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The Horde Islamic Legacies

Uncanny Beloveds and the Return of the Repressed

Ottoman Encounters with the Qipchaq Steppe
De troublants amis ou le retour du refoulé : regards Ottomans sur la steppe Qipchaq
Maya Petrovich
p. vol. 143


Résumé : Au cours de l'histoire ottomane, une alliance de longue date avec la Maison Giray avait permis une coopération militaire entre Ottomans et Tatars; pourtant, les écrivains ottomans classiques entretenaient une position paradoxale vis à vis des Tatars de Crimée. Un courant de traditions les présentait comme d’habiles et beaux guerriers, mais une prétendue trahison des Tatars lors de la bataille contre Tīmūr en 1402 devint aussi un motif récurrent de l'historiographie ottomane, justifiant l'ambivalence que les élites de cour ressentaient envers les Gengiskhanides et le monde des steppes septentrionales. La période dramatique de l'expulsion des Tatars et leur réinstallation dans les territoires ottomans dans les années 1850 et 1860 conduisirent progressivement les écrivains ottomans à une réévaluation de la Crimée, projetant une nouvelle image romantique des Tatars devenus des musulmans héroïques, assiégés et loyaux. Enfin, au xxe siècle, de nouveaux paradoxes surgirent, présentant les Tatars - autrefois nomades - comme étroitement apparentés à la mer Noire et à l'Anatolie, mais aussi nettement exotiques et « asiatiques ». Cette étude démontre que des processus complexes et cycliques de fluidité et de cristallisation étaient continuellement à l’œuvre dans les perceptions ottomanes et dans leurs définitions des peuples non-ottomans et des Tatars en particulier.

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Yаzıma bilmäm, oqumа bilmäm, män naslı rämil tökiim? From Radloff’s Proben

1In spite of the strong awareness of Crimean presence in the Ottoman world, relatively few studies have been produced on Ottoman interactions with Tatars. The same could be said about Ottoman ethnologies of Uzbeks, Iranians and Mughals, let alone the Chinese. A persistent imbalance reveals itself, as studies of Ottoman encounters with the French, the Dutch and the English number in the hundreds, yet their much more intimate and vital relations with other Muslim peoples are severely neglected.

2This study will emphasize a moyenne durée perception of Tatars as the common core of Crimean and Kazan identity, filtered through the prism of changing Ottoman subjectivities. By tracing the “etic” outsider view of the Tatars by Ottomans (rather than the “emic” views of the Tatars themselves), we will investigate some continuities and ruptures between what one might term the “classical” (16th-18th c.) and the first layer of “modern” (19th and early 20th c.) periods of Ottoman interactions with the steppe.

3Ottoman interactions with Crimean Tatars were a practical, everyday matter, unlike the largely symbolic and sporadic relations with the courts of South Asia. Continuous military cooperation in Eastern and Central Europe and mercantile contacts across the Black Sea constituted a permanent necessity. Nevertheless, before the 19th century, Tatars in Ottoman discourse were also frequently coded as denizens of strange and unreliable lands, with their own peculiar customs and occasional bouts of irrationality. Allies they might have been, useful and hardened by their environment; yet, ultimate safety and civilization resided in the Ottoman realm alone.

4A striking similarity emerges here with the case of Mughal India. We have inherited a late 19th century vision, shaped by colonialism in full bloom and nascent pan-Islamism, which dictates a harmonious and unchanging tableau of genuine affection between the two Sunni realms of distant Central Asian origin and persistent evocations of impotence in the face of overwhelming Europeans and Shi‘a Iran. In reality, Ottoman-Mughal relations were barbed rather than cordial, involving regular outbursts and episodes of braggadocio, inevitably shaped through the ever-shifting rhythms of alliances with the Safavids. Through almost three centuries, their prevalent note was one of contestations and petty squabbles over dynastic titles. Sunnism counted for little more than a ritualistic evocation, and any reminiscence of a shared Central Asian past was completely absent and irrelevant (Petrovich, 2012; 435). The Mughal example serves as a useful warning about the insidious projection of our own post-colonial concerns onto an earlier age, an insertion which still prevents us from correctly situating primary sources within their own context.

  • 1 Thomsen, 1896: 140; for details, see Sümer,1995: 50-61; Golden, 2000: 370-371.

5Let us start with an archaeology of ambiguities accumulated by the deceptively simple moniker “Tatar.” It owes its initial popularity in Latin through the report of the mission to Qaraqorum, composed in 1247 by the Franciscan Plano Carpini, the Ystoria Mongalorum, also known as the Liber Tartarorum. Even before entering medieval European cultural vocabulary, where the word acquired an additional consonant by “felicitous” association with the Greek term for the underworld, Τάρταρος, the term had a tangled history (for its reception, see F. Schmieder, 1994:133-5). There is no conclusive evidence to its provenance, although it seems to be first attested in Kül Tigin Orkhon inscriptions, rather than in Mongolic proper1. In the era of the conquests of the 13th century, the term “Tatar” came to be applied metonymically for all Mongols by outsiders, gradually emerging into a general ethnonym (and entonym) in spite of Chinggis’s antagonism to the rival Tatar confederacy. Its usage is imprecise and meandering in Turkish as well as in European languages. It seems that additional clarification is inevitably required: are they one people or several; Mongols, Turks or perhaps both?

6Kazan Tatars have inherited some of that medieval mystique in Anatolian eyes because of their geographical remoteness. In modern Turkish, “Tatar” often stands simply for Crimean Tatars, with merely a vague understanding that Turkic speakers from the remote Volga region experienced a related historical trajectory under the Golden Horde. In linguistic terms, Kazan Tatar and Crimean Tatar both belong to different branches of Qipchaq (itself a complex designation) rather than Oghuz Turkic, with the Crimean variety being classified as closer to Karaim and the Caucasian Karachay-Balkar, while Kazan Tatar is considerably more akin to the Bashkir of the Ural region (Johanson, 1998: 81-125). Nevertheless, because of centuries of close interactions with Anatolian Turkish, Crimean Tatar can also be regarded as a transitional form between Oghuz and Qipchaq proper.

7Such linguistic and ethnological details may seem arcane, but they are deeply relevant to Ottoman and modern Turkish perception of Tatars as a “near abroad.” Crimean speech and customs resemble the Azeri cultural space by being intimate and yet alien, unlike the presence of Kazakh and Kyrgyz speakers who often symbolize the utter exoticism of the Turco-Altaic past, similar to the Mongols, and whose speech and manners cannot be understood by Anatolians without an extensive study. In our examination of Ottoman and modern Turkish conceptualizations of Crimean Tatars, this constant dance of alternating familiarity and strangeness remains the red thread which connects those experiences across space and time.

The classic Ottoman times: archers, ancestors and fleas

8From the perspective of an ascendant Istanbul, the entire Deşt-i Qıpçaq, along with its inhabitants, was destined to be united under Ottoman rule, as demonstrated by its incorporation into official titulature since 1478, most visible to Europeans in the later ‘ahdnāmes of Sultan Süleymān. Beyond those nominal and ideological claims, the definition of the controllable northern steppe shape-shifted conveniently, shrinking and expanding at will. In practical terms, the Crimean Khanate was largely independent, requiring no permission from Ottomans to engage in raids. It persisted as a crucial and valuable ally to the Ottomans in their wars against Russia, Poland and Austria-Hungary. Nevertheless, sources from the initial phases of Ottoman hegemony demonstrate that courtly perspectives on nomadic and pastoralist peoples, including those of Turkic speech, were often deprecatory.

9Tatars from Crimea, as well as Kazan, were usually depicted as familiar yet exotic, trustworthy yet dangerous. In classical Ottoman times, their relative physical remoteness, their propensity for seemingly unregulated bouts of raiding, and their linguistic expression, couched in archaic Qipchaq rather than courtly Oghuz, would have constituted the most prevalent markers of alienness. The implicit lineage of the Tatars included their descent from an older empire of the Chinggisids, but this reality is curiously circumvented in most Ottoman writing, which tends to ignore the political categories of the Golden Horde past, focusing on the socio-geographical marker of the pastoralist steppe instead.

  • 2 Temür still needed to bolster his legitimacy by supporting a puppet Chagatayid and becoming the roy (...)

10The last point is crucial. A brief and opportunistic alliance between Temür and Tatars shaped Ottoman visions of the steppe and nomadic peoples for centuries. The claim of belonging to Chinggisid line of succession via Temür lingered on as a vital element in early modern political cultures of not only the Islamic Central Asia, but also Iran and Mughal India.2 However, Chinggisid-Timurid heritage usually evoked distinct memories of imperial collapse and civil war in Anatolia; as such, it was unpopular among later Ottoman historians (the cursing epithets attached to Chinggis Khan’s name in the Ḫābnāme-i Veysī of 1608 are somewhat typical), with the notable exception of Muṣṭafa ‘Alī (Fleischer, 1986: 284-87).

11While their vassals, the Giray Khans of Crimea, retained many political discourses from the Golden Horde, Ottoman historical consciousness of Chinggisid legitimacy was usually couched in ambivalent and negative terms. The standard narrative, inherited from the ‘Abbasids, was reinforced by Seljūq struggles against the Ilkhanids and, most significantly, Temür’s brief invasion of Anatolia in 1402. Tatars had committed the equivalent of an original sin by betraying Ottoman forces at the crucial moment. It is arguable whether the “Tatars” of this episode is merely a codeword for unruly Anatolian pastoralists, as opposed to proper Ottoman subjects (Kastritsis, 2013: 13), but the association remained salient. This “historical baggage” pertaining to the dangers of the steppe and its warriors was cyclically evoked by historians until the late 19th century, when Ottoman identity as a whole was completely reconfigured and many of its signs reversed.

12In Ottoman poetry, Tatars usually appear as a particular type of a foreign beloved. Inherited through the Persian tradition, yet subtly modified within Ottoman perimeters, these carefully classified tropes (and traps) of the imaginary include Tatars among cosmic strangers, who are usually seductive and dangerous to the normative Ottoman self. Such perils come in various shapes; for instance, the Franks use the weapon of charming intelligence; the Georgians, their sheer beauty; the Ethiopians, the particular sweetness of their character. All of those non-Ottomans ultimately belong to different horologies and ruling planets, which render their categorization innate and internally consistent (Petrovich, 2012: 263f.).

13Within this heuristic, the Saturnian Indian is dark and morose and sometimes coded as the direct opposite to the bellicose and seductive Turk or Tatar. Those steppe peoples, ruled by Mars, are active in nature rather than passive. Inherently warrior-like, they are capable of bringing down the civilized heart of the Ottoman self through the arrows of their lashes alone, as Mongol armies once did when they destroyed Baghdad. The hidden connection between the Indian and the Tatar is also revealed here; they both operate not only with physical weapons, but also by resorting to black magic.

  • 3 For the texts of the original poems in transliteration, see Andrews et al, 2006. While the poetic a (...)

14These motifs are interwoven and implicit for many Ottoman poets. One pertinent example is Nā’ilī (d.1666), who addressed the uncanny Tatar beloved in following terms:3

What kind of a magician are you/
The land of my soul has turned into a Baghdad of the heart under your covenant/Your eyelashes are Tatar soldiers, you yourself are Hülegü.”
Nice cādūsun sen/Döndi Baġdād-i dile kişver-i cān ‘ahdiñde/Müjeler leşker-i Tātār/ Ḫulāgūsun sen (Andrews et al., 2006: 296)

15Even when the Tatars set aside their bows, they still cause mayhem, as demonstrated in the famous lines by the poet Necātī (d.1503):

Those glances pour down arrow-eyelashes on the province of the soul/
Just like that Tatar who conjures rain with his spell.”
Ġamzeler kim cān iline tīr-i müjgān yaġdurur/Benzer ol Tātāra kim siḥr ile bārān yaġdurur;) (Andrews et al., 2006: 274)

16Bāqī (d. 1600), one of the luminaries of Ottoman literary scene, also employs the motif of the ambiguous gamze, which can be a dimple as well as a glance and which has plundered every single abode, depriving the heart of safety on the road of love (‘Aşkuñ yolında bulmadı dil emn ü rāhatı/ Tātār-ı gamzeñ eyledi yaġmā konak konak; Küçük, 1994: 243). While chronicles retained a sombre tone about the episode at Ankara, poetry created spaces where historical trauma could be playfully displayed and dismissed. Bāqī thus alludes to a Tatar connection to Temür, and the conqueror’s disability through the term leng (lame):

Thousands would profess limping excuses, flee, shun the battlefield/
If the Tatar of your glance challenged Timur himself to war.”
(Hezārān ‘özr-i leng eyler kaçar meydāna gelmezdi/
Eger Tātār-ı gamzeñ da‘vet itse cenge Timurı)
(Küçük, 1994: 287).

17Such poetic claims are inherently hyperbolic and oneiric, but they had a real consequence for at least one poet: Lāmi’ī (d.1532), who was exposed to public ridicule when he extolled a young man whom he nicknamed Memi, the Tatar heart-thief.

His eyebrow a bow, his eyelash an arrow, his glance a dagger/
Is there a beloved in the entire world like Memi the Tatar?
(Kaşı kemān müjesi tīr u ġamzesi hancer/
Tātār Memi gibi var mı cihānda bir dil-ber)

18Lāmi’ī, a respectable man of letters who breached an unspoken protocol by mentioning a real person, was hounded down by the young man’s admirers and lovers with relentless satire (hicv) and foul invectives (ġalīẓ şetm). They wounded (zaḫm itdiler) the poet with speech as if with stones (seng-i ṭa‘n), indirectly causing his demise (see‘Aşik Çelebi, Kılıç, 2010: 747-748; summarized in Andrews 2006: 224-5.)

19Evidently, Tatars existed in other genres of Ottoman writing, not only poetry. As Aḥmed Dede Müneccimbaşı (d. 1702) demonstrates in his universal history, an educated Ottoman could easily gain at least some basic knowledge of Tatar dynasties. Its concise, yet informed summary of the Ulus Jochi appears in the printed translation of the Arabic original (Müneccimbaşı, 1285/1886: II, 689-693). Nedīm, his translator into Ottoman, also included a list of the first 24 Giray Khans, relying on the 18th c. chronicle Al-sab‘ al-siyār fī aḫbār mulūk al-Tātār, one of the major sources for V.D. Smirnov, upon whom much of Russian scholarship still relies.

20Müneccimbaşı aside, the relative neglect of Crimean poetic and historiographic production by Ottomans ensured that the tradition dwelled within a separate universe which was closely related to Istanbul circles, yet simultaneously distanced from it. In the usual hegemonic tradition of peripheral vassalage, information primarily flowed from the imperial centre to the steppe periphery. Yet, obscurity also meant that at least some aspects of local sovereignty, such as the unabashed pride in Chinggisid lineage, could be preserved and cultivated locally.

21Perhaps Ottoman writers found it convenient to admit only a partial and fragmentary memory of Chinggisid past, replacing it with that of a somewhat ahistorical Tatar archer and raider who fulfilled his services at battlefields across eastern Europe and at the margins of the Ottoman world proper. Nevertheless, the northern steppe persisted as a stubborn reality which could not be erased. Its vastness and mercilessness lurked within the minds of those familiar with that part of the world, since its contingencies were capable of transforming those loyal, seemingly domesticated Crimean Tatar allies into an incarnation of their ancestors, the bloodthirsty infidels of the 13th century who sacked Baghdad. A wise policy kept them close, yet at a certain distance not devoid of marvel.

22These dynamics are particularly evident in writings by Evliyā Çelebi (d.1682). Unlike the more mellifluous courtly writers, Evliyā’s more colloquial speech illuminates the Ottoman equivalent of a “middle-brow” conception of the world. In spite of his manifest and magnificent curiosity about the human condition, demonstrated for instance in the snippets of foreign languages he relentlessly collected, his writings reflect what we could call, in mildly Gramscian terms, the Ottoman “common sense”, mingling the reasonable and the fantastical. Evliyā spent a substantial amount of time among Crimean Tatars, to the extent that he adopted their speech on occasion, provoking comments that he had turned into a Tatar. Nevertheless, Evliyā’s attitude toward his comrades-in-arms is consistently one of ambivalence, and an entire monograph could be dedicated to his contradictory statements about them.

23Even in the 17th century, Temür’s reputation in Ottoman Anatolia was questionable. In Evliyā’s travelogue, derogatory epithets such as “deprived of light” (bī-nūr) and “violent (pür-zor) accompany most mentions of Temür’s campaigns in eastern Anatolia (Dağlı et al., IV: 194, 204, 216, 322, passim). His rival Toqtamish fares similarly. In Evliyā’s retelling of the events, as many as twelve thousand treacherous Tatar cavalry forces defected to Temür during the battle at Ankara, thus deciding the course of the battle. The Ottoman sultan was captured because of his inexperienced horse. When it comes to the encounter between Temür and Yıldırım, Evliyā relies on popular history rather than Timurid sources. He repeats the story common among Europeans (and popularized by Marlowe’s play as well as later operatic versions by Handel and Vivaldi) that Bayazid I was placed in a cage by Temür. Evliyā adds that the sultan was avenged by his son, who massacred those rebel Tatars and made umbrellas from their skin (idem, I, 35)!

24Crimean Tatars, while undoubtedly displaying bravery in their conquest of Moscow and the siege of Hotin, are notoriously inclined to inflict excessive harm to their enemies, regardless of their shared Muslim faith, as in the infamous attack on Tabriz, during which they demolished the entire city (idem, I, 28). In his own time, Evliyā condones the pillaging of Polish territories, feeling deep empathy with the suffering of Crimean Muslim captives; yet, he is distinctly uncomfortable with Crimean attacks on the Nogay in 1665, which he compares to the destruction of the ʿAbbasid Baghdad in 1258 (Dankoff, 2004: 112).

25Such internal distancing could be expected from a palace-born and bred Ottoman; yet, Evliyā’s reading of Islamic history reaches far beyond his own lifetime to justify the fluctuations in his perception of steppe denizens. He knew through direct experience that the reality of the life in the steppe was far messier than could ever be admitted in official communications, and that many raids by Cossacks and by Crimean Tatars could not be controlled by the courts which professed to govern them (see, for instance, a comprehensive discussion in Kołodziejczyk, 2011:16ff).

  • 4 Orthography as in the original edition.

26Such musings shape the underlying texture of Evliyā’s analysis, when, toward the end of his work, he avows that no nation except for the Arabs could be compared in numbers to that of Tatars; during his travels, he has not seen a more populous nation (rūy-i arzda […] Tatar kavminden çok bir kavim görmedim, X, 35). 4 No wonder, since he includes within their ranks not merely the Turkic speakers, but also the Muscovites themselves, northern China, Khotan, India and the Persians, as well as, somewhat underhandedly, the Ottoman family (kavm-i Kazak ve Özbek ve Nogay ve Heşdek ve Maskov ve Çīn ve Hıtā vü Hoten ü Fağfūr ve Libka ve Badrak [ve] Hind ü Sind ve Acem ve Etrāk-i Türkmān ve āl-i Osmān dahi cümle Tatar'dan müteferriklerdir, X, 35). In addition, he claims that the original Tatar language was Arabic, leading to the grand conclusion that Adam himself was perhaps a Tatar (Bizzāt Hazret-i Ādem Tatar-sıfāt idi, idem, IV, 95). In short, Tatars, as universal nomads, might just be everyone’s troublesome relatives.

27Before chuckling at Evliyā’s naïveté, we should remember that Leibniz (d.1716), who was his junior by some twenty years, similarly alternated between dread and vivid curiosity about “Scythians” and Tatars. Ultimately moved by the same Japhethic (or even proto-Nostratic) current, the German philosopher stated in his Brevis designatio meditationum de originibus gentium (1710) that there were numerous vestiges of some common ancestral tongue in all languages spoken from the British islands to the coasts of Japan, and their prevalence could only be explained by either a shared ancestry, or, as he speculated more cautiously in his refutation of Locke, the Nouveaux essais (1704), by a steady migration and mingling of peoples across the expanse of the steppe, rather than by mere accident or commercial ties (quotes as reproduced in Neff, 1871: II/27).

28Incidentally, Leibniz had been thrilled by Manchu ascendance to such an extent that he engaged in regular correspondence with European Jesuits at the court of Kāngxī emperor (d.1722), even envisioning common universities across Eurasia. Paradoxically, the waning of such universalist visions coincides with the end of the 18th century, when a “disenchanting of Asia” as a site of learning for Europeans took place, prefiguring the advent of the imperialist epoch, with its one-sided mission civilisatrice (Osterhammel, 1998:394f.)

  • 5 I thank Arkadiusz Blaszczyk, of Gießen University, for information on those Polish and Ottoman para (...)

29Biblical implications aside, similarities between the judgements made by Leibniz and Evliyā were not entirely coincidental. Ottoman writers also concurred with their Polish contemporaries in their assessment of the living conditions of steppe Tatars, focusing on their unusual nutritional virtues and vices. Their velocity was matchless. They grew into fierce warriors because they could survive on so little, even forsaking water for lengths at a time. Their moderation in food freed them from dependence on grain commerce. The dark side of such admiration for Tatar frugality and their remarkable speed of movement emerged in their predilection for unrefined and barely cooked food. 5

30In short, steppe Tatars offered an Ottoman equivalent to Rousseau’s concept of noble savages (in turn inspired by Montaigne’s famous essay). Their customs and peculiarities gave them superhuman abilities of endurance in battle, but it also rendered them more animalistic and even repellent in spite of their occasional cooperation with urban dwellers. Accordingly, their cleanliness was questionable, as in the Turkish riddle about a flea, which equates it with the arrival of a Tatar who should be squeezed and crushed with the fingernails (gelince Tatarına/ben ona tutarina, parmakla sıkarına/tırnakla ezerine, see Başgöz, 1973:332).

19th century transformations: a world of loss

31Fāẓıl Enderūnlu (d. 1810) does not mention insects, yet his deprecations of Tatars in the often-cited, but seldom read Zenānnāme and Ḫubānnāme are remarkably vicious even without that detail. Aware of his departure from the classical Ottoman tradition and explicit about it, he reviles young Tatar men, moaning that he cannot fathom why poets have praised such unworthy beloveds (bende bilmem ki nedendir şu‘arā’ /çeşm-i tātārī ider īmā’),who are ugly of face and lack symmetry in limbs (zeşt olur çehre-i cins-i Tātār /sanma a‘zāda tenāsübları var). Perennially beardless (köse, which is still an insult in many parts of the Balkans), flat-nosed (burnu gāyetle yassı) and broad-faced (yüzü vüs‘atlu), they are deficient even when it comes to coquettishness (olmaya nāz u edā’ u eṭvārı). “What use could I possibly have for a Mongol boy (neme lāzım benim oġlan-i Moġol)?” asks the writer (Enderūnlu, 1253: 44).

32As for the women, whose brief description is squeezed between the more adulatory sections about Bosnians and Georgians: they are all the same, just as bad as the men or worse (zenleri bed dahi ol oġlanları bed/birbinden bilemem qangı eşedd). Their faces resemble those of monkeys (cānavār çehreli maymūn sīmā) (Idem, 1253: 87). Enderūnlu displays similarly unsavoury sentiments and invectives in his descriptions of Indian and east African beloveds (in contrast to the generally charming visuals which accompany the illustrated manuscripts such as T.Y. 5502), but proving a consistently ethnocentric perspective on his part is an impossible task, since he copiously praises Ethiopian (habeş) and even “Gypsy” (çingene) beloveds. In the absence of additional studies, we cannot say whether his provocative perspective springs from personal predilections and a twisted sense of humour, the general taste of his time, or simply a moment of cruel whimsy.

33Fortunately, not all Ottomans agreed with Enderūnlu. The Qāmūs-i Tūrkī dictionary mentions the established trope of barely cooked foods, but then emphasizes entries which pertain to the association between Tatars and rapid postal services (Sāmī, 370). The adjective tātārī connotes speed and communication, as reflected in the name of the short-lived humoristic newspaper, Çıngıraklı Tatar (The Tinkling Tatar), established by Theódoros Kasápis, the first Ottoman translator of Dumas’s Comte de Monte Cristo, in April 1873. The newspaper, and its association with Tatars, is alluded to in a Karagöz play called Gazeteci, first recorded by Ignác Kunós in 1886 (Kudret, 2004: III, 1186).

34The universe of late Ottoman orta oyunu theatre form is also congenial, although not always flattering. Its staging includes several appearances by Tatar actors, for instance in Mehmet Safer’s Mahalle Baskını yahut Şalgam Hoca, which features a cameo by a character called Necmī. His linguistic peculiarities and a propensity for rough behaviour put him in the realm of ethnic jokes about rustics, alongside an Azeri-speaking Persian man, a Kurd, a Laz and a man from Kayseri (Kudret, 2003: II, 268).

  • 6 Rendered here in standard Turkological notation.

35In the better-known play of Ferhad ve Şirin, the Tatar enters with a characteristic theme song, played on a zurna and reinforced by his singing. The comic possibilities of his pronunciation are fully exploited in the articulation of his Russian-influenced prolonged alveolar trill (rrr), in contrast to the shorter tap of the standard Turkish r, alongside with his switching of voiced and unvoiced stops and the formation of participles with the ending –GAn instead of –mIş.6 Evidently, such mockery entirely depends on the audience’s adherence to Istanbul-normative speech, since none of these characteristics would appear as remarkable to any Central Asian speaker of Turkic. Employed merely for the sake of quick laughter, this Tatar at least possesses a more respectable name and title, Ibrāhīm Agha. Unlike the ruffian of the other play, he is a merchant (Kudret, 2003: IV, 366).

36The Crimean war provided an impetus for a European-wide examination of Tatar history. Many of those works, including a dissertation by Smirnov, still form the basis for much of contemporary scholarship, particularly in Russian (for Smirnov’s brutal assessment of the bibliography of Ottoman works in Hammer-Purgstall’s Geschichte der Chane der Krim, see Smirnov, 1887: vii-viii). This negligence does not rest with Hammer-Purgstall alone: more than a century later, no critical examination of the sources which he and Smirnov mention has yet taken place.

37An earlier hypothesis for this study suggested that a significant shift had taken place in the Ottoman perception of steppe Tatars after the Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula–a reasonable assumption, given the vast historical impact of the Küçük Kaynarca treaty of 1774. Nevertheless, it seems that a largely positive vision of Tatars in Ottoman public consciousness prevailed much later, only in the aftermath of the Crimean War. While Ottoman archives attest that the painful resettlement of Caucasians and Crimeans caused numerous tussles with local populations, official Ottoman historiography of the Tatars changes its tone decidedly, even when it draws on its own heritage rather than European materials. Amusing and scurrilous jabs at the expense of the nomads grow rare; the prevalent note mutes to one of solidarity with the fellow Muslims, dedicated to a melancholic preservation of the past.

38Unlike Evliyā and most classical writers, for whom Tatar associations with Chinggis overshadowed all of their subsequent achievements, Ṭayyārzāde (d. ca. 1880) includes an extensive list of Tatar rulers which also serves as a lament. He states that all 44 of them carried out their service to Islam dutifully, acting on behalf of “nomads as well as settled peoples”, with the exception of the accursed Şāhin Giray, who allowed Russians to create a “breach”. (bedeviyyet ve medeniyyete himmetle millet-i İslāmiyyenin şān u şöhretini i‘lāya hıdmet itmişler; see Ṭayyārzāde, 2010: V, 526).

39Aḥmed Cevdet Paşa (d.1895), the renowned historian and legislator, had been shaped by the experience of the Tanzimat period, and knew both Ottoman traditions and French. His Tezākir are more succinct than the copious Tārīḫ, which aspires to project a comprehensive image of the Ottoman past. In a few sentences, Cevdet traces the history of Crimean Tatars back to the Chinggisid expansion, and, more significantly, to the period during which the Crimea belonged to the same state as the Tatars of Kazan and Astrakhan (evocatively rendered as Ejderkhān). There is no mention of Jochi or any other Golden Horde ruler, or any sense of its progression over time. The entity over which Kazan once ruled is also unnamed by Cevdet, yet he recognizes it as having once been remarkably powerful in its ability to extend its borders all the way to the Danube and to extract taxation from Russians (Aḥmed Cevdet, 1954: I, 90-100). Without being able or willing to reconstruct the Horde’s development beyond a vague reference to the original Mongols, Cevdet still rehistoricizes Tatars in late Ottoman consciousness. Unlike the opportunistic steppe dwellers of Evliyā’s imagination, who enter the Ottoman world as plunderers who defect to Temür, Cevdet’s vision configures Crimean Tatars as an arm of the Kazan state, compelled by circumstances into long-term alliances with the Ottoman court.

40Admittedly, Cevdet still signals a minor note of discontent with the proverbial pastoralist unruliness. The conquest of the Caucasus by the Mongols, including Armenia and Ēǰmiatsin itself, remains within the older framework of Ottoman interpretation of Islamic history, coded as a violent and rather threatening intrusion by the steppe world (Tātāristan-i kebir) into Anatolia. Cevdet’s remarkable position at the boundaries of the old and the new learning is also demonstrated by his brief evocation of Goths, Alans, Huns and Khazars, from his readings of contemporaneous European histories. A comprehensive reevaluation of the Turkic past, succinctly summarized by D. Kushner, was in its beginnings when Cevdet passed away.

41For once, Tatars were fortunate as new states emerged. Within the new ideological configuration, they were cast as both Muslim and Turkic; their venerable nomadic past made them superior even to other exemplary subjects of the dissolving empire, such as Bosnians and Circassians.


42Crimean Tatars hold a special place in the cultural life of modern Turkey. The unusual bilingual layout of the Kırım Bülteni, a regular biannual publication of the Ankara-based Kırım Türkleri Kültür ve Yardımlaşma Derneği, aims at descendants of Crimean Tatars in Turkey. This proud display of the ethnic particularity stands in sharp contrast to the way in which another Turkic minority from Kirkuk in northern Iraq was portrayed in Turkish media in the mid-2000s. In the case of Iraqi Turks, most traces of non-standard expression were carefully monitored and even dubbed over. As presented to the average viewer, they spoke through their folkloric performances rather than through their own linguistic variety.

43This “preferential treatment” given to Crimean Tatars, enabling them to present themselves in their own words, cannot erase the threatening reality, since the number of fluent speakers is painfully low and the language considered critically endangered, in Turkey and elsewhere. A subtle Crimean ethos persists among a few renowned historians whose families belonged to its exiled elites, including Halil İnalcık and İlber Ortaylı. The purpose of displaying the Crimean language as a component of a surviving “Tatar ideal” resides primarily in the weighty emotional resonance, which the Black Sea as a whole retains in modern Turkish consciousness. The Caucasus, to which many families also trace their roots, resembles the Crimea in terms of evoking the sufferings of exile and loss, but it does not present such an image of a perfect mirror, a paradise lost across the sea.

44Simultaneously, traces of inherited negativity and ethnocentricity still remain with us. In spite of a generally favourable and nostalgic image of the Tatars throughout the 20th century, ravages of a crude physical anthropology, by no means unique to Turkey, have also created a fixed image which is (Enderūnlu aside) not at all common in classical literature (where the Tatars tend to be beautiful): the stereotypically slant-eyed (çekik gözlü) and thus more deeply “Asiatic” Tatar. Such facile references can be found in Nāzim Hikmet as well as in the contemporary popular online slang dictionary, ekşi sözlük, once again implying thorny questions of ancestry, ethnicity and Europeanness.

45Similar continuities and ruptures, malevolent and benign, would lead us to believe that at least some of those points of reference are perennial fixtures of Turkish and Ottoman intellectual and cultural history. In reality, as this survey of the problématique has demonstrated, ideas concerning the self and the purported “others” are never frozen or static; rather, they are highly circumstantial and malleable, not only in our century, but also during the classical Ottoman past. In politics, literature and quotidian life, heroes easily turn into villains and vice versa.

46To borrow psychological terms which perhaps originate with Stendhal’s study of love from 1822: in the initial stage, cyclical moments of fluid conceptions occur, when many contradictions within the consciousness are allowed and even indulged. They are matched by their counterparts, sudden moments of hardening and crystallization, when a new consensus is formed. Within that framework, we might suggest that the turbulent events of the 1850s, resulting in a massive reshifting of populations, have crystalized the image of tragically betrayed, yet perennially loyal Tatars in Ottoman and Turkish consciousness–almost a precise opposite of the dreaded and opportunistic steppe nomads of earlier centuries. By mourning the specificity of the Crimean catastrophe, we are also allowed to grieve for the general passing of an idealized Ottoman commonwealth.

47More than a history of real Tatars, this probe has been an excursion into the land of Ottoman dreams, where they, along with other ethnicities, often appear as shadows and ghosts. Flattering and insulting images of the Tatars usually complement and by no means exclude each other. This inherent ambivalence can teach us much about the landscapes of Ottoman self-perception. Unfortunately, the all-pervading positivist proclivity of the field at large means that we still lack in-depth studies of the more disturbing aspects of Ottoman imaginary space; for instance, an equivalent of the classic monograph by Dudley and Novak, The Wild Man Within. Recent thoughtful studies on the concept of time in the Ottoman realm perhaps portend an exciting future, one in which studies of court literary production can be seamlessly integrated with archival materials.

48Inextricably tied to the Ottomans through the shades of their common language and their allegiances in the world of Realpolitik, the alien and yet familiar nature of steppe Tatars primarily reveals itself through their ingrained nomadic habitus. Thus, the Tatars of classical Ottoman literature represent more than just another trope: their occasionally impure magic heralds nothing less than a cyclical return of the ancestral repressed. Once the northern steppe vanished, physical vitality of the protected domains of the post-Byzantine urban Anatolia and the Balkans also crumbled. Yet Tatars and their horses still haunt the landscapes of post-Ottoman dreams. Who else but a nomad could carry out the Mercurial task of conveying messages between different parts of the empire, whether dead or alive, imagined or real?

CEVDET PAŞA Aḥmed, and BAYSUN Cavid (ed.), 1953, Tezākir, vol I, 1-12, Ankara, Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi.

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1 Thomsen, 1896: 140; for details, see Sümer,1995: 50-61; Golden, 2000: 370-371.

2 Temür still needed to bolster his legitimacy by supporting a puppet Chagatayid and becoming the royal son-in-law (kürgän). By Mughal (i.e. “Gurkhanid”) times, especially during the rule of Shāh Jahān, such distinctions had attenuated and a descent from Temür came to be conflated with older Chinggisid realities.

3 For the texts of the original poems in transliteration, see Andrews et al, 2006. While the poetic atmosphere of the renderings made by Andrews, Kalpaklı and Black can scarcely be matched, somewhat more prosaic translations from Ottoman are offered here by the author of this article for the sake of consistency.

4 Orthography as in the original edition.

5 I thank Arkadiusz Blaszczyk, of Gießen University, for information on those Polish and Ottoman parallels. See his forthcoming article on these themes.

6 Rendered here in standard Turkological notation.

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Maya Petrovich, « Uncanny Beloveds and the Return of the Repressed », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 143 | octobre 2018, mis en ligne le 12 octobre 2018, consulté le 14 novembre 2018. URL :

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Maya Petrovich

Oxford University, United Kingdom

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