By Serpil Kadirlar
Sultan Selim II (Ottoman Turkish: سليم ثانى Selīm-i sānī), affectionately known as ‘Sarı Selim’, was born on the 28th May 1524 in İstanbul. He was the 11th Ottoman sultan and 90th Islamic caliphate. He was the eldest son of Süleyman the Magnificent and Hürrem Sultan. Upon the death of his father, he succeeded the throne and ruled between the years 1566-1574. Soon afterwards, the Sultan took his first expedition to the West. The country expanded its borders into Central Europe. He fought with Tatars, Uzbeks, Circassians and Georgians and further expanded eastwards, conquering Basra, Baghdad, Tunisia and Cyprus, who submitted to Ottoman rule unconditionally and were in fact welcomed in Cyprus where the inhabitants had been subjected to a brutal Catholic rule under the Venetians who denied the Orthodox community the right to possess title deeds to homes, land and Christian Orthodox Churches were prohibited. Orthodox Churches in Cyprus were erected under the rule and protection of the Ottomans who ordered freedom to practice religion without fear of persecution, although a “Ceza” tax was imposed onto non- Muslims in order to encourage people towards Islam. However, Contrary to westernised versions of history which states that the Ottomans “spread Islam by the sword”, and labelled Turks as “barbarians”, conversion by force through violence and bloodshed – although a common method of persuasion used by Catholics and Knights Templars worldwide- was not permitted within the Ottoman Empire. Not only was this against the rule of Islam itself, but evidence to support the contrary is prevalent in historical documents which can be found in archives and museums all over Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Documents and diaries written by people, from professors to doctors to regular citizens- which speak of the fair hand of ottoman rule as well of growth, development and the protection provided by the Ottomans. Notable events in History prove that the Ottomans were far from brutal (away from the battlefield) and welcomed the freedom of religion- such as the actions of Sultan Bayezid II- who sent out the entire Ottoman Navy under the command of admiral Kemal Reis to Spain to rescue the Jews who had been expelled from the new Catholic State of Spain during the brutal Spanish inquisition. While ensuring their safe evacuation into Ottoman lands, Sultan Bayezid sent out proclamations throughout the empire that the refugees were to be welcomed.
The conquest of Cyprus was by far one of the most significant throughout the career of Sultan Selim II.
Sultan Selim II founded the Vakıf foundation with the conquest of Cyprus in 1571. The Vakıf is an Islamic organisation which initially accumulated land which was registered as “evkaf”. These lands (and later properties built on Evkaf land) were appropriated for, or donated by, a document called vakfieh to charitable uses including social services, humanitarian aid and to the service of God. Nobody of any stature was permitted with the right to sell property designated as Vakıf property.
The Evkaf law remains an internationally recognised and legitimate law on the Island. Evkaf properties remaining today can be rented for ten years, but a longer period requires the approval of Parliament. Millions of acres of Evkaf land was expropriated by British Colonial administration between 1886-1959 and was granted (by British administration) to the Orthodox Church administration on the Island. The Orthodox Church administrators- which had grown and survived under the care of the Ottomans- dissected the land granted by the British and distributed it among Greek refugees who had made their way into Cyprus in huge numbers, escaping the devastation of the World Wars and then internal conflicts Within Greece between the 1940’s and 1950’s. When The final Monarchy of Greece was overthrown, the agreement between King Constantine and the British Colonial Administration at the time- which promised the return of refugees to Greece after the conflicts had ended- became a forgotten agreement. The Evkaf land was granted as permanent residence and the refugees granted Cypriot Citizenship. The documents relating to this can be found in the British Archives in Kew Gardens, London.
Today, the Vakıf foundation is still very active in Cyprus; Maintaining Ottoman cultural heritage, supporting and providing social services, providing aid for struggling families while supporting other charitable causes in North Cyprus including animal charities and animal rehabilitation centres.
Thus, Millions of acres of Evkaf land remains in the Republic of Cyprus, although the Vakıf has no access to these lands in order to continue and ensure their use for charitable and humanitarian purposes.
Founded with a sense of philanthropy and solidarity and having survived for almost 450 years, the Vakıf Foundation is one of the oldest charitable foundations in the world. Along with the origin of the Turkish Cypriot people, who possess unique culture, character, accents and dialect, the Vakıf is one of many of the legacies of Sultan Selim II, enjoyed by the people of Cyprus centuries after his death on the 15 December 1574.
Sources: northcyprushistory, Kew Gardens Archives, Kibris Vakıflar İdaresi