The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire


Kemel Ataturk /

Kemel Ataturk /

Time and again the Ottoman Empire has been mentioned in but an in-depth article has so far no been attempted. We will try to remedy that:

At some time at the beginning of the 13th century a small Turkish principality was founded in north-west Anatolia by a man called Osman; his followers were first called the Osmanli, but soon became known as Ottomans. Using this territory as a base the Ottomans began to conquer Byzantine land in the rest of Anatolia employing the usual methods, war and rapine. Then they turned their attention to the Balkans with the usual fire and sword before capturing the Byzantine capital, Constantinople in 1453.

Having established their new capital, they began systematic assaults on Arab lands, seizing Mesopotamia and Arabia, and the Muslim holy cities of Medina and, most importantly – Mecca.

The Ottoman Empire stretched from the outskirts of Vienna to the Indian Ocean, and from the Crimea to Algiers by the 16th century. In far off Britain, mothers would soothe frightened children by assuring them they would come to no harm ‘from the Turkish menace’. But later, when they were in bed with the candle out, mothers and fathers might wonder if the Turks might indeed conquer Britain one day.

Time is the real conquerer however, and by the 18th century Ottoman power had waned. The Turks had lost the Crimea and territory on the Black Sea to Russia; but the decline brought its own problems, which were politely dubbed The Eastern Question.

    Mahmud II (born 1808) tried to stop the decline and make the Ottoman Empire more Western in its approach to civilization, but he was dead by 1839 aged only 31. Then came the Tanzimat Reform movement which lasted 39 years, and partially succeeded, but this was not maintained by Abdulhamid II (born 1876), because he was deposed by the Young Turks – Turkish officers who wished to modernize the Empire and prevent (by any means available) its collapse. Again, some European provinces broke away, starting with Greece after the Greek War of Independence, and followed by Serbia, Romania and Montenegro, recognized as independent in the Berlin Congress (1878). This is when Britain ‘acquired’ Cyprus. Bosnia and Hercegovina were annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1908 and by now ‘The Sick Man of Europe’ (Turkey) was very sick indeed. Also in 1908 Bulgaria declared its independence.

Most of what was left of the Ottoman Empire was lost during the Balkan Wars (q.v.) of 1912/13; the Empire’s Arab territories had gone, the French in a characteristic move seized Algeria (1830) and Tunis (1881); Britain occupied Egypt in 1882 and it became a Protectorate; and to cap it all Italy routed the small armies of Tripoli in 1911 and Tripolitania became Italian property

The Great War was declared in 1914 and to everyone’s astonishment the Turks opted for the German side! To the British and French this seemed to be suicide. Thanks partly to the Arab Revolt and Laurence of Arabia (q.v.) Turkey lost Aquaba and the Empire was completely dismembered. The new states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq rose from the ashes. But it was not over yet for much-despised Turkey; the Treaty of Sévres (1920) attempted to remove part of Anatolia (remember the thirteenth century) from Turkish control but a nationalist leader calling himself Kemal Ataturk led a nationalist rising and threw the Greeks out of Anatolia (1923). In that same year the last of the Ottoman Sultans, Mehmed VI was forcibly removed and the country became a Republic. Constantinople became Istanbul and mass tourism later helped Turkey in her recovery, but the great Ottoman Empire had vanished for ever.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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