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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.
What kind of beliefs were these dedes and babas preaching in Anatolia during the thirteenth and fourteenth century? What kind of version of Islam was it? Or, was it something else, which pretended to be “Islam”? Here at this point one finds himself at
the heart of the problem of heterodoxy in the thirteenth and fourteenth century Western
Anatolia among Turkoman population. As Franz Babinger pointed out long ago, Islam in Anatolia was influenced by several factors, which were never seen in any other Islamic land.7 Especially during twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, as any other institutions of the society, religion was also open to all kinds of influence. During this period, Islam in Anatolia was on its way to take its final shape under several influences. Babinger firstly discussed this interesting topic in 1921. In his short article Babinger attempts to draw a general picture of Islam in Anatolia during the time of Seljuks and puts forward several arguments which can be summarized as follows:
1) The Shi’ite influence on the beliefs of Anatolian Turks was dominant. He argues that the
Anatolian Seljuks were Shiite and until their taking of the Caliphate from the Memluks,
the Ottoman Palace was under the influence of the Shi’ite-Persian culture,
2) There was also considerable Christian influence on the beliefs of the Seljuks to the extent that some sultans even converted to Christianity,
3) Dervishes, who were disciples of Ahmed Yesevi and preaching his teachings, played a significant missionary role and were influential in every strata of the society from laymen to the palaces,
4) The religion was open to influence of several other beliefs and inherited many elements from Asian religions, which were old religions of Turks before Islam, Christianity and several local religions and sects,
5) It was not a deeply cultivated religion. It was rather popular and easily acceptable among nomadic masses, thus easily spread into the pasturelands of Asia Minor8. The babas and dedes among nomads preached a rough formulation of Islamic theology molded with dense sufism, which was fairly understandable for illiterate and uneducated herdsmen.
Although his ideas concerning the Shi’ite and Christian influences on Turkish
Islam during this period is open to criticism, Babinger’s other arguments relating to the
eclectic nature of the religious beliefs of the Turks gradually became the mainstream in
historiography. Soon after Babinger, Fuat Köprülü published an article on the same
topic. Köprülü rejected Babbinger’s idea that suggest Seljuks’ being Shi’ite.
He underlined the importance of elements that were coming from old religions of the Turks such as Shamanism, Budism, etc. in the wide-spread form of Islam among especially Nomadic Turks. According to Köprülü, one should differentiate between the sufi
tarikats, which emerged under the strong influence of Arap-Iranian culture in the central
lands of Islam and sufism among Turkish nomads which was close to any foreign
influence and strongly connected to their traditions.
He tends to see the latter as a form of extreme shi’ite interpretation that was far away from theological discussions and woven with dense sufism, which was suitable both to convey their old beliefs and habits,especially coming from Shamanism, and to spread among illiterate nomadic population with an exiting alloy of legends. Köprülü also draws attention to the leading role, in shaping of the beliefs of Turkomans, of the Kalenderis and Haydaris, a deviation from Sunni Islam with some pantheist beliefs, condemned practices, and rejection to obey some religious orders.9
After Köprülü, Irene Melikoff and Ahmet Yaşar Ocak, the latter following and
widening the ideas of the former in most place, can be seen as the foremost two scholars
who brought important contributions to the field. They both emphasize the syncretic
nature of Turkish heterodoxy. Melikoff seems to pay more attention to Shamanist
elements in the beliefs of Turkomans during the period in question. She considers this
form of Islam, from many points of views, as a continuation of Shamanism among
nomadic people who were strongly depended on their traditions. But there was
considerable influence of other Asian religions and Christianity.10 Ahmed Yaşar Ocak
and many other scholars also share these ideas. Ocak sees Babai revolt as a critical
event, which provided historical background for Turkish heterodoxy, which was
preached, spread, and shaped by the dervishes that fled after Babai revolt. According to
Ocak, a) these beliefs were not the result of long theological discussions, but they were
natural consequence of socio-economic conditions, b) it is a syncretic theology, c) it is
not a cultivated, systematic theology.11
By the end of the fifteenth century, several non-sunni elements were brought together under the umbrella of Bektashi order. F.R. Hasluck published several articles on Bektashis in the first half of the 20th century. His research on Bektashi centers and tekkes in the Balkans and Anatolia opened new horizons in the field for scholars. On the other hand he showed very interesting interactions and similarities between the religion of frontier Turkomans and their Christian neighbors both in Asia Minor and the Balkans12
But the first descriptive and comprehensive scholarly work on Bektashi Order is the
doctoral dissertation of John Kingsley Birge13. Machiel Kiel’s contribution, especially on
Sarı Saltuk cult and heterodox heritage in Balkans should also be mentioned here14.
Lastly, one should refer to two scholars, V.L. Menage and Speros Vryonis, Jr., both of
whom have published illumining articles on the Islamization of Anatolia and the Balkans.15
The list of historians that have valuable contributions to the field could be made
longer. But it is beyond the scope of this study. So in the light of the scholarly works
mentioned above, the general picture of Islam in the thirteenth and fourteenth century
Western Anatolia could be drawn as follows:
1) It was a rough, uncultivated, and unsystematic version of Islam, which was far away from theological discussions and shaped by socio-economic conditions.
2) Most of the old traditions of Turks existed after their conversion to Islam under Islamic shelter. Although it was not so evident among the higher echelon of urban society, among nomadic people there were many elements coming from Shamanism found place in their beliefs and practices.
3) Old Turkish beliefs were not the only source that shaped this heterodox form; it was also open to influences from Christianity and other religions. So its syncretic nature should always be kept in mind.
In order to appreciate the true function of sufi dervishes in the society of early Ottomans, one should definitely consider the general landscape in that episode. What were the general characteristics of society, culture, economy, politics, and economy?
And, in this context, what was the leading factors that made Ottomans the most powerful
among other principalities. Such questions have been the subject of several investigations among Ottomanists since the beginning of the last century. The turning of a small and seemingly unimportant principality at the Byzantine border into a great world empire, which controlled vast part of the Old World for centuries, in one and a half century have become one of the most exciting and attractive topics in Ottoman historiography. The core of the question remained always the same: what was the fundamental dynamic force or forces behind this great success?
by RIZA YILDIRIM
Department of History
7 Franz Babinger, “Anadolu’da İslamiyet; İslam Tetkikatının Yeni Yolları”, in Franz Babinger and Fuat Köprülü, Anadolu’da İslamiyet, ed. Mehmet Kanar, İstanbul, 1996, pp. 11-12
8 See Babinger, “Anadolu’da İslamiyet”.
9 See Köprülü, “Anadolu’da İslamiyet”.
10 Proffesor Melikoff’s researches in this field really opened a path for modern historians. Her synthesis is result of a log field studies on the Islamic areas, where dominantly populated by heterodox groups, as well as her vast historical knowledge. See Melikoff, Hacı Bektaş; Efsaneden Gerçeğe, çev. Turan Alptekin,Cumhuriyet Yayınları- İstanbul, 1999; idem, Uyur İdik Uyardılar: Alevilik Bektaşilik Araştırmaları, çev.Turan Alptekin, İstanbul, 1993.
11 See Ocak, “Babaıler İsyanından Kızılbaşlığa: Anadolu’da İslam Heterodoxisinin Doğuş ve Gelişmesine Kısa bir Bakış”, Belleten, LXIV, 239, 200, p. 156. Ahmet Yaşar Ocak is the scholar who produced great amount of valuable works in this field. His several studies will be cited in the following chapters. The reader can find a collected list of Ocak’s articles and books in the part “Selected Bibliography” at the end of this study.
12 See F.William Hasluck, Christianity and Islam under the Sultans, Oxford, 1929; Bektaşilik Tedkikleri,ter. Ragıp Hulusi, İstanbul, 1928; Anadolu ve Balkanlarda Bektaşilik, çvr. Yücel Demirel, İstanbul, 1995.
13 John, Kingsley Birge, The Bektashi Order of Dervishes, İstanbul, 1937.
14 Kiel, Machiel, “A Note On The Date of The establishment of The Bektashi Order In Albania” in Bektachiyya. Etudes sur l’ordre mystique des Bektachis et les groupes relevant de Hadji Bektach, eds. Alexandre Popovich and Gilles Veinstein, Istanbul, 1995.
15 See V.L. Menage, “The Islamization of Anatolia”, Conversion to Islam, ed. Nehemia Levtzian, New York, London, 1979, and Speros Vryonis, Jr., The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971; Studies on Byzantium, Seljuks, and Ottomans, Malibu, 1981.
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