Question: When is a turkey a cow?
Answer: When the turkey is an Ottoman and the cow is a sacred one.
One - if not the only joys of teaching overseas is picking up those nuggets of misinformation not so much peppered along one's path but tossed overhand and aimed at your head by one's students and then lobbing it back at them (of course, overhand and aimed at their heads). In Morocco, I was inundated with the fact that Morocco was the most beautiful country in the world and that Marrakech was the most beautiful city in the most beautiful country in the world. Reader, it is not. Or that King Hussan II (you've probably never heard of him but the families of his political opponents who were jailed, killed, made to disappear, or exiled are familiar with him) was the most intelligent man in the world. Reader, he was not.
All said with a straight face and the
Imagine my delight to find - because who doesn't like to take a few potshots at sacred cows? - that my Turkish students are no different in their (mis)interpretation of their own history (especially when it comes to that Supreme Herd of Sacred Cows, the Ottomans and their bleeding Empire) than my Moroccan students; in fact, I was going to write this blog posting as an open letter to my students but a number of these little gems have come my way from outside of the classroom so I'll include all Turks.
So for your reading enjoyment and general edification, I offer you, in random order, 10 servings of Sacred Cow à la turque:
1) You are not responsible for the Alhambra in Spain or any other Moorish building because, quite simply, you were never there. Those were the Moors. You were not the Moors. The Moors were the Moors. And while we're at it, Gibraltar was never yours either. Seriously, open up a history book.
2) Formidable foe that you were, the Great Wall of China was not built to keep you out. It was built to stop the Xiongu, a confederation of Central Asian nomadic tribes, from spilling over the borders of the Chinese Empire. The Xiongu, not you. In fact, much of the Great Wall was built before you even existed as any sort of political entity.
3) You did not conquer Europe. Remember Vienna? - that picture-postcard perfect city in Austria? No? - that's because you never got passed its gates. Twice. Granted you tried really hard, but you lost. And then you retreated. And that was the end of your World Domination Tour of Western Europe.
4) Countries and city-states which were "welcomed" into the Ottoman Empire didn't necessarily want to be. Some went screaming and kicking. Greece never seemed too thrilled about it and still chafe at, for example, their subjugation into serfdom and the atrocities committed during their War of Independence. Nor did Armenia. Speaking of Armenia ...
5) The 500,000 (you ballpark it much lower) to 1,500,000 dead Armenians does constitute a genocide whether or not you say that the deaths didn't happen, were not planned, were the result of starvation (not your fault), or better yet - happened because Armenia was a Russian sympathizer. Or my personal favourite: the word genocide didn't enter the lexicon until 1944 and since "the events of 1915" (the Turkish term) happened several decades earlier, it can't possibly be genocide.
6) That you invented yogurt is not a verifiable fact. There is absolutely no evidence that you did. The case for baklava isn't any stronger. Are you sitting down? - raki may not be yours either. If it'll make you feel any better, you can have dibs on Turkish Delight.
7) Words like pantolon (pants), komik (funny), şoför (driver), kuaför (hairdresser), may be used in Turkish but are not, per se, Turkish words. They are French loan words (pantalon, comique, chauffeur, coiffure) and the French loaned them to you, not the other way around. Move on.
8) Why must you say that "Atatürk died of cirrhosis of the liver". Full stop. Period. Please! - he died of cirrhosis of the liver due to heavy alcohol consumption. Enough with the punctuation. Why are you all so ashamed of this? The man liked to drink! - I would too if I were battling with the Ottoman legacy.
9) Kiwifruit is not a hybrid fruit first developed in Turkey. The kiwi hails from China (the Chinese were probably cultivating it while you were being repulsed at the Great Wall) and is not a hybrid. And by the way, although you do grow it here, in 2005 Italy (of all countries) sat atop the world's Top 10 Producers of Kiwifruit list. You weren't even there.
10) You did not invent the stirrup. Please stop saying that you did. No one knows for sure but it was either those ancient horse riding Scythians from modern-day Iran or the Chinese. of course the Chinese claim they invented everything. I'm leaning towards the Scythians.
Oh, and one last thing ... not every Westerner thinks that all Turks are Islamic terrorists and no, the Jews did not all call in sick the morning of 9/11. Those were throwaways but I keep hearing them.
Phew! I feel so much better now.