Letter to The N.Y. Times Book Review Section, April 10, 1996

Letters to the Editor
N.Y. Times Book Review Section
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

To the Editor:

Michael Ignatieff 's well-balanced review of Robert Kaplan's new book, "The Ends of The Earth", (3/31/96) contains one glaring oversight: rather than expose its inaccuracy, Ignatieff ratifies Kaplan's reverie of an "ancient Turkish civilization" where no ne had ever existed.

The Turkic culture, which has taken on an impressive variety of forms, can nevertheless not be genuinely characterized as a civilization, and certainly not as an ancient one. Your reviewer apparently misconstrues empire for civilization, and confuses th e medieval epoch with the ancient one.

The widespread and extremely diverse but nevertheless limited Turkic culture and its two empires, Ottoman and Seljuk, never approached anything resembling a civilization. To the contrary, most non-Muslim peoples who had managed to survive Turkish rule s hare a collective memory of a nightmarish existence pervaded by extreme political and cultural retardation and punctuated by periods of unfathomable brutality.

The closest Turks had come to Civilization was Empire, and their slow transformation from nomadic tribesmen to mercenaries to empire builders did not occur until well after the Eleventh Century -- hardly deserving inclusion alongside such genuinely ancie nt heavyweights as the Chinese, Persian, Hindu and Buddhist civilizations. To anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of history, conjuring up an ancient Turkish civilization, worse yet comparing it to these highly accomplished ones, is nothing shor t of farcical.

Had this preposterously loose application of both terms, "ancient" and "civilization", simply been the result of a misunderstanding of Eurasian history, harping on the shortcomings of Turkish history would admittedly constitute nothing more than a mean-s pirited put-down.

Yet this false revisionism takes on a particular urgency given Ankara's notorious multi-million-dollar campaign to rewrite history to its liking, replete with a concerted effort at genocide denial, and the employment of slick Washington PR firms. Even m ore disturbing is the Turkish Government's campaign to undermine the very integrity of American academia by spending millions to reshape Ottoman as well as Greek history beyond recognition through the outright purchase of chairs in key universities.

Princeton's decision to appoint Heath Lowry -- an academic who had literally been on the payroll of the Turkish Government -- to head its newly-created Turkish studies chair has raised a furor among academic circles. Lowry was widely discredited when hi s correspondence to the Turkish Embassy, in which he surreptitiously advised the Turkish Government on how to effectively deny the Armenian Genocide, was mistakenly included in a mailing.

Apparently, these efforts have already accrued dividends; just two weeks ago during the First Lady's visit to Turkey, the city where Artemis' temple -- one of the Seven Wonders -- was built was introduced by the American press as "the ancient Turkish cit y of Ephesus". Given this disturbing trend, I fear I would not be surprised when the Americans claim the Magna Carta and the British the Liberty Bell, when the Japanese appropriate the Great Wall of China, and when the Germans ask for reparations from Is rael for perpetrating a genocide against its people.

Very truly yours,

Phillip Spyropoulos, Esq.

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