THE BITTER STORY OF THE OTTOMAN DYNASTY’S EXILE
On March 3, 1924, the leaders of the newly-formed Turkish Republic ordered the exile of the members of the Ottoman royal family. This did not just mean deportation, but also meant the beginning of a journey that included harsh living conditions in different parts of the world
hen the Ottoman sultanate and caliphate was abolished, 156 people belonging to the royal family were denied Turkish citizenship with a law that entered into force on March 3, 1924, and were deported in the following three days. With those who were exiled with their parents or children, even though they were not subjected to the law, and the servants who did not want to leave their masters, the number of exiled people reached the hundreds. The law forbade them to even pass through Turkey in transit. They were also told to liquidate their assets within a year or they would be seized by the Treasury. Sultan Mehmed VI went into exile earlier. Sultan Abdülmecid II and his family were deported within 24 hours, even before the law became effective, and they boarded a train in Çatalca instead of Sirkeci as officials feared demonstrations. The Jewish director of the train station was the last person to show respect to the sultan in his homeland.
Although women were banned from ruling a country in the Ottoman-Islam tradition, women and their children, even grooms and brides, from the Ottoman family were exiled. None of the dynasties of European empires that were overthrown by revolution were treated in such a manner; only the monarchs were exiled and their belongings and assets were returned to them after a short time. Only the tsar and tsarina in Russia were slaughtered along with their children, and that was because the tsarist White Army was close to rescuing the tsar and his family.
The members of the Ottoman family were given one-way passports. They wanted to go to Egypt, one of the countries that was once located within the borders of the Ottoman Empire, however neither the British, who ruled the region, nor King Fuad, who was jealous of the Ottomans, let them settle there. When they wanted to go to Syria, as it was close to their homeland, the newly established Republic of Turkey prevented it. Hence, some of the members of the Ottoman family settled in Beirut under the rule of the French and the rest scattered around Europe. Their palaces were ransacked under the supervision of the police even before they left. Some could sell their homes, antiques and valuable artworks for almost nothing and some gave them to those whom they trusted. Some of these "trusted" people betrayed them and took all their money and belongings while the rest of the assets were seized by the state and their right of succession, which was inherited from their grandfathers, was rendered invalid. Thus, a cruelty that has not been experienced so many times in the world was deemed proper for the decedents of Osman, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman family, which descended from the legendary Oghuz Khagan and was one of the oldest dynasties in the world, was forced off from the political stage.
The Ottoman family could not believe what was happening. They had heard rumors about the abolishment of the sultanate on the eve of the exile, but they thought that the public still loved and favored them and did not even presume such a thing. Once they were banished, they thought the exile was a temporary situation. As a matter of fact, most of them did not take all their belongings with them as they believed they would return to their homes within a few months. However, the exile lasted 30 years for the women and 50 years for the men. All of them lived in exile with a country and a passport. The princes were trained in the military, which they could not make use of during the exile. It was not possible for the elderly sultans to work for a living. These people who were used to donating money to charities did not have money in banks or any cash with them. When they were exiled from the Turkish Republic, each family was given TL 1,000, which only covered their travel expenses and maintenance for a month. After they undersold their jewelry, they fell in the gutter. There were members of the royal family who washed dishes at hotels, begged for many or looked for something to eat from trash cans. Some lived with aid from Ottoman Armenians who also fled to Europe while some died of hunger.
Muslim nobles such as Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, the ruler of Hyderabad, which is located in present day India, Egyptian Prince Ömer Tosun and the King of Hejaz Husain ibn Ali tried to help the members of this fallen dynasty financially, but most of the aid did not reach those in need as the royal family was scattered around the world. Moreover, the government in Ankara reacted to the marriages between foreigners and members of the royal family and monitored their every step in exile. As a result, France did not grant citizenship to descents of Süleyman the Magnificent who rescued French King Francis I, but gave them passports that allowed them to travel freely. The Ottoman family was faced with poverty, deprivation and illnesses in addition to homesickness and the pain of injustice. Those whose last resting place is a cemetery of the nameless were the lucky ones as the bodies of some royals were lost or thrown into the sea. However, they all lived in dignity and with their honor. They were hurt by the treatment they experienced, but they never worked against their country. The women of the Ottoman family were granted amnesty in 1952 by the government led by Adnan Menderes and general amnesty, which entered into force in 1974, allowed Ottoman princes to return to their homeland. However, one cannot help but think whether they waited to grant amnesty to the royal family until those who knew the ways of the Ottoman court died or not. Apparently, the Republic of Turkey was still afraid of these desperate people. When general amnesty was put into practice, very few returned to Turkey. Young people settled down in exile and started families. Those who returned were not given Turkish citizenship immediately and were followed by undercover police officers for a while.
People who care so much about the Tomb of Süleyman Shah better look at the state of his descendants. The sons and daughters of a dynasty, which achieved great victories in Ottoman and Islamic history, were deprived of speaking their own language, learning their religion, breathing the air of the country and dying in their homeland. Today, the Ottoman family does not expect goodness or favors from anyone. A pardon was given to the royal family, however, many people were born in exile and established new lives in their new homes. Regarding the current situation, the exile still continues, and this is a shame for Turkey and those who live in this region. If the cruelties in the pasts of people, families and nations are not atoned in any way, it prevents any good deeds. If a state does not compensate the injustices it caused in the past, it cannot look to the future with hope.
The return and the recovery of the assets that were confiscated back then is something expected from the state. Moreover, it is a national debt to pay a monthly salary to every member of the Ottoman family to maintain their livelihood in Turkey until their belongings are safely returned. A foundation should be established to carry out this mission and it should also be supported by the state so that the state can bear a hand to those who are in need. Thus, the new generation of the Ottoman royal family would be brought up and get married in Turkish Islamic culture and the elderly would be able to spend the rest of their lives in peace in their homeland. When they die, they will be laid to rest with a funeral service proper for the glory of their family.
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