The Pencils

When the Ottoman Turks occupied Syria in 1516, Sultan Selim I ordered the construction of al-Tekiyyeh Mosque on the banks of Barada River in Damascus. The people of Damascus did not like the typical Turkish style of the Mosque. Its pencil-shaped minarets looked weird, and people saw them as a symbol of Turkish domination, which they didn't expect to last for long. However, many other pencils were later constructed in Damascus, and the Ottomans stayed for 400 years.


Anonymous said...

I think there is rehabilitation works at Tekkeyah now.
You can have a look at Tekkeyah before these works start at my PhotoLog:

Ayman, we have the same attitude concerning photography!

Anonymous said...

Whatever people may think about the Uthmanis (or Ottomans if you prefer) from a historical and political point of view it has to be admitted that some of the finest architecture ever has been built was in their era including mosques, palaces and governor's residences etc. Their architecture starts in Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria and goes through modern day Turkey to Syria, Lebanon and Egypt through to Libya and even Algeria. One of their famous architects called Sinan is responsible for some of their most beautiful comstructions! Please note that I am NOT Turkish!

Anonymous said...

Ayman... I adore your blog. But where did u get the impression that damascenes did not like the the pencil-shaped minarets?
I am damascene and (when in Syria) I live in Halbouni, very near to Tekiyyeh, and I really consider it as a part of damascene history. I have reservations about calling Ottomans an occupation, but it's OK...It is ur blog afterall!

Anonymous said...

Ottoman era is similar to French, Roman, etc ones. It was not occupation rather than domination, power seizing, or mandate. It is a point of view that we have to consider as they, practically, did not "occupy" (take) the land instead of its residents (Syrians).

Sinan is one of the greatest Turkish architects. I think that Mosque of Khaled Ibn Al-Waleed in Homs is one of his designs.

luz de la luna said...

Great pictures and text as always. Thank you. Look forward to more :-)

Best Wishes
La Luna

Anonymous said...

marhaba Ayman,
Thanks alot for the wonderful blogs. It's a great window for us expatriats to look at our beloved Damascus.

However, i prefer not to label the Ottomans as occupiers. The Turks were Muslim caliphs, just like the Ommayads and the Abasseen. The fact that they were Turks not Arabs does not make them occupiers.

Ayman you are the best to know that many (if not most) of the old shcools, mosques, public baths, and hotels (khans) in Damascus were built in the Ottoman era. The construction of the Hejaz railway line is one of their great achievements. The Ottomans also managed to maintain relative peace and stability for 300 years across the Arab world (and in the case of Damascus this peace lasted for 400 years which allowed Damascus to prosper both economically and socially).

And Certainly the Turks were not like the French, as one commentator suggested. Like us Arabs they were Muslims. They did not enforce their traditions or language upon us (on the contrary they adpoted Arabic letters). Arabic remained the language of knowledge. Many of the Walis (rules) of AlSham were damascene (eg. the Azem family which built wonderful palaces and khans). Also many Arabs ascended to the highest ranks of the Ottoman hierarchy, became very close to the Caliphs and involved in the decision making.

Like all empires in history their rule was not perfect and this is why many uprisings were waged against the Ottomans (just like the tens of uprising against the Ommayad and Abbasseen rule). However this still does not make them occupiers.

Only when Jammaat AlEtehad wa AlTaraki organised a coupe against the Caliph in 1908, controlled the empire and forced it into WW1 sacrificing the lifes of thousands of Arab youths, ran a campaign of Turkinizing ("tatreek" in arabic), and excuted Arab intellectuals in 1916, only then we Arabs began to think of the Turks as occupiers.

However this is a small period (10 years) compared to the 400 years of the Ottoman Empire and should not overshadow the fact that the Ottomans were just another Caliphs.

Thanks again for the great blogs
Amr AlAbed

Ayman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ayman said...

Dear friends,

When I used the word "occupation" I didn't mean to take any stance towards the Ottomans who ruled Syria for four centuries. Some people would prefer to use the Arabic word "fat'h" which has no English equivalent that gives the positive meaning the word "fat'7" implies. The other word that can be used is "conquest" which translates into Arabic as "ghazoo", thus also implies a negative meaning.

Although I don't agree that the Ottoman era was good for Syria or the rest of the Arab World, I totally agree that the Ottomans lefts some great pieces of architecture in Syria, including the Tekiyyeh and the Issa Minaret of the Umayyad Mosque. I hope the description of the minarets as pencils would not be understood as saying the contrary.

I remember I read in a Syrian tourist guide that the people of Damascus did not like the shape of the minarets when they were constructed. I frankly don't know how true or accurate is that.

Finally, thank you everybody for visiting the blog and keeping it lively! :)

Rafeed said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

It seems that talking about Ottomans has raised a lot of opinions whether they were occupiers or not?

Actually, they were and they were not. It is kind of paradox which depends on your point of view, namely Islamic one or not. Some has partial opinion in which it varies between the pre-mentioned attitudes.

It is very hard to set free off our ideology. Let us talk about the Roman Empire as a reference for comparison.

1. Culture (divinity and ethics): Romans have believed in religion similar to one which was dominating Syria which was based on agricultural gods such as god of fertility, thunder, etc. The Syrian god, Ishtar (Tamuze, Astrate, Ashtrate, etc) has its Roman match, Venus and it is Greek match, Aphrodite. It is the same case for the Syria Baal and the Roman Jupiter, so and so.

Conclusion 1. [It is easy to recognize that the people of "Syrian" kingdoms has shared Rome a lot of its believes. Similarly, the people of "Syrian" prefectures has shared Ottoman the believe in Islam]

2. Civilization (civil works): I will not go in depth concerning the civilization matter as its is evident everywhere. Just have a look at the southern region of Syria such as Shahba, Bosra, and Kanwat nevertheless they were all built by Syrian labor and money similarly to Hejaz railway and other monuments instructed in the Ottomans era.
Furthermore, Syrian architects were will known in the Roman empire such the most famous architects of the ancient world Apollodorus of Damascus. His greatest achievement was the Forum of Trajan (106-113).

Conclusion 2. [Each empire has its own civil influence beside to cultural one. This influence was not a gift or free of charge as may somebody thinks. It is kind of saying "We were here!"]

3. Governance (state of governing): one of the commentator has indicated to the high ranked Syrian in the Ottoman era as a kind of privilege. Did any Syrian become Sultan? No one. Everybody knows that many of Syrian become emperor or empress in the Roman era such as Marcus Julius Philippus (born in Shahba), called The Arabian, emperor of Rome (244-249), and Julia Domna (born in Emessa, aka Homs), wife of Roman emperor Lucius Septimius Severus (reigned ad 193-211) and mother of Caracalla (who later ruled as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus) and Publius Septimius Geta.

Conclusion 3. [Governance is an indicator of democracy not freedom]

According to my experience with the Syrian historians, they use to classify the roman presence in Syria as occupation. Forget what is written in the books of history of secondary school about the diplomatic word of "Fat7" and try to judge the Ottoman presence from the same point of view which the Roman presence is judged.

In spite that roman empire was more tolerant than the one which committed massacres against Mamluks in 1805 and 1811, Bulgarians in 1876, Armenians between 1894-1896 and in WW1, and against Syrians themselves in this [400 years of peace in which Damascus allowed to prosper both economically and socially]!

Do you know what happened in this 400 "peaceful" years?

In 1076 Damascus was seized by the Seljuk Turks, and in 1154 it fell to the Egyptians. Damascus was the headquarters of Saladin, sultan of Egypt and Syria, during the Third Crusade. In 1401 the Turkic conqueror Tamerlane pillaged and burned the city (the peace!). It was soon rebuilt and in 1516 [the same year in which Tekkeyah was built] was wrested from Egypt by the Ottoman Empire. Damascus was returned to Egyptian rule by Ibrahim Pasha in 1832; in 1841 it was restored to the Ottoman Empire as part of Syria. An uprising of the Muslim population in 1860 resulted in the destruction of the Christian quarter and the massacre of many Christians (the economic and social prosperity!). The rest of the story is well known thanks to Jamal Pasha "the Slaughterer".

In spite that history has its own problems with the Ottoman empire, beside to its problems with other ones, I have no bad feelings against the peaceful Turkish people whom I respect.

"flesh and blood is the feed for glory"

Anonymous said...

I agree with Amr al-Abed's comments. The Uthmani Khalifa was in effect rendered a puppet of the Young Turks(also known as the Jamaat al Ittihad wa Taraqqi) by their coup d'etat against him. Unfortunately the main and important people in this Jamaat al Ittihad wa Taraqqi like Jamal Pasha, Jawad Pasha, Kemal Ataturk later on were of questionable background and hence adopted extreme Turkish nationalism as their ideology at the expense of Muslim brotherhood with Arabs, Kurds, Albanians and others. It is also true that the Turks were and continue to be Muslims and are in fact the brothers and sisters of the Arabs and the Kurds. Unfortunately it is history and politics that always overrides these fraternal bonds.
Amr is also right that the Uthmanis were the same as the Ummayads and the Abbassids in that that they had good and bad periods in their rule as well as good and bad rulers. To generalise anything is always wrong. The only difference is that the 1st 2 were Qurayshi Arab dynasties and the latter were Turks. In fact this change in the family of the Khalifa has been predicted in a saheeh/authentic narration of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)that as long as Quraysh follow and hold on to Islam then the Khalifa will come from them but when they stop following Islam Allah will take the office of Khalifa away from them and give it to somebody else. As everyone can see this is exactly what happened with the Uthmanis becoming the Khlaifas of the Muslims.
Amr is lastly also right in that ironically during the Uthmani rule the Arab world was more united under them than it has ever been since the Arab world became 'independent' into 22 or so countries. There was also peace and stability as he says in the Arab world. Despite Arab nationalism, Nasserism (with all their slogans and speeches) and other superficial and failed ideologies the Arab world has never come close to any kind of unity (apart from the short-lived UAR) and have in fact always been too busy conspiring and intriguing each other. There are various examples e.g. Morocco vs. Algeria over Western Sahara, Syria vs. Jordan over Black September, Syria vs. Iraq because of rival wings of the same party ruling both countries etc. Because of the latter the cause of the Palestinians has suffered at all levels and in most of the Arab-Israeli wars the Arabs have lost territory to the illegal & artificial project set up in part of Bilad as-Sham. Only the treacherous Sadat recovered the Sinai for Egypt by capitulating and recognising the zionists and establishing economic, diplomatic and culutural realtions with them. Thus he broke the Arab unity against them.

Desert Island Boy said...

I am encouraged by the liveliness and civility of the discussion. If anything the mutual influences and the effects of the 5 century relationship between the Arabs and the Ottomans does not get enough attention. It is neutral at best until you speak to someone of Armenian heritage.

The Ottomans have had their day in the sun, they used it well and they made choices that resulted in losing their influence. Their lives and relationships merit study and it behooves us to not leave that discussion exclusively to the western viewpoints.