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The Sultan and the Sultan

November 8, 2017

I’ve written a long-ish article for History Today on historical revisionism in Turkey around the figure of hard-line late Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II – who many are keen to imagine as a precursor of President Erdoğan.

Abdülhamid has long been venerated as ‘Ulu Hakan’ (the Supreme Sultan) by conservative ideologues within Turkey, but the reverence has reached fever pitch under Erdoğan. An idealised memory of Abdülhamid, which casts him as the last proudly Islamic Ottoman leader standing up to the West, has become part of the government’s narrative of civilisational ‘restoration’, in which Turkey is once again a great power that shapes history. Abdülhamid is often glorified as a symbolic precursor of Erdoğan – proof that historic forces are at play today. …

When he first became sultan in 1876, Abdülhamid appeared to be an enlightened reformer. He supported the Ottoman constitution, giving the empire its first experience of constitutional democracy. The next year he opened the first session of an elected Ottoman parliament … But the experience of ruling a vast, decaying empire hardened him into an absolutist, and he became convinced that he needed to rule with a stronger hand to protect it from further dismemberment. …

The parallels with Turkey’s current president are obvious. Erdoğan was once lauded in the West as a moderate Muslim reformer, raising the country’s democratic standards and advancing its economy. But his international reputation has since deteriorated badly. Authoritarianism, rent-seeking and demagoguery mark his era. The state administration is subject to the whims of capricious one-man rule. A cult of personality is in full swing, with Erdoğan embodying the frustrations, hopes and grievances of Turkey’s conservative masses, bound by a powerful sense of shared identity. …

Erdoğan’s supporters see the decline in his reputation abroad as part of a dark international plot to halt this forward march. Conspiratorial thinking runs rampant. Orhan Osmanoğlu, a fourth-generation descendent of Abdülhamid, claims that Turkey is today witnessing a ‘repetition of history’: ‘Meddling foreigners now call our president a dictator, just as they used to call Abdülhamid the “Red Sultan.”’ Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman compared last year’s coup attempt to the dethroning of Abdülhamid in 1909: ‘They wanted to do the same as they did when they overthrew Abdülhamid, but this time they couldn’t succeed.’

I’ve been meaning to write this article for ages so do go and read the whole thing (there are also some nice visuals).

Abdul_Hamid_II_BNF_Gallica

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Turkey Book Talk reaches its 50th episode – FİKRET ADAMAN, a professor of economics at Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University on “Neoliberal Turkey and its Discontents: Economic Policy and the Environment under Erdoğan” (IB Tauris).

Download the episode or listen below.

Here’s my review of the book at Hürriyet Daily News. (Also the archive of all my HDN reviews has moved and can now be found here.)

Subscribe to Turkey Book Talk:  iTunes / PodBean / Stitcher / Acast / RSS

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Adaman

As mentioned in the episode, here’s a related episode from back in July with Esra Gürakar on crony capitalism in Turkey.

** SPECIAL OFFER **

Remember you can support Turkey Book Talk by taking advantage of a 33% discount plus free delivery (cheaper than Amazon) on five different titles, courtesy of Hurst Publishers:

  • ‘Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State’ by Olivier Roy
  • ‘The Circassian: A Life of Eşref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent’ by Benjamin Fortna
  • ‘The New Turkey and its Discontents’ by Simon Waldman and Emre Çalışkan
  • ‘The Poisoned Well: Empire and its Legacy in the Middle East’ by Roger Hardy
  • ‘Out of Nowhere: The Syrian Kurds in Peace and War’ by Michael Gunter

Follow this link to get that discount from Hurst Publishers.

Another way to support the podcast, if you enjoy or benefit from it: Make a pledge to Turkey Book Talk via Patreon. Many thanks to current supporters Michelle Zimmer, Steve Bryant, Jan-Markus Vömel, Celia Jocelyn Kerslake, Aaron Ataman, Max Hoffman, Andrew MacDowall and Paul Levin.

Turkey Book Talk episode #43 – SONER ÇAĞAPTAY on his book “THE NEW SULTAN: ERDOĞAN AND THE CRISIS OF MODERN TURKEY” (IB Tauris).

Download the episode or listen below:

My review of this book is forthcoming in the Times Literary Supplement. Not sure of the publication date so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Subscribe to Turkey Book Talk :  iTunes / PodBean / Stitcher / Acast / RSS

Follow on Facebook or Twitter

New Sultan

*SPECIAL OFFER*

You can support Turkey Book Talk by taking advantage of a 33% discount plus free delivery (cheaper than Amazon) on five different titles, courtesy of Hurst Publishers:

  • ‘Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State’ by Olivier Roy
  • ‘The Circassian: A Life of Eşref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent’ by Benjamin Fortna
  • ‘The New Turkey and its Discontents’ by Simon Waldman and Emre Çalışkan
  • ‘The Poisoned Well: Empire and its Legacy in the Middle East’ by Roger Hardy
  • ‘Out of Nowhere: The Syrian Kurds in Peace and War’ by Michael Gunter

Follow this link to get that discount from Hurst Publishers.

Another way to support the podcast, if you enjoy or benefit from it: Make a donation to Turkey Book Talk via Patreon. Many thanks to current supporters Michelle Zimmer, Steve Bryant, Jan-Markus Vömel, Celia Jocelyn Kerslake, Aaron Ataman and Andrew MacDowall.

I’ve written a piece for the New York Times to mark President Erdoğan’s visit to Washington on the blockbuster series “Diriliş: Ertuğrul,” broadcast on Turkish state TV channel TRT.

A few years ago at the height of so-called neo-Ottomanism there were loads of articles published about Turkish TV serials being exported all over the world. It became quite a tired cliche but the popularity of various shows is in fact a good bell-weather for the political mood. And audiences take the messages that these serials pump out seriously. On a visit to Polatlı, a small town outside Ankara a couple of years ago, I vividly remember how a local coffee house arranged its seats in rows at night once a week to screen the latest episode of the ultra-macho action serial “Valley of the Wolves.” In a provincial town with little else to do, it was clearly a major weekly event.

Get a flavour of Diriliş: Ertuğrul by watching the intro:

If you’ve got too much time on your hands you can stream every episode on the TRT website 🍿🍿🍿

If you missed it, here’s an article I wrote about another dubious cultural product: The Erdoğan biopic “Reis” (The Chief), which flopped at box offices in March.

New Turkey Book Talk episode.

New York Times journalist BASHARAT PEER joins to discuss “A QUESTION OF ORDER: INDIA, TURKEY, AND THE RETURN OF STRONGMEN” (Columbia Global Reports), exploring the parallels between Erdoğan’s Turkey and Narendra Modi’s India.

We spoke about his reporting for the book, modernization and secularism in Turkey and India, and comparisons between the Kashmir and Kurdish issues.

Download the episode or listen below.

Here’s my review of the book at HDN.

Subscribe to Turkey Book Talk :  iTunes / PodBean / Stitcher / Acast / RSS

Follow on Facebook or Twitter.

Question of Order

*SPECIAL OFFER*

You can support Turkey Book Talk by taking advantage of a 33% discount plus free delivery (cheaper than Amazon) on five different titles, courtesy of Hurst Publishers:

  • ‘Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State’ by Olivier Roy
  • ‘The Circassian: A Life of Eşref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent’ by Benjamin Fortna
  • ‘The New Turkey and its Discontents’ by Simon Waldman and Emre Çalışkan
  • ‘The Poisoned Well: Empire and its Legacy in the Middle East’ by Roger Hardy
  • ‘Out of Nowhere: The Syrian Kurds in Peace and War’ by Michael Gunter

Follow this link to get that discount from Hurst Publishers.

Finally, if you enjoy or benefit from the podcast and want to support it, make a donation to Turkey Book Talk via Patreon. Many thanks to current supporters Özlem Beyarslan, Steve Bryant, Celia Jocelyn Kerslake and Aaron Ataman.

A bit late in posting this. But last week I wrote for War on the Rocks about Turkey’s upcoming referendum and a trip to the cinema to see “Reis” (The Chief), the bonkers biopic/hagiography of President Erdoğan.

Read the article here.

Here’s a trailer:

The film is really bad – not even so bad it’s good, just bad.

In other news, there’s a new addition to the special 1/3 off discount for Turkey Book Talk listeners on selected books from Hurst Publishers: Renowned sociologist Olivier Roy’s new book “Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State.”

Roy-–-Jihad-and-Death-RGB-web-new

So now you can support the podcast by ordering any of the following titles for at least 33% off plus free delivery (cheaper than Amazon!):

  • “The New Turkey and its Discontents” by Simon Waldman and Emre Çalışkan
  • “The Poisoned Well: Empire and its Legacy in the Middle East” by Roger Hardy
  • “Out of Nowhere: The Syrian Kurds in Peace and War” by Michael Gunter
  • “The Circassian: A Life of Eşref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent” by Benjamin Fortna
  • “Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State” by Olivier Roy

Order through this page on the Hurst website.

Cheers!

(I will post a new podcast episode with Basharat Peer on his book “A Question of Order: India, Turkey, and the Return of Strongmen” later this week.)

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