The Sunni Caliph Defends the Shiʿi Shah: The Ottoman Universal Caliphate in the Persian Turmoil of the 1720s

Saçmalı M. H.

Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association, vol.8, no.2, pp.281-285, 2021 (Peer-Reviewed Journal)

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 8 Issue: 2
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Journal Name: Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association
  • Journal Indexes: Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.281-285


On 8 October 1722, the Safavid Empire collapsed after a long life of more than 220 years. Over the next twenty-five years, Iran was ruled almost incessantly by Sunnis. According to commonplace assumptions regarding confessional rivalry, the establishment of Sunnism in Iran should have created a Pax-Sunnica in the broader Eurasian region. Seemingly paradoxically, however, the opposite occurred, and this twenty-five-year period witnessed major military confrontations between the Sunni states. The Ottomans were actively involved in these wars and they supported Shiʿi Safavid princes against Sunni powers in all of these struggles.

Why did the Porte decide to side with the Shiʿi Safavids against Sunni Afghans during this period? This article seeks an answer to this question by focusing on the political and military developments of the 1720s. I argue that the Ottoman political claim to the universal Sunni caliphate, which secured the Ottoman dynasty’s legitimacy in their vast domains, paradoxically led them to adopt anti-Sunni policies in Persia. Furthermore, my study also challenges extant scholarship on the Ottoman caliphate, which generally assumes that the sultans used the title of caliph in a political sense exclusively in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.