Letter to The New York Times, January 7, 1997

Via Fax: (212) 556-3622

January 7, 1997

To the Editor of The New York Times:

Mr. Cormack’s 12/29/96 book review of Philip Mansel’s "Constantinople, City of The World’s Desire" is a sorely welcome one. Mr. Cormack exposes Mansel as an apologist who goes to great lengths to obscure the Ottoman Empire’s dark past by ignoring its excesses and summarily dismissing unfavorable scholarship.

Yet it is disturbing to note that the only mention of Greeks Mr. Cormack makes in his book review is disparaging. Of the wealth of references to choose from, Mr. Cormack quotes a visiting Frenchman who proclaimed that the inhabitants of Constantinople prevented him from taking measurements of classical monuments and that he was "menaced and cursed by the Greeks themselves if he did". Mr. Cormack further quotes the Frenchman as stating that "if you don’t invite [the city’s inhabitants] and tell them ‘you’ll be as drunk as a Greek,’ they will treat you in a very coarse manner."

Mr. Cormack’s choice of references is particularly disturbing where the tragic reality of the Greek and Armenian experience under the Turks was one of severe repression punctuated by periods of savage victimization, widespread massacres, and horrific genocides -- a fact that is omitted from Mr. Cormack’s inventory of groups the Ottomans have mistreated ("women, eunuchs and slaves") as well as marginalized by his offhand reference to "19th- and 20th-century attacks on the janizaries, Greeks and Armenians".

Puzzling is Mr. Cormack’s failure to mention the horrific persecutions and eventual fate of both the Armenians and Greeks, especially given the fact that the very tenor of his review was to dispute Philip Mansel’s false idealization of the Ottoman "evil empire". The massacre, mass rape and selling off into slavery of thousands of an island or province by the Ottoman Turks was an all too frequent occurrence (see e.g. Delacroix’s Massacre at Chios). The Christian subjects were forced to pay a "head tax" (signifying what they would lose if they did not remunerate their Moslem overlords), and a jannisary tax under which their firstborn males were forcibly taken to be converted to Islam and trained as fanatic holy warriors used to kill other Christians. Being a Greek, Armenian, Serb or other Orthodox Christian in the Ottoman Empire meant living in daily fear of murder, rape, torture, kidnap of one’s children, slavery, and genocide.

The final curtain for the Christians of the Ottoman Empire was a tragic one: the bulk of the Armenians and Greeks in Asia Minor were exterminated and the rest ethnically cleansed from a land they had been living on for millennia. It is this sinister reality that should provide the focus of any genuine and conscientious examination of the Ottoman Empire.

Very truly yours,

P. D. Spyropoulos, Esq.

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