— The Erimtan Angle —

Archive for November, 2010

WikiLeaks Revelations: Turkey


On Al Jazeera’s Website we can read that the ‘whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has released a massive trove of leaked US diplomatic cables detailing candid opinions of various world leaders, repeated calls for a US attack on Iran, and requests for US diplomats to spy on officials of other countries. WikiLeaks started publishing the 251,287 cables – 15,652 of which are classified “secret” – from 274 US missions around the world on Sunday, even after its website apparently came under a denial of service attack before the release. The cables, communications between diplomatic missions abroad and the US state department in Washington, were mostly sent between 2007 and last February and could embarrass both the US administration and foreign governments. Some of the diplomatic notes detailed how Arab leaders in the Gulf have been urging an attack on “evil” Iran, while others reveal serious fears in Washington over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. They also detail advice given to US diplomats on how to gather intelligence and pass information of interest over to the country’s spy agencies. According to documents, senior UN figures were the target of intelligence gathering by US diplomats . . . In an introduction to the documents on its website, WikiLeaks attacked “the contradictions between the US’ public persona and what it says behind closed doors”. “The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in ‘client states’; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.” The White House has described the leaks as “reckless and dangerous. To be clear – such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. But Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, denied that any of the documents placed individuals at risk’.[1] 

Inside Story, (28 November 2010)


The story continues: the ‘cache of documents contains allegations of corruption against foreign leaders, who are subjected to stinging criticism in the cables, with Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, referred to as an “alpha-dog.” Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, “avoids risk and is rarely creative”, and Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, is described as being “driven by paranoia”, in comments contained within diplomatic dispatches. Advisers to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish premier, also come in for criticism for having “little understanding of politics beyond Ankara”. US diplomats visited foreign ministries in the days before the release hoping to stave off anger over the cables, which are internal messages that often lack the niceties diplomats voice in public. Steve Clemons, a political strategist and director of the American Strategy Programme at New America Foundation, told Al Jazeera that the US reaction to this latest round of leaks has been stronger than in the past because of mainly diplomatic concerns. “Certainly I wouldn’t take it to the level of lives lost on the battlefield. This is essentially diplomatic brouhaha,” he said. “I think also that the content of these documents is a lot about the gossip and innuendo and the nuance … and there are going to be a lot of embarrassing things that come out of these documents. There are be political repercussions of the way foreign leaders are going to read these documents. And in that sense, you’re going to see people, ranging from [Asif Ali] Zardari in Pakistan, to, I understand, Nelson Mandela of South Africa has had some bad swipes taken at him in these cables.” WikiLeaks previously published 400,000 Iraq war documents in October, the biggest leak to date in US intelligence history, and 77,000 classified US files on the Afghan conflict in July [2010]’.[2] 


As for the specifically Turkish angle, in Today’s Zaman we read that the ‘US diplomats’ verdict on the NATO partner with the second biggest army in the alliance is devastating. The Turkish leadership is depicted as divided, and Erdoğan’s advisers, as well as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, are portrayed as having little understanding of politics beyond Ankara. The Americans are also worried about Davutoğlu’s alleged neo-Ottoman visions. A high-ranking government adviser warned in discussions, quoted by the US diplomats, that Davutoğlu would use his Islamist influence on Erdoğan, describing him as “exceptionally dangerous.” According to the US document, another adviser to the ruling AK Party remarked, probably ironically, that Turkey wanted “to take back Andalusia and avenge the defeat at the siege of Vienna in 1683.” The US diplomats write that many leading figures in the AK Party were members of a Muslim fraternity and that Erdoğan had appointed Islamist bankers to influential positions. He gets his information almost exclusively from newspapers with close links to Islamists, they reported. The prime minister, the cables continue, has surrounded himself with an “iron ring of sycophantic (but contemptuous) advisors” and presents himself as the “Tribune of Anatolia.” . . . UK’s The Guardian, in leaked documents published on late Sunday [, 28 November] said, in a tense conversation, a senior US envoy presses Turkish officials to support US-led action to convince the Iranian government that it is on the wrong course. The Turks insist their mediation efforts are the best way forward but are forced to concede that most countries in the region see Iran as a threat. According to the daily, the great Iranian-American struggle for control and influence in the Middle East is far from over – and may in fact be hotting up – and it was made plain again when US under-secretary William Burns held yet another meeting with the reluctant Turks in Ankara in February 2010. Burns insists Washington would prefer a negotiated settlement with Iran. Then, like Gates, he uses the spectre of an Israeli military attack to dramatise his arguments and unsettle the Turks’.[3] 

Given that the “Americans are also worried about Davutoğlu’s alleged neo-Ottoman visions”, it would seem to me that the time is now right for my piece on Davutoğlu and his new policy goals for Turkey to receive some more exposure: “A pseudo-Ottoman policy: Turkey’s new station in the world”, Today’s Zaman (04 November 2010). http://tiny.cc/6qkki . . . I do not think that the term Neo-Ottoman is applicable to Turkey’s current view of the world, instead I propose the term Pseudo-Ottoman to describe Davutoğlu’s new approach to Turkey’s foreign relations.

[1] “Secret US embassy cables revealed” Al Jazeera (29 November 2010). http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2010/11/20101128184116255899.html.

[2] “Secret US embassy cables revealed”.

[3] “Wikileaks unveils largest US diplomatic cables, Turkey makes up second biggest share” Today’s Zaman (29 November 2010). http://www.todayszaman.com/news-228225-wikileaks-unveils-largest-us-diplomatic-cables-turkey-makes-up-second-biggest-share.html.

Reality is an Illusion???

 Reality is an Illusion???

 Some time ago I read Oliver Sachs’ An Anthropologist on Mars (1995), and I came away with many things. I was particularly impressed by the first essay in the book, even though the other ones are equally impressive, and have been thinking about its message for quite some time now: “’The Case of the Colorblind Painter’ is about a painter who, after a car accident (possibly preceded and/or caused by a stroke), develops cerebral achromatopsia – he loses the ability to perceive, remember or even imagine colours”.[i]  And the upshot is that colour vision is constructed in our brains, and does not reflect reality perceived. Reality seems to be an amalgam of greys, from really light to really dark. The reason I am now thinking about this is another book I am reading right now – Pain. The Science of Suffering (1999) – and its author Patrick Wall’s contention that “brain activity controls the input [of sensory data]. This does [however] not mean that the entire outside world is a hallucination, but it does mean that our senses include active participation of mind and body”. This phrase made me realise that colour vision is apparently a shared hallucination . . . In order to clarify my somewhat flippant statement, I would now like to refer to the work of David Eagleman. He ‘is a neuroscientist and a writer. He directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action and the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law at Baylor College of Medicine. He is best known for his work on time perception, synesthesia, and neurolaw. At night he writes. His work of fiction, SUM, is an international bestseller published in 23 languages. His book on the internet and civilization, Why the Net Matters, debuts in December 2010. His book on the unconscious brain, Incognito: The Brains Behind the Mind, hits the shelves in April 2011’.[ii]  Now that I have give his books some exposure, let me turn to what is of interest to this blog post.

 TEDxAlamo – David Eagleman, PhD – 29 October 2009

Turns out that reality is really a “vast symphony of electrical and chemical signals” in our brains . . . The journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin Robert Jensen writes that ‘Eagleman’s small office at Baylor offers no indication of what’s going on in his head; it’s a rather bland space, with little on the walls or the bookshelves. The collective lab space, however, is more eccentric. The whiteboard walls (which are actually a light blue) sport a kind of scientific graffiti—ideas for projects, questions about projects, lists of things to be done on projects—that reflects the serious but anarchic spirit of the lab. It’s clear that Eagleman’s possibilian sensibility affects the spirit of the place. As he finishes up a task on the computer, he is calm and focused. But once Eagleman starts talking, things take off quickly. Swiveling 180 degrees in his chair, his foot pushing off the various pieces of office furniture to propel him around like a wind-up machine, his verbal velocity accelerates as he describes his ideas. Those range from the experiments he’s running to age-old philosophical questions about free will . . . In his thinking about religion, Eagleman takes seriously the old saying “the absence of proof isn’t the proof of absence.” Eagleman recognizes that people who don’t believe in God can never say with certainty that one doesn’t exist; he’s not trying to support or rule out any particular claim but simply suggesting that it’s healthy to imagine possibilities. Sum is a series of 40 what ifs: What if there is an afterlife where we relive all of our experiences, but shuffled into a new order? What if in the afterlife we confront all the possible versions of our self that could have been? What if we experience death in stages: when the body stops functioning, when we’re buried, and the moment when our name is spoken for the last time? The stories aren’t meant as serious proposals. They are merely vehicles for Eagleman’s ruminations on vexing philosophical questions. Eagleman’s most basic concern is the mind: Is there anything beyond the physical brain? If there is something beyond, is that what we should call the mind? What does all this mean for the concept of the soul? These are the questions Eagleman wants to answer. In the lab, Eagleman says that he and other neuroscientists work under the assumption that “you are nothing but your brain.” Many scientists and philosophers come close to suggesting that this is not an assumption but a fact. These scientists reduce the mental to the material. That could be the case, Eagleman says, but he’s not certain’.[iii]

[i] “An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks” Things Mean a Lot (13 April 2009). http://www.thingsmeanalot.com/2009/04/anthropologist-on-mars-by-oliver-sacks.html.

[iii] Robert Jensen, “The Soul Seeker. A neuroscientist’s search for the human essence” Texas Observer (03 June 2010). http://www.texasobserver.org/cover-story/the-soul-seeker.

Kucinich on Afghanistan

Kucinich on Afghanistan

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) made the following remarks following the bizarre Mullah Mansour episode in Afghanistan:  “The war in Afghanistan is taking place in a netherworld where facts and common sense have no place. Elections are fake. Our deadline to withdraw is a fake. Now, we learn that a fake Taliban leader has been leading us to believe that NATO was facilitating high-level talks between Taliban leadership and the corrupt Afghan central government we’re propping up. The only real thing about this war is the dead and wounded soldiers and civilians, the wasted tax dollars and the mounting evidence telling us to get out”.  He went to say that “[t]he War in Afghanistan is longer than any other war America has ever fought. It has cost U.S. taxpayers more than a trillion dollars. More than 1300 Americans have died, thousands more wounded. Countless innocent Afghan civilians have died”.[i] 

[i] Eric W. Dolan, “Rep. Kucinich slams fake Afghan elections, fake withdrawal, fake Taliban” The Raw Story (24 November 2010). http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/11/rep-kucinich-slams-fake-afghan-elections-fake-withdrawal-fake-taliban/.

Music: Sonic Reducer

Sonic Reducer

For the past days and weeks this song has been buzzing, or should I say screeching, through my head. So that, in the end, I listened to it and decided that I should post it in my blog to be able to repeat the experience whenever necessary.


The BMV relates that ‘The Dead Boys were one of the first punk bands to escalate the level of violence, nihilism, and pure ugliness of punk rock to extreme new levels. Although considered part of New York’s mid-’70s CBGB’s scene, all of its bandmembers originally hailed from Cleveland, OH. The group’s roots lay in the early-’70s Cleveland cult band Rocket from the Tombs, which included future Dead Boys Cheetah Chrome (aka Gene O’Connor) on guitar, and Johnny Blitz (aka John Madansky) on drums, along with future Pere Ubu members David Thomas and Peter Laughner. The group’s sound was a bit too comparable to art rock for Chrome and Blitz’s tastes (whose influences included the Stooges, Alice Cooper, and the New York Dolls), and by 1975, Rocket from the Tombs had split up’.


Fox News: Turkey, Iraq and Al Qaeda

25 November 2010


Billboard News

This item was broadcast on 24 November 2010 on Fox NY.


Mullah Mansour

 Which Mullah Mansour are We Talking About???


“This recent file photo provided to CBS News by a purported spokesman shows Taliban commander Mullah Mansoor Dadullah at an undisclosed location. Mansoor Dadullah reportedly died of injuries after being captured by Pakistani forces in southwest Pakistan, Feb. 11, 2008”.

 Max Fischer writes that a ‘top-level Taliban commander who spent months in peace talks with the U.S. and Afghan governments turns out to have been an impostor. The man, who claimed to be Taliban leader Mullah Mansour, had reportedly been given large amounts of money and had a personal meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai as part of the effort to win peace. In other words, the months of Taliban peace talks have been, as some skeptics initially warned, largely a farce. Here’s what people are saying about this disappointing setback, including some “laughing to keep back the tears” commentary’.[i]  Way back in February 2008, CBS News reported that ‘Pakistani security forces critically wounded a top figure in the Taliban militia fighting U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, among six militants captured after a firefight near the border Monday, the army said. Earlier, a senior military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said Mullah Mansoor Dadullah died of his wounds while being flown to a hospital with the other injured men. Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, brother of the Taliban’s slain military commander Mullah Dadullah, and the five others were challenged by security forces as they crossed from Afghanistan into Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan. They refused to stop and opened fire, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas’.[ii]  Yet, the Mansoor imposter easily fooled the Americans, the Afghans, and everybody else, even getting to meet President Hamid Karzai and getting a lot of money in the process. It seems totally unbelievable, if one takes account of the fact that in December 2007, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujaheed said in the statement obtained by AFP that “Mullah Mansoor Dadullah has been dismissed as the Taliban commander because he disobeyed the orders of the Islamic Emirate”.[iii] 


Channel 4, July 2007


In the New York Times, on 22 November 2010, Dexter Filkins and Carlotta Gall write that ‘now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little’.[iv]  I never knew that United States and Afghan officials were such masters of understatement: “achieved little” meaning nothing at all, and then some. Here is the Young Turks‘ take on this affair. As usual, Cenk Uygur is in top form lambasting this really rather preposterous story.


[i] Max Fischer, “Hard Lessons of the Taliban Imposter” The Atantic Wire (23 November 2010). http://www.theatlanticwire.com/opinions/view/opinion/Hard-Lessons-of-the-Taliban-Imposter-5923.

[ii] “Senior Taliban Commander Captured” CBS News (11 February 2008). http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/02/11/terror/main3814983.shtml.

[iii] “Senior Taliban Commander Captured”.

[iv] Dexter Filkins and Carlotta Gall, “Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor” The New York Times (22 November 2010). http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/23/world/asia/23kabul.html.

An Academic Entry: On Saadabad

 Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee

The Construction of Saadabad Revisited Yet Again

 Given that this is my first “real” blog-post on wordpress, I thought it wise to comment on something I came across on the interwebz – namely, a critique of an article of mine. But rather than just barging right into it, I will give a bit of background so that the casual blog-reader who happens to stumble across this entry has an idea about what I am talking about.

The above-pictured book edited by Dana Sajdi[i] is the outcome of the symposium “Rethinking culture in the Ottoman eighteenth century” that took place in Princeton early in 2005. In Princeton a great many ‘young scholars’ contributed to a lively discussion on the state of the Ottoman eighteenth century in contemporary Ottomanist thinking. A number of these contributors were selected to transform their presentations into articles to be published in a book of proceedings. On Amazon, the book is described as follows: ‘Tulips and coffee are defining cultural products of the Ottoman eighteenth century, along with their related institutions of palace and coffeehouse. These cultural products hold multiple meanings in the history and historiography of the period. They are associated with the daily life of common people and their sociabilities, on the one hand, and with the Ottoman court and imperial legitimacy, on the other. Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee offers a critical exploration of definitive cultural phenomena of the Ottoman eighteenth century, such as, the coffee house, the printing press, imperial architecture and royal pageantry and festivals. Chapters explore subjects ranging from the changing forms of imperial ritual in Ottoman circumcision celebrations, to the history of the construction of the famed palace of Saadabad, to the reputedly failed project of the first Ottoman printing press’. While, Madeline Zilfi, Associate Professor of History, University of Maryland, had this to say about the volume: “’Insightful engagement with the byways of Ottoman sociability and aesthetics, will amply reward the attention of a broad readership of cultural and gender historians as well as area specialists . . . The collection is a rarity in Ottoman studies thanks to its relatively tight temporal focus and the fresh methodologies and perspectives that it advances”. And we owe it all to Professor Dana Sajdi, who painstakingly edited the contributions transforming them into well-oiled pieces effortlessly fitting into the hinges of the metaphorical door to new sights and interpretations that is the book Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee.  


And I was one of those whose contribution to the symposium was deemed worthy for publication. As indicated higher, my piece deals with “the history of the construction of the famed palace of Saadabad”: “The Perception of Saadabad: The ‘Tulip Age’ and the Ottoman-Safavid Rivalry”. Dr. Astrid Meier[ii]  posted this insightful piece of criticism on the highly popular academic website H-Net: “Can Erimtan’s article opens the volume with an appeal to rethink the characterization of the so-called Tulip Age (1718–1730) as “a short-lived but highly productive era of Westernization during Damad Ibrahim Paşa’s tenure as … grand vizier” (pp. 42–43). Erimtan explores the contested perceptions of the Saadabad summer palace, situated outside the city walls of Istanbul, a building which has long vanished without leaving a trace. The void can be filled with descriptions from various perspectives. Erimtan posits that whereas former scholarship saw the construction as influenced by recent views of Versailles and Fontainebleau, “the Ottoman empire had at the time not necessarily been looking westward for inspiration” (p. 43), that, on the contrary, the palace is following models from Safavid Iran, Mughal India or other regions of the Islamic world. A meticulous investigation of the meta-narratives of writing Ottoman history leads to the not altogether surprising result that early 18th-century Istanbul presents a much more complex culturescape than the simplistic notion of Westernization implies. In replacing one exclusivist way of thinking by another, however, Erimtan exposes himself to the question of what we gain by describing modes and articulations of cultural life in the Ottoman capital in terms of an either/or of Western vs. Safavid/Islamic influences instead of a lieu of encounters of various kinds and directions”.[iii] 

Is my article guilty of “replacing one exclusivist way of thinking by another”???  Arguably, it is. In order to explain my stance, I will have to revisit some of the arguments I developed in my piece. I won’t go deeply into the narrativistic aspect of history-writing here, as the art of story-telling will be something I will deal with below in the further course of this blog post. But did my contribution really attempt to bring a resolution to the “either/or of Western vs. Safavid/Islamic influences” conundrum??? Let me quote the piece in question: “Rather than claiming a Safavid inspiration for Saadabad, it is my belief that Damad İbrahim and Ahmed III were cultivated Ottomans who were consciously reaffirming their allegiance to the cultural world of the early modern Islamic world by creating [a] kasır that functioned as a visual reminder of the Ottomans designs on the lands of Iran” (62). At the time, the Ottomans’ arch-enemies, the Safavids, were in dire straits and the Ottomans tried to capitilise on that. And thus, I argue that the architectural patronage of the Sultan and his retinue somehow reflected that political decision – a political decision that redirected the Ottomans’ attention to the east, to the Safavid Empire, to their religious, political and cultural rival whose outstanding achievements in terms of architecture and cultural refinement were well-known all over the contemporary Islamic world. So, in a way, one could indeed say that my contribution to Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee appears to be espousing an “exclusivist way of thinking”. In my story of Saadabad, I do not assign a lot of credibility to the Yirmisekiz Çelebi narrative that sees his Takrir (his little report on his trip that later received such lofty names like Sefâretname) assume the form of a manifesto in favour of Westernisation. This view of the little book was arguably first put forward by none other than the famous writer and intellectual Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar (1901-62): 

No other book occupies such an important place in our history of Westernisation. In this work, almost every line of which is accompanied by a hidden idea of comparison, and entire programme is concealed.

Tanpınar’s words have left their mark on the thinking and writing of countless historians, intellectuals, and other writers, and thinkers. Subsequent narratives of Ahmed III, Damad Ibrahim, and Saadabad have always stayed close to his value-judgement, as if Istanbul in the 1720s was somehow disconnected from the rest of Ottoman life and death happening at the time. Even Robert Olson, in his book dealing with the Ottoman invasion of Iran [The Siege of Mosul and Ottoman-Persian Relations 1718-1743] was unable to resist the lure of Tanpınar’s seductive phrases, as he talks about “the westernizing reforms of the Tulip Period”, arguably manifested in the construction of Saadabad as a copy of Versailles, taking place while Ottoman armies were fighting against Ashraf Shah and later Tahmasp Kuli Khan (Nadir Shah) in the east. Instead of regarding the ‘Tulip Age’ as the temporal locus for Westernising reforms manifested in samples of architectural patronage, my story takes account of descriptions of the political and military events taking place in Istanbul and the Ottoman borderlands of the 1720s. At the time, the Ottoman authorities were looking for new ways to replenish the treasury. The power-vacuum in Iran, caused by the Afghan insurrection that brought an end to the life of Shah Sultan Husayn in 1722, appeared to offer the possibility of adding new taxable lands to the Ottoman Dominions. In order to get hold of these new sources of income, the Ottomans concluded a treaty with the Russians. Together they invaded the former Safavid lands and divided the territorial spoils between them. Prior to these military actions, the Sultan’s private kasır of Saadabad was erected on the plains next to the river of Kâğıdhane: “My story of the construction of Saadabad holds that it was conceived as a[n Ottoman] building containing conscious allusions to the Safavid architectural image” (61-2), as enclosed in the city of Isfahan established by Shah Abbas the Great (1587–1629) and restored by Sultan Husayn (1694-1722) in the 1710s. Or, more preciselys: “Damad İbrahim and Ahmed III ensured that the Ottoman Saadabad contained apparently readily intelligible references to Safavid Isfahan” ([85], 187). The operations of my narrative allow for the development of an internal Ottoman rationale behind the refurbishment of the Kâğıdhane area. As such, my piece does not portray the “construction of the famed palace of Saadabad” as a centre for a fertile interaction between civilisational modes or any kind of cross-cultural activity. As a result, I am guilty of favouring “one exclusivist way of thinking”, in that I am not claiming that Saadabad was the first physical manifestation of Westernisation, nor do I argue that Ottoman patrons looked towards their arch-enemies for inspiration. Instead, I am putting forward the proposition that the construction of Saadabad took place in a specific socio-political context, and that our stories of its building should take account of representations of that context. Does “early 18th-century Istanbul present a much more complex culturescape”??? Indubitably so, but . . .


But that “culturescape” was a living thing carried by living men and women, and as such, the textual representations of the “history of the construction of the famed palace of Saadabad” do not point in the direction of any traces of that “complexity” in the textual remains of the material culture of the 1720s as lived in Istanbul.

 In the end, my “exclusivist way of thinking”, as expressed in my contribution to Dana Sajdi’s Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee, does not really deal with the “complex culturescape” of Istanbul as “a lieu of encounters of various kinds and directions” – East, West, North, or South, arguably . . . Instead, I am simply taking account of the representation of the contemporary context to compose a “cautionary tale” of Ottoman patrons trying to employ the cultural vehicles at their disposal as a way of conveying their policy decisions to the population of Istanbul, while undoubtedly rejoicing in recreating a small aspect of Shah Abbas the Great’s Safavid image contained in the city of Isfahan, nısf-ı cihan . . . Having said that now, I have to admit that it sounds somewhat disingenuous on my part, after all, the “Saadabad topos . . . symbolizes vital issues in Ottoman-Turkish history and historiography, particularly the double concept of modernization and Westernization” (50). Hence, my foray into narratological explanations. Again, quoting from my piece: “[t]he publication 30 years ago of Hayden White’s article, ‘The historical text as a literary artefact’, stimulated a debate on the extent to which history as a discipline can accurately recover a representation of the content of the past” (50). Or, how do Ottoman historians and other specialists writing about the reign of Ahmed III and his palace of Saadabad represent these “historical events”???  Are their writings supposed to be accurate textual photographs of the valley of Kâğıdhane in the 1720s???  Continuing along: “Hayden White’s narratological model of historical understanding would have it that historians select and impose a story, or an emplotment as he calls it, derived from the present to write about the past” (50).  In other words, here we have two clashing emplotments: the first one sees Saadabad as a building erected upon reading the “vivid descriptions” of Versailles and its fountains as an Ottoman response to Bourbon splendour. The latter, takes the building as a vehicle of cultural propaganda, aimed at a domestic audience as well as at foreign legations, which incorporates architectural elements of the Safavid image. Can either of these emplotments claim to represent the content of the past???  Again, quoting freely: “[t]he past is something that does not exist apart from a few traces and the historian’s imagination, an imagination that is subject to his or her rhetorical, metaphorical and ideological strategies of explanation” (50-1).

 But, what does this mean???  In my article I argued that the “danger in accepting the validity of this narratological model is that historical texts in the end become totally ‘self-referential’ and detached from the ‘real past’” (51). Somebody like Frank Ankersmit takes this stance to its logical conclusion and claims that historical texts are merely texts talking about other texts. Far, but not too far, from espousing such a stance, I hope that my piece about Saadabad primarily dealt with the building set up in 1722 through the medium of other texts, referring to actual people and their actions. The traditional emplotment of the Saadabad episode talked about an Ottoman official traveling to Paris and bringing back tidings of “beautiful things”, which were subsequently applied in Istanbul. The emplotment offered in my piece shows how a precarious situation in Iran was employed to further the Ottomans’ goals, with as a side-effect, how the well-known cultural achievements of the Safavids were emulated as a way of broadcasting a political and military message to a domestic audience: as a result, my emplotment “will necessarily also be an interpretation that cannot claim to be a truthful reflection of the past but that should be understood as an equally plausible rendering of the narrative of the building of Saadabad in 1722” (51). 

Rather than taking issue with the whole Westernisation template, my article merely tries to place the early 18th-century Ottoman Empire in context, as belonging to the early modern Islamic world prior to the onset of wholesale Westernisation and modernisation: “the Ottoman state was [after all] built on Islamic foundations . . . As [Ahmet] Yaşar Ocak recently states, in Ottoman studies scholars have traditionally focused on ‘political-legal structures and institutions [of Islam], rather that on the ideology, beliefs and practical dimensions of Islam in the Ottoman context’” (52). In the mid-eighteenth century, Ottoman patrons do start building structures displaying European forms of decoration (‘rococo’). But, Saadabad was an Ottoman building that did not display any rococo shapes or forms. In fact, the tradition of rocaille decoration did not emerge until the 1730s in France . . . The by now well-known tome the Usûl-i Mimari-i Osmanî (1873) talks about “le temps des pompons, des chicorées et des rocailles”, an era which the 19th-century Ottoman book starts at the reign of Mahmud I (1730-54). Contextualising the early 18th-century Ottoman state in this way “implies that Ottoman culture was not just steeped in the cultural idiom of Islam, but was rather part and parcel of the wider culture of Islam” (52). As for Ottoman-Safavid interplay on a cultural-architectural level: “Gülru Necipoğlu has convincingly demonstrated in one of her articles that symbolic interactions on an architectural [plane] were not unheard of in an Ottoman context” (53-4).


To my mind, the traditional emplotment of the Saadabad episode perpetuates long-held “Orientalists” beliefs about Ottoman backwardness and Western (or rather to use a contextually more correct term, Christian) progress and power, able to enthrall and seduce hapless Ottomans. I am planning to write a book that will explain how the trope of Versailles in Istanbul emerged in 18th-century writing and later became a staple in the literature of the 19th and 20th centuries. So far, so good . . . 

[ii] Cfr. http://www.bc.edu/schools/cas/history/faculty/alphabetical/sajdi_dana.html.

[iii] Astrid Meier, “Dana Sajdi. Ottoman Tulips, Ottoman Coffee: Leisure and Lifestyle in the Eighteenth Century. London: I.B.Tauris, 2008. 262 S. $89.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-84511-570-8.” H-Soz-u-Kult (April, 2010). http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=30176.

Coal in the USA

Polluted Energy – Why USA Continues to Depend on Coal

We all know that China’s economy runs on coal-powered power-plants, but as Deutsche Welle reminds us here, it is not just the Chinese who are using dirty coal: ‘Cheap, practical, available in huge quantities: coal is dirty, but far from being done as a source of energy. The largest coal reserves in the world are in the US. The country currently produces half of its energy using coal power plants.The plants are responsible for more than 80 percent of the CO2 emissions of the electricity branch. And according to forecasts by the Department of Energy, their share in energy production will in fact slightly increase by 2030’.


And here is another Deutsche Welle report on power generation: ’99 percent of Norway’s energy is generated using hydropower. It is the cleanest form of energy.While Italy and Austria are doing away with atomic power, France is almost solely dependent on the dangerous, but climate compatible technology. The most hazardous source of energy is coal’.


Leaking Siberian Ice Prompts Methane Warning (AP, 22/11/10)

Leaking Siberian Ice Prompts Methane Warning (AP, 22/11/10)

The Associated Press reports that as ‘Siberia’s thawing permafrost leaks methane, some scientists are warning of another emerging climate threat. (Nov. 22)’. As I wrote last August in Today’s Zaman: ‘University of Florida biologist Edward Schuur indicates that the estimated amount of methane in the earth’s permafrost could be as high as 1,600 billion tonnes. Schuur cautiously warns that, due to global warming, 100 billion tonnes of methane could be released from permafrost this century. He calls this escaping methane “a kind of slow-motion time bomb,” stressing, “Once this process starts it could soon become unstoppable.” At the beginning of this year, climate experts announced that methane emissions from the Arctic have risen by almost one-third in just five years and that sharply rising temperatures are to blame. It is a vicious circle, in other words’. [http://tiny.cc/5tx5q9zzyu]