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Turkey part of us
by Prof. Francesco Tampoia
2007-04-25 09:44:04
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In the past, Napoleon said that if the world were a single state then its capital would be Constantinople, the very cradle of Europe. Even today, amid the traffic-choked streets of modern Istanbul, among the high-rises, the steep alleys and the glowing ancient churches and mosques, you can still feel exactly what he meant.

Istanbul is really a capital, the former capital of the Roman Empire, the former capital of the Ottoman Empire, a vast many-limbed polyglot empire whose heart still beats. An empire that no longer exists, but is covered by the thick air with centuries of civilization, hallowed by history.

Above the Golden Horn, once the wealthiest stretch of water on earth, hovers Hagia Sofia, perhaps the most beautiful church on earth, built in A. D. 537 by the Byzantine emperor Justinian with a dome so broad it was not superseded for centuries, until St. Peter's in Rome. With its different stratifications of civilization, the Cisterna Basilica of Istanbul no doubt is the very symbol of Turkey, the Muslin dome covers not only a Muslin and Turkish universe but also a Greek, Latin, Byzantine, Genoan, Venetian, traditional and modern universe, a melting pot, a mixture of cultures, languages, religions.

Just a quarter-mile away floats its rival, the Blue Mosque, finished in 1616, after the city had fallen to the Muslim Turks. Islam and Christendom, therefore; East and West; Asia and Europe: the clichés are true; they do all meet here, and have brewed up an atmosphere unmatched on the planet. Beyond the Bosphorus there is Asia, but through the Marmara sea we feel we are in Europe, in the Mediterranean Europe.

The myths of these seas, the tales of these coasts are the substratum of Western civilization (Argonauts), the ports of these lands are the irreplaceable places for exchanges between East and West. Turning the pages of history we learn that the Turks came from Asian steppes and became a defence line for Europe facing up further Asiatic incursions. Nowadays religious fundamentalism is an enemy for Turkey.

The term 'secularism' generally means democracy for us, for Turkey it means military power, the same power that, at the beginning of last century, commanded by Ataturk, carried to the transformation of the clerical Muslim state in a modern and Western republic, now looking for integration into Europe.

Concerning the present debate on the Armenian genocide, every country holds its skeletons in the wardrobe, and the only way to free oneself from them is that of drawing them out, especially when it must happen by means the rising generations, that have no guilt. It doesn't help celebrating the Armenians, some of them were guilty too of murders and violence, or lengthening a philological dispute on the term genocide. Let the historians do their work!

The huge mass of dead Armenians doesn't weigh on today's Turkey. For the present generation of Turks and Armenians and to a great extent also of Europeans, the experiences leading up to the Armenian genocide or World War II are today as distant as those of the French Revolution.

(Free translation from the article by C. Magris published on Corriere della Sera, Milan, 21 December 2006).

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