The latest Turkish distortion of modern history pivots on the difference between a slave and a citizen. Turkish intellectuals are intentionally confusing the idea of a legal citizen with an individual’s personal ethnic identity. As Armenians, Greeks, Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Christian Arabs and various others migrated out of the Ottoman Empire they had to acquire and present an Ottoman passport. Given international law this was a mandatory legal document to obtain. And I see no problem with acknowledging the obvious, yes, these non-ethnic Turks had to have such a document.
The twist Turkish writers are now performing is to say first that the individuals they are writing about were legally citizens of the Ottoman Empire and then to next claim all such individuals were/are ethnic Turks.
Let me offer two examples of this kind of ongoing Turkish falsification of modern history. The first is a historical documentary the other a book of collected essays. Ten years ago, here in the pages of the National Herald, I wrote about announcements, then made by Turkish film makers, to produce first a documentary film, An Izmiri Camel Herder in the Wild West to be immediately followed by a Hollywood-style film, Kahraman Sherif (The Honorable Sheriff) (August 23, 2008). Both films were to showcase the arrival and exploits of eight Greek camel drovers in the American West.
Beginning on February 10, 1856, eight Greek camel drovers began arriving at the Port of Indianola in Texas abroad the USS Supply. Be advised that this self-styled United States Army’s experiment with camels, in what was then called the Great American Desert of the southwest, is heavily documented beginning with period publications such as United States army dispatches, government reports, book-length publications, and quite literally hundreds of newspaper accounts (beginning in the 1850s continuing up to the present day) which all document the conception of this experiment with camels as draft-animals, the ultimate arrival of 100 camels, the presence of Greek drovers and the varying history of the camels and drovers long after the American Civil War when this experiment was abandoned.
While ‘An Izmiri Camel Herder in the Wild West’ and ‘Kahraman Sherif’ were announced, neither appeared nor did I hear more about either film. Then, by chance I just recently ran across Turkish filmmaker Mert Turkoglu’s announcement that on December 25, 2017 he had released the 45 minute documentary film, Hi Jolly. Labeled as a “world premier” this documentary was shown first in Quartzsite Arizona the location of the grave of one of the original Greek drovers, known as Hi Jolly by the army soldiers but who called himself, Philip Tedro. According to various other announcements on the Internet this documentary has been shown on May 8, 2018 at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History with other showings for the American Turkish Society in Los Angeles, for a private screening on December 1, 2018 and finally also in Boston.
In the preview of this documentary we see printed on the screen various incredibly incorrect assertions (https://vimeo.com). First this new documentary’s title is Legendary Ottoman Camel Driver Hi Jolly (IMBD.com) with the added explanatory line, “One of America’s First Turkish Immigrants Helped Conquer the West with Camels (http://vimeo.com). No sources are offered to substantiate the claim that contrary to United States army reports and other publications the drovers were all ethnic Greeks. The key issue which I did not recognize as such was in the use of the word “Ottoman.”
Thinking that this film was merely an aberration I sought out a book on Turkish migration to North America. I immediately found, Turkish Migration to the United States. From Ottoman Times to the Present, edited by A. Deniz Balgamis and Kemal H. Karpat (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 2008) a collection of thirteen essays.
Much to my surprise, I found that the thirteen essays found in this volume use primarily American census data. This data correctly found Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Jews, Serbians and assorted others who identified themselves as being born within the Ottoman empire. What I did not expect was that the lives and accomplishments of these same non-ethnic Turks were utilized throughout these essays as contributions of “Ottomans.” The Ottomans were ethnic Turks and the word Ottoman is a historical Anglicization of the name of Osman I, the founder of the Empire and of the ruling House of Osman (also known as the Ottoman dynasty).
All the Armenians, Greeks, Jews and assorted others were not ethnic Turks and so did not have the same legal standing within the Ottoman Empire as Turks. The Ottoman Empire is recognized as one of the very last of the polyethnic, polylingual, polycultural empires of modern times. Compounding this misuse of the Census data is that “The whole Ottoman emigration to the United States is calculated to be between 178,000 and 415,000. Its composition is said to have been 27 percent Greek; 18 per cent Armenian; 6 per cent Jewish; 12 per cent Serbian, Montenegrin, or Bulgarian; 26 per cent Syrian; 5 per cent Turkish and 6 per cent ‘others’ (page 35).” Other data is introduced citing monies and other items sent back to relatives in the Ottoman Empire. The inference in this book is that these funds and items were sent to aid the Empire rather than the individual non-Turkish families and villages from which the American migrants hailed.
The problem here is that I know of no Armenians, Greeks, Ashkenazi and/or Sephardic Jews, Christian Arabs and various other non-ethnic Turks born within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire who ever claimed they were an ethnic Turk. How the Ottoman Empire, which has always been recognized as a poly-ethnic/polyglot political entity all of a sudden became a monoethnic state is never explained. Clearly we have entered the realm of the Big Lie – which if told often enough attempts to replace actual historical events.
Now the bold misrepresentation of modern Turkish history is not limited to the ongoing denial of the Anatolian Holocaust or its direct influence on Adolph Hitler’s decision to initiate it in the final solution. Among Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s (1881-1938) incredible historical claims for ethnic Turks is that the indigenous peoples of North and South America were the descendants of Turkish sailors who had traveled unintentionally to the Western Hemisphere (Foreign Policy November 26, 2014). Taking up this theme the current President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently claimed that none other than Christopher Columbus wrote in his journal that when he first saw the islands of the Caribbean a mosque was visible on a nearby hilltop.
Publishing lunacy and/or outright lies is a serious matter. But as one study after another has shown few Americans bother to read any history after high school. While I have found no statistics on how many Americans – on average, read modern Greek or modern Ottoman history that number, I am assuming, is far far less than the types of books Americans do read in any given year.
So, what are these Turkish intellectuals really doing? First, creating a history the average reader will have no idea is totally false. Which is nothing less than ongoing cultural theft – clearly and simply. And of the basest kind. Yet, in truth, the non-Turks are not those who are injured the most by this series of bald-faced lies. Unintentionally, these self-identified Turkish intellectuals are demeaning the real ethnic Turks who immigrated and now live in North America. What could be worse, or more telling, than to ignore the actual history and accomplishments of Turkish-Americans as insignificant – by their own intellectual class.
Steve Frangos, c. 2018