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When investigating Ottoman attitudes towards Central Asia, modern scholars often turn to the work of Seyfi Chelebi who composed a late sixteenth-century précis on the history of non-Ottoman lands to the east, informing his audience of the political affairs of Shibanid, Safavid, Mughal, and other states. This talk will however turn away from this obvious choice and will rather focus on portions of a massive Persian history of the Ottoman Empire composed in 1506 by Idris Bitlisi, a refugee from Safavid Iran. Bitlisi's "Hash Behesht" (Eight Paradises) exposes a deep problematic relationship between the Ottoman ruling elite and "Turkestan". While they were aware of the origins of the dynasty in Inner Asia, Bitlisi reveals that the Ottomans had at some point invented a new origin myth, not for the House of Osman, but for the polity in which they ruled. They placed the heart of the new state in the paradisiacal Rumeli (what is today called the Balkans) and assumed a non-biologically related founding figure in Alexander the Great. This was indeed a Rumi Empire (territorially marked) and not an Ottoman Empire (dynastic). The "east" and Central Asia in this new configuration stood for a "satanic" danger behind (personified by Genghis Khan, Karamanid kings, Timur, Uzun Hasan, and Shah Ismail) that threatened Ottoman westward expansion and loss of paradise.
Ali Anooshahr is an Associate Professor of History at UC Davis where he teaches comparative pre-modern Islamic history with a special focus on the Persianate cultural world. His publications trace and highlight transmissions of texts and individuals along networks that connected India, Iran, and the Ottoman Empire.
The 2013-2014 seminar series, Eurasian Empires & Central Asian Peoples: The Backlands in World History, is co-sponsored by the UCLA Program on Central Asia and the Center for Near Eastern Studies. Click here for more information about the series.