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21.12.06 Bayrı, Warriors, Martyrs, and Dervishes

21.12.06 Bayrı, Warriors, Martyrs, and Dervishes

The problem of Byzantine-Turkish transformation in Asia Minor and the Balkan Peninsula has found growing scholarly attention in recent years. Numerous innovative studies reexamine and develop new approaches to matters of conflict and conquest, diplomatic, cultural, and religious interaction, social change, or artistic cross-fertilizations. The present monograph fits well into this trend by focusing on literary representations of interactions between Orthodox Christian and Muslim Turkish communities in frontier zones, cities, and imaginary spaces of the ‘land of Rome’ (bilād al-Rūm/Rum İli), i.e., Asia Minor and the Balkans, between the 13th and the 15th centuries. Kitapçı Bayrı attempts a comparative analysis of Turkish warrior epics and late Byzantine martyria, two literary genres which share the common intention to present both peaceful and violence-driven contact situations as a means of projecting identity, religious and moral superiority, and cultural and ideological attitudes. Battalname, Danişmendname, and Saltukname are well-known works of old Turkish popular literature, which in comparison to the highly refined products of Seljuk and Ottoman court historiography reflect more pristine layers of tribal nomadic culture. They relate the feats of Muslim heroes of Holy War (gaza), how they appropriated Byzantine lands, and which strategies they pursued in integrating Christian groups and individuals into a nascent Muslim society. Late Byzantine martyria have been much less studied despite the fact that these texts, as the author convincingly shows, are highly revealing with respect to Greek-Orthodox ways of self-assertion and identity formation in a time of multiple changes and menaces. In order to further elucidate the conceptual framework or historical background of her sources, the author also includes other contemporary sources, such as letters and documents of Byzantine churchmen or dervish vitas pertaining to the Abdalan-ı Rum tradition.

The introduction (1-21) broaches the question of identity formation in the context of political-cultural transformation in Asia Minor and the Balkans. Rather than presenting a comprehensive survey of scholarly debates, which in view of their complexities might well have gone beyond the thematic scope of this study, Kitapçı Bayrı highlights certain key features which are especially explanatory regarding the underlying thought world of epics and martyria, such as the substrate of nomadism, the tension between Islamization, conversion, and resistance in matters of religious identity, the persistence of Byzantine identity patterns among the Greek-Orthodox population and its relations with imperial power and ecclesiastical institutions.

The body of the book is divided into three chapters, which revolve around different text genres but maintain a similar analytical structure throughout the whole study. The reader is thus encouraged to make his own comparisons between the subunits of each genre. All chapters include a discussion of geographical space (frontiers, cities, provinces, or regions outside the land of Rum) identity (us), and otherness (them). Moreover, each chapter has individual subunits according to the particularities of each genre. ‘Warriors’ (22-95) examines the epical narratives about Seyyid Battal and Ahmed Danişmend. A long section is dedicated to the topic of love affairs and descriptions of banquets and food (57-88). Relations between Muslim heroes and Christian women serve as idealized models of integration into a jihad-driven warrior elite. The episodes reflect aspects of cultural and ideological merging through friendship and loyalties, as well as a sense of superiority on the part of the conquerors. The juxtaposition of Christian and Muslim feasts, food habits, and dishes showcase diverging customs and traditions of Byzantine and Seljuk aristocracies and underline the cultural gaps separating the two spheres. Christian fasting habits and Christians’ predilection for types of meat and seafood despised by Muslims create a stark contrast to the superior standards the narrative ascribes to the food culture of the Muslim community. Kitapçı Bayrı’s thorough analysis of Byzantine and Seljuk-Ottoman practices contributes significantly to a better understanding of cuisine and food habits in medieval Anatolia. Regarding the political background, the author develops and interesting argument that Ahmed Danişmend could be linked with the historical figure of Sultan Izzeddin Keykavus II (1246-1262). ‘Martyrs’ (96-157) shifts the focus to the Christian-Orthodox viewpoint. Most of the martyrdom stories are set in the context of Muslim oppression: Niketas the Younger was killed in December 1282 in Nyssa near Kırşehir in Cappadocia; Michael of Alexandria was captured near Smyrna and sold to the Mamluks in Egypt; the martyrs of Philadelphia resisted an attack of Umur of Aydın in 1348; Theodore the Younger from Adrianople had been captured and raised as a Muslim but later converted to Christianity; the soldier George was sentenced to death after blaspheming Muhammad in the bazar of Adrianople. For comparison, the author adds other examples of late Byzantine martyrs, such as the thirteen monks of Kantara on Cyprus, who were executed by the local Latin authorities, and the three martyrs of Vilnius, who suffered death at the hands of the pagan lord of Lithuania. For all the fictitious elements embroidered in these narratives, they include numerous references to the historical realities of Christian life under Muslim rule, as Kitapçı Bayrı points out through the evidence provided by other contemporary sources. ‘Dervishes’ (158-188) focuses on the legendary character of Sarı Saltuk, who combines the qualities of a warrior, a miracle worker, and a dervish and appears as a kind of spiritual leader of Turkish Muslim settlers in the Balkan Peninsula. The geographical space here is a universal contact zone between Christianity and Islam, which is inhabited by Franks, Romans, nomadic gazi warriors, and saintly figures, who show parallels with itinerant abdaldervishes. Ten maps illustrate the region’s development from eleventh-century Byzantium to the time of Süleyman the Magnificent and the story world of the epics.

I conclude this review with some comments on details or side aspects of Kitapçı Bayrı’s study. ‘Patriarchal registers’ (e.g., 103, 105, 127) should be read as ‘letters’ or ‘documents’ and ta ton Rhomaion (115) means ‘Roman territories’ rather than ‘things.’ As for the Battalname, it is important to also consult Şevket Küçükhüseyin’s Selbst- und Fremdwahrnehmung im Prozess kultureller Transformation (Vienna, 2011), esp. 249-312, which poses similar questions. Of special interest is his comparison with an older epic layer represented by the Arabic Dhāt al-Himma romance, but also with Aşıkpaşazade’s presentation of Osman Gazi as warrior hero and saint. Kitapçı Bayrı convincingly interprets episodes of the Danişmendname as reflecting family structures and nobility concepts of the Komnenian aristocracy. One may add that the love affair stories (62-66) also tally with some historical incidents of intermarriage between Greeks, Armenians, and Turks, as described in contemporary chronicles along with other forms of cross-border mobility. As regards the Kantara monks (99-103), it is important to note that the monks were not executed for insisting on the Orthodox use of leavened bread in the Eucharist, something that the Latin Church actually tolerated as an alternative option, but for calling Latin Christians heretics due to their use of unleavened bread. Hence, there is a typological parallel with the execution of Niketas (104-108), who was condemned not for his steadfastness in faith by defying Ramadan but for blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. Ideological links with Andronikos II’s restoration of Orthodoxy (104-105) are thinkable, but Niketas’ behavior was primarily an act of seeking martyrium through a conscious provocation of the authorities rather than a statement of upholding the right faith. Likewise, caution is warranted regarding possible links between the neo-martyrs and the hesychast movement (113-115). This inner-Byzantine theological controversy certainly impacted political and ecclesiastical factions and led to an approach between anti-hesychasts and pro-Latins, but it is hard to see any direct influence on the patriarchate’s policy towards Islam or Christians in Eastern Europe. It is true, however, that Theodore’s decision to seek martyrdom through reconversion (115-116) and the Lithuanian martyrs’ defiance of Prince Olgerd’s paganism (124-126) are in line with the patriarchate’s general attitudes towards conversions among Christians living under Muslim rule and claims to universal spiritual guidance (120-124). Another noteworthy aspect broached by Kitapçı Bayrı is the possible impact on the patriarchate of Emperor John V’s 1355 letter to the pope and his act of conversion during his visit to Rome in 1369 (129-130). No doubt, the emperor’s pro-Latin policy was an immediate reaction to the growing threat of Ottoman expansion after 1354 and signaled a departure from John Kantakouzenos’ appeasement and alliance strategy. Nevertheless, John V’s declarations of obedience to the papal church never caused reactions comparable to those after 1274 or after 1438/39 and there seems to have been no serious disagreement between the emperor and the patriarchate in this period. It was also the time of the so-called Alexandrian crusade (1365) and expectations for efficient western help, such as the conquest of Gallipoli in 1366, must have had some bearing as well. All my remarks are merely meant to stimulate further discussions of these complicated issues and should by no means seen as criticism. Kitapçı Bayrı’s monograph is an impressive piece of innovative scholarship which in many ways breaks new ground through a parallel investigation of Byzantine and Turkish sources.