Nuran Tezcan / Semih Tezcan / Robert Dankoff (eds.): Evliyâ Çelebi. Studies and Essays Commemorating the 400th Anniversary of his Birth, Ankara: Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism Publications 2012, 461 S., ISBN 978-975-17-3617-8
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Habent sua fata libelli - and often posthumously their authors, too. This is especially true for the Istanbul-born Evliyâ Çelebi and the only surviving text from his pen, the "Book of Travels", Seyahatnâme, describing his voyages to South-Eastern Europe, Vienna, the Crimea, the Middle East (including Persia), the Caucasus, Egypt and Sudan. This ten-volume opus has been neglected for a long time by scholars dealing with the Ottoman Empire, although the Nestor of this field, Joseph von Hammer, had called attention to it as early as 1814. Though the first complete edition of the Seyahatnâme's ten volumes (1896-1938) is rather problematic and by no means state of the art, in the past scholars (especially in Turkey) largely ignored it. The author was considered to be a narrator of childish stories, a liar, a braggart, even a pornographer, or at best, a fantasist. Fortunately, this changed with the YKY-edition in Latin script (1996-2007). The story of how the work came to be the subject of a whole sub-discipline ("Evliyâ-ology") of Ottoman Studies (and a part of world literature) is told in a stimulating article by Nuran Tezcan, one of the editors of the present volume. This book first came out in Turkish in 2011 under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Turkish Republic as Nuran Tezcan - Semih Tezcan (eds.), Doğumunun 400. Yılında Evliyâ Çelebi. Ankara 2011. According to the book's introduction, one of the volume's aims is "to draw attention to studies done and published outside of Turkey." The introduction goes on to say that "The primary goal was to introduce Evliyâ Çelebi and the Seyahatnâme from every perspective, to present what has been learned until now and to add new information." The excellent English translations have been made by Andrea Brown, Ferenc Csirkés, Mary Işın, Sooyong Kim, Gary Leiser, R. Aslıhan Aksoy-Sheridan, Michael D. Sheridan, and Judith Wilks. Some of the authors themselves have also provided translations into English. The editor of the English version, Robert Dankoff, also provides much of the translation. To the latter's meticulous editing the English edition owes a major number of very useful cross-references.
Who was this Evliyâ Çelebi? The first part is dedicated to his "Life and Legacy." Until the fifties of the past century, all that we actually knew about Evliyâ's life came from the Seyahatnâme. The Seyahatnâme remains our major source for his life and personality to this day. Though there is no doubt about the year of Evliyâ's birth (1020 H/1611 AD), Semih Tezcan in his introductory article "The Travel Book of a Genius" indicates that the day of his birth as given in the Seyahatnâme is pure fiction. R. Aslıhan Aksoy-Sheridan and Michael D. Sheridan give a systematic overview of the dates and travel routes of the author according to the respective volumes of his work. Only sparse information is to be found there regarding Evliyâ's family. His brother Mahmud and his elder sister, for example, are not mentioned at all, nor is the material background of his wealthy family. In the chapter entitled, "When did Evliyâ Çelebi Die?" Nuran Tezcan deals with the ongoing discussion of this topic, stating that he was definitely alive in 1685, and suggests, following Karl Teply, that Evliyâ did not die before the final days of 1687. A little known facet to Evliyâ's personality is added by Semih Tezcan, who describes the author (on the basis of several sources) to be a champion of archery ("Evliyâ Çelebi the Archer"). An overview of the documentary traces of the traveller, such as graffiti and patents of safe conduct, is given in a detailed article by Nuran Tezcan.
The second large section of the present volume is dedicated to "Countries, Regions and Cities" in the Seyahatnâme. Feridun Emecen investigates Evliyâ's rather circuitous route in Western Anatolia in 1671. In this year, the author was travelling in private (i.e. not in the service of an official) with the intention of going on pilgrimage to Mecca. Emecen suggests that apart from Evliyâ's excursion to Bergama, the zigzags and these circuitous movements in his itinerary make sense, as they indicate the traveller's curiosity for places he had never seen before. The Bergama tour is revealed to be one of pure fiction; it was inserted into the text for the sole purpose of telling the story of how Evliyâ's elder sister was kidnapped by her former fiancé İlyas Pasha. Nuran Tezcan summarises Evliyâ's description of Ankara, where Evliyâ' was delving into some technical subjects, such as the methods that were employed to extract soft hair from angora goats (soft hair that one could use for the production of mohair). He does, however, not mention the Roman ruins in the town. Gisela Procházka-Eisl deals with the author's journey to Vienna. Christiane Bulut discusses his sometimes problematic travel route in Iran and the Two Iraks. Meanwhile, Sawsan Agha Kassab and Khaled Tadmori give a knowledgeable account of the architectural monuments of Tripoli in the Seyahatnâme. This is followed by articles about his journeys to Mecca, Egypt and the Nile. Observations of "Evliyâ Çelebi's Perception of the New World" indicate that our traveller here did not use written sources, such as the Târih-i Hind-i Garbî , but relied on hearsay from the harbours of the Mediterranean.
The following part of the volume ("Excerpts and Cross Sections from the Seyahatnâme") consists mainly of paraphrases and translations, such as the late Yücel Dağlı's article about Evliyâ's famous description of the guild procession and Şule Pfeiffer-Taş's paper on the markets of Bursa, Kayseri and Urfa; all other articles are penned by Nuran and Semih Tezcan, demonstrating the virtual accurateness of Evliyâ's observations. Particularly interesting in this respect is his precise description of the banana plant, displaying the traveller's thirst for knowledge. (Maybe a short note for readers not familiar with the cultivation of bananas would have been helpful here.) In the section "Travel Writing" Halil İnalcık suggests to view Evliyâ not only as writer, but also as a boon companion of the pashas in whose service he travelled - a task he fulfilled indeed a while even for Sultan Murad IV. Sooyong Kim points out that Evliyâ rarely travelled alone and often used diplomatic missions that his respective patron had assigned to him for short trips to places of his personal interest. Arzu Erekli examines within a theoretical feminist framework Evliyâ's view of the Westerners and the West versus Ottomans and the Ottoman Empire. As every historian who has worked with the Seyahatnâme knows, Evliyâ Çelebi's historical digressions are in general not very close to reality. At the same time, it should be admitted that his observations as a contemporary witness are exceedingly valuable. In his article "Evliyâ Çelebi's Views on the Ottoman Dynasty" Yahya Kemal Taştan demonstrates the significance of the traveller's fictional (and non-fictional) accounts on Ottoman sultans, accounts that provide a legitimation of Ottoman rule. Evliyâ combines Turko-Mongol tradition with Islamic tradition in so far as he presents the early members of the Ottoman dynasty as cousins of Genghis Khan on their paternal side and as descendants of the Prophet on their maternal side. In addition, he depicts the Ottoman sultans as agents of Sunni Islam.
A comprehensive section of the volume is dedicated to "Cultural Anthropology", for which the Seyahatnâme indeed is a well-known gold mine. Suavi Aydın examines Evliyâ's approach to ethnicity, while Hasan Özdemir dwells on legends about two places in the Haghia Sophia and Evliyâ's respective stories. M. Sabri Koz investigates the Seyahatnâme's accounts concerning folk literature (including folk singers, proverbs and sayings), while Claudia Römer compares Evliyâ's legends on Vienna with those of local provenience. Meanwhile, Helga Anetshofer analyses the Seyahatnâme's legends about Sarı Saltık, and Yeliz Özay points out that the 'marvels and wonders' interspersed in the text were already an established tradition in medieval Islamic travel literature. In the chapter "Art History," Çiğdem Kafescioğlu's article serves as an excellent starting point. She studies in great detail the representation of Ottoman and medieval architecture. She devotes particular emphasis to the terminology used in the Seyahatnâme and the aesthetic framework preferred by an urbanite member of the elite such as Evliyâ (whose sense for architecture was shaped by the Ottoman capital and its imperial buildings). Nurhan Atasoy combines in her article Evliyâ's descriptions of gardens with those depicted in Matrakçı Nasuh's fairly realistic miniatures of his Menâzilnâme (Beyân-ı Menâzil-i sefer-i 'Irakeyn). She points out that the two sources confirm and complement one another. Tansu Açık, who studied Evliyâ's approach to the ancient world, sees his perception largely in the framework of Islamic and orally communicated local legends. Robert Dankoff dedicates a comprehensive article to Evliyâ's interest in languages and linguistic matters, giving a brilliant overview of the state of the art concerning Evliyâ's linguistics. He gives a vivid description of the traveller's ideas about language relations and his delight in dialects. However, for many parts of the Seyahatnâme's linguistic digressions, future research has yet to separate myth from reality.
The Seyahatnâme has been used by researchers as a quarry for historical geography and other fields. In recent years, a number of efforts have been made to classify the work as a literary category. Sooyong Kim ("The Seyahatnâme in World Travel Writing") points out that it is not related to early modern travel writing in Europe, but draws heavily on the Arabic geographical literature. Moreover it can be seen as a somehow roundabout piece of pilgrimage writings. Sooyong Kim also detects an intriguing congruence with Chinese travel literature. In the same chapter ("Literature") Nuran Tezcan discusses "The Literary Value of the Seyahatnâme and its Place in Ottoman Turkish Literature", giving a very useful general overview over the scheme of the whole travelogue and of the individual volumes (called "books" by Evliyâ). In her description of Evliyâ's language peculiarities, following Dankoff, she lists a number of deviants from 17th-century standard Ottoman. While it is true that in a literary text they are a novelty, nevertheless most of them were already fairly common in ordinary administrative texts. This is particularly true of the multiple plurals (Arabic+Turkish, Persian+Turkish or even Arabic+Persian+Turkish) and of the linking of Turkish (or Arabic) words with Persian or Arabic ones by use of an izafet. Even the spelling of Arabic words according to their Ottoman pronunciation is to be found in a number of registers dealing with products of material culture. Yet to my knowledge, the whole issue has received far less attention than it deserves. As Nuran Tezcan emphasized, Evliyâ was well aware of the traditional stylistic stereotypes of inşâ prose writing. Nevertheless, wherever he found it necessary he would break the rules of conventional inşâ literature. This practice contrasts with the contemporary Nâbî and the latter's Tuhfetü 'l-Harameyn. Nuran Tezcan emphasises the Seyahatnâme's character as a work of many layers and notes the author's outstanding talent for storytelling. The last article of the chapter, "Literature," is Hatice Aynur's overview of prior research on Evliyâ's sources. This last includes a short report on a symposium dedicated to this issue. (Apparently, up to now 25 sources have been detected.) A map of the River Nile in the Vatican Library has been known to the field since Ettore Rossi drew our attention to it in 1949. It was thought to have been drawn by somebody close to our traveller after his death. Robert Dankoff and Nuran Tezcan have now succeeded in identifying this map as a work by Evliya Çelebi himself; they present their findings in an article that includes seven valuable illustrations. A considerably large section of the book is dedicated to "Appreciations" of the Seyahatnâme by Turkish literati and scholars from different parts of the world. The last part of the volume consists of an extremely valuable bibliography put together by Robert Dankoff and Semih Tezcan. It has two parts, the first one systematic and the second one alphabetical.
As a whole, this volume has a thoroughly thought out concept and conveys an excellent impression of Evliyâ's opus. For the major part this is due to the editors' efforts. But it should also be noted that Nuran and Semih Tezcan have the lion's share in the articles. Furthermore, Robert Dankoff's work, in addition to his articles and translations, is equally substantial. The book's scope goes far beyond a miscellany commemorating Evliyâ's year of birth. It provides new insights, represents the state of the art, reflects the essence of Evliyâ-ology and furnishes us with a kind of stimulation for further research. Hence, this book is a must for every student who wants to deal with any of the manifold facets of the Seyahatnâme. Sadly, we have to add a drop of bitterness to our enthusiasm: Although the book's English version was sent in May 2013 to the reviewers, as of October 2013 it is still not available on the market. A telephone call to the Ministry of Culture's publication office by one of the Istanbul booksellers did not bring any results. Even worse, the officials in charge professed to have no knowledge of this book. Let us hope that this useful book will one day in the future have a life outside the depot of the Ministry!