Book review: Turkey and the Ottomans
Twilight of empire
Another transformation was in external policy—from a militarised, expansionist Eurasian realm into a compact state that enforced internal cohesion but mostly eschewed foreign adventures.
At least, until the past decade or so, in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned Ottoman nostalgia into a style of governance and a stimulus to military braggadocio.
Informing this book is the idea that the Ottoman empire’s downfall was not predestined by backwardness, or even by defeat in a global war.
Nor, it suggests, did change inevitably follow the principal catalyst: Greece’s occupation (with international support) of the great multinational port of Izmir, followed by the advance into Anatolia of a Greek expeditionary force.
The republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk, did draw vast authority from routing that force; but that did not automatically exorcise the Ottoman order, whose supporters still resisted change, as the book recalls.
Arguments about the inevitability of historical developments, or their precise causes, often become circular.
History happened because it happened.
What really matters is that the empire did fall.
Or did it?
By way of continuity, some historians note that the empire was itself reforming and modernising, with contested elections and enhanced rights for non-Muslims.
Others see a contrary sort of overlap in the non-liberal aspects of modern Turkey, including the power of the army and state control over religious affairs.
For his part, Mr Erdogan has cultivated imperial sentiment in big and small ways (a television series set in medieval times depicts early Ottomans fighting heroically).
For Mr Gingeras, this is more than mood music.
He is, after all, a professor of national security at a postgraduate school of the American navy; he has said that a new war between Turkey and Greece is not merely possible, but probable, in view of threats by Mr Erdogan to “come one night” and challenge Greece’s islands.
Mr Erdogan may ultimately be swayed by a contest between two competing influences: the restraining power of NATO and the desire of Russia to sow discord among its rivals.
In forecasting the outcome, the past—even when so well-chronicled—provides food for thought but no clear answers.
History has yet to end.