The conqueror and the conquest
The conquest of Istanbul was made the theme of a political rally a couple of days ago. Our 11th president, Abdullah Gül, who is an example of a mature statesman, said he would not participate on grounds that “he had decided not to be involved in active politics.”
Major historic events are commemorated on their 50th, 100th or 1000th anniversaries with bigger celebrations. The biggest conquest celebration in Turkey was held in 1953 for its 500th anniversary.
However, the government staged a major show on May 30, 2015, the one that it did not stage in 2003. The aim was obviously the general elections one week later.
In speeches, the conquest was mentioned less while there was much political polemic.
Why was the conquest so important? Its consequences in European history are one separate topic, but the city of Istanbul won by Turks was one of colossal value. The transformation of a chiefdom of the Ottomans, based on tribal traditions, into an organized and institutionalized “state” was made possible by Mehmet, the Conqueror, and the conquest.
While all the former Turkish and Asian states lasted a couple of centuries at the most, the main reason the Ottomans lasted six centuries to take us into the 20th century was this factor of becoming a state and institutionalizing.
With this conquest, the Ottoman Empire became a real state with its institutions, bureaucracy and archives. Its laws developed and its state institutions were formed. In the 19th century, modernization began. Our republic was based on the parliamentary tradition of the Ottoman Empire, its schools, its legal institutions, its high courts and its archives.
Whatever we have today that is more advanced than the rest of the Middle East is due to the modernized institutions of the state structure that started with the conquest.
Exactly 460 years, seven months and 13 days after the conquest, on Dec. 12, 1922, a Tuesday, İsmet Pasha was confronting Lord Curzon at Lausanne. Lord Curzon said Turks had oppressed Christians all through history and thus minorities should be granted privileges above universal law, such as juridical privileges.
İsmet Pasha’s long reply was a perfect summary of the history of six centuries on the topics of religion, politics, freedom and separatist nationalism.
İsmet Pasha started his speech by saying, “After the conquest, Mehmet, the conqueror, granted huge freedoms in terms of religion and administration for non-Muslim communities…”
From the 19th century onward, İsmet Pasha explained how the West exploited the substantial issues the Ottomans experienced due to minorities being devoted to nationalism.
Those reading the Lausanne records can see there was moderation, after this speech, in the demands of the allied powers for minority privileges.
Sultan Abdul Hamid II had banned lavish conquest ceremonies. According to the notes of his private doctor, the reason was that there was a considerable Greek population in the Ottoman Empire at that time who felt loyal to Byzantium and Greece. The sultan thought extravagant conquest ceremonies might fuel these separatist feelings in the Ottoman Greeks.
Today while celebrating Mehmet, the Conqueror, and the event of the conquest, the significance the conqueror sultan attributed to science, philosophy and art should be emphasized. He was a sultan open to renaissance and one who included philosophy lessons in the madrasa.
It is not correct to use our magnificent cultural heritage as party propaganda.