In this exclusive interview with the great-grandson of Caliph Abdülhamid II, deputy editor of 5Pillars Dilly Hussain discusses Ottoman history, the state of the Muslim world, and the future of Turkey with Sehzade Abdülhamid Kayıhan Osmanoğlu.
DH: From which Ottoman Caliph does your lineage trace back to?
Sehzade Osmanoğlu: I am the son of Harun Efendi, who is the son of Abdülkerim Efendi, who is the son of Selim Efendi, who is the eldest son of Caliph Abdülhamid Han II – my great-grandfather.
DH: What does being a descendant of the Ottomans mean to you?
Sehzade Osmanoğlu: Allah put my great-grandfather Abdülhamid Han in a big test. I thought, will our test be as hard as our forefathers? It wasn’t, Allah’s plan for us was different.
My great-grandfather did his best considering his time, reality and conditions to fulfil his mission within the borders of destiny that were defined for him.
When we opened our eyes to this world, and when we began to understand ourselves, they told us that we are from “Hânedan-ı Âl-i Osman” (The Ottoman Dynasty). We couldn’t grasp this idea with our young minds at first, but learned as time went by. We continued to learn until now and we are still learning. The more we learned about ourselves the more we felt the heavy burden of our history on our shoulders.
We didn’t complain, we couldn’t, because we knew that this world has caused suffering for Evlâd-ı Mustafa (the sons of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him), enacted a death penalty for the Âl-i Abâ (the close relatives of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him), so what is there for the Evlâd-ı Osman?
Like everyone else, we had different attributes, feelings and ideas coming from our creation. But the time has changed. We saw that the love for our Ottoman Dynasty is still there in the hearts of our nation. We were glad and honoured, and this has increased our responsibilities.
My school days began with a teacher telling me “You are a descendant of a traitor”. Later on, some of my teachers, who didn’t even know my surname, broke my heart as a child when they told me “What do you understand from history anyway?”
I never disrespected them in my words or in my actions because what has been told to us is that we should live peacefully with people around us.
DH: Are you in contact with any relatives outside of Turkey who were exiled?
Sehzade Osmanoğlu: Yes, we are in contact with most of them and we do see each other. On some special days, the Turkish Presidency organises meetings for us in Istanbul.
DH: Do you think there has been a revival of Ottoman culture and history in recent years?
Sehzade Osmanoğlu: It is clear that the new TV series about Ottoman history has increased the interest in both the Ottomans and history in general. Research has shown that people in Turkey watch 4-5 hours of TV every day. According to the statistics published by Turkish Ombudsman Institution, Turkish production firms produce over 100 productions a year. Some of the TV series gained viewers and popularity in the Middle East, the Balkans and Latin America. These TV series create an economical market as well as increasing interest in our history, and the latter is the most gladsome aspect of it.
DH: Beyond popular culture and entertainment, do you think the spirit of the Ottomans is still alive in the Muslim world?
Sehzade Osmanoğlu: The Sykes–Picot Agreement was an agreement secretly signed by the colonial powers of Britain and France on 16th May 1916. This agreement was made to divide the region, irrespective of the dreams and expectations of the people of the region. The agreement was there to design the region in a way that it can serve the purposes of the colonial powers. And this agreement is the one that is causing the current conflicts in the region.
After the implementation of this agreement, it became clear that there is no legitimacy of these borders or the states within these borders; and there is no legitimacy of the rulers, who are not the lawful leaders of their people but rulers who have been installed by external powers.
DH: Should Turkey play a leadership role in the Muslim world? If so, why?
Sehzade Osmanoğlu: The land on which the Turkish Republic has been built upon is the homeland of the Ottoman State. Therefore the Ottoman State continues as The Republic, with the language, religion, land and the people. It is unthinkable for Turkey to disregard the affairs of the Muslims outside its borders. In the Balkans, every Muslim is considered as a Turk. Turkey, willingly or not, has to continue the Ottoman mission.
DH: Do you think such a polity like the Ottoman State could re-emerge in the near future?
Sehzade Osmanoğlu: Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) says in Surah al-Baqarah:
“Those are a people who have passed away. For them is what they earned, and for you is what you earned. Nor shall you be questioned as to what they have been doing.” [2:134]
The Ottoman’s have experienced the fate and practice of their time and have taken their distinguished place in history. To follow the Ottoman soul is not to be bound with its past, it is only possible with adopting their principles and aims and carrying them forward.
DH: What are your thoughts on the current situation of the Muslim world? The wars, occupation, oppression, injustice and poverty?
Sehzade Osmanoğlu: Why are the Muslims divided? Why have madhabs (schools of thought/jurisprudence), jamaas (groups and movements) and tariqas (orders and fraternities) abandoned competing for goodness and become groups who excommunicate and cause division between one another? Why has it become the case that Muslims no longer need an enemy except themselves? Why are we fighting with each other and killing each other?
The blessings of this world, sometimes, makes us indulged. We do not know our own limits. We ignore others. We have left everything that made us a people who were faithful, loyal and complete Muslims. Now we are running towards the unknown. I’m hoping that one day we will pull ourselves together, insha’Allah (God willing).
DH: Do you think Muslims of Turkey and Muslims outside of Turkey have different understandings and attitudes towards Ottoman history?
Sehzade Osmanoğlu: Of course they do because they’re in different communities and therefore they will have different views. The fact that they are living in foreign lands, makes their approach more emotional and with more longing.
DH: Do you think reconnecting with Ottoman history can help Islamic movements and groups with reviving the Ummah?
Sehzade Osmanoğlu: For sure, there will be some good examples from our history, as well as the mistakes. This means that we shouldn’t repeat those same mistakes.
As my great-grandfather Sultan Abdülhamid famously said: “It is not history that is repeating itself, it is the mistakes.”