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[Anatolian Civilizations] [Ottoman Empire]


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Osman Gazi expanded 4800 kilometer-square territory of principality. Actually, boundaries of principality increased three times in 43 years and finally reached 16000 kilometer-square. Then, Orhan Gazi expanded the boundaries six times and achieved 95 thousand kilometer-square. Lastly, Murad-i Hudâvendigâr expanded the boundaries five times and reached 500 thousand kilometer-square during his rulership period between 1361–1389 years. Ottoman Empire, which achieved to be state after being a tribe and principality, was preparing to become an Empire.

Actually, unbelievable and surprising history of change from a tribe into a magnificent Empire is full of exemplary incidents, stories and lessons. As a matter of fact, French historian Grengur stated that “foundation of this new Empire is one of the biggest and surprising events of the human history.”

By time the political unity in Anatolia was achieved, a century had passed after the foundation. Yildirim Bayezid won a battle against united crusaders again in Nigbolu in 1396. After this victory, whole Bulgaria became a part of Ottoman Empire. Then, Yildirim Bayezid besieged Byzantine Empire which involved just Istanbul. However, 1402 Ankara War turned all advantages and success upside down. Timur, master of the East, shattered political unity of Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, Ottoman Empire was not an Empire to come down easily after the death of its founders or due to another reason.

Although the unity in Anatolia was shattered after Ankara War, Rumelia was still powerful. Capital of state was moved to Edirne. Policies that enhanced presence of state in Thrace and Balkans were developed further. Then, Ottomans transferred population to the European side from Anatolia, engaged in a confederation with other states and remained faithful to the agreements they had made.

Just after the Ottoman army conquered a city, they first appointed garrison to the castle, governor to the province and an official to the court. Then, they took an inventory; so they determined how much tax to take from different persons and who would be exempt from taxes in return from certain services and then, they had very sound and clear basis for all these. Construction activities followed these determinations. They built bridges, mosques, Turkish baths, alms houses, madrasahs and fountains and changed the city into a livable and pleasant place. Furthermore, they built bazaars, markets, large commercial buildings, caravansary and jewelry markets, which were centers of social and economic life as well as trade.They also brought justice, comfort and peace to everywhere. This was called “Pax Ottomana,” which meant “Ottoman Peace.” It had been mentioned as “Nizam-i Alem” (World Order) by Turks since older times and also in Fatih’s code. They also believed that everything and everybody could be devoted for world order if necessary.

Period of World Domination (1451-1566)

II. Mehmet, who ascended to the throne in 1451 as he was just 19 years old, had an important goal. He worked towards this goal with commitment, determination and patience. This goal was the conquest of Istanbul, which Moslems wanted for a long time and could not realize. After its conquest, he wanted Istanbul to become the capital of state.

Istanbul had a strategical importance. Asia and Europe could be controlled so good and easy in no other place. Only the Empire which dominated Bosphorus and Istanbul were able to turn Mediterranean and Black Sea into an inland sea. It is not possible to become a world’s state without Istanbul. Actually, our Prophet had already given good news and stated “Istanbul will be conquered on one day. The commander who conquered this city is so good, and his soldiers so good” and praised the conquerors of Istanbul. Moslems besieged this city for the first time 36 years after death of Prophet Muhammed (632), in 668. This siege continued till spring in 669 and Halid ibni Zeyd (Ebu Eyyub el-Ensari) also took part and died a martyr with some others. He was the person in whose house Prophet Muhammed stayed during the Hegira and who worked as a flag man. Istanbul was besieged by Emevi and Abbasi armies for four times until 781. Afterwards, this ideal was forgotten for centuries. Moslems, who gave great efforts till the conquest of Istanbul, besieged the city 18 times in different periods until the city was conquered by Fatih Sultan Mehmet as he was 21 years old. However, they could not conquer the city due to the fact that it was protected by strong walls.

Istanbul was the center of 1500 year of Empire. After Roman Empire’s center had been moved to this city in 4th century, they began to call it “Nova Roma”, “Secunda Roma” which meant “New Rome.” Foregoers of Emperor I. Konstantin built the city like Rome. Since Ottomans aimed to become an Empire, it was a must to conquer Istanbul. Conquest had to be completely at one time and preparations with great attention, care and minimum risk.

As more than seventy vessels were brought to the Golden Horn by land, Fatih surprised the defenders of the city and really depressed them. Reputedly, founders of Istanbul liked the city very much and wondered how long the city would belong to them and went to a prognosticator. Prognosticator told them that “when you see the vessels going by land!” So they were very happy with this news because it was impossible to happen and the city would always belong to them. But after they saw one day that this happened, they thought everything was over.

Fatih used cannon so skillfully as a blockade toll that the period of walls, towers, castles and chateaus that symbolized Middle Age was over and a new Age was on the way.

In Fatih Sultan Mehmet period, Ottomans used the title “Khan” that reflected their past in Central Asia and “Sultan” title that reflected their entrance to Islam. However, from outside, it was regarded as a real Empire. Now, the Empire was represented by Ottomans, in other words by Turks and Moslems. Medallions were stamped in the name of Fatih in Europe and it was commonly wished that he became a Christian. Empire of Fatih was the continuation of Augustus’s pagan and Konstantin’s Christian Empire. Therefore, decline of Ottoman Empire at the beginning of 20th century was not only the end of Empire Age but also end of the oldest and most deep-rooted Empire tradition of the world.

As all other Empires, center of Ottoman Empire was city of throne. History of Ottoman Empire is also history of Istanbul. Turks changed Istanbul into a center of culture, art, trade and politics. Not only Turks that founded the state, conquered Istanbul and put the rule of the system, but also various nations such as Greeks, Iranians, Latinos, Arabs and Jews lived in the city. Doctors and bankers in economical and commercial life came from those nations. Greeks from Fener worked as translators and Armenians as artisans. Sultan protected the rights of members of all religions, languages and sects such as Christians, Jews, Moslems and others.

Built in 6th century, Hagia Sofia was the greatest Christian religious building of Rome, which was called Byzantine after its decadence. After Hagia Sofia was turned into a mosque, Fatih gave it the first place in protocol. Ottomans also built their own religious building after Fatih’s period. These were called “Selâtin (Sultan) Mosques.” However, they always continued to give Hagia Sofia the first place in protocol ranking. Morevoer, some of the Sultans were buried in its garden. Although many claimed that Ottoman Empire tried to make Suleymaniye, Selimiye and Sultanahmet similar and even surpass it, this was an exaggerated claim. Architects of these masterpieces, Mimar Sinan and Sedefkâr Mehmet Aga were genius architects. Since it is not possible to think of an artist without inspiration, it was not abnormal for them to get inspired from Hagia Sofia and actually, the reality is that they exceed its magnificence in every way.

Architects of Ottoman Empire did not like darkness or dimness. They gave importance to light in mosques and put man many windows in churches and mosques which they built. They also used an appropriate technique so that light does not come in directly and disturb people. Instead of mosaics, they focused on ceramic tile. They like the blue of horizon; therefore, they used 21 thousand blue ceramic boards in Sultanahmet Mosque. Ceramic tile was so popular that there were 300 small factories for ceramic tile production in Iznik in 16th century, which was the center of art at those times. Calligraphy was another decoration element. Each of these magnificent works that were embroidered on the wall or as board belonged to a great calligrapher.

In II. Bayezid’s period, Ottoman army began to use cannon as an important weapon in plain wars. Cannon had been used mostly in castle defense and besiege before. Again in II. Bayezid’s period, rifle began to be used as the first weapon of infantry and that was an advantage against armies that still use arrow and sword

Jews in Spain were expelled in 1492. At this time, none of the European countries accepted Jews; but II.Bayezid accepted them and saved them from genocide of Spain. Jews lived in freedom, peace and comfort in Ottoman Empire.

After II. Bayezid, Yavuz Sultan Selim became the Sultan and fighted with his army against Safevi army on Caldiran plain around Lake Van because Safevi State caused disturbances in Anatolia after Turkomans in Anatolia rebelled under their influence. Ottomans won the war and moved to Tebriz.

Boundaries of the state were increased by three times between 1514–1517 years when Yavuz made an expedition to Egypt. This was not only a political and geographical development. As Memluk’s existence in Egypt was over by Yavuz Sultan Selim, caliphate role as the leader of all Moslems was assigned to Yavuz Sultan Selim and as from that point, Sultans of Ottoman Empire became the only caliphate and leader of Islam world. Therefore, Istanbul, which was somehow still capital of Orthodox Christian world, became the capital of Islam world, too.

As soon as Yavuz conquered Egypt, states such as Hicaz, Yemen, afterwards Bingazi, Nubya and Cezayir declared that they became a part of Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Empire used no army or soldier to get these stated within its territory. Indeed, Arabian and Islam countries wanted to be dominated by Ottomans to avoid European domination. After states such as Spain and Portugal brought Moslem domination in Spain to an end, they moved to Arabian countries and Northern Africa and then conquered most of the northern Africa including Algeria. Then, they began to occupy Aden, Yemen, Umman, Katar, Bahreyn, India as well as Far East and Gulf of Basra. Since Moslems living there had no enough power to fight against them, Ottomans were the only one that could help them. Ottomans used first of all their naval forces and navy against attacks by Spain and Portugal and they could then eliminate danger caused by Spain and Portugal. For example, Piri Reis took Aden back on 26 February 1548, Maskat in 1552 and then Kism Island, Katar Peninsula and Bahreyn Island from Portugal.

Ottomans acted as protector of the whole Arabian world and protected them from all possible dangers. Furthermore, Ottomans enabled them to maintain their existence, language and religion in unity and harmony.

After Ottomans became an Empire, they enriched their cultures continuously. For example, Yavuz Sultan Selim brought many intellectuals and artists in Tebriz to Istanbul.

Turk’s Era

Defined by Europeans as “magnificent,” Kanuni’s period was really the most magnificent of Turkish Empire. This era is acknowledged as the birth of national monarchies and rise of modern European states. Today’s map of Europe began to be formed in this era and Ottomans contribute to this development very much.

The biggest and most powerful state in XVI. Century, Spain focused on Europe after acknowledging that it was not possible to dominate Mediterranean and Northern Africa because of Turks. After Turks defeated King of Portugal and his army in Morocco, Spain’s King II. Felipe seized Portugal and its colonies. Furthermore, they aimed to dominate other European states such as France, England and Holland. It was commonly told that Spain’s King II. Felipe wanted to seize England and declare it as a new province of Spain. As a result of these, Europeans wanted help from Ottomans and Ottomans accepted this request. Turks supported nationalistic acts against Spain in Portugal and finally, Portugal became independent with the help of Turks. Naval forces of Ottomans, defeated Spain’s navy for many times and decreased Spain’s power. In addition, they strengthened countries suffering from Spain’s domination with commercial priorities.

Kanuni Sultan Suleyman saved France from occupation by Spain and Germany with his help. Holy Roman-German Emperor Charles V merged with Spain, dominated Hungary and began to threaten France. German Emperor Charles V won the war against King of France and took I. François as prisoner. King of France wanted help from Kanuni Sultan Suleyman through his mother. First of all, Kanuni threatened Hungary and then Vienna in order to help I. François. After winning Mohac War in 1526, Kanuni achieved to set King of France who was kept as a prisoner by Charles V. In order to strengthen France, which suffered then from economic distress, Kanuni gave great commercial priorities (capitulations) in 1535. Afterwards, Ottoman navy, which consisted of 154 war vessels, took departure from Istanbul under command of Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa on 28 May 1543 in order to help France. Turkish navy reached Tolun port of France on 11th Juli. Turkish vessels came by important French cities and ports such as Marseilles, Toulon and Antibes. Then, they saved the city Nice under domination of Charles V and delivered it to France. French people welcomed Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa and his navy with great joy, attention and happiness. They wanted to see him and waited on the coast. Pictures, paintings were drawn that showed Turkish navy and Turks and poems were written about them. On a painting hanged on the wall of Tulon Municipality Building, a French poet wrote these lines. “What you see is Barbaros and his navy that came to help us.” Turkish amry spent winter in Tulon. Tulon was then a small port city with 5000 population. Turkish navy consisted of 29.440 people. In this year, French people in Tulon were a minority, Turkish flag was there and they began to give the call to prayer. French people were very glad to have Turkish administration there and also to have improvements brought by them. In that year, there was no trouble in the city and they have peace and comfort in and around the city. Although they bombed coast of Spain for many times, Spain did not have the courage to fight against Turkish naval forces. Holy Roman-German Emperor Charles V spent his most painful days in his life. Turkish navy was back to Istanbul after a year and three months.

In Murat III’s period, Turks helped England mostly. Queen Elizabeth called Catholic Spanish people “pagans” in her letter to Murat III alongside many presents and wanted help from him. Queen also mentioned that worship with pictures is forbidden not only in Islam but also in Protestant Christianity. With the help of Ottomans, Spain could not occupy England and that was a turning point for Spain and England.

Protestant Holland also got support against Catholic Spain that threatened them. Silver charm in the shape of half moon, worn by some Dutch people even today, is a memory from these days.

Turkish domination and influence reached India and Far East in XVI. Century.

Bornu Ruler Melik Muhammed declared his dependence to Kanuni Sultan Suleyman in 1557. Bornu had been founded within the territory of today’s Nigeria, Cad and Cameroon. This dependence continued till Abdulaziz period in XIX. Century.

Most parts of Eritre, Somalia, Ethiopia became a part of Ottomans. They also dominated most of the coast of Kenya. Moreover, Arabian Sirazi State, which dominated coasts of Tanzania and Mozambique declared their dependence for many times to Yavuz, Kanuni and Murat III. Many states that were located in Africa and accepted Ottoman domination were not directly attached to Ottomans; but they were attached through five provinces in Algeria, Tunisia, Tripoli, Cairo and Massava. Many of the African states till Guinea, Cameroon, south of Mozambique accepted domination of Turks.

After exploration of Cape of Good Hope, powerful Portuguese armies began to have colonies in Red Sea, Arabian Peninsula, Gulf of Basra and Far East, attack weak Moslem states and give a lot of harm to them. States in India and Indonesia were not able to avoid Portuguese attacks and; therefore, wanted help from the mightiest ruler of the world, namely Turkish Khan. In order to give support, Kanuni organized an expedition several times to Indian Ocean, India and Indonesia. Turks followed Portuguese navy and gave them a lot of trouble in Atlantic Ocean, between Cape of Good Hope and Lisbon, on the coasts of Morocco and in Indian Ocean. This gave a lot of trouble to Portugal and they had to spend most of their income from trade and piracy for wars against Turks.

Indonesia was made up of many islands, each with little population in XVI. Century. Most important of these countries was Ace Sultanate. Representatives of Ace Sultanate came to Istanbul and wanted help against Portuguese attacks. With support from Turks in 1538, Sultan of Ace, Alauddin Shah was able to avoid Portuguese army and became the most powerful ruler of Southeastern Asia. Sultan of Ace asked Kanuni to regard him not as a ruler but a flag officer of Turkish Empire or “one of the servants of Sultan“ and declared his dependence to Ottoman Empire. As a result, boundaries of Ottoman reached Far East and Southern Asia legally. 600 of the soldiers sent for help stayed in Ace. Sultan of Ace had great success thanks to the military knowledge and war skills of these soldiers. New support materials were sent to Ace as well as 22 war ship in II. Selim period. Hundreds of Turks began to serve for Ace again. Most of them achieved to rank high in state service. Most of the soldiers that married women in Ace, did not return to Turkey. Some of them also achieved to become prince. Ace’s people kept Turkish flag as a memory till today, which had been sent by Sultan II. Selim.

Gucerat Sultanate in India also wanted help from Ottoman Empire against Portuguese attacks. Four sea expeditions took place between 1538-1553 years in order to help Moslems in India and to bring Portuguese domination to an end. Kanuni gave help and support to Moslems there. Seydi Ali Reis, who was appointed as admiral by Kanuni in Indian Ocean in 1553, gave help to India through difficult wars against Portugal.

Turkish naval forces were the biggest force in the world from the end of XV. Century to XVIII. Century. Ottomans had vessels that contained more than 300 tons and each with 3300 people. All these vessels, made up of lumber, were regarded as having a very big tonnage in that era. There were a great number of shipyards and workbenches and the biggest of them was Golden Horn Shipyard in Istanbul. Even European states ordered vessels from these shipyards. State has enough power to build 200 war ships in extraordinary conditions. No other state in the world had such a power. Naval vessels of the Empire were renewed every 7 or 8 years because it was forbidden to use a vessel more than 8 years.

Eurpoean states put their power together and formed a navy made up of mare than 600 vessels in order to bring Ottoman domination to an end. Famous admiral Andrea Dorya was appointed as commander. No army such that was herad or seen till that date. This great navy fighted against Turkish navy made up of 122 vessels commanded by Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa in Preveze region. Turkish naval forces defeated this great navy through a successful maneuver in just five hours. After Preveze Victory (1538), none of the navies were powerful enough to fight against Turkish naval forces and Mediterranean became completely a Turkish Lake.

It was not very fulsome to call Kanuni Sultan Suleyman “Magnificent” and “Khan of seas and Sultan of land” regarding its broad territory and powerful government. Ottoman Empire really deserved these great titles. Boundaries of the state were so broad that it included an area from Atlantic Ocean to Umman Sea and from Hungary, Crimea, and Kazan to Ethiopia. In addition, its domination and influence was felt in the whole world.

Progress in Culture and Art

In these years, all parts of Empire including Istanbul were enriched with great architectural works. Culture and literature had its most successful period.

Grand vizier of Kanuni, Sadrazami Ibrahim Pasa, built a huge palace for himself and put bronze sculptures of Apollon, Diana and Hercules in front of his palace which is called Sultanahmet Hippodrome today. One of the poets in this era, Figânî described this situation as “Two Ibrahims cam to the world, one of them destroyed idols; the other built them.” Nevertheless, this was the indicator of variety in Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Empire maintained its simplicity even in their most powerful period. In Ottoman architecture, simple and plain lines were dominant and Mimar Sinan was the most famous architects. Apart from its simplicity, it also involved expertise and genius.

Reputedly, Mimar Sinan wanted to exceed Hagia Sofia, which was a heritage from Byzantine period. In reality, he was very successful in that he fighted against gravity as he was building Suleymaniye Mosque and won that fight. It was very hard to achieve this; and he achieved this with his genius.

Morever, he was able to exceed Hagia Sophia with Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, which he called “my expertise work” because Selimiye’s dome was bigger than Hagia Sophia. This mosque had very thin minarets and three different stairs not overlapping each other. It was not only splendid but also a magnificent work of engineering.

At the beginning, palaces were simple and plain, too. However, authority and appearance of Sultans were glittering and grandiose.

One of the most important bases of the state was its military power. In war period, janissary band of musicians gave support to the military power, which frightened the enemy and especially the West.

Although Ottoman Empire seemed as a state that depended on military power, it also gave great importance to elegance and grace. For example, Ottomans built very nice fountains, mausoleums, magnificent mosques and other fine works of art. Moreover, they turned a very fine flower like a tulip into a symbol of the era.

Wooden houses with two or three floors were surrounded with green area. These houses were respectful to each other and to the nature. Houses were not very close to each other and built on high hills in order to protect agricultural areas.

From popular excursion spots and dervis’s houses to waterside houses and mansions in Bosphorus or yards of mosques and frescos, greenery was dominant. Most important monuments of cities were mosques and buildings adjacent to mosques.

Firstly, Istanbul took all improvements and foreign influence and then emitted them appropriately

Ottoman Empire fascinated the whole world as the representative of a dominant culture and civilization in their Golden Era. They influenced art, architecture, music, literature, dressing and eating habits especially in Europe and gained support among communities, art groups, intellectuals and governors. This period was called “Turkish Era” and ottoman lifestyle was called “Ottoman Fashion” and even elite society had “Ottoman Corner” in their houses.

Turkish dressing style has great influence in Europe and Balkans. Especially in 18th century, Turkish fashion became determinant of European dressing style and a fashion type called “Turkomannie” was dominant as from the middle of 18th century. Oriental clothes, caftan and fez were commonly used among rich people from Holland. Ottoman style also became very popular as women’s fashion at the beginning of 18th century. Even at the end 19th century, most of the women wore a fine muslin and shawl.

As from the beginning of 15th century, Turkish music, textile, carpets and life style attracted Europeans. In these years, the most important media were opera, theater and ballet. Audience in the theaters could see Turkish dressing style, behaviors, life style and palace life lively.

Mozart’s famous “The Abduction from the Seraglio” and “Zaide” operas that take place at Topkapi Palace as well as Mozart’s ballet “Le Gelosie del Seraglio” in which Kanuni Sultan Suleyman appears as hero and Rossini’s four operas are important examples.

People in Europe learned about Turkish dressing and music very mush as a new appointed Turkish emissary was welcomed in the city with a ceremony or when a king was being welcomed to the palace. This ceremony remained as a great memory among people.

Aiming to achieve world domination and order, Ottoman Empire had a very sound and advanced law system in that period. Law and order were regarded as holy as state by Ottoman Empire. Sultan was the first to obey those laws and rules. Nobody including Sultan could act against religious orders, laws and rules Thanks to this system; state was able to survive even in normal or weak Sultans’ periods.

Ottomans thought a righteous Sultan and a powerful army were the most important factors for their future. A just tax system was possible with a righteous treatment of people. This was called “Justice Office.” Actually, production by villagers was very important in that it would enable Ottoman Empire to survive. Tax taken from production reinforced soldiers and managers and formed main source of state expenses. Although terms and conditions changed, Ottomans did not wan to leave that principle in their social, economic and political system. However, there were sometimes civil insurrections due to wrong political decisions, long war periods and some inevitable events like epidemic and famine. Nevertheless, Ottoman Empire adopted an economic system that enabled people to live in peace and comfort.

Villagers lived in harmony and peace due to timar system. On the other hand, artisan organizations that arranged industrial, commercial and economical activities achieved that peace in the cities. Thanks to the Ahîlik organization, people and artisans in cities could manage themselves without state and did not allow any professional corruption, irregularity and behaviors against tradition.

Behaviors against moral system and traditions were not usual in commercial and art life. System continued in order as trade guilds has a strict controls and discipline and they eliminated the ones that did not obey those rules. Shortly, Social associations could realize the general order without any interference from state. At this point, French delegate D. Chesneau stated as follows: “Law and order were dominant in Ottoman cities. Just one person with a stick and lamp in hand was enough for protection of cities at nights. However, in Paris, this order could hardly be achieved by a commander and a detachment of soldiers.” Furthermore, Thevanot stated that “In Istanbul with a population of one million, number of crimes in four years is not even four. Huge caravansaries full of trade goods are protected by just one man.”

In such a society, main role of the state was to achieve domination of law, order and justice and to expand this to the world. Ottoman Empire never aimed to turkicize or expand Islam. Actually, a state that had a nationalistic view and forgot principles of humanity could not be a world state, be long-standing and would collapse just like other Empires.

Officers like Kadi, mufti, muderris as well as chieftains, pashas, aghas that came from Balkans and gathered from Christians could even become grand vizier with the help of competence, capacity and luck. There were no predetermined limitations for a low ranking person to ascend in rank and become, for example the chief religious official.

As Ottoman Empire developed rapidly, it became a multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious Empire that involved various ethnical traces. Ottoman world was made up of people from every color, type, religion, language and culture. The rule was that people were not born as Ottoman citizens; but they became Ottoman citizens. It was not important that their names were Tatyos or Andon or their nationalities were Armenian, Greek or their religion Christian, Jew, etc. The important thing was that the all choose to be a part of Ottoman Empire and showed this in every way such as in art, culture, music, etc.

Although sect of the Moslems was Hanefilik, other sects had also a chance to expand and develop. For example, sect of Mevlevilik brought belly dance and music to Islam in spite of the fact that it differed from Sunni Sufism and this sect also contributed a lot to Islam and world Empire of Ottomans with its aesthetics.

Black Aghas of Harem that were brought by slave traders (“Madrabaz”) from Ethiopia and Sudan and transferred to Istanbul by governor of Egypt were also Ottomans. They maintain order in palace although they sometimes supported some intrigues. They had the administration of great foundations in their hand. When these people returned to Egypt again, they reflected the style of Istanbul in art works and therefore, acted as a culture carrier.