COLOURS OF CHANGING ISTANBUL

COLOURS OF CHANGING ISTANBUL

TWO MEMOIRS BOOKS WHICH HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED BY DERGÂH PUBLICATION EMERGED FROM THE SERIES OF “TURKISH BY WESTERN PERPECTIVES”; “D’ARAMON TRAVEL BOOK” OF JEAN CHESNEAU AND “WHAT I SAW IN ISTANBUL” OF DORINA L. NEAVE

Jean Chesneau is a Christian and French, Dorina L. Neave is a Christian and British. Each of them lived near an ambassador in İstanbul. They had no special mission. Both of them were cosy and they had the possibility to wander as they wish, observed events and people with their special perspectives and wrote them but not like a report to any unit or person. Because of this reason, their memoirs are attractive, important and legible.

Because both writers lived near an ambassador, they remained close to the political events and the daily life. Although memoirs were written on the basis of individual experiences, they could carry the political atmosphere of the period and people’s understanding and the life style to these days. Therefore, collate memoirs allow us to reach interesting ideas and findings in a number of aspects.

Jean Chesneau came to İstanbul in the period of Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century and had chances to watch the military and official ceremony. Chesneau mentioned about Suleiman the Magnificent as “the Great Lord” and “the Great Turk”. With a deep respect and more precise admiration, some apprehension can be detected in his expressions. Chesneau witnessed the greatness of Ottoman State and army, felt the love and the respect of public to the Sultan. Also, he bewared of using bad expressions about the Sultan in even his private notes.

On the other hand, Dorina L. Neave lived in 19th century and  she mentioned about II. Abdulhamid Khan as “the Cursed Sultan” or “the Major Killer”. Seeing that she used these expressions easily in her private memoir, she had not felt any concern, respect and love to the Sultan. Moreover, she had not had cold feet. Now that II. Abdulhamid was so “cruel”, “despot” and “blood sucker”, if so, how could a British lady use these kinds of expressions about him? Can we explain this with the loss of Ottoman’s reputation in 19th century? From this perspective, can we make out the Ottoman’s downfall, disintegration and even destruction in the 19th century?

It is quite interesting that Neave and Chesneau had wrong information about the religion Islam and Muslims although Neave lived for 26 years and Chesneau lived for 7 years in İstanbul. After they had lived so many years in Istanbul, how and why could they be acquired so much wrong information and ideas? The West hadn’t wanted to recognize and understand the Ottomans and Muslims in both the 16th and the 19th century. They had developed opinions and perspectives about the Ottoman and Islam mostly with the extent of power of the State. Whenever the State had fallen from power, they had focused on the negative aspects of the State and whenever the State had showed its power to the whole world, they had focused on the positive aspects of the State and community. In both cases they had acted with the intent of searching and finding what reasons were on the back of power and possessed that power in any way.

Even so, Chesneau and Neave had preferred to be with people of their own religion in Muslim’s cities. Their memoirs reflect a few perspectives of Christian citizens in the Ottoman State. Eventually they had obtained information about the religion Islam from Ottoman’s Christian citizens, and they had looked at Istanbul based on their perspectives and comments. “D’Aramon Travel Book” and “What I Saw In Istanbul” may attain a special significance if they are read within this respect. Maybe,  they uncover many thoughts which are not desired to be seen or benighted.