The Ottomans’ Trees

In the light of the unrest in Istanbul sparked by the high handed demolition of the green spaces of Gezi Park, I quote from Lords of the Horizons:

“Every storm must have its eye, where the winds sound without a breeze, and in whose still, flat air you can feel the whole of its sullen energy… For the common man, the centre was perhaps a tree. ‘Cursed be the man who injured a fruit-bearing tree,’ the Prophet said, and the idea of the tree – the shaman’s tree, the tree of the Old Religion – was firmly rooted in Ottoman life. Osman’s earliest dream was of a tree of destiny, which grew from his breast and whose leaves pointed at Christendom like spears. A tree grew gnarled and bent in the dusty square of every imperial town and village, where the men could sit to exchange the gossip of the day; so at the centre of the Hippodrome, in the middle of Constantinople, in the heart of the empire, stood a tree known as the Janissary Tree. From it, centuries later, in their days of arrogance and praetorian power, the janissaries liked to administer rough justice, and form their mutinous assemblies: ‘a tree,’ said a visitor in 1810, ‘the enormous branches of which are often so thickly hung with strangled men that it is a sickening sight to look on.”

Istanbul has seen a whirlwind of growth and development, but the storm must still have its eye, I think. Erdogan should think again.


The Janissary Tree

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *