Farewell, dear colleague

Source: http://www.dilimiz.com/dil/turkologlar2.htm

Source: http://www.dilimiz.com/dil/turkologlar2.htm

In September 1993 I entered the Department of Turkish Studies at the University of Cyprus as an undergraduate student. I did not know what to expect. The Department and degree programme were at their infancy-I was in the second-ever cohort to enter.

I, alongside another 20-odd hopefuls, was greeted by a charming, tall, white-haired gentleman whose wide smile, sparkling blue eyes and warm demeanour captured me immediately. He was Prof. György Hazai, a globally prominent figure in the world of Turkish Studies who was at the time Head of Department. Prof. Hazai was one of those unforgettable academics, who left an indelible mark on my own career, values and attitude in my own work. You see, despite the fact that we was a truly renowned, world-class scholar in his field, editor of the prestigious Archivum Ottomanicum among other things, his attitude towards his students was nothing other than collegial, supportive, encouraging and open. He addressed all of us as ‘dear colleagues’, building the Department on the basis that we were all equally invested in the scholarship of our field, we all had a voice and a share in proceedings, from the learning arena to departmental policy matters. You can imagine what an impact this approach had on 18-20 year olds who thought that university was something like high school. Hazai transgressed the boundary of power and authority inherent in every teaching situation, which unfortunately most of his peers still adhere to. You see, many academics can boast a rich CV, a successful career with groundbreaking research. But how many of them can genuinely say that they were an inspiration to their students, a positive force which not only achieved much, but enabled others to follow? Hazai was exactly that.

I was able to benefit from his wealth of knowledge and the vast horizons he was able to open up for his students and peers. Alongside a couple of others, his role was hugely important at a formative time for me.

Hazai was always a friend, a good colleague and a supportive teacher, no matter how many years had passed, no matter how many other students he taught. When I found out of his passing I was at first saddened at the loss of a warm and thoughtful person I once knew, a knowledgeable scholar of the kind which is becoming increasingly extinct. Then I remembered the good times, and felt genuinely privileged and fortunate that our paths crossed. I will never forget him.

Nur içinde yat, dear colleague. I hope you are having some interesting conversations with Lajos Fekete and the other luminaries up there.

Gyorgy Hazai with my Turkish Studies cohort receiving our degree certificates in 1997

My Turkish Studies cohort receiving our degree certificates in 1997

Graduation party, 1997

Adiós hermano (Eduardo Galeano)

eduardo-galeano2

An author very close to my heart passed away recently. I discovered Eduardo Galeano not very long ago: his was one of those names always flying around, one of those “must read at some point” authors. I finally took the plunge with the Open Veins of Latin America, a book by no means easy, where he beautifully narrates the story of Central and South America from its painful conquest by the Europeans in the late 15th c., to its most recent and current phase of colonialism. Having read it on the back of reading many primary accounts of the conquest of Central and South America (Bernal Diaz, Hernan Cortes and even Cabeza de Vaca), it was refreshing to read a modern historian-deliciously anachronistic at that-convey his moral objections to  Spanish greed and expansionism of the 1500s. I found it a powerful polemic against corporate greed, imperialism fuelled by the need for profit which has made the white/European master over the destiny of the native and slave for centuries. It also brings home the message that globalisation is nothing new.

I then slipped into the Memory of Fire trilogy. Here Galeano makes no excuses and has no apologies to offer. He nails his colours to the mast, calling this a thoroughly biased account which reflects his political beliefs. This is a (hi)story of the same continent, but here the master takes his time. Through beautiful tit-bits, carefully and lovingly crafted vignettes which start with the mythology of the creation of the world to the present day, weaving reality, magic, passion and interpretation of historical facts and processes together. War, destruction, enslavement, exploitation. It gives a historian a right kick in the teeth: we are never impartial, we always have an angle. And Galeano certainly has his.

Finally, Galeano has gifted the world the most beautiful book ever written about the beautiful game in Football in Sun and Shadow. His typically unapologetic love of the game comes through in passion-filled pages full of vignettes from the 1930s and days of the great Uruguay-world champions in Brazil’s own home in 1950-to the days of Pele and Maradona and beyond. A must read.

Galeano hated bureacrats. Something he wrote in Vol. 3 of Memory of Fire will always stay with me: “It is highly improbable that the bureaucrat will put his life on the line. It is absolutely impossible that he’ll put his job on the line.” These people, devoid of passion, creativity, originality or any kind of bravery, but full of cold calculation, rule our world.

So, farewell dear friend, master, brother. Your own Memory of Fire lives on.

Ownership of histories and national narratives: a TV documentary sheds light on perceptions in Cyprus

The past week or so has seen a huge debate emerge from the broadcasting on (Greek) Cypriot  state TV (CyBC-ΡΙΚ) of a documentary dealing with the 1963-64 clashes between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots of Paphos (primarily). The documentary, prepared by CyBC journalist Soulla Hadjikyriacou and titled Εν ονόματι της πατρίδος (in the name of the homeland), offered a loose narrative framework of the 1963-64 events, and was based on eyewitness and participant accounts of the clashes.

Since the broadcast on March the 3rd, there has been a wide range of reactions, mainly approving or dismissing its core content and message. I will attempt to summarise here the main trends, although I must also warn against over-simplification and reductionism to dual/polar models. The documentary was met with disapproval from a wide range of right-wing politics. The main arguments were that Ms Hadjikyriacou was biased, led on her interviewees with loaded questions and practised Turkish propaganda. The hysteria was expressed on many different levels, with some commenters (especially on CyBC’s page using the Facebook comments tool) even asking for a parliamentary enquiry into the waste of taxpayers’ money on something which was akin to propaganda, misinformation and so on.

On the other hand, viewers and commenters who were more approving of the documentary and its subject, took the view that the truth has to come out, that responsibility for conflict on the island belongs to all of us, and that it was good that these views, “expressing the truth” were finally heard. You can see the comments on the CyBC page here, but those with a weak constitution please beware of the bile and venom poured electronically there.

The reactions are a very useful and illuminating demonstration of how history is perceived in a space which is contested. History is viewed as something which belongs to nation(s), and especially something which is already known, settled. The perception that history is already known and ossified is something which is further demonstrated each time the question of a national curriculum is brought up. The deviation from a national narrative is a dangerous activity (often physically so). This understanding of history as a (material) possession sees reinterpretations and revisionism, and the search for new evidence (core to the historian’s craft) as a direct challenge. National narratives, identities and rhetoric do not facilitate research, especially on topics which are sensitive, contested, ideologically and politically employed to further the narrative. The national narrative cannot be wrong and cannot be challenged.

A second dimension of this is that the debate was exacerbated by the fact that the documentary was broadcast on TV, and state TV at that. If you come from any post-colonial or post-Soviet space (or Turkey)(*) you will know that there is a perception that if something is on TV it must (may) be true. State TV, the only TV which existed in Cyprus until the 1990s, was the propaganda tool for successive governments with varying degrees of authoritarianism. Anyone of the right age will remember that the 6pm/8.30pm news bulletins always started with the words “President (insert name here-Makarios or Kyprianou being the most enduring)”. For Greek Cypriot children this became a bit of a joke, as they were watching the news bulletin in Turkish starting with “cumhurbaşkanı Kyprianou” (president Kyprianou) they translated this to something sounding like “Puku Paska Kyprianou” (πούκου πάσκα is a wild spring flower). Something which was on TV was automatically the approved, past-the-censorship content which was ‘safe’ for the Cypriot viewer.

This age of state-approved TV, and TV as another tool in the implementation of a national narrative and education of the masses has given way to a period of neoliberal control of mass media, and TV has become the means for the implementation and dissemination of that agenda: aggressive advertising, mixed with the political beliefs of the elite where necessary. The paradox here is that now, the state TV has become (almost) a bastion for private interest-free TV, where occasionally documentaries such as the one in question here can be broadcast. State-owned TV now represents a TV which may function for the benefit of citizens, attempting to (and sometimes-if rarely-succeeding in) keep its distance from this neoliberal agenda.

Drawing back from that tangent, it’s important to assess the medium’s role. The fact that TV was seen as a valid (and was an official) source of information has led to the widespread belief that that is -or should be- the case today. If a historical documentary is broadcast on TV, to a lot of people this must mean that it forms part of an officially sanctioned version of history, the truth. The problem is manifold. I will focus on two aspects of it here. Firstly, the purpose of television cannot be the establishment of historical facts. Even when journalists are trained and accomplished historians and anthropologists, the need for an entertaining (and/or informative) TV often skews the outcome. The purpose of TV is to create debate, to entertain, to inform-the latter to a limited extent. In that sense, Ms Hadjikyriacou’s documentary was well made: it informed us of an aspect we may not have had much insight of previously. It highlighted a less known aspect of the Cyprus problem, it offered a hope for reconciliation, it captured some of the views of the participants. It has also generated a much needed debate on an important, yet less prominent aspect of the Cyprus problem. As such, it cannot come under serious scrutiny for its methodology, as it was not historical research. Ms Hadjikyriacou’s well-meaning questioning would not have passed the rigour of a research ethics committee, nor does it have to: it’s a TV documentary which lasts 1 hour.

The second problem is far more serious. The reactions to the documentary show that a large majority of the Greek Cypriots have associated the Cyprus problem with the events of 1974. This is their official story, that the Cyprus problem is a problem of a foreign invasion and occupation. This has been the mantra of the reactionary Greek Cypriot right, a stumbling block in any attempts at reunification and reconciliation. Bringing the inter-communal strife of the 1950s and ’60s into the picture is not part of this narrative-it’s not taught in schools, it’s not part of the problem. Ms Hadjikyriacou’s documentary directly challenges that official narrative.

I don’t remember anybody complaining in the 1990s when Antros Pavlides created a TV series on the history of Cyprus. That’s because his narrative coincided with the national one-he did not challenge anything, and if there were inaccuracies it didn’t matter to anyone. Moreover, Pavlides’ work, and that of many others, always steered well clear from ‘hot’ topics. A risk-free approach was to focus on popular topics which were not the subject of debate-settled, ossified, known. Ms Hadjikyriacou has dared through her work to rock that particular boat, and focused on a topic which is far from risk-free. Such TV must be encouraged, if only for the debate it generates.

The furore has served to draw attention to perceptions which are widespread and shared among not only the Cypriots, but other neighbouring cultures in the region. That history is owned by someone, somewhere and that it must be preserved as it is: that is, the national narrative must be protected from new research, new evidence, challenges. The role of television as the host for the dominant narrative in the twentieth century has remained as a perception. Due to the swing in the state of media ownership, state-owned TV is under threat, as we saw from the Greek example. Which is of course deeply ironic.

I think that it’s time that viewers, learners, citizens can be treated as more than sheep who have to be led to pasture by one side or the other. Can TV do that?

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* The (rather trashy) Turkish TV series Muhteşem Yüzyıl (Magnificent Century), a historical soap opera (very) loosely based on Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent’s reign in the 16th century, was initially met with huge protests, due to its exaggeration and ‘inaccuracy’. The protests soon died down, but the show has become one of the most successful in the history of Turkish television. This series can be compared to the BBC drama The Tudors. In the UK nobody protested.

Medieval Famagusta

Click on the image for more photos of Historic Famagusta

Medieval Histories has recently published an article on Medieval Famagusta, highlighting the urgent need for its protection and pointing to the upcoming conference, Historic Famagusta: A Millennium in Words and Images, as an important landmark in its preservation (Thanks to Karen Schousboe).

You can view the article here.

In addition to this, Michael Walsh  has published a paper, titled ‘Famagusta’ which you can see here.

To say that the time is ripe to intervene and save this amazing historical space is to be stating the obvious. The importance of Famagusta as a crusader trading port in the Middle Ages is well documented. This importance is well reflected on the ground, where the concentration of medieval architecture is immediately obvious even to the untrained eye. This makes Famagusta one of the Eastern Med’s hidden (and forgotten) jewels-one which must receive its due attention from UNESCO and the political authorities on the ground.

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More images of Historic Famagusta here.

About

My name is Marios Hadjianastasis and I am a historian of Europe and the Mediterranean in the Early Modern period. My specialisations include the history of the Ottoman Empire, Cyprus in the Ottoman Period, Venice, English and Venetian trade in the Ottoman Empire and Mediterranean history from the 16th to the 19th century.

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