About the decision to do away with the old Ottoman script. What can one say about it? One of the arguments put forward by Atatürk was that the Turkish population was mainly illiterate, and this initiative would get rid of illiteracy.
Resul efendi: Bismillhirrahmanirrahim. The Turks, when they arrived in Anatolia had already taken up Islam. They came to Anatolia in 1071. In the nine hundreds the Turks took up Islam, and they also changed their script. They said, — Okay, we’re Muslim, we’ll take the script of Islam as well. That’s the one thing. The other thing is that with the Arabic script, for every sound there is a letter. For example in German “tsch” – you have to use three letters for one sound. Arabic is more precise, and since Arabic was more precise, they took up this script, and developed this script further for their own Turkish language. There are a couple of small changes. Some letters for example “ç”, which doesn’t exist in Arabic. Therefore Ottomans set down on one letter three points. And so they developed a script, at the same time an Arabic script which was very applicable to their purposes. And with this script, together with the Selcuks, they founded an empire that lasted a thousand years. They also brought down a lot of empires. They experienced three epochs. They brought epochs to a close and began new epochs. And this was facilitated with this script.
And then when the Ottoman Empire was no longer there one felt one had to change the script, and the alleged reason was that the script was too difficult, and the other script was easier. But it was the other way around. The Latin script is more difficult than the Arabic script. As I said, you need three letters or four letters to make one sound. In Arabic there is no such thing. One letter meant one thing, or one sound. And so they were arguments that had no foundation. There was no proof. They just wanted to bring the people to the point by saying , “You can learn better this way”. They brought forth the new script in ’28. They said there were a lot of illiterates there – that’s wrong. That’s a falsification that was made after the fact. In the Ottoman Empire, everyone could read and write. That included every woman, every girl in every village. Do you know when they became illiterate? After the new script came into effect. Imagine you are an academic; you’ve been an academic for thirty, forty years. You researched; you wrote documents; you wrote books – everything in Arabic script; Ottoman. And from one day to the next it’s forbidden. And you are fifty, sixty years old – you can’t learn so well anymore – and you are required to learn a new language. And everything that you have learned you are supposed to write in a new script, and maybe even convey this script to others as a professor.
And do you know what they did? They took all these professors in the medreses, in the universities, and threw them out – and even hanged some. And that was their alphabet revolution. The people who stood in the way of these changes, or who didn’t recognize the new script were hanged, killed, death penalty. They took Jewish professors from European universities, and gave them so much money, whereby domestic professors only received an eighth of the sum. They gave them so much money to write new books in a new script, new study techniques. For whom? For a people that had lived with this script for more than a thousand years.
For over a thousand years they developed the best weapons, they practiced astronomy, physics, math, while Europe said the earth was flat, and the Muslims even back then said that the earth was round, and even proved that mathematically. And the whole mathematics is Arabic. The numerals that we use are Arabic. No one knows how to count with the Latan numerals. One can count with Arabic numerals. Suddenly one is incapable of working with an Arabic script. Nonsense. How does China manage. Look, when Israel was founded, Hebrew no longer existed. Hebrew was just a language in the holy books – in the Old Testament. What did the Israelis do? They revived a dead script, a dead language. What did we do? We destroyed a language and a script that existed for more than a thousand years. And I ask you all – is that logical or illogical? There’s no logic there. Why should I change something that functions? Why should I change it? It functions. It works. Everything is established. There are thousand year old books. Or things written over a hundred, a thousand years. Or the monuments and grave sites, they are all inscribed in beautiful hat sanat. There’s no Turk who can read that today. What have we achieved? A Japanese can read something written in his language a thousand years ago. Likewise, a Chinaman. Likewise a European. But not the Turks; not any more. What have we achieved? We have separated ourselves from the past. That was what they intended to do. Who? In Lausanne, where his agreement too place, they said, “You have to change your script”; you have to ban your religion; you have to be neutral, like France; laicism must come. What did they offer? They took Swiss laws, they took French laws, and German governmental norms. From three countries they took some kind of governmental system aid, — you have to govern yourselves in accordance with this. And I have to ask myself, what happened to our culture? Where is the real “me”? And what did they say, – you have to take off your turban, you have to change your garb, you have to all look like Europeans, and wear a regular hat.
And if one didn’t comply then one was threatened with severe punishment.
They called that, “treachery”. You were a traitor to your country; you didn’t accept it. If they wore the old headgear they were hanged. If they didn’t adopt the script they were hanged. Or some towns, big regions, which said, – no we don’t accept that, embargoes were implemented against them. For example Konya was stuck in an embargo for thirty, forty years. Because Konya stood up against the initiative as a province. They said, – no, we don’t accept that. Factories weren’t built there, nothing was transported there. The people were punished and allowed to perish. And that was the punishment for Konya, Sivas…the Anatolian provinces that didn’t accept the measures. But what are you going to do? At some point they put so much pressure on them that they had to capitulate. There were a lot of financial considerations. Turkey was founded and a national bank was founded at the same time. But this national bank didn’t belong to the state. It didn’t belong to the state, but it had the name. It really belonged to the Zionists as was set forth at Lausanne.
I say, okay, you can implement a revolution regarding the script. But it needs time. Why, once we did that did we take the whole archives, tons of material, truckloads, and either destroy it, burn it, or sell it abroad? 60 tons of Ottoman archival material was sold to Bulgaria. And do you know for how much? For a pittance. It was sold for a pittance. It wasn’t sold as archival material, but rather as refuse. Either they should burn it or recycle it. But it wasn’t sold as archival material. As archival material it was worth millions. Imagine, there are books there that are hundreds of years old. Maybe seven hundred years old, maybe more. All of it archives. And there are Islamic books included. From Islamic scholars, or state archives, which contained information where and how wars were waged. All of the details written down. It was destroyed are sold to Bulgaria as refuse.
And so I have to ask myself why, what’s the reason behind it? Okay, you instigate a revolution, great, but then translate the old stuff into the new language, the new script. Why wasn’t this done? And then I pose the question: you did this to me, my ancestors, why can’t I read anything about them? Why can’t I have access to this knowledge?
In Turkey I go to the registry office and I tell them, I want to find out about my ancestors. They can only go back to 1923. That’s when Turkey was founded. Why can’t I go further back? Because all the material was either destroyed or hasn’t been translated. I can’t discover who my grandparents were. Firstly I was rendered unable to read. Secondly, I know nothing about my past. And so I ask myself: Why this hate? It’s only hate. Nothing else. They didn’t render the people a service. And the president, Inönü – he’s the one that came after Atatürk, and he was the one who went to Lausanne as minister president, as chancellor, when he attained his post he said, – our intention was with the script revolution to separate the Turks from Islam. It had no other background. They should be made incapable of reading the old books and they should be kept from the Koran.
But as we see, it didn’t work and today there is a reevaluation of the old traditions, and the position of Islam is stronger than it was, say, twenty years ago. They were unsuccessful, you could say.
Yes, because one says in Islam, one can’t force someone to do something. It doesn’t work. It might work for years. But at some point the tyranny comes to an end, the persecution comes to an end. Until twenty years go, or fifteen years ago, women weren’t allowed to wear headscarves in the civil service. They were also not allowed to study. Until forty years ago a soldier was not allowed to pray. If it was found out that he prayed he was sacked. They even looked to see if the knees of their trousers were worn, to see if they prayed or not. And if they were determined to have prayed, they were sacked. Turkey went through such a period. My father said – he was born in ’46 – when he was small they weren’t allowed to read the Koran. They read the Koran in the barn out of fear of the soldiers, because if they were found out, they would take them and kill them. Turkey suffered such tyranny. That was not a democracy. Nothing. That was rather a dictatorship. My father said they received Koran lessons from a hodza in the barn next to the cows and donkeys. And when they came — sometimes they were snitched on that they were reading the Koran – they hid the Koran – imagine it – in cow dung on order to evade the soldiers. Such times we endured.
With regards to hat sanat (Islamic calligraphy) maybe ninety-nine percent of the population can’t read this old script, but nevertheless there are artists who are drawn to this tradition. And they revive the tradition and practice it, and one receives as diploma from a master, and one continues to practice the art. What is your opinion of this?
I don’t know so much about it. But I know that in the Ottoman Empire this hat sanat was always taught in a dergah. Because it is a Koran script in an aesthetic manner. And dergahs then were places of education. Places of education in every way. Whether that be reading of the Koran, hat sanat, or learning of the Islamic laws. And in the foreground was Sufism. But with time this hat sanat began to be implemented in the public schools. But still, all of the public schools in the Ottoman Empire were religious. The Ottoman Empire was an example of how Islam could be implemented in government. The highest position that Islam could attain was the Ottoman Empire. And the beautiful was always attended to. Everything had to be beautiful. Reading of the Koran had to be beautiful, writing of the Koran had to be beautiful. It was really promoted by the state. And later, I’m not exactly sure, there were special hat sanat schools. You could go there and learn it. And of course, with the revolution and the Turkish Republic, that was also forbidden or not really practiced anymore. And then Turkey became more “modern” and “European” and people no longer had anything to do with religion. But art was important for them, this hat sanat. Many people were not really religious, but kept on practicing this.
I often see in videos and news features people who appear to be – I don’t know what kind of people they are – but they appear to be not religious. They have earrings and tattoos or whatever, and they practice hat sanat. They are short sleeved and the women without headscarves. They appear not to have anything to do with Islam, but they practice hat sanat. Before when you wanted to practice hat sanat you couldn’t just jump right into it. You had to go to a dergah and their learn proper comportment, adap. Only then could you take up a pen and begin to learn. Because hat sanat is an emulation of the levh-i kalem and the levh-i mahfuz. Allah, before he created anything created a pen. Kalem. Levh-i kalem. And then he created the levh-i mahfusz, a sheet, a sheet of light. And then He said to the levh-i kalem, “write”. And the kalem said, “What should I write?” “Write: Bismillhirrahmanirrahim.” The first thing that was ever written was Bismillhirrahmanirrahim. And every individual stoke or letter took seven hundred years. And then Bismillhirrahmanirrahim was written out in its completion. And with this levh-i kalem everything was written down: your life, my life, how the earth was formed, and the various galaxies. And hat sanat is an emulation of levh-i kalem and levh-i mahfuz. That’s why it’s something spiritual. And to learn this you have to know the spiritual basis. And to keep decorum. You are writing in the name of Allah. That’s why it’s an important thing.
Are the schools today where one can really learn hat sanat?
I know of none, but I am certain that such schools exist. I’m not so well-informed in this field. I also don’t have so much knowledge about this in particular. But you can look and see. Maybe something like this exists in Turkey. That one can learn this with a religious background.
What do you think about the collecting of such artworks? Today great sums are given in Turkey and Arabic countries for such works.
Also modern calligraphy which continues in this traditional line.
In the past it was so that when one was a hat sanat master and completed a masterpiece, he gave it to his best student or his children. Because it’s the script of the Koran. You can’t just throw it away. It has to always be carefully preserved. And this calligraphy was passed down in the family. It was inherited like a piece of gold. And such pieces have come down to us today. But unfortunately the families became greedy because in the time being these pieces were three hundred, four hundred years old, and they sold them. Because it was an antique which fetched thousands of dollars or euros, or even millions. And then the spritual aspect was no longer in the foreground, but the material aspect. And that’s why they sold it. But they don’t know what they sold. They sold out themselves. They sold their family. It should have remained in their possession for ever. Because every calligraphic work that was penned by a master is a blessing. Because when an evliya –when a sheikh makes that he was a master. Let’s say someone was master of swordsmanship, he was a sheikh. Sheikh of a sword. Or is he was master of the bow and arrow, he was also a sheikh. And there were hat sanat sheikhs. But these were people who had a spiritual basis. And when these people write, Allah is dictating to them. Allah is telling them what to write. They are not just writing themselves. Just like Allah said to levh-i kalem – write. And levh-i kalem said, – what shall I write. Bismillhirrahmanirrahim. So were the spiritual masters in the past. Because these masters of hat sanat they felt in their hearts what Allah wanted of them. And then they wrote this hat sanat. And that is their true being. Allah’s word. They sold that. One can’t do that.
Have you inherited such pieces in your family?
No, unfortunately not. We can only look back to 1923. But I’ve learned a bit from Sheikh Efendi.