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Images of ‘the Turk’

Urša Valič (Ljubljana)

Review of: Jezernik, Božidar (Ed.): Imaging ‘the Turk’. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge School Publishing 2010, p. 205.

Since their presence on the geographical maps of Europe, the Ottomans attracted attention in the mental maps of European people. The encounter of people from European empires and kingdoms with the Ottoman empire drew an intellectual borderline between us and them, between West and East, between Catholics and Muslims, between civilisation and barbarism. As such this borderline was not seem to vanish, disappear or shadow away and was embedded in the consciousness and practices of identifications of people. ‘The Turk’ was for many centuries regarded as an European ‘other’ par excellence. Either through admiration or through fear, a black and white picture was portrayed, neglecting that societies were not just billiard balls (take it in Eric Wolf’s terms 1), but that between seemingly different groups of people constant changes, transactions, negotiations and interactions took the stage. The encounter between ‘the European’ and ‘the Turk’ never was just imperil, but an encounter where several innovations and cultural exchanges took place (even sometimes through political interests of both sides). These were reflected and narrated in art, literature, music and folklore of several individuals and groups involved in these social exchanges. The book Imaging ‘the Turk’ is composed by fourteen autonomous chapters, which are not linked by an introduction, but still form a consistent and complex unit, through which is possible to understand the image of ‘the Turk’ in Europe. Although the title of the book presumes that it will speak about ‘the Turk’, the authors also equally address the creation of the concept of Europe or West (or us in general) through the practices of an imaginary machine. However, the narratives reflect social, cultural, political and economical circumstances in which they were made, we should take into consideration that narratives about the “others” speak mostly about “ourselves”. 2 As Miha Pintarič points out in the fourth chapter about Rabelais’ Pantagruel, ‘the Turk’, although in possession of his own status and identity, at the same time signifies all that is not in the other and at the same time in ourselves. “For we are Turks more than we are Christians, we are Others in respect to ourselves while paradoxically, the Other, ‘our mirror’, can be more ‘ourselves’ than we are” (p. 50). The understanding of the image of ‘the Turk’ in Europe is impossible without the knowledge of the circumstances or conditions that were shaping European visions at the time when the image was constructed or invented. The authors of the chapters in the book, thus before going to the image of ‘the Turks’, return to Europe and show to specific conditions that conduced to the creation of the image, paying attention to the relations from which the representations arose. Bülent Aksoy in his paper about the music among the Ottomans through Western eyes shows that the writings about the history of music in Europe were not “directly an outcome of musical research but a reflection of the comprehensive Orientalist discourse on the racial origin, history, religion, language, literature, etc. of the Turks in musical studies” (p. 174). In other worlds, the representations are always relational – researchers should analyse who is speaking, from which (power) position, to whom, when and why. However imaginaries could not be constructions per se, but they are an intertwined complex of people’s desires, hopes, projects and experiences with others, also the “image of Turk is determined in a great part by the observer’s toward the observed” as writes the editor, Božidar Jezernik (p. 3). He points that ‘the Turk’ was not a passive player in the construction of this image, “on the contrary, in the process of the construction of the image of ‘the Turk’, he played an active role” (ibid.). Özlem Kumrular shows the role of the Ottomans’ court in the creation of the image of ‘the Turk’. He is describing the antagonistic position of the Ottomans in the creation of the image of ‘the Turk’ in the 16 th century Mediterranean: Though the role of Europe in the process of creating this image is unquestionable, the protagonist, rather the antagonists of this play are non than the Ottomans. The sultan and the Ottoman court, with all his principal statesmen, were directly involved in the creation of this image, and the outcome was the product of a conscious and systematic work, an efficient tactic of conquest which had three major components: violence, arrogance and splendour. (p. 33) This major components made an impression on Europeans, who were either guests to the Ottoman court or soldiers on the battlefield or people in daily interactions west and north-west of Istanbul. This impressions were narrated in a vast corpus of work either of 16 th to the 19 th century educated noblemen, intellectuals, travellers and adventurers who travelled through
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Images of ‘the Turk’ Urša Valič (Ljubljana)

Southern Europe to the Ottoman empire, either in oral literature (tales, songs) and expressions of people who experienced the encounter with the Ottoman government. Several cases are presented and examined by the authors of Imaging ‘the Turk’. Özlem Kumrular shows in the beginning of his article the experiences of different people’s encounter with Ottomans in 16 th century Mediterranean and traces the persistence of these experiences in the language, phrases and expressions in the speeches of local people of Northern Mediterranean. Similarly Aleksandra Niewiara shows the relations between the Ottoman Empire and the Commonwealth of the Polish Crown (later, on when the Polish state ceased to exist, the Grand Duchy of Lituania) through the writings of the Polish noblemen and the Polish folklore, tracing the changes due to political interests and circumstances of the Poles in the perception of ‘the Turk’ over the time. Jale Parla as well, through examination of Byron’s Romantic Orientalism in relation to the book of Božidar Jezernik Wild Europe: The Balkans in the Gaze of Western Travellers (2004), 3ascertain that “social and personal inventions of otherness or alterity are conditioned by the ideological-hegemonic discourses of sovereignty in the formulations of domestic policies and international relations” (p. 94f.) . To the same conclusions also comes Nedret Kuran-Burçoğlu who analyses the representations of ‘the Turk’ in the German media from early modern age to the enlightment: According to the agenda of the period the image of ‘the Turk’ has been used for different purposes, sometimes he appeared as a person to be afraid of, at other times as a person to be appreciated, but mostly as an Other, as an enemy, against whom religious, ethnological and newly emerging national identities could be shaped. (p. 63). Two Slovenian authors in their paper shows how the encounters with ‘the Turk’ or the production of the images of ‘the Turk’ as Other in these encounters, were later used as the basis of establishing local identities. Peter Simonič is analysing the writings of Johann Weichard Freiherr von Valvasor, a 17 th century nobleman, who was travelling through the southern part of the Habsburg Empire (nowadays the state of Slovenia and part of Croatia), namely the borderlands between two empires (as the name Krajina imply) and described his encounters with people, their habits and customs. Valvasor describes several signalling, fortress and defence systems against ‘the Turk’ and lays stress on these places and peoples as the stronghold and defence of imperil Ottoman or Islamic incursions into a Christian world. He unconsciously designed what later become an intellectual borderline between East and West, progress and backwardness, civilisation and barbarism used in the policy or ideology of identity building. Valvasor’s writings, embraced in The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola (Die Ehre deß Herzogthums Crain), later became an important source for the creation of Slovene national identity. More than two centuries after Valvasor, the Slovene poet Anton Aškerc gives impression of his travels to Istanbul and the Russian South as Bojan Baskar shows in the eighth chapter. On Andre Gingrich’s notion of frontier Orientalism, 4 Baskar shows that the images of, allusions to, and references concerning the encounters with ‘the Turks’ of late medieval and early modern era are ubiquitous in cultural and art heritage as well as in mass education through print and electronic media. “Together, these references provide a shared field of metaphoric reminders of the past, available to everyone as elements of local identity” (p. 107). Most of the texts are posing more importance on the impact that the image of ‘the Turk’ or the encounter with the Ottomans had on the construction of identities in Europe, while Nazan Aksoy looks at the impact of relations between the Ottoman Turkey with the countries of Europe at the time when the wave of modernisation affected the exhausted Ottoman Empire. He shows how the introduction of the novel, a literal genre imported from Europe in the process of westernisation in the middle of the 19 th century, paradoxically became “a medium through which Turkish intellectuals expressed their fears and anxieties regarding westernisation” (p. 144), reflecting the changes that affected the values of the Ottoman society and which arose reconsiderations of Turkish identity. Nonetheless the image of ‘the Turk’ is to be seen as an invention of and for the European audience along with the creation of an “imagined community” 5 that at the same time share the idea of itself and a clear notion of symbolic difference toward ‘the Other’. As Rajko Muršič shows, ‘the Other’ is constructed within the process of othering through identification, differentiation, subjectivation and classification. “The final result of the process is alterity, or radical alterity, creation of the imagined Other which may appear in any disguise imaginable” (p. 19). The process of alterity produce classifications or symbolic systems, a structure that
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Images of ‘the Turk’ Urša Valič (Ljubljana)

transcends time and may become something that is often regarded as a constraint that drives and controls human activity and existence. As such it could postpone or transfer human agency in the creation of symbolic structures to a reified structure which becomes a powerful tool in establishing political interests or an excuse of implementing power relations. The image of ‘the Turk’ in Europe represented for many centuries an unchangeable, firm and unquestionable symbolic structure, which was, and still is, often present and at hand, where political interests and aims are in the game, as Alenka Bartulović shows – in how far the narratives of ‘the Turkish incursions’ were the main argument against the construction of a mosque in Slovenia – or as Ayhan Kaya shows based on the image of ‘the Ottoman Turk’ and how it applies to migrants and drives the policy of migration in the European Union. 6 The book portrays the image of ‘the Turk’ as an projection of desires, hopes, interests and fear in the course of establishing power relations and identity while social interactions and cultural exchanges occur. It is important to analyse these exchanges as they enrich our knowledge and reframe the understanding of ourselves and our society, or as Svanibor Pettan shows in his paper on the basis of the continuum and co-existence of the alaturka and alafranga style in the music of Kosovo: Thus alaturka-alafranga, as a methapor of fundamental dilemmas that mark the lives of humankind in the early twenty-first century, remind us that balanced knowledge and understanding of the past can and could strenghten our sense of responsabilty in dealing with various co-existing options and assist us in the further development of Balkan music studies. (p. 191) The book Imaging ‘the Turk’ represents a precious collection of scientific papers that in the light of discourse analysis and ethnography critically examine and revise the reified and naturalised self-evidence of the past, the present and the future of the image of ‘the Turk’ in Europe unveiling intertwined social, cultural, political and symbolical exchanges that occurred in the encounters of social groups and formation of social identities.

Notes
1 Wolf, Eric Robert: Evropa in ljudstva brez zgodovine[Europe and People Without History]. Book I. Ljubljana: Studia Humanitatis 1998. 2 Jezernik, Božidar: ‘Zakaj pri nas žive Cigani in ne Rom.’ [Why Gypsies and not Roma live here?]. In: Jezernik, Božidar (Ed.): Zakaj pri nas žive Cigani in ne Romi«. Narativne podobe Ciganov/Romov [Why Gypsies and not Roma live here. Narrative images of Gypsies/Roma]. Ljubljana: Oddelek za etnologijo in kulturno antropologijo, Filozofska fakulteta 2006, p. 7-32, here p. 32. 3 London: Saqui books. 4 Gingrich, Andre: Frontier Myths of Orientalism. The Muslim World in Public and Popular Cultures of Central Europe. In: Baskar, Bojan/Brumen, Borut (Ed.): MESS. Mediterranean Ethnological Summer School. Vol.II. Ljubljana: Inštitut za multikulturne raziskave 1996, pp. 99-127. 5 Anderson, Benedict: Zamišljene skupnosti. O izvoru in širjenju nacionalizma [Imagined Communities Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism]. Ljubljana: Studia Humanitatis 1998. 6 Additionally, this also drives the whole process of Turkey’s integration into the European Union, as much as the image of the state of modern Turkey is often unjustifiably related to the Ottoman Empire or Islam in general.

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