After the French Revolution, history has always been written by republicans. Therefore, in novels, movies, and even fairy tales, kings are cruel; nobles are evil.
3 Nisan 2024 Çarşamba

History is not the events themselves but the expression of what remains in people's memories. People are diverse; with different perspectives, so it is natural that what is narrated does not resemble each other. Moreover, the era of historiographers who faithfully recounted what happened without filtering through the sieve of truth and lies has passed. Now historians who can interpret historical events and compare them with each other are sought after.

Read about Timur from his official historian Sharaf al-Din Ali Yazdi, and also from Ibn Arabshah, who lost his entire family during the invasion of Damascus. The events they narrate are more or less the same, but the conclusions they draw and the expressions they use are vastly different. According to the Germans, it's the Migration of Nations, according to the Latins, it's the Barbarian Invasion. For the Ottomans, it's the Greek Rebellion, for the Greeks, it's a War of Liberation.

Understanding who won the 1905 Russo-Japanese War is difficult. According to Russian historians, Russia won the war; according to Japanese historians, Japan did. Moreover, we Turks supported the Japanese in this war because we were against the Russians. Consequently, in our records, we ended up depicting this war as a victory for the Japanese. This shows that the portrayal of history can change depending on where you stand.

The World Belongs to Republicans

Reading about the French Revolution as "the great victory of humanity" from a leftist historian like Albert Mathiez, and reading about it as "the dynamite laid at the foundation of humanity" from a monarchist like Albert Sorel are completely different experiences. It's not correct to expect a historian to narrate history while setting aside their personality and identity. A historian doesn't necessarily have to belong to a specific period or country. But at the very least, they are expected to cleanse themselves from obsessions, biases, and preconceptions, and to be honest.

The storming of the Bastille in 1789, which marked the beginning of the French Revolution, is now a national holiday in France. But if people knew that besides seven common criminals, there were no other prisoners in the dungeon whom the patriotic rebels entered to rescue from the so-called despotic rule, what would they think about the revolution? Perhaps they burned and destroyed the Bastille for this reason; they buried the truth in history.

After the revolution, since history has always been written by republicans, and literature and media have been in the hands of republicans, there has been as much publication as possible against monarchy and aristocracy. Not only in history books but also in novels, movies, and even fairy tales, all kings are portrayed as cruel, and nobles are always depicted as evil. So much so that no one dares to mention the great contribution of monarchy and aristocracy to art and aesthetics.


Historians speak based on the evidence they find, according to their knowledge and perspectives. It's quite normal for their conclusions to differ. But if history is a source of ideological nourishment, and historians are part of these ideological militias, especially if those who make history are the ones writing it, then there is a serious problem. On one side, there's disinformation ("You can learn these things; stay away from those!"); on the other side, there's decontamination ("These individuals are acceptable, those are harmful! These events are good; those are bad!").

This is why films and novels that contradict historical facts are made. Those who know the truth lament, while those who are unaware mistake this for history. But what can be said to filmmakers and novelists? They have also learned it this way.

Historical Criticism

Cross-reading is certainly crucial. There will always be someone who advocates for the opposite viewpoint. The skill lies in being able to find the true color amidst all perspectives. It's necessary to clearly present what has happened without distinguishing between good and bad.

For historical criticism, in addition to sound judgment and competence, one needs to resort to some helpful tools. It's impossible to know and understand Ottoman history without knowing a bit of Arabic and Persian, as well as learning about religions, especially Islam.

Most historians in Türkiye do not enjoy or are tired of their work. The history taught in schools is already designed not to foster a love for history. However, with carefulness and fairness, one who adheres to the method eventually becomes acquainted with the truths.

Old Fashion

For centuries, due to political hostilities and wars, the "Turkish Fear" prompted European historians and writers to create a dreadful image of the Turks. This should be considered natural. However, as wars diminished, or rather, as Turks lost their military and political superiority, this image gave way to curiosity and admiration. In fact, the fashion of "Alla Turca" emerged in art. It gradually assumed a condescending and contemptuous attitude.

In contrast, the East, influenced by feelings of inferiority, adopted ideological historiography from the West. This type of historiography depicts the West mercilessly (portraying Zionists, Freemasons, toothless beasts, etc.), while also readily condemning its own history with the same ruthlessness. Consequently, for a century, there has been a huge gap between the image of the Ottoman-Turkish presented to the public, and even taught to historians, and the truth.

However, this attitude largely diminished after the upheaval of World War II, when humanity was shaken. Now, the West views and investigates the East much more objectively. This undoubtedly has a positive impact on the ideological historiography of the East as well.

However, in the East, there are still many who write and draw influenced by the mindset of pre-1950s fashion. These individuals, having once gained some reputation in times of dearth and engaged in the political whirlwind of the era, still have many who take their words seriously. However, it's beyond anyone's power to divert the course of the river from its natural path.

Imagination and Story

Gabriel Hanotaux says, "History has another reason for existence besides being useful. History is an art. History is for history's sake. Like all arts, its aim is beauty. It is to narrate events vividly and harmoniously. Children's constant demand for stories is not for learning but for entertainment." However, a story is neither a fairy tale nor an epic. It is the embellished depiction of truths. The historian is also the storyteller of truth.

However, there have been times when not everything old and real could be included in this story. The available data has been manipulated to deliberately create a narrative. When narrating history, certain events and individuals are highlighted. These are the shining rulers and successful figures who have left their mark on an era.

History elevates these events and individuals, imbues them with meanings, and as a culture, embeds in memories the characteristics that future generations are expected to know and possess, such as courage, heroism, loyalty, responsibility, wisdom and reform. In doing so, history tends to retain, strengthen, exaggerate, and sometimes fabricate elements that support its purpose, while also displaying a tendency to eliminate, conceal, or distort elements that are not beneficial or even oppositional.

In this way, the official history learned by people as children and passed down from generation to generation is easy to understand, clear, direct, and generally deceptive. It's not entirely false, but it can't be said that it's all true either. Like a machine shaping precious stones or a photographer covering up flaws in a photograph, rough edges are smoothed out. Over time, a processed, problem-free imaginary picture emerges, unanimously agreed upon by everyone and passed down to the next generation through schools. Over years and centuries, this fantasy becomes reality. Because it's cleverly woven and appears logical within itself.

Repairing history and deriving benefits from it is as old as time. Those who generally set out to distort truths aren't necessarily malicious historians. The process is much more insidious and anonymous. It progresses as a collective effort of an entire society, emerging subconsciously. Society constructs a narrative of history that secretly serves everyone's purpose and addresses a deeper need subconsciously perceived. Thus, the official history required by nation-states and the ideologies dominant within them replace truths. Even the most solid scholarly evidence and the strongest methodology cannot shake this. This is why Mark Twain couldn't refrain from calling history "The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice," (Pudd'nhead Wilson and Other Tales) and even Napoleon couldn't help but refer to it as "a set of lies agreed upon."