Relations between Austria and Turkey date back to quite old times. History has witnessed the scenes of wars and lasting peace between the two sides. Austria obtained a great deal of its knowledge about the East and Islam from its relations with the Ottoman State. Islamic studies in Austria were initiated in the 16th century and these studies experienced its golden days thanks to "The Oriental Academy" established in the 18th century with the endeavors of Empress Maria Theresa. In a sense, Austria was the pioneer of Orientalism. Moreover, Austria was the only country that had control over a Muslim population in Europe after the annexation of Bosnia, which was Ottoman territory.
Therefore is quite hard to account for the increasing anti-Islam sentiment in Austria in recent years. It has become even harder to understand the politics that got to the point of shutting down mosques and deporting imams. Are Austrian Chancellor Kurz's remarks due to his political immaturity as said by President Erdogan, or are they due to the vain efforts of a young politician who tries to distinguish himself as a knight of EU countries, which constantly follow inconsistent policies toward Turkey? No matter what the truth is, Chancellor Kurz made the famous Austrian Orientalist Hammer turn in his grave due to this attitude. If he had only the faintest recognition of Hammer’s works, which are considered as the most important cultural heritage of his country, he would not dare to be so impudent.
Hammer and Istanbul
Joseph von Hammer (1774-1856), who represents the German-Austrian orientalism, trained in oriental studies in Austria at an early age, but reached the pinnacle of enlightenment after living in Istanbul for many years as a dhimmi. His acceptance and protection in Istanbul made it possible for him to easily benefit from the libraries and vast collections of books owned by Ottoman rulers, Muslim scholars and intellectuals. Furthermore, he was allowed to make observations on the Muslim community undisturbedly, which is generously open to all religions; and these observations brought his thoughts to maturity for sure. While living in Istanbul Hammer enjoyed the utmost freedoms and forged such a bond with Muslim society that he used a Muslim name "Yusuf" instead of his own name. As a sign of his sincerity in this respect, he ordered a seal with this name by Rahmi and Azmi, famous carvers in Istanbul at that time, and also wanted this name to be carved on his epitaph.
Hammer was captivated by life in Istanbul and other Muslim communities where he travelled, and when he was recalled to his country, he was saddened and left Istanbul to come back one day. Therefore, he dedicated his written work to Sultan Mahmud II, the courtesy of whom he had enjoyed during his stay. Hammer could not return to his beloved city "Istanbul" again, but he spent the rest of his life reading books collected from Istanbul and he has never severed his connection with the East. Because of his longing for the East, he left instructions in his will for his grave to be made similar to the Muslim tombs. As a matter of fact, Greek, Italian, Latin and additionally Turkish, Arabic and Persian epitaphs and Quranic verses are carved on his tombstone. The most interesting part is the presence of the epitaph "Huve'l Bâki" (God alone is eternal) on his tombstone just like the graves of Muslim Ottomans.
If Kurz had visited his tomb only once, let alone read his famous orientalist works, he would immediately grasp the bond and relation between Austria and Islamic culture, and he would not act so imprudently, which is due to his ignorance.
It can be argued whether or not Hammer is the best orientalist of his era. But he was of two great services to Ottoman history, which he always called "his homeland." The first one is ten-volume "the Ottoman History" written that comprises of the foundation of the Ottoman State to the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774 (also his own birth date). Hammer used a wide range of Turkish, Arabic and Persian sources as well as Western archives and resources, and has accomplished a task that no other European ever dared to until that day. His second service is that he introduced the work of Katip Çelebi - a great Ottoman author-, Seyahatname (book of travels) of Evliya Çelebi -one of the most important travelers of the world- and many other Muslim works of art to Western society.
Christian temples in Ottoman Empire
The fear of Islam, artificially initiated in Europe, is the sign of Europe's return to Neo-Scholasticism, plunging it into darkness once again. Because Europe does not have the veteran orientalists who know Islam, and similarly there are no politicians talented enough to understand the Muslim world. In our day, a new crusader mentality is sought to be revived through the public, entirely manipulated by mass media and formed with an artificial image of Muslim society.
Thousands of documents are available in archives, which evidence the government's political tolerance toward Austrian merchants, researchers, consuls and other Christians under their protection, who lived in various provinces of the Ottoman Empire.
These people also confessed that they lived in Muslim societies with complete individual and religious freedoms as confirmed by many European sources just like Hammer. On the other hand, it is possible to say that they were far ahead of free European countries if we consider that the native or foreign Christians who lived in the Ottoman Empire had the possibility of building and developing temples.
This is a long story. It has also been the subject of many academic studies. However, just a single quotation from the work "II. Abdülhamid and Jerusalem" (2017) written by Erdem Demirkol - one of my former students- and based on Ottoman archives would be sufficient.
According to Demirkol's findings; in many parts of the Ottoman territory, but especially in Jerusalem, Christians had all sorts of support from the state in building temples. The state, under certain rules, issued licenses for the construction and the development of churches, monasteries and other religious structures. It was enough to satisfy the following conditions:
-A need for the construction of a church should be evident,
- The land to be used must be a real estate, or it should be bought and transformed to real property.
- The construction should not be close to sacred places of other religions or religious sects, and it should be located so as not to cause any inconvenience,
- It should be investigated and confirmed that the construction of the building will not cause any inconvenience later on,
- Buildings planned to be constructed should built in compliance with specified dimensions and qualities,
-The money for construction or repair should not be collected from the people by force.
The essence of this article is as follows: those who are confident of themselves, confident in their religion and society are not afraid of other religions and temples. Our advice for Kurz is that he should read the works of Hammer, and derive some lessons from the Ottoman practices listed above.