Two Turkish Empires: The Ottoman Sunni Turks vs. Safavid Shia Turks

April 15, 2011 § 4 Comments


Were Safavids Persian?

No, not really! Safavids were Azerbaijanis.

They did choose Shia Islam and with the force of the sword killed and forced hitherto Sunni Iranians to convert to Shia Islam. The Bektashi Sufi Order…

which was widespread in the Ottoman Empire (because the majority of Ottoman Janissaries were Shia-Sufis). The Janissaries were the heavy armored infantry or Foot Knights of the Ottoman Empire. They did have cavalry brigades too, but the Sipahis (Turkish Nobles) and Ghulams (mostly from Persian stock) were the bulk of the Ottoman Heavy Cavalry. Something noteworthy is that the Janissaries cousins in Iran (Persia) under the Safavid Dynasty (Persian-Turkic Cousins of the Ottomans) were similar to the Sipahis and Ghulams in that they were like the Janissary, elite soliders, however they were mostly horsemen. The Safavids and Ottomans were literally cousins that were of Turkic origins but spoke Persian in their courts, just like the Mughals in India.

Their tekkes or “lodges” were all over Anatolia as well as the Balkans. Among it’s most prominent Ottoman followers were Ali Pasha and Hussein Gradascevic. The order had close ties with the Janissary Corps, which was the bulk of the Ottoman Army (predominantly Sunni government). Later, when the Ottoman Sipahis (armored Ottoman Knights mostly from the Turkish Sunni nobility) promoted the abolition of the Janissaries, the Bektashi order was banned throughout the Ottoman Empire.

The Battle of Chaldiran (also Chaldoran or Çaldıran) occurred on 23 August 1514 and ended with a decisive victory for the Ottoman Empire over the Safavids. As a result the Ottomans gained control over the eastern half of Anatolia. The Ottomans had a , better equipped army with experiance of European warfare tactics they had introduced and tested on their European borders while the Iranians relied mainly on ancient oriental tactics. The Iranian Shah Ismail I was wounded and almost captured in the conflict. Following the victory Ottomans captured Tabriz, and Safavids did not threaten them again for nearly a century. It also brought an end to the Alevi uprisings in Anatolia.

The Battle of Chaldiran demonstrated that firearms were a decisive factor in warfare.

The outcome at Chaldiran had many consequences. Perhaps most significantly, it established the border between the two empires, which remains the border between Turkey and Iran today. With the establishment of that border, Tabriz became a frontier city, uncomfortably close to the Ottoman enemy. That consideration would be a major factor in the decision to move the Safavid capital to Qazvin, in the mid-16th century, and finally to Isfahan, in central Persia, in 1598.

The Safavids made drastic domestic changes after the defeat at Chaldiran. The Safavids spoke a Turkic language but, following the loss of their Anatolian territories which formed the heartland of their Turkic support switched to Persian. The Safavid royal family also moved away from extreme, eschatological, Alevi sect and adopted Shia sect as the official religion of the empire – the position of the Shah as Mahdi being incompatible with the recent defeat . The Sunni majority of Iran was also forcibly converted to Shia while those, mostly qizilbash, who refused to abandon the previous worship of the Shah were executed.

§ 4 Responses to Two Turkish Empires: The Ottoman Sunni Turks vs. Safavid Shia Turks

  • Salman Hyder says:

    very interestingly versed, i just love my sunnah, turkish islamic culture and it makes me proud that we pakistanis andturks are uniteswith a culture which no other posses , selam eleykum

  • Salman Hyder says:

    very interestingly versed, i just love sunnah, turkish islamic culture and it makes me proud that we pakistanis and turks are united with a culture which no one posses, selam eleykum

  • leila says:

    Azarbayejan was part of persia at that time, Hello!!!!!!.

  • Ali says:

    With all do respect, it would be incorrect to recognize an empire as the representatives of one sole ethnicity. Especially when discussing the Middle East. Given then unique religious and ethic diversity of the Middle East, it is impossible to have a pure “one ethnic” empire. Shah Ismail, founder of the Safavid empire was of Kurdish descent (fourth largest ethnicity in the Middle East). However the empire was settled in modern day Azerbaijan. Huge factions of the empire were made up of Turks and Persians. I think it would be reasonable to claim that the Persians were the most dominant within the empire.

    Even the Ottoman Empire had several high ranking Kurdish officials (eg. Idrisi Bitlis, and Sharaf Khan Bedlisi) and Persian officials. In fact, it was very rare for a Sultan to be a “pure turk”. Almost all of the sultans offspring were from women from the Balkan region.

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