Turkey repeating Ottoman Empire’s crimes against Arabs

Turkey repeating Ottoman Empire’s crimes against Arabs

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Mounted Bedouin who took part in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I. (Library of Congress)

After discussing, in my previous article, the Turkish psychological crisis throughout history and how what Turkish scholar Zakaria Qurshon wrote in his series of articles proves this crisis, we will now look into the most important historical events mentioned by Qurshon.

We will not resort to political projections such as the ones used by Qurshon to offend Saudi Arabia or try to undermine the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 because, according to the Chinese proverb, “a tree is known by its fruits.” The whole world has acknowledged that Saudi Arabia is racing against time in terms of development, progress and achieving results through its vision, while the Turkish fruit inherited nothing but interference in the affairs of others and the adoption of a combative stance in more than one place in the Arab world in an attempt to revive the old imperial dream, which is seen as a wave that comes crashing down on reality.

The current Turkish government will only pass down more misery to the region and inside its own borders, along with the economic crisis and internal problems it has been suffering from. It will pass down a new cause that goes down in Turkish history, just like the Armenian cause. Arabs are not different from the Armenians in regard to the Turks due to the massacres committed against them during the Ottoman era and, today, the current government is continuing such actions in more than one Arab nation.

The historical issues raised by Qurshon started with the “Ottoman portico.” The truth is that he did not think this through, as even those who barely know any history know that raising this historically settled issue is a losing bet and cannot be seen through the Turkish historical lens, given the historical sources, evidence and proof. However, it seems that he raised this issue just to refer to the term “online flies,” which is not appropriate for a scientist or an academic to use or resort to. What is ironic is that he who discusses historical falsehoods is accused of these same inappropriate expressions.

He said that the Saudis falsely attributed the Ottoman portico in Makkah’s Grand Mosque to Caliph Uthman Ibn Affan and, by doing so, are avoiding problems. He referred to this while saying that Saudis are anti-Ottoman and use this as a tool of regional rivalry with Turkey. However, it seems that Qurshon needs to take a primitive history lesson on how to examine sources because, in his article, he denounced the attribution of the portico to Uthman but, if he read history, it would provide him with evidence that proved this attribution, even before history knew of the Ottoman Empire.

Throughout history, the architecture of the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah has gone through several stages. It started with the reign of the second caliph, Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, followed by Caliph Uthman. The latter saw the need to expand the Grand Mosque due to it being surrounded by many homes that even became attached to it. He ordered the purchase of the homes surrounding the mosque for it to be able to cope with the increasing number of pilgrims and worshipers.

During this expansion, Uthman ordered the establishment of porticoes for the mosque after its area was increased by 2,040 square meters, doubling its size compared to what it was in the year 647. Historians Al-Fakihi, who died between 885 and 892, and Ibn Jarir Al-Tabari, who died in 922, referred to Uthman’s expansion in the events of the year 647, saying that “Uthman added to the Grand Mosque.”

Therefore, the porticoes of the Grand Mosque can be attributed to the Caliph Uthman, as he was the first to build them inside the mosque — this is why they came to be known as the “Ottoman” porticoes, and history books unanimously refer to that. Another 9th century historian, Al-Balathiri, who died in 892, wrote: “Uthman was the first to build the porticoes and he did so during the expansion.” Al-Zarkashi, who died in 1392, wrote in his book “I’lam Al-Sajid” that “after Uthman became the caliph, he bought other houses and expanded it too. He built the mosque and the porticoes and was the first one to do so.” Ibn Fadlallah Al-Umari, who died in 1348, referred to this fact and expanded on it, as he wrote: “Then Uthman became the caliph. He bought houses and expanded it using them and built the porticoes of the mosque.”

The Ottoman historian Al-Nahrawali, who lived between 1511 and 1580, also referred to the Grand Mosque’s expansion, writing that “when Uthman became the caliph, he bought houses, expanded it using them and built the Grand Mosque and the porticoes. So, Uthman was the first to build the porticoes of the mosque.”

Things progressed after the reign of the two caliphs. In 684, Abdullah Ibn Al-Zubayr added to the Grand Mosque: He built its roof, supported it with marble pillars and doubled its area compared to what it was during Uthman’s reign. The Umayyad Caliph Abd Al-Malik bin Marwan carried out some architectural works inside the mosque without increasing its area. In 694, he raised its walls, built a roof made of teak wood and added 50 mithqals of gold on top of each of the mosque’s columns. During the reign of his son, Al-Walid, columns brought from Egypt and Damascus were added, while the mosque’s area was again increased due to a round portico that was built on the eastern side.

In the era of the Abbasids, Caliph Abu Ja’far Al-Mansur added a portico to the Grand Mosque’s yard and built a minaret in its northwestern corner in 757. Mohammed Al-Mahdi then came to power in 777 and, in 781, he expanded the Grand Mosque while ensuring that it became square, with the Kaaba right in the middle. His expansion was comprehensive and included all parts of the mosque. After the expansion and after building the mosque’s great portico, he built the Kaaba yard and added the pillars, their heads and marble bases. The portico was then also called the Abbasid portico.

The Abbasid expansion continued until the era of Mu’tadid Bi-Allah, who died in 902. He updated the mosque’s Dar Al-Nadwah after supporting it with columns and porticoes roofed with teak. Al-Muqtadir bi-Allah, who came to power in 908, increased the mosque’s areas by annexing some of the gates.

Based on the foregoing, the portico was built nine centuries before the establishment of the Ottoman Empire. However, the Ottomans and Anatolian Turks took advantage of the naming of the portico, as stated by the official Turkish Anadolu News Agency, claiming that the portico was removed merely because it was symbolic of the Ottomans and considering that to be tampering with the Grand Mosque.

Nevertheless, the scientists know — and it is acknowledged by everybody — that the portico was the work of the Caliph Uthman and had nothing to do with the Ottomans. By exploiting the name and falsifying the truth, the Anadolu agency fell into the forbidden, because it did not get the history from its sources and always tells history in a way that serves Turkey’s interests. Its officials lied and argued, even after they were proven wrong. They caved to the pressure exerted by those who opposed them on their Twitter account and acknowledged that the portico was built by Uthman, but with all arrogance, and they continued to try to offend Saudis.

Therefore, when raising the issue of the Ottoman portico, Qureshon did not bother to look through the sources to prove the Saudis wrong. However, there is a deep psychological problem behind attempts to beautify the image of the Ottomans and change and frame history under the assumption that the Ottomans were an extension of the Islamic caliphates. This leads to another crisis, which is the ethnicity-based rivalry between the Arab caliphs and the Turkish caliphs, supported by the Turkish propaganda that is based on the dreams and visions included in their books that consider them as an extension of the Arab caliphs.

Scientists know — and it is acknowledged by everybody — that the portico was the work of the Caliph Uthman and had nothing to do with the Ottomans

Talal Al-Torifi

Qurshon put forward the anti-Ottoman hypothesis. He suggested that it had witnessed multiple stages, that it was used as a tool for regional competition with Turkey, and that it has developed an unprecedented new dimension.

Apparently, the current Turkish policy is adopting the Ottoman style, with its errors and crimes. The current European rejection of Turkey reminds us of the conversion of the Ottoman compass from Europe to the east, which is what Turkey is currently doing after its failure on the European side. It is turning to the Arab world, with all the risks involved in this step and the imposition of a state of political confusion.

As for the hostility toward the Ottomans, this is a hypothesis imagined by some history readers, especially those who are satiated with the idea of the Ottomans’ own hostility, whether as a reaction to the Arab nationalist movement and the Great Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War or based on the rumors of being influenced by foreign writings.

There is high sensitivity shown by the Turks, primarily due to Arabs criticizing the Ottomans. They consider this a hostile action because they have raised the Ottomans above the level of criticism. Such a situation was not only the result of a psychological state, but also a policy imposed by Abdul Hamid II, when he promoted that his state was above criticism and established a fascist ideology through the Pan-Islamic movement, which developed its ideas and crystalized them in the minds of parties and groups that are still present today, including the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, which resonates with the ruling party in Turkey.

Turks and their Arab sympathizers, who want to restore the imperial dream, suffer from a psychopathic compound consisting of two syndromes: The first is opposites syndrome and the second is Stockholm syndrome.

Opposites syndrome is represented in the classification of power between subjects and objects. The Turks were imbued with the imperial idea and the subordination of multiple races and cultures, which resulted in a psychological resurgence and unrealistic convictions. They imposed a relationship based on intolerance and abuse by subjecting other peoples, with their nationalities, ideas and culture, to a disintegration under Turkish control. They stole their rights and undermined their property ownership on historical grounds.

Consequently, an ambiguous relationship arose between the subject and the object in the era of the Ottoman Empire. This relationship was characterized by mockery, fraud, seduction, prevention, power, oppression and containment, and this delayed the process of Arab separation from the Ottomans until the First World War. The Arabs were even afflicted with a profound psychological effect so that some of them were not freed from the general psychological state of this disease.

Those Arabs who are influenced by the Turkish imperial ideology suffer from Stockholm syndrome. This has been produced by old Ottoman policy and through a legacy that is written in many history books and revived by modern Turkish policy. This is why some Arabs are sympathetic and even admire their enemy. They are under the influence of the desire to be kidnapped from their culture and taken to another culture they admire. Ibn Khaldun, in his “Muqaddimah” (Introduction), referred to the likes of these people, stating that they are satiated by subordination and become psychologically defeated, so they become fond of the dominant side and its slogans, fashion, habits and manners.

It is quite easy to make judgments and press charges, but it is difficult to prove and deepen them for long periods because there is a persistent fact that does not change, no matter how long it remains absent: History has no mercy. Arabs were deprived of their freedom and power for four centuries, when they fell under the influence of the Ottoman Turkish culture that drained them, oppressed them and made them a subordinate race. Moreover, public life declined between the Arab world and the Arabs themselves during the Ottoman era. The development of the homeland and the people stopped, and the Arabs within the Ottoman state paid a high price by losing their goods and human potential.

Perhaps the biggest indication that the Ottomans deliberately hindered the progress of the Arab world was what Selim I did when he brought down the Mamluks in Egypt in the 16th century. He forcibly moved Cairo’s most prominent craftsmen to Istanbul and robbed life of civilized appearances. Even the marble that was used to decorate the Mamluk palaces was dismantled and transferred to Istanbul, proving absolutely that the Ottoman Turks were new to civilization and were no different from the disordered races that invaded civilized countries.

This is not to mention what happened during the period of Ottoman rule after that, when the Arab world was handed over to non-Arab governors, who stole resources, monopolized trade and seized fiefdoms, creating a feudal class along the lines of the Dark Ages of Europe. Take for example what the Ottoman army used to do in all Arab regions, including Iraq during the First World War, when soldiers entered the markets and took whatever they wanted without paying and oppressed and abused the merchants. They considered such goods to be royalties in exchange for being away from their home countries by order of their state, which was usually late in paying their salaries, allowing them to steal other countries’ goods as compensation.

The Ottomans’ treatment of the Arabs was full of all types of cruelty, torture and abuse, ever since the first invasion by Selim I’s army, which entered the Levant and Egypt, oppressed the people and kidnapped and raped women, as Ibn Iyas described in his book “Bada’i Al-Zuhur.” They mostly did the same things in every land they entered, as depicted by historical sources in the Arab world. This is not to mention the forced recruitment they imposed on the Arabs, whereby they took Arab youths from their homes and families and sent them to the front lines without training or even knowledge of the cause they were fighting for.

The Ottoman tyranny against the Arabs was an extended reality. At Hama, in the Levant, they sent a campaign in 1685 to discipline people and punish them because they ejected the Ottoman governor due to his increasing prejudice. In 1698, a campaign was sent to burn the Lebanese town of Ghazir and, a year later, the Ottoman governor of Damascus sent an army to Nablus to kill its people and capture 700 women. This injustice and tyranny forced the poor Arabs of the Levant to emigrate.

Another example of the brutality of the Ottoman governors was the impalement of men and the putting of women into sacks with some lime and dumping them in rivers. Moreover, they used to burn villages and cut down trees. It is noteworthy that the horrific methods of torture, such as impalement, were not known to the Arabs before the arrival of the Ottomans. The person who impaled and killed the Arab slowly was rewarded. Also, they used to enjoy mutilating the dead bodies of the Arabs and cutting off parts of their bodies, especially the ears, and the leaders boasted of collecting the largest numbers of them.

They also fought the Arabic language with a policy of Turkification, through publications and jobs, imposing the Turkish language on all government transactions, and as a language of instruction in schools in all Ottoman regions, even Arabic ones. The character of the Arabs was not observed within the borders of the Ottoman state, in an explicit attempt to suppress identity. The Arabs felt that prioritizing the Turkish language and imposing it on them was a major insult. The political leadership in the Ottoman state was very strict in imposing the policy of Turkification, with no tolerance shown. In a clear fight against the use of Arabic in official transactions, Arabs all over the world who were citizens of the Ottoman Empire were required to address their embassies in Turkish. Moreover, officials in the Arab states communicated with people through translators. This is why many members of the Khedive dynasty, which ruled Egypt until the 1950s, partly under Ottoman rule, did not speak Arabic fluently, as most of them spoke only Turkish.

In conclusion, what Qurshon said about anti-Ottomans is based on the annoyance of the current Turkish policy with conscious historical reading according to the national framework, which has become exhausting for the Turks. This prepares the ground for a new stage of demanding rights stolen during historical periods.

In the third article in this series, we will complete the synthetic issues of history regarding what was mentioned in Qurshon’s hypothesis.

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

Read part 1. in the five-part series: 

1. Turks’ pre-Ottoman history based on myth and imagination  

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view