The Man Who Changed the Destiny of Europe: FATİH

Kerime Senyücel, the director known for her insightful documentaries, has answered our questions on Fatih Sultan Mehmed and her documentary on TRT titled, “The Conqueror: The Man Who Changed the Destiny of Europe”.

The more I discovered Fatih, the more we became aware of his decisiveness since his childhood years, his ambition and found him in the midst of the Renaissance. As much as he was influenced by the Renaissance, he also influenced the Renaissance himself. As you know His Red Diamond was Rome at the time and after he conquered Istanbul, he wanted to gather all the scientists, authors, painters, astronomers, mathematicians, humanists of the West and the intellectuals in Iran all in Istanbul. We realised that we were faced with a leader, who led an empire that expanded its land from Iran to Rome over a period of 30 years and after each expedition would lock himself in his library and continuously read. We met an individual, who had learned many languages at a young age. Once we were faced with such a portrait, we began to think and produce ideas: We discussed and formed the basis of our documentary with Mehmed Kalpaklı while asking, “How can we illustrate such an extraordinary character to the television audience?” After a very long thinking process, ideas and consultations, we created this documentary. Was there a specific reason as to why you chose Fatih Sultan Mehmed for a documentary? In actual fact, it would be correct to state that the conditions brought us to the Fatih documentary. However, this is what I thought when considering Fatih Sultan Mehmed: Surely, Kanunî was also a great commander and ruler. After Fatih Sultan Mehmed brought a corporate identity to the empire, Suleiman the Magnificent (Kanunî) came with his laws and intelligence. In fact, being Kanunî in the Ottoman history is easy (I believe Nevzat Yalçıntaş had said it), however, it is not easy to be Fatih Sultan Mehmed or Abdulhamid II. Fatih Sultan Mehmed was also skilled in being a founding emperor as he was the founder of an emperor with his extraordinary intuitions and intelligence. It seemed to be more appropriate to make a documentary on the interesting characteristics of a ruler who built and
revived a magnificent empire and who was the inheritor of East Rome. We wanted to put Fatih in the centre of this documentary and illustrate the different aspects of him for the audience, and I believe we had done so successfully. Did you come across any strange characteristics of Fatih, who you defined as “A Charismatic Ruler”? I believe Fatih Sultan Mehmed was an extraordinary person. For instance, he approaches the plague incident as a scientist, while Suleiman the Magnificent was more conservative in this sense. The historian, Heath Lowry, had spoken about this. Fatih was fearful of the plague. When a terrible plague had broken out in 1467, there had been 600 deaths per day. Fatih was not in Istanbul during this period. He did not return to Istanbul until the plague finished so he spent his days in Edirne. In this sense, Fatih had a serious sensitivity towards plagues as well as a modern approach in dealing with it. 100 years later, during the era of Kanunî, Busbecq, the Austrian Ambassador who resided in Pera, Galata stated the following to Kanunî: “A plague broke out in Galata. I had it in my home too. Therefore, I would like to go to the Islands until the plague is finished.” Kanunî, in return, replies to him in an astonishing and conservative manner as he states: “Plague is a message from Allah. I have it in my home, at the Topkapi Palace too. But I will not leave and nor will you.” Fatih had never acted out in such a manner and had chosen to leave the city when he heard about the plague.
■ How was the Future Fatih raised? During that time, there were many hetaeras in the environment in which the princes were raised; in his case, in the Bursa Palace and Manisa Palace. They were women who had come from western countries and the Balkans. With the influence of these women, he was able to learn about their cultures and languages. In fact, Fatih was influenced mostly by his stepmother, Mara Brankovic and had learnt Serbian from her. When one takes a look at the general lifestyle of Fatih, you come across the profile of an individual who has concentrated on success. Yes, you may ask: “Was Fatih raised in the perfect manner he did because of his high level of intelligence and the good education given to the princes?” The discovery of America, the surfacing of figures such as Copernicus and Galileo, and the beginning of the Renaissance were events that all took place during this century. Fatih was amongst those who closely witnessed these events. He lived during the most supurb of times and was conscious of the future. Apart from being curious about science, being raised by the best of scholars had made him into the greatest of his era. Other than this fact, Fatih had a different temperament. Therefore, it is not only sufficient to say that Fatih had received a good education. In order to understand Fatih, one ought to take a look at the whole picture.
■ What kind of a ‘whole’ should we look at?
Ilber Ortayli had spoken about how Fatih had a copy of Homer’s Iliad in his personal library. In other words, the young prince Fatih had read the Greek copy of Iliad and taken notes. He was around 9-10 years of age when he had read this book. All of this points to the following: Fatih was a very curious person who wanted to know, understand and solve problems. Another matter is the environment
and people that helped shape this extraordinary character. So much so that, there are many resources that mention that he was a very lazy and naughty child. ■ On the one side, Fatih fights in battles, while converses with men of science and art. In your opinion, is this not surprising? As politics and literature are completely different courses… Once I had asked the very same question during an interview. We cannot perceive men of pen, drawing, and intellectual statesmen to be the same as statesmen who fight battles. However, during the transformation from the Middle Ages to the New Age, all of the rulers in the East and West had
kept both being an intellectual as well as a statesmen as part of their identity. There were statesmen in Iran, Egypt, Ottomans and in the West. Furthermore, Fatih also had an interest in reading. He used to spend the time left from states affairs in his library reading, researching and trying to find the answers to the questions in his mind. We are faced with a statesman who even held debates during the circumcision ceremonies of his grandsons. In Fatih’s opinion, debates of opinions were more important than entertainment. He also attempted to pave the way for the birth of new ideas by surfacing the discussions between Ibn Rushd and Imam Ghazali. Despite the fact that the Ibn Rushd matter was one that had been discussed in the Arab world and concluded by the 11th century, Fatih had formed two groups to lead a new discussion. Fatih believed that, although he knew the core of the issue, he still wanted to think that by such a discussion new ideas may surface and perhaps an original interpretation may be presented. Besides, Fatih’s selfconfidence and faith in himself in regards to these discussions was unbreakable. In other words, Fatih meant to say with the conclusion of such discussion: “Let us see for ourselves; is it rational or irrational? Which one is the truth?”. Fatih was a man who despised and rejected words such as prohibitions and taboos. Fatih used to reach conclusions through his own strong intuitions – what others would think over for many days and through consultations. This is very crucial as all of the decision Fatih ever makes are the best possible decisions to be made.
■ In your opinion, what is the main feature that makes Fatih who he is? Fatih’s tolerance and clemency is generally a well-known fact. These are what I learnt during the research I had undertaken for the documentary, but there was one more matter that intrigued me: Fatih establishes the Armenian Patriarchate by taking the sample of the Greek Patriarchate. It is for this reason that the Armenians love Fatih. Then he ensures the establishment of the Chief of Rabbi. There is no doubt that Fatih comprehends the fact that he is the ruler of a cosmopolitan empire. He gives the opportunity of religious organisation to the Jews like he did for the Greeks and the Armenians. There is a master of jewellery by the name of Panok Aris Gelgeç at the Grand Bazaar. He is also one of the greatest fans of Fatih Sultan Mehmed. He said the following to our art consultant, Emel Gürsoy: “We owe our existence to Fatih because he had established our Patriarchate.” Aris had designed a special diamond for an exhibition dedicating it to Fatih during a press conference at Hagia Irene in November 2013. He had engraved the image, tughra (Sultan’s signature) and sword on the diamond ring. The orthodox community also admired Fatih because he had a wide horizon surpassing his era. In this regard, he was able to earn the appreciation of every community and the masses. I was able to witness just how great Fatih was while I was doing the research for the documentary. All matters aside, there really is no need to propogate to ourselves. Fatih’s works all speak for themselves.

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