Ottoman Empire


European powers were jealous of the Ottoman Empire on the one hand, and on the other saw it as feudal and backward compared with themselves. While European nations had developed parliamentary systems of government, they ruled their empires overseas with little or no reference to the will of the people. Nonetheless, they felt a moral superiority over the Ottomans, expressed by Czar Nicholas I of Russia who called Turkey the “sick man of Europe.” They wanted to divide the empire up among themselves, much as they divided Africa but with no single power gaining too much territory, to the others’ disadvantage.

The bureaucracy of the Ottomans had become inefficient but the empire had some strengths—loyalty to the service of the empire was well-rewarded (several former slaves rose to become vizier), race and ethnicity was generally no barrier to progress, and law was uniformly administered. The Ottomans saw themselves as “Muslims” and understood Islam as a transnational reality. They reversed the earlier tendency within the Muslim world that saw non-Arab Muslims as less authentically Muslim. From the Tanzimat reforms on, Turkey increasingly looked to Europe for its models and ideas and what has been called an Occidental Orientalism developed—Orientalism refers to the Western depiction of the Orient as backward, decadent, and static in contrast to the West, which is depicted as oriented towards the future, moral, and dynamic. The Ottomans started to share this analysis and saw little of merit in their own civilization. Eventually, however, it was the Young Turks’ desire to retain the empire and to do so in a way that privileged Turks that resulted in its destruction.


Picture 2: Map of Gallipoli peninsula

In a final effort to keep power in their hands by regaining at least some of the lost territories, the triumvirate led by Enver Pasha joined the Central Powers in World War I. The Ottoman Empire had some successes in the beginning years of the war. The Allies, including the newly-formed Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), were defeated in Gallipoli, Iraq, and the Balkans, and some territories were regained.

However, the Ottomans were eventually defeated by the Allies in the Balkans, Thrace, Syria, Palestine, and Iraq, and its territories were annexed by the victors. Palestine went to Britain (who established the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the east of the Jordan River) as did Iraq (where they also established a monarchy); Syria and Lebanon went to France; and Libya went to Italy. Some Arabs, led by the Hashemite family, had supported the British in a bid for their own independence from the Ottomans, and their reward was the thrones of Jordan and Iraq. In the Caucasus there was a stalemate between the Ottomans and the Russians. The Russians used their advanced guns and cannons and, as most Turkish historians claim, outmaneuvered the Ottomans using their Armenian allies within the empire. Militarily, the Ottomans made use of the mountainous terrain and the cold climate, launching a series of surprise attacks. The Russian forces retreated after the Communist revolution in Russia, resulting in Ottoman victory on this front.


Picture 2: Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk

Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk, who had made his reputation earlier during the Gallipoli and Palestine campaigns, was officially sent from occupied Istanbul to take control of the victorious Caucasus army, and to disband it. This army was instrumental in winning the Turkish War of Independence (1918–1923), and the Republic of Turkey was founded on October 29, 1923, from the remnants of the fallen empire. The last sultan was taken into exile on a British warship, the Malaya.