Blood Ties: Religion, Violence, and the Politics of Nationhood in Ottoman Macedonia

By Findley, Carter Vaughn | International Journal of Turkish Studies, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Blood Ties: Religion, Violence, and the Politics of Nationhood in Ottoman Macedonia


Findley, Carter Vaughn, International Journal of Turkish Studies


ÍPEK YOSMAOGLU, Blood Ties: Religion, Violence, and the Politics of Nationhood in Ottoman Macedonia, 1878-1908 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014), Pp. 336, $ 89.95 cloth.

What did it take to turn peoples who had coexisted for centuries into enemies? Did one have to become an intellectual to understand the necessity to kill one's neighbors?

ípek Yosmaoglu's study brings new clarity to understanding of the conflict that turned Macedonia or Rumelia into one of the empire's zones of the most intractable conflict at a time when the Ottoman Balkans were threatened simultaneously by European imperialism and separatist nationalism. The book includes an introduction, six chapters, and a conclusion. The introduction addresses some of the stereotypes and clichés that have bedevilled interpretations of the Balkans, as well as the problems of Balkan geographical nomenclature. The first chapter traces the political and diplomatic history of the region in the decades preceding the Young Turk Revolution (1908). Chapters 2 through 4 address the impact of modern techniques of nation-building and governmentality on the region: respectively, education, cartography, and population registration. Chapters 5 and 6 argue that religion and ethnicity did not cause violence; rather, violence had to be injected into them to make them axes of conflict. In that sense, it did take "higher education," or at least incitement by a "leader," to realize the need to kill others. This is an account with no real heroes, many villains, and still more victims.

The first chapter, which would have benefited from an outline map showing the three Ottoman provinces in question (Manastir, Kosovo, and Salónica), sets the political and diplomatic stage with the rise of the revolutionary nationalist groups, the interventions from surrounding states, the reformist projects of major European powers, and Ottoman attempts to maintain sovereignty.

Chapters 2 through 4 move beyond political and diplomatic history to the impact of modern techniques for managing and controlling territories and populations in the age of nationalism. Early in the 1800s, given their purpose, all these "sciences of the state" could be referred to inclusively as "statistics"; in German, the term Statistik was so used. Yosmaoglu does not go into this background, but the point is pertinent. Only gradually did the idea of "statistics" as a mathematical discipline emerge. Even after that, not all the techniques for administering territories and peoples were entirely quantitative. However, the growing prestige of the quantifiable, coupled with the Social-Darwinist racialist hierarchy of nations, in which even the Balkan peoples qualified as "Aryans" compared to the "Turanian" Turks, added a scientistic sheen to old beliefs that Ottoman Muslims were "aliens" who did not belong in Europe (114-15).

Chapter 2 addresses the critical importance of education. Among the Christians of the region, the historical prevalence of Greek Orthodoxy as the religious allegiance of largely Slavic-speaking populations soon turned the schools into "indoctrination centers dispensing hatred rather than enlightenment" (67). Yosmaoglu's analysis overturns conventional ideas about the sequence of events that led from the Tanzimat-era Ottoman reforms in the internal governance of non-Muslim religious communities to the creation of the Bulgarian Exarchate, which was initially intended to have only limited autonomy within the Orthodox fold, not autocephaly (57). After the Bulgarian hierarchs declared their independence in 1872, the crystallization of the division between "Patriarchists" and "Exarchists" turned into a major generator of conflict in Macedonia, even though these religious allegiances might change back and forth and often did not align with the language spoken by the faithful. Competition to expand schools teaching in one language or the other took off, as did competition over access to or control of schools and churches. …

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