Recent atrocities committed by fundamentalists and inappropriate and inflammatory responses of the so-called free world have distorted how tolerant and inclusive was the rule of the Islamic empire of Ottoman Turks. How quickly it is forgotten that when Spain expelled its Jews, the only home that was offered to those unfortunate victims of religious persecution was the compassionate Turkish cities like Salonica and Istanbul.
Today almost all the heritage of half a millennium of Turkish rule has been wiped off Balkan states - along with the memories of mutually respectful existence of many cultures and races side by side. That was before the ugly head tribalism and racism aided by an increasingly impotent administration turned the Balkans to the powder keg that it is today.
Nobody should mourn the passing of Ottoman Empire. Empires come and go. This is the enduring lesson of history. However, there is every reason to mourn the passing of the sense of community that has become the hallmark of Balkan states during the Ottoman rule. Aside from Turkish academics, one has to read the meticulous research and memoirs of scholars such as Mark Mazower and Leon Sciaky to appreciate how inclusive and tolerant Islam can be if not hijacked by a minority of bloody-minded fundamentalists further provoked and ignited by a hypocritical and self-serving world power.
Rumeli was the name given by Turks to the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic Balkans. It means, literally, 'The Land of the Roman'. However, the 'Roman' referred to in that is not the citizen of Roman Empire. It is the respectful Turkish tag given to Orthodox Christians. (Turks still refer to Greeks as Rum.) It is telling by itself, during the half millennium they ruled that part of Europe, Turks never stopped calling it Rumeli.
Elveda Rumeli (Farewell Rumeli) is a comedy/drama series that nostalgically reminisces the period that would see the collapse of the Empire - the fin-de-siecle of the 19th century. Through the ordinary lives of the members of a Turkish family in Macedonia, it gently and wistfully examines the beginnings of the end of an era. Part sitcom, part family drama, the stories are (perhaps inevitably) limited to the conventions of a soap opera. More than the stories, which are largely predictable and overly romantic, it is the loving recreation of the small Balkan town and the wonderful music of the period that grab the interest. Lead actors are excellent and they manage to inject complexity into their essentially stereotypical characters. If the comedy is a little broad and requires an acquired taste and the drama is overwrought and formulaic, production values more than make up for it.
More than anything, it is worth seeing just to remember that the 'civilized' Europe that condescendingly refuses to accept Turkey into its uneasy Union was decidedly vulgar and blood-thirsty when compared to the super power of Ottoman Empire just over a century ago. I hope that English subtitles will be made available and the series will find a wider audience outside Turkey, where it is already an immense hit.
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