Whose Heritage is this Heritage ?

A short essay by Sedef Ateş, May 2022

I am returning from the Pluralism in the Present workshop with question marks revolving around my head. I think to myself “Pluralism in the Present” does this statement present recognition of a pluralist past, and a “new” way of pluralist existence we should invent for the conditions of our day?

In regards to the Ottoman Past we are familiar with the religious organization of society in all aspects, from judicial to habitual and the management of this co-existence (not in a pluralist sense) as part of the Ottoman political tradition which basis itself in Islamic law. With no intention to praise this social system,  what I am trying to say here is that they had a framework to work things out and it seemed to function for the society a certain amount of time.

I have been thinking during the workshop that we might be missing a framework or a structured understanding of pluralism that we can try to apply for our much divided and fragmented world. When we talk about pluralism the discussion boils down to a wage statement of “we shouldn’t think of us vs. them” or “we shouldn’t think our heritage to be ours but as world heritage”. The only question that I can think of is then why are we discussing pluralism? We can as well discuss ways to make all of us the same and identical so we will have no problem at all.

I do not intent to over-simplify the much good intentioned comments which objected my question whether we should consider the Ottoman heritage (many as well call it Egyptian) in Kavala as of ours? Me actually coming from many different backgrounds such as Albanian and Bosnian, I tend to feel a connection to the Ottoman sights, not as a fascination or even nostalgia of the past, but as a culture which sprang from the rich and ancient traditions that came together in Anatolia and many different regions which I feel every right to appreciate (and as well as criticize).

In fact the idea of praising ones heritage, feeling a sense of belonging and putting forward efforts to keep it alive and in dialogue with the present is something we all appreciate and wish for to be supported. This is something that makes us all contend when we see in other groups or communities. It is much appreciation and respect that I have visited the Cappadocia Research Center at Nea Karvali. It makes me still have tears in my eyes to think of those people who even carried a Church wall (in pieces) along with other memorable items (wedding dresses, carpets, pots) within the turmoil of the population exchange in 1923 and managed to turn it into a museum and research center not only to honor their memory but keep the Greek heritage of Cappadocia relevant, visible and accessible.

I think of pluralism as the recognition of everybody’s heritages, lifestyles, sense of belongings, beliefs and the mutual understanding that people have the right to feel connected, to keep their cultures, languages, identities alive, visible and in relevance to our day. As we are in the Pride month, this talks a lot about how important it is to let people honor their identities without any hostility, down looking or with a sense of toleration. Pluralism is like a rainbow which should allow all of us to exist side by side with our cultures, backgrounds and different cosmological and ontological stand points.

There are much questions to ask, and much to be answered. A Sufi story goes as follows, a group of dervishes has been invited to a dinner which all were served a soup with very long spoons. As they were trying to figure out how to eat and orient the spoon with their mouth a dervish thought of feeding the friend across the table. Once they all done the same they all became full with the help of the other. We exist together as long as everybody has the right to cherish their identities and as long as we support and appreciate each other in this quest for co-existence.

By muratdevres

Academic Coordinator of the project Rememberings

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