Michael Arizanti
Passionate about Kurdish affairs and human rights

Ottoman Official Ideology by Yasin Arslantaş

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To understand the Turkish regime neo-ottamism, one must turn to history to understand their roots, goals and meaning.
This text is an excerpt from a larger study by Yasin Arslantaş (PhD),which I had the opportunity to share with me here on the blog. You’ll find a link to the study at the end of the text.

Ottoman Official Ideology

This study examines the ideo-religious alienation of the Qizilbash within 16th
century Ottoman historiography. We should first investigate, however, the existence of state ideology in the Ottoman Empire and, in particular, an ongoing debate about it. Official ideology consists of the religious, political and ideological stance of the state, that is, the beliefs that permit the state to respond to similar developments in a similar way. Although I accept that such an ideology existed in the 16th century, I do not believe that it was a constant ideology. Instead, I recognize shifts, in accordance with certain external and internal conditions. For example, Ottoman state ideology became more bureaucratic in the 16th century as a result of many factors, including the Safavid/Qizilbash threat. The official stance of that time was not the same as that of the 19th century, which can be called the age of modernization.
Ahmet Yaşar Ocak has argued for the existence of an Ottoman official
ideology, concluding that there was such an ideology despite two major objections
from those opposing this view. The first point of those who oppose Ocak’s view is
that the concept of “official ideology” suggests an imposing structure, and there was neither pressure nor imposition of Ottoman official ideology. The second objection is that if an official ideology did exist, it should have been propagated by systematic and institutionalized methods for a long period of time, but this did not happen in the Ottoman case. Rejecting these objections, Ocak defines the roots of Ottoman official ideology as:

“…neither a conscious program created by those in the center exclusively to suppress those in the periphery nor an ideology, like in modern ages, shaped by a certain individual or a group based on a philosophical background, intended
for a certain objective. Instead it was formed over the course of time under the
influence of internal and external conditions.”

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Ocak’s argument that official ideology was not formed by a group of people needs to be reexamined. I believe that a group of imported religious scholars, as well as those educated in medreses, contributed significantly to the formation of this ideology. For instance, Kemalpaşazâde’s (d. 1536) and Ebussuud’s (d. 1574) fatwas, as well as their risalas, established the official ideological position of the Ottoman Empire in many issues during the 16th century.

Development of an Ottoman state ideology should be read together with certain religious and secular notions. Frequently used in Ottoman documents, the notion of din ü devlet (state and religion), adopted from Islamic political theory, regards state and religion as conjoined twins.

Maintaining their continuation was one of the major duties of an Islamic ruler. Another notion, reflecting the attention paid to the state in the Ottoman political theory, is devlet-i ebed müddet (the eternal state).

This refers to the necessity of protecting the state, which is sacred, at all costs.
They were also the sultan’s obligations to maintain an “ever-victorious army” and an “ever-expanding frontier” for the sake of nizam-ı âlem (the world order). Indirectly, these obligations meant that all rights of diversity or even life could be sacrificed to maintain the existence and unity of the state.137 It goes without saying that an eternal state could not be imagined without religion and a pious ruler.

Ottoman official ideology defined an ideal human type, which the state presented to its people as a model. The right to rule of the sultan, the shadow of God on earth (zillullah fi’l ‘arz), was believed to have been given by God. Another title which was used by the sultan was el müeyyed min indillah (supported by God).

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According to the sultan, his subjects were trusts of God (vediatullah). He had the responsibility to make them live in wealth and secure the justice among them so that nizam (the order) could be achieved. In return for these sultanic duties, reaya (tax-paying subjects) were expected to be loyal to their status of reaya ibn reaya (son of a reaya), cultivate and pay taxes on time, join the army of tımarlı sipahis when needed, never dabble in politics, which was not their business, and be obedient to the commands and requests of their administrators, appointed from the administrative center.

As will be examined in the subsequent chapters, the Qizilbash described the opposite of this idealized Ottoman subject. The Qizilbash were introduced as etrak-ı bi-idrak (Turks with a low capacity of perception) in the writings of Ottoman historians. This attitude toward the Qizilbash should be read together with the fact that Ottoman urban areas were under the influence of Arab and Persian high cultures; the Qizilbash were perceived as ignorant nomads who could not get along with urban culture.

From: Depicting the Other: Qizilbash Image in the 16th Century Ottoman Historiography by Yasin Arslantaş Yasin received his PhD degree from the Department of Economic History at London School of Economics and Political Science in 2018. His thesis was about the practice of confiscation in the Ottoman Empire, 1700s-1839. Prior to LSE, he read Economics and History in Turkey. He is currently working as a research assistant in the Department of Economics at Anadolu University.

About the Author
As a seasoned writer and expert on Middle East Affairs, Michael Arizanti has dedicated his career to shedding light on the complex political and social issues that shape in the Middle East. With a particular focus on Kurdish Affairs and human rights, Michael Arizanti has become a leading voice in the field, offering insightful analysis and commentary on the most pressing topics of the day. Throughout his career, Michael Arizanti has demonstrated a deep commitment to promoting justice and equality for all, advocating tirelessly for the rights of marginalized communities and challenging the status quo. His work has been published in a wide range of prestigious outlets, and he have been recognized for his contributions to the field with numerous accolades. Whether writing about the latest developments in the Middle East or speaking out against human rights abuses, Michael Arizanti is a passionate and dedicated advocate for positive change. With a unique perspective and wealth of experience, he continue to be a driving force in shaping the conversation around some of the most important issues of our time.