Turkey is today central to many of the key issues in the world. Syria, Palestine, the refugee crisis in Europe and future western energy security. As Erdogan consolidates his grip upon the country in his cliffhanger victory on constitutional amendments we would like to remind Erdogan of Turkeys history under the Ottoman’s, when it was the world superpower.
The Ottoman’s were one of the many bands of Turkmen horsemen who began to come into the Islamic lands as a result of the Mongol invasions in the 13th century. These Turkmen warriors, who had converted to Islam, were sent to the frontiers of the state by the Seljuks, who themselves were of Turkish origin. They had excellent fighting skills and zeal, which the Seljuks wanted them to apply along the frontier with the Byzantines. The house of Uthman proved to be one of the most successful of these bands, taking many towns and villages from the control of the Byzantines, they then unified the other ghazis, under their banner, brought the lands surrounding Constantinople under Islam, culminating in the capture of Byzantine Empire capital – Constantinople in 1453.
The Uthmani’s then swept through the Balkans and Eastern Europe in spectacular fashion. The important city of Thessaloniki was captured from the Venetians in 1387. In 1389, the kings of Austria, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Hungary attacked the Uthmani’s but Sultan Murad I crushed them at Kosovo, which shocked Europe. In 1396, the whole of Europe including French and German armies fought against Sultan Bayazid Yaldram at Nicopolis but were comprehensively defeated and 20 rulers and dignitaries were brought to the Khaleefah’s court as the captives. Sultan Bayazid had annexed all the territory from Bosnia to Danube. He had also conquered Greece (Athens) in 1398.
Before Suleiman al Qanooni’s reign came to an end in 1566 he had expanded the Islamic frontiers well into Eastern Europe bringing Belgrade the capital of Serbia under Islam as well as regaining the Greek island of Rhodes. He had defeated Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia and brought most of Hungary under Islamic authority. By 1578 Georgia and what is today Romania was under Islam. Before the beginning of the 17th century the Ottoman’s had brought Southern Italy, Hungary, Austria, Romania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania, Malta, Cyprus, Croatia, Ukraine, the Canary Islands, parts of Iceland and the largest island of the Bristol waters in England, UK – Lundy under Islamic authority. Such was the perceived threat of the Uthmani Khilafah under the reign of Suleiman al Qanooni that ambassador Busbecq of the Austrian monarch Ferdinand I warned of Europe’s imminent conquest: “On [the Turks’] side are the resources of a mighty empire, strength unimpaired, habituation to victory, endurance of toil, unity, discipline, frugality and watchfulness… Can we doubt what the result will be?…When the Turks have settled with Persia, they will fly at our throats supported by the might of the whole East; how unprepared we are I dare not say.”
The Ottoman’s until the era of decline were hugely successful in integrating and amalgamating the different peoples in the new territories. The Uthmani’s like their predecessors gave the non-Muslim populace in matters of marriage, faith and personal issues their own religious leaders. As a result, vast areas of the Balkans remained mostly Christian. The Eastern Orthodox Churches had a higher position in Uthmani Khilafah, mainly because the Patriarch resided in Istanbul and was an officer of the Khilafah.
Sultan Mehmed II allowed the local Christians to reside in Constantinople after conquering the city in 1453, and to retain their institutions such as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. In 1461 Sultan Mehmed II established the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. Previously, the Byzantines considered the Armenian Church as heretical and thus did not allow them to build churches inside the walls of Constantinople. In 1492, when the Muslims and Jews were expelled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, Sultan Bayezid II sent his fleet to save them and granted the refugees the right to settle in the Khilafah. Thomas Arnold confirmed in his study of the spread of Islam: “though the Greeks were numerically superior to the Turks in all the European provinces of the Empire, the religious toleration thus granted them, and the protection of life and property they enjoyed, soon reconciled them to the change of masters and led them to prefer the domination of the Sultan to that of any Christian power.”
The Ottoman’s influence internationally was such that many of the European powers turned to the Ottoman’s for help. The French king Francis I was captured at the battle of Pavia in 1525. France felt humiliated by the capture of her king but her army was unable to rescue him from captivity. She made recourse to the Islamic Khilafah state, under the Ottoman’s at that time, and she sent a messenger on behalf of the king of France on 6th December 1525 seeking help from the Islamic State. The messenger met the Uthmani Khaleef Sulayman al-Qanooni who responded to his call. Sulayman gave the messenger a letter which read: “we have received the letter delivered by your messenger, and in which you stated that your enemy has attacked your country and you are imprisoned and seek our help in respect to securing your release. We have answered your request so be at ease and do not worry”. The Khilafah state used its international weight and military power to rescue the king of France and made an effective contribution towards his release. The Khaleef of the Muslims helped France without compensation, without occupying a part of France or colonising any region of France in return. Rather he did the action as an act of goodwill.
In 1783 the first US navy boat started to sail in international waters and within two years was captured by the Ottoman navy near Algeria. In 1793 12 more US navy boats were captured. In March 1794 the US Congress authorized President Washington to spend up to 700 000 gold coins to build strong steel boats that would resist the Uthmani navy. Just a year later the US signed the Barbary Treaty to resolve the Ottoman threat. Barbary, was the term for the North African wilaya’s of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, under the rule of the Ottomans.
The terms of the treaty were:
- The treaty will cost the US a one off payment of $992,463
- The American ships captured would be returned and the American Navy was to be given permission to sail in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
- In return, the American government would pay $642 000 in equivalent gold.
- The US would also pay an annual tax (tribute) of $12 000 in gold. The annual tribute would be calculated according to the Islamic calendar and not the Christian calendar
- $585,000 would be paid for the ransom of the captured American sailors
- A state of the art steel ship would be constructed and delivered to the Uthmani’s, built in the US with all costs borne by the US in return for privileges. (The costs of masts, Yards, and heavy planks, were very costly and so difficult to procure, and then so exceedingly expensive to transport. Once delivered the US had actually paid thirty times their estimated price in the stipulations).
The treaty was written in Turkish and signed by President Washington, This is the only American legal document to ever have been concluded in a foreign language and the only treaty the Americans have ever signed that agrees to pay annual tax to another nation. This treaty continued until the Khilafah was abolished.
Ever since the destruction of the Khilafah in 1924, Turkey has become a nation with no influence in the world. Turkey has been used by the world’s powers to achieve their own interests. It joined NATO and today Turkey provides the most troops after the US to the security organisation that protected US interests during the cold war.
Whilst most of Turkey’s history consists of menacing Europe, today it is trying all it can to join the European Union and has reformed in the face of EU demands. The EU continues to reiterate that Turkey should be given second class membership.
Turkey has suffered an economic crisis once every decade since the end of the Khilafah, it has used each crisis to bring in more and more reforms in order align the nation to the global market, with little success.
The Turkey of today is a far cry from the international position the Ottoman’s had. Today Turkey is being described by many thinkers as a resurgent nation, but like it recent history Turkey continues to protect the interests of other nations. Whilst in the past Turkey menaced Europe. Many accepted it was a matter of time when the Ottoman janissaries would march across Europe, Jews and many other minorities welcomed the Ottoman’s due to the treatment they received regarding their faith.
Erdogan has largely played lip service to the countries prestigious history, whilst he has pursued an agenda of fulfilling the interests of other nations. The actions of his historical predecessors outlines a blueprint that would raise Turkey to a position of global importance.
 Lewis, Bernard (2002). What Went Wrong? : Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response
 Thomas Arnold, The Preaching of Islam: A History of the propagation of the Muslim Faith,’ 1923, Reprint Nabu press, 2010, pg 127