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Making nation from history. A challenge (2)

Friday 6 June 2008, by Hans-Peter Geissen

Turkish nationalism is a puzzling enigma, which may be manifest on the level of its main protagonists.

Another one of Nazim Hikmet’s great-grandfathers was Mehmet Ali Pasha, born with the name Karl Detroit in Brandenburg, Prussia, as the son of Huguenottes, whose forefathers had immigrated from France in 1685.

- First Article

In 1843 Karl, a ship’s boy then, jumped from a Mecklenburgian cargo ship in Istanbul and was lucky to find protection by an Ottoman dignitary, who also organized his further education and later became a grand-vezier. Karl, too, converted to Islam (causing fruitless protest by the Prussians) and became an Ottoman officer. In 1878 Mehmet Ali represented the Ottoman Empire at the Berlin Congress.

He met another exilant there: Gyula Andrássy, then the Foreign Minister of Austria-Hungary, had fled to the Ottomans in 1849 when the Hungarian revolution was defeated by an imperial Austrian-Russian coalition. Like some others he returned after the Austro-Hungarian reconciliation of 1867.

One of these, Vincenz Grimm, was known as Mustapha Bey in the meantime. A graphic designer, he served as a cartographer for the Ottoman army til returning. Formerly the chief of banknote printing in Hungary, he may have been entrusted with Ottoman note printing too. Lajos (or Ludwig) Kossuth, the leader of the Hungarian uprising, spent only two years in Turkey, but never returned to Hungary. His stay in Kütahya 1850/51 is nonetheless famous as the place were Kossuth drafted a prospective Hungarian constitution, and his house is a museum today. Kossuth remained a national-liberal revolutionary, fought with Garibaldi and died in Torino, Italy in 1894.

He probably had met Abdullah Bey, who had to flee from Vienna after the defeat of the Austrian revolution in 1848, where he was known as a physician and pioneer of anaesthesia under the name Karl Eduard Hammerschmidt. He then joined the Hungarians, but finally had to retreat with them to Turkey. Hammerschmidt/Abdullah also worked as an entomologist and mineralogist/geologist, was a member of scientific societies in Germany and England, and continued these works in Ottoman service. From his first post in Istanbul as a medical teacher he was dismissed upon Austrian protest, then however fought in the Crimean War 1853/56 against Russia, again became a professor of medicine, taught zoology and mineralogy, wrote first Turkish textbooks on these matters and founded a museum of natural history. More important for soldiers in particular, Abdullah was a co-founder of the Red Crescent in 1864, being entrusted with that task by the central committee of the Croix Rouge in Geneva. In 1869 he was honoured with Austrian decorations too, maybe an early sign of Habsburg-Ottoman rapproachment, but he never returned to stay and also died in Ottoman service while on geological exploration for railway construction in Anatolia.

Quite a number of Hungarian and Polish revolutionaries in particular joined the Ottoman army or other state services in the 19th century. Besides 1849/50, also in 1831, 1842 and 1856 Polish refugees arrived. Another asylum-seeker had been, a century earlier (1711-35), Ferenc II. Rákózy of Hungary, an opponent of Habsburg, with a considerable number of compatriots. A certain Ibrahim Müteferrika had also been Hungarian at the time and then an aquaintance of Rákózy in Stambul, but a released prisoner of war from the other camp, also a convert, who became noteworthy as the founder of the first printing-house for Ottoman-Arabic script on Ottoman soil, indeed the only one for a century (1727-1831).

The name-dropping should not be concluded without Humbaraci Ahmed Pasha, the successful officer and reformer of Ottoman artillery. Til 1729 he appears as a somewhat eccentric Frenchman, Claude Alexandre Compte de Bonneval, who also served Habsburg until moving to Istanbul, where he made friends with the anti-Habsburgian Rákózy. “Bonneval Pasha” was also mentioned for his particular habit to change his “identities” of French nobleman and Ottoman-Turkish dignitary, depending on occasion.

General outline

We may see here that late-Ottoman transformation and the rise of Turkish-republican nationalism are inseparable from respective developments in Central Europe, Poland and Hungary in particular, firmly embedded in the general European development. Even details, including strange errors, of the national-romantic currents may be traced to early European Turkologists from countries like Hungary, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Poland, or France. Yet, this development had much deeper roots. The very name of “Turkey” (Turquie, Türkei) remained rather alien to Ottoman “Turks” til the 19th century, but was generally applied in Europe following “la Turchia” of Italians since pre-Ottoman times (12th ct.).

This was apparently an ethnic (ethnographic) naming, but it took various meanings later. In Germany and Austria, names like Turk, Türk (family names) or T(D)ürkheim (place names) may relate to prisoners of war or to traders from the Ottoman Empire, occasionally ethnic Turks or Tatars but also various Slavic ethnicities, Greeks, Armenians, Albanians, maybe even Hungarians or Romanians. Obviously it relates neither to ethnic nor to religious identities, but to (European parts of) the empire as such. On the other hand however, “to become a Turk” meant someone (European) converting to Islam. It was applied to a French- or Englishman (etc.) in Egypt, but apparently not to an Egyptian Christian convert.

So far we have various meanings -relating to ethnicity (language), empire (rule, state), or religion-, but always a European context.

- To be continued...

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