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Turkish Attitudes Concerning Christians

In: Historical Events

Submitted By muffinstuf
Words 1005
Pages 5
Kendra Olds HY 348 February 15, 2004

Aware that he would not single-handedly change the field of Ottoman studies with this thesis, Roderic Davison does, however, succeed in influencing the trends of research and scholarship in the field. His article, “Turkish Attitudes Concerning Christian-Muslim Equality in the Nineteenth Century,” attempts to add new research to help resolve several main controversies. Disputing previous beliefs of the field, he gives evidence to try to answer the “three questions” he extends towards his audience. Primarily Davison seeks to discover what made the Ottoman Tanzimat period of reform fail. This study necessitates an examination of the attitudes of the Turkish reformers, the traditional and modern views of Muslim-Christian equality, and the views of the millets themselves and European influences. Davison believes that the major reformers genuinely desired the change and appreciated the importance of some degree of equality. Their shortcomings lay in that they did not fully foresee the problems that would be associated with such a reform. In contradicting much of the understanding in the historical knowledge at the time, Davison also claims that the Turkish leaders could absolutely not be the primary reason Christian equality was never achieved in the context of the Ottoman Empire. Equality in the style of the Tanzimat was not desirable to sects, millets, and European powers for a variety of reasons. Many embraced the new trend towards nationalism and desired no longer to even be members of the empire. Associating with their European co-religionists, some millets aspired to be separate states. Changes associated with the reform were also undesirable to millet communities, such as universal conscription. Davison uses all of these reasons to explain that the Ottomans, no matter what their attitudes were, could not have been solely responsible for the undoing of the Tanzimat. But even so, he defends their attitudes, and claims that although the reformers actions were catalyzed by self-interest, in trying to protect themselves from impending European intervention, that “crisis, therefore, helped to crystallize and precipitate reform projects already considered.” Davison appeals to scholars who have held the previously almost universal view, that the Ottoman reformers were hypocritical and self-serving. He seems to rely on the hope that they had never before considered another point of view. Although he states his beliefs and defends them, Davison also connects with his audience by stating that “there is a need for more penetrating investigation and analysis of the Tanzimat period than has yet been undertaken either by Turkish or Western historians. Instead of criticizing his peers for failing to consider other viewpoints, he invokes them to aid in researching, to change the direction or perspective of their studies. In 1954, when this article was published, the context that it fit into was one in which much of the previous scholarship was from the European point of view, which had attacked Ottoman intentions. Many of the scholars were studying the Middle East from without, and adhered to a generally homogenous view. In his language and style, he is respectful of his peers, and therefore seems to be more likely of succeeding in persuading them. Davision extends his thesis in hopes of not only achieving a better understanding of the reformers and the causes of decline in the empire, but also to change the way historians viewed Middle Eastern studies in all fields and disputed questions. Implying that if it had been possible to misapprehend Ottoman officials in this aspect, other mistakes could have been supposed, and therefore there is merit in looking at history from many different angles, including sympathetically. As all historical attempts to understand attitudes, Davison’s article is important because in comprehending how attempts at change were chosen, and how they failed, our society is able to see trends. This argument fits into the world, and serves the interests of everyone, as future failures can be prevented. As we can see that the millets had much to do with ruining their chances for equality within the empire, for example, we could help other societies today achieve equality successfully. Davison appeals to his readers’ sense of reason to overcome their previous prejudices. By using statements from the statesmen and representatives of communities, the audience is able to see undeniable evidence that supports his view of the attitudes of the people. Perhaps the major assumption that is missing from the argument is the power of the connection between attitudes and historical events. Confidently, Davison counts on the integrity of scholars to care about a correct interpretation of history. Assuming that he shares values with his audience, he relies on them to want to accurately represent the attitudes of historical figures, even if it reflects negatively on their fellow countrymen, or changes an entire field of current understanding. Shaping his arguments to best serve his purpose, Davison patterns this piece by stating traditional arguments of Ottoman scholars, and then gives evidence to refute them. Although he cedes that many of the reform movements did serve the interests of the statesmen, he then turns it around and states that “because this was a self-interested version of the doctrine of equality, it was no less honestly meant by its proponents.” Shrewdly utilizing both European and Ottoman primary sources, Davison is wise to convince his readers with evidence with which they are familiar, and therefore perceive as more trustworthy. His argument is more convincing, then, to his intended audience because there exists evidence from European historical figures. But perhaps his strongest evidence in defense of the Ottoman men of reform are statements they made, or examples of precedents they set earlier in their lives. These show a genuine desire for reform, and a belief that the empire needed a change, and that equality, in some form, should be mandated. Davison is convincing, and does succeed in reaching his goals, for even if some traditionalist scholars maintain their position, with this display of evidence, it would be impossible to deny the need for increased research in the field.

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