SULTAN FATMA BIKE In the Khanate of Kasım
Sultan Fatma Bike is an almost completely forgotten female ruler of the very interesting khanate of Kasım, situated 250 km southeast of Moscow in the Oka river region, and founded in 1445 by Ulugh Mohammed, Khan of the Golden Horde and Kazan. Before talking about Sultan Fatma Bike, Bahriye Üçok gives the reader an overview of the history of the Muslim khanate.
A short time before the foundation of the khanate, in 1444, Ulugh Mohammed had reached the suburbs of Moscow, by taking Vasili, the ruler of Moscow, prisoner. Vasili was released only after accepting all the terms dictated by Ulugh Mohammed; Turkish tax collectors were placed in many Russian towns to supervise the payment of the promised money. Many Russian provinces even had their revenues completely taken over. One of the most important results of the treaty was the foundation of a new khanate within the boundaries of the Russian principality with Kasım, Ulugh Mohammed’s son, at its head.
This khanate, whose population consisted of Turks and Finns, followed a policy that differed from that of the Golden Horde: it interfered directly with the internal affairs of Moscow and acted as a bulwark of defence against attacks leveled at it. The principality of Moscow had had to concede certain privileges both to the Khanate of Kazan as well as to Kasım.
The terms of the agreement were resented in Moscow and, after various uprising had taken place, Vasili had been deposed and blinded. However, Kasım restored Vasili to his throne, declared war against Vasili’s rival Semaka and neutralized Ulugh Mohammed’s rivals as a result of numerous expeditions. All these served the original purpose of the foundation of the Khanate of Kasım.
Kasım was succeeded by his son Danyal (1468-80), who took part in the Novgorod campaign of 1471-77. After his death, the dynasty of Ulugh Mohammed came to an end, and Nur Devlet, son of Gazi Giray the Khan of the Crimea, became the new khan. In recognition of Moscow’s help, Nur Devlet laid waste to a number of towns in the lands of the Golden Horde.
Nur Devlet’s son Satilgan followed in his father’s footsteps by continuing his collaboration with the Russians: Satilgan took part in the wars waged against the Golden Horde and the Khanate of Kazan. Nur Devlet’s son Djanay Khan is the last monarch of this dynasty. After him, the dynasty of the Crimean Khans was replaced by the Astirhan family, whose first member was Sheikh Avliyar who remained on the throne from 1512 to 1516.
His son’s long reign of 52 years was an eventful one. The Khans of Kasım, who had initially received tribute from Moscow and been treated as sovereign rulers on festive occasions, now had sunk to the level of Russian princes dependent on the increasingly more powerful Tsars of Moscow, who were preparing to make use of them in the policy of extermination waged against other Turkish and Muslim states.
The appointment of Shah Ali in 1557/8 as commander of the Russian armies fighting against the Lithuanians, and his magnificent reception upon his victorious return are clear proof of the Russian hegemony over the Kasım Khans.
After Shah Ali’s death in 1567, his cousin Sayın Bulat was put on the Kasım throne, and he took part in the Swedish-Esthonian campaigns of 1571-2; when, in 1573, he was converted to Christianity and changed his name to Semen he was deposed.
When Ivan I established the system of terror that was to gain him the title “the Terrible,” he divided the administration of the country into two parts; one he took over himself as tsar and prince of Moscow, the other he entrusted to Semen Bik-Bulat (1575-7), who ended his life as a monk under the name of Stefan.
After 1600, a new dynasty appears on the Kasım throne: Uraz Mohammed, a Cossack, is the new khan. This person, who had, since 1588, taken part in ceremonies at Moscow as the Cossack crown prince, had taken part in many wars on the Russian side. Though he was welcomed as befitted royalty when he visited Moscow and treated as a sovereign monarch during receptions, this was merely a gesture to mollify the Ottoman Empire, then at the height of its power.
In 1609, Uraz got involved in the clash between Vasili, the tsar and Dimitri II, and was killed in an ambush.
Still another dynasty followed him on the throne: this time Alparslan (1614-1627), the Khan of Siberia. In his time, the authority of the Khan extended only to his Turkish subjects. The tsar went even further; he commissioned his governors in Kasım with the duty of supervising the khans and particularly their relations with other countries.
When Alparslan died in 1627, he was succeeded by his son Seyyid Burhan, a minor. Thus, his mother, Fatma Sultan and his grandfather Ak Mohammed were appointed regents. Fatma Sultan was the daughter of Seyyid Ak Mohammed, a noted scholar and member of the Shah Kul family.
The effects of the patient and cautious Russian policies were soon visible on Seyyid Burhan, who was offered the tsar’s daughter for his bride on condition he embraced Christianity. Fatma Sultan rejected the offer saying that Seyyid Burhan was still a child and that he had to grow up before he could be expected to make such a choice. In 1633, the Tsar had Seyyid Burhan sent to Moscow by the governor of Kasım. In Moscow the young boy was very probably taken to orthodox religious ceremonies.
Twenty years later, Seyyid Burhan paid another visit to Moscow to see the Tsar, Alexis; soon after this, he converted to Christianity and adopted the name Vasili. The fact that Seyyid Burhan could remain on the throne after his conversion may give us an idea that the Khanate of Kasım had lost all importance in Moscow’s foreign policy, and its policy of assimilating the non-Russian population had gone far.
This policy, which achieved success among the Shamanist Finns, did not have the same result among Muslim Turks. Veljaminov Zernov states that in Seyyid Burhan’s (Vasili Arslanovitz) reign, the Muslim and Shamanist religions, to a certain extent the mainstays of that state, were dealt a fatal blow. Yet, the following piece of evidence negates Zernov’s claim:
The archbishop of Ryzan, noted for his efforts to convert the Muslim population, met with open revolt among them and was killed in 1656.
We come across Seyyid Burhan’s name in documents until 1677, and his reign may be supposed to have lasted up to 1679. In that year, Fatma Sultan was put on the throne, though she was well advanced in age. This act on the part of the Russian government is a manifestation of its respect for her; she was also granted all the rights recognised to her son.
Since during the reign of the last sovereign of the Khanate of Kasım state authority had completely collapsed, histories rarely refer to it. Only Zernov mentions the taxes collected by Sultan Fatma; this is proof of her status. Sultan Fatma is her real name, but since she was descended from the Seyyid family, Russians added “Seyyidovna” to her name.
It has not been possible to establish with certainty the precise duration of her reign. We may assume that she did not live for long after 1681, as no documents refer to her after that date; she was quite old when she was appointed. It is rumoured that she was buried at the town of Kasım (- Han Kirman or Gorodets) in a mausoleum bearing her name. This mausoleum, once a two-story building, is now a heap of rubble.
It is safe to assume that the Russian recognition of her status and her treatment as a sovereign is due to the conversion to Christianity of her son Burhan. And this same reason could explain the fact why she was totally forgotten in Muslim history.
The Khanate of Kasım, founded for an important purpose, later became a tool in the hands of the Russians to be used against the Turks. After Sultan Fatma’s death, it was formally annexed to Russian territories and the 236-year long history of Kasım came to an end. So Fatma Bike had no real political importance, but is just the symbol of a woman surviving at the end of her sultanate.
This entry is based on “Female Sovereigns in Islamic States.” You can find it on Amazon here.
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