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We will send regular newsletters to our members who have signed up for receiving it during the registration. In 'mymerhaba' newsletter, our editorial staff provides updates, with regard to any information related to places worth visiting, viewing, or otherwise worth knowing, for those who care to know more....

Thousand Years of Culture

 Untitled Document

Our member Tosun Saral wishes to share the following article with mymerhaba community. Thanks Tosun!

Turkey Knocks on Europe's Door With a Thousand Years of Culture
By ALAN RIDING
Published: New York Times - February 1, 2005

LONDON - The Turks marched into central Europe in 1529 and again in 1683, but their troops were stopped at the gates of Vienna. Now, more politely, Turkey is looking to enter the European Union through diplomacy, but it still faces resistance. By all accounts, it must demonstrate over the next decade that a large Muslim nation deserves a place in Europe. To this end, it is mobilizing culture.

One step is "Turks: A Journey of a Thousand Years, 600-1600," a large exhibition running through April 12 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Most of the 350 objects on display come from two major Istanbul museums, while three Turkish business groups are the show's main sponsors. Turkey's culture minister, Erkan Mumcu, said he hoped the exhibition would help Turkey's campaign to become part of Europe.

And why not? Before Europeans hold referendums on whether to admit Turkey, they must better know a people whose popular image is still largely shaped by the clichés of warriors, harems and immigrants. Certainly, few Europeans today recognize Turkey as a modern secular state with a rich and sophisticated past. So, yes, if "Turks" travels around Europe, as proposed, it should prove something of a revelation.

At first glance its scope seems a tad ambitious: imagine choosing art to represent 1,000 years of European history. Here, however, the show's full title provides the key. The Turks became Turks only as a result of a long journey, one that transformed nomadic tribes living near Mongolia around 600 into the Ottoman Empire a millennium later. The art works in "Turks," then, track this complex voyage through time and space.

What this art in turn reveals is that, moving west along the Silk Road, these Turkic peoples absorbed the cultures and beliefs of the lands they crossed, settled, conquered or traded with. Thus, there is art influenced by China and the Venetian Renaissance as well as art that reflects their early practice of Buddhism, Nestorian Christianity and Manichaeism and their later conversion to Islam.

Today's Turks may come from a republic founded in 1923, then, but their roots stretch back centuries, from Central Asia to the Balkans.

This exhibition focuses on four crucial stages in the Turkic story, starting with the Uighurs, a nomadic people living in western China from the early seventh century. Surviving fragments of manuscripts, frescoes and textiles show Buddhist images and depict various deities. Perhaps most striking, though, is the strongly Chinese appearance and garments of many of the Uighur figures who appear in wall paintings discovered a century ago in the Chinese region of Xinjiang.

The critical move west occurred in the 11th century with another nomadic Turkic people called the Seljuks, who occupied Baghdad and controlled much of today's Iraq and Syria and part of Iran. Now Sunni Muslims, their artists illustrated the Koran and other manuscripts with delicate hand-painted scenes, while their ceramics, bronze sculptures and brass incense-holders showed clear Iranian influence.

When the so-called Great Seljuks were defeated by the Mongols, who destroyed Baghdad in 1258, a breakaway group called the Rum Seljuks moved into Anatolia and for the first time settled in what is today's Turkey. Among highlights from this period are hand-painted ceramic tiles depicting birds and animals, engraved copper coins, woolen carpets and a double door of wood, bronze and brass dating to the 13th century.

The Rum Seljuks were themselves crushed by the Mongols, but the Turkic epic resumes with the emergence of Timur, a ruler almost as feared as the mighty Genghis Khan himself. Known in the west as Tamerlane (and also as the "Tamburlaine the Great" of Christopher Marlowe's play), Timur left a trail of blood as he expanded his empire south and east, but he was also a devout Muslim and a patron of art, architecture and scholarship.

After his death in 1405, the Ottomans who had been brought together in Anatolia by Osman moved to fill the vacuum of power. And with Sultan Mehmed I, the five-century-long Ottoman saga began, leading to Mehmed II's conquest of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453 and followed by further imperial expansion under Suleyman the Magnificent, north through the Balkans toward Vienna and south and west into the Middle East and North Africa.

For all their image as a permanent military threat to Europe, the Ottomans were also ardent lovers of art and literature. Indeed, perhaps the most surprising works in this show come from the late 15th century. These are paintings attributed to Muhammad Siyah Qalam, known as Muhammad of the Black Pen, which offer extraordinary - and often humorous - insight into the lives, beliefs and imagination of the nomads of Central Asia.

There are demons aplenty depicted in combat, carrying a horse, trying to drive a "stubborn donkey," binding a "captured dragon," in conversation, dancing, even sawing a tree. There are also remarkable paintings depicting ordinary life: two men making rope, three men in conversation, a musician with an instrument resembling a lute, two men dancing wildly and a nomad grazing his horse.

While Siyah Qalam was looking east for inspiration, however, the Ottoman rulers were looking for recognition in the west. Thus, as early as 1480, the Venetian artist Gentile Bellini painted a portrait of Mehmed II wearing a large turban and a fur collar, while another Italian-style portrait attributed to Shiblizade Ahmed, also in this show, portrays Mehmed daintily smelling a rose. A sketchbook belonging to the sultan confirms his interest in art.

But it was under Suleyman the Magnificent, who ruled from 1520 to 1566, that the Ottoman Empire reached its height, not only in military ambition but also in art, architecture, literature and law. A fine Venetian portrait attributed to the circle of Titian shows the Sultan in profile, but it was the Ottoman style that dominated illuminated manuscripts, porcelain, weapons, carpets and furniture. Several silk and satin kaftans give a sense of the splendor of the court.

The idea of ending this show in 1600 flows from the belief that, after Mehmed III's death in 1603, the empire's centralized power began to ebb. Yet it still had three centuries to run, and in Europe its mystique lived on, inspiring Rembrandt portraits, Mozart and Rossini operas and the 19th-century fashion for Orientalism. In fact, how things Turkish long captured the European imagination would make for another fine exhibition. Perhaps this should be Turkey's next cultural step to win acceptance in Europe.





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