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Humans Of The Ottoman Empire Continues With Ottoman Spies


Dr. Emrah Safa Gürkan and Dr. Cengiz Sisman Chat About The History Of Spies


Washington D.C. - The Yunus Emre Institute in Washington D.C. hosted a discussion between Dr. Emrah Safa Gürkan and Dr. Cengiz Sisman about Ottoman spies on May 14th, 2021. The discussion was a part of the Yunus Emre Institute’s ongoing Humans of the Ottoman Empire lecture series, where guest speakers discuss different roles in Ottoman society. Dr. Emrah Safa Gürkan is a renowned Turkish historian who focuses on espionage, piracy, slavery, religious conversion, naval technology, and the relationship between the Ottoman Empire and the West.


Dr. Gürkan began his discussion with Dr. Sisman by explaining that in the 16th century formal spying and modern espionage techniques were not quite developed yet. There was no training and it was not a specific profession that one could decide to pursue. It was a particular kind of intelligence gathering and sharing craft that numerous states were engaged in alongside the Ottoman Empire. It became necessary for both diplomatic and military purposes as the Ottoman Empire interacted with other states like the Holy Roman Empire or Spain.


Intelligence gathering came from a number of sources like high ranking military officials to pirates and corsairs roaming the Mediterranean Sea. The most important information that someone could bring back with them was where the enemy’s naval armada is organized, where their ground troops are organized, and when their preparations will be complete for an upcoming military conflict. Since information took longer to spread in the 16th century, it would have to be gathered months in advance to prepare a response to an attack.


At the end of Dr. Gürkan and Dr. Sisman’s discussion, the floor was opened to thought-provoking questions from the audience. One guest asked if any well known battles or wars occurred because of spies. Dr. Gürkan explained that nearly all military engagements occurred through the coordination of spies and their information. To go to battle, militaries needed to know where their enemy was, and this was impossible without reconnaissance from spies. Another guest asked if the Ottoman Empire had institutions that were in charge of intelligence gathering and spying. Dr. Gürkan responded by saying that there was no legitimate institution for spying. Looking at the context of the time period, however, it was normal to not have an institution dealing with espionage in the 16th century. The audience thanked Dr. Gürkan and Dr. Sisman for their thorough review of the scholarship on spies.


Washington, D.C. - Yunus Emre Institute is a Turkish cultural center located in Washington, D.C. and around the world. The institute hosts events and programs that educate the public about Turkey’s culture, history, and language. For more information about the institute’s mission or online programs, please email washingtondc@yee.org.tr or follow @yeewdc on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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