Who was Süleyman Shah?

Who was Süleyman Shah?

Historian Erhan Afyoncu’s new book on the Tomb of Süleyman Shah has just been released. The book, which is published by the Üsküdar Municipality’s press department, was introduced to the public on March 11.

In his book, Afyoncu sheds light on the history of the tomb in the both the Ottoman and republican eras, also including historic resources shedding light on the figure of Süleyman Shah himself. He explains in detail the sensitivity and efforts to protect the tomb exerted by the Kemalist regime of the 1930s - the same regime that closed all dervish lodges and many tombs.

First of all, which of the Süleyman Shahs in our history does this tomb - which was last month removed from Qal’at Ja’bar to the village of Eşme near our border - belong?

Afyoncu first cites sources that claim Süleyman Shah is the grandfather of Osman Gazi, the father of Ertuğrul Gazi. Other sources are also cited. For example, in a work titled “Oğuzname,” which was written in the 15th century upon the demand of Sultan Murat II by Yazıcı Zade Ali, the grandfather of Osman Gazi was named Gündüz Alp. But there is also a Süleyman Alp among the great-grandfathers of Osman Gazi.

Presumably, the title of Süleyman Shah being “Kut-almış” is proof of his closeness to the Oghuz-Seljuk culture. In his book, Afyoncu states that it has not actually been exactly determined which Süleyman Shah lies in the tomb, but there is a very strong possibility that he is one of the ancestors of Osman Gazi.

‘Tomb’ culture

The Tomb of Süleyman Shah became a “place to visit” long ago, even back to the first centuries of the Ottoman Empire, Afyoncu writes, adding that in the “Oğuzname” that was presented to Cem Sultan in the 1480s, the tomb was noted as a “place to visit.” 

In the 17th century, traveler Evliya Çelebi also wrote that the Tomb of Süleyman Shah was visited as a holy site by locals in the area.

Here, it is wrong to underestimate the concepts of “tomb,” “visit” and “holy venue” - both from the mindset of a strict Islamic law madrasa and from that of a strict positivist mentality. Throughout history, geographical locations have always developed into homelands accumulating significance and meaning through such occurrences.

Professor Afyoncu also describes how the tomb was repaired upon the instructions of Abdulhamit II (r. 1876-1909) with the utmost care after it had been neglected. This was an example of the kind of “dynasty nationalism” also seen in the Europe at that time - an attempt to create a historical and national (Ottoman) consciousness around dynasty symbolism.

The republic and the tomb

A very interesting section of the book is the sensitivity displayed for the tomb during Atatürk’s era. This is from daily Cumhuriyet on Sept. 24, 1936:

“The Tomb of Süleyman Shah will be renovated. The Tomb of Süleyman Shah, which is located outside our national borders but according to the Lausanne Treaty is where the Turkish flag also flies, has been almost in ruins lately. Our government, in order to upgrade this historic tomb to a level that is suitable to our National Chief, has sent the Urfa public works director to the site for an inspection.”

Afyoncu’s book also includes what Turkey did for the tomb from 1951 to 1963, as well as its transfer in 1974 because of rising dam waters nearby. The emphasis on finding “a venue suitable to Süleyman Shah’s philosophy” was noteworthy in the transfer decision of the time.

Regimes and governments change, but this sensitivity goes on. This is a national conscience.  

Afyoncu also touches on the “temporary” transfer reported in February 2015 in his book.

In the end, we all hope that Syria will stabilize and the tomb will eventually be moved back to its 1974 location.