On the 500th anniversary of the battle of Marj Dabiq that opened the Middle East to the Ottoman empire, and proved to be a turning point in the region’s history, a two-day conference entitled “1516: The year that changed the Middle East and the world,” was organized by the Center for Arts and Humanities of the Department of History and Archaeology at AUB’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).
Thirty-three scholars from major universities in nine countries engaged in an academic analysis of different aspects of the transition from the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt to the Ottoman Empire. Historians of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey from institutions such as Harvard University; University of California, Davis and San Diego; Sabanci University in Istanbul; Birzeit University; Doha Institute for Graduate Studies; Istanbul University; American University in Cairo; and the Sorbonne, presented a series of working papers that revisited from a global perspective the era in history where most of what came to be known as the Arab world remained within the Ottoman fold for four centuries, before becoming the nation-states of today.
President Fadlo R. Khuri spoke at the conference opening about the significance of the year 1516 and called for continued close collaboration between the various institutions of higher learning based on mutual interest. He shed light on “the long and distinguished history” of AUB’s relationship with Turkey, starting with the fact that the University was founded during Ottoman rule, and referred to Jamal Pasha’s high regard for President Howard Bliss and the mission of the University, as well as the commendation AUB received from the Ottoman government during the First World War for its relief efforts.
“The year 1516 marked the end of Arab cultural and military dominance and ushered in the era of Ottoman dominance. One culture replaced another; serving much of its strengths and certainly no small number of its challenges,” said President Khuri. “This is a remarkable symposium, with some of the key scholars from AUB and from major Turkish and international universities, on the impact of Marj Dabiq, 500 years later, and of the related history and culture.”
The conference opening was also attended by the Ambassador of Turkey to Lebanon, Mr. Çagatay Erciyes; Director of Yunus Emre Turkish Cultural Center, Mr. Cengiz Eroglu; and representatives from the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey, the Turkish-Lebanese Business Council, and the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).
“This battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt in the north of Aleppo was a turning point in the history of the Middle East,” said Ambassador Erciyes. “This battle permanently shaped the region’s politics, demographics, and religious movements… I hope that this conference brings a new perspective in understanding the history of our region in retrospect with [the scholars’] valuable intellectual and academic contribution.”
The conference sessions revolved around five broad themes: space, time, discourse, identity, and everyday life. They offered a critical analysis of the creation of a single legal and commercial area between Yemen and Hungary; the transition through Mamluk and Ottoman eras; and the resulting relationships between the state, society, and religion. The presentations also examined related areas such as the spread of Ottoman Turkish language throughout the region; identity; resulting transformations in culture, sociability, and taste; and the hardening of categories such as Arab, Turk, Rumi, Persian and Franks, as well as Christian, Muslim, Sunni, and Shia within the larger society.
Professor of History and Director of the Center for Arts and Humanities, Dr. Abdulrahim Abu Husayn, spoke about Sultan Selim I’s triumphant entry into Aleppo following the battle and read out testimonials by eye witnesses that reflected the perceptions and impressions of the Damascenes as the new ruler and army marched into Damascus on the first day of Ramadan, 1516.
“Historical circumstances have entwined the fortunes of the Arabs and the Turks, for better or for worse, for more than a millennium,” Dr. Abu Husayn said. “Over time, the nature of this association has varied—and not always according to the balance of power between them. They have been equal partners, subjects, rulers, and at times estranged brethren, bound by a common history and (for most of them) faith too; yet divided by widely diverging interests, especially following the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the modern nation states on its ruins.”