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Turkey's Continuing Siege: Remembering the Fall of Constantinople

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-elizabeth-h-prodromou/turkeys-continuing-siege-_b_3349200.html Turkey s Continuing Siege: Remembering the Fall of
    Message 1 of 1 , May 29, 2013
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      Turkey's Continuing Siege: Remembering the Fall of Constantinople
      Posted: 05/29/2013

      Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou and Alexandros K. Kyrou

      Today marks the 560th anniversary of the fall and capture of the
      magnificent Christian city of Constantinople, the eastern capital of the
      Roman Empire, to the forces led by the Ottoman Turkish Sultan, Mohammed
      (Mehmet) II. Mehmet took the title "the Conqueror" for himself, as a
      sign of the Turks' conquest of what was Europe's most glorious city of
      the Middle Ages and as recognition of the Ottoman jihadi victory over
      Christianity.

      Nearly half a millennium later, the government of the Republic of Turkey
      continues to celebrate the fall of the city, today's Istanbul, with
      religious, sports, and media festivities. Kemalist governments long
      understood the fall of Constantinople as a signature event for Turkish
      nationalism. Visitors to Istanbul on May 29th could hardly mistake the
      nationalist message of the city draped in Turkish flags for as far as
      the eye could see, and under the current Islamist government of Prime
      Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, secular nationalism has been augmented
      with a religious message about the fall of Constantinople as a sign of
      Islam's triumph over Christianity.

      Last year, Erdogan floated the idea of designating May 29th as a Turkish
      national holiday. More recently, he suggested the possibility of a
      referendum on the conversion of the historic Byzantine Christian
      Cathedral of Hagia Sophia, captured by Mehmet when he rode on horseback
      through the colossal entry doors into the heart of the sanctuary, from
      its current status as a museum into a functioning mosque.

      Ankara has consistently critiqued the European Union as a Christian Club
      keeping Turkey at arm's length because of religious prejudice against
      Islam. Yet, the fall of Constantinople on May 29th in 1453 began an
      unrelenting, centuries-long pattern of persecution and discrimination
      against the city's Christian population. This policy of religious
      cleansing lays bare the lie of the Ottoman Empire as a benign,
      multi-cultural polity, and also highlights the violations of human
      rights and religious freedom that are the hallmark of Turkey's treatment
      of its Christian minority populations. The anniversary of the fall of
      Constantinople is a reminder that the siege against Turkey's Christians
      continues to this day -- most egregiously, against the Ecumenical
      Patriarchate and the tiny Greek Orthodox Christian community (fewer than
      2,000 in number), as well as against the small Armenian Orthodox and
      Syriac Orthodox Christian communities (their combined numbers total
      about 80,000). All of these Christians are survivors tracing their roots
      to Constantinople when it fell to the Ottoman Turks.

      The erasure of Christians from Constantinople (located on the ancient
      city of Byzantion on the southernmost promontory of the European side of
      the Bosporus) is one of the tragedies of history. When the Ottomans
      began their 54-day siege of Constantinople, the city was still renowned
      throughout Europe for its size, wealth, and cosmopolitan sophistication.
      Even after the disintegrated Western Roman Empire had been resuscitated
      by Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Empire, the capital city of the Eastern
      Roman, or Byzantine, Empire had a population numbering nearly one
      million, and was the repository of Medieval Europe's art, ancient
      literature, and the birthplace of the hospital and the university. And
      long after the Christian Sees of Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem had
      fallen to Arab Muslim armies moving westward through the Levant and the
      Holy Lands of Christianity's origins, Constantinople stood as reminder
      that the epicenter of Christian theology and practice was in the eastern
      territories of the Roman Empire -- only the See of Rome lay in western
      imperial lands. When the Great Schism split Christendom into the Greek
      Orthodox East and Roman Catholic West, Constantinople's Christians were
      largely alone on the frontlines when the Ottoman Turks began their
      assault the city.

      The Ottomans' capture of Constantinople was the final blow marking the
      end of the world's most long-lived polity, the Roman Empire. In the
      former Byzantine East, Christians found themselves living in an Islamic
      theocracy, rendered second-class subjects of the Ottoman Sultan: as
      dhimmi, they were accorded formal status as protected "Peoples of the
      Book," and as a religious community, the Christian millet was overseen
      by the Ecumenical Patriarch. But in reality, Christians in the Ottoman
      Empire were treated as chattel, and were subjected to all manner of
      persecution and exploitation: most notably, the infamous devershirme was
      a system of forcible conscription-conversion of Christian children as a
      form of human tax for the Ottoman state.

      The conventional portrayal of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, the founder of
      modern Turkey, has been built on the political canard that the
      secularist principles of the Republic of Turkey were a deliberate turn
      away from the Islamic theocracy of the Ottoman Empire. The reality is
      quite different. In fact, Turkey's founding moment involved the genocide
      of two-and-a-half million Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Christians in
      Ottoman Anatolia and Asia Minor--in short, most of the remaining
      Orthodox Christian population that had survived from Byzantine Christian
      times.

      In some ways, Ankara's policies against Turkey's Christian citizens have
      added a modern veneer and sophisticated brutality to Ottoman norms and
      practices. Pogroms, persecution, and discrimination have been visited on
      Turkey's Christians. The Turkish press revealed only weeks ago that
      Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was the target of an assassination
      conspiracy (the second such plot against his life in four years), and
      the constant threats and interference in the affairs of the Ecumenical
      Patriarchate and the Greek Orthodox community have led to the near
      extinction of that ancient Christian community. In the words of an
      anonymous Church hierarch in Turkey fearful for the life of his flock,
      Christians in Turkey are an endangered species. The siege of
      Constantinople continues today, 560 years after the fall on May 29th, 1453.

      Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou is Affiliate Scholar at the Center for
      European Studies at Harvard University and former Vice Chair of the US
      Commission on International Religious Freedom; Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou
      is Prof. of History at Salem State University, where he teaches on
      Byzantium, the Balkans, and the Ottoman Empire.
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