Uzun Hasan (Uzun Hasan (means “Long or Tall Hasan” in Turkish)) (1453-1478), Turkmen ruler, the most powerful representative of the Ağqoyunlu (Akkoyunlu) dynasty.
Since the 15th century, Azerbaijan”s relations with Europe have been political. These contacts intensified especially during the reign of King Uzun Hasan who was the most powerful representative of the Ağqoyunlu (Akkoyunlu) dynasty or after the name of the lineage – the Bayındırıyye dynasty. These relations had the common target – the Ottoman Empire and Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror (1451-1481).
Why did the Akkoyunlu state (1468-1501) need an alliance with European states? Was the essential stimulus for the intensification of relations the aggressive foreign policy supported by the Ottoman Empire, or did the Europeans simply want to use Akkoyunlu in their struggle against the Ottomans?
Akkoyunlu”s diplomatic relations with European states and its war against the Ottoman Empire in 1472-1473 were firstly due to the policy of the country”s ruler Uzun Hasan, who had an interest in obtaining direct trade relations with Europe, and secondly due to the deep commercial contradictions between the Ottomans and Akkoyunlu regarding foreign trade which was of vital importance for a medieval state, not least the Silk Road.
To understand these conditions we need to take a look at the history of Akkoyunuli in the 12th-15th centuries. The Golden Age of the Turkmen people is considered to be the state of the Atabeks under the Cumaean dynasty of the Eldeghids. About 89 years of its existence (1136-1225) this state was the only power in the entire Middle East, generating a huge progress in the Azerbaijani economy, culture and literature. For the first time in history, geographically and historically Azerbaijan was united into a centralised state with its capital at Tabriz (today the centre of the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan), which set a precedent for subsequent Azerbaijani dynasties. This era was interrupted by the Mongol-Tatar invasion that destroyed all the major cities in the country, resulting in the Elhanid dynasty with its founder Hülaki (Hulaghu) Khan.
The above-mentioned invasion as well as that of Tamerlane (80s-14th century) intensified the migration of semi-nomadic (transhumant) Turkic tribes from the eastern Caspian to Azerbaijan, among them the Qaraqoyunlu (Karakoyunlu) and Ağqoyunlu (Akkoyunlu). Their name comes from the totem reflected in the insignia of the tribal confederation – the “Black Sheep” and the “White Sheep”. These tribes spoke the same language as the locals and represented the same culture, with the only difference being the semi-nomadic lifestyle of the conquerors.
The troubled times have shaken the sedentary economy because the irrigation system has collapsed.
So foreign trade has taken the first place in the state economy. Only from Tebriz to Turkey there were two caravan routes:
The partners and customers of Azerbaijani silk in general were European merchants. In the mid-15th century the Ottoman Empire gradually occupied the traditional centres of trade as it expanded its borders to the east and west. Later European and Asian merchants could meet exclusively on Ottoman territory. Demand for silk, much of which was produced in Tebriz, Shamaxi, Sheki, Gence and other towns in Azerbaijan, increased due to the development of pre-capitalist relations in northern Italy. In this trade, Florence and Venice were generally involved as buyers, and Azerbaijanis and Armenians as sellers.
According to the policy of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, the Ottoman Empire was to become an export-oriented country. To this end, every possible obstacle was placed in the way of Azeri merchants, forcing them to sell silk to the Ottomans on unfavourable terms. So after the fall of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, serious trade contradictions began to emerge. The Ottoman policy was a great blow to Azerbaijan”s economic relations and could have caused the fall of the Akkoyunlu state. Mehmet II trying to occupy all of Asia Minor, including the Tebriz-Tokat-Bursa silk road, planned to conquer all the small states of Anatolia, Trapezunt (Trabzon), the Genoese centres of the southern Black Sea and the main source of silk – Azerbaijan. In this case, the Azeri rulers began to seek allies in Europe behind the Ottomans. History repeated itself once again, the struggle for the routes to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea between Greeks and Persians, Byzantines and Iranians was re-enacted by the conflict between Akkoyunlu and the Ottoman Empire.
The conquest of the Greek state of Trapezunt by the Ottoman Empire (1461) was the first hostile step against Akkoyunlu. By Uzun Hasan two more sovereigns of the Akkoyunlu dynasty were married to daughters of the emperors of Trapezunt. Uzun Hasan”s wife Theodora (or Despina and mistakenly Catherine) was the daughter of Emperor John IV and grandmother of the founder of the Azeri dynasty of the Safeviz Ismayıl I (1501-1524).
Surrounded to the east and south by Ottoman allies such as the Karakoyunlu state and the Timurids, Akkoyunlu was very vulnerable and it was unable to prevent Mehmet II”s military campaign against Trapezunt. In the first battles, the Akkoyunlu cavalry was defeated, and thanks to the first Azeri female diplomat Sara xatun (Sara hatun) managed to avert the fate of Trapezunt by the Yassıçemen treaty (1461). The end of the Trapezunt meant Uzun Hasan”s loss of the exit to the Black Sea. Ottoman-Akkoyunlu relations worsened further after the struggle for the throne of the Beilic Karaman on the Mediterranean coast of Anatolia.
In 1467, the sovereign Karakoyunlu Djahanash (1435-1467) at the instigation and with the support of Mehmet II advanced to the capital of the state, still the emirate of Akkoyunlu, the city of Diyarbekir. But in the night battle of Erzincan the Karakoyunlu army was crushed and already in 1468 Uzun Hasan had conquered all the lands of Azerbaijan as far south as the Kura River. Tebriz became the capital of the Akkoyunlu state, and Azerbaijan – with the exception of the Ardebil land of the Safevizi Sheikhs and the Shirvanshah state (799-1538) north of the Kura River – was considered its main economic-territorial base. In 1468 the three Azeri states drove out Abu Said, the last heir of Tamerlane. Following Uzun Hasan”s conquest, the state of Akkoyunlu broke out of the Ottoman blockade, and thus a new political power emerged in the Near and Middle East. Ottoman-Akkoyunlu relations entered a new phase.
By defeating Cahan Shah and the timid Abu Said, Uzun Hasan was able to rival Mehmet II for dominance in Asia Minor. From the 1560s, he became the main organiser of the alliance of Eurasian states against the Ottoman Empire. Uzun Hasan wanted to occupy the whole of Asia Minor, including the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, and thus gain control of trade between Europe and the East. His victories also attracted the attention of Europe and the Christian world.
The first Euro-Asian alliance had a chance to take place before the conquest of Trapezunt, between the Georgian kingships, Trapezunt, Akkoyunlu, Karaman and Papacy. In 1460, Akkoyunlu ambassadors reached Rome, but noticing the weak character of Pius XII, left the city. In 1464 four Eastern ambassadors came to Venice and signed a treaty of alliance with the Republic, and the Venetian Senate by a majority of 110 votes (16 against) ratified it. Subsequently, in the 1960s, Karaman, Trapezunt, some Anatolian beilicts, the Papacy, Hungary, Burgundy, Skanderbeg”s Albania, the kingdom of Cyprus, and Rhodes joined this alliance. But no state dared to attack the Ottomans.
In 1470, Mehmet the Conqueror took control of the island of Euboea, an important strategic point, driving Venice out of the Aegean basin for good. The lightning Ottoman advance forced the allies to take important measures. The following year the alliance between the Neapolitan kingdom, Venice and Duke Charles of Burgundy, Rhodes, plus the Papacy was renewed.
After victories over his rivals in the East, Uzun Hasan began to prepare for war with the Ottomans. To centralize the state he carried out important reforms under the name “Hәsәn padșah qanunları” (“Emperor Hasan”s Laws”), limiting the influence of the nomadic military aristocracy. The state now relied on sedentary citizens, which led to a flourishing economy. The feudal army became the most powerful regular army in the Middle East, where the sedentary population was enlisted in the cavalry. A Venetian ambassador states that each horseman received a salary of 40-60 ducats a year. The non-Muslim population, including Christians, enjoyed religious freedom. For the supply of firearms for the army, the sovereign planned to organise his own production in the country, for which purpose Venetian specialists were invited. The Akkoyunlu state had diplomatic relations with Germany, the Moscow Khanate, the Czech Republic, the Golden Horde, Poland, the Habsburg Empire, Hungary, the Papacy, Burgundy, Rhodes, Cyprus, the Neapolitan Kingdom, Karaman, Egypt, India, etc. In Venice he had a permanent embassy and Uzun Hasan was called by European sources “the second Tamerlane” or even “the second Alexander the Great”.
In order to attack the Ottoman Empire from two fronts at the same time, Uzun Hasan sent the ambassador Murad bəy to Europe in 1471, following the Venetian ambassador who had been to Tebriz to persuade the European allies to attack the Ottomans with him. But Mehmet II foiled the plan and went to peace negotiations and neutralized Venice, on the other hand he started preparations against Akkoyunlu. After the negotiations failed, the ambassador Catterino Zeno was sent to Tebriz, who was the grandson after the mother of Theodore Paleolog, wife of Uzun Hasan. The Azerbaijani ruler ordered the mobilization, only to have his confidence in Venice shaken and to enter into direct relations with European states. He understood that Venice wanted to crush the Ottoman Empire by force Akkoyunlu. Ambassador Hacı Mәhәmmәd sent by him was to check the seriousness of the Europeans and personally accompany the promised firearms to the Mediterranean.
But no one entered the war in time and using this chance Mehmet II occupied Karaman which was Akkoyunlu”s only exit to the Mediterranean Sea, where the allies could unite and transmit artillery. Then in the spring of 1472, according to the principles of alliance the Akkoyunlu army under the leadership of Őmәr bәy Bektaș oğlu attacked the Ottoman Empire, taking control of Bitlis, the strategic point – Tokat, Karaman, Kayseri, Akșehir, Konya and reached Bursa.
Uzun Hasan had married Theodora of Trapezunt, so he was related to the Greek Theodoric dynasty of the Crimea. And another representative of this house, Princess Maria Mangup, was the wife of Stephen the Great, Lord of Moldavia. Thus there was a favourable situation for the rapprochement of the two states that were facing the same danger. It is not by chance that through Caffa, Moldova and Poland the Akkoyunlu envoys endeavoured to establish contact with the Christian rulers. Stephen the Great was then paying the sultan the harakha which he had inherited from Peter Aaron, but he was interested in regaining the country”s independence. He was fighting a war for control of the Danube and was therefore planning to liberate the Pontic basin.
Turkish losses were heavy, and Uzun Hasan lost his son in battle. After the victory in Anatolia he sent his soldiers to European capitals urging his allies to enter the war. The embassy of Uzun Hasan”s physician, Ishaq bəy had to ask for help. “In January Uzun Hasan”s men came through the White Fortress to Kraków to tell Cazimir of the victories they had won and to ask for help to carry them forward. They went to Rome with a Polish guide, and Venice, to whom Uzun Hasan had written for the same purpose, sent Cattarino Zeno to him by a message in March,” writes the Romanian historian N. Iorga. Ishaq bəy also came to Caffa after he left for the West, namely Venice and the Papacy, his allies, and through Moldova. Ishaq bəy brought to the Moldavian ruler Stephen the Great a letter from the ruler of Akkoyunlu, in which he revealed what had happened and asked Stephen the Great to help him spread the glory of his achievements and the importance of his plans in the Christian world. In this way he urged Stephen the Great to strike a blow against Radu, i.e. the Ottomans, who had been drawn to the eastern front. “The Ottoman,” wrote King Akkoyunlu to the Moldavian ruler, “defeated a few of my people, but where one of mine was killed, ten of his fell.”
Under these conditions a treaty of alliance was concluded between the two states against the Ottomans, and this was the first high-level contact between the Romanians and the Azerbaijani people.
The direct link between the military actions of the anti-Ottoman coalition, especially those of Uzun Hasan, and Stephen the Great”s struggle against the Ottoman Empire was also understood by contemporaries of the events. The Candiot Elia ben Elona Capsali mentions, “It happened that when all the princes subject to the master (Mehmet II-n.nm.) learned that Zucha-Zan (Uzun Hasan-n.nm.) had entered the battle against him, they all rejoiced, saying: “Mehmed will now be destroyed. What he did to us, God will now do to him…”. And they rebelled against the Turks… Among them was the lord of Lesser Wallachia… Given that his country is small and its inhabitants are few in number, but all brave men sheltering in mountains and valleys, who would dare to approach them? So when he heard that Zucha-Zan had gone to battle against his master, Sultan Mehmed II, he began to hatch all sorts of plans. Secretly he put an end to his submission and shook off his burden…”.
Uzun Hasan went out to sea, but no European allies came, nor did the promised artillery. Venice planned to gain more privileges from the Ottomans by using the victories of its eastern ally. Isolated, the Akkoyunlu cavalry was destroyed at the Battle of Beyșehir by Turkish artillery and Mehmet II regained the lost territory. The winter was relatively quiet and the two sides were preparing for the decisive battle. It was not until March 1473 that four Venetian ships with guns reached the island of Cyprus, but it was too late. With Karaman recaptured by the Ottomans, the state of Akkoyunlu no longer had an outlet to the Mediterranean. Uzun Hasan tried to get out to sea through the Mamluk territories, but failed.
Although the Akkoyunlu army crushed the Ottomans at the Battle of Malatya (1 August 1473), killing 56,000 Turkish horsemen and capturing 150 officers and 35 commanders, within 10 days this success could not be repeated. Mehmet II had concentrated about 70,000 men on the eastern front, plus other corps of his Muslim and Christian subjects, including a contingent from Wallachia.
The Ottomans managed to get out into an open area such as the Otluqbeli (Otlukbeli) or Tercan (Bashkent) hills where they were able to use rifles and cannons. This battle lasted for eight hours, i.e. the whole day, and the sovereign Uzun Hasan personally participated in it. Towards the end of the battle, the Sultan, seeing the danger of losing it, introduced the then modern corps of the janissaries with the support of artillery, which decided the fate of the battle.Radu the Handsome, as a friend and vassal of Sultan Mehmet II, took part in this battle on the Ottoman side, with a contingent of 12,000 soldiers from Wallachia.This was one of the most geographically remote military campaigns in which Romanian soldiers took part.
After Otluqbeli, the Ottoman-Akkoyunlu War (1472-1473) ended, because although defeated, Uzun Hasan continued to remain a dangerous adversary for Mehmet II and he did not dare to exploit the situation. The conqueror of Constantinople, preserving the status quo on the eastern frontier, returned to the European front. Anti-Ottoman negotiations continued, but after the defeat the Akkoyunlu state did not recover, feudal unrest began in the country. Uzun Hasan spent the rest of his life in military campaigns against centripetal elements and died in 1478. Within 23 years the Akkoyunlu state fell and a new Azerbaijani dynasty of the Safeviz rose. Its founder was the grandson after daughter of Uzun Hasan.
After the neutralization of the Akkoyunlu state, the Ottomans conquered all of Anatolia. In 1475 the Crimean Khanate was taken over, and in 1478 Venice was defeated. The Akkoyunlu state did not win the war, because its European allies were busy with internal problems and even collaborated with the Ottomans, and in the best case, through the successes of the Akkoyunlu army they wanted to gain privileges separate from the Ottoman Empire. From the events of Trapezunt (1461) until 1473, the Akkoyunlu state was a danger to the Ottoman Empire and a counterweight to the Turkish military effort on the Lower Danube; constituting a danger from behind, it took some and sometimes even all of the brunt of the blows and thus eased the situation for the states of Europe. This is the historical merit of the Azerbaijani people in the eyes of the European peoples.