26 June 2019

Political Visions and Illusions, 2.0

InterVarsity Press has just released this promotional video:

The book is available from the publisher and from the usual bookstores and online vendors.

Flightless birds in history's cauldron

My paternal grandparents were born nominal subjects of the sultan in Constantinople, albeit under a British colonial administration. While Cyprus had come into British hands in 1878, it remained officially part of the Ottoman Empire until 1914. Like the surrounding territories, the island had a mixed population, with a 5 to 1 ratio of Greek Orthodox Christians to Turkish Sunni Muslims, along with much smaller Armenian, “Frankish” and Maronite minorities. Because Cyprus was unaffected by the population exchanges mandated by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, my father grew up with Turkish Cypriot playmates, one of whom, Abdullah, became very close to him and remained a lifelong friend until Abdullah's death in February of this year. Indeed the final separation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots would not come until a half century after Lausanne, as the events of 1974 divided the island seemingly irreparably.

I was reminded of our family's history as I recently read Louis de Bernières's Birds Without Wings (Vintage, 2004), a sprawling epic on a Tolstoyan scale set against the backdrop of the final years of the Ottoman era, the Great War, the Greco-Turkish War and the tragic aftermath. The story takes place largely in the small Anatolian village of Eskibahçe in what is now southwestern Turkey in the ancient province of Lycia. Based on the long abandoned village of Kayaköy, meaning “rock village,” Eskibahçe, meaning “old garden”—perhaps the Garden of Eden awaiting the inevitable fall—contains a colourful cast of characters known largely by their occupations and their respective religious faiths. Levon the Armenian is the local apothecary, providing medicinal cures for a variety of ailments. Iskander the Potter is a Muslim who so thoroughly submits to God's will that he does not plan in advance what he will produce, allowing the clay to decide what it will become under divine guidance. Father Kristoforos is the Orthodox priest and leader of the village's Christians who easily mixes with and ministers to the Muslims but denounces the occupying Italians as heretics. The book's title is an allusion to two boys, Mehmetçik and Karatavuk, a Christian and Muslim respectively, who are best friends eventually separated by war and deportation. Although their given names are Nikos and Abdul, they adopt the names of Robin and Blackbird after the clay bird whistles fashioned for them by Karatavuk's father Iskander.


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