06 May 2007

1658) In The Name Of Our Fathers

Sevgi Zübeyde GÜRBÜZ

Have you ever gone to your local public or university library and tried to find any books on the Turkish Independence War? If you have, then you know that you will find virtually no books on the subject, except as explained in scholarly works on the Ottoman Empire . For example, there are some books by Prof. Justin McCarthy and Prof. Stanford Shaw on Ottoman history which talk about the Turkish War of Independence. There are also some translations of works of well known Turkish professors, such as Salahi Sonyel, Ilber Ortayli, or M. Kemal Oke. . .

But you will find no books in English solely dedicated to telling the epic tale of the Turkish struggle against the European attempts to subjugate and colonize Anatolia. No books on Erzurumlu Kara Fatma, Kastamonulu Serife Baci, Gaziantepli Sahin, Marasli Sutcu Imam or Koprulu Hamdi Bey. On the contrary, most of the books that show up in the search engine are about the Greek War of Independence, Cyprus or Armenians. One book that showed up was even entitled "Turkish Barbarity." And another book that seemed hopeful, entitled the "Lions of Marash," actually turned out to be a book written by a missionary filled with pages on how we (the Turks) allegedly killed Armenians. Yikes!

And the problem is not limited to the period of the Turkish Independence War. Try finding one book in English that tells of the Conquest of Istanbul from a Turkish perspective. The Turkish people have an amazing history, yet even the inquisitive American would have a tough time finding books lauding this history.

So often our Turkish-American organizations are focused on defending Turks against what we perceive to be distortions of history. But how can we really be surprised at the negative American views of Turks if we ourselves have never really sat down at explained it – in a language they can read, English – ourselves! I looked at some of the books on the Greek War of Independence. They weren't written by some hot-shot academic, but by a simple Greek person who cared enough to research his own history and tell it how he thought it should be told. Remember that book on "Turkish Barbarity"? That was just one Greek lady telling about the story of her family, filled with plenty of bias and embellishment to be sure, but the point is that she was no professor!

Ataturk has a famous saying that goes along the lines of: "As important as making history, is writing it." The written word is very critical, for without it our grandchildren would have no knowledge of the true history of their ancestors. For the most part, Turkish history in the West has been written, examined and retold by academicians who are disconnected from our living history in the best case, and in the worst case are downright prejudiced.

Why do we let foreigners tell our history?

The best defense we have against our detractors is to simply tell the truth of what we experienced! We need to write down – in English – the accomplishments of our ancestors, the tribulations they suffered through, and the courage with which they overcame tragedy. The 1996 book by Justin McCarthy entitled "Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims" should NOT have been the first and primary work detailing our suffering caused by Europe.

Perhaps this task is best undertaken by second generation Turkish-Americans who know English like a mother-tongue. Perhaps we need to encourage our children more to read about their forefathers and write about their family histories. Perhaps even if we don't know English that well, we should find an American friend who we can partner up with to tell these important tales. Perhaps if we all made a little effort in this area, we could fill the current void.

After all, the best way to honor the memory of our fathers (and mothers) is to make sure they are remembered truthfully.

Endnote: If anyone is willing to share with me their family's experience during the Turkish Independence War, Cyprus conflict, or any other period of Turkish history, please get in touch with me. I would be glad to help you publish something you write; or, if you desire, I can write something and try to get it published. I may be reached via kucukcoban@gmail.com.

© 2006 Turkish Journal


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