Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

"Imagine a Country Where We Are All Equal": Imperial Nostalgia in Turkey and Elif Shafak's Ottoman Utopia

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

"Imagine a Country Where We Are All Equal": Imperial Nostalgia in Turkey and Elif Shafak's Ottoman Utopia

Article excerpt

It is precisely at this moment, while new or very old and frightening frontiers appear or reappear, those of nationalistic, racial, or religious exclusions - it is worthwhile to recall the fiction of an island appearing at the dawn of a period for which the present time would be the twilight.1

DISMISSED BY KEMALIST TURKEY as a shameful legacy of backwardness and obscurantism, the Ottoman Empire was recently rediscovered as a model of peaceful coexistence among several religious and ethnic groups. This engagement in imperial nostalgia that swept Turkey in the 1980s has received the name of 'neo-Ottomanism,' and became one of the country's major ideologies of today.2 This essay examines a unique form of Ottoman imperial nostalgia in contemporary Turkish literature, the Ottoman utopia, through a critical assessment of literary and political neoOttomanism and its celebration of the Ottoman Empire as a successful multicultural model. Discussing two journalistic columns and one novel by the Turkish American author Elif Shafak, my study will clarify the structure and purposes of the Ottoman utopia, highlighting how it may represent a synthesis of the yearning for the lost Ottoman Empire with a sustained fascination for American culture and narratives. Ottoman utopia arguably offers the apparently paradoxical possibility of an americanized Ottoman Empire and it can be understood as an important step in the development of Turkey's 'global' identity, envisioning the Turkish nation as a 'contradictory synthesis' built on numerous layers of cultural influences and overlapping legacies.

Neo-ottomanism: Imperial Nostalgia in Turkish Politics and Literature

Starting in 1980, after decades of unchallenged predominance, Kemalist nationalism in Turkey entered a crisis that lead to a shift in perception of Turkey's imperial past. Since the birth of the Turkish Republic in 1923, with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as its president, the Kemalists have dismissed the Ottoman and Islamic tradition as retrograde, obscurantist, and damaging for the image of Turkey as a modern westernized republic. They preferred to base the idea of republican Turkishness on narratives of secularism and ethnic assimilation - establishing the beginning of Turkish history in 1923, in conjunction with the birth of the Republic. Yet, under the influence of Prime Minister Turgut Özal, the 1980s saw the emergence of an alternative ideology known as neo-Ottomanism, a current whose main scope was to retrieve those cultural and religious elements Kemalism had banned from Turkish history and identity in order to pursue an "exclusively Western trajectory."3 The most prominent feature of neo-Ottomanism is its preference of multiculturalism and ethnic diversity over Kemal's ideal of an ethnically homogeneous Turkey, emphasizing the need to rediscover the virtuosity of Ottoman society, when the peaceful coexistence of diverse ethnic and religious groups was allegedly made possible by a tolerant, cosmopolitan empire. In modern times, this 'Ottoman nostalgia' translated into a foreign-policy agenda showing equal openness towards both the empire's former territories and the West, deriving from the wish to formulate an all-encompassing idea of Turkish identity, rather than an exclusively Western one.

The Ottoman tradition is used by neo-Ottomanist ideologists as a base upon which a political, social, and moral alternative to Kemalism could be constructed - not a thing of the past, but, in the words of Yilmaz Çolak, "a model for the identity and political unity questions of the present."4 In the light of this consideration, neo-Ottomanism emerges as "an activity occurring in the present, in which the past is continuously modified and redescribed even as it continues to shape the future."5 This intrinsic nostalgia characterizing the neo-Ottomanist model has been discussed before. Miloš Ðinðić categorizes neo-Ottomanism as a clearly defined foreign-policy strategy as well as a "nostalgic lament over a long-lost glamour of the empire."6 Jay Komins reflects on how the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ismail Cem, a contemporary of Turgut Özal, depicted a scenario in which Turkey extended its soft power "from Southeastern Europe to Central Asia - curiously replicating] the past boundaries of the Ottoman Realm" and evoking a current model of Pax Ottomanica.1 Both scholars argue that the neo-Ottomanist paradigm might evoke an imperial agenda. Ömer Taşpinar, however, states that neo-Ottomanism does not in the least "pursue a neo-imperialist policy aimed at resurrecting the Ottoman Empire."8 He points out that historical developments since the 1980s have disabled all chances that the nostalgic romanticization of empire permeating neo-Ottomanism would feed into an imperialistic political programme.9 Neo-Ottomanism instead became a successful state philosophy whose influence extended beyond foreign policy to culture, fashion, architecture, the media, and, in particular, literature. It is therefore possible to speak of political neo-Ottomanism, which has been discussed thus far, as well as of a literary manifestation of it.

In the field of Turkish literature, neo-Ottomanism translates into a return to Ottoman settings and language, aimed at challenging Kemalist hegemonic narratives by confronting them with the Ottoman Empire's multicultural, multireligious model. As Erdağ Göknar states, neo-Ottomanism is a mani- festation of postmodernism in a specifically Turkish fashion; it can be associated with a growing internationalization of Turkish literature and its adoption of transnational elements that may appeal to readers outside Turkey. "It is perhaps no accident," Göknar explains, discussing the presence of neoOttomanist elements in Orhan Pamuk's work, "that The White Castle was the first of Pamuk's novels to be translated into English, for it contained [...] transnational elements accessible to outsiders."10 It can be observed that the openness and self-confidence of political neo-Ottomanism in the field of foreign policy correspond to a growing transnational awareness in the field of literature, motivating Turkish writers to address their work to both national and international audiences.

Göknar's reference to English translations of Orhan Pamuk's work is an opportune moment to introduce a specific category of Turkish literature, written in English or targeting an international audience, that succeeds in integrating the Western element, especially the American, into the formulation of Turkish identity.11 The effort made on many levels by neo-Ottomanism to promote a multicultural, cosmopolitan image of Turkey and to "embrac[e] the West as much as the Islamic world"12 paved the way for the debut of Turkish literature in the world literary arena. The case of the Turkish novelist Elif Shafak is particularly telling, as, in her work, the imperial nostalgia typical of neo-Ottomanism gives birth to recurring 'Ottoman utopias' informed by American themes and narratives.

Elif Shafak's Ottoman Utopia

Elif Shafak, a writer of Turkish origin who has spent most of her life as an expatriate in Europe and the USA, published her first book in English, The Saint of Incipient Insanities, in 2004, followed by The Bastard of Istanbul in 2007. Both novels revolve around Turkish characters struggling to define their identity in a westernized and alienated Turkey, or in a welcoming and yet displacing host country, the USA. The Forty Rules of Love (2010), in a further inflection, brings together the fictionalized biography of the Sufi poet Rumi and the life of a Massachusetts housewife. Although Shafak began her activity as a novelist in the late 1990s, a decade after the neo-Ottomanist ideology made its appearance, she still seems at ease with categorizing her present work as neo-Ottomanist:

My writing has been named as Neo-Ottoman by some critics for two reasons. Firstly, my language. I use old words and new words. I also use many Sufi terms. I like to expand the horizons of language. Secondly, the themes I deal with come from a broad range. It is cosmopolitan.13

In this passage, drawn from a 2005 interview, Shafak comfortably locates her style and themes within the borders of literary neo-Ottomanism, taking particular pleasure in the retrieval of a heterogeneous "Ottomanesque language."14 Her Turkish and English novels are in fact interspersed with terms in Arabic, Armenian, and Persian; they transcend the discursive limits of Kemalism, reviving Islamic tradition and preferring cosmopolitan narratives to nationalistic ones.

But although Shafak's writing might be said to participate in the aesthetics of neo-Ottomanism, her treatment of imperial nostalgia can be isolated from other manifestations of neo-Ottomanism as theorized by Göknar or articulated by Orhan Pamuk. First of all, her 'Ottoman utopias' - namely, representations of an Ottoman golden age that conveys a significant message of political and social renewal - are unique and worthy of in-depth analysis. She does not limit herself to lending a general 'Ottomanesque' flavour to her novels, but offers precise, recurring references to the Ottoman Empire as a successful societal model that might be employed to overcome the restrictions of Kemalism and heal Turkey's inner conflicts. Secondly, Shafak brings the neoOttomanist insistence on cultural diversity to the extreme, affiliating herself and her literary activity most warmheartedly to the Armenian cause. In 2006, this politicized form of "voluntary affiliation"15 led to her trial for having 'insulted Turkishness': according to Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, it is illegal to utter or publish offensive statements against the Turkish nation, its institutions, and its symbols. Beyond this political form of neo-Ottomanism, Shafak's depiction of the Ottoman Empire is also noteworthy for its special relationship to the USA, whose narratives of multiculturalism provide the basis for what I have termed 'Ottoman utopia'.16

Diplomatic relationships between neo-Ottomanists and the U S A have been ambivalent. On the one hand, starting from the 1980s, the Kemalists and the neo-Ottomanists "traded places"17 with regard to their relationship with the West. If the formally pro-Western Kemalists had gradually turned anti-American and anti-European, former Islamists had become supporters of peaceful relationships with both Europe and the USA. On the other hand, the neoOttomanist mission included the rejection of Turkey's "over-obsession"18 with westernization as well as with Western hegemonic historiography.19 Its interest, rather, was showing the plurality of traditions, voices, and cultural layers that constituted the modern Turkish nation.

Despite such ambivalence, parallels between the ethnically mixed society of the Ottoman Empire and American multicultural discourse have been established by numerous scholars, who visibly constructed the Ottoman ethnic and religious mosaic through an 'American' filter. Nevertheless, differences and affinities between Shafak's neo-Ottomanist utopia and American multiculturalism are worth mentioning. According to Çolak, the concept of an overarching Ottoman citizenship "served to create a consciousness of being Ottoman through the melting of various groups into one poť' and the perception of a common identity that can be assimilated to a "modern" idea of citizenship.20 Even though Çolak does not explicitly compare the Ottoman model of multiculturalism to the mythical American melting pot, the analogy emerges from the scholar's word choice, and in the description of Ottoman society as a "modern" concept of territorial identity. Similarly, Maurice Cerasi mentions how "all the Ottoman subjects thought of themselves as Ottoman (Osmanlı)"21 and how Ottoman society "gave to all, even when in conflict, the sense of belonging to a common culture."22 In short, the imperial minorities shared a feeling of belonging and identity that transcended ethnic or religious barriers and was synthesized by a common bond to the territory and to the nation - the idea of 'Ottomanism' - which resembles the American narrative of 'e pluribus ununľ.

Whereas multiculturalism in America is a rather elusive concept, neo-Ottomanist ideologists had a strong interest in defining its rationale and purposes, producing neo-Ottomanist narratives of multiculturalism that were closely affiliated with a structured political programme. Having acknowledged the rare and contradictory nature of existing definitions of American diversity, Werner Sollors emphasizes the constructedness of the "American experience as one of polyethnic, syncretic, and dynamic multiculturalism," noting that this phenomenon has long lost its utopian potential.23 This points to the first significant difference between American and neo-Ottomanist multiculturalism. In the American context, the conceptualization of cultural diversity as utopia seems to evoke scepticism and disenchantment. "Multicultural utopias are disappearing," Sollors explains, "and when someone proposes models of polyethnic idyll, these are often marginalized."24 By contrast, Shafak revives the utopian potential of polyethnic models: her writing advertises future possibilities for multiculturalism in Turkey.

In the attempt to highlight similarities and differences between the American and neo-Ottomanist multicultural models, another voice worth mentioning is that of Israel Zangwill, who famously coined the term 'melting pot' in his eponymous 1908 play. The protagonist of Zangwill's The Melting Pot declares:

America is God's Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re-forming! Here you stand, good folk [... ] in your fifty groups, with your fifty languages and histories, and your fifty blood hatreds and rivalries. [... ] A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians - into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American. [... ] He will be the fusion of all races, perhaps the coming superman.25

The fusion of diverse ethnic groups into one nation, so dear to Zangwill's protagonist and to the melting-pot narrative, is alien to Shafak's writing and paradoxically reminiscent of the assimilationist policies of Kemalism. Shafak rejects the 'melting' aspect and envisions Turkey as an "unreasonable synthesis"26 of cultural elements that contribute to the creation of a highly heterogeneous, and yet harmonious, compound. Like Zangwill's early celebration of the American melting-pot myth, Shafak's writing aspires to reawakening a sense of common Ottoman identity, based on shared culture and territorial belonging, that may heal inter-ethnic conflict rooted in the age of nationalism. In fact, neo-Ottomanism aimed to inspire an idea of territorial attachment and common historical memory that superseded ethnic and religious division and united all the citizens of Turkey. Additionally, ideologists of neo-Ottomanism were driven by free-market principles, equality among citizens, and human rights, ideas that have strongly characterized American nation-building processes and present-day narratives.

As this article will hopefully demonstrate, Shafak's Ottoman utopias are most vivid representations of imperial nostalgia as well as of the ideological proximity of neo-Ottomanism and American multicultural discourse. The relevance of Shafak's Ottoman utopia also lies in being indicative of a kind of Turkish literature, written in English or aimed at international audiences, that includes American culture as one of the various founding elements of modern Turkish identity, providing hybrid narratives that create alternative, cosmopolitan sites of identification for Turkish readers.

The following section will discuss two examples of Ottoman utopias drawn from Shafak's journalistic articles. "Life in the Islands" (2006) revolves around the image of Istanbul's islands: classic holiday locations for Istanbulites and foreigners. Shafak's article proves a most effective representation of the concept of Ottoman utopia, reminding one as it does of Thomas More's original island of Utopia, described in the eponymous novel. The second example, a passage drawn from a column entitled "Hrant Dink's Dream" (2007), evokes an imaginary country that replicates the Ottoman model through the description of a fictitious dinner scene. Finally, the depiction of America in Shafak's 2007 novel The Bastard of Istanbul, examined in connection with her approach to the Armenian question, will illuminate the link between the Ottoman utopia and the USA.

"Life in the Islands": The Loss of Utopia

With the term 'Ottoman utopia', I am indicating a romanticized representation of the Ottoman Empire as a period of harmonious multiculturalism, captured in a nostalgic, a-historical language where the tensions of the past are replaced by images of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. Since utopias are political projections of a perfect society lacking the conflicts and problems that affect the existing one, forms of Ottoman utopia are not simply a nostalgic lament invoking a long-lost 'golden age' of civilization, but embody a precise societal model - in this case a romanticized Ottoman Empire - ideally practicable in the near future. Shafak's "Life in the Islands" offers the most telling example of Ottoman utopia, clearly displaying its most prominent features: first, its romanticization of the Ottoman Empire; second, its opposition to the Kemalist doctrine; third, the preservation of the Ottoman way of life on the islands.

The passage describing the islands around Istanbul and what they represent for Turkish culture is worth quoting at length:

One of the most exquisite and yet perhaps internationally less appreciated spots in Istanbul is the islands [...]. There, you will encounter a variety of people, a motley cluster of individuals from all walks of life, and hear a variety of languages and idioms being spoken all at once. Greek and Jewish, Armenian and French, English and Ladino27 will intermingle with Turkish. [.] You will happen upon mothers who speak French with their children, Turkish with their husbands. You will see women who enthusiastically, unreservedly and almost endlessly gossip in one particular language, but then choose another language when they want to "get serious." [.] As you walk along the islands, from the open windows and the balconies you will hear songs in Armenian, Greek, Hebrew and Turkish. You will see grandmothers chatting in three languages with their grandchildren. You will pass by mosques and synagogues and churches. [.] And you will lament the gradual loss of this astonishingly, gracefully intense and vivid cosmopolitan culture, once present in almost every nook and cranny in Istanbul and Turkey, but now confined to particular spots and those only. [. ] [Turkey] has moved away from being a multilingual, multiethnic, multireligious empire towards a secular, modern nation-state [...]. And yet the flipside of this story is that a gradual loss of cosmopolitanism has accompanied Turkey's recent political history. And now, at this point in history, it is time to come to grips with those losses, to face the past and envision a better future, to choose historical consciousness and memory instead of collective amnesia, and to honor cosmopolitanism once again. [.] Only then can the captivating fabric of life vividly present in the islands today recuperate and cascade all over the country.28

The Ottoman Empire is enthusiastically depicted as an "astonishingly, gracefully intense cosmopolitan culture,"29 where different ethnic and religious groups coexisted side by side in harmony. The multiplicity of languages, used evenly and serenely within the same family, is one of the main vectors conveying the beauty of this harmonious society. In the islands, not only are several languages spoken all at once, but they are also sung in a musical continuum: "As you walk along the islands, from the open windows and the balconies you will hear songs in Armenian, Greek, Hebrew and Turkish."30 The musical element, combined with the curious impression that the islands are mostly populated by women and children, confers a dreamy, surreal quality that deprives the passage of any social realism, turning the islands into an idealized landscape that serves a precise political purpose: namely, a critique of the "recent years of Turkish political history."31

According to Shafak's article, these recent years have been characterized by a loss of cosmopolitanism, a drifting away from a multicultural empire towards a nationalistic, ethnically exclusive nation-state. Far from stating that the empire was a better form of government for Turkey, Shafak distinguishes between the attractive multicultural texture of the empire and the nation-state, damaged by nationalistic policies such as advocacy of ethnic purism, language reform, and discrimination against former imperial minorities. The policies that led to the disappearance of this "multilingual, multiethnic, multireligious"32 golden age are clearly those of Kemalism, also responsible, in Shafak's view, for plunging Turkey into what she often terms "collective amnesia,"33 resulting from the repudiation of the country's imperial past and religious traditions in the name of progress. The article's concern with language policies is reminiscent of Shafak's disapproval of the language reform implemented by the Kemalists in the early years of the Republic, replacing the Arabic alphabet with the Latin and imposing a general turkification of the language on various levels, most importantly the purging of terms of Arabic and Persian origins. In a 2005 interview, Shafak compares Kemal's language reform to ethnic cleansing, stressing the extent of the damage done to the "magic and unique" language spoken in the days of the Empire.34

To sum up, Shafak highlights how the deliberate abandonment of the Ottoman way of life provoked a loss of linguistic richness, multiculturalism, and historical memory that severely affected Turkey's cultural identity. Nevertheless, the passage suggests that the values of Ottoman society remained visible in small stretches of territory, such as the islands. If, on the one hand, it is plausible that the islands preserved a more traditional way of life, Shafak, on the other, is not interested in social realism but, rather, in forging a symbol of resistance to nationalistic state ideologies. Shafak's islands are thus a political image, embodying the essence of a golden age as well as a model for the future, a lost culture, and a viable alternative to nationalism.

In fact, the islands host the last remnants of a culture, the Ottoman, that has been lost and is now irretrievable:

And you will lament the gradual loss of this astonishingly, gracefully intense and vivid cosmopolitan culture, once present in almost every nook and cranny in Istanbul and Turkey, but now confined to particular spots and those only.35

In this respect, the islands do stand as a memento of a lost civilization, but Shafak does not use them to nostalgically evoke the multicultural region Turkey once was, but to construct the past as an example for the future. When Turkey learns "not to be afraid of differences"36 and thus finds a way to combine religious tradition with secularism, its imperial past with a democratic present, and the Arab and Persian legacy with westernization, then, Shafak writes, "can the captivating fabric of life vividly present in the islands today recuperate and cascade all over the country."37 Rather than being only a remnant of an idyllic golden age, the islands embody a practicable model that may "recuperate" and be re-enacted any moment, provided that the country overcomes the cultural hegemony of Kemalism.

To draw a partial conclusion, Shafak's islands are a highly suitable example of Ottoman utopia, since they present the Ottoman Empire as an idealized age conveying a precise political message, that of neo-Ottomanism. NeoOttomanists "reimagined the Ottoman past, and especially its cultural diversity, as a model for the identity and political unity questions of the present."38 This definition, besides describing the objective of political neo-Ottomanism, also reflects Shafak's representation of the Ottoman Empire in her writing, and, more specifically, the function of her Ottoman utopia. In More's Utopia, the coordinates indicating the position of Utopia are lost, and the way back to the island is therefore closed to future generations.39 Shafak's islands, like More's Utopia, represent a travelling in time that cannot be physically repeated, but they demand to be repeated as an ideological representation.40 Shafak's islands are thus both a eu-topos (a beautiful place) and an ou-topos (a non-place), nostalgically reminding the nation of a remote past to which no journey can lead but also embodying the beauty of a golden age of civilization presenting a social model that never lost its validity.

The Dinner Scene: Utopia Retrieved

Starting from another article by Shafak, "Hrant Dink's Dream," (2007), the following section will illustrate the prominent role minorities, particularly Armenians, play in Shafak's Ottoman utopia and how the theme of Ottoman cultural diversity intersects with the American melting-pot myth. Hrant Dink was an Armenian journalist and activist from Istanbul, assassinated by radical nationalists because of his constant struggle for the acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide by the Turkish government. Shafak pays tribute to Dink by subscribing to his vision of a nation in peace with its multi-ethnic past.

Imagine an exquisite dinner scene in Istanbul. [...] The variety of the food served reflects the multicultural roots of today's Turkish cuisine. [...] [S]omebody starts to sing a song. [. ] The songs switch almost effortlessly from Armenian to Kurdish, from Turkish to Greek. Where one stops another one picks up. Imagine, in short, a cosmopolitan setting where everyone is welcome no matter what their ethnicity, race or religion. Imagine a country where we are all equal, friendly and free. It wasn't a dream. I saw it happen and not once or twice. I saw it happen so many times. That is how I know it can and shall be real. I saw it happen thanks to Hrant Dink [...]. He made us believe that we, the citizens of modern Turkey, as the grandchildren of the multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual Ottoman Empire, could and should live together without assimilating differences or erasing the memory of the past.41

The singing of songs coming from different but perfectly integrated cultural traditions reflects a society where each ethnic group learns from and complements the others, without attempting to dominate the musical unity achieved - a trope remarkably reminiscent of Zangwill's "American symphony."42 The convivial song is a metaphor of cultural diversity, as is the sharing of food, which assumes crucial importance as a cultural metaphor in other works by Shafak such as the aforementioned The Bastard of Istanbul and The Saint of Incipient Insanities. The harmonious society described in the imaginary dinner scene is, once again, that of a "multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual Ottoman empire."43

What can be seen even more clearly in the dinner scene than in "Life in the Islands" is how the Ottoman utopia synthesizes the past and the future. "I saw it happen and not once or twice. I saw it happen so many times," writes Shafak. "That is how I know it can and shall be real."44 The Ottoman past is thus cleansed of its flaws and presented as an impeccable example of multiculturalism and peaceful coexistence. It appears as a plausible alternative for the future of the country, combining the dream of a purer civilization far removed in space or time (an ou-topos) with the image of a desirable society that may offer a remedy for the failures of modernity (a eu-topos).

Another aspect of crucial importance emerging here rather than in "Life in the Islands" is Shafak's attachment to the question of former imperial minorities in modern Turkey - to the Armenian question above all. Since its beginnings, the Turkish Republic has refused multiculturalism, nominally welcoming minorities under the assimilationist umbrella of Turkishness but discriminating against them in reality.45 An even thornier question which still affects the diplomatic relationship between Turkey and the West is Turkey's denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide, against which Hrant Dink fought his ideological battle. In "Hrant Dink's Dream," the reconciliation of Turks and Armenians is perhaps the most urgent condition under which Turkey may return to its original cosmopolitanism: "According to [Hrant Dink], only if and when Turks and Armenians mourned this tragedy together would we be able to start a new and better future."46 The attention Shafak dedicates to the right of minorities and his conviction that Turkey can reassemble the ethnic and religious mosaic of Ottoman times accord with the neo-Ottomanist interest in the emergence of minoritarian histories and counter-narratives, hoping as he did that they may destabilize Kemalist hegemonic discourse.

The Bastard of Istanbul: Ottoman Utopia as Transatlantic Phenomenon?

The figure of Hrant Dink inspired a central Armenian character, Aram, in Shafak's The Bastard of Istanbul,4 the novel which most effectively tackles the Armenian question and its perception in Turkey and the USA. Like Dink, Aram believes that Turkey should redefine itself as a culturally mixed state, treasuring unity and equality among former imperial minorities, united by a common identity and a shared past. Nevertheless, Shafak uses Dink and Aram to stress another crucial aspect of the Ottoman utopia: namely, that its realization must be urgently carried out within the borders of modern Turkey, especially in Istanbul - even though it has already happened elsewhere.

After a lifetime's experience [Hrant Dink] could have drawn the conclusion that this country was no place for a minority and gone abroad, where he would most probably be safer and much more comfortable. But he did just the opposite. He had uttermost faith in his fellow citizens and believed that through dialogue and empathy even the most ossified chauvinisms would melt away.48

[Armanoush:] "If they are oppressing you here, you can always come to America. There are many Armenian communities there who would be more than happy to help you and your family." [...] [Aram:] "Why would I want to do that, dear Armanoush? This city is my city. I was born and raised in Istanbul. My family history goes back at least five hundred years. Armenian Istanbulites belong to Istanbul, just like the Turkish, Kurdish, Greek and Jewish Istanbulites do. We have first managed and then badly failed to live together. We cannot fail again.49

The Bastard of Istanbul builds on the assumption that, since cultural diversity is inscribed in Turkey's past, it can and must be replicated in the present: "We have first managed and then badly failed to live together. We cannot fail again."50 Through the two Armenians' refusal to leave Istanbul and head to places where minorities live in a "safer and much more comfortable" environment, Shafak points out the need for an Ottoman utopia to be realized in Turkey. Although bringing back multiculturalism appears to be a more challenging task, it is a feasible option, given Turkey's cosmopolitan past. Yet, Shafak simultaneously suggests that a version of Ottoman utopia has been more easily realized abroad, in countries with traditions of multiculturalism as successful as that of the Ottoman Empire. As suggested by the quotation from The Bastard of Istanbul, the USA has become a viable alternative for many Ottoman Armenians.

Considering Shafak's ties to the USA - she taught, worked, and lived there, eventually adopting American English as her literary language - American narratives of multiculturalism must have informed Shafak's Ottoman utopia. This raises the question of whether there is a connection between imperial nostalgia and americanization in Turkey, or a transatlantic link between the two imperial dimensions. In the words of Gönül Pultar,

it has become equally evident, because not emphatically refuted, that America is an imperium [...], and it may not be totally incongruous to project the fate of other empires onto that of the United States.51

The Bastard of Istanbul, more than any other text by Shafak, helps clarify the role of the USA in the construction of an Ottoman utopia. The novel tracks the parallel stories of a Turkish girl, Asya, who discovers the importance of individual and collective memory, and that of Armanoush, an Armenian American who travels to Turkey to visit her grandmother's house and find her roots. The image of America emerging from The Bastard of Istanbul is that of a place where Armenians can escape from oppression, and be reunited with the rest of the diasporic communities who emigrated before them; this is clearly shown by Armanoush's invitation to Aram to leave Turkey and move to the USA, as seen in the above passage. In addition to this, the novel contains a flashback to the history of Armanoush's family which reveals how they were first separated during the persecution that lead to the 1915 genocide and subsequently reunited in America. Finally, Armanoush spends most of her spare time in a "cybercafé" called Café Constantinopolis:

Café Constantinopolis was a chat room, or as regulars called it, a cybercafé, initially designed by a bunch of Greek Americans, Sephardim Americans, and Armenian Americans who, other than being New Yorkers, had one fundamental thing in common: They all were the grandchildren of families once based in Istanbul [...]. Every week they would choose a specific topic of discussion. Though the themes varied greatly, they all tended to revolve around their common history and culture.52

The role the USA plays in The Bastard of Istanbul is therefore crucial. First, it is a place where diasporic families escaping persecution in their countries of origins can be reunited. The same happens to entire communities, such as the Armenians, who, having been compelled to leave the Ottoman Empire, are able to re-assemble in the USA - a safer and more comfortable environment for minorities. Secondly, the USA allows not only Armenians but all former Ottoman imperial minorities - Greeks and Jews as well, as the last quotations shows - to virtually unite and re-create their Ottoman identity, joining an imaginary Ottoman community. This possibility is exemplified by Café Constantinopolis, where young exponents of the non-Muslim minorities of the empire can celebrate their common 'Ottoman' identity by discussing and negotiating it online, in an imaginary city on the internet that nostalgically looks back at a time when Istanbul was the centre of a multicultural empire. Considering its virtual nature, Café Constantinopolis emerges as a contact zone where different temporal and geographical models of multiculturalism overlap. In fact, Café Constantinopolis' Ottoman utopia has its roots in New York's densely multicultural space, since the forum's initiators are all American citizens, born in New York and raised within American paradigms of diversity in the multicultural city par excellence. The forum members' Amer- ican consciousness and multicultural present join with their polyethnic Ottoman past, generating a third space that synthesizes both models.

It is thus legitimate to claim that American multiculturalism did more than affect the neo-Ottomanist idea of citizenship; for Elif Shafak, the USA is also a system where the Ottoman utopia of multiculturalism could be successfully enacted through the connection of "multiple communities of a dispersed population."53 Diasporic Armenian families were reunited, communities were formed and joined by a renewed solidarity with others who had left the empire and taken shelter overseas.

Pax Ottomanica and Pax Americana: Conclusions

The Pax Ottomanica theorized by neo-Ottomanists, implying the extension of Turkey's renewed influence on the former imperial territories and a restored multiculturalism within the borders of Turkey, has in many ways proved similar to a Pax Americana,54 to use this old term in Richard Falk's revised sense. Interestingly, both concepts betray an imperialist intent, either direct or indirect, political or cultural. In the course of this article I have explained how neo-Ottomanists constructed the Ottoman Empire in a romanticized, a-historical way, reducing it to its most celebratory aspects: those of cosmopolitanism, religious tolerance, and peaceful coexistence of diverse ethnic groups under the umbrella of Ottomanism. Additionally, neo-Ottomanists have re-imagined the Ottoman Empire along the lines of the American experience, reproducing some of its myths and guiding principles such as the melting pot and the 'e pluribus mum, motto.

Thus de-historicized and sublimated into a nostalgic political project for the future, the Ottoman Empire becomes a utopia: an imaginary land embodying an example and a model for present-day society to help it mend its ways. The Ottoman utopia has revealed a juxtaposition of the Ottoman and the American models, of Pax Ottomanica and Pax Americana, most exhaustively represented by Shafak's work, where neo-Ottomanist ideals and the American example blend rather harmoniously - the former having been cured of its de facto discrimination against non-Muslim minorities and embellished with anachronistic merits of equality and human rights to match the latter.

The result is a hybrid construction, located in-between two empires, combining elements of both. In fact, Shafak's utopia does exude nostalgia for an imperial dimension that existed before the onset of westernization and the attempt to impose democracy. Yet, it is chiefly a societal model that brings Turkey closer to the example of the West, replicating the kind of multiculturalism that characterized Western countries of immigration. The priority, and the real challenge, confronting Shafak's utopia is its realization on Turkish soil, but the writer indicates the USA as the context in which similarly mythologized forms of cultural diversity have already been actuated with success. At this point, Shafak's Ottoman utopia reveals not only a dual nature but a conflictual one. The author seems to depict an americanized Ottoman Empire, especially considering her efforts to retrieve Turkey's Islamic and Eastern legacy in the attempt to interrupt the obsessive westernization implemented by Kemalists at the expense of Turkey's history.

The paradox can be resolved by resorting to the opposition between inclusive identity and exclusive identity that distinguishes neo-Ottomanism from Kemalism. On the one hand, Kemalism constructed an exclusive concept of Turkishness by expunging external influences on Turkish culture - Persian, Arab, Greek - in the hope of claiming a primordial Turkish essence as it was before the coming of successive conquerors. On the other hand, neoOttomanists and Shafak provide a different view of Turkish identity, an inclusive one, mediating among the diverse role models and influences that have shaped the country and integrating the legacy of old empires and new.

The Ottoman utopia is thus a manifestation of neo-Ottomanist inclusive identity, legitimizing the legacies both of empire and of americanization, in a country that needs, in Shafak's words, "to honor cosmopolitanism once again."55 Asked to clarify the paradoxes of her Ottoman utopia, Shafak herself answers by making a similar point:

we think it is perfectly possible to hate and love something/someone in the same breath, just as it is possible to be 'A' and 'non-A' at the same time. [...] Can't we [Turks] just stay happily situated in this unreasonable synthesis of ours?56

The philosopher Louis Marin gives credit to Shafak's hybrid notion of utopia by describing his own utopia as "the drifting of frontiers within the 'gap' between opposite terms, neither this one nor that one. [...] Utopia is always a synthesis, a reconciling synthesis."57 In this light, the neo-Ottomanist project is perfectly reflected in Shafak's utopia as a representation of Turkey's potential to emerge as a synthesis between East and West: both on the level of foreign policy, taking an active role in mediating ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, and at home, coming to terms with its multilayered, multi-ethnic, and multireligious past.

To conclude on a more critical note, it is impossible to overlook the idealistic aftertaste of Marin's "reconciling synthesis," as Shafak's Ottoman utopia indeed throws up further questions. Reconciliation among ethnic groups in a society regulated by imperial logic would necessarily fall within Marcuse's critique of "repressive tolerance," whose aim is to "reconcil[e] the executioners with their victims, neutralizing [their] opposite historical function."58 Thus, the idealization of Ottoman imperial multiculturalism is destined to remain problematic, as it equates the functions of conqueror and conquered, oppressor and oppressed. The result would be a "spurious neutrality [which] serves to reproduce acceptance of the dominion of the victors in the consciousness of man."59 By aspiring to project such a flawed vision onto the future of Turkey, in fact, Shafak indirectly reconfirms the validity of a centripetal multiculturalism in need of a hegemonic centre whose oppressive credentials are dissolved in a vision of beauty and peaceful coexistence. As to what the new hegemonic centre of Shafak's neo-Ottomanist utopia consists of, I propose that it has moved from the old imperial Ottoman Muslim elite to neo-imperialism. One can confidently conclude that Shafak's Ottoman utopia is a hybrid between (neo-)Ottoman and American narratives of polyethnic interaction, which places the USA in the paradigmatic role of an uncompromised testing ground for global multiculturalisms.

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