Turkish English Relations Throughout the History

Turkish English Relations Throughout the History

Category : Kişisel Bloglar

One of the prominent history specialists called Prof. Ilber Ortayli from Turkey was in London to deliver a conference last month. The conference took place at the Kensington Hilton. The number of the participants was about 350 people. Perhaps, had the entry fee been considerably less, the participation would have been higher. Here are my brief notes from the conference.

Ortayli pointed out interestingly that Ottoman Empire and England did only get in touch in three different centuries. The first relations were carried out when Murat the Third appointed an Ottoman Ambassador to London at the time of Queen Elizabeth I which coincided more or less to the Spanish Armada in 1588. On the other hand, Hugh Williams contends that the failure of Spanish Armada protected England from a possible Ottoman Invasion. The reason why he is delivering such conspiracy theory is that he is probably believing the Ottoman Administration sent out his first ambassador to England for the first time deliberately just before the Spanish Invasion. He thinks that had the Spanish Victory happened, the Ottomans would have invaded to Europe and England.

The next relations took place in 17th and 18th centuries when the English and Ottoman Ambassadors exchanged. But, the first secretary of Turkish Embassy was of course Keçecizade Mehmet Fuad Pasha in 19th century who was a Europeanized diplomat, fluent in English and French, later became the minister of foreign affairs to Abdulaziz Sultanate. On the other hand, according to Ortayli, the English Ambassadors in Ottoman Anatolia had never been as effective as the Venetian and Italian Ambassadors.

Ilber Ortayli argued that Grand Vizier Mithat Pasha was in great favor of England throughout his life and that thought misled him to expect help from England against Russian Troops. Ortayli states that Mithat Pasha was not a politician but a province governor therefore it was quite normal for him not to think wisely when Ottomans declared war against Russia, called the battle of 93. The Russian defeat cost his life since the idea of Russian war belonged to Mithat Pasha therefore Abdulhamit II signed his execution. Frankly speaking, it is not known what exactly the relationship between English Authorities and Mithat Pasha but England asked from the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamit not to execute him, rather to a life sentence.

Another more astonishing point to mention pertaining to 19th century is that Benyamin Disraeli was the first British Prime Minister to back up the Turks. Although he was a rhetoric speaker and had a wise intellect to deserve the position, according to Ortayli, it was not a coincidence for a British of Portugal Jewish descent to be elected as the head of the state. Because he well read the history and knew that the only way of heading to India and Asia was based on the good relations with Ottomans. When he raised his voice against the hostility in the House of Commons, he was booed and attacked his Jewish origin. He replied with an admiring joke. “So what if I am Jewish, while our ancestors were reading Torah, your forefathers were at the top of the tree perching just like hens.” However, the Ottoman Turkish relations got weakened tremendously after the Berlin Congress as Germany emerged in the European politics.

Despite the fact that English – Turkish Relations were only confined to the Political arena, the English society read about the Turks as barbaric people in their history and literature sources such as the poems of Shakespeare. The poet refers Turks to womanizers. The entire audience could not stop laughing when Ortayli who is also a good joker responded to Shakespeare as follows; “there is not a single nation across the world that does not have intimacy with women anyway. King David is said to have had hundreds of women in his possession. “

The third relations dramatically were carried out during the World War I when the Sultan Mehmet V Rashid declared war on Britain, France and Russia. As soon as the stereotyped English troops invaded to the territory of the sick Ottoman Empire in WWI, they were shocked by the attitudes of the Turks because Turks were not eating humans unlike mentioned in their books. Conversely, Turks shared their food with the prisoners of the war and treating their wounds. We also come across this fact in a letter belonged to the Australian Sergeant H.D. Coliver which he wrote to a friend of him in praising the Turks “We in fact knew that Turks were good hearted . But I was astonished by the following story. My twelve soldiers were injured and they were found by the Turkish Red Crescent . They dressed the wounds of our soldiers and left them there to be picked up by the English soldiers. They did not kill or capture them.”

Turks were also surprised that English military vessels resembled precisely to Venetian vessels and came to an understanding that the English nation was specialist in seamanship.

In WWI, the most important invaders in Turkey were English Forces. The Italian, Greek and French militias were in small numbers. Ortayli said that the armistice was being run by the English Generals because of the national mobilization. He probably attributed their management in Istanbul to the military experience and tactics of English Generals as opposed to the Italian and French Generals. Yet, English Intellectuals hold only Turks to account for the prolonged period of WWI.

To remember briefly the British- Ottoman Turkish relations; British failure in Gallipoli had led them to think to take over Jerusalem through the Arab Revolt. The reason why they could not succeed in Gallipoli was that they could not resist against the national mobilization. Simon Montefiore argues that the British which was ruled by David Lloyd George who was newly elected as the Prime Minister of England, initially tried to make a deal with Jemal Pasha in order to reach their goal against the two other Ottoman Pashas, namely Talat and Enver. Because Talat and Enver Pashas knew that the British supported a Zionist establishment under a British Mandate, hereby they were strictly against the Jewish home land in Jerusalem. However, Talat and Enver Pashas discovered that Jemal Pasha was making plans to overthrow the Young Turks and discharged his position in Jerusalem. Jemal Pasha then fled to Berlin. By coincidence they came across in the Congress of Berlin and according to Montefiore , Talat Pasha was reluctantly about to agree to the declaration of a Jewish home land with the collaboration of England. Talat Pasha later on was not approved for this plan since he was alleged that he embraced the notion of chauvinism and was seen as a threat for Arab and Jewish world. Subsequently, Abdullah Ibn Hussain asked help from Lord Kitchener , the British agent in Cairo for military aid for his father Sherif Hussein. Montefiore discloses that although Sherif Hussein was quite old, greedy and ignorant for the British, they agreed to give military aid against the Ottoman troops provided that the Sheriff would incite the Arab revolt against Ottomans. Lawrence played an irrefutable play in all of these steps. But Sherif Hussein stipulated that he would declare his own empire in the entire Hijaz, Syria ,Jerusalem and Palestine. Lawrence only acknowledged the condition if he could exclude Jerusalem and Palestine for his empire. Sheriff who otherwise were about to be overthrown by the Ottomans reluctantly agreed and launched the Arab Revolt. In fact Sherif was deceived by the British since Syria and Lebanon were already promised to France, whereas Ottoman Empire had no geopolitical agenda in WWI.

After the Palestinian front was waivered by the Ottomans and Germans in 1917, the British Mandate was accepted in 1920 based on the Balfour Declaration. An interesting conversation occurred between Nashashibi, the mufti of Jerusalem and Lord John Chancellor, the new high commissioner. Lord Chancellor asked the mufti to sell the West Wall, known as the Kotel in order that Jews could build a courtyard there. The Mufti rejected this offer saying:
” We might have sold our entire land to Jews but the Prophet ascended to the sky via Buraq (a horse) from this wall. So it is not even open to negotiate.” I am curious whether Nashashibi who is believed to have been descended from 18th century merchants that manufactured bows and arrows for the Ottomans, had any direct or indirect Ottoman connection as a spy.

In terms of Europeanization of the Ottomans, Ortayli’s argument was that Ottoman Turks were totally strangers to the Western values until the Tanzimat with the exception of military field. The Ottomans in Tanzimat made impeccable analysis regarding the Europeans and adopted them to the internal politics. Turks have been specialists on two aspects; engineering and medicine. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was an intelligent leader and straight after the WWI, he went on to the peaceful agreement with England. Perhaps, had he not signed an agreement with Britain, the Turkish English relations would have normalized much later.

Having said that, the liberal democracy of Britain and Switzerland arise from the fact that they read their own history very well and make reasonable analysis. That is why they come forward in science, technology and politics. That is why they are so realistic and sound mind in today’s world. Ortayli stressed out that for this reason, the more Turks are to be influenced and inspired with the British way of works in politics, in industrial field, diplomacy , education and urban development, the quicker success will ascend in Turkish politics.
He contended that London and Rome are the capitals of Europe. Hence, America highly unlikely makes correct steps in politics without consulting to England. Every ratification in external politics and diplomacy pass through the Britain’s consent.

The only advantages of Turks compared to European nations, Turkish nationals are more involved with their classical culture and keep them alive whereas new generations in Europe are utterly strangers to their classical values. Ortayli criticizing Turks said, history is not known by the Turks, let alone the Turkish Muslim theologians. But Ilber Ortayli’s contentiton which I partially agree is that whatever the Turks do, the Western prejudices will never change against Turks and Muslims. Therefore, Turkish Lobbies must be evaluated in Britain and Turkish entrepreneurs are supposed to raise funds towards it. When he mentioned “funding” he jumped over the manner of funding. He said that not only Turks, but the British also likes benevolence. We come to know this fact that when an Ottoman Janizary (Yeniceri) fled to Britain in 18th century, his name was recorded in the donation list. What he implies is that the funding and the name of the benevolent must be recorded, should not remain as secret.

At the end, he raised two more issues; one is Anti- Semitism;which he believes that the Anti Semitism is a luxury and not a necessary pillar for Turkey. The second is regarding the Armenians; he said that Armenians started to lobby in America and Europe in terms of genocide fairytales because their culture was gradually dissolving and the Armenian intellectuals wanted to revive it, just like the behavior of a celebrity who wants to survive in the celebrity list.

No doubt, Ilber Ortayli made tremendous contribution to the Turkish audience and as a humble student, I owe gratitude to him.

Leaving aside the Ortayli’s conference, the Independent made a headline last week as “What have the Turks ever done for us?” . The article was praising the Turkish contribution to the British life in six areas and making a list of why Turkey should join to EU.

Multiculturalism; The paper suggests that centuries before the word of multiculturalism was ever existed, Ottoman Empire was home to Christians, Jews, Arabs and Armenians. The article considers that Turkey is the only partner who offers a safe bridge to Islam and a promising exit from the class of civilization.

Trade; The Ottomans with their ships and caravans, achieved domination of the silk road and taught West everything about trade before the advent of ocean –going ships. So even today, according to the paper, it offers a huge market and connections to the resources of the Caspian and the Middle East.

Politics; they developed tremendously the statecraft descending from the steppe of central Asia to the gates of Vienna. The pioneers of the disciplined bureaucracy and the inventors of a enduring army awed their enemies and seduced the Christian fighters who could see a better life under the Ottomans.

Art; The article says that Turkey has brought Europe the finest works such as calligraphy, metalwork, manuscripts and glass, Chinese poems, Persian textiles and Venetian paintings. They flourished the humanist enlightenment centuries ahead of Europe.

Military; Their forefather’s Genghis Khan with his cavalry swept across Anatolia into the Balkans and beyond. Their enemies only matched and copied their techniques and invention. The paper states that Today’s Turkey is a prominent member of Nato and lends credibility to the European defense force.

Style; They sat on divans on beautiful carpets, smoking hookah and eating lakoum and baklava and yet Europe learnt how to bath from Turks.

Consequently, every civilization has influenced and has been influenced over others to some extent since the globe turned into a big village. The question is, how we can live in harmony with the minimum disputes and clashes.


Hugh Williams, Fifty Things You Need To Know About British History, Collins, 2008
Simon Sebag Montefiore, Jerusalem, The Biography, W&N 2011
Lord Micheal Carver, 1914-1918, Turkish Front
Talha Ugurluel, Canakkale Savaslari, Kaynak Yayinlari, 2005,

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