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Ottomans credited for Libya's unification, says historian

Mahmoud al-Deek tells Anadolu Agency that Ottomans, Libyans had many commonalities

Muhammed Artima  | 05.02.2022 - Update : 06.02.2022
Ottomans credited for Libya's unification, says historian


A Libyan historian credited the Ottoman Empire for demarcating and unifying Libya's geographical borders. 

In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Mahmoud al-Deek said the history of the Ottomans and Libyans is strongly interlinked.

“Since 1551, we have had geographical borders, and this was done during the Ottoman era," said al-Deek. “The history of the Ottoman Empire and Libya is one. We have common symbols such as Turgut Pasha and Yusuf Pasha al-Qarmanli."

Al-Qarmanli is a reference to the city of Karaman in southcentral Turkiye.

Al-Deek pointed out that Yusuf Pasha is one of the strong personalities that built the al-Qarmanli family, originally from Karaman but settled in Libya and became Libyans with Yusuf Pasha going on to become one of the strong personalities in the Mediterranean.

Historically, Libya has had close relations with Turkiye. At the beginning of 1551, Tripoli came under Ottoman sovereignty and Turks intermarried with Libyans and joined the Tripolitan society.

Since 1711, Tripoli was ruled by the al-Qarmanli family, which began with the rule of Ahmed al-Qarmanli, who installed himself as ruler at that time as an Ottoman governor.

The al-Qaramanli family continued to rule Tripoli until 1835 as representatives of the Ottoman Empire until the latter assumed direct rule. In 1911, Italy invaded Libya, bringing an end to Ottoman rule.  

American defeat 

Al-Deek narrated an incident where the US was keen to control trade in the Mediterranean and refused to pay tax to the ruler Yusuf Pasha.

"The American consul at the time refused to pay the tax and said at the time that this pasha should be disciplined, and then America sent the huge Philadelphia ship," he said.

Al-Deek pointed out that the ship came to Tripoli, but it drifted to the port and was stuck in the sand, allowing Yusuf Pasha to seize it -- an act the Americans considered a great defeat.

"There were 300 American prisoners (officers and soldiers) in the hands of Yusuf Pasha,” said al-Deek. He said Libyans “are proud Yusuf Pasha was a symbol of the resistance and a symbol of the Islamic struggle against Europeans and Americans.”  

Resisting Crusades

The historian pointed out that "from the era of Turgut Pasha to 1911, the Europeans could not occupy Tripoli or even threaten it significantly."

"Turgut was a very important figure in the history of Libya having left great fingerprints in the city of Tripoli,” he said.

More importantly, he added, Turgut ensured that Tripoli was safe from the Christian crusades despite his old age.

A famous Ottoman commander, Turgut Pasha -- also known as Turgut Rais meaning Chief Turgut -- is known for his successive victories in the Mediterranean and Black seas. He is considered one of the most prominent commanders of the Ottoman navy. Many ships and towns bear his name in his memory.

Al-Deek also noted that Turgut was "one of the sailors who led the Ottoman fleets in the Mediterranean and lived under the custody of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and thus he embodies the arm of the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean."

Turgut “carried out very important works in the city of Tripoli, such as fortifications and maintenance of the city” as well as “expanded the control of the Ottomans toward the (Tunisian) island of Djerba," he noted.

Al-Deek called for a special conference in honor of Turgut Pasha "to clarify” his real history as a mujahid amid accusations that he was a pirate.

“It suffices that he was martyred while defending Tripoli in his confrontation with the Christians in front of Malta, and then was buried in Tripoli,” said al-Deek.

In October 2014, Turgut Pasha’s tomb, located next to the Turgut Mosque in the old city of Tripoli, was demolished by militants and the exact whereabouts of his remains are unknown.

It was "destroyed by extremist movements who do not want tombs in mosques," said al-Deek.

In August 2020, the head of the communications department in the Turkish presidency, Fahrettin Altun, considered the presence of the "Turgut Rais" mausoleum in Tripoli as a "symbol of friendship" between the peoples of both countries.

*Writing by Ibrahim Mukhtar

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