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NEW MEDIEVAL AND MODERN HISTORY

Author: Ivan Ormandjiev

 

BALKANS ON CROSSROAD AND FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE (1453)

In the year Cantacuzene was overthrown (1355), a Venetian envoy wrote home from Constantinople to report that: "This Empire is in a bad state, even, to be truthful, in a desperate one, as much because of the Turks who molest it sorely on all sides, as because of the Prince and his government with which there is general discontent; the people would prefer the rule of the Latins, mentioning as their first choice our seigniory and commune, if they could obtain it. For in truth they cannot remain as they are for anything in the world."

The growing power of the Latin states was a fact, but there was no love for them. Cantacuzene preferred the Turks instead. He married his daughter to the Sultan Orkhan — the first of several such mixed marriages between the dynasties — and hired Turkish mercenaries to fight the Bulgars. His successor, John V Palaeologus, tried the alternative policy of reunion with Rome, but his subjects bitterly resisted it. Eventually he acknowledged himself a vassal of the Sultan (1381). His son Manuel became hostage at the Sultan's court, until he escaped to claim succession as Emperor in 1391.

The Turkish power was becoming irresistible. During the reign of Cantacuzene they entered Europe for the first time with his invitation (a. 1354). Within a decade they had established their capital at Adrianople and captured Philippopolis (modern day Plovdiv). From their base in north-west Anatolia they were now expanding in two directions. On their eastern from. they took Ankara (the modern capital of Turkey) in 1361. On the western front, they crushed the Bulgars on the river Maritsa (1371) and the Serbs at Kosovo (1389). They overran all Macedonia, except Salonika, and the rest of mainland Greece except the Peloponnese. By 1391 Sultan Bayazet was on his way to besiege Constantinople itself. These successes were not achieved without setbacks. One was a concerted rebellion of Greek and Turkish heirs against their respective fathers (which the Sultan and his loyal vassal, the Emperor, combined to crush). There were also several more attempts to organize Crusades against the Muhammadan invasions.

In the main, however, both the will and the capacity to come to the rescue of the Greeks were lacking in western Europe. For this there were numerous reasons, both physical and political. Chief among the physical reasons was the Black Death, which spread westwards from the Black Sea in the middle of the 14th century, with devastating effects in Italy, France and England. Such energies as the western Princes and leaders had left were devoted to internecine feuds. Venice and Genoa were interested only in destroying each other's commercial interests in the near East. The Papacy, which had provided the driving force of the Crusades, was rent by the Great Schism — for forty years from 1378 there were two rival popes in Rome and Avignon. France and England were engaged in the Hundred Years War (1338-1453), which ended only in the year that Constantinople fell. The Balkan neighbours of the Greeks were equally enfeebled by civil wars. Only during occasional intermissions in these struggles were the peoples of Europe able to gather their pitiful forces to confront the dynamic thrust of Turkish power as it rose to the peak of its ascendancy.

Even if the Franks had been capable of organizing an effective Crusade in the 14th century, their good faith was suspect at Constantinople. Memories of the Fourth Crusade were long and its results were not yet extinguished. Large areas of Greece remained under Latin occupation. The Principality of Achaea survived, though under different families and reduced in size, until 1432. The Duchy of Athens was held for two and a half centuries (1205-1456) by a succession of Latin rulers: French, Catalan, Sicilian, and Florentine. The County Palatine of Cephallonia, with its neighbouring islands, was held by Italian families from 1194 to 1483, and the Despotate of Epirus was usurped by the same rulers for a short period in 1318. The Duchy of the Archipelago was held by a succession of Italian dynasties under Venetian sovereignty for three and a half centuries (1207-1566). Genoa acquired several Aegean islands, covering the approaches to the Black Sea, notably Chios and Lesbos, after helping to restore the Greek Empire in 1261. Corfu was held by a succession of Latin families after the Greek Despot of Epirus lost it in 1259, finally passing under Venetian sovereignty in 1386 for four centuries to come.

Venice was the arch-imperialist power in the Greek lands at this time. Apart from the territories already mentioned, the Republic held numerous colonies in Greece for varying periods. Some were forts on the mainland: Modon and Coron (1206-1500), Argos (1388-1463), Nauplia (1388-1540), Monemvasia (1464-1540), Lepanto (1407-99). Others were strategic islands: Negroponte or Euboea (1209-1470), Aigina, Tinos and Mykonos (1390-1537), as well as Crete (1204-1669) and later Cyprus (1489-1571). There were also shorter occupations by the Venetians of Athens (1394-1402), Patras (1408-1419) and the promontory of the Peloponnese known as the Maina or Mani (1467-79). The Greeks could not be expected to regard these Latin imperialists as Crusaders in any but a cynical sense. Those who were morally capable of a genuine Crusade, on the other hand, were physically and materially incapable of the effort.

The revived Crusades were thus mostly feeble efforts, though King Peter of Cyprus did succeed in capturing Alexandria in 1365. The most hopeful effort was that organized in response to an appeal from the Hungarians in 1390, after the disastrous defeat of the Serbs at Kosovo. It produced by 1395 the largest crusading army ever to march to the east, and Sultan Bayazet took it so seriously as to break off his siege of Constantinople. In 1396 he met the Crusaders at Nikopolis and decisively defeated them. But although he resumed the siege of Constantinople, its defences still frustrated him, strengthened by the arrival of French Marshal Boucicault and 1,200 men. In desperation, the Emperor Manuel II (1391-1425) visited western Europe to seek fresh aid in 1402, but obtained no more than a courteous wellcome and vague promises in Venice, Paris and London.

Meanwhile a respite came from an unexpected quarter. The Mongols under Timur the Lame (Tamerlaine) fell upon the Turks from the East. They defeated Bayazet at the battle of Ankara (1402) and took him prisoner. The Empire, though reduced to Constantinople, Salonika and the Peloponnese, considered itself saved. Historians have detected a strange mood in Byzantium during the last century of its existence: a mood which reaches splendid and melancholy climax in 1453. It was not defeatism, though it included an awareness of the desperate situation recorded by the Venetian envoy in the middle of the 14th century. It could not indeed be defeatism, since the metaphysical foundation of Byzantium was the belief that the Empire was the final perfection of human achievement, the immutable embodiment of God's will on earth. The Orthodox Church, too — the spiritual aspect of that same achievement — was insusceptible to change or improvement. As St. John of Damascus had written in the 8th century: "We do not change the everlasting boundaries which our fathers have set, but we keep the Tradition, just as we received it."

The capture of Sultan Bayazet by the Mongols (1402) left the Ottoman conquests at the mercy of civil war between his sons, from which the Emperor Manuel profited temporarily. But the ephemeral empire of Tamerlaine disintegrated after his death in 1405, and the control of the Ottoman dynasty was reunited under Mehmet I (1413-1421). These were years of relative peace between Greeks and Turks, which Manuel put to good use. He ceased to pay tribute to the Sultan; he visited the Peloponnese and reinforced its defences; he sent his son John, the future Emperor John VIII, to Buda to negotiate for help from the Hungarians; he even recovered Salonika from Mehmet after it had been taken from the Greeks by a pretender to the Sultanate. But a more determined policy was pursued under Mehmet's son, Murad I, who succeeded in 1421. He invaded the Peloponnese and renewed the siege of Constantinople (1422), bringing cannons into use against the city for the first time. The Hungarians under Hunyadi and the Albanians under Skanderbeg were still to prove themselves as thorn in the Ottoman flesh. Thus he failed to capture Belgrade, but Salonika and Ioannina both fell to him.

The Greeks were not yet a spent force. Even while they were losing the last of their northern territories, they almost completed the re-conquest of Peloponnese from the Latins, with the capture of Patras in 1430. The Venetians, however, still held their key-points — Modon and Coron, Argos and Nauplia, and Lepanto (Navpaktos) across the Gulf of Corinth. Venice and Genoa fought out their own imperialist struggle over the dying body of the Empire; and this was why the Greeks were understandably reluctant to pay the price demanded for western help. But the Emperor John VIII (1425-1448) was finally convinced that he had no alternative but to capitulate to Rome. In 1438 he set out for Italy, accompanied by his Patriarch. At the Council of Florence (1439), terms were agreed for the reunion of the Churches. The basis of agreement was ingenious. The Greeks accepted the papal doctrines and claims, including the Filioque. But they were left free in matters of ritual (for instance, to use leavened instead of unleavened bread in the Communion) and these were matters to which the Orthodox Church has always attached great importance.

Both good and bad results flowed from the reunion at Florence, but there is no doubt that the bad predominated. The Pope obliged by preaching a new Crusade (1440), which was led by Hunyadi. The Crusaders twice defeated the Turks in 1443, but were finally crushed at the battle of Varna (1444). Hunyadi lived to fight another day, but was again defeated at the second battle of Kosovo (1448). Even if this last organized attempt to relieve Byzantium from the west had been successful, it could still hardly have counter-balanced the harm done to the Empire by the domestic consequences of the Council of Florence. Both the Church and the People were bitterly divided. The Emperor's brother led a rebellion against him; and John himself never dared to promulgate the Union at Constantinople. Of the bishops who accompanied him to Florence, most accepted the Union but almost all later recanted. Ultimately learned laymen such as Gemistus Plethon and George Scholarius (the latter a future Patriarch) had reservations. The Russian Church absolutely rejected the Union, although their Greek Metropolitan, Isidore, was a signatory. He escaped back to Italy in 1441, and the Russians elected their own Patriarch from 1448 onwards.

John VIII died in 1448, leaving a tragic inheritance to his younger brother, Constantine XI (1448-1453), the last Greek ruler of that name for nearly five hundred years. Constantine was crowned at Mistra in 1449 by the local Metropolitan — in itself a unique beginning to a brave but hopeless reign. If he ever had any doubts that his capital was mortally threatened, they must have been soon removed on the accession of Sultan Mehmet II in 1451. Murad had not been implacably hostile against the Christians: he had even married a Serbian wife. Mehmet was very differently disposed towards the Greeks. Although he began his reign with conciliatory gestures, confirming all his father's treaties and receiving homage from all his Christian vassals in amiable fashion, this was no more than outward show. He distrusted his father's Vizier, whom he suspected of takim (bribes from the Greeks), and he resented the asylum given at Constantinople to a pretender to his own throne. His first preparatory moves against Constantinople began in 1451. In the following year he made a diversionary raid into the Peloponnese.

Constantine XI naturally renewed urgent appeals to the west. He sent an embassy to Rome in 1452, carrying a letter from the bishops who were opposed to the Union. They invited the Pope to send delegates to a new Council at Constantinople, where inevitably the Roman representatives would hold a less dominant position. The Pope ignored the letter and pressed the Emperor to take the only course that would ensure speedy help, namely to promulgate the decree of union. This Constantine dared not do, so strong was the opposition. It was now led by the future Patriarch Gennadius, the last Patriarch of independent Constantinople having fled to Rome in 1451. Constantine remained loyal to the Union, but he stood almost alone. His Megadux (commander-in-chief), Lucas Notaras, uttered the memorable phrase that he would "rather see the Muslim turban in the midst of the city than the Latin mitre". He spoke for most of the Greeks, who had never been allowed to forget the atrocities committed by the Latins in 1204.

A last attempt at reconciliation was made by the dispatch of Isidore, former Metropolitan of Kiev, as a papal envoy to Constantinople towards the end of 1452. He brought token aid in money and a small contingent of troops, to embolden the Emperor to proclaim the Union. Being a Greek himself, he was warmly received and knew how to handle his fellow-countrymen. He seems even to have suggested that mere lip-service to the Council of Florence would suffice. Committees of the nobles and the people were formed to accept the Union, and did so; but it was a half-hearted affair, and the absentees were more weighty than the adherents. There were anti-Latin riots in the streets. Gennadius and his supporters formally dissociated themselves from the proclamation, which was finally made at the end of 1452. Nor did the Emperor gain effective help by his surrender of Greek principle. The only western ruler to send an organized force was the King of Aragon, and his fleet was soon withdrawn for other purposes. Genoa, Venice, and other cities whose traders had established themselves at Constantinople, remained neutral until too late.

Mehmet invested Constantinople at the beginning of April 1453. The siege lasted two months, and once at least it was almost raised in despair. But in the end the Turkish superiority was irresistible. In numbers they had considerably more than ten times the defending force. They also had immensely powerful artillery of a kind which had never been brought against the city by any previous attacker; and they had command of the sea. On 8th May the Greeks knew that their last hour had come. A last, moving, brilliant service was held in the Church of the Holy Wisdom, attended by all the clergy of both the Greek and Latin rites, who buried their centuries of futile antagonism at the eleventh hour. The final assault began on the next day, Tuesday, which has ever since been a day of ill omen to the Greeks. Giustiniani was wounded early in the fighting and his withdrawal broke the nerve of the Italian contingents. The Greeks fought on alone until the walls, the suburbs, and the centre of the city were overrun in turn. Constantine XI was assumed to have died at his post, though no one saw him fall and devout Greeks still await his return.

Muhammadan law prescribed that a city which had refused to surrender should be sacked. So it was with Constantinople. But the city was large and contained numerous small townships within it, which could and in some cases did surrender individually. Some parts, including a surprising number of churches, thus survived intact. Sancta Sophia became a Mosque no less glorious than it had been as a church, until it was secularized in the twentieth century. Gennadius became Patriarch under his new master, the Sultan Mehmet II; and Mehmet himself installed the new head of the Orthodox Church with full Byzantine ritual and enhanced powers. By this calculated gesture the Sultan emphasized both his conception of his own role as the heir of the Byzantine Empire, and his intention to rule the Greeks through their Patriarch. Towards the other surviving leaders of the Greeks, the Sultan showed first clemency and then harsh brutality: such was his arbitrary and unpredictable character.

Western Europe was awakened too late to the tragedy it had condoned. The obstacle to the task of concerting a rescue operation, even after the Emperor had satisfied the Pope by promulgating the decree of Union, lay in the mutual suspicions and jealousies of Rome, Venice and Genoa. A Genoese fleet was finally manned in the spring of 1453 at the Pope's expense, and arrived in time to fight one successful action in the Bosporus, but no more. Even then the Genoese in the city remained neutral, and handicapped the defence by quarrelling with the Venetians. A Venetian fleet, also commissioned by the Pope, arrived only after the fall of the city. In September the Pope went further and issued a Bull calling for another Crusade; but there was virtually no response. The rulers of Europe soon acquiesced in the tragedy and accepted the change of sovereignty at Constantinople: they had no alternative. So did the minor potentates surviving in eastern Europe, including the cadet branches of the imperial family ruling in Epirus and Trebizond. The Genoese at Pera and in the Aegean islands were quick to submit, and their commercial domination of the Black Sea was soon extinguished.

There was still parts of the former Empire to be conquered by force. The Peloponnese resisted two campaigns personally led by Mehmet, and succumbed only in 1460, still with the exception of the Venetian strongholds. Athens was taken in 1456 and Trebizond in 1461. The conquest of the Aegean islands was begun at about the same time, and proved a long-drawn-out process: some of the most important survived into the 16th century and a few even later. Crete was not conquered till more than two centuries after Constantinople; Tinos fell only in 1715. In the north, Serbia and Bosnia were overrun during the decade after 1453, but Albania only after the death of Skanderbeg (1467), whom Mehmet never completely defeated. Vallachia and Moldavia, the core of modern Rumania, accepted the status of vassals to the Sultan soon after 1480, but were allowed to retain their own governmental institutions, with vital consequences to the Ottoman Empire three centuries later. Not the least momentous of the events by which power was re-distributed in the near East was the capture of Azov by the Turks (1475), who were then in a position to close the Black Sea entirely to Christian traders.

The year 1453 was thus neither the beginning nor the end of the great shift in power from Christian to Muslim hands in the Byzantine lands of the eastern Mediterranean. Nor was it a cardinal date, as it has sometimes been represented, in the Renaissance of western Europe. Intellectual interchanges had been going on between Italy and Byzantium for more than a generation before the Greek professors escaped from Constantinople to carry their precious manuscripts to the West. Nevertheless 1453 was rightly chosen to mark the end of an era. For the city on the Bosporus was the one fixed point in the Empire, its physical heart and spiritual soul. While it survived, no one could call the Empire defunct; after it fell, no one could deny that it had been de fact so, perhaps ever since 1204. And none of the other calamities suffered by Christendom, whether self-inflicted (as most of them were) or due to foreign hands, could be compared in finality or dramatic intensity to the fall of Constantinople. It was the "triumph of barbarism and religion" in a more exact sense than Gibbon intended by his memorable phrase.

Western Europe has been slow to recognize its debt to Byzantium. The emergent nations of the western Empire surpassed the Greeks in material power and commercial enterprise from the 13th century onwards, but they did so behind the shield of Constantinople's walls. Byzantium bore the brunt of the Muhammadan invasions, from the Arabs to the Ottoman Turks, and served as a breakwater which enabled the West to turn the tide. There were other incalculable debts: the preservation of Classical literature and Roman law; the systematic study of history, the foundation of universities and the promotion of science; the rise of monasticism and missionary activity; the evolution of a religious art and architecture which left their mark not only on Italy but in the Norman West. In return, the West sent to Byzantium its Crusaders and traders, between whom it is hard to distinguish for unscrupulous rapacity. It is little wonder that many Greeks accepted the Turkish conquest not only as a punishment for the heretical Union of 1439, but as a merciful release from Latin domination.

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HISTORY OF TURKISH-EUROPEAN RELATIONS

The history of Turkish-European relations dates back to the Middle Ages when, according to Martin Wight: “Western Christendom expanded on the basis of a steady cultural, religious and linguistic penetration of surrounding lands and found itself in the east confronted by the unreciprocating will of the unspeakable Turk.” Thus, it is important to begin a discussion of Turkish-European history with the Turkish Republic’s predecessor, the Ottoman empire.

Turks have been a part of Europe geographically since their arrival in Asia Minor in the eleventh century, economically since the sixteenth century as trade routes expanded, and diplomatically since the nineteenth century, when the Ottoman empire was officially included in the Concert of Europe. At the Paris conference of 1856, Europe’s great powers agreed that the territorial integrity and the independence of the Ottoman empire were vital to Europe’s stability. However, from the start, some Europeans had reservations that the Turk “possibly did not belong to the progressive races of mankind.” According to M.E. Yapp: “It is no doubt true that during the period from the 13th to 16th centuries, the concepts of Christendom and Europe tended to coincide.” Indeed, as French writer Ernest Renan wrote in the nineteenth century: “Europe was born as a result of the Greek miracle. It grew with the Greek-Latin culture, experienced a Renaissance and is Christian.”

Thus, Europe, as conceived by its noble elites, focused its hostility on Islam. Military resistance to the Ottoman empire was intensified by the role of religion. It is interesting to note that the term “Europe” was increasingly used in relation to the rise of the Ottomans and the threat they posed to Christianity. Europe as a term has been used from the thirteenth century onward; before that, there was no notion of Europe, but rather Christendom. “Nothing, it was stated, better contributes to maintain the peace between the Christian princes (the “tranquility of Europe”) than the fear which the Turkish forces can inspire in their neighbors.” For example, George Podiebrand’s plan in 1458 for a League of Perpetual Union of Christian Princes was designed for defending Europe against the infidel Turks by creating a common European army. Thus, “the dominant Other in the history of the European states system is ‘the Turk.’ In contrast to the communities of the ‘New World,’ the military might and physical proximity of the Ottoman empire, combined with the strength of its religious tradition, made it a particularly relevant Other in the evolution of European identity.”

For the Europeans, the threat from the East was substantial given that the Turks were at the gates of Vienna as late as 1683. The Turks represented all that was negated in the European identity; savage, barbarian, despotic, oppressive, violent, and a threat to European civilization. Montesquieu, for example, used the Ottoman empire as the differentiating element of the European identity; the differentiating factors were its despotism and Islamic values. One can find similar patterns in perceptions of the Turks throughout centuries as “the myth of the ‘vicious Turk’ who appeared to embody the worst sort of nightmares for the champions of European civilization [sic].”

Thus, the perception of Turks as Other in Europe is deeply embedded in Europeans’ collective memory. Since, as Kevin Robins writes, “the projections of the European psyche have been and remain, fundamental impediments to cultural encounter and understanding,” the portrayal of Turks in the manner described above remains a serious obstacle to Turkey’s inclusion in Europe. Turkey seems to be confronted with a cultural arrogance and cultural hatred from some quarters in Europe because as the Other, it is “marked by an insurmountable particularity, and consequently can never be assimilated into our culture.”

Turkish relations with Europe changed with the Ottoman decline and eventual demise. Beginning in the seventeenth century, the Ottomans gradually lost their military superiority and fell behind the European states in technological development. As a result, the Ottomans initiated a process of modernization in order to retain their power, looking west for a model. European-educated Turkish scholars and diplomats began to import European ideas, lifestyles, and ways of thinking into the empire. They also introduced such concepts as nationalism, patriotism, and liberty into Ottoman society. Thus, Europe became a mirror through which the Ottoman elite perceived its own weaknesses, differences, and traits. The Ottoman process of Europeanization became critical in defining what the Turkish people rejected, namely non-European elements of their national character. Because the Turkish elite transformed Ottoman society from above, a gap formed between the ruling elite and the masses in their perceptions of Europe and modernity. Turkish philosophers, the Young Turks, and the Young Ottomans movements were all inspired by Europe.

When the Turkish Republic was created in 1923, the new Turkish elite aimed to eliminate almost all aspects of the old Ottoman system. Arbitrary rule was replaced by rule of law, and religion as the legitimizing factor of the system gave way to legitimacy derived from the personal charisma of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and new institutions such as the Turkish parliament. Turkish policymakers were adamant in their desire for Europe to accept the new Turkish state’s Europeanness. This objective is clearly evidenced by changes the Turkish government made during the first three decades of the Republic’s existence: the abolition of the Sultanate in 1923 and the Caliphate in 1924, the change from the Arabic alphabet to the Latin alphabet, changes in the dress code, and an acceptance of Western standards in education, health, and public life. These were all efforts aimed at creating a modem, secular, European nation-state, and a major component in European politics, as evidenced by the 1999 electoral gains of racist right-wing parties in Austria and Switzerland.

In 1997, the European Commission ordered an opinion survey asking citizens of the 15 member states whether they considered themselves racist; many of the respondents did. Europeans share a growing concern about the Other — the non-European, non-white, possible migrant. There is no EU policy regarding discrimination against immigrants. The 1992 Treaty of European Union and the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam both deal with immigration and citizenship as matters of common interest but leave the administration of such matters to national authorities. Thus, racism at the national level is reflected in the EU to a certain degree. As some argue, by speaking of national identity and cultural boundaries, “the new European identity can disguise itself as an anti-racism. It is a diffuse racism that can speak in the name of both a national identity and Europeanism.”

Turks constitute a substantial portion of foreign migrants in Western European countries. There are some two million Turks living in Germany alone. Their presence has stirred hostile feelings among many Europeans. For example, a famous slogan of the extreme right in Germany is “Turks Out.” Increasingly frequent attacks on migrant communities such as the Solingen incident, in which a number of Turkish migrants were burned to death, is another barometer of European’s hostility toward Others. As journalists Stephen Bates and Martin Walker note: “Consult any of the taxi drivers of many of Europe’s cities (those who are not themselves Turkish, that is) and you will be regaled with hostility to immigrants, all lumped together as Turks or, more insulting still, ‘shish kebabs’.”

Interestingly, these anti-Turkish sentiments are not only found among Europe’s working classes, but also among EU policymakers, as measured by a survey of members of the European parliament. In addition, EU politicians such as CDU parliamentary party leader Wolfgang Schauble, publicly announce that Turkish membership in the EU might be “too much for Europe” and that Turkey’s membership could endanger the identity and political workability of the EU. The Turkish government perceives these developments as indicators that ethno-nationalism and religion are the real reasons behind Turkey’s exclusion from the EU. According to a press release from Turkey’s ministry of foreign affairs: “The danger, it seems, is to create new lines of division, new discrimination, new compartments, defined, explicitly or implicitly on criteria of ethnicity, religion, region, levels of development, and civilization. The danger, if it grows freely, will somewhat confirm the prophecy of those who proclaim ‘the clash of civilizations’ as the inevitable, imminent fact of the next decades.”

Parallel to Europe’s identity reformulation, Turkey is going through its own identity crisis, one that began in the nineteenth century and still lingers. Turkey is split into two camps: one is based on the modem, secular, Western-oriented discourse, and the other is traditional, Islamist, and Oriental in its formulations. The new Turkish Republic succeeded in repressing the conservative, reactionary tendencies for some time. However, the undercurrent of traditionalism was always there and it found fertile ground in the post-Cold War era. In the past decade, a number of traditional elements, most prominently the Islamists, began to challenge Turkey’s official identity. The Islamic movement in Turkey has always opposed the process of modernization and Europeanization. During the Ottoman period, “Din elden gidlyor” (“we are losing our religion”) was a favorite protest by religious conservatives expressing their discontent and opposition to modernization efforts.

During the Cold War, Turkey’s inclusion into European security arrangements was perceived to have settled the identity dispute in favor of the modernizers. The Cold War helped suppress religious reactionaries and their opposition to Turkey’s European bent. However, the EU’s consistent refusal to admit Turkey after the Cold War has played well into the hands of religious conservatives. As Caglar Keyder notes: “The European policy of ambivalent inclusion exacerbates the Turkish identity problem. Thus, the behavior of the EC paradoxically undermines the credibility of the pro-western political forces within Turkey, who have to engage in much defensive posturing ... Each delay by the EC Commission and each veto by Greece recalls the search for identity that characterized the decline of the Empire — that unsettled issue, which has dominated Turkish cultural life ever since.”

Islamist groups in Turkey, such as the outlawed Welfare Party and its successor, the Virtue Party, effectively utilize anti-European tendencies in the Turkish population for their own political ends. The Welfare and Virtue parties’ chants are reactions to European objections to the “uncivilized” Turks. They claim that the origin of European civilization is in Islam. For example, Necmetin Erbakan, Turkey’s former Islamist prime minister and leader of the Welfare Party, capitalized on the argument that “Europe is an expression of imperialism and we need to turn to our true friends, the Islamic brothers in the Middle East.” Despite their decline in electoral popularity over the past four years, the Islamists mobilize their supporters around opposition to European culture and the process of westernization. Erbakan was forced from power in 1997 by the military because of his inability to enact educational reform that would close Islamic schools — the Imam-Hatip lycees — illustrating the clash between secular forces and religious reactionaries.

Turkey’s ongoing identity crisis has contributed to its marginalization within Europe. The presence of Turkish migrant workers in Germany, for example, has led many Europeans to believe that Turks really are Europe’s Others. The long history of Turkey’s association with Europe as an EC associate member and a loyal NATO ally did not decrease the differences between Turkey and Europe; it made them more visible.

Throughout contemporary history, Turkey’s relations with Europe have served as an indicator for measuring the success of Turkey’s modernization efforts, as well as the acceptance of Turkey’s European credentials. When, for example, the customs union agreement was signed in 1995, initial reports in the Turkish media announced that Turkey had taken one step toward Europe and one step away from the Middle East and the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism.

Unfortunately, the redefinition of Europe’s identity along ethno-national and cultural lines — emphasizing a shared culture, civilization, and heritage — may mean that Turkey will not qualify for EU membership and, therefore, will not be part of “European civilization.” It seems that Turkey’s long history of association with the rest of Europe has finally reached a turning point.

The fact that Turkey has fallen behind countries like Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Poland in the race for EU membership has deepened the divide in Turkey among Western-oriented modernizers and Islamic-oriented conservatives. As for Europe, the recent emphasis on ethnicity and culture poses a serious obstacle for a dynamic transformation into a United States of Europe.

The October 1999 progress report issued by the European Commission may signal a desire on the EU’s part to patch up relations with Turkey. The favorable report recommended elevating Turkey from being an applicant to a candidate country. Of course, the Commission recommended beginning accession negotiations with the second wave countries but not yet with Turkey. The European Council’s Helsinki summit of December 1999 acted on the Commission’s suggestion and elevated Turkey to a candidate country, albeit with a number of conditions. It is still too early to predict the outcome of the Council’s decisions, though, and Turkey’s position in Europe is still undecided.

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Addendum: The title of the book at hand as given in a free translation doesn't give idea of the wide array of problems discussed in this monograph. First of all author Ivan Ormandjiev — who was celebrated commissioner before WWII on the Thracian Question and maybe one of the few educated Osmanists in Bulgaria at that time, wrote this book with no other aim than to give particulates on Renaissance process in Bulgaria. Before time the World War II ended and the new publishing authorities made heavy editing of the manuscript which was issued in 1946 but was initiated under agenda in 1943. As is evident to the reader, the book precariously consists of two parts; one part, that seeks to explain why the Balkans fell under Ottoman dominion, and second part, that gives narrative of Bulgaria under Turkish bondage and its short lived modern development from Liberation (1878) to Socialist Revolution (1944).

We have tried in this review to be ultimately laconic and not go to extrapolations beyond the standard revisions of International Politics, which in this case — Turkey, the problem of the Straits and generally the "status quo" of an Islamic Republic as candidate member to European Union, has been particularly clumsy. Two are the poignant lessons from the past and we are going briefly to comment on these:

1) The year 1453 and fall of Constantinople to the Turks was fatal time for European history. From that moment on the continent was divided not only ecclesiastically (Catholics and Orthodox) but also on a geographic cut-off line. The lands that were lost to Islam because of external weakness and internal (internecine) struggles didn't sold well in the next 400-500 years. The worst was not due to an invasion by alien religion which willy-nilly feed itself with zealots and converts, formerly belonging to the Christian race. Even the physical annihilation of the white stock population that inhabited Anatolia for thousands of years was not a catastrophe. A real danger became, however, the lack of cultural development which staggered in Medievism (Feudalism) until right to the 20th century. This was fatal. Consider the case of Bulgaria, closest to Turkey in their European hinterland. Bulgaria didn't experience Renaissance, ipso facto. No matter how some culprit authors try to make periodization on the Bulgarian lands for the past 500 years or so, poignant truth is that the Turks dragged Bulgaria to the bottom of civilization which otherwise was flowing quite successfully on the tip of European cultural iceberg (that is, until the 15th century). The quasi-Reformation, followed by the Baroque, succeeded by Romanticism, Neo-Classicism, and all that to Modern times were mere reflections of light thrown from a Mirror elsewhere. We couldn't even dare to make comparisons between the "wooden" Renaissance in Bulgaria and "garden-city" development in Western Europe and America.

2) The second plane of reflection is culture of Turkey-in-Europe today. Predominant is the economic factor. Turks are a hard working labourers (like the Chinese) but that is inherent from what is written in the Koran which preach eternal bliss for the Fidel. Nevertheless, there are some cracks in the face of Islamist Welfare Policy which, I believe, even mentors and commissariats in the West wouldn't deny. Secularism in Turkey that Kemal Ataturk inculcated from 1923 still lives with nostalgia for the Ottoman centuries. The separation of religion from public life that "shall not be amended nor shall amendment be proposed" remains only a desiderata written in the Constitution for those willing to adhere. In fact, 98% of the Turks remain Muslim and do not intend or are willing to change their religion. Thus, despite prohibition the call for prayer has been singing only in Arabic from times immemorial in any public Mosque worldwide. Another example, a female deputy from the Democratic Party tried to attend the swearing-in ceremony in Parliament wearing her Islamic headscarf. Further it appeared that she had applied successfully for American citizenship without notifying the Turkish authorities. As from year 2000, more than 50 investigations were pending for the lifting of parliamentary immunity to MPs on charges ranging from corruption to narcotics smuggling and murder. Few expect them to be granted, ditto.

 

Pictures 1: Sample illustrations on the text above.

(i). This is map of Balkan Peninsula in 1204. Beside the estates of Latins, Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbians and Pelagonians, the Sultanate of Iconium (Rum) was far from overruling all its contenders and becoming sole possessor of the territories for 500 years.

 

 

Copyright © 2011 by the author.