Turkish Journal of History
Escape From Cairo to Vienna: Çerkes Mehmed Bey’s Refuge Seeking in the Habsburg EmpireÖmer Gezer
Çerkes Mehmed, a sovereign Mameluke bey of Ottoman Egypt, fled from Cairo in the spring of 1726 after losing his war of expansion against the Sublime Porte. He first fled to Tripoli, then to Algiers. During this time, he attempted to obtain an imperial pardon to return to Egypt, using both the influence of the Barbary states and French diplomacy in Istanbul, where no one heard his voice. Then, encouraged by the regents of Tripoli and Algiers, he sailed to Triest to ask Charles VI, the Habsburg Emperor, for protection and mediation with the Ottoman Sultan, and for his pardon. Bearing in mind that this could endanger the peace with the Ottomans and the Karl’s Mediterranean diplomacy, the Hofburg did not allow him to travel to Vienna. In fact, the agenda of Ottoman-Habsburg relations changed when it emerged that Çerkes Mehmed was seeking refuge with the Habsburgs, with Istanbul demanding extradition of the rebellious bey, or at least the refusal of his refuge. Based on the Austrian, Ottoman, and British archival documents, as well as his letters, this article focuses on the last years of Çerkes Mehmed, from his flight from Cairo to Vienna to his death at his war for power in Egypt, where he returned after being refused by the Habsburgs.
Kahire’den Viyana’ya Firar: Çerkes Mehmed Bey’in Habsburg İmparatorluğu’nda İltica ArayışıÖmer Gezer
Osmanlı Mısırı’nın iktidar sahibi memlûk beyi Çerkes Mehmed, Bâbıâli ile giriştiği güç mücadelesini 1726 İlkbaharında kaybettiğinde Kahire’den firar ederek önce Trablusgarb’a, ardından Cezayir’e sığındı. Bu sırada gerek Garp Ocaklarının gerekse Fransız diplomasisinin Osmanlı başkentindeki etkisini kullanarak affedilip Mısır’a dönmek için uğraştıysa da İstanbul’da sesini duyuracağı kimse kalmamıştı. Bunun üzerine Trablusgarp ve Cezayir ocaklarının teşvikiyle, affedilmesi için Osmanlı padişahı nezdinde arabuluculuk yapacağına inandığı Habsburg İmparatoru VI. Karl’ın himayesini temin etmek için Trieste’ye gitti. Fakat Hofburg, Osmanlı barışını ve Akdeniz diplomasisini tehlikeye atacağını göz önünde bulundurarak Çerkes Mehmed’in Viyana’ya gelmesine izin vermedi. Nitekim Çerkes Mehmed Bey’in Habsburglara iltica etmek niyetinde olduğu öğrenildiğinde Osmanlı-Habsburg ilişkilerinin gündemi değişmiş, İstanbul, asi beyin tutuklanarak teslimini yahut himaye edilmemesini istemişti. Bu makale Avusturya, Osmanlı ve İngiltere arşivlerine ve Çerkes Mehmed’in mektuplarına dayanarak, Çerkes Mehmed Bey’in Mısır’dan firarından itibaren iltica arayışı ve bu konudaki başarısızlığından sonra Kahire’ye dönerek giriştiği iktidar savaşından ölümüne kadar olan sürece mercek tutmaktadır.
Çerkes Mehmed, one of the Mameluke beys of Cairo, rose to power in Ottoman Egypt in the 1720s after securing his leadership in the Qasimid household. He ruled the Ottoman province de facto, as Claude Lamaire, the French consul in Cairo, wrote in his dispatches. When he attempted to force the Sublime Porte to recognize his right to govern Egypt in corporation with the other beys, like the beys in Tripoli, Tunis, and the dey in Algiers did, he was declared a rebel against the Ottoman Sultan and got sentenced to death in October 1725. To execute the orders of the Sublime Porte, on February 9, 1726, the Governor of Egypt, el-Hac Ali Pasha, commissioned Zülfikar Bey, the leader of the Fiqaris, who failed to kill Çerkes Mehmed and his companions. Afterwards, Çerkes Mehmed fled Cairo, taking refuge first in Tripoli, then in Algiers, where he mobilized local governments and French diplomacy to obtain an imperial pardon for his life and permission to return to Egypt. The Sublime Porte rejected petitions regarding Çerkes Mehmed, insisting that he and his companions be captured alive or dead and sent to Istanbul.
However, the Council of Algiers not only ignored the imperial decree, but also decided to make Çerkes Mehmed Bey’s pardon a condition of peace negotiations with the Habsburgs. Thereafter, he became a matter for Ottoman-Habsburg diplomacy, which is why his name often appears in the dispatches of Joßeph von Dirling, the Habsburg resident in Istanbul. He wrote to the Aulic War Council in Vienna about this condition, first on November 26, then on December 16, 1726. Although Dirling never asked for it, the Sublime Porte pardoned Çerkes Mehmed Bey in the last days of 1726, and a treaty, negotiated by the Kapudan Pasha and Dirling, was signed on March 8, 1727.
Thence, Çerkes Mehmed was able to save his own life. However, this proved to be too little for him. Encouraged by the Council of Algiers and Mehmed Effendi, the ambassador extra ordinaire of Tripoli to Charles VI, who already asked for Habsburg mediation on behalf of Çerkes Mehmed in August 1726, he sailed aboard of a French merchant ship to Trieste, the Habsburg port in the Adriatic Sea. Immediately after his arrival in Trieste, he sent letters written in Italian to Prince Eugen, president of the Aulic War Council, on October 4, 1727, to Rechcron, the counsellor, and to Leopold von Talman, the chief dragoman, to announce his arrival. He also revealed in these letters his intention to ask Charles VI for protection.
The Aulic War Council, however, ordered the commander of Trieste to not allow Çerkes Mehmed Bey to travel to Vienna. Meanwhile, Leopold von Talman sent a letter dated October 25, 1727 to Çerkes Mehmed, explaining the decision of the Aulic War Council to him, that he should write his motive for visiting the Habsburg court. As can be deduced from this letter, the Habsburgs attempted to avoid a misunderstanding between Vienna and Istanbul, which would have been very likely if the Ottoman consul general Kazgancızâde Ömer Aga had found out about him and informed the Sublime Porte.
Ömer Aga, indeed, discovered Çerkes Mehmed’s arrival in Trieste, as he received his letters by chance. During his quarantine in Trieste, Çerkes Mehmed wrote again to Prince Eugen, Rechcron, and Talman on October 12, 1727, without waiting for a reply to his first letters. These were delivered to the Ottoman consul general on October 27. He opened them without hesitation, although it was obvious that the letters were not addressed to him. As a matter of course, he informed the Sublime Porte of Çerkes Mehmed’s arrival via his dispatch from November 2, 1727. From this point on, the presence of Çerkes Mehmed in the Habsburg Empire became a problem in Ottoman-Habsburg relations.
In reality, while Çerkes Mehmed only asked for protection in his letters, his true intention was to be read in the letters of the Bey of Tripoli, Karamanlı Ahmed Pasha. Ahmed Pasha asked Charles VI on behalf of Çerkes Mehmed to mediate between him and the Sublime Porte again, as the Emperor had done it before, and save his life. This time, Ahmed Pasha wrote in his letter that the Emperor must help Çerkes Mehmed obtain his full pardon, including permission to return to Egypt. In his letter to the Prince Eugen, Ahmed Pasha, promised 30,000 gold in the name of Çerkes Mehmed if the Prince helped him in his cause. Notwithstanding the fact that it was not the Habsburg mediation that had previously helped Çerkes Mehmed and saved his life, the Habsburgs had no interest in intervening in Ottoman politics. Since it was no longer a secret that Çerkes Mehmed sought refuge with the Habsburgs, Prince Eugene advised the Emperor that it would be contrary to the Treaty of Passarowitz to grant him Habsburg protection, as he was a rebel against the Ottoman Sultan.
The decision of Charles VI was announced to him personally by Leopold von Talman in Trieste on November 15. The Emperor would not grant asylum to a rebel because he was loyal to peace with the Ottomans. It was stated that Çerkes Mehmed should therefore leave Habsburg soil as soon as possible. Joßeph von Dirling would ask for pardon for him, and the answer of the Sublime Porte would be sent to him. A few days later, Charles VI gave him permission to stay in Görz, a small city in the north of Trieste, until the Sublime Porte came to a decision about him. In fact, the Aulic War Council ordered Dirling to protest Ömer Aga’s behaviour and mobilize the Sublime Porte to force Algiers to ratify the treaty. Regarding Çerkes Mehmed, he was only supposed to do a favor by delivering his letters to his friends in Istanbul.
The decision was correct because the Sublime Porte had no intention of allowing Çerkes Mehmed to enter Cairo. His agents were executed on November 18. The next day, the Reis Effendi told Dirling that it was Çerkes Mehmed who had caused the Algerian Council to refuse to ratify the treaty. Under these circumstances, Dirling met with the Grand Vizier Damad Ibrahim Pasha and informed him of the decision that had been previously made in Vienna about Çerkes Mehmed.
Without having a clue about the diplomacy around him, Çerkes Mehmed again took a chance and secretly left Görz for Vienna. He arrived in the Habsburg capital on March 27, 1728. His journey was the last straw for the Habsburgs. The Aulic War Council expelled him by threatening him to him hand over to Ömer Aga back to Trieste, where he would be kept in the fortress as a prison. He sent letters to the Emperor and Prince Eugene expressing his disappointment, desperately asking for some money and permission to reach Livorno by land rather than by sea, fearing his enemies.
Eventually, the Aulic War Council let him travel to Livorno on June 5, 1728, first by sea to Manfredonia, then by land to Naples. On June 27, 1728, he arrived in Naples, where he changed his mind, and journeyed to Tripoli via Malta. On August 28, 1728, his ship harbored, whereby he immediately visited Ahmed Pasha, the Bey of Tripoli. Hearing about his arrival on Ottoman soil, the Porte sent another firman to Tripoli on May 10, 1779, after which Çerkes Mehmed was labeled a traitor of both his religion and state. Long before the Haseki Aga arrived in the city with the imperial decree, Çerkes Mehmed had left Tripoli to determine his own future through his own actions.
He determined that the situation in Cairo was suitable for his return. Even though the Qasimids lost all power in Egypt, the Porte and its governor in Egypt were anxious about Züllfikar Bey and his policies, so Çerkes Mehmed thought he might find some supporters. Indeed, while the Arabs supported him militarily, Zülfikar defeated Çerkes Mehmed, forcing him to escape again. Leopold von Talman, then the Habsburg resident in Istanbul, wrote to Vienna on March 22, 1730 that Çerkes Mehmed would wait for the next favorable moment to appear. The next time he wrote about him in his dispatch was on June 8, 1730. He informed the Aulic War Council about Çerkes Mehmed’s death, as well as the death of his opponent Zülfikar, which made the Grand Vizier indescribably happy.
Hence, while Çerkes Mehmed’s life and story came to an end, one problem in the Ottoman-Habsbug relations was resolved. However, after a while, when the Ottoman Sultan, the Grand Vizier, and other dignitaries of the ruling circle lost their life due to the Patrona Halil Rebellion, promises regarding the treaty with the Algiers became unclaimed.