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The Loss of the S. S. Titanic: Its Story and Its Lessons By Lawrence Beesley Characters: 24272

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

On the forced abdication of Bayezid, Selim was proclaimed Sultan at Constantinople, with the full support of the Janissaries. He reigned for only eight years, but he succeeded in this short time in more than doubling the extent of the Ottoman Empire. He made no additions to it in Europe, but he conquered and annexed the great provinces of Diarbekir and Khurdistan from Persia, and Egypt, Syria, and a great part of Arabia, including the holy cities, from the Mameluke government of Egypt. He commenced this career of war and conquest at the ripe age of forty-seven. He proved to be a ruler and general of indomitable will and vigour, the exact opposite to his father in his greed for expansion of his Empire. He was a most able administrator. He cared little for his harem or other pleasures of life. Sleeping but little, he spent his nights in literary studies. He delighted in theological discussions and in the society of learned men, and he appointed them to high offices in the State. They had no effect, however, in softening his evil nature. He had no regard for human life, whether in war or in peace. He was attended by men called mutes, who were ready at any moment to strangle or decapitate on the spot any person designated by him. His most trusted counsellors, his oldest friends and associates, were in constant danger of life. He met argument or protest against his schemes, or criticism of his past actions, by instant death, not unfrequently by his own hand. During his short reign seven of his Grand Viziers were decapitated by his orders. Numerous other officials and generals shared the same fate. They seldom enjoyed the sweets of office for more than a few months. One of them, in playful reminder of this to Selim, asked to be given a short notice of his doom, so that he might put his private affairs in order. The Sultan replied to him: "I have been thinking for some time of having thee killed, but I have at present no one to fill thy place, otherwise I would willingly oblige thee." Judges convicted of corruption were dealt with in the same way. By a malicious irony they were compelled to pass sentence on themselves, before being handed over to the executioner. Janissaries who dared to ask for an increase of pay were also condemned to death. The first recorded act of Selim's reign was to strike dead with his own sword a Janissary who was deputed by the corps to ask for the accustomed presents on his accession. It does not appear that these events cast gloom on Selim's Court. They soon lost the sense of novelty. There were plenty of applicants for the vacant posts, willing and eager to run the risks of office. Selim was agreeable in his conversation and life was gay. He did not indulge in refinements of cruelty like his grandfather Mahomet. He acted from a sense of public duty. If he spilled much blood, he restored and maintained discipline in the army and stemmed the course of corruption. He was distinctly popular with his subjects, with whom, as in most Eastern countries, affection was in part inspired by terror.

As was to be expected, Selim's two elder brothers, Khorkand and Ahmed, whose claims to the Sultanate had been set aside, and who were at the head of important governments in Asia Minor, took up arms against him. Selim, without loss of a moment, led an army to Brusa against them. Khorkand, taken unawares, was quickly defeated. He was allowed an hour's respite before being bow-strung. During this short interval he wrote a poem deprecating his brother's cruelty. Selim wept over the poem and ordered a State funeral for his brother. At Brusa a horrible scene of slaughter took place. Five nephews of Selim-possible claimants to the throne-were collected there. They were of varying ages, from five to twenty. They were all strangled by order of the Sultan-the eldest of them resisting with terrible struggles, the youngest with plaintive cries for mercy, while Selim from an adjoining room was a witness of the scene, and urged his mutes to hasten their task. Ahmed, the second and favourite son of Bayezid, made a longer resistance in the field, but a few months later he was defeated and put to death.

Selim, now safe on his throne, turned his attention to war with Persia. The principal cause of conflict arose out of a dispute on religion. From an early time the Mahommedan world had been divided into two hostile sects-the Sunnites and the Schiis. The point of difference was whether authority should be attributed to the writings of the four immediate descendants of the Prophet, as the Schiis contended, or whether the words of the Prophet alone should be conclusive on matters of dogma. It would seem that the smaller the difference in dogma between two sects of a religious body, the worse they hate one another; and just as the Christians of the Greek and Latin Churches hated one another more than they hated the followers of Mahomet, so the Sunnites and the Schiis hated one another to the point that they were each bent on exterminating the other-though the difference between them might seem to outsiders to be no greater than that between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Persia was the headquarters of the Schiis. In the Ottoman Empire the Sunnites greatly prevailed. But of late years the Schiis had gained ground in Asia Minor. Selim, who was a bigoted follower of Mahomet, determined to extirpate this heresy throughout his Empire. With devilish zeal he employed an army of spies to ferret out the heretics, and on a given day seventy thousand of them were arrested. Forty thousand of them were put to death, and the remainder were condemned to terms of imprisonment. This violent action does not seem to have aroused any popular indignation against Selim. It earned for him in Turkey the title of 'the Just,' and diplomats of the day and historians wrote of it in laudatory terms. It was a proof of the possibility of extirpating a heresy if the means adopted were ruthlessly carried out. The Schii heresy was extinguished, once for all, in the Ottoman Empire. This exploit, however, added to the animosity already existing between the Persians and the Ottomans, and made war between them inevitable. The immediate clash was hastened by the Persians giving asylum to Murad, a son of Ahmed, who had not been included in the slaughter of his cousins at Brusa.

Persia, at this time, was under the rule of Shah Ismail, a most capable and successful ruler, who had renovated the kingdom, and added largely to it by the conquest and subjection of many minor adjoining States. The two potentates were well matched in vigour and ability. When war with Persia was propounded by Selim in his council, there was ominous silence. There was evidently fear of the undertaking. The Janissary guarding the entrance to the chamber broke down the suspense by throwing himself on his knees before Selim and expressing ardent support to the war. This precipitated a decision by the council, and the Janissary was at once promoted to high office.

Early in March, 1514, a hundred and forty thousand men and three hundred guns were collected on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, under command of the Sultan. Sixty thousand camels were provided to carry its baggage and munitions. The army commenced its march on April 20th. Its aim was Tabriz, then the capital of Persia, distant from Scutari, as the crow flies, by over one thousand miles of a mountainous country, in which there were no roads. The main difficulty was the supply of the army with food for men, horses, and camels. This was partly effected from Trebizond, to which the command of the Black Sea enabled Selim to send supplies from Constantinople.

Selim preluded his campaign by an insolent letter to Shah Ismail. In the course of it he said:-

It is only by the practice of the true religion that a man will prosper in this world and deserve eternal life in the world to come. As for thee, Emir Ismail, such a reward will never be thy lot; for thou hast deserted the path of salvation and of the holy commandment; thou hast denied the purity of the doctrine of Islam; thou hast dishonoured and cast down the altars of God; thou hast by base stratagem alone raised thyself and sprung from the dust-to a seat of splendour and glory; thou hast opened to Mussulmans the gate of tyranny and oppression; thou hast forced iniquity, perjury, and blasphemy to impiety, heresy, and schism; thou hast, under the cloak of hypocrisy, sown in all parts the seeds of trouble and sedition; thou hast raised the standard of ungodliness; thou hast given way to thy shameful passions and abandoned thyself without restraint to the most disgraceful excesses.... Therefore, as the first duty of a Mussulman, and above all of a pious prince, is to obey the commandment, "Oh ye faithful who believe, perform ye the decrees of the Lord"-the ulemas and our teachers of the law have pronounced death against thee, perjurer and blasphemer as thou art, and have laid upon every good Mussulman the sacred duty of taking arms for the defence of religion and for the destruction of heresy and impiety, in thy person and the persons of those who follow thee.

On the approach of Selim and his army to the frontier of Persia, Shah Ismail, instead of going out to meet his foe, laid waste the whole country and retreated towards his capital. This greatly increased the difficulty Selim had of supplying his army. The soldiers were exhausted by the long march. The Janissaries began to murmur. One of the generals, Hemdar Pasha, who had been brought up with Selim from his earliest childhood, and might be expected to have great influence with him, was persuaded by his brother officers to remonstrate with the Sultan against further prosecution of the invasion of Persia, through a country where every vestige of food was destroyed. The Sultan met the suggestion by ordering the instant decapitation of the pasha.

Selim endeavoured to provoke Ismail to meet him in battle by another insolent letter, written mainly in verse, taunting him with cowardice. "One who, by perjury," he wrote, "seizes sceptres, ought not to skulk from danger.... Dominion is a bride to be wooed and won by him only whose lip blanches not at the biting kiss of the sabre's edge." Ismail replied in a dignified letter denying the existence of any reason for war, and expressing willingness to resume peaceful relations. He suggested that Selim's letter, written in a style so unfitting the dignity of the Sultan, must have been the hasty production of a secretary, who had taken an overdose of opium. The taunt was a bitter one, for it was well known that Selim was addicted to opium. The letter was accompanied by the present of a box of opium to the supposed secretary.

Meanwhile Selim and his army marched on with ever-increasing difficulties of supplies. The soldiers at last broke out in open revolt and demanded to be led back to their homes. Selim took the bold course of riding into the midst of them and addressing them personally.

Is this [he said] your service to your Sultan? Does your loyalty consist of mere boast and lip worship? Let those among you who wish to go stand out from the ranks and depart. As for me, I have not advanced thus far merely to double back on my track. Let the cowards instantly stand aloof from the brave who have devoted themselves with sword and quiver, soul and hand to our enterprise.

He gave word of command to form columns and march, and not a single man dared to leave the ranks.

On the approach of the Ottoman army to Tabriz, Ismail was at last drawn from his reserve. He determined to give battle. The two armies met at Calderan, not far from the capital, on August 14th, 116 days from the commencement of the march, which must have covered nearly twelve hundred miles. This was a great performance on the part of the Turkish army. It was by this time reduced to one hundred and twenty thousand men, of whom eighty thousand were cavalry. The Persian army consisted of eighty thousand cavalry, splendidly mounted and equipped, and well trained. But there were no infantry and no guns. The

Turkish soldiers were fatigued by their long march. They were ill-fed and the horses were stale and out of condition. The issue turned upon the success of the charges of the Persian cavalry. They attacked the Turks with great impetuosity in two bodies on either flank. That under command of Ismail himself was successful and broke and dispersed the opposing wing of the Turks. The other column was unsuccessful. The Ottomans fell back behind their guns. The Janissaries formed a solid front. The cannons opened a destructive fire, which was supported by the fire of the Janissaries, who were now armed with muskets. The Persians were shattered and destroyed. The defeat of the other wing of the Turkish army was retrieved. Twenty-five thousand Persian horsemen lay dead on the field. Ismail himself was badly wounded and escaped with difficulty.

After this victory Selim entered Tabriz, and remained there eight days. It was his wish to winter in Persia and to renew his campaign in the following spring, but his soldiers objected and insisted on being led home. This time Selim found himself unable to refuse. He turned homeward with his army. No terms of peace were concluded with Ismail, and the two countries continued nominally at war during the remainder of Selim's life. But the great provinces of Diarbekir and Khurdistan remained in the hands of the Turks. Selim left them in charge of the well-known Turkish historian, Idris, who spent the next year in organizing these two departments and in putting down any attempt at resistance. He was eminently successful in this, and the two provinces were permanently annexed to the Ottoman Empire. The whole campaign of Selim must be considered as a most striking success. To have marched a hundred and forty thousand men, with eighty thousand horses and three hundred guns, over twelve hundred miles, and to have defeated a powerful army, backed by all the resources of a great country, was an achievement which earned for Selim a place in the first rank of great generals. Selim does not appear to have been anxious to include Persia in his Empire. His hatred of the Schii heresy was such that he aimed rather at isolation than annexation. He issued a firman forbidding any trade with Persia, and when a number of merchants were reported to him for having broken the law by entering into illicit trade with the Persians, he ordered them to be executed. He was only with difficulty induced to revoke the order by the Mufti Djemali.

On his return to Constantinople Selim, inflamed by his success in putting down the heresy of the Schiis and his victory over heretical Persia, determined to extirpate Christianity from his dominion. Again with the greatest difficulty he was dissuaded from this course by the courageous Mufti. But he insisted on depriving the Christians in Constantinople of all their churches, which he turned into mosques.

In the spring of 1516 Selim determined to extend his Empire by the conquest of Syria and Egypt. These countries had been for many years past under the rule of the Mamelukes, a body of soldiers recruited from Circassian slaves, and from whose ranks Sultans were elected for their lives. The existing Sultan, Kansar Ghowri, was eighty years of age, but was still able to take command in the field of his Mamelukes. The immediate pretext for war, as in the case of Persia, was a religious one. A claim was preferred by Selim for the protection of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

On June 26th Selim arrived at Konia, and thence sent an insolent missive of defiance to Ghowri, who was at Aleppo. In return, a mission was sent to the Turkish headquarters. It consisted of an envoy and a suite of ten Mamelukes in splendid military array and glittering with armour. Selim was indignant at this warlike demonstration. He directed the immediate execution of the ten members of the suite, and with difficulty was persuaded not to deal in the same way with the envoy. As an alternative the envoy was shorn of his beard and hair, his head was covered by a nightcap, and he was mounted on a broken-down donkey, and was returned in this ignominious way to Ghowri.

The two armies met in battle not far from Aleppo. The issue was not in doubt. The Egyptians had no guns. They also suffered from the defection of the Djellans, a section of Mamelukes of the second and inferior rank. An hour sufficed to ensure complete victory to the Turks. Ghowri fled and died, trampled to death, it was said, by the mass of fugitives. The victory caused the loss not only of Aleppo but of the whole of Syria. Selim, after a few days at Aleppo, went to Damascus, and there organized the invasion of Egypt. This involved the provision of many thousands of camels to carry water for the troops when crossing the desert. He sent five thousand men to Gaza, under Sinan Pasha, the brave general who had led the victorious wing of his army against the Persians. They met there an Egyptian army of about the same number, and a fierce battle ensued, which resulted in the defeat of the Mamelukes, mainly owing to the Ottoman artillery.

Selim left Damascus with his main army on December 16th. On arrival at Gaza he ordered the immediate slaughter of all its inhabitants. He also directed the execution of one of his own generals who ventured to point out to him the danger of an invasion of Egypt. On January 10th the arrangements for this expedition were complete. Ten days were occupied in crossing the desert between Syria and Egypt. The army was harassed by Arabs, but there was no attempt to resist on the part of the main Egyptian army. When, at one time, the Grand Vizier, thinking that the cloud of Arabs meant a more serious resistance, persuaded Selim to mount his war-horse, the Sultan, on finding it was a false alarm and that it was only an affair with Arabs, directed the execution of the Vizier.

On the last day of the year 1516 Selim arrived with his army within a few miles of Cairo. Meanwhile the Mamelukes had elected Tourman Bey as Sultan to succeed Ghowri. But there was much opposition to this on the part of those who favoured the claim of the son of Ghowri. As a result, there was dissension in the Egyptian army. Two of their leaders, Ghazali Bey and Khair Bey, entered into treasonable relations with Selim. Ghazali persuaded Tourman to send the guns, with which the Egyptian army was now provided, by the ordinary route, and then secretly sent information of this to Selim, who was able to avoid the guns by taking another route.

The two armies met near Ridania. The battle resulted in the complete defeat of the Egyptians, with a loss of twenty-five thousand men, owing to their want of guns. Selim then advanced on Cairo. There was no resistance at first, but later the Mamelukes reoccupied it and made a desperate resistance to the Turkish army. The streets were barricaded and every house was turned into a fortress. Selim spent three days in getting possession of the city. Eight hundred Mamelukes who surrendered on promise of their lives were put to death. A general massacre of the inhabitants then took place, and fifty thousand of them perished by the sword, or were thrown into the flames of the burning houses. As a result of this, and further military operations in the Delta, Egypt was completely subdued. The brave and generous Tourman was taken prisoner and, after denouncing the two traitors in the presence of Selim, was put to death.

Some months were then occupied by Selim in organizing the conquered country. It was not annexed as an integral part of Turkey. The Mamelukes, or rather the section of them who had been unfaithful to their Sultan, and who had survived the general slaughter, were entrusted with the administration of Egypt, subject to the superior control of a pasha appointed by the Turkish government. Ghazali and Khair Bey received the reward of their treason-Ghazali was appointed Governor of Syria and Khair Bey of Egypt. A garrison of five thousand Ottoman soldiers was left at Cairo. The Turkish army insisted on an early return to Constantinople. A war against Moslems, where there was no opportunity of making captives for sale as slaves or for harems, had no charm for them. Selim had once more to give way.

It was not till September 17th that he was able to commence his homeward march. Having safely passed the desert, he said to his Grand Vizier, Younis Pasha, who was riding beside him, "Well, our backs are now turned on Egypt and we shall soon be at Gaza." Younis, who had originally been opposed to the expedition, could not resist the reply: "And what has been the result of all our trouble and fatigue, if it is not that half our army has perished in battle, or in the sands of the desert, and that Egypt is now governed by a gang of traitors?" This imprudent speech cost the Grand Vizier his life. His head was struck off as he rode by his master's side.

The conquest of Egypt entailed the acquisition of the interests of that country in a great part of Arabia, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Selim was also able to induce the titular Caliph, who through many generations had inherited from the early successors of Mahomet a certain undefined authority in the religious world, and who held a shadowy Court at Cairo, to make over to him and his successors, as Sultans of Turkey, the barren office, together with its symbols, the standard and cloak of the Prophet. These symbols were removed to Constantinople, and thenceforth the Sultans assumed the title of Caliphs and Protectors of the Holy Places-and this may have added to their prestige in the Moslem world, though it may be doubted whether it contributed much to the strength of the Turkish Empire. Of more material advantage was the fact that an annual tribute was paid by the Egyptian government, which a few years later, under Solyman, was fixed at 80,000 ducats. It also contributed men and ships to wars undertaken by the Sultan. In the siege of Rhodes, in 1524, Egypt sent three thousand Mamelukes and twenty vessels of war.

Selim spent some time at Damascus and Aleppo on his way back in organizing his new acquisitions. Syria was incorporated in the Turkish Empire, and has remained so to the present time.

The campaign which ended in the conquest of Egypt and Syria was not less conspicuous in its result than that against Persia, more on account of the difficulties of organization, than for success on the field of battle. Treason and the want of artillery were more responsible for the defeat of the Mamelukes than the valour of the Ottoman troops. It is not easy for us to understand why Egypt was not incorporated in the Empire in the same way as Syria. The Mamelukes were as much strangers to the country as the Turks themselves. The minority of them, who survived the war and the bloody executions by Selim, had no claim to recognition as the ruling class in Egypt, other than their treachery to their fellow-Mamelukes and their Sultan and the aid which they had given to the invaders. It will be seen that these surviving Mamelukes soon regained full power in Egypt, and reduced the pashas appointed from Constantinople to puppets.

Selim returned to his capital in 1518. In the remaining two years of his life there were no further military exploits. He made great preparations for another campaign. He added greatly to the strength of his navy. He built a hundred and fifty ships of war, many of them of great size for those days. It was generally believed that he intended an attack on Rhodes to avenge the defeat of his grandfather, the acquisition of which, lying as it did across the route to Egypt, was of great importance. Before, however, any decision was arrived at, Selim died on his way to Adrianople, very near to the spot where his father had been poisoned by his orders. He left the reputation of being one of the ablest organizers of victory, but also the most cruel despot of the Othman line. It was for long a common expression with the Turks, by way of a curse, "May'st thou be a vizier to Sultan Selim."

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