According to Erdogan’s spokesman Kalin the West is still mad at Turkey over the fall of Constantinople
Turkish Presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın recently made some interesting comments during a conference hosted by the Foundation Center for Women, Family and Youth (KAGEM).1 In the context of the ongoing souring of Turkish-Western relations–in the case of Europe relating to negotiation difficulties over the migrant crisis and Turkey’s accession to the EU, while in the case of the US, the latter’s supposed support for terrorist groups attempting to destabilize the Turkish government–Kalın broached the issue of how Europe and the West viewed Turkey by saying (emphasis mine):2
“When you look at the issue from the viewpoint of ‘What is the obstacle, or what will we see when it is completed?’ you can see many issues extending throughout the long history of Islam-West relations. The conquest of İstanbul is one of the issues that left deep traces, especially in the minds of Medieval and modern-age European philosophers. In this respect, the conquest of İstanbul was an unexpected incident for Europeans and the Byzantines. And they did not get over the shock of the conquest for years. Indeed, Westerners have never forgiven the Turks for the conquest of Byzantium.”
Two day’s after these comments columnist Saadet Oruç wrote a piece for Daily Sabah entitled the West should cure its 1453 syndrome,3 in which she concurred with Kalın and also criticized Europeans labeling Erdoğan imperialistic as hypocritical.4 Furthermore, many Turks also believe that the West is still waging an anti-Turkish crusade. For instance Turkish Forestry Minister Veysel Eroğlu has claimed “Since the 1699 Treaty of Karlowitz, they [the West] has been planning ‘how to destroy Turkey.’”5 While many Turks hold such beliefs the pertinent question is whether these beliefs are valid?
In the case of the Greek there is no doubt that the loss of Constantinople6 was a catastrophe, as it marked the end of the Byzantine Empire and ushered in almost 400 years of humiliating and onerous Ottoman occupation and neither have most Greeks forgotten this past event. The collective Greek reaction and lamentation to the fall of η Πόλις is embodied in a large body of folk songs based on the event and its aftermath.7 The issue of the city’s most famous landmark Hagia Sophia, a one time great Orthodox cathedral which was converted to a mosque after 1453 and which now is a museum of sorts, is still a cause of tensions between Greece and Turkey.8 There are also Orthodox prophecies predicting that Constantinople will once again be under Greek control. According to Saint Paisios:9
“Events will start that will culminate with us [Greece] taking back Constantinople. Constantinople will be given to us. There will be war between Russia and Turkey. In the beginning the Turks will believe they are winning, but this will lead to their destruction. The Russians, eventually, will win and take over Constantinople. After that it will be ours. They will be forced to give it to us.”
So if Kalın had said “Greeks have never forgiven the Turks for the conquest of Byzantium” such a statement would be reasonable enough. His statement is also applicable to the other Orthodox Christian countries, such as Serbia and Russia. The fall of Constantinople cemented Serbia’s subjugation by the Ottomans, and in the aftermath of this event, Russia saw itself as the cultural, political and religious successor of the Byzantine Empire. Interestingly early last year it was reported that Putin threatened Turkey, that if they “not stop supporting al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, I am indeed eager to end the job the late Tsar Nicholas II left unfinished. During the World War I Tsar Nicholas II, He [Tsar] sought to restore Constantinople (Istanbul) to Christendom…”.10
While the veracity of this report is questionable, nonetheless there are many devout Russian Orthodox believers, in addition to the other Orthodox around the world, who would be very joyous to see Istanbul return to the control of Christendom. I suspect such people have not forgiven the Turks for what they did in 1453.
While applicable to the Orthodox portion of the West, in my view Kalın’s statements are generally not to the remainder of the West. The latter, with the exception of Austria and Hungary, did not experience the direct consequences of the fall of Constantinople (i.e. Ottoman occupation). And while at the time of Mehmet’s great conquest many leaders in Western Europe were shocked and distressed by Constantinople’s demise, none of them provided any meaningful assistance to the Byzantines in their desperate fight against Mehmet’s army.11
So if the Europeans of the day cared not enough to provide any tangible assistance to the Byzantines, with the exception of empty words and lamentations, why should we expect that their modern offspring to be so bothered as to not yet forgive Turkey for events occurring over 500 years ago? And how much more so with those from America, Canada, etc.
It should also be realized that most Westerners have a very poor understanding of their own history, and especially that of Byzantine history. Most people are completely ignorant on the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the concurring rise of the Ottoman Empire. So I highly doubt that such people are much bothered or motivated by historical events that they know nothing of. Furthermore, the secularization of Europe’s population also numbs them to historical religious considerations. Why would it bother a European atheist that a Christian empire was supplanted by a Muslim one? In their view one system of irrationality is being replaced by another.
Yet there are Westerners who are knowledgeable of, and who through religious belief or cultural affinity, care about such matters. By extension such people could still hold a grudge against Turkey, although how much they are motivated by such feelings is uncertain. And it is also true that such Westerners may be increasing in number with the rise of the right and populism throughout Europe and the US. However, such people do not currently have the power to effect the West’s behavior towards Turkey.
This brings us to an important point. The people who do hold power in the West, the bureaucratic, intellectual and political elites, i.e. those who formulate the policy towards and negotiate with Turkey, are highly secular and in my view disdainful of Christianity. It is unlikely that they harbor any ill will towards the Turks for their subjugation of Orthodox Christianity. After all, one of the reasons why Putin is so disliked by the West, is not because he is a political strong man who violates civil rights, but because he is trying to rejuvenate Russia by allying with the Russian Orthodox Church and adopting traditionalist policies.12
In conclusion, Kalın’s comments are accurate for the Orthodox branch of the West (Greece, Serbia, Russia), but not so much for the other nations of the West, which constitute the majority of it. Most people in the have little knowledge of history and are not greatly affected personally by what history they do know. To a certain degree Westerners are ahistorical. Kalın and other Turks fail to realize this, because their culture is one that is knowledgeable about their own history and is emotionally affected by it.13 Furthermore, the Turkish conception of the West is undoubtedly influence by a sense of collective victimhood, i.e. that Turkey is the victim of vengeful Western cultural, political and religious aggression that is centuries old.
Ultimately, the West’s current relations with Turkey are not overly influenced by the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Outside of the Orthodox, most Westerners are not on a crusade to avenge the defeat of the Byzantine Empire. If Westerner leaders are waging a crusade against Turkey, it is not a religious one. Instead it is one to further their geopolitical and economic interests.
References and Notes
 For those unaware 1453 was the year Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans.
 There was in fact some assistance from Western Europe, but this was from the volition of individuals and not the European states. The greatest assistance came from Genevese commander Giovanni Giustiniani Longo who brought with him 700 soldiers. There were also some Venetians, Catalans and other foreigners who were already in the city before the siege began and who remained to help defend the city.
 He is also likely doing this to secure his power in Russia.
 It should be realized that while the average Turk and Middle Easterner can be considered to be more ‘historically’ minded than Westerners, this does not mean that their historical knowledge is in any way accurate or in accordance with reality. The history that Turks are taught is highly biased and distorted. Their culture and society is painted in as favorable a light as possible, while their enemies in a negative manner. In a sense what most Turks believe can be considered a historical mythology of sorts. Yet, what is important is that they are well acquainted with this mythology and that it greatly influences their world view.