Centuries on, echoes of Battle of Manzikert still felt
Turkey on Aug. 26 is marking the anniversary of a battle nearly a millennium ago, a conflict that reverberates deeply in the soil of Anatolia and world history even many centuries later.
On Aug. 26, 1071, the armies of the Seljuk Turks and the Byzantine Empire clashed on the plain of Manzikert (Malazgirt) in what is now Muş, in eastern Turkey. The battle concluded with a decisive and influential victory for the Seljuks.
The Battle of Manzikert, 948 years ago today, was one of the most significant turning points of medieval history, as after the Byzantines suffered this grievous blow, the gates of Anatolia swung full open to Turkish domination.
The victory by Sultan Alp Arslan (the Lion-Hearted) accelerated the decline of the Byzantine Empire and led to more Turks settling in the region, paving the way for both the Ottoman Empire and the modern Republic of Turkey.
The battle also earned a unique place in Turkish military history, as the Seljuks won the battle despite overwhelming odds, as their army was outnumbered nearly two to one, with 25,000 soldiers versus the Byzantines’ 50,000.
Sultan Alp Arslan's crescent (Turan) strategy played a key role in the battle. In this traditional Turkish maneuver, the Seljuks’ flanks tried to encircle the Byzantines, while their central forces faked a retreat to sow confusion.
The outcome weakened the Byzantine Empire’s grip in Anatolia and eventually led to its disintegration, as well as the formation of new Turkish beyliks (principalities), and even, centuries later, a mighty empire: the Ottoman Empire.
On Aug. 26 tens of thousands of Turks are marking the anniversary of this battle as they flock to Malazgirt plain, where a festival commemorating the victory is being held.
Festival organizers expect over 200,000 people to attend the festival, which in addition to celebrating history also aims to boost national unity and awareness.
Festivalgoers can also enjoy a variety of traditional activities rooted in Turks’ ancient sports culture such as archery, horse archery, javelin throwing, and oil wrestling while watching folklore groups performing traditional dances.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be present at the event, along with other prominent Turkish statesmen, and is set to deliver remarks on the significance of the battle before crowds of thousands.