VAMPIRES OF THE STEPPE
This is the largest piece I’ve written for any magazine to date. A robust 5,700 words, this piece featured in Asian Geographic 2012, Issue 6. It was split into three sections, so I’ve split it into three separate posts for anyone who may be interested in reading the entire piece. Original text follows the spread as it appears in the magazine.
VAMPIRES OF THE STEPPE
How Turkic Blood Changed the World: Part 3
By Flash Parker
BLOOD, FANGS, AND SPEARS
I write a note at the top of the page reminding myself not to spend too much time on this crazy witch-hunt. I know the idea that Attila the Hun and Dracula are connected by blood is preposterous, and I know that Dracula is a myth. Yet I also know that most myths are rooted in at list a little bit of truth. Is it possible that Dracula had a bit of Hun blood in him?
I know I can’t approach Ark Raider claiming I’ve found a link between the Anatolian Tiger and Dracula – that would be insane. First of all, the fictional Dracula, the one who sprang from Bram Stoker’s imagination and claimed to be a Székely by birth (and may have had a tenuous connection to the Huns if this were true), never actually existed. The historical Dracula, Vlad III, the Prince of Wallachia, was in fact a Wallachian; the Wallachians would eventually become the modern Romanian ethnic group, but they were never ethnically Turkic people. Furthermore, Vlad III waged numerous campaigns against the Ottoman Turks during his lifetime; for his disobedience Vlad III was imprisoned by Ottoman Sultan Murad II, and subsequently beaten, tortured, and broken. Upon his release Vlad III’s character had changed markedly – he displayed a pathological hatred for the Ottomans, yearned for battle, and began displaying the bloodlust that would stain his character and define his legend forever. In case you didn’t know, Vlad III had a thing for sticking people on pikes, and he may have done it more than 100,000 times.
The fact that the real Dracula was a Wallachian and not a Turk is supported by volumes of historical evidence (and provides me with no small measure of comfort). For a moment I feel as though I have stumbled upon another dead-end; another bloodline that ends in the Middle Ages, another people disconnected from the Turkey of today. On one hand, I’m relieved that Dracula’s progeny no longer walk the earth. On the other, I thought it might be fun to be credited with finding a modern piece of Dracula’s genetic puzzle – I might have even won a Pulitzer for my troubles. At any rate, by drawing Ottoman blood, Dracula has opened the door to a new possibility – one I should have recognized from the very beginning. If Mehmed II was powerful enough to dispatch Vlad the Impaler, perhaps his bloodline has endured to today.
A HOUSE DIVIDED
The Mongols did serious damage on Anatolia soil during the 13th and 14th Centuries. Infighting, politicking, and general foolishness at the highest levels of government didn’t help matters much. The Byzantine Empire was crumbling, the Mongols were retreating to the steppe, and the fractured clans of the former Bulgar kingdom could not agree on where to graze their cattle, let alone on who should rule an empire. Out of this chaos rose the Ottoman Empire, led by the first sultan, Osman I.
The empire flourished for more than six centuries, and was only dissolved in 1923 – though more than 100 years of political maneuvering against the British Empire, the Crimean War, and a rising wave of ethnic nationalism that swept across Eurasia had reduced the Ottoman Empire to a shell of its former self, and it was never to regain the glorious standing it enjoyed on the world stage during the 16th Century. Aligning itself with the Central Powers during World War I was simply the last gasp of a wasted kingdom.
Sultans ruled uninterrupted from 1299 to 1922, an unprecedented reign for any modern empire. Ertuğrul Bey, a leader of the Oghuz Turks and the father of Osman I, set the stage for his son to found the Ottoman Empire in the face of Byzantine rule; the House of Osman would send 36 sultans to the throne. Some, like the great Suleiman I, reigned for 46 years. Meticulous records have been kept dating all the way back to Ertuğrul Bey, even as they relate to the Imperial Harem.
A sultan’s harem often included dozens, if not hundreds of concubines, and while it is conceivable that concubines bore sons and daughters that were never recorded in historical texts, it is unlikely that the Anatolian Tiger was born as a result of one of these extra-matrimonial arrangements, and unlikelier still that he is a direct descendant of the House of Osman. The entire house was declared persona non grata under a provision of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, and the sultan and his family were banished from Turkey. The family was allowed to return to Turkey some years later, and were even afforded an opportunity to apply for Turkish citizenship in 1974, though most Turkish citizens are in no rush to retreat from a democratic parliamentary republic and return to life under an absolute monarchy.
There are currently 24 princes standing in the line of succession behind Osman Bayezid Osmanoğlu, who would have been styled Grand Sultan Bayezid III had the sultanate never been abolished; some of the men in line after Osman Bayezid Osmanoğlu are businessmen, some are foreign diplomats, and some are comedians. Some live in Turkey, while others live in France (where a large number of the royal family sought refuge after being exiled), the United States, Germany, and Canada. In addition to these 24 princes there are hundreds of Osman princes and princesses who are officially linked by blood to the empire. Whether or not descendants of the House of Osman are welcomed with open arms into the Turkish business community is a matter of debate, but one I’m not likely to be having with Ark Raider’s Anatolian Tiger.
As I fill pages with ethnogenetic trivia, I realize that I’ve gone too far down the rabbit hole to ever come back. By digging deeper and deeper into these bloodlines I have come to realize that they are all connected in some way. The Anatolian Tiger may share a blood link with Suppiluliuma, Attila, Dracula, or Osman, he may be connected to all of them, or he may be connected to any one of the Turkic peoples I have failed to mention – I could delve just as deeply into the bloodlines of the Turkmens, Uyghurs, Kyrgyzs, Sejjuks or the Gogturks and I may arrive at the same conclusion. Attila’s grave has never been found, and scientists are on the whole afraid to swab Dracula’s fangs for DNA; suffice to say, unlocking ancient genomes is not likely to happen any time soon. We’ll never know if greatest is a genetic trait, or a fluke of history.
Turkey has one of the richest genealogical histories the world has ever known; I could spend a year attempting to break the code of a thousand bloodlines, and I would be no closer to solving this mystery than I am today. If I wrote a book on Turkic genealogy, it would be titled Chapter One – if I followed it with 500 volumes at 5,000 pages each, I would hardly begin to understand how Turkey came to be. This is an awesome thought, at once overwhelming and wholly disheartening, for now I must admit to Ark Raider that I have failed in my quest to uncover the secret of the Anatolian Tiger’s bloodline.
Dejected, I interrupt Ark Raider and his friend. I place my notes, my family trees, my sweat, my blood, and my tears upon the table before them. I begin with an apology. I tell them that I could not solve the mystery – I don’t know where the Anatolian Tiger is descended from, and I do not know which line of Turkic blood is the greatest of all. Ark Raider and his friend exchange worried glances. “You are missing the point,” Ark Raider says, laying a hand upon my shoulder. “All of these lines are great. Each has produced great people, and each holds an esteemed place in Turkic history. But none of these men is an Anatolian Tiger.”
Confused, I look over my research. There must be an answer hidden in here somewhere. Ark Raider consoles me. “You see, we know the identity of the Anatolian Tiger; the tiger is a great city or a state, not a man or a woman. A tiger is built by these great people: for the Ottomans the tiger was Constantinople; for the Bulgars, it was Bolghar; for the Hittites it was the city of Hattusa that lay here in ruins.”
I may have misunderstood Ark Raider in the beginning, but I now understand what he meant all along, and I am bolstered by this revelation; every great civilization, ever great people, has the capacity to bear a tiger. Each of these bloodlines was great in its own time. A city cannot become a tiger without a great bloodline to build it, to facilitate its rise, and to preside over it. The real power of blood is in the potential, and any bloodline may rise to the occasion.
In the end, Ark Raider asks me a question. “I will tell you the name of the tiger if you ask,” he says. I consider his offer, then respectfully decline. I’d like the secret of the tiger and the bloodline that brings him to prominence to remain a secret as long as possible. Besides, I’m still just a little upset that Dracula doesn’t have anything to do with all this.