Credit by Ottoman map of Southeast Asia, 1978 © Twitter/@OttomanArchive
The History of the Relations Between Türkiye and Southeast Asia

The History of the Relations Between Türkiye and Southeast Asia

Türkiye is a transcontinental country located mainly on Anatolia in Western Asia, with a portion on the Balkans in Southeast Europe.

As a country with a civilization that is quite old, Türkiye has been inhabited by various types of ancient civilizations, from Neolithic civilizations such as Göbekli Tepe, inhabited by Hattians, Anatolians, Mycenaean Greeks, Christian empires such as the Byzantine Empire, to adopting Islamic civilization, such as the Seljuk Empire and the Ottoman Empire.

It is recorded in history that Türkiye, since it was a monarchy until now it has become a republic, has had relations with various regions around the world, including the Southeast Asian region.

The relationship between Türkiye and Southeast Asia can be traced back to the 12th century. Turkish traders followed in the footsteps of Arab, Persian and Indian Muslims who began to establish relations with West Asia and China after the introduction of the Seljuk Rule in West Asia around the 11th century (Zuboidi, 2018).

An informal Ottoman-Aceh alliance had existed since at least the 1530s (Azra, 2006). Acehnese sultan Alauddin al-Kahar wished to develop these relations, both to attempt the expulsion of the Portuguese in Malacca, and to extend his own power in Sumatra (Azra, 2006).

The first expedition of the Ottoman Empire to Aceh Sultanate began with the 16th century Ottoman expedition to Aceh, in with the response to the Aceh Sultanate's request by the envoy sent by Alauddin al-Kahar (1539–1571) to Suleiman the Magnificent in 1564, and possibly as early as 1562, for assistance against the Portuguese in Malacca (Reid, 2005), referred him as the Caliph of Islam.

Apart from religious relations, the Ottoman Empire saw the Portuguese Empire as a threat to the economy and politics, where the Portuguese threatened the Red Sea as a route for Muslim pilgrimages and trade routes (Zuboidi, 2018).

From the 19th century, relations between the Malay sultanates and the Ottomans remained intact, bolstered by close personal ties between Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor, who made several visits to Istanbul. On the occasion of Sultan Abu Bakar's visit in 1890, he and his brother, Engku Abdul Majid, married Turkish women (Idris & Kurtbağ, 2013).

These marriages has further strengthened the bilateral relationship and produced a mixed Malay-Turkish descendants such as Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, Ungku Abdul Aziz, and Hussein Onn.

Türkiye has inspired many classical literary works in Southeast Asia. In classical Javanese literature, Türkiye is referred to as Ngerum, the term for the Ottoman Empire at that time. In Serat Paramayoga by the Javanese poet Ranggawarsita, Sultan Algabah of Ngerum ordered Ajisaka of India to build the island of Java. Meanwhile, Türkiye was referred to as Rum (روم) in classical Malay literature, derrived from the Middle Eastern term for the Byzantine region and its people.

One of the relations between the Ottomans and Southeast Asia that is rarely discussed is how they relate in terms of cartography. What makes it unique is that the two are separated by a great distance.

A 17th-century map by the Ottoman polymath Kâtip Çelebi shows how Southeast Asia looked like. The map shows Maritime Southeast Asia which consists of present day Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines and parts of Mainland Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, a map was made by the Aceh Sultanate which was addressed to the Ottoman Empire in 1850. This map was intended for the Ottoman sultan at that time to strengthen diplomatic relations between the two and ward off Dutch invasion in Southeast Asia.


Howard, D. A. (2017). A History of the Ottoman Empire. Cambridge University Press.

Casale, G. (2011). The Ottoman Age of Exploration (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.

 Azra, A. (2006). Islam in the Indonesian World: An Account of Institutional Formation. Mizan Pustaka.

Peacock, A., & Gallop, T. A. (2015). From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks, and Southeast Asia (Proceedings of the British Academy) (Illustrated ed.). British Academy.

Zuboidi, H. (2018). Kepentingan Utsmani Menjalin Hubungan Dengan Kerajaan Aceh Darussalam. Jurnal Peurawi, 1(2), 113–127.

Idris, A., & Kurtbağ, Ö. (2013). Malaysia-Turkey Relations in History and Today. Middle East Institute.

Reid, A. (2005), The Ottomans in Southeast Asia. ARI Working Papers, vol. 36, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore,


What do you think?

Give a comment