Society, Politics, and Economy in Modern Turkey: Sociology of Turkey - Maintained by Tugrul Keskin
We are at a point in our work when we can no longer ignore empires and the imperial context in our studies. (p. 5)
― Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The First Black Pilot in Aviation History: Ahmet Ali Çelikten

Ahmet Ali Çelikten[1][2][3] (born İzmirli Alioğlu Ahmed; 1883–1969), also known as Arap Ahmet Ali[2] or İzmirli Ahmet Ali,[1] was an Ottoman aviator who may have been the first black pilot in aviation history[4] and was one of the few black pilots in World War I, like Eugene Jacques Bullard. His grandmother came from Bornu (now in Nigeria) to the Ottoman Empire as a slave.[4][5]

Ahmet born in 1883 in İzmir, in the Aidin Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire[6] to his mother Zenciye Emine Hanım and father Ali Bey, of African Turkish descent.[7] He aimed to become a naval sailor and entered the Naval Technical School named Haddehâne Mektebi (literally "School of the Blooming Mill") in 1904.[7] In 1908, he graduated from school as a First Lieutenant (Mülâzım-ı evvel).[7] And then he went to aviation courses in the Naval Flight School (Deniz Tayyare Mektebi) that was formed on 25 June 1914 at Yeşilköy.[1] He was then a member of the Ottoman Air Force.
During World War I, he married Hatice Hanım (1897–1991) who was an immigrant from Preveza.[3] He became first black military pilot in aviation history when he started serving in November 1916. On 18 December 1917, Captain (Yüzbaşı) Ahmed Ali was sent to Berlin to complete aviation courses.[5]

To quote David Nicolle's book, The Ottoman Army 1914–1918, "Most Ottoman aircrew were recruited from the Turkish heartland ... others came from the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire as far south as Yemen, or even from neutral Iran. Captain Ahmet was of Arab-African origin and may have been the first 'black' Air Force pilot in aviation history, having received his 'wings' in 1914-15." The book features a photo of Ahmet in front of a Bleriot XI-2 trainer at the Yesilkoy flying school. We featured the same photo in "Over the Front", Volume 9, No. 3, Fall 1994. Ahmet's "wings" would seem to have been earned prior to Bullard's earning his brevet No. 6259 on 20 July 1917, though Bullard is often cited as history's first black aviator.[4]


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