Esther Voswinckel Filiz M.A. (CERES, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany)
Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi in Istanbul – Biography of a Place

Mausoleum of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi

Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi (1541–1628) is one of several celebrated Ottoman Sufi saints (evliyā) who are buried in Istanbul. He is known as the “second founder” (pīr-i sānī) of the Celvetīyye Sufi order. During his lifetime, he witnessed the reign of eight different sultans and is remembered as the ‘teacher of the sultans’. In popular tradition, moreover, he is known as the saintly protector of sea travel in general and of the Bosporus in particular. His domed mausoleum (türbe) on a hill in Üsküdar, on the Asian shore, has not ceased to be a vital focus of pilgrimage up to the present. When people in Istanbul talk about Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, they often refer both to the saintly person as well as to the particular place where the saint gets visited: his mausoleum. This closeness between the concepts “place” and “person” explains the second part of the project title: “Biography of a Place”. The research project focuses on the locality of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi as a centre of religious attraction. In what ways do people address the saint when they visit his tomb, and how does the particular, multi-layered materiality of the site matter in the various practices of relating to the saint?

The mausoleum of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi was extensively restored between 2013 and 2015, and finally reopened in Ramadan 2015. The restoration of the site was the starting point of a long-time field research stay in Üsküdar, in which the rites of visiting the tomb (türbe ziyareti), the aesthetics of the site, its architecture, particular artifacts, which compose the interior of the tomb and the varied – ritual and other – handlings of old and new layers were studied. Among the numerous religious sites connected to Sufi traditions in Istanbul, the mausoleum of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi holds a special place. After the legal banning of the Sufi orders in 1925 and the closure of all Sufi convents (tekke) and tombs (türbe), the larger part of the precious collections of ritual paraphernalia of the Sufi orders got lost. In the case of the tomb of Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi, however, a large collection of “personal belongings” (emanetler) of the saint and his order were kept inside the mausoleum up until the 1970s. This rich collection sheds light on numerous aspects of veneration, which nowadays can be encountered at very few tombs of Sufi saints in Istanbul: e.g. the ritual and symbolism of the “venerable turban” (tâc-ı şerîf), which crowns the grave structure, or the custom of “clothing” the cenotaph with particular, embroidered pieces of cloth. This research about the “biography of a place” aims to contribute to the exploration of the material culture of Sufism; the materialities and ensembles of things, which compose saintly places have, so far, only rarely been taken into consideration as a dimension of its own within the recent religious history of Istanbul.

Sada Payır (University of Oxford, Faculty of Oriental Studies)
Entertainment, Propriety, Transgression: The ‘Unorthodox’ Greeks of Istanbul in the Late Ottoman Empire

Greek Orthodox people in costumes for the carnival of Tatavla

Sada Payır’s doctoral project builds on her master thesis which examined transgression within the Greek Orthodox population of Pera and Galata from the mid-nineteenth century to the First World War. The choice of studying people from this ethno-religious group was due to several reasons: Firstly, they did not share the same religion with the rulers of the Empire. Secondly, during the Tanzimat period, non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire were granted new rights in terms of citizenship, religion, and education upon which new churches, modern schools and cultural societies were introduced to the Greek Orthodox community of Istanbul. Finally, it became enticing to acquire knowledge on the Greek Orthodox individuals who did not have any access to education whatsoever, and may have been shunned because of their occupations and characteristics during a time when the community was experiencing economic prosperity and intellectual development.

The doctoral project extends to the whole city and aims to show the ways in which the Greek Orthodox people in the entertainment sector as well as their clientele transgressed social, moral, and – to a certain extent – legal boundaries in the eyes of the Ottoman state, the Greek Orthodox lay and clergy, and the society in late Ottoman Istanbul. With respect to these different perspectives, Sada Payır proposes to find where the transgressors stood during an era when the Greek Orthodox community was manifesting signs of a move towards a more tight-knit community life and the Ottoman Empire was experiencing administrative and urban transformation. She argues that transgressions linked with entertainment generated different concerns for different parties even if their perspectives on the features of these transgressions overlapped. By shedding light on these concerns, her project intends also to reconsider the idea of ‘the black sheep of the family’ and tries to bring new perspectives to the reading of non-Muslim communities in the late Ottoman Empire.

Elena Panayi (University of Cyprus)
Ottoman female poets and mystical orders: Elements of interaction in Ottoman divan poetry

Due to the fact that Ottoman women were generally excluded from public life, the source material that we can find on Ottoman female poets is quite limited. The main source for the lives and works of Ottoman female poets are the biographical dictionaries of poets (tezkire). Through them, we know about the lives of about fifty female poets, of whom most lived during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The project focuses on eight Ottoman female gazel poets of the 18th and 19th centuries – Sıdki Hanım (Bayramı, d. 1703), Tevhide Hanım (Mevlevi, d. 1847), Leyla Hanım (Mevlevi, d. 1848), Şeref Hanım (Kadiri / Mevlevi, 1809–1861), Sırrı Hanım (Kadiri, 1814–1877), Adile Sultan (Nakşibendi, 1826–1899), Feride Hanım (Şa’bani, 1837–1903) and Hatice Nakiye Hanım (Mevlevi, 1845–1879) – who were all members of one or more mystical orders. Based on a detailed study of the biographies and works of these poets, the study intends to find answers to the following questions: How was the interaction between these poets and their orders? Was their poetry influenced by their membership in the mystical orders, and if yes, how? Were women in the male dominated and highly stereotypic Ottoman poetry tradition able to give a female voice to their texts?

Gwendolyn Collaço (Harvard University)
Cosmopolitan Albums from the Bazaars of Istanbul: Products of Global Networks, 1650-1800.

Gwendolyn Collaco’s PhD project explores the urban market in Ottoman Istanbul for single-figure paintings during the mid-17th to 18th centuries. Bazaar artists catered these artworks towards audiences of both Europeans and Ottomans, who bought these paintings for their respective social circles. She begins by examining the sources of inspiration for these paintings and the processes of production used by their artists. Gwendolyn Colacc traces how this genre of painting adapted artworks, which were transported into Istanbul from the Safavid and Mughal Empires. Thus it reflects the global networks of trade and exchange available to the urban populace during this period. Next she illustrates how the owners and compilers participate in artistic expression through the act of compiling these paintings into albums. Specifically in the Ottoman context, Gwendolyn Collaco emphasizes how local literati collected bazaar paintings to use in poetic and story-telling recitations. For albums taken abroad, she analyzes how these paintings were adapted into European turquerie. Thus the project shifts the discourse of Ottoman painting away from the palace walls to illustrate the impact of non-royal painting on urban imaginations both in the empire and abroad.

Visiting Researchers

Lionel Genoud (University of Oxford)
TRT World: Changing Channels of Turkish Power Projection

“In today’s global information age, victory often depends not on whose army wins, but on whose story wins” – John Arquilla

Turkey’s rise on the international scene since 2002 has generated fierce political and academic debate over the path of its ascendancy. Within less than two decades, the Turkish economy has tripled in size, Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has inaugurated an average of more than four diplomatic representations a year, and Turkish Airlines has made it to the air carrier that flies to the most countries in the world. Moreover, in recent years the Erdoğan regime has become increasingly assertive in the defence realm, as evidenced by the establishment of overseas military bases, a fast-growing arms industry, and incursions into Northern Syria. Against this background of hard power consolidation, observers have rightly highlighted the burgeoning and increasing institutionalisation of Turkey’s soft power initiatives. Insufficient attention has been paid, however, to a crucial and growing soft power resource of the Turkish government, namely, public diplomacy. In the information age, the ability to propagate a credible and appealing story is a key source of soft power and state legitimacy. It is therefore striking that the creation of Turkey’s first state-owned global news outlet, TRT World, has attracted relatively little scholarly interest. Not only does TRT World provide a window into the narrative developed by Turkey’s ruling elite as part of their bid for regional leadership and global influence in a “post-Western” world. The proposed research contends that the emergence of TRT World represents a highly significant development in terms of both regional and global power dynamics.