After the death of Ertuğrul Gazi, father of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, Osman, his tomb became a spiritual destination for Karakeçili, a district of Kırıkkale province in central Anatolia. The tomb is visited by many people and some annual festivities are also held there.
Lately, interest in the life of Ertuğrul Gazi has increased significantly thanks to the popular TV series, "Diriliş (Resurrection)." Historical sources, however, offer very little information about him.
Historians Mükrimin Halil Yinanç, Fahamettin Başar, Ismail Hakkı Konyalı and Tayyip Gökbilgin have compiled the details about Ertuğrul Gazi in history books.
Under the leadership of Gündüz Alp, the grandfather of Osman Gazi, the Kayı tribe had arrived in Anatolia and settled near Ahlat in the eastern province of Bitlis. It was during the Turkmen migration within the Anatolian Seljuk period. They engaged in ghaza (an Islamic term for holy war) in this new place. After the onslaught of Mongols into Anatolia, the Turkmen began moving west.
Due to the Mongols, the Turkmen had to migrate from the Caucasus to the east and central Anatolia. As the Mongol invasion of Anatolia began, some Turkmen moved to the Aegean region and others to central Anatolia. The Karakeçili clan of the Kayı tribe moved toward Erzurum.
When Gündüz Alp died in this region, Ertuğrul Gazi became the leader of the clan. After the Mongols entered the eastern Anatolia, the other two sons of Gündüz Alp, Sungur Tegin and Gündoğdu, returned to the Ahlat region. Meanwhile, Ertuğrul Gazi, together with his brother Dündar, moved toward the west and arrived in the Sivas-Tokat region.
In 1230, they helped the Sultan of Anatolian Seljuks, Alaeddin Keykubad, in the Battle of Yassıçemen, against Khwarezm Shahs.
Following the battle, Alaeddin Keykubad bestowed Ertuğrul Gazi the region of Karacadağ near Ankara as his homeland. After staying there for a time, the Karakeçili wanted a new homeland from the Seljuk Sultan, and upon that Söğüt and its environs were given to them as their new homeland.
In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of Turkmen, who had had to migrate due to Mongol pressure first from the Caucasus to the East and Central Anatolia and then from the Central Anatolia to the west, invaded the Aegean region and founded Turkmen ghazi principalities there.
The ghaza spirit among the Turkmen at the time was kept alive by the Germiyanid, Menteşe, Karasid, Hamidid and Sarukhanid principalities in Western Anatolia and by the Çobanoğlu (Chobanid) Beylik in the Black Sea region. These principalities both fought against the Christians in the name of ghaza and also settled the Turkmen that kept on coming to the regions they had previously conquered. After settling into the region, the Karakeçili began conducting ghaza, just like the other principalities of northern Anatolia.
The core of a universal state
During that period, besides participating in ghazas, Ertuğrul Gazi also lived in peace with local Byzantine governors in surrounding regions called "tekfur," some of whom paid tribute to the sultan of Anatolian Seljuks. At the time, the Ottoman beylik was under the suzerainty of Chobanids, who ruled the northern Anatolia and were also from the Kayı tribe.
The Karakeçili clan stayed in Söğüt during winter but moved to pastures near Domaniç during summer. Under the leadership of Ertuğrul Gazi, the Karakeçili became more powerful as they acted together with notable commanders in surrounding regions, like Akçakoca, Samsa Çavuş, Kara Tegin, Aykut Alp and Konur Alp.
Having become very old, Ertuğrul Gazi left the leadership of the clan to his son Osman Gazi. He was said to be over 90 when he died in 1281. Ertuğrul Gazi was buried near Söğüt. After his death, his tomb became a spiritual destination. The locals in Karakeçili have visited the tomb every year since then and continue to hold festivities.
During his reign, Abdülhamid II restored Ertuğrul Gazi's tomb, along with other tombs and monuments belonging to the founders of the Ottoman Empire. He facilitated the Karakeçili clan’s annual visit to the Ertuğrul Gazi tomb and built an inn there for their accommodation.
In this period, Karakeçili’s visit to the tomb was called, "Ertuğrul Gazi Commemoration." An 1895 issue of the magazine, Malumat, published a news piece on the festivities held by the Karakeçili at the Ertuğrul Gazi tomb. Historian Konyalı wrote: "The Karakeçili clan has as large a population to inhabit 32 villages around Eskişehir (a central Anatolian province)."
Of these villages, nine are in the Söğüt district of Bilecik province in Marmara region, six in Eskişehir, and six near the Aegean city of Kütahya, and the rest are in the surrounding regions. Fifteen days before the visit, their chieftain sends a special letter to each village and the visitors gather in the Oluklu village of the Söğüt district. During their march, the Karakeçili horsemen, led by gendarmerie troops, proceed holding Ottoman flags and singing national songs.
After arriving at the Ertuğrul Gazi tomb, they perform honors and engage in prayers for three or four days in the environs, chanting “Lâ ilâhe illallah" (There is no god but God). And then they return pleased. The clan’s arrival to their villages becomes something of a national holiday. Public officers also treat them kindly.
The Ottomans were considered to be the descendants of the Kayı tribe of the Gün Han branch, or the right-wing, of the Oghuz Turks. But this is a controversial topic among historians.
Historian Paul Wittek argues that beginning from Sultan Murad II the Ottomans sought to carve a superior genealogy by tracing their origins to the esteemed Oghuz genealogy and hence rejects the claims about Kayı origins.
On the other hand, historian Zeki Velidi Togan claims that the Ottomans were descendants of the Kaylar, a Mongol tribe. Former Turkish foreign minister and prominent academic, Fuat Köprülü, who carried out important studies on the establishment period of the Ottoman Empire, asserts that the Ottoman dynasty originated from the Kayı tribe.
Indeed, various researches in Ottoman archives revealed the presence of communities belonging to the Kayı tribe around the region where the Ottoman principality had been established. Ottomans must be a breakaway group of a larger Kayı tribe, which moved to the western Black Sea and inner Aegean regions under Mongol pressure and split there. The original community of the Ottoman dynasty is considered to be the Karakeçili clan of the Kayı tribe.
This topic arose in the historiography in the Late Ottoman Period and came to the fore especially during the reign of Abdülhamid II. During Sultan Abdülhamid’s rule, there was a Söğüt regiment at the Yıldız Palace, which was composed of troops from the Karakeçili tribe. Chosen as the Sultan’s bodyguard regiment, these Yörüks (nomads) took an oath of loyalty to the sultan at the Ertuğrul Gazi tomb.
Some claim that the Karakeçili were brought to the fore only lately and had no relation to the Ottoman dynasty. But the topic has to do with historical facts. A historical record dated 1673, which was pointed out by Feridun Emecen, cites the Karakeçili among the inhabitants of Söğüt and this information reveals the Karakeçili as from the empire’s core territories.
*Historian, Rector of National Defense University, Ankara
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