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x0x Medals and decorations

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  • Turkish Culture List
    [See more on this subject by visiting the pages selected for you by Anita Donohoe: http://www.turkradio.us/k/madalya/ ] x0x Medals and decorations By BAHAR
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2008
      [See more on this subject by visiting the pages
      selected for you by Anita Donohoe:
      http://www.turkradio.us/k/madalya/ ]

      x0x Medals and decorations


      From the aigrette given to Admiral Nelson in 1798
      to the War Medals of World War I, the history of
      Ottoman medals and decorations is as complex as it
      is interesting. The story of Ottoman medals and
      decorations is tantamount to an historical novel
      with illustrations, harboring all manner of
      fascinating information among its pages.

      Sultanate and regime; military and political
      propaganda; wars, peace treaties and alliances;
      honor, pride, envy; cultural and administrative
      change; in short, 120 years of an empire's

      'Pride and Privilege: An Exhibition of Ottoman
      Orders, Medals and Decorations', an Ottoman Bank
      Museum project, realized by Prof. Dr.

      Edhem Eldem of the History Department at Bosphorus
      University and designed by Bulent Erkmen, made us
      privy to that history up to the end of December.
      Going beyond a mere display of objects, the
      exhibition enabled us to hear their stories as
      well. Taking the exhibition as his point of
      departure, Prof. Dr. Edhem Eldem has authored a
      book of, in his own words, 'somewhat
      uncontrollable growth'.

      In this important work Eldem examines how a system
      that was initially foreign to the Ottomans evolved
      over time and how they succeeded in recasting it
      into a form that suited their own needs, both
      practical and ideological. While the book can be
      read as a history of Ottoman medals and
      decorations, it also constitutes a useful
      catalogue thanks to real-size reproductions of all
      the items examined and detailed captions
      describing them.


      The history of Ottoman medals and decorations
      dates back to the beginning of the 19th century.
      In the classical Ottoman system, caftans or robes
      of honor known as 'hil'at', or of opulent jewels,
      known as 'celenk's or bejeweled aigrettes. The
      story of Ottoman medals and decorations begins in
      1798 when the English Admiral, Lord Nelson, earned
      the appreciation of the Ottomans by defeating the
      French, who English invention and design,

      Eldem points out that English sources from the
      outset regarded contrast, considered it a piece of
      honorific jewelry awarded as a gift. Nonetheless,
      the new system of rewards gradually began to
      supersede the existing system during the
      westernization movement, one of the most important
      processes undergone by the empire during the
      course of the 19th century. Far more than a pale
      copy of their original western models, however,
      the rewards took on a unique style as adapted by
      the Ottomans.


      The first order to be conferred on a local notable
      was given during the reign of Mahmud II. The
      Portrait of the Padishah, the sole surviving
      example of which is found in Topkapi Palace today,
      was the highest honor bestowed during the period.
      Also observed in this period are decorations of
      rank, which, as Eldem points out, served the same
      function as modern epaulettes.

      The first examples of decorations in the sense we
      understand them today began to appear in the 1840s
      as the close correlation between rank and insignia
      began to break down. During the Crimean War
      especially, such matters assumed increasing
      importance, and the Ottoman Empire began to make
      frequent use of medals and decorations for
      political and diplomatic purposes. Indeed such
      decorations came to perform a virtual 'public
      relations' function. The Ottomans' first order by
      European standards is the Mecidi order, which was
      issued during the reign of Sultan Abdulmecid. The
      first two classes of this five-class order, which
      was created by decree in 1852, consisted of a
      breast star which was pinned to the chest and a
      badge hung round the neck. Medals set with
      precious stones were given only in very special
      circumstances, generally to the highest ranking
      military officers and state officials or to
      members of local or foreign dynasties. The first
      sultan to accept a foreign order was Sultan
      Abdulmecid, although he never wore it. The reign
      of Sultan Abdulmecid was a period when medals and
      decorations were conferred with great frequency on
      officers and soldiers.

      Indeed the practice reached a peak during the
      Crimean War when a large number and variety of
      medals was distributed to both Ottoman and foreign
      soldiers. It was also in this period that the
      Ottomans made the acquaintance of a new and
      different type of medal, the famous commemorative
      medals such as that in honor of the restoration of
      the Haghia Sophia.


      Sultan Abdulaziz issued an order unique unto
      himself when he ascended the throne in 1861. Edhem
      Eldem explains the significance of this
      decoration, the 'Ottoman Order' or the 'Order of
      Osman', as follows: "The choice of the name
      'Osmani' or 'Ottoman' for this order could be
      perceived as a reference either to the Ottoman
      State or to the eponymous founder of the dynasty,
      Osman Gazi. The date 699 (1299/1300) stamped on
      the reverse of the medal refers to the founding of
      the Ottoman State.

      When the colors red and green used for the Arabic
      expression that appears in place of a 'tugra'
      (imperial cipher) inside the rosette are added to
      this, it becomes readily apparent that this was
      the first decoration that attempted to establish a
      'national' identity uniting Ottomanism with
      Islam." A look at other decorations from the
      period reveals that Abdulmecid's successor Sultan
      Abdulaziz acted rather more modestly with respect
      to medals, of which he issued a relatively small


      During the long sultanate of Sultan Abdulhamid II,
      Ottoman medals and decorations reached a peak
      unseen in earlier periods. Characterizing this
      period as one of 'Use and Abuse', Eldem describes
      it as follows in his book: "While the old awards
      continued to be given, this period also gave rise
      to a number of 'firsts'. The Order of Mercy, which
      was created to be given exclusively to women, is
      one of the most fascinating examples of Ottoman
      decorations. Rapidly becoming very popular, this
      medal, which was created originally to be given to
      people who had aided victims of war or other
      disasters, came to be used as well for arbitrary
      and political purposes. The 'Medal for Education'
      for outstanding students, the Medals for Merit and
      Distinction presented to those in the service of
      the state, the Medals for Glory and Art bestowed
      mainly on performers in the fine arts, and the
      medals that were given in return, for example, for
      donations to the construction of the Hedjaz
      Railroad or to relief funds following the Istanbul
      earthquake, are among these 'firsts'. The Nisan-i
      Âli-i Imtiyaz (High Order of Distinction), which
      was deemed worthy of kings and emperors, and the
      Hanedan-i Âl-i Osman Nisani (Order of the Ottoman
      Dynasty), which was distributed only to members of
      the Ottoman and foreign dynasties, occupied a
      privileged place among them. "Abdulhamid II used
      medals and decorations consciously and
      deliberately in a policy that often led to
      arbitrary, unfair, even ridiculous consequences.
      The gradual debasement of medals and decorations
      was lampooned in verses and cartoons by
      contemporary opponents of the regime."


      The Young Turk rebellion of 1908 and the war that
      followed constituted a new turning point for
      medals and decorations. Having been regarded as a
      monopoly of the state in the Hamidian period
      especially, medals now became a dime a dozen, and
      a whole host of unofficial medals, rosettes and
      commemorative medallions appeared, reflecting
      ideological and political rhetoric and wartime
      propaganda. Postcards meanwhile became the 'medals
      of the poor' in the proliferation of promotional
      and propaganda activity during World War I. During
      the process of collapse that followed the defeat
      in October 1918, the Ottoman Empire's symbols of
      honor and reward also began to wane. Meanwhile the
      first medal of the newly founded Turkish Republic
      was the Istiklal Madalyasi or 'Independence Medal'
      awarded at the end of the War of Independence.

      Eldem describes this process as follows: "The
      Medal of Independence, which seems to have been a
      commemorative medal and not a real award,
      symbolized the abandonment of more than a century
      of Ottoman practice with orders, medals, and

      The reason behind this radical change was the
      close association made between decorations and the
      ancien regime, to the point that a number of
      members of the Assembly had even opposed the
      creation of the Medal of Independence, [which was]
      perceived as a concession made to continuity with
      an Ottoman practice. The Turkish Republic would
      therefore be conceived as a medal- and order-free
      society." The medals and decorations that were
      'discovered', adopted, and gradually put to
      extensive use by the Ottomans as a way of honoring
      and rewarding people survive today not only as
      important documents bearing witness to the history
      of the empire from the end of the 18th century to
      the collapse after World War I, but also as a
      reflection of the visual richness that
      characterizes their designs.

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