Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Turkish Context

I got to musing about the Ottomans yesterday—but in a modern context. We were discussing recent events in Iraq—and the ethnic patchwork that Iraq happens to be—and the power that once effectively governed it—the Ottomans for a long time, the “little sultan” Saddam Hussein more recently. The question arose: What does it take to stabilize such patchwork-quilts of hostile ethnicities? And the Ottoman techniques came to mind—namely an armed force and administrative apparatus which was, for centuries, an artificial culture-within-a-culture, above the ethnicities, disdainful of them but holding the sword.

The past in some ways is the present. We can see that if we suspend our faith in Progress. Change is certain, but what goes around comes around. The troubles in the Balkans had something to do with the USSR’s collapse. World War I began with a declaration of war by Austria against Serbia, one of the breakaway parts of the Ottoman realm. In the background were a series of earlier wars (Greek War of Independence, the Russo-Turkish War, the Bosnian Crisis, the First Balkan War) all of which were the consequence of a weakening Ottoman Empire. After World War I the Arab portions of the Ottoman domain became unstable—but had been in partial revolt earlier too. In the Middle East the Ottoman breakup has been followed by a century of frequently violent disorders—and no let-up in sight. Most recently the U.S. invasion has managed to destabilize Iraq. It remains to be seen if the American Way, not least its faith in democracy and money, will manage to subdue what hitherto could only be governed by force.

1 comment:

  1. Not knowing as much about Ottman history, my example of this phenomenon that comes to mind has always been Tito and Yugoslavia. Similar, if less grand in scope and extent.

    Yes, it will be intresting to see how things evolve in Iraq. I just suspect that the presence of oil will be a distorting factor in the evolution. But, there are always such factors.