Ottoman Empire summary and notes



Ottoman Empire summary and notes


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Ottoman Empire summary and notes


   Origins: Islam has traditionally been a state that unifies its political and religious allegiances.  The great Caliphates of the 8th-12th century illustrate that, the last great Caliphate the Abbasid Caliphate stretched from Spain to India and will crumble in the late 12th early 13the century.  There to pick up the torch were the Ottomans, not as widespread as their predecessors the Ottomans were one of three unifying Islamic forces in the wake of the Abbasid; the Savafid Persians and Mughals in India were the other two.  All were militarily advanced and highly centralized.  The Ottomans spread the largest influence.  They originated in the steppes of central Asia and migrated west into Turkey (Asia Minor).  They were vassals of the Seljuk Turks but rapidly gained their own power under Osman I in 1280.  They rapidly acquired territory in the 13th –15th centuries. 


   The head of the Ottoman State was the Sultan, the Sultan was the supreme political and religious leader of the Turks.  Selim will add the title Caliph I in 1519.  A caliph is a religious and political leader of the Islamic World.  Sultans/Caliphs rule over Viziers or advisors who in turn rule over a series of provincial governors known as “Beys or Knights”.  This is a form of federalism. 


   The Ottoman Military State: the strength of the Ottoman Empire was their advanced military state.  The state was based on technological advancements such as gunpowder and premier organizational strategies.  They used an elite fighting force hand selected (Prussia’s Grenadiers) from birth to form the Janassaries.  Their conquest began in the 1300’s with the conquest of the Balkans (see my notes on Bosnia), this continued with a total control of the Mediterranean region.  Their greatest conquest came in  1453 when with 24-foot long cannons they besieged the legendary walled city of Byzantium’s capital Constantinople with 1200-pound cannons pillaging the legendary city.  The conquest increased in the 15th century under Selim I who moved into North Africa, conquered Egypt, and the major port cities of North Africa while also laying claim to portions of the vast sub-Saharan trade routes of the Islamic world.  Selim I focused largely on the Danube valley and the lands of Wallachia, Romania, Hungary and Transylvania.    (Dracula was historically a fighter/Wallachian prince.)  The great thrust into this region came under the leadership of one of the world’s great leaders Sulieman I, the Magnificent.  His military conquest, political leadership and restructuring of Ottoman law made him the greatest leader in Islamic history.  The conquests continued during the conquest of the Danube valley in the 16th century sieges on Austria’s catholic Holy Roman Empire.   By 1529 they had reached the gates of Vienna only to be turned back by a crusading army.  This would be the farthest penetration of the Ottomans and Muslims in to Europe.  Ottomans use of gunpowder combined with their dynamic Calvary and navy made them the military power of the world.    Their Janissary system kept the Turks at the forefront of modern warfare and ensured that the Ottomans would be a powerful state through the First World War.


   Religious Policy: the Ottomans learned a lesson from Cyrus the Great and the Persian organizational philosophy by granting all groups under their yoke-Religious Tolerance.  The best example comes to us from the siege/conquest of Vienna in 1453, after which the Caliph Mehmed I granted all the people in the Christian holy city an equal footing on religious terms and total tolerance.  He even allowed the continuation of religious services on Sunday of the legendary Christian outpost the Hagia Sophia, Muslims worshipped there on Fridays!  Ottomans ruled over “Millets” or communities of different religions.  They were forced to pay a jizwa a religious tax on non-Muslims but aside from that the different nations were granted total religious autonomy by the Ottomans.  In order to rule a state of diverse populations that included alternate sects of Muslims (Sunni-Ottomans, Shia, Suffi), Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, and Christians (Coptic, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant) it was necessary to allow for religious worship and tolerance.  The most common languages were Arabic (Islam’s holy language), Turkish and Persian. 


   Succession, Social Status and Women:  The Sultan rarely married, he kept enslaved concubines (by honor) in the “sacred place” or Harem.  The offspring of his different concubines had the ability to be the “heir” but they often were forced to kill all their brothers once they obtained the distinction, the mother of the heir became the “Queen Mother”, the most powerful woman in the realm.  Harems occupants often left and married high officials, it was an honor to be a part of the sultan’s extended family. 


   Ottoman culture: the greatness of Ottoman society can be seen in its architecture and writing.  The minarets and mosques of Anatolia (Turkey) have no peer in the world.  Like all Islamic societies, the Islamic scientists of the Ottomans were at a zenith while Europe was in chaos during its middle age period.  However, as Europe ascended Ottomans like the rest of the Muslim world focused on the memorization and recantation of the Quran and ignored the scientific achievements that made them the envy of the world.  This is a reason for their decline.


   Long decline of the Ottoman State: things reached a zenith after Sulieman the Magnificent, his heirs, which were rooted in corruption and incompetence, did not fulfill his outstanding rule.  The military struggles and subsequent defeat at the hands of Austria contributed to this demise.  Turned back from Vienna in 1683 by the Poles led by King Jan Sobieski and his catholic/Austrian force, the Ottomans would be pushed back gradually through the beginning of the 18th century.  Bringing about a long series of decline and chaos that ensued with harsh treaties in 1699 at Karlowitz and 1718 at Passarowitz (stripped Ottomans of Danube gains) the Ottomans gradually lost territory and became known as the sick old man of Europe.  They attempted to rule over diverse territories in the Islamic traditions and after the 18th century were largely successful and slowly dying.  In addition to wars with Austria, the Ottomans were also wounded by failed wars with Russia and Peter the Great. 


The ottomans were also victimized by internal corruption that came not only from the Sultan’s but also from the once vaunted military machine, the Janissary.  The Janissary had become a backward corrupt institution unwilling to reform, as evidenced by their assassination of Selim III for his attempts at reform in 1807.


After the 1820’s and the assassination of Selim III, the Ottomans made gains in terms of their reclamation.  The empire was secularized, the Sultan’s adopted western traditions in science, economics, and education against the protests of Islamic clergy (sounds a lot like Iran today doesn’t it!). 


The reforms were damaged by nationalist revolts in Serbia, Yugoslavia and Greece (1821) during the age of nationalism.  The conflicts re-ignited the conflicts with Europe as they attempted to wrestle all Islamic territories form the Turks.  The Ottomans were forced to recognize Greek Independence after their European Sponsored civil war was successful in 1832. 


Egypt would experience a similar revolution in 1805 led by Muhammad Ali who effectively removed Egypt from Ottoman rule and desired a modern independent Egyptian state outside of Islamic rule.  His revolt became particularly damaging when Egypt began on the path to empire in the 1830’s.  He grew so powerful taking huge chunks of Africa and getting to Istanbul itself, Europe intervened this time on the behalf of the Ottomans!  The empire had been badly damaged by this scenario.


The Islamic world would undergo a major transformation when Egypt fell out of Ottoman control and the Suez Canal built by the Grandson of Muhammad Ali, Isma’il linked the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea.  This opened the eyes of Europe with the massive policy of imperialism in full swing this economic prospect was huge.  Hence the beginning of western influence in the Islamic world.   The canal was built by the French and English and was a marvel of modern engineering when completed it revolutionized shipping and trade in the region.  To pay for it shares were sold which Europe rapidly snatched up and gradually assumed control of the region, gradually working as far as the Sudan.  In 1881 a revolution occurred under the religious leader/rebel Mahdi.  He massacred British forces and in 1885 the battle of Khartoum handed Britain one of their greatest defeats.  By 1898 the Mahdi had certainly attained British attention and they sent General Horatio Kitchener one of their greatest leaders to defeat him at the battle of Omdurman.  The advanced weaponry of the British with their machine guns and rifles proved too much.  The Madhi was defeated and the region was firmly under British control until the 1950’s. 


The Eastern Question:  The Ottomans and their decline gave rise to a question for Europe.  The ottomans seemed a positive alternative to the radicalized states popping up in the Middle East.  It was no longer a threat and it had become very conservative like much of Europe so it seemed that the Ottomans were the best option for power in the East, which is why they were defended against the armies of the Middle East by Europe.  When it came to the decline of the Ottomans no one was to conquer too much…pick off a little at a time so they are still viable, it was a managed decline by Europe.  They would prop up, pick off, prop up, and pick off.  The question arose during conflicts in Greece, with the Ali revolution in Egypt and the Madhi revolt.   The key battle in this question took place in Crimea the areas of Wallachia and Moldavia, which were Ottoman, states, and the predator this time Russia in search of a warm water port.  Europe again sides with the dying Ottoman states in 1853 to support them from a certain collapse at the hands of Russia.  The same occurred in the 1870’s when the Balkans with the aid of Russia revolted and after it wad defeated by the Turks they were attacked and crushed by Russia, but Europe intervened…so it wouldn’t be too much.  At the conference of Berlin in 1878 the Ottomans were granted a favorable peace treaty with Europe’s aid to preserve the balance of power.


Tanzimat Reforms (1839-1876)

·        Religious tolerance

·        Legal reforms

·        Creation of schools in western thought

·        Telegraph and postal system

·        Women and rights to education


None of the reforms were able to solve the demise of the Ottomans and their empire.  This is the time period that gives rise to the Islamic conservative and the Islamic Liberal.  A conflict that rages in the Islamic world today is reformation of the Islamic world acceptable, what is the role of the West?


One group of liberal reformers was the Young Turks who demanded an end to the sultanate, economic reforms, and the establishment of a liberal constitutional system.  They were young pro-western military officers who formed an army to overthrow the sultanate.  Led by Enver Pasha they overthrew the sultanate in 1908.  They began a rigorous reform movement with a parliamentary government, overthrowing the sultan Abdulhamid II and aligned them with Germany for modernization.  In the process they also began the worlds first genocide, in this case the massive extermination in 10 short years of over 1.5 million Armenian Christians (my heritage).  For more information on this tragedy see me…


The Young Turks were unable to save the Ottoman Empire.  Italy attacked in 1911 the last provinces in North Africa the Turks lost.  They were defeated in the Balkans in 1912 to gain some land back a year later.  During WWI in a last ditch effort to save itself the Ottomans aligned themselves with Germany and Austria-Hungary.  When the alliance was defeated the empire officially fell and will be replaced by the Turkish state in the 1920’s.


The Safavids of Persia:

Brief History of Iran


Persia had always been a key component of the Islamic world; it had been a caravan post on the way to India during the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphate during the 1200’s.  After a long power struggle with the Turks and Mongols this empire gained independence in the 1400’s and formed a theocracy.


Establishment of the Empire:  in 1501 a 15 year old named Ismail gained control of the region and took the title of Shah and established the Safavid Empire.  The name came from the strict Shia Muslim faith they practiced.   The main priority of the Shah was to convert the populations to Shiite Islam.

Abbas the Great: the Ottomans were a constant threat to the West.  To the East were the Afghans, and the Uzbeks.  The Safavids built themselves into a gunpowder empire.  Abbas the great created a janissary type force with gunpowder, infantry and cavalry.  Like his equivalent Sulieman I, Abbas was a tremendous leader in all areas, intellectual and tolerant.

The centerpiece of this empire was the trade that emerged from Isfaha the Persian Metropolis it was famous for its silk, ceramic, and metalwork.  But it was most noted for its rugs.

Like the Ottomans they endured a decline in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Unlike the Ottomans the Safavids didn’t hang on they collapsed all together during the early 1700’s.  the reasons?

Lacked ports

Surrounded by enemies

No navy

Siege from East (Afghan raiders)

·        As it declined Russia using its northern position began to siege and attack the remnants of the Safavids, they seized piece after piece of the Caucus Mountains, which lie between the two countries.  This included the countries/territories of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, and Armenia (still hotspots today for conflict).  The Georgians and Armenians had asked Russia for assistance in liberating themselves from Persia, instead they became part of Russia.

·        The Qajar dynasty will follow the Safavids they will rule form 1794-1925.  They were unable to resist foreign control.  They had been partitioned and carved up by European forces including in the 19th century when they will be divided amongst Britain and Russia with the hope of outflanking the Ottoman Empire.  Russia got the North and British the South.  This lasted through the 1940’s.    The Russians and Britons will fight for control over the remnants of Persia and the Silk Road, before she finally gains independence in the 1970’s.


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Ottoman Empire summary and notes