I encounter a curious situation with every topic that I addressed for the past few years. Especially, with every topic regarding the history of Turkish Arts and the way of Turkish thinking, I come across the same name: Mustafa Âli. First time I noticed that, I was working on ‘Memorandums and Counsels Presented to Sultan.’ Actually, I was not much surprised when I happened on Mustafa Âli’s Nushatü’s-Selatin. What could be more natural than Mustafa Âli expressing his ideas to fix the corrupted order as many other intelligent, talented, experienced, and a little dissatisfied names, who served in the Ottoman bureaucracy at high ranks, do? Mustafa Âli, as a counsel writer, didn’t grab my attention among the well known writers such as Koçi Bey, Kâtip Çelebi, and Naima.
Then I decided to have a look at the Ottoman historians, who shine with their analysis and ideas that we can call ‘sociological’ besides what Mustafa Âli tells. As an amateur history reader, I cannot tell that my attention is detail oriented more than it is supposed to be. In other words, I was just taking a look for no particular reason at all. His name was again taking place among the great and famous historians. A part of his Künhü’l-Ahbar teemed with history. It has everything. The significant sections of its sizable structure are the creation, the history of the prophets, the history of Islam, the history of the old Turks and Moguls, and finally the history of the Ottomans. It is as if we are facing with the Ottoman İbn Haldun.
When I kept coming across his name while I was occasionally studying Ottoman poetry, I thought, this was it! Künhü’l-Ahbar has two other parts as important as its historical parts. To my surprise, the biographies of scientists and poets, the quotes and short analyses from their works were forming only the conclusion of this great work. I said that it had everything but this was beyond everything.
When it comes to history and sociology, I am an amateur but I understand poetry. While I was checking a part of Künhü’l-Ahbar that consists of collections of biographies I realized that Mustafa Âli was our main source for many readily available ideas about the Ottoman poetry. This awakening left an impression on me regarding Mustafa Âli’s brilliance. Think of a writer who is equipped with enough knowledge to write a huge history and at the same time understands poetry. He is not a big poet but he is knowledgeable enough to analyze his people’s poems.
Historical knowledge and understanding of poetry are rare qualities to find together. In Greco-Roman world and in Europe, poetry is accepted as the two opposite ends of knowledge. Although, it is not that distinctive for us, we cannot state that our historians understand poetry more than a certain level and are imaginative enough. Our poets and critics of poetry become curious about history from time to time; but this usually happens more in general terms and limited to their interesting opinions about the historical figures. Mustafa Âli should be considered as a prodigy for his ability to hold both poetry and history.
THE MOST IMPORTANT RECORD OF CALLIGRAPHY BELONGS TO HIM
When I was studying Islamic Arts and especially calligraphy, I came across the signs of how great Âli’s knowledge, manners and discernment were. Besides being a brilliant man who was knowledgeable enough to criticize the works of scientists and poets, Mustafa Âli also wrote the most important record of the Islamic-Ottoman calligraphy: Menakıb-ı Hünerveran. This precious book consists of collections of biographies belong to calligraphists, muralists and bookbinders. ‘Menakıb’ is accepted as a classic source by all researchers in the context of the aesthetic history of calligraphy that is not yet completely clear, although many considerable articles written about it abroad.
Let aside his biography only by observing the line of his works, one would realize that he was a respectable man of sciences, arts and inspiration. We can also accept that as an indicator of other things. We were always told that there was no place for criticism among the Ottomans. This nonsense would be considered for real if Mustafa Âli were not known. Criticism did exist among the Ottomans but in its own spirit; and it had a special place for Mustafa Âli who could resolve issues of arts, politics, and economics thanks to his genius.
Yet, he is not a writer who was left out and unread. He was almost at the center of the state. ‘Almost’; because, he was usually appointed to tasks outside Istanbul. After serving to the sons of Kanuni, he worked for the great commander, Lala Mustafa Pasha. Later, he was appointed to Aleppo, Erzurum, Baghdad, and Sivas as the head of provincial treasury and finally became the governor of the Jeddah Sanjak. He was born in May 1541 and died in Jeddah in 1600.
Biographers usually discuss his ambition. In my opinion, it was natural for him to expect assignments that are more important at the heart, because of his strong writing skills as well as his expertise in financial affairs. It might be wrong to approach this matter as an ambition despite at one point that he himself complains about not getting the promotions, which he was expecting. He mentions that this never happened before the order corrupted; everyone would be promoted according to his skills.
COULD HAVE ACHIEVED A BETTER CAREER
Although, this isn’t exactly right, but it is clear that if Mustafa Âli had served during the reigns of Fatih or Murat II, he could have had a better career than the one he had in the 16th century, which had an atmosphere of glory and misery combined. This assumption has a weakness. We see that the Ottoman writers have increasing knowledge and experience over the years. If he had been born a century ago, he would not have been a writer, who has mastered arts, economics, and politics all together.
Another assumption might be that by not professionalizing on one major Mustafa Âli might have harmed his prosperity. Even though he understood poetry, he did not care about it as much as the big poets did. He did not limit himself as a financier. It cannot be told that he practiced it as a profession although history and Nasihatname states otherwise.
In our opinion, Mustafa Âli is one of the members of the ‘çelebi generation’, which we can describe its members as people who are equipped with great knowledge and ability of analysis and are dissatisfied, he may be one of the first examples even. We can treat him as a victim of father-son or old bureaucrat-young prodigy conflicts as Kâtip Çelebi and Evliya Çelebi were. His life was rather short as Kâtip Çelebi’s was. He did not even see his sixties. He did not get to age. He always remained youthful with his bright ideas and dissatisfied ambition within the transformation of the Ottomans from advancement and ascension to stationary phase and fortification.