Prof. Dr. Zakaria KITAPCI

As a matter of fact, the Turks especially after adhering to the Muslim Community, they became a dominant military power in the Middle East in a short time. The military supremacy represented by the Turks in the Middle East, started as early as Abbasids and continued up to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War.

They of course played a very important role for a millennium of a century as a fighting power against the social and political upheavals in the Middle East and protected to the old caliphate lands including a big part of Europe to its internal and outsider enemies. While explaining the position of the Turks and their military mission in the Muslim countries B. Lewis an eminent scholar says that; almost every where else in the Middle East, the Turks though a minority for med the ruling element. Even in Persia, Syria, and Egypt even as far away as Muslim India the ruling dynasties were Turkish, the armies were Turkish, even the over whelming mass of the population were not. Through a millennium of Turkish hegemony it came to be generally accepted that the Turks commanded while others obeyed and non Turks in this authority was regarded as oddity.”

But here a question is arising; when the Turks appeared in the Middle East and how they established their military and administrative supremacy in the most geostrategic parts of the world? Infect except for a few verses dating from the pre Islamic period of Arabic poetry about the Turkish military heroism and a good number the Hadith of the Holy Prophet, mostly recorded by the famous scholars in their authentic collections, the early and possibly social and political relations which might have exist between the Arabs and the Turks during the pre and early Islamic periods still remains an obscure but important subjects un explained in the pages of the Turco-Arap history. But there might be some slight narrations and objects like a Turkish Tent in the life of the Holy Prophet, gave us some insight in the existence of the Turks in the Arab society particularly in the time of the Prophet of Islam.

There are of course some reasons like the geographical isolation of the Arabian Peninsula from the main body of Asia and its mostly deserted structure which made it non extractive for the Turkish nomadic immigrants, played an important but negative role for the improvement of the military and political relations between Arabs and the Turks.

Insipite of these geographical factors, which impeded the several developments among the two nations, the Turks appeared in the Middle-East almost in succession in the important Arab cities in parallel to the Arabic expansion in the East and their conquest of Central Asia, during the early Umayyads period. Infact, the Arabs after achieving a strong unity through the Islamic Faith for the first time in their long history, spread all over the world from the Arabian Peninsula with a new religious aspiration and became the founders such a mighty empire searching from the Central Asian steeps to the shore of West-Africa, They conquered the whole of Persia with a few lightening wars and also reached the Oxsus River which is accepted a traditional border between IRAN and TURAN since its early ages of the history.

When the Arabs started their invisions to the Lower Turkistan (in Islamic sources Mawarau’n-nahr), insipite of the strong prohibition of the Caliph Omar, at the beginning of the Umayyads period during the time of Muawiya (661—779), that paved the way for the Turks who come more often to the big Arab cities in the Middle East as mercenaries. They first appeared in Basra, Wasit, both are in Iraq, Damascus, later on Baghdad, Samarra and soon became an effective military power around the high ranking officials including the caliphate center of Baghdad.

The clearest indication about the early Turks in the Middle East are the Turkish Archers who settled in Basra, a military garrison founded by the Orthodox Caliph Omar. According to these narrations from the main source, Ubaidullah b. Ziyad, who appointed a military governor to Khorasan by Muawiya b. Abu Sufyan, the first capable Umayyads Caliph and the outstanding figure in Islamic History, he prepared an army and attacked Bukhara. (54/673) After his brilliant victory against the small local state of Bukhara which was ruled by a Turkish origin queen called KABAC HATUN at that times, he get many prisoners and turned back to Marw to their military headquarters in Iran. Later on he brought 2000 from these healthy Turks to Basra and registered their name for the regular wages. Probably they were the first Turkish mercenaries who came to the Middle East in the early Islamic period and were employed as security guard to restore order in the wide regions centered in Basra. Rashid et-Turkî, was the commander of this Turkish archers rendered excellent services to put an end to some internal strife and temptations. One occasion the Governor of Basra sent them to Yamamah to reduce the bedoin Arabs who revolted and committed many murders.

On the other hand its interesting to note that the Imperial Guards for the Umayyad Caliphs also formed from the Turks around the same period. They came may not be small in their number to Damascus as prisoners of war and recruited bay the Caliphs as imperial guards for their personnel and administrative security. Because we are understanding from some of the events which occurred in the time of Abdu’l-Mâlik b. Marwan (685/705) the Turks whom were from FARGHANA, were functioning as imperial guards in Damascus and were effective to suppress on the rioting of al-Haris a false prophet against the Caliph particularly in Jerusalem which is named by the Islamic sources a Kudus, and restore the stability in the troubled regions.

With Said b. Osman the son of the third orthodox caliph, another further step had been taken for the Turks during his governorship in Khorasan in the time of Muawiya. (55/674) He introduced a new policy and formed a Turkish units for the first time as fighting power beside the Arab soldiers, mostly from the captives, which he took from Samarkant the famous Turkish military center, after a sudden attack he launched against to the local Turkish ruler.

Kutaiba b. Muslim, the great Arab commander who conquered the Lower Turkistan, followed the same policy for the recruiting of the Turks as regular soldiers. He after conquering Bukhara, as well as Samarkant again initiated the same policy of levying auxiliary troops from the local people to serve the Arab army when their Services are required. Their number was verified around 10.000 to 20.000 according to our several sources. Turkish auxiliary troops in Umayyad army were participating the wars and accompanying the Arabs in their raids to the big cities of Turkistan. They were taking active part to win the final victory of the Arabs. Even Kutaiba, as it is stated by H. R. Gibb, succeeded in conquering the city of Samarkant mostly populated by the Turks-with the strong help of (his auxiliary troops in his army.

When his social and military positions rapidly deteriorated with the death of al—Hajjaj, his protector against the tricks that created by his opponents in the Umayyad Court and also with the ascendance of Suleiman the son of Abdu’l-Melik to the throne of caliphate, Kutaiba remembered the Turks one more in his army before submitting himself to the iron will of his destiny. He was seeking help from the Turkish gards as well as from the Persian lords as savior of his life against the Arab troops was urged on to mutiny and though Kutaiba managed for a time to keep the support of the Persians and Turks in his around but it was not for long.

After the tragic death of Kutaiba due to the tribal rivalry by his own soldiers who he made them victorious and wealthy the Turkish auxiliary troops continued its existence and supported the Arabs as fighting power beside regular Arab army in Turkistan in the whole Umayyad era. Its interesting to note that on many occasions the Governor of Iraq were sending material help to the military governor of Khorasan for financing to their equipment of these non Arabs soldiers.

Nasr b. Seyyar, the last Umayyad governor of Khorosan launched several at-tacks on the semi-nomadic Turkish forces led by Kul-Chur, the founder of a newly appeared Turgash state. The Turkish soldiers were always taking active part on his expedition towards the inner side of Central Asia. Even he developed his family relations with the local Turkish chiefs and his daughter married with a Turkish prince the ruler of Bukhara named Tugshad. After defeating the strong Turgesh army led by Kul-Chur and killing him in a most tragic way he marched to Shash, which is called to day Tashkent, hopping to extend the Arabic occupation up-to the Chiness Wall. Probably this was not but only to strengthen his power and to raise his military fame like what was done by Kutaiba.

According to the narrations of at-Tabarî 20.000 non Arab soldiers mostly the Turks were accompanying him on his expedition in Central Asia. This number, that is recorded by the several authority, at the same time give us a sufficient idea about the Turks and how they were powerful if we compared with them the different tribal units where their numbers were hardly verifying between 4.000 to 10.000.

In our previous pages we tried to give a considerable account of the early Turks in the Middle East during the entire Umayyad Period and their military existence in the Arab Army in Khorasan. When the Abbasids came to the power through a bloody mass revolution against the Umayyads rule, the Turkish sovereignty increased gradually in the army as well as in the administration to such extend that they were capable of making and unmaking the Caliphs. The Turks were the only dominant military force to restore the order and stability in the wide multinational Caliphate Empire. Therefore there is no exaggeration in the following verse that is recorded by al-Masudî a great contemporary historian in connection with the Turks and their strong position in the Abbasid society. He is bitterly complaining against the increasing Turkish power and authority in the whole social and military fields in the following statement and says that;

“The Turks became the master of the world to such an extent that, the rest of the people either listeners (to their orders) or to obey (to them what they said).”

In fact, before joining to the regular Abbasid army as mercenaries during the Caliphs, the Turks played important role in overthrowing the Umayyads from the throne in the army of Abu Müslim al-Khorasanî, when he raised his revolutionary black Standard in the East. Even the revolutionary spirit which is represented by Abu Muslim and toppled the Umayyads was of course the similar Turkish military spirit which had fought against the Arabs since their coming to the Oxus Valley.

As much as concern in Abbasids period, it is generally accepted that Abu Cafer al-Mansur (754-775) the founder of the Abbasid dynasty who paved one way for the first time. The Turks for their coming to Baghdad and to serve the Abbasids Caliphs as permanent soldiers. Beside a considerable number of the Turks in the Caliphal army, al-Mansur also employed the Turks in the civilian administration. Eventually these civilian Turks became a key figure in the Abbasid House. For instance Hammad et-Turkî was from one of these Turks who attracted the attention of al-Mansur and became an outstanding person since in his early period.

Al-Mansur died in Baghdad in (169/772), after sitting on the throne for nearly 21 years, and then Al-Mahdî his son became the Caliph. He followed the same multinational tendency a policy was founded by Al-Mansur and gave chance for many Turks and employed them in the army as well as in the civil administration. Beside the other Turks in the army Shakir et-Turkî and Al-Mubarak et-Turkî were among the high ranking military commanders serving the Abbasids Court in a more cordial way during the whole period of Al-Mahdî.

When Harun ar-Rashid became Caliph (786-808), the door is opened for the Turks as soldiers as well as also Turkish origin concubines who dignified in the place of Harun ar-Rashid like Marajil and Marida who give birth to the two illumines Caliphs in Abbasid history, namely Al-Mamun and Al-Mutasım, there were a number of the leading Turks in the army as well as in the civilian administration.

On the other hand, out of the regular Turkish units in the Caliphate army the Imperial Guards, formed from the young and healthy Turks, were more glorious in the time of the Abbasid Caliph Harun ar-Rashid. These young, healthy and attractive Turks are receiving the foreign ambassadors who came from different part of the world to great the proud caliph, “the Commander of the Believers” of the Muslim World. They were showing the glory of his majesty the Caliph for those foreigners. Ibnu Abdu Rabbih, in his book called Al-Iqd Al-Farid, cites several cases like that and speaks of a delegation sent by one of the King of India to Baghdad with a many valuable presents like swords, Indian cloths and etc. They of course were welcomed with great and pompous ceremonies by his imperial Turkish Guard in Baghdad. According to our source; “When the ambassador came to the gate of the place the Turkish Imperial Guards were asked to stand in two lines on their way and weared their arms. They did it to such extend that no one could see them except their eyes. Then the ambassador was permitted to the audience of the Caliph Harun.”

Infact, insipite of this significant development, the first deliberate attempts has been made for the Turkification of the Caliphate army by Al-Mamun when he came to power after a terrible struggle with his step brother Al-Emin (813/833). He wanted to rebuild the caliphate army mostly depending on the newly converted Muslim Turkish elements from the Central Asia. But in those days the Persians as well as the Arabs also were the strong candidates for this royal service.

As we understood from the several source that in those days the Turkification of the Caliphate army was probably the most important problem among the Abbasid intellectual in Baghdad. In this delicate case Al-Mamun followed more realist way instead of taking a personal initiative that might lead another rise among the rival groups who has the sword still in their hands. For this, he held several meetings in a constructive way and called up the top officials mostly from the army and government and asked them to discuss this important case in a wider way just to reach a rational conclusion.

Whatever he may have a good opinion about the Turks and sincere in his faith for the Turkification of the caliphate army Al-Mamun, could not put his good idea in to implementation due to some of the influential Arabs and Persian commanders who were insisting on their Arabic and Persian nationalism. But the Turkification of the Caliphate Army will be completed when Al-Mutasım who has Turkish blood from his mother of Maride, became caliph (833/841). Because he lost all of his confidence on the Arabs and Per­sians as a soldiers and opened the door for the Asian Turks, braver step people and the sons of his uncles. So this was the beginning of the military missions of the Turk in the Middle East before Seljuks and Ottomans.


Note: You will find a complete account of this important development that changed the social and political current of the Middle East history in our book which is published in the Turkish whit the name “Osmanlı ve Selçuklulardan Önce Ortadoğuda Türkler”.

* This is sumuraized from our un published hook with the same name.

Bu makale, yayınlandığı günden itibaren 3801 defa okunmuştur.

Son Makaleler


Prof. Dr. Zekeriya KİTAPÇI, Osmanlıların Orta Afrika Politikası Askeri, Ticâri ve Siyasi İlişkiler, Osmanlı Ansiklopedisi Cilt I, Yeni Türkiye Yayınları [s.411]. Prof. Dr. Zekeriya KİTAPÇI, Türklerin Müslüman Oluşu, Türkler, Yeni Türkiye Yayınları, Ankara (

Gazete Yazıları Zekeriya Kitapcı

Zekeriya KİTAPÇI, Afrikada İslamiyet, Tercüman Gazetesi, 23 Ağustos 1978. Zekeriya KİTAPÇI, Afrikada Misyoner Faaliyetleri ve İslamiyet, Bayrak Gazetesi, 1 Ocak 1985. Zekeriya KİTAPÇI, Nijeryada İslâmiyet ve Hıristiyanlık Mücadelesi, Türkiye Gazetesi, 02-03-04-05-06-07-08.01.1985 tarihli ...