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Culture and History Conversations (57) 17th Century: The Age of Çelebis with Cemal Kafadar

Kültür ve Tarih Sohbetleri (57):

Culture and History Conversations (57)
17th Century: The Age of Çelebis
with Cemal Kafadar

translated by Hasan Aksakal

edited by Micah A. Hughes

synchronized by Ümid Gurbanov




Özdemir: Good evening. Dear Cemal Kafadar, a professor from the History Department of Harvard University is joining us for the 57th programme of “Kültür ve Tarih Sohbetleri” [Culture and History Conversations] on Medyascope TV. I would like to thank him for joining us. First of all, welcome!

Kafadar: Glad to be here. Thank you!

Özdemir: You are not an outsider here. You have joined one or two other programmes here. Thank you for not rejecting these invitations.

Kafadar: On Medyascope! Indeed, I have special respect for Medyascope.

Özdemir: Thank you very much. There has continually been a project in the mind of Ozan and I: “Çelebis in the 17th century, the classical age of Ottomans.” We have looked forward to doing a series of programs on Kâtip Çelebi, Evliya Çelebi and Eremya Çelebi. It is a fortunate that the introduction to this series is beginning with you. I think this is the probably the best introduction. In this frame, I suppose since Ozan is the architect of this project, he has the right to ask the very first question. Let’s start from there. Let’s go!

Sağsöz: First of all, welcome!

Kafadar: I’m glad to be here; thank you.

Sağsöz: I would like to step back as far as possible so that I can then get inside. I’ll go to Iberia prior to Ottoman lands. In the beginning of the 17th century, Cervantes, around 1604 and 1609, publishes “Don Quixote”. The very first sentence at the introduction starts with “You, wandering reader!”, and then he explains the reason of writing his book. Here two concepts, “Wanderer” and “Reader” are crucial; and if we apply or search for these two in to the 17th century Ottoman World, there is a common feature among Eremya Çelebi, Kâtip Çelebi, and Evliya Çelebi which is strongly related to being a wanderer, being traveler, or being voyager. We all know Evliya Çelebi. Eremya Çelebi also has a work entitled “İstanbul Tarihi” [Istanbul in the 17th Century], and in it, he pictures Istanbul from the eye of a traveler or voyager. You have explained this from another perspective.

Kafadar: A cinematographic one.

Özdemir: You had mentioned it on “Kul Sohbetleri” [Servant Conversations]

Sağsöz: We already know Kâtip Çelebi via the most important geography books, “Cihannüma”. Starting from here, that is with being a “wanderer”, perhaps starting with “readership” by itself, or “being wanderer and reader” – what does it mean in the 17th century Ottoman World?

Kafadar: Interesting. I did not think of “wandering” as an active movement within a certain space; and ‘wanderer’ extends all the way up to Yusuf Atılgan’s “The Wandering Man”. It’s quite different from being a traveler. Its associations are very rich.

Yet, it has the dimension that you refer to – very well; aside from that, all three of these men abandon the lines or boundaries of their standard careers. Evliya Çelebi had never walked that line; so maybe these are the types that a scribe or a scholar of a madrasah would call “wanderer.” They work hard; they produce a lot; they travel, write, draw, and read. However, for example, Evliya Çelebi never had a profession. Being a muezzin (prayer caller), companionship etc – but it had an end. He was not interested in following a carrier path. We can say that he utilized them all for travelling or gaining experience.

Eremya Çelebi – whose family members as well as his social environment and the circle in Langa-Kumkapı were full of clerics – would have easily been a cleric if he had wished to do so. His intellectual capacity was ideal for it, but he never cared for it.

As for Kâtip Çelebi, he had advanced as a scribe for a bit, but as soon as he found an opportunity (meaning as soon as he came into his inheritance), he devoted himself to books and to his own work.

In this sense, none of these three follow the “career path” – in Cornell Fleischer’s phrase – that we frequently encounter in many of the 16th century’s classical, schematic forms. There are some career paths which were defined by laws, along some certain promotional lines, and a lot of brilliant people have taken them.

In the 17th century, there are some figures who escape intellectual life within madrasah circles. We have named two significant cases. Eremya Çelebi, who  –even though we cannot refer to madrasah– we can still compare it  the religious career of his own community and class. Too many parallels at this point.

These three çelebis, which I chose as symbolic representatives for the Age of Çelebis, and who also provide us a light to determine the spirit and tendency of the period, are indeed “wanderers” in a sense.

“Reader”? Yeah, what great readers! Their age is also an age of readership. In the broader context that I speak, I would like to call it, more broadly, “the Age of Çelebis, Women, and Journals”. Yet, when one needs to be shorter, more compact, clear, and nice, then “the Age of Çelebis” works well. The journal is one essential piece of the whole. What we call the journal brings different books and booklet materials together, but is also a part of the tradition of adding various useful information. It is a very old tradition. However, with time it has evolved. Let me keep it short. It represents a newly emerging culture of readership in the 17th century for non-elite, urban people who are also un-affiliated with the madrasah. In one sense, we can say this is sort of more democratic culture of readership.

When it is used this way, some people say, “Democracy has nothing to do with it; it’s a modern word”; however, it is not that simple. The word ‘’demos’’ goes back to Ancient Greece, of which the Ottomans were aware. I think we can use it as something that belongs to the ‘life’ of the word ‘Demos’.

What I mean here is that due to the culture of the journal, there are more journals written and there are significant differences when comparing to pre-17th century ones. Firstly, they did not have to be a unified piece. Which means twelve philosophy treatises and three logic (al-mantiq) treatises could be found back to back in the same journal. This is classic. The earliest editions of most of the journals we encounter at libraries look like this. However, in the 17th century – and sometimes earlier, too – often look like this: One booklet for prayers (duaname), three description of medicine, after that something along the line of “poems that I love most,” then a piece related to Selim I the Sultan, which would be taken from Imperial Chronicles. Right after that, there would be a collection of “humor,” then a piece from an interpretation of the Qur’an, a piece on an interpretation of a verse of the Qur’an that the author or journalist especially liked, and so on and so forth. This kind of journal culture emerged in the 17th century. This, I think, is an important side of a cultural world in transition parallel to the notion of the ‘çelebi’s [person of knowledge]. Let me stop here…

Özdemir: Actually, please continue; it is going great. This issue of the journal is quite important.

Kafadar: The mecmua, or journal, brings together differences both vertical and horizontal. Horizontally, it takes many things from different genres. Vertically, what I point out is that it puts difficult texts, which are only for the well-educated, next to very light humor collections based in daily life. It brings out both horizontal and vertical diversity. The volumes that came out of these journal compilations (gathering, collecting), I mean, unifying various kinds, are I think the most original – very important, very nice elements of the 17th century. This also signals that there were much more literate people in urban culture. For sure, it is impossible to compare to our time. Nevertheless, if the rates have risen from %1 to %5, which I think these stats are higher because there are so many schools around, is great. There are transmitting worlds among oral and written cultures, such as reading a book for many people at a time. Even if the entire journal is not read, there are many people who read most of it. Which means the standards of reading-writing may be quite different, but there is more material for the general readership of the 17th century. Et cetera, et cetera…

Özdemir: This is quite interesting. This is related to the spread of knowledge as well as its democratization and rising rates of literacy.

Kafadar: Yes.

Özdemir: It is also important because it gives the cultural infrastructure of the society. For example, almost all of the Çelebis are engaged with geography, right? Eremya Çelebi’s  “History of İstanbul- İstanbul in the 17th Century”, Kâtip Çelebi’s “Cihannüma”, or the story of Eremya Çelebi, in which he jumps into a small craft, and offers camera-like visions of the city for his readers. I just read it very recently; it’s stunning. He, so to say, tells the details of the landscape, and not just a simple description. Just like a camera lens shows us the landscape of a city, as you mentioned in “Kul Sohbetleri”. On the other hand, there we have Evliya Çelebi. I mean, it seems like there is a link between geography and intellectual life, doesn’t there?

Sağsöz: There is an expansion, I guess – an expansion of geography.

Kafadar: That is very true. 

Özdemir: What would you like to say about this?

Kafadar:  There is one more sentence I would like to say concerning journals – let me add it – and then continue… They are also interconnected to each other, in my mind at least. I hope I can clarify.

I just referred to “Demos”, let’s replace it “Cumhur” [public] instead, a much more familiar word. We come across it a lot in the 17th and 18th century texts. An old word, indeed. Even in the Rebellion of Edirne in 1703, Çalık Ahmed, one of the leading characters of the rebellion, says, “What is the need for a dynasty; we shall create a ‘public’ society!” As you can see, the term is placed in such a political claim.

Our Ottoman authors, while writing about countries without a dynasty or monarchy, such as the Netherlands, Venice, Dubrovnik, or even Poland, say “in some places, the ‘public’ (cumhur) sends its own representatives”. So they are aware of the role of the public in politics. There is a monarchy in Poland, but a Diet assembly, a parliament that makes decisions. For sure, a parliament is not created by a whole people; there are aristocrats, boyars, and the Diet assembly; all are extremely important in decision making.

On the issue of journals, I would say that journals were instruments that helped participating, actively and creatively, in the processes of having and producing knowledge – along with rising rates of literacy. The Çelebis’ relationship with these circles were far more intensive than those affiliated with madrasah scholars.

There is a relationship between the journal and the encyclopedia. The journal is an instrument that helps collect and unify information in a more encyclopedic way. For instance, Ali Ufkî names his work “Mecmua-i Sâz ü Söz” [Journal of Music and Lyrics]. We can think of it as an encyclopedia of music, as well. We can absolutely say that it is a book that brings an encyclopedic approach to the music culture of its time, and it is also suitable to be a journal.

Evliya Çelebi refers to his own book as a journal a few times. Evliya defines his book as “A Travel Book, History of A Traveler.” History, geography, travel book – they are all together, and it’s richer than that. Yet there are some journal-like features, and it seems like a journal indeed.

There are some journals that were written by Kâtip Çelebi. We know the notes he took were in classical journal format, classic of that time or that we call “classic” long after. So there is also this kind of relationship between these two types.

I said “encyclopedic knowledge.” An extremely important feature of the 17th century, which was especially debated in the European context – and Ann Blair, my colleague from Harvard, wrote a well-known book on this issue – is that similarly to our question in the present time, it was an age that people asked themselves questions like “So much knowledge in the world! How are we going to deal with it all?” I will follow up with geography. It is closely related to it.

In the 17th century, people in many parts of the world, including the Ottoman world, complained about it. Great discoveries had been made. In addition, even if it is not very clear, there was some uneasiness that old information was inadequate: “Return to classic texts. They are not shedding light on some things…” like a new quest, a new attitude appeared. Along with them, there is also the confusion of: “What shall we do with all that knowledge? How do we get them all together? How is this used and handled? How do we make it useful?”

This is extremely powerful in Kâtip Çelebi. His “Keşfü’z-Zunûn”, is an encyclopedic, gigantic effort, an incredible work that reaches beyond centuries. Modern works similar to it are published today, containing more themes than that. Kâtip Çelebi, even as a clerk, goes on a campaign with the army –I guess he was a clerk of the Kapıkulu Sipahileri, Sixth Troop. On his way to the campaign, he finds time in Aleppo and goes to the second-hand bookstores. “There are many books here. I should start making a list of them as soon as possible,” he says. And for the first time, thousands of thousands, thousands of works – all the works that were possible and accessible – he saved them, their names and summaries of them; he records them in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and creates a monumental work.

On the question of preparing it, there is a lot of information about “how to make them useful.” In the 17th century, the form of books is changing, too. The notes that Kâtip Çelebi takes for “Süllemü’l-Vusul” (the most comprehensive biography in Islamic scholarship), and then those notes for the “Keşfü’z-Zunûn” are also very interesting. Obviously he was dealing with the worry of taking notes in a creative way: how does he put all those authors’ biographies into the “Keşfü’z-Zünûn”? Will the authors be listed chronologically or alphabetically? As knowledge accumulates, for sure, such problems emerge even more strongly.

In some of his works, Kâtip Çelebi cites sources with a footnote like a modern style footnote, which is created at the end of the 17th century. I mean, he shares the work and the page number that he writes about. I see only one instance of this, I should not exaggerate, but even that single instance is a tremendous thing. For us, it is something normal. He mentions it: like “Istanbul 1977, page 63”. It has a story. Indeed, there is no custom to refer to other texts in this way before the 17th century. Kâtip Çelebi is clearly part of that world.

I am coming to your question after this geographic tour. Georgraphy is the new big issue of that age. Geography is not only about “How far is Japan? How many people live there? What is their management style? Do they have a capital city? Do they have mountains and rivers?” like questions. At the same time, they have a calendar system. “Can we reconcile our calendar with that calendar system?” Another enormous encyclopedic activity of Kâtip Çelebi is the calendar work. The Chinese calendar, the Indian Calendar, the Islamic Hijri calendar, the Jewish calendar, as well as different calendars of various Christian churches; he is aware of these different calendars. He’s looking at their stories. He is also informed by his contemporaries. Kâtip Çelebi is a well-known, read and important writer. Let’s not acknowledge him as someone alone.

Özdemir: So, he is popular.

Kafadar:  He asks that famous question at the beginning of his book, “Mîzân-ül-Hakk”. He complains that shaikh al-Islams are now ignorant of geography, geometry, and science. Maybe he is unfair in a sense, but there is a reason behind that polemics. For example, “If you ask, how do they fast in the North Pole, how will they answer?”
The information and information processing problems brought to us by geographical discoveries are multidimensional. When we say geography; if we think it together with all these issues, it was confusing for all people. It is the same in Europe. Atlases emerge. Even if it is not very common, it is a very accepted kind of book among the Ottomans.

I would like to take this matter a little further, but if you have any other questions, we can continue. Geography has something to do with secular knowledge. I would also say that.

Sağsöz: There is a somewhat connected, yet slightly different point about this geography that you just mentioned. I would like to read two passages from Antoine Galland’s memoirs “Pendant Son Sejour a Constantinople16721673”. It may be a little bit long, but I think it fits here.

Kafadar: Galland is fantastic. So I hope this is something we can consider ‘encouraging’ in the future.

Sağsöz: What I will read was exciting to me as well. It’s from the second volume. “On the 18th of April, Tuesday, I visited Mehmed Çelebi in Istanbul.” –So there is also Mehmed Çelebi there. Yet another çelebi. We do not know who he’s, but there’s a person named Mehmed Çelebi.

“In regards to the old tradition that Turks still practice, he showed me copies of maps that were divided into two worlds and seven climates with the countries’ names written in Turkish. Honestly, this map seemed very correct to me. And I suspect that it has been copied from someone else’s map, someone among our geographers. The mistake I found on this map is –as I have also shown to this Turk- that Korea was drawn in the form of an island, where it is connected to the continent in the face of a recent discovery. Kaptan Paşa (the Head of Imperial Navy), had already sent two copies of the map to the Sublime Port for the Sultan’s interest. I saw four Italian marine maps in his home, other than this one, which were affixed to wooden surfaces and surrounded by golden nails. These were made in 1545 by a man named George Kalopadi in Crete. On a world map, I noticed that the person who drew Ceylon Island, which is called “Taprobana” here, was not aware of anything about it, size or shape, because he put this island beyond Cape Cemorin and shows it in a very similar form to the Maldives. On the same occasion, I saw a Turk named Hüseyin Efendi who wrote a history in Turkish.’’ He mentions Hezarfen Hüseyin Efendi.

“I found him a very handsome man. His height did not seem ugly at all, compared to normal size. On the same day, I saw a Turkish book titled “Ten of the Twelve, named Çelebi, betting on the religions and beliefs of the Turks, that is, the will of Mehmed the son of Pir Ali.”

I will read one more note, with your permission. “On the 15th of September, Friday. On the service of His Excellency Ambassador, I visited a Turkish historian named Hüseyin Efendi.’’ Once again, he mentions Hezarfen Hüseyin Efendi here. In fact, we can call him ‘çelebi’, right?

Kafadar: Absolutely.

Sağsöz:He lives near a mosque which is a so-called  church-mosque, since it is converted from a Greek church.”

Özdemir: …around Vefa neighborhood.

Sağsöz: “This mosque’s door is still decorated with old columns left. On behalf of the His Excellency, I asked for his friendship. Although he seemed ready for this companionship, I gave him a jacket and a satin jacket (that the Embassy provides) to gain more of his heart. I witness that he did not expect me to do anything like this. Since he told that he did nothing to deserve such a generous present from His Excellency, on behalf of the will of Ambassador, I told him that His Excellency ordered me to deliver his present. Additionally,  I also replied, ‘this gift is a appreciation in return to the history book that he wrote. Then he told me that he was not worthy of such a degree of appreciation, and that he never liked this work, and that he would not neglect to present a better version to the His Excellency’ one day as soon as he finishes and publishes it.

“Following day, 16th of September, Saturday, the same Hüseyin Efendi came to visit His Excellency. His Excellency showed him the portraits of the Sultan and the Grand Vizier. Hüseyin Efendi returned to his home with great gratitude and courtesy of the Ambassador who offered a meal.”

These two notes change one’s idea of that period. First, the matter of geography; maps are taken, maps are given.

Özdemir: Korea and the Maldives are available in great detail. Even the mistakes have been identified. It is shown as an island on the map.

Sağsöz: Yes, there are some mistakes about places. Another point is that the Ottoman çelebis, the Ottoman efendis, through these diplomats, must be in one-on-one communication with the outsid world. We were talking about it before you came. For example, this issue of “having a meal.” Where did they eat? Did they eat at a table? They probably ate at the French palace in Beyoğlu and had an intellectual conversation. Because, like Hezarfen Hüseyin Efendi, Galland, as far as we know prior to becoming diplomat, was an intellectual.

Of course, we know that Europe at that time was not equivalent to Europe today. How was their relationship with the outside world? It does not have to be Europe necessarily. What was the relationship between the Ottoman intellectuals and their contemporaries in India? There are actually a few questions here. Can we continue from here?

Kafadar: Excellent questions! Some of them are questions that we have been thinking about for a long time. We still have to change our presumptions about the 17th century. We must change them. “Being forced” sometimes sounds like a bad thing to the ears. There are many reasons for us to change these.
There is a shadow given by the long-standing dominance of the paradigm of rise, stagnation, and decline in the 17th and 18th centuries. We are trying to change that, there are scholars preoccupied with this. When we read it, and look at it closely, this change presents itself. For example, we have a student named Burcu Gürgen –greetings to her from here- who endeavors to complete her dissertation on Hezarfen Hüseyin Efendi. I hope it will be a brilliant dissertation. Various other studies are being carried out on the 17th century. Galland is an important point for them.

Galland is an interesting man. He’s not a diplomat, actually. He travels with a diplomatic mission to prepare a doctorate. His dissertation deals with some certain part of the debates in Greek Orthodox Church’s theology. And by this, he comes to this land as a young scholar. After that, when he learns the languages, when he enters the cultural life here and makes friends, which he does not expect at first, he goes to many other places. Actually, Galland is known in Europe especially as the discoverer and translator of the Arabian Nights. He is a man with many different dimensions.

We also know that Galland has some other Ottoman friends like Hezarfen Hüseyin Efendi, including many Muslim Ottomans. I was at the Marsigli Archives less than a month ago in Bologna. Count Marsigli, -almost at the same time with Galland, and partly little bit after Galland- is also a friend of Hezarfen Hüseyin. Hezarfen Hüseyin has a very good social network. He is extremely curious. The first inspiration of Hezarfen Hüseyin is Kâtip Çelebi. They have an environment, they read each other, they think, they convey their curiosity, enthusiasm and knowledge to younger generations.

Since 1983 I have had the opportunity to go to the Marsigli Archives several times and spend a few days. Spending time in the Marsigli Archives, you can find the following notes: “I met up with Captain X the other day, and he drew the types of the Ottoman ships”. Of course, this may have led them to a technological debate. One is also curious about the background and the end of that moment. Where does the conversation go? “Ok, you drew this, but this is where the zealot works, does it work?” We can find only a limited part of those talks in the text, but even that is so valuable in itself.

Geographical knowledge is especially important. They try to follow very closely in Istanbul, after a point. The translation of “Târîh-i Hind-i Garbî” (The History of West India) is long before Kâtip Çelebi’s time. However, with Kâtip Çelebi, I think, we can say that geography has become one of the main areas of interest, from the reasons I tried to explain.
He (Kâtip Çelebi) and the people around him. “Cihannümâ,” which is well known, is one of the books Müteferrika wants to print as soon as he starts
printing, because “Cihannümâ” had a great impact – as a concept. The appearance of the book as an object, such an idea, attracts the attention of people.

In the reign of Mehmed IV, I think in the 1660s, “Atlas Maior” (Great Atlas) was just printed and sent to Istanbul. It’s arrival as a gift was written in both Cronicles – we find the reflection both in the Cronicles and in writers, like Evliya Çelebi, who are not in court at the time.

Geography, from the reasons I just told you (to narrowly not regard it as geographical knowledge), is geared toward thinking minds that come up with new discoveries in many dimensions – what the new world looks like, what innovations, threats, possibilities, differences, etc.

We can add to that: For example, with new discoveries and new ways of trade, new consumer goods enter the lives of people. Everyday food items; such as tomatoes and coffee…

Coffee does not come from a discovery of a continent, but it is a very common item for consumption through the development of new commercial routes that are determining the age. “What does coffee do? How does it affect your body?” If it is new to you, you will deal with these questions. Even today, you know there is a lot of research on caffeine. Consumable items such as tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes all have initiated similar concerns, curiosities, questions, and fears.

Geography, with all these dimensions, is a very important field of knowledge in the 17th century. There are, for sure, geography enthusiasts in the madrasah. Astronomy is not a far field of science for madrasahs. As far as we know, even if the books are answering those questions directly… In the structured, established education system of the madrasah, there is no central place for geography at that time. Even more for astronomy, perhaps, made by astrologers (müneccims). I mean, it is a career line that is related to madrasah education but is outside of it. Of course, among the mariners, too. For example, Seydi Ali Reis is known for his adventures on his return from India, but at the same time, he is the author of a very important work of astronomy and geography.

Such fields of knowledge, by their very nature, find a more comfortable place outside of the madrasah. When the interest in geography in the 17th century experienced this explosion, it became closely related to the çelebis who developed their skills outside of the madrasah circles that I mentioned at the beginning.

Müneccimbaşı (The Leading Astrolog) Ahmed Dede Efendi is another extremely interesting character from that time. Even though Çelebi does not mention him, he is a famous historian as well as some other stuff. For example he (Münnecimbaşı) requests that Eremya Çelebi translate a book about the History of Armenia. Eremya Çelebi translates it for Münnecimbaşı.

In your example, Europeans like Galland and Hezarfen Hüseyin Efendi meet. Meanwhile, Müneccimbaşı and Eremya Çelebi meet as well. Maybe Eremya and Galland meets, too. Or, even if not Galland, maybe some other Frenchman… Different, new networks and possibilities of communication emerge within Ottoman society. Of course, there were some in the 16th century. But it emerges now in the frames of different interests, different ways.

What you read from Galland is so evocative… After Kâtip Çelebi, the scholarship in geography closely was followed by good pursuit. Hezarfen is an excellent case. Dımışki (the one from Damascus) is another good geographer. Bartınlı is another mapper. All of these are prominent figures on the road to late 17th and early 18th centuries – Ibrahim Müteferrika’s time. They follow it. We know this; the possibilities are not in the form of encountering only one European. For sailors these possibilities are not that difficult. On the sea, on the ships… Most of them speak the lingua franca for sure. “What language do they speak?” if one asks, the answer is now relatively easy.

Another issue is this: there was something beyond geography in what you read: encounters. Even in the paintings, this is coming in. I wish I had brought some paintings with me. It is known in that period both in Iran and in the Ottoman lands. Some of the scenes that depict the Europeans and the Ottomans socializing together are beginning to be drawn. I think at the end of the 17th century, or at the beginning of the 18th century at the latest. There are certainly such paintings in Iran at the end of 17th century. What I mean is not this: Of course diplomatic delegations always live with the people of the Palace. Before any other thing, they are necessarily living at the ceremonial level, but they also have something beyond it. I’m talking about a level here that goes far beyond it. As someone without any official authority, duty or any direct relation to palace, Hezarfen Hüseyin’s experiences… [are great].

The Ambassador’s delegations and the embassies are used for various receptions and encounters. We also know this from various examples.

A German scholar, Heidrun Wurm studied “Hezarfen Hüseyin’s relations with Europeans” and earned his doctorate in 1971. That work has never been translated and I have never met this colleague, but his work is rich. There one can find Count Marsigli and Galland, but this colleague discovered some others, too. Prior to Galland, there is Levinus Warner. Warner is the person who follows Kâtip Çelebi, but also the man who leads most of the famous Ottoman Writing Collection in Leiden. By the 17th century, we will find even more things.

Moreover, we started to get to know the ones who went abroad a little better, not just Evliya Çelebi. There are so many among Europeans as well. We sometimes categorize “travel literature” too easily, but I have to stop and remind myself: Some of the guys we call “traveler” are not travelers, in fact, they are prisoners.

Sağsöz: There is “Esirî” (The Prisoner author), right?

Kafadar: There are writers who read these as “travel books” after staying in captivity in the Ottoman side. Marsigli is captured in Ottoman Istanbul. For example, Marsigli is the first man to work on the currents, the fishes, and the winds patterns of the Bosphorus. He published his book in Rome in 1680. Most of the knowledge he uses comes from the Italians who were captured in Istanbul and who lived very close to the sea in Rumelihisarı and Yedikule. In fact this bondage is not dungeon life; they are under custody. He says that he wrote from the details he learned from conversations he had with them.

Özdemir: I want to share the connotations that you have told. It is generally something like this: “There was no Encyclopedist in Turkey. While there were Encyclopedists, there has never been such an effort in Turkey, or let’s say the Ottoman.” This came up to my mind repeatedly while listening to you. There is no systematic encyclopedia work, but the fact that the compiled and collected knowledge, the journal is very important in this respect. There was such an effort. I do not know how fair it is to make a comparison, but ultimately this effort is something that overlaps at different levels.
When it is said “historical,” it is taught by heart by categorizing and approaching things with a certain prejudice.

For example, what you talked about in your “Servant Conversations”; in the story of Murad IV and Evliya Çelebi, Murad the Sultan comes out of the bath and turns him over his shoulders. It is a true story. In these cases, we need to read everything we know so far from somewhat different perspectives. What would you like to say about this?

Kafadar: You are right. You summarized it perfectly. There is not much to say beyond giving examples. 17th and 18th centuries became “the dark centuries.” This darkness is not just in the sense of being unknown. In people’s imaginations, many dark things happened in those centuries. But for quite a while, many of our colleagues were trying to overcome these prejudices and these patterns. Whether it is in textbooks or in popular publications, it is much more difficult to reflect on the mediums, which often appear in public.

But if we take the case of Mehmet Genç; he has dedicated his life for the Ottoman bureaucracy of the 18th century, we can say that it is a very sophisticated century –at least for the financial bureaucracy- that the most important works have been accomplished. He is a very good example for us: “No, do not underestimate the 18th century.” Look, the notes held by the financial bureaucracy of the 18th century are, okay, very different from the 16th century, but not less than that, nor less developed than that.

On the contrary, they are dealing with many more questions and with much more interesting and new instruments. Moreover, these are not just bureaucratic notes. Projects like developing the “mukataa” system, creating the “gedik” system… Some of them were successful, some were unsuccessful. But, does not every economic measure seem so? We can see from the writings of Mehmet Genç that the age was full of innovations.

It unfortunately takes time to change the grand narrative with such works. I did notice this over time. It cannot be done by one or two articles. However, we now have an accumulation, and we can look at the issues through a very different lens. The infrastructure has been created, and depending on this, the reflection on a novel or cinema can be more influential than an article of a historian. Yet all of these are not the options of one good, one bad. All these feed off of each other. I know that a good novelist, a good cinema producer reads –at least at his/her best – what academic historians write. I’m not saying “they follow the historian.”
I should not give a name. I don’t want someone to say that ”he flattered one writer and criticized the other’”. I guess that these are the things that feed off of each other. So it happens. As a result, we are impressed by the films we watch, the novels we read, the works based on imagination. If I have not been interested in or paid no personal curiosity to cinema studies, I would not be able to see Eremya Çelebi’s notes as camera-like views. These are the kinds of exchange.
As we come to the 17th century… indeed you have expressed this very well. The question that we are having trouble with understanding is why Ottoman society and its cultural heritage, which are rich in depth, are continually and unnecessary compared with Europe, and yet not very well informed about Europe. “So many travelers came from Europe, and the Ottomans did not like travelling.” You just said something like this: “You may not be at the same standards, but you can overlap.” Let’s see how many people are gone. “category ‘none’” is a very bad category. Once you said “None”, there is no enthusiasm for more research, or a desire to know.
They say “there was no voyage in the 17th century. No change in the 17th century.” All that traditional discourse: “Everything is getting worse. We can save if we return to the old order, or we will be wretched.” Everything went bad because they could not manage to turn the old order. They had a concept of “Golden Age” in their minds. So they wanted to return to the Golden Age –that is the Age of Suleiman, to revive those institutions. That is to say, “the [lists of] ‘There was’- and ‘There was not’”

“There were no individuals in the Ottomans. Did any of the Ottoman Muslims go to international trade?” Come on, for God’s sake! And yet, there is a huge, dynamic, brilliant Europe, with all of these on top of each other, with those “there was’s”. So one may say this: “So why should I work on the 17th and 18th centuries, buddy?”

A traveler, two travelers, three travelers… We actually find it as we look closer. Once we used to say, “For the Ottomans, there was no ‘I’ narrative”. When I wrote the memoirs of that dervish, I said relatively reluctantly: “Not bad, see? I started to say there was this and there was that…”
After that, some grad students and colleagues both from Turkey, Europe and America began to find succession of different ‘I’ narratives. We began to think that the ‘I’ narratives, the first person narratives, came from different genres. There are as many kinds of materials we cannot handle at the moment –such as adventure and conversation, both developed in the 17th century.

Of course we have to study comparative history. I always take the side of comparisons. It is very natural to compare with Europe. Firstly, they are overlapping, very close geographies with which there is very close contact. Secondly, as European historiography is relatively advanced, the cases we have here that we can preemptively compare are easier. But we have made the comparison itself a fetish. It’s not just us. I’m also talking to my Indian history colleagues: “There is a scientific revolution there, there is capitalism, there is Renaissance, there is this and that. Do you have it? No.” So what then? It’s completely different. In fact, it is tempting to write the history in a way that narrows the opportunities for a useful comparison. Orientalism has thoroughly suppressed it in a complex way, bringing it to the desk of scholars. In Oriental societies, there is no this, there is no that, there is no those. What is absent? Those were the ones that exist in Europe; there is no modernity that comes with a certain urban life, bourgeoisie, capitalism, individual, Renaissance, and reform. We used to think that we overcame this. However it reappears with its “neo-” versions.

Or, sometimes we’re having a seminar with the students, we almost start celebrating ourselves: “OK, now that old paradigm is over. We will not look at the 17th century only in the framework of regression, pause. We will not just look at the axes of ‘None’s. Now they are overcome,” we say. Then I get on a plane, a very popular journal is writing an Ottoman history on the “weekend page” and I say “Oh my God” to myself.

Özdemir: And you say, “How are we going to fix these?”

Kafadar: “How are we going to fix these? What are we going to do?” Of course there is a risk of falling into Romanticism. Çelebis, journals, curiosity for geography… They follow Europe. One should also think and balance this side of the issue.

Firstly, the 17th century is not a pretty, nice, and calm century. For making an Age of Çelebis, all the features of ‘Çelebi’ness with its new definition… As is known, being a Çelebi means something like being a Şehzade (Prince) at first. It is used in various dynasties in the Ottoman Empire. But this new concept of Çelebi, which starts in the 16th century and develops within the 17th century, is even more difficult term to define. The term is used in religious sects, especially among Mevlevis. Even the earliest uses are there: There are examples like Hüsamettin Çelebi and Ulu Arif Çelebi. Then it is used in various dynasties of the Ottoman Empire – but in this sense “Çelebiness”, which started from the 16th century and matured in the 17th century – is also very tough on the one hand.

In a speech I delivered last December, I mentioned [the 17th century] that “The toughest, most falcon century of the Empire”, referring to İlber Ortaylı’s brilliant “The longest century” [of the 19th century]. It’s the toughest, most “çelebi century”. Çelebiness is not just knowledge to cope with the world, to deal with the world, and Kâtip Çelebi is aware of this –even the ships of Europeans and the geographical knowledge that Piri Reis had mentioned – are commonly known as the age of Kâtip Çelebi. Therefore he says: “Their knowledge of geography and the ships are quite superior.”

No matter how peaceful you are, war, as it is today, is a fact of the world. Kâtip Çelebi has to think about it as well. It is not about preoccupation with knowledge, with abstract knowledge, but also with practical aspects of it.

In what context is the book “The Grand Prix about the Sea Wars” written? The Venetians closed the Dardanelles to traffic and besieged the ships. There is no grain coming to Istanbul. A very hard and tough winter, much needed grain does not come to Istanbul, especially from Egypt. There are multiple difficulties. This is happening in the context of the Cretan Wars. On the one hand, there are various problems in the city. There are four (maybe five) major riots between 1648 and 1656.

Kâtip Çelebi writes in a very practical sense. When we talked about it before, I treated the information problem only as an information problem. But besides this, there is a practical side such as “how do we cope with these Venetian ships?” When Kâtip Çelebi is interested in this issue, it is a continually tough century. Jalali Revolts started at the end of the 16th century, and it is not clear if it is over at the beginning of the 17th century. It is best to say that it remains ongoing in different forms at that time. Urban revolts, especially between 1648 and 1656, are flourishing politics over the course of the “long’ 17th century”. There is a financial crisis. Kâtip Çelebi knows the financial bureaucracy very well. A small but very important book of reforms written by him; “Düstru’l-amel” (Political Theory) is on the subject.

I mean, one should not romanticize it. It was a tough century –with all its domestic and international political aspects. People like Kâtip Çelebi, from another perspective, feel that they cannot keep up with the needs of knowledge of the time. It is the same for Evliya Çelebi. Evliya Çelebi admires the hospital after strolling St. Stephan’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) and its mausoleum in Vienna. The display of brain surgery he saw there is very innovative and very important for him.

Özdemir: And there is a gravure of it.

Kafadar: Is there a gravure?

Özdemir: I guess a miniature of that scene. I had posted it on twitter.

Kafadar: I would love to see it.

Özdemir: I will send it to you. I believe a Western painter takes up that scene; very interesting work.

Kafadar: For example, while he (Evliya) is describing the library in Vienna, he suddenly jumps to the neglect of a library he sees in Alexandria. Directly, he also makes such a comparison: “The stem flows. He does not show honest care to books.”

Özdemir: So there is a quest.

Kafadar: Yeah. There is definitely a quest. There are Ottomans who are in a mood of “Hey, we are neither sufficient in material culture nor in the mechanisms of gathering and producing information.” Hezarfen Hüseyin is one of them. It turns in unexpected moments. For example: Silahtar. “The History of Silahtar” puts cases back to back… Those chronicles are treated unfair. I can say those histories have very important historical approach; even some of them have philosophy of history –such as Naima’s. It is certainly very sophisticated source, if you look closer without cliches like “This is someone who just describes case after case.”

As we come to Silahtar: when he traveled from Romania to the north of the Black Sea with the Ottoman Army – Evliya Çelebi also writes on the same topic – he writes on multi-floored stone houses and explains the material culture around them with a great admiration. Why would they not tell? They are not blind, nor are they stupid. One defines some things he sees. Maybe we were blind while assuming they were blind. But the things they see are not always innocent. So, it’s never something to be romanticized. These are the people who think, the people who are deep and refined. The writers, their readers, and the circles we talk about deserve to be given rights so that we read them seriously and deeply.

Sağsöz: Of course, we are giving a periodization here. Again, while talking about Antoine Galland, we were discussing “who was the sultan in 1672?” But the 17th century is so independent from the sultans… For example, we can count the sultans in the 15th or 16th century respectively – or the 16th century’s Golden Age. But in the 17th century there is no such thing. We do not know exactly who the sultan is, and there are no charismatic sultans as such. We mentioned a moment ago, in the narrative, it is also called the Age of Standstill. Can we talk a bit about this period of retrogression? Because your dissertation was on the Decline in the 16th century and your first book is on the foundation period of the Empire. Can we talk about this periodization? Where does the 18th century stand? Because we know the 19th century now was a long century.

Kafadar: A very good question. Let’s go from the particular to the general. 1672, the Period of Mehmed the Hunter (Mehmed IV) Can we use obscene words in this program?

Özdemir: You can use whatever you want. There is no RTÜK (The Supreme Board of Radio and Television) here.

Kafadar: I do not know the policy of Medyascope.tv. Mehmed the Hunter, as you know, was a hunter. If he is busy with hunting, some people must have dealt with government affairs. The phrase, “period of the Köprülüs” is already stated by Ahmed Vefik. Perhaps it is not a complete periodization in the sense that you ask. But this is an answer to why we do not know the Sultan in 1672. Because Mehmed the Hunter is not at the forefront so much, but it is, instead, the Köprülüs. Obviously, this is the Second Köprülü Period. Mehmed Pasha has already died and his son Fazıl Ahmed Pasha has replaced him. In that period after Murad IV, the sultans are consecutively making an impact. In the time of Mehmed the Hunter, there was a saying circulating among the people: “His father is addicted to vagina, he is addicted to hunting.” Because Evliya Çelebi wrote very well about Ibrahim the Mad. Evliya Çelebi has so sharp and critical observations: “He died while holding his penis” he says for Sultan Ibrahim. The writing of such words in a Sultan’s biography is real issue of bravery.

Özdemir: But Evliya Çelebi writes.

Kafadar:  Yes, this is Evliya Çelebi; he definitely writes. These are circulating around. As a biography of the Sultan, this never confronts us. However, it should. Evliya Çelebi narrates Sultan Ibrahim like this. A world he knows very well. Evliya Çelebi is Istanbul resident. Until the time of Sultan Ibrahim, he did not start his travels. Even at that time, he spends a lot of time in Istanbul. For a short period, he lived in the palace during the time of Murad IV. He had a grasp of it.

Özdemir: Namely, he saw the penis.

Kafadar: If he describes it like this, I guess people were talking about it too. Some say: “Sultan Ibrahim? He…”

Kafadar: “Mehmed the Hunter was stuck in hunting but his father is that”… It was such a world, unfortunately. Even if it is known in our discourse of history, it is put aside. Also, it is not the real history; it is fun, small, episodic… we will tell each other and laugh at it, then we will continue with “the real history.” However, this is simply “the real history.” The one is addicted to hunting, and the other is addicted to sex.

Sağsöz: You even think it is some sort of fetish, don’t you?

Kafadar: Yes, I think it is. I think calling Ibrahim the ‘Mad’ is not fair. Of course, this is waggish. I mean: The fetish issue is perceived very differently in different societies and times. Ibrahim the Mad lived in the wrong time.

I mean, it was such a time. The period of characters that I am talking about, that I am telling according to the people’s epithets, although the sayings are obscene, was naturally experienced differently from the 16th century. The Köprülüs gets on the stage as viziers. It takes a lot of time to build such a balance. In the first half of the 17th century, or until the Köprülüs, we see that the viziers were replaced very often. Whoever they are, successful or not, they were replaced very often. If we evaluate that period, this is a phenomenon that should be taken into account for a period of 50-60 years in itself.

If I come back to the question of periodization: I will give an example from a Monty Python movie. Periodization is always a slippery slope. It depends from where we look. Of course, the perspectives change over time. Even it shows differences within the same time. There is a character called Baron von Münchhausen, who the Germans have told us through funny stories. I will compare him with Nasreddin Hodja, but he is quite different. He is an 18th century character. Let’s call him the basic character in joke collections. They made a film about him. It’s a pretty good movie. One of the episodes takes place in the harem. The film begins in English as following: “The Age of Reason.”  It is slowly getting dark. The next scene: “Wednesday.” It’s already starting to show the armies. The armies will fight, everyone will destroy each other. With the term “the Age of Reason”, it makes a periodization by using the age of reason and makes a mockery with both. If “the Age of Reason” returns immediately to the armies, it will already have made an irony. And it also adds Wednesday. Actually, according to the rhythms we have in everyday life, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, this year, last year, this spring, etc. are more important. We give such big names and trivialize Wednesday, Thursday, all of them. “The Age of Reason” is like a fact that covers all. Oh! Descartes says “the Age of Reason.” However, people in there have never heard and will not hear Descartes in their lifetime. They’re trying to earn some money. “Wednesday” refers to this.

But we cannot historicize without doing it. Although some say “why is there a need for periodization? It is sufficient if we just mention the history of the subject we are dealing with,” it’s been repeatedly shown that this is not possible. In fact, when you say the Middle Age, the Modern Age, the 17th century, you make a periodization. Why do you not use Hijri calendar? You’re attributing something to that 17th century. A being… a state of being a unit.

I start my two-semester class, from the Middle Ages, actually from around the year 1000 – both from the year 1000 in Byzantine lands and from the year 1000 with Turks coming from Central Asia, also from the periods of some transformations in the Islamic world. Because nothing happened in 1550 – a year of which nothing happened. Of course, this is not true.

Özdemir: Nothing important happened.

Kafadar : Taking it from 1550, the end of the period is not clear. 1918? 1920? 1923? 1924? Many things can be taken into account, but it’s also in a small timeframe. Why do I bring it to 1550? Because the first coffee shop’s opened in Istanbul in 1550.

Özdemir: Yes, the most important development.

Kafadar: The emergence of a new urban community – I give this example laughingly; something else can be chosen instead of a coffee house – in that period, in the mid-16th century, not only in the Ottoman world but also in many places, a new urban community and some new features of it are beginning to emerge. Çelebi is a product and reflection of this, within the 17th century context. Of course, it is always dangerous to give exact dates, but we all know that in the second half of the 16th century, towards the end of it, there are great transformations and we have to talk about something new from then on. For example, Baki Tezcan put the name of “Second Empire” to his book. There are a lot of changes during that period.

Think about it: The timar and devshirme system, which form the basis of the Ottoman order. We do not have to talk about how central they are. They both start to disintegrate. This is not a sudden change, but their forms in 1550 and 1600, even in 1650 are very different. New institutions, new implementations, new mechanisms, new instruments have replaced them. Instead of devshirme, different human recruitment models are implemented.

Second: The dynastic shift is changing. If you are going to write a constitution for any monarchical system, there is no written constitution but let’s say “what did the Constitution of the Ottoman Empire look like in 1580 or 1620?”, how did power pass from one ruler to another, – this is the most fundamental issue for every regime; we are now doing it with elections – for example, “his men will go away, the men of the other will come, this part will go away as the other will not change.” This system is changing.

The state’s land and population census models, the method of the census, – we can say it depends on timar system, but it is an important mechanism in itself – change. It is a model that the Ottomans created and implemented very successfully in their own age, compared to all the neighboring and different states. We cannot say that those who did census or cadastral operations were only Ottomans. But it is a method that the Ottomans shone out among their contemporaries. This method is changing. We can give additional examples.

So, I do not think it’s necessary to determine a date for it. But in the second half of the 16th century, a great transformation begins. I think this is a transformation that takes place in an interaction with what is happening in the world. If no such thing as “the Military Revolution” occurred, perhaps this change in Timar and Devshirme did not take place, or maybe it would not happen radically.

I want to continue with educated people, but how much time do we have?

Özdemir: We have no time limit. The reflection of this sub-structure presumably sets the next period.

Kafadar: We can say that, because there is such a dimension. Moreover, they see a problem, a deficiency, an imperfection in the relationship of this emerging structure and the rest of the world that we just talked about. They are trying to take care of it. They are trying to think about new solutions for this. Or they cannot think. For example, Evliya Çelebi is not someone who is trying to produce new solutions. But neither is Kâtip Çelebi. He has some direct writings on the reforms. I think we can say that Evliya Çelebi also has some indirect writings. But aside from that, there are people who problematize this. “Where is the world, where are we? How can the Ottoman society’s various problems, their characteristics, be portrayed?”

Özdemir: So it’s actually today’s problems. The problems that we are also talking about, that we are worried about, comparing and contrasting today. There is no difference between them and us.

Kafadar: Right.

Sağsöz: There is also such a problem: the crisis at the beginning of the 16th century, sorry, the crisis at the beginning of the 17th century, the layouts presented to the Sultan, the ideas of collapse or depression probing “are we going backwards?” constitute a discourse that reaches our day. I remember Ismail Cem’s book, “The History of Underdevelopment in Turkey.” Even, this is a text that can be evaluated within the decline discourse. It stems from that.

Kafadar: You are absolutely right. Indeed, we can see a continuum of generations, from the decline writer Mustafa Ali of Gallipoli, who has been very active in the late 16th century, to our day. Of course, this idea is evolving. Mustafa Ali has no important observations about the West. Such a questioning had not started at that period. But starting from Kâtip Çelebi, the so-called questioning comes up in a serious way. We have already talked before: the Venice example. Or Evliya Çelebi’s Vienna example. In the middle of the 16th century, the Western issue, this consciousness of decline, begins more seriously to be part of the literature on decline. In the 18th century, it will even take much different forms. Again, because of very obvious reasons, it will almost become the only big issue in the 19th century.

After the industrial revolution of the 19th century, there is such an imbalance because of both military and economic reasons. Of course, it transforms the subject of “West” into “WEST”. But even if the role of the West evolves in this process, also the role of other things evolve, decline consciousness and the literature on decline keep going by referencing each other. For example, those who wrote at the beginning of the 17th century are aware of Mustafa Ali. Koçi Bey is aware of both Mustafa Ali, and “Kitab-ı Müstetab”, or similar literature. Provincial Treasurer Mehmed “the Blonde” Pasha makes direct quotations from Mustafa Ali. Even he does not call them quotations. It may be seen as plagiarism in today’s understanding, but I think it is not; it is a different understanding of source. We came to Provincial Treasurer Mehmed “the Blonde” Pasha. End of the 17th century, beginning of the 18th century. We can continue in this way.

I, particularly, read in my youth, such as the book of Ismail Cem, or the question in Niyazi Berkes’s book; “Why have we been hesitating for 200 years?” A question that is the continuation of the literature on decline, and we still ask it today. Some take it to 100 years ago, some to 200 years ago; some take it from Suleiman, some from Vienna (1683)… But this question is constantly on the agenda. Maybe we should learn to ask the question in different ways. If a question does not allow an answer, we can sometimes say “This question is not asked very well, should be asked in a different way.” This does not mean a total disregard, it’s something different.

The çelebi is an example of very creative – very brilliant and influential over generations – Ottoman man who deals with these questions in his own times and widens Ottoman thought’s horizon. For example, we cannot talk about educated persons – that is there are people named Çelebi – of the 15th and 16th centuries like this. In fact, there are very few thinkers from outside the madrasa, a thinker who has not received such a serious education does not come to my mind. But after Kâtip Çelebi, we cannot tell the story without taking someone like Kâtip Çelebi serious. We can describe the people who determine the horizon of Ottoman thought before Kâtip Çelebi as a community consisting of persons coming from the madrasa, the Palace, Enderun, and a mixture of these milieus. There is a change starting with Kâtip Çelebi. He gives us an example in the midst of these great transformations, both at that time, and later on, of the values attributed to the educated person- the word has also become an adjective, not only a name, a nickname, a title. “Çelebi, having an educated person attribute” is also used as an adjective – the point at which that development manifests in a mature manner, I think, is the period between the middle of the 17th century and the middle of the 18th century. After that, ‘Çelebi’ness, as educated personhood, does not mean the same thing when the word is used again.

Özdemir: We have been talking about one and half an hour… Thank you.

Sağsöz: Let’s mention the professor’s book.

Özdemir: It’s been a great conversation. Professor Cemal Kafadar’s book “A Rome of One’s Own” was just published by Metis Publishing Co. We got it and read it immediately. In fact, when we invited him for this program, the book had not been published yet. After that, I think that “Between Two Worlds” is also being prepared for publication by Metis Publishing. We also want to have you on the show to talk about it, too. We will end the show by taking his autograph. Thank you very much.

Kafadar: Thank you.

Sağsöz: Thank you so much.

Özdemir: It was so kind of you to join us. We wish you all a good night. We do not have live broadcasting next week; it’s because of a Festival day. We will have some rest. Yet, the following week in our 58th program, we will…

Sağsöz: We will talk about the Magna Carta. The original text is translated into Turkish by Dr. Fatih Durgun, who works on English political history. We will talk with him. It will be a great conversation.

Özdemir: Hope to see you in two weeks, goodbye.

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