Author Ibrahim Karahasan-Chynar: Turkish Minority Can and Should Have Constructive Place in Bulgarian Society, Politics
Ibrahim Karahasan-Chynar (left) at the promotion of his book "The Ethnic Minorities in Bulgaria." Photo from personal archive
Neighboring Turkey has always caused fierce debates in Bulgaria on the 500 years of Ottoman rule, on the interpretation of historical facts, on the Communist regime's Revival Process to replace the names of Bulgarian Muslims with Christian ones, on the existence on an ethnic Turkish party – the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, on Bulgarian Turkish emigrants in Turkey, on the so-called "Turkish" vote and the possible EU membership of our neighbor.
This fall, passions flared even more with the airing on TV7 of the famous Turkish prime time historical soap opera TV series "The Magnificent Century" dedicated to the rule of the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, also known as the Lawmaker and his love for Ukrainian (Slavic) concubine Hurrem (Roxelana, Roxolana), who conquered his heart and soul and even became his wife and queen, something unprecedented in Ottoman history.
Because we wanted to hear the opinion of a representative of the Turkish minority on these subjects, Novinite.com и Novinite.bg approached Bulgarian ethnic Turkish author and writer Ibrahim Karahasan-Chynar, one of the top and most renowned contemporary researchers on Balkan, Turkish and Ottoman history.
Ibrahim Karahasan-Chynar was born in 1955 in the Bulgarian Danube town of Nikopol and in 1969 his family moved to the capital Sofia. He graduated from the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" with majors in History and Geography. Karahasan-Chynar is working as an educator and freelance writer and journalist. He is the founder of the "Turkish Cultural Center 21st Century" and the Public Council of Ethnic Minorities in Bulgaria. He is a member of the editorial teams of several magazines and author of the books "Turkey," "Ethnic Minorities in Bulgaria," and the tetralogy "The World of Islam."
Is the name a pseudonym?
Yes, Chynar in Turkish means sycamore. It came naturally when I started working as writer and journalist. In my native town of Nikopol (where I lived until the age of 13) during my childhood this is how friends called me. It is like a family marker since my grandfather's time and I am named after him. Mom was called that as well.
How was your interest in Islam born?
It definitely happened after September 11, 2001, after the terror act in New York when new interpretations came pouring in and Islam faced a strong challenge. Some "experts" began purporting the start of a new phase of rivalry and even a battle between the Holy Books of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I wish to stress that for me Islam is not simply a religion, it is also history, philosophy, science, culture, and a way to peacefully coexist with the rest of the world. Islam and Christianity both preach humility, charity and doing good deeds ("Islam" in Arabic means "peace", "humility"). The bloom of Islam, which not only shapes a community, but masters a wider spiritual space, is a factor for a future synthesis of humanity. It is a fact that Islam is on the rise not only globally but also on the Balkans and Bulgaria. The faith of all people is sacred. Only the desire to understand our differences will give us enough knowledge of the faith of others and that is a prerequisite for our common happiness.
Tell us briefly about your tetralogy "The World of Islam."
This work took about 5 years of my life, and I hope readers liked it. The tetralogy includes four volumes: "The Birth of Islam and Arab Expansion," "The Turkish World, Persia, Iran, Black Africa, Modern Times and the Balkans," "Ottoman Mysteries: the Janissaries," and "Ottoman Mysteries: The Harem."
The initial plan was to have two volumes, but later my publisher Elena Kozareva, from the publishing house LIK and I agreed to expand the topics and include two mystical Ottoman institutions. In reality, the last two volumes are also a chronology of Ottoman history. In the first two volumes, after every separate period, there is an additional chapter examining in detail the spiritual and material culture of the Muslim world, which I see as my work's special contribution.
How do you see contemporary Turkey?
In my book under the same name, published in 2002, I describe my views. I see Turkey as a factor on a global scale. The importance of Turkey for Europe and America now is greater than ever. Today it is the epicenter of a new regional system, born from the ruins of the Soviet Empire – Eurasia, which lays from the Balkans through the Caucasus to the new countries in Central Asia, and why not to the Arab world with its strive for reforms now. Thomas Friedman, a prominent American journalist, columnist and author, notes that a weak Turkey would be swallowed by the problems of the region and would export them to Europe, while a strong Turkey, tied with the West, could halt Iran's ambitions and spread its moral values among millions of Muslims from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan – values whose foundation is democratic, values of the moderate Islam, directed at a policy of integration of global economy.
There is much talk that nowadays Turkey is receding in its respect and veneration for Ataturk, and is turning back to the traditional Islam and even to an increased Ottoman propaganda? Your opinion?
There should be no other opinion than the one that Ataturk is an indisputable great factor in the new history of the State; the man who chose the right direction for his country. It is common knowledge that he was a great friend of Bulgaria. Regarding the expansion of Islam in the political life of Turkey, this symbolizes its geographic location between the East and the West. As far as alarm in certain circles about the successes of the pro-Islamists, I would cite the great Turkish politician Suleyman Demirel: "We are a secular State... True, there are 55 000 mosques in Turkey; there are people who pray 5 times a day and no one should obstruct them, nor those who do not go to the mosque should be forced to do so. Religious freedom is very important. It is a matter of personal choice while the State is the guarantor of the right of the personal choice to believe or not and what to believe in. This is a fundamental human right. Facts must be accepted in politics. Turkey is a stable, secular State."
Is there hope Turkey will join the EU soon?
Despite some conditionality in the clauses, I personally believe Turkey must join the "Christian club." It has been present in the Union for quite a while – it has been an observer for nearly half century; there is a Customs agreement since 1995, and it is a candidate member since 1999. Let's not forget that Turkey joined NATO as early as 1952. We must further stress that today Turkish diplomacy is breaking the former traditional boundaries and applies plenty of effort to open to the world. I recently read that Turkey does not have trade relations only with the small State of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean. In addition, it has not only political and economic ambassadors, but cultural factors such as authors Orhan Pamuk, Elif Shafak, pianist Idil Biret, pop singer Tarkan, neurosurgeon Ismail Hakki, scientists, athletes and so on.
What about Turkey wanting to join the EU? Does it, indeed?
Political and economic conditions require it. Huge capitals are being currently invested in Turkey; there are markets that depend on Turkish exports (including Bulgaria). I will note that Turkey is a very serious partner and this is evidenced by the fact that the largest factories of Renault are in Turkey, while Fiat, Opel, Toyota, Mazda, Ivecco, are all assembled there; there is a developing military industry (planes, helicopters, frigates, submarines). Europe is just one step away from Turkey. As they say: "Imams and minarets look at the East, at Mecca, while from their offices businessmen look at the West, at Brussels."
Do we, Bulgarians, have the true picture of the Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman rule in Bulgaria?
I don't think so. There are too many clichés, embedded from the past. There is some lack of good will; it seems some people are afraid that the status quo might change if they dig deeper in the past. And this is a golden time for it; Ottoman archives can be made available for a number of researchers. Nevertheless, we have researchers and writers with a new and more realistic view on the Empire: Antonina Zheliyazkova, Hristo Matanov, Vladimir Chukov, Stoyan Dinkov. It would be interesting, for example, to find out the contribution of some ethnic Bulgarians for the rise of the Empire – viziers, military chiefs, scientists, etc. In recent years, the issue with terminology such as "rule," "yoke," "presence" had been a particular focus of many debates. For me, maybe the correct term is colonization – political and economic dependence of Bulgarians in the Empire from the Sultan. I would also add here that slave trade in the Empire has been banned in 1848, during the rule of Sultan Abdülmecid and great reformer Mustafa Resit Pasha. This is something Abraham Lincoln has done in the US in 1865.
What about the Harem?
The subject of the Harem is still a blank spot. Very little is known in Bulgaria about it, along with wrong views such as it being a dark place, a dungeon where many women lived in isolation. The Harem, actually, is a public institution, a small parliament, which has often directed the policies of the Ottoman Empire. A number of Sultans' women have left a bright mark in history. Five of them have been regents, such as for example, Turhan Sultan, who remained at that post for 30 years. Roxolana, Ukrainian by birth, had a significant role during the rule of her husband Suleiman, who had sought her advice about everything. Turhan Sultan has remained in history as an unsurpassed military strategist. She participated in making crucial decisions such as the rearmament of the army, re-equipment of navy ships, etc. Another famous Sultan wife is Kosem, who began the building of an irrigation system for farming and directed the rule of three Sultans. Safie Sultan, an Albanian, also left a memorable trace in the Empire. All this is described in the last volume of my tetralogy.
To change the subject – were you a direct witness and/or victim of the "Revival Process?"
Yes, of course. This was one of the biggest crimes of the Communist "elite" in Bulgaria. This political inhumane act changed many fates and inflicted moral and physical wounds on many of my fellow country people. It is sad that the culprits remain unpunished and many of those who took part in this campaign now hold senior posts.
What is the place of ethnic Turks in Bulgarian society and politics?
I would say constructive. However, their participation after the Liberation in 1878 has been restricted in a number of ways. It is a little-known fact that 30 representatives of the Turkish ethnic minority took part as members of the Great General Assembly in Veliko Tarnovo and they have signed the first Constitution. Actually, Turks have consistently taken part in the rule of the country until the arrival of the Communist regime on September 9, 1944, mainly on the ballots of the Agrarian Union. Naturally, during the Communist regime any inclusion in the rule of the country of ethnic Turks was simply formal. After the fall of the regime on November 10, 1989, their presence is most visible within the ranks of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, DPS. Outside politics, the minority has many talented intellectuals and artists – conductor Mesru Mehmedov, scientist Ibrahim Tatirli, folklorist Salih Bakladji, poet Recep Kupcu, jazz singer Yıldız İbrahimova, sculptor Vezhdi Rashidov, etc.
Is there an alternative of Ahmed Dogan and DPS?
We should note the positive contribution of DPS to democracy over the years and for preserving ethnic peace. It is sad that the Movement turned into a cover for the ambitions of leaders such as Ahmed Dogan, who cashed his power positions and, I dare to say, commercialized the noble aspirations of many of my country people. I believe that with his constant twists and turns and his participation in political corruption, he bears personal responsibility for the negatives of the Transition period. Traditional Bulgarian political parties have a duty to include more and more quality ethnic Turks in their ranks. This is the good alternative.
Are any of your books published in Turkish?
Currently, only one of them has been published in Turkish and it is a learn-to-read book – Picture Book for Children. I am very happy that it became the first book in Turkish in Bulgarian schools after 1989, allowing children to have a window to their native language. Otherwise, I have opportunities to have "The Ethnic Minorities in Bulgaria" published by a publishing house in Istanbul, but things there are still in the initial stage.
This interview in Bulgarian
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