Monday, October 18, 2010

It ain't anything new.Relations between Europe and Turkey.

At the zenith of Ottoman power, no Christian state could match it. In the sixteenth century, the French came to the Porte as supplicants and Elizabeth I was so desperate for an alliance that she told Sultan Murad III that Islam and Protestantism were kindred faiths.

In 1623 a French political theorist placed the “great Turke” above all the rulers of Christendom, second in power only to the Pope. Defeat at the gates of Vienna in 1683 is often taken as the moment when the rot set in, but in fact the empire performed respectably against its enemies for much of the eighteenth century as well.

Only during and after the Napoleonic wars did the balance of power unambiguously against it, which was why successive sultans devoted so much energy to centralizing the state and modernizing its institutions. The main challenge they faced came from Christendom’s successor, Europe.

 Initially the empire lay outside the so-called Concert of Great Powers. But in the Treaty of Paris which concluded the Crimean War in 1856 it was recognized for the first time as forming part of the “Public Law and System of Europe”, a curious phrase that implied its entry into a broader civilization. Europe stood for a set of values and the Ottoman empire was being asked to sign up to these much as the European Union has recently required its successor to do.

Another article of the 1856 treaty spelled out the price of membership, the sultan declaring his intention to improve the condition of his subjects “without distinction of Religion or Race” and to make manifest his “generous intentions towards the Christian population of his Empire”.

As this odd combination of commitments suggests,“Europe” stood for a strange mixture of ideas-freedom of worship and equal treatment for all, on the one hand, and special solicitude for Christians on the other; respect for state sovereignty, and at the same time, concern for the rights of the individual.

With time, other ideas bubbled out of Europe as well- the rights of individual nations to independence, as manifested in the rise of Italy, France and Germany; the expansion of free trade and the notion of an autonomous market; the redefinition of religion as a matter of private individual conscience. Into the Ottoman lands poured Europeans of all nationalities- businessmen and investors, soldiers and relief workers, reporters and government advisers.

Salonica changed faster and more dramatically than ever before: as the nineteenth century progressed, it became simultaneously more “European” and more “Oriental”, more closely integrated in the empire, and more threatened by nationalist rivalries, more conscious of itself as a city and yet more bitterly divided. But all these paradoxes and apparent contradictions were nothing more than the manifestation of forces evident in the empire as a whole, an empire transforming itself in the shadow of Europe.


from the book: "Salonica, city of Ghosts". By Mark Mazower.

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