Urbanization & Ottomanization of a Sufi Order in Anatolia

A review of The City as a Historical Actor: The Urbanization and Ottomanization of the Halvetiye Sufi Order by the City of Amasya in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, by Hasan Karatas.

Hasan Karatas’s dissertation traces the history of a Sufi order, the Halvetiye, its development in the city of Amasya, in Northern Anatolia, its rivalry with the order of the Zeyniye, and its subsequent transmission to the Ottoman capital towards the end of the fifteenth century. Although at first glance it deals with a marginal topic, this dissertation is a highly important contribution to our understanding of the general political, social and cultural history of the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, providing illuminating insights into the key role played by regional networks of patronage in the development of Ottoman politics and society. Far from being a mere case study, dealing with a particular region or Sufi order, this dissertation deals with themes that are central to the development of the Ottoman polity, highlighting the interplay between the periphery and the center. After all, Amasya was not just any Anatolian city: in the twelfth century it had been the capital of the Turkmen dynasty of the Danishmendids, the main antagonists to the Seljuks of Konya at that time, while in the fifteenth century it was the capital of the Ottoman province of Rum and the residence of young Ottoman princes vying for the throne. In fact, all Ottoman Sultans of the fifteenth century had served as Governors of Amasya, and some of them, like Bayezid II, maintained close contacts with the city even after their rise to the throne.

In his Introduction, Hasan Karatas lays out the background to his story by analyzing the connections of the main actors, Amasya and the Halveti Sufi order, with the Ottomans. The author acknowledges as his main inspiration three classic studies by Paul Wittek (De la défaite d’Ankara à la prise de Constantinople: un demi-siècle d’histoire Ottomane. Paris: [P.] Geuthner, 1938), Sidney N. Fisher (“Civil Strife in the Ottoman Empire, 1481-1503.” The Journal of Modern History 13, no. 4 (1941): 449), and Franz Babinger (Mehmed the Conqueror and his Time. Translated by William C. Hickman. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), while he sees his work as being in the same line with the recent dissertations of Dimitris Kastritsis (The Sons of Bayezid: Empire Building and Representation in the Ottoman Civil War of 1402-1413. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2007) and Hakkı Erdem Çıpa (“Centrality of the Periphery: The Rise to Power of Selim I, 1487-1512.” PhD, Harvard University, 2007), which deal with Ottoman dynastic struggles in the beginning of the fifteenth and the sixteenth century, respectively. The main secondary sources used by the author concern the history of Sufi orders in Anatolia and the Balkans. The groundwork for the relevant debate was laid in 1953 by a pioneering article by Hans Joachim Kissling (“Aus der Geschichte des Chalvetijje-Ordens.” In Dissertationes Orientales et Balcanicae Collectae I: Das Derwischtum, 234-236. München: Trofenik, 1986), followed, after a long hiatus, by the recent important works of Nathalie Clayer (Mystiques, état et société: les Halvetis dans l’aire balkanique de la fin du XVe siècle à nos jours. Leiden, New York: E.J. Brill, 1994), Ethel Sara Wolper (Cities and Saints: Sufism and the Transformation of Urban Space in Medieval Anatolia. University Park, Pa: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003) and John J. Curry (The Transformation of Muslim Mystical Thought in the Ottoman Empire: The Rise of the Halveti Order, 1350-1650. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010). In the Introduction, Karatas outlines his approach: recognizing the inadequacy of the documentary evidence for this period, he states that he attempts to fuse “the study of architecture, urban and network studies and Sufism” (p. 7), classifying the sources he uses as “soft”, “hard” and “hardest”. In the first category, he includes narrative sources, like hagiographies, biographical dictionaries and chronicles, and especially the chronicle of Aşıkpaşazade, the biographical dictionaries by Lami‘i Çelebi and Taşköprüzade and the first Halveti hagiography, composed by Yusuf bin Yakub. Documentary evidence forms the category of “hard” sources. The most important items in this category are the endowment deeds (waqfiya), reflecting the construction activity in Amasya in this period, which is also reflected in the “hardest” evidence, consisting of its physical remains, like buildings and inscriptions.

The first chapter, entitled “The Ottomanization of Amasya and the Urbanization of the Sufi Activities,” focuses on the city of Amasya and attempts to reconstruct “the infrastructure and the network of the political and economic basis of regional Sufi tradition through a close study of endowment activities” (p. 16). In the first part, the author lays out the pre-Ottoman background of the city between the eleventh and the fourteenth century, centering around the thirteenth-century revolt of Baba İlyas, which highlighted the political potential of Sufi lodges, and suggests the predominance of rural lodges over urban lodges. The second part traces Amasya’s early Ottoman decades, from the establishment of Ottoman rule (1387) until the death of Bayezid Pasha (1421), “the first Amasyan figure to have a considerable political influence in the Ottoman capital” (p. 37). Stressing the historical significance of the city as “the oldest ‘Islamic city’ in the hands of the Ottomans” (p. 21), the author describes Amasya’s “golden age” during the time of the Interregnum (1402-1413) as the capital of the future Sultan Mehmed I and as part of the Ottoman frontier with the Emirate of Karaman. This period was characterized by an “exponential increase in the number of Sufi lodges” (p. 22), as well as by the urbanization of Sufi activity and the almost exclusive predominance of the type of lodge-mosques, a type of building that combined a prayer hall with rooms for Sufi activities. Based on the evidence of their waqfiya (“hard evidence”) and architectural plans (“hardest evidence”), Karatas argues that this type of building was a product of the needs of the time, in response to the social and political upheaval during the process of the establishment of the “Pax Ottomanica.” The third part of this chapter covers the period 1421-1465, termed by the author as “Autonomous Amasya” (p. 39). During this period, governor-general Yörgüç Pasha consolidated his autonomous rule over the region to the point of issuing his own silver coin, even while acting as tutor to Ottoman princes, and was subsequently succeeded by his brother Hızır. This period was characterized by continuity in the process of the urbanization of endowments. The chapter’s last section covers the latter part of Mehmed II’s reign, from 1465 to 1481. This was a time of marginalization for Amasya, as a result of the Ottoman annexation of Karaman and of the centralizing policies of Mehmed II, especially during the tenure of Grand Vizier Karamani Mehmed Pasha. This marginalization resulted in the city’s loss of autonomy and influence and in reduced building activity. This period, however, also held the promise of the future, since a new Amasyan faction was being formed around Prince Bayezid, the future Sultan Bayezid II, who resided in the city in the last years of Mehmed II’s reign. In this chapter, the author argues that the particular landholding practice of the region –the malikane-divani, which provided income for the endowments from local villages, contributed to the creation of regional networks of endowed properties, which facilitated the interconnection between the rural areas and the city. An important factor, which contributed to the increased endowment activity, was the “Pax Ottomanica,” which ensured the city’s material prosperity, while forcing the local elite “to seek strategies to protect their malikane holdings against taxation and possible confiscation” (p. 57).

In the second chapter, entitled “The Urbanization of the Halvetiye: Amasyan Gümüşlüoğlus (804/1405-870/1465),” the author, based on narrative sources like the chronicle of Aşıkpaşazade and the biographical dictionary of scholars of Lami‘i Çelebi, describes the introduction of the Halvetiye Sufi order to Anatolia and “the fusing of Halveti and Amasyan identities” (p. 59), which led to the order’s urbanization and “Ottomanization.” In the first part, Karatas describes the founding of a Halveti community in Amasya by Gümüşlüoğlu Pir İlyas, a local scholar, who was exiled by Timur to Northern Azerbaijan, where he became acquainted with this Sufi order in the early years of the fifteenth century. This event triggered the beginnings of the order’s institutionalization and urbanization, under the influence of Pir İlyas’s shaykh Sadreddin-i Hıyavi. Karatas argues that the building of lodges was key to the identity formation and the urbanization of these Sufi orders. The chapter’s second part concerns the founding of a Sufi lodge, Yakub Pasha Çilehanesi, the earliest surviving Halveti lodge, which served as the center of the activities of the Halvetis of Amasya and as a “dervish factory” for the propagation of the order. A key document concerning this building is its endowment deed (1412), which provides information on its function, its network of patronage relations, and its sources of income. According to the author, “this building is the architectural materialization of the most critical phase in the evolution of the Halvetiye from a rural Azerbaijani order to an urban Ottoman one” (p. 73). The third part covers the flourishing of the Halveti community of the city under the leadership of Pir İlyas’ grandson, Abdurrahman-ı Hüsami, which coincides with the period of autonomous Amasya. A major characteristic of this period was the challenge posed by a rival Sufi order, the Zeyniye, connected to Rum’s rival region of Karaman, whose first khalifa, Abdürrahim-i Merzifoni, appeared in the neighboring city of Merzifon at around this time. The fourth part concerns the waning of the fortunes of the Halveti order in the period 1465-1481, in conjunction with the marginalization of Amasya and in the face of aggressive proselytizing by the Zeyniye order. At the same time, however, the Halvetiye forged a close relationship with Prince Bayezid, who was residing in the city, a relationship that would prove critical for the subsequent fortunes of the order.

The third chapter, entitled “The Ottomanization of the Halvetiye: Halvetis as Members of Political Factions (1465-1482),” describes the participation of the city of Amasya and the Halvetiye order in the politics of the second half of Mehmed II’s reign, and their attempt to gain influence in the Empire’s center, through their association with Prince Bayezid, the future Sultan Bayezid II. The central theme is the struggle of the Halvetis with the rival Sufi order of the Zeynis for domination in Istanbul, culminating in the dynastic struggle of 1481. In the first part of this chapter, the author describes the socio-religious scene in Istanbul during the reign of Mehmed II, focusing on the Sultan’s antagonistic relationship with Sufi orders in general, and with the Halvetis in particular. According to Karatas, during that period, the scene in Istanbul was dominated by the Zeynis, who had a number of active lodges in the city, established under the leadership of Shaykh Vefa, who had forged a close relationship with the Sultan, enjoying his protection and financial support. The second part describes the governorship of Prince Bayezid in Amasya and his rise as a political actor, underlining his practice of associating with Sufi orders, which he saw “as new urban actors shaping public opinion” (p. 94). This part recounts the tale of two Halveti shaykhs, Çelebi Halife and Habib-i Karamani, whose involvement in Bayezid’s bid for the throne “marked the final phase of the Ottomanization of the Halvetiye” (p. 94). A vital difference between the two shaykhs was the fact that, while the former remained faithful to the prince, the latter broke with him and left Amasya for Karaman, establishing a Karamanid branch of the Halvetiye. In the final part of this chapter, Karatas describes the dynastic struggle of 1481, which he terms “the final phase of the Ottomanization of the Halvetiye” (p. 103). This struggle caused a rift within the order, as each of the Halveti factions supported the opposing sides of Princes Bayezid and Cem. The triumph of the former, with the mystical aid of Çelebi Halife, proved to be a milestone for the Ottoman Halvetiye, since it marked the transfer of the Halveti community of Amasya to Istanbul and the center of Ottoman politics. According to the author, “as the Halvetiye increasingly became an integral part of the socio-religious scene in Istanbul, it came to be directly influenced by the vicissitudes of imperial factional politics that were considerably shaped by competing regionalist networks” (p. 113).

Drawing on narrative sources, the fourth chapter, entitled “The Ottoman Halvetiye: A Sibling Rivalry between Two Dynastic Struggles (886/1481-969/1561)”, describes the rivalry between the two branches of the Ottoman Halvetiye, within the context of conflicting regional identities: in the sixteenth century, the Rumi camp was composed of the Rumi Halvetiye and the Bayramiye orders and the Karamani camp was composed of the Karamani Halvetiye and the Zeyniye orders. According to the author, this regional conflict goes a long way in explaining the various political struggles of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, indicating that “political affiliation … almost exclusively overlaps with the regional identities … Mostly through these regional identities, the Sufi orders of Anatolia in the fifteenth century associated themselves with different Ottoman imperial factions, hence the agency of the Anatolian cities, especially Amasya in the Ottomanization of the Sufi orders” (p. 116). In this chapter, we follow the fluctuating fortunes of the Halvetiye, from the “friendly years” of Bayezid II to the “grim years” of Selim I and the “magnificent years” of Süleyman I, when the Rumi and Karamani branches alternated in sultanic favor.

This dissertation is an important contribution to the Ottoman history of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Combining narrative sources with documentary evidence and the study of physical remains, this study will have a significant impact on Ottoman studies by opening up new vistas, like “the critical role of political geography in the formation of the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century” (p. 130). Using his sources in an inventive and imaginative way, and exploiting in an exemplary way the modern theoretical frameworks of urban and network studies, Hasan Karatas manages to highlight a vital aspect of early Ottoman history that has been hitherto neglected: the historical agency of the Anatolian periphery, and of certain important Anatolian cities, like Amasya and Konya in particular, in the formation of the Ottoman polity and Ottoman identity.

Theoharis Stavrides
Department of Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies
University of Cyprus

Primary Sources

The Archive of the General Directorate of Endowments, Ankara
Topkapi Palace Museum Archives, Istanbul
Prime Ministry Ottoman Archives, Istanbul

Dissertation Information 

University of California, Berkeley. 2011. 145 pp single-spaced. Primary Advisor: Hamid Algar.

Image: “Amassia with its great natural defenses.” Aerial view of the town of Amasya, in valley surrounded by mountains. Photograph by Underwood & Underwood, 1915. Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-05021. No known restrictions on publication.

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