Ottoman Heritage Revival
I recently read an article on the BBC Turkish website that the Ottoman language is on its way to becoming a new selective course in Turkey’s high school curriculum. The news read: “Every day there’s a new course opening on Ottoman language and history. With the support of the government, this newfound interest in the Ottoman Empire just keeps on growing...”
Moreover, the fascination with our Ottoman heritage is not just limited to the language or TV shows; it has a significant presence in almost every aspect of cultural life. A growing number of Turkish fashion designers are creating clothing lines inspired by the Ottoman women living in the Saray; jewellery created using Ottoman motifs can be found in most stores and there are now shelves solely dedicated to Ottoman literature in bookshops.
However, there’s a deeper, more profound reason behind this fascination towards our history that goes beyond nostalgia. Language is organic, it changes and evolves over time, yet a drastic transition such as ours can cause a significant gap between the different generations, that today we find hard to bridge. When asked, a man in his fifties said his reason for wanting to learn Ottoman was to be able to read his grandfather’s tombstone. This paints a fair portrait of the situation and the causality of collective amnesia.To understand the reason such a revival is necessary, you have to understand that after World War I, the Turkish nationalists blamed the Ottomans for the polity's failures. The dynasty and its extensive social class of retainers and political servants were seen, correctly, actually, not as fully Turkish, but an amalgam of different ethnicities which diluted the assumed grandness of Turkishness. Their emphasis on Islam was also seen as backward given Ataturk's push to Europeanization.
In 1974 a volume was published by Brill entitled The Ottoman State and Its Place in World History. Its chapters, which included what I believe to be Arnold Toynbee's last publication, were developed from papers presented at a conference at the University of Wisconsin, a conference that was actually protested at the time by Turkish students at that university. Apparently, however, that rejection of an important part of the Turkish heritage has petered out, and a new generation is interested in those centuries of the Anatolian past.