— The Erimtan Angle —

Ottomans looking West?

The SOAS historian Dr Benjamin Fortna in the I.B. Tauris TAC – Middle East Catalogue says this about Ottomans looking West? The Origins of the Tulip Age and its Development in Modern Turkey: “This study will change the way in which the ostensibly seminal Tulip Period is seen by historians . . . an important publication”.

The “Tulip Age”, a concept that described the beginning of the Ottoman Empire’s westward inclination in the eighteenth century, was an idea proposed by Ottoman historian Ahmed Refik in 1912. In the first reassessment of the origins of this concept, Can Erimtan argues the “Tulip Age” was an important template for various political and ideological concerns of early twentieth century Turkish governments. The concept is most reflective of the 1930s Republican leadership’s attempt to disengage Turkey’s population from its Islamic culture and past, stressing the virtues of progress, modernity and secularism. It was only the death of Atatürk in 1938 that precipitated a hesitant revival of Islam in Turkey’s public life and a state-sponsored re-invigoration of research into Turkey’s Ottoman past. In this exciting reassessment Erimtan shows us that the trope of the “Tulip Age” corresponds more to Turkish society’s desire to re-orientate itself to the Occident throughout the twentieth century rather than to early eighteenth-century Ottoman realities. And here is Selim Karahasanoğlu’s review of the book in the International Journal of Turkish Studies (16, 1 & 2 Fall 2010, pp. 128-30): “The paradigm of the Tulip Age has long been perceived as the norm for the period 1718-30 in Ottoman history . . . [as a] representation of the era as one of pleasure, extravagance, debauchery and finally, in the words of Niyazi Berkes, the ‘Silhouette of a Renaissance’, namely, ‘Westernization’. Can Erimtan’s Ottomans looking West? is a detailed and sound challenge to the standard historiography . . . Erimtan provides a serious historiographical critique of the wide bulk of scholarship produced from 1908 to 1950 in Turkey. Erimtan’s book is, in fact, a study of the politics of history in the period 1908-50 . . . and the `Tulip Age’ serves only as a tool for Erimtan to dig into the politics of historiography of the time. To analyze the evolution of that age, Erimtan brings the grand vizier Nevşehirli Damad İbrahim Pasha to the fore and presents perceptions of him through the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries . . . Erimtan’s great achievement is his careful examination of the contradictions within the authors’ texts . . . His efforts towards an intertextual analysis give many fruitful results . . . Obviously, Erimtan’s method of analyzing his sources provides an efficient tool for him to prove that the `Tulip Age’ was a ‘literary creation’ that ‘does not necessarily mirror the historical reality of 1718-30’ . . . Ottomans looking West? is a well-written book comprising an analytical and intertextual reading of Ottoman history in German, French, English and Turkish (Ottoman and modern). It is a graceful study that I highly recommend to students of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and twentieth-century Ottoman and early Republican history”.

And, if you want to, you can look at some of its pages and even buy the book on amazon.com.


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