Turkey: Back to the Future?
By Andrew G. Bostom
This is the first in a three-part series examining the history of Turkey's 'tolerant' version of Islam. Part 1 examines jihad in Ottoman Turkey's history. Part 2 examines dhimmitude, the lowly status accorded non-Muslims in Ottoman (and other Islamic) history. Part 3 examines the failed Tanzimat reforms which ended with the frank jihad genocide against the Armenian dhimmis during World War I.

Danish translation: Tyrkiet: Tilbage til fremtiden?
Source: American Thinker
Published on myIslam.dk: February 11, 2012

Once again, Turks are storming the heart of Europe. This time, it is not by the sword, but rather in seeking to join the European Union (EU). Once inside the gates, they will gain access to the great cities, wealth, and power of their ancient rivals. Smoothing the way for incorporation of the former would—be conqueror into borderless Europe is an errant belief that Ottoman Turkey was a tolerant multi—cultural civilization. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Recently, security analyst Frank Gaffney wrote a courageous essay, featured in the Washington Times, urging that Turkey's bid to join the EU be rejected. Gaffney highlighted the Islamic Shari'a—based religious revival under the current Erdogan regime as the keystone to his cogent argument. Despite Gaffney's legitimate concerns regarding the current Erdogan government, he reiterates a common, politically—correct canard which ignores the direct nexus between Erdogan's ideology, and the goals and behaviors of Erdogan's Ottoman ancestors. It is ahistorical to speak of "Ottoman tolerance" as distinct from Erdogan's "Islamism", because the Ottoman Empire expanded via three centuries of devastating jihad campaigns, and the flimsy concept of Ottoman tolerance was, in reality, Ottoman—imposed dhimmitude, under the Shari'a.

With formal discussions regarding Turkey's potential EU accession currently underway, this three part essay will elaborate on several apposite historical phenomena: Jihad and dhimmitude under the Ottomans, focusing primarily on Asia Minor and Eastern Europe; the failure of the so—called Ottoman Tanzimat reforms to abrogate the system of dhimmitude; and the dissolution of this Shari'a state whose bloody, convulsive collapse during the first World War included a frank jihad genocide of the Ottoman dhimmi population, once considered most loyal to the Empire, i.e., the Armenians. I believe such an analysis is particularly timely, in light of a December 2004 United Nations Conference which lionized "Ottoman tolerance" as a role model, "... to be adapted even today..." [emphasis added], and Gaffney's reiteration of this profoundly flawed conception, despite his own bold opposition to Turkey's entry into the EU.

Jihad Campaigns of the Seljuks and Ottomans

The historian Michael the Syrian (Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch from 1166 to 1199 C.E.) in his Chronicle reproducing earlier contemporary sources, made important observations regarding events which occurred beginning in the third decade of the 11th century. He noted,

'...the commencement of the exodus of the Turks to...Syria and the coast of Palestine...[Where] They subdued all the countries by cruel devastation and plunder' [1] Subsequently, 'Turks and Arabs were mixing together like a single people...Such was the rule of the Turks amidst the Arabs' [2]

Expanding upon this contemporary account, and the vast array of other primary sources - Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Latin, Serbian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian [3] - Bat Ye'or concludes, [4]

...the two waves of Muslim expansion, the Arab from the seventh century, and the Turkish four centuries later—are remarkably similar... The great Arab and Turkish conquerors used the same military tactics and the same policies of consolidating Islamic power. This continuity resulted from the fact that the conquests took place within the framework of the common ideology of jihad and the administrative and juridical apparatus of the shari'a—a uniformity that defies time, since it adapts itself to diverse lands and peoples, being integrated into the internal coherence of a political theology. In the course of their military operations, the Turks applied to the conquered populations the rules of jihad, which had been structured four centuries earlier by the Arabs and enshrined in Islamic religious law.

The Seljuk and Ottoman jihad campaigns were spearheaded by 'Ghazi' (from the word ghazwa or 'razzia') movements, 'Warriors of the Faith', brought together under the banner of Islam to fight infidels, and obtain booty. Wittek [5] and Vryonis [6] have stressed the significance of this movement, in its Seljuk incarnation, at the most critical frontier of Islam during the 11th and 12th centuries, i.e., eastern Anatolia. Vryonis notes, [7]

When the Arab traveler al—Harawi passed through these border regions in the second half of the 12th century, he noted the existence of a shrine on the Byzantine—Turkish borders (near Afyon—Karahisar) which was reported to be the tomb of the Muslim martyr Abu Muhammd al—Battal, and at Amorium the tombs of those who fell in the celebrated siege of the city in 838. These constitute fascinating testimony to the fact that the ghazi—jihad tradition was closely intertwined into the nomadic society of Phrygia. Not only was there evidence of a nomadic invasion but also of an epic society in its heroic age, and it is from this milieu that the Turkish epics were shaped: the Battalname, the Danishmendname, and the Dusturname.

Wittek, citing the oldest known Ottoman source, the versified chronicle of Ahmedi, maintains that the 14th century Ottomans believed they too,

'were a community of Ghazis, of champions of the Mohammedan religion; a community of the Moslem march—warriors, devoted to the struggle with the infidels in their neighborhood' [8].

The contemporary Turkish scholar of Ottoman history, Halil Inalcik, has also emphasized the importance of Muslim religious zeal—expressed through jihad—as a primary motivation for the conquests of the Ottoman Turks: [9]

The ideal of gaza, Holy War, was an important factor in the foundation and development of the Ottoman state. Society in the frontier principalities conformed to a particular cultural pattern imbued with the ideal of continuous Holy War and continuous expansion of the Dar ul Islam—the realms of Islam—until they covered the whole world.

Incited by pious Muslim theologians, these ghazis were at the vanguard of both the Seljuk and Ottoman jihad conquests. Vacalopoulos highlights the role of the dervishes during the Ottoman campaigns: [10]

...fanatical dervishes and other devout Muslim leaders...constantly toiled for the dissemination of Islam. They had done so from the very beginning of the Ottoman state and had played an important part in the consolidation and extension of Islam. These dervishes were particularly active in the uninhabited frontier regions of the east. Here they settled down with their families, attracted other settlers, and thus became the virtual founders of whole new villages, whose inhabitants invariably exhibited the same qualities of deep religious fervor. From places such as these, the dervishes or their agents would emerge to take part in new military enterprises for the extension of the Islamic state. In return, the state granted them land and privileges under a generous prescription which required only that the land be cultivated and communications secured.

Brief overviews of the Seljuk and Ottoman jihad campaigns which ultimately Islamized Asia Minor, have been provided by Vryonis and Vacalopoulos. First, the schematic, clinical assessment of Vryonis: [11]

The conquest, or should I say the conquests of Asia Minor were in operation over a period of four centuries. Thus the Christian societies of Asia Minor were submitted to extensive periods of intense warfare, incursions, and destructions which undermined the existence of the Christian church. In the first century of Turkish conquests and invasions from the mid—eleventh to the late twelfth century, the sources reveal that some 63 towns and villages were destroyed. The inhabitants of other towns and villages were enslaved and taken off to the Muslim slave markets.

Vacalopoulos describes the conquests in more animated detail: [12]

At the beginning of the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks forced their way into Armenia and there crushed the armies of several petty Armenian states. No fewer than forty thousand souls fled before the organized pillage of the Seljuk host to the western part of Asia Minor...From the middle of the eleventh century, and especially after the battle of Malazgirt [Manzikurt] (1071), the Seljuks spread throughout the whole Asia Minor peninsula, leaving terror, panic and destruction in their wake. Byzantine, Turkish and other contemporary sources are unanimous in their agreement on the extent of havoc wrought and the protracted anguish of the local population...evidence as we have proves that the Hellenic population of Asia Minor, whose very vigor had so long sustained the Empire and might indeed be said to have constituted its greatest strength, succumbed so rapidly to Turkish pressure that by the fourteenth century, it was confined to a few limited areas. By that time, Asia Minor was already being called Turkey...one after another, bishoprics and metropolitan sees which once throbbed with Christian vitality became vacant and ecclesiastical buildings fell into ruins. The metropolitan see of Chalcedon, for example, disappeared in the fourteenth century, and the sees of Laodicea, Kotyaeon (now Kutahya) and Synada in the fifteenth...With the extermination of local populations or their precipitate flight, entire villages, cities, and sometimes whole provinces fell into decay. There were some fertile districts like the valley of the Maeander River, once stocked with thousands of sheep and cattle, which were laid waste and thereafter ceased to be in any way productive. Other districts were literally transformed into wildernesses. Impenetrable thickets sprang up in places where once there had been luxuriant fields and pastures. This is what happened to the district of Sangarius, for example, which Michael VIII Palaeologus had known formerly as a prosperous, cultivated land, but whose utter desolation he afterwards surveyed in utmost despair...The mountainous region between Nicaea and Nicomedia, opposite Constantinople, once clustered with castles, cities, and villages, was depopulated. A few towns escaped total destruction—Laodicea, Iconium, Bursa (then Prusa), and Sinope, for example—but the extent of devastation elsewhere was such as to make a profound impression on visitors for many years to come. The fate of Antioch provides a graphic illustration of the kind of havoc wrought by the Turkish invaders: in 1432, only three hundred dwellings could be counted inside its walls, and its predominantly Turkish or Arab inhabitants subsisted by raising camels, goats, cattle, and sheep. Other cities in the southeastern part of Asia Minor fell into similar decay.

The Islamization of Asia Minor was complemented by parallel and subsequent Ottoman jihad campaigns in the Balkans. [13] As of 1326 C.E., yearly razzias by the emirs of Asia Minor targeted southern Thrace, southern Macedonia, and the coastal areas of southern Greece. Around 1360 C.E., the Ottomans, under Suleiman (son of Sultan Orchan), and later Sultan Murad I (1359—1389), launched bona fide campaigns of jihad conquest, capturing and occupying a series of cities and towns in Byzantine and Bulgarian Thrace. Following the battle of Cernomen (September 26, 1371), the Ottomans penetrated westward, occupying within 15 years, a large number of towns in western Bulgaria, and in Macedonia. Ottoman invasions during this period also occurred in the Peloponnesus, central Greece, Epirus, Thessaly, Albania, and Montenegro. By 1388 most of northeast Bulgaria was conquered, and following the battle of Kosovo (1389), Serbia came under Ottoman suzerainty. Vacalopoulos argues that internecine warring, as well as social and political upheaval, prevented the Balkan populations—Greeks, Bulgarians, Albanians, and Serbians—from uniting against the common Ottoman enemy, thus sealing their doom. Indeed, he observes that, [14]

After the defeat of the Serbs at Cirmen (or Cernomen) near the Hebrus River in 1371, Serbia, Bulgaria, and the Byzantine Empire became tributaries of the Ottoman Empire and were obliged to render assistance in Ottoman campaigns.

Bayezid I (1389—1402) undertook devastating campaigns in Bosnia, Hungary, and Wallachia, in addition to turning south and again attacking central Greece and the Peloponnesus. After a hiatus during their struggle against the Mongol invaders, the Ottomans renewed their Balkan offensive in 1421. Successful Ottoman campaigns were waged in the Peloponnesus, Serbia, and Hungary, culminating with the victory at the second Battle of Kosovo (1448). With the accession to power of Mehmed II, the Ottomans commenced their definitive conquest of the Balkan peninsula. Constantinople was captured on May 29, 1453, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire. By 1460, the Ottomans had completely vanquished both Serbia and the Peloponnesus. Bosnia and Trebizond fell in 1463, followed by Albania in 1468. With the conquest of Herzegovina in 1483, the Ottomans became rulers of the entire Balkan peninsula.

Vacalopoulos, commenting on the initial Ottoman forays into Thrace during the mid 14th century, and Angelov, who provides an overall assessment highlighting the later campaigns of Murad II (1421—1451) and Mehmed II (1451—1481), elucidate the impact of the Ottoman jihad on the vanquished Balkan populations:

From the very beginning of the Turkish onslaught [in Thrace] under Suleiman [son of Sultan Orchan], the Turks tried to consolidate their position by the forcible imposition of Islam. If [the Ottoman historian] Sukrullah is to be believed, those who refused to accept the Moslem faith were slaughtered and their families enslaved. 'Where there were bells', writes the same author [i.e., Sukrullah], 'Suleiman broke them up and cast them into fires. Where there were churches he destroyed them or converted them into mosques. Thus, in place of bells there were now muezzins. Wherever Christian infidels were still found, vassalage was imposed on their rulers. At least in public they could no longer say 'kyrie eleison' but rather 'There is no God but Allah'; and where once their prayers had been addressed to Christ, they were now to 'Muhammad, the prophet of Allah'.' [15]
...the conquest of the Balkan Peninsula accomplished by the Turks over the course of about two centuries caused the incalculable ruin of material goods, countless massacres, the enslavement and exile of a great part of the population — in a word, a general and protracted decline of productivity, as was the case with Asia Minor after it was occupied by the same invaders. This decline in productivity is all the more striking when one recalls that in the mid—fourteenth century, as the Ottomans were gaining a foothold on the peninsula, the States that existed there — Byzantium, Bulgaria and Serbia — had already reached a rather high level of economic and cultural development....The campaigns of Mourad II (1421—1451) and especially those of his successor, Mahomet II (1451—1481) in Serbia, Bosnia, Albania and in the Byzantine princedom of the Peloponnesus, were of a particularly devastating character. During the campaign that the Turks launched in Serbia in 1455—1456, Belgrade, Novo—Bardo and other towns were to a great extent destroyed. The invasion of the Turks in Albania during the summer of 1459 caused enormous havoc. According to the account of it written by Kritobulos, the invaders destroyed the entire harvest and leveled the fortified towns that they had captured. The country was afflicted with further devastation in 1466 when the Albanians, after putting up heroic resistance, had to withdraw into the most inaccessible regions, from which they continued the struggle. Many cities were likewise ruined during the course of the campaign led by Mahomet II in 1463 against Bosnia — among them Yaytz, the capital of the Kingdom of Bosnia...But it was the Peloponnesus that suffered most from the Turkish invasions. It was invaded in 1446 by the armies of Murad II, which destroyed a great number of places and took thousands of prisoners. Twelve years later, during the summer of 1458, the Balkan Peninsula was invaded by an enormous Turkish army under the command of Mahomet II and his first lieutenant Mahmoud Pasha. After a siege that lasted four months, Corinth fell into enemy hands. Its walls were razed, and many places that the sultan considered useless were destroyed. The work by Kritobulos contains an account of the Ottoman campaigns, which clearly shows us the vast destruction caused by the invaders in these regions. Two years later another Turkish army burst into the Peloponnesus. This time Gardiki and several other places were ruined. Finally, in 1464, for the third time, the destructive rage of the invaders was aimed at the Peloponnesus. That was when the Ottomans battled the Venetians and leveled the city of Argos to its foundations. [16]


[1] Michael the Syrian, Chronique de Michel Le Syrien, Paris, 1899—1906, Vol. 3 p. 176, French translation by Jean—Baptiste Chabot; English translation in Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, pp. 170—171.

[2] Michael the Syrian, Chronique, Vol. 3 p. 176; English translation in Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 1996, p. 55.

[3] See the numerous primary sources cited in each of: Dimitar Angelov, 'Certains Aspects de la Conquete Des Peuples Balkaniques par les Turcs' Byzantinoslavica, 1956, Vol. 17, pp. 220—275. English translation in, A.G. Bostom, The Legacy of Jihad, Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2005, pp. 462—517; Apostolos E. Vacalopoulos. Origins of the Greek Nation— The Byzantine Period, 1204—1461. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1970.; Speros Vryonis. The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Elevemth through the Fifteenth Century, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1971 (Paperback, 1986).

[4] Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, p. 55—56.

[5] Paul Wittek. The Rise of the Ottoman Empire. London, The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1938 (reprinted 1966), p. 18.

[6] Speros Vryonis. 'Nomadization and Islamization in Asia Minor' , Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol.29, 1975, p. 49.

[7] Vryonis, 'Nomadization and Islamization in Asia Minor', p. 49

[8] Paul Wittek. The Rise of the Ottoman Empire. London, p. 14. Wittek (also p. 14) includes this discussion, with a block quote from Ahmedi's text.

The chapter Ahmedi devotes in his Iskender—name to the history of the Ottoman sultans, the ancestors of his protector Sulayman Tshelebi, son of Bayazid I, begins with an introduction in which the poet solemnly declares his intention of writing a Ghazawat—name, a book about the holy war of the Ghazis. He poses the question' 'Why have the Ghazis appeared at last?' And he answers: 'Because the best always comes at the end. Just as the definitive prophet Mohammed came after the others, just as the Koran came down from heaven after the Torah, the Psalms and the Gospels, so also the Ghazis appeared in the world at the last, ' those Ghazis the reign of whom is that of the Ottomans. The poet continues with this question: 'Who is a Ghazi?'. And he explains: 'A Ghazi is the instrument of the religion of Allah, a servant of God who purifies the earth from the filth of polytheism (remember that Islam regards the Trinity of the Christians as a polytheism); the Ghazi is the sword of God, he is the protector and refuge of the believers. If he becomes a martyr in the ways of God, do not believe that he has died— he lives in beatitude with Allah, he has eternal life'.

[9] Halil Inalcik. The Ottoman Empire—The Classical Age, 1300—1600, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973, p. 6.

[10] Vacalopoulos. Origins of the Greek Nation— The Byzantine Period, p.66.

[11] Speros Vryonis. 'The Experience of Christians under Seljuk and Ottoman Domination, Eleventh to Sixteenth Century', in Conversion and Continuity: Indigenous Christian Communities in Islamic lands, Eighth to Eighteenth Centuries, edited by Michael Gervers and Ramzi Jibran Bikhazi, Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1990, p. 201

[12] Vacalopoulos. Origins of the Greek Nation— The Byzantine Period, pp. 61—62.

[13] Angelov, 'Certains Aspects de la Conquete Des Peuples Balkaniques par les Turcs', pp. 220—275; Vacalopoulos. Origins of the Greek Nation— The Byzantine Period, pp. 69—85.

[14] Vacalopoulos. Origins of the Greek Nation— The Byzantine Period, p. 77.

[15] Vacalopoulos. Origins of the Greek Nation— The Byzantine Period, p. 73.

[16] Angelov, 'Certains Aspects de la Conquete Des Peuples Balkaniques par les Turcs', pp. 236, 238—239.

Andrew G. Bostom, MD, MS, is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University Medical School.
He is the author of:
The Legacy of Jihad, Prometheus Books (2005),
The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, Prometheus Books (2008),
Sharia Versus Freedom. The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism, Prometheus Books (2012),
The Mufti's Islamic Jew Hatred. What the Nazis Learned From the 'Muslim Pope', Bravura Books (2013), and
Iran's Final Solution for Israel. The Legacy of Jihad and Shi'ite Islamic Jew-Hatred in Iran, Bravura Books (2014).