Turks’ pre-Ottoman history based on myth and imagination

Turks’ pre-Ottoman history based on myth and imagination

A statue of Osman Bey, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, in Yalova, Turkey. (Shutterstock)
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Some peoples suffer from crises of ethnicity, ideology and sometimes culture that extend from their early origins. Therefore, some issues of history are problematic for them.

History may not cause a deep crisis for some of the peoples of civilizations around the world, but at the same time it is very stressful for those who are strangers or are new to it.

Most of the peoples affected by such crises are those that were absent from global civilizations for centuries, especially those that were close to them and created barriers in front of them. These civilizations include the Chinese, the Persians, and the Islamic state in its beginnings, until the late peoples such as Mawalis and Mamluks multiplied in the Islamic courts. Then migrations exploded toward West Asia and they spread in that area.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Anatolian Turks are among the peoples that have suffered most from the historical crisis, which has spread to our contemporary time. To overcome this crisis, they resorted to complicating history — formulating a history based on myth and imagination regarding the period that came before the establishment and expansion of the Ottoman Empire and its occupation of the Arab world.

This complex history came as a result of the lack of old and special sources that give them satisfactory details of the time before they embraced Islam and their integration into the Arab-Islamic civilization.

What motivated the Anatolian Turks to create historical formulations and build historical depth for themselves, though not related to their previous civilization? They built for themselves states within the Islamic civilization as a result of the military attributes they possessed, given their primitive starting points, and because the Islamic state, especially in the era of the Abbasids, invested in them as Mamluks in their courts. This enabled them to have more influence and power than others, and they represented the mercenaries that were legalized by the royal decrees of caliphs, princes and merchants.

Despite having a lot of them as Mamluks, the Islamic state maintained a barrier that separated it from them and other primitive tribes. Their presence in the state was codified by the purchase and ownership of individual and groups of warriors. However, after some time, this barrier was broken and, as a result, large groups of them migrated west due to several factors, including the forced displacement that the Mongols practiced against them. So they dispersed in several regions, mainly in the cities of the caliphate, while some of them proliferated in Asia Minor (Anatolia).

This human push before and after the Mongol attack created an uncommon condition in the political situation of the Abbasid state, whether before its fall or after it remained a nominal state under the Mamluks, where Anatolian Turks worked to create states within the greater state by virtue of influence and power. Several states and sultanates were established and these states embraced the big warrior groups, especially mercenaries.

Among these states and sultanates, the Ottoman Empire arose in Asia Minor. It grew and expanded, keeping in mind that it was a state established in the border areas. It had conflicts with the Byzantines and the Mongols at the beginning. Historical circumstances helped the rise of its political power, with the general political deterioration and collapse in Asia Minor and the near Islamic world.

During the development and expansion of the Ottoman Empire, historians were surprised that the Anatolian Turks — and the family of founder Osman I in particular — did not have historical sources through which they could build an extended and ancient history. They were just like other peoples that were new to civilization. Consequently, many historians who were sponsored by the Ottoman Empire resorted to legends, epics, visions and dreams to formulate a special history for the Ottomans and general history for the Anatolian Turks.

This can be noticed by researchers who study the early stages of the Ottoman Empire through inconsistencies in narratives, references to legend rather than the truth, and the existence of more than one historical origin of the Ottomans. Some early historians even said, contrary to reason, logic or history, that the Osman family had lineage with the tribe of Quraysh, which confirms the state of historical inaccuracy. Trying to build a historical depth for military and mercenary groups is not an easy matter and it is only natural that turmoil, inconsistency and contradiction occur.

Psychological and historical crises are a natural result for those who see that they were once influential, powerful and dominant

Talal Al-Torifi

Of course, peoples that are strangers to human civilization, who try to prove their presence on the map of human history in this way, will inevitably revive their own aristocracy, as the Ottoman sultans did. They did this in a way that was inconsistent with the Islamic culture that created them, and they created novelties that the Islamic culture did not have. This constructed aristocracy imposed a state of historical tension between the Ottomans and some of the other races associated with them — those whose regions were controlled by the Anatolian Turks for some time, including the Arabs, who had formed the Turkish culture that came to their regions without civilization, depth or recorded history.

Therefore, we do not need more analysis and research to understand these people vis-a-vis the Arabs in particular. Psychological and historical crises are a natural result for those who see that they were once influential, powerful and dominant, exercising historical pressure on others, and suddenly everything faded. They believe that the Arabs were the cause of the overthrow of their empire, their power, and their influence.

Above all, we must understand, as the Anatolian Turks themselves do, that the civilization they attribute to themselves — other than wars and bloody details that are attributed to the Ottoman Empire in its powerful stages — is essentially the product of a mixture of peoples that they controlled, including Europeans, Arabs, Kurds and others.

The Ottomans themselves suffered at the hands of the Turkish race in Anatolia, so they resorted to building an influential and powerful social class of Europeans, whom they domesticated and enslaved in their areas of influence. This was in order to get rid of the pressure of their own sons, who only contributed to revolutions and attempts to gain independence from the Ottomans throughout their history.

Accordingly, the issue of the historical and racial complex is a difficult one for the Anatolian Turks and is based on illogical grounds. The truth is that there is a subtle detail that we must understand, namely that the subsequent Ottoman and Turkish classes in Anatolia are separate and overlapping at the same time. When we want to discuss the subject of national or ethnic conflict, we are confused between the Turks and the Turkish hybrids, which resulted from intermarriages between Turks and Europeans, and whether these should be attributed to the Turks, the Turkish culture or to the mixed intellectual premises between Persian, Shamanism, Zoroastrianism and the ancient beliefs they brought with them.

This mixture represents a crisis for the researcher in Ottoman history in particular because it needs a deep and accurate disassociation. On the other hand, it corresponds to the old historical loss. The presence of official archived information for the Ottoman Empire dating back to the medieval period makes them rant and boast of having an archive of millions of documents. But the crisis is not in the documents, nor do they represent only the official viewpoint. The problem lies in the period that preceded these documents. What was their condition and history? This explains many of the crises in their history and the gaps that they tend to bridge with myths, dreams and emotions.

As a result of these projections, it is no wonder that we find some current and historic Anatolian Turks deliberating according to their legendary understanding and synthetic process of history. One of those is Zakaria Qurshon, who is a specialist in history at Marmara University in Istanbul and has written a collection of studies about Arab history, especially in the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf.

Qurshon wrote a series of five articles entitled “In response to the Saudis,” which were published in Arabic on the website of the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak in May. These articles contained many conflicting ideas, in which history was used in a selective manner and for clear political goals with the intent of offending Saudi Arabia, which undoubtedly represents the viewpoint of the current hostile Turkish government.

Qurshon thought that he could use history as a weapon, without realizing that history does not have mercy on those who do not fully understand it. So he gambled to present serious historical issues about the Turks in Asia Minor by formulating a complex history that is full of fraud and disguise, and which is not based on proper scientific practice.

In this series of articles, written in response to Qurshon, I had to approach the idea of the complex history of the Turks and understand their history and psychology. Throughout this series, whose first episode is an introduction, we will come to understand many of the problems Qurshon created when he mixed the two crises: Historical and political.

  • Prof. Talal Al-Torifi is a Saudi academic and media specialist
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