Balkan Identities through the optics of Turkishness

Yordanka Bibina.

The Balkan identities were formed in the context of building the nation-states and were marked by some common features due to the common space and common temporal co-ordinates. The processes of self-consciousness and identity building go through “inclusion” and “exclusion”, by outlining the differences between “Us” and “Them”. The extremely compound ethnic mosaic inherited by the Ottoman State and by later migration processes has complicated the forming of national identities in the Balkans.

What about the Turkish national identity, it started to be formed under the impact of processes of Westernization. The initial phases were marked by the influence of three different trends – Islamism, Ottomanism and Turkism and sometimes by their mixture. They not only hamper the national consolidation but also blur the Turkish identity. It was only in the period of transition from Empire to the Republic when the principles of modern Turkish nationalism started to be spelled by Ziya Gokalp. Later they were strengthened by the national ideal built in the years of struggles for independence. However, it never turns into that kind of “national idea” that monolithically grounded the national identities of other Balkan nations. In addition to that, Turkish identity is still going to be self-transformed under the pressure of latently preserved nucleus of controversial identities (Turks as Muslim, Turks as Turkic Family, Turks as traditionalists versus modernists, etc.) Even today Turkish identity is multiple one and includes internal tension between “Western” nationalistic components and “Eastern” ones, implanted in the ethnic cultural consciousness and historical mythology. To some extend, Turkish identity was built on the “ethic/cultural nationalism”.

In this aspect the Balkans are some pint of “cultural geography”, that creates a serious tense in Turkish national identity because the Balkans are the starting point of Empire’s “European being”, but where from it also start loosing its territories. Therefore, the loss of Balkan territories became a severe trauma in the Ottoman intellectual elite that aggravated the syndrome of survival.

The paper deals with Yashar Nabi’s work The Balkans and Turkishness, written in mid-30s’ on the bases of his traveling notes during the trip to Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece. It is interesting with its view of Balkan neighbor through the prism of its attitude to the Turkish presence, as we broadly could interpret “Turkishness”.

In his narration author build the image of the Balkans as an Old Motherland, a land conquered on the price of shed Turkish blood, land where the legend of Turkish heroes lived for centuries, as a “lost land” and tombstone of Turkish suffering, an wound in Turkish self-consciousness and as a source of never ending Turkish nostalgia. From the other hand, the image of the Turks is built as an ex-master, possessor of those lands that he lives with grief and sorrow and as a “hateful enemy” for his neighbors and victim of Western narration in the spirit of Crusades. Not all of Balkan images however are the same; they are drawn in different colors and nuances. Anyway, in the narration of Balkan identities through the optics of Turkishness the most important is minority policy. The positive or negative image of the Balkan neighbor is created in accordance with conditions for cultural progress he provided or failed to provide to its Turkish minority. Alongside with that the “Balkan trauma” is a quite important factor in forming the national identity of consolidating Turkish nation, what is a core of the Kemalist cultural policy.

From the other hand author cannot ignore some common Balkan cultural features. The mixture between Eastern and Western cultural traditions, leads to the specific character of both the Balkans and Turkey. In this sense, Yashar Nabi’s text is an interesting and “land marking” narration that throw light on the processes of identity building in the Balkans.