Statesman, admiral in chief, grand vizier (B. 1505, Sokolovic / Visegrad / Bosnia –D. 1579, Istanbul). He was an Ottoman statesman of Serbian origin and his first name was Bajo Sokolovic. Therefore, he is known as Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic among the Balkan folks. He served as the grand vizier during the reigns of Sultan Süleyman, Selim II and Murad III for over fourteen years; he achieved great success in state government and politics as well as in the wars.
Sokollu Mehmed, who was one of the greatest statesmen of the Ottoman Empire, was called “Sokollu” because he was born in Sokolovic (Sokol) village. Our old historians distinguished him from other Mehmed Pashas by the description “Tavil” because he was tall.
His father Dimitriye had one daughter and according to Serbian historians, he had three more sons and according to Turkish writers, he had two more sons. Sokollu Mehmed was brought to Edirne Palace at an early age as part of the devshirmeh (T.N. selection system in the Ottoman) system in 1519 and by being given the name “Mehmed” he was raised with Turkish and Muslim culture. Afterwards, he was sent to Istanbul.
First, he served in certain positions in Enderun department of the Topkapı Palace. In 1541 he was promoted to Kapıcıbaşılık (T.N Head of the Palace Doorkeepers) in Enderun. In 1546, as per the tradition that was about appointing the successful palace employees to duties outside the palace and upon the death of Barbarossa
Hayreddin Pasha he was appointed as the Chief Admiral. While he was an admiral-in-chief, he participated in Trablusgarp Campaign and he expanded and renovated the Istanbul Shipyard. In 1549, by being promoted to the rank vizier he was appointed as the Governor of Rumelia. As the peace treaty signed with Austria in 1547 was broken, he was appointed as the commander of the expedition forces that marched on Transylvania in 1551. Sokollu Mehmed
Pasha, who came to Transylvania with an army of 80,000 men, captured important and strategic forts. However, he couldn’t achieve success in the Siege of Timisoara he retreated. Timisoara was captured by Kara Ahmet Pasha in 1552, who was appointed as the Hungarian serdar (T.N. commander in chief).
Kanunî Sultan Süleyman sent Sokollu Mehmed Pasha to Anatolia in command of Rumelian soldiers in 1533. Rumelian soldiers achieved great success under the command of Sokollu in Nakhchivan Campaign that started in the same year. Upon his return from the campaign, Sokollu was promoted to the rank of vizier for the third time and joined the Kubbealtı viziers (T. N. Divan member viziers).
He always took sides with Selim in the struggles between Kanunî’s sons for the throne and hence Selim won the throne struggle. Sokollu, who became the second vizier upon the promotion of Semiz Ali Pasha as the grand vizier, and was appointed as the grand vizier in 1565 upon Semiz Ali Pasha’s death.
Kanunî, who got really old, granted Sokollu, whom he trusted, vast authorities. Sokollu married Esmehan Sultan, who was the granddaughter of Kanunî Sultan Süleyman and the daughter of Sultan Selim II, while he was the third vizier in 1561. He was appointed as the grand vizier upon the death of Semiz Ali Pasha, when he was the second vizier in 1564. From that date until his death, he held the government of the Ottoman Empire in his hands.
Sokollu’s Grand Vizier period during the reign of Sultan Suleiman was only two years. He encouraged Kanunî to go on his last campaign, the Szigetvar war. As the padishah was on his deathbed in the battlefi eld when the Fort of Szigetvar was captured, it was Sokollu Mehmed Pasha who led the battle and achieved victory.
Upon the death of sultan he managed to keep the death of sultan as a secret for forty eight days –to keep the army from dissolving- and to have Selim II quietly succeed to the throne. Selim II showed the wisdom of keeping his son-in-law Sokollu as his grand vizier. Selim found the opportunity to spend time in luxury and to keep away from the state affairs as Sokollu was his son-in-law. Sokollu remained as the grand vizier throughout Selim’s sultanate, around eight years and after him Murat III succeeded to the throne. Although Sokollu did not like Murad III, he did not dare to replace him.
The fi rst of two events that proved that Sokollu was a great statesman was Sokollu’s initiative of opening a canal between Don and Volga to have the navy and troops sent to Middle Asia by way of sea. He wanted to open the way to Caspian Sea for the Ottoman navy by building this canal. He also had projects ahead of his time such as opening the Suez Canal and opening an alternative strait to Black Sea over İzmit Gulf – Sapanca Lake – Sakarya River. The required work force was gathered and mobilized for the Don-Volga River Canal. However, due to weather conditions and the protest of certain statesmen the operation could not continue. Sudan was taken as the fi rst step to Suez Canal, however this design could not be concluded either.
Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, kept the Guild of Janissaries strong; he resolved the discipline problem among the soldiers. By capturing the Island of Cyprus he strengthened the domination over Mediterranean Sea. Although it was a disaster for the Ottoman Empire that the Venetians burned down the
Ottoman navy in Lepanto, a new navy was built after a single winter session with the help of Sokollu and the effort of Kılıç Ali Pasha. It is famous that Sokollu Mehmed Pasha had told the Venetian ambassador: “By conquering Cyprus we have cut off one of your arms. By defeating our navy in Lepanto you have only shaved off our beard.
However, an arm that had been cut off cannot be restored but a beard that had been shaved off grows thicker”. He accomplished what he had told.
Sokollu was a statesman, who operated on a scale befi tting a magnifi cent empire. He pursued an outward-oriented and fi rm policy and knew how to make the empire distinguished among the foreigners.
Sokollu served for fi ve years as the grand vizier during the reign of his brother-in-law Murad III, who succeeded the throne after Selim II, who was Sokollu’s father-inlaw.
He was stabbed and killed by a madman, who approached him in order to supposedly hand him a petition, while he was dealing with state affairs in the afternoon session of the divan. He was buried in Eyüp. Although it is said that this madman was manipulated by his enemies, who were jealous of him, this claim is questionable. The madman who killed the Pasha was killed on the spot by the soldiers and all the notables of the state were taken inside. Sokollu could not be saved despite all the medical attention and lost his life after a short while. Sokollus death has been considered as the end of Ottoman Empires rise and the beginning of its stagnation period.
Sokollu Mehmed Pasha served as the grand vizier for one year, three months and two days during the reign of Kanunî Sultan Süleyman; for eight years, two months and twenty one days during the reign of Selim II; for four years, nine months and twenty one days during the reign of Murat III. His term of Grand Viziership throughout the reign of three sultans was a total of fourteen years, three months and fi fteen days. He was not discharged from any office or position during his sixty years of state service and he became prominent as a master politician during his grand vizier period of over fourteen years. He played the first role in the achievement of many military and political successes. The fact that he was always promoted to a higher position is another one of his qualities.
Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Mausoleum, is within Sokollu’s külliye (T. N. Islamic social complex), which consists of a madrasah, a darülqurra, a mausoleum and a fountain, in Eyüp, Istanbul. The reason why külliye does not have a mosque is that Eyüp Sultan Mosque is located nearby. Sokollu Mehmed Pasha had Mimar Sinan built this külliye in 1568-1569 and it was renovated in 1961-1962.
Today, madrasah of the külliye is used as Eyüp Health Center, and its darülqurra is used as Children’s Library.
There are many works of Sokollu spread almost all over the empire, such as his fi ve külliyes, one of which is in Istanbul and the other ones are in Lüleburgaz, Havsa (Edirne) and Payas (Hatay). A school ship in modern day’s navy and many agencies and institutions are named after Sokollu Mehmed Pasha. He has mosques, madrasahs in his name in Kadırga, Azap Kapısı and Belgrat and charities in Eyüp such as madrasah and fountains.
KAYNAKÇA: İbrahim Alaeddin Gövsa / Türk Meşhurları (1946), Radovan Samarcic / Mehmed Paşa (1995) - At that time all people of Bosnia were regarded as Bosniaks: Mehmed Paşa (2004), Osmanlı Ansiklopedisi (c. 12, 1999), TDV İslam Ansiklopedisi (c. 36, s. 354, 2007), İhsan Işık / Ünlü Devlet Adamları (Türkiye Ünlüleri Ansiklopedisi, C. 1, 2013) - Encyclopedia of Turkey’s Famous People (2013).hsan Işık / Ünlü Devlet Adamları (Türkiye Ünlüleri Ansiklopedisi, C. 1, 2013) - Encyclopedia of Turkey’s Famous People (2013).