In addition to the support he gave to translation activities, Sultan Abdulhamid II showed his love for books with the gifts he sent to libraries in India, Japan, England, or the German Emperor.
Sultan Abdulhamid II was a Sultan widely spoken of in the last century of the Ottoman State next to being a figure remembered in Turkic and Islamic world with gratitude. The social, institutional, technological and especially cultural reforms introduced in his period, elevated the state to a higher level. By pursuing successful policies and making cultural developments in intergovernmental relations, a cultural public diplomacy network was maintained. The “Great Sultan” displayed an example of public diplomacy, outstanding in terms of cultural diplomacy, during the Eighth International Orientalist Congress held in 1889 under the auspices of Swedish King Oscar II.
GREAT INTEREST TO TURKISH DELEGATION
A delegation of six representing the Ottoman Empire participated in the congress held in Stockholm and Oslo cities. Ahmet Mithat Efendi, a prominent intellectual in the Ottoman Period, was in the delegation. Ahmet Mithat took detailed notes of the official talks held in Sweden and Norway, and later published it in Tercüman-ı Hakikat newspaper he was editor-in-chief of, under the headline Avrupa’da Bir Cevelân (A Wanderer in Europe). In addition to discussions in the congress which constituted the essence of his articles, publication also featured exquisite handwritten manuscripts of distinguished books in Turkish culture and civilization, sent by Abdulhamid II as gifts.
Ahmet Mithat and his accompanying delegation, who travelled from Istanbul to Stockholm in 71 days, were warmly welcomed in Sweden. As recorded in the travel journal titled A Wanderer in Europe, Swedish King Oscar II’s son had a fever treated in Istanbul by command of Abdulhamid II, and this was probably the reason behind the interest shown to Turkish delegation. Ahmet Mithat met with the King face to face by favour of the congress’ first secretary Carlo Landberg. The King of Sweden, who visited Istanbul in the meantime because of his son’s illness, told Mithat that he had a one-on-one meeting with Abdulhamid II.
Meanwhile, King Oscar II expressed his fondness for Abdulhamid, and that he was pleased with Ahmet Mithat’s loyalty to the Sultan. Ahmet Mithat also encountered accounts and events that evoked admiration for the Ottoman Empire in following days of the congress. Ahmet Mithat states that various activities were organized in festivities for countries that participated in the congress, and relays that crescent-star lights were placed in 20-30 places in the event prepared for the Ottoman State. What caught his attention and utterly pleased him in the festival was the sign, composed of letters V.A.H (Vive la Abdoul-Hamid) under one of the lights, which means “Long Live Abdulhamid” in French.
The “Great Sultan” who valued cultural development, made efforts to send books to libraries, to distribute free books to schools and students, or to give support to translations. In addition to the support he gave to translation activities, Sultan Abdulhamid II showed his love for books with the gifts he sent to libraries in India, Japan, England, or to statesmen such as the German Emperor Wilhelm II. Sultan Abdulhamid once more demonstrated the importance he attached to reading, science and books to Sweden.
Abdulhamid introduced works that witnessed important moments of our civilization by sending manuscripts and printed works, major historical cultural treasures, to cities with different language, culture and nations. In Ahmet Mithat’s travel notes, it is relayed that these books were specially written by leading calligraphers of the period by command of Abdulhamid II. According to a document in the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archive, Turkish manuscripts and printed works sent to the congress as gifts are as follows:
1 Tarih-i Naima 2 Tarih-i Peçevi 3 Cihannüma (Kâtip Çelebi) 4 Tarih-i Fezleke (Kâtip Çelebi) 5 Külliyât-ı Râgıb 6 Hümâyun-nâme 7 Divân-ı Kânî ve Hamse-i Nizamî 8 Tezkiretü’ş-şu’arâ (Katib Çelebi) 9 Divân-ı Nazım 10 Tâcü’t-tevârîh (Hoca Sadettin Efendi) 11 Menakıb-ı Selimiye 12 Müneccimbaşı Tarihi 13 Külliyât-ı Divan-ı Fuzûlî 14 Divân-ı Nâbî 15 Süleyman-nâme. These works were meticulously selected by Ahmet Mithat Efendi and Master of Books Tevfik Bey, approved by the Sultan, and were presented in the congress in a special chest. Tarih-i Naima by Naima is comprised of six, Tarih-i Peçevi by Peçevi is comprised of two volumes, and other books, each in a single volume, were prepared with special bindings. The first three works were printed, and the rest were manuscripts.
Above mentioned gift books, which are among distinguished works bearing traces of Turkish culture and shed light on Turkish history and literature, are among rare examples of Turkish art with vignettes in addition to the knowledge they contain. Sultan regarding books as the most precious gifts, shows the importance he attaches to science, education and reading. The support Abdulhamid gave to cultural assets in this way, also lead to recognition of Turkish works in other societies. Global promotion of Turkish culture and Sultan’s gift books which stand out in this context, also contribute to public diplomacy. Today these works are featured in Carolina Rediviva Library in Uppsala University in Sweden, as well as Ottoman documents.
An example of the interest Sultan took in books is that he had Sherlock Holmes, a most popular detective novelist, translated into Turkish.