Ahmet Ziya was a military painter who was born in Istanbul. He studied at the Military Academy, where he was taught art by Hoca Ali Rıza and Osman Nuri Paşa, both well-known painters. After graduating from the Military Academy in 1887, Ahmet Ziya worked in the art studio at the academy until 1894, and was later appointed as art teacher at Kuleli Military High School.
In 1913 he became president of the Ottoman Society of Painters. Ahmet Ziya retired from his military career in 1914 and spent the rest of his life teaching mathematics and perspective at the School of Fine Arts. He was interested in mathematics and astronomy. While teaching at the Kuleli School he wrote two books on perspective entitled Amel-i Menazir (Perspective) and Usul-i Ameliye-i Fenn-i Menazir (Practical Perspective).
Ahmet Ziya Akbulut was one of the 'military painters', a group of artists who trained at 19th century Ottoman military schools, where the teaching followed western methods. These artists can be regarded as the initiators of westernization in Ottoman painting in the nineteenth century. As part of their military education they learned technical drawing, including methods of perspective, for the purpose of drawing maps and topographical views. They often preferred to paint landscapes and still lifes because of a traditional reluctance to depict human figures in Ottoman art, portraits of the sultans being an exception. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries such portraits were mostly painted by Ottoman Christian artists or by foreign painters.
The Ottoman Society of Painters was established in 1909 by artists such as Ruhi Arel, Sami Yetik, Şevket Dağ, Hikmet Onat and İbrahim Çallı, under the patronage of the last Ottoman caliph Prince Abdülmecid Efendi (1868-1944), who was himself a painter. The society was an independent body that came into being in the new liberal atmosphere following the proclamation of the Second Constitution in 1908. It was dedicated to the promotion of art and awareness of painting as a professional occupation in Ottoman society.