20 Şubat 2011 Pazar

Visualization, but only with adult supervision

A fellow marathon runner insisted that we visualize the process of completing the 42.2 km course.  It makes sense intuitively.  Serious runners always like to study the map and have look at the actual course before race day.  Executive coaches teach their clients to have a picture in mind of what success looks like.  Dress for success.  Play the part even before you've been assigned the role.  Visualization helps people achieve their goals.

What happens when a society begins to look backwards?  Does that lead them on a path of regression?  Given the misgivings expressed when Orhan Pamuk or a television soap plays with images of the Ottoman past, one might conclude that looking back can be dangerous.  But the Greater Istanbul Municipality has been busy busing school children to the Istanbul 1453 Panoramic Museum, where the sole objective is to "see" the Ottoman forces, led by II. Mehmed, the Conqueror, breach the walls of Constantinople.

Hasankeyf is another place where one can visualize history, but the narrative is messy and problematic.

The heyday of Hasankeyf was the 12th century.  When the Fatimids of Egypt invaded Palestine, the Selcuk Turks in Baghdad relocated their Artukid vassals to Hasankeyf.  The Artukids proceeded to build most of the monuments visible today at Hasankeyf -- the bridge, the Great Mosque, the Palace, and the minaret of the Rizq Mosque.  The Ayyubids and Akkoyunlular (White Sheep Turkmens) renovated and expanded these structures, but it was the Artukids who gave the city the basic form we see today.

Hasankeyf is a typical Seljuk city: a walled city, comprising a central mosque and palace, and a "suburb" outside the fortified center.  In other words, Hasankeyf offers little in the way of Ottoman design and architecture.

Not only that, but Hasankeyf eventually passed from the Artukids to the Ayyubids to the Akkoyunlular.  The Akkoyunlular, a group of Turkmen tribes, first emerged at Diyarbakir and later made Tabriz their capital.  Hasankeyf remained an important military and cultural center, but it would never again be a capital city.

The White Sheep were allies of Timur in his raids across Anatolia, and they fought alongside with Timur in 1402 at the Battle of Ankara, where the Ottomans suffered a huge defeat.  I. Beyazid (great-grandfather of II. Mehmed) was captured and eventually executed.  His four sons fought among themselves for a decade.  I. Mehmed emerged as the winner of the interregnum and began to rebuild the empire.  But Timur (with Akkoyunlu allies) had knocked the wind out of the Ottomans.

Seventy years later, II. Mehmed the Conqueror made a gamble.  Leaving the European frontier of the empire largely undefended, he concentrated all his resources on confrontation with the White Sheep, who were now led by Uzun Hasan, a powerful rival allied (both militarily and by marriage) with the Byzantine Emperor of Trebizond as well as with the Vatican and Venice.  Mehmed the Conqueror did not defeat Uzun Hasan in 1473, but the battle marked the beginning of the end for the Akkoyunlular.  It was also where Uzun Hasan's son Zeynel was martyred.

The Zeynel Bey Turbe at Hasankeyf is thus a monument to Akkoyunlu opposition to Ottoman expansion in Anatolia. (The mausoleum is pictured above.)

Hasankeyf is a reminder of constantly shifting alliances across the Mediterranean and the Fertile Crescent.  The Turkmens were allied with Venice, which also appealed -- in vain -- to Germany and Hungary in the contest with Mehmed the Conqueror.  Byzantine rulers of Constantinople had earlier sought the help of Muslim armies in defending the city from "the Latins."  The conflicts have been not so much between West and East, as among different groups in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean.  If today, European economies find themselves dependent on laborers from Eastern Anatolia, in the 15th c., the Vatican and Venice relied on the Turkmens to keep the Ottomans at a distance.

The boundaries are porous; alliances are fluid.  Always have been.  These folding, refolding, unraveling, interweaving ties among Eurasian peoples are easy enough to grasp once you take time to contemplate them.  Hasankeyf is a thought-provoking and imagination-inspiring emblem of the cultural interactions leading up to the emergence of the Ottoman Empire as a world power, which in turn helped to spur Europe on toward renewal and modernity.  What a shame it would be to deprive generations to come of the opportunity to explore the landscape at Hasankeyf and visualize history in all its complexity.

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