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In the days when the Count­ess of Segur was hav­ing one of her famous chil­dren’s nov­els “Sophie’s Mis­for­tunes” proof­read by her eldest son, Saint Sophia was get­ting a facelift from the Swiss broth­ers Gas­pare and Giuseppe Fos­sati, work­ing under the orders of Ottoman Sul­tan Abdülme­cid. I know my clas­sics, as you can see. All this was going on in the 1850s.

Saint Sophie has thus been at the cen­ter of con­cerns for cen­turies, as she is today, again embroiled in a byzan­tine quar­rel.

A stone’s throw away from the cen­ten­ni­al of the Lau­sanne Treaty mark­ing the true cre­ation of the Turk­ish Repub­lic, Erdoğan is pro­claim­ing Sophie’s return at long last to the warm Islam­ic embrace, clam­ored for since 2012. Noth­ing new under the Istan­bul sun, how­ev­er as Hagia Sophia will con­tin­ue to play the shad­ow pup­pet in the set­ting sun, with a lit­tle help from clouds of air pol­lu­tion.

Mon­sieur and Madame, in the com­pa­ny of the coun­try’s deserv­ing and devot­ed elites, many dig­ni­taries and a few unwor­thy ones, trin­ket-bear­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of polit­i­cal par­ties feed­ing at the trough of cor­rup­tion, thus prayed togeth­er on Fri­day for the suc­cess­ful pur­suit of their affairs. Accord­ing to the fawn­ing media, the cer­e­mo­ny was wor­thy of the event. Only an ancient one as old as I am did not deign to stand in for the pho­to, as if the CHP par­ty he pre­sides had not been per­form­ing its rit­u­al ablu­tions for as long as every­one else. Secu­ral­ism, my…

With a new car­pet, the prayers won’t be rigged as are the cards in a casino.

I also read on social media some peo­ple were offend­ed because the offi­ciant, leader of the Author­i­ty on Reli­gious Affairs (Diyanet) was hold­ing a saber in his left hand. It’s tra­di­tion­al with us. Con­cern­ing the left hand, I refer you to the dog­ma. Besides, should­n’t I be offend­ed also since your church was some­times described as being in an “alliance between the saber and the holy water sprin­kler called an aspergillum”? No one stood for the Diyanet but every­one paid scrupu­lous atten­tion to his ser­mon, as Ottoman as could be desired, retrans­mit­ted for the com­mon peo­ple out­side on a huge screen. That’s one thing done, anoth­er checked box on the Erdoğan’s agen­da of promis­es. Next check­box! It is about women, and here again, it’s back to big­otry we go.

But let’s get back to our Sophie, to the “end of the deep wound to the heart of our nation” (sic). This tells the whole sto­ry. Turci­ty, an exclu­sive nation­al­ism and the famous Tur­co-Islam­ic syn­the­sis. Erdoğan has found his left hand again and can take hold of Osman­’s saber.

Have you ever seen anoth­er com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan car­ried off as effi­cient­ly as this one, in front of jour­nal­ists and TV sta­tions from West­ern coun­tries? Of course, had Putin been invit­ed, he would have been forced to decline, this being con­trary to his Ortho­doxy, but it would have been even more spec­tac­u­lar. In pass­ing, here’s a sug­ges­tion for the next time: invit­ing the gas rep­re­sen­ta­tive would be an accept­able ges­ture.

In short, you have your sacred ass­es, we have our uplift­ed ones.

I read some­where that this rep­re­sents a step away from the “sec­u­lar­ism” so dear to our cher­ished Atatürk. I even read this every­where in your papers. Where did you get the idea that the Turk­ish Repub­lic was ever “sec­u­lar”? You have been repeat­ing this for decades, just as true as the fact that our nation­al nov­el for­gets to men­tion that being Turk­ish also means being a Mus­lim, fail­ing which one is rel­e­gat­ed to the rank of a minor­i­ty, a domes­tic ene­my or worse still, an Armen­ian dog. Why don’t you read a bit of what hon­est his­to­ri­ans say about that fine sec­u­lar­ism, those his­to­ri­ans who do not traf­fic in geno­cide denials?

I also read that the Kurds are nos­tal­gic over the Lau­sanne Treaty.

Right, and what else while we’re at it? This Treaty from 1923 is the one that elim­i­nates the clause in the ante­ri­or Sèvres Treaty, thus can­celling out what could have become a Kur­dis­tan.

This his­tor­i­cal peri­od is very poor­ly known by the pub­lic in Europe and, even worse, by your jour­nal­ists, who then go around spew­ing about Turkey, Kurds, Syr­ia, with their head full of false beliefs.

That peri­od which saw the col­lapse and implo­sion of the Ottoman Empire, the one that sets our Reis to dream­ing out loud as he mim­ics its regalia, the one that was also the one when, hold­ing all the cards, the Euro­pean empires penned in bor­ders with a ruler, con­sol­i­dat­ed mil­i­tary dom­i­nance, cozied up to nation­alisms, manip­u­lat­ed pup­pets and bap­tized Nation-States.

One can even won­der if the Sèvres Treaty would­n’t have end­ed up cre­at­ing for the Kurds a State wor­thy of Turk­ish nation­al­ism. If some­one can find a piece of writ­ing on com­mu­nal­ism and demo­c­ra­t­ic con­fed­er­al­ism from that peri­od, and men­tion­ing an inclu­sive Kur­dis­tan, I’m will­ing to take back my ques­tion. Still, I have a feel­ing that the Kur­dish move­men­t’s reflec­tion on the mat­ter did not occur over two days, and that the cri­tique of nation­al­ism and of the Nation-State did not come from Barzani.

One reads many things about Sophia and around Sophia.

Mean­while, the police goes on stalk­ing, the police arrests, the army bombs, in Syr­ia, in Irak, injus­tice pro­nounces sen­tences and the pris­ons are full of inno­cent “ter­ror­ists”. And, true enough, one can say that all that was present in embry­on­ic form in the Lau­sanne Treaty.

“Set me up two Nation-States, and I will give you a war,” my dear Sophia.

Head­line Pho­to: A wise Istan­bul cat look­ing at Hagia Sophia, from a dis­tance. Pho­to: Emre M.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges 
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