Currently, an icy wind is blowing between Paris and Ankara. France and Turkey have not only been close friends for decades. Already in the 16th century Sultan Suleiman helped the French monarch.
French President Emmanual Macron’s verbal attacks against Turkey are straining bilateral relations between the two states. Despite Macron’s relentless tirades against Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, there is a general perception in Ankara’s political circles that only Macron has a problem with Turkey-not the French people.
The sentiments are rooted in a historical alliance between the Ottoman Empire and the French monarchy. The relations date back to the 16th century when Suleiman the Magnificent entered the battle of Mohács in 1526. The Ottomans defeated the Hungarian Empire, which was the strongest ally of the Habsburg monarchs of Austria. But what does France have to do with it?
How Sultan Suleiman helped the French monarchy
One year before the battle, the mother of the French monarch wrote a letter to the Ottoman Sultan. In it, historians claim that Louise of Savoy had asked Sultan Suleiman to free her son Francis I from a Habsburg prison.
As the Habsburgs’ most important ally, the Hungarian Empire suffered a terrifying defeat at the hands of the Ottomans. The Battle of Mohács marked the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty. Charles V, King of the Habsburgs, felt the pressure to come to the negotiating table and release Francis I.
The event laid a decisive foundation stone for the Franco-Ottoman alliance, which lasted for several centuries. To form an alliance with a Muslim ruler was a controversial step for a Christian king. But it helped Francis I to ensure the continued existence of his empire.
“France asked the Ottoman Empire for help against the Habsburgs at every single opportunity. The country also benefited from the support of the Ottoman Empire as it fought against Spanish dominance. This gave the Ottomans the chance to intervene in European politics – and they did,” explains Prof. Feridun Mustafa Emecen, historian at Istanbul 29-Mayıs University.
According to Emecen, the Habsburgs surrounded the French Empire and were on the verge of becoming a major threat to French existence. If the Ottomans had not been in Central Europe with the Battle of Mohács, France would have come under the hegemony of the Habsburgs.
The French Empire’s first cry for help also marked the beginning of the French-Ottoman friendship. In 1528, King Francis I of France again asked Suleiman the Magnificent for help. This is explained by Prof. Erhan Afyoncu, Turkish historian and rector of the National Defense University, in an article published by “Sabah”. The Habsburg Charles V had harassed the French king, who without the protection of the Ottomans felt vulnerable against his Austrian enemy.
“Turks and Frenchmen are old friends”, comments Mesut Hakkı Caşın, an expert in political history and professor at Yeditepe University in Istanbul, in conversation with TRT World. Macron’s anti-Turkish rhetoric lacks any historical knowledge of the relationship between the two countries, he said.
Historically, the alliance was almost always a cornerstone of Turkish-French friendship during the Cold War. Even if there were some ups and downs in history.
As far as the survival of the French monarchy in the 16th century is concerned, there is a broad consensus: without the Ottomans, the French monarchy would have collapsed under the power of the Habsburgs.