Turkish Connection with Mauritius and the Indian Ocean

Before coming to the subject relating to the history of the Mauritius-Turkey connections, it is important to know that the Indian Ocean region had been one of the major concerns of the Ottoman rulers since the 16th century.  The Ottoman Empire was motivated by three reasons to mark its naval presence in the remote Indian Ocean despite the fact that there was no direct shipping route connecting the Mediterranean sea with the Indian Ocean – a physical handicap which perdurated until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.  In the first instance, the Ottomans wanted to recuperate the major part of the spice trade route which had fallen in the Portuguese hands after the discovery of India by Vasco da Gama in 1498.  Secondly, the Ottomans, as the guardian of the Holy places of Mecca and Medina, took it as a sacred duty to ensure the security of these cities from foreign invasion and keep the Portuguese forces away from the Red Sea and Jeddah.  Thirdly, it was the responsibility of the Ottoman Navy to ensure the safety of ships transporting the Hajees (pilgrims) who were frequently attacked by Anglo-American pirates.  The Ottman Sultan, Selim I, had entrusted a special mission upon the famous navigator, Piri Reis (1465-1552) to spearhead several Ottoman expeditions in the Indian Ocean with a view to compiling data, intelligence and drawing charts and maps of the region.  After the demise of Sultan Salim in 1520, his successors continued with a sustained interest to pursue their aims in the Indian Ocean, but with no design to colonise any of the islands.
The Ottoman interest for Consular presence in the Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean started in 1850s.  The Ottoman rulers realized that their influence beyond the Empire was largely constrained by the growing colonial domination of the European forces throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America.  In 1839, Sultan Mahmud II initiated the process of modernization of the Ottoman Empire and its opening to the world.  This policy was pursued by his successors, Sultan Abdul Mejid (1839-1861) Sultan Abdul Aziz (1861-1876) and the last Sultan Abdul Hamid (1876-1918).  They started appointing religious envoys and consulates in many parts of the world in order to maintain their influence among the Muslim population of the world.  They believed that the worldwide Muslim support to the Ottoman would be a leveraging factor in their dealings with the British Empire which itself had a very large Muslim population.  The Sultan protested and intervened officially whenever there was misrule or oppression of the Muslims.  The relations between the British and Ottoman rulers were of ambivalent nature.  At times it was with the tacit approval of the British authorities that the Ottomans opened consular offices in the British colonies; but when relations deteriorated between these two powers the doors of these consulates had to be closed.  In so far as Southern Africa and Mauritius were concerned, the Ottomans marked their presence at two levels: a religious representative and a Consular appointee.  In most of the instances, the Consular representative happened to be a non-Muslim.  In 1861 the Ottoman government appointed Mr Petrus Emanuel de Roubaix as its first Consul to Cape Town.  In 1862, the Ottoman Empire appointed Abu Bakr Effendi, a highly respected Turkish Scholar, as its religious envoy to Cape Town colony and Southern Africa.  The Effendi visited Mozambique and Mauritius and he regularly briefed the Sultan and the intellectuals of the Empire about the life and situations of the Muslims of Southern Africa.
In Mauritius, the religious representative of the Ottoman Emperor was a Mauritian citizen, Nazourdine Gassy Sobdar, son of Gassy Sobdar (1790-1861), the first imam (priest) of the Camp des Lascars Mosque (now re-named as Al Aqsa Mosque) which was founded in 1805 during the French colonial rule.  It has to be pointed out that another member of the Sobdar family, Hajee Sherally Sobdar, became the first imam of the second newly constructed mosque, Jummah Masjid, from 1853-1865.  The archival research reveals that the nomination of Nazourdine Gassy Sobdar was sanctioned by Sultan Abdul Aziz on 29 August 1865.  Another archival document reveals that Nazourdine Gassy Sobdar had addressed a petition dated 23 April 1877, requesting the Sultan to appoint his son Sadar Nazourdine Gassy Sobdar as his successor after his death and to act as priest at the mosque and all religious ceremonies.  This document was endorsed by the Consul of Muscat in Port Louis and cleared by the Police Department of Mauritius and the Mayor of Port Louis before it was sent to Istanbul for registration at the Sublime Porte.  It has to be pointed out that the territory of Muscat (today known as Oman) was an integral part of the Ottoman Empire.  In another petition dated 9 June 1879, addressed to Sultan Abdul Hamid II, Nazourdine Gassy Sobdar, who was the Imam of Camp des Lascars Mosque, brought to the attention of the Emperor that it was compulsory to wear traditional dresses to reflect his rank and status when attending official meetings at the Government House.  He attached a copy of the Government Gazette to support his demand.  The Ottoman authorities expeditiously sent the appropriate Islamic costume to him.
It appears from a correspondence dated 17 February 1870 exchanged between the Ottoman Consul in London, Baron Cailla and the Ottoman Foreign Ministry that a French nobility, Mr Roustan (or Rousin), who was designated to be the Ottoman Consul in Mauritius could not travel from France to Port Louis because he was old and sick.  The latter suggested that his collaborator, Baron Kaplan be appointed for the post.  The Ottoman Foreign Ministry checked the profile of Baron Kaplan from Mr La Place, the Ottoman Consul in Paris.  After having received a satisfactory report from Paris, the Sultan endorsed the appointment of Baron Kaplan in 1870 as the Consul of Ottoman in Mauritius.  In a letter which Baron Kaplan addressed to the Ottoman authorities in January 1893, he made mention of a big cyclone in 1892 which seriously devastated the island.  The duration of the cyclone was about forty hours.  According to the statement of Baron Kaplan, many shops dealing with clothing, jewellery and luxury goods were destroyed and they claimed compensation for the losses from insurance companies.  Baron Kaplan apprised the Sultan that the office of the Consulate was destroyed and that several documents as well as the Ottoman rubber stamp, the flags and the seal were lost.  He personally lost one hundred British pound.  The Ottoman ruler accepted to provide him with all the office materials as well as one hundred British pound.
It seems that the Ottoman authorities were satisfied with the performance of Baron Kaplan as he was able to facilitate the interaction of the Mauritian people with the Sultan.    In 1879, according to an archival document, the Sultan agreed to increase the salary of the Baron Kaplan.  Evidently, this had preceded the generous gesture of the Mauritian Muslim community which had sent 850 Ottoman Liras to the Ottoman Embassy in London in 1877 during the Crimean War (1877-78) in which Britain and France sided with the Ottoman army against the Russian invasion.  However, it has not yet come to the surface from the archival research as to whether the Mauritian Muslims contributed financially to the Hijaz Railway project constructed in 1900 under the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid.  Prior to Saudi Arabia inscribed on the world map, the Arabian Peninsula was known as Hijaz and was part of the Ottoman Empire.  The railway line, which replaced the caravan road from Damascus to Mecca, was meant to facilitate and shorten the journey of the pilgrims from 40 days to 72 hours.  As it was directly related to Hajj, the project was financed exclusively by Muslim contributions from all over the world, including South Africa, Mozambique and Madagascar.  Nonetheless, there are sufficient documentary evidences to substantiate that several Muslim families, under the leadership Gorah Mahomed Issac, assembled at the Theatre of Port Louis on 28 December 1913 and contributed a sum of Rs 39,381.25 as solidarity with Turkish widows and orphans affected by the Turko-Italian war.  The sum collected was sent to the Red Crescent Society in Istanbul.  In recognition for the outstanding services rendered to the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan awarded the prestigious medal of Medjidieh to G. M. Issac in 1914.
After Baron Kaplan, Sultan Abdul Hamid appointed Daoudjee Vayid, grandfather of late Mohamed Vayid as the Ottoman Consul in Mauritius.  In 1897-98, Daoudjee Vayid travelled to Istanbul and received the title of Effendi and a gold watch from the Sultan.  After the World War I (1914-1918), in which the Ottomans were defeated, the new Turkish regime of Mustafa Kemal Attaturk put an end to the Ottoman imperial rule in 1923 and focused on an inward-looking policy for the re-construction of Turkey.  Since then, the relations between Mauritius and Turkey remained inactive although the Mauritian Muslims preserved the tradition of observing the Ottoman dress code until late 1960s.  The relations between Mauritius and Turkey was re-kindled in 1985 through the appointment of Bashir Currimjee as the Honorary Consul of Turkey in Mauritius.  On 21 April 2010, Turkey opened a full-fledged Embassy in Madagascar with jurisdiction over Mauritius and the neighbouring islands of the Indian Ocean.


References
Serhat Orakçi: A historical analysis of the Emerging Links Between The Ottoman Empire and South Africa between 1861-1923.
Dr Khal Torabully and Dr Ameenah Gurib-Fakim: The Maritime History of the Indian Ocean
Dr Khal Torabully: A travelers narrative.  A voyage to Istanbul: The Ottomans in the Indian Ocean
Mark Sullivan Hall: Early Evidence of a  Muslim Presence in the South West Indian Ocean: Pirates and Hajiis (1693-1703)
Dr Ahmet Kavas: Ottoman Empires Relations with Southern Africa
Mesut Cevikalp: First Ottomans in Africa
Halijm Gencoglu: Traces of the Ottoman Empire in Mauritius
Moomtaz Emrith: The History of Muslims in Mauritius
Petition of Nazouridine Gassy Sobdar (1877) addressed to the Ottoman Emperor.
Diary of Ahmet Kemal Oncü on his archival research