Although cold winds are blowing between Paris and Ankara, the two capitals have shared friendly ties not only for decades, but for several centuries.
French President Emmanual Macron's war of words with Turkey has put a major strain on the bi-lateral ties between Ankara and Paris. Despite Macron's relentless tirades against Turkey and its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the common view within Ankara's policy circles is that "it is just Macron who has problems with Turkey," not the French public.
The sentiment is rooted in a historic alliance between Turkey's predecessor the Ottoman Empire and the French monarchy, dating back to the 16th century when Suleiman the Magnificent entered into the Mohacs war in 1526, defeating the Hungarian empire, which were the strongest allies of the Habsburg monarchy of Austria.
How did Sultan Suleiman's decision to fight the Hungarian Empire help the French monarchy of the time?
Historians say that a year before the war, Louise of Savoy, mother to the French monarch, Francis I, wrote a letter to the sultan, seeking his help in getting her son out of a Habsburg prison.
As the foremost ally of the Habsburgs, the Hungarian Empire faced a chilling defeat at the hands of the Ottomans, marking the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty. Charles V, the king of the Habsburgs, felt the pressure to come to the negotiating table and release Francis I.
The event laid a strong foundation for the Franco-Ottoman alliance, which survived for several centuries. Forming an alliance with a Muslim emperor was a controversial move for a Christrian king but it helped Francis I increase the longevity of his empire.
“France asked for help from the Ottoman Empire on every single occasion against the Habsburgs. Also the country benefited from the Ottoman Empire’s support when it struggled against Spanish dominance. Thus, the Ottomans had a chance to intervene in the European politics and they did it,” said Professor Feridun Mustafa Emecen, an Ottoman Empire Historian at Istanbul 29 Mayis University.
Speaking to TRT World, Ecemen said the Habsburgs had encircled the French empire and were close to becoming a major threat to the French identity. If the Ottomans had not entered central Europe during the Mohacs war, France would have come under the hegemony of the Habsburgs, Ecemen added.
In an article published by Sabah, Professor Erhan Afyoncu, a Turkish historian and rector of the National Defence University, said that after the first call for help from the French Empire marking the beginning of the Franco-Ottoman ties, Francis I again turned to Suleiman the Magnificent for help in 1528. Charles V still harassed the French king, who felt vulnerable to his Austrian foe in the absence of Ottoman support.
Talking to TRT World, Political historian Mesut Hakki Casin, who is a professor at Istanbul Yeditepe University, argued that "Turkish and French people are old friends" and Macron's anti-Turkish rhetoric is bereft of historic knowledge about how the two countries have seen each other.
From a historical perspective, crucial alliances between French monarchs and Ottoman Turkey at different times in history, which eventually transitioned in the Cold War alliance between Paris and Ankara, have almost always been a cornerstone of Turkish-France relations, although there have been ups and downs in some phases of history.
The broad historic consensus on the survival of the 16th century French monarchy, however, is that without the Ottoman support, it would have crumbled under the weight of the Habsburgs, which lasted until 1918.
The turning point
During his reign, Suleiman the Magnificent kept the Habsburgs at bay. In the battle of Buda, the western part of modern day Hungarian capital Budapest, the Austrians faced a major defeat at the hands of the Ottomans, allowing the Muslim ruler to penetrate deep in central Europe. After defeating the Austrian empire, Suleiman's next target was Vienna. In 1529, the Ottoman Sultan laid the famous Siege of Vienna.
Over a decade later, the Ottomans again came to Francis I's rescue in 1543. Suleiman sent its Navy vessels under the command of legendary seaman Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa. Some historians say that Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa commanded such respect among his rivals, that Charles V offered him to take over his Navy as the admiral-in-chief, an offer Pasa put down curtly. Charles V tried to entice the Ottoman sea admiral with the kingship of Spain's territories in North Africa, but he failed in his endeavours to make Pasa switch sides.
When Pasa died in 1546, with Francis I passing away a year later, the French empire again felt nervous amid the looming threat from the Habsburgs, but Suleiman continued supporting Francis I's successor Henry II and other monarchs who took over the reigns of the empire in the following decades.
“Following the death of Francis I, in the 1550s, Ottoman Empire and France had a common military campaign against Spain in which even France left one of its harbours to the Ottoman Navy. France even benefited from the power of Ottoman navy against Spain,” Ecemen told TRT World.
Throughout the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire not only helped France moniteraily but kept sending its army and Navy to help them repel the attacks of the Habsburg Empire. According to Afyoncu, in 1533, Suleiman the Magnificent sent 100,000 gold coins to Francis I. With that money, the French king forged strategic alliances with English and German princes.
French King Henry II always appreciated the Ottoman support, praising Suleiman the Magnificent with deep respect. He called the sultan a 'venerable friend, the magnificent king of Muslims, an unbeaten Emperor.'
The alliance was exceptional, the first non-ideological one between a Christian and Muslim state, which lasted intermittently for more than two and a half centuries, until the Napoleonic campaign surfaced in Ottoman Egypt in 1798–1801.
According to Afyoncu, the Franco-Ottoman alliance was a symbol of the Ottoman mercy upon a deeply troubled French king — a historic reality which French President Macron seems to be unaware of in light of his insensitive remarks against Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire.
As France has presently dragged itself in the bi-lateral maritime dispute between Turkey and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean by supporting Athens, Casin said the military threat posed by Macron's aggressive posturing against Turkey, its NATO ally, may prove disastrous for the alliance. "The US and Germany are aware of the issue and they should not allow France to destroy NATO," he said.
Casin said the French people and policymakers should not allow Macron to sever centuries-old ties between France and Turkey and instead of selling arms to Greece, it should work toward strengthening NATO's unified vision.