years and 8 days ago, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed
by the Turkish National Assembly. The Ottoman State
came to an end after 625 years. The House of Osman ceased
to exist as a political entity. Its empire had lasted
five centuries - - one of the most resplendent and mightiest,
the scourge of Europe, for which Turkey today is paying
a stiff price. Its territories had straddled three
continents. On November 1st, 1922 the Turkish National
Assembly abolished the monarchy - - and Vahdettin, the
last Sultan, left on board a British battleship.
Glory that was the Ottoman Empire now became the cherished
antecedent for New Turkey - - a vigorous, progressive
Republic whose motto was •Sovereignty belongs
unconditionally to the people.• •
The shadow of God on earth• receded into the shadowlands.
Turkish nation embraced a new leader - - Mustafa Kemal
Atatürk. Hero of the Dardanelles, as commander-in-chief
of the national struggle against imperialists and invaders,
he had emerged victorious, saviour of his nation. At
the initial stages, that liberation struggle had benefited
from the financial support provided by Sultan Vahdettin
as well as the Soviet Union.
abolishing the Sultanate was no easy task. Even some
of Mustafa Kemal Pasha•s close associates were
in favor of a constitutional monarchy. For some, it
was unthinkable that a dynasty that had created a major
empire would be removed after 6 centuries of unbroken
continuity. There was strong opposition from the parliament.
Mustafa Kemal Pasha stood up on a desk and admonished
the Committee: •If those attending this meeting
and the full parliament would realize this matter, it
would be the right way. Or else, some heads might roll.•
No heads rolled. A member of parliament, with strong
religious convictions, actually a cleric, a bitter opponent
of the bill designed to abolish the Sultanate, immediately
had a change of heart. •Forgive us, sir•,
he said, •we had approached this matter from a
different vantage-point. Your statement has enlightened
us.• That bit of persuasion worked. That day the
bill passed unanimously. Not a nose bled.
and gentlemen, • a dynasty often dies a nasty
death.• From within, a bloody revolution, or from
without, a merciless onslaught wipes it out.
1918, the Bolshevik uprising not only dethrohed Czar
Nicholas II but also executed him and his family. Only
a few members of the Romanov dynasty escaped execution
and fled abroad.
with the Romanovs, the Ottomanovs fared better. Not
a single member of the Ottoman dynasty was killed or
injured or physically abused. They were told to leave
the country, never to come back. Fifty some years later
, those who were alive and wanted to visit their homeland
were allowed to so do • as they still can.
a single heir apparent or prince ever so much as insinuated
that he might one day ascend the throne. The Ottoman
dynasty abroad - - for eight decades - - acted with
grace, good will, and wisdom.
March 4, 1924, 4 months and 4 days after declaring the
Republic, Turkey•s National parliament moved to
terminate the Caliphate. For many centuries, the Caliph
had been the spiritual leader of all Muslims throughout
the world. In 1512, Selim I captured Egypt and conquered
Cairo. He assumed the title which was in some ways comparable
to the Papacy. At the apex of their power, Ottoman Emperors
attached little importance to it. It took on more
of a significance as the Empire kept shrinking. Its
impotence became dramatically evident when the Caliph
in 1915 called on the Islamic world to wage •jihad•,
holy war, and the call led to nothing but a fiasco.
For Mustafa Kemal the Caliphate was an antiquated institution
that represented reactionary Islam.
an asset, but a liability. There were those in Turkey
and elsewhere in The Islamic world who urged Mustafa
Kemal to take the title himself. He spurned it as meaningless
and the institution died after 13 centuries. Caliph
pro tem Abdülmecid Efendi was exiled from the country
summarily. On the night the decision was taken, they
put him on a train leaving for Switzerland. Before he
left, he expressed his concern about what might happen
to the palace women who were going to stay behind, worried
how they would make do financially. When he and his
wives arrived in Switzerland, the authorities refused
to let them in. Switzerland had a law against admitting
polygamists. But a clever solution was found: Temporary
admittance until the ex-Caliph•s matrimonial status
would be ascertained.
Ottoman dynasty thus came to an end. It had been one
of history•s most powerful, its Empire one of
the most enduring.
glory is exemplified by the legendary Sultan whom the
Europeans, in awe and with envy, had called Süleyman
the magnificent • the most legendary of sultans,
reigned for 46 years. He seemed to say: •East
is East / West is West / Conquest is best.•
He spent more than ten years of his life on military
campaigns -• leading his armies as
far north as Hungary and Austria and Poland •
as far south as lower Iraq.
was a renaissance prince in the best sense. Arts
and architecture had their crowning achievement in his
sultanate. He took regal pride in his farflung
conquests and cherished his power in a century dominated
by such figures as Charles V, Archduke Ferdinand, Martin
Luther, Elizabeth I, and Francis I. He once sent
a communiqu• to Francis which has a charming opening:
who am the sultan of sultans, the sovereign of sovereigns,
the dispenser of crowns to the monarchs on the face
of the earth, shadow of god on earth, the sultan and
sovereign lord of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea,
of Rumelia and Anatolia, of Karamania and the land of
Rum, of Zulkadria, Diyarbak•r, of Kurdistan, of
Azerbaijan, Persia, Damascus, Cairo, Aleppo, of the
Mecca and Medina, of Jerusalem, of all Arabia, of the
Yemen and many other lands, which my noble forefathers
and my glorious ancestors • may God light up their
tombs • conquered by the force of their arms and
which my august majesty has made subject to my flaming
sword and victorious blade, I, Sultan
Süleyman Han, to thee, who art Francis,
king of the land of France••
me tell you about a funny thing that happened in Dublin•s
National Museum two years ago. During a lecture there,
I read this passage - - the French Ambassador and his
wife were in the audience. Süleyman the Magnificent•s
put-down of the 16th century French king offended the
Ambassador. He and his wife left the auditorium in a
went wrong with the Ottoman Empire? After having ruled
half the world powerfully and tolerantly, why did it
deteriorate and lose its grip? For one thing, it is
virtually a natural law, an inexorable process that
all empires expire. The remarkable fact about the Ottoman
Empire, however, is that once it began to decline, it
still managed to survive for more than two centuries.
attribute its downfall to a variety of reasons: Economic
recession• the difficulty of holding sway over
its minorities especially in an age of the rising tide
of nationalism• Complacency based on Ottoman superiority
over Europe• Loss of the spirit of scientific
inquiry• the growing power of military technology
historians diagnose the decline as the result of a leadership
the 18th Century most of the Sultans had been
great commanders and conquerors. Later Sultans preferred
the safety and comfort of the Palace in Istanbul. They
left military affairs in the hands of military men -
- diplomatic affairs in the hands of diplomats. They
refrained from personal involvement in combat. What
a shame! Far worse, many Sultans became prisoners of
their harems. Lovemaking instead of warmongering. Unforgivable!
none other than Sultan Abdulhamid I, who reigned fifteen
years until 1789. He is well known for his love for
a concubine who happened to be the cousin of Josephine,
Napoleon•s wife. He once fell in love with another
concubine by the name of Ruhshah, who played sadistic
games with the sultan.
letters of this masochistic sultan have come down to
us. In one letter, he humbles himself before her:
Ruhshah, Abdülhamid•s heart and soul,
my bird-like life be sacrificed in your path.
the name of God Almighty, I rub my face on the ground
you walk on.•
your slave tonight with the grace of your visit.•
swear to God, I have run out of patience and energy.
kiss your feet; for the love of God, don•t inflict
on me tonight, come let me be your slave and sacrifice.•
me down if you like or slay me, but I implore you, come
- •Even my foes take pity on my plight.•
court physicians prepared for him a sex manual. One
chapter describes how to preserve his sexual prowess.
Another lists aphrodisiacs and medications for sexual
potency. But the chapter that is really fascinating
is a •calendar of sexual pleasures•: it
shows the sultan how he can enjoy sex every hour of
every day. It has, therefore, 8,760 prescriptions of
sexual pleasure • that is 24 times 365.
was a crowning achievement of the Ottoman dynasty. They
were not merely great patrons of architecture, of major
edifices, of poetry, music. But most of them were creative
artists themselves. Two-thirds of the 36 Sultans wrote
verses; many among them were accomplished poets. Some
among them proved excellent goldsmiths, calligraphers,
saddlemakers, singers, carpenters. Mehmet II, who conquered
Constantinople and crushed the Byzantine Empire in 1453,
and Süleyman the Magnificent composed polished
verses. Süleyman wrote close to three thousand
of them. Selim III who reigned in late 18th and early
19th century was a superb musician, a composer who produced
lovely songs and a whole cycle of music for the rituals
of The Whirling Dervishes. Among the 19th and early
20th Century Ottoman rulers were first-rate painters
and composers of European-style music.
of them encouraged modernization. The innovations introduced
during their sultanate paved the way for the miraculous
transformation achieved during the Republic under the
aegis of Atatürk.
dynasty went into diaspora. A variety of countries gave
them haven - - France, England, USA, Austria, Egypt,
few members of the dynasty had assets abroad - - no
substantial fortune or financial support.
exile, they acted quite unlike other royalty or dynastic
families. Virtually none of them spoke to the international
press. Whenever they did, they did it with restraint
- - and with respect for the Republic and its leader.
They avoided acrimony.
most other royal families, they became involved in no
intrigue against the Republic, they made absolutely
no attempt to undermine its leadership and legitimacy.
They refrained from clandestine activity to foment civil
unrest, refused to conspire with any enemies of the
new Turkish State. They never even considered setting
up a government in exile. Having resigned to their fate
and never wavering from their loyalty to their country
and people, they maintained a dignified silence. No
recriminations let alone fulminations. Since they loved
their country and people, I would venture to say that
they took pride and pleasure in the miraculous strides
Turkey was taking in becoming a modern nation under
Atatürk and his successors.
of the princes and princesses and their descendants
worked for their living. Often modest jobs and a humble
way of life. The only members of the dynasty who
wallowed in luxury were princesses who married fabulously
wealthy potentates • like the Nizam of Hyderabad.
prince who might have become Sultan if the Ottoman State
had not been dissolved worked many years as a cemetery
attendant in France. One descendant got by on a meager
salary as a clerical worker at New York Public Library.
Another made a living as a documentary film•maker
in Los Angeles. Princess Kenise Murad achieved international
fame as a writer: One of her books became a number-1
best-seller in France.
the Ottoman dynasty in exile produced no profligates
• not a single playboy or criminal, not a single
dissolute character. There was never even a whiff of
scandal. Upright, honest, exemplary individuals. Sad
but never bad. Theirs is a record of perfect nobility
of Sultans, all this is by way of an introduction for
an interesting and intelligent documentary film entitled
•Seeking the Sultan•. Its creator Ms Didem
Y•lmaz is a young Turk who came to the United
States as a student. She was confronted with her own
need to probe into her identity and to search her nation•s
historical roots. The question naturally led her to
an exploration of Turkey•s Ottoman background.
What had happened to the princes and princesses and
their descendants after they left Istanbul in the early
1920•s? Was there an heir to the Ottoman
throne - - not that the Empire could be revived. Here
in the heart of New York City she discovered a venerable
gentleman who actually would be the Ottoman Emperor
if miraculously the Empire would re-emerge. She found
him, and interviewed him on film. He turned out to be
a distinguished world-class gentleman with an abiding
faith in Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the Republic
he created. •Seeking the Sultan• is the
saga of her quest - - and a vivid portrait of a sagacious
prince who has no pretensions, certainly is not a pretender
to the throne. She captured on film His Imperial Highness
Osman Ertu•rul, whose first name comes from the
eponymous first ruler of the Ottoman State, and his
second name is that of the first monarch•s father.
The prince•s captivating personality, comes through
with telling effect - - good, gracious, generous, graceful.
Osman Ertu•rul will never become Emperor or even
king. When you watch this warm documentary, created
by Didem Y•lmaz who herself has an aristocratic
bearing, you realize that Osman Ertu•rul does
not need titles or political power. Suave and sagacious,
he is above and beyond those. Once the film rolls, I
am confident, you will concur with me that Osman Ertu•rul
Sovereign of Serenity and Sophistication
Monarch of Magnanimity
Prince of Prudence
Potentate of Politesse
Padishah of Probity
Royalty of Refinement
Emperor of Elegance.