Ottoman Empire in 1683 Essay

Pages: 7 (2311 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Drama - World

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[. . .] Given its many domestic and international handicaps, the Ottoman Empire deserves credit for modernizing as much as it did. In 1800-1908, the powers of the centralized state increased greatly, and the number of civil officials grew from 2,000 to 50,000. Even Sultan Abdulhamid II, who lived in constant fear of assassination at his palace in Yildiz before being overthrown by the Young Turks in 1908-09, oversaw the construction of 10,000 modern schools during his 34-year reign (Quataert, p. 62). New ministries of health, education, commerce and public works came into being during the 19th Century, modeled after their European counterparts and staffed by bureaucrats trained in Western languages and methods.

For all his considerable flaws, Abdulhamid II was also skilled at playing the Western Powers off against each other and buying more time for what remained of the Ottoman Empire, but his Young Turk successors lost everything in their gamble of allying with Germany in 1915. Germany was a relative latecomer to the Balkans and the Middle East compared to the other Great Powers, having only become a unified nation in 1871. Otto von Bismarck had been largely indifferent to this region of the world and to overseas colonies and adventures in general, buy by the early-20th Century Germany was the largest foreign investor in the Ottoman Empire (Palmer, p. 162). Remembering many previous humiliations, Abdulhamid II turned to the Germans to finance and build the Baghdad Railroad in 1899, which caused considerable concern about German expansionism into the Middle East for Britain, France and Russia. German army officers also began to train and equip the Ottoman Armies, whose soldiers were well-known in history for being extremely formidable when properly motivated and led. This Sick Man of Europe might have been able to make an unexpected recovery with German assistance, which was certainly not desirable to the Allied Powers in the lead up to the First World War.

Most of the Ottoman elites favored an alliance with Britain and France, and history proves that they guessed correctly, but the Young Turks supported Germany. The Ottoman Empire suffered "horrendous" casualties during the war, not only in battle but from starvation, epidemics and genocide against the Armenians and other minority groups although even today the Turks still argue that this was done on national security grounds (Quataert, p. 60). In reality, the founders of the Turkish Republic, including the great statesman Ataturk, had considerable blood on their hands in these massacres and atrocities -- more than can be admitted about a man whose picture hangs in every Turkish classroom. At the start of the war, the Young Turks had cancelled the humiliating Capitulations that had been imposed by the Russia and the Western Powers to protect Christian religious minorities like the Georgians and Armenians, and were "an important source of both external interference and local leverage by the powers in the affairs of Turkey" (Kent, p. 3). Russia and Britain continued the 19th Century policies of supporting nationalist rebellions within the borders of the empire, but during World War I the Turks responded not only with massacres but extermination.

World War I was the end of the Ottoman Empire, though, and its rulers knew that whichever side won they would very likely end up being partitioned. It was destroyed by the same combination of nationalist revolts and intervention by foreign powers that had caused its gradual decline throughout the 19th Century. In this case, the British supported the Arab revolt that detached the last remaining non-Turkish part of the empire. Nor did the Ottomans have reliable allies who could render sufficient assistance to allow them to retain their empire, which had also been the case throughout the 19th Century. Given these internal and external pressures, it simply lacked the strength to survive, and in retrospect the only great surprise was that it was able to hold out for three years during the worst war ever seen in history up to that time. Had Britain, France and Russia not been preoccupied on other fronts, its demise probably would have come much faster. At the end of the war and the struggle for Turkish independence in 1922, of course, very few of these minorities remained within the borders of the new Turkish state, having been exterminated, exiled or exchanged, and the cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism of the old empire was a thing of the past, literally drowned in a bloodbath of nationalism. In the decades since, the fate of Christian and Jewish minorities in North Africa and the Middle East or Muslim minorities in Bosnia and other Balkan countries has hardly been an enviable one, either. These extreme ethnic and religious conflicts have survived the old empire that they destroyed, and remain a source of conflict among the Great Powers up to the present.

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