Amsterdam Centre for the Study of the Golden Age

Five Osmans – The Ottoman Crisis of 1622 in Early Seventeenth-Century Literature

PhD research description by Irena Ajdinović

23 April 2014

In the period 2008-2013, Irena Ajdinović conducted her PhD research at the University of Amsterdam, as researcher of the Amsterdam Centre for the Study of the Golden Age. She hopes to defend her thesis by the end of 2014.

In my dissertation I have explored the early seventeenth-century literary representations of the Janissary uprising against Sultan Osman II (1618-1622) in Istanbul in May 1622. The young Ottoman sultan lost his life during this rebellion. It was the first time in history that a ruling Ottoman sovereign had been killed by his own subjects. The news of Osman’s death caused a sensation both in the Ottoman Empire and in the West.

Numerous accounts about these events circulated in Europe in the months following the rebellion. The news also inspired works of poetry, five of which have been preserved until today. Three of these texts belong to the genre of the tragic play: Droeff-eyndich spel, vande moordt van sultan Osman by the Dutch playwright Abraham Kemp (1623), L’Exécrable Assasinat perpétré par les Ianissaires en la personne du Sultan Osman (1623) by Denis Coppée from the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, and Osmanschica (1631) by the Dalmatian poet and cleric Ivan Tomko Mrnavić. In addition, the Istanbul crisis of 1622 inspired the famous epic Osman (1638) by the Ragusan poet Ivan Gundulić, as well as a little-known rhymed chronicle by the Bosnian dervish Dede Ağa (1622). My dissertation presents a comparative investigation of these five texts.

The context in which the five Osmans were written plays an important role in the literary representations of a contemporary rebellion in the Muslim world. Focusing on the distinction between the texts originating from the regions with little or no direct contact with the Ottoman world, those on the Ottoman border, and an Ottoman text, my research has identified similar representation mechanisms of the contemporary historical events in all five cases. The interrelation between the ethnic/ religious and political stereotyping proved to be crucial for the interpretation of each of the five Osmans. Both in the Christian and in the Ottoman texts the representation of the Istanbul uprising relied on a combination of stereotypes regarding the Turk (in the West) or different ethnic groups within the Ottoman Empire (in Dede Ağa’s text), and the political commonplaces traceable in contemporary theories on statecraft.

By looking at these two sets of mutually interrelated stereotypes, a twofold attitude can be discerned in all five Osmans. On the one hand, certain political roles were criticized because of an association with ethnic and/or religious identities, while, on the other hand, there was also a degree of identification with other political roles within the same identities. As an outcome, the characters of Osman II and other protagonists of the rebellion were construed along the troublesome lines of double attribution, as non-Ottoman-specific political figures on the one hand, and as the heads of the Ottoman Empire on the other. In conclusion, rather than a clear–cut bias toward the Ottoman world, the contemporary literature about the Istanbul crisis of 1622 reveals mixed feelings towards these events.

I conducted my research in the period 2008-2013 under supervision of Prof.dr. E.M.P. van Gemert and Prof.dr. H.F.K. van Nierop. The defense is expected around the end of 2014.