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Far but Close: An Analysis of the Deep Ties Between Indonesia and Türkiye

02 Haziran 2023 15:21

Today, globalization has come to be interpreted with the concept of "mutual ties and dependencies" (Tomlinson, 2004: 11-13). The distance between Türkiye and Indonesia is approximately 16 thousand kilometers (10 thousand kilometers by air). When I started to get to know Indonesian students participating in “Diplomacy Programs” at the Institute for Strategic Thinking (SDE), I was initially quite surprised to see their cultural similarities with Turks in many ways. Besides its traditions, the students' interest in the lessons, their hard work and above all their upbringing were really close to the Turks and deserved to be explored. As a social anthropologist, after a little research on the subject, I was quick to realize that this was not at all strange. The subject at some point exceeds the concept of distance, beyond cultural similarity; It was also based on the depth of historical and religious ties.

Indonesia is a country that has the capacity to play an important role in the world economy and politics in the future.

Indonesia's majority are of the Islamic faith. Today, Indonesia, which is the most populous country in the Islamic world, is a large country with a population of 280 million, located in Southeast Asia, between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and governed by democracy, consisting of more than 17 thousand islands. With its wealth and manpower, it is a candidate to become one of the world's leading powers in the coming years.

Reading history means reaching a place in our own world, then finding our own place from the meanings we deduced, understanding ourselves again and returning to ourselves (Blanchot, 2000: 5-6). Understanding Indonesia and the history of relations with this geography will undoubtedly enable both peoples to look ahead with more confidence, and the created synergy will open the door to many new possibilities.

Known relations between Indonesians and Turks date back 500 years. The Ottoman Ruler Yavuz Sultan Selim (1470-1520) enlarged the borders of the Empire 2.5 times in 8 years, and in 1517 he conquered Egypt and brought the Caliphate and the Sacred Relics to Istanbul. With this event, the Ottoman Caliphs assumed a unifying and protective role in the entire Islamic World, as well as being the protector of Mecca and Medina. This role of the Ottoman caliphs continued until 1924, when the caliphate was abolished.

Turks have an indirect contribution to the spread of Islam in Indonesia and its surroundings, along with India.

It is not a well-known issue, but the Turks, albeit indirectly, played a role in the Islamization of Indonesia and its surroundings. After the expeditions of Ghaznavid Mahmud, the first Turkish ruler who used the title of "Sultan" in the 11th century, on India, Islam began to spread in India and Malaysia. Although Arab traders started to come to Indonesia in the 8th century, the spread of Islam in Indonesian lands also took place through Muslim traders in Malaysia and India from the beginning of the 12th century.

In 1514, just before Yavuz Sultan Selim conquered Egypt, the Muslim Aceh Sultanate was established under the leadership of Cihan Shah in the north of the island of Sumatra on today's Indonesian territory (Aceh is a special autonomous region within the territory of Indonesia today. It is located in the north of the island of Sumatra. It has the Andaman Sea and the Strait of Malaka on its northern coast, North Sumatra on its south, the Indian Ocean on its west, and the Malaka Strait and North Sumatra on its east coast). The people of the region were honest and courageous as in the whole of Indonesian geography. This state also contributed greatly to the spread of Islam in and around the region.

The intervention of the European colonial states in Indonesia and the surrounding regions left the people in this region in a difficult situation.

However, this state had become the target of the colonial European states (initially the Portuguese) with its position and wealth that controlled the strategic routes from the very beginning. The Portuguese had reached this region from the south of Africa and wanted to control trade routes and trade. The fact that the Portuguese had firearms, especially cannon, and ruthlessly use them on unarmed people gave them an advantage (Alpar, 2015: 221). However, the people of the region did not have the technological accumulation and weapons to provide their own defense.

The relations, which started with the pilgrims from the Indonesian region, will be continued with the delegations as of 1530.

Since the Muslims living in and around Indonesia in the 1520s went to Mecca and Medina to fulfill their pilgrimage duties, they were meeting with pilgrims from Istanbul here. In this way, they had the opportunity to learn about the power and possibilities of the Ottoman Empire, and they told them when they returned to their country. This situation created a sympathy and loyalty towards the Ottomans among the Muslims in and around Indonesia. They were also proud of the Ottoman power and influence, and this made them feel more secure. In the difficult situation they were in, nothing could have been more natural for them to seek help from the Ottoman Sultan, the Caliph of Islam, in Istanbul, with whom they shared the same belief. As a matter of fact, since the 1530s, the Sultan of Aceh sent delegations to Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, to request assistance on behalf of the Muslims living in the region. Knowing this connection is important for us because geography is not only knowing the place names in distant lands, but also making sense of the relationships between them (Tumertekin and Özgüç, 2004:1). In fact, when history is brought together with geography, it has the ability to create a strong synergy, and examining events from this perspective will reveal deep ties for the future (Gümüşçü and Şenlik, 2014:10).

From this point of view, it would not be wrong to accept the beginning date of Ottoman-Indonesian relations as 1530.

Although the first relations at the state level started in the 1530s, it was also seen that the initial impact of these and aids was not sufficient. As a matter of fact, when the pressure of the Portuguese continued, in 1540, the Sultan of Aceh, Alaattin, sent an ambassador to Istanbul for the first time to increase the amount of support. The ambassador, who reached Istanbul in 1547, conveyed his request for help to the Ottoman ruler at that time, Suleiman the Magnificent, and Suleiman the Magnificent sent some aid to the Indonesian region. This aid also includes modern artillery and artillery ammunition. For example, in the delegation under the command of Lütfi Bey, sent by the Ottomans to the region in 1564; we know that there are cannon casting masters, shipbuilders and military ammunition.

The main demand of the people of the region from the Ottoman State for help was realized in 1566.

On this date, Sultan of Aceh Alaeddin wrote a letter to Suleiman the Magnificent in Istanbul and sent it with an embassy delegation under the chairmanship of Vizier Hussein. There were those who knew Arabic in the delegation, and the common language in the Islamic World at that time was Arabic. The basis of the request was the request for military aid that would definitely prevent the Portuguese attacks and provide superiority.

When the letter is examined in detail, the level of relations and the general situation in this period will be better understood. In his letter, the Sultan of Aceh stated that he and his people were loyal to the Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman Sultan and mentioned that the influence of the Ottoman power in the Indonesian region was high. He also emphasized that if the Ottomans did not help, the Muslims in this region would suffer greatly from the Portuguese, that the way to the cross would be cut off and they would perish. The letter was very clear and meaningful and continued as follows: “Please send us cannons strong enough to beat the castles. Aceh is one of your provinces and I am subordinate to you. We were very pleased with Mr. Lütfi and his friends, whom you sent for training before. Please send them back here. The artillerymen you sent to us by benevolence reached here safely. Their place is very high in our eyes. We request that the builders of fortresses and galleys, who have been trained in the same way, be sent to us.”

From this letter, it is possible to deduce that even during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, Aceh accepted its affiliation with the Ottoman Empire and that a sermon was delivered in this region on behalf of the Caliph at that time.

The delegation from the Indonesian region had survived many dangers due to pirates and Portuguese ships until they came to Istanbul in a few years. When the delegation reached Istanbul, they learned that the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent was on an expedition to Europe. Indeed, the Sultan was on the Zigetvar Campaign. For this reason, the delegation had to wait for months (About 7 months) in Istanbul. The delegation patiently waited until the end of the war, and in the meantime, they covered their expenses by selling the gifts they had brought to the Ottoman sultan. When Suleiman the Magnificent died during the campaign, those who came from the Indonesian region were replaced by his son, II. They declared that they paid allegiance to Selim and asked him for help. Meanwhile, they only had one bag of Sumatran pepper left in their hands. They gave it to Selim as a gift.

The Ottomans could not remain indifferent to this persecution applied to the people of the region.

II. Selim took the letter brought by the embassy and read it. When he understood the situation, he made the delegation watch an exercise that showed the Ottoman military capabilities. He wrote a reply to the Sultan that he would give all kinds of help as an Ottoman and sent it with the delegation. Sultan II. In his letter, Selim also stated that helping the Muslim people in this region was both a religious and a traditional duty for the Ottoman Sultan. When the delegation offered to pay taxes to the sultan, II. Selim's answer was of historical importance: The Ottoman Empire does not need such a tax. But if you want, collect that tax anyway and distribute it to the poor in your country on my behalf (İnegöllüoğlu, 1998: 18). The Sultan also asked the delegation to read Mevlut in settlements every year on the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, which is still practiced in this region.

The Ottoman aid activities were quite extensive.

The Ottomans had strengthened the region with the shipyards they established in Suez. The navy to be used in the Aceh Campaign was also formed in the shipyards here and the preparations were completed. Among the items to be sent, there were also soldiers, trainers, gunsmiths, and advanced cannons, who were paid a year's salary in advance. The general strategy was to teach the religious brothers in Aceh region how to use and build cannons, to train them in castle construction technologies, and to make them more warriors by transferring the military science culture to resist the colonialists. The Ottoman Sultan also; He sent an edict to the Governors of Egypt and Yemen, as well as the Beylerbeys of Rhodes, Aden and Jeddah, and ordered the Aceh ambassador to help him when he wanted to meet his horses, weapons and other needs.

Ottoman aid was tried to be prevented.

However, the other side was not idle. During this period, problems arose against the Ottomans at many points. In addition, when the Ottoman Navy was about to set out for Indonesia, a great rebellion was started in Yemen by Zaydi Imam Topal Mutahhar, probably with the influence of foreign powers, to prevent aid (Baştürk, 2013: 16-20) (Oddly enough, we see that the strategy of preventing aid by causing confusion in Yemen took place in a similar way in a similar request for aid in the 19th century). Because of this rebellion, aid was delayed for several years. Meanwhile, Portuguese attacks continued. In 1570, a force of 14 ships under the command of Portuguese captain Luiz de Melle attacked the fleet of about 60 ships in the port of Aceh, and more than 1200 Acehnese, including the Prince of Aceh, were killed in this attack.

However, the Ottomans were determined to help their religious brothers in the Indonesian region no matter what.

In an Ottoman Decree dated January 15, 1568, it was stated that the navy would go here since a rebellion broke out in Yemen, and therefore the expedition to the Indonesian region would be postponed for a year, and it was promised that the expedition would continue from where it left off when the rebellion was suppressed, and the situation returned to normal. As a matter of fact, after the rebellion was suppressed in Yemen and order was restored, the Ottoman Empire managed to deliver some aid to the Indonesian region.

During and after this period, there were requests for help from Istanbul, but the Ottomans were struggling with their own problems not only in the Red Sea but also in North Africa and other regions in the same period. Moreover, due to the shipbuilding technology, while the Ottoman ships were effective in the inland seas, the Portuguese ships were superior in the oceans. For this reason, Ottoman naval power was successful in the Red Sea, but Portuguese ship technology was more dominant in open seas such as the Indian Ocean (Akad, 2005: 30). Despite this, aid to the Indonesian region continued until the 1900s, albeit with smaller ships, and the Ottoman Empire was never indifferent to the Muslim population in this region, even under difficult conditions.

Despite the difficulties and obstacles, the aid available and the support given to the training activities enabled the formation of a strong military structure in the region.

Muslims in the Indian region were also helping this region by obeying the edicts from the Ottoman Empire. Thus, Portuguese influence in the region was broken. With the removal of the Portuguese from the region, the Sumatra area prospered within 30 years. Because the Ottoman sultans, with the different strategies they applied according to the conditions of the time, renewed themselves and managed to keep the empire alive for hundreds of years (Babor, 2012: 57).

The sent Ottoman troops established educational institutions in the region. His aim was to enable the people of the region to become self-sufficient, even if there was no help from the Ottomans at one point. The name of the military school established was “Beytül Mukaddes”. In a sense, this school was one of the first military academies not only in that region, but perhaps in the whole world. Here, commanders and admirals who would be very successful in later battles were trained. Among them, there are also women (İnegöllüoğlu, 1998: 16).

We know that the number of artilleries sent by the Ottomans to this region reached 1200. (These cannons were used actively for 300 years until the 1850s. When the Dutch came to these regions, they used cannons to make church bells. Some of the cannons sent to the region by the Sultan the Magnificent were taken to the Netherlands and are still exhibited in the Bronbeek History Museum in Arnhem town). This shows that the aid provided is continuous and on a scale that cannot be underestimated. Ottoman soldiers taught the Muslims in the region how to build castles and how to use cannon, with their own martial arts and deep knowledge of history (Özdal, 2008: 100-104).

In addition, he contributed to the formation of the Sultanate's own naval power. It provided security. With the permission given from Istanbul, the Turkish flag was flying on Aceh ships. A resistance was formed with the local people against the colonial elements. Some of the Ottoman soldiers sent to the region formed kinship ties with the local people by marrying from this region. Thus, the region's falling into the hands of the Western colonial powers was delayed for several centuries. Today, there are still Ottoman families and Turks villages in these regions. There are also cemeteries of Ottoman soldiers who lost their lives while fighting against the colonialists with the people of the region. Theories in the field of international relations also help to make sense of the world in the minds of the actors (Hollis and Smith, 1990). These strong ties in the past shape the minds of Turks and Indonesians and open the door to stronger ties for the future.

Thanks to the Ottoman aid, the people of the region had the opportunity to develop their resistance power, which paved the way for the economic development of the region. The Portuguese failed to colonize the area. The Dutch colonial powers, who came to the region later on, encountered a strong resistance. It created a sense of identity for the people of this region that they can always be proud of.

The 1800s were the years when a new colonial understanding towards the region developed.

In 1824, the British made an agreement with the Dutch, leaving Singapore and Malaysia to themselves, and some areas on the island of Sumatra to the Dutch. However, due to the resistance of the people in the region, the Dutch had a hard time. The people of the region adopted the Ottoman flag as their own flag during this period. In 1851, the Sultan of Aceh, İbrahim Mansur Shah, sent a delegation to Istanbul and conveyed that they wanted to become a dependent province of the Ottoman Empire. In 1871, when the Dutch colonial powers asked them to give up their loyalty to the Ottoman Empire, the people of the region revolted and resisted once again.

It is also seen that the deep ties between Indonesians and Turks have become epic today.

The Ottoman aid to the region at that time and the strong bonds created have survived to the present day, being expressed in an epic style in Malay and Indonesian sources (Affan, 1995: 95-121). While the Malays defined the Ottoman Sultan as one of the most powerful rulers of the world and accepted the Ottoman Empire as an important cultural center of Islam, in the work called "Sejerah Malayu", some Malay royal families mention themselves related to the Central Asian Turks rulers because of their lineage and blood ties. The same epic narratives are also mentions in Indonesian geography (The subject is really worth researching and there is a need for more detailed studies on this subject in both regions).

As a result, the word far; Although it is a geographical term that describes what is far away, difficult to reach and reach, we can say that this definition does not apply to Indonesia and Türkiye. On the other hand, it is a fact that the deep ties between Indonesian geography and people and Türkiye and Turks, whose roots go back centuries, go beyond the accepted terms and theories in the field of international relations and open new horizons for both countries for the future.


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