Twenty eighth Ottoman Padishah, poet, composer (B. December 24th, 1761 Istanbul- D. July 28th, 1808 Istanbul). He was the son of Mustafa III and Mihrişah Sultan. He ascended to the throne upon the death of his uncle who died of cerebral hemorrhage because of his intense sorrow upon the sad news from the fronts (1789). It was a great opportunity for him to have Koca Yusuf Pasha as the Grand Vizier (prime minister) and to work with Cezayirli Gazi Hasan Pasha, who was Kaptan-ı Derya (T.N. commander of Ottoman Naval Forces) for a long time. Damat Melek Ahmet Pasha was the Grand Vizier who struggled to found Nizâm-ı Cedid (the new rule) along with Selim III. But there were terrible conditions in the fronts because the battles on the Russian and Austrian fronts raged in full swing. In Fokşani Battle in Boğdan (Moldavia), the Ottoman armies under the command of Kemankeş Mustafa Pasha suffered a heavy defeat as a result of mutual and simultaneous attacks of Russian and Austrian forces (August 1789). This defeat was followed by Boza (Buzaov) defeat against Russia (September 1789). While the Russians invaded Yaş the capital of Boğdan, Austrians captured Bucharest (October 1789). Hatt-ı Hümayûn (written order of Ottoman sultan) addressing to the soldiers which referred to the “gaza” spirit of Islam by Selim III, wasn’t effective either. The Ottoman forces defeated the Austrian forces in Yerköyü of Wallachia, yet retreated to the south of Danube. The Russians, with casualties and defeats sometimes, yet captured the Ottoman defending centers between Besarabya and Dobruca (1790).The cooperation with Sweden didn’t work for Ottoman Empire at all.
Emerging of the French Revolution in 1789 in the meantime had been a little salve for Ottoman Empire and Austria wanted to make a peace treaty. Upon the signing of Svishtov peace treaty, Austrian-Ottoman war ended. Thus, as the last German– Turkish war in history ended, also the German forces gave the occupied areas, initially Belgrade, back to the Ottomans. Russia, who had been on its own against Ottomans, wanted to make peace treaty and the war ended giving the coastal cities such as Özü and Hocapaşa (Odessa) upon signing Yaş Treaty in January 1792.
The Ottoman Empire, who had lost wars on the fronts, considered to reform on the areas of society, justice, economy, and especially military, which was deemed as the primary reason of defeats, because while the state was defending the homeland against foreign enemies, domestic situation was not any better. Feudal lords in Anatolia and Rumelia ayans (local rulers), and the janissary bands fighting on the fronts janissary created great difficulties for the state. Under these circumstances, the Ottoman army and even the entire state had to be reorganized. The Ottoman Empire, leaving the years of declining behind, began to suffer the pains of the period of decadence. The passion for pleasure and entertainment in contrary to the Koran, people’s suffering under heavy tax burden, absence of the love of the believers for the state, erupting of hatred from the hearts instead of help feelings were deemed by almost everyone as the reasons of the collapse indicators. Under these circumstances, the Ottoman Empire needed a new reorganization defined as “Nizam-ı Cedid”. On this subject the opinions of the ones who wanted to change the existing completely were adapted and Nizâm-ı Cedid movement was officially announced by a hatt-ı hümayûn on February 24th, 1793.
Yet, the new regulations didn’t provide benefits. General Napoleon Bonaparte, who had become the head of France which was regarded as a friendly state for four hundred years, approached the coast of Alexandria, Egypt without declaring war (July 1798). Passing to Cairo through here, he won the Ehramlar Savaşı (T.N. the battle of Pyramids) against Ebu Bekir Pasha Egyptian Beylerbeyi (governor). As a response, the Ottoman Empire declared war on France in September 1798. Later in February 1799 Bonaparte, who proceeded to Palestine captured Gaza and Jaffa, was stopped at Akka by Cezzâr Ahmet Pasha. In June 1801, the contract regarding the evacuation of Egypt was signed and the Ottoman Army entered Egypt. Therefore Selim III was given the title of “Ghazi”. The Wahhabi movement, which had merged in Arabia by the end of XVIII century, disturbed Ottoman Empire seriously. When considering how the Mameluke lords were able to be disposed of, by hoping those lords would have been disposed, Mehmet Ali Aga was given the title of Egyptian Beylerbeyi in July 1807, who was of Albanian origin and did not speak Arabic when he had gone to Egypt (1799).
Meanwhile by the provoking of 1789 French Revolution for nationalization, upon the revolting of Serbians, tyrants like Pazvandoğlu Osman Aga in Vidin, Tirsiniklioğlu Ismail Aga in Ruscuk gained great strength. After Kadı Abdurrahman Pasha, who had advanced upon those tyrants and vanquished them, retreated, the inhabitants of the districts became uncomfortable and the Serbian Revolt gained strength; also Austria was provoking the revolt. By the time the leader Kara Yorgi sidled up to the Russians in 1804. In December 1806, Kara Yorgi captured Belgrade and thus Ottoman –Russo war out broke. When the governor of Silistre Alemdar Mustafa Pasha defeated the Russians twice, Britain went to war along with Russia. In February 1807, the British Navy came to Istanbul but immediately returned and heading to Egypt and invaded Alexandria (March 1807). Mehmet Ali Pasha stopped the British there. However, the soldiers of Kapıkulu Ocağı did not want Nizâm-ı Cedid soldiers to come to the Russian front.
The ulamas (religious scholars), who initially were the supporters of the Nizâm-ı Cedid movement or at least kept silent, after noticing the corruption and indecency of the protagonists of Nizâm-ı Cedid, took action against. In November 1806, when Shaykh al-Islam (T.N. the chief religious official in the Ottoman Empire) İshakzade Mehmet Ataullah Efendi provoked the scholars against the Nizâm-ı Cedid and even the sultan, the incidents got out of controllable. Selim III was accused of blowing nay (reed flute), playing tambour, and European-like lifestyles of his sisters and spouses, in contrary to Islamic tradition. On May 25th, 1807, the janissary apprentices, who chose a rogue soldier named Kastamonulu Kabakçı Mustafa as their leader, started a revolt which lasted for 19 years. Since Selim III was a benign person, he tended to make concessions not shed blood. Therefore on May 28th, 1807, he ended the attempts of Nizâm-ı Cedid and was dethroned a day later. He was replaced by his cousin Mustafa IV. For the next fourteen months, Selim III lived under custody in Topkapı Palace. His supporters gathering around Alemdar Mustafa Pasha tried to throne him, but they even failed. Sultan Selim III was murdered at Harem Dairesi (T. N. women quarters in Ottoman Palace) on 28th July, 1808. The next day he was buried next to Laleli Mosque in the tomb of his father Mustafa III.
Selim III was competent at Islamic sciences. He was superb at poetry, calligraphy, and other fine arts of the era. It can be said, in terms of culture he was the most skillful sultan among the sultans who ascended the throne after Murad III, who died in 1595. In the meantime, he was patient, skillful, capable, and compassionate and reform supporting sultan. In his period, the defense industry and naval trade improved and Ottoman navy made progress.
Selim III was keen on poetry and music. He wrote poetry using pseudonym İlhami and composed many songs. In Turkish classical music, he had invented the maqams of “suzidilârâ”, “şevkefzâ”, “şevk-u tarâb”, “arazbarbûselik” and “nevakürdi”. He composed more than sixty music in the form of “ayin”, “durak”, “naat”, “ilahi” as religious music, and in the form of “kâr beste”, “semai”, “köçekçe”, “şarkı”, “peşrev”, “saz semaisi” as temporal form of music.