The Relationship between Aceh and Turkey

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
-Marcus Garvey

Today, I am going to elucidate the relationship between Turkey and Aceh. Despite geographical difference, Aceh was a close ally of Turkey. There had been social, political and, economic relations between Turkey and Aceh. These relations took place primarily in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Aceh was famous for its implacable opposition to foreign domination. The Sultan of Aceh remained the constant opponent of Dutch, English, and French.  They were subsequently told that though they were welcome to trade but they weren’t allowed to build a fort in the region. Aceh was the center of production for precious spices such as pepper, clove, nutmeg, and an entrepot. Aceh also played a pivotal role in the development and spread of Islam to the rest of the Malay Archipelago.

The Ottoman expedition to Aceh started from 1565, when the Ottoman Empire tried to support the Aceh sultanate in its fight against Dutch. The expedition followed an envoy sent by the Aceh sultan (Alauddin Riayat Syah al-Kahhar) to Ottoman sultan (Suleiman the Magnificent) in 1564, requesting Ottoman support against the Dutch. When the whole Middle East was brought under the control of Ottoman rule.  Ottomans were also charged the Holy places of Islam in Arabia. The Ottoman sultans, seeing themselves the protectors of the whole Muslim world. Sultan Ali Riayat Syah sent message to the Ottoman sultan, the Aceh sultan referred to the Ottoman ruler as Khalifah (Caliph) of Islam. The relationship between Ottoman Empire and the Sultanate of Aceh was not limited to military cooperation. In order to support the spread and adoption of Islam in the sultanate. Numerous Islamic scholars from Egypt, Yemen, and, Gujarat came to Aceh to teach Islam. Aceh sultan warmly welcomed all scholars of Islam. Islamic schools flourished everywhere in the sultanate of Aceh. Arabic language became widespread amongst Acehnese elite. Slowly, Arabic language became the official language of the Sultanate. Aceh became the major Centre of Islamic learning. In the 16th and 17th centuries Aceh became the home of numerous scholars like Bukhara al-Jauhari, Sheikh Nuruddin al Raniri and, Abdul Rauf Singkel.

 When the Suleiman the Magnificent passed away in 1566, his son Selim II sent more vessels equipped with guns, gunsmiths, and engineers. Together with ample supplies of weapons and ammunition. The Acehnese paid for the shipment in pearls, diamonds, and rubies. In 1568, the Aceh sultan besieged and crushed the Portuguese in Melaka. Melaka had been held by the Portuguese. The Ottoman sultan supplied cannonneers to the Aceh sultan. Although, the Ottomans didn’t participate in that war directly. The Ottomans taught Acehnese how to forge their own cannons. The craft of making such weapons had spread throughout Maritime Southeast Asia.

Portuguese was implacable enemy of Aceh sultan. The relationship between Aceh and Ottoman Empire was a major threat to the Portuguese monopolistic trade position in the Indian Ocean. Aceh was a cosmopolitan city and a commercial hub in the Indian Ocean. Aceh was a major commercial adversary for Portuguese. They endeavored to sabotage the Aceh-Ottoman-Venetian trade axis for their own benefit. But Portuguese failed miserably due to a lack of manpower in the Indian Ocean.

The memory of the Ottoman-Aceh relations in the 16th century was kept alive for centuries in the form of the Aceh flag, similar to the red Ottoman flag. In the 17th century Turkish author “Katip Chelebi” mentions in his geography book named “Cihannuma” (TERRACE OF THE WHOLE WORLD) that the Acehnese are good fighters, and they learned the art of war from Turks. They can use arrows and bows and manufacture cannons similar as Turks. According to Turkish sources, the first Acehnese ambassador to Istanbul came in the year of 1547. Even the Ottoman Empire formerly sent an ambassador to Aceh.

In the 19th century the new Sultan Davud Shah and Tuanku Hashim wrote a letter addressed to the Ottoman Caliph, asking for help. Unfortunately, it fell into the hands of Dutch. Davud Shah sent another letter to Ottoman caliph and it reached its destination. Davud Shah expressed his old relations with Ottoman Empire. Since sultan Selim II Aceh had been under the protection of Ottoman Empire. Davud Shah was continuously sending messages to Turkey, demanding to stop Dutch aggression in Aceh. Unfortunately, Turkey wasn’t capable of sending help in that century due to internal conflict and chaos. In 1903, Davud Shah was captured by Dutch.

In summary, there existed close relations between Turkey and Aceh since the 16th  century. Despite geographical distance, Aceh was a strategic ally of Ottoman Empire in that century. They learnt more things from each other because of cultural exchange. Turks taught Acehnese how to forge their own cannons. In the 19th century there was political chaos and turmoil in Turkey that’s why Turkey didn’t send an affective help to Aceh, the Turkish people showed great concern to the cause of Aceh in that century as well. In 2004, when first tsunami struck to Indonesia, Turkey sent 600.000 dollars to Indonesia.

Aqib Farooq Mir

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