As if the Ottoman Period Never Ended

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

A scene from “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny.”

Published: October 29, 2012

ISTANBUL — Since the lavish, feel-good Turkish epic “Conquest 1453” had its premiere this year, its tale of the taking of Constantinople by the 21-year-old Sultan Mehmet II has become the highest-grossing film in Turkey’s history, released in 12 countries across the Middle East and in Germany and the United States. But its biggest impact may be the cultural triumphalism it has magnified at home.

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

Visitors at the Panorama Museum in Istanbul. Large crowds are flocking to the institution, which features a 360-degree painting of the siege of Constantinople.

“Conquest 1453” (known as “Fetih 1453” in Turkish) has spawned a television show with the same title and has encouraged clubs of proud Turks to re-enact battles from the empire’s glory days and even dress up as sultans and Ottoman nobles. The producers of “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny,” a television series about the 18th-century insurrection against Sultan Ahmet Khan III, said they planned to build a theme park where visitors will be able to wander through a reproduction of Ottoman-era Istanbul and watch sword fights by stuntmen. At least four new films portray the battle of Gallipoli, the bloody World War I face-off between the Ottomans and Allied forces over the straits of Dardanelles and one of the greatest victories of modern Turkey. The coming “In Gallipoli” even includes Mel Gibson starring as a British commander.

The Ottoman period, particularly during the 16th and 17th centuries, was marked by geopolitical dominance and cultural prowess, during which the sultans claimed the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world, before the empire’s slow decline culminated in World War I. For years the period was underplayed in the history taught to schoolchildren, as the new Turkish Republic created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 sought to break with a decadent past.

Now, as Turkey is emerging as a leader in the Middle East, buoyed by strong economic growth, a new fascination with history is being reflected in everything from foreign policy to facial hair. In the arts, framed examples of Ottoman-era designs, known as Ebru and associated with the geometric Islamic motifs adorning mosques, have gained in popularity among the country’s growing Islamic bourgeoisie, adorning walls of homes and offices, jewelry and even business cards.

The three-year-old Panorama Museum, which showcases an imposing 360-degree, 45-foot-tall painting of the siege of Constantinople, complete with deafening cannon fire blasts and museum security guards dressed as Janissary soldiers, is drawing huge crowds.

And in the past few years there has been a proliferation of Ottoman-themed soap operas, none more popular than “The Magnificent Century,” a sort of “Sex in the City” set during the 46-year reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The Turkish show pulpishly chronicles the intrigues of the imperial household and harem, including the rise of Suleiman’s slave girl-turned-queen, Hurrem. Last year it was broadcast in 32 countries, including Morocco and Kosovo.

The empire’s rehabilitation has inspired mixed feelings among cultural critics. “The Ottoman revival is good for the national ego and has captured the psyche of the country at this moment, when Turkey wants to be a great power,” said Melis Behlil, a film studies professor at Kadir Has University here. But, she warned: “It terrifies me because too much national ego is not a good thing. Films like ‘Conquest 1453’ are engaging in cultural revisionism and glorifying the past without looking at history in a critical way.”

Faruk Aksoy, the 48-year-old director of “Conquest 1453,” said that he had dreamed of making a film about the conquering of Istanbul ever since he arrived there at the age of 10 from Urfa, in Turkey’s rugged southeast, and had been mesmerized by Istanbul’s imperial grandeur. But he had to wait 10 years to make a big-budget film because the financing and technology were not available.

The film’s budget of $18.2 million was a record in Turkey, but it has more than recouped that, grossing $40 million in Turkey and Europe, Mr. Aksoy said. So stirred was a crowd at a recent screening that it roared “God is Great!” as the sword-wielding Ottomans scaled Istanbul’s forbidden walls. Mr. Aksoy recalled that one cinema manager debated calling the police, fearing a real fight.

“We Turks are hot-blooded people,” he said. “The Turks are proud about the conquest because it not only changed our history but it also changed the world.”

But others warn of a dangerous cultural jingoism at work. Burak Bekdil, a columnist for Hurriyet Daily News, mused in a recent column that the time was ripe for a film called “Conquest 1974,” to celebrate the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, or “Extinction 1915,” to commemorate the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I. Death threats followed.

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

A tourist in Ottoman attire inside a Topkapi Palace photo booth.

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

The actress Aslihan Guner on the set of “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny.”

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

A traditionally dressed military band on the streets of Istanbul.

Adem Altan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A poster for “Fetih 1453.”

Critics have also faulted the film for inaccuracies and hyperbole, though Mr. Aksoy stressed that he had employed Ottoman scholars. Members of the court of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI — portrayed as hedonistic boozers surrounded by nubile dancing girls — talk in Turkish rather than Greek or Latin. Even Mehmet II, the conquering Sultan famed for his prodigious nose, has been retooled as a heroic pretty boy.

Alper Turgut, a leading film critic, deplored this one-dimensional universe even as he lauded the film’s epic ambitions. “If they had exaggerated just a bit more, it would be an absurdist comedy,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Aksoy expressed annoyance that a film meant to entertain was being politicized. “Would you ask Ridley Scott if he was politically influenced?” he asked.

Cultural critics noted that the film’s religious underpinning — there’s even a cameo by the Prophet Muhammad predicting that Constantinople will be conquered by believers — had made it popular with the growing Islamic bourgeoisie in a country that has increasingly turned its back on the crisis-ridden Europe and instead looks increasingly eastward. (The movie has also been embraced by some members of the governing Islamic party as an alternative to Hollywood’s “crusader mentality.”)

Religious conservatives had been marginalized during the secular cultural revolution undertaken by Ataturk. “For the first time we are seeing this new Islamic bourgeoisie, its tastes and its mores, reflected on the small and big screens,” Mr. Turgut said.

Ms. Behlil noted that the advent of big-budget television shows and films depicting the Ottoman era owed something to the country’s popularity in the Arab world, which was bringing in new revenues for production companies. Last year Turkey was Europe’s largest exporter of soap operas, pocketing $70 million in revenues.

But it is at home that the series and films are having a profound impact, educating a new generation of Turks.

Burak Temir, 24, a German-Turkish actor who played a prince on “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny,” said he had initially been intimidated about portraying an era he knew so little about.

To prepare for his part, the show gave him a four-month crash course in Ottoman manners that included learning how to ride horses, sword fight, use a bow and arrow and puff out his chest. Even when not filming the show, he sports a Sultan-like beard and skinny Ottoman-style pants. “It makes me proud to be Turkish,” he said.



Sohbet given by Sheykh Abdul Kerim el-Hakkani el-Kibrisi

Saturday, 18 Safar, 1427 / March 18, 2006
Osmanli Naks-i’bendi Hakkani Dergah, Siddiki Center, New York.

Medet Ya Syyidi Ya Sultanul Awliya, Medet.

Thanks to our Lord Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) that He has chosen us to
be among the believers. Whatever we do we are not going to be able to
give enough thanks for that. When we look at the history and we try to
understand how much value this has and how we are keeping it, then we
should check ourselves again. 91 years ago on this day, the believers,
those who were sincere with their faith, with their Lord, proved and
showed their faith to Allah (subhana wa ta’ala). They passed their
test and because of them today we are still able to walk on the face
of the earth and we are able to say that we are Muslims. But the price
they paid is very heavy. That happened a couple of more times in Islam
but this one was different than all the other ones too. When the
so-called Allied Forces came together, they were coming from every
side to the Empire, trying to bring an end to the Empire and they made
all their calculations and all their planning. Bringing an end to the
Empire means bringing end to Islam. That was their aim. The Khalifah
and the soldiers of the Khalifah surprised them very strongly. When
they made all those planning and they reached all the way to Yemen,
Arabia, Egypt, and from every angle to the lands of Islam with the
help of so many traitors inside Islam, they were aiming for the
Capital of Islam, Istanbul. Once they enter there they will declare
and they will finish it. That was their aim. They collected soldiers
all the way from Australia to Canada, from one end of the world to the
other end. They came and they surrounded the whole land. The Ottoman
soldiers were fighting in 28 frontlines. The world has never seen such
a thing like that before. The world has been at war but it has never
seen a war like that where all nations came together and squeezed only
one nation into the corner and they were ready to hit the last hammer
and bring an end to Islam.

They came with over 525,000 soldiers trying to pass through Canakkale,
Gallipoli. That’s where the soldiers of Islam surprised them all, the
last area for which they made all their calculations and said, “This
is finished now. We came to the end. We will pass from here and
Istanbul will be gone.” The people who were believing in Allah and His
Prophet (sws) and who have submitted themselves, their wills and their
lives to Allah and His Religion stood up and all their planning sank
into those waters and those soldiers drowned them in their own blood,
teaching a lesson to the whole world since that time up till now never
to think that Islam will be taken down so easily. It is impossible. It
looks that it’s down now because heedless Muslims are around. But it’s
not. Still there are others sitting and waiting like those soldiers
who have already sacrificed their lives for Allah and His Prophet (sws).

They didn’t reach to their aim then and they are never going to reach
to their aim. Impossible. As long as there is one believer living on
earth, it is impossible. They are not going to. This is to give us the
understanding of what is Islam and when the time comes for us to be
able to sacrifice our lives. This is not a matter of running,
attacking and trying to take something or steal something from
someone. No. But (it is a matter of) standing up and holding tightly
to the Rope of Allah as the Sahaba did. When a Sahabi-e Ikram was in
the frontline and an arrow came to his eye, entered in it and made him
blind, he took the arrow out. In that war some betrayal happened and
they turned their backs, and they came to greet him, and he said,
“What are you saying? Instead of having two eyes and to look back
(meaning, to run away) it is better to have one eye to look forward
always and to run to give this life for the sake of Allah.”

This is what these solders did in Canakkale. No one can say, or treat
them, or give them the (deserving) title of where they belong, as the
poet is saying, “I cannot give you and I cannot do anything for you
but the Holy Prophet (sws) is waiting in front of you. He has opened
his Jubba to every one of you.” When we are sitting, thinking,
concentrating and trying to understand what had happened and how those
people gave their lives, if we are not finding in our hearts to be
able to say, “If I was in that situation, I would also be able to
sacrifice my life”, check your faith then. With that faith you cannot
reach anywhere. You need that kind of faith to pass Sirat, the bridge,
if you understand what it is to sacrifice your life for Allah, His
Prophet (sws) and for His Religion. If we are not finding that in our
own hearts then we must check ourselves and we must work on ourselves
to be able to understand what is it to sacrifice for Islam. When it
comes to talk, it’s easy talking. We must, think and concentrate to
understand. That will make our faith to grow then.

For your information to understand how great a war that was, how ugly
it became and how close it was, (you should know that) the frontlines
of the soldiers were from this wall to that wall (Sheykh Efendi
pointing to the walls of the dergah). The Ottoman soldiers were at
that wall and the enemy was trying to penetrate through passing from
that wall. They were coming. They came so close that it was only 10
meters between them. I went to those areas and I looked at those
places. When you look, that is the time you understand how much those
people sacrificed. It was impossible for them to have a doubt in their
hearts that they were not going to turn back alive. But they were
continuously coming, non-stop from everywhere. They were holding the
flag of the Holy Prophet (sws) high. They gave their lives and Allah
honored them with that title. It is impossible for us or anyone to
honor them with any titles but Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) did.

One incident that happened was that one captain was looking very
deeply and thinking, “If they pass through from here, what are we
going to do?” They all understood that if they pass through from
Gallipoli then Istanbul is gone. The Sultan and the Khilafat will be
imprisoned in the hands of the enemy. And everyone put something from
themselves into that war, from individual soldiers to the Generals. A
man named Ali Chawsh appeared behind the captain. The captain looked
at him. He was in big pain and he was still smiling and comforting the
captain saying, “Oh captain, don’t worry. We still have a lot behind
to make a mountain of men for these enemies not to pass.” He said,
“But I am just in big pain”, because one big bullet came, hit his
hand, everything was destroyed and only one piece was holding the hand
to the body. He took his knife and said, “Please cut this part. This
way I will be able to fight more freely.” The captain looked, took the
knife and cut his hand. They didn’t have any medicine or anything like
today’s people. Then he turned and he ran to the front (which was ten
meters, as I said) saying, “I must give up this life. Before I die
sitting here I must die in that way.” He entered into the enemy line
and so many bullets came to him. He was on the floor. Other soldiers
also attacked at that time and they took that enemy line. They went to
that one and the captain asked if anybody had a piece of bread for
this soldier who is ready to give out his life. That battalion didn’t
have a piece of bread to eat for one week. One piece of bread appeared
from the other side and it came to their hand. That one was laying
down smiling and saying to the captain, “Oh captain, please save that
piece of bread because I am already counting the minutes to go out
from this life. Save that bread for another one of my brothers so that
it may give energy to them to fight.”

If this is not moving your heart then you are losing your faith. Allah
(subhana wa ta’ala) has given everything to us. They had nothing, not
even a piece of bread to eat. But they stood up for their faith, to
save Islam and to give us ways to live, inshaAllah ar-Rahman. As I
said, if we are sitting and talking about them from now until next
year, it is not enough. If we praise them until next year it is not
enough, if we pray for them until next year it is not enough. It is
not one, it is 253,000 soldiers who died in that way. The enemy came
525,000 soldiers. Comparing with what the enemy had and what these
soldiers had, comparing the technologies that they had, (we find that)
it is impossible to compare. But it was impossible for them to pass.

Also, (to mention) another incident. Seyyid Chaush was the one who put
the last bullet inside the cannon and he stopped one of the big ships
that was passing. He picked up the bullet alone because all his
friends died. So there was nobody to help him to pick up that bullet
and to put it inside the cannon. He used all his power asking support
and medet and he picked up the bullet to put it in the cannon. But
that bullet weighed 300 kilos. 300 kilos is almost 600 pounds. And
that bullet did the last job. It blew up the whole ship and that is
the time that the forces said that it is impossible to pass through
the channel to enter to Istanbul. They stopped and they pulled back.

So many other incidents happened of course. We are talking about
253,000 martyrs. Then we have to talk 253,000 times. Everyone has
different stories. This is in order for it to enter to your heart and
to your brain and never to forget because I am watching that some
people are even hesitating to slaughter Kurban in these days even
though they have everything. That year in the whole nation, in the
whole Turkey, no one slaughtered a Kurban. They took the Kurban and
they gave to the army, supporting the army and the Ulema and the
Awliya say that the whole nation have already sacrificed their Kurban.
Every house had one martyr that they were giving in the way of Allah.
So we must understand where we are and where they were. If we sit,
think and understand deeply for ourselves then no depression, no
problems and no worries can come to our way because we have a bigger
worry then saying, “What did we do? What are we doing for the sake of
Allah and for the sake of Holy Prophet (alayhi salatu wa salam)?” We
must understand this. We must think about this from time to time, we
must think about them from time to time and we must read for their
souls from time to time. If you do then you will receive visitations
from them too. Someway somehow they will be happy knowing that there
are still people living on this earth who are trying to live for the
sake of Allah and they are still continuing what they left.

It was not only the men fighting. There were also so many girls who
died in that war. One Anzac soldier was saying, “I was watching in the
frontline this young girl who was shooting so bravely and she was
knocking down everything that she was hitting. She was sitting from
morning to evening and everyone was trying to aim her. But they were
not able to finish her and we thought that there was a big battalion
in that area because so many bullets were coming from everywhere. By
the evening one bullet reached to her and she fell down. When she fell
down we entered to that area and we only found her and another boy and
we have counted sixty-three bullets in her body.” That kind of faith
saved Islam.

So inshaAllah, I have no hesitation to say that they couldn’t pass
then and they are not going to pass this time too because there are
still the children and grandchildren of those people living on this
earth. No matter what the enemies do. They are sitting and waiting
quietly for a go ahead from the Holy Prophet (salatu wa salam). We
have calculated, inshaAllah ar-Rahman, some Fatihas for their spirits
and inshaAllah we will see what we did later and I hope that we have
said at least one Fatiha for each one of those soldiers’ spirits
inshaAllah ar-Rahman. All those are still for us to give us the power
to be able to continue in this life. Things may have changed but the
matter of faith is never going to change. The lifestyle has changed
but the faith is never going to change. This if for us to understand
that we have to be able to stand up for Islam no matter what happens.
One day Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) may test us through that way too. If
we pass then we pass. If we fail then it is very sad.

So, those people believed in Allah, their Prophet (sws) and their
Khalifah, from the soldiers to their mothers and to their fathers. As
you know (I gave you the story before) that one time they put henna on
the head of this soldier and they sent him to Canakkale. His friends
were taking him for a joke because he had henna. His captain asked him
saying to him, “What is that on your head, Mehmet?” Mehmet means the
soldiers of Muhammad. Mehmetci means the soldiers of the Prophet
(alayhi salatu wa salam), taking that name from that time. And he
said, “My mother put it and sent me.” When they were making jokes with
him he wanted to notify his mother. It’s a long story. I am just
trying to give you some ideas of where those people’s faith is. He
told his friends to write a letter. He didn’t know how to read and
write too. They wrote a letter. He was saying and they were copying,
“Mother, you put henna on my head and you sent me here. I believe that
now my brother is getting ready to come to this side because his age
is up. Please don’t put any henna on his head. This way they will not
make any jokes with him.”

When the mother received the letter she sent another letter right away
saying, “My son, in our village, in our side, we put henna only on
three events. One, we put henna to our daughters when we give her away
(in marriage). It means we have sacrificed our daughter for the sake
of Allah and she is never going to come to us. We put henna on the
sheep when we are going to sacrifice them. And we also put henna on
the soldiers when we send them to the war for sake of Allah
sacrificing them because they are not going to come back. Don’t tell
me not to put it on your brother. I have already put it and I have
already sent him. He is coming, he is on the way.” Before that letter
reached in their hands the soldier already got martyred and the letter
reached to the hand of the same captain who was joking with him. Then
he opened, he read and he said, “Yes, these are the soldiers and these
are the martyrs that is going to save Islam. There is no other way.”

So alhamdulillah, 253,000 soldiers gave their lives. Those who didn’t
give their lives ran away. Don’t make any mistake now. The Nation of
Islam left the Khalifah alone. There were no soldiers other than
Turkish soldiers fighting in that war. The Khalifah’s soldiers were
fighting and all other Muslim nations pulled back. This is where we
are concentrating for you to understand that those soldiers were only
from one nation. And they understood and they said, “If we give up too
then all the Muslims in this world is going to be finished. We cannot
give up.” So, today we are getting stronger from every nation. Those
nations that attacked and came to destroy Islam, now their
grandchildren are accepting Islam. It is impossible that they will win
against that in any way. But Sheytan is never sitting comfortable and
he is always running from every angle trying to fool people and bring
them down. We must not give up and we must hold on tightly to our
faith. We must hold on tightly to what Holy Prophet (alayhi salatu wa
salam) brought to us. That’s the only thing we have.

And as have I said earlier, those ones gave their lives and their time
has passed. There are only a handful of people living now from that
time. I met one of the persons a long time ago who was always coming
and visiting my father (rahmatullah aleyh). He was one of the veterans
of Canakkale and I was not able to come close to him (because of his
heybet, majestic appearance). I was always far looking at him and
admiring this man. And alhamdulillah, he left me this (Sheykh pointing
to a decorative pin on his Jubba with the tughra inscribed on it).
This is what was given by the Sultan at that time to the soldiers who
became veterans in that war. When I was looking and thinking from my
childhood, there are two wars that I have always wanted to be in and
to really die in those wars. One is the war of Uhud and the other is
the war of Canakkale. It didn’t happen. But I reached to a war (The
Greek-Cypriot war of 1974). I didn’t die in that war. I became a
veteran. They also gave us these medals. But I didn’t feel like going
and collecting it. I never did up till now. My name is still written
there and they were also supposed to give me some money. But I never
went and I never collected it. I never felt like going. Now I found
out that this is the reason. Allah accepted me inshaAllah as one of
the people (from the Canakkale war).

So, whatever man wants really and sincerely, Allah opens their way. So
inshaAllah this is a lesson for us to make our faith to grow in Islam.
Of course, we don’t want to go to war to kill people. But we should be
able to be strong and stand up for Islam and to give our lives if
necessary because we have only that and the only thing in our life is
faith. Nothing else. Everything is passing. If you give those soldiers
one thousand lives, they will all give that life back one thousand
times to die for the sake of Allah. If Allah gives them life
continuously saying, “I am giving you this life. Go to the world and
live the pleasures.” They say, “No, we will never want to go to that
world. But give us that life to go and to die for You again and again
and again and again, in Your way.” That’s how much pleasure Allah is
giving the believers when they are sacrificing their lives for Allah.

They are trying to remove this faith and remove this feeling away from
the Muslims today. So many Muslims have already lost this feeling.
They say, “It’s okay to give them what they want and I just continue
my life.” If those people were to think the same way as we are
thinking today then today we will not have Islam. So we are not
guaranteeing too much for our future if we continue thinking like
that. We are not guaranteeing that Islam is going to reach to our
children and our grandchildren. The more you give up the more every
generation that is coming is giving up. But we have only a limited
time in this life anyway. If we sacrifice that for Allah’s sake then
inshaAllah we will find endless happiness.

Wa min Allahu taufiq

Bihurmatil Habib