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Douglas A. Howard


Turkey Undemonized

Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire

Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire by Jason Goodwin, Owl Books, 351 pp.; $15, paper

Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey by Nicole and Hugh Pope, Overlook Press, 373 pp.; $16.95, paper

In the horrifying dispatches from the Balkans over the past decade, and the reams of punditry and "news analysis" that followed, one piece of conventional wisdom appeared again and again, virtually unchallenged: the wholly negative role ascribed to the Turks in the history of the region. Every reporter seemed familiar with the Battle of Kosovo (1389)—where, the New York Times insisted in a endlessly repeated subordinate clause, the medieval Serbian nation went to its death. "Premodern state-formation in the Balkans," intoned William W. Hagen in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, "was short-circuited by the Ottoman Turkish conquest of the region during the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries." The 500-year Ottoman period in the Balkans was dismissed as a bad memory, an era of ethnic and religious bastardization, habituated corruption, and vectorless violence from which the Balkan states began to emerge in the nineteenth century only after a protracted struggle of national liberation. The Muslims of the Balkans, both Turks and Slavs, found themselves defined as outsiders, the illegitimate progeny of a long historical violation. The Republic of Turkey alone is left to absorb the blame for the Ottoman legacy.

But what would happen if instead of seeing them as separate and distinct, we were to study the history of the Balkan states and of modern Turkey together? It might be useful to think again of the states surrounding the Black Sea as linked through the legacies and rivalries of their common parents, the great pre-World War I empires of the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans, and the Romanovs.

Such a book has not yet been written. It is of great interest, however, that after several books about the Balkans were published during the 1990s, a new book about the Ottomans ...

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