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The traditional dynamics of Turkish State Establishment

Mehmet Ozhaseki, AKP’s (Justice and Development Party) Mayor Candidate in Ankara, said “Allah sent an owner, and that is Recep Tayyip Erdogan” a few weeks ago during a party meeting in Cankaya. I was not surprised when I first heard this sentence. On the contrary, I told myself that he had actually said it right.

There are three possible reasons.

First of all, which is in the limelight, is fear. Even though he is a candidate for being the Metropolitan Municipality Mayor of Ankara and has been occupying various high-level positions in his party for a long time, he is an individual living in the “Republic of Fear” since Bulent Korucu’s name has been put forward. And he has more examples like Kadir Topbas.

Second one is his interests. Position and higher rank to begin with, he is in a status which could provide him many material benefits. He might want to protect his status, and even want to improve it further in order to gain bigger advantages. If he is moving just like this, then that means every knows what he is going to do; flattery, servility, adulation, and praise. There are more expressions, but my courtesy does not allow me to express them.   

And third one is the sense of state and religion understanding of the Anatolian Muslims, who still carry the mentality of the Ottoman legacy, and the way they look, accept, and even believe the head/leader of their state. I would like to emphasis on this third reason in my article.

What is the perception of state and leader, which is reflected to the relationship between religion-state and people? Just like Ahmet Yasar Ocak states pointedly in his book titled “Osmanli Toplumunda Zindiklar ve Mulhidler” (Atheists and Nonbelievers in Ottoman Society), the political foundations and traditions which generates the state perception of the Ottomans is built upon three main essentials. Old Turkish political tradition, classical political Islam tradition, and Byzantine political tradition. Even though Turkey, since the establishment of the Republic, did not imitate these three dynamics in the newly built regime, it has carried and still carries the traces of those traditions. However, more importantly, these traces still exist effectively more on the Anatolian Muslims compared to the regime.

Let’s refer to the main features of these three traditions. Old Turkish political tradition is a pre-Islamic Central Asia tradition, and this tradition was affected by China, India, Iran, and other political cultures of the period. In this tradition, the sovereignty and power belong to the divine and heavenly essence, world domination goal exists, and it is based on a custom called “tore” (morals). We can see the belief that sovereignty and the power, and needless to say the governing dynasty who possess them, originates from heavenly roots in many epics, including the Oguz Khagan epic. The words “He was born in the sky, just like the God.”, and “He sits on the throne because God wanted it and gave him strength” written for their Han, Hakan, and Khagan clearly indicate this fact. After Islam, this belief was supported with arguments such as the Han or Sultan being the shadow of Allah above ground (Zillullah fi’l ard), and approved by Allah (Mueyyed min indillah), but these are nothing more than comments originated from made up hadiths and other interpretations around this axis in order to legitimize this belief in question.

As it is well known, world domination is symbolized by the “Red Apple”. In some of the books which focus on Turkish World Domination, the discourses of “i’la-yi kelimetullah” (advocating Allah’s existence, defending greatness of Islam and superiority of Quran) do not reflect the reality in full when we observe the historical facts. In my opinion, the discourses originating from the Ottomans, which centralize conquering and sovereignty by saying they are actually i’la-yi kelimetullah, are actually nothing more than this Red Apple being supported by Islamic factors. Fatih saying “Single belief, single sultan in the world”, Yavuz saying “World is too small for two emperors, and it is too big for one emperor” can be explained with the world domination state mentality. However, we must point out that the goal for the world domination did not reflect on all practices during the reigning of all of the Han, Hakan, Kaghan and sultans. 

Second one is the tradition derived from classical Islam, to be more precise, political experiences of the Muslims. The roots go back to Umayyads and the Abbasids. These factors are the sultanate mentality which is transmitted from father to son, the emphasis on the fact that the state shall stand straight with the foundations of wisdom and justice, and Islamic law etc. In fact, the biggest effect of Islamic tradition is to legitimize  the state force and bring in holiness over it.

Regarding the Byzantine tradition, this is a mentality where the authority is gathered in one hand, which we could say some kind of a union of powers together with the established state institutions and their functioning models. While the state bureaucracy and palace organization, and manorialism are examples to the first one, the “indivisible absolute authority” of the emperor special to the Byzantines appeared as the unity of powers inside the Ottoman state mentality, and everything had happened to be handled by centralizing the palace.    

When we observe today by taking into account the main fundamentals, we can see that many things have actually originated from these. Let me provide you few examples:

1- Unity of powers instead separation of powers, and everything is attached to a center/palace and an individual/leader. We can observe this practice throughout the political traditions of the Turkish, Islam, and Byzantine.Because this leader is descended by a decision coming from the skies, and occupies that throne because God wants him to, and he is entitled to God’s approval and mercy, and he is the shadow of God. Therefore, he has the final saying about everything just like the God. Maybe the quotes “Our mercy passed our wrath” and “the leader who gathered all of the qualifications of God on himself” will sound more meaningful to you now.    

2- Religion-state identification. In accordance with the The Prophet’s (PBUH) gathering the qualifications of being the head of state and the prophet, the belief and the acceptance of the leaders that they inherit both two missions. This process was interrupted during the historical process by Karakhanids when they become Muslims, and the heads of the Abbasids, who had lost their powers, left the throne to other individuals, but they maintained their caliph status as the representative of The Prophet’s prophecy mission, and even though the duties of the caliphs were symbolic, they were selected amongst the people who were from the family of The Prophet, and with regard to being the head of state, it was not required as a qualification. After the conquest of Egypt by Yavuz, these two were merged together again, and the titles which were divided into two as the caliph and “emirul mu’minin” (emir of the believers) were merged again with the caliphate of the sultan. This is the reason why the people today imagine the leader as a caliph. Because the head of state is actually the caliph at the same time! 

3- The unity and identification of religion and state generated the mentality and culture where there cannot be a state without a religion and thus the state cannot survive. Therefore, the Muslims imagined and accepted that overtaking the state is absolute condition in order to protect the religion. According to this, religion means state, and state means religion. State is as holy as the religion. And when the state is holy, the individual who is the head of the state is holy too. “Touching him” is accepted as a worshipping for him! The state accepting any kind of idea and belief opposing to the official religion as heretics, and caring out disproportional punishment for them derives from this mentality. Because, everything is being done against the religion of the state. The freedoms of thought and belief is out of the question in this context. The state is right to give the most intense punishment as the protector of the religion.

The opposite is also valid

The ideas and actions which oppose the official views and practices of the state is categorized as “revolting against the state”, and the individuals will be punished most severely together with the fatwa provided by the religion/shaykh al-islam. Because these individuals pose a great danger to the world domination, which is the terms Is being widely used in Central Asia, and “Devlet-i ebed muddet” and “Nizam-i alem” which are the terms used by Ottoman. The state cannot be questioned about its actions.

There is wisdom with every single decision it takes. “Hikmet-i hukumet” (the wisdom of the state) idiom explains this. The individuals who played a role in the Babai revolt, the Barmakids, and Sheik Bedreddin i.e. faced the most severe punishment because of this mentality. Because they opposed the “hikmet-i hukumet” and started unrest, and the approach which dictates “unrest is worse than a killer” requires them to be executed. The capital punishment for the apostates derives from this mentality. 

We can come across this mentality about the killing of the princes, even the babies in their cradles with the Ottomans. Because, just we have stated above, the state is in such a position that everything which has potential to harm the existence and unity of it deserves punishment. The fact that the individual here is the son or the brother of the sultan does not change the result. More interestingly, if the sultan himself, who is on the top of the chain of command, is a danger for the survival of the state, then he is the one who will be punished. He is to be dethroned with the fatwa of the shaykh al-islam, and sent to prison, into exile, or even executed. 14 of 36 Sultans during the Ottoman reign, which had taken place for 623 years, were dethroned, and tens of princes were killed for the sake of the order of the universe. 

Can we say that the fact that 14 sultans had been dethroned cannot be.a proof for the limitation of the powers of the sultan? This is a very meaningful question, which will cause the historians to puzzle their brains. Because, when the political leaders takes over the powers similar to a sultan today, together with the unlimited possibilities offered by the state, they can even possess more absoluteness compared to the sultans. 

If you are asking what will happen to the reverends, nothing would change. If they take stance against the state, or they are in a position which will be a threat to the existence and unity of the state, they are to be killed, sent into exile, jailed, and whipped for the sake of the Red Apple, the eternal state, and order of the universe. The idiom “the finger cut by the sharia does not hurt” is actually being used for the individuals who have a similar type of religious identity and personality, and in order to silence the objections of the public. 

4- I can list many more things here, which is usual in today’s Turkey, and as an extension for these three traditions, but let me go back to Ozhaseki. The sultan, who is the state and thus the head of state in the political tradition of the Ottomans, is the owner of the land the empire possess, and also the owner of the people who live on it. Remember when the “Han” in Central Asia distributed the lands between his successors, which are basically his sons. But there is a difference with the Ottomans. Based on their experiences when they witnessed Seljuk Empire were divided into chiefdoms and the fights for the throne broke out after Yildirim between the princes, they saw that the distribution and sharing of the land damages the integrity of the state, and embraced a completely opposite practice.This is the reason underlying behind the prince executions.  

Another indicator of the fact that the land belongs to the state and the head of state is the land arrangement. With the Ottomans, the land is divided into two in the most general sense; the land owned by the state (arazi-yi miriyye); and the land owned by the people (araziyi memluke). However, the land owned by the state is incomparably larger from to the private lands.  

Besides, whenever the state categorizes the private land as an unlawful profit, it has the right to seize the land in question at any time. In fact, this seizure had been used like a sword which silenced the opponents during certain periods of the Ottomans. The possessions of the individuals who had opposed the state had been seized without any justification. Seizure funds were created within the estimated budgets, and officers were appointed to work only on the seizures in the specially created seizure units. Therefore, it should not be very difficult for us to guess that in order not to have a budget deficit, they had abandoned the rights and justification only to seize with meaningless reasons. 

You have not read wrong…

With regard to the people, according to this mentality, which is the main reason for the human rights not being able to reach to western standards, the governed masses, tebaa / reaya (natural and the herd which is herded) in other words, are the servants and the salves of the sultan. You have not read it wrong, I am talking about a mentality and a historical reality which was reflected on many treaties, rescripts, and titles. For example, have a look at the titles used by the sultans, and the qualifications they had written on their seals. The following title, which shows that the traditions of Central Asian Turk and Islam were merged together, “Sultanu’l Berreyn ve Hakanu’l Bahreyn” literally means “Sultan of the two lands, Hakan of the two seas”. Or this treaty or promissory: “With the mercy of Hak Teala (Allah) and the abundance and miracles of our Prophet (PBUH), I am the sultanu’s selatin and zillullah fi’l Salem who owns the Hakans of two worlds – Suleyman Han b. Selim Han. B Beyazit Han”. Or, just like you could see in thousands of sources when the sultan called his people “my servants”. 

Let’s be fair and not read today from the things happened in yesterday with an approach of anachronism. Maybe, other heads of states had used similar words within the rules of the respective period. The expression “my servants” had actually meant “my citizens”. However, let’s not forget that these expressions are not being acknowledged like that anymore in today’s Turkey. The normal people do not attribute the same meaning as the academic world. They only deduce that they were actually “servants” from the “my servants” expression.

As a result, if the “Allah sent us an owner” expression of Ozhaseki was not stated because of fear or interest, or was not stated under the passion of speech with the idea of rhetoric as an exorbitant, it might be a natural and indispensable consequence of the political tradition we have been trying to explain. This type of politics is not new but old. It is not today’s problem, but also yesterday’s. Until the mentally changes, it will continue to be tomorrow’s problem too. Otherwise, there might and will be many more individuals like Ozhaseki, who sees Erdogan as the master and owner, and himself as the servant and slave. Especially just before the elections! 

Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is an author and expert on Islamic Law.

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Dr. Ahmet Kurucan is a an author and scholar focusing on Islamic Studies and Law.

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