Gifts to Ottoman sultan go on display
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily NewsBoasting artifacts from all over the world, a new exhibition has opened in Istanbul showcasing the gifts received Sultan Abdülhamit II, one of the most controversial figures in the late Ottoman Empire.
The “Enthronement Gifts” collection at Istanbul’s Yıldız Palace Museum features 18 valuable gifts that were sent to the sultan on his 25th silver jubilee in 1901.
The exhibition, opened in the Kaskat Mansion inside the palace, tells the story of enthronement gifts in an epic way and also sheds light on an important era in the Ottoman era.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik said such exhibitions also had a political dimension, as well as artistic and cultural dimensions. “It gives us an opportunity to refresh our memory.”
While Abdülhamit is often remembered as a paranoid tyrant that resorted to pan-Islamism in a bid to provide an ideological underpinning to the declining empire, as well as a ruler who presided over militias known as the Hamidiye that massacred hundreds of thousands of Armenians and attempted to forcibly Sunnize communities like the Alevis, he has been defended by members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), an ideological successor to his policies.
“According to some, he was a sultan to be criticized because of his politics and though administration,” Çelik said. “But according to some, he was a statesman with foresight due to his movements in defense, law, education, culture, public works and foreign policy. But something that is overlooked is that Abdülhamit II acceded to the throne during the hardest days of the Ottoman Empire when its land was being [encroached upon] by all regional powers. This is why he should be evaluated considering the conditions of his time. He was a significant statesman who got the empire to survive.”
The minister said Abdülhamit had conducted many activities not only in Anatolia but also in Damascus and Tripoli. “He had a clear attitude toward unsolved problems in foreign policies. When the World Zionist Organization assured him of wiping out all the debts of the Ottoman Empire in return for the Palestinian land, the sultan replied, saying: ‘I won’t sell even a piece of the homeland. This homeland belongs to my nation, not to me. This land was taken by shedding blood and can [only] be given in the same way.’”
One of the attendees of the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s wife, Sare Davutoğlu, said the gifts sent to the sultan showed the power of an empire even at a time of dissolution.
She said the sultan was also known for his reconstruction activities in Istanbul and other parts of the empire.
“Many buildings, including the Sirkeci and Haydarpaşa train stations and the Darülaceze [almshouse] reminds us of Sultan Abdülhamit every day we pass by. The other buildings built in various places such as schools, hospitals, government office and others show us his vision,” she said.
Haydarpaşa is currently at the center of a wrangle in which developers are attempting to convert the train station into a hotel as part of a larger, insatiable drive to maximize profits from Istanbul’s valuable real estate.
The exhibition of Enthronement Gifts will continue through Oct. 17.