According to Eugene Rogan’s The Fall Of The Ottomans, The Ottomans rose quickly in the early 1400s, taking Constantinople in 1453– one of history’s watershed events, or so they tell us… though I’m inclined to reduce its importance after discovering just how far the Byzantium Empire had already fallen before the Ottomans ever successfully broached the famously unassailable walls of its capital.
In 1516, the Ottomans took out the Mamluks, fellow Muslims who ruled Egyptland from their capital of Cairo. This adds not only Egypt to Ottoman lands, but Syria and the desertlands of Mecca and Medina as well. This left no question as to which tribe was at that moment the head of World Islam… The Ottomans had achieved complete ascendancy.
Over the next two hundred years, the Ottomans attempted to extend their domains into Western Europe, but they were never to gain much success. Vienna seems to have served as the bulwark of the West during this time, successfully repelling mighty Ottoman forces in 1529, and again in 1683. Vienna’s stout defense provided the West– long a cultural backwater relative to the great Medieval civilizations of the East– time and cover enough to find its footing and begin to play catch-up. Through their scientific and industrial revolutions, Westerners were gradually able to turn the tables on the long-superior East. By the 1700s, the Ottomans –and indeed, no Eastern power (unless you count Russia)– were no longer much of a threat to the West… a state of affairs which would last for about 300 years.
Ottoman history seems to take a turn for the worse in the early 1800s. I can’t help but think the timing is due to the fact that much of the colonization of New World had been accomplished by this time, and even Africa was being fast gobbled up by the Europeans– so the West’s hungry eyes turned toward the weaker empires of the Old World– empires such as China… and the Ottomans.
It was with Western encouragement and aid that Greece made its War Of Independence against the Ottomans during the 1820s.
Then, due to misrule and aggressive Western foreign and commercial policies, the Ottoman Empire was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1875. That same year, officers deposed the reigning Sultan, and parliament-reforms (such as having one) were soon implemented. From my reading, it sounds like the creation of a Western-style parliament was done mostly to appease the demands of the Western European powers. Seems Europeans wanted an Ottoman Empire that they were more comfortable doing business with. But, as parliamentary government was not natural to the Ottomans, it was quickly tossed-aside, and autocracy returned to Constantinople (or call it Istanbul, if you prefer).
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I find that I’m still a little fuzzy about the exact whens and whyfores of the next (basically the final fifty) years of Ottoman history. I really think the missing piece for me would be a good book specifically about the Balkan Wars…
What I DO know is that in late 1912, the two successive Balkan Wars began. The First Balkan War was basically Balkans versus Ottomans. But in the Second Balkan War, the Balkan nationalities start fighting each other.
The close of the Balkan Wars (they together lasted a couple of years) brings the briefest of respites to the staggered Ottomans. During the previous half-century of conflict (starting with a war with Russia in 1877), they had lost control of all their possessions in Europe and Africa. No longer were the Ottomans in possession of… Egypt, Cyprus, Crimea, the Caucasus, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Crete, Albania, Thrace, Macedonia, Libya… and the newly created country of Armenia.
The Armenians, a Christian people with their own language who were spread out across Ottoman (as well as Russian) lands, had begun agitating for Independence in the late 1800s. The idea was kicked about — half-heartedly backed by the West– that there should be established an Armenian homeland in Easter Anatolia (today’s Eastern Turkey). Thousands of Armenians lost their lives in the unrest that followed during the mid-1890s.
When the revolutionary Young Turks make their bid for power in the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century (championing Western-style reforms), the Armenians at first supported them, hoping for better treatment under a new regime. After all, one of the main aims of the Young Turks was the “Turkification” of the Empire– and what could better facilitate that, admittedly racist, goal than allowing nationalities like the Armenians to establish their own independent existence outside of the Empire? Tragically for the Armenians, there is more than one way to achieve the aim of ethnic cleansing, and when the Young Turks grew doubtful as to where Armenian loyalties truly lay, they dealt with them so harshly that a de facto– if not purposeful– Armenian genocide occurred in 1915.
By then, World War One had been in full, disastrous swing for the last year, and the Ottoman Empire’s days, after a long and painful decline, were numbered.
As a post-script of sorts… I find it one of history’s strange twists of fate that, after a centuries-long wait for prime Ottoman real estate, when the great war finally came which would deliver Russia its hungered-for territories to the South– possibly including Constantinople/ Istanbul itself– Russia suffered its own revolution just at the end of the War, and its victorious revolutionaries (the Communists), pulled the country abruptly out of the war, thus costing Russia its share of the spoils to be divvied-up from the dead Ottoman State after the Allied victory.