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Turkey: The Sixteen Great Turkish Empires

Part 1. Background

Last modified: 2016-10-20 by ivan sache
Keywords: turkish empires (the sixteen great) |
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Status and use of the flags of the Sixteen Great Turkish Empires

The flags of the Sixteen Great Tukish Empires (16 büyük Türk imparatorluğunu) are a significant component of the Turkish official iconography. To the best of our knowledge, the historical existence of most of these flags is not proven and we are not aware of their origin and designer.

Since the mid-1920s, the Presidential seal has featured the sun, symbolizing the Republic of Turkey, as well as 16 five-pointed stars.
The stars were attributed in the official narrative of Turkey to "the Sixteen Great Turkish Empires" in 1969. Previously, it was accepted that they were symbols for the 16 Turkish beyliks, the principalities that emerged in Anatolia between the 13th-15th centuries, after the fall of the Seljuks.
[Hürriyet Daily News, 12 January 2015]

Ivan Sache, 23 January 2016

Postage stamps featuring the flags

The flags of the Sixteen Great Turkish Empires are represented on a series of postage stamps (1984), together with the bust of the respective ruler (images, images).

10 lira: The Great Hun Empire 10 lira: The Göktürk Empire 10 lira: The Karahan 10 lira: The Golden Horde
20 lira: The Western Hun Empire 20 lira: The Avar Empire 20 lira: The Gazneli 20 lira: The Great Timur Empire
50 lira: The European Hun Empire 70 lira: The Hazar Empire 100 lira: The Great Seljuk Empire 50 lira: The Babür Empire
70 lira: The White Hun Empire 100 lira: The Uyghur State 120 lira: The Harzemshah 200 lira: The Ottoman Empire

Ivan Sache, 23 January 2016

Outdoors display of the flags

The flags o the Sixteen Great Empires have been used in official contexts at least since 2010. They are hoisted in municipal parks or on buildings located in the towns of:
- Manisa (photo, January 2010);
- Nevşehir (photo, April 2010);
- Uzunlu, Boğazlıyan (photo, June 2010);
- Nazilli (photo, October 2011);
- Yazıhüyük, Derinkuyu (photo, photo, 2011);
- Düzce (photo, 22 January 2015);
- Turgutlu (photo, photo, May 2015);
- Konya (photo, undated).

Ivan Sache, 23 January 2016

Use of the flags in official parades

The flags of the Sixteen Great Turkish Empires made a noted official appearance on 15 January 2015, during the official reception of lham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey, in the brand new - and controversial - presidential palace in Ankara. The guest was saluted by 16 warriors representing the Sixteen Great Turkish Empires, each of them dressed in period costume and bearing the (alleged) flag. According to Hürriyet Daily News, the warriors "prompted domestic and global admiration along with a healthy dose of derision. It was then announced that the creative touch was adopted following a proposal from the Turkish military, and that the actors would attend all future official ceremonies."
[Hürriyet Daily News, 15 January 2015; Sunday's Zaman, 15 January 2015; Radikal, 16 January 2015]

This was indeed the second appearance of the warriors since the beginning of the year. Three days before, on 12 January 2015, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, was welcomed with a similar protocol ... except that the soldier's lances did not bear any flag.
The new ceremonial was soon bashed on social networks and media. Reporting the event, the Guardian noticed that "some of the costumes did not look entirely convincing and were rather too shiny to be deemed truly historic" and quoted a prominent Turkish journalist, Kadri Gursel, who called the event "Ottoman circus in the palace". The Guardian concluded that "Erdoğan has also increasingly harked back to Turkish history well before the foundation of modern Turkey in 1923, sparking accusations he wants to undermine its modern and secular foundations."
[The Guardian, 12 January 2015; AFP, 12 January 2015; Bloomberg News, 12 January 2015; Dawn, 23 January 2015, including a debunking of the "Sixteen Great Turkish Empires"]

This was however, not the first appearance of the flags during an official visit. On 16 April 2014, Andris Berzins, President of Latvia, was welcomed by Abdullah Gül, then President of Turkey, and a cavalry escort, which included 16 riders bearing the flags of the Sixteen Great Turkish Empires. The event seems to have remained quite unnoticed - probably because the costumes were less "shiny", and, first of all, because the political significance of the visit was lesser.
[Enson Haber, 16 April 2014; On Alti Yildiz, 16 April 2014]

Ivan Sache, 23 January 2016

Desk display

A desk display of the flags of the Sixteen Great Turkish Empires (15 cm x 22.5 cm), plus the Turkish national flag, is offered for sale by different flagmakers (Ulusal Bayrak Ltd., As Bayrak, Bayrakçı Reklamcılık Tekstil Ltd., Bayrak Ankara).

Ivan Sache, 23 January 2016