Acclaimed as the “most outstanding Turkish scholar and intellectual of the twentieth century,”[1]the author, Mehmed Fuad Köprülü, taught at the university level until 1943, publishing a litany of “seminal [academic] works.”[2]He entered Turkish politics soon thereafter and held the position of Minister of Foreign Affairs until 1955, ending his public tenure as a notable figure in the sphere of Turkish influence. Nevertheless, his commendable writings remain in the highest of academic pedigree, persisting into the twenty-first century as a corpus of recommended works.[3]Therefore, with his unequivocally impressive curriculum vitae, it is imperative to note the exceptional credibility to prelude this book review. His pedagogical approach in conveying the milieu of pre-Turkish Anatolia and the Middle East with new methodologies is paramount in investigating the proper origins of Osman’s ghazi, Qayi tribe.

The title of the first chapter of M. Fuad Köprülü’s The Origins of the Ottoman Empire itself infers insufficiency in past study of the consolidated Turkish state, “The Question of the Founding of the Ottoman Empire and How It Should be Studied.”[4]The author, in subsequent passages, notes the inadequate research and unfortunate tutelage of persons such as Gibbons, an intellectual and academic rival. Köprülü succinctly outlines Gibbons’s theory on the origins of the Ottoman dynasty, writing, “[H]e tried to explain the establishment of the Ottoman state only by religion, and believed that the newly adopted religion created a new race, an Ottoman race.”[5]Köprülü continues, recounting the people of Osman, a nomadic enclave settling in northwestern Anatolia, after shocking the known world with their unparalleled successful advance against Byzantium, soon established an imperial machine by integrating with domestic cultures for the express purpose of adopting tradition, religion, and, ultimately, trust for future political endeavors. In an effort to not only inform but also communicate the absurdity of the untenable legends by the annalists of old, the author, conveying Gibbons’s original position, retells these stories at length, relaying their fictitious nature by which they ensured sovereignty and political legitimacy, as divine ordination must supplement the acclaimed right to world domination[6]. Geise, a critic of Gibbons, connotes, with mildly pejorative condescension, these fantastical dreams as “a desire to give a divine legitimacy to the Ottoman family for the establishment of hegemony over the other Turkish tribes in Asia Minor.”[7]Furthermore,

“It is in inexcusable error, with regard to history, to attribute the founding of the Ottoman state to a tribe of 400 tents [as does Gibbons], established on the Seljuk-Byzantine frontier in the northwestern corner of Anatolia in the thirteenth century, without giving [ample context].”[8]

After noting the attractive economy and landscape of Anatolia as an epicenter for Euro-Asian immigration,[9]concerning the sources of the inception of the Seljuk/Turk state, Köprülü notes the ubiquity of neither unreliable text(s) nor tangible evidence to substantiate their authenticity. Nevertheless, he concludes, “The primary objective that I have kept in mind in these lectures is the following: to present in concrete fashion the need to apply to historical studies on the Turkish and Islamic Middle Ages the new methods [presented].”[10]

Köprülü, in his historical compendium of the nascency of the Ottoman state and the internal conflict culminating in its gradual demise, aptly describes his research methodology and recommends avenues to pursue thorough and succinct investigations into the life and heritage of Osman.[11]Much of the first-half portion of the book is a polemic against apathetic academics. He, in later chapters, posits his own theories with a plethora of credible sources, articulating, “The only positive result that we can reach is that Osman’s small tribe belonged to the Qayi.”[12]This analytical conclusion with exhaustive pretext confirms, with demonstrable astuteness, Osman, of the Oghuz tribe, and his posterity originated from the pagan lands of Central Asia.  He continues, “We know that an organization called the ghazis existed in Transoxiana in the tenth century and…took advantage of the internal struggles of the Abbasid dynasty to become powerful in Baghdad.”[13] Eventually, in 1055, the waning caliph Al-Qa’im bestowed authority and protectorship upon Seljuk chieftain Tughril/Toghril Beg/Bey, thus, in essence, effectually abdicating his throne to the sultan of Rum.[14]With Köprülü’s extensive research and methodological approach, formerly held beliefs of the origins of the Turkmen peoples have been validated, disproven and discarded, or further questioned.

Though Köprülü provides ample context for the primordial Turkish, non-suzerain, autonomous, nation-state—eventually evolving into a significant international actor—one shouldn’t bank their entire understanding of pre-Ottoman Anatolia and Greater Mesopotamia on his findings despite his seemingly impenetrable and thorough findings. Notwithstanding Köprülü’s textual juxtaposition, urging academic honesty and vehemently opposing intellectual apathy, it is, therefore, academically and personally conducive for one desiring a greater comprehension of the origins of the Ottoman Empire to seek secondary and even tertiary, if one is diligent enough, confirmation.[15]Moreover, concerning his continual barrage of Gibbons et al., the oft evocation of past research, though necessary, is slightly much, as sufficient supplemental research will suffice.

Furthermore, the seemingly voluminous, mundane polemic/lecturial investigation into the origins of the Ottoman Empire eventually resolves the historical dilemma with near-certain evidence corroborating Köprülü’s suspicions of their Central Asian, Turkmen heritage. Their origins, substantiated by credible sources offer insight into the historically obscure and politically malleable tribe of Ertughrul and Osman.[16]What is interesting, however, is their eventual ostensible Islamic devotion. Initial Islamic conviction derived from their Seljuk predecessors, who adopted the Abbasid mantra with fashionable ease. The prevalence of religious adherents (e.g. Muslims, Christians, Jews) seamlessly blended religion and politics into every day life, as this commonality carries over into modernity. The inextricable religio-political schema, with technological advancement and the race for imperial dominion, clouded the minds of Turkish autocrats and aristocrats (i.e. sultans, caliphs, pashas), who incentivized Islamization,[17]archaic gaza,[18]and, in subsequent years, jihad[19]expressly to peripheralize Ottoman power.

Overall, Köprülü’s family history, direct connection to Ottoman aristocracy,[20]and adept scholarship in his Turkish heritage provides exceptional insight. With genetic proximity to Ottoman governmental affairs, he sets precedence and a patent high bar for outside scholars. Therefore, the author’s undoubtedly opportune status and credibility is uneasy to match. His propitious position in the locus of the Euro-Asian, trans-modern, Middle Eastern empire nearly sates historians in their quest for a more personalized rendition of the origins of the Ottoman dynasty. I do wish, however, Köprülü would have expounded upon post-empire reverberations, possibly communicating prescient effects of the sultans’ perceived intra-colonialism such as jihad. Though the author died in 1966, maybe, with scholarly prudence, he could have compared and contrasted the newly carved Middle East with pre-World War I relative amiability, noting, like Cleveland and Bunton, Ottoman tolerance toward myriad religious groups, providing incentives for assimilation.[21]Nevertheless, though Köprülü’s compendium of the origins of the Ottoman Empire is longwinded yet paradoxically succinct, I can assuredly recommend it with forewarning of its dense contents.


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