Ibrahim Pasha Pargali and other Greeks
"Indeed, Greek historiography tends to gloss over the doings of those of its sons that embraced the lifestyle and religion of their oppressors," Dean Kalimniou in this week's diatribe
He announced the fetva one week before Ibrahim's execution in 1536 and dined alone with him seven times before the final move, so to give his life-long friend a chance to flee the country or to take the sultan's own life. It was later discovered in Ibrahim's letters that he was perfectly aware of the situation but nevertheless decided to stay true to Suleiman.
Suleiman later greatly regretted Ibrahim's execution and his character changed dramatically, to the point where he became completely secluded from the daily work of governing. His regrets are reflected in his poems, in which even after twenty years he continually stresses topics of friendship and of love and trust between friends and often hints on character traits similar to Ibrahim's.
History is littered with the names of a multitude of other Greeks who achieved the pinnacle of power within an Islamic context. Some of them, unlike Ibrahim, were ultimately successful.
Mustapha Khaznadar, born as Georgios Kalkias Stravelakis in Chios in 1817 was captured along with his brother during the Chios massacre and sold into slavery. He was then taken to Constantinople, where he was sold as a slave to an envoy of the Husainid dynasty who were Beys of Tunis and of Cretan origin.
Stravelakis converted to Islam, adopting the name Mustafa and was raised in the Bey's family. Initially, he worked as Crown prince Ahmad I's private treasurer before becoming State treasurer (khaznadar). He managed to climb to the highest offices of the Tunisian state and married Princess Lalla Kalthoum in 1839 and was promoted to lieutenant-general of the army, made bey in 1840 and then president of the Grand Council from 1862 to 1878. In 1864, as Prime Minister he suppressed a peasant uprising that threatened to overthrow his regime through a combination of brutality and guile.
He is held to be one of the most significant figures in Tunisian history.
Much like Ibrahim, Mustafa Khaznadar retained memories of his Greek origin and contact with his native Greece, even sending ten thousand riyals from the state treasury to pay for his two Greek Orthodox nephews he was educating in Paris. It appears that to these converts, the adoption of Islam was a mere prerequisite for social mobility and did not in any way derogate from their ethnic origins, though it did serve to alienate them from Christian society. Having transcended this social glass ceiling, and though they do not loom large in our consciousness and in a nationalistic narrative that obscures them owing to their not neatly fitting into a preconceived understand of identity, they went on to carve remarkable careers whose effects are still felt in diverse countries throughout the world and deserve closer scrutiny.
* Dean Kalimniou is a Melbourne solicitor and freelance writer.
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