Posted 09.09.2011 13:17:22 UTC
Updated 09.09.2011 13:21:17 UTC
Dr. Erhan Türbedar
What triggered the debate was the statement made by National Education Minister Ömer Dinçer when he visited Kosovo that the disparaging expressions about Ottomans and Turks in history books should be expunged. This led to the writing of many articles on Turkish-Albanian relations and the matter was discussed in several live broadcasts. Although there were some favourable assessments about the Albanians' status in the Ottoman state, those full of historical mistakes regarding Ottomans dominated the scene.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu who paid an official visit to Kosovo on August 26 -27 said the Kosovo historians should free themselves of cold war and ideological history writing.
Albanians had a privileged status in the Ottoman state. Their interests jibed and integrated with those of the Ottomans upon adopting Islam. According to Bilal Şimşir, 28 of the viziers who served in the Ottoman state were of Albanian origin. Historian Dennis P.Hupchick calls attention to the fact that there were no conditions in the Ottoman era to necessitate a general Albanian uprising.
Renowned Balkan historian Noel Malcolm contends that it was the Albanians abroad who, in the pre-1878 period, wanted the establishment of an independent Albanian state. Charles and Barbara Jelavich say that Albanians came up with no demand for independence from the Ottomans until 1912 and settled for autonomy alone. They believe that Albanians wary of the occupation of their territories by neighbouring countries dreaded the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, Albanians were among those who were the hardest hit during the process of the Ottoman state's disintegration.
When the shaping of a western Albanian identity became imperative during the process of building a modern Albanian state, Albanians started writing their history so as to gloss over its Ottoman past. This led to the emergence of anti-Ottoman and Turkish elements in Albanian history books. As Malcolm said, Albanian historians presented certain uprisings staged only to protest increased taxes or oppressive Ottoman officials as part of the struggle of independence waged against the Ottoman administration. The making of history in the same vein also continued during the Communist era because of ideological aspirations.
It is still possible today to see in the publications of the Albanian Academy of Sciences articles and texts qualifying Ottomans as fanatical and intolerant. The widely accepted view is that Albanians were crushed under heavy tax obligations under the Ottoman administration and they were deprived of even the most fundamental human rights and were massacred. This mode of history writing seems to have been adopted in Kosovo as well.
As a matter of fact, the presentation of Ottoman history is biased, wrong and incomplete not only in Albanian text books but in all of the Balkan countries. While Turkey considers its relations with the Balkans positive, the Balkan peoples and governments are prone to perceiving the common history in a different way. What is more, certain nationalistic circles in the Balkans are inclined to blame the ill-fated developments and wrongs taking place today in their countries on the Ottoman state.
It is possible to explain the prejudices against the Ottoman state with two major factors: The first is that the Balkan people were exposed in the 19th century to the west's romantic ethnic nationalism. The Balkan romantic nationalists not only played a successful role in the shaping of national identities and the encouragement of the desire for independence but also laid the groundwork for Ottoman history to be interpreted in a way shorn of objective facts. The second is that the collective memory of peoples does not go back very far. Balkan peoples can be said to remember the Ottoman era mostly in terms of the developments throughout the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. However, those were the periods when administrative disturbances and irregularities as well as domestic turmoil were most rampant in all places of the Ottoman geography, including Anatolia.
An analysis of the school text books in the Balkan countries today reveals that the style about Ottomans is in general partial, there is no space for alternative views in some controversial subjects and the texts are replete with nationalistic discourse containing at times a language of vituperation. It is also possible to sense in the books the ideological and political concerns of the writers. What is also important in this respect is that the books speak for the greater part of the military and political aspects of the Ottoman state, leaving very little space to the social, cultural and religious colours of the Empire.
However, a more objective account of Ottoman history requires a thorough examination in the Balkans of those years of the social and cultural life, the family structure, the educational system, the relations between social groups, religious institutions and communities. So long as the Ottoman state is viewed from the perspectives of the military and politics, those in the Balkans can never learn some vitally important factors such as the Ottoman state's religious tolerance and its altruism culminating in the restoration of churches.
As a result, a more balanced point of view should be developed regarding the Ottoman state in writing the history of the Balkans for the sake of honesty, which requires making available the surveys and studies based on a more holistic and inclusive approach in this regard.