Kösem was born Anastasia and was of Greek ancestry. While still young, she was sent to Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. There she was sold, at the age of 15, to the harem of Sultan Ahmed I. The etymology of harem is Arabic, meaning ‘forbidden because sacred/important”. Harems were women’s quarters, intended to keep them safe. These harems contained wives, daughters, concubines, distant female relatives, and slaves. It was here that Anastasia’s name was changed to Mâhpeyker. She also converted to Islam from Orthodox Christian, the major religion of the Empire. Later Sultan Ahmed changed her name again, this time to Kösem.
She became Sultan Ahmed I’s favorite consort, gaining political power through him.With this power, Kösem held incredible influence through out her life time. According to Ottoman policy, when the elder brother was named Sultan, he would have the younger brothers killed. Kösem convinced Sultan Ahmed not to kill his brother, an unheard act of mercy. This started a new movement, in the Ottoman Empire, younger brothers were safe. This new trend, helped to guarantee Kösem’s sons safety. After Ahmed’s death, their son Murad IV took the throne. At age 11, Murad was too young to rule; Kösem was named Valide Sultan for her son. While women had ruled before Kösem, no women had been formally named regent. She even held influence during and after Murad reign.
As Valide Sultan, Kösem became one of the wealthiest people in the Ottoman Empire. Her title was the highest paid political position. With this wealth, Kösem dedicated her time towards charity work. She set up charities to help orphaned girls, giving them the resources to find a marriage. She even built a mosque, Valide Han, in the market square. This mosque had an extension where merchants could set up shop. Kösem used this revenue to fund her other charities.
Kösem was responsible for a major change in the political world of the Empire. By convincing Ahmed I not to kill his brother, Kösem effectively changed the course of history. Had she not convinced Ahmed I, the tradition of killing brothers would have continued. Kösem’s own sons would have been murdered when another brother took the throne. With her sons dead, Kösem never becomes Valide Sultan and never fundamentally challenges the view of women in power. This one act of mercy completely altered the course of history.
The social problem that Kösem would have the biggest problem with would be unequal pay for women. Kösem held the highest paid political position during her time, she would be horrified to hear of unequal pay. She would believe that you get paid according to how important you are in the organization. Teachers and Doctors would make a flat rate, no matter their gender. Pay would be performance based , leaving no room for inequality. Women would not be paid 77 cents on the dollar, wages would be based purely on how much power one has in an organization. On paper this system has its own flaws, it would lead us into an economy where 90% of the wealth would be in 10% of the population. Kösem’s past charitable work gives us an idea of how she would handle this problem. She set up charities to help orphaned girls find opportunities for a marriage, the better life for them than living on the streets. Kösem, in today’s world, would set up institutions to help educate underprivileged children. With this education, these children could work their way to the top of their fields. Kösem knew the wisdom that you are only as strong as your weakest link.
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