Ottoman Discourse in the Republican Period: A Question of the Rights to Ownership of Ottoman Memory

By Reilly Barry
Submitted to Session P6176 (Ottoman Revival and Return in Turkey, 2020 Annual Meeting
Turkish Studies;
This paper examines Neo-Ottoman discourse in Turkish foreign and domestic policy, and how state-led rhetoric and hegemonic understandings of the term “Ottoman” misleadingly drives US policy and elides meanings and possible policy paths other than a narrow AKP-based definition. This definition in turn is used to arm Western pundits and policymakers with the image of equating Neo-Ottomanist foreign policy aims to political Islamism, antagonizing Western policymakers, while ignoring other non-State sponsored ideas about a past based around multiculturalism and inhibits a plurality of understanding, erasing the possibility for different “confessions” of Ottomanisms and visions of the past.
Altering our visions of the past in this sense have direct implications for altering visions of future policy prescriptions that do not result in the deadlock and hostility embedded in US-Turkish relations we are seeing in our current situation. The paper suggests, utilizing a deeply interactive historiographical review of the use of the term “Ottoman” in Republican era literature, that disentangling current rhetoric about Neo-Ottomanism as related to nodal points of pop culture and rising Islamic sentiment in Turkey, dominant in rhetoric in commemorations of the Battle of Manzikert and Çanakkale anniversaries, will thus offer a plurality of meanings, as historically been seen for the term “Ottoman” enhancing our ability to imagine a different, less monochromatic past, and effectively a different future in US-Turkey policy.
The paper is broken up into assessing the term Ottoman beginning with Yusuf Akçura’s “üç Tarz? Siyaset” in which the descriptor was used as more closely to bat?c?l?k in terms of political understanding, comparatively to türkçülük and islamc?l?k. It then moves into the dominant paradigms of a Kemalist versus Islamist contestation of Ottoman place in society, drawing upon the works of Çinar, Kaplan, and Brockett, to name a few who prop up the dominant narrative, against Nick Danforth and Soner Cagaptay who subvert dominant frameworks and understanding. It then follows a review of the term in foreign policy academic discourse which, as concluded, do not incorporate enough laterality in terminology beyond top-down, nation-state approaches and understandings.
Analytically, decentering the nation-state in this framework allows for a broader ownership of the rights to Ottoman memory: i.e., for Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Sephardic Jewish diasporic communities, and departs from a misleading interpretation of the term which delineates limited understandings of the permanency of foreign policy bases in Gaullist policy measures which fuel limited bilateral policy maneuvers and options.