The wide geographic expanse of the Ottoman Empire, and length of its political existence, presents historians with the challenge of describing a vast, complex and evolving mosaic of communal formations, many of which were unstable and ambiguously defined. Understanding the relationship of these communities to the formulation of individual subjectivity and self-identity during this period remains an even more difficult historiographic puzzle. Alongside major ethnic, religious and linguistic groupings such as Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians and Jews, one of the most historically prominent communities of the Empire – and yet, at the same time, among the most amorphous and understudied – are the Levantines. Originating from populations of merchants, diplomats, and other travelers and migrants who settled in the port cities of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires from the lands of Western, Southern, and Central Europe, the Levantines emerged as a multifarious but distinct social grouping with a pivotal role in the history of the Ottoman state. Research into the cosmopolitan world of the Levantines remains inadequate, however, and much remains to be said about their particular modes of living, social interaction, and cultural inheritance.
This book project aims to go beyond the borders of formalistic narratives and to juxtapose a multiplicity of approaches, methodologies, and perspectives in the study of Levantine lives in the Ottoman Empire. We welcome chapters that engage in the current body of scholarship on topics such as Levantine cosmopolitanism, hybridity, marginality, ambiguity, and transnationalism, but we also encourage submissions which critique the centrality of such terminology and theoretical frames in historical scholarship. Ultimately, it is hoped that these chapters will contribute to a deeper understanding of processes of communal and identity-formation in the Ottoman world, and highlight the possibilities of Levantine studies in challenging entrenched disciplinary boundaries.
Proposed chapters might pursue, but are not limited to, the following topics:
panoramic approaches to Levantine communities or publications
Levantine families, households, and domestic culture; labor, intimacy and consumption
Levantine institutions, clubs, schools, and churches, and other social organizations
Levantine publications, companies, and commercial enterprises; engaging with port-cities studies and the questions of class formation in the Ottoman Mediterranean
Cosmopolitanism, transnationalism, and internationalism as a Levantine analytic
Levantine religious spaces and architecture; Levantine life in urban space and traces/hauntings in the built environment of contemporary cities
Levantine social and cultural interactions with other communities of the Ottoman world; ambiguities, exchanges, passings and crossings
The initial request is an abstract submission which describes the applicant’s interest in the project. These should be between 200-250 words and outline the intended area of investigation and any relationship to the mentioned topics. Those interested should email these with the title in the subject line by the abstract submission deadline of midnight, 15/02/22. Final manuscripts are strongly encouraged to be limited to 10000 words. Articles in English and Turkish are accepted.
From September 13 to September 17 of 1922, a holocaust engulfed the Ottoman city of Izmir. Almost one hundred years to the day, on September 9 of 2022, the Center for Greek Studies, the Center for European Studies, the Center for Jewish Studies and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program are organizing a two-day symposium that focuses on the political and social events which culminated in the destruction of the city through a decolonial lens. The symposium will take place at the Reitz Student Union over two days with a three-night stay at the Reitz Union Hotel beginning with registration for the presenters on Friday, September 9, 2022, at 6:30 pm and ending on Sunday, September 11, 2022, at 4:00 pm.
The symposium will bring together junior and senior scholars whose research reexamines the political and social atmosphere leading up to and inclusive of political events that impacted ethnic groups of the Ottoman Empire through a decolonial lens. Furthermore, the symposium will feature research that navigates away from recapitulations of modernist frameworks. Research that will be selected for the symposium will view these events through the vantage points of the individuals and ethnic groups within the Ottoman Empire that influenced and impacted their fruition. In this vein, research presentations that focus on the Empire’s Albanians, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Jews, Kurds, Laz, Levantines, Pomaks, Roma, Rum, Serbians, Turks, Vlachs, Yoruks and their respective diasporas through a decolonial lens will be featured. The goal of the symposium is to marshal decolonial theory in order to understand how the dynamics between the Ottoman Empire’s ethnic groups can provide insights for contemporary knowledge production for Armenia, Greece, Cyprus, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Turkey and the United States. The papers selected for the symposium will be featured in a commemorative tome. Researchers are kindly asked to submit their 250-word abstract by January 31, 2022.
The Turkey Europe Center (TEZ) Would like to invite you to the next event in the lecture series organized in cooperation with the State Center for Political Education in Hamburg.
The lecture by Andreas Guidi (Constance) Italian Fascism in Rhodes as a Post-Ottoman Empire: Confessional Diversity, Politics of Difference, and Ideologies in the Modern Mediterranean will be held on Wednesday 19 January 2022 at 6pm ct. held via zoom .
Lecture : Italian Fascism in Rhodes as a Post-Ottoman Empire: Confessional Diversity, Politics of Difference, and Ideologies in the Modern Mediterranean by Andreas Guidi
Rhodes was occupied by Italian troops in 1912 as part of the war against the Ottoman Empire over what is now Libya. Centuries of Ottoman rule over this multi-denominational provincial capital ended with an Italian military occupation that lasted until the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which in turn transitioned to internationally recognized Italian sovereignty. Just a year before Lausanne, Italy experienced a political earthquake when Benito Mussolini came to power with the “March on Rome”. The official fall of the Ottoman Empire thus coincides with the rise of the Fascist Empire in Rhodes. What did it mean for Italian colonialism to rule over a former Ottoman society? Conversely, how did the population of a former Ottoman provincial town adapt to colonial rule?
The lecture aims to think these questions together. First, an alternative to the Empire-into-Nation narrative is outlined. Second, the transformation of the imperial politics of difference – which began already in the last years of Ottoman rule – is offered through an insight into denominational communities. Finally, it will be examined how colonial fascism tried to create a “new generation” of young loyal subjects, which, however, was limited by the perception of alternative ideologies such as Kemalism and Zionism among the youth.
Andreas Guidi is a research associate in the Modern and Contemporary History working group at the University of Konstanz and is currently a Visiting Fellow at the DHI Washington. His research interests include the history of the modern Mediterranean, Italian-Ottoman ties, the history of youth and generations, and the history of maritime smuggling. His first monograph Generations of Empire: Youth from Ottoman to Italian Rule in the Mediterranean will be published by University of Toronto Press in 2022. He has published articles in English, French, German and Italian, including in the International Journal of Middle East Studies. Andreas Guidi is the founder and editor of The Southeast Passage podcast and host on several episodes of Ottoman History Podcast.
Publications (selection) Generations of Empire: Youth from Ottoman to Italian Rule in the Mediterranean , University of Toronto Press, forthcoming Fall 2022.
“School protests and the making of the post-Ottoman Mediterranean: Pupils’ politicization in Rhodes as a challenge to Italian colonialism, 1915-1937,” in International Journal of Middle East Studies , published as FirstView. “Démarcation générationnelle et divergence mémorielle: Sur l’émigration des juifs et des Grecs de Rhodes vers les États-Unis au long du XXe siècle”, in Slavica Occitania 52, pp. 233-260.
“Who made fascism in Zadar? Activist trajectories as an interpretative key for post-imperial politics”, in Ante Bralić and Branko Kasalo (eds.), The Eastern Adriatic between the Collapse of the Habsburg Monarchy and the Creation of New States , Zadar: University of Zadar, p. 243 -272.
LONDON – “Who is even going to believe there were Jews in Iraq? Baghdad was the centre of the Jewish world for over 1,500 years. I can no longer carry on living as if nothing has happened.” These powerful, haunting words from north Londoner Edwin Shuker begin the documentary “Remember Baghdad: Iraq’s last Jews tell the story of their country.”
Shuker decided to return to the country he loves. Filmmaker Fiona Murphy documented his journey to Baghdad, his visit to the family home and the synagogue where he once worshipped. Shuker bought a house in Erbil so he could say the Jews have not all gone. He wanted to plant a seed of hope for the future.
“Maybe in 30, 40, 50, 60 years’ time Jews will reconnect with their birthplace. Iraq is in our bones,” Shuker said as he opened the door to his new residence.
The realities suggest Shuker’s dream could one day come true. Iraq’s new emerging leader, Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said he would welcome back Jews who were expelled from Iraq decades ago.
Asked by one of his followers if Jews, who were forced out of the country due to the discriminatory policies of past regimes, could return under his leadership, al-Sadr responded in the affirmative. “If their loyalty was to Iraq, they are welcome,” he said, adding that Jews who wanted to return to the country could receive full citizenship rights.
Murphy’s insightful documentary traces the history of Jews in Iraq. The focus is the 20th century and the experiences of several families. The story is told through vivid home movies, news footage and interviews, which provide a penetrating flash of insight into the lives of Iraqi Jews during both the good and bad times. The characters tell their stories with poignant regret and bitter clarity.
The Dallals imported tyres, the Khalastchis sold cars, the Shamashes were property developers and politicians and the Dangoors imported Coca-Cola — all working in partnerships with Muslims.
“Jews, Muslims and Christians, we were all Iraqis. It was a good time. I still miss Baghdad,” said Eileen Khalastchi. She was among the last few hundred Jews to flee Baghdad in 1974, leaving just 280 behind. She had seen the country through British rule, independence, revolutions, war with Israel and persecution under the Ba’ath Party.
As a child, Khalastchi’s life in Baghdad was idyllic. She said she misses it still and stayed in Iraq as long as she could.
The first sign of change was when the grand mufti of Jerusalem moved into the house next door to her home. In 1941 she was too young to understand the reason for the sudden acid attack on her on the riverbank of the Tigris, that the politics of Palestine/Israel and the influence of the Nazis were behind the frightening change of atmosphere in Baghdad. However, anger over the British reconquest of Iraq and the partition of Palestine was building and it led to violent attacks against the Jews in Baghdad.
Khalastchi and her family ignored all opportunities to leave until it was almost too late. By the late 1960s, their lives were in danger, their passports withdrawn and two or three families were escaping every week. Nevertheless, today she remembers the good times, always smiling. She does not want to return to Baghdad. “I want to remember it as it was,” she says.
“The families I filmed were ordinary but lived through an epic in their kitchens and living rooms, making life-and-death decisions before school in the morning,” Murphy said in a statement on the documentary’s website. “I hope people who watch the film will identify with them and recognise ethnic hatred for what it is and see that it is still with us.”
Murphy was offered a job cataloguing an extraordinary archive of early home movies belonging to an Iraqi-Jewish family. “Bit by bit, I was also drawn into the turbulent history of Iraq before Saddam Hussein, infinitely more complex than I knew, and for which Britain and the US bear much of the responsibility,” she said.
“I learned that the Jews once made up a third of the population of Baghdad. They spoke to me of idyllic times, picnics by the Tigris, fancy dress parties and beauty pageants. It was difficult at first to reconcile it all with the brutal place Iraq has become today. I wanted to know, step by step, how this happened.”
“Their story opens onto everything that happened in the Middle East between the first world war and the Cold War 50 years later,” she said. “A mosaic emerged telling the story of a nation under intense pressure, descending into darkness. I was surprised by the light moments and unexpected paradoxes: the Arab friends and business partners, the ambivalence about Israel, the genuine affection for home. I pushed on and ended up going to Iraq at the peak of the ISIS insurgency with a man [Shuker] determined to rekindle the Jewish presence by returning to buy a home there himself.”
From Turkey and Armenia to Australia and New Zealand
This book addresses the conflicts, myths, and memories that grew out of the Great War in Ottoman Turkey, and their legacies in society and politics. It is the third volume in a series dedicated to the combined analysis of the Ottoman Great War and the Armenian Genocide.
In Australia and New Zealand, and even more in the post-Ottoman Middle East, the memory of the First World War still has an immediacy that it has long lost in Europe. For the post-Ottoman regions, the first of the two World Wars, which ended Ottoman rule, was the formative experience. This volume analyses this complex configuration: why these entanglements became possible; how shared or even contradictory memories have been constructed over the past hundred years, and how differing historiographies have developed. Remembering the Great War in the Middle East reaches towards a new conceptualization of the “long last Ottoman decade” (1912-22), one that places this era and its actors more firmly at the center, instead of on the periphery, of a history of a Greater Europe, a history comprising – as contemporary maps did – Europe, Russia, and the Ottoman world.
Table of Contents
Introduction (Hans-Lukas Kieser, University of Newcastle, Australia; Thomas Schmutz, University of Zurich, Switzerland)
I. The Politics of Commemoration
Chapter 1: Turkish History Writing of the Great War: Imperial Legacy, Mass Violence, Dissent (Alexandre Toumarkine, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO), France)
Chapter 2: April 25. Anzac Day Commemoration and Construction of National Identity (Rowan Light, The University of Auckland, New Zealand)
Chapter 3: April 24. Formation, Development and Current State of the Armenian Genocide Victims Remembrance Day (Harutyun Marutyan, National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, Armenia)
II. National Narratives in the former Ottoman World
Chapter 5: National Narratives Challenged. Ottoman Wartime Correspondence on Palestine (Yuval Ben Bassat, University of Haifa, Israel; and Dotan Halevy)
Chapter 6: Official and Individual Lenses of the Remembrance of the First World War: Turkish Official Military Histories and Personal War Narratives (Mesut Uyar, UNSW Canberra, Australia) III. Australians’ Embrace of Gallipoli
Chapter 7: Turkey, Australia, and the Noble enemy-turned-friend (Kate Ariotti, University of Newcastle, Australia)
Chapter 8: A Foundational Myth: Gallipoli and the Architecture of Memory in Canberra (Daniel Marc Segesser, Bern University, Switzerland)
Chapter 9: Gallipoli in Diasporic Memories of Sikhs and Turks (Burcu Cevik-Compiegne, Australian National University, Australia) IV. Contested Memories: New Zealand, Turkey and Armenians
Chapter 10: “To have and to hold”: Chunuk Bair and New Zealand`s Gallipoli Imagining (Bruce Scates, Australian National University, Australia)
Chapter 11: New Zealand and the Armenian Genocide (Maria Armoudian, University of Auckland, New Zealand; James Robins, V.K.G. Woodman)
Chapter 12: Can the Survivor Speak? (Talin Suciyan, LMU, Germany)
In 2010, with great fanfare, Turkey inaugurated a ferry route between Mersin and Lebanon’s Tripoli, a first between the two countries. It was hailed as an important milestone in Turkey’s strategy of renewed engagement with former Ottoman territories. The latter failed but the ferry line managed to survive.
On a sweaty August day in 2014, Turkish visual artist Serkan Taycan decided to travel to Lebanon. Taycan, who documents urban transformation and land and sea routes in his work, was disillusioned with the outcome of the 2013 Gezi Park anti-government protests in Istanbul, where he took part in the cultural worker-led critical political forum Turuncu Çadır (Orange Tent), only to witness more government repression and censorship in Gezi’s aftermath. Demoralised and anxious, he lacked motivation and “had to escape for a bit”. A friend suggested Beirut. “Even for a short time, I wanted to leave Turkey. And at the time, artistic ties between Turkey and Lebanon were strong,” Taycan said over the phone.
Poring over flight schedules (there were a handful of flights each day), Taycan decided on a lengthier, more adventurous, Mediterranean route. “My friend urged me to check out this ferry that goes between Tripoli and Turkey’s Taşucu port in Mersin.” Google quickly confirmed its existence. What could beat sailing to Lebanon in the shimmering heat?
“Even for a short time, I wanted to leave Turkey. And at the time, artistic ties between Turkey and Lebanon were strong.”
Taycan was born in 1978 in the southeastern Turkish city of Antep. Like numerous Antep locals, his family owned a summer house in Iskenderun, in the Hatay Province, bordering Syria on two sides and the Mediterranean on a third, and Taycan planned to vacation there before taking the ferry. On board his flight to Hatay from Istanbul, he noticed that something like eighty percent of the passengers seemed to be Syrian. Outside the airport upon arrival, cabbies hawked: “Damascus, Aleppo! Damascus, Aleppo!”
From Hatay, one needs a six-hour bus ride to reach the ferry in Taşucu. The town’s discreet and small harbour opened in the late 1990s and lies surrounded by beaches, medium-size hotels and outdoor restaurants catering for middle-class Turkish vacationers. The port itself is geared mainly to cargo, and serves more than 150 ships each year. When built, it was planned to increase trade and travel between Northern Cyprus and Turkey. When Taycan arrived at the harbour, without having purchased a ticket beforehand, he suspected a scam, because he hadn’t heard about the boat company before. Maybe, he thought, there was actually no ferry. Yet there it was, the big vessel, waiting under the sun, at first glance almost identical to the IDO seabus ferries he rode several times a week to cross Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait.
There it was, the big vessel, waiting under the sun.
The Taşucu-Tripoli ferry route was announced to much fanfare during a reception in 2010. On a boat named Azzurra, anchored in the port of Tripoli, İnan Özyıldız, Turkey’s ambassador in Beirut, addressed an audience that included officials from the Lebanese Ministry of Public Works and Transport. “Our prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri have supported us strongly in launching this route,” he beamed at the time. “We’re thrilled to witness this first voyage from Turkey to Lebanon.” The shipping magnate who operated the line, Fergün Shipping’s Fehim Küçük, detailed plans to have daily journeys in a few months, describing the route as a first between the two countries in modern times.
Before traversing the far eastern parts of the Mediterranean, Azzurra had a curious history. Able to accommodate 700 passengers, seventy cars or twenty-five semi-trailers, and up to forty 20-foot containers, the ship was built in Germany. Her birth name Grenaa changed twice, first to Kalle in 1971, then to Azzurra (“Sky blue”) when the ferry began operating in the Adriatic Sea, with cabins, pullmans, gaming stations and restaurants onboard.
In 2010, Azzurra began serving the Taşucu-Tripoli route, sailing across the Mediterranean in ten hours. Once in Tripoli, whoever wanted to continue to Beirut could board special buses. For passengers travelling the opposite way, special coupons would offer discounted prices at the shopping malls in the nearby city of Mersin. This endeavor, the shipping entrepreneur Küçük proclaimed during the inauguration, “would turn a new page in Turkey-Lebanon ties.”
“Strategic Depth” was a vision that expected tourism and trade between Turkey and former Ottoman territories to flourish in an imaginary “win-win” situation.
That same year, an ambitious international relations professor, Ahmet Davutoğlu, sat in the seat of Turkey’s Foreign Minister. Having pledged to raise his country’s clout by revitalising its Ottoman routes in the Mediterranean, the Balkans and the Caucasus, Davutoğlu demanded paying attention to cultures and territories Turks once governed, including Lebanon. He called this Stratejik Derinlik, “Strategic Depth,” a vision that expected tourism and trade between Turkey and former Ottoman territories to flourish in an imaginary “win-win” situation. The 2010 launch of the Taşucu-Tripoli route appeared to serve this vision.
But the plans for a daily maritime connection between Turkey and Lebanon never materialised. Azzurra, not long after its Taşucu-Tripoli launching, quickly ceased to operate the route. During the Libyan civil war, Azzurra rescued more than 64,000 people fleeing the conflict. Robin des Bois’ Ship-Breaking 2013 bulletin reports that Azzurra was “detained in 2011 in Valletta (Malta)” and later “sold for demolition in Turkey.” Since then, another company, Med Star, with offices in both Turkey and Tripoli, operates the route with a fleet of five boats and a catamaran.
Tripoli, a historical port
Tripoli’s Greek name, Tripolis (adopted during the Hellenistic period), means the triple city. There are two Tripoli ports on the Mediterranean: the Libyan capital and Tripoli Al-Sham or Trablusşam (Tripoli of the Levant), where the Phoenicians, Fatimids, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans and French all took administrative turns. Phoenician rulers set up Tripoli in 700 B.C. as their capital. Between 1102 and 1109, under the rule of Raymond of Saint Gilles, the Crusaders laid siege to Tripoli in the aftermath of their first crusade and named it “The County of Tripoli,” the fourth crusader state. They went on to control Tripoli for almost two centuries. “Under the Crusaders, Tripoli was, as before, a busy port with a heterogeneous population including western Europeans, Greeks, Armenians, Maronites, Nestorians, Jews and even Muslims,” wrote John Gulick in his 1967 book Tripoli: A Modern Arab City. At the time of the Crusaders’ rule, Tripoli produced sugar canes, oranges and lemons. The city was already a centre for silk weaving, an industry that would come to flourish for centuries in the region.
The Egyptian encyclopedist and mathematician Al-Qalqashandi, praised Tripoli’s port and beautiful orchards.
In 1289, the Mamluks from Egypt managed to conquer Tripoli, and set out to raze Tripoli’s portal quarters, Mina, destroying the city’s Crusader and Fatimid fortifications. Although they did not “block up Tripoli’s harbor, as they did with many other Levantine ports for fear of a return of the Europeans,” writes Gulick, “their initial interest in the port seems to have been mainly defensive.”
By the late fourteenth century, that picture changed. One travel writer, the Egyptian encyclopedist and mathematician Al-Qalqashandi, praised Tripoli’s port and beautiful orchards. By the 1390s, Tripoli was a leading exporter of powdered sugar and candy to Europe.
Moroccan scholar and traveller Ibn Battuta and Ottoman explorer Evliya Çelebi are the city’s perhaps most celebrated visitors. Ibn Battuta, arriving in 1355, commented on “Tripoli’s rich land and sea resources.” Evliya Çelebi (1611-1682), meticulous yet prone to exaggeration, described his joy at entering the city from its Balıklı Ayazma Gate, passing an ancient bridge, and reaching the Kum Gate. The city could be traversed, he calculated, in 3,000 steps. The beach between the town and the port was “thriving with merry vineyards and orchards.” Tripoli, he wrote, was a “prosperous city decorated from one end to the other with lemon, bitter orange, pomegranate, and date trees” (and had loaves of bread tasting like “white roses”). Its large port which, again calculated in strides, lay “a thousand steps away” was apparently “quite prosperous during the time of the infidels” and hosted three thousand ships. It was “open to western, northern, and northeasterly winds,” so ships could only anchor there if they “stabilized themselves by the power of steel.”
Silk weaving had become a key industry in Tripoli, and the city’s merchants sold their silk in exchange for sugar, cloth and coffee.
Ottomans ruled the Tripoli that Çelebi saw. They had taken the city in 1516, during Sultan Selim’s Egypt campaign, and would remain its rulers for 402 years. Over the sixteenth century, Tripoli’s population was between 6,000 and 10,000 people, and the port brought Ottomans a large tax revenue. In Tripoli, Ottomans built 360 mosques and schools. Sabun Han, Khan Al Saboun in Arabic, which houses soap-making workshops, was built by Hürrem Sultan, the chief consort and wife of the Ottoman Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. (In recent years, Ankara funded restorations of the city’s Hamidiye Clock Tower, Hamidi Mosque and Mewlawi Hospice.)
Under the Ottomans, trade routes developed in the eastern Mediterranean. In 1580, Murad III granted the British commercial rights of a number of sea routes which let British ships trade in Ottoman ports under their flags, and soon the British began to have consuls and open trade missions in Ottoman port cities. In 1583, they opened their first consulate in Tripoli. The Venetian embassy followed suit, moving from Damascus to Tripoli in the sixteenth century. The Levant Company, set up in 1581 to organise British trade in Ottoman territories, became a leading player in the eastern Mediterranean. Maritime exchanges between the Ottomans and their Lebanese territories included exports of sponges, soap and tobacco. By now, silk weaving had become a key industry in Tripoli, and the city’s merchants sold their silk in exchange for sugar, cloth and coffee.
When steamship routes launched in the 1830s, making it significantly cheaper to transport goods, Beirut became the leading stop between Smyrna in the Aegean sea and Alexandria, leaving other ports out of this lucrative network. Despite this challenge, Tripoli remained active. In 1910, writes Gulick, “661 steamers and 1944 sailing ships had entered and cleared the port.” After the Sykes-Picot Agreement was signed in 1916, the Ottomans withdrew from Tripoli. For its former colonial overlords, the city would now become a source of imperial nostalgia.
For its former colonial overlords, Tripoli would now become a source of imperial nostalgia.
The artistic route
Fast forward to today. Taycan is not the only Turkish artist to have taken the Levantine route. Like him, numerous culture workers crossed the Mediterranean during the past decade or two; some to wander around, others to attend residencies and other professional events. Vasıf Kortun, the founder of Istanbul’s artistic research institute SALT, used to visit Lebanon each year. His interest began in the early 1990s. “The Bosnia War brought to my mind the importance of ties between the Middle East, Turkey and the southeastern Mediterranean – and of course, their ties to Ottoman geography,” he told me. Kortun would then go on to establish an artistic pipeline between Turkey and Lebanon that artists, curators and critics use to this day.
One early sign of Turkish artistic interest in Lebanon was an exhibition in Istanbul by Walid Raad in the mid-1990s. “Back then, nobody in Turkey talked about the Middle East,” Kortun said. The interest grew slowly: in 2002, a two-day conference on the southeastern Mediterranean was held in Istanbul with speakers from Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine. Lebanese curator and founder of Beirut’s Ashkal Alwan, Christine Tohmé, was one of the invitees; later, she joined forces with Kortun and William Wells, founder of Cairo’s now closed Townhouse Gallery, to form an informal trio focusing their work on, as Kortun put it, “how to think of the Middle East and the Balkans together.”
“Back then, nobody in Turkey talked about the Middle East.”
In 2001, Kortun’s Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Centre opened on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue. “This is where we laid the train tracks and set up stations for the Turkey-Lebanon artistic route,” he said. “The rest is wagons moving on these rails. If we hadn’t paved this path, Lebanon wouldn’t be on Turkey’s horizon.” But Kortun rejects the idea that this connection – artistic residencies and exchange programs between the two countries – grew via political agendas, especially those like Davutoğlu’s vision of a touristic and commercial renaissance between Turks and Lebanese, through his “Strategic Depth”. “While politicians’ and our own visions might have overlapped in some places, there were other factors behind the opening of a Turkey-Lebanon artistic route.”
“It not only failed to integrate Turkey with the region, but also raised new barriers between trade, travel and diplomatic ties between Turkey and all of its Levantine and Middle Eastern neighbours.”
Soner Çağaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, questions Davutoğlu’s foreign policy strategy of the early 2010s. “The greatest irony is that it had the opposite effect. It not only failed to integrate Turkey with the region, but also raised new barriers between trade, travel and diplomatic ties between Turkey and all of its Levantine and Middle Eastern neighbours, from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.” Çağaptay thinks that Turkish hubris caused this. “In 2010, Turkey was doing well economically, experiencing an unprecedented, almost decade-long, era of growth which installed in the minds of Davutoğlu and other policy members a can-do attitude.” The other part, he said, was paternalistic. “The idea of Ottomans returning to the Middle East to tell everyone what to do, and that everyone should just listen to them, directed their thinking.” But this idea, Çağaptay said, was “naive and ill-executed.”
Crossing from Taşucu to Tripoli
Back in August 2014, Taycan had boarded one of the Med Star ferries in Taşucu. But even after hours had passed, the vessel had still not left the port. Taycan readied to complain. His protests would come to nothing. The ferry, scheduled to leave Turkey in the late morning, finally departed around 4 p.m.. Taycan stretched his legs once on deck. While watching the view, he briefly chatted with a young Syrian couple and then dozed off.
In 2017, a Lebanese deckhand who wanted to become a captain on a ferry operating on this route told the American journal Globalpost that among the passengers going from Turkey to Tripoli, “most of them are Syrian, because of the war in their country.” The ferry, he said, was meant to “handle only trucks and cars but had been modified to allow 200-250 passengers.”
If someone searches for the Tripoli-Turkey journey on Google, the main hit will be someone asking if there’s still a ferry operating the line – and, if yes, what is the timetable.
It took all night for the ferry to cross the Mediterranean and finally reach Tripoli around 2 a.m.. Once in the port, an officer at the passport control diligently checked each passenger’s documents. Taycan was at the end of the queue. When he was let into Tripoli, the city was still asleep. No cabs, no busses, no lights. For a brief moment, he wondered about what to do. Then, fortune came to his rescue. The couple he had met on board were waiting for him at the port exit. The woman told Taycan that they would help him out. “We’ve got friends who will bring us to central Tripoli.” Taycan followed them inside an aged Mercedes where the couple offered him lahmajeen – a meat pie popular in Armenia, Turkey and the Levant – asking whether he knew what it was and then helped him to find a cab to Beirut.
Then, fortune came to his rescue.
If someone searches for the Tripoli-Turkey journey on Google, the main hit will be someone asking if there’s still a ferry operating the line – and, if yes, what is the timetable. “Weather allowing,” Med Star vessels sail between Taşucu and Tripoli on Tuesday and Fridays and from Tripoli to Taşucu each Monday and Thursday. Most passengers on these ferries are currently truck drivers on their way to Syria, Iraq or parts of Turkey. Many know each other, after regularly meeting on deck when crossing with their trucks. Most drivers sleep in their trucks and have dinner in the onboard eatery serving stews and rice. Wooden tables are set up over which games of backgammon are played and cigarettes smoked.
Eleven years after Azzurra’s launch, Turkey’s political focus has once again shifted to its traditional areas of influence: Northern Cyprus, Azerbaijan and other Turkic autocracies in the former Soviet Union. As Davutoğlu morphed into a rivalry over leadership with Turkey’s current strongman Erdoğan, his “Strategic Depth” vision evaporated. Replacing it is something far more aggressive: Mavi Vatan or “The Blue Homeland”, an irredentist and expansionist vision first coined in 2006 by Cem Gürdeniz who served as head of the Plans and Policy Division in the Turkish Naval Forces. Later, Cihat Yaycı, a former chief of staff of the Turkish Navy Commander, developed the same concept in his 2010 book on marine law. The Mavi Vatan doctrine aims to annex the maximum amount of sea territory for Turkey in the Mediterranean, and is a metonym of Erdoğan’s nationalist turn.
“It is a reaction to the failures of Strategic Depth,” says Çağaptay. “Strategic Depth was supposed to make Turkey the leading nation in the eastern Mediterranean. But the opposite occurred. Turkey became more isolated than ever before. There was never a moment in history since the fall of the Ottoman Empire when Turkey had fewer friends or allies in the Middle East than today.” Since 2020, Turkey’s pursuit of contested oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean has earned the ire of Greece who deployed warships in the area, with the backing of another foe of Turkey, France.
On deck, Taycan observed Tripoli from a meditative remove, watching its old castle and half-finished fairground complex built by Brazilian modernist Oscar Niemeyer.
Return to Istanbul
After spending a week with his friend in Beirut, Taycan travelled to Tripoli to embark on his return trip. As he boarded the ferry, the joys of travelling – of wandering from place to place – came upon him.
Back in Istanbul he had been working on a project called İki Deniz Arası, “Between Two Seas”, an attempt to visualise the city’s urban development through a 60 kilometres walking trail on Istanbul’s outskirts. The four day hike, which people were invited to take, began on the Black Sea coast north of the city and concluded at the southern shores of the Marmara Sea. This time, Taycan was not crossing a piece of land connecting two seas, but a sea connecting two pieces of land.
On deck, Taycan observed Tripoli from a meditative remove, watching its old castle and half-finished fairground complex built by Brazilian modernist Oscar Niemeyer in 1963 disappear on the horizon. His country’s lofty geopolitical aims, articulated during the launch of the ferry route in 2010, might have vanished. But the link between Turkey and Lebanon, manifested by travellers, artists and the Taşucu-Tripoli boat, still remains.
All illustrations for the Mediterranean Routes series were produced by Atelier Glibett in Tunis.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union within the framework of the regional program Med Dialogue for Rights and Equality. All content is the sole responsibility of Mashallah News and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union. The Our Mediterranean project (#ourmediterranean on social media) has four partners: Maydan, Civitas Institute, Réseau Euromed France and Mashallah News.
In the University of Washington’s 9th annual Ladino Day celebration, editors of the new book “Sephardic Trajectories: Archives, Objects, and the Ottoman Jewish Past in the United States” discuss the book project, alongside presentations from three contributors to the volume.
European University Institute (Florence, IT) & on Zoom
12-13 May 2022 (hybrid format)
Deadline: 15 December 2021
CALL FOR PAPERS
by Duygu Yıldırım
When and how did identity matter in the early modern Mediterranean? How were they created and dissolved? In the past twenty years, historiography has defined the early modern Mediterranean as a region in flux where categories of belonging and classification were continuously created, contested, and remade according to political, economical, and social circumstances. This workshop questions the trend of seeing the Mediterranean merely as a space of coexistence and fluidity and aims to foster new insights and methodological approaches to the historical studies on the early modern Mediterranean.
Recent scholarship has re-conceptualized the Mediterranean as a “shared world” and challenged long-time narratives based on fixed and binary national, cultural, and religious boundaries within the region. For example, in contrast to the seemingly fixed institutional and legal identities, scholars have discussed the fluidity of individual identities on the ground, from those of religious converts, to long-distance merchants and political elites. However, this new scholarship also tends to foster the image of the Mediterranean as an exceptional context defined by notions of hybridity and fluidity.
Using “identity” as a methodological framework, this workshop will build on these discussions and seek a middle ground between the two narratives. When and how did people across the Mediterranean defend their identitarian boundaries? When did showing/claiming an identity become a necessity? When did people lose their identity? We anticipate new insights from reconsidering these terms and demanding attention to the concepts of difference and diversity in different political and religious groups.
We historicize the concept of “identity” as a constant process rather than a final product by considering contestation, limits, impermanence operating both within and outside of wider pressures. In the light of a new set of pressing questions and engagement with recent discussions in the material culture studies and historical anthropology, we see an opportunity to complicate the making and unmaking of identities in the early modern Mediterranean. The category of “identity” as an umbrella term has been mostly discussed in reference to human-human relationships across the Mediterranean. Deploying interdisciplinary insights from neighboring fields as well as itinerary histories, we envision expanding the term of identity to unfold a more complex form of interactions among humans, animals, nature, commodities, and ideas. This focus on emplacements across various ontologies in the early modern Mediterranean builds the importance of multiple temporalities which challenge Eurocentric perspectives on the notion of identity.
How to apply:
We require a working title, an abstract (400-500 words), a brief autobiographical sketch (50-100 words) and 5 keywords by December 15, 2021.
Accepted proposals will be notified by 15 January 2022.
We especially invite proposals from early career scholars, women, and underrepresented groups. Accommodation and travel expenses canbe covered by the EUI according to the reimbursement policies in place. If applicants have no access to project funds or institutional financial support, this should be specified in the application. Draft versions of the selected contributions (approximately 6000 words) are expected to be circulated in late April.