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Greatest Nations: Vol X—Turkey by  Charles F. Horne






[Authorities—General:  Von Hammer Purgstall, "History of the Ottoman Empire" (in German); Creasy, "History of the Ottoman Turks"; Larpent, "History of the Turkish Empire"; Lamartine, "History of Turkey"; Cantemir, "History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire"; Morris, "The Turkish Empire" Lane-Poole. "The Story of Turkey"; Garnett, "Turkish Life in Town and Country"; Grosvenor, "Constantinople."—Special:  Vambery, "The Turkish Races."]

CONSTANTINOPLE, the Turkish capital, the mysterious, ancient, ever-flourishing city, sacred alike to Christian and Mahometan, stands in its wondrous beauty upon European shores; yet Turkey is an Asiatic State. Her story belongs to Asia, the world of dreamy fancy and lurid legend, not of sober fact and accurately dated history. Hence one can speak of Turkey only after the fashion of her own clime, repeating the poetic fantasies with which her writers have adorned her early days, enjoying the beauty and noting the symbolism of each new tale, but with not too deep a faith in its mathematical veracity.

The story deals first with Ertoghrul, whose name means the right-hearted man; and the hero who succeeds him is Osman, the limb-breaker. The [1738] significant titles indicate the chief qualities for which the Turks take pride in their far ancestors. Those founders of the race were sturdy warriors and "right-hearted" men of honor.

This is certainly not the general conception of the Turks, held by the peoples of the West; but if we are to appreciate or understand at all the marvellous rise of this fierce yet romantic race, we must begin by casting aside the false ideas which many of us have acquired through dwelling only on the evil side of the character of a fallen foe. Let us start on the basis of a few plain facts. Western ignorance and indeed indifference as regards things Asiatic, are so dense that we blunder over the very name of this people and of their land. To speak of the Turkish Empire at Constantinople is as mistaken as to speak of the Caucasian Empire at London. Turk  is really a general name covering all the nations and tribes which once spread over northern Asia and most of Russia. The name, to a gentleman of Constantinople, suggests something of wildness and barbarism. His own nation is a special branch of the Turkish race, the one that has risen above all others in intellect, in civilization and fame. The members of this noteworthy people are called the Osmanli, for they are the followers of Osman, or as the West has carelessly spelled it, Othman. Their domain, by a still further perversion of sound, we entitle the Ottoman Empire.



Turn now to the tale of its beginning. The first leader, Ertoghrul, steps into the light of romance as a hero of about the middle of the thirteenth century, the central figure of a striking and characteristic episode. At the time of his appearance the great religious crusades were just at an end, and if they had disrupted European kingdoms, far more had they shaken and shattered the East. The vast empire of the Mahometan Arabs had fallen into fragments; and Western Asia, the region of Persia, Syria, and Asia Minor, the birthplace of civilization, was occupied by a confusion of many peoples, the most numerous among them being perhaps of Turkish race, descendants of the many bands of Turks which for centuries had wandered down from the wild and barren north-east. One tribe of these Turks, the Seljuks, had even founded a sort of empire of their own in Asia Minor. Their rulers or Sultans had established their capital at Iconium and had fought valiantly against the Crusaders. But their power had wasted to a shadow, they were staggering under the assaults of other invading hordes.

Into this world of tumult and confusion there entered another Turkish people, as yet a tribe without fixed name, the Osmanli of the future. They were "khazak" or cossacks, which means wanderers,—nomads, owners of vast flocks and herds with which they roamed over the wide grassy wildernesses of the north. Following in the footsteps of endless earlier tribes, they grew numerous and strong and began to push their way southward, seeking ever pleasanter, warmer dwelling-lands with richer pasturage. They had crossed Armenia, taking uncounted years, [1739] perhaps generations, in their advance. They were moving down the Upper Euphrates River into Syria, when their chief was drowned in the stream, leaving part of his inheritance to a young son, Ertoghrul, too youthful, thought his wild followers, to give them protection or to deserve obedience. So the tribe scattered in all directions, as fancy moved them. Only a remnant of the most loyal clung to Ertoghrul, leaving him a band of four hundred and forty-four horsemen, a fitting, symbolic number of faithful and valiant clansmen.

In his wanderings the new chief had heard of the great Turkish Sultan at Iconium, and with this lord he resolved to seek shelter and service for his people. Journeying through the wilds of Asia Minor, he and his followers heard one day a furious clash of arms. Watching from a hill, they saw two armies in the shock of battle, and the weaker side, though fighting desperately, began to give way before overwhelming numbers. With characteristic chivalry and impetuosity, Ertoghrul stayed not to learn the causes of the quarrel, but crying to his band that they must restore the uneven balance, he led them in a wild charge into the affray. Small as the troop was, the shock of its unexpected appearance and attack decided the fortune of the day. The enemy fled, and Ertoghrul, showered with the thanks and praise of those whom he had rescued, found that their general was the very ruler he was seeking,—the Sultan of Iconium.

It may be imagined how eagerly the Sultan accepted the adherence of these proven veterans. He conferred on them the lordship of a province in northern Asia Minor, centering about the city of Saguta, and charged them to defend the land against the ever-recurring invasions of the Tartar hordes. Ertoghrul ruled wisely, and gathered round him a strong army from the inhabitants of the district and from the many adventurers, chiefly of Turkish race, who joined his standard. He soon found that he was really an independent ruler, who must rely on his own resources. Wandering bands like his own were constantly appearing to attack him. The Sultan's authority was only a shadow. Each warlike Emir (lord) of a city fought against the others, and the only law was that of the strongest.

By that law Ertoghrul proved his right to rule. Very gradually he made himself assured master of the territories that had been granted him. In a battle fought against the forces of the Greek cities bordering the coast of the Black Sea, he originated a new style of tactics which remained for centuries the favorite mode of attack among his people. He repeatedly sent his light troops against the enemy, not to lock with them in death-grapple, but to harass, bewilder and exhaust the foe. Then seizing the vital moment, the chieftain swept his lighter forces aside and charged with his own veterans, fresh, fierce, and eager to prove their right to the proud supremacy they held.

A complete victory resulted, and Ertoghrul was thereafter recognized as the chief lieutenant of the feeble Sultan, and as defender of all the northern frontiers. [1740] His province was greatly enlarged, and to it was given the name of Sultan-Śni,—the Sultan's stand.

The new Emir of Sultan Śni always remained loyal to the trust he had accepted, and maintained his nominal allegiance to the Sultan at Iconium. Hence he was not the founder of a new kingdom, though his province was practically an independent state and the best governed and best ordered in Asia Minor. The "right-hearted" Emir died in 1288 and left his authority to his son Osman, the limb-breaker.

As to whether Ertoghrul and his people had adopted the Mahometan faith before entering Asia Minor, the Turkish historians differ. The more commonly accepted legend represents them as rude, uncultured pagans. Their leader, we are assured, was first made acquainted with the Koran in the house of a Mahometan whom he saw reading it. Being told the book was the word of God, Ertoghrul examined it and was so impressed that he stood erect and in that attitude of reverence continued reading the entire night. Then, as if in a vision, he heard a solemn voice from above which spoke a promise: "Since thou hast read with such respect My Eternal word, even in the same manner shall thy children and thy children's children be honored from generation to generation."



Despite this vision, young Osman seems to have been brought up in the pagan faith of his ancestors, for the pretty love legend of his youth, a favorite theme of Oriental poets, is based on his conversion. According to the tales, there was a learned Mahometan sheik who dwelt in a village near Ertoghrul's capital. More famed even than the learning of the sheik was the beauty of his one daughter Malkhatoon or the moon maiden; and the lad Osman, first attracted to the house by the wisdom of the sire, remained as a suitor for the daughter. The sheik refused the alliance because Osman was an unbeliever; and the young prince submitted reverently. Still raving however, of his lady-love, he described her beauty in such impassioned terms to a neighboring Emir that the latter also became enamored, and striving to win the maid by rougher means, drove her and her father to seek shelter in the home of her more respectful admirer. Here the discourses of the sheik completed the conversion of Osman. Like his father Ertoghrul, the shrewd young convert had a vision. In this, if we omit the flowery details and symbols so dear to Turkish fancy, he saw a picture of the descendants of himself and the moon maiden governing the whole earth and, through the power of many crescent scimeters, spreading throughout their domains the religion of Mahomet.

So impressive a vision would scarce allow itself to be misunderstood or disobeyed. The young pair were wedded, Osman's warlike followers adopted his new religion with its invitation to conquest, and Mahometanism took a fresh lease of life. Over five centuries had elapsed since the exhaustion of that first impulse which sent the Arab followers of Mahomet across half the known world with the [1741] Koran and the sword. Their remarkable empire had long disappeared, but their religion remained, and now a new myriad of scimeters were consecrated to the work of conversion.

In many respects Mahometanism resembles Christianity. It has indeed been called a debased form of the earlier faith; for its followers accept the teachings of Christ, whom they regard as a great prophet whose commands have, however, been supplanted, and to some extent superseded, by those of the later and greater prophet, Mahomet. His doctrines are eminently fitted to inspire a rude and warlike race, for they expressly direct the spreading of the faith by the sword, and they promise physical bliss, instant and perfect, to all who perish in the holy strife. Thus by the word of Osman, what had been only a band of nomads, doubtless a mixture of many races, Mongols and Turcomans as well as Turks, growing like a snowball larger and more heterogeneous in their wandering advance—this mass was welded into a single nation, inspired by one common impulse.

Osman followed quietly at first in his father's footsteps, completing and enforcing his power over Sultan-Śni. He was a wise and just ruler, and not until after many years of peace did he (1299) begin to extend his territory through conquest. One of his earliest aggressive expeditions gave rise to another legend, treasured by his people as typical of their race. Being about to seize one of the Greek fortresses upon his borders, Osman called a council of his warriors. His aged uncle, who had accompanied Ertoghrul in all the wanderings of the tribe, pleaded for caution. Whereon Osman, fearing that his followers would begin to look coldly on his schemes, snatched up a bow and shot his uncle dead. No man after that dared counsel him to peace.

It was not, however, until twenty years after his father's death that Osman assumed a wholly independent sovereignty. His wars were fought and his provinces held in the name of the Sultans of Iconium. In 1307, the last of these to whom he had sworn allegiance died; upon which Osman abandoned the few remaining forms of vassalage and continued his career of conquest as a monarch in his own right. He did not change his simple title of Emir or lord for that of Sultan or supreme ruler; but about this time he took to himself the two most distinctive attributes and privileges of sovereignty in the East. He bade that the public prayers of Sultan-Śni be said in his own name, and he coined money bearing the stamp of his own head. Thus it was he, rather than his father, who became the founder of a new kingdom. It was he who gave it its new religious impulse, and from him it has become known as the realm of Osman and of his successors, the Osmanli.

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