Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future


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My career as a researcher began with an examination of a neglected but crucial decade of civil war and political instability in the empire's early history —13 in which the Ottomans struggled to survive after Timur Tamerlane put an abrupt end to their first attempt at empire. This research, which resulted in my first book The Sons of Bayezid got me interested in questions of late medieval political culture, legitimacy, and narrative representation.

Writing History at the Ottoman Court - Editing the Past Fashioning the Future

The first Ottoman historical narratives to have come down to us date from this time, but are difficult to disentangle because they circulated widely and in many languages Turkish, Persian, Greek, even Latin. My most recent book An Early Ottoman History is the first translation into English of a full-length Turkish history of the early Ottoman Empire, and includes a detailed historical study of its contents.

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In reality, Ottoman-Mughal relations were barbed rather than cordial, involving regular outbursts and episodes of braggadocio, inevitably shaped through the ever-shifting rhythms of alliances with the Safavids. Through almost three centuries, their prevalent note was one of contestations and petty squabbles over dynastic titles. Sunnism counted for little more than a ritualistic evocation, and any reminiscence of a shared Central Asian past was completely absent and irrelevant Petrovich, ; The Mughal example serves as a useful warning about the insidious projection of our own post-colonial concerns onto an earlier age, an insertion which still prevents us from correctly situating primary sources within their own context.

Writing History At The Ottoman Court: Editing The Past, Fashioning The Future

Schmieder, Its usage is imprecise and meandering in Turkish as well as in European languages. It seems that additional clarification is inevitably required: are they one people or several; Mongols, Turks or perhaps both? In linguistic terms, Kazan Tatar and Crimean Tatar both belong to different branches of Qipchaq itself a complex designation rather than Oghuz Turkic, with the Crimean variety being classified as closer to Karaim and the Caucasian Karachay-Balkar, while Kazan Tatar is considerably more akin to the Bashkir of the Ural region Johanson, Nevertheless, because of centuries of close interactions with Anatolian Turkish, Crimean Tatar can also be regarded as a transitional form between Oghuz and Qipchaq proper.

In our examination of Ottoman and modern Turkish conceptualizations of Crimean Tatars, this constant dance of alternating familiarity and strangeness remains the red thread which connects those experiences across space and time. Beyond those nominal and ideological claims, the definition of the controllable northern steppe shape-shifted conveniently, shrinking and expanding at will. In practical terms, the Crimean Khanate was largely independent, requiring no permission from Ottomans to engage in raids.


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It persisted as a crucial and valuable ally to the Ottomans in their wars against Russia, Poland and Austria-Hungary. Nevertheless, sources from the initial phases of Ottoman hegemony demonstrate that courtly perspectives on nomadic and pastoralist peoples, including those of Turkic speech, were often deprecatory.

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In classical Ottoman times, their relative physical remoteness, their propensity for seemingly unregulated bouts of raiding, and their linguistic expression, couched in archaic Qipchaq rather than courtly Oghuz, would have constituted the most prevalent markers of alienness. The implicit lineage of the Tatars included their descent from an older empire of the Chinggisids, but this reality is curiously circumvented in most Ottoman writing, which tends to ignore the political categories of the Golden Horde past, focusing on the socio-geographical marker of the pastoralist steppe instead.

Tatars had committed the equivalent of an original sin by betraying Ottoman forces at the crucial moment. Inherited through the Persian tradition, yet subtly modified within Ottoman perimeters, these carefully classified tropes and traps of the imaginary include Tatars among cosmic strangers, who are usually seductive and dangerous to the normative Ottoman self.

Such perils come in various shapes; for instance, the Franks use the weapon of charming intelligence; the Georgians, their sheer beauty; the Ethiopians, the particular sweetness of their character.

Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future

All of those non-Ottomans ultimately belong to different horologies and ruling planets, which render their categorization innate and internally consistent Petrovich, f. Those steppe peoples, ruled by Mars, are active in nature rather than passive. Inherently warrior-like, they are capable of bringing down the civilized heart of the Ottoman self through the arrows of their lashes alone, as Mongol armies once did when they destroyed Baghdad. The hidden connection between the Indian and the Tatar is also revealed here; they both operate not only with physical weapons, but also by resorting to black magic.

While chronicles retained a sombre tone about the episode at Ankara, poetry created spaces where historical trauma could be playfully displayed and dismissed. Smirnov, upon whom much of Russian scholarship still relies.


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  • In the usual hegemonic tradition of peripheral vassalage, information primarily flowed from the imperial centre to the steppe periphery. Yet, obscurity also meant that at least some aspects of local sovereignty, such as the unabashed pride in Chinggisid lineage, could be preserved and cultivated locally. Nevertheless, the northern steppe persisted as a stubborn reality which could not be erased.

    Its vastness and mercilessness lurked within the minds of those familiar with that part of the world, since its contingencies were capable of transforming those loyal, seemingly domesticated Crimean Tatar allies into an incarnation of their ancestors, the bloodthirsty infidels of the 13 th century who sacked Baghdad.

    In fact, reading this book I came to realize the considerable similarities between the English and Ottoman coffee houses that were concurrently emerging.

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    Like those in England, Turkish coffee houses catered to a disparate clientele and had a diverse range of functions. Many were pleasure centers, where the focus was on music and dancing; others catered for specific trade, religious, or regional groups; others had more lofty, intellectual concerns. Also like their English counterparts, Turkish coffee houses functioned as democratic public areas where news could be freely distributed and where new ideas could be argued over.

    obanfeisisjay.ga It was for this reason that a keen official watch was always kept over them. As in London, Turkish coffee houses were often considered by the authorities to be dens of iniquity, or, less explicitly stated, challenges to dominant hierarchies , which led to numerous official condemnations and bans. In both England and the Ottoman Empire, religious reasons were used to suppress the drinking of coffee, and — in both places - that religious justification almost always had political motivation.


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    • Rather unlike 17th century England, however, coffee house condemnation in the Ottoman Empire generally came in the form of a fatwa from a local imam.

      Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future
      Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future
      Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future
      Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future
      Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future Writing History at the Ottoman Court: Editing the Past, Fashioning the Future

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