Those who are generally interested in gaining some knowledge of the Ottoman era cannot complain about the lack of resources. Of course, I am not referring to those who are seeking to conduct a scientific study. Though there are no complaints regarding the lack or inadequacy of resources, those who are in a position to guide especially community life, do not have minimum knowledge about the Ottoman era. We have to accept that despite this, quick judgments are recognized. This applies to those who have held positions in the education field as well. Sadly, they too have very particular judgments regarding the Ottoman era through hearsay. We can choose to burden everyone other than ourselves with the weight of this reality. Accusing others may bring relief, but this will lead to losing the sense of reality.
It is quite interesting that diverse groups embrace the imperialism and colonialism accusations regarding the Ottoman era based on the imperial concept. Seeking a scapegoat and criticizing a group will not help solve the problem. This is a commonly accepted perception, and it is unfortunately very easily embraced by those occupying the different levels of academic life. One of the most important outcomes of this is the fact that this perception is easily transferred to the new generations. Does this signify surrendering to colonial language?
I specifically chose the colony term in the question above. If I had chosen to use exploitation – like most – it would have led to a much more complex situation. In that case, we would have had to struggle with the strange statement that in order to identify the Ottoman state as a colonialist, we would have to surrender to colonial language. The current perception is, in fact, the product of such statements. Yet, concepts such as semi-colony, used by certain ideological groups, were even quite problematic. As a matter of fact, this concept was not used much because it was old – the semi-colony concept was preferred thinking it had the same meaning. This is exactly what gave rise to the ambiguity. As the meaning was ambiguous, and it was being used without control, such concepts started to gain acceptance by the general public. We can include the statement, “surrendering to colonial language,” in this frame.
It is very clear that those alienating themselves from their own history by making statements like, “the Ottomans were colonialists, too,” and those who complain about the colonial language in the name of defending the Ottomans meet on the ambiguity. This can be seen in Occidentalism studies as well. Orientalism refers to the ideological view that emerged as a result of West European countries’ colonialist expansionism. The late Edward Said in particular had made serious criticisms regarding this ideological view. Unless you know that Occidentalism was presented against orientalism as an ideological move, the issue will appear to you as nothing other than a fight between two groups. This would then lead to quite a superficial judgment like, “this is what we thought about the West.” The information produced about the West by Muslims, Turks, or in general, those outside the West, are not the product of a colonialist view. Hence, we can focus on whether the Turkic and Islamic world’s perception of the West was right or wrong, but the literature that resulted in this context is not Occidentalist, in that it does not present opposition to orientalism.
The Ottoman empire cannot be regarded as colonialist, imperialist, or Occidentalist because it reigned over three continents. Can any scholar proudly classify the Ottoman Empire as colonialist? The so-called “scholarly studies” describing Turkish dervishes in the Balkans as colonizers served no purpose other than distorting the truth. It is impossible to establish a relationship between Turkish dervishes residing on certain lands and colonialism as a system. When the new term became widespread because it is Turkish, it led to a strange judgment like, “the Ottomans were colonialists, too,” which was generally accepted. This is what caused the ambiguity.
Those seeking to apply a similar fallacy regarding Turkish dervishes in North Africa will fail. Certain wrong practices may be in question in Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia. These will not go beyond the problems generally seen in many parts of the Ottoman region. Thus, it is these that gave rise to a concept such as the Eastern Question.