Sailor, hero (B. 1470 or 1474, island of Lesbos – D. 1518, Algeria) He was the second of the four sons of Yakut Aga, who was a cavalryman living in Lesbos but from the city of Yenice-i Vardar in origin. He was also known as Baba Oruç Reis, Oruç Reis Gazi and Barbaros due to his red bears. He was the brother of Barbaros Hayreddin Pasha who was one of the greatest Turkish sailors and who was also known as Hızır Reis. Sources about his life were predicated on the work called Gazavât-ı Hayreddin Pasha, written by Murâdî upon the request of Oruç Reis Reis himself. He was born in Bonova, a village on the island of Lesbos. His father Vardarî Yakup Aga took part in the Ottoman conquest of Lesbos in 1462, and as a reward, was granted the fief of the Bonova village in the island. Meanwhile, settled there, married and had four sons, İshak, Oruç Reis, Hızır and İlyas. As a family, they were engaged in maritime an sea trade. They got well educated and learnt Italian, Spanish, French and Greek which were the official languages of maritime. Oruç Reis was well educated in maritime and sea trade and he earned himself a ship with the help of his courage, intelligence and entrepreneurism. He transported goods to Syria, Egypt, Alexandria and Tripoli and from there to Anatolia. Before he joined the Ottoman Empire, he captured Algeria and ruled there.
Brothers Oruç Reis and İlyas came across a fleet of galley of the Knights of St. John on the way to Tripolis (T.N. in Syria) from Lesbos. İlyas Reis was martyred in the fight and Oruç Reis Reis was taken prisoner. After long efforts, Oruç Reis Reis managed to escape. After having been a prisoner, Oruç Reis served in Mamelukes as an admiral. He was also famous for his motto: “Your right to life is as much as your struggle for it.” In parallel with this, he never abandoned his hope in prison or in the middle of severe storm.
Oruç Reis didn’t remain in the service to Mamelukes for long and he became the captain of a large fleet of eighteen large ships given to him by the Ottoman Prince Korkut, the governor of Saruhan Sanjak (T.N. District) in Manisa. He made countless raids to the shores of Rhodes, but his fleet was destroyed in an immediate assault. He managed to escape with his levends (T.N. navy soldiers) and went to Prince Korkut. He gave Oruç Reis two warships, one with twenty four thwart and other with twenty-two thwart. After he got his blessings, Oruç Reis sailed to the Mediterranean. He had a great deal of booty, trade goods and slaves. After ten years, he went back to Lesbos and distributed goods to the poor, orphans and to his family
He captured the Island of Cerbe (T.N. Djerba), which is an important place in Turkish Naval history, in 1513 and made it his new base. He seized a lot of ships on western and eastern Mediterranean. That he, in command of small galliots, captured two much larger Papal galleys increased his fame all around the Europe and the whole world. Until then, it was never seen that a small galley had captured a large galley. When he seized the ship, he and his men disguised in Italian clothing so that he could capture another ship approaching from behind. Upon those victories, Italians named him “Barbarossa” due to his read bears. Later his little brother Hızır (T.N. Khizr) was called the same name, in respect to his brother.
Oruç Reis decided to found a kingdom in Algeria and took over the lands in a short time. Emperor Charles V, King of Spain sent his fleet to drive him out of Algeria but couldn’t succeed. During the siege of Bougie, Oruç Reis was wounded from his left arm seriously and his left arm had to be cut off from the elbow. Even though he lost his arm, he didn’t lose his passion and continued to sail and seize ships. He transported thousands of Andalusian Muslims from the Christian Spain to North Africa. It increased his reputation. Along with protecting North Africa from raiders, he was settling the Muslim Andalusians and providing them food and other supplies. He fought a running battle against Spaniards with the help of his navy men, raiders and heroic soldiers.
Oruç Reis Reis captured the city of Tlemcen, which was under the rule of Spaniards, and defended the city against Emir (T.N. governor) of Tlemcen, who had Spain's assistance. Upon the betrayal of the inhabitants of the city, Oruç Reis slipped through the siege and managed escaped the city with some of his men and crossed the river. However, twenty of his men were left behind. Oruç Reis turned back not to leave them alone even though he knew it was not possible to save them. While trying to cross the river, most of his men died. After the fall of his last man, Oruç Reis was killed by two arrows and fell into Rio Solado River.
The Spaniards beheaded him in order to prove his dead to the Spanish King and put it into a sack filled with honey. The reason why they did it is that on several occasions the Spaniards notified that they had killed Oruç Reis but none of them was true. The navy men took Oruç Reis’ beheaded body and brought him to Algeria. They buried him in the mausoleum of Sidi Abdurrahman, in Siddi Abdurrahman Mosque in Kasbah.
Oruç Reis was one of the sailors who were courageous and heroes, who knew the marine very well and who raided shores and wore the lands down to be captured. He was not concerned about his life during the battles. He distributed the booties he earned from raids among the poor, homeless, his navy men and he spent everything he had for Jihad and Gaza (T.N. holy war). He was generous, honest helpful and merciful as long as austere and rigorous. He was liked by all of his navy men as a father. He was a great warrior and a great commander who could find best ways in the most difficult times.
When Hızır escaped from the prison of Knights of St. John, three brothers began piracy on the Mediterranean. When Ottoman Empire started to pursue Turkish pirates as well as foreign ones, Barbarossa went to Tunisia and was accepted by the Emir of Tunisia. Then, they started to use the Halkulvadi region as a base for his pirate activities. In a very short time, they gained power and reputation and started to hit Spaniards and Genoese ships and then fleets. Having captured Algeria regions, he routed Spanish Navy for a few times. After defeating Spaniards assisted with some Arabian Emirs, they established himself a government in Algeria.
The famous king of Spanish, Emperor Charles V sent a commander, Marki de Fomars, in 1518 against them with great powers in order to take revenge for such defeats. After a heroic war against those forces, which outnumbered them heavily, Oruç Reis and his brother İshak Reis were killed with arrows in 1518. Then Hızır Reis, namely Barbarossa, who took an oath to take revenge of his brothers, took the control of Algeria and fulfilled Oruç Reis’ will.
REFERENCE: Aziz Samih İlter / Şimali Afrika’da Türkler (s. 65-81, 1936), İbrahim Alaeddin Gövsa / Türk Meşhurları, 1946), Büyük Larousse (1986), Rehber Ansiklopedisi (1993), M. Tayyib Gökbilgin / "Oruç Reis" (TDV İslam Ansiklopedisi, c. IX, s. 419-425, 1994), Gazavât-ı Hayrettin Paşa: Barbaros'un Hayatı ve Savaşları (1995, s. 4-59), İhsan Işık / Ünlü Devlet Adamları (Türkiye Ünlüleri Ansiklopedisi, C. 1, 2013) - Encyclopedia of Turkey’s Famous People (2013).