Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Istanbul not Constantinople

During my first stop in the Balkans: Zagreb, Croatia, I met two young lads from Istanbul who, more than encouraged, almost demanded that I visit Turkey if for no other reason than to eat "real Burek." They were convinced that no one else could do it like that the Turks. After that I was (almost) sold. From the moment I heard someone mention Istanbul this song popped into my head. Why? I have no idea. 'Cause it's an awesome song? And so educational. What else can I say about Istanbul? I think it was the most fitting place to end my trip around the Balkans. Initially coming here was no more than a cheap flight to Kenya but it just makes sense after seeing the influence it had on the rest of the area. The Ottoman Empire was all over the Balkans:

The tension that arose in the Balkan region (specifically between Ethnically Serbian Orthodox Christians and Bosniak/Albanian Muslims) can be traced back to Ottoman Empire's jaunt around the area. Since Turkey = Islam and back in the day Muslims = Christ-killers because... well shoot. I'm going to let Michael Sells explain this because I'm not doing it justice. The following is an exert from The Bridge Betrayed:

"In 1389, the Serb Prince Lazar was defeated and killed in a battle against Ottoman Turkish Sultan Murad on the plain of Kosovo (My note: I drove by the sight where all this went down when I was in Kosovo). While historians dispute the significance of the battle, in Serbian mythology it entailed the loss of Serb independence, a loss that was represented in cosmic terms. Lazar is portrayed as a Christ figure. He has a Last Supper with his nobles, one of whom, Vuk Brankovic, is a traitor and gives the battle plans to the Turks. During the battle, the Christ-Prince Lazar is slain and with him dies the Serb nation, to rise again only with the resurrection of Lazar. Turks are thus equated with Christ-Killers and Vuk Brankovic, the “Turk within,” becomes a symbol (and ancestral curse) of all slavic Muslims.

The drama opens with Bishop Danilo, the play's protagonist, brooding on the evil of Islam, the tragedy of Kosovo, and the treason of Vuk Brankovic. Danilo's warriors suggest celebrating the holy day (Pentecost) by “cleansing” (cistimo) the land of non-Christians (v. 95). The chorus chants: “the high mountains reek with the stench of non-Christians [v. 284].” One of Danilo's men proclaims that struggle won’t come to an end until “we or the Turks [slavic Muslims] are exterminated.” The reference to the slavic Muslims as “Turks” crystallizes the view that by converting to Islam the Muslims have changed their racial identity and have become the Turks who killed the Christ-Prince Lazar."

Obviously there is more than that but I think Sells did a great job of summarizing. Istanbul was the perfect conclusion to my Balkan tour. 

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