Discuss the relationships and rivalries between ANY TWO of the Islamic empires during the early modern period.
In 1501, Sheikh Esmā‘il Safavi entered the city of Tabriz to declare the birth of a new dynasty which was destined to rule Iran for over two centuries. The rise of the Safavids deeply affected the balance of power of the early modern Near East by exposing a growing rift between Iran and its neighbor to the west, the Ottomans. The Safavids’ ability to challenge the regional hegemon was made possible by the gradual metamorphosis of their eponymous Sufi order into a potent political force whose strength rested upon the adherence of a ghulāt Shi‘i following; to reveal this transformation, one of the new Shāh’s first acts was to proclaim Ithnā‘asharī Shi‘ism as the state religion of Iran. The spiritual and political influence that the Safavids held over their Shi‘a Turkoman followers in the Ottomans’ Anatolian provinces posed an inherent threat to the internal stability of the Sunni Empire; however, the reduction of this rivalry to a sectarian conflict only reinforces a Western dichotomy and does not provide a sufficient discussion of the relationship between the Ottomans and the Safavids. A closer examination reveals a more nuanced account of the century-long conflict as having been largely shaped by the contemporary regional geopolitical framework. The Ottoman-Safavid relationship broadly developed in four stages which will be analyzed in the present study: the Safavid subversion of Ottoman Anatolia, the Ottoman offensive against the Safavids, the overextension of the Ottomans, and the Ottoman-Iranian rapprochement.
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The Ottoman-Safavid conflict is best understood when set in its emergent setting: the 15th-century Middle East. The region was deeply disturbed and fragmented by centuries of Turco-Mongol invasions, the most recent of which launched by Timūr at the turn of the century. His conquests brought the lands between Transoxiana and Mesopotamia into a single empire, and his defeat and capture of Sultan Bayezid I in 1402 at the battle of Ankara dealt a major blow to the Ottoman Empire, halting their expansion and shattering Anatolia into an array of independent Turkoman principalities. The downfall of the Timurid Empire following the death of Shāhrukh in 1447 provided the perfect environment for an Ottoman resurgence in Anatolia and for a new state to consolidate power in Iran. Initially, Iran was divided between two rival Turkoman tribes, the Qara Qoyunlu and the Ağ Qoyunlu, who ruled from Lake Van and Diyarbakır respectively. Anatolia was home to the independent Turkoman principalities of Candar and Karaman, the principalities of Ramazan and Dulkadir, who were under the suzerainty of the Mamluks of Egypt and the remnants of the Byzantine Empire in Trebizond.
Following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II set his eyes on establishing hegemony over Anatolia and the Black Sea region. The expansion of the Ottoman Empire during Mehmet’s reign was dictated by strategic, political, and economic imperatives. The Ottoman campaigns against the petty states of Anatolia posed a menace to Iran’s western border and its control of the Upper Euphrates, the crossroads of important regional land routes. It is within this framework that Uzun Hasan, leader of the Ağ Qoyunlu, attempted to prevent Mehmet II from taking over Trebizond and Karaman by making overtures toward the Anatolian principalities, Venice, and Hungary with the aim of forming an anti-Ottoman alliance. When Mehmet’s successor, Bayezid II, began supporting a Mamluk pretender as the ruler of Dulkadir, the Mamluk Sultan Qāytbāy emptied the treasury to maintain Egyptian political influence over the Taurus area. On the European side, the Ottoman conquest of Greece, the Aegean, and the northern littoral of the Black Sea coast weakened the position of the Italian maritime republics of Venice and Genoa, thus allowing the Ottomans to tighten their grip over regional commerce. Ottoman re-ascendance in Anatolia was recognized as a threat by all of its neighbors, but posed the greatest threat to Iran. Ottoman restrictions on trade and the pilgrimage rights of Shi‘is put Iran in a precarious economic position and fostered resentment among “folk Shi‘is” in the eastern provinces of Ottoman Anatolia. The origins of the Safavids as a political and military force capable of resisting the Ottomans were intrinsically linked to the resentment felt by this population, a factor that the Safavids would eagerly exploit in the ensuing conflict.
What gave the Safavid dynasty an advantage over the other sheikhdoms and sultanates of early modern Iran was the unparalleled zeal of their followers, rooted in the family’s origins as the leaders of a Sufi ṭarīqah. The Safaviyya was founded in Ardebil in the early 14th century by Sheikh Sāfi ad-Dīn Ishāq. The order was originally viewed as a Sufi order within the frame of Sunni Islam as most of the inhabitants of Ardebil followed the Shafi‘i maḏhab. Under Sheikh Sāfi and his two successors, the order expanded its following to over 100,000 through land grants and reputable teachings, but the Safavid leaders had hitherto considered themselves primarily the spiritual guides of their disciples. When Junayd took over the Safavid order in 1447, he brought about abrupt and radical changes that set in motion the process of converting the once purely spiritual order into a force to be reckoned with.
Coming to power just a few months after the death of Shāhrukh, Junayd attempted to catapult the Safaviyya into political power by putting forth a twofold claim to the throne of the Qara Qoyunlu (which consisted of Mesopotamia, Āzarbāijān, and the Lesser Caucasus). He first claimed he was descended from ‘Ali (the fourth Caliph) by falsifying his genealogy and claiming the title of Sayyid, and then argued that his descendants had precedent to rule on those grounds; thus, Junayd established the Shi‘a identity of the Safaviyya. While Junayd’s Shi‘ism did not alarm the Shi‘a Sultan of the Qara Qoyunlu, Jahān Shāh, Junayd was recognized as a threat and was expelled from Ardebil for his political ambitions. Junayd fled to Konya in eastern Anatolia, where the resurgence of the Turkomans and their prompt reabsorption into the Ottoman Empire bred an atmosphere of unrest and the growth of revolutionary ghulāt movements. The most notable of these groups was the Ḥurūfi sect, a mystic Shi‘a movement that had gained a large Turkoman following which even included the ruler of Dulkadir. Junayd’s propagation of extremist Shi‘i ideas upon his arrival in Konya earned him a heterogeneous following of Turkomans, but the unfavorable reception he received from rulers and theologians forced him into the country where he and his followers began to engage in ghazw.The one ruler who gave Junayd a warm reception was Uzun Hasan, who secured an alliance through marriage with the Safavids to defeat the Qara Qoyunlar. Junayd spent the rest of his life as a ghāzī; by the time he died in a 1460 raid against Sunnis in Azerbaijan, Junayd had converted the Safavid family into a political force with a zealous backing of religious warriors and a legitimate claim to power from its connections with the ruling dynasty of Iran.
Junayd was succeeded by his son Haydar, scion of his union with Uzun Hasan’s sister, who was reinstalled in Ardebil by the Aq Qoyunlu in 1469. Haydar’s reinstatement in the order’s hereditary seat led to an influx of adherents from eastern Anatolia and northern Syria. These Turkomans were able to organize the ghuzat and pressure the Safavid ruler to transform the order into a militant organization. These militant followers of extremist disposition became known as the kızılbaşand they promptly began to deify Haydar by looking towards him as their qibla rather than towards the ka‘bah in Mecca. The death of Uzun Hasan in 1478 threw Iran into a downward spiral, a situation which Safavid leaders exploited to their own advantage. Haydar resumed extensive ghazw operations in northern Iran ostensibly to avenge his father’s death and consolidate Safavid power in the region. He too, however, was killed when his kızılbaş army was defeated by an anti-Safavid coalition. The first official Ottoman reaction to the Safavids’ rise came in the aftermath of the battle when Bayezid II wrote to the Aq Qoyunlu coalition leader saying “hearing of Haydar’s death had increased my delight…the strayed hordes of Haydar, God’s curse be upon them.” Recognizing the danger presented by the kızılbaş when allowed to flourish, the warring factions of the Aq Qoyunlu persecuted the Safavid heirs by killing Haydar’s heir, Ali Mirza, and forcing his successor Esmā‘il into hiding. When Esmā‘il left his refuge and set out for Ardebil in 1499, his eyes were set not only on Iran but also on the native land of his kızılbaş: the Ottoman heartland of Anatolia.
As Esmā‘il was preparing to storm onto the world stage, a full-scale rebellion was underway led by Mustafa Karamanoğlu, in Ottoman Anatolia with the support of the extremist Turgut and Varsaq tribes, two tribes loyal to the Safavids. In 1500, after visiting his ancestor’s tomb in Ardebil, Esmā‘il called upon his followers to gather in Erzincan beyond the borders of Iran, deep into Ottoman territory. The Safavid ruler then reached out to Venice asking for artillery, but the aid never came; Furthermore, the obstruction of the movement of his followers by the Ottomans left him when only 7,000 men were awaiting him in Erzincan. It is clear from his choice of Erzincan as a rallying point that Esmā‘il’s intended to enter Anatolia before conquering Iran to join the widespread rebellion in Karaman, but he decided to return to Iran when his grandiose plan did not come to fruition. From Anatolia, the Esmā‘il and his kızılbaş moved through Shirvan south and into Āzarbāijān where they crushed their resistance at the battle of Sharūr. Esmā‘il then entered the Aq Qoyunlu capital of Tabriz and proclaimed himself Shāh. By 1508, with the capture of Baghdad, all of Iran was under Safavid sway.
Esmā‘il’s consolidation of Iran under Safavid rule was much to the chagrin of Bayezid II. The Sultan opted not to initiate direct military action against Shāh Esmā‘il, but he did relocate 30,000 Shi‘a extremists out of Anatolia and into Greece in an attempt to weaken the Safavid following. From the outset, Esmā‘il went on the offensive against the Ottomans. The Shāh laid claim to Ottoman Trebizond and again attempted to improve relations with the Ottomans’ Venetian enemies. Under Bayezid II, internal divides and economic difficulties forced the Ottomans to adopt a policy of appeasement towards the Safavids, which allowed them to further consolidate their power and spread Shi‘ism within their borders. This gave Shāh Esmā‘il the leeway to merely inform the Sultan that he was passing through Ottoman territory when he attacked the principality of Dulkadir. The passive policy of Bayezid II angered Selim, then governor of Trebizond, who would go on to adopt a much more aggressive attitude towards the Safavids upon becoming Sultan. In 1512, Selim forced the abdication of his father, with the support of the Janissaries, and Ottoman Empire erupted into a civil war over the succession. The three years of civil strife which followed were further aggravated by the Safavids who lent their support to another kızılbaş rebellion, this time in western Anatolia. Nevertheless, Selim’s triumph over his elder brother, Ahmad, in 1513 was a bad omen for Shāh Esmā‘il.
The short rule of Sultan Selim I (1512-20) signaled a major shift in the Ottoman policy vis-à-vis the Safavids towards clear aggression. From a strategic standpoint, Selim’s wanted to go on the offensive against the Safavids to secure the trade routes in the Upper Euphrates and to create a buffer in eastern Anatolia to prevent the Safavids from subverting the Ottoman Shi‘i Turkoman population. The conflict took on a religious veneer when Selim was forced to secure a religiously-based cassus belli. Prior to his campaign into Iran, he obtained two fatwāswhich indicted the kızılbaş as unbelievers and declared it a responsibility of every Muslim to annihilate the Safavids’ followers. Having obtained justification for destroying the kızılbaş, Selim ordered an embargo against Iran and marched east. Living up to his moniker “the grim,” he massacred 40,000 ghulāt as he moved through Anatolia. The two armies met on the plains of Chaldiran in 1514 where the Safavids were defeated by the Ottomans who outnumbered them by more than two-to-one. While Selim only annexed Safavid territory in eastern Anatolia and Kurdistan, Esmā‘il’s defeat at Chaldiran shattered the hitherto invincible aura of the Shāh. It was the Mamluks who suffered most at the hands of Selim; their empire was totally absorbed by Selim in the aftermath of their support for the Safavids. To secure Selim’s legacy, his successor would have to again change the Empire’s policy towards Iran.
The ascension of Süleyman II ushered in a new era in the Ottoman-Safavid rivalry characterized by the Ottomans’ adoption of containment as a strategy against the Safavids. The death of Shāh Esmā‘il in 1524 led to infighting in Iran among prominent kızılbaş leaders as his son, Tahmāsp II was only ten years old; disorder in the Safavid Empire allowed Süleyman to return to the Empire’s traditional neighborhood of expansion in the Balkans. Tahmāsp finally took control of the country in 1532, putting an end to what Savory has called “the kızılbaş interregnum.” However, the country was still reeling from the decades of civil war which featured intermittent Uzbek invasions from the steppes and defections to the Ottomans. This led Süleyman to plan a large-scale campaign against the Safavids to bring Armenia, Kurdistan, and Lower Mesopotamia into Ottoman control. By 1534, Süleyman had succeeded in establishing a cordon sanitaire around Iran. Realizing that the Safavids no longer had the capabilities to face the Ottomans head on after what happened at Chaldiran, Tahmāsp adopted scorched-earth tactics and avoided engaging the Ottomans in battle. Süleyman made two more incursions into Safavid territory in an attempt to keep them in check, but Tahmāsp managed to bring the Ottomans to the negotiation table by successfully waging a war of attrition. The resulting 1555 Treaty of Amasya—in which the Safavids recognized Ottoman sovereignty over Mesopotamia, the Caucuses, and Kurdistan— demonstrates both the success of Süleyman’s strategy of containment and Tahmāsp’s adoption of pragmatic tactics when faced with an insurmountable enemy.
Following the ratification of the Treaty of Amasya, there was a noticeable effort on the part of both parties to abide by its provisions even in future times of conflict. For example, during the Ottoman-Safavid war of 1603-18, merchants were protected when moving through enemy territory; this is in stark contrast to trade embargo of Selim I during the first hostile encounter of the two empires. This rapprochement culminated with the peace negotiations of 1736, where Nader Shāh, a Safavid general who eventually overthrew the dynasty, retook the Caucasus from the Ottomans and secured the safety and rights of Iranian ḥajjis.This constituted recognition by the Ottomans of Nader Shāh’s efforts to curtail the extremist Shi‘a element of Iranian society by applying the Ja‘farifiqhto Twelver Shi‘ism. Thus, these negotiations were not only significant in the normalization of Ottoman-Iranian relations, but also in the construction of a new, almost Augsburgian framework of inter-Muslim relations that formally recognized the autonomy and religious freedom of individual Muslim countries.
The Ottoman-Safavid relationship was largely conflictual for most of the existence of the two polities. The rivalry had its roots in the social conflict between nomadic and sedentary Turkic groups vying for control over Anatolia, and its geostrategic importance as an integral part of both the Iranian and Turkish economies. Ottoman expansion into this region in the aftermath of the Timurian conquests and subsequent suppression of the tribal Turkoman identity made it a perfect breeding ground for extremist religious beliefs such as those espoused by the early political leaders of the Safaviyya. The Safavids were able to harness Turkoman unrest and convert it into a formidable force of kızılbaş warriors, capable of subverting Ottoman ambitions in the region and secure Iranian interests. The aggressive reaction of the Ottomans to the expansionist designs of the Safavids towards Anatolia, justified through religious differences, engendered a century-long sectarian conflict. Ottoman containment of the Safavids resulted in a workable stalemate and economic détente between the two countries, concurrent with the entrenchment of two distinct religious identities, primarily state-imposed, to ensure the continued survival of each state’s legal-administrative framework. The stalemate was broken and a rapprochement was achieved in 1736 when the rulers recognized each other’s religious confessions as artificial impediments to peace.
- Allouche, Adel. The Origins and Development of the Ottoman-Safavid Conflict (906-962/ 1500-1555). Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 1983.
- Aşıkpaşazade. Tevārīh-i Āl-i Osmān. Edited with an introduction by Alī Bey. Istanbul: Matbah-ı Amire, 1914. (as cited in Allouche, 1983). [Turkish]
- Babinger, Franz. Mahomet II le Conquérant et son Temps, 1432-1481. Translated by H.A. del Medico. Paris: Payot, 1964.
- Browne, E.G., A Literary History of Persia. Vol 3. Cambridge: The University Press, 1969.
- Cahen, Claude. Pre-Ottoman Turkey. Translated by J. Jones-Williams. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1968.
- Inalcık, Halil. “The Ottoman Economic Mind and Aspects of the Ottoman Economy.” Studies in the Economic History of the Middle East, pp. 207-218. Edited by M.A. Cook. London: Oxford University Press, 1970.
- Labib, Subhi. “The Era of Suleyman the Magnificent: Crisis of Orientation.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 10, no. 4 (1979): 435-51.
- Mazzaoui, Michael M. The Origins of the Ṣafawids: Šǐᶜism, Ṣūfism, and the Ġulāt, Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag GMBH, 1972.
- Riedlmayer, Andräs. “Ottoman-Safavid Relations and the Anatolian Trade Routes: 1603-1618.” Turkish Studies Association Bulletin 5, no. 1 (1981): 7-10.
- Savory, R.M. “The Struggle for Supremacy in Persia after the death of Timūr,” Der Islam, 40 (1964): pp. 38-51.
- ──────. “The Principal Offices of the Ṣafawid State during the Reign of Ṭahmāsp I (930–84/1524–76).” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 24, no. 1 (1961): 65–85.
- Sood, Gagan D.S., “The Rise of the Islamic Empires,” London School of Economics, London. Oct. 22nd, 2018. University Lecture.
- Tucker, Ernest. “THE PEACE NEGOTIATIONS OF 1736: A Conceptual Turning Point In Ottoman-Iranian Relations.” Turkish Studies Association Bulletin 20, no. 1 (1996): 16-37.
- Woods, John E. The Aqquyunlu: Clan, Confederation, Empire. Minneapolis: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1976.
 The romanization of foreign words in this essay attempts to employ the best existing system, on a case-by-case basis, for the transcription of sounds rather than the transliteration of each written letter. With this goal in mind, Persian words are transcribed according to the most recent United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names standard (2012), Arabic words are transcribed using the system found in Hans Wehr’s A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, and Turkish/Azerbaijani words are rendered in their respective modern scripts.
 Derived from the Arabic root “gh-l-w” meaning “to exceed proper boundary,” hence ghāli (pl. ghulāt) literally means “exaggerator.” Conventionally the term is used pejoratively by Sunnis to refer to Muslims with “extreme views, especially Shi‘a and Sufi Muslims who view an imām (Shi‘a leader) or walī (Sufi saint) as divine.
 Literally “Twelver” Shi‘ism, a branch of Shi‘a Islam whose adherents believe in twelve divinely ordained imams; synonymous with “Imāmī” Shi‘ism.
 The medieval/early modern term, of Persian origin (meaning “quasi-Turk” or “Turk-like”), used to refer collectively to speakers of the Oğuz languages of nomadic background (e.g., Azeris, Afshars, Qarapapaqs).
 Sood, Gagan D.S. “The Rise of the Islamic Empires.” Lecture at the London School of Economics and Political Science, London, 22 October, 2018.
 Savory, R.M. “The Struggle for Supremacy in Persia after the death of Timūr.” Der Islam, 40 (1964): 38-51.
 Woods, John E. The Aqquyunlu: Clan, Confederation, Empire. Minneapolis: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1976., pp. 20-21.
 Allouche, Adel. The Origins and Development of the Ottoman-Safavid Conflict (906-962/1500-1555). Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 1983., pp. 6 and 9.
 Riedlmayer, Andräs. “Ottoman-Safavid Relations and the Anatolian Trade Routes: 1603-1618.” Turkish Studies Association Bulletin 5, no. 1 (1981): 7-10.
 Babinger, Franz. Mahomet II le Conquérant et son Temps, 1432-1481. Translated by H.A. del Medico. Paris: Payot, 1964., p. 365.
 Allouche, Origins and Development, p. 19.
 Inalcık, Halil. “The Ottoman Economic Mind and Aspects of the Ottoman Economy.” Studies in the Economic History of the Middle East, pp. 207-218. Edited by M.A. Cook. London: Oxford University Press, 1970., p. 221.
 Allouche, Origins and Development, p. 28.
 Ibid., p. 21.
 Mazzaoui, Michael M. The Origins of the Ṣafawids: Šǐᶜism, Ṣūfism, and the Ġulāt, Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag GmbH, 1972., pp. 58-66.
 Sood, “The Rise of the Islamic Empires.” (London: the LSE, 2018); on ṭarīqah, literally means “path” in Arabic, and refers to a Sufi religious order, a congregation formed around a mystic teacher.
A school of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) in Arabic, Shafi‘ism is one of the four major “orthodox” schools.
 Allouche. Origins and Development., pp. 34-38.
 Aşıkpaşazade. Tevārīh-i Āl-i Osmān. Edited with an introduction by Alī Bey. Istanbul: Matbah-ı Amire, 1914., pp. 264-269. (as cited in Allouche 1983, 44).
 Allouche, Origins and Development., p. 44.
 Browne, E.G., A Literary History of Persia. Vol. 3 Cambridge: The University Press, 1969., pp. 365-375
 Allouche, Origins and Development., pp. 45-47; on ghazw, literally means “raid against the infidel.”
 Literally meaning “red heads” in Turkish due to their distinctive read headgear.
 Ibid., p. 55.
 Ibid., pp. 49-60.
 Cahen, Claude. Pre-Ottoman Turkey. Translated by J. Jones-Williams. London: S&J, 1968., p. 355.
 Allouche, Origins and Development., pp. 63-82.
 Ibid., pp. 85-90.
 Formal religious ordinances in Islam, Arabic.
 Ibid., pp. 101-127; on the ideological aftermath of Chaldiran in the Safavid Empire, Sood, “The Rise of the Islamic Empires.” (London: the LSE, 2018).
 Ibid., p. 133.
 Savory, R.M. “The Principal Offices of the Ṣafawid State during the Reign of Ṭahmāsp I (930–84/1524–76).” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 24, no. 1 (1961): 65–85., p. 70
 Allouche, Origins and Development., p. 138.
 Labib, Subhi. “The Era of Suleyman the Magnificent: Crisis of Orientation.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 10, no. 4 (1979): 435-51., p. 450.
 Allouche, Origins and Development., p. 139.
 Ibid., p. 140.
 Ibid., p. 144.
 Riedlmayer, “Ottoman-Safavid Relations and the Anatolian Trade Routes., p. 9.
 Tucker, Ernest. “THE PEACE NEGOTIATIONS OF 1736: A Conceptual Turning Point In Ottoman-Iranian Relations.” Turkish Studies Association Bulletin 20, no. 1 (1996): 16-37., p. 36; ḥajji, Arabic for pilgrims travelling on the ḥajj to Mecca.
 The introduction of the Ja‘fari school of jurisprudence by Nader Shāh was intended to bridge the gap between Sunni and Shi‘a Islam, which he identified as the source of Safavid isolation and decline. The school banned the Shi‘a practices that were most offensive to Sunnis (such as cursing the first three Caliphs). Though the Ottomans rejected his proposal to officially recognize the Ja‘fari school as a maḏhab, their concessions in the 1736 peace talks demonstrate their willingness to accommodate a softer form of religion in Iran.
 Ibid., p. 23.
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