SERVICE IN THE BALKANS, AND IN THE ‘SPECIAL ORGANIZATION’ (PART 2)
Return to Van -1913
Sometime previously to this Bediuzzaman had returned to Van, for it was at that time that he laid the foundations for the Medresetu’z-Zehra. His old patron and friend Tahir Pasa, the Governor of Van, was present at the ceremony, and both he and Bediuzzaman gave speeches. The occasion was marked by further celebrations and a banquet.
During his researches in the Archives of the Prime Minister’s Office in Istanbul, Necmeddin Sahiner has unearthed twenty or so documents concerning this matter, most of which bear the seal and signature of Tahsin Bey, the Governor of Van, and are addressed to the Palace and Sultan Resad. N. Sahiner writes that Sultan Resad was well-informed of the progress of the project. In the letter he quotes, dated 4 Haziran 1329 (17 June 1913), the Governor writes to the Grand Vizier’s Office that all the ulema, notables, and tribal chiefs of the area were requesting the speedy payment of sufficient money “from the Imperial pocked’ – only a small amount had been paid up to that time due to the financial straits of the Government – to begin the construction of an Islamic university for eighty students in Van, the plans and preliminaries of which had already been completed. It was hoped the running costs would be met by the Imperial Estates. He writes it would be an important point of support for the continued existence of Islam and the Ottomans [in the area] the ignorance of the Kurdish people. It would strengthen feeling for Islam and remove every sort of misunderstanding, and would be most beneficial and effective.
While in Van, Bediuzzaman spent much of his time teaching his students in his madrasa, the Horhor, which took its onomatopoeic name from the spring that rose at its side. A young visitor to the medrese described it as follows: “There was a green-covered table in Bediuzzaman’s madrasa in Horhor on which he had written out in thumb-tacks the Hadith: `Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.’ He himself taught the students when they had finished studying. His students were all selected. He taught about twenty-five of them. He was very fond of me and never called me by my name; he used to call me `nephew’. Before the War he used to stay in Nursin and Husrev Pasha Mosques…”
It was also during this visit to the East that what was known as the Bitlis Incident occurred, when, in July 1913, rebelling against the irreligious behavior of some of the military commanders of the Government, Sheikh Selim of Hizan occupied the town for a week. The Sheikh had first approached Bediuzzaman seeking his support. But as on numerous occasions including the much larger Sheikh Said revolt in 1925, Bediuzzaman declined, refusing to draw his sword against fellow Muslims. He told the Seyh:
“Those bad things and that irreligious behavior is peculiar to commanders like those. The Army is not responsible for them. There are perhaps a hundred thousand saints in the Ottoman Army; I will not draw my sword against it. I will not join you.” He continued: “Those people left me, drew their swords, and the futile Bitlis Incident occurred. A short time, later, the First World War broke out, and the Army took part in it in the name of religion, it undertook the Holy War. A hundred thousand martyrs from the Army attained the rank of sainthood, and confirming what I had said, signed their diplomas of sainthood with their blood…”
· Outbreak of the First World War and the Proclamation of Holy War
It seems likely that the outbreak of War in November 1914 saw Bediuzzaman back in Istanbul. According to Esref Kuscubasi, initially Bediuzzaman thought the Ottomans should remain neutral, “but on the War breaking out, he took up arms and hastened to the front.”
Three days after the Ottomans, together with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had declared war on the Triple Entente, that is, Britain, France, and Russia, they proclaimed it a Holy War. It is also interesting to note the terms in which the British Prime Minister of the time, Lloyd George, saw the war with the Ottomans. Cemal Kutay quotes him as saying: “…the Crusaders have begun their Crusade and shall continue until they reach their aim and goal: we shall bring down the Crescent!…”