The Ottoman Empire is considered one of the most extensive, long-lasting and influential empires in world history. Its territories extend to the eastern Roman Empire, the northern Balkans and to the north of the Black Sea coast. The date of the empire’s birthrose is 1300 AD and its ruling is very long and includes the period of the World War 1. In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire is among the powerful and wealthy states that share the world stage (Fromkin 78). Other powerful states include the Elizabeth Empire in England, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Habsburg Empire in Spain.
Despite it being born in the medieval era, the Ottoman Empire has disappeared recently and is still within the memories of the old folks living today. Most of the inhabitants of the Ottoman successor states, including Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, bear Ottoman names that they inherit from their forefathers (Fromkin 97). The Ottoman Empire has left a legacy for many people who grow up and become educated in the Ottoman world. In the 16th and the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire spreads throughout many continents and it controls the biggest part of Western Asia, North Africa and the Southeastern part of Europe. Where does the Ottoman Empire originate from and how has it become so extensive and influential? How does its system of government function and how does it relate with the oppressed ethnic groups, such as the Armenians, the Balkans and the Christians? This paper critically discusses these questions.
The Origin of the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire originatesfrom the Byzantine Empire. The group that leads to the rise of the Ottoman Empire is the Turks who come from Persia. The first leader of the group is Estugrul who passes the leadership to his son Osman I (Cargill, Kirk, & Jarden 213). Under the ruling of Sultan, the Ottoman Empire endures for over 600 years conquering all the lands that surround the city of Constantinople. In 1453, under the ruling of Mehmed II, the Ottomans conquer the city of Constantinople using cannons which bombard its walls reducing it to rubble.
The rapid rise of the Ottomans can be attributed to the chaotic conditions that characterize the Middle East region during the time. This chaos leads to the emergence of a new power, the Ottoman Turks in Anatolia. The Ottomans converted the Constantinople Christian city to Islam. The defeat of the Constantinople leads to the great expansion of the Ottoman Empire throughout Asia and Africa.
The Rise of the Ottoman Empire
The Turks have a long history of conquest having conquered China, a part of Europe, Persia, Mongolia, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. These states accept the Islamic religion and they form an alliance with the Arabs and the Muslims in an attempt to defeat the Roman Empire. By the end of the 8th century, most of the Northern Africa inhabitants are converted to Muslim faith. The Muslims grow stronger in the East, while the Christians prevail in the West.
The rapid rise of the Ottoman Empire is due to the weakening political condition in the Middle East. During its formation, the Middle East and the South Eastern Europe are characterized by wars. The Romans, Greeks, Persians, and the Arabs, who build great civilizations, are fighting and destroying one another. Therefore, the Ottoman Empire takes the opportunity to expand its territory. The Ottoman Empire lasts up to the 20th century. By this time it has established the Islamic cultures and traditions that last up-to-date (Cargill, Kirk, & Jarden 278).
System of Government
During its height of ruling, the Ottoman Empire has29 administrative units. In addition, it has numerous tributary states where no direct control has been established due to their distance from the central governing body. These tributary states (provinces) are subdivided into smaller units that are supervised by beys (Mehmet & Gary 320). Some of these states are absorbed into the empire while others are granted autonomy and thereby govern by themselves. The organization of the Ottoman Empire is based on a certain kind of a hierarchical structure with the Sultan being at the top. Below the Sultan are his viziers, court officials, and military commanders. The Sultan is expected to maintain justice in the Empire. The Ottoman Empire is governed by the following principles;
- Expansionism- they engage in the so-called “holy war” against the non-Muslim communities.
- Absolutism-There are complicated court systems.
- Muslim system
- Efficient taxation system
- Division of powers
The Ottoman Empire rulers gain powers on numerous oversea lands including the Lanzarote Island in the Atlantic Ocean. Istanbul is the capital city of the Ottoman Empire. This city is the centre of activities in the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries (Mehmet & Gary 112). The empire ends on July 24, 1923 and becomes the Republic of Turkey having signed the Lausanne Treaty.
Decline of the Ottoman Empire
A state is said to have failed if it is incapable of defending its territories and keeping its population together. Judged by this assumption, it is right to say that the Ottoman State of the 19th and 20th century is a failure. The three fundamental problems that face the Ottoman Empire and consequently lead to its downfall include: the incapability to maintain the firm external position of the Empire, defense of the realm, and the construction of a collective identity (Lybyer 38). The decline of the Ottoman Empire results from a combination of both internal and external factors. The Ottoman Empire encounters three major internal problems. First, after the death of Suleiman, the Sultans are incapable of and less energetic to rule the Empire. Secondly, the Empire is under the financial crisis due to increased corruption which becomes a stumbling block to the smooth governing of the Empire. In addition, the Janissaries’ demand for an increase in their pay also increases the state’s spending. Finally, the Empire’s large size creates problems.
The Empire also faces two external economic factors. Firstly, a new spice route to Asia has been opened by the Portuguese while circumnavigating to Africa and India. Therefore, the Ottomans Empire loses the monopoly of spice trade. This leads to reduction in their income. Secondly, the Spanish Empire in America triggers a rampant increase in inflation by causing an influx of gold and silver to Europe (Lybyer 74). This inflation, in combination with other diverse factors leads to a decline in the empire’s revenue leading to a severe economic decline.
In 1774 and 1792, the Ottoman Empire is defeated by Russia. This leads to the realization of the Empire’s military inferiority. Also, in 1856 the Ottoman Empire is disastrously defeated by Russia leading to a huge number of Muslim refugees entering the country from the side of Black Sea. This sparked the Empire’s need for military modernization. Modernizing the army is given much priority which results in changes in the army’s style: they start to command and dress like the Europeans. The “well-trained Victorious Soldiers of Muhammad” was has been founded on an effort to introduce the modern military practice (Lybye 92). The introduction of Western practices and supplying the army with modern equipments increases the state expenditure since most of the equipments are being imported. The Ottoman Empire is not as rich as Russia which is almost seven times richer and five times more populous. How can anyone be surprised with its failure?
In the late 18th century, the Empire loses control of many sections of its territory to the Russian Empire and the native nationalist movements composed of Serbians and Greeks. Additionally, in 1877 the Empire suffers great losses when it loses the control of Bosnia and Anatolia. Also, in 1912-1920 the European possession is lost to the Balkans and the Arab provinces are captured by the British Empire (Fromkin 28).
Most of the lost provinces lost have been very important to the Ottoman Empire. For instance, the Balkan provinces were the most advanced, the richest and the most densely populated and home to a large part of the Ottoman ruling elite. This worsens the political and economic weakness of the Ottoman Empire, which is apparent to the Europeans. In spite of the strenuous efforts by the Ottomans to strengthen the state by adopting the European technology and practices, the empire is heading for downfall. The Ottoman reformers does not recognize the encroachment of the European imperialism, its power and the danger it has brought to the Empire. However, it is questionable as to whether their policies have led to the failure of the Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman Empire being one the longest-living and strongest empires in the world is indisputably great. However, with the growth and advancement in the level of technology in the world, the Empire cannot resist its downfall. Furthermore, its large size contributes to its downfall because governance is not efficient. For instance, there is little communication between numerous administrative units in various continents. In 1800’s, the empire faces an economic crisis because of its large size. The never-ending internal and external conflicts within the Ottoman Empire finally lead to its downfall with the signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923. The Turkish war of 1919 to 1922 leads to Sultan and his family flee to exile.
Relations of the Ottoman Empire with the Oppressed Ethnic Groups
The Ottoman Empire is a multi-ethnic state with over 60 religious, ethnic, and tribal groups each of them being at a different level of political and social development. Though there are legally protected leaders from religious minority groups, the Ottoman Empire practices discrimination among the pro-Islamic communities (Fromkin 93). This leads to the revival of national Christian movements in the state which are favored by the increased influence of the European powers in the Ottoman Empire. The Tanzimat period of ruling brought new ideas to the challenges and problems that face the Christians under the Sultan. Many Christians advocate equality in all subjects and respect of human dignity which means demand of a guarantee for life and property. This idea of unity among various ethnic and religious groups in the Empire gains ground before the beginning of the Crimean War. This idea is used as a tool by the Ottomans against external enemies such as Russia.
The British diplomacy supports the implementation of these reforms. According to Fromkin, these reforms are meant to prevent the overthrow of Sultan’s government by national movements. Also, the Christians do not aim to ask for help from external powers in an attempt to overthrow the regime (Fromkin 75).
The Young Turks involvement in military coups and their nationalistic policy leads to the Balkans’ secession from the military state. This causes the Balkan War of 1910. In 1915 and 1917, a lot of Armenians are imprisoned and deported from the Ottoman Empire. Many of them are killed. The Armenians have aided the Russians in their confrontation with into the Empire and this is thought to be the basis for retaliation against them.
The success of the Turks can be attributed to their superior cannons, their warlike heritage, and their cohesiveness to the Islamic faith. The decline of the Ottoman Empire is thought to be an inevitable process signaled by the despotic, corrupt and backward government. Also, the European powers have used some commercial and territorial powers to initiate the fall of the Empire. This is justified by the western countries that opposed the peculiar identity of the Ottoman government. The United States and European countries assert that the Ottoman Empire has lived for war. This statement is a misleading stereotype since the Ottoman state has been aggressive just like other Empires.