Adiós hermano (Eduardo Galeano)


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.

Orientalism in the 21st century: shooting historiographical fish in a barrel

"Jean-Paul Flandrin - Odalisque with Slave - by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres - Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Odalisque with slave by Dominic Ingres (1839)

This week I gave a lecture to 1st year students on western perceptions of the Ottoman Empire, the content and ‘flavour’ of traveller and essayist observations and commentaries from the 16th to the 20th century. A key reading for this was Aslı Çırakman’s book From the “Terror of the World” to the “Sick Man of Europe”, as it offered my students a helpful overview of European views of the Ottomans, but also a critical view of Edward Said’s orientalism thesis.

Other extremely useful readings were Leslie Peirce’s work, as well as other material. Of course the writings of Busbecq, Dumont, Sanderson and others were key. I also showed some rather entertaining depictions of life in the harem as they were imagined by the orientalist movement in 19th c. art.

I like to mix the more philosophical aspects of this issue-such as the consideration of one’s own perceived identity when studying history-with some more light-hearted and entertaining material which often demonstrates perceptions on either side of the divide. For example, I used a clip from Dracula Untold, where the Ottoman troops attempt to take away Vlad Dracul’s son.


This clip is very reminiscent of the Braveheart motif: the valiant/brave versus the totality of evil. Plus it’s good fun.

I also used a montage of Hürrem Sultan’s ‘best of’ from the popular Turkish series The Magnificent Century (Muhteşem Yüzyıl).


There’s also a hilarious sequence at the very end of Conquest 1453 (Fetih 1453) where the grand and fair Mehmed II turns all Obama/Cameron on us (there are English subtitles).


However, by far the most entertaining, and also the most serious demonstration of  simplistic and idiotic prejudice was Niall Ferguson’s take in the documentary series Civilization: is the West history? In Episode 2, Niall falls back onto the most familiar, misogynistic and-quite frankly rather racist-clichés which as historians of the Ottoman Empire we’ve been trying hard to move away from. The ‘Yoko Ono’ phenomenon, which pretty much blamed the collapse of the Empire on the ‘meddling of women’ in men’s affairs, propagated by western and Turkish scholars of the 20th century alike, is repeated here without a hint of self-awareness or shame. Talking about the harem, good old Niall informs us that “it was here that Osman (III) spent his time, stultified with sex and Turkish delight” (3:00 mins).

But this was not the only reason for Ottoman backwardness according to Ferguson. He goes on to compare the ‘neat’ handwriting in a 15th century defter with the ‘sloppy and hasty’ one in a 17th century one, clearly proving that this was “an Empire on the slide” (5:00 mins). This Empire was in a hurry to save itself-there was no time for order. To illustrate the point further, Ferguson’s director/editor contrasts the images of ‘orderly’ modern Germany, with clean-shaven, suited and booted businessmen (?) with images from the streets of modern Istanbul, where some women wear headscarves and some men have mustaches.

This lazy, squarely right-wing and Euro-centric approach is not befitting of someone who has a job at Harvard. Or, quite frankly, someone who has a job as a historian. However, I have to thank Ferguson for his work here, because it makes my job easy. I don’t need to explain much to my (I repeat 1st year) students. At the point where he talks about the Turkish delight, my students start laughing. Job done-thanks Niall.

I know this is TV, but quite frankly, you are an esteemed academic. Get a grip.



Çırakman, Aslı, From the “terror of the World” to the “sick Man of Europe”: European Images of Ottoman Empire and Society from the Sixteenth Century to the Nineteenth (New York: Peter Lang, 2002)

Peirce, Leslie, The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (Oxford: OUP, 1993)

Jean-Paul Flandrin – Odalisque with Slave – by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres – Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –


All media used here are the property of their respective owners and is used to illustrate an academic point as ‘fair usage’. There is no intention of copyright violation. 

Frontiers of the Ottoman Imagination (Leiden: Brill, 2014)


I can finally announce the publication of our volume in honour of Rhoads Murphey. This will be out in November 2014. For more information click the image above or this link.

The volume contains contributions from a number of Rhoads’ students and friends: Ourania Bessi, Hasan Çolak, Marios Hadjianastasis, Sophia Laiou, Heath W. Lowry, Konstantinos Moustakas, Claire Norton, Amanda Phillips, Katerina Stathi, Johann Strauss, Michael Ursinus and Naci Yorulmaz.

Frontiers of the Ottoman Imagination is a compilation of articles celebrating the work of Rhoads Murphey, the eminent scholar of Ottoman studies who has worked at the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Birmingham for more than two decades. This volume offers two things: the versatility and influence of Rhoads Murphey is seen here through the work of his colleagues, friends and students, in a collection of high quality and cutting edge scholarship. Secondly, it is a testament of the legacy of Rhoads and the CBOMGS in the world of Ottoman Studies. The collection includes articles covering topics as diverse as cartography, urban studies and material culture, spanning the Ottoman centuries from the late Byzantine/early Ottoman to the twentieth century.

The cover image is a view of Edirne by the celebrated local artist Tayyip Yılmaz who has gracefully given permission for its use.

A celebration of Ottoman history at the University of Birmingham



A Celebration of Ottoman History at Birmingham is an event to honour Rhoads Murphey on the occasion of his retirement. Rhoads has been at Birmingham since 1992, and is a world-known and respected scholar of Ottoman history who has given the Ottomanist community significant pieces of work during his career.

The event will be held on Wednesday the 11th of June, at the University of Birmingham 5-7pm.

5:00-5:30 – “Issues surrounding history in popular culture: The case of Muhteşem Yüzyıl”
Gemma Norman

5:30-6:00 – “Climbing the ladders to ignominy: the Tuscan raid on Famagusta in 1607”
Marios Hadjianastasis

6:00-7:00 – Wine reception

This event will be held in the basement of the Watson Building –which is the Centre for Learning and Academic Development. Contact me for further information and to book on the event.

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?


* 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.

A Tuscan raid on Famagusta, 1607 [article]

The Porta di Limisso (Limassol gate) on the southwestern part of the Famagusta walls

The Porta di Limisso (Limassol gate) on the southwestern part of the Famagusta walls

I have just finished and submitted (finally) the article that sprung out from my paper at the Historic Famagusta Conference in Budapest in 2012 (has it really been that long?). My article looks at the raid, carried out by a force of the Knights of St. Stephen, Spanish forces, English and other corsairs. In fact, it included some celebrities who would go on to bigger and greater things, such as the Tuscan admiral Jacopo Inghirami, Don Antonio De’Medici (Grand Duke Francesco I’s son), Pietro Velasco (future Duke of Osuna and Viceroy of Sicily), Richard Gifford (an English merchant and corsair based in Livorno) and his partner Robert (who was either Sir Robert Dudley (Leicester’s son) or more likely Robert Thornton, who in 1608 would lead the first and only attempt to establish an Italian colony in the Americas (in Brazil in particular). There were others, scions of important Italian families of Pisa, Livorno and Siena, corsairs, soldiers, common ‘rubble’.

The attack was very likely the result of the pleas of Cypriot notables who were looking for a political future after the conquest of the island by the Ottomans in 1571. These notables, most of whom had retained their Catholic sympathies, sent pleas to royal courts around Catholic Europe, exaggerating the number of Cypriots who could take up arms and seriously under-representing the Ottoman forces on the island to make it sound feasible to capture the island. One such person, Pedro Avendaño (“Griego de nación de la ínsula de Chipre”, as he is referred to in the Spanish archives) claimed to have led a rebellion on the island in 1606 where he rallied a force 12,000 strong which killed 3,500 Turks, but due to the lack of arms the rebellion was suppressed and 4,000 men fled to the mountains in anticipation of a suitable opportunity, such as the intervention of a christian force, to rise again.

Avendaño’s hugely exaggerated claims failed to raise eyebrows at the Spanish court, but it seems that somebody somewhere swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker, because in June of 1607 the raiders were eagerly anticipating the Greci to come to their support and take up arms, as part of a wildly ambitious plan to control the island.

The raid represents a hilarious example of communication breakdown, shambolic preparations and misinformation. Despite the fact that Francesco Bourbon Del Monte and Jacopo Inghirami, the leaders of the force, had at their disposal a model of the city of Famagusta, as well as the benefit of local informants (one of whom was Girolamo of Famagusta, an experienced navigator and pilot with the forces of Jacques Pierre, a French corsair), the attack ended in resounding failure.

The attack was meant to be carried out at night and in stealth, taking control of the city before the garrison had time to fortify itself. The idea was to breach the walls with explosives (petards) and scale them with ladders at different locations, including the 2 main gates-the sea gate (Porta del Mare) and the land gate (Porta di Limisso), as well as a postern (porta falsa) on the northern side. The petards failed to breach the postern (which was thought to be hollow but wasn’t), the ladders were too short (despite numerous affirmations to the contrary) and a large part of the force could not make its way round to the marina to attack the sea gate, due to the inaccessibility of the passage, which meant that they became trapped in the moat, between the walls and the companies behind them for three hours. The force that was supposed to attack the land gate was part was on teh ships which became separated from the main force and turned up at the scene a day too late, to put the icing on the cake. Indeed, the descriptions in the archives of Florence, Venice and Siena at times read like the script of Holy Grail 2: İneği getirin!.

The failed attack meant that Del Monte was relieved of his duties and was excluded from the subsequent attack on Bona (Annaba in modern-day Algeria) which brought the Grand Duke of Tuscany a little bit of the glory he so craved.

In the article I discuss the military aspects of the incident, with detailed maps of the walls and the plans of the attack.

In my next article I will be discussing the identity aspects of period of transition from the Venetian to the Ottoman Cyprus.

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.


More images of Historic Famagusta here.

Limassol Medieval Museum, Cyprus

The Cyprus Medieval Museum, housed at the Limassol Castle, is one of the island’s (and the Med’s) hidden gems. In this collection are displayed wonderful and valuable specimens of the island’s Frankish and Venetian past, ranging from tombstones to Cypriot sgraffito pottery and coins. The tombstones and other stonework were gathered from a number of locations, such as the cathedrals in Nicosia and Famagusta, the Augustinian church in Nicosia (now the Omerieh mosque), and other locations.

Although Crusader heritage is very prominent in Cyprus, both sides of the divide, it is nowhere near as pronounced as it deserves. The main reason for this is that it does not sit in well with either of the island’s nationalisms, which drove the education and antiquity agenda. Tourists are urged to discover the island’s antique past in order to reinforce its case for a Greek identity. However, the Cypriots are missing a trick here. Urging European (and not only) travellers to see the rich remains of the last crusader kingdom should attract considerable amounts of visitors. The cathedrals of Nicosia and Famagusta, the Venetian walls of both cities, and many other castles and churches, remain a much under-exploited resource. The walled city of Famagusta, languishing in political limbo since the 1960’s, is a historical (and archaeological) space of immense value, but one which is gradually crumbling down as the years go by.

A tombstone from the Cyprus Medieval Museum. Click on the image to see more photos

Old Maps Online: a useful and unique resource

Old Maps Online does exactly what its title suggests. It contains (or links to) a great number of historical maps, all available online via several libraries. The beauty of the website is the functionality. You simply zoom into the area that interests you, and on the right you get a list of the available maps. You can narrow down the time period with a slider at the top, in order to look for specific period maps. You can also search by text, which in my view makes the resource particularly useful. For further information and copyright information view the ‘About‘ section of the website.

The project was funded by JISC.

Rebellion and legitimacy in Ottoman Cyprus: a new article in the Turkish Historical Review

It is my pleasure to announce the publication of my article in the Turkish Historical Review. The article is titled:

‘Crossing the line in the sand: regional officials, monopolisation of state power and ‘rebellion’. The case of Mehmed Ağa Boyacıoğlu in Cyprus, 1685-1690′.


The aim of this paper is to examine centre-periphery relations and issues of state control in Ottoman provinces in the seventeenth century, as these are reflected in the case of Mehmed Ağa Boyacıoğlu in Ottoman Cyprus. Mehmed Ağa Boyacıoğlu rose to prominence in the 1680s and dominated the island for a period of five to seven years, until 1690. His behaviour and actions, and the way the Sublime Porte dealt with them, represent a useful example of how power was negotiated between the centre and the periphery. Moreover, it demonstrates how rebellion terminology had a particular meaning for contemporary historians and officials, but must be used with caution by the analysts of today. This paper focuses on our handling of this phenomenon, and initiates a discussion on terminology and meaning.

Turkish Historical Review, Volume 2, Number 2, 2011 , pp. 155-176(22)
Publisher: BRILL

Click on the link above or here to go to the journal page. Contact me for further information.