Ankara: Need For Ottomanism At Home


Today’s Zaman, Turkey
Dec 9 2012

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Ottomanism is mainly a foreign policy issue in Turkey. Turkey has been
criticized for dealing the neo-Ottomanism card in the Middle East and
the Balkans. However, its value in foreign policy notwithstanding,
Turkey itself needs Ottomanism, and at home at that. Paradoxically,
conservatives, many of whom are happy to insinuate an “Ottomanist”
discourse into foreign policy, seem to consider Ottomanism not
appropriate in domestic politics. Therefore, Ottomanism is a
politically unclaimed agenda at home.

This brings serious questions: Are Turkish conservatives sincerely
Ottomanist in their contemplation of Turkey’s domestic problems? Do
they seriously want to be the heirs of the political legacy of the
Ottomans? Given their reactions to certain issues in Turkish politics,
one could easily get the impression that they are just “talking the
Ottomanism talk,” not making an agenda of it.

Ottomanism is first about multiculturalism. The Ottomans were proud
champions of multiculturalism. They thought monoculturalism a serious
threat, to the point that they made efforts to have different religious
and ethnic groups make up the populations of their cities. Ottoman
Ä°stanbul was not a Turkish city; instead, it was a multicultural
“imperial” city. Every great Ottoman monarch of the cut of Mehmet
the Conqueror would be deeply sad to see that the Ä°stanbul of today
has lost its multicultural characteristic. In sharp contrast with the
Ottomans, the contemporary conservative champions of Ottomanism have
a deep fear of multiculturalism. Anatolia is facing the serious risk
of losing its historical multicultural nature.

The Ottomans were happy to recognize the local laws of different
groups. An Ottoman statesman would never have understood why the
Halki Orthodox seminary is still closed. An Ottoman statesman would
never have understood why there are still no Kurdish traffic signs in
cities populated by Kurds. The Ottoman state mind, which somehow ruled
a large geographic area from the Balkans to Yemen, would have laughed
at Turkish statesmen in Ankara for failing to govern Diyarbakır.
Abdulhamit II would most probably have deemed the Turkish strategy
in the Kurdish problem a total fiasco.

The Ottomans were a practical people who exuded political wisdom. They
never forced the same model on different places or societies, for
their wisdom led them to alternative solutions for Kurds, Armenians,
Muslims, etc. They were not sticklers for state principles. Instead,
they were open to changing the state to accommodate the needs of the
people. In sharp contrast, a state fetishism exists in Turkey today,
even among the conservatives.

I do not want to be trapped by anachronism. However, the Ottomans
never believed in centralism. Delegating authority to the periphery
was a central Ottoman state principle. The Turkish Republic is totally
different. For that reason, the issue of the unitary state should
be re-evaluated. The Turkish Republic is probably the first unitary
state in the whole of Turkish history. Again venturing towards the
trap of anachronism, I would argue that neither the Seljuks nor the
Ottomans lived according to an administrative logic like that of the
statesmen of the Turkish Republic.

Some would say that we are living in the age of the nation-state,
thus the comparison of the Ottoman state and the Turkish Republic
is invalid. My answer is as simple as this: The Flemish region can
conduct an independent foreign policy; the city state of Hamburg can
appoint a delegation to Brussels. What Turks want to realize does
not exist in the developed Western world. What we understand to be
the modern state is totally a national illusion. Ironically, many
Europeans are closer to the Ottoman model than is the Turkish state.

Who are the claimers of the Ottoman political legacy? Ottomanism is now
reduced to the love of Ottoman monarchs. Conservatives have so far used
the Ottomans for pedagogical purposes. They were held up as examples
of perfection to young boys and girls, who were urged to emulate
them. There is nothing wrong with that. However, it is now time for
conservatives to also emulate the Ottomans in their national politics.