What’s the use of Ottoman Turkish? - ABDULLAH MURADOĞLU

What’s the use of Ottoman Turkish?

During the “19th National Education Council”, a suggestion related with the “Ottoman Turkish” taking place in the high schools’ educational curriculum as a compulsory lesson was adopted. The Council’s recommendation will take effect, if the Ministry of National Education and Council of Ministers accept it. The Council’s decision on Ottoman Turkish is being reacted against, especially by “left-wing Kemalist” circles. Instead of discussing this topic in its own axis, the Ottoman Turkish lessons are being manipulated into a political issue. Old polemics are being resurrected and the matter is almost being sacrificed to a shallow argument like “Progressive-Retrogressive”. However, before anything else, our youth’s knowledge of “Ottoman Turkish” is a matter of culture. The Turkish texts, which had been written in Arabic letters for years, are our cultural and historical heritage. What’s the harm in our youth learning enough Ottoman Turkish to create a bond with this heritage?! Once upon a time, finding someone that could read the documents in the state archives was a big issue. This nation had also seen the periods, when the most precious historical documents were being sold to Bulgarians as scrap by means of filling them in train wagons. When observing the past and history from that point of view, of course, knowing Ottoman Turkish is considered insignificant.

Forgoing the Arabic alphabet and making the transition into the Latin alphabet was a matter that surfaced after the Reform era. This matter had been discussed before the Republic was established, and also after the Alphabet Reform in 1928. Some were in favor; some were not. Maybe, in those days, there was an imperative justification, for writing a centuries-old tradition and ripping the bond between the past and langue, in the presence of administrative elites; however, we can compensate our cultural loss with “Ottoman Turkish lessons”. While Professor İlber Ortaylı was chatting with the youngsters about “recent history”, he said, “It’s hard for an individual, who doesn’t know his/her recent history, to see his/her today and tomorrow. In this country, everyone should read and speak Ottoman Turkish, and learn what happened in the history by reading it from the actual documents.” Unfortunately, forget about 300-500 years ago; even reading and understanding a document written a hundred years ago requires one to be an expert in Turkey’s conditions. I’m not even mentioning the countless poems, stories and newspapers written in simple Turkish after the Reform period. I wonder how many nations are out there, like us, who can’t read and understand their own culture and historical resources?

While attending high school, I learned the “Cyrillic Alphabet” in order to read the stories, articles and books that were written in Azeri Turkish, and took pleasure in that. In the “Soviet Union” era, Azerbaijanis were reading and writing with the Russian alphabet. People interested in Azeri literature and culture materials had to learn the Cyrillic alphabet or wait for these materials to be published with the Latin alphabet. At the same age, I didn’t even know the Ottoman Turkish, and nobody even introduced it to us. After years, I had learned Ottoman Turkish by exploiting the lecture notes of my friends taking the Religious Studies course – at least enough to read stories, poems, novels and columns. I was surprised when I saw that it’s not as hard as I expected. The Ottoman Turkish is not an alternative or opposite of any other lesson. Whether Ottoman Turkish lessons should be optional or compulsory, or whether it should be optional in some high schools and compulsory in some, all of these can be discussed. As long as we don’t disconnect the matter from its context, and turn it into a sacrifice of barren politics and suspicions. By releasing the Ottoman Turkish from old hypothecs, we should be able to bring our new young generation together with our historical and cultural heritage in a healthy manner. At least this is where Ottoman Turkish comes in handy.

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