When Russian was taught in Turkish military academies

There were a series of wars involving the Ottoman State and Czarist Russia between 1677 and 1917. In fact, over the course of 240 years, a total of 40 years passed in warfare. Some historians say there were 12 wars, while others insist that it was actually 14. In general, Russia was expanding its empire from the western shores of the Black Sea (the Balkans) and the eastern shores of the Black Sea (the Caucuses), southwards towards the lands of the Ottoman State.

In fact, in its last 250 years, the Ottoman State lost much in the way of both land and population to the Russians. There was also a series of ethnic cleansings, forced relocations and massacres that took place. And so it was that the Ottoman State, which had enjoyed an empire that included the southeast of Europe (the Balkans), transitioned into being the Turkish Republic with its state centered in Anatolia. The Ottoman State, which came to an end in 1923, had been a Western global state. The Turkish Republic, which was born in 1923, was a united state with its face towards the West. When Czarist Russia won the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) and began pushing the Ottomans out of the Balkans and the southwestern Caucasus region, it became clear that the Ottomans needed to modernize their forces. It was then that Sultan Abdulhamid II decided to join forces with Germany, which, like the Ottoman State, had been affected by Russia. Prussian soldier and writer Goltz Pasha (Colmar von der Goltz), who had risen through the ranks of Ottoman and German military to the position of marshal, arrived in Istanbul accompanied by a German delegation to see about the modernization of the forces here. In fact, Goltz Pasha oversaw many deep-seated reforms in the military academy in Istanbul at the time, also instilling the general awareness of the need to develop more modern techniques and use new military technology. Of course, the failure to implement the Prussian tradition of not allowing the military to become involved in civilian politics became clear when the Bacircb-i Acircli Raid, or the 1913 Ottoman coup d’eacutetat. According to research done by Professor Aleksander Koleshnikof, Russian military academies began offering Turkish language courses in 1868. Similar research by Professor Ali Birinci shows that around the same time, Turkish military academies were offering only French language. Goltz Pasha made it a requirement for both German and Russian to be taught in Turkish military academies. For the first time ever, Turkish officers were sent to Saint Petersburg in 1883 to learn Russian. And in fact, it was with contributions from these same officers that the first-ever Russian-Turkish dictionary was created in 1894. A second printing of this language dictionary was made in 1909. Research done by Professor Altan Aykut reveals an anecdote about a time that a close friend of Russian writer Anton Chekhov — a travel writer — encountered a Turkish military officer in Istanbul. The officer spoke very fluent Russian and told the writer about his admiration for Russian literature. In fact, the officer had translated a story from Russian into Turkish, and went on to tell him that he planned to teach his son Russian. In the meantime, poet Recep Vayhi — who had also learned Russian while in military academy — began having his poems translated from Russian to Turkish published in magazines of the times. During this era, a Turkish-Russian committee was formed in Istanbul, Russian language courses were opened widely, trips were planned to Russia, with plans to send youth for training there. Both Hilmi Pasha and Mahmut Esad headed off to Russia to show the good intentions of the Ottoman State to the Russians. But at the time, there was seemingly a deep lack of trust reigning on both sides, which meant that ultimately, those voices pushing for more closeness with Russia were drowned out by the voices pushing against it. The teaching of Russian language in military academies in the Turkish Republic continued on through the Turkish Republic era. In later years however, learning the Cyrillic alphabet and keeping Russian books on hand were punishable on the grounds of being implicit praise for communism.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN