Structure and Actors of Politics

Until a transformation took place in the nineteenth century, initiated by a series of reforms, which resulted in the establishment of the modern state, Istanbul, like other Ottoman cities, had no autonomous, representative administration, independent from the central government. Due to the fact that people were not considered as a political actor, it is not possible to talk about particular methods, for taking into consideration the decision-making process so that people participate in administration and codification in order to express themselves. The administrative structure of the Ottoman Empire had no place for an independent assembly or council that might allow the city to manage itself or to obtain the status as an actual city. The administrators of the city were assigned by the central government, which also arranged the conditions required to gain the status of a city, such as jurisdiction (qadi assignment and courts), Friday mosque (sermon and homage), and trade infrastructure (an open air market, etc.). These practices were valid in the capital, and Istanbul was administered as part of the state in the same way as other cities. But as the capital, Istanbul was different in several important ways.

Rather than any civilian administrative or political rights defining the capital, the main differences were the formation of certain institutions for the needs of the city, appointments from the central establishment, and privileged practices as a result of being the capital. Therefore, Istanbul was administered as a duty of the central government, and by its authority. This fact demonstrates the uniformity of the significance of the city and state in political culture. As there were no political means of institutions enabling the people of Istanbul to participate in governing themselves, people’s relationship with politics coalesced in a way that would influence the government. On the other hand, options for the right to legal redress through bureaucratic or judicial means were plentiful, and opportunities to appeal to the council, courts or the sultan by means of petitions were created. People’s demands were limited mainly to the dispensation of justice and the adequacy and sustainability of provisions of services such as food and security.

These duties were determined as the legal and fundamental responsibility of the central government, which assigned an administrative organization to meet the needs of the city’s people, and to provide a trouble-free life as far as possible. Thus, a range of responsibilities was created in Istanbul for the managing institutions of the city, along with the central bureaucracy of the empire. However, these activities were not defined as civilian, and were therefore enabled via appointments and practices that could be called extensions of the palace or ategrand vizierate. As a result, viziers and the other top bureaucrats managing the empire could be assigned to govern Istanbul on top of their primary duties. The qadis of Istanbul (Dersaadet/inside the walls) and bilad-ı selase1 (Eyüp, Galata, Üsküdar), were directly responsible for the judicial and municipal management of the city. The mayor, who was in fact employed by the palace, can be described as the senior officer of the capital in terms of construction and prosperity. Therefore, architects working outside the Palace, actually worked under the mayor of Istanbul. The architects, who were responsible for the construction and maintenance of imperial facilities, were directly in charge of Istanbul’s construction projects, and even the smallest land disagreements, because the central organization of the state was in compliance with the capital’s administration. Similarly, the grand vizier was also in charge of Istanbul’s administration, since he was a senior bureaucrat and absolute deputy of the ruler, responsible for ruling the entire empire. With regards to the state and the city, the administrative authority of the grand vizier formed the basis of possessions of existing posts, and to some extent, chamberlains of the grand vizier. Although administrative decisions and practices regarding Istanbul were not so different from those of other cities, the situation in the capital was complex, due to exclusive measures and investments made with imperial concerns as a result of being the capital.

1- Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror (<em>Hünername</em>)

These policies and practices are directly related to Ottoman political theory. The formation of such state institutions did not facilitate participation in management. Rather, they clarified the channels through which people could contact the government. Also, within the higher institutions directed at defining the processes of right to legal redress, such as law or politics, it enables the city to coincide with the concept of medine/medeni-medeniyet2, which is similar to the relationship of cité/civitas-civilization in the strict sense, and the city was related to the ruling of the country in a broader view. Because of the relationship between civilization, settlement and politics (“müdûn”), the administration of the city was the subject of politics, according to the Ottomans. This explains socialization further by relating it to civilization (temeddün): “Society, which means civilization, is traditionally defined as cities, villages and nomad tents.”3 This definition determines the limits of people in the city of Istanbul as well as indicates how the prevalent understanding of politics was based on the relationship between city and civilization since politics, regarded as a whole, related to the management of society and the state. Therefore, Istanbul was the first to be affected by the changes in the structure of the state, as well as any arguments or conflicts that took place as part of these changes. The political atmosphere in Istanbul was related to the competition surrounding the central rule rather than the city’s own dynamics.

When Ottoman political practice is evaluated, the use of the concept of “politics” as something equivalent to punishment is generally meant, and emphasized as a common mistake. However, “politics” conceptually means a function of society, managing, domestication, and so on. Therefore, it is possible to imagine a strong relationship between the aim of politics, and the city. Tursun Bey narrates the approach constituting the basis of Fatih Sultan Mehmed’s (Mehmed the Conqueror) politics and rule in his book Târîh-i Ebü’l-Feth. This was written in the name of Sultan Mehmed II (1451-1481) following the conquest of Istanbul, and pertains to the events during his reign within the city in a strict sense, and the state in a broader sense.4 Tursun Bey explains the necessity of the ruler and the function and meaning of tradition in terms of political practices. In terms of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled, earthly authority was not considered indefinite. This was due to the belief that politics was considered to be based on irrevocable ideas such as justice, qualification/merit, consignation, submission and consultation, which had their own principals in turn. Also, this is related to solidarity, which is necessary in every society, as it determines the framework for the relationship between the government and its subjects. Accordingly, living together in a community requires solidarity, and subjects are expected to fulfill their responsibilities towards the state and the ruler. All these principles and measures were called “politics” in the Ottoman Empire. As this approach demonstrates, since the city and the state are considered within each other and defined as the aim of politics, the management of the capital was a subject that could be understood within the authority of the ruler and central organization of the state.

In practice, however, this theoretical framework was not always welcomed or consented to by all parties. It can even be claimed that it caused conflict, as due to the structure of politics, a power struggle is often inevitable. As a result of this situation, problems and disagreements arose about the acceptance and management of new practices and decisions. The power struggle between title owners and senior officers was sometimes expressed through an ordinary petition, or occasionally through severe reaction and riots in the capital, or in various districts of the empire. The people’s absence in the decision-making processes, as well as the lack of political recognition, enabled some state groups, who used power in different ranks, to come to the forefront as primary actors in politics. The inclusion of people in conflicts based on political rivalry between the parties, i.e., those who sought to participate in power and who desired influence, is meaningful in terms of political engagement. The way that power was distributed and used caused rulers and high senior officers sometimes to lose their lives. Almost all opposition movements were characterized by mass protests, which formed among groups who used power at certain levels, actors who acquired the authority to rule due to their positions, and people who participated in power. At this point, the way city residents participated in administration, and the question of whether they were able to create the institutions, which would govern them, become significant. This differentiation determined the shaping the politics, the influence of the opposition in government, and the practices of conflict and reconciliation. The political opposition and bloody uprisings, which took the form of large outbursts in Ottoman Istanbul, and also almost all the actors and small interest groups who determined daily politics, were directly related to the groups who were integrated into the state.

Politics in Ottoman Istanbul can be considered as the competition to influence the governing of the state, attempts to be a part of the center of the power, and the conflict arising from these actions. When considered from this point of view, questions arise regarding whether this long-term competition and conflict accelerated the redistribution and sharing of power, or whether they enabled new rights and participation channels to be introduced via fundamental changes. Actually, the opposition expressed their own demands regarding more authority and power rather than any demands of the city residents within their civilian rights. Therefore, uprisings and competition did not result in a transformation that enabled a change in the position, rights or participation in politics for ordinary people. The objections and riots in Istanbul were not directed at changing the system, but they deserve to be defined as the “opposition of government workers and statesmen,” directed towards influencing power. The question of whether the presence of ordinary people in this opposition signifies a participation in politics, or having a say in management, points towards a controversial issue. However, even though politics is subject to such power struggles, changes are expected to happen over a long period of time. Some changes may take place in the area of state and central rule. It is possible to claim that the struggle in three terms and riots resulting from them created a kind of spring in Ottoman politics.

One of them is the 1622 uprising, which began in 1580 and continued till 1622. As a reaction to the search for change, it resulted in the killing of Osman II (1618-1622). This period can be re-defined as the years between 1580 and 1656 within a different periodization. As the result of the killing of two sultans and one sultana during long, harsh years of crisis, an agreement was reached for the separation of sovereignty and government. The second uprising ended with a violent reaction in 1703, when Mustafa II (1695-1703) put Sheikh al-Islam, and the law he represented, in opposition to the grand vizierate in an attempt to restore his power instead of sharing his executive power with the grand vizier unlike the sultans who consented to assign a significant proportion of their executive powers to the Grand Vizier’s Pasha Gate starting in 1656. This was the move, which strengthened the acquisition of the governmental authority of the Bâb-ı Âsafi.5 The third uprising radically paved the way for the establishment of a modern state with the power of provinces to determine central rule. This arose out of the riots and conflicts of 1807 and 1808.

The riots and crises, institutional changes and disagreements during the period spanning the last quarter of the sixteenthsixteenth century to the end of the first three decades of the nineteenthnineteenth century, were related to the management of the state. These affected Istanbul deeply because all movements were based on Dersaadet, and took place between Aksaray (Et Meydan) and Topkapı Palace. For this reason, political life was certainly very lively in the city of Istanbul. Moreover, the fact that the city served as capital to two vast empires for over 1500 years can be seen in its imperial claims and ideologies rooted in its names, location and even its silhouette. When considered from this point of view, the position of the city was layered and had different meanings. For example, it can explain the reasons why Dersaadet was the location for numerous mass uprisings and riots. Furthermore, the cause of alliances and competitions between the military, ulama and the harem in their power struggle was intense, and played out mostly among people who lived in Dersaadet, can be seen as a requirement of politics as defined above.

Layers of the City as a Political Scene

Istanbul was the only city, which saw such frequent riots, uprisings and protests during the long life of the Ottoman Empire. It is possible to state that uprisings and protest movements observed in the provinces, particularly in Anatolia, were different from those in Istanbul. These riots were likely related to the political environment in Istanbul, and were connected to conflicts where protectors were involved as a result of an affiliation network; at least, there are some people who claimed to be so. It would not be wrong to think that both events were originated in Istanbul, and that the capital was the center, which determined political activity. This situation can be seen as a feature of the city due to its sustainable nature, particularly for the general populace of Istanbul, viziers, troops, ulama as well as the high bureaucracy. However, this characteristic is almost identical with the one inside the city walls, in other words, “nefs-i Istanbul,” and in this sense, this area was Istanbul. When considered this way, the components that formed Istanbul politically are seen to have different characteristics. Ottoman Istanbul is not a uniform settlement but simply a poem of different cities.

The city of Istanbul, as is considered today, had an administrative division of Eyüp, Galata and Üsküdar following the conquest and during the maturity of the Ottoman classical age. As a result, the qadi districts of the city were structured according to this division. In fact, each of these areas was a settlement with a separate city status. When you look at the city within this division framework, the Ottoman capital is understood to be comprised of administrative territories that had very different internal dynamics and locational organizations.

2- Istanbul inside the walls (suriçi) and Galata

The area that comes to mind when talking about Istanbul, then, is the area within the city walls or old Constantinople, called Dersaadet, because the palaces were located there. Therefore, this territory had a different structure to other territories outside the city walls. “Dersaadet” was a political scene witnessing political activity, numerous cliques vying to have a say on how the empire should be ruled, and conflicts among viziers, ulamas, sheikhs, scribes, harem and military groups that all wanted to share and influence power. All these groups were located within the city walls, and so power struggles were concentrated here, in the heart of the empire. Considering the fact that there were more than 100 riots, riot attempts and protests between 1453 and 1808, the definition of Dersaadet as a political stage makes sense. The area where most of the riots and political protests took place was located between Sarayburnu and At Meydanı (Sultanahmet), running in a line towards Unkapanı, Aksaray (Et Meydanı) and Yenikapı. Thus, it is possible to say that the Dersaadet’s area between the city walls, together with Aksaray and the territory stretching from there towards Sultanahmet Square, was layered in terms of political use. In other words, the political activity which took place between Et Meydanı and At Meydanı was more intense than other areas of the city.

The relationship between the use of this area by people, elite residents and troops was a feature that determined the political life in the city. As a result, political movements corresponded to conflicts among the groups that had a say in the government. The participation and objections of people depended on whether they were affiliated with these groups or not. For the groups related to the state, this space was the location of power struggles. Therefore, managing Dersaadet was as difficult as ruling the empire in terms of keeping political rivalry balanced and pleasing all parties. All administrative districts, while functioning as different components, together formed the city of Istanbul. That is, they represented differences within themselves, and by adding to each other, formed what we today call Istanbul, the distinguished city and the center of the empire. For this reason, Eyüp, Üsküdar and Galata were called bilad-i selase, illustrating that they were considered districts of real Istanbul, in other words, Dersaadet. “Bilad-i selase” signifies three districts or three cities. If Dersaadet is added to them, it becomes bilad-ı erbaa, that is, four districts. Therefore in this sense, Istanbul was comprised of four districts and was the center of imperial politics. However, “nefs-i Istanbul”6 was actually both the center of the empire and the empire itself, in a manner of speaking. It was placed at the center of imperial tradition and identified with world hegemony after serving as the capital of two empires. It should not be forgotten that Istanbul’s politically-privileged position resulted from this situation. Strong opposition to suggestions of moving the capital is a significant indicator in this sense.

Any suggestion of moving the capital to a different location was met with strong objections. The first time the idea was proposed was at the end of the first quarter of the seventeenth century in 1622, and the second time was at the end of the same century in 1703, when a large uprising took place. The idea of changing the capital encountered opposition not only from public officers and members of military class, but also from shopkeepers. It is understandable that retailers and tradesmen were intolerant of such a change, because it was entirely possible that the economy of the city would go into recession if Istanbul lost its status as the capital. However, economic interests alone do not sufficiently explain this. The influence of the capital’s extraordinary political environment on ordinary Istanbul residents as well as public officers, and the general level of political awareness should also be taken into consideration. The demand by the inhabitants of Istanbul that their city remain the capital was undoubtedly a political call as well as an economic stipulation, and an example of political participation in opposing a decision for change. The relationship between the populace’s objection, the presence of groups adopting a political attitude, and the powerful sense of belonging they had for their city has not been much discussed, but still it played a part in events. This strong sense of identity was a significant factor apart from the valuable location of the city or the opportunities the city granted to its residents. One of the reasons for the riot in 1703 was the complaint that stated: “Istanbul is totally forgotten,” following long and frequent sojourn in the court in Edirne during Mehmed IV’s reign (1648-1687).7 The objections raised against the search for an alternative capital indicate that tolerance towards a discussion about the capital characteristics of the city was out of the question.

One of the causes of the killing of Sultan Osman II (1618-1622) in the uprising against the sultan, which deeply affected both the Ottoman world and Istanbul, was the claim that he would move the capital to Cairo. This occurred despite the fact that it was uncertain whether the sultan had any such intention. However, speculations regarding his intention to move the capital to Cairo comply with current information, which suggests that Osman II was planning to eliminate the troops and janissaries, and that he was preparing to recruit Turkmen soldiers from Anatolia under the guise of going on a pilgrimage.8 Even though the claim may have been groundless, it nevertheless proved an effective tool with which to manipulate the masses. The sultan was asked to give up his pilgrimage, and although these demands (along with various other requests), while first rejected were ultimately accepted, an uprising ensued, and resulted for the first time in the terrible killing of an Ottoman sultan.9 A similar, more definite example was the cause of another uprising. During Mustafa II’s reign (1695-1703), a plan to move the capital to Edirne was encouraged by Sheikh al-Islam Feyzullah Efendi, and this had a significant bearing on an ensuing unprecedentedly-bloody riot.10 Actually, it is known that in both of these cases, the search for a fundamental change in the Ottoman political system continued, and riots formed part of this search. So placing a change of capital on the agenda was not something to be undertaken lightly.

The change in the location of the capital as part of a process of transformation was in fact, not an unfamiliar to the Ottoman practice. Although the transfer of the center from Bursa to Edirne, and from Edirne to Istanbul arose out of legitimate causes, and took place without any riots, it is clear that in those cases, the changes happened within the framework of the ideology of the state and its imperialist strategies. The move of the capital from Bursa to Edirne in the 14th century was a result of expansionist policies in Rumelia, and in ideology and tradition. After the conquest, when Istanbul became the capital due to its ideological position as a living center of Roman tradition, no difficulties arose from this change, apart from discussions, which took place prior to the conquest, including questions of transport of the center of the sultanate from Edirne to Istanbul following the conquest. To be more precise, the transference of the capital to Istanbul was the result of the prestige and power Fatih acquired with the conquest of the city.

The suggestions of capital change in the seventeenth century were based on entirely different reasons. Together with Cairo and Edirne’s desire to be the first city of the empire, they should be considered as an indication of particular issues that characterized Ottoman politics in the seventeenth century. Also, it should not be forgotten that Russia, as the new rival of the Ottoman Empire, was in the process of moving its capital during the period following 1699, which paved the way for the 1703 uprising. Tsar Peter I was carrying out the enormous operation of building a new capital at a location in the north on the Baltic Sea, and moving his headquarters there. The new city of Saint Petersburg was named after the tsar in 1703, and various fundamental reforms were put into practice at the same time. The sultan and his court were quite aware of the achievements of his rival in the north, as even the Ottoman state chroniclers recorded the activities of the tsar. They also wrote about his reforms and his courage, and stated that he appointed the people he trusted after killing certain state dignitaries in order to carry out these reforms.11 Such writings indicate that the Ottoman Empire was watching its rival in the north. The transfer of the Russian capital was referred to even in later years: Chief Admiral Ramiz Pasha, who fled to Russia at the end of the 1807-1808 riots and transformation, wrote in his letters that the change of the capital and the tsar’s withdrawal to his new castle-like city paved the way for the success of Peter’s reforms, and the elimination of Strelitz regiments.12 This indicates that the benefits expected from the change of capital during political transformations as well as fundamental reforms were still in people’s minds.

3- The cauldron of janissaries, the symbol of the riots (Topkapı Palace Museum)

But in the Ottoman Empire, changing the capital was not a suggestion easily accepted by those at various levels of powers attached to the center, or shared by the administration, shopkeepers and ordinary people of Istanbul. The capital was Istanbul, and the plan to change this was rejected by a substantial alliance. The period when Edirne was a virtual sultanate city beginning in 1656, ended with massive riots in 1703. The new sultan, Ahmed III (1703-1730), declared that from that day on, no sultan would reside in Edirne unless there was a military expedition. He also declared that they should not spend more than three days and three nights in Edirne, even during military expeditions heading north to Europe, and even then, they should not stay in the Edirne Palace but in an imperial tent. Furthermore, no gardeners would be assigned to the Edirne Palace gardens.13 Ahmed III gave his word upon assuming the throne, and he kept it during his entire reign.

The Use of Politics and Location

Following the return of the imperial court to Istanbul, a new phase of construction commenced. The Ahmed III Fountain that lies in front of the Saray-ı Hümayun14’s outer gate, called Bâb-ı Hümayun,15 and the seaside palaces along the Bosphorus are representative of this period. Similarly-designed quadrangular fountains, new squares and gardens opened for public use around the city, particularly in Sadabad. The new public areas thrived as an alternative to the old areas such as At Meydanı and Et Meydanı in the city. The formal feature of forums, inherited from the Byzantine Empire as public meeting places, particularly in At Meydanı (Hippodrome) in Dersaadet, was remarkably clear. Besides the public areas located in Dersaadet, it can be said that civilian use of the new public areas and locations formed after 1703 increased. Residents went out more frequently and were persistent in making use of the new qualities of the city, despite the bans.

The change experienced in Istanbul around that time transformed into easily-observable publicity. It can also be said that the newly-thriving sites started competing with more traditional sites, and the formal and civilian differentiation in the use of public areas and locations became more marked. On the one hand, there were the traditional squares that were used for formal purposes, and where mass protests took place and on the other, there were the communal areas and locations used by the general populace where public opinion was formed. Similarly, the venerable religious buildings such as mosques, lodges, madrasas and, in contrast, bar rooms, coffee houses and boza16 houses (considered by some to be evil places), became a meeting point for ordinary people owing to their innovative characters. What is interesting is that all the people who gathered in those places from both categories, talked about the way the city and the state were governed. They criticized the administration and discussed the points to which they objected, as well as prayed and spent time together. Therefore, assessing the political use of these places, as well as their spiritual uses, and examining them as places where people simply spent their time, is useful for understanding the political atmosphere in the city.

4- Topkapı Palace (<em>Hünername</em>)

It is a surprising and unexpected fact that plants changed and influenced the way the places were used in societies and cities in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Coffee, for example, which began to be consumed in the mid-sixteenth century, and tobacco, which is known to accompany coffee from the early seventeenth century (but which probably arrived in Istanbul long before), encountered some obstacles during the first few years following their appearance in the Empire. Coffee was initially subject to prosecution, but then became legal with use becoming increasingly more common, and the creation of its own distinctive places was encouraged within a period of 100 years. Coffee houses quickly became places of gossip and intrigue. People who gathered in coffee houses talked about the dynamics of their daily life, but also acquired habits of criticizing political events, the results of military expeditions, and discussed information leaked from the palace and manipulative rumors, most of which were probably deliberately fabricated. These gatherings of people from every section of society were related to the public’s desire to be informed, so the accuracy of issues that were passed around by word-of-mouth was not very important. The transfer of information through whispers and innuendo, and gradually-forming public opinion was more useful for and indicative of daily politics.

The process of coffee houses becoming more common and being legalized affected the longstanding bar rooms and boza houses, as well as created a suitable environment for a change in their functions. The bar rooms where people could go and spend time became more common along with the bar rooms that were used previously as storehouses/warehouses. Also, the function of bar rooms as storehouses/ warehouses showed a deviation from Bayezid II’s reign (1481-1512), and there was an increase in the number of illegal bar rooms. There is information stating that secret bar rooms were opened attached to houses, or inside the homes of some non-Muslims who were willing to take the risk. Although they were banned, people spent time conversing in such places.17 Boza houses sold wine secretly under the counter, and served a bitter boza, which was a kind of a beer made by adding alcohol to boza. These places were shut down if detected, and their regular clients were punished. It should be kept in mind that guards, janissaries and other officers tended to close their eyes to these places and allowed such activities because they profited by receiving bribes in the continuation of illegal bar rooms. Furthermore, people who were assigned to audit the bars were regulars themselves. Strict bans introduced by Sultan Süleyman I in 1550s seemed to have been loosened later. The demand for bar houses, coffee houses and boza houses as well as the wasted time spent in coffee houses, which came from every level of society, lay behind the bans introduced in 1553-1555. The bans on such places lasted ten years. As might be expected, conversations would eventually focus on gossip, the situation of the state, and daily political news. The effect of the bans was such that general opinion among the ulama could be summarized as: “Going to the coffeehouses is worse than going to bar-rooms,” a statement made when Ebussuud Efendi issued a fatwa which considered coffee as ill-gotten.18 Ulama came to an agreement that coffeehouses were evil places. This indictment did not necessarily refer to barrooms, which were considered more innocuous, and was actually an indication of how dangerous coffeehouses were considered in terms of socialization. That is, coffee is a stimulant, while wine makes people drunk, so coffee is more provocative in terms of public opposition.

A factor that should not be ignored is that there was a large reaction from all classes of society against the elimination of two much-admired Ottoman şehzades (princes) between 1553 and 1561. Șehzade Mustafa, who was seen as the strongest contender for the throne, and was loved by both soldiers and people, was strangled at this time. Șehzade Bayezid and his sons met with the similar fate. The strangling of Șehzade Mustafa in particular, caused deep grief throughout Istanbul and the Empire. This incidence was mentioned in Ottoman poetry and folk poetry; it was even staged in village eulogy shows. It is likely that they resorted to shutting down these drinking places out of fear that a stronger opposition might arise after observing the criticisms circulating in places like barrooms and coffeehouses. The exclusion of the impact of this critical period as one of the causes of the fatwa makes the issue harder to understand, because both the killing of the șehzade and the desire to prevent the gatherings in the places that might accommodate any opposition depended directly on political decisions and practices. Other sultans who succeeded the throne later enacted royal decrees and initiated further proceedings. It should not be forgotten that the aim of preventing people from gathering in places like barrooms, coffeehouses and boza houses during Murad III’s reign, underlies the desire to hinder activities via strict bans. These places harmed their commodities and broke glasses, cups and pots. Coffeehouse owners tried to transform their places into barber shops in order to survive, but barber shops were included in the bans during some prohibition and audit periods as well, proving that the aim of prohibitions was to prevent socialization. Osman II (1618-1622) and Murad IV (1623-1640) resumed these prohibitions and carried out audits themselves in disguise.

5- Sultan Osman (Young) II’s meeting with the heads of the servants (haremağası) in Topkapı Palace (<em>Tercüme-i Şehname</em>)

A tobacco ban was enacted due to the belief that smoking caused fires, but a turning point came when this was revoked by Sheikh al-Islam Bahaî Efendi’s fatwa in 1651, which provided relative liberty.19 The resolution of this issue also sets an example for the way the government accepted public habits and social desires. An interesting thing happened at this stage in terms of its political results. The individual who was most critical of Bahaî Efendi for his relatively liberal notions was the janissary agha himself! The reason for his attitude must have been the fear that janissary benefits would be cut, and the effort to pretend to be doing something for a good cause was part of their search for a pretext to kill the sheikh al-Islam independently from this last incident. As a result, Bahaî Efendi was removed from his position and exiled. When he arrived at his exiled location, he said that he resigned several times as a result of pressure from the janissaries, but it was not accepted. The association of prohibition and connivance would frequently turn into acceptance, depending on the prevalence of the issue that was banned. Furthermore, due to the opposition against prohibitions, it was often not possible to implement them, as it was known that prohibitions would nurture the opposition. Prohibitions and punishments could provoke a reaction against power. Osman II’s (1618-1622) conversations with the rebels during the period when he was dethroned are in this sense, very interesting. The rebels said to the sultan, “Dear Osman Çelebi, was it okay to raid the barroom, and put the soldiers and janissaries in a stone ship and throw them into the sea?” This sentence is depicted as one of revenge in sources that describe the events.20 The lifting of the coffeehouse prohibition from 1640, and tobacco’s acquisition of its controversial liberties in 1651 were not very meaningful in terms of prohibitions, because they were subsequently resumed due to political reasons.

Similar prohibitions were introduced in later periods. Selim III ordered the barbershops to be shut down as well as coffeehouses in his royal decree in 1798, and declared that the state was not subject to criticism.21 The most effective correspondence channel in a period of face-to-face relations, and the way to transmit news spreading from mouth-to-mouth, were rumors and gossip, which are the oldest forms of media in the world. The role of rumors and gossip in bringing power to soldiers, ulama, and the ordinary people was significant. Not only rumors from the city, but also events in rural provinces and complaints about leaders’ activities were discussed in all the Istanbul coffeehouses, barrooms, boza houses and barbershops.

6- The riot which started to dethrone Sultan Osman II (Rycaut)

7- Taking Osman II forcefully to the dungeons of Yedikule (Rycaut)

8- Sultan Ibrahim coming to see Sultan Murad IV’s body (Rycaut)

Inn yards, markets, stores, dervish convents, lodges and mosques were unrivalled spaces for meetings and conversations until new sites appeared and became commonplace. But even after the new meeting places became common, the older institutions resumed their functions. The functional differences between these places were naturally determined by the identity of the regulars, and the content of the conversations. The role in politics of those frequenting mosques, convents and lodges, along with the students of madrasas, could be observed more clearly even though it was not similar to that of the regulars of coffeehouses, barrooms and boza houses. The speech and conversations of those who frequented “evil and divine” places, and the way they spent their time, naturally differed due to the dissimilarity in the primary functions of such places. However, the two cliques were not different only in this sense. The political influence of ulama and sheikhs, who did not feel the need to demonstrate on the streets or squares, was higher and more influential. However, there are examples when they adopted an “activist” attitude in their own way when necessary. Fatih, Süleymaniye and Ayasofya professors or other senior officers were important political personalities. However, the Shaikh al-Islam, who led Anatolia and Rumelia kadıaskers,22 was a powerful political actor whose position and political role were incomparable with other scholars. This did not result only from his own authority – those who held the position were granted a high level of respectability in state and society. It should be kept in mind that religious institutions had a dual functionality in terms of political use and the role they played in the opposition. The ulama class should generally be assessed in terms of their own internal conflict, and their influence due to the struggles and cooperation they formed with other actors as one of the most powerful parties of secular power. It is impossible to understand the political environment without putting the ulama class at the center of the discussion from the mid-sixteenth century onwards and even more so in the seventeenth century.

After Osman II was overthrown in a bloody uprising, the chaos in Istanbul and conflicts and alliances among primarily the grand vizier, viziers, soldiers, household troops, ulama and sheikhs paved the way for daily conflicts. During this and subsequent periods, arguments and actual conflicts (in several examples) took place in mosques and lodges. The protests in Fatih Mosque, with a fatwa claiming that Grand Vizier Mere Hüseyin Pasha swore at the Prophet, and that he was an infidel, and demands by ulama members who stated that they were reacting to dissatisfaction with his practices, were suppressed in a bloody crackdown which disregarded the holiness of the highly-regarded Fatih Mosque.23 The killing of the members of Ottoman society who refused to leave the mosque despite warnings, and the disposal of their bodies down wells and sewers shows us how tense the political atmosphere was.

It is necessary to state that janissaries used the Orta Mosque virtually as a base from which to negotiate their political views and to form their strategies. Orta Mosque was at the center of the riot in every aspect. As a precaution, the rebels transported Mustafa I (1617-1618/1622-1623) to Orta Mosque from the room where he was kept in Topkapı Palace in order to put him on the throne before Osman II was dethroned. Sultan Osman who took refuge in the chamber of the janissary agha was brought to Orta Mosque at the same time. Both the overthrown sultan and the sultan who was to replace him experienced this strange fate there. They attempted to strangle Sultan Osman twice in the mosque, but were stopped.24 The fact that the mosque was in a military barracks cannot explain the unsavory fact that a mosque was the scene for such an incidence.

9- Janissaries, the leaders of the rebellions (Vehbi)

This instance illustrates that mosques were used in the harshest struggles for power when it was deemed necessary. In fact, two mosques were used in this particular riot; because after the rebel janissaries, other troops and the public met in Fatih Mosque, they proceeded to At ı and then to the palace to pay homage to Mustafa I who was taken out from the chamber where he was held. Similarly, the process which led up to the dethronement of Sultan Ibrahim was initiated in Orta Mosque by the removal of the grand vizier, and resumed with the meetings of ulama, viziers and aghas in Fatih Mosque, and completed by walking to the palace after the meeting in Sultanahmet Mosque.25 During the dethronement of Sultan Ibrahim (1648), a word was sent to the palace asking Șehzade Mehmed to be sent to Sultanahmet Mosque because the change in regent was planned in the mosque after paying homage to the sultan. Sultana Kösem wanted them to come to the palace, stating that enthronement should not happen in the mosque, and she reminded them that there was an exclusive section for enthronement and homage by dignitaries from the point of the sultanate. However, the idea of enthronement in the mosque is an explanatory instance in terms of this issue.26 The Sultanahmet Mosque turned into a battlefield during the power conflicts between janissaries and cavalrymen following the dethronement and strangling of Sultan İbrahim in 1648. The mosque is known to have been damaged badly from the exchange of bullets between the cavalryman taking shelter inside the mosque and those outside in this small-scale battle where hundreds were killed.27 Further similar examples from the late period can be given on this subject. The sources, which state that there was an assassination attempt against Selim III in Ayasofya Mosque, reveal yet another dimension of the relationship of mosques with politics.

The mosques should not be considered merely as houses of prayers or centers for riot because mosques, particularly the sultans and viziers’ mosques are generally designed by wealthy people to be social complexes, maintaining soup kitchens, for instance. Free food was distributed at the mosques in a small lodge in the early period, or in the ones that were directly designed as soup kitchens. It is stated that there were nearly fifty soup kitchens in Istanbul, and the largest was built in the sixteenth century. In addition to the soup kitchens, there were foundations that gave away food as charity. Therefore, the mosques were directly linked to a high number of people in Istanbul due to those who made use of these facilities, as well as the regular community. It is natural that the atmosphere in these places influenced these people along with the community. Ulamas had a significant financial and administrative control because foundations were administered directly by the sheikhdom.

The advice and sermons delivered by fervent preachers were another form of opposition. Sermons were not exclusively given on Fridays - they could be given on other days too. Therefore, they fulfilled a political function in addition to their religious and moral purpose. Kadızadeli28 preachers and sheikhs, who were known for their critical approach towards the subjects they considered unsuitable in the perception of religion, their evaluation of some practices in social life as made-up traditions, and their opposition to new fashions, were renowned for radical tendencies in the movement. They had conflicts with ulamas, but had received favors from some sultans. This situation was actually known to have religious-political characteristics ever since the arguments between Ebussuud Efendi and Birgivî Mehmed Efendi in the sixteenth century, although its effect was only apparent in the seventeenth century. The conflicts between Kadızadeli preachers, their followers, ulama and sufis had their own particular characteristics within Istanbul’s political environment. Kadızadelis were known to raid lodges and even demolish some. The arguments which continued during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries included subjects such as whether the whirling ritual, i.e. music, reeds and tambourines should be played or not during invocation, activities of sects, called Bedreddinî, and Rafızî and heretic interpretation issues. In this sense, the categorization of these places as “divine” due to their features and the evaluation of their roles in social-political activities can aid attempts to understand political life in Istanbul during these periods.

The Formation of Public Opinion, Opposition and its Supervision

10- Sultanahmet Square, the most important place where the people of Istanbul met and rebellions took place (Gouffier)

With the dynamism of the city, residents were affected by the political atmosphere of the city and in turn, affected it back. Current scholarship presents the variety of riots and objections as negative features. They further depict the riots as uprisings of household troops that were generally disorganized and accuse them of both disturbing the peace in Istanbul, and of leading the state into vulnerability to further their own interests. However, when observed closely, it becomes apparent that riots did not all share the same characteristics, neither were their causes the same, and their results were not always negative. It is not convincing to restrict the reasons for harsh punishments and executions, which affected sultans as well as their rivals, or minimize the causes of cooperation, prosperity expectations and disappointments, to the activities of guild members whose orders were disturbed only when “actors” from every level in the household troops or upper bureaucracy are considered to have taken part in events. On the other hand, it is possible to state that in almost every term, the administration, that is, primarily the sultan, would consider the sensitivities of Istanbul’s inhabitants as well as the possible results of their reactions and opposition. In this respect, a clandestine observation of the places where the public convened (even barber shops), or in other words, places which were mecma-yı nâs29, and the covert examination of these places, were practiced by the administration following the conquest. When it was Ramadan, certain people were beaten in public places and exiled from the city. This was done in order to prevent the reaction to the sight of prostitutes during this holy period, as it was not deemed proper for such persons to be seen during that time, or they were kept in shipyard dungeons as a precaution.

11- A coffee house in Istanbul, one of the places where rebellions were organized and opposition took shape (M. Fuad)

As mentioned above, in view of the fact that a large area of Dersaadet was allocated for public use, it would have been impossible to keep society under control only through violence, force or pressure. Both before and after 1703, it is possible to differentiate between the periods in terms of politics and the use of sites. Public sites that reflected the political history and reactions of the city since the East Roman Empire, such as At Meydanı, Beyazıt, Et Meydanı and Yenibahçe, were the areas where mass objections and riots took place. These areas had been the location for mass demonstrations and uprisings since early periods. When Sultan Selim I (1512-1520) took the throne from his father Bayezid II, and was invited as the commander-in-chief, he came to Istanbul and set up his military quarter in Yenibahçe. When the groups that plotted together against the sultan in Edirne in 1703 grew so large that they could not fit into Et Meydanı where they displayed their flags and tents, they left signs that represented them in Et Meydanı, and transferred en masse to Yenibahçe. Et Meydanı was the center of most riots, and an area that was completely under the control of the janissaries. It had walls and gates that could not be opened without the hand of janissaries. The classic sign of the instigation of a riot was the janissary cauldron being taken out to Et Meydanı, and the tails that were erected and the orta30 flags. Orta flags and similar symbolic tools indicated the identity of the participants and supporters of the riot, and showed the content of the alliance. The At Meydanı attracted attention with its similar traits. Open air markets, bazaars, various kinds of shops, inns, Turkish baths, coffeehouses, barrooms, boza houses and barbers all played a role in forming public opinion. The new squares that were created due to the construction of Istanbul after 1703 should be added to such sites. Therefore, it is possible to assert that markets, inns, bazaars, shops, coffeehouses, barrooms, lodges, dervish convents and mosques were used to create public opinion and public areas, such as At Meydanı and Et Meydanı, which were used for riots and mass movements.

There was a relationship between Nefs-i İstanbul’s particular trait as a political center, and the people in the city as political actors. After 1453, population masses were transferred to Istanbul depending on the need during the process of populating and reconstructing the city. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, nearly 80,000 people in Dersaadet and Galata were officials directly related to the state and senior officers. The reason why the number of state officials or those affiliated to the state was so high inside the city walls is that the figure comprises most of the population in Dersaadet including palace personnel, military guild individuals, shipyard and armory workers, slaves and slave girls, mosque and masjid attendants, madrasa students and lecturers, the ulama class, sheikhs and members of the sects, workers in shrines and duaguyan, along with all those who paid salaries trimonthly to certain soldiers and officials, administrators of foundations and assigned servants. When we add to this, the number of the servants of the grand vizier, viziers and other senior bureaucrats, we see that the population could reach very significant numbers which shows that the population of Istanbul should be considered a political figure. Therefore, what we encounter here is a mass of people who were direct actors in the politics of the time. By examining this situation, it may be possible to answer why Dersaadet was a political scene and why almost all of the protests and riots happened there. Residents of Dersaadet were related to the state and to power, and as such, they offer clues about the political character of Ottoman capital.

According to classical differentiation, the actors in this group were composed of four groups; (i) dynasty, palace, harem; (ii) viziers, imperial household troops and other members of the military; (iii) ulama and sheikhs; (iv) shopkeepers and people. The alliances of these political players and the conflicts and rivalries with each other and among themselves determined political practice. Therefore, political dynamism was experienced mostly in the heart of the Empire, in other words in Dersaadet. The political dynamism, which was realized between the sultan, dynasty, power and people appointed, derives from this fact. The integration of shopkeepers into these movements is clear-enough to make the definition possible from the seventeenth century. However, it is necessary to state that the social movements that did not offer ideological alternatives also have the characteristics of riots in terms of political participation, and they should be evaluated as movements for influencing politics rather than transforming it. As in the uprising in 1703, an example of a political and ideological movement where public participation is apparent finally arose as a result of a long-term sustainability. This widespread movement reacted to the issue of moving the capital and ruling the state. Furthermore, it included itself in the execution area primarily with the grand vizier, ignoring the differentiation of execution with a group of scholars.

Friday Sermon and Homage in terms of Sultan’s Legitimacy

Only one of the Ottoman şehzades was able to conclude the struggle for the throne for his own good by allying of the imperial household troops and other powerful groups between 1453-1648, during which the practice of fratricide was practiced. Yavuz Sultan Selim (1512-1520) succeeded to the throne after Sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512) ceded, as a result of Selim’s struggle against his father. The killing of a sultan was not in question, although there were some claims about killing Bayezid II by poisoning. During this transformation which lasted up to 1808, nine out of ten sultans were dethroned, one being dethroned twice (Mustafa I), and four of them killed. Bayezid II was dethroned in 1512, Mustafa I in 1618 and 1623, Osman II in 1622, Ibrahim in 1648, Mehmed IV in 1687, Mustafa II in 1703, Ahmed III in 1730, Selim III in 1807 and Mustafa IV in 1808. One of the dethronements occurred at the beginning of the sixteenth century, five of them in the seventeenth century, two of them at the beginning of the eighteenth, and the last two, in the early nineteenth century during the process of the modern state building.

12- An Istanbul han, one of the places where public opinion was molded
    (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library)

The most common complaint stated as the reason for the dethronement of sultans was “unfair governing.” Although this was sometimes used as an excuse, it frequently reflected real complaints. Even though there are examples proving otherwise, the leaders of the uprisings declared that they were not against the sultan, and they were pleased with his governing at the beginning of the riot. However, they reacted to officers or associates such the grand vizier, provincial treasurer, harem agha or a companion of the sultan, and demanded that they be executed or removed from position. At the beginning of the riots, which ended with a change in ruler, complaints about executives, and opposing statements of support for the sultan were uttered strategically in order to be able to state that they had not reversed their allegiance to the sultan in case of failure. It is well known by some that this discourse was a method to avoid capital punishment because they would not consider revolting against the sultan. The next step were demands for the removal from office of the sultan, fueled by claims that their demands were not listened to by the sultan, depending on the size of the riot, its spread and the number of supporters.

The group’s actual intentions were revealed due to failure by to manage the crisis. Despite strong leadership and good reason, intentions would turn into demands that reached out to the sultan. This situation would create a homage agreement, through which high state officials recognized the status of the sultan with a ceremony, when he controversially succeeded to the throne. No one could apply to the sultan personally, or through a personal or collective petition and state that they revoked their allegiance to the sultan. This had no validity as a method, and was an attempt that would end with capital punishment. The abandonment of allegiance had to be based on a collective declaration and an actual demonstration of this decision. Dignitaries showed fidelity on behalf of themselves and the groups they represented, and it was considered as a collective act. Although it was supposed to be done individually, it turned into a collective homage through representation, as it was virtually impossible otherwise. In order for homage to become controversial, objections had to be reflected collectively and declared through the means of a riot. Therefore, riots and collective uprisings can be considered as a political method and as political institutions.

Homage was supposed to take place during the ceremony of enthronement, because it consisted of shaking hands, reconciling and forming an agreement. The representatives of the groups who managed the state would pay their homage to the sultan who sat on the throne set up in front of Bâbüssaâde during the enthronement ceremony. The Grand Vizier and Sheikh al-Islam would pledge allegiance beforehand. So how did the homage of the subjects take place? The allegiance of the Muslim subjects was enough to ensure its legitimacy because non-Muslim subjects were considered to be entrusted to the legitimate sultan. The homage of Muslim subjects took place through Friday prayers and sermons. Thus, it could be assumed that people’s homage to the sultan was renewed every Friday. Therefore, if people did not attend Friday prayer, or if a sermon was not given in the name of the sultan, it was a sign of disrespect to the sultan. It was for this reason that Friday prayer was sometimes not conducted, and a sermon was not given during some riots in Istanbul. The declaration about not practicing Friday prayers and sermons while the sultan, whose justice was in question, was still seated on the throne or until justice was restored, was related to the fatwa that was necessary to dethrone the sultan. This was due to the significance in terms of sermons and homage for Friday prayer.

Omitting the practice of the Friday prayer and sermon took place to a limited degree for the first time in the riot when Osman II was dethroned and killed in 1622. While the riot was in progress, Friday prayer was not practiced in Orta Mosque where the sultan was present. Mustafa I, who was about to be enthroned after receiving paid tribute by the rebels, and Osman II who was dethroned, were there at the same time as a result of an odd twist of fate. The leaders of the riot probably preferred not to practice the Friday prayer in Orta Mosque since there was uncertainty, ongoing quarrels, and in whose name the sermon would be given was not yet decided.31 Nevertheless, the sermon was given in the name of incumbent, Mustafa I in the mosques of Istanbul. Similarly, Friday prayer was not practiced and a sermon was not given in the mosques of Istanbul on 7 August 1648 as the process, which was finalized by the dethronement of Sultan Ibrahim (1640-1648), was still in progress.

13- Topkapı Palace, Divan-ı Hümayun (Imperial Council)

The instance that took place in 1703 was more remarkable. The leaders of the riot, who met the representatives of ulama class in Orta Mosque on the first Friday of the riot, began discussing whether Friday prayer should be practiced or whether it was proper or not under the circumstances. Actually, the rebels shouted, “No prayer tomorrow, it will not be performed!” while they were walking in groups to the mansion of the governor of Istanbul through Divanyolu to convey their demands the day before. What can be understood from this is that the rebels agreed that Friday prayer would not be performed before they had a meeting with ulama members in Orta Mosque the day after. However, the individuals who opened the issue of Friday prayer for discussion were the preacher of Ayasofya Mosque and the müezzin of Fatih Mosque. They asked, “Shall we practice Friday prayer?” One of the Sufi sheikhs came forward and replied, “What harm would it cause if we did not on such a day?” Old Rumelia Kadıasker Ali Efendi took the floor as the discussion was about to turn into a quarrel and said, “Firstly, the most important condition of Friday prayer is the justice of the imam, in other words, the sultan. Would Friday prayer be correct when we take to the streets against the sultanate whose justice is controversial?” and this reminded others of an important principle in Islamic law.32 The conclusion of this was not to practice Friday prayer in the capital of Istanbul until the riot had achieved its aim. They abided by the decision and did not practice Friday prayer or give sermons in the capital for five weeks until the riots had ended and the new sultan, Ahmed III, returned to Istanbul.33

A similar situation took place during Ahmed III’s reign, and Friday prayer was not performed in Istanbul during the riots that occurred at this time. This was due to his justice and style of governing, which were similarly questioned, when he was dethroned via an uprising known as the Patrona Halil Riot in 1730. Furthermore, from what we understand, according to the people who wrote about the period and this particular incidence, neither the Friday prayer was performed nor the call to prayer recited in the riot in 1730.34

In 1807, this issue was in question once again because the day Mustafa IV succeeded to the throne instead of Selim III coincided with Friday. The dethronement of Selim III was destined by the fatwa of Ataullah Efendi, so Selim III withdrew to the harem after pledging fidelity to the new sultan. Mustafa IV was paid homage on the throne, which was hastily taken to the front of Bâbüssaâde. Friday prayer was delayed because this process grew. At least it is known that people waited for the arrival of the sultan although it was after the Friday prayer in Ayasofya Mosque. Finally, the arrival of the sultan and Friday greetings as well as the first sermon commenced and Mustafa IV was said to bring good luck.35

Succession in the Sultanate and its Effect on Politics

When the riots, conflicts and protests in the Ottoman capital are examined, it is clear that the subject of the discussions determined the direction of politics. One of the most significant issues in this sense was the succession and inheritance of the sultanate and the change in this area. The rivalry resulting from the uncertainty in the inheritance of the sultanate in Ottoman political life and its results determined both the power struggles experienced within the dynasty until the mid-seventeenth century, and the opposition outside of the dynasty. The changes in the assignment of the dynasty member who would succeed to the throne and its reflections on political relations were the determining factors of the political environment in Istanbul in that they affected the ruling of the empire.

An article implemented in the law book of Sultan Mehmed II in a sense encouraged rivalry and conflicts, since it stated that the sultan would not determine who would succeed him after his death, so he could not foster an heir for the throne. After a șehzade succeeded to the throne, he would routinely kill his brothers in order to restore order. Actually, the law book codified a rule that was practiced virtually as an article. Therefore, the șehzade who succeeded onto the throne had a firm legal basis to dispose of the other candidates. It was not stated, but implied in the article in question that the sultanate would be passed on to the son from the father. Furthermore, it regulated the killing of brothers. This procedure was applied before and after the law book, although it was clearly against Islamic law and old-Turkish state tradition. The individuals who succeeded to the throne were often not content with killing their just brothers - they got rid of their brothers’ sons, and even their own sons regardless of riots, if any, and did not spare their grandsons, even though they might be very young, some still swaddled.

These practices were based on the interpretation of “kastü’l-bağy,”36 and reveal that the sultans extended the sphere of this article based on their own will. Particularly Kanunî Sultan Süleyman’s killing of his son Mustafa and his grandson caused deep grief and triggered a strong reaction across Istanbul and the empire. Mass killings and the slaughter of infant şehzades began to fuel reactions following this incident. This particular case roused such a strong reaction, that the sultan is said to have removed Grand Vizier Rüstem Pasha from his post in order to alleviate the protests following the death of Șehzade Mustafa. Nevertheless, this unsavory practice continued until the beginning of the seventeenth century. There was another fierce response after Mehmed III (1595-1603) killed his own 19-year-old son, Șehzade Mahmud, by strangling him in 1603, apart from his brothers, because this event caused the enthronement of a very young şehzade for the first time. Ahmed I (1603-1617) succeeded to the throne at an early age the same year, but did not have any children for a while, so with the pressure from ulama, his brother Mustafa was not killed, but kept waiting. But this situation was an exception to this practice. The ulama class, who objected to șehzade killings legally, took the opportunity, and for the first time, cooperated with the harem and other groups to make Ahmed I’s brother Mustafa the sultan, despite the fact that it was claimed that he was somewhat of a lunatic instead of a succession by Ahmed I’s sons after his death.37 The sequence of the sultanate passing down from the father to son changed in this instance, and the article related to fratricide became controversial. Actually, the succeeding sultans did not adopt this change immediately, and some still killed their brothers when they had the chance during this transformation period. Osman II had his brother Mehmed killed, and Murad IV had his brothers Süleyman, Bayezid and Kasım killed despite strong reactions. Ulama, the harem and even the household troops objected to the killings. The inhabitants of Istanbul did not hesitate to show that they did not approve of this practice.

In a book about enlightenment, which was written in the mid-seventeenth century, “the assignment of șehzades in newly-conquered places as rulers instead of killing them, and so the lifting of grief and suffering experienced as a result of the killings from the shoulders of the public,” was depicted in a utopian scene.38 This criticism probably reflected not only the writer’s opinion, but also the state of public conscience. No instance of fratricide occurred after 1648, and the practice of succession of the oldest șehzade of the dynasty was adopted. Mustafa IV killed Selim III in 1808, and ordered his brother, Șehzade Mahmud, to be killed. However, Mahmud II had him strangled later. These incidences can be assessed within the framework of the complex relationships between the followers of the New Order and its opponents, rather than the pursuit of a reverse trend in sultanate inheritance. Abandoning the brother killings was one of the fundamental changes which took place in the Ottoman political system, following a transformation period which ran from the beginning to the middle of the seventeenth century. This had remarkable results, and paved the way for other changes in the Ottoman system.

This shift completely changed the power struggles over şehzades, the secret opposition activities of various Ottoman dynastic factions, and the zero-tolerance policies towards rivals of the șehzade who succeeded to the throne. Enthronement of the oldest member of the dynasty and the decision not to kill other șehzades, even though they had lived their lives imprisoned in a special chamber of the palace, ensured that the sultan had alternatives who were alive. As a result, opposition became both visible in the public realm, and was settled in common opinion. Dersaadet residents who shared power on different levels and top bureaucrats began to be more honest with the sultan about their complaints. Furthermore, while the target in previous riots was always the grand vizier, they could now reach out to the sultan. This was a significant change in the nature of politics, because it was possible to enthrone a șehzade in the case of dethronement of a sultan. The killings of Osman I and Sultan Ibrahim, and Murad IV’s experiences in overcoming many life-threatening situations until he was able to strengthen his power and kill his own brothers, are the results of this change. They were attempting to guarantee their own sultanate and stay live, while having their brothers killed. However, after the eldest son practice started to be implemented, it is striking that there were no sultans who killed their sons despite everything, which subsequently occurred. A clear differentiation is understood to have existed between the ideas and incidences of brother-killing and son-killing in terms of public reaction.

In contrast, the killing of sultans was something completely unimaginable before 1603. All attention was on the survival and the sons the Ottoman sultan would produce, because as his brothers were all killed when he was enthroned he was the only living male member of the dynasty. The possibility of an interruption in the dynasty was one of the most terrible scenarios imaginable. But there were some occasions when this was almost the case. Ahmed I was so young when he succeeded to the throne that he was even circumcised when he was the sultan. When his son Murad IV (1623-1640) did not have any children for a while, and kept killing his brothers despite objections, people began to fear for the future of the dynasty. He tried to have Sultan Ibrahim, who succeeded him, strangled like his other brothers Kasım, Süleyman and Bayezid, but his mother stopped him several times.

Even though there is little evidence to suggest that changing the Ottoman dynasty was an aim adopted by the masses, it is not true to say this idea never arose. There is evidence that suggests there may have been attempts in this regard, or that this notion was mentioned at times, particularly during the riots of the seventeenth century. The Crimean khans were considered the most powerful possible alternative rulers during such discussions. There are also some instances where it is claimed that the instigators of some uprisings aimed to change the dynasty. In the sources regarding that period, we encounter interpretations which argue that during and after the dethronement of Osman II, Davud Pasha acted with such intentions, and during 1807-1808, Tayyar Mahmud Pasha did the same. Na‘îmâ even wrote that Çalık Ahmed, one of the prominent players in the riot in 1703, conceived of setting up a kind of communal administration in place of the sultanate. Apparently, “he was planning to transform the Ottoman State which was ruled by independent emperors from generation to generation into a communal society and colony state like Tunisia and Algeria.”39 Again in 1703, while the rebels who were proceeding towards Edirne were discussing which șehzade to enthrone, the name of Ibrahimhanzades, who came from the lineage of Sokullu Mehmed Pasha and Esmahan Sultan, was mentioned as the alternative for a sultan.

Expressions from a later period summarize how much the perception towards the dynasty had changed. When certain individuals who did not want to pay homage to Mahmud II in 1808 were told that there was nobody else from the dynasty to pay homage to, they said, “The sultan is a human being, right? The sultan can be whoever - Esma Sultan, Tatar (meaning the Crimean khan family), Molla Hunkar. As long as Allah protects our community, who is the sultan?” Furthermore, we can see people within the Sufi movement who claimed and defended the same idea.40 Although the original sultanate traditions and justifications gradually disappeared, one dynasty was still able to stay on the throne despite all changes in the conditions of the empire and the wider world. An explanation for this phenomenon should be sought in the fact that they were the only sustainable component representing the whole empire and it’s past. This characteristic is related to the deep legitimacy that was gained from the long period the dynasty had ruled. The unifying power of a lineage, whose sovereignty extended 350 years until the mid-seventeenth century when such ideas were expressed for the first time, ended the discussions about descending from royal blood and lineage during the foundation period. In the case of a change in the Ottoman dynasty, no political power would be able to successfully balance the new situation. The system where the royal inheritance went to eldest male member of the family prevented a change of dynasty from turning into a political project, because having an alternative candidate was useful in pleasing the dissenting masses. If the brother killings had continued, this would not have been the case.

14- Members of the Ottoman scholarly class (Vehbi)

On the other hand, after the end of the sixteenth century, the devshirme system41 was gradually abandoned. This transformation paved the way for the absolute dominance of the palace over executive power through administrators who had slave roots, and who came from Enderun and were appointed to administrative roles in the center or rural areas to be transferred to the viziers who had officers. A new system where the administrators from the officers of viziers or high bureaucracy would have a say in the administration of the empire instead of devshirmes began to be implemented. The abandoning of the devshirme system changed the structure of the guilds of household troops. When the use of provincial soldiers became ineffective in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, temporary combatants who were hired from outside of the guild of household troops started to constitute the fundamental and permanent components of the guilds. This situation undermined the tradition of the imperial household troops comprising devshirme slaves with Christian roots. Furthermore, it changed the status of imperial household troops from the private military of the sultan, to a central and consistent army. The abandonment of the practice of fratricide, which led to the availability of alternative candidates for the position of sultan, the change in the slavery system, and having administrators from the officers resulted in a limiting of the efficiency and strength of the sultan, and strengthened the grand vizier, viziers and their officers instead. Furthermore, the powerful spiritual relationship between the sultan and his private army, i.e. the guild of household troops, weakened. All of these were the results of the political period, but the conditions that paved the way for fundamental changes in the real political structure arose as a result. The dynamic political agenda of Istanbul in the seventeenth century was comprised of the processes and results that led to these changes.

Ulama and Sheikhs’ Exam with Politics

The riots that shook Istanbul did not only dethrone or kill the sultans, but could also result in the cutting-off of the ShaikhSheikh al-Islams as a punishment from politics. This was never experienced before or later the period in question, due to ulamas efforts to extend their power, as can easily be observed. In principle, Sheikh al-Islams could not be dismissed or removed from the political sphere, and their property could not be confiscated. The most severe punishment they had traditionally received was exile. The removal from his duty of Sheikh al-Islam Çivizade Mehmed Efendi by Sultan Süleyman I in 1541, was the first instance of such a dismissal. This subsequently turned into a frequent practice in the following period, and this penalty was compounded by having their property seized as well. Three sheikh al-islams were killed between 1634 and 1703 a situation that was one of the striking developments of the seventeenth century for Istanbul. Ahîzade Hüseyin Efendi was killed in 1634, Hocazade Mesud Efendi was killed in 1656 and Feyzullah Efendi was killed in 1703.

The members of the ulama class, primarily the sheikh al-islams, became more effective in politics after the mid-seventeenth century. The increase in activities which began in the second half of the sixteenth century, became more visible in the seventeenth century with the influence of some important individuals such as Kemalpaşazade and Ebussuud Efendi, who were very knowledgeable and respected by both the sultan and viziers and other administrative groups. Members of ulamas began to play a more active role in political rivalry and in changes of the throne. One of the factors that paved the way for this was the role and influence of Sadeddin Efendi who was the mentor of Mehmed III (1595-1603). The increase of their dominance and influence in the role they played in the change of the sultanate is striking. Sheikh al -Islam Esad Efendi’s refusal to issue a fatwa stating that killing his brother Mehmed was “appropriate” for his son-in-law Osman II, was significant in this sense. However, this did not change the result, and the șehzade was strangled due to another fatwa issued by another mufti. Esad Efendi’s attitude contributed to the respectability of the ulama. Osman II chose to marry someone who did not have slave roots, and selected the daughter of Sheikh al-Islam Esad Efendi as his wife. This can be interpreted as Osman II’s attempt to forge a strong alliance with ulama through Esad Efendi, who was the son of Sheikh al-Islam and sultan-mentor, Sadeddin Efendi. The supporters of the political project that Osman II was trying to implement were ulamas, but it met with a very harsh riot in response. It is known that the ulama exerted great effort to prevent the dethronement and killing of Osman II, but they were unsuccessful. However, the sultan’s disregard for their suggestions played a role in his downfall, because Osman II refused their recommendations that a pilgrimage would be inappropriate, and that the riot would reach to him in person. He stated that he would kill the rebels and threaten the ulama, and he would kill them before the rebels.42 It is known that Esad Efendi did not attend the funeral of his deceased son-in-law, protesting the result, and he was considered to have resigned in this way. The question of who would sit on the Ottoman throne that passed into four hands successively within six years among Osman II, Mustafa I and Murad IV, highlighted the balance between household troops, viziers, the harem and ulama completely, and instigated alliances or conflicts among groups. It should be taken onto consideration that viziers and some cliques within the ulama objected to the empowerment of the ulama within this equation. Therefore, viziers and aghas who did not want to lose their positions objected to the prominence of the ulama in this riot. It is significant how Kara Davud Pasha, who was also the son-in-law of a sultan, led the riot and killed the young sultan, making it a fait accompli, and ignoring his pleas despite suggestions from ulama that he should be kept alive in a chamber instead.43 Even the rebel household troops were not happy with such an outcome, and their revolt, complaining that they were considered sultan killers, strengthens the possibility that the majority was against the killing of the sultan.

15- The murder of Kösem Sultan in her room in Topkapı Palace (Rycaut)

The increasing dominance of the ulama class necessarily increased their share in the negative consequences of political rivalry more than ever before. The empowerment of ulamas as political actors in the seventeenth century was seen as an opposition to the viziers, household troops, aghas and bureaucracy. Thus, the competition and conflicts between them lasted a long time. It is possible to state that the seventeenth century was characterized by conflicts between ulama and viziers/household troops and other members of the military, except for some temporary alliances. Even though the alliances they established with the palace and harem did not make them as strong as they wanted to be, ulamas were still significant players of active politics. Since viziers and the military considered the empowerment of ulama as a sign of their own decline, this rivalry had an enormous impact on crises and subsequent payoffs. The reasons for the political crisis in state administration were depicted differently in the reports written by bureaucrats, and the documents written by the ulama. The ulamas’ of applying the rich content of Islamic law repertoire to the issues, as opposed to bureaucrats, who were only able to present the idealization of the Kanuni Sultan Süleyman period as a model, intensified the constant conflicts.

It is possible to say that while bureaucrats suggested more technical religious advice and reforms which referred to the tradition in terms of their own interests, ulamas’ suggestions were based on the rich content of systematic law as seen in the abolition of the practice of fratricide. Viziers, who knew the practical benefits of a secular state law, provided the sultan and grand vizier with a wider reach of power and an interpretation flexibility, which constantly resisted these suggestions. All viziers including the grand vizier and other bureaucrats, at least seemingly, did not object to the idea of making use of sharia law in the administration of state, but they expected it to be implemented without expanding the role and power of ulama in administrative practice. They expected the ulama to remain in their longstanding legalizing position instead of determining positions of executive power and decisions. However, it is possible to deduce from reform reports and religious advice that the change was accepted to some extent, because report writers were generally idealizing the period of Kanuni. For instance, they did not present a political understanding based on imperial ideology in previous periods, or in Fatih Sultan Mehmed’s period as an example. Therefore, the distribution of the roles between ulama and viziers could have been similar in the Kanuni period according to those writers. This tension long continued during the seventeenth century and sometimes took on a harsh character.

16- Sarayburnu / Topkapı Palace (Flandin)

The killing for the first time of a sheikh al-islam during this period caused great shock. The opponents of Murad IV had no doubt that he would act with the influence of what had been experienced before from the moment he left his mother’s custody. Therefore, there was a period when they had to keep him under constant pressure and control. Murat IV had experienced moments when he faced the risk of death both during his șehzade years and in the first years of his sultanate. At the first opportunity, he initiated an operation to wrest power from the actors of the political rivalry, which had been active since his father’s death. He had many qadis killed in a controversial way during this period. Not long after, an incidence which had not been experienced before took place because ulama members were surely expected to be disturbed by it. The sultan pulled the powerful individuals from Kadızadeli’s based in Istanbul to his side, with very harsh suggestions as a strategy against the ulama and sheikhs. He had the qadi of Iznik executed by hanging, and displayed his body for three days, which was considered an insult, when he visited Iznik on his way to Bursa, claiming that the qadi had not fixed the roads, even though he knew that the sultan was coming.44

When the news was heard in Istanbul, the ulama naturally reacted to what had happened. The contents of Sheikh al-Islam Ahizade’s message, which could be taken as implied “threats” in his message to Sultana Kösem about the disturbance which resulted from this situation, led him to fall from grace. Seen from a different angle, it also created the opportunity the sultan had been waiting for. In particular, it was his statements: “…It would be appropriate if he did not do the things his ancestors had not done. If you counsel him, you will get benediction from the ulama class because we will protect the shelter of the caliphate from the conditions causing gossip while the chaos is just receding…” Frustrated, the sultan immediately returned to Istanbul because he was already in a hesitant condition. The sultan ordered the killing of Sheikh al-Islam and his son who was the qadi of Istanbul. Although the decision was changed to an exile to Cyprus with the requests of mediators, the sultan, losing his temper, is known to have given another order. Actually, the reasons underlying the killing of Ahizade were more complex, partially relating to his political past. The sultan had had to appoint Ahizade on 10 February 1632, on the same day with Topal Recep Pasha. He is understood to have been angry due to the appointment he was forced to make because of blackmail, and he was also aware of a temporary alliance against him between Recep Pasha and the Sheikh al-Islam. Although he promised not to kill the sheikh al-islams who were kept in cages with the insistence from household troops and janissaries who invited him to the emergency meeting not long before, he could not persuade the rebels. The rebels only dispersed after Receb Pasha and the Sheikh al-Islam stood as security for the lives of the șehzades. He began his counterattack by having his brother-in-law Recep Pasha strangled and his body thrown outside the gate of the palace in May 1632. With this move, he declared that he was powerful enough to apply his own laws.

Hocazade Mesud Efendi, who was murdered in 1656, was the second Sheikh al-Islam to be killed. Known for his strict disposition, Mesud Efendi had powerful political leanings, and did not hesitate to take part in conflicts. When he attempted to demolish a church, which was claimed to be established when he was in Bursa in 1641-1642, tension between him and the Grand Vizier Kemankeş Kara Mustafa Pasha increased, and he was removed from his position by the grand vizier who said “You started this without presenting it to the state.” Mesud Efendi later showed some progress depending on the political balance. The event that paved the way for his prosperity came about as a result of his preference between the ulama and the palace. The guilds, who revolted after Kösem Sultan was killed, invited the ulama to Fatih Mosque to ask for support. The sultan and Turhan Valide Sultan also invited the ulama to the palace to request support at the same time. Some of the ulama stated that they were not at home because they held back from explicitly supporting both sides; and some did not accept the invitations from either side, saying that they were dismissed from their duties. However, higher-ranking individuals, such as the sheikh al-islam, kadıaskers, the qadi of Istanbul, and people serving the lineage of the prophet accepted the invitation of the aghas of guilds. This situation left the sultan and sultana in a tight spot.

Mesud Efendi was one of the people who accepted the sultan’s invitation. No powerful individuals within the very few members of the ulama members went to the palace. When they tried to assign the sheikh al-islam and Ottoman judiciaries, they understood that there were no influential individuals within the group. Hanefi Efendi was appointed as sheikh al-islam and Bâlî Efendi was assigned as kadıasker in Rumelia, because they had no other choice. However, when Bâlî Efendi refused and returned the duty, after he kissed the handwritten imperial command stating “he was not there for a position but to prevent the rebels from chasing and torturing their community,” the position of kadıasker was given to Mesud Efendi. But this was not all. The sultan and his mother Turhan Sultan offered the position of sheikh al-islam to Ebu Said Efendi, who was one of the dismissed sheikh al-islams, and who came from a powerful, scholarly family. The people they appointed to posts were weak in terms of representations when compared to the individuals who sided with the guilds. When Ebu Said Efendi accepted the invitation, the position was taken from Hanefi Efendi and given to Ebu Said Efendi, but this was not all either. Mesud Efendi, who was happy to be appointed as the kadıasker to Rumelia, was removed from his position, and the position was given to Hanefi Efendi. Mesud Efendi was instead given the position of kadıasker to Anatolia.

Interpretations claiming that Mesud Efendi was more interested in state affairs than religious issues and took sides with the military were not always valid. Mesud Efendi was an individual who spoke his mind and he did not hesitate to come into conflict with people he was allied with, if necessary. Mesud Efendi’s compliance with the distinction between tradition and religion, even in later periods, and opposition to both the kadıasker for Rumelia and the grand vizier, were very significant stances in terms of political rivalry and alliances.45 Mesud Efendi, who could not find support from the ulamas, and who conflicted with viziers due to his attitudes, attracted Turhan Valide Sultan’s attention for the same reason. With this in mind, the position of sheikh al-islam, which was given to Memikzade during the Çınar Incidence, was revoked after only thirteen hours, and given to Mesud Efendi. This event is depicted as if it was something he himself planned. It is claimed that Mesud Efendi got himself appointed as Sheikh al-Islam by putting one of his men in the cavalrymen and janissaries, spreading a rumor that they wanted to see Mesud Efendi as their sheikh al-islam, and encouraged rest of the group to support this demand.46 His was assigned the position because Turhan Sultan had a positive opinion of him as well, as stated, and thus he acquired the rank of sheikhdom. He resumed his position between 5-6 March 1656 and 17 July 1656. Mesud Efendi was assigned to his position not by the approval and support of his own class but by having offered himself to the palace. It is even doubtful that he had any supporters from amongst the ulamas. However, sources report that his enthusiasm to rule became apparent following his appointment, and he had the ability to act eagerly and ruthlessly in eliminating the instigators of the riots as well as his opponents.

Another issue that caused a reaction against him was the inclusion of the sheikhdom position in state affairs where it was not appropriate. It is claimed that Gürcü Mehmed Pasha did not speak up against Mesud Efendi due to suggestions from the sultana in the discussions during his grand viziership. He was subsequently discarded due to his conflict with Ebu Said Efendi, but it is reported that when he became sheikh al-islam after the Çınar Incidence, he adopted an indifferent attitude towards the differentiation between the sheikhdom and the grand vizierate. His imposition into the authority of the grand viziers raised a reaction. According to an interpretation by the historian Na‘îmâ, his objective was “apparently to correct the running of the state and take care of the order of the circumstances.” However, he said, “I should have the [last] word on all issues, nobody should get closer to the sultanate, and my opinion should be important in dethronement, agreements, condemnation and promotion,” because he was secretly malicious and ambitious.47 He recommended Boynuyaralı Mehmed Pasha when his opinion was asked about whom to assign as Grand Vizier when Siyavuş Pasha died. His explanation for his choice, stating that he could lead the new grand vizier because he was a pure Turkman, and that he thought he could make him listen, affirms everything written about him. However, when Mehmed Pasha ignored his requests in his decisions and practices, Mesud Efendi appealed to the sultana to remove him from his position. When his demand was not considered, he attempted to organize a conspiracy to enthrone Șehzade Süleyman. When this conspiracy came to light, he was removed from his post and exiled to Diyarbakir, although he declared it was slander. He was later killed when fighting with his sword in his hand in Bursa. As can be understood from these details, his character did not comply with the classical lines of a sheikh al-Islam. His killing is not considered related to his attitudes in religious affairs, but to the political processes and equations like Ahîzade Hüseyin Efendi.

The third sheikh al-islam to be killed was Seyyid Feyzullah Efendi. Feyzullah Efendi caused a lot of consternation when he facilitated the way for his son whom he assigned as qadi of Istanbul, to be a sheikh al-islam after him. Also, his other son and son-in-law were given high positions in unconventional ways. These were the apparent reasons for the ensuing reactions and riots. It is understood that another conflict arose because he excluded the viziers, mainly the grand vizier, other military members and even the ulama class from his actions and decisions, attempting to gather their duties within his own grasp. When the grand vizier found he was unable to function without the approval of Feyzullah Efendi, this situation raised a reaction amongst all the guild members and top bureaucrats. Eventually, he was killed during the change of throne in Edirne, where the riot from Istanbul had reached.

The killings of all three sheikh al-Islams are useful in helping us understand the political structure and balance. The conflict that was formed within the political rivalry in the seventeenth century enveloped even the sheikh al-Islams, who ranked higher than the ulamas, which were considered untouchable. The reason why the ulama could not acquire the position they desired in politics and the administration was the resistance from the other parties in the conflict. A moment when this rivalry crystalized presents a significant indication in terms of the position of both viziers and scholars.

Karaçelebizade Abdülaziz Efendi was the first scholar to be given the sheikh al-islam position when he was a Rumelia kadıasker. When he came to the Council meeting, he demanded to sit in front of the Kubbe viziers as if he was the appointed Sheikh al-Islam. The viziers literally pushed him away, and warned him about sitting on the seat reserved for the Rumelia kadıasker according to protocol, while he still held the position of sheikh al-Islam. A similar incident occurred when they were about to be received by the sultan on 22 September 1649; he was warned more firmly this time. Right after the grand vizier entered the audience hall, Abdülaziz Efendi cut in front of the other viziers, and Kenan Pasha from the viziers pushed him and warned him, “Sir, if you are a kadıasker, stand next to the Anadolu kadıasker, but if you are a mufti, what are you doing here?” Kenan Pasha was reminded of an old rule stating that kadıaskers should stand where they are supposed to, and it was also pointed out that he should not be there if he was the sheikh al-Islam.48 Sheikh al-Islams were not members of the council, and they were not supposed to be present for the reception following regular council meetings. What needs to be taken into consideration is that in 1649, they were persistently trying to apply protocol rules of the classical period. However, this rule was bent for a short time for the benefit of the ulama during Osman II’s reign. When Kenan Pasha was reminded of the fact that once Osman II had Esad Efendi seated in the front by the order of the sultan, his answer was significant: “Esad Efendi was seated in the front by the order of the sultan, I will kiss his feet if they can find a mufti like Esad Efendi, but what deed is this (Abdülaziz Efendi) famous for? Is it not clear that he gained this position through cheating?”49

This incident, based on the fact that the sheikh al-Islam should be equipped with a ruling authority above the grand vizier and viziers, was an indicator of how the structural shaping of the state had evolved. Such power struggles were the fundamental reason for the deep chaos that would affect Istanbul at the same time. The political activities of ulamas and sheikhs were displayed clearly during the constant crises in the seventeenth century, and deficiencies in their trainings were emphasized frequently. The inadequacy of ulamas was often highlighted in reports written by bureaucrats who were their rivals in a sense, and this was stated to be a problem that required solving. It can be said that the ulamas, whose quality and quantity were believed to be lessened, included themselves in power networks and relations of patronage in order to meet the group expectation as well as for other ideological reasons. Such tactics resulted in their inevitable inclusion in power struggles in order to reinforce their positions.

17- Janissaries (d’Ohsson)

The solidarity among large families, whose roots dated back to the famous sheikh al-Islams and sultan mentors of the sixteenth century, is understood to have turned into an institution, and to have become familiar after the eighteenth century. As a result of this, vertical mobility based on merit which was in turn based on success, was replaced by a new kind of aristocratic system. High positions in the ulama, the position of sheikh al-Islam, teaching positions at important madrasas, and highly-ranked kadi positions, particularly in Istanbul, were in the hands of a through connection and patronage. Therefore, meritocratic-objective criteria, such as education, skills and personal ability, were replaced by the necessity of being a member of such a family. It became common to give positions and even high-ranking offices to people at a very young age. The “progress based on merit and professional competition” tradition was destroyed by the ulamas themselves, and was replaced by “patronage based on bribery and kinship.” It is known that Ahmed III (1703-1730) tried to amend this issue and made attempts to once again regulate the hierarchy within the ulamas. However, the ulamas managed to twist the regulations in their favor, and turned the career of the ulamas into a path where only the candidates under the protection of Istanbul-based families could advance. An Ulama aristocracy was formed and escalated, as can clearly be observed from the mid-seventeenth century onwards.

The family genealogies show that the origins of this situation can be traced back to the famous sheikh al-Islams and sultan mentors of the sixteenth century. The three sheikh al-Islams who were killed were not related to the large families constituting the ulama aristocracy either through blood or relations. It can even be said that both Mesud Efendi and Feyzullah Efendi acted independently from the determining influence of the families. Mesud Efendi wanted to remain in power by relying on the grand vizier, the viziers, and directly on the palace, rather than on his own class. Feyzullah Efendi rose with the support and protection of his father-in-law, Vanî Mehmed Efendi, who was a Kadizadeli scholar. It is also known that he was respected and supported by a large number of people from the lineage of the Prophet, because he was also a descendant. He is understood to have tried to set up his own power network after he became a sheikh al-Islam, and attempted to carry out his plan in Edirne, far from the possibility of opposition in Istanbul. However, he provoked a reaction from all the power-holders due to claims stating that he envisaged Edirne as the capital, and he possessed so much power that he declared the Grand Vizier his apprentice. The 1703 riot, which was prepared in collaboration with these groups, and the transformation of the riot into a movement supported by the shopkeepers who thought Istanbul’s economy would deteriorate when Edirne became the capital, was an explicit reaction to the political project prepared by the sultan and the sheikh al-Islam.50

18- The first yard of Topkapı Palace (Between the Imperial Gate (bab-ı Hümayun) and the Gate of Salutation (Babüsselam))

Sufis and sheikhs are known to have wielded political influence apart from the ulamas. Although particularly popular religious-sufi trends and their discussions objecting to fundamental interpretations, rituals and scholars are perceived as a separate political context, it is more proper to assess them as a part of general politics. Sufis and religious sects were important institutions in the social and political world of Istanbul. The relationship of science and Sufism can be summarized thus: “If ulama is the mind of religion, Sufism is its heart and soul.” The followers of the religious sect had strong links to a wide range of individuals because they had direct contact with society, and more accurately, they had followers ranging from regular people, shopkeepers, viziers, ulama upt to palace members. Particularly, Mevlevî, Halvetî, Celvetî, Kadirî, Nakşibendî, Rifaî sheikhs and Bektaşî fathers were respected social figures and opinion-leaders at the same time. They had the social position that was created through networks and a relationship based on consent in an environment (including people who felt close to them depending on their personal demands, not on their official titles and power) in a similar way to the members of ulama class. Grand viziers and even sultans were known to be dependent on Sufis. Ahmed I’s close relationship with Celvetî Sheikh Aziz Mahmud Hüdayî is a good example. This relationship naturally affected the political arena, and even international relations. Cornelius Haga, who was sent as a messenger to take a contract to Dutch traders in 1612, managed to meet the sultan informally through the sheikh. The sheikh’s role is said to have played a role in how he won the contract.51

It is necessary to state that Bektaşi fathers were approached carefully because janissaries were generally considered a group that created problems due to their role in the chaos of the seventeenth century. This pertains to janissaries who considered themselves followers of Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli, due to the familiarity formed later and their regard for him as father of their guild. They would refer to Bektaşî supremes, such as Seyyid Ali Sultan or Abdal Musa, who had roles in the transformation of Bektaşî into a sect, within this familiarity. Due to this relationship, the aghas of the guild were named as “Aghas of Bektaşi.” When the Janissary Guild was being abolished in 1826, this close relationship caused the Bektaşi lodges to be closed. The legitimacy and support that the janissaries received from Bektaşis must have encouraged the household troops to look for connections in such a way that their interest in Bosnian Hamza Bâlî became a dependency. However, Hamza Bâlî, who was eventually put on trial and executed, could not resume his influence as the patriarch of household troops nor could he become a spiritual leader like Hacı Bektaş, but continued to have followers from amongst cavalrymen, state gardeners and state loggers. Melamî Sheikh Hamza Bâlî was known and followed in Istanbul, although he probably only saw Istanbul when he was about to be executed, and did not have many activities in the capital. We can conclude that household troops, state gardeners and state loggers were in search of a socio-religious foundation just like the janissaries, because Hamzavî is understood to have been common among them in the 1600s. Hamzavis were followed due to the conflicts of the seventeenth century between janissaries and household troops. The reason behind the killing of the Melamî leader Sütçü Beşir Agha by strangling at the age of 90 in 1661-1662, was his growing number of followers among state gardeners and janissaries. Beşir was a follower of Sheikh Idris, the leader of Melami, when he was a young state gardener. Rumor has it that a group of followers who reacted to the death of Besir Agha went to the sheikh al-Islam to protest, and wanted him to issue a fatwa about themselves saying, “Their execution is necessary.” It is stated that they paid for this attempt with their lives.52

There were sheikhs who appeared and prospered within the diversity of the Ottoman world, or who appeared as followers of discussions that had taken place in the past. Furthermore, they even discussed faith and worshipping within their views along with the accepted activities of historical sects. Besides being of interest in providing information on their lives, these discussions involve claims worth evaluating from a political point of view. Their arguments, which contradicted rooted faith and statements of the ulama, naturally attracted society’s attention. Hubmesih understanding was an idea that appeared during the first years of Sultan Süleyman’s (1520-1566) reign, and basically argued that the Prophet Jesus was superior to the Prophet Muhammed. Molla Kabız was the most well-known and influential promoter of this belief. The followers of the Hubmesih Movement in the capital retold the miracles performed by the Prophet Jesus. They managed to win over many followers by preaching that his traditions and Bible were still valid. He was eventually put on trial by the Supreme Court, accused of atheism, and executed in 1527 with the verdict stating that he was faithless.53 Following this, there are some faint signs regarding the continuation of the group’s effect and activities as a secret and separate group in the seventeenth century. Similarly, another group that called themselves “musirrin,” meaning that they rejected the secret because they did not believe in God, occupied the agenda in Istanbul. Although they were confidential, the existence of such a group was known because some member such as Lârî Mehmed Efendi expressed their opinions openly. Lârî Mehmed Efendi, who was actually a cleric, did not hide the fact when he abandoned his faith and became an atheist; he was executed in 1665.54

There are several other interesting examples within the context of such movements. One of these involved a professor called Nadajlı Sarı Abdurrahman, who is considered to have been a Hungarian convert to Islam. He was put on trial in the courts following accusations of faithlessness, and sentenced to death and executed in 1602 by Anatolia and Rumelia kadıaskers because he did not give up his beliefs but rather defended them.55

Apart from atheists, pantheists met a similar fate. The Bayramiye Melamî and Halvetî-Gülşenî pantheist sheikhs, who were influential enough to cause chaos in society, were executed due to various political complaints. The accusations against them involved attributing the role of creation to nature, committing shirk by equating God and nature, refusal of the precept of resurrection, ignoring the prohibitions of sharia by opening the haram-halal criterions to discussion, and considering themselves leaders superior to most of the prophets.

In another case, a boy called Sheikh İsmail-i Maşukî, made Bayramiye Melamîliği popular among the lower and middle classes of Istanbul. He was known by the name ‘Boy Sheikh’ because he had migrated to Istanbul from Konya-Aksaray at a very young age, and he had been known as such since then. He managed to gain followers through his pantheist sermons in the Ayasofya and Beyazıt Mosques. He gathered many individuals around him from amongst the shopkeepers, ulamas, traders and literary men of the capital. He was put on trial with the accusation of causing unrest while carrying out his activities. The complaints, which were considered as the cause of the unrest, such as worshipping the leader he represented instead of God, believing in reincarnation instead of the hereafter, tolerating adultery and homosexuality, refusing prayers except the prayers of two religious holidays, were serious accusations in terms of rooted beliefs and worshipping patterns. Gülşenî Sheikh Muhyiddin-i Karamanî who gave similar sermons was executed in 1543, and this caused outrage among Istanbul’s inhabitants. The society, which was not convinced that he was an atheist, accused Sheikh al-Islam Ebussuud Efendi of refusing Muhyiddin-i Karamanî’s renunciation by acting in accordance with Maliki law, not Hanafi law, because the former was jealous of the latter.56

19- A Jewish a woman (Gouffier)

20- A Jewish a man (Gouffier)

A significant number of people around the ulamas and sheikhs could take part in uprisings by making use of the opportunities of the state and foundations. The sermons given by sheikhs, clerics, preachers and rhetoricians had the potential to be very effective in instigating a religious-political movement due to their intense and common contact with the people of Istanbul. Their influence had the potential to reach out to the lowest layer of the society up to the highest-ranking administrators. They were monitored by the authorities who were concerned that a political movement or unexpected problem would rise at any time. The total number of duaguyans, pensioners and similar receivers of salaries paid trimonthly to certain soldiers and officials was 30,000 in Anatolian accountancy records. If the fact that most of these people had relationships with groups like ulamas, sheikhs, people from the prophet’s lineage and dervishes, or they were comprised of the groups they supported is taken into account, the people affected by popular religious movements and sects did not even have to be ordinary people. Money given to them yearly was 170 loads of coins (17,000,000 coins). Not all of these people lived in Istanbul, but they constituted a significant group in the capital. When they wanted to cut down on their payments and spend the saved money on the salaries of household troops, the sultana said in a warning, “You deprive 30,000 men by cutting down their provisions at once, who will be responsible for the curses from them?”57 However, besides being an indication of the sultana’s mercy, these words can be related to the sensitivity of the political equations which could be shaken any time. The answer she gave to her own question was intended to compare these groups with the military, and it was bold rather than humble or beneficent: “... All this time the castles have been conquered, but have you ever heard of a conquest through this mullah or that dervish? Also, the people who conquered these castles and fought against heathens were either this drunken Ibrahim Pasha or that cruel pasha. These lands and castles were conquered by these brave men, what happens with the words of a group of weak people?”58 The content of this answer clearly draws attention to the function of warriors and pashas who were accused of cruelty by the ulamas, and witnesses the comparison and rivalry between the military. Moreover, the ulamas and sheikhs, for which the answer was implied, were not able to change anything through prayers.

21- An Armenian (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library)

22- A Greek man and a woman in their traditional clothes (Thomas Shaw)

23- An Armenian woman in bridal dress between a Greek and a Jewish woman (<em>Elbise-i Osmaniye</em>, 1873)

The religious beliefs of janissaries who showed opposition to restructuring during Selim III’s reign were brought into question due to political reasons. Having Bektaşi lodges in janissary barracks was a tradition. Reformists opened a Nakşibendî-Müceddidî lodge close to the Selimiye Barracks, built for the New Order army, in 1805 with the influence of Nakşibendî-Müceddidî. In this way, the reformist state dignitaries clearly demonstrated what kind of religious beliefs they expected from the new army whose job was to serve the establishment of a western regime. The Nakşibendî-Müceddidî branch of this sect, which collected its followers from amongst educated urban inhabitants, started to make its presence felt around palace dignitaries during the reign of Selim III. The Müceddidî branch, which separated from other offshoots due to the importance it gave to political activism and religious innovation, believed in the creation of a passive and obedient society that accepted the intolerant application of sharia and obedience to power-holders as a requirement of serving the religion and the state. They aimed their propaganda towards the political elite in order to attain an ideal society. Almost all of the reformists whose names were presented on a black list to the palace during the Kabakçı Incidence were followers of Nakşibendî-Müceddidî Sheikh Bursalı Mehmed Emin Efendi, who was exiled to Bursa after the riot. Keçecizade İzzet Molla, and old Sheikh al-Islam Mekkîzade Mustafa Asım, who were important individuals of the Vak‘a-i Hayriye period, were followers of Halidi. The multi-directional smear campaign that was carried out against janissaries turned into a new kind of political orthodoxy which appeared during Selim III’s reign, and spread through the foundations of society depending on the political conjuncture.

Non-Muslim Inhabitants and Politics

The non-Muslim subjects in Istanbul comprised three main groups: Greeks, Armenians and Jews. In addition, there were Frankish merchants who lived in Istanbul with permission, in other words, contracts, but were not regarded as subjects. This was due to some permanent Istanbul residents - locals with different nationalities such as Venetian, Genovese, Dutch, English, French and other nationalities, who had lived in Istanbul for centuries and became settled but not subjects. This group also includes those visitors who stayed for short periods of time and returned to their countries. They would reside in territories allocated for them in Galata and lived within the framework of the rules and rights defined in their contracts. Even though non-Muslim subjects did not seem active during political conflicts, Frankish merchants in Galata, and ambassadors and embassy employees were important actors in the relationship between states and politics. Embassies and Frankish traders are known to have been important role players in the foreign policy of the Empire during the period between 1453 and 1808 as well as afterwards. In terms of internal politics, it was particularly their relationship with non-Muslim subjects and the acquisition of a position where they could bargain in their name that was a significant factor affecting the political life of the capital. However, those groups were not inhabitants, and they did not have the status of non-Muslim subjects of the empire, nor were they included in the national system of the nineteenth century. Within these limits, they caused a crisis in the capital’s political life even before the nineteenth century.

An interesting argument can be presented as an example of this. A serious crisis occurred between the Sheikh al-Islam and an English ambassador in 1651 due to an argument between an Izmir consular and the qadi of Izmir. When the Qadi of Izmir, Haşimîzade, wanted to listen to the argument of a debt between two English merchants, the English consular in Izmir objected to the case stating that the action of debt should be heard in the consulate courts for the amounts defined as a requirement of the contract. When Bahai Efendi read the letter of complaint written by the Qadi of Izmir, he sent the case to the grand vizier saying, “Remove the consular from his position and reprimand the embassy.” When the grand vizier’s reply was not what he desired, he had the ambassador brought to his office in Izmir from Galata, and wanted him to remove the consular from his position through the victory of his efforts for Islam as interpreted by the historians. He insulted the English ambassador and had him imprisoned in his barn. It is also reported that his officers beat the ambassador. It is also known that the grand vizier and aghas of the guilds did not take the Sheikh al-Islam’s side and this incidence ended with the removal of Bahai Efendi from his position.59 However, the Sheikh al-Islam was right in the essence of the issue, according to the content of the contracts, even though his harsh response was not according to the proper method.

On the other hand, it is difficult to refer to the role of the Greek Orthodox residents who were Ottoman subjectss in terms of determining or regulating daily politics. Furthermore, the Greeks of Fener are known to have been employed in foreign correspondence of the state, and they had a privileged status due to this position. However, the activities of the patriarchate in terms of foreign states and their representatives can be referred to only after the seventeenth century. These activities are observed to have continued in an increasing manner from the second half of the eighteenth century. Thus, the execution of two patriarchs in the dynamic political environment of the seventeenth and eighteenth century is striking.

The Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed Pasha (1656-1661) had the Greek patriarch Parthenios III executed after interrogating him in 1657. The reason for the execution of the Greek patriarch was the letter he sent to the Wallachia voivode. The patriarch was accused of claiming in his letter, that the period of Islam would come to an end, and that Christians would gain strength again and rule the world. In his letter to the voivode he wrote, “Please be on guard, all provinces will belong to Christians very soon and people of the cross and church bells will possess the lands of Islam.” The Grand Vizier Köprülü Mehmed Pasha invited the patriarch over, and during the interrogation, asked why this letter was written. The patriarch stated that these kinds of letters were sent every year for collecting charitable donations, and he tried to explain that these expressions were desires mentioned traditionally; in other words, they were just rhetorical expressions regarding the church. However, his words did not convince the Grand Vizier, and he was executed.60 Some Greeks were claimed to have taken part in the riots wearing janissary uniforms with the arrangement of the patriarchate, and also in raids and plundering during riots. The patriarchate was raided and searched; some turbans, fezes and janissary borks were seized. This incidence is considered to have caused a change in the relationship between the Ottoman State, the Greek patriarchate and prominent figures in the community. All patriarchs were elected by their own community and confirmed by the sultan himself starting with Patriarch Gennadios, whom Fatih appointed, to Parthenios III, who was executed. However, this privilege was abolished after this incidence, and confirmation by the grand vizier became law and continued till the Tanzimat reform era.

The second patriarch who was executed was Grigorios V who served as Istanbul Greek Patriarch three times. Grigorios was observed to have links to riots against the Ottoman Empire during the War of Greek Independence in 1821. His interrogation took place in the presence of the grand vizier; he was found guilty and executed at the middle gate of the patriarchate during the Easter of that year.61 The metropolitan bishops of Kayseri, Edremit and Tarabya were later sentenced to death due to their links with the same incidence. The body of the patriarch was hung in the same place for three days and then given to Jews to be thrown into the sea. This affected the Greek community and patriarchate deeply. The middle gate of the patriarchate was kept closed after that day. The Ottoman Empire adopted the attitude of not hiring Greeks for state offices and began to hire Armenians for the positions and offices vacated by Greeks.

Armenians had their own apostolic church and Gregorian denomination. However, it is known that there were efforts to convert them to Catholicism in the seventeenth century and to Protestantism later on. Efforts to spread Catholicism among Armenians in Istanbul increased in 1701. A prosecution was conducted after Armenians began changing their religious affiliation. This incidence gradually turned into a religious-political issue. A printing company belonging to Armenians was shut down when it was discovered that booklets and notices were published by the printing company in Valide Inn. The priests and Armenian patriarch who urged their community to change to Catholicism were imprisoned.62

Jews are portrayed as a trouble-free group, although activism by some Jews can be referred to in decision-making processes after the 1550s in the Ottoman political life. The Ottoman State placed the Jews who took shelter in their lands in important cities like Istanbul, Edirne and Salonika. Some of those people were later transferred to Izmir. People who came during this period included goldsmiths, and people who knew the dynamics of international trade and were experienced in management. Dona Gracia Mendes was one of them and transferred her wealth first to Venice then to Istanbul in 1553. Her close relative, Yasef Nassi, is known to have come to Istanbul and set up close relations with the palace after marrying Mendes’ daughter. Nassi’s and Mendes’ influence on the developments of the period has been confirmed since their relationship with the palace was at the level of sultans, grand vizier, chief admiral, the harem and sultanas. Although it is difficult to separate facts from fiction, these migrations could be said to be part of the strategic attacks of the Ottoman Empire in their Mediterranean policies that changed after 1565. These strategies could be interpreted as an adaptation to the new world order and international trade balance that were re-designed after the discoveries in the New World.

Yasef Nassi was undoubtedly the most powerful person behind the scene during Selim II’s reign. The construction or allocation of Belveder Palace to Nassi, who took the title of Naksos Duke, can be interpreted as the links of the changes in the traditional strategy of the Ottoman State related to Nassi. Nassi is even claimed to have suggested that the Ottoman State develop relationships with the Dutch princes who were in a struggle for their independence through the government and federate assembly they established against Spanish Hapsburgs, and to build a trade inn in Antwerp.63 Nassi’s suggestion of building a trade inn in the Dutch ports, rising as the Venice of the North, can be evaluated as an inspired initiative by Nassi, who initiated this for a while rather than just touting an empty claim. This period is the result of important strategic and political decisions. This was seen as a strengthening move that terminated the privilege of Venice, because the Ottomans that supported Protestants against Catholics created alternatives for Venice. Venice had, at this time, a monopoly over Mediterranean trade of Protestant states through treaties it granted to England in 1580-1581, and to Dutch merchants in 1612. It is understood that Mendes’ and Nassi’s company was involved in a large-scale silver trade; they had dealings with the famous merchant Fugger family from Augsburg, and they also managed the “wine” deposit as they were given export permission for tens of thousands of barrels. However, they are also known to have caused Ottoman gold, whose value was higher than the silver parity, to be moved abroad through currency trade. Nassi lost his efficiency after Selim II died in 1574 and Nassi died in 1579. However, he can be said to have been influential enough to cause a rise in the position and roles of Jews.64

Jewish people’s well-deserved fame for economic management seems to have influenced Ottomans too. An interesting example is the case of Esperanza Malchi, who was referred to as “Kira Kadın”65 in Ottoman sources, and who affected the Ottoman palace, particularly Sultana Safiye, and who also became an actor of the depression. Kira Kadin was a notable individual among the elite and she was able to develop direct relations with the palace during the years when the influence of the harem over Ottoman rule and politics could be observed clearly. Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha and representatives of the viziers, such as Halil Pasha, chamberlain of the grand vizier, who was able to manage Istanbul with the same authorities in his absence, were married to the sisters of the sultan. In other words, they were both Safiye Sultana’s sons-in-law. Also, they were very perturbed by the extent of Safiye Sultana’s influence over the sultan, and her dominance in state administration both personally and in the name of the administrative group they represented. When this situation turned into a power struggle which then blew up, Kira Kadin was at the forefront. Records revealed that the income allocated for the salaries of particular household troops were collected by Safiye Sultan, and it was claimed that she was managing the money and donating a portion to people around her. This was the last straw. The cavalrymen revolted under the influence of the Grand Vizier and his chamberlain, who used this opportunity to demand the execution of the Kira Kadın. The cavalrymen demanded a fatwa be issued by Sheikh al-Islam Sunullah Efendi for the killing of Kira Kadın on 1 April 1600. This stated that the income allocated for their salaries was distributed to the women and people around the harem aghas, but they were paid with light coins. Sheikh al-Islam refused this demand, saying that the execution of non-Muslims was not permissible. However, Halil Pasha, who informed the sultan in a daily report that Kira Kadin should be delivered to the authorities due to the pressure from cavalrymen who marched to the palace the next day, he gave her over to the cavalrymen in front of his mansion when she was found. Kira Kadin and her son were pulled to pieces and brutally killed; their corpses were thrown into the At Meydanı. Her property and cash that were seized equaled a great sum, so for a time, the household troops’ salaries were paid using that money.66

24- Sultan Mehmed IV’s imperial writ

Another event that took place within the Jewish community is important as it affected the whole empire, and prompted a question of faith, which reaches to today. This incidence was the Messianic claim by Sabatay Sevi, a Sephardic kabbalah believer from Izmir. When Sabatay Sevi declared his Mahdism, prominent members of Jewish society dismissed him from the city. However, he managed to collect a considerable number of followers by serving as an itinerant preacher and travelling for years across regions where Jewish populations resided. Actually, Sabatay Sevi had an attitude that questioned the haram-halal comparisons in a way that the common people enjoyed, similar to the above-mentioned examples. In 1665, some Jews from Gaza decided that he was the Messiah. In fact he became so influential, that he had enough confidence to declare that he would restore justice after overthrowing the Ottoman sultan in a year. The Grand Vizier of that period, Fazıl Mustafa Pasha, brought him to Istanbul and interrogated him. Sabatay Sevi then converted to Islam to avoid the death penalty. However, he apparently remained secretly committed to Judaism while creating every appearance of being a good Muslim. People who believed in him also resumed their lives as Muslims in appearance, but Jews in reality.67 There have been recent discussions about conversion, and this incident is still a topical issue of the complexities of conversation.

Sultanate and Government Differentiation: the Search for Political Balance

The question of moving the capital which arose during the period between Mehmed IV’s sultanate (1648-1687) and 1703 is an important topic for discussion in with regards to politics and political life in Istanbul. During this period, the relatively frequent and long-term use of Edirne by the imperial court compared to the past caused people to view Edirne as the new address for the sultanate. The idea that a new sultanate was being created in Edirne was prompted by renovations to the palace and the construction of new mansions for the viziers and senior executives. It was a different period that had abolished the privilege of inaccessibility of the Ottoman dynasty since the sultanate mode of heredity had changed. Four different people were seated on the throne in just six years between the death of Ahmed I (1603-1617) and the enthronement of his brother, Mustafa I, and his sons (Osman II and Murad IV) until 1623. Following the dethronement and killing of Sultan Ibrahim (1640-1648), Osman II was insulted and killed, which was an unfortunate outcome, and Kösem Sultan was strangled, accompanied by exclamations of “She died! She died!” After these events, disintegration in the sultanate and government began to occur in Ottoman administration and politics. Due to the constant riots in Istanbul and killings of the sultans and their mothers, Mehmed IV (1648-1687), Süleyman II (1687-1691), Ahmed II (1691-1695) and Mustafa II (1695-1703) often preferred to stay in Edirne, which was significant. The process was instigated due to security and the administrative solution Sultana Turhan came up with in order to commit to the agreement she had with Köprülü Mehmed Pasha. This process was to protect the child sultan from conflicts, as well as to ensure that he did not suffer the same fate as a result of possible riots as Osman II or her husband, Sultan Ibrahim. This policy can be said to have paved the way for the administration to move to a different level both in Istanbul and the Empire.

Actually, the inclination towards Edirne as a preferred residence is understood to be related to more to security concerns and administrative change rather than an interest in hunting, as was attributed to the sultans by some. The words of the writers of that period,68 stated that Edirne was preferred with an attitude of “resisting the fate, meaning there is always interregnum in Istanbul,” clearly associated this preference to security concerns. However, members of the dynasty and the palace started staying in Edirne for extended periods of time. This was towards the end of the period that started with the same concern. The agreement between Köprülü and Sultana Turhan had an effect on this. Edirne was being used for such long periods that it deserved to be called a sultanate city that had just not been declared yet, until the riot in 1703. Süleyman II and Ahmed II died there and their bodies were transferred to Istanbul. Military expeditions were used as an explanation for long stays in Edirne, but such explanations appear to be legitimizing efforts to cover up the actual situation and, consequently, it became controversial.

For this reason, it is necessary to mention that the agreement between Köprülü Mehmed Pasha and Turhan Sultan was significant, since it paved the way for the establishment of Bâb-ı Âsafî69 and enabled the executive power to move to the residence of the grand vizier politically. Mehmed IV’s (1648-1687) mother, Turhan Sultan, read the political conditions well, and accepted the requirements set by Köprülü Mehmed Pasha to accept the duty after temporary grand vizier trials. This was in order to ensure the security of her son’s life and his rule. It is not known whether Köprülü Mehmed Pasha was aware that he initiated the disintegration between the sultanate and the government. This practically occurred when he took on the position after he bargained and determined how he would govern, but it is clear that the Pasha Gate gained considerable importance in the administration of the state and Istanbul over the palace. Köprülü Mehmed Pasha’s demands meant that the grand vizier possessed almost all the executive power and directed the power to the Pasha Gate. His demands that the opposition against him be disabled guaranteed the continuity in his position. With his demands accepted, he had the authority to eliminate his rivals and opponents. He would not have had the chance to implement those decisions if he had not been successful. He was able to implement all his conditions uncompromisingly due to his success, and thereby paved the way for the continuity of these conditions for the grand vizierate of his son, Fazıl Ahmed Pasha. A detailed description of the duties and authorities of the grand viziers is outlined in Tevkî‘î Abdurrahmân Paşa Kânûnnâmesi, which was regulated towards the end of both their grand viziership terms, and demonstrates the level of the power the Pasha Gate attained.70 It gained an institutional identity after being stated in a lawbook. It is possible to say that the individuals who came after the father and son Köprülü’s and his younger son, Fazıl Mustafa Pasha, that is, the grandchildren, close relatives, sons-in-law and other grand viziers from the Köprülü gate, trained the administrators of Pasha Gate of the government to rule both legally and practically. This process has characteristics that can be evaluated as the first stage of the formation of Bâb-ı Âsafî/Bâbıâli’.

The agreement between Köprülü Mehmed Pasha and Mehmed IV’s mother, Turhan Sultan, was not sufficient in itself to cause such a significant transformation. But the alliance he had with the dynasty opened the way for him, and any objections from people who were not part of the alliance were suppressed harshly. Even the smallest objections were met with severe responses. The objection against the Pasha Gate that gained power with the Köprülü’s and executive powers’ position, under the rule of the grand vizier, arose later during Mustafa II years. Furthermore, the demand for authority to enable the sultans to be the actual implementing body over executive power was opened for discussion by Mehmed Pasha. When he brought the issue forward, which had been constantly complained about, it was understood that the change that was experienced after 1656 was very rooted and fundamental.

25- Alayköşkü (on the right) and Sublime Porte as it was an important place for ceremonies, it also was a scene of bloody riots (Allom)

26- Above Sultan Selim III and Mustafa IV. Below Sultan Mahmud II in old (on the right) and new attires (Topkapı Palace Museum)

Mustafa II wrote an official note to the dignitaries of the state stating that he wanted to lead the army in military expeditions just like his heroic ancestors, in order to revive a model of the sultan idealized by the Ottoman writers and statesmen. He reported that he would lead military expeditions like Sultan Süleyman I in his handwritten note, and criticized the form of the rule displayed since his father Mehmed IV had an interesting differentiation. This is significant in terms of illustrating the period when the Grand Vizier’s office had the executive power. However, he still felt the need to ask whether it was appropriate for him to go on an expedition, most likely because he was unsure, or wanted to gage possible reactions: “...Even I intended to leave. Now all of you shall gather; think about this note. Is it reasonable for me to go on the expedition, or is it proper for me to stay in Edirne? You shall inform me after you honestly talk and consult what is necessary for the religion and the state.” In response, the grand vizier, viziers, sheikh al-Islam, Bektaşi assembly members, cavalrymen, armourers, artillerymen and other state dignitaries convened. After three-day-long meetings took place, they disagreed with the sultan’s suggestion about going on military expeditions due to conventional reasons, such as economic explanations, and that he should not take the trouble. They also stated that it would be more appropriate for the grand vizier and commander-in-chief to go. Those who expressed their opinions from almost all the groups objected to the sultan’s command in the military expedition. The sultan in turn objected to this decision, and repeated that he would go on the military expedition leading the army.71

The fact that the sultan asked for the dignitaries’ opinion through an official note questioning whether going on the expedition is important in terms of distinguishing between the government and sultanate. Compared to Mehmed III (1595-1603), who was forcefully convinced by his mentor, Saadeddin Efendi, to go on the Haçova expedition a century ago, or the large number of people who supported Osman II (1618-1622) who believed that an ideal sultan should lead military expeditions, there was almost no support for the sultan in his decision this time. This was significant in terms of showing the extent of the change. The fact that the dignitaries, grand vizier and viziers knew that the only reason why the sultan wanted to go on a military expedition was to consolidate his absolute sovereignty, which the rulers had lost through power and prestige, should not be excluded from our evaluation of the situation. They also knew that his motive was to achieve a positive result as well as to become a victorious sultan by forwarding and leading the army. Mustafa II did what he said against all objections, and managed to be the commander of an aftermath in Zenta in September 1697, after winning two victories. However, they were not enough to achieve what he wanted. This defeat was the ultimate reason that forced the Ottoman Empire to sign the Karlowitz Treaty, which ended the long war which has continued since the Vienna siege in 1683. It was not only large tracts of land that were lost with this treaty, but it also unseated the Ottoman sultan from his unshakeable position in interstate relationships. It is understood that political defeat was recognized, considering that all kinds of negative results were covered up at this time, including the Zenta defeat, and the soldiers that came back from the expedition were sent to border duties in Rumelia to delay their arrival in Istanbul and Anatolia. They were trying to prevent the news of the defeat from spreading. The losses due to this setback must have shaken the image of the sultan in the public’s eye.

Such a loss of prestige clarified the separation in powers between the sultanate and grand vizierate, because it strengthened the grand vizier and increased the influence of the government, or the Pasha Gate that held executive power due to the weakening of the Ottoman sultan’s image. The sultan took his mentor and Sheikh al-Islam Feyzullah Efendi to his side in order to abolish the distinction between the sultanate and government that had been implemented for many tears, practically and legally, because it was mentioned in law books. This behavior caused opposition from a group of people. In an attempt to resolve this crisis of authority he turned to his mentor Feyzullah Efendi, whom he felt close to, and to certain cliques he trusted within the ulama in Edirne. Edirne at this time had been used as an alternative capital or as a sultanate city in practice for a very long time. However, things did not go as planned, and the families that constituted the ulama aristocracy in Istanbul, and even the members of the ulama who were under their protection, did not support the practices of the Sheikh al-Islam. The sultan, who did not intervene with the exclusion of the grand vizier by the sheikh al-Islam, aimed to solidify his sultanate with the sheikh al-Islam based on sharia law. His project can be summarized as an attempt to revive the victorious image of the sultan, who leads the army in the expeditions and who has the executive power to rule unconditionally as well as administrating the executive power with sheikh al-Islam instead of the viziers. Therefore, the plan was to be realized by transferring the capital to Edirne. However, this was such a futile attempt, that he had difficulty in setting up an army to encounter the forces which were on their way to Edirne from Istanbul. He was able to raise only half of the warrior numbers compared to his military forces in Istanbul.

The court in the palace, the sultanate and grand viziers were moved to Istanbul in compliance with Ahmed II’s promise that he gave as he took over the throne. Istanbul was virtually re-created as discussed above, and extensive reconstruction activity began. The ulama lineage and structure were redressed. The sheikh al-Islams became satisfied with being an office in political terms that approved the sanctions of the rulers who were in compliance with sharia in the eighteenth century. Kânûnnâme-yi Cedîd, which is thought to have been prepared in this period, was important in terms of the concerns of creating a macro law in land administration. There was a balance between the viziers, military members and ulamas, and the harem became a less-determinative factor in political decisions compared to the previous century. Daily unrest was expected in a city like Istanbul, but the eighteenth century can be referred to as a calmer period compared to the previous century.

The reasons for the Patrona Halil Riot in 1730 are complex. It is understood to have been triggered by the expenses of the Tulip Era, and the constant high taxes to finance those expenses rather than any objections to the new regime. The reaction against the lifestyle of urban people from the higher classes that manifested in sadabat entertainment facilities the provision of social support for the riot. On the other hand, there were complaints about the distribution of the financial resources of the state as understood from the depiction of Patrona Halil, because he demanded the abolition of the mansion practice. This demand was not just an ordinary wish. The relationship between the owners of the mansions and the central power as well as the grand vizier at this stage gains importance. This example illustrates how the financial sources dominated by the state and the redistribution of political power were related in Ottoman politics. The distribution of wealth by the grand viziership to the people who were connected to his power network raised reactions from groups, which lost out in this equation.

27- Mahmud II’s sultanate signature designed by calligrapher Mustafa Rakım (Topkapı Palace Museum)

While the Supreme Court was the highest-ranking executive institution of the Ottoman State organization in terms of administration and judiciary, its activity visibly declined after the agreement between Köprülü and Turhan Sultan in the mid-seventeenth century. The functions of the court changed fundamentally with the Pasha Gate becoming stronger. It is understood that the Supreme Court meeting took on a ritual aspect during Ahmed III’s reign (1703-1730), and it convened at ambassador receptions, enthronement ceremonies and religious festivity celebrations. Most important of all was the transfer of clerks of the Supreme Court and their function as offices of Bâb-ı Âsafî. The importance of marksmanship, which was one of the most enduring powerful positions during the early times of the empire, declined and turned into an ordinary rank after 1703. Conversely, the foreign affairs ministry position, which was responsible for putting the main duties of marksmanship and authorities particularly in foreign relations together, gained prominence. Similarly, the Kubbe vizierate that was a significant office and position during old times became a thing of the past, and the vizierate turned into a title. As a result of the changes, the Pasha Gate, or the grand vizier’s position became the highest-ranking address of executive power. Scribes became powerful after this period and members of the scribe group were found among people who attained the grand vizier position. One of the first examples of this was Rami Mehmed Pasha.

Local power centers that became powerful in Anatolia and Rumelia from the early eighteenth century onwards became more prominent. The grand vizier and scribe clique that gained power at the center of the empire, started sharing this authority with patronage networks and provincial administrations. This development is closely related to the fact that the mansions were bequeathed for life following 1695. The acquisition of considerable military and administrative power by feudal lords and their control over wealth was also significant. The administration that was controlled by the empire via senior officers and soldiers, such as grand seigneurs, governors of a sanjaq, feudal administrators and cavalrymen, was controlled through feudal lords. Most of the tax collectors, lieutenant governors, purchasing agents of the ports and other managers came from the administrative group, and local financial sources were gathered in the hands of the same unit. This situation can be considered as a mutual stabilization of the central and provincial administrations. The influence and power struggles between local and central administration, or within feudal lords, stood out as characteristic of the political life of that period. Feudal lord families that had influence in provincial areas and set up collaborative networks with small feudal lords from the lowest level, that were subject to the strongest lords of the territory, became common across the empire. The riots in Istanbul in 1807-1808 and developments later, indicate that the provincial arena became powerful enough to intervene in the central politics. The employment of a grand vizier chamberlain and a grand vizier with roots in the feudal families meant the inclusion of the provinces in the politics of the capital. Even the 1808 Charter of Alliance contract can be interpreted as a confirmation of this situation. However, feudal lords were eliminated by Mahmud II (1808-1839) in a bloody manner in the years between 1812 and 1818 in the process of establishing a modern state, and Anatolia was taken under the control of the center.72

As could be understood from this period, the power struggle at senior levels in central affairs constitutes the main medium of politics. Since this mobility took place in Istanbul, it also constituted the political life of the city. Therefore, the administration of the city was directly related to the structure of the rule and use of power it reflected on the city. Political mobility, crises and conflicts among people who were related to power, and who enjoyed power on various levels outside of the demands of the inhabitantsinhabitants of Istanbul, constituted the main character of the city. Istanbul was the scene for all these occurrences. Attempt to influence power, and individuals who directed politics and the movements intended to share the power were more influential factors at this time rather than the riots of urban people. This should be referenced to the defense of a new ideology that suggested changing the power, in addition to powerful and sustainable political movements that offered ideological alternatives. Meanwhile, the termination of the practice of fratricide enabled the position of the sultan to be nationalized, and the absolute authority of the sultanate to be shared as a requirement of the government and sultanate disintegration from 1656. The riot in 1703 enabled this disintegration to gather pace. The New Order era and following reforms enabled the modern state organization to be established, all of which can be considered breaking points. Administrative and institutional changes are natural in such a long process. However, a revolutionary and radical transformation is understood to have started at the end of the nineteenth century. Despite the interruptions by revolts, it took place in the period that commenced with Mahmud II’s reign (1808-1839) and continued. Consciously, this period would ensure the realization of the transformations in the nineteenth century that enabled the inhabitants of Istanbul to participate in politics.

When the entire period is considered, it is possible to say that there was a further political result. This result requires the discussion of a highly determinative ideology with regards to politics. This particular character of politics may have derived from being unable to produce alternatives to the empire or state’s ideologies. This issue can be handled as a fundamental issue because it was such a deficiency that it did not allow the existing strategies to change in addition to preventing any new imperial strategies from being offered. Since the Ottoman Empire could not create alternatives for the imperial ideologies and strategies in the 15th and sixteenth centuries, the Empire crumbled under the politics related to conflict patterns in foreign and domestic rivalry. Actually, it made a constructive move in the mid-sixteenth century in terms of imperial ideology; as a result, it attempted to come up with new ways to be included in the new world order after discoveries in the West. However, this could not be resumed with effective methods, due to the inability to offer imperial ideologies or grand strategies, and the fact that the empire tried to hold on to in its existing position after the first quarter of the seventeenth century, thereby shrinking further and becoming more introverted. This deficiency is one of the determining elements of the wilting and crushing which took place in domestic politics, as well as many other important results. This was a result of new dynamics that regulated domestic policies, which could not be implemented, and the empire acquired a reclusive identity when it could not achieve an imperial ideology or a grand strategy. The empire had to face the size of this deficit many times when it was face-to-face with Austria, Russia and other empires, as well as among its own domestic actors over a period of nearly 150 years.

However, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the archaic capital suddenly realized that they were late for Ottoman administrators when they witnessed the Russian armies close to Istanbul. This was preceded by the military forces of the previous Egyptian governor, who made it to Kütahya after dispersing the Ottoman armies, independence movements in Serbia and Greece, which had been under its rule for centuries, and even the attacks on the Kaaba by Bedouin Arabs in Arabia. They initiated a political project to set up the modern state since they believed that the establishment of a modern state and its centralization would provide a new political expansion, or they hoped to close the gap to make up for the time lost. Furthermore, the Ottoman Empire did not have a colonial/imperial ideology, and this was not something that could be created later. Ottoman administrators clung onto the caliphate as an indication of the political project and imperial ideology exclusive to themselves, and stated that they considered the Muslim people outside of the empire as “their subjects outside of the protected territories.” Nevertheless, these were inadequate reactions that came too late. The discourse on Istanbul as “the center of the caliphate” illustrated a desire to give the Ottoman Empire the status of a religious center at the end of the nineteenth century, and while it may have been a correct perception, it remained at a basic level. The conditions were not favorable for it to be successful, and the empire did not have enough life left to survive.


1 Three districts of Istanbul: Eyüp, Galata and Üsküdar.

2 city/civil-civilization.

3 Tursun Bey, Târîh-i Ebü’l-Feth, ed.ed.ed.ited by A. Mertol Tulum, Istanbul: İstanbul Fetih Cemiyeti, 1977, p. 11. “İctimai ki ona temeddün derler ki, örfümüzce ona şehir ve köy ve oba denilir.”

4 Tursun Bey, Târîh-i Ebü’l-Feth, p. 12.

5 The house of the Grand Vizier.

6 One of the names of old Istanbul within the city walls.

7 Anonim Osmanlı Tarihi: 1099-1116/ 1688-1704, ed.ed.ed.ited by Abdülkadir Özcan, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 2000, p. 225.

8 Peçuylu İbrâhim, Târih, Istanbul: Matbaa-i Âmire, 1283, vol. 2, p. 380.

9 Peçuylu İbrâhim, Târih,vol. 2,p. 380 ff.

10 Anonim Osmanlı Tarihi, pp. 223-226.

11 Râşid Mehmed Efendi and Çelebizâde Âsım Efendi, Târîh-i Râşid ve Zeyli, ed.ed.ed.ited by Abdülkadir Özcan et al., Istanbul: Klasik Yayınları, 2013, vol. 3, pp. 1423-1424.

12 Râmizpaşazâde Mehmet İzzet, Harîta-i Kapûdânân-ı Deryâ, Istanbul: Ceride-i Hane Matbaası, 1285, pp. 169-171.

13 Rıfa’at Ali Abou-El-Haj, The 1703 Rebellion and the Structure of Ottoman Politics, Leiden: Nederlands Historisch-Archaelo, 1984, p. 86.

14 The Palace of the Sultanate.

15 The Gate of the Sultanate.

16 Boza is a thick and slightly-fermented millet drink.

17 Fikret Yılmaz, “Boş Vaktiniz Var mı? Veya 16. Yüzyılda Anadolu’da Şarap, Eğlence ve Suç”, Tarih ve Toplum Yeni Yaklaşımlar, (2005), no. 1, pp. 11-49.

18 Peçuylu İbrâhim, Târih, vol. 1, pp. 364.

19 Naîmâ Mustafa Efendi, Târih, ed.ed.ed.ited by Mehmet İpşirli, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 2007, vol. 3, p. 1296.

20 Mithat Sertoğlu, “Tuği Tarihi”, TTK Belleten, 1947, vol. 11, no. 43, p. 502. Also see Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 2, p. 488.

21 Cengiz Kırlı, “Kahvehaneler ve Hafiyeler”, Toplum ve Bilim, 1999-2000, no. 83, pp. 65-66.

22 A high official in the Ottoman judiciary.

23 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 2, p. 509.

24 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 2, pp. 489-490.

25 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 3, pp. 1148-1150.

26 Necdet Sakaoğlu, Bu Mülkün Sultanları, Istanbul: Oğlak Yayıncılık, 2002, p. 295.

27 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 3, p. 1189 ff.

28 Members of the Kadızadeli movement, which erupted in response to the challenge that the Sufis and their ulama supports, had come to be known as the standard for mosque preachers.

29 Places that are open to public.

30 Battalion.

31 Sertoğlu, “Tuği Tarihi”, p. 503.

32 Mehmet Topaled.ed., “Silahtar Fındıklılı Mehmet Ağa, Nusretname (1106-1133/1695-1721)”(PhD thesis), Marmara Üniversitesi, 2001, pp. 585-586; Râşid and Çelebizâde Âsım, Târih, vol. 2, p. 660.

33 Anonim Osmanlı Tarihi,p. 228; Defterdar Sarı Mehmed Paşa, Zübde-i Vekayiât, ed.ed.ed.ited by Abdülkadir Özcan, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1995, pp. 791, 810.

34 1730 Patrona İhtilali Hakkında Bir Eser-Abdi Tarihi, ed.ed.ed.ited by Faik Reşit Unat, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1943, p. 35.

35 Cavid Baysun, “Mustafa IV”,İA,VIII, 708.

36 An attempt to revolt against authority.

37 Hasanbeyzâde Ahmet, Târih, ed.ed.ited by Şevki Nezihi Aykut, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 2004, vol. 3, pp. 915-917.

38 Derviş Mehmed, Papasname Mükâşefe-i Şeyh Abdurrahman, Süleymaniye Ktp., Saliha Hatun, no. 112.

39 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 4, p. 1877.

40 For more details and examples Feridun M. Emecen, Osmanlı Klasik Çağında Hanedan: Devlet ve Toplum, Istanbul: Timaş Yayınları, 2011, pp. 37-60.

41 The system of collecting youths from around the empire and converting them to Islam with the aim of training them for the military and civil service of the empire.

42 Peçuylu İbrâhim, Târih, vol. 2, p. 380 ff.; Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 2, pp. 481-482.

43 Peçuylu İbrâhim, Târih, vol. 2, pp. 386-388; Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 2, pp. 489-491.

44 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 2, pp. 768-769.

45 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 3, p.1375.

46 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 4, p. 1656.

47 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 4, p. 1683.

48 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 3, p. 1246.

49 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 3, p. 1246.

50 For an analytical work on reasons and consequences 1703 riot see Rifa’at Ali Abou’el-haj, The 1703 Rebellion and the Structure.

51 A. de Groot, The Ottoman Empire and the Dutch Republic: A History of the Earliest Diplomatic Relations 1610-1630, Leiden and Istanbul: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Institut, 1978, p. 98; Fikret Yılmaz, İzmir’de 400 Yıl-400 Years in İzmir, Izmir: İzmir Ticaret Odası, 2012, pp. 48-49.

52 Ahmet Yaşar Ocak, Osmanlı Toplumunda Zındıklar ve Mülhidler (15.-17. Yüzyıllar), Istanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 2013, p. 358.

53 Ocak, Osmanlı Toplumunda Zındıklar,p. 270 ff.

54 Ocak, Osmanlı Toplumunda Zındıklar, p. 288 ff.

55 Ocak, Osmanlı Toplumunda Zındıklar,p. 285 ff.

56 For the activities and representatives of Oğlan şeyh, Muhyiddin-i Karamani ve Bayrami Melamilik see Ocak, Osmanlı Toplumunda Zındıklar, p. 296 ff.

57 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 3, p. 1301.

58 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 3, p. 1301.

59 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 3, p. 1295 ff.

60 Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 4, p. 1730.

61 Mustafa Cezar, Mufassal Osmanlı Tarihi, Istanbul: İskit Yayını, 1960, vol. 4, p. 2074; Mithat Sertoğlu, “İstanbul”, İA, V/2, p. 1214.

62 Ahmet Refik, Onikinci Asr-ı Hicride İstanbul Hayatı (1689-1785), Istanbul: Enderun Kitabevi, 1988, pp. 32, 33, 35, 160.

63 Groot, The Ottoman Empire, pp. 82-86; Yılmaz, İzmir’de 400 Yıl, pp. 43-45.

64 For Mendes and Nassi see Marianna D. Birnbaum, Gracia Mendes-Bir Seferadın Uzun Yolculuğu, translated by Mercan Uluengin, Istanbul: Kitap Yayınevi, 2007; and also see Mustafa Cezar, Mufassal Osmanlı Tarihi, vol. 3, pp. 1222-1223.

65 A kira was a non- Muslim woman (typically Jewish), who acted as an intermediary between a secluded woman of the harem and the outside world.

66 For the death and activities of Kira Kadın see Naîmâ, Târih, vol. 1, pp. 162-163, 174; Mustafa Cezar, Mufassal Osmanlı Tarihi, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 2011, vol. 3, pp. 1697-1698.

67 Joseph Kastein, Sabetay Sevi (İzmirli Mesih), translated by Orhan Düz, Istanbul: İlgi Kültür Sanat Yayınları 2011.

68 Anonim Osmanlı Tarihi, p. 225.

69 The residence of the grand vizier.

70 Tevkiî Abdurrahman Paşa, Kanunname, ed.ited by. Sadık Müfid Bilge, Istanbul: Kitabevi, 2011, pp. 9-16.

71 Defterdar, Zübde-i Vekayiât, pp. 522-523.

72 Stanford J. Shaw and Ezel Kural Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey: Reform, Revolution and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey, 1808-1975, Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1977, p. 15.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.

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