What Did the Crimean Khan Think? Sait Ocakli Investigates

Daniel Schultz, Tatar envoy to Poland Dedesh Agha and his sons and retinue (Hermitage Museum)On Monday, April 10, Sait Ocakli will present his recent research at HURI's Seminar in Ukrainian Studies. His talk, entitled "Crimean Khan Mehmed Giray IV’S Involvement in the Polish-Muscovite Struggle over Ukraine (1654-1666)," takes place from 4:15 to 6:00 pm in CGIS South Room S-050.

Ocakli is currently a Eugene and Daymel Shklar Research Fellow at HURI. His talk offers a unique look at how the Crimean Khan viewed Eastern European affairs in the 17th century. "Studies on Eastern European diplomatic history tend to treat the Crimean Khanate on the sidelines," he said. "I aspire to bring the Crimean Khanate into the center of my analysis." 

We asked Ocakli a few questions about his research. Please join us on April 10 to hear the rest of the story; all are welcome to attend the seminar.

HURI: What can we expect at your seminar talk?

Ocakli: I will discuss how Crimean Khan Mehmed Giray responded to the changing balance of power in favor of Muscovy in Eastern Europe in the middle of the seventeenth century.

Broadly speaking, with the Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1654, the Ukrainian Cossacks agreed to shift their allegiance from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to Muscovy. However, as the Ukrainian Cossacks continued to be in search of alternative alliances after 1654, the Treaty of Pereyaslav cannot be considered an event that sealed the commitment of the Ukrainian Cossacks to Muscovite authority. Nonetheless, that treaty led Moscow to enter the scene as an actor struggling against Warsaw over Ukraine.

In this context, my talk will explore how the Crimean Khanate viewed Muscovy’s entry into the scene in 1654 and how Mehmed Giray and his associates played role in the Muscovite-Polish struggle over Ukraine.

HURI:  How does the topic of your talk fit into the research you are doing as a Shklar Fellow at HURI?

Ocakli: My talk will be an assessment of the research I have been conducting for two months at HURI. I have read major works on the Muscovite-Polish struggle over Ukraine and tried to scrutinize the diplomatic correspondence of the Crimean Khanate originating in the circle of Mehmed Giray, and other materials including chronicles. I am still in the early stages of my research. Therefore, the talk will be an opportunity to receive feedback from the audience.

HURI: Why did Mehmed Giray have two reigns?

Ocakli: When the reigning khan, Bahadir Giray, died in 1641, two of his brothers, namely Islam Giray and Mehmed Giray, fell into a struggle over succession with one another. Mehmed Giray secured Ottoman support and then ascended to the throne. Thus, Mehmed Giray started his first reign. However, three years later Islam Giray managed to gain Ottoman favor and the Ottoman Porte replaced Mehmed Giray with Islam Giray. After reigning for a decade, Islam Giray died in 1654. Then, upon the request of the dignitaries of the Crimean Khanate, the Ottoman Porte sent Mehmed Giray to start his second reign, which lasted until 1666.

HURI: What initially drew you to study the Crimean Khanate and Ukrainian Cossacks?

Ocakli: My field of interest is diplomatic and military history of Eastern Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Being situated on the northernmost frontiers of the Islamic world, the Crimean Khanate has a special place among Muslim polities. It is the longest-lasting successor of the Golden Horde Empire, combining the political and socioeconomic traditions of both nomadic steppe and Islamic civilizations.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there was also a lively interaction between different groups across the steppes from the Carpathians to the Caspian. While the form of that interaction could be either peaceful or hostile, the steppe region hosted many diverse groups of people, such as the Crimean Tatars, Nogays, Ukrainian Cossacks, Poles, Don Cossacks, Muscovites and Kalmyks. And I was attracted by such diversity.

HURI: Is there one particular fact or insight you’ve encountered that you find especially interesting? 

Ocakli: On the basis of the diplomatic correspondence of Mehmed Giray and his associates with foreign rulers, I see how the Crimean Khanate aspired to play an active role in Eastern European affairs and even attempted to act as a mediator in domestic affairs of foreign countries. As I said earlier, I am in the early stages of my research. I need to do more research in order to reveal new and interesting information about the involvement of the Crimean Khanate in the Muscovite-Polish struggle over Ukraine between 1654 and 1666.

Sait Ocakli100Sait Ocakli received his PhD degree in 2017 from the University of Toronto with a dissertation titled “The Relations of the Crimean Khanate with the Ukrainian Cossacks, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Muscovy during the Reign of Khan Islam Giray III (1644-1654).” His research interests include diplomatic and military history of Eastern Europe (from mid-15th to late 17th century), military and political organization of steppe peoples (the Golden Horde Empire, the Khanates of Crimea, Kazan and Astrakhan, and the Noghays). He has taught at Bilkent University and Ahmet Yesevi International Turkish-Kazakh University.

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