1923 with self-conscious revolutionary zeal.

It is probably too early to define identities emerging in those locales. But something bigger than its parts is at work along imperial connections that were bent but never broken by decades of colonialism and the cold war. The links are the stuff of land, culture, history, architecture, memory and imagination that remains the realm of scholarship and daily lives but often eludes the notice of a journalism marching to the cadence of conflict.

Even amid the din of the upheaval in the Arab world, that new sense of belonging represents a more pacific and perhaps more powerful undertow pulling in directions that call into question more parochial notions. The undertow intersects with the Arab revolution’s search for a new sense of self; it also builds on economic forces now reconnecting an older imperium, as well as on Turkey’s new dynamism and on efforts to bring reality to what has long been nostalgia.

Its echoes are heard in the borderlands like Gaziantep, near Mr. Said’s shop, where businessman can haggle in a patois of English, Turkish, Arabic and even Kurdish. It is seen in the blurring of arbitrary lines where the Semitic script of Arabic and Kurdish tangles with the Latin script of Turkish across the borders with Syria and Iraq. It is noticed along the frontiers where Arab and Turkish nationalism, pan-Islamism and a host of secular ideologies never seemed to quite capture the ambitions or demarcate the environments of the diverse peoples who live there.

“The normalization of history,” proclaims the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, whose government has tried to reintegrate the region by lifting visa requirements and promoting a Middle Eastern trade zone, as it deploys its businessmen along the old routes and exports Turkey’s pop culture to an eager audience.

“None of the borders of Turkey are natural,” he went on. “Almost all of them are artificial. Of course we have to respect them as nation-states, but at the same time we have to understand that there are natural continuities. That’s the way it’s been for centuries.”

There is admittedly a hint of romanticism in it all. The Arab world may in fact be bracing for years of sectarian and internecine strife in places like Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria. And in seeking to be a more prominent, and steadying, influence, Turkey’s ambitions may well be greater than its means. Still, economic realities are already restoring old trajectories that joined the Kurdish regions of Turkey and Iraq, tied Batumi in Georgia to Trabzon in Turkey, and knit Aleppo into an axis of cities — Mosul, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep and Iskenderun — in which Damascus, the leading but distant Arab metropole, was an afterthought.

THE DRAWING OF 20TH-CENTURY BORDERS rendered traumas large and small. Sectarian and ethnic cleansing after World War I rid Turkey and Greece of much of their diversity. The horrors of nationalism and the Holocaust made Salonica, a celebrated melting pot, unrecognizable in its modern incarnation. Even history’s footnotes were rewritten.

One example is Marjayoun, my family’s ancestral hometown in Lebanon, nestled near the Israeli and Syrian borders in the heart of the old Ottoman realm, and little more than an afterthought on maps these days.

No one in Marjayoun would necessarily pine for the days of the Ottoman rulers. Massacres occurred, and Jews and Christians faced discrimination in taxes and commerce. There was no such thing as equality. To this day, the darkest moments of Marjayoun’s history remain those last breaths of the empire — the seferberlik. It was the Ottoman name for the draft, but it came to represent the famine, starvation and death that World War I brought to the town, when the famished searched the manure of animals to find an undigested morsel of grain.

Yet more than a few in Marjayoun today might express a nostalgia for the time and place the Ottoman Empire represented, when Marjayoun’s traders ventured to Arish on the coast of the Sinai Peninsula and down the Nile to Sudan, by way of Palestine. The town was a way station on the route from the breadbasket of the Houran in southern Syria to Acre, the Levant’s greatest port on the coast of Palestine. Beirut was an afterthought. Marjayoun’s traders plied the steppe of the Houran, its gentry owned land in the Hula Valley, and its educated ventured to Haifa and Jerusalem to make their reputations.

World War I and the borders that followed augured the demise of this style of life, and not just in Marjayoun. The ideologies that gained prevalence in the town then were about contesting those frontiers — Arab nationalism, pan-Syrian nationalism and Communism, which itself was imagining a broader community. These movements failed as more borders were drawn in wars with Israel in 1948 and 1967. And with those lines on the map came a smaller sense of self. By the time Lebanon’s 15-year civil war began in 1975, ideologies had given way to identities, and most people in Marjayoun identified themselves simply as Christian, or perhaps Greek Orthodox, too unique to survive as a community.

A town of thousands is today a town of hundreds, strewn with the abandoned villas of another age. Hajar bala bashar, a friend once told me. “Stones without people.”

“A RECREATION OF THE HISTORIC AND NATURAL ENVIRONMENT” is how Mr. Davutoglu describes his vision for the region. And indeed, that vision, which is effectively government policy, has touched in a nerve in Turkey, a country with its own unresolved questions of identity.

Just as Arab nationalism still runs run deep, with the fate of Palestine its axis, so does Turkish nationalism, which includes a sense that the country deserves a role in the region, and beyond that at least echoes of its Ottoman age. The more sophisticated Turks dismiss charges of a new rationale for Turkish imperialism and call the goal instead a peaceful partnership that might look like the free-trade zone that presaged the European Union after World War II.

“It’s been almost 100 years that we’ve been separated by superficial borders, superficial cultural and religious borders, and now with the lifting of visas to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, we’re lifting national boundaries,” said Yusuf Yerkel, a young academic on Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s staff. “Turkey is challenging the traditional understanding of policy in the Middle East in place since the 20th century.”

More than the talk of a salon, the vision comes at an obvious turning point in the Middle East. Though dealt setbacks by the Arab revolution — investments have been lost in Libya and the prospect of chaos stalks Syria — Turkey has stuck to its vision of an integrated region. A railway line linking Turkey, Syria and Iraq reopened last year; a fast train is to operate between Gaziantep and Aleppo. The resources of northern Iraq are strategic for Turkey’s plans to diversify its energy sources and to feed a pipeline from Turkey to central Europe. A common free-trade area has already been agreed upon by Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Turkish television series are dubbed into Syrian Arabic, and its stars’ posters sell by the tens of thousands in Iraq. In Baghdad, portraits of one famous actor are digitally altered to show him in traditional Kurdish or Arab dress.

Across the region, the Arab revolution has inspired a rethinking of identity, even as older notions of self hang like a specter over the revolts’ success. In its most pristine, the revolution feels transnational, as demands of justice, freedom and dignity are expressed in a technology-driven globalism. It echoes even in Turkey, where religious and national divides are increasingly blurred. Selcuk Sirin, a professor at New York University who has done extensive polling in Turkey, especially among youth, calls this the emergence of “hybrid identities.”

“Young people don’t buy into this idea of a clash, and they don’t buy into this idea of fixed identity,” he said. “They know how to negotiate these so-called polar opposites, and they’re looking for something new.”

THERE WAS A MOVIE more than a decade ago in Turkey called “Propaganda,” a dark comedy about the border drawn between Syria and Turkey, dividing family from family. It was inspired by the reality of relatives heading to the fence there on Muslim holidays — Bayram in Turkish, Id in Arabic — and throwing gifts to the other side.

These days, with the border effectively open, Syrians fill the hotels on weekends in Gaziantep, which is famous for its pistachios. Some merchants here talk about their trade growing tenfold since visa requirements were lifted. Debates rage over whether the kebab of Gaziantep is better than the kibbe in Aleppo.

Turks may still call a mess “Arab hair.” But they also judge a gift by the standards of “apricots in Damascus.” And the old notions of Ottoman tyranny (from the Arab point of view) and Arab betrayal in World War I (as Turks see it) have given way somewhat to the promise of profit in a market still booming even amid the uprising across the border.

Hakan Cinkilic, foreign trade manager of a plastics company called Sun Pet, is reaping the benefits. Nearly 80 percent of its products go to Iraq, and the company set up a factory in Jordan last year. Its exports have more than doubled since 2008. This year he has already traveled to Libya, the United States, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

As he spoke, his cellphone rang. It was a customer in Kirkuk, Iraq, who spoke to him in Turkish. A few minutes later, a businessman called from the West Bank. The conversation unfolded in English, punctuated by Arabic expressions inflected by the vowels of his native tongue. You wouldn’t call him neo-Ottoman, given the term’s suggestion of a resurgent imperialism. He’s not really Levantine, an identity whose borders hug the Mediterranean coast. He seemed post-Ottoman, reinterpreting the past.

“It’s natural,” he said simply.

By , Published: May 28, 2011, nytimes.com

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A historically important piece is on display in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History at Washington, D.C.

The Hooker Emerald consists of a superb 75.47carat Colombian emerald. Once the property of Abdul Hamid II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (1876-1909). Tiffany & Co. acquired the emerald and mounted it in the current brooch setting in 1950. Mrs. Janet Annenberg Hooker purchased the brooch from Tiffany in 1955, and in 1977 she donated it to the Smithsonian Institution.

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Namik Kemal Zeybek bey – Ahmed Yesevi Vakfi Baskani:

Gercek mutasavviflar ayni zamanda akil bilimlerinde de alimdiler.

Video’yu izleyiniz…

www.mpltv.de/mpltv.php?action=arsiv&islem=izle&id=27


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