Ethnic Identity and Nation Building: On Byzantine and Ottoman Historical Legacy
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Presentation of Dr. Hercules Millas at the conference ‘The EU and the Historical Legacy in the Balkans’, University Centre St-Ignatius, Antwerp (UCSIA), November 16th -17th 2006 – Final text


Ethnic Identity and Nation Building:

On Byzantine and Ottoman Historical Legacy




     We often attribute different meanings to the same words. Some other times we have at the back of our minds references and relationships that are not shared by our interlocutors. When these occur we do not have a real communication. I would like to distinguish two different meanings that I have in mind when I use the word ‘legacy':

A- by legacy one may mean what is actually handed down from the past (as from ancestors or predecessors), or

B- what the people believe (or imagine) that is handed down from the past.

     What is really handed from the past, as many sociologists, historians, anthropologists and folklorists would say, is what sometimes is called culture, tradition, civilization, etc. This historical legacy can be traced and many influences of our ancestors can be detected in our everyday life. As personalities we are mostly passive in this kind of a legacy. To express ‘legacy’ rhetorically, one can say that its role operates like DNA or of destiny: we are programmed to act in certain way, to follow a code of behavior and a set of ethical and esthetical values. Most importantly, we are not very much aware of this legacy; its outcome is seen as a ‘normal’, ‘logical’ and self-understood fact, as life itself.

     The second case, where we have people (communities and nations) believing that they have a certain legacy, is a quite different situation. Especially during the modern times of nations and nationalism, ‘historical legacy’ is not experienced as a passive acceptance. During nation-building (ethnogenesis) a wide spectrum of intellectuals actually ‘create’ a certain historical past. The past is rather invented than discovered. The modern states with their central educational system assist this process.[1] In this case experts (historians, folklorists etc) play an important role in making public what is called ‘our tradition’. In modern societies it is mostly this known (conscious) legacy, the one that is esteemed and tried to be preserved. 

     In this paper primarily this second kind of ‘legacy’ will be discussed concentrating on two Balkan countries, on Greece and Turkey. These two nations claim to be the ‘heirs’ of two empires, the Byzantine and the Ottoman respectively, which once covered the whole of the Balkans (among many other areas). Greece is a member of the EU and Turkey a candidate member. The constructed and believed legacy, the related identity issues, and their repercussions vis a vis the EU are the main issues of this paper.      




The actual versus the believed legacy

     The handed down actual legacy and the believed one rarely operate complementarily[2]. In fact, they are in a relationship of tense controversy.  The reason is not hard to see. Life is much more complex than the simplistic historical framework that the nationalist paradigm tries to propagate. With the dawn of nationalism, communities that consisted of a wide range of heterogeneous cultural and ethnic compositions had to be converted to homogeneous nations. Complexity had to be changed to homogeneity; but also the past had to be explained with simple schemata so that the myriads of ethnic, religious, language etc., groups would be reduced and evaluated as a finite number of ‘nations’.

     This process of nation-building was accompanied with the construction of the national grand narratives and historiographies. The believed legacy is a product of this process. On the other hand the actual legacy still persists in the daily life of the modern citizens, irrespective if this is acknowledged or not.

     The actual and the believed legacies are in a constant rivalry; sometimes openly confessed but mostly indirectly inferred.[3] This controversy is a basic element in all kinds of discussions related to national identities and consequently to the Other. Furthermore, the relationship with the Other, as well as the image of the Other are associated with the perception of the ‘self’. A question such as ‘what are the cultural and historical legacies in the Balkan states and the expected relations with the EU?’ can be better investigated when ‘legacy’ is viewed in its duality, distinguishing the actual and the believed one, and probing into the dynamics that the controversy initiates.

     In the following paragraphs I will try to give a brief picture of the efforts exerted in Greece and Turkey to construct a ‘historical legacy’ that was seen as necessary in founding these two nation states. Then a comparison of the actual versus the believed legacy will help to foresee future developments in the EU.



The construction of a legacy in Greece

     Modern Greek state was founded in 1830 after a war of independence fought against the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire at its peak (in the 17th century) covered an area from North Africa to the south of Arabia and from lands surrounding the Black Sea to Poland and almost to Vienna in the west. More than thirty modern nation states exist presently in these lands. Greeks presently believe that they are the heirs of the Byzantine Empire which it was also as large as the Ottoman Empire. In practice Grecophone Christians and Tourcophone Muslims lived for four to ten centuries (according to the areas) on the same Ottoman lands and quite often in the same villages and cities. However, Greeks (prefer to) believe that they are the heirs of the preceding Byzantine legacy and not of the more recent Ottoman one. 

     Actually the Greeks claim to be the direct heirs of Ancient Greece as well as of the Byzantine legacy. However, this belief is a recent one and its evolution can be quite clearly traced. During the ‘age of revolutions’ and on the eve of the Greek war of independence, i.e., in the years 1780-1830, some Grecophone intellectuals of the ‘diaspora’ who lived in various cities of western Europe and who were influenced by the French Revolution and the ideological controversies of the time, spread ‘republican’ ideas within their ethnic communities and proposed radical actions against the tyrant’, i.e., the Ottoman Ruler. Others, such as those close to the conservative Patriarchate of Constantinople and who lived within the Ottoman State anathematized them as ‘atheists’ and advised prudence and adherence to ‘paternal ideals’. It was during this period that questions related to national/ethnic identity were posed for the first time: are we ‘Romeoi’ (Romans, in the sense of Byzantines), ‘Grekoi’ (Greeks, ‘as the westerners call us’), Hellens (as the ‘Ancients’) or ‘Orthodox Christians’? There were serious political, ideological and identity disagreements among the Grecophone intellectuals of that time but still all shared a sense of belonging to a common ‘genos’ (in the sense of a ‘community/race’).

       The forerunner of ‘republican ideals’ among the grecophones is the Jacobin type intellectual Rigas Velestinlis (1757-1797) who planned a revolution against the Ottoman ‘monarchs’. His sense of history was one of ‘class controversy’, the ‘people’ being on one side and the dominating ‘aristocrats’ on the other. For Rigas all ethnic groups, irrespective of religion, origin and language, ought to unite forces against the ‘tyrants’. He foresaw a state where ‘all’ (‘Greeks, Bulgarians, Albanians, Wallachians, Armenians, Turks and all other kinds of peoples’ as his ‘constitution’ in Article 7 stated) will be equal and sovereign.[4] Religion was not even mentioned in his writings. Apparently he was – if his vision is expressed in modern terminology - for an all inclusive ‘secular’ state. He was executed by the Ottomans in 1797 and his ideals were soon silenced. He was retrieved twice much later and ‘appropriated’: first, in the beginning of the 19th century by the nationalists who presented him as a national hero that fought for a Greek state and ‘the Greek nation’, and a century later, by the socialists, as an ‘internationalist’. Actually he can be envisaged as a proto-nationalist ‘republican’, who had not yet aligned himself wholly with the Greek national movement, or probably anachronistically, as a forerunner of the EU. However, the efforts to present Rigas as an ‘internationalist’ or a ‘national hero’ still persist.   

           The ideals of the Greek intellectuals who were for an ‘ethnically/nationally’ independent state can be traced in the political pamphlets of Adamantios Korais (1748-1833) who lived in Paris. Their discourse was based on a historical continuum defined by language and culture. A simple national myth dominated the Greek historiography during the 19th century: The Greeks, who were the grandchildren of the glorious Ancient Greeks, after many centuries of the tyrannical ‘Turkish yoke’ revolted as a nation and won their independence anew.[5] Greek-Orthodox Christianity that constituted the basic belief of most of the Grecophones was dexterously integrated into the ancient heritage. According to this ideological construction the ancient Greeks were somehow the heralds of the new ‘light’, of Christianity. The term ‘helleno-christianity’ was invented (by S. Zambelios in the mid 19th century) to express this national harmony and religion was thus ethniced during this nation-building phase.[6] Greekness was closely associated to a religion, and even with a part of it, to the Greek Orthodox Church and its legacy, to the Greek language and to an imagined common origin.     

     In fact, the understanding of ‘being the offspring of a glorious past’ was originally initiated and encouraged to a great extent by the Western European intellectuals. The Renaissance and the Romantic Movement gave a momentum to the (modern) Greek revival as well as, later, to the political philhellenic movement. The Greeks themselves on the other hand promoted the idea of their ‘resurrection of the nation’ because it was to their political advantage to appear as an ‘old’ nation that was the heir of a glorious past and which had suffered and had been unfairly dealt with by the (Muslim) Other. Actually the national enterprise was presented basically as a ‘religious liberation’, too.



Historiography and legacy 

     Before turning to the Turkish case, three important points should be made. Firstly the notorious Greek-Turkish hatred is less ‘historical’ and more associated to recent national constructions. It was during the 19th century that the Other – the Ottoman ‘Turk’ - was constructed in the Greek historiography as the absolute negative Other: despotic, barbaric, backward, uncivilized, cruel, corrupt, perverted, exploiter, etc. This image in general was not different from the one prevalent in the ‘West’ vis a vis the ‘Turk’.[7] Before the establishing of the Greek nation state the image of the Other was either a ‘balanced’ one or at least the image of the Other was not a major issue. This can be demonstrated through the memoirs of the Phanariots (the high class Greeks of Istanbul) but even from the memoirs of the fighters of the Greek Revolution of 1821-1830.[8]  

     The second point is that the ‘Greek’ Byzantine and its legacy is a recent construction too. Up to the mid of the 19th century among the Greek nationalists Byzantium was perceived as a Roman and ‘foreign’ empire. In the 1830s however, the German historian Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer (1790-1861) made public his views: Modern Greeks could not be the grandchildren of ancient people because there was a great ‘gap’ between the ancient and modern Greeks. According to him the modern Greeks are ‘Hellenized’ Slavs and Albanians that moved to Greece during the 8th century. Racially the modern Greeks were not the continuation of the old civilizations. The glorious old civilization had perished without leaving heirs.[9]

     This thesis was perceived as a direct threat to the modern Greek identity that was based on the belief of the ‘revival’ of the ‘ancient nation’. The confusion and the agony were overcome by the discovering (for some, by the ‘invention’) of the ‘Greekness’ of the Byzantine Empire. The immediate reaction was culminated in 1852-1853 by the publication of the studies of the best known historian among the Greeks, K. Paparrigopoulos (1815-1891).[10] With his History of the Hellenic Nation he inflicted the Gordian cut by demonstrating that the Byzantine Empire was ‘Greek’, thus securing the ‘uninterrupted continuation’ of the Greek nation from antiquity to present time. Paparrigopoulos is still very popular among the Greeks, his ‘thesis’ which is the most ‘official’ interpretation of the national historiography is welcomed as ‘common sense’ and his general approach is being followed by many Greek historians. His work is the closest one that could be named a ‘master narrative’.   

     Thirdly, it is interesting to see how the national narrative is constructed, by silencing historical phenomena that do not fit to the general narrative, on one hand, and selecting suitable cases on the other. The actual Ottoman legacy is silenced by demolishing mosques and other Islamic monuments and simultaneously excavating and re-erecting ancient pagan Greek temples. The Orthodox Greeks from central Anatolia who spoke Turkish (the ‘exchanged’ Karamanlis in 1923) and the Greek citizens who belong to the Muslim/Tourcophone minority rarely if ever are mentioned in the Greek historiography. The Greek speaking (also ‘exchanged’) Muslim Cretans are also silenced. The Latin speaking and/or Armenian Byzantine emperors do not constitute part of the national historical narrative. The simplistic nationalist history telling can not cope with these kinds of ‘monstrous’ realities.[11]



Nation building in Turkey

     Two historians of the western world were the ones who inspired the Turkish ‘consciousness’ and Turkish historiography. The French historian David Léon Cahun (1841-1900) and the Hungarian turkolog  Arminious Vambery (1832-1913) were both renown among Ottoman intellectuals; the former for his book Introduction à l’Histoire de l’Asie, les Turcs et les Mongoles (1896) and the later for his studies on Turkish language which he started publishing from 1858.[12] These western sources gave an impetus to Turkish nationalism, to ‘Turkishness’, then known as Pan-Turkism and/or Turanism/Pan-Turanism,  and which among the Young-Turks was conceived as an ideal which would unite all Turkic people, of the Balkans as well as of Asia. This unity was understood on an ethnic/cultural base, mainly identified by language. The romantic understanding of the ‘people’ and the views of G. Herder , the original ‘very old’ cultural past of the ‘nation’, the positivism of Auguste Comte, the social Darwinism and the teachings of A. Gobineau were some of the main ideas that dominated the understanding of the nationalist intellectuals. .

     Islam, the religion of the nation to be, was reminded and even stressed by these historians, not so much as a characteristic of the ‘nation’ but as a reference in demarcating the ‘self’ and the ‘Other’, i.e., the enemy of the nation and of the country.

     The Turkish nation-building gained a new momentum with the systematic fostering of ‘national identity’ in the newly established modern Turkish state, the Republic of Turkey (1923). The main issues of concern of the history writing during the first years of the Turkish Republic were to legitimize the initiatives taken by the new Republic. Notions such as ‘modernization’, ‘westernization’, ‘equality of genders’, ‘positivism’ (actually the word ‘science’ was used instead) were presented as positive axioms and the past evaluated anew accordingly. The ‘ancient regime’ of the Ottomans was criticized as ‘backward’ and ‘conservative’ and its legacy was ignored, looked down, denied or condemned. Great effort was exerted to demonstrate that the Turks had been a great nation all through history having established many states and an important civilization. 

        It was in the decade of 1930 that a great historical project was initiated by the encouragement of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the leading figure of the modern Turkish nation-state. The project carried the name ‘Turkish History Thesis’ (THT) and its main purpose was to create a grand national narrative that would assist Turkish nation-building. According to this thesis, the Turks were the oldest people on Earth, they originally lived in central Asia and then they moved around and they initiated almost all major civilizations: Mesopotamian, Ionian, Ancient Greek etc. According to this thesis the Turks had come ‘very early’ to Anatolia. All ancient people were actually Turks. Even Homer was presented as a Turk whose real name was Omer!   Related to this, a second ‘thesis’, the Sun-Language Theory propagated the idea that all languages were derived from Turkish.

     These extreme views were popularized mostly through the textbooks that were prepared by the state. Almost all professional historians of the country were mobilized to find the historical ‘facts’ that would prove the above ethnocentric understanding. This thesis was the main ‘history’ that was read and taught in Turkey for about two decades. The ‘thesis’ approached racism as the protégée of the President Ataturk, Dr.Afet Inan (1908-1985) in the end of the thirties investigated the origin of the Turkish people by taking measurements of their skulls.[13] Eventually it was believed that the ‘western’ point of view that the Turks belong to the ‘yellow race’ was thus refuted.  

     The highly secular THT was not proved very effective. It satisfied neither the masses that felt themselves in alliance with the traditional Islam, which was pushed aside by the ‘positivist’ leading elite together with the Ottoman legacy in favor of an imagined ‘pagan’ Central Asia, nor the intellectuals and the people with common sense who could not live up with the idea that all neighboring communities and countries all through history were actually Turks (then why all these wars?).



‘Anatolianism’ and the Turkish-Islamic Synthesis

     The THT was never ‘officially’ refuted but gradually and especially after 1970 was abandoned even though its ‘spirit’ is still felt in some textbooks. Two other ‘grand theories’ were proposed in the decades of 1950-1960 and 1970-1980 that dealt with the above-mentioned national ‘concerns’ and the Turkish historical legacy.


     A) The first was initiated by a historian who spread his ideas publishing mostly literary texts such as novels and ‘narrations’, Cevat Şakir (1886-1973), and by an author, Kemal Tahir (1910-1973), who published historical novels and influenced a number of historians that mostly propagated the idea that the Turkish historical case can be best explained by the Marxist model of the ‘Asian mode of production’. Turkish historians that developed related theories to define the history of Anatolia are İdris Küçükömer (1925-1987), Sencer Divitçioğlu (1927-). According to these historians the class and religious conflicts that shaped the ‘feudal Western’ world did not take place in Anatolia.[14] The ‘school’, which here I will call ‘Anatolianism’, did not appear as an organized movement but rather as an understanding that is still quite popular among some intellectuals, who still are inclined to ‘western’ way of life – but with some serious reservations towards the ‘West’ in general - and who mostly identify themselves as ‘leftists’ or liberals.

     Contrary to THT that bases ‘Turkishness’ on central Asia, this new theory of ‘Anatolianism’, presented all people that lived in Anatolia (mainland Turkey) as ‘our’ ancestors and the present Turks as their grandchildren. As a consequence the present Turks were not seen as the people that once came from the East but were considered ‘autochthons’. The history of Anatolia was mostly perceived as a unique case, justified as an outcome of a different course of development, rather superior to the ‘western’ model where class clashes prevailed, and definitely more ‘just’ and humane. 

     Deconstructing this understanding one understands that it is inferred that in the Ottoman society there was not a class struggle but the state operated for the benefit of all. It was the ‘west’ and its imported ‘feudalism’ and ‘capitalism’ that caused the economic and social problems in the Ottoman Empire and consequently in modern Turkey. In the decades of 1960 and 1970 mostly young historians published studies on these lines.[15] 

     The question of identity however, still presented difficulties because it could not face a controversy. Islam was not considered a necessary constituent of the Turkish identity because in such a case the previous pagan and Christian people who lived in Anatolia had to be considered the Other. Religion, language and even culture and civilization were therefore silenced in this theory and predominance was given to the ‘geographical’ aspect of identity as well as to the biological continuity: the subordination of all to the Anatolian geography thus secured ‘an ethnic/national unity’. This approach, however, was not in harmony with the religious sentiments of the majority of the Turks.

     The Other in the case of the Anatolianists are those who are not from the local geography: the West in general. This western world is generally portrayed as ‘imperialistic’ and/or ‘nationalist’ with strong prejudices against the Turks and the East. The self image of the Anatolianists is quite comforting: they conceive themselves ‘humanitarians’, anti-nationalists, modern, progressive and secular. A closer analysis reveals that the Anatolianists believe in a special ‘class’ relationship: Within their ‘ethnic community’ (the state and/or nation) there is no class strife, but the relationship with the ‘West’ is marked with class conflicts, expressed in categories of ‘exploitation’ and ‘imperialism’. They are pro-Europeans but feel at a ‘stress’ vis a vis the West due to ‘believed’ historical and ideological reasons.


     B) The second grand narrative, known as Turkish-Islamic Synthesis (TIS) was initiated by intellectuals of rather conservative tendencies. TIS is one of the latest national historical interpretations. According to this theory that reached maturity in the 1980s, the present-day Turks are the people that came to Anatolia from the East in the 12th century and after having accepted Islam as their religion. Thus, Islam is considered part of the national identity as well as the Asian heritage. The followers of TIS give importance also to the Ottoman heritage which they consider significant and superior.  The legitimacy of the ‘state’ is based rather on the ‘historical victories’ and the ‘balance of power’ in the geographical environment. This theory is popular among political groups that identify themselves as ‘nationalists’, a word that among this group means ‘loving their country and the Turks’ whereas others identify them as ‘extreme right’.[16] İbrahim Kafesoğlu is one of the most esteemed historians of this school which propagates its ideas through extensive publications, numerous journals and newspapers.[17]  

     The Other in the case of TIS are almost all who differ from the ‘Turks’, both ethnically and religiously. The tendency to perceive minorities or ethnic groups of non-Turkic origin as foreign bodies is usual. The non-Muslim minorities are very often perceived on a class basis and they are described as wealthy communities involved in trade and industrial production (avoiding the word  ‘capitalists’ to distance themselves from Marxism), in close cultural and/or economic contacts with the ‘west’ and taking advantage of the ‘Turks’ economically.[18] The Other in this case encompasses the different religion, ethnicity and class (he is upper class and exploiter). The supporters of TIS try to wipe out all historical traces left by the Other, by changing toponyms, demolishing ancient temples or ignoring their legacy.   



Alternative historiographies

     The Greek national/nationalistic historiography was challenged starting from the first quarter of the 20th century. Following the Russian revolution of 1917 the Marxist movement in Greece developed relatively rapidly as an alternative world-view. Yanis Kordatos (1891-1961), for example, the ex-secretary of the Greek Communist Party, a young lawyer who dedicated his life to history writing, in 1924 challenged the ‘taboo’ of the Greek Revolution claiming that it was not a ‘national’ uprising against the Turks, but a class struggle of the oppressed masses against the oppressors who happened to be both Turkish and Greek dignitaries and landlords.[19]  He published his studies in an unfriendly social environment, facing fierce opposition and threats, but he insisted on claiming that modern Greeks were a new nation and not the ‘continuation’ of ancient people. Actually his thesis today sounds like the arguments of Benedict Anderson

     A small group of historians that are relatively distanced from national paradigm and seem closer to the Marxist approach are some religious researchers. Trying to negate the ethnic/national understanding that sets barriers between groups of people based on ethnic characteristics – language, race, color etc. - and appropriating a more ‘universal’ approach (a more ‘ecumenical’ approach as they would say), they developed an ‘all-inclusive’ discourse. They voiced, mostly in encyclopedias financed and published by the Greek-Orthodox Church and in personal publications, a comprehensive different historiography, distant from the nationalist one,  evaluating correctly both the contingent character of the ‘nation’ but also its limitation in envisaging a reconciliation of the ‘human race of the Creator’.[20]

     However, with their enthusiasm to stress the importance and the contribution of the Greek Orthodox Church they seem to reproduce the old demarcation lines that were set between East and West, or between believers and nonbelievers, or between the Greek Orthodox communities and the Others. At times when they criticize the intellectuals of the ‘Greek Enlightenment’ – of the period when the Greek intelligentsia was under the spell of the developments in Western Europe – they sound like the Marxists who opposed some Western ideals: capitalism, exploitation, imperialism; when they express their reservations about the Other, opposing Catholicism, Protestantism, etc., they remind the Manichaeism of the nationalists and the barriers set between nations.  

     The last decades a considerable number of Greek liberal historians, following the professionalization of historians and having come in contact with the latest trends, produce texts that are distanced from the nationalist paradigm. This school of thought gains momentum. A series of studies that question nationalistic and semi-nationalistic interpretation related to the Greek history are published in book form or in specialized periodicals.[21] These historians are inclined to investigate ignored fields such as the Greek case of nation-building and the history of the marginalized ethnic groups, such as the Jews, the Albanians and the Turks of Greece.


     In Turkey alternative historical interpretations vis a vis the legacy and contrary to the main trends also exist. Especially after 1980 a group of historians appeared, conscious of a Marxist tradition and organized around the ‘The Economic and Social History Foundation of Turkey’ and publishing a series of journals and books in line with modern developments in historiography. They dealt with local history and with ‘taboo’ issues, such as the past and present of the ethnic and minority groups of Turkey and the exchange of population of 1923. They also reviewed the Turkish historiography critically. This group is critical to the nationalist discourse and to ethnocentric approaches, aware of the new developments in the field of historiography and ready to study and discuss new points of views in history. Zafer Toprak and Sevket Pamuk who mostly deal with the economic history of Turkey and Caglar Keyder who shows an interest in the Ottoman history can be mentioned as examples of this trend.[22] 

     This is not only an indication of the widening of the spectrum of research in history writing but also of a change in philosophy and state of mind, surpassing ethnocentric approaches. These historians seem to believe that one sided ‘national interpretation’ may not be enough to produce historical narratives that bear an international validity. Definitely they are more ‘cosmopolitan’ in their understandings as well as more relaxed in their communication with the Other and in coming in contact with the views of the Other.



An assessment

     When ‘legacy’ (tradition, culture, national history etc), is envisaged as two different components, a) as actual and b) as believed (imagined, constructed), the following can be said in light with the above:

     1- The ‘actual’ legacy is a reality that humans do not have a control upon it. On the other hand, modern nations ‘invent’ ideological frameworks which operate as believed legacies, too.[23] This kind of a legacy is not at all less influential than the ‘actual’ one. On the contrary quite often it operates as an ideological drive that moves the masses and shapes social developments.

     2- The nations in the Balkans, as it is the case with the Greeks and the Turks, developed such an imagined legacy under the influence of the ideology of nationalism which was the dominant one during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and especially Western Europe. The history of Greece and Turkey can be best understood not so much by looking at the actual legacy of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, but rather by understanding in what the nations believed as legacy and what the ideological concepts and ideals were at various periods. 

     3- The believed legacy in the two countries in question can be summarized as a Darwinist ideology of struggle, highly xenophobic, not only bilaterally, but also towards the outer world in general, in short, a nationalistic perception with the general meaning of the word.

     4- The dissimilarity that exists between the national and believed legacy on the one hand and the actual one on the other can be better understood when the actual legacy of the Ottoman practice is taken into consideration. The Ottoman social practice was, as it is with most multi-national and multi-religious empires, one of co-existence of various ethnic and religious groups. This practice was characterized by its tolerance vis a vis the religious and ethnic diversity and multiplicity. I offer a paragraph written by a ‘westerner’, an Italian traveller who was surprised when he visited the Ottoman Empire and Istanbul in 1788. It gives a vivid picture of the all-inclusive empire:


Anybody who has experienced the religious intolerance in London and in Paris will be surprised here when he will see a church between a synagogue and a mosque, a dervish next to a Capuchin monk. I do not know how could this government accept religions so different from its own. It may be due to the degenerated Islam that this happy situation occurred. But one gets even more surprised when he notices that this spirit of tolerance in general exists also among the people: one can see Turks, Jews, Greeks and Protestants talking about their affairs or about entertainment in such a harmony and good humor  as if they are people of the same country and the same religion.[24]   


5- This actual legacy was negated and the believed one took over. As legacy mostly the believed one is dominant in the Balkan countries, as referred above and as it was shaped with the modern ideology of nationalism.     

     6- Therefore the issue of ‘legacy’ should not be approached as an entity that reaches us from the past but, mostly, as an ideological construction of the present. The believed legacy is not an event of the past that has been terminated and can not accept intervention either. On the contrary, as it is demonstrated above, it is still a lively process in operation.

     7- In consequence, attention should be given to what lies ahead and not so much to what the parties are supposed to have inherited from the past. ‘Legacy’ is not a real issue of the far-distanced past but rather of a believed very recent past and of the present, of the era in which ideologies are born and mature. The ‘actual’ heritage is not so negative after all; the ‘believed’ one is the problematic one.

     8- The final believed legacy in the Balkans will be shaped according to the developments in Europe and in pace with the integration of the Balkan states in the EU. The integration of the Balkan states in the EU will reinforce the political influence of the forces that are in tune with the ideals of the EU. In fact the integration in the EU will create a European ‘believed legacy’ in the Balkans. ‘Legacy’ in the Balkans is not a completed historical process and its course depends heavily on the relations with the EU. The forgotten and silenced ‘actual legacy’ (coexistence, multi-ethnic past etc) in the Balkans on the other hand will operate as an asset in this process.   




Some publications of H. Millas

where the case of Greek and Turkish nationalism is presented


 ‘The Image of Greeks in Turkish Literature: Fiction and Memoirs’, in Oil on Fire?, Studien zur Internationalen Schulbuchforschung, Schriftenreihe des Georg-Eckert-Instituts, Hanover: Verlag Hansche Buchhandlung, 1996

‘The Mythical Past and the Tense Present: Education in Greece and Turkey, in Culture and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe, International Conference, Thessaloniki (June 26-29, 1997)

- Εικόνες Ελλήνων και Τούρκων - σχολικά βιβλία, ιστοριογραφία, λογοτεχνία και εθνικά στερεότυπα, (Images of Greeks and Turks - textbooks, historiography, literature and national stereotypes), Athens: Alexandria, 2001.

- Do’s and Don’t’s for Better Greek-Turkish Relations, Athens: Papazissis, 2002.

- ‘Non-Muslim Minorities in the Historiography of Republican Turkey: The Greek Case’, in The Ottomans and the Balkans: A Discussion of Historiography, Ed. By Fikret Adanır and Suraiya Faroqhi, Leiden: Brill, 2002.

- ‘The Exchange of Populations in Turkish Literature: The Undertone of Texts’, in Crossing the Aegean, An Appraisal on the 1923 Compulsory Populations Exchange Between Greece and Turkey, Edit. Renee Hirschon, New York & Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2003.

- ‘The Other and Nation-building – The Testimony of Greek and Turkish Novels, in Representations of the Other/s in the Mediterranean World and their Impact on the Region, Edit. N. K. Burçoğlu / S. G. Miller, İstanbul, The Isis Pres, 2004.

- ‘National Perception of the Other and the Persistence of Some Images’ in Turkish-Greek Relations, The Security Dilemma in the Aegean, Edit. M. Aydin & K. Ifandis, London & New York, Routledge, 2004.

- The Imagined Other as National Identity – Greeks and Turks, Ankara: CSDP-European Commission, 2004. Also in:

- Türk ve Yunan Romanlarında Öteki ve Kimlik, İstanbul: İletişim, 2005.

- ‘Tourkokratia: History and the Image of Turks in Greece Literature’, in South European Society and Politics, Routledge, March 2006, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp.45-60. 




[1] The Invention of Tradition by E. Hobsbawm and T. Ranger (edit., 1983) is the classic in this field. See also Religious Identity and the Invention of Tradition by J.W. van Henten and A. Houtepen (edit., 2001). For the role of central education at the phase of nation-building see: E. Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (1983).     

[2] The words ‘imagined’ and ‘constructed’ can be used instead of ‘believed’ to express almost the same. Here these words will be used alternatively even though they have different origins.

[3] As will be shown below both Greeks and Turks, right after the founding of their nation-state tried with great fervor to ‘clean’ their language by exorcising all the words that belonged to the Other, to change toponyms and family names making them look closer to the imagined national past, to demolish architectural marvels so that they will not remind the past coexistence and most importantly to write new textbooks with a nationalist history. All these efforts were praised as a ‘return to national roots’.

[4] See A.B. Daskalakis, To Politeuma tou Riga Belestinli (The Polity of Rigas Velestinlis), Bagionaki Publishers, Athens, 1976.

[5] See for example Spiridon Trikoupis (1788-1873), I Istoria tis Ellinikis Epanastaseos (The History of the Greek Revolution), Volumes 1-4, London, 1853-1957; Ioannis Philimon (1798-1873), Dokimion Istorikon Peri tis Ellinikis Epanastaseos (Historical Essay on the Greek Revolution), Vol. 1-4, Athens, 1859-1861; Ambrosios Frantzis (1778-1851), Istoria tis Anagenisis Ellados (The History of the Greek Rebirth), Vol. 1-4, Athens, 1839-1841.

[6] Spiridon Zambelios, Asmata Dimotika tis Ellados (Folk Songs of Greece), Athens, 1852.

[7] See: Stefanos Pesmazoglou, Ευρώπη-Τουρκία (Europe-Turkey), Vol 1, Athens:Themelio, 1993, pp.59-86.

[8] See: H. Millas, Εικόνες Ελλήνων και Τούρκων - σχολικά βιβλία, ιστοριογραφία, λογοτεχνία και εθνικά στερεότυπα, (Images of Greeks and Turks - textbooks, historiography, literature and national stereotypes), Athens: Alexandria, 2001, pp. 293-300.

[9] See for example: J. Ph. Fallmerayer, Geschichte der Halbinsel Morea wahrend des Mittelalters, Vol. 1, Stuttgart, 1830. Also Giorgos Valoudis, J. Ph. ‘Fallmerayer und die Entsehung des neugriechischen Historismus, Südostforschungen 29, 1970. 

[10] Paparrigopoulos, K., Istoria tou Ellinikou Ethnous, (The History of the Hellenic Nation), vol. 1-5, Athens, 1865-1874. 

[11] These facts are challenges to ‘Greekness’ that is associated to a common language, a common origin and a common religion.

[12] See: Landau, M. Jacob, Pan-Turkism in Turkey: A Study of Irredentism, C. Hurst and Company, London, 1981.


[13] See for example: Afet Inan, Türkiye Halkının Antropolojik Karakterleri ve Türkiye Tarihi: Türk Irkının Vatanı Anadolu (The Anthropological Characteristics of the Turkish People and the History of Turkey: Anatolia, the Fatherland of Turkish Race), Türk Tarih Kurumu, Ankara, 1947.

[14] See for example İdris Küçükömer, Düzenin Yabancılaşması (The Alienation of the Social Order) Alan, Istanbul 1989 (first edition 1969); Sencer Divitçioğlu, Asya Üretim Tarzı ve Osmanlı Toplumu (Asian Mode of Production and Underdeveloped Countries), Yapı Kredi, Istanbul, 2003 (first edition 1967).     

[15] The prime minister of Turkey used this theory in his book that prepared in order to address the European readers when he tried to advance the idea that Turkey should be accepted to the European Union. See: Turgut Özal, La Turquie en Europe, Paris, Plon, 1988.

[16] It is interesting that TIS reminds the Greek understanding of ‘helleno-christianity’. They both search for national identity and their national historical origin in two components: ethnicity and religion.

[17] See: İ. Kafesoğlu, Türk İslam Sentezi (Turkish-Islamic Synthesis), Ötüken Publishing House, Istanbul, 1999.

[18] The title of the book of Salahi Sonyel is typical of how the non-Muslim minorities are perceived: Minorities and the Destruction of the Ottoman Empire, (1993).

[19] See for example: Yanis Kordatos, Istoria tis Neoteris Elladas, vol 1-4, Athens, 1957-1958. 

[20] See for example: Thriskeftiki kai Ithiki Egkiklopedia (Religious and Ethical Encyclopedia), 1964; G. Metallinos, Tourkokratia (Turkish Rule), 1988.  

[21] As examples of journals on history and published in Athens see: ‘Ta Istorika’, ‘Istor’ and ‘Historein’ which is published in English.

[22] See for example Zafer Toprak, Türkiye’de Milli İktisat (National Economy in Turkey), Yurt, Istanbul, 1982; Şevket Pamuk, Osmanlı-Türk İktisadi Tarihi 1500-1914 (Economic History of Ottoman State-Turkey  1500-1914) Gerçek, 1988; Çağlar Keyder, State and Class in Turkey/ A Study in Capitalist Development, Verso, England, 1987.

[23] Hobsbawm distinguished between three types of invented traditions which each have a distinctive function: a) those establishing or symbolizing social cohesion and collective identities, b) those establishing or legitimatizing institutions and social hierarchies, and c) those socializing people into particular social contexts; the first type has been most commonly referred to and often taken to imply the two other functions as well.  (See: Hobsbawm, Eric and Terence Ranger (eds) (1983) The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.)   

[24] Bozodar Jereznik, Wild Europe: The Balkans in the Gaze of Western Travelers, London, 2004, as mentioned in an article by Slavoj Zizek, Greek edition of New Left Review, Agra, 2006 (original London July-August 2005). 


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