Oktay Özel and Yesterday

by Ayşenur Çenesiz

On Oktay Özel’s book Dün Sancısı (Pain of Yesterday), Ayşenur Çenesiz has written a blog post. She scrutinized the criticisms of Özel on the discipline of history.

In August 2017, I spent a month in the Ankara office of Tarih Vakfı (History Foundation) voluntarily. While I served my humble assistance there, I had the opportunity to utilize their rich library of their own publishing. I skimmed through the articles and books. One of them was Dün Sancısı written by Oktay Özel, who was an Assistant Professor in Bilkent University Department of History. In this post I want to share my notes on this book.

Dün Sancısı is a compilation of symposium papers and articles of Özel, published in various journals such as Toplum ve Bilim, Kebikeç and Toplumsal Tarih. It touches a wide range of subjects from the problems of the nature of history as a discipline to how history has been used as an effective political tool. Although they are all related to history, I believe it will attract not only historians and social scientists but also anyone interested in humanities and social issues.

Oktay Özel and His Criticisms on the Discipline of History

Oktay Özel
Oktay Özel

What specifically grabbed my attention in the book was the critical approach of Özel towards his own discipline, history. For him, history studies which have centered on classical age of the Ottoman Empire can be seen one of the most problematic area in Turkey. They are not scientific and analytical. Besides, the knowledge of history can be easily manipulated and used by politicians for their own interests. From the assassination of Hrant Dink to the archive problems in Turkey, Özel reminds how the politized history have become dangerous.

Not only Özel’s critical approach but also his way of using the language makes Dün Sancısı remarkable. Readers can feel themselves as in the symposium while reading Özel’s symposium papers. I especially felt in that way while I was reading “The Last Quarter Century of Ottoman Historiography in Turkey: A Balance-Sheet Essay”. Özel mentions the situation of Ottoman historiography in different periods as if he’s giving a lecture in a classroom, referring prominent sources of literature. For me, his way of writing is a treasure for those who are tired of cold and lifeless academic language.

The perception of history which is built and learnt together, Özel argues, is the solution to the mentioned problems. We have witnessed how the hate and intolerance to “others” is being intensified day by day. Such an environment makes it impossible for us to build and learn the history together. Nevertheless, Özel is not hopeless, rather he draws attention to the role of historians as professionals against emotional and hateful political interests.

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