Monday, July 09, 2007

Travel Journal (4)--Istanbul, Not Constantinople

















"Istanbul" 1953

Words by Jimmy Kennedy
Music by Nat Simon

Lyrics:

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you've a date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks

Istanbul (Istanbul)
Istanbul (Istanbul)

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks


I first visited Istanbul in 2003, traveling with my friend Bill, who is 20 years my senior. As he will readily admit himself, Bill has had a difficult time coping with anything that has happened in the world since the Eisenhower administration. He has this amazing ability to remember all the words to popular songs from the Big Band era (anything more recent, save perhaps Tony Bennett, is suspect). So, there we were, walking down the streets of old Constantinople, as he was jigging along, snapping his fingers and singing this old ditty from 1953. And now, this tune is stuck in my brain as well. Thanks, Bill.

I know that as an Orthodox Christian, I am supposed to say Constantinople, rather than Istanbul. I think I will demur on that, however, outside of church settings. The Byzantines themselves merely called it "the City," as befitted its unarguable position as the greatest city of all. Even the word, Istanbul, is derived from a Greek phrase meaning "to the city." In a perfect world, Constantinople, Thrace and Smyrna would have been awarded to Greece in the post WWI grand reshuffling. Greek greed, British perfidy, American meddling and one man who called himself Ataturk ensured that this did not happen. And the world has moved on mightily since then.

Turkish persecution (and that's NOT too strong a word) of the remaining Greek Orthodox in Istanbul continues to anger me. It is not overt, but rather a slow strangulation. Officially, the Turks are all smiles, seemingly oblivious to what they are doing, oblivious to the fact that there is a problem, and only become incensed when you imply that they are anything less than Western European liberals when it comes to treatment of their minorities. The Islamist AKP party now in power is, on the surface, much less overtly hostile to the Patriarchate than their secularist predecessors. Yet, the Turkish courts have not changed, obstinately refusing to consider the Patriarch as anything other than the head of the 1,500 or so Greek Orthodox in Istanbul (which is an exact reversal of the long-standing Ottoman policy, both before and after the Conquest). So, the future of the Patriarchate in Constantinople remains dim.

One of the glories of old Constantinople--right up through 1923--was its cosmopolitan flavor. The city was Turkish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish. Dozens of languages could be heard on its streets. No longer. Ataturk's greatest legacy is Turkish nationalism. The city, for better or worse, is thoroughly Turkish throughout. That is the cold, hard reality. So, like the song says:

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks

6 comments:

Mimi said...

Sigh. A slow strangulation. What a horrible thought.

Thank you. And, I like "the City" (althought that is also what I call San Francisco)

Ian said...

A horrible thought indeed.


I was intrigued by "I know that as an Orthodox Christian, I am supposed to say Constantinople, rather than Istanbul." -- is this an American thing, or something I've missed? I've never heard it. And I think Istanbul is fine. Should I, having Dutch friends, call NY New Amsterdam? :)

John said...

Ian,

I don't know what it is either. I just know that all the priests I've heard say Constantinople, and I've seen it in print as well. I'm with you--Istanbul is fine.

Maybe someone out there can enlighten both of us???

Death Bredon said...

Personally, I delight in teasing my Greek-American friends by calling them Turkish Orthodox, as Black Bart, their Patriarch and friend of Fidel Castro, is a Turkish citizen with his See in Istanbul.

But really, its long past time that the Orthodox internally acknowledge that the Pentarchy is forever dead. Indeed, (1) the Bishop or Rome has long ago gone is his own Germanic way; (2) Constantinople is truly Istanbul and only has about 1000 aging Greek Orthodox Christians; (3) The Patriarch of "Antioch," has been there in centuries and resides in Damascus; (4) the Patriarch of Alexandria generally resides in Athens; and the flock of the "Patriarch of Jerusalem," always a Greek, is quickly dwindling to nothingness.

The reality is that Orthodoxy actually organizes by accommodation to circumstantial geopolitical realities (which is strives to redeem). Thus, the age of the Pentarchy is over, and the age of National Churches has arrived. And there is nothing wrong with this as long as Orthodox don't confuse their Faith with ethnicity (which unfortunately happens too much) and that the form of future institutional organization may need to change again.

We are Christians, not the Society for Creative Anachronisms.

John said...

"We are Christians, not the Society for Creative Anachronisms"

Well put!

Radoje S. said...

The Serbian name for Constantinople is "Tsarigrad", which literally means "The Imperial City".