Tag Archives: Ottoman Empire

‘The Time Regulation Institute’ by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

The Time Regulation Institute

Years ago, I came across the name of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar (1901-1962) for the first time. I was reading Orhan Pamuk’s book about Istanbul and Pamuk refers to Tanpinar as his most important teacher as a writer and novelist. That’s a sufficient reason to have a closer look at this author and his novel The Time Regulation Institute, first published in book form in 1962.

Tanpinar belongs to a generation of Turkish authors that grew up in the Ottoman Empire and lived through the first decades of modern Turkey with its Kemalist reforms that deeply affected every aspect of life. It is important to keep in mind that – while the book is clearly a modern novel, written by a university professor that was very familiar with modern European literature – the author was at the same time deeply rooted in the pre-modern Ottoman traditions; and the same is true for his characters in The Time Regulation Institute.

The novel is the first-person narrative of the life of Hayri Irdal, a loafer, a man who grows up in rather poor circumstances and with limited school education, but who shows at an early age a talent in repairing watches, a craft he learns at the workshop of Nuri Efendi, whose thoughts about the role of time and about how important it is to make good use of it will play an important role later in the novel.

We see Hayri Irdal being a rather weak person, with a problematic second marriage (after his first wife died early) and with children that are not really close to him. He is spending most of his time with a strange circle of friends, alchemists, spiritualists, fortune seekers, project makers. This collection of characters gives Tanpinar an opportunity to unfold his satirical talents. The first part of the novel takes place in the time before and during WWI, and this part frequently reminded me of a Karagöz performance, the Turkish version of the Commedia dell’arte; the tales of Nasreddin Hoxha came to mind as well. Not only the men are shown as objects of the author’s wit, also the female characters get their fair share of satirical treatment, particularly Hamdi’s aunt, but also his second wife and her sisters with their obsessions regarding cinema or singing.

A change of luck for Hayri happens in the moment when he gets acquainted with Doctor Ramiz, a psychoanalytic who has just returned from Vienna and who applies his newly acquired (and superficial) knowledge of modern psychotherapy to cure his patient, with analysis of dreams that the doctor “orders” his patient to have, and discussion of German-language brochures on psychoanalysis inclusive (Hayri speaks of course only Turkish). Once Hayri is released from the hospital, Doctor Ramiz introduces him to Halit Ayarci, a modern project maker who understands to utilize Hayri’s potential and who – thanks to his connections in important circles – is also able to find the funding for a revolutionary idea: the creation of the Time Regulation Institute. The institute, a (fictitious) part of the reforms in the 1920’s in Turkey is supposed to ensure that all clocks and watches in the country show the correct time, and a mechanism to ensure that – and of course also a sophisticated system of fines – is quickly developed.

A big part of the second half of the novel deals with the finding of financial backing of the project, the creation of a bureaucracy and the erection of a suitable and representative office building of the new institute, so that the big number of employees – all of them of course relatives and friends of the director, Halit Ayarci, and his deputy, Hayri Irdal – have excellent working conditions. A special task assigned to Hayri is the writing of the biography of Ahmet Zamani Efendi, an Ottoman predecessor of the idea of measuring time in the modern way; and the fact that this person never existed gives Hayri a perfect opportunity to bring his storytelling talent to good use. Too bad that a Western scholar shows up one day, who is looking for further evidence, and that on top of it, a visiting commission questions the work and the usefulness of the Time Regulation Institute…

Bureaucracies seem to have a great fascination for novelists. But while Kafka or Ismail Kadare (in his Palace of Dreams) focus on the dark, nightmarish implications of such bureaucratic institutions, Tanpinar offers his readers the satirical version, a farce. Hayri represents the old generation of people who don’t really believe in what the institute stands for, but who seize the opportunity to employ a lot of friends and relatives, or who take advantage of it in any other way; Halit Ayarci on the other hand is a ‘modern‘ character, someone who clearly understands that the institute can be an instrument to satisfy his personal ambition, and who is very clever in using his contacts in political circles to find the money and public recognition for his project. And of course, a bank and a housing project are also needed in this context…

I mentioned already that Tanpinar was very familiar with modern European literature; and I can’t help but thinking about Italo Svevo’s Zeno Cosini, or the “heroes” of the novels of Robert Walser that seem to come from the same mould as Tanpinar’s characters. Halit Ayarci and his project also reminded me a bit of the Parallelaktion, and the character of Arnheim in Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities.

What is the message of Tanpinar’s novel? Maybe this one: you cannot transform people that are deeply rooted in a medieval society into modernity just by enforcing some radical reforms, like the Kemalists did in the 1920’s and 1930’s. All these reforms will be superficial and will not change the mindset of people. Tanpinar mentions the paintings of Osman Hamdi Bey, and the tortoise of Hayri’s dervish friend is also an obvious reference to the most famous of Osman’s paintings, The Tortoise Instructor; the tortoises being a symbol for the Turkish people as seen by Osman. Can you really teach or instruct a tortoise? Tanpinar ends on a slightly more optimistic note. Hayri’s estranged son is supporting his father in the end with his construction project; and while he clearly sees his father’s limitations – and that of his surrounding -, this son who distanced himself geographically, and also by name (choosing a new name for himself), seems to look at his father with mild irony and understanding. Several generations need to pass probably until a modern Turkish society will evolve. In the meantime, Hayri, and also Turkish society in general still struggle with the Father complex that was diagnosed by Doctor Ramiz in the novel. But I am quite sure, Tanpinar had not only Turkey in mind when he wrote about bureaucracies, and about how a certain category of men is using projects like the Time Regulation Institute to re-write or plainly invent the past and turn such projects into a kind of machinery for self-promotion, generation of media attention, influence, and money. Therefore, it is easy to relate to this novel, even when the reader may not be familiar with the Turkish setting and background.

Overall, I can say that I liked and enjoyed this book very much. It is a fun read thanks to the ability of its author to combine satirical criticism, traditional ‘oriental’ storytelling, and a very accomplished use of the form of the modern novel, with an unreliable narrator. If Tanpinar had lived longer and would have had an opportunity to edit his novel more diligently, he might have cut some passages that are redundant, but that’s a very small criticism of an otherwise truly important and enjoyable book.

The translators of this edition made an obvious effort to render the author’s multi-layered style into a similarly multi-layered English. I cannot really judge the quality of the translation since I don’t know Turkish, but it was a smooth read that didn’t create any challenges for me as a reader.

Bibliographic Information:

‘The Time Regulation Institute’ by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, translated by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Publication Date: 2013

432 pages

ISBN: 978-0143106739

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar was a Turkish poet, novelist, literary scholar and essayist, widely regarded as one of the most important representatives of modernism in Turkish literature. In addition to his literary and academic career, Tanpınar was also a member of the Turkish parliament between 1944 and 1946.

The Istanbul Tanpınar Literature Festival (ITEF) is named in honor of Tanpınar and has been held annually since 2009. The Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar Literature Museum Library, is a museum dedicated to Turkish literature in Gülhane Park in Istanbul.  It opened in 2011.

Maureen Freely is an American journalist, novelist, professor, and translator. Born in New Jersey, Freely grew up in Turkey and now lives in England, where she lectures at the University of Warwick. She is the current President of English PEN, the founding center for PEN International. 

Her seventh novel, ‘Sailing through Byzantium,’ was chosen as one of the best novels of 2014 by The Sunday Times.  Freely is also an occasional contributor to Cornucopia; a magazine about Turkey. She is best known as the Turkish-into-English translator of Orhan Pamuk’s recent novels.

Alexander Dawe graduated from Oberlin College in 1996 with degrees in French and Classical Guitar Performance. He has translated several contemporary Turkish novels including Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s The Time Regulation Institute with Maureen Freely.  In 2010, he received the PEN Translation Fund to translate a collection of short stories by Tanpınar. He lives and works in Istanbul.

Thomas Hübner is a German-born economist and development consultant with a life-long passion for books. He lives in Chisinau/Moldova and Sofia/Bulgaria. He is also the co-founder of Rhizome Publishing in Sofia, and translates poetry, mainly from Bulgarian to German (most recently Vladislav Hristov, Germanii, Rhizome 2017). He is blogging at www.mytwostotinki.com on books and anything else that interests him.


Aziyadé

The Saloniki Incident of 1876 triggered a major diplomatic crisis in Europe: a Bulgarian girl had converted to Islam, was later kidnapped by a Christian mob when she came to Saloniki and this enraged the fury of the local Muslim community. When the French and German consuls tried to calm down the tension by negotiating with the angry Muslims, they were assaulted and bludgeoned to death by the crowd. The countries that had a diplomatic presence in the Ottoman Empire protested and threatened with serious consequences. The Ottoman Government, in a constitutional crisis and amid the clouds of a coming war with Russia and with a bad press regarding the treatment of the Balkan Christians, complied and got the ringleaders arrested and executed – under the watchful eye of a contingent of French and British soldiers that had arrived on board of several warships in the port of Saloniki.

One of the French officers on board was a 26-year old Julien Viaud, who was soon enchanted by the Orient as he experienced it in Saloniki (then a multi-cultural city with only a small Greek population that was outnumbered by its Turkish, Albanian, Bulgarian and Jewish inhabitants) and later in Constantinople. He kept a diary in which he wrote down his experiences, impressions and general remarks. This diary is the basis of the book he later published anonymously under the title Aziyadé. The alleged diarist of the book is a British marine officer called Loti. It was the name under which his author came to great fame – Viaud/Loti became one of the most popular authors of his times and he had a deep impact on Marcel Proust.

Aziyadé consists of many short chapters. Loti is describing how he got acquainted with the Circassian girl Aziyadé who is married with a much older wealthy Turk who is most of the time away on business, while his harem is looking for distractions elsewhere. (Although moral was very strict and affairs of married women were very risky for them, they seem to have been a quite frequent occurrence, according to Loti). The seemingly impossible happens, Aziyadé becomes Loti’s mistress and is living with him part of the time in a house he has rented in the district of Eyoub. Together with his two loyal servants Samuel and Achmet, who become his close friends, and a cat, the lovebirds live for some time a perfectly happy life, which is permanently threatened by the possible departure of Loti, who as an officer has to follow the orders of his superiors.  The diary form of the book is loosened by the letters Loti is exchanging with his sister and a few friends.

What makes the book interesting beside the romantic love story of Loti and Aziyadé is the fact that Loti who “goes local” (he learns Turkish, wears Turkish dress and spends his days like a true Ottoman), has a very attentive eye and a language to express the many interesting details he shares with us.

Observations about politics, for example how his neighbors react to the news that the Ottoman Empire has adopted a modern constitution, or about the brewing crisis with Russia, are followed by interesting insights into the domestic life of the locals or the organization of a Turkish household. We learn why the inhabitants of Constantinople had to go out with a lamp, about life in the harem, about the different religious groups, about cemeteries, and even about Aziyadé’s shoes – nothing is too small for Loti as not to use it for interesting reflections. His language – as far as I can judge from the translation – is refined and elegant and pleasant to read.

If Viaud/Loti describes a really autobiographical experience is not sure. Edmond de Goncourt, known for his malicious tongue, wrote that the mistress of the author was indeed a “mister”, and Gide and Cocteau made later similar remarks. But for the reader it doesn’t really matter.

Loti is not widely read anymore and he got labeled an “Orientalist” by Edward Said. But I found this book a very pleasant surprise. It is remarkably fresh, interesting and easy to read. You might give it a try yourself.

Loti

Pierre Loti: Aziyadé, translated by Marjorie Laurie, Amphora, Istanbul 2006

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Drums of Rain

Albania in the middle of the 15th century. Gjergj Kastrioti, called Skanderbeg, is resisting the advance of the Ottoman armies and is fighting a kind of hit-and-run guerrilla war from his fortresses in the Accursed Mountains. This is the historical backdrop of the novel The Siege by the Albanian author Ismail Kadare, a permanent candidate for the Novel Prize and Winner of the Man Booker International Prize.

A huge force of the Ottoman army is advancing to this remote and not yet completely subdued province with the task to conquer one of the biggest fortresses that is still resisting the at that time most powerful army in the world.

The Pasha that is leading the expedition force knows what is at stake for him: a failure to seize the fortress in summer would be considered as a complete failure of his by the Sultan. Not only would it be necessary to abort the siege at the begin of the rainy season, for the Pasha it would mean also personal disgrace and drastic consequences – in the best case early retirement, but more probably a death sentence after his return to the capital.

Kadare tells us the story from two different perspectives. The main narrator is a young chronicler whose task it is to write the official account of the expedition and siege. The chronicler, an intelligent but inexperienced person has therefore (almost) always access to any meetings of the war council, where the military leaders discuss with the Pasha the right strategy and next steps of the siege.

Important for the chronicler is especially his growing friendship with the Quartermaster, a kind of Chief Logistics Officer, who is very friendly and frank with him and is opening his eyes for the difficult task that such a mission including so many people is imposing on the logistics. Basic things about which we rarely read in the history books that tell only of the deeds of “great men”, are of crucial importance. Without a proper system of latrines, no triumph in any battle. We also understand, as the story advances, that the Quartermaster has an agenda too. He wants to be depicted in a positive light for posterity, and he is doubting also (like many others) the abilities of the Pasha as a leader, though he is voicing his reservations in the most indirect way.

A siege of a fortress on that scale was an extraordinary undertaking in the 15th century. It required already a very high level of organization, specialization and division of labor. We have the simple soldiers and the medics, experts for artillery, the janissaries, elite soldiers of the Sultan, the raiders (akinzhis), the infantry (azabs), the cavalry, and other specialized and rivaling groups, the “volunteers” (people who join in the hope to get a part of the booty), but also exorcists, soothsayers, spell casters, dream interpreters, and many other important crafts.

Each chapter that is written by the young Ottoman chronicler is mirrored by a short chapter that is told by an unnamed Albanian chronicler who is inside the fortress. The Albanians pray for an early begin of the rainy season, which seems to be the only possible rescue. (Or an attack of the myth Skanderbeg, who is hiding somewhere in the mountains.) So, “the drums of rain” – also the planned original title of the book, and also the name under which The Siege is published in French – are dreaded by the Pasha, but longed-for by the Albanians.

Since the fortress is well-protected by a sophisticated system of walls, and since there is also enough food and water inside the fortress, it proves more difficult as anticipated by the invaders to take it. Several attempts to storm the fortress in a frontal assault, supported by the newly cast cannon, fail and cause many casualties. A success at all costs must be achieved, and so the Pasha decides to follow a cunning plan: secretly he lets his soldiers build a tunnel that should lead directly to the middle of the fortress and that should enable a surprise attack and the opening of the gates from the inside for a huge wave of attackers…

Regarding the technical details of the siege, Kadare has made extensive use of Marin Barleti’s chronicle about the siege of Shkodra. But The Siege is more than a historical novel: it was written shortly after the invasion of Prague 1968 by the Warsaw Pact states. It is therefore obvious that the book contains also some very interesting comments on the situation after the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

One message that Kadare wanted to send out is possibly: Albania will resist any attempt to invade the country (the paranoid dictator Enver Hoxha built therefore hundreds of thousands of small bunkers – fortresses en miniature).

On the other hand, and this is also fairly obvious, the victory of the besieged (the invaders have to withdraw at the beginning of the rainy season and after the death of the Pasha) in the novel is only a temporary one. We can easily assume that a new, bigger army with even more frightful weapons will come back again next year – and from the history books we know the outcome of this process. Therefore Kadare’s message in this novel is – like in most of his books – very ambiguous.

What is additionally interesting about the novel are the countless calculated and intentional anachronisms it contains. To name just a few: There are show trials, the victims are sentenced to slave labor in the tunnel. And the only possible friend and ally in the outside world (in the book it is the Republic of Venice) plays a double game, because it is trading with and equipping the enemy of their (Christian) brothers, just for the profit.

“Great massacres always give birth to great books”,

says the Quartermaster to the chronicler quite at the beginning of The Siege. That may indeed be true. The Siege is a brilliant historical novel.

Siege

Ismail Kadare: The Siege, transl. David Bellos, Canongate, Edinburgh London New York Melbourne 2008 

Marin Barleti: The Siege of Shkodra, transl. David Hosaflook, Onufri Publishing House, Tirana, Albania, 2012 (first English edition; the original was published in Latin in 1504) 

Other reviews: 
1st reading’s Blog

see also:  http://edifyingdiscourse.wordpress.com/2011/05/21/notes-on-ismail-kadares-the-siege/

 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 


The Sleepwalkers

June 28th is an important date, especially this year and even more so in the Balkans.

It is (not only) the day when in 1389 during the “Battle on the Field of the Black Bird” (Kosovo) a huge army of the Ottoman Empire (supported by a number of Serbian warlords, such as Marko Kraljevic, the famous folk hero) clashed with a united European army. Many facts and even the outcome of this titanic battle are disputed until today among historians – it seems that the result was a kind of draw since the status quo in the Balkans lasted for a number of years more after the battle.

Until today, this battle (or the manipulated narrative of it) is used by Serbian ultra-nationalists as a basis of a more than doubtful territorial claim. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the practical implementation of a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Kosovo and other parts of former Yugoslavia started with a speech of Slobodan Milošević commemorating this battle and its distorted narrative of it.

But this June 28th is of course also the date when in 1914 (today exactly one hundred years ago) the Crown Prince and successor-candidate to the throne of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated on their wedding anniversary during a visit in the then Austrian province Bosnia-Hercegovina by Gavrilo Princip, a student of Bosnian Serb origin and member of the group Young Bosnia, a radical group that worked for a unification of Bosnia-Hercegovina with Serbia by all means (including terrorist acts).

Princip and his mostly very young associates – seven people were commissioned to commit the murder independently from each other, but the others failed or got nervous in the last moment – were linked to a secret society known as the Black Hand (the real name was Ujedinjenje ili smrt = Unity or death). The Black Hand consisted mainly of active or former officers of the Serbian military, many of them part of the group of assassins that killed the Serbian Czar Alexander and almost all of his family members in 1903. The mastermind behind both assassinations was a certain Dragutin Dimitrijević a.k.a. Apis, at the time of the Sarajevo murders holding a high position in the Serbian military intelligence.

We don’t know what would have happened if the Archduke had listened to the advice not to visit Sarajevo on such a sensitive day when the nationalistic feelings of the Serbs were boiling. There is a high probability that the First World War would have been avoided and that the Bosnian crisis would have taken another, less violent turn, just like the Albanian crisis a short time before had evaporated. It should be noted though that even after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, a great war was anything but inevitable.

During the last two or three years a big number of new books and articles on the Road to Sarajevo and WWI in general have been published. That may have something to do with the centennial of the outbreak of the war. But it seems that also recent developments in the Balkans, and a re-definition of the reasons that led to the war are a reason for this increased output of literature.

Among the most remarkable and outstanding books dealing with WWI and the way to it is The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark.

The Australian Clark is Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St. Cataharine’s College. He is the author of several acclaimed monographs, such as The Politics of Conversion, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Iron Kingdom.

For The Sleepwalkers Clark has not only done a lot of groundbreaking work in British, French, German, Austrian and Russian archives, he has also diligently looked into the archives of the “smaller” but nevertheless important players (Serbia, Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Italy). Beside from these impressive archive studies Clark is well-connected in the sphere of historic research and profited also from unpublished works made available by colleagues. He also made extensive use of his contacts in order to discuss and if necessarily revise some aspects of his work after checking his draft against the opinion and expertise of his colleagues.

Additionally, Clark is an excellent writer. He is presenting us a very colorful narrative with lively and interesting characters. He has a good feeling for structuring his book and knows when to add an anecdote in order to make a point more clear. Despite the more than one hundred pages of annotations, the reader forgets easily that this is an academic work. This is a very vivid book – a rare exception for an academic book. All these ingredients raise the expectations of the reader to have an outstanding work in her/his hands – and indeed Clark doesn’t disappoint these expectations.

In the introduction, Clark makes it very clear that he is not particularly interested in “playing the blame game”. An overwhelming part of the literature on WWI and it’s outbreak is focused on or even obsessed exclusively by the question: “Who is to blame? Who was responsible?” Not that these questions are not very important. But in this context, questions of guilt and responsibility are usually part of an agenda. With the exception of Russia (or more correct the later Soviet Union), all powers that were involved in WWI published multi-volume collections of documents after the end of the war, mainly with the intention to justify their own actions and to increase the guilt and responsibility of the others, and thus manipulating public opinion in their own country (usually in a chauvinistic and ultra-nationalist way). Needless to say that all these collections omit or in some cases even falsify documents whenever it seems necessary.

Contrary to the so-called “Fischer Thesis” – Germany as the one bad apple state that is the single culpable for the war – Clark goes to lengths to show that the search for a “smoking gun” (also nowadays so popular when it comes to judging recent events – the Ukrainian crisis comes to mind) will produce a deeply disturbing result: There was no “smoking gun”, or to be precise all involved parties had their own “smoking gun”, i.e. their own share in the responsibility for what happened.

Instead of focusing exclusively on the guilt question, Clark is more interested in understanding – and helping the reader to understand – what were the complex motivations behind the acts of the key players. The whole issue is not only a question of how but also of why did the things happen as they did.

Clark has arranged the material in three parts. Part I focuses on the two primary antagonists, Serbia and Austria-Hungary. Their quarrel ignited the conflict.

Clark starts his account of events with the assassination of the Serbian Czar Alexander and his family by a group of conspiring officers under the leadership of a certain  Dragutin Dimitrijevic, later also known as Apex in 1903. This conspiracy, executed with great brutality, marked a new departure in Serbian political history. Not only was the power struggle between the two dominating clans, the Obrenovic and the Karadjordevic, finally resolved by the extermination of the Obrenovic. It also paved the way for an extremely nationalistic and irredentistic policy that aimed openly at the increasing of Serbian territory at the cost of her neighbors.

This policy was not only directed against the Ottoman Empire (or any country with rival claims for Ottoman territory, like Bulgaria) that still controlled comparatively big territories in the Balkans, but also against Austria-Hungary that had just seized Bosnia-Hercegovina from the Ottoman Empire and that was home to a big number of South Slavs (whether they considered themselves as Serbs or not was not a matter of concern to official Serbia). Austria formally annexed Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908, also with the aim to block Serb access to the Adriatic Sea.

Nikola Pašić, the rather enigmatic dominant figure in Serbian politics for more than 30 years, played a double game. Serbia depended economically from imports from Austria-Hungary and Pašić negotiated therefore several trade agreements with the unloved neighbor, but on the other hand he agreed on a secret customs union with Bulgaria and negotiated successfully for a big loan with favorable conditions from France. This loan was exclusively used for a big armament programme that increased considerably the firepower and strength of the Serbian army (it goes without saying that all weapons had to be bought in France).

Pašić, a Russophile, established also very close relationships with Russia. His relation with the Russian Minister in Belgrade, Nikolai Hartwig was so close that many people suspected that it was indeed Hartwig (an extreme Germanophobe, despite his teutonic name and his yearly spa in Bad Ems) on behalf of the Russians was the real ruler of Serbia. Count Hartwig was one of the most exposed figures of the “War Party” in Russia and did during the crisis in June and July his best to stir a European war on a large scale.

It should be noted that Pašić had also his own network of informants and spies (separated from those working for the military intelligence of Serbia). This network was especially active in Bosnia, and it is considered as established fact that Pašić knew about plans to assassinate the Archduke and sent some kind of warning to the Austrians. But this warning was not very specific and it was not taken seriously by the other side. How much exactly Pašić knew of the plans and to which degree he was involved in the assassination plot, is still unclear today. Pašić destroyed all his personal documents later.

Similarly detailed is Clark’s account of the situation of the other principal adversary in this conflict, Austria-Hungary. Contrary to Serbia, where Pašić was the dominant figure of politics over a long period, the decision makers in Austria-Hungary were a group of people with very opposing views. The Hungarian Prime Minister, Tisza, dreaded the prospect of including more Slavs into the Hungarian part of the double monarchy and was therefore very much opposed to conflicts with Serbia – his main concern was Romania. As to what kind of approach Austria-Hungary should take in its dealings with Serbia in the case of an imminent conflict there were two factions that had completely opposing views on this crucial question. The Archduke, although a rather unpopular figure, took a very “pacifist” view and was opposed to any adventure or aggression towards Serbia. The same was true of Berchtold, the Austrian Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria (and Hungary). The Chief of Staff of the army, Conrad von Hötzendorf was on the other hand someone that permanently urged the government to start a preventive war against Serbia, with which Austrian interests also clashed in Albania.

In Part II Clark gives us a bigger picture by including the other European powers in his narrative. All of them were bound by a complex system of treaties and alliances (part of them secret) together. There was the Triple Alliance between Germany, Austria-Hungary and the chronically unreliable Italy that obviously saw its interest already somewhere else. And there was the close alliance between France, who considered Germany as its main enemy, and Russia, who considered Austria-Hungary (and the crumbling Ottoman Empire) as the main obstacle to expanding its power in the Balkans.

Britain, although also bound by alliance to France and Russia played a special role. Anti-German feelings didn’t play a big role in England. It was indeed Russia that was viewed as the main threat to the Empire, since Russia had aspirations in Persia and the Far East that were threatening British interests there. An alliance with Russia would contain Russia. Bad relations with Russia would do a lot of harm to the Empire whereas good relations with Germany were a good thing, sure, but Britain wouldn’t really profit that much from them: Germany had lost the marine armament race anyway and wouldn’t be a serious threat to the British Navy, and the colonial ambitions of the Germans were not very successful and serious and no threat to vital interests of Britain. This very rational assessment shifted British policy in the direction of France and Russia.

An extremely interesting aspect of this part of the book is Clarke’s explanation regarding the question: Who really governed in Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg? It is much more complicated as it seems. There were usually many players with different interests and different assessments of the situation involved. Ambassadors played a much more important role than today, the communication between relevant key players was frequently not formal, many decisions were taken by bypassing opponents who should have been involved in the decision making process. Also international organizations like we know them today were not existent – with all their imperfections these organizations play a very important role today simply by creating the opportunity for intense discussion of important questions between the key decision makers. In the pre-1914 days, state visits were quite rare and difficult to organize (usually by ship or train). Communication technology also put a limit on the decision makers that forced them frequently to act in a way they hadn’t if they were in the possession of more accurate information.

Part III finally gives a detailed account of the Sarajevo assassination and the mechanisms it ignited. I will not recount the details here because most of it will be known by anybody that is interested in history. But Clark presents a very good case against the simplistic assumption that it was one power alone that was responsible for the outbreak of the Great War. What is truly shocking is that many crucial decisions were taken in a way that was based on a sometimes grotesque misreading of the intentions of the other powers. There were no concrete plans to contain the conflict to what it was, a local conflict between neighbors.

Crucial to the complexity of the events of 1914 were rapid changes in the international system: the sudden emergence of an Albanian territorial state, the Turco-Russian naval arms race in the Black Sea, or the reorientation of Russian policy away from Sofia to Belgrade, to name just a few. These were not long-term historical transitions, but short-range realignments….This…made the system as a whole more opaque and unpredictable, feeding a pervasive mood of mutual distrust, even within the respective alliances, a development that was dangerous for peace…. Fluctuations in power relations within each government – coupled with swiftly changing objective conditions – in turn produced the policy oscillations and ambiguous messaging that were such a crucial feature of the pre-war crisis.

It is interesting what Clark says in his conclusions about the culpability for the war:

Do we really need to make the case against a single guilty state, or to rank the states according to their respective share in responsibility for the outbreak of war? In one classical study from the origins of literature, Paul Kennedy remarked that it is ‘flaccid’ to dodge the search for a culprit by blaming all or none of the belligerent states. A stiffer approach, Kennedy implies, ought not to shrink from pointing the finger. The problem with a blame-centred account is not that one may end up blaming the wrong party. It is rather that accounts structured around blame come with built-in assumptions. They tend, firstly, to presume that in conflictual interactions one protagonist must ultimately be right and the other wrong. Were the Serbs wrong to seek to unify Serbdom? Were the Austrians wrong to insist on the independence of Albania? Was one of these enterprises more wrong than the other? The question is meaningless. A further drawback of prosecutorial narratives is that they narrow the field of vision by focusing on the political temperament and initiatives of one particular state rather than on multilateral processes of interaction. Then there is the problem that the quest for blame predisposes the investigator to construe the actions of decision-makers as planned and driven by a coherent intention. You have to show that someone willed war as well as caused it. In its extreme form, this mode of procedure produces conspirational narratives in which a coterie of powerful individuals, like velvet-jacketed Bond villains, controls events from behind the scene in accordance with a malevolent plan. There is no denying the moral satisfaction delivered by such narratives, and it is not, of course, logically impossible that war came about in this manner in the summer of 1914, but the view expounded in this book is that such arguments are not supported by evidence.

If this is true, and the reviewer has little doubt about it after reading Clark’s masterfully written and researched book, then

the protagonists of 1914 were indeed like sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world.

clarkthe-sleepwalkers-clark-christopher-9780061146657

Christopher Clark: The Sleepwalkers. How Europe went to war in 1914, Allen Lane 2012, Penguin 2013

 

PS: One of the surviving assassins of Sarajevo, Vasa Čubrilović, wrote in 1937 a work for the Yugoslav government called Iseljavanje Arnauta (The Expulsion of the Albanians). In this work, Čubrilović is recommending the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo and the forced expulsion or extermination of the Albanians in Kosovo. This work was used as a script for the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo in 1999. Čubrilović’s work was re-published as a book in the 1980s, and Čubrilović, then in his 90s, was showered with the highest Yugoslav and Serbian orders by his disciple Slobodan Milošević. There is a direct line and continuity connecting the outbreak of WWI with the Kosovo War and the ethnic cleansing in this region. Official Serbia, an EU candidate, is celebrating the deeds of these people until today and is honoring them with monuments.

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Bektashism in Albania

bektashism-in-albania-albert-doja

The Bektashi Order is a heterodox Sufi dervish order that is nominally a part of Shia Islam but that has incorporated elements that are close to Christianity and other religions. The order was founded probably in the 13th century in Anatolia. Contrary to the information you find in some publications (including Wikipedia!), Hadji Bektash, a Persian wali living at that time, was not the actual founder of the order but a kind of patron saint that was chosen much later by the sect as a spiritual inspiration.

In the Ottoman Empire, Bektashis have had for a long time a very influential position. Possibly due to their seemingly less “strict” interpretation of Islam, they seem to have attracted quite a lot of converts from the ranks of the Janissaries, the elite soldiers of the Sultan that were recruited among young Christian boys in the Balkans (also known as devshirme).

In the 19th century, following the purge of the Janissaries, the Bektashi order lost a lot of its influence and after Atatürk declared the Turkish Republic, he banned all dervish orders and the Bektashis transferred their headquarter to Tirana, Albania. This transfer was also due to the fact that many leading figures of the Albanian independence movement, including the Frasheri brothers, came from the ranks of the dervish order.

Bektashis are famous for their religious tolerance and hospitality. They don’t keep Ramadan (instead they fast during Nowruz), they don’t reject alcohol and the women are not veiled. They have a kind of confession of the sins that seems close to the Catholic faith. It is because of these syncretistic habits together with their very unique history that make the Bektashi a frequent object of scientific research.

During Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship, Bektashis suffered just like the Christian and Sunni Muslim believers from the paranoid politics of the “First Atheist State in the World”. People who prayed could end up in front of a firing squad or in Burrel, a concentration camp, in which most prisoners didn’t survive for long.

After the fall of the Communist regime, the Bektashi, like the other religious communities enjoy again full freedom of religion, but the times have changed. Bektashism is facing the big problem of all religious groups and especially of heterodox sects: should they stick to their traditionally very little institutionalized organization or should they – in order to survive as a group – develop into a new orthodoxy.

The last aspect is the main topic of an interesting study by the Albanian scholar Albert Doja, “Bektashism in Albania – Political History of a Religious Movement”. Doja, who is a renowned Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, is coming in his very instructive work to the conclusion that when members of a previously persecuted religious minority is acquiring a degree of religious and political respectability within society at large, the doctrines of heterodoxy and liberation theology that were in the case of the Bektashis such a strong undercurrent in the time of the Frasheri brothers, fade in the background.

“In the end, the heirs of the heterodox promoters of spiritual reform and social movement turn into followers and faithful defenders of a legitimate authority. They become the spokespeople for an institutionalized orthodoxy whose support is sought by the political regime.” –

Just like Saudi Arabia was instrumental after 1990 to try to bring the “folk” Sunni Islam in Albania in line with the much stricter Wahabi ideology by providing money and “training”, Iran (via the Saadi Shirazi Foundation – officially an organization that is promoting Persian language and culture, unofficially believed to be a branch of the Iranian Secret Services) is trying to get a hold on Bektashism in Albania, a development that is seen with great skepticism in the Bektashi communities outside Albania (and also by a big group inside Albania).

The future will show which faction will prevail: the orthodox or the tolerant Sufi faction of traditional Bektashism. Doja’s study is the first to ask this question so clearly and is therefore very valuable.

Albert Doja: Bektashism in Albania – Political History of a Religious Movement, Albanian Institute for International Studies, Tirana 2008

 

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.