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The Russians and the Turks: Imperialism and Nationalism in the Era of Empires NORMAN STONE, SERGEI PODBOLOTOV, MURAT YASAR Comparing Russia and Turkey might appear to be a far-fetched enterprise. The differences are obvious, even too obvious to be dwelt upon at any length. There is a problem as to definition—what was nationalism about— and there is a difficulty as regards effect and timing. Russian nationalism (as distinct from empire-loyalism) is a nineteenth-century creation and Turkish nationalism came into being even later. Russian nationalists did not have to create a state until very, very late in the day—the end of the twentieth century, where Lenin’s body still lies in Red Square next to the symbols of imperial Russia. Turkic nationalists came into their own during the War of Independence after 1918, when, in response to Greek and other invasions, a new Turkish State was created. Its makers maybe had a long ancestry in terms of Muslims versus Christians, but their ancestry in terms of Turkish nationalism was quite short, not much longer than a single generation . In fact you can more or less date Turkish nationalism back to a conference in Paris in 1902, when various associations, broadly known as “Young Turks,” established a single “Union and Progress” association (which, like the almost contemporaneous Russian social-democratic congress , famously split). This essay will suggest that, despite these obvious differences, when it comes to imperialism and nationalism, there are never the less tantalizing comparisons throughout. A symbol: in both, the word ‘empire’ and ‘nationalism ’ had to be adapted from imports (for instance, in Turkish, imparatorluk ). Each country had a rather similar tangential relationship with the West, and each had had its period of glory, its empire. Each had its relationship with Christianity, and with Islam. Each had a native people, who gave their name to the empire, but sometimes could feel, none the less, that it was the victim of that empire. “Rus was the victim of the Russian empire ,” runs a well-established line.1 Adapt that to “Turkey was the victim of the Ottomans” and you might even find that one or other of the nationalists said it. It will be this paper’s argument that in certain aspects the similarities outweigh the differences. Hosking says that “a fractured and underdeveloped nationhood has been (the Russians’) principal historical burden .”2 This could easily be asserted to the Turks. IMPERIAL RULE There is, between the two, an important counterpoint, in that much of the modern history of both countries consists of a response to some action by the other. A most significant date was October 1552 when Ivan the Terrible took Kazan from the Tatars, cousins of the Anatolian Turks.3 From then on, Russia was in a slow ascendant, which, in the reign of Catherine the Great, became a rapid one. The famous naval battle of Cesme, in 1782, saw the Ottoman fleet crushed by a Russian fleet, which had entered the Mediterranean from the west, with British connivance. Thereafter, Russia became the great enemy for the Ottoman Turks, with only brief interruptions . In the eighteenth century the long war of Ottoman succession began, with long periods of peace, which lasted until 1918 when the empire finally broke up. Russians and Turks counted almost as hereditary enemies. Two nationalisms—or perhaps, more accurately, ideologies of empire—collided , and shaped the other. Initially, there was more in common than might be supposed. In the first place, there is the semi-Asiatic, Turkish character of some of Russian history, particularly in the period of the Tatars invasion —a contentious subject. Much of the Old Russian nobility, for instance , was of Tatar origin—Yusupov fromYusuf, Saburov from sabir, ‘patient ’, 4 even Godunov, of which the origin may be obscene.5 The great Prince Igor himself was three-quarters Polovtsian (Kipchak) and spoke a Turkic mother tongue.6 Russian nationalists of anti-western stamp, particularly desperate xenophobic evraziitsy of course played up this element of their past7 : why was Russia the only Slav country that had “succeeded”?Yet even N.M. Karamzin said, “Moscow owes its greatness to the khans” and Vernadsky noted that Muscovy’s state centralization came through “Mongol principles of administration”.8 There is a counterpart in Turkish historiography . What did the Ottomans owe to Byzantium? Russia obviously owed a great deal, though this may be contested because of the echoes of PanSlavism which to some Russians was nonsense upon stilts, in Bentham’s...


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