The enduring relationship between two far-flung parts of the Islamic world, Southeast Asia and the Ottoman Empire, has long attracted the attention of scholars. The majority of interest has come from specialists in Southeast Asia, aware how Ottoman influences from the sixteenth century onwards affected both the political and cultural history of the region (e.g. Reid 1967, 1969a; for more recent surveys in Turkish and Malay respectively see Göksoy 2004, Rozali 2016). From the time of the Ottoman alliance with the Aceh sultanate against the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, the Ottoman empire was perceived as a potential source of aid, and indeed political legitimacy, for as the documents published in the present volume indicate, numerous Southeast Asian rulers in the nineteenth century sought to have themselves recognised as Ottoman vassals in the hope of warding off colonial encroachment. At the same time, Ottoman influences are attested in intellectual, textual and cultural practices across premodern Muslim Southeast Asia (see e.g. Gallop 2004, Akbar 2015, Peacock and Gallop 2015, Braginsky 2015a, 2015b). However, research on the field has remained limited owing to the fact that the bulk of relevant documents are in Ottoman Turkish, a language unfamiliar to most scholars of Southeast Asia, and are held in Istanbul.

These records, then, with individual exceptions, have not been widely used by scholars. This is quite understandable when we consider the linguistic barriers which render the Ottoman archives inaccessible to non-experts including the Turks themselves. It is probably at least partly due to underestimation of the wealth of Ottoman sources with regard to Southeast Asian history that scholars in the field did not venture to overcome the barrier and to explore Ottoman sources for the study of their particular topics. In any case it is tempting to say that due to this shortcoming, the historiography on the interactions between Southeast Asia and Europe ended up with a picture of interactions between two furthermost landmasses with a quite a big hole in between, where the Ottoman Empire was located. Meanwhile, although a few Ottomanists have recently evinced some interest in the empire’s relations with Southeast Asia (e.g. Casale 2005), research remains in its infancy, and is also hampered by the fact that while the overwhelming bulk of the Istanbul documents are indeed in Turkish, some of the most important ones held in the Ottoman archives are in Arabic or Southeast Asian languages – most prominently Malay, but there are also individual specimens in Tausug, Thai and Burmese which are in the main letters dispatched to Istanbul by Southeast Asian rulers.

It therefore became clear that the full potential of the Istanbul archives could only by realised through a research project that made use of expertise in both Ottoman and Southeast Asian studies. The main aim of this volume is to make the most crucial archival material from the Ottoman archives available to a wider public including specialists on Southeast Asian studies through providing an edition or facsimile and English translation of the texts. Even a number of the highest level contacts between the Ottoman Empire and Southeast Asian countries seem to have hitherto remained unnoticed. Various letters from the rulers of the region to the Ottoman sultan which are published in this volume come to light for the first time: the letter of Ahmad Tajuddin Halim Shah, Sultan of Kedah, requesting aid from the Ottoman Government against the Siamese invasion around 1824, and a letter of the Burmese Prime Minister to the Grand Vizier as well as three Siamese royal visits to Istanbul are only a few examples. Nevertheless the prime contribution of this volume to the field goes beyond these sporadic discoveries and lies mainly with the fact that it illuminates the Ottoman perspective on world events. If of less significance from the point of view of the rarity of form, most of the remaining documents, typical products of the Ottoman bureaucracy, are of interest for the insights they give into the ways in which Ottoman officials tried to grapple with their relationship of a distant part of the Islamic world about which, at least at times, they knew very little, but which played an increasingly important part in promoting the legitimacy of the Ottoman dynasty as Caliphs (e.g. Kadı 2015). They also indicate very clearly the truly global character of both international relations and the Ottoman role in them during the 19th century and early 20th century. To take a couple of random but illustrative examples, in document 9.25, we find the Ottoman ambassador in St Petersburg lobbying the Russian Foreign Minister Sazonov to intervene with the Dutch authorities over the status of Ottoman subjects in the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia), most of whom were Hadramis, originating from Yemen, while in document 2.7.8, we find the ruler of Aceh attempting in 1873 to persuade the Ottoman sultan to afford the Acehnese the same aid the Ottomans had sent to Kashgar in Chinese Central Asia, under the rule of a Muslim rebel, Yaqub Khan. One of the most valuable insights provided by the present volume is into the globalised character of this world, and the very clear realisation of all players that actions in one single part of it could have vast consequences far away.

The documents published in this volume date from the 16th, 19th and early 20th centuries, and are presently housed, with two exceptions, in the Ottoman Section of the Turkish Presidential Archives in Istanbul (Cumhurbaşkanlığı Devlet Arşivleri Başkanlığı).1 These dates are not set by the editors but rather by the availability of official archival documents, which in turn reflects the presence or absence of any official contacts between the Ottoman Empire and Southeast Asia during the given period. Thus the documentation in the Ottoman Archives pertaining to Southeast Asia remains limited to the contacts during the 16th century Ottoman expeditions to combat Portuguese activities in the region and the 19th and early 20th century contacts of various nature. While relations between the two regions were maintained through, for example, economic ties in the intervening period (e.g. Peacock 2015), these are not documented in the official records which concern only matters which came in some form to the attention of the imperial government. Thus the Ottoman archival material cannot be claimed to be the sole source for understanding Ottoman-Southeast Asian relations, but it does constitute the single most important one.

The selection of the documents started with locating the relevant archival material at the Ottoman Archives. For this purpose the entire digitalized catalogues were searched for keywords which included especially various spellings of place names in Southeast Asia. These searches rendered hundreds of entries leading to thousands of documents in various collections of the Ottoman Archives. Beyond the digitalized catalogues, the collections with the potential of containing relevant material but lacking digitalized catalogues such as Nâme-i Hümâyûn defterleri and mühimme defterleri as well as the records of the Foreign Ministry which are classified in files (dosya envanter sistemi) and lack therefore digital catalogues (such as HR.MTV., HR.H. and HR.H., catalogue numbers 974, 975 and 1097 respectively) were searched for relevant material.

After the documents were located, copies were obtained based on a preliminary selection. At this stage, only the documents that contained excessively repetitive information were excluded. Following this, copies of more than ten thousand documents were classified according to their subjects. This classification has then determined the main chapters of this volume. The decisions on whether to include or exclude a particular document was made per chapter based on the importance, originality etc. of each document. This means that in certain chapters such as “Documents on 16th Century Ottoman Contacts with Aceh” and “Royal Correspondence and Appeals for Help” most, if not the entire material is presented here while in other chapters only more important samples were included while excluding mainly repetitive material.

After completing the selection procedure, the Ottoman Turkish documents were handed over to Rıfat Günalan for transcription. The bulk of this material was then translated to English by İsmail Hakkı Kadı. The Arabic documents were translated by Andrew Peacock. A number of Turkish documents were also translated by Michael Talbot, whom we also thank for his editorial contributions. Documents in other languages were translated and commented upon by scholars with expertise in these languages: Malay documents by Annabel Teh Gallop, a Tausug document by Kawashima Midori, a Burmese document by Patricia Herbert and a Thai letter by Jana Igunma. A few documents in English and French are included in their original languages.

As this volume is intended primarily as a sourcebook for scholars and historians, the documents themselves are not subjected to detailed analysis, although brief contextual notes and explanations have been added at the beginning of each chapter. Some documents are discussed in more detail in contributions in Peacock and Gallop 2015, and other relevant publications of which we are aware are noted where appropriate. An exception, however, has been made for the important Southeast Asian letters from the Istanbul archives, which, owing to their rarity and importance have been supplied with detailed commentaries on both their formal features and historical context. The principal stylistic features of both the Ottoman and Southeast Asian diplomatic documents are also discussed in the introduction.


Formerly known as the BOA (Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi). The two exceptions are Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi Arşivi E-8009 (document 1.1), and the Brunei letter (document 2.15). Although the Topkapı archive was closed for most of the duration of the research for the present publication, preliminary researches on its reopening have not indicated that it holds any substantial body of material relating to Southeast Asia. However, it may repay further research, and a recent publication (Roemer and Vatin 2015) has shown how Ottoman material held in other archives may also provide evidence. However, the Ottoman section of Turkish Presidential Archives on which the present volume is based constitutes by far the largest single source of Ottoman archival materials.