Sultan II. Mahmud

Osmanlı Padişahı, Hattat

20 Temmuz, 1785
01 Temmuz, 1839

He was thirtieth Sultan of Ottoman Empire who was also a musician, poet, calligraphist (B. July 20th, 1785, Istanbul - D. July 1st, 1839, Istanbul). He was the son of Mustafa IV, father of Abdülmecid. His mother was Nakşıdil Sultan. His education was supervised by his grandfather Sultan Selim III himself. One year prior to his accession to the throne, he was elected as the heir apparent by Sultan Mustafa IV, since there wasn’t any other male member of the House of Ottoman. Rusçuk Landed Proprietor Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, went to Istanbul to enthrone Selim III, who had been dethroned by Rebellion of Kabakçı Mustafa, once again and dethroned Sultan Mustafa IV who had acted with the rebels. When Alemdar Mustafa Pasha entered the palace, he figured out that Selim III had been slain, he enthroned Mahmud II instead, who barely saved his life from the murderers (28th of July 1808).

When Sultan Mahmud II ascended to the throne, the Russians had been waging war against Ottomans. In accordance with the agreement that had been signed with Britain in 1809, it was decided to maintain the war against the Russians. The issues between France and Russia and exhaustion of the Ottoman armies by prolonged wars forced both sides to sign a peace treaty. The Kaçar Dynasty in Persia, who lost vast lands to Russia in North Azerbaijan and Caucasia by the Treaty of Gülistan in 1813, tried to compensate those losses by invading Ottoman lands with the provocations of some European countries and so they attacked the cities of Baghdad and Şehrizor. Because of the incidents along the borders and increasing attacks of Persians, Mahmud II had to declare a war against Iran (1820). After the heavy losses of the Persian army, Kaçar sovereign Feth Ali Şah sued for peace and Erzurum agreement was signed.  

 Also the Greeks were under the influence of the French Revolution (1789) in the Ottoman Empire, which was a multinational state. The Greeks, who took advantages of the rebellion of Tepedelenli Ali Pasha, and with the provocations of Russia and European countries, rose against the Ottoman ruling. Patriarch Gregorios V was executed on 22nd April 1821 by the Grand Vizier Benderli Ali Pasha since he had been accused to be involved in the rebellion. The revolt that had started in Wallachia was suppressed in a little while. Second revolt was staged in Mora. The united armada of Russia, Britain and France, which raided the port Navarino of Mora, destroyed the anchored Ottoman Navy by bombardment (20th of October 1827). Russia waged a new war against Ottoman Empire in response to the demand of the war compensation by Sultan Mahmud II regarding the incidents resulted in the Ottoman Navy’s being set to fire in Navarin (1828). Ottomans were defeated by the Russians. Mahmud II was constrained to sign the Edirne Treaty with the Russians in 1829. A year later the French invaded Algeria. Khedive of Egypt Mehmed Ali Pasha believed that this was a great opportunity and started to attack and reached Kütahya by defeating Ottoman armies several times. Mahmud II asked for help from the old nemesis Russia against his own governor. After the Russian forces were settled in Bosporus, the French and the British ambassadors forced Mehmed Ali Pasha to sign a peace.

Sultan Mahmud II disbanded Janissary Corps and founded a new army organization called Asakir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye during his rule. This newly founded army did not have a notable success against the Russians. The Russians captured the ports of Anapa and Poti as well as Ahıska and Ahılkelek in the east. Russian Merchant vessels acquired the rights of passage through the Turkish straits by means of Treaty of Hünkar İskelesi, which was accepted and signed by Mahmud II in 1833. Ottoman Empire accepted to pay war compensation to Russia.

Kavalalı Mehmet Ali Pasha had helped Sultan Mahmud II during the Revolt of Mora on condition that he would have been given the titles of Governor of Mora and Girit.  Kavalalı Mehmet Ali Pasha, who suppressed the revolt of Mora, didn’t send a force to help against Russia even though the Ottomans had asked for it. Kavalalı, who demanded the title of governor of Syria instead of Mora, in response to be refused to be given the title of governor of Mora, sent his son İbrahim Pasha against Abdullah Pasha, Governor of Akka, who had not paid his debts. During the revolt, İbrahim Pasha went beyond the Toros Mounts capturing the cities of Akka, Damascus, Hama and Syria. The forces of İbrahim Pasha defeated the Ottoman forces in Adana and Konya.

As it is understood, Mahmud II found himself in a state of inner conflict and developments, which began before his accession to the throne when he was twenty-three years old. But as he adopted the renovation movements in Europe, he proceeded that way.  He gave due importance to justice affairs, he had new laws and regulations prepared so he was called “Adlî”. In Ottoman Empire, the modernization movements in essence started in the middle of the 18th century. On the other hand, for a long time, the state continuously lost lands. So the problem, which the state needed to struggle, had required an instant solution for the military weakness. Undoubtedly the basis of the military problems depended on the economic, financial, social, political problems.

Since, not only but most urgent problem for the officials , was to reinforce the empire military, modernization movements started with military area, namely in the army. The Janissary corps, which was the center army of the Ottoman Empire till that time, continuously lost the battles they entered and became a state in a state also, needed to be abolished. The Janissary corps stayed out of military training and discipline. But abolishing the Janissary Corps was a hard and dangerous attempt in both militarily and politically. Even though the janissary corps had weakened, it required a new force to close out this sole central military force which was impossible to be corrected. For that reason, “Nizam-ı Cedid” was founded in the era of Selim III.

Sultan Mahmud II, who tried to make military and administrative reformations, founded a new military organization named Sekban-ı Cedid (October 14th, 1808). But the Janissaries didn’t want an alternative force which might have been a rival. They succeeded to disband Sekban-ı Cedid by rising up. After founding a new military organization named Eşkinci, a new rising up against Sultan Mahmud II occurred. Sultan Mahmud II disbanded the Janissary corps, which became a bleeding wound on the body of the Empire, within an event named Vaka-i Hayriye (15th June, 1826). After disbanding the Janissary corps, a new military organization named Asakir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye was founded.

Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, who believed that the reforms had to be adopted by the provincial governors and officials, signed an agreement called Sened-i İttifak with local sovereigns in the era of Sultan Mahmud II. According to this agreement, the sovereign would have stood by the central administration and would have supported the reforms; in contrast the Sultan would have accorded the acquired rights of the sovereigns. With Sened-i Ittifak, the sovereigns would have vested a political legitimacy against the absolute authority of the sultan. It was impossible for the authority of the sultan to accept to have partners with another force(s) and this was incongruous with the nature and the administrative constitution of the Ottoman Empire. So Sened-i Ittifak, which had anyway been born dead, wasn’t long-lasting. After a short while Sultan Mahmud II eliminated the sovereigns one by one by taking over the governance and reinforced the central authority.

During his life, Mahmud II, who noticed the inclining of the Ottoman Empire, tried to restore the order comply with Western modernization. Thus he thought he could stop the ongoing incline. So he adopted dress regulations (March 3rd, 1829) which banned the public officers to dress turban, quilted turban, shalwar and sandal. Instead fez, trousers and jacket would be dressed. He acted as the European sovereigns by shifting the life in Palace. He had his beard cut, his picture hung in public offices and worn trousers. The people, who weren’t able to understand the necessity of these reforms, called Mahmud II “the unbeliever sultan”. Inspiring by the western foundations, a population census conducted considering only men (1831). Thus he could have found out human and wealth resources of the empire to sustain the newly established army.

Also in the era of Mahmud II, permanent embassies were founded in the significant cities of Europe. “Takvim-i Vekayi” the first official gazette was published (November 1st, 1831). Besides “madrasah”, western style schools opened and students were sent to Europe.  “Divan”, the traditional government, was abolished and ministerial “Cabinet” was founded. On 30th March 1838, the “office of Grand Vizier” was exchanged with “Başvekalet” (Prime Ministry) and Grand Vizier would have been called “Başvekil” (Prime Minister). “Müsadere”, the procedure of confiscating the commodities of the dismissed or the deceased public servants, was ended. Also, “Darü’ş Şuray-ı Bab-ı Ali”, which was helping the state with the reform movements and “Meclis-i Vâlâ-yı Ahkâm-ı Adliye”, which dealt with the cases between government and public, were founded. By a publication of royal decree, it was decided to start compulsory and free elementary education. “Rüştiye”, the middle school, and “Mekteb-i Maarif-i Adliye”, in which students were trained to become public servants, “Tıbbiye”, school of medicine, and “Harbiye”, war Academy, were opened. The Postal Office organization was founded and quarantine regulations was held. The citizens, who were traveling in the empire, should have had a free pass certificate and the ones, who were traveling abroad should have had passport.

Sultan Mahmud II died on account of tuberculosis on 1st July 1839 in the villa of his sister Esma Sultan in Çamlıca before the arrival of the news of defeat of the Ottoman Army against Egyptian Army in Nizip. With a big funeral ceremony and tears of the public, he was buried in the tomb of Mahmud II, which was built by Ohannes Dadyan and Boğos Dadyan brothers in Divanyolu near Çemberlitaş, by the order of his son Abdülmecid.

In the history of Ottoman Empire, Sultan Mahmud II, who was one of the prominent reformist sultans along with Selim III, was described as a sultan hard and ruthless and also as an artist, as a Mevlevi and as an alcohol addict. According to this information, he was recorded as a valuable composer in Turkish music literature and under his sovereign many great composers appeared also he composed twenty five compositions. One of these compositions was a march in acemaşiran maqam, that he composed for the army Asâkir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye he founded. So he was the first march composer in our music history. Also he was closely interested in Western music and provided the entry of this music style into Turkey. The sultan, who was a poet, used the pseudonym “Adlî “and was a famous calligraphist. He had great success in writing calligraphic style of Celî.

While some of the historians evaluate him as the greatest Sultan after Kanunî, the Magnificent Süleyman, the others criticize him because his attempts of westernization were only formal.


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