(BEING CONTINUED FROM 5/07/2014)
DERVISHES IN EARLY OTTOMAN SOCIETY AND POLITICS: A
STUDY OF VELAYETNAMES AS A SOURCE FOR HISTORY
INTRODUCTION: AN OVERVIEW
In his seminal article published in 1942, Ömer Lütfi Barkan pointed out the important
role of sufi dervishes in the process of colonization of newly conquered lands in the
early periods of the Ottoman State1. Although several other scholars dealt with the same
theme and gave references to the position of dervishes in the society prior to and during
the formative years of the Ottoman power in Anatolia and the Balkans, Barkan devoted
his article to a particular dimension and attempted to formulate the contribution of sufi
dervishes and their tekkes (hospices) to the Ottoman conquest and colonization process
Right at the outset, Barkan states his aim as to contribute to the debate on the
problem of the foundation of the Ottoman State. He mainly follows Köprülü’s tradition
which emphasizes the dominant role of Turkish elements behind the rise of the
Ottomans, and underlines the need for analysis of the Ottomans in the context of
medieval Anatolian history in general and of diversity of the dynamic elements which
were active in every spheres of life during this period.2
According to Barkan, to understand the dynamic forces behind the success of the
Ottomans one should look at the matter within the framework of the westward migration
of Turkish masses under the pressure of Mongols in the thirteenth century3. Turkish
tribes coming from central Asia brought with themselves their customs, traditions, and
beliefs. These Turks, mostly nomadic in character, were the main supply of manpower for the conquering Ottoman armies, and they were the first Muslim settlers in newly
conquered lands. Barkan directs his attention to the religious structure of these
Turkoman nomads who organized themselves under certain spiritual leaders that were
mostly sheikhs. Those dervish sheikhs were not always tribal chiefs, there were many
dervishes with no tribal connection who gathered many adherents around him by
preaching their sufi teachings. The relationship between the Ottoman dynasty and these
sufi groups were merely warm and pragmatic in the early period. Their crucial and
successful role in preaching Islam and Islamic culture among local population attracted
not only the attention of the Ottoman begs but also of other Turkoman begs in Anatolia.
Due to their advantageous geographic- strategic position and successful policies against
Christian Byzantium, early Ottoman begs made their lands more favorable for dervishes.
Many of such dervishes migrated along with the Ottoman army after conquests, first to
Bythinia region and then to the Balkans.
Barkan tends to see those dervishes different from the wandering dervishes
depicted by Fuat Köprülü in Türk Halk Edebiyatı Ansiklopedisi4. On the contrary, these
dervishes were not cut off the earthly activities; rather they were very active in
constructing settlement centers in abandoned or conquered lands5. In return for their
activities beneficial to the Ottomans in their conquest significant part of them were given
lands by the sultans as vakf or pious endowment. In the vakf lands they soon founded
religious hospices (tekkes, zaviyes), where they fulfilled many social, economic, and
cultural functions along with religious ones. In the course of time, these tekkes gradually became a religious, cultural, and economic centers and some of them gave way to the
emergence of villages. Many villages founded around such dervish tekkes during this
process survived even to the present in the Balkans. In his article, Barkan gives some
examples of such settlements by using early extant Ottoman tax and population registers
from the fifteenth century.
Barkan’s main focus in his article is the process of colonization and his primary
concern is the tekkes as a means of colonization, and, of course, inevitably the main
actors of these process: dervishes. We should immediately point out, however, that the
dervishes are not at the center of Barkan’s analysis. Barkan does not deal much with
their way of life, their beliefs, and their influence on the society, culture, politics, and
religious life of the contemporary society. The contribution of these dervishes to the
foundation process of the Ottoman State, with no doubt, is more than their colonizing
role in newly conquered lands. Their sphere of influence was fairly large especially
among rural population of the contemporary society. The relationship of this kind of
religious groups with Ottoman begs can be traced back to Ertugrul. Since these sufi
sheikhs had tremendous influence particularly on nomads, the contemporary statesmen
found it useful to establish good relationship with them. In that respect, they played a
mediator role between political authority and rural population. Early Ottoman begs such
as Osman and Orhan, attributed great importance to get opinion and approval of that
kind of spiritual leaders, such as Edebali, in their political affairs. Because the approval
of such sufi sheikhs meant a kind of legitimization in the contemporary public mind.
However, their mediator role was not limited only the mediation between the state and
rural population, but they also served some kind of mediation between Christian and Muslim folk masses. As a result of this mediation, they contributed much to the spread
of Islam. Moreover, some contemporary sources tell us about the activities of warrior
dervishes6. While talking about the construction of the Ottoman state, therefore, one
cannot ignore these dervish groups who had in one way or another spread their influence
among almost all strata of the contemporary society. In this study, it will be my aim to
analyze the role of dervishes in the early conquests of the Ottomans and the
establishment of the Ottoman rule in the newly conquered lands throughout the
The westward migration of Turks obviously constitutes a long and significant
chapter not only of the history of Turks themselves but also of the history of the Middle
East and Europe in general. In the context of this work, the focus will not be on the
whole issue, but rather on the last stages of this migratory movement which followed the
route South of Caspian Sea through Khorasan and Azarbaican to Anatolia from tenth to
fifteenth century. Turks, on their way westward, confronted Islam in the tenth century
and most of them gradually accepted Islam. Conversion to Islam did not mean to be
totally skinned of all of their old beliefs and habits. This process was first analized in a
comprehensive manner by Fuat Köprülü in the second decade of the twentieth century.
In his work Türk Edebiyatında İlk Mutasavvıflar, he points out this sociological reality
and then explains the conversion of Turkish mass to Islam. According to Köprülü, in this
conversion process the leading role was played by first Turkish mutasavvıfs, the sufıs
who dedicated themselves to the religion and experienced a mystic life. Ahmed Yesevi,
who was the master of these sufis, has a primary place in the conversion of Turkish
nomadic mass to Islam. According to Köprülü, Yesevi’s teaching of Islam among Turkish population, which was a basic formulation of Islamic doctrines in a simple
manner which can be understandable and acceptable in a nomadic, illiterate, and newly
converted population which had strong traditions shaped the fundamental pillars of the
beliefs of the Turks.
After the Turkish victory of Manzikert in 1071, the Turkish invasion into Asia
Minor became more intense. In a couple of decades Turkish raiders reached Nicea. But
permanent Turkish settlement in the western Anatolia took place during the last century
of Anatolian Sejuks. In fact, at the zenith of their power Anatolian Seljuks chose to
establish good relationships with Byzantium and there emerged a relatively stable
borderline between the two states. Although there were occasional raids especially from
Seljuk sides by Turkoman troops, this was not a state policy of Anatolian Seljuks and
did not cause a significant border shift. But after the Mongol invasion of Anatolia,
Anatolian Seljuks lost the control and became the vassal of the Mongols and Turkoman
population in the western frontier of Anatolian Seljuk lands began to attack Byzantine
lands; these Turkomans gathered around certain tribal leaders or Seljuk commanders and
created a number of semi-independent political entities in the western part of Asia
Minor. The men supply of these begs were nomadic Turkomans whose members were
ever increasing by the newcomers from the East. Among them were many dedes or
babas, spiritual leaders of those nomadic people and adherents of Yesevi tradition in
Anatolia. These babas and dedes, who were guiding nomadic mass in religious issues,
apparently had tremendous influence on pastoral life. Their vital position and
indisputable role will be the main issue of this work.
by RIZA YILDIRIM
Department of History
1 Ömer Lütfi Barkan, “Osmanlı İmparatorluğunda bir İskan ve Kolonizasyon Metodu olarak Vakıflar ve Temlikler; İstila Devirlerinin Kolonizatör Türk Dervişleri ve Zaviyeler”, VD, II, 1942.
2 Barkan, pp. 279- 281.
3 Barkan, p. 284.
4 See Fuat Köprülü, “Abdal”, Türk Halk Edebiyatı Ansiklopedisi, İstanbul, 1935. In this article Köprülü defines abdals as wandering dervishs who were extreme Alawi- Shi’ite. They lived single and avoided all worldly activities.
5 Barkan, p. 285.
6 See, for example, Bedri Noyan, ed., Seyyit Ali Sultan Velayetnamesi, Ankara, 1999.
(TO BE CONTINUED)