Of hearts and brains

Of hearts and brains

Many eminent historians of Turkey unite on one thing: “A person who does not pity the demise of the Ottoman Empire has no heart; a person who wants to resurrect the Ottoman Empire has no brain.” Perhaps in this age of wise persons, it is wiser not to subscribe to such stringent rhetoric.

It appears Turkey will soon have in politics someone from the former royal family: Abdülhamid Kayıhan Osmanoğlu. Stressing that he has received an invitation from some parties, Osmanoğlu said he was very positive on entering politics. His participation in politics, which will be the first from the Ottoman royal family, will of course delight most conservatives but particularly the neo-Ottomanist foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu.

As it is for any other Turk, it is of course the constitutional right of Osmanoğlu to get involved in politics.

Indeed, perhaps there is even a need for a “royalist” political group in this country of some 74 million sultans of all sorts. Power worshipping has been a fundamental ill of this society, like most other nearby societies. This is a geographical epidemic. Is it impossible to conceive that the same crowd that saluted a politician in the city square a day earlier will turn up the next day with the demand that the very same politician be lynched?

If many golden-agers of conservative politics in this country have all forgotten under what conditions the republic was established and are now suggesting a return to unified power under the presidential system of governance, why would the person in line to absolute power complain?

Irrespective of who says what and how, it is a fact that ordinary Turks have not yet managed to forget or leave behind the imperial days of this country. Can a country maintain such strong feelings toward its former lands like the Turks feel for the Balkans, for example? Is it possible to accept any difference between the dark shade under the huge plane tree in the garden of a Bosnian mosque and the shade of a plane tree next to a mosque in an Anatolian city? Can there be any Turk that doesn’t feel homesick in the Balkans? Perhaps to a lesser degree, but many Turks feel at home in the former Ottoman territories in the Middle East as well. What is the role of religion in this sense of togetherness or belonging? Probably very little, since in the Balkans, where such feelings are very strong, the dominant religion is not Islam and the dominant ethnicity is not Turkish. This is a cultural phenomenon.

Yes, President Abdullah Gül is right in his assessment that Turkey could provide remedies to most of its present ethnicity-based problems not with republican patriotism but with an imperial, all-inclusive, nationalist understanding. Such an understanding might be helpful in overcoming problems if and when we develop sectarian oddities as well.

But, for God sake, why doesn’t President Gül, Foreign Minister Davutoğlu and other champions of neo-Ottomanism stop for a second, sit back and try to remember what the situation was at the end of World War I? How the empire dissolved? Was it a pain-free process? Did Islam and imperial thinking help in any way in containing the problems?

The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire was a very painful period for this nation of all ethnicities and religions and left very deep scars on our hearts. That is perhaps why irrespective of how big the temptation is, our brains dictate that we stay away from neo-Ottomanist delusions and adventures.