Bücher | Books - Part 26

posted by PP on 2005/07/21 13:22

[ Bücher | Books ]

Maximilian Hartmuth, Betreiber des BalkanCities-Weblogs, hat sich für die Balkan Academic News Book Review 7/2005 zweier Neuerscheinungen angenommen:

Oliver Jens Schmitt: Levantiner. Lebenswelten und Identitäten einer ethnokonfessionellen Gruppe im osmanischen Reich im "langen 19. Jahrhundert" und
Sezim Sezer Darnault: Latin Catholic Buildings in Istanbul. A Historical Perspective (1839-1923).
Vollständig zitiert handelt es sich bei den besprochenen Büchern um:

Schmitt, Oliver Jens: Levantiner. Lebenswelten und Identitäten einer ethnokonfessionellen Gruppe im osmanischen Reich im "langen 19. Jahrhundert" [Levantines. Life-worlds and identities of an ethno-confessional group in the Ottoman Empire during the "long 19th century"]. München [Munich]: Oldenbourg 2005. 515 pp., 65 EUR, ISBN 3-486-57713-1 (Hardcover)

Darnault, Sezim Sezer: Latin Catholic Buildings in Istanbul. A Historical Perspective (1839-1923). Istanbul: Isis Pres 2004. 259 pp., 30 EUR, ISBN 975-428-275-7 (Paperback)

Da die beiden Besprechungen derzeit noch nicht online gestellt wurden, hier in voller Länge die Rezension:

"Le Levantin est un Franc d'eau douce, une confusion d'Occident et d'Orient, sinon une synthese. [/] Il est quasiment impossible d'etre Levantin sans etre cosmopolite". [1]

The rediscovery, revitalization and reinvention of Istanbul's Beyoglu neighborhood, and the consequent establishment of the pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street, formerly "Grande Rue de Pera") as Turkey's primate city's main artery in the last quarter century have been the motor of an accelerated research into the former "quartiers latins" of the metropolis on the Bosporus. With their heyday in the late Ottoman period, it was the victory of Turkish nationalism that had driven the central neighborhoods of Galata and Pera into a decline that was to last from the establishment of the Republic (1923) until the 1980's. Yet, close to nothing has been published about the cosmopolitan community that once dominated these neighborhoods separated from the "oriental" city (Stamboul) by the Golden Horn; the infamous "Levantines" - a group of European-origin (or Europeanized) urban dwellers united in their adherence to the Roman Catholic Church. As the major reason for why no serious group history of the Levantines had been produced so far, Schmitt (15) sees the lack of a nation state behind this supra-national community, which would have reinforced research, as it was the case with other better-studied communities (Greeks, Armenians, Jews, etc.). Ottomanists, on the other hand, have often excluded the Levantines in their studies, for they, as citizens or protegees of European states considered actual "foreigners", were not to be treated within the framework of Ottoman history. (459)
Jens-Oliver Schmitt, who was recently named professor at the Institute for East European History at the University of Vienna, has now taken this task. Nevertheless, already in the introduction to his book he makes clear that he does not see his work as the final point to a research into this community but as a start, particularly in terms of monographs. Why this is an uneasy task, and why already at this point the author's courage needs to be acknowledged, will be discussed. The problem starts with the very definition, or the complete absence of an established formula. For instance, and in total contradiction to Schmitt, even prominent Ottoman historian Halil Inalcik, in the recently published double volume "Ottoman Civilization", described the Levantines as "a Europeanized domestic community" formed from "Greek, Armenian and Jewish translator families" [2].
At the beginning of his research, Schmitt had even admitted the possibility of the Levantine community (as such) having only been imagined by outsiders (20). While the problem of definition touches the very basics of a research into this community, it is also one of the most exciting in which, and the chapters on identity and language(s) may be considered the highlights of this pioneering study making extensive use of primary source material from various archives.
Most problematic in writing a history about this group - Schmitt's declared goal - is that the term "Levantine" was an exonym. While a group awareness of Catholics in a Muslim environment certainly existed, there was none of being "Levantines" per se, a term furthermore burdened with often negative associations (opportunism, immorality, intrigue, lack of interest in education and sciences, ignorance toward the immediate Muslim environment etc.). That the Levantines ("semi-Orientals") locally somewhat represented the Occident in the Muslim world was even occasionally seen as an embarrassment in the West. There, on the contrary, even the opinion of the Ottoman Muslims as "morally superior" to the Levantines was voiced. (70,71)
The original nucleus of the supra-national Levantine community was formed from Graecized descendents of Venetian and Genoese migrants to the medieval Aegean region, who later integrated further migrants from France, Italy, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the Holy Roman Empire. With Catholicism being the only constant - and not even that, as British, German and Dutch Protestants were considered an integral part of this community as well - languages, citizenships, and national association were confusingly often subject to change. As a rule rather than an exception, most of the (male) Levantines spoke four languages - Italian, French, Greek, and Turkish - but were said to master none of them to a satisfying degree. (72) While Italian had long been the lingua franca in the port cities of the Eastern Mediterranean, the more prestigious French really became the dominant language of conduct in the second half of the 19th century, wherefrom the common association of the Levantines with Francophonie derives. Women of Greek mother tongue, often Hellenized Catholics of Genoese origin from the Aegean islands ("Catholic Islanders"), were favored candidates for marriage, explaining not only the predominance of spoken Greek in everyday contexts, but - as Schmitt (375) points out - are also not to be underestimated in integrating the Latins into a local context.
At the beginning of the 19th century the Levantine communities of Istanbul (Constantinople) and Izmir (Smyrna), the two cities subject to Schmitt's study, were still confined to the "Frankomahalas" in Izmir, and Istanbul's Galata and Pera quarters, wherefrom they later expanded northwards, along the Bosporus, and to the Anatolian side. From the mid-19 th century onwards new migrants from Europe eventually broke with the tradition of the segregated "Frankish quarter" and started moving into Muslim-dominated Stamboul, which Schmitt (192) translates as an expression of a new-found self-confidence of Europeans in the late 19 th century Ottoman Empire, when the Western influence was at its peak. This massive influx of more recent migrants from Europe also resulted in a growing differentiation between the "Europeans" and the Levantines, with a part of the former rejecting integration with the local society emphasizing their Europeanness. An indigenization (or "Levantinization") was seen as going hand in hand loss of prestige. (59,203) Interestingly, Schmitt (462) asserts that the Levantines really were "occidentalized" only in the course of the 19th century, a Europeanization mainly manifest in an imported material culture.
Smyrna, on the other hand, had never witnessed such a strong immigration from Europe. There, in the late 19th century, Catholics of European origin nonetheless constituted some 10% of the urban population, compared to "only" about 3.5% in Istanbul. (299) Schmitt (307-308) claims that, while the influence of the Constantinopolitan Levantines in late Ottoman society is not to be underestimated, a sense of local identity was stronger in Smyrna, where also the interaction with other ethno-confessional communities was traditionally close, and argues for a community-awareness of Smyrna Levantines established as early as the late 18 th century, evidenced by intensive social contacts, and held together by commercial and marital relations. As further indication for the cultural independence [kulturelle Eigenstaendigkeit] of the Smyrna Levantines, Schmitt points out to the widespread use of a popular Greek written in a Latin alphabet ("Frankochiotika") (311).
Following the author, Smyrna really was the centre of Levantinity in Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean; and not only demographically, but also culturally and politically. (307) "Politically" herein deserves explanation: While the Levantines, as the difficultly definable group described earlier, never sustained any common institutions, with their interests represented by the Catholic church and the embassies of the respective passport holders, Schmitt, with "political", mainly refers to the dream of a self-governed Catholic Smyrna within a wider Greek-Aegean region that seems to have been popular in the second half of the 19 th century. In part this self-confidence may be explained to the lack of imminent observance and control by the Sultan and Western embassies under which the Constantinopolitan Levantines lived. (310-311)
Schmitt (398) eventually reveals that the "colonies" of "French" or "Italians" in Constantinople or Smyrna were, at least until the late 19th century, largely a fiction of European diplomats, conveying the Levantine reality. The holders of passports of European states, providing them with a desirably privileged legal position, were often really Levantine families that had settled on the Golden Horn or the Aegean since the Middle Ages, and are therefore to be seen as an integral part of Ottoman society. (459) In the late 19th century, for instance, really only a third of Smyrna's "Italians" spoke their nominal language of origin to a satisfactory degree. The Italian consulate consequently started to offer free language courses for the "Italians" in their "mother tongue". (319) According to Schmitt it was in actual fact this "game of identities" (397) that permitted the Levantines' survival until the end of WWI. Nationalism eventually brought about the end of the Levantines as a group. In the newly founded Turkish Republic they were stripped of their traditional legal and economic privileges that had really provided the foundation for the existence and continuity of such a group in a Muslim environment.
While the table of contents, at first sight, suggests a rather fragmented collection of sub-chapters dealing with particular not clearly separable aspects, reading the book this allegedly unwieldy organization somehow makes perfect sense. It is, however, clear from the beginning that Schmitt's book is targeted almost exclusively at an academic audience, with these 500-plus pages being the outcome of his research for his thesis for habilitation as university professor. Both forming part of the series "Südosteuropaeische Arbeiten", Munich-based Oldenbourg had also published his doctoral dissertation "Das venezianische Albanien (1392-1479)" in 2001.
It is indeed to be hoped that Schmitt's well-referenced work will serve as a starting point for further studies that could perhaps elaborate further on the cultural aspects of Levantine life in the Eastern Mediterranean and possibly broaden the spectrum to a wider range of port cities that had served these communities as homes for generations. One isolated shortcoming in Schmitt's work, however, is the complete neglect of visual material such as maps or photographs that could have attractively accompanied the plain text. Yet, the biggest problem with this doubtlessly authoritative publication is that, while Schmitt in some way closes a gap in the existing literature, the publication of his book now opens up another gap in terms of studies available to a non-German speaking audience. It is nevertheless to be hoped that his study will effect in further research by scholars to whom his work will indisputably be of great benefit. Even if not yet triggered by Schmitt's study, a few recent projects already seem to reflect a slightly increasing interest in this community. As Schmitt himself informs the reader, Ulrike Tischler (University of Graz) is preparing a study on Levantines in Pera after 1923. Furthermore, both Ege University and 9th September University have recently produced documentary films about the Levantines of Izmir, including interviews with members of the remaining families. Strolling through the exhibition floors of the 2005 congress of the International Union of Architects held in Istanbul these days, one furthermore learns of the research of Hü meyra Birol Akkurt (9th September University) on the transformation of Levantine mansions in the peripheral settlements of Izmir, based on her (unpublished) 2003 PhD thesis "The analysis of the Levantine residences of Bornova and Buca in the light of 19 th Century Westernization in Turkey".
Another recent publication dealing with one aspect of Levantine and European life in the Ottoman capital, the second book in discussion, is Sezim Sezer Darnault's "Latin Catholic Buildings in Istanbul. A Historical Perspective (1839-1923)". Albeit having different topical foci (social versus architectural history), Schmitt's and Darnault's studies are not only similar in community and time period targeted by their research, but also in their goals. Darnault's research was equally driven by the aspiration to close a gap resulting from a lack of literature in Latin [3] Catholic building in Istanbul, while referring to Armenian, Greek or Jewish, even Protestant architecture of the Ottoman capital as already being documented to a satisfactory extent.
The author, an Assistant Professor of Art History at Mimar Sinan University (Istanbul), deals with buildings erected in a relatively short but eventful period between the proclamation of the Tanzimat Edict (1839), followed by a more liberal climate leading to a "noteworthy accumulation in architecture and arts" (15), and the foundation of the Republic (1923). Her work, published by the likeable Istanbul-based ISIS Press, discusses four types of buildings - religious structures, educational buildings, hospitals, and cemeteries - studied under three main titles: history, building analysis (façade, interior design, related decoration), and buildings associated with it. Under analysis are 49 structures, excluding the 15 churches or chapels already "demolished" by the 19 th Century (in which the author also includes churches converted into mosques) treated in a separate chapter. All surviving structures are accompanied by images, the graphic quality of which is admittedly not always perfectly pleasing, while also a handy map provides help in locating the often quite hidden buildings within the city. Rather than in a chronological order, which arguably would have made slightly more sense, the buildings are categorized by the missions (Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, Vincentians, Assumptionists) under whose patronage they were erected.
It needs to be acknowledged that Darnault, given that the scope of her research was really architecture, did consult a sizeable number of primary and secondary sources for the introductory chapters. Although not really bringing to light anything revolutionary with respect to the existing literature, they give an agreeably compact overview on the climate of the time and place in which the buildings in question were constructed, larded with citations from 19 th century sources that blend in equally well. With the following 180 pages dealing with the individual structures, the actual focus of documentation, being rather descriptive in nature (and probably in conception), a more interpretative insight is offered in the relatively concise but informative "evaluation and conclusion". If the reader might have wondered why comparably little attention had been paid to why the architects' and artists' designs had essentially turned out the way they did, some of the questions raised in previous sections are answered in this last chapter that really does conclude original findings from comparative analysis, whereas the introductory chapters greatly rely on the existing literature. The elaborations of individual buildings will, on the other hand, serve as important reference material rather than intended for actual "reading", as are introductory chapters and conclusion.
One of the main findings in terms of architectural change throughout this period is that, "while the earlier examples of the Latin Catholic buildings were integrated in the urban fabric in a reserved way; those built in later years made their presence strongly felt within the urban environment"(244). And even if this conclusion as such is nothing completely novel, Darnault's careful documentation of the individual structures makes this development observable. She furthermore maintains it to be "difficult to argue that the Latin Catholic structures in Istanbul have had the capacity to influence the Ottoman architecture. They may rather be evaluated as examples, which, although partly under local influences were mainly less costly replicas of the European models, owing much of their grandeur to the use of remarkable materials." (249) It is partly this durability of materials and the prominent locations to which Darnault ascribes the survival of almost all of the religious buildings from the 19 th century. However, she earlier remarks that as a consequence of "unavoidable development" these buildings are "either being completely demolished, or are subject to change in function and form, thus loosing much of their characteristics from day to day" (16), from which she rightfully justifies significance and necessity of the research undertaken. And while admittedly not a crucial research question for this study, it would have been interesting to document how these buildings, now that the original Catholic population of Istanbul has more or less disappeared, are used (or could be used), if they are accessible and maintained, and whether they have a future. Whoever will want to investigate this one day will find a thorough documentation in Darnault's work. Despite the moderate critique voiced, "Latin Catholic Buildings in Istanbul. A Historical Perspective (1839-1912)" does earn its role as an essential complement to previous research on Christian architecture in late Ottoman Istanbul.

[1] Giovanni Scognamillo, 'Etre Levantin a Istanbul', Mediterranees 10, 1997/98, p. 96-97; Scognamillo is one of the few living remnants of the Levantine community of Istanbul and, in contrast to Schmitt's identification of "Levantine" as being an exonym (in the period covered in his book, the "long 19 th century"), declares himself as such.
[2] Halil Inalcik and Günsel Renda (eds.), Ottoman Civilization, 2. Ankara: Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Turkey, 2003, p. 1057.
[3] The "Latin" herein is significant as it explicitly excludes the buildings of non-Latin Catholics. If it really makes sense, from a stylistic point of view, to exclude the churches of the Armenian Catholics, for instance, is a different discussion.

© 2005 Balkan Academic News. This review may be distributed and reproduced electronically, if credit is given to Balkan Academic News and the author. For permission for re-printing, contact Balkan Academic News.


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