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Turkey’s Byzantine-Ottoman continuum

In pursuit of Byzantine and Ottoman art, Ahmet Ertug (born in 1949) has emerged as a leading figure in the publishing world at home and abroad. Since he embarked on his ambitious project in 1978, Ertug has created a series of fine albums intended for an upmarket international clientele. His latest book «Sacred Art of Cappadocia» came out, like the rest of his work, from the publishing house of Ertug & Kocabiyik. It is the crown of a collection of titles that include works from Hagia Sophia, the Monastery at Hora, Anatolia and the Far East. In his books, Ertug highlights imperial Turkey during the time of the Byzantine emperors and the Ottoman sultans. His photographs are presented in a dazzling light; there is a powerful sense of the holy in them. Apart from his harvest of photographs, Ertug also speaks indirectly about the identity of his country, about the many faces of contemporary Turkey that suddenly seem to converge into a portrait in mosaic tiles. Do many people in Turkey embrace the view that the Byzantine heritage is part of Turkish identity? After I qualified as an architect, it took me at least 10 years of living in Istanbul and studying its cultural heritage and breathing its aura to be aware of the Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman heritage. You need a very sophisticated education and cultural setting to find the entrance to that world. Even the education given at art schools is not enough [to enable you] to appreciate this; you have to dedicate your whole intellectual capacity to feel it. How do you view the historic past of Turkey, a country where one can find the main traces of the Byzantine and Ottoman cultures? The imperial architecture of Byzantine and Ottoman heritage is very dominant and integrated in Istanbul. In Cappadocia the Byzantine aura is very powerful, but in murals. Turkey is a blend of other cultural layers too, such as the Hittite, Roman, Hellenistic, Armenian and Seljuk. It takes some years to discover the qualities and similarities of each of these civilizations. What is your approach like? My approach is artistic and aesthetic. I am trying to show to people in Istanbul and everywhere else these assets and to raise awareness of them. The heritage can only survive with the awareness and love of people. Are you nostalgic for the ethnic diversity of old Turkey? I am doing my creative work in a historic Istanbul neighborhood, in a old mansion where the aura of diversity still exists. It must have been more diverse in the past, but that was before my time. It is more important to me that people are more diverse in their minds, without boundaries. In your mind, do the Byzantine and Ottoman cultures blend in one historic continuum or drift apart, as is the common perception in Greece? I am not a historian, but spending many years in the Byzantine and Ottoman sphere I feel that the Byzantine and Ottoman cultures are a historic continuum. Before Constantinople fell to the Turks, the Byzantine lords living in the Bursa region married off their daughters to Ottoman princes. I am sure those ladies influenced their husbands to go after the shining domes and wealth of Constantinople. How do you map your trips in Turkey? Is Cappadocia a stopover in a broader scheme of covering the whole country? My intellectual capacity evolves after I complete one project and the experience gained opens another door. Now I am involved in the ancient city of Ephesus and its archaeology. That will lead the way to the ancient city of Aphrodisias and its marble sculptures. Is there a distinct secular contemporary Turkish culture? There is a modern and multicultural intellectual community, which is very important for the future of Turkey in the European Union. The metropolitan areas are important in this respect. The rural areas and agricultural communities should preserve their own identity.