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The Dilemma/2

By | May 28, 2009 at 7:31 pm | No comments | Christians | Tags: , , ,

A historical look at the minority problem in Asia Minor, in the Balkans and the Middle East would show that due to the mobility of humankind in the area it goes way back. In the Classical and Hellenistic periods it did not exist because the people of the area were perceived to be either Greek speakers or barbarians. Though marriages and alliances existed between two peoples, they never merged under a political union in modern sense. The period of Alexander the Great and Roman eras share a common ground on the issue of minorities. As in the previous ages, the social friction was not between majorities and minorities but mainly between citizens and non-citizens. Independent of the nature of the state, social movement was towards citizenship and nobility which in turn brought wealth and independence.

Byzantium was no exception. After Constantine, Roman Empire was a secular state and throughout the Empire many religious and political sects enjoyed tolerance from the central government. Copts, pagans, Orthodoxes and then even Muslims lived under Byzantine flag without major problems. However the minorities problem has its roots in this region back from the Byzantium. Religious conflicts between Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople following the Council of Nicea created the first religious minorities that were detested by nature in the region. Even the treatment of Blue Party members in Constantinople when the Emperor was a follower of Greens could be considered as an early example of discrimination against minorities in Byzantium.
Ottoman period was a close follower of Byzantine structures. As many sects were disbanded during the last years of its predecessor, Ottomans by rule, classified all non muslims as “reaya”, who has no rights or representation against Ottoman(Islamic) law. They only paid special taxes and were exempt from military duty. Otherwise they were free to enact their own law, practice their religion and follow their social traditions as long as these “were not in contradiction with the well-being or benefits of their muslim counterparts, and in no way comparative in grandiose with the traditions of muslims”. In reality, minority was a non-issue in Ottoman state. The Empire was neither a feudal nor a nation state. There was no clear cut ruling elite in the system. Economy was simple based on expansion. Simply put, they invaded new lands, brought with them booties, tax money and children to be raised as governing elite. A Christian could become a muslim immediately and could rise in political power easily. Only after nationalistic uprisings in Balkans and Middle East, the minorities started to be viewed as politically inferior.
When Turkish Republic was established, its own nationalistic forces has claimed most of Asia Minor from its Christian inhabitants during and post World War period. Although many signs were present before the turn of 20th Century, by 1920’s Christians of Ottoman heartland has lost at least two million of their population to turmoil, chaos and genocide. And once a land of plenty, vast mountains and valleys of Asia Minor has left bleeding for God knows how long…

About the Author

Stratos Moraitis Stratos Moraitis

Blogger, writer & photographer of a free nature with a focus on human rights & minority issues in Turkey,Greece and Middle East. Follow Stratos at Twitter: @oemoral and Like our page at Facebook

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