DRACULA AND THE OTTOMANS
BY GEMMA MASSON, PHD CANDIDATE AT THE CENTRE FOR BYZANTINE, OTTOMAN AND MODERN GREEK STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF BIRMINGHAM.
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On this day in 1895 two controversial world leaders were born.
Ahmet Muhtar Zogolli was born to a wealthy landowning family in Albania. He was appointed a district governor ahead of his older half brother, perhaps because of his mothers royal connections. He signed the Albanian declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire and was instrumental in creating Albania as a parliamentary democracy.
He was elected first president of Albania in 1925. In 1928 he turned Albania into a Kingdom and appointed himself King Zog I, King of the Albanians. He was not recognized by European royalty who looked down upon self appointed kings, but he was well regarded in the Turkish/Arabic world.
Zog relied heavily on loans from Italy to prop up the Albanian Economy. His military was run by Italian officers.
In classic Albanian style there were 600 blood feuds against him, and he survived 55 assassination attempts. His Son and Heir, Leka, was born in April 1939. At the same time the Italians moved on Albania. Zog cleaned the gold out of the Central Bank, packed up his wife, child and the cash and fled the country. He spent the rest of his life living in faded grandeur as a King in exile.
The other was Juan Perón, thrice elected President of Argentina, husband to Eva Perón nicknamed Evita, star of the Rice & Webber Musical.
Perón was raised from the entrepreneurial classes in Argentina, with roots in Sardinia. He was sent to Catholic boarding school and joined the military. He enjoyed a successful career as an officer and was sent to Mussolini’s Italy to study mountain warfare, for which the Italian Alpini were famous. He was in Italy in 1939 when Mussolini was invading Albania.
In Europe Perón closely observed the governing structures of Fascim, Military dictatorship, Communism and Social democracy and concluded that the latter was the best form of government. He preferred social democracy to liberal democracy, a view I share myself.
For everyone who expresses positive opinions on Perón you will find three people who hate him. Throughout his career he focused on three principles. Government should be democratic, alleviation of poverty and dignity of work. Again, I happen to be aligned with him on these.
His three presidencies were interspersed with periods of military dictatorship. His life was frequently at risk and he had to flee the country and live in exile. The capitalists hated him because he fought against the exploitation of workers. The conservative Catholics hated him for passing laws permitting divorce and legalising prostitution. The socialists and the communists hated him because they felt he was too supportive of the entrepreneurial and capitalist system. The military dictators hated him as a successful military officer who would not back their coups d’état or support the rule of military Juntas. All sides contending for rule accused him of corruption, living a life of luxury through embezzlement of the public purse. Meanwhile he was loved by the people, because he fought for them.
Don’t get me wrong here, I know Perón was no angel. He was anti-education and I have a major problem with that position. He was in a constant war with third level institutions. Slogans abounded on the streets such as “Promote democracy- kill a student” or “Shoes not Books”. His politics made for some very strange bedfellows. He was on good terms with Che Guevara and Salvador Allende. But he was a realist about US involvement in the overthrow of Allende and support for General Pinochet. He warned the Argentinian People that this could happen to him. He was also accused of having an affair with a 13 year old girl, on which accusation he commented “13? I am not superstitious”.
He did his best to steer Argentina down a middle path in the cold war, attempting to maintain relations with both USA and Russia and gaining favour with neither regime. His motivation was to maintain Argentinian independence.
He made Argentina the strongest economy in Latin America, despite overt attempts by the USA to undermine his reform government. But Perón avoided turning his nation into another Cuba, or Chile.
A complex politician it is interesting to compare his career with that of Zog, who was a perfect example of someone who profited from rule. Perón worked all his life for his country, despite the hatred and criticism he faced. I believe he will go down in history as a good politician and a true patriot and that history will remember him well.
He was desecrated in death, his mausoleum raided and his hands cut off with a chainsaw. His ceremonial personal effects were stolen.
It is seldom that you can take an invention and say categorically that it is directly responsible for given outcomes. But we can do this with Printing. The invention of the moveable type printing press in Europe set the west on a fast track to development of thinking, education, technology, representative government, free market economies and a rights based legal system. The rejection of printing by the Ottoman Empire had the effect of stagnating the Islamic world.
In the mid 15th century the Ottoman Empire was the dominant power in world politics. A rising star. In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. The centers of learning in the world were Arabic; Baghdad, Damascus, Granada, Cairo. People living in the Islamic world had better health, education, cleanliness, rule of law etc than those in the west. In England at this time, for instance, the Wars of the Roses began, plunging the country into decades of turmoil.
Several things then happened that changed the dynamics of East and West.
Firstly Gutenberg perfected the printing press. This technological breakthrough was rapidly copied all over Europe. With widespread availability of bibles there was a rise in literacy and scholarship. With access to the text of the Bible came a focus on the differences between church Dogma and the word of the Gospels. This led directly to the reformation of the church in the West and the rise of Humanism.
Questioning the authority of the Church set in motion a rise in free thinking. If the Pope can be questioned then why not the King? Across Europe we see the rise of the third estate.
The Reconquista was completed in Spain in the latter half of the 15th century, defeating the Emirate of Granada. With the fall of Islam in Spain a great wealth of knowledge was unlocked from the Arabic libraries. Scholars found ancient Greek texts on philosophy and science. The philosophical works by authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles etc, pre-dated Christian writings. They approached religious matters through reason rather than faith. The rediscovery of these works plunged the Christian world into a crisis which was exacerbated by the new literacy and widespread availability of the bible.
At the same time the scholars unlocked scientific texts by the Greeks such as Archimedes and Pythagoras, and mathematical developments by Arabic scholars such as Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi as well as learnings from the Kerala school of mathematics in India.
In the 13th and 14th centuries access to these texts was highly restricted. A university could proudly boast a library numbering books in the dozens. Monasteries restricted access to their hand copied texts.
With the invention of printing these works became available to a far wider audience. Europe experienced the Renaissance.
At the same time, in 1483 to be precise, Sultan Bayezid II instituted a ban on printing in the Arabic Language.
By the time this ban was lifted, and widespread printing was made available to the Arabic world, the West had left the Arabic world behind. By the 19th Century the Ottoman Empire was “The sick man of Europe”.
Spain, Portugal, Holland, England and France ruled empires that spanned the globe.
The Arabic world continues to suffer from the after effects of this 300 year ban on printing. In the West we need to be patient with developments in the Islamic nations. Europe did not grasp the concept of democracy in a few short decades. The grip of blind dogma on religion was not an overnight change. It took centuries of scholarship to resolve. It is amusing how many westerners expect the Arab Spring revolutions to deliver Western Style economies in a couple of years.
On Dec 12th 1408 Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary, founded the Societas Draconistarum (Order of the Dragon) one of the most evocative of the Military Chivalric Orders of the middle ages.
We are all familiar with the larger orders such as the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights. The smaller chivalric orders are less well known, but abounded all across Europe. Spain and Portugal had many orders, the best known being the Knights of Calatrava. The Baltic States had a number of orders in the Northern Crusdades against the Pagans, with the Livonian Sword Brothers playing second fiddle to the Teutonic order.
Today we think of the Crusades as being particular to the holy land and nothing could be further from the truth. The Crusades represented a clash of cultures with Christian and Muslim states fighting for territory all across Europe.
The Iberian peninsula was the Western theatre. The remnants of the Christian Vizigothic kingdoms fought for control against the Caliphate and then against Rif muslims such as the Almoravids and the Almohads. The Reconquista culminated in 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella took the Kingdom of Granada and unified Spain under Christian rule.
A second campaign was waged all across the mediterranean in places such as Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Malta, Crete, Cyprus, Rhodes etc to control the maritime trade routes. The key players on the Christian side were the Italian maritime states such as Genoa, Venice, Pisa, Amalfi, Ancona and Ragusa. The Ottoman fleet was the backbone of the muslim navies, but was ably supported by a variety of independent muslim rulers, traders and pirates. Two great battles signalled the ascent of Christian power; the Great Siege of Malta (1565) and the naval battle of Lepanto (1571). In both cases the Spanish Empire, freed of its own crusade, was able to contribute to Christian Victory.
On the Eastern Front the Christians fared less well. After capturing Jerusalem in the first crusade they established four ‘crusader kingdoms’ collectively known as Outremer; the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli and the County of Edessa. They lost Edessa and Jerusalem to Saladin and then lost all the remaining land over the following years to Baybars, the Mameluke Sultan of Egypt. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, who then flowed into Europe and the Balkans.
It was the Balkans that became the ‘front line’ of the crusades, the central theatre of the conflict. For Europe the most important single battle in the entire history of the Crusades was the Siege of Vienna in 1529. Under Sulieman the Magnificent the Ottoman Empire reached its high water mark. Had Vienna fallen then all of Eastern Europe could have become Muslim.
It is in the context of this world that we understand the order of the Dragon, a knightly order for selected nobility who vowed to defend the Christian world against the Turks. As noble knights they were expected to act as the leaders in the defence of Christian lands. It had members in Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary and all across the Balkans. One of the more noted members of the order was Vlad II Dracul. The nickname ‘dracul’ was adopted when he was inducted into the order and means ‘Vlad the Dragon’.
After the assassination of Vlad Dracul his eldest son, Mircea, was blinded and buried alive. From the confusion that followed arose Vlad III who took a diminutive form of his father’s nickname and called himself ‘Dracula’. He was better known by his people as ‘Tepes’ or The Impaler, for his habit of impaling his muslim enemies. Dracula earned great fame and loyalty from the Romanians of Transylvania for his defence against the Turks.
Many years later, in the 1890’s Bram Stoker visited the town of Whitby in Yorkshire and was inspired by the gothic nature of the town to write a novel. A Dublin man, Stoker had taken a job as manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London. This gave him access to literary circles where he met Armin Vambery, a Hungarian Jew, traveler and author who was an expert on Ottoman Orientalism. It is undoubtedly from Vambery that Stoker learned of Dracula, and framed the central character of his famous novel. In many portrayals of the story the character of Armin Vambery serves as a model for Van Helsing.
The Giaour ; by Lord Byron
. . . Unquenched, unquenchable,
Around, within, thy heart shall dwell;
Nor ear can hear nor tongue can tell
The tortures of that inward hell!
But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
But one that for thy crime must fall,
The youngest, most beloved of all,
Shall bless thee with a father’s name —
That word shall wrap thy heart in flame!
Yet must thou end thy task, and mark
Her cheek’s last tinge, her eye’s last spark,
And the last glassy glance must view
Which freezes o’er its lifeless blue;
Then with unhallowed hand shalt tear
The tresses of her yellow hair,
Of which in life a lock when shorn
Affection’s fondest pledge was worn,
But now is borne away by thee,
Memorial of thine agony!