The Ottoman Empire (Ottoman دولت علیه İA Devlet-i ʿAlīye and official from 1876 دولت عثمانيه / Devlet-i ʿOs̲mānīye / ‘the Ottoman State‘, Turkish: Osmanlı İmparatorluğu) was the empire of the Ottoman dynasty from c. 1299 to 1922. The term Ottoman Empire, which is obsolete in German-speaking countries, is still found in English and French-language literature, derives from variants of the Arabic form of the name Uthman of the dynasty founder Osman I.
|Motto: دولت ابد مدت
(“The Eternal State”)
|Head of state||Sultan|
|Head of government||Grand Vizier|
|Area||4,800 km² (1299)5,200,000 km² (17th century) 3,400,000 (1900, without vassals) km²|
|Currency||Akçe (1327), Sultani (1454), Kuruş (1690), Lira (1844), Para|
|National anthem||Reşadiye – for Sultan Mehmed V Reşad (1909–1918)|
It originated at the beginning of the 14th century as a regional dominion (Beylik) in northwestern Asia Minor in the border area of the Byzantine Empire under a leader of presumably nomadic origin. This freed itself from dependence on the Sultanate of the Rum Seljuks, which had come under the domination of the Mongol Ilkhanate after 1243 and had lost its power. Its capital was Bursa from 1326, Adrianople from 1368, and Constantinople since 1453 ( Ottoman Kostantiniyye; officially called Istanbul since 1876).
At the time of its greatest expansion in the 17th century, it stretched from its heartlands of Asia Minor and Rumelia northwards to the area around the Black and Azov Seas, westwards far into southeastern Europe. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire claimed a great European power role politically, militarily and economically alongside the Holy Roman Empire, France and England.
In the Mediterranean, the empire fought with the Italian republics of Venice and Genoa, the Papal States and the Order of Malta for economic and political supremacy. From the late 17th to the late 19th century, it competed with the Russian Empire for control of the Black Sea region. In the Indian Ocean, the empire challenged Portugal in the struggle for primacy in long-distance trade with India and Indonesia. Due to the continuously intensive political, economic and cultural relations, the history of the Ottoman Empire is closely linked to that of Western Europe.
In the Near East, the Ottomans ruled the historical heartlands of Islam with Syria, the area of today’s Iraq and the Hejaz (with the holy cities of Mecca and Medina), in North Africa the area from Nubia via Upper Egypt westwards to the middle Atlas Mountains was subject to Ottoman rule. In the Islamic world, the Ottoman Empire was the third and last Sunni great power after the Umayyad and Abbasid Empires. After the Safavid dynasty had established Shia as the state religion in Persia, both empires continued the old intra-Islamic conflict between the two Islamic denominations in three major wars.
In the course of the 18th and especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, the empire suffered considerable territorial losses in conflicts with the European powers as well as national independence efforts in its Rumelian heartlands. Its territory was reduced to European Thrace and Asia Minor. Within the few years from 1917 to 1922, the First World War led to the end of the four great monarchies of the Hohenzollern, Habsburgs, Romanovs and Ottomans, which had shaped the history of Europe for centuries.
In the Turkish War of Liberation, a national government under Mustafa Kemal Pasha prevailed; In 1923, the Republic of Turkey was founded as the successor state.
Political history of the Ottoman Empire
Anatolia before 1300
Asia Minor (Anatolia) was under the domination of the Byzantine Empire until the 11th century. After the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the Turkic Seljuk Rum had founded their own sultanate in Central Anatolia. Its capital was Konya. In the Battle of Köse Dağ in 1243, the Seljuks were defeated by the Mongols and had to recognize the supremacy of the Ilkhanates. At the end of the 13th century, the governor of the Ilkhanate in Anatolia, Sülemiş, revolted against Ghazan Ilkhan. The weakness of the Byzantine Empire in the west and the Ilkhanid Empire in the east offered the Turkic Beys the opportunity to establish independent smaller dominions in the area between the two empires. The Beyliks of Mentesche, Aydın, Germiyan, Saruhan, Karesi, Teke, Candar, Karaman, Hamid and Eretna were created.
In the northwest of Anatolia, the ancient region of Bithynia, existed at the beginning of the 14th century the Ottoman Beylik, named after its founder Osman I. Osman I ruled over a nomadic tribe or group of predatory fighters (ghāzīs), which had its headquarters at Söğüt and claimed the area between Eskişehir and Bilecik. According to tradition, he came from the Oghuz clan of the Kayı from the tribe of Bozok. The Moroccan world traveler Ibn Battūta refers to Osman I as a “Turkmen”. Turkmene was at that time a synonym for Oghuse. Osman’s land is called Ibn Battuta barr al-Turkiyya al-Maʻ ruf bi-Bilad al-Rūm (“The Turkish Land, known as the Land of Rum”).
Many books and texts about the early days were lost during the destruction of Bursa by Timur in 1402. One of the oldest surviving Turkish chronicles, the Düstür-nāme of Ahwad al-Dīn Enveri (d. 1189/90), deals with the history of the western and Central Anatolian beyliks, but focuses on the beylik of Aydın. The Karaman-nāme of Şikârî (d. 1512) deals with the history of the Karamanoğulları, the beys of Karaman. Ottoman chronicles such as the menāḳib or tevārīḫ-i Āl-i ʿOsmān of Ashikpaschazade have only survived from the 15th century. The Ottoman sources transmit a smoothed, partly legendary narrative of their own rise, which is not in harmony with the Byzantine chronicles created at the same time. They are therefore only suitable for research into the early history of the empire with restrictions.
In the first years of its existence, the Ottoman Beylik was apparently only one of several comparably powerful dominions. Until the 15th century, the Ottoman rulers were required to show consideration for the Ilkhans and their political successors, the Timurids, in their operations in the Anatolian part of the empire. A first attempt to emancipate himself from this supremacy failed in 1402 in the Battle of Ankara. How Osman and his successors succeeded in forming a world empire from a small domain remains the subject of research.
Founding and expansion of the Empire: 14th century
The beginnings of the Ottoman dynasty are obscure. The “official” legendary historiography names his father Ertuğrul and his father Suleiman Shah as Osman’s ancestors. As members of the Oghuz tribe of Kayı, they immigrated from Khorasan to Anatolia, which had already been ruled by the Rumseljuks for several generations, in the course of the military campaigns of Genghis Khan and his successors. It is striking that both the father and the son, in contrast to the father, have non-Islamic names.
But also the Byzantine historian Georgios Pachymeres handed down the name of the leader for the year 1302 not as “Osman” but as ataman at the first mention of the Ottomans in Byzantine historiography. The Ottomanist Colin Heywood, on the other hand, sees an origin from the empire of Nogai Khan as possible, who was in partly hostile, partly friendly relations with the Byzantine Empire and also sent aid expeditions to northwest Asia Minor to support the Byzantines. Some of these people were still shamanists and were superficially Christianized. Heywood suspects that after Nogai’s death and the collapse of his empire, Oghuz-Kipchak tribes that had belonged to his empire migrated by land and sea to northwestern Asia Minor.
He refers to a tradition handed down by the Persian historian Khwāndemir (about 1520), according to which the father of the founder of the Ottoman dynasty came to Anatolia with 10,000 tents from the Pontic steppe via Kaffa (today’s Feodosiya in the Crimea). The Principality of Karası, which borders the Ottomans to the west, is also of the same origin, which, according to the hypotheses of Claude Cahen and Mehmet Fuat Köprülü, also goes back to Mongolian-dominated immigrants from the Balkans and from the Pontic steppes and may have only been Islamized in Anatolia. The name Ataman is to be interpreted as a misinterpreted title, which has a late successor in the title Hetman of the Cossacks. Only later was this nomadic leader included in the Islamic tradition as “Osman”.
The year 1299 is traditionally regarded as the founding year of the Ottoman Empire. With the first conquests of Osman in the West, his rule came to the attention of the Byzantine chronicles. Georgios Pachymeres was the first Byzantine historian to report an Ottoman victory over a Byzantine army: on July 27, 1302, the Ottomans won the Battle of Bapheus (Koyunhisar); Since then, this day has been regarded as the day of the founding of the dynasty.
Due to his successes, Osman I (1258–1324/26) was able to secure the support of mounted warriors of the neighboring Turkish tribes and expanded his dominion to the northwest, mainly at the expense of the Byzantine Empire. In the 1930s, the Ghazi thesis was formulated, which sought to explain the Western direction of expansion from the ideology of Islamic religious fighters. In the 1980s, it was contrasted with the nomadic thesis, which understands the Western orientation from the way of life of the Turkic peoples, who were still largely nomadic at that time. In the fertile areas of western Anatolia, which were protected only by weak Byzantine occupations, they found suitable pastures for their herds. Ottoman chroniclers report trade between Osman I and the Byzantine administrator (tekfur) of Bilecik.
Conquest of the first cities
The first territorial gains were made in the border area to the Byzantine Empire (Turkish: Uc, Greek: άκρον akron; Peak, end). During the civil wars there, Turkic mercenaries had fought on both sides. Following the Byzantine model, the Ottomans conquered fortified cities by closing a dense siege ring around them and at the same time devastating their surroundings until the starving urban population gave up their resistance. In this way, in 1326, the city of Bursa, an important trading center of the Silk Road, fell into Ottoman hands. Cities depopulated after a siege received new inhabitants from other regions: Osman I is said to have repopulated the city with resettlers from Germiyan in 1288 after the conquest of Karacahisar. Voluntary resettlements and deportations remained a constant of Ottoman population policy throughout the empire’s existence.
EC internal market, free movement of persons, right of establishment
Their raids brought the nomadic Turkic peoples of Anatolia control over the economically important pastures. They were therefore an effective means of gaining territory. The prospect of rich booty ensured the support of the leaders in battle. However, the siege of cities and the devastation of their surroundings meant that the arable land of the city dwellers could not be cultivated, their herds could not graze.
With the transition to a sedentary, urban way of life and economy, the picture changed: the raids threatened the now Ottoman cities as well as the trade, which was already highly developed at the time of the Beyliks: the dominion of Osman was conveniently located on the old trade routes between Asia and Europe and was thus able to participate from the beginning in East-West trade, the exchange of raw materials, Trade goods and precious metals. The neighboring country of Byzantium, like the Seljuk Sultanate, had a highly developed economic and monetary system, which the pragmatic new rulers used as a model. The expanding Ottoman Empire thus had early economic strength and the necessary skills to use it to its advantage. This was one of the prerequisites for his military and political successes.
The sedentary life and the expanding own trade presented the nascent administration of the Ottoman Beylik with two important tasks: cities, agricultural production and trade routes now had to be protected from the same predatory nomads who had previously driven the conquests forward. The control and taxation of the elusive nomadic population had already posed challenges to the Byzantine Empire. The new rulers now inherited this task, which caused problems for the Ottoman government until the 20th century. With the transition from nomadic subsistence farming to agricultural production and long-distance trade as the main sources of income, the land had to be redistributed and managed. The expected and achieved yields of what was now the most important factor of production had to be recorded. Here lie the origins of the later Ottoman land administration and tax system.
Orhan I and Murad I
Osman’s son and successor Orhan (1281–1359/62) had inherited only a small principality in 1326, which was barely half the size of Switzerland. Iznik was conquered by him in 1331 after defeating a Byzantine army at Maltepe in the Battle of Pelekanon in 1329. He made Bursa the capital, and until the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 it remained the burial place of the Ottoman sultans.
Military innovations changed the classical nomadic warfare by means of mounted archers and were decisive for further military successes: Probably already under Orhan, certainly verifiable under his successor Murad I (1319/29–1389), a standing infantry emerged with the Janissaries (Turkish Yeniçeri, “new troop”). During the following centuries, they constituted the elite of the Ottoman army: by means of the boys’ harvest (devşirme), mostly Christian boys were forcibly recruited in the Balkans and the Caucasus and converted to Islam under the spiritual guidance of the Sufi Bektashi order. They received training that would turn them into capable civil servants.
Their position as slaves (ḳul) of the ruler made them directly subordinate to him and secured their loyalty. Due to their central importance for the imperial administration, the Janissaries gained increasing political influence and rose to become a third force in Ottoman society alongside the political elite of the court and the Islamic scholar-hood, the ʿUlamā’. In addition to the Janissary troops, the mostly Turkic heavy Sipahi cavalry played an important role. Other troop units were the Akıncı, also mostly Turkish, storm riders, whose livelihood was mainly from the spoils of war, including the slave trade. At the same time, the headquarters maintained the sultan’s own troops with the bodyguard, the Kapikuli, while the provincial governors, the Welis, maintained regional units, including the Serratkuli.
The economic gains from the newly conquered territories outweighed the costs of the war at that time. The conquered territories were divided into individual, called Tımar, non-hereditary military fiefdoms, whose owners had to provide and maintain mounted Sipahi depending on the size and income of their fiefdom. In some cases, the former rulers of the conquered regions received fiefdoms and were obliged to loyalty and military successes.
This system was outwardly similar to the European feudal system of the Middle Ages, but there were major differences: only sources of income, no sovereign rights, were awarded. The peasants who tilled Tımarland were not serfs. The feudal holder exercised no jurisdiction. According to Islamic law, this was reserved for an independent hierarchy of Kadis. In 1383, Murad I appointed a chief judge (ḳāżıʿasker) for the first time. As long as the costs of warfare were covered by the income of the Tımar, the conquests financed themselves and brought profit. Only with the advent of expensive firearms in the 16th century did the cost of the standing, modernly equipped and cash-paid armies exceed the financial resources of the classical Tımar organization.
The growing empire now received a superordinate administrative structure: from 1385, the military leadership was handed over to a “Beylerbey of Rumelia” (the European part of the Ottoman Empire) and a “Beylerbey of Anatolia”, with the former taking precedence. Jurisdiction was administered separately in the two regions. Throughout the following history, the European parts of the empire were heartlands of the Ottoman Empire. Their loss in the 19th century was a major political and economic setback.
The Ottomans pushed the Byzantine Empire almost completely out of Asia Minor by the end of the 1330s. At Orhan’s death in 1359, the empire was already more than three times as large as when his father died. However, he had expanded his sphere of influence not only at the expense of Byzantium, which paid tribute for the first time in 1333, but also at the expense of his Turkmen neighbors. Thus, in 1345, he broke the regional power of the neighboring Karesi.
Through skillful action during the Byzantine throne disputes (1321–1328), he was able to incorporate further territories on the Aegean Sea into his dominion. The Ottoman Empire became a supremacy in Asia Minor. The Byzantine prince John Kantakouzenos gained the imperial throne with Sultan Orhan’s military support in the Byzantine Civil War from 1341 to 1347. The alliance was sealed by the marriage of John’s daughter Theodora to Orhan. The historical work of John Kantakouzenos, together with the Rhmaic History of Nikephoros Gregoras, is an important Byzantine source on the early period of the Ottoman Empire.
Orhan Gazi conquered some areas such as the coastal areas on the Sea of Marmara and Thrace. During Orhan’s lifetime, the expansion into Europe began by crossing the Sea of Marmara (Marmara Denizi). In 1354, Gallipoli became the first Byzantine city on European soil to be conquered. In 1361, Adrianople, one of the largest cities of the Byzantine Empire, was captured. After the Battle of the Maritsa in 1371, the conquest of Serbian Macedonia followed shortly afterward and until 1396 Bulgaria.
At the same time, the conquest of Asia Minor progressed: Ankara came under Ottoman influence and marriage relations with the Beylik of Germiyan, previously the most powerful of the Turkmen principalities in western Anatolia, were established. In 1389, Murad I defeated the allied Christian princes of the Balkans from Serbia and Bosnia and other allied principalities at the Battle of the Field of Blackbirds. The sultan himself was killed, according to later traditions by the Serbian nobleman Miloš Obilić.
Bayezid I: From Beylik to Empire
Murad I was succeeded by Bayezid I (sometimes spelled Beyazıt or Bayezıt, 1360–1403). Expansion in Anatolia continued. By 1392, the Beyliks of Teke, Aydin, Saruchan, Mentesche and Germiyan had been conquered. Bayezid I then besieged Konya, but was not yet able to conquer the beylik of the Karamanids: The Byzantine emperor Manuel II. Palaiologos occupied territories in Romania at the same time, as did the principalities of Wallachia and Bosnia. In 1394, Bulgaria and Wallachia returned to Ottoman rule. In negotiations with the Republic of Venice, Bayezid I managed to stop grain deliveries to Constantinople. The fortress Anadolu Hisarı, built in 1393/4 on the Anatolian shore of a Bosphorus strait only 700 m wide, is one of the largest preserved buildings from the time of Bayezid.
Together with the fortress Rumeli Hisarı, built later (1452) by Mehmed II on the opposite bank, the fortifications dominated the sea route to Constantinople from the Black Sea and thus represented one of the prerequisites for the later conquest of the city. Bayezid I is said to have claimed the title ” Sultan-ı Rūm” for himself. In 1396 he succeeded in placing the Muslim inhabitants of Constantinople under their own jurisdiction.
In 1397, the Sultan finally conquered the Beylik of Karaman and rearranged the conquered territories in the Beyerbeylik of Anatolia. He conquered Sinope, Eretna and in 1400 Erzincan. The threat of Timur, who had made himself the advocate of the conquered Beyliks, prompted him to break off the blockade of Constantinople in 1401 at the price of a renewed tribute of the Byzantine Empire. From the late period of Bayezid’s reign, the first Ottoman chronicles have been handed down, which testify to a new self-confidence of the empire.
Bayezid granted trading privileges to the maritime republics of Genoa and Ragusa. The port facilities of Gallipoli or the Great Mosque of Bursa, built under his reign between 1396 and 1399, are among the first known buildings of Ottoman architecture, still influenced by Seljuk architecture.
The conquests in the Balkans after the battles of the Maritsa and the Field of Blackbirds finally brought new power into the public consciousness of Western Europe. In 1396, the Ottomans defeated a crusader army under the Hungarian king and later emperor Sigismund at the Battle of Nicopolis. Eyewitnesses such as Johannes Schiltberger reported on the event and their experiences in captivity. The negotiations for the ransoms of high-ranking European prisoners of war such as Jean II. Le Maingre brought the Ottoman Empire into direct diplomatic contact with Western European countries for the first time. It had become a direct neighbor and thus a serious threat to the European empires.
Conquest by Timur, Ottoman Interregnum: 1402 to 1413
The Ottoman Empire had to endure its first existential crisis when its army was defeated in the Battle of Ankara against Timur Lenk in 1402 and Bayezid was taken prisoner. The founder of the Timurid dynasty had conquered a huge empire from northern India via Georgia and Persia to Anatolia within a short time, but it quickly disintegrated after his death in 1405.
He had distributed the administration of the territories of the Ottoman Empire to the sons of Bayezid, Suleiman (Rumelia), Mehmed (Central Anatolia with Amasya) and İsa (Anatolian part around Bursa). As a result, they fought both for the territories lost to Timur and against each other for supremacy. Suleiman was defeated in 1410 by his brother Musa, who in turn was defeated in 1413 with Byzantine support from Mehmed. As sultan of the reunified empire, Mehmed I took up the challenge of consolidating the country while restoring its former greatness in the following years.
The accession to the throne of Mehmed’s son Murad II did not go smoothly. Shortly before Mehmed’s death, a certain Mustafa, as the alleged son of Bayezid, asserted claims to the throne. Perhaps this Mustafa was indeed a biological son, but he was defamed by Mehmed as a “false (düzme) Mustafa”. Both he and another of Murad’s brothers, the “little (küçük) Mustafa”, who had been established by Byzantium as a pretender to the throne, were executed. In 1422, the siege of Constantinople had to be broken off again. Venice defended Selânik (Thessaloniki) from 1423 against the Ottomans, but in 1430 the city, whose surroundings had long been in their hands, finally fell to them. Already twice, 1387–1391 and 1394–1403, the city was Ottoman, then last Byzantine.
Resurgence and further westward expansion: 1420 to 1451
In Southeastern Europe, the Kingdom of Hungary had become the main opponent. In 1440 it was able to avert the capture of the important fortress in Belgrade. Johann Hunyadi, in particular, repeatedly achieved military successes, although his and the Pope’s attempts to summon a crusader army to expel the Ottomans from Europe were hardly heard in Western and Central Europe. Three years later, Hunyadi was even able to penetrate into what was then Ottoman Bulgaria.
The Albanians under Skanderbeg also led a struggle for independence against the Ottomans. In 1444, Murad concluded a ten-year peace treaty in Szeged, but it was immediately broken by Hungary to lead a campaign initiated by the Pope. Murad had just relinquished power to his son Mehmed II and retired, but now again became the head of the army that defeated the Crusaders under the Polish-Hungarian king Władysław at the Battle of Varna. Once again, Murad had to take power for his inexperienced son and successor in 1446 to put down a Janissary uprising, and in 1448 inflicted a heavy defeat on the Hungarians under John Hunyadi in Kosovo at the Battle of the Field of Blackbirds.
With the beginning of the conquest of Byzantine Thrace in 1354, the Ottomans had found a severely shattered and depopulated country. The preceding Byzantine civil wars of 1341–1347 and 1352–1354, in which Ottoman mercenaries fought on both sides, and the “Great Plague Pandemic” (1346–1353) had devastated the region. The oldest surviving Ottoman population registers (tahrir defterleri) from the 15th century show both the extent of the losses and the result of the Ottoman settlement policy. In addition to the spontaneous immigration of Turkic nomads (Yörük), inhabitants of Anatolia were resettled in significant numbers to the Balkans by order of the Sultan. Research into place names indicates that subjects from all regions of Asia Minor were taken to Thrace and Macedonia.
The capital of the Ottoman Empire since 1368 was Edirne. Murad II built monumental buildings there. The Muradiyye Mosque, the Üç Şerefeli Mosque with a 24 m wide dome, Külliye complexes with baths attached to a mosque ( hammām ) and poor kitchens (İmaret) as well as the Cisr-i Ergeni (“Ergeni” or “Long Bridge”, Turkish uzun köprü), which gave its name to the first Ottoman city foundation in the Balkans, Uzunköprü, show the resurgent power of the Sultan.
Ottoman Empire: 1451 to 1566
Conquest of Constantinople and consolidation of power
Mehmed II finally ascended the throne in 1451. He devoted himself to the final conquest of Constantinople, which as the “Golden Apple” was already the target of the Ottoman expansionist policy before the first siege (1422); later Vienna bore this name. Byzantium had set up another Ottoman pretender to the throne, Orhan, and tried one last time to turn Ottoman policy in its favor: In the case of the “false” Mustafa (see above), a similar policy had led to an Ottoman War of Succession. Constantinople fell after a 54-day siege on May 29, 1453. In Europe, this event was perceived as an end-time turning point.
In historiography, the fall of the city is regarded as a turning point in world history, the end of the Byzantine Empire and the turn of the epoch from the Middle Ages to the early modern period. In fact, Byzantium had little political influence at this time and dominated little more than the actual city area. However, the heavily fortified city controlled access to the Black Sea. Constantinople was developed into the new capital of the Ottoman Empire.
An attempt was made to re-enlarge the city’s population by persuading the old inhabitants – such as Greeks and Jews – to stay and settling new ones. The largest Christian church of its time, the Hagia Sophia, was rededicated to the Aya-Ṣofya mosque in an act of symbolic appropriation. After the conquest, Sultan Mehmed II took the title “Emperor of the Romans” (قیصر روم / Ḳayṣer-i Rūm) and thus consciously placed himself in the tradition and succession of the Eastern Roman Empire. In the final phase of Byzantine historiography, the rise of the Ottoman Empire was taken up, but interpreted very differently: Laonikos Chalkokondyles, for example, constructed a contrast between East and West based on ancient classics, while Michael Kritopulos took the perspective of the Turkish victors and regarded them as the ideal heirs of Byzantium.
In the Balkans, Ottoman expansion progressed more slowly. In 1456, Hunyadi averted the conquest of Belgrade and secured Hungary’s independence for the next seventy years. In 1460, Mehmed II conquered the despotate of Morea (the Peloponnese) and the rest of Serbia. With the conquest of the Empire of Trebizond in 1461, the territorial rule of the last Byzantine dynasty, the Komneni, came to an end. In 1470 Albania, in 1475 the Crimea came to the Empire.
During his long reign (1444–1446 and 1451–1481), Sultan Mehmed II. Reforms were carried out that organized the Reich centralistically in today’s terms, its economy interventionalist. Promoting trade and gaining control of trade routes was a major goal of Ottoman policy in the Eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, this brought the empire into conflict with the hitherto leading trading and naval power, the Republic of Venice. The Ottoman–Venetian War (1463–79) ended with territorial losses and the tribute of Venice.
In 1481, Bayezid II ascended the throne. His brother Cem was held hostage against him, first by the Order of Malta and later by the Pope, which limited the Ottoman room for maneuver in the West. Under Mehmed II and Bayezid II, the first codes of law (Ḳānūnnāme) were created. These supplemented the previously kept tax registers (defters), which had specified in detail the type of taxation, timing and procedure for its collection, as well as the legal relationship between tax holders and taxpayers. Bayezid II was deposed by his son Selim in 1512 and possibly poisoned.
Selim I continued his campaigns of conquest, especially in the East. In 1514 he won a victory against the Safavid in Persia, in 1516 against Syria. Finally, in 1516/17, the Mamluk Empire in Egypt was smashed. Thus, the Ottoman Empire took over the protectorate over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina (i.e. the protection of the pilgrimage routes and the supply of the cities). The Ottoman sultan had thus succeeded in consolidating the supremacy of his empire in Islamic culture.
Self-image and organization as a great power
The era of Suleiman I (1520–1566) is usually regarded as the height of the power of the Ottoman Empire. In Ottoman and Turkish historiography he received the epithet “Ḳānūnī” (“Lawgiver”), in Western European “the Magnificent”. Under his rule, the Şeyhülislam Mehmed Ebussuud Efendi drew up a nationwide law book (Ḳānūnnāme). Ebussuud derived Ottoman law from the Sharia interpretation of the Sunni-Hanafi school of law. During Suleiman’s reign, a special branch of this school of jurisprudence was formed with Ottoman Islam, which religiously legitimized the claim to power of the Ottoman dynasty. In addition to Ebussuud, the chancellor (nişancı) Celâlzâde Mustafa was one of Suleiman’s closest and most influential collaborators. Under his leadership, an independent Ottoman bureaucracy (ḳalemiyye) created the administrative structure of the early modern empire.
The nickname “the magnificent” characterizes his perception in the West: he is considered one of the greatest patrons of art among the Ottoman rulers. His reign included the architectural masterpieces of Sinan. Through many campaigns, Suleiman expanded the empire to the west, east and southeast.
In 1521 he conquered Belgrade in just 3 weeks. The fortress was then considered the strongest in the Balkans. In 1522, an Ottoman force besieged Rhodes, starved the fortress and took it in December 1522. Four years later, the fate of Hungary was sealed by the victory of the Ottoman army at the Battle of Mohács and the death of the childless King Ludwig II in this battle. The Ottoman army withdrew provisionally before the end of the year. In the succession dispute between the Habsburg Ferdinand I and the Hungarian John Zápolya, in which Ferdinand initially gained the upper hand, John Zápolya asked the Ottomans for help and submitted to the suzerainty of the sultan. Suleiman I took advantage of the situation in 1529 to besiege Vienna for the first time.
After only 19 days, the siege had to be abandoned due to the early onset of winter. In 1533 there was an armistice between Ferdinand and Suleiman, in which both parties recognized their spheres of influence. Without the participation of the Sultan, Ferdinand and John Zápolya agreed on the Hungarian royal dignity in the Treaty of Oradea in 1537. Zápolya was recognized as king in his domain, but his successor was Ferdinand. After his death in 1540, however, his widow Zápolya’s son John Sigismund was proclaimed King of Hungary. Against Ferdinand’s attacks, she called Suleiman for help.
He occupied Ofen in 1541 and placed the middle third of the Kingdom of Hungary under direct Ottoman rule, where the Eyâlets Budin, Eğri, Tımıșvar and Kanije were built. However, Ottoman rule remained imperfect. In addition to the Ottoman institutions, those of the estates Kingdom of Hungary also asserted themselves. Even the Hungarian Imperial Diets were partly attended by delegates from Ottoman Hungary.
Zápolya’s son John Sigismund, as Hungarian king, received Transylvania and some adjacent areas, the so-called “partes” (parts). In 1547, peace was concluded between Ferdinand and Suleiman for 5 years. Ferdinand’s possessions were limited to northern and western Hungary, for which he had to pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire. The war flared up again in 1550 with a Habsburg intervention in Transylvania, which Suleiman did not want to accept.
The conflict between the Habsburgs and Zápolya was resolved in the Treaty of Speyer in 1570 when John Sigismund renounced the Hungarian royal dignity, but the affiliation of Transylvania, known as the principality, to the Hungarian crown, was suspended. The Hungarian royal title was to be used by John Sigismund only in dealings with the Ottoman Empire. This development subsequently led to the emergence of a Principality of Transylvania, detached from Hungary, as an Ottoman vassal state. Ultimately, the war ended only after Suleiman’s death in 1568 in the Treaty of Adrianople, which essentially established the status quo of the possessions and the tribute obligation of the Habsburgs for their share of Hungary.
In the east, the Ottoman Empire succeeded in finally conquering eastern Anatolia in the three campaigns of the Ottoman-Safavid War against the Safavids. In 1534, Mesopotamia with Baghdad and Azerbaijan with the Safavid capital Tabriz fell into the hands of the Ottomans. In the Treaty of Amasya in 1555, the Ottomans succeeded in securing a large part of the conquests permanently. Mesopotamia with Baghdad, Basra and the associated coast of the Persian Gulf, eastern Anatolia and Shahrazor remained Ottoman, Azerbaijan and the eastern parts of the Caucasus remained to the Safavids.
In 1535, Emperor Charles V succeeded in driving the corsair Khair ad-Din Barbarossa, who had recently been appointed commander-in-chief of the Ottoman fleet, from Tunis and making Tunisia a Spanish vassal state. In 1537, the Ottoman fleet of this Khair ad-Din Barbarossa attacked the Venetian possessions in Greece. The combined naval forces of the Holy League formed for defense could not offer effective resistance. In 1538, the fleet of Khair ad-Din Barbarossa defeated the fleet of the Holy League under Andrea Doria at Preveza.
This marked the beginning of a 30-year military supremacy of the Ottoman fleet in the Mediterranean until the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Venice concluded a special peace with the Ottomans in 1540, in which parts of Dalmatia, the remaining possessions of Venice in the Peloponnese and almost all island possessions of Venice in the Aegean Sea except Tinos and Crete fell to the Ottomans. In 1560, the Ottomans asserted their supremacy in the naval battle of Djerba. In 1565, the siege of Malta failed: the Knights of the Order of Malta were able to withstand the invaders until the Ottoman forces, weakened by losses and disease, withdrew in the face of the late season and the arrival of relief troops from Spanish Sicily.
In the southeast, the Ottoman Empire fought with Portugal for supremacy in the Indian Ocean: in 1538 it came to the siege of Diu. In 1547, large parts of Yemen were occupied. The Ottoman admiral Piri Reis expelled the Portuguese from Aden in 1548 and from Muscat in 1552. However, these gains were only temporary, Bahrain and Hormuz remained in the possession of the Portuguese. In 1557, Massaua was conquered in Eritrea and remained Ottoman until the 19th century.
In 1566, Suleiman I set out again on a Hungarian campaign. He besieged Szigetvár, which was defended by Nikola Šubić Zrinski. During the siege of Szigetvár, the sultan died. His death, the heavy losses of the siege of about 20,000 men, and the onset of winter caused the Ottoman army to retreat.
Suleiman was aware of his importance as ruler of a great power: he had the inscription placed above the main entrance of the Süleymaniye Mosque he had built:
“Conqueror of the lands of the East and the West with the help of the Almighty and his victorious army, rulers of the kingdoms of the world.”
In order to make this claim come true, Suleiman had to assert himself against the Holy Roman Empire. Only by conquering the imperial crown could he claim the rule of the West. Under his reign, therefore, diplomatic relations with Europe deepened: he sought to win the support of the German Protestant princes, who had allied themselves in the Schmalkaldic League against the religious policy of the Catholic Emperor Charles V, and concluded an alliance with the French King François I. He wrote:
“I cannot deny my desire to see the Turk powerful and ready for war, not for his sake, because he is an infidel and we are Christians, but to weaken the power of the emperor, to impose high expenditures on him and to strengthen all other governments against such a powerful opponent”.
In the economic field, relations became closer. The first so-called capitulation, which agreed on free trade and gave the trading partners jurisdiction over their subjects on the territory of the Ottoman Empire, had already been granted to the Republic of Genoa in 1352, followed in the 1380s by the Republic of Venice, under Mehmed II (r. 1451–81) the Republic of Florence, under Bayezid II (r. 1481–1512) Naples. France had already obtained confirmation from the Porte in 1517 of the capitulation concluded with the Egyptian Mamluk dynasty. The capitulation agreed as part of the Franco-Ottoman alliance in 1536 was long considered the first, but was never ratified. Around 1580 dates the first capitulation with England, which until then had imported goods via Venice. The empire used the capitulations to gain diplomatic advantages from the competition between European countries for the best trading conditions.
16th and 17th centuries
Modern historians see the period after Suleiman I (the period from 1550 to 1700) as a period of extensive change, rather than an epoch of slow decline. Economic and political crises characterized this period, which the empire not only knew how to survive but from which it emerged fundamentally changed. Not only the Ottoman Empire but also Europe and the Mediterranean region suffered at this time from the severe economic and fiscal setbacks of the “crisis of the 17th century”. Politically, this period of upheaval was characterized by the emergence of elite patronage networks, such as the Grand Vizier, provincial governors or high-ranking ʿulamā’.
Following the example of the sultan’s court in Istanbul, these networks were called “households (ḳapı)“. While in the early 16th century all power was still united in the person of the sultan, in the second half of the century a network of relationships between influential households shaped political life. The political fragmentation into individual power factions is understood by some scholars as an early form of a democratization process by limiting government power. In the course of this adjustment process, the character of the Ottoman Empire changed from a rule-oriented towards military conquest to a rule aimed at the best possible use of existing territorial possessions and a new self-image as a “bastion of Sunni Islam”. Baki Tezcan coined the term “Second Ottoman Empire” for this period.
European countries such as England were also interested in good relations with the Ottoman sultan’s court: Elizabethan England sought the support of the sultans in its efforts to disrupt the Portuguese and Spanish silver fleets. This was particularly evident in England’s policy towards the Holy League, and in the conspicuous silence of the English public in contrast to the rest of Western Europe after the Battle of Lepanto. The correspondence between the Elizabethan and Ottoman court chancelleries has also been handed down, whereby the role of Elizabeth I as a “fidei defensor” was particularly emphasized against Christian heresies. The positive attitude of English society towards Islamic countries is also reflected in the dramas of Elizabethan theatre, for example in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Othello.
Until the middle of the 15th century, the silver content of the most important Ottoman currency, the Akçe coin, had remained largely constant at 1.15–1.20 g of pure silver. Already in the course of the 15th century, the silver content of the Akçe was repeatedly reduced, thereby depreciating the coin. Although this measure increased the amount of coins in circulation, the simultaneously rising prices canceled out the expected profits for the treasury. In addition, the repeated devaluations already in 1444 led to a first revolt of the bar, in silver coins, paid Janissaries. Another reason for the decline in the value of coins came from the West: because large quantities of silver flowed from the Spanish colonial empire to Europe via Atlantic trade, its value declined.
With the advent of new technologies such as firearms and the introduction of standing, cash-paid armies, warfare became increasingly costly in the 16th century. Despite all efforts, land gains, which had opened up new sources of income for the state treasury in the early days of Ottoman expansion, were now absent. Originally, the Ottoman army had financed itself by the individual fiefs (Tımar) provided and maintained mounted lancers (Sipahi). The Tımar owners mostly lived on or near their estates, consumed part of the goods produced there themselves and claimed compulsory labor (kulluk) or in kind as tax levy.
The technical revolution of warfare led from the 16th century to the decline of cavalry, while the military importance of directly paid troops, equipped with modern weapons at the expense of the state, increased. Increasingly, the tımare were confiscated and added to the sultan’s land, or given to minions and courtiers as sinecurs. Tax collection was often granted in the form of a tax lease (“iltizam”, later “malikâne”) to a tax tenant (“mültezim”), who had to pay a fixed annual levy to the state treasury. Throughout history, taxes in kind and compulsory labor have mostly been converted into cash taxes. The levying of tax in cash meant that the rural population could no longer pay part of their products directly, as before, but first had to sell their products for cash. In addition, the tax tenants squeezed the population in an effort to recoup their investments, sometimes without restraint.
The corruption and venality of offices, which had been widespread since the 17th century, filled not only the state treasury, but above all the pockets of the Grand Viziers and Beylerbeys responsible for filling vacant positions and posts with considerable sums. On the other hand, it brought incompetent and untrained civil servants into office and dignity, who tried in the shortest possible time to recoup the amount invested in the purchase of offices. The need to generate ever-increasing amounts of cash further exacerbated the living conditions of the rural population.
The growing discontent of large parts of the ordinary population was reflected in a series of uprisings such as the Celali uprisings, which hardly allowed Anatolia to rest during the years 1519 to 1598. Because the rural population suffered particularly from increasing tax pressure, inflation and corruption, many farmers left their homesteads. They moved to the cities, to inaccessible mountain areas or joined the insurgents or marauding bands of robbers, the so-called Levent, who were often led by former sipahis whose tımare were no longer sufficient to make a decent living. The rural exodus, the consequences of which are still noticeable in the structural problems of Anatolia’s agriculture, in turn exacerbated the problems, since without the peasants the Tımare no longer made a profit, the food supply of the population became more difficult and the tax authorities also lost taxpayers.
“Women’s rule” and Köprülü restoration
Suleiman I marked the end of the era of warlike sultans, who led their armies themselves and presided over the empire as sole rulers. Unsuitable personalities repeatedly came to the sultan’s throne, such as the alcoholic Selim II, the mentally retarded Mustafa I, Murad IV, who was only eleven years old when he ascended the throne, or İbrahim the Mad. In this situation, the Sultan’s mother (Valide Sultan) ruled the empire de facto.
Often the mothers of the sultans were concubines or slaves of the ruling sultans. Due to the patrilineal succession to the throne without birthright, the most important task of the Valide Sultan was to secure the rule of her son, which could also include the murder of his half-brothers. She found loyal support most likely from family members, who were able to rise to high offices with the help of the sultan’s mother. The sultan’s mothers guaranteed and legitimized the continuation of the dynasty in politically unstable times.
On the other hand, the direct influence of the sultan, who was no longer the sole head of the household in the patrimonial empire, waned. A network of relationships arose between other households, headed by influential personalities of the political hierarchy, such as the Grand Viziers of the time. The result of this partly chaotic and nepotistic process was ultimately greater independence of the Ottoman bureaucracy from the arbitrariness and ability to govern of the sultan, whose person nevertheless ensured the continuity and legitimacy of the empire and its dynasty due to the loyalty owed to him.
In 1656, Köprülü Mehmed Pasha (c. 1580–1661) was appointed Grand Vizier by Mehmed IV. He and his son Fâzıl Ahmed (1635–1676) succeeded in reinforcing the central government. In addition to military successes, they implemented austerity measures, reduced the tax burden and intervened against unlawful tax collection as part of the “Köprülü Restoration” named after them. At times, they were able to calm the recurring revolts of the Janissaries and political factions. The military remained a factor of political unrest: in the capital, the Janissaries deposed Sultan Mustafa II in 1703. In the provinces there were repeated uprisings, for example, the Celali uprisings from 1595 to 1610, 1654 to 1655 and 1658 to 1659, the Canbulad rebellion until 1607 or the rebellion of Ma’noğlu Fahreddin Pasha from 1613 to 1635.
European Turkish Wars and War with Persia
In the naval battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571, the Christian Great Powers, led by Spain and Venice, were able to achieve the first major victory with the almost complete destruction of the Ottoman fleet. However, the political impact was small, as the Christian alliance broke up shortly thereafter and the Ottomans were able to fully rebuild their fleet a year later. Venice even had to cede Cyprus. However, the conflict off Lepanto led to a settlement of the spheres of influence in the Mediterranean.
The Ottomans now limited themselves to their supremacy in the eastern part, for example with the conquest of the Venetian islands of Cyprus in 1571 and Crete in 1669, while Spanish, Maltese and Italian fleets divided the western Mediterranean among themselves. Nevertheless, Selim II turned his attention to Tunisia, which in 1574 fell into the hands of Barbary corsairs who were tributary to the Sublime Porte. Selim also supported Muslim rule in Southeast Asia. After the Long Turkish War (1593–1606), Sultan Ahmed I had to recognize Emperor Rudolf II as an equal negotiating partner for the first time. In 1623–1639 the empire again waged war with the Persian Safavids.
Final foray into Central Europe
In 1683, with the Second Turkish Siege of Vienna, the Sublime Porte made another attempt to advance into Central Europe and conquer Vienna. However, what had not been achieved in the heyday of the Ottoman Empire about 150 years earlier, was defeated in the campaign of Kara Mustafa after the arrival of the combined imperial-southern German and Polish-Lithuanian relief troops under John III. Sobieski in the Battle of Kahlenberg on 12 September 1683 to the disaster and the turning point of the conflict with the European states.
After this defeat revealed the military weaknesses of the Ottomans, the following year a Holy League initiated by the Pope consisting of Austria, the Republic of Venice and Poland-Lithuania launched an attack on the Ottoman Empire on several fronts. After several heavy defeats at Mohács in 1687, Slankamen in 1691 and Senta in 1697, during the Great Turkish War, the loss of central Hungary with Transylvania to Austria, Podolia and the right-bank Ukraine to Poland-Lithuania and the Peloponnese with Dalmatia to Venice had to be accepted in the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699. As a new opponent on the northern border, Russia came into play. An important goal of Tsar Peter I was an access to the Black Sea, which he got in 1695 with Azov.
The external difficulties led to problems inside. In 1687 Mehmed IV was deposed because of the military defeats. In 1703 there was the bloody “Incident of Edirne”, in which insurgents murdered the Sheikh Islam Feyzullah Efendi and deposed Sultan Mustafa II.
In 1711, during the Great Northern War, the Sultan’s army encircled the Russian army on the Prut after the Ottoman Empire entered the war at the request of the fugitive Swedish king Charles XII. In the ensuing negotiations, Peter the Great had to return Azov to the Ottomans. After the Moldovan voivode Dimitrie Cantemir defected to Russia, the Ottomans occupied the Hospodar offices in Moldavia and Wallachia until the mid-19th century with Phanariots, Greeks from the Phanar district in Constantinople, who had long played an important role as translators in politics. In the Danubian principalities, this epoch is referred to as Phanariot rule. They were also successful against the Republic of Venice and regained the Peloponnese in 1715.
Because the Crimean Tatars threatened Ukraine with their raids, Russia began a war against the Ottoman Empire in 1736 in alliance with Austria. The Russians invaded the Crimea and significantly weakened the Ottoman vassal. Under the leadership of Burkhard Christoph von Münnich, the Russian army defeated the Turks at Ochakov and Stavutschany and captured the important fortress of Khottin. The Austrians suffered a defeat against the Turks. In the Treaty of Belgrade in 1739, they had to return northern Serbia with Belgrade and Lesser Wallachia to the Ottomans, which the Habsburgs had previously won from the Ottomans in the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718.
Russia was again and permanently awarded Azov. In this war, the fact that the Ottomans had modernized their artillery (Topçu) with French advisors such as Ahmed Pasha, the Comte de Bonneval, had played a role. On the whole, there has been no significant change in territory in the expensive and costly wars of the past three decades. This was followed by a comparatively long period of peace. In the second half of the 18th century, the war costs had become so high that tax revenues could no longer cover them. The complicated supply system of the Ottoman military collapsed. It was at this time that the (fifth) Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) broke out. The financially exhausted empire had nothing left to oppose Russian resources.
In the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–1774, the Ottoman Empire finally realized that it had lost its imperial power. In 1770, Russia moved its fleet from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean and destroyed the anchored Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Çeşme. In the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, the Ottomans had to release the Crimean Khanate into “independence” (but it became a Russian province after only a few years); Parts of the North Caucasus went to Russia, Bukovina to Austria.
Neither side intended to leave it at that for long. Tsarina Catherine II drafted her so-called “Greek Project”, in which the Byzantine Empire was to be resurrected as a Russian vassal and the remaining parts of the Ottoman Empire were to be divided between Austria, Venice and Russia, but these allies showed little interest in this. In 1783, Russia annexed Crimea and began its economic development. The Ottomans, who were already anxious to reverse their losses from the previous war, declared war on Russia in the same year after various disputes. After initial successes of the Black Sea Fleet, however, they had to accept territorial losses again in the Treaty of Yassy in 1792, including areas between the Dnieper and the Bug.
Domestic reforms and power struggles
With the defeats at the end of the 17th and in the 18th century, Ottoman society became more aware of its own political weakness. Selim III learned his lesson from the defeats and carried out comprehensive reforms in the administration and military. He sought the solution in the modernization of warfare by adopting new technologies.
In the past, the sultans had succeeded in transforming the army from an army of Sipahi financed by Tımar fiefs into a standing army equipped with modern firearms, paid in cash. To this end, European military advisers were hired. In 1755–1776 François de Tott modernized the Ottoman artillery, at the same time Grand Admiral Cezayirli Gazi Hassan Pasha reformed the Ottoman fleet. Parallel to the Janissaries, Selim III tried to form a new force, the Nizâm-ı Cedîd / نظام جديد /’New Order’. However, his planned gradual transfer of the Janissaries to the new corps led to uprisings.
In 1807, the Janissaries revolted, seeing their political and economic privileges threatened. In alliance with Ottoman religious scholars and supported by the nişancı (Reich Chancellor) Mehmet Said Halet Efendi, they deposed the sultan. The Wali (governor) of Eyâlet Silistria, Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, invaded Constantinople with his troops and planned to reinstate Selim as sultan. However, he arrived too late, as Selim had already been strangled. All he had to do was replace Mustafa IV, who had been appointed by the Janissaries, with Mahmud II, who had narrowly escaped assassination. Mustafa Pasha tried to secure the support of influential provincial rulers by concluding a treaty of alliance (Sened-i ittifak) with them. In 1808 Mustafa Pasha was killed in renewed riots. The Sened-i ittifak, which is placed at the beginning of Turkish constitutional history, has never been ratified.
European empires in the 19th century
The history of the Rumelian heartlands in the west of the empire in the 19th century is marked by the Balkan crisis and the increasing intervention of Western European powers, guided by their own political and strategic interests:
From 1804 to 1813 the first Serbian uprising took place; after a second uprising, a Serbian principality was recognized first by the governor in Belgrade, later also by the Ottoman sultan. In 1838, through the joint intervention of the Russian and Ottoman Empires, the principality received a constitution and constitutional institutions and Belgrade became, initially only nominally, the capital, because until 1867 an Ottoman garrison remained in the Belgrade fortress. With the Congress of Berlin in 1878, the principality gained its full independence and international recognition. On March 6, 1882, it was transformed into the Kingdom of Serbia.
In the 1820s, the independence movement in Greece, supported by the great powers France, Great Britain and Russia, gained momentum. In Europe, the Greek uprising attracted great public interest and triggered a wave of philhellenism. The Greek uprising posed particular problems for the Ottoman government: especially the Greek inhabitants of Istanbul, the Phanariots, who traditionally served as interpreters for the linguistically illiterate Ottoman officials. For its diplomatic communication with European powers, the Sublime Porte was still dependent on these people at the beginning of the 19th century, some of whom sympathized with the independence movement. In the war of 1826, Mahmud was forced to call in the troops of Muhammad Ali Pasha from Egypt for help. Nevertheless, he had to release Greece into independence in 1830.
In the Crimean War (1853–1856), triggered by the Russian occupation of the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, Great Britain, France and later Sardinia-Piedmont fought on the side of the Ottomans against Russian expansion. In the Treaty of Paris, part of southern Bessarabia won by Russia in 1812 in the area of the mouth of the Danube (about a quarter of the total area) with the districts of Cahul, Bolgrad and Ismail went back to the Principality of Moldavia, which was an autonomous state under the sovereignty of the Porte, and the Black Sea was demilitarized.
At the same time, the territorial independence and inviolability of the Ottoman Empire was guaranteed. In 1859, Ottoman rule came to an end with the election of Alexandru Ioan Cuza as Prince of Romania. Bucharest became the capital of the new principality. In 1878, Romania’s independence was recognized in the Congress of Berlin. Romania received Dobruja and Russia South Bessarabia. On March 26, 1881, the Kingdom of Romania was founded.
Constantinople, San Stefano and Berlin conferences
After uprisings of the Orthodox population against the Ottoman rule in Herzegovina and later Bulgaria in 1875/1876, the conflict with the Ottoman Empire escalated in 1876 in the war between the principalities of Serbia and Montenegro. In 1876, the Bulgarian April Uprising was violently suppressed. Since Russia, due to its political doctrine of Pan-Slavism, saw itself as the protecting power of the Bulgarians, a Russian-Turkish war threatened. To prevent this, the Conference of Constantinople met from December 1876 to January 1877, during which the major European powers demanded that the Porte make peace with Montenegro and grant the Bulgarians extensive autonomy. In the London Protocol of 1877, the Western European powers reserved the right to supervise the implementation of the decisions. After Sultan Abdülhamid II was unwilling to limit his sovereignty to such an extent, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire in April 1877.
In the Russo-Ottoman War (1877–1878), the Russian army advanced to the city limits of Constantinople and the Sea of Marmara. In March 1878, in order to prevent an occupation of his capital, the Sultan was forced to sign the Treaty of San Stefano after the armistice of Edirne. This peace would have meant the loss of almost all European possessions for the Ottoman Empire. Russia would have gained supremacy on the Balkan Peninsula, and with control over the strategically important straits of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, access from the Black to the Mediterranean.
The actions of Russian foreign policy threatened the strategic interests of the other great powers. Another war between the European powers threatened, for which states such as Austria-Hungary did not see themselves prepared. The German Empire was the only great power that did not pursue its own interests in the Balkans and therefore appeared suitable for a mediating role. In 1878, mediated by Otto von Bismarck, the Berlin Congress took place. In advance, several, partly secret agreements had been concluded between individual states. The Treaty of Berlin of 1878 partially revised the decisions of San Stefano. As a result, Serbia, Montenegro and Romania were internationally recognized as independent states. Guided by Bismarck’s ideas on alliance policy, the European contracting parties were given equal opportunities to influence the Reich in their favor.
Bosnia, Herzegovina, Bulgaria
As a result of the Treaty of Berlin, Bosnia and Herzegovina had been under the administration and military occupation of Austria-Hungary since 1878, while the territories nominally continued to belong to the Ottoman Empire. The Principality of Bulgaria formed its own state, but it remained tributary to the Ottoman Empire. Since 1885, the autonomous Ottoman province of Eastern Rumelia was forcibly united with the principality. In order to save face on both sides, the union was formally regulated in such a way that the Prince of Bulgaria was also appointed Governor-General of the Province of Eastern Rumelia in exchange for an increase in tribute. The emergence of representatively legitimized institutions made these de facto political conditions appear to be endangered. Austria-Hungary therefore unilaterally annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina formally (Bosnian annexation crisis). In the shadow of the resulting international tensions, Bulgaria declared itself an independent state, including Eastern Rumelia.
“Oriental Question” and the “Sick Man on the Bosporus”
In the last third of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire, which was satirized by the media of the time as the “Sick Man on the Bosporus”, increasingly lost its political initiative vis-à-vis the European powers. In the debate over the so-called Oriental Question, the Western European powers sided with the Ottoman Empire against Russian interests. On the one hand, the collapse of the still extensive empire would have created a political vacuum. On the other hand, it was not in Britain’s interest, which had signed a free trade agreement in 1838, to lose one of its most important trading partners.
With the political and economic rise of the German Empire, the balance of the European powers changed again. The Pax Britannica was replaced by the struggle of Britain, France, and the German Reich for spheres of influence not only in the Middle East. By building railways such as the Baghdad and Hejaz railways and the Suez Canal, the Western European states divided the empire into their own spheres of influence. Direct investments from abroad thus led to closer ties between the empire and world trade than benefiting the expansion and modernization of the Ottoman economy.
East Turkestan (1873–1877)
In the wake of a series of Dungan uprisings, the Tarim Oases experienced a massive uprising against Qing rule in 1862. The uprisings forced China to withdraw from East Turkestan. Instead, an independent emirate with the capital Kashgar was founded under the leadership of the Uzbek adventurer Jakub Bek, who ruled the region from 1864 to 1877. In foreign policy, Jakub Bek sought support from the last remaining Islamic superpower, the Ottoman Empire, as well as from Russia and Great Britain against the expected Chinese offensive. The Ottoman flag was erected over Kashgar from 1873 to 1877, and coins bearing the name of the Ottoman sultan were minted.
This behavior is in the tradition with the reactions of the Ottoman Empire to the requests for help of Indian and Indonesian princes at the time of Suleiman the Magnificent. In the wake of these events, Kashgar became the main scene of the “Great Game”, in which colonial powers (such as Great Britain, Russia) and China fought for supremacy over East Turkestan. A Chinese expeditionary force restored control of the Qing in 1877. Jakub Bek was killed in the course of the Chinese offensive under unclear circumstances. Instead of the loose Manchurian suzerainty, which left the rule to the local elites, the area was now incorporated into China proper as the new province of Xinjiang. The rule of Jakub Bek is one of the nuclei of Uyghur national consciousness.
Arab empires in the 19th century
In the 18th century, local, reform-oriented groups emerged in various parts of the Islamic world, which can be understood more from the perspective of regional religious and social challenges. A direct confrontation with European ideas did not take place at that time.
In the Hejaz, Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb arrived at a particularly strict interpretation of Islam, which was capable of questioning the spiritual supremacy of the Ottoman-Sunni doctrine: Following the stricter Hanbali school of jurisprudence, he demanded a return to the lost purity of the faith of the early days of Islam. He concluded an alliance with Muhammad ibn Saud, whose grandson Saud I ibn Abd al-Aziz occupied the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in 1803 and “cleansed” them of the “un-Islamic” buildings and decorations of the Ottomans.
For the first time in the history of the empire, he had questioned the religious legitimacy of Ottoman rule in the Islamic world. The Ottoman government responded to this challenge by deliberately emphasizing the role of the sultan as patron of the holy places and pilgrims on the Hajj. In the Ottoman-Saudi War (1811–1818), the empire was able to push back the Saudi Wahhabis once again.
New communication media and the emergence of a “new Islamic public sphere”
The Egyptian expedition of Napoleon Bonaparte is placed at the beginning of a direct and active confrontation of the Islamic world with Europe and European thought. Napoleon’s invasion brought with it the modernization of Egypt’s provincial administration; technical innovations from Europe were introduced, not least printing presses, which were originally intended to spread the proclamations of the Emperor of the French. As early as 1820, a printing house was active in Cairo. After a brief resistance, al-Azhar University used the new technique, making Cairo one of the centers of Islamic book printing. Mecca received a printing press in 1883. The newly introduced printing press revolutionized the communication and exchange of reform ideas within the intellectual elites.
Above all, the increasing number of printed newspapers brought new ideas to the entire Islamic world: The Egyptian journalist and temporary Grand Mufti of Egypt Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905) coined the term Islam, the religious and political renewal of Islam. Until 1887, together with Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, he had published the magazine al-ʿUrwa al-Wuthqā. In 1876, he went public with the newspaper al-Ahrām. In the pan-Islamic magazine al-Manār (“The Lighthouse”), which ʿAbduh published from 1898 together with Rashīd Ridā (1865–1935), he continued to elaborate his thoughts. al-Manār appeared for almost 40 years.
The Syrian scholar ʿAbd ar-Rahmān al-Kawākibī (1854–1902) published two books in which he blamed the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Abdülhamid II for the decline of the Islamic world and glorified the Arab contribution to the formation of Islam: Taba’i’ al-Istibdad (“The Nature of Despotism”) and Umm al-Qura (“The Mother of Cities”, 1899). In it, he called on the Ottoman sultan to give up his illegitimate claim to the caliphate. The leading role in Islam should again be taken over by the Arabs. His idea that Arab Islam was the purer form of doctrine prepared the ground for Arab opposition to the Ottoman Empire as well as for the Islamic renewal movement of the Nahda.
Egypt under Muhammad Ali Pasha and his successors
In 1801, the empire assembled an army to push the French expeditionary army out of Egypt. Muhammad Ali Pasha, originally only the leader of a contingent of troops from his South Macedonian homeland, quickly gained influence after the surrender of the French expeditionary army. In 1805, Sultan Mustafa IV appointed him Wālī of Egypt. A victory over the British army remaining in the country after the French retreat at Rosetta during the Anglo-Turkish War of 1807 consolidated his political position. In March 1811, he had the influential Mamluk emirs murdered in the citadel of Cairo. The Mamluk princes, due to the extensive patrimonial relations of their households, were the only power factors in the country that could have successfully organized a nationwide resistance. Regional uprisings were quickly suppressed. Muhammad Ali consolidated his influence by filling the most important offices with family members.
Muhammad Ali carried out a series of reforms: a land reform favored the creation of extensive estates. In contrast to the traditional Ottoman practice of land allocation, private ownership was possible from 1842. New agricultural crops such as long-fiber cotton were introduced, the cultivation and trade of which were subject to state monopolies and thus filled the state coffers. Following the example of Selim III’s military reform, Muhammad Ali had “Nizâmi” troops raised among the Muslim population, which provided the Pasha with an efficient standing army, but placed an additional burden on the peasants, leading to mass desertions. Many young men were sent to Europe to study, especially in England and France. Among them was Rifāʿa at-Tahtāwī as the spiritual director of a group of students.
After his return from Paris, he published a report (“Taḫlīṣ al-ibrīz fī talḫīṣ Bārīz – The Purification of Gold in a Depiction of Paris”), which was translated into Ottoman and read and discussed far beyond the Arabic-speaking world. At-Tahtawi’s work thus marks the beginning of the Islamic public’s intellectual engagement with the Western European states, which are now increasingly perceived as technically, economically and intellectually progressive and superior. New engineering schools trained specialists for the army and administration, medical facilities and the introduction of mass vaccinations improved health. From 1828, a printed state gazette in Arabic and Ottoman languages spread official news in the country.
Muhammad Ali thus laid the foundations for new administrative structures and a way of thinking oriented towards Western progress in his now officially called “just Egyptian state – ad-daula al-misriyya al-ʿadila“. Conceptually, Muhammad Ali emphasized with this designation the independence of his rule from the Ottoman Empire. Through his reforms, he laid the foundation for the transformation of patrimonial rule from a “household” according to the Ottoman understanding into a bureaucratic state. The rule of the dynasty of Muhammad Ali over Egypt did not come to an end until the middle of the 20th century. In particular, the reforms implemented by him and his successors did not lead to an expansion of – in modern terms – “civic” rights, but rather served to discipline the population and the ever-closer integration of the subjects into the bureaucratic order.
After Sultan Mahmud II had refused to appoint Muhammad Ali Pasha as governor in Syria, Egyptian troops under Ibrahim Pasha occupied Palestine and Syria in 1831 and, after several victories over the Ottomans at Homs and Konya, advanced into Anatolia in 1832. In 1838, the Ottoman Empire felt strong enough to resume the fight against the Egyptian troops under Ibrahim Pasha in Syria. The Egyptian troops defeated the Ottoman army under Hafiz Pasha at the Battle of Nisibis on June 24, 1839. Helmuth von Moltke, who later became a German Field Marshal, took part in this battle as a military adviser to the Turkish army. Only through the intervention of Great Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria (1840) was Muhammad Ali Pasha forced to evacuate Syria and Palestine in 1841.
Egypt became, according to Albert Hourani under Muhammad Ali and his successors, “practically a cotton plantation […]the proceeds of which were destined for the English market”. In 1867, Sultan Abdülaziz appointed Muhammad Ali’s grandson Ismail Pasha Khedive of Egypt. Formally, the Khedivat existed until 1914. The American Civil War (1861–1865) expanded the outlets for Egyptian cotton, new transport links such as the construction of the Suez Canal (1859–1869) and the comparatively early construction of railways in Egypt facilitated transport and trade. The profitable cotton cultivation made the country interesting for European investors. Between 1862 and 1873 Egypt borrowed 68 million pounds sterling, but was unable to meet its financial obligations in 1876 and was placed under British and French debt management.
The growing economic and political influence of European states led to uprisings such as that of the Urabi movement (1879–1882) and finally to the military intervention of Great Britain in 1882. From now on, Great Britain practically dominated the country, which, with the Suez Canal as the shortest sea connection between Great Britain and British India, had enormous strategic importance for the Empire. After the suppression of the Mahdi uprising in 1899, Sudan, which had previously been ruled by Egypt, was also under de facto British rule. In 1904, France officially recognized British supremacy in Egypt. In 1914, the British installed Hussein Kamil of the dynasty of Muhammad Ali as Sultan of Egypt. The country officially received the status of a British protectorate, ending the rule of the Ottoman Empire over Egypt, which had existed since 1517.
Era of reforms: 1808 to 1878
Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808–1839) achieved what his predecessor Selim III had failed to do: in 1826 he ordered the formation of a new, modern army corps. As expected, the Janissaries revolted, but Mahmud used his new force to forcibly abolish the Janissary Corps, the most influential opponents of reform, in a massacre on June 15, 1826. In the same year he replaced the militarily insignificant Sipahi force with a modern cavalry, and in 1831 the Tımār system was finally abolished. The Ottoman army was reformed according to the European model and now called ʿAṣākir-i Manṣūre-i Muḥammedīye (“Victorious Army of Muhammad”) to counter the accusation of apostasy, which had failed Selim’s attempt at reform.
Supported by capable officials such as the military reformer and serʿasker (commander-in-chief) Hüsrev Mehmed Pasha, the reʾīsü ‘l-küttāb (chief secretary of the court chancellery) Canip Mehmet Besim Efendi and the liberal-minded Grand Vizier Mehmet Said Galip Pasha, he pushed through his reforms. In 1827, Mahmud II founded a military medical college, and in 1834, modeled on the French military school Saint-Cyr, the Ottoman Military Academy. The language of instruction was French. He reorganized the administration by creating ministries based on the European model.
In 1831 he founded the Taḳvīm-i Veḳāyiʿ (“Calendar of Events”), the first official gazette in the Ottoman-Turkish language. In the 1830s, the Ottoman embassies in Western Europe were reopened. In order to no longer be dependent on Greek interpreters for diplomatic exchanges, a translation agency was set up. He strengthened the political influence of the central government on Islamic scholars by granting the Şeyhülislâm the status of a state official. A Ministry of Religious Endowments now controlled the finances of the Vakıf Foundations. Generated surpluses now had to be transferred to the state. Thus, the ʿUlamā’ were deprived of important sources of finance.
Mahmud II’s reforms created a new elite in the empire that was familiar with the languages and political and social customs of Western Europe. The influence of religious scholars was gradually diminished and circumvented. As the political and economic pressures of Europe began to take effect in the course of the 19th century, it was these people who continued Mahmud’s reforms and ushered in a new era in the Ottoman Empire.
Tanzimat reforms from 1839
A new phase of reform (1838–1876) began, which is closely linked to the name of the Grand Viziers Mustafa Reşid Pasha and later Ali Pasha and Fuad Pasha. The measures became known as ” Tanẓīmāt-ı Ḫayrīye” (Healing New Order) and coincide with the reigns of Abdülmecid and Abdülaziz. They placed non-Muslims in the empire on an equal footing with Muslims and introduced a new judicial system, reorganized the tax system, and established universal compulsory service in the army. In the course of the following decades, tax rents were abolished. The shattered state finances led to the declaration of national bankruptcy on 13 April 1876.
In addition to a large number of individual decrees, the most important reform edicts were the Edict of Gülhane (1839), the Renewal Decree of 1856 and the Ottoman Constitution, in which the equality and equal treatment of all subjects regardless of their religion was introduced gradually and with restrictions (in 1839 these are “within the framework of the Sheriat laws”). A penal code decreed in 1840 was revised in 1851 and rewritten in 1858 on the model of the French Code pénal.
Also based on the French model, a commercial code (Ḳānūnnāme-i ticāret) was created in 1850. The Agrarian Law (Ḳānūnnāme-i arāżī) of 1858 reorganized land ownership. A proposal by Mehmed Emin Ali Pasha to also write a civil code based on the French Code civil failed due to the resistance of the ʿUlamā’. Instead, Ahmed Cevdet Pasha led the codification of the Şeriat Law, which was published in 1870–77 as Mecelle. In 1890, a law banned the slave trade.
From 1840, new courts were established, initially the commercial courts, which were presided over by judges appointed by the administration. By 1864, a network of ordinary courts (niẓāmīye courts) had emerged. The new judges continued to include members of the ʿUlamā’, so that there was no clear secularization of the courts. The rule of law (hukuk devleti), idealized by Turkish legal scholars, could not fully prevail over the authoritarian understanding of the state.
First constitutional period: 1876 to 1878
The Ottoman Constitution of 1876 is, along with the Tanzimat Edicts, the third step in the major reforms of the 19th century. It is seen as a logical consequence of international development as well as of the emergence of regional constitutions and the constitutions (nizam-nāme) of the Millets. In the 1860s, Crete and Lebanon had already received their own laws, Tunisia and Romania (1866) had also adopted constitutions. The increasing knowledge of the Western European constitutions suggested a separate constitution. The ideas of rule of law, fundamental rights and general equality had also arrived in Ottoman political thought.
Abdülhamid II, who came to power in 1876 in the wake of a coup d’état by high officials, finally had the first Ottoman constitution drawn up by a committee of religious scholars, military and civil servants, headed by Grand Vizier Midhat Pasha. This regulated the territorial integrity of the empire, the sultanate, the rights and duties of the subjects, the role of ministers and state officials, parliament, jurisdiction and the role of the provinces. Of particular importance was Article 7, which left the prerogatives of the sultan largely open, but stipulated, for example, that the sultan had to appoint and dismiss ministers so that they were free from public responsibility.
The enforcement of Şeriat and Kanun was the responsibility of the Sultan. He continued to have the right to govern by decree and to revoke decisions of parliament by veto. Article 113 stipulated that it was reserved for the sultan to send persons into exile under conditions of martial law. A prominent victim of this regulation was Midhat Pasha himself in 1876. The Constitution came into force on 23 December 1876 by decree of the Sultan. This decree specifically emphasized the conformity of the constitutional provisions with Islamic law (“aḥkām-ı şerʿ-i şerīfe […] muṭābıḳ”).
Autocracy of Abdülhamid II: 1878 to 1908
Domestically, Abdülhamid II broke off the constitutional experiment and ruled autocratically. In the background of this action are the fact that, on the one hand, his uncle Abdülaziz had been deposed by a coup of high officials and officers and died under unexplained circumstances, and on the other hand, Russia had taken the introduction of the constitution as an opportunity for military intervention, which ended disastrously for the Ottoman Empire. In large areas that nominally continued to belong to the empire (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Eastern Rumelia, Cyprus, Egypt, Tunis), their parliamentary representation in an Ottoman parliament was politically virtually impossible.
The reformer and short-term Grand Vizier Midhat Pasha was exiled under Article 113 of the constitution he initiated, and the parliament was closed. Abdülhamid’s reign was marked by despotism and spying. As the last sultan of his dynasty, he ruled as sole ruler. However, the Ottoman Constitution remained formally in force and continued to apply, with the exception of the provisions on the Ottoman Parliament. Reforms and cultural rapprochement with Europe continued. Financially, the Porte now became completely dependent on the major European powers. After the state bankruptcy was declared, the Dette publique took over a large part of the financial administration.
Young Turks and Second Constitutional Period: 1908 to 1918
In the years 1905–1907, crop failures exacerbated the economic crisis in the Ottoman Empire. The salaries of civil servants could no longer be paid. In June/July 1908, an armed conflict between the constitutionalist-minded Young Turks and the Ottoman military was threatened. Sultan Abdülhamid II finally gave in to the pressure (see Young Turk Revolution) and reinstated the constitution of 1876, which had been suspended in 1878, on 23 July 1908. A new government was formed under Kıbrıslı Kâmil Pasha. At the end of April 1909, Abdülhamid, the last sole ruler of the empire, was deposed after the so-called incident of 31 March and replaced by his brother Mehmed V. The sultan henceforth had essentially only representative functions, while the government was appointed by the Grand Vizier. The Young Turks again had an influence on the occupation of this office.
In the history of the Ottoman Empire, the last era began, the “Second Constitutional Period” (İkinci Meşrutiyet). The government’s political power relied primarily on the military. In return for the military guarantee of power, spending on armaments was increased to such an extent that hardly any funds were available for building civilian institutions and reforms. The rearmament was mainly financed by loans from German banks, the weapons were supplied by the German companies Friedrich Krupp AG and Mauser.
|Share of military expenditure in the state budget in the Ottoman Empire, Egypt for comparison|
|1889||42,1 %||£7.8m||4,2 %|
|1900||39,0 %||£7.2m||5,8 %|
|1908||34,6 %||£9.6m||5,0 %|
|1911||35,7 %||£12.6m||5,8 %|
In 1912, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (today’s Libya) and the Dodecanese were lost to Italy in the Italo-Turkish War. In the First Balkan War, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro concluded the Balkan League in 1912 against the Ottoman Empire, which lost almost all European possessions, including the city of Adrianople, after its defeat in the Treaty of London of 30 May 1913. Less than a month later, Bulgaria attacked its former allies (Second Balkan War), which were supported by the Ottomans.
After the defeat of Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire regained Eastern Thrace with the old capital Edirne in the treaties of Bucharest and Constantinople. The demoralizing loss of the rich and prosperous Balkan provinces brought enormous losses for the Ottoman state, heavily indebted by the war costs, while at the same time thousands of refugees were cared for, and the war losses of men and material had to be compensated at high cost.
As a result, domestic political unrest broke out in the Reich. On June 11, 1913, Grand Vizier Mahmud Shevket Pasha was assassinated in Istanbul. Under the new Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha, Mehmed Talaat, Ismail Enver and Cemal Pasha came to power as the “Young Turk triumvirate”. In summary trials, the leading men of the Freedom and Unity Party were convicted and partly executed, thus breaking the political influence of the liberal rival party. The reconquest of Edirne in July 1913 finally consolidated the power of the Young Turk Committee for Union and Progress.
In the years from 1908 to 1918, the Reich faced several challenges that could only be partially and insufficiently solved until its end:
- The territorial and population losses of the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially the loss of most of the European heartlands after the Balkan Wars, forced a concentration on the central provinces of Asia Minor and the Arabian Peninsula;
- The strengthening of the central government against the periphery’s continued striving for autonomy as a determining factor of Young Turk politics;
- The question of the identity-forming role of Islam with regard to the increasing loss of importance of the Sultan caliph and the Islamic scholar-hood while at the same time increasing the Islamic population as a result of the migration movements after the Balkan wars;
- The emergence of new political and social elites to replace the traditional rulers (influential households or clientele networks, ulama);
- The question of how to deal with modernity and the Western European great powers, which were perceived on the one hand as a role model, on the other hand together with Russia as a considerable political and economic threat.
The preservation of the traditionally multinational, multi-ethnic identity of the old world empire was counteracted by the fact that the empire territory gradually diminished. An independent national culture and language as identity-forming factors was perceived as an essential condition for the successful independence movements in individual parts of the empire, at the same time the lack of these factors in one’s own country became clear.
Although it was the declared goal of the Young Turk revolutionaries of 1908 to preserve the multinational empire, Turkish nationalist ideas had already found their way into their political ideas shortly after the turn of the century. With reference to pan-Turkish ideas and by establishing a generally understandable Turkish colloquial language, they sought to create a new “Ottoman identity”. They used radical Islam-related rhetoric from case to case, emphasized common Ottoman concepts in dealing with non-Islamic sections of the population, and their liberal wing, in line with Prince Sabahaddin, emphasized more liberal and progressive ideas towards Western states.
In 1907, the Armenian Dashnak formed an alliance with the Young Turks at the Ottoman opposition congress in Paris. Turkish and Armenian groups have long resisted Russia together in northeastern Anatolia; In 1906–1907, a Turkish-Armenian committee ruled the city of Erzurum during an uprising. As early as 1907, however, Bahattin Şakir on the Young Turk side described cooperation with the Armenians internally as a temporary “alliance with the mortal enemy”.
The abolition of the privileges of non-Muslim sections of the population laid down in the millet system and the concomitant propagation of the common Ottoman identity met with all the greater resistance in the nationalistically minded circles of Greeks, Bulgarians and Armenians, the more Turkish nationalist ideas found their way into the ideology of the Young Turks. Albanian and Arab nationalism grew stronger under the KEF government, as did the desire for autonomy among the Kurds and Circassians, who were all the less willing to compromise as the central government insisted that the search for recognition of existing differences meant rebellion. This attitude determined the policy towards the Armenians, who, under the impression of growing threat, turned again to European diplomacy for protection from 1913 onwards. Shakir and the leadership of the KEF interpreted this as a betrayal and initiated the “resettlement” and extensive extermination of the Armenian population.
The mass immigration of Muslim refugees and the loss of large Christian populations was accompanied by a kind of “concentration on Islam” in the territory of the Reich. But the sultan caliph had lost his identity-creating primacy in the center of the Islamic world and in the empire itself. Albania’s independence in 1913 showed that a Muslim nation-state was also conceivable independently of Ottoman domination. From today’s perspective, the KEF’s attitude to Islam appears contradictory: On the one hand, the Young Turk ideology was shaped by secular ideas. On the other hand, the Muslim population had increased significantly due to migration after 1912. The committee invoked Islam primarily to legitimize and strengthen ethnic Turkish concepts, which met with resistance from Islamic scholars such as Babanzâde Ahmet Naim of Darülfünun University in Istanbul. Islamic-influenced rhetoric also served as the basis for sharply anti-Christian polemics.
In the period between 1908 and 1914, foreign policy also shaped political and social activity at home to an unprecedented extent. The perception of the military inferiority of the Reich, exhausted in the previous wars, gave impetus to further economic, administrative and social reforms at home. The Ottoman Empire, which had been involved in European power politics since the Congress of Vienna in 1815, stood in the field of tension between its own efforts to keep the remaining parts of the empire under central control and the interests of the Western European great powers, which the empire wanted to divide zones subject to their own influence and economic interests. In an initially open-ended search for a Western European alliance power, the Ottoman government concluded an alliance with the German Empire only after the failure of its initiatives in Paris and London in 1914.
First World War
In the Balkans, the loss of Ottoman territory led to a power vacuum in which the interests of Russia and the Habsburg Empire now competed. The Russian side tried to gain control of the Black Sea straits. During World War I, this geostrategic interest determined the Russian war on two fronts against the German Empire and Austria-Hungary as well as against the Ottoman Empire in the Caucasus. Vienna, on the other hand, feared that the Austro-Hungarian Compromise reached in 1867 could be endangered from the southeastern border regions: In these parts of the country before 1914, the “South Slavic question” of how to deal with the independence aspirations of the Catholic Slovenes and Croats as well as the Serbian Orthodox Serbs determined the domestic policy of the Habsburg Monarchy.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, radical national movements had developed there under the protection of Russia, aimed at secession from the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. The international efforts after the Russo-Ottoman wars of the 1870s, especially Bismarck’s actions at the Congress of Paris, show the desire for a balance of interests without military conflicts.
The Ottoman Empire derived the tensions between Russia and Austria-Hungary and thus stabilized the center of Europe. With the development of the new nation-states such as the German Reich, the political situation changed: changing political alliances, as in the Crimean War, were replaced by long-term alliances concluded in peacetime. The Russian-Austrian conflict of interest in Southeastern Europe forced Berlin in 1878 to form an alliance with Austria in the Dual Alliance, which was expanded by Italy in 1882 to form the Triple Alliance. With the conclusion of the Franco-Russian alliance in 1894, a classic “balance of power” had emerged in Europe, reinforced by the neutrality of Great Britain.
Alliance of the Ottoman Empire with the German Reich
In this political situation, the Ottoman Empire found itself in a dilemma: in the now static European alliance system, it had lost its role as a political “compensation zone”. The economic losses caused by the loss of the Balkan provinces, the high debt burden and the army weakened in the previous heavy wars would not allow the Reich to maintain a neutral position in the impending war of the major European powers.
Moreover, a neutral empire would be defenseless against the Russian threat to the eastern Anatolian provinces, and its outdated navy would not have been able to maintain the sea routes to the Black Sea. Leading Ottoman politicians also saw the world war as an opportunity to reconquer lost territories in the Balkans and to re-expand towards the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as to prevent a solution to the Armenian reform question. This question was closely linked to the Oriental question. At the same time, it meant a constant risk of interference by the Western powers or Russia in the internal politics of the Ottoman Empire and could provide a pretext for intervention – with the aim of dividing up the empire.
The Reich had no choice but to seek an alliance with a European protecting power. By 1882 at the latest, closer relations with the German Empire had existed. In addition to the construction of the Baghdad Railway, it was above all German military missions that strengthened relations between the two states. There were close political and trade relations with the Entente powers. Since 1910, a British naval mission reformed and modernized the Ottoman fleet.
As late as May 1914, the French government had again granted the Reich a large loan. During the July crisis of 1914, the Reich was therefore in intensive diplomatic contact with France, Great Britain and the German Reich. A mission by Cemal Pasha to France in July 1914 was fruitless. On August 1, 1914, Great Britain confiscated two capital ships ordered by the Ottoman government in a British shipyard and already paid for, so that an alliance with Great Britain was now excluded.
At the instigation of Enver Pasha, a controversial and secret german-Ottoman treaty of alliance was concluded just one day after the beginning of the war, which provided for an Ottoman entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers Germany and Austria-Hungary in the event of hostilities with Russia. In a conversation with the German ambassador in Istanbul, Wangenheim, Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha formulated the war aims of his government on August 6, 1914:
- Abolition of the trade capitulations that had given the European powers influence over the Ottoman economy;
- Support by the German Reich in the enforcement of agreements with Romania and Bulgaria;
- return of the islands of Chios, Mytilene and Lemnos to the Empire in the event of a victory over Greece, thus better maritime control over the Dardanelles and strengthening of Ottoman naval power in the Aegean;
- restitution of the three eastern provinces of Kars, Batum and Ardahan, lost to Russia in 1878;
- No peace treaty until Ottoman sovereignty was restored in all territories lost in the course of the war;
- Reparations payments to the Ottoman Empire.
The German Empire hoped that the alliance would above all support Muslims inside and outside the Ottoman Empire under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Caliphate. Influenced by the ideas of Max von Oppenheim, a German “Islam policy” was primarily intended to weaken Britain’s supremacy in India and Egypt.
Entry into the war
On August 3, the Ottoman government officially announced that it would stay out of the fighting in an “armed neutrality”. On 10 August 1914, the German Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, pursued by Royal Navy forces, entered the Dardanelles with SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau. After several days of negotiations, he led his small squadron to Istanbul, where it was officially incorporated into the Turkish Navy on 12 August. On August 15, Turkey terminated its naval agreement with Britain and expelled the British naval mission from the country until September 15.
The Dardanelles were fortified with German help, the Bosphorus was secured by the Goeben, renamed Yavuz Sultan Selim, and both straits were officially closed to international shipping on 27 September 1914. On October 29, Souchon’s attack under the Ottoman flag on the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the city of Sevastopol opened the armed struggle. On November 2, 1914, Russia declared war on the Triple Entente, and on November 12, 1914, the Ottoman government declared war on the Triple Entente.
Soon after entering the war, the Ottoman government terminated the agreement of 8 February 1914. In the middle of the World War, on 5 September 1916, all further treaties and agreements that offered foreign states the opportunity to intervene in the Reich were terminated. These included the Treaty of Paris (1856), the Treaty of Berlin (1878) and the Declaration of London (1871).
On April 24, 1915, the Ottoman government ordered the arrest and deportation of Armenian civilians in Constantinople. This policy eventually resulted in the murder of about 600,000 to 1,500,000 Christian Armenians. The deportations killed about two-thirds of the Armenians living on the territory of the Ottoman Empire, which is considered genocide against the Armenians. Genocidal acts also occurred among the Aramaean and Assyrian populations; in addition, there were major massacres among the Pontic Greeks (see Persecution of Greeks in the Ottoman Empire 1914–1923).
In the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1917, Russia left the war. On October 30, 1918, the armistice of Moudros ended the Entente’s fighting with the Ottoman Empire. From November 1918, the victorious powers occupied a large part of the Ottoman Empire. The “Young Turk Triumvirate” was released and fled. After Mehmed V died on 3 July 1918, his brother Mehmed VI (Mehmed Vahideddin) succeeded him. He responded to all the demands of the victorious powers and was under strong domestic political pressure. After the abolition of the sultanate in November 1922, he left Constantinople and went into exile.
|Losses of the Ottoman Army in World War I|
|Total number of armed forces and officers mobilized||2.873.000|
|Killed in battle||243.598|
|Losses due to diseases and epidemics||466.759|
|Killed in battle or other causes of death||771.844|
|Losses of the Ottoman army due to wounding, etc.|
|Injured in battle||763.753|
|Prisoner of war||145.104|
End of the empire and emergence of the Republic of Turkey
The nationalist movements of the 19th century had been a powerful force that had shaken the internal stability of the multi-ethnic empire. However, this power was also present in the core areas of the Ottoman Empire. A resistance movement arose against the occupying powers, who had divided the remnants of the empire into spheres of interest. The leading role was played by the Turkish general Mustafa Kemal Pasha. His role in the ensuing conflicts was deemed so important that the Turkish parliament gave him the nickname Atatürk (“Father of the Turks”). Soon the Kemalist movement named after him formed a kind of counter-government in the non-occupied territories.
In the elections held in December 1919, the liberation movement won a two-thirds majority and moved its headquarters to Angora (Ankara). In April 1920, the “Grand Turkish National Assembly” was constituted here, which passed a provisional constitutional law in January 1921. The new government maintained good relations with the now Bolshevik Russia and was de facto recognized by France, which had the mandate for south-central Anatolia.
The Treaty of Sèvres signed by the Sublime Porte in 1920, which deprived the Turkish state of sovereignty, was not recognized by Ankara. It came to the national liberation war, in which the Greek troops from Asia Minor were repulsed. The majority of the Greek civilian population, especially in Smyrna (Turkish İzmir), was expelled from the country (see Fire of Smyrna). From the Greek side, these events are also referred to as the “Asia Minor catastrophe”. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Reich residents who were considered Turks were expelled from Greece. The nationalist movements strove – not only in Turkey – for a unified people.
The successes of the Kemalists caused a loss of prestige for the government of Sultan Mehmed VI. In the negotiations for the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, a delegation of Kemalists from Ankara was represented, which was tantamount to international recognition. The Constantinople government was formally invited to the conference (which began on November 30, 1922). To prevent Turkey from being represented by two governments, the government in Ankara under Mustafa Kemal abolished the sultanate on November 1, 1922. Three days later, the Istanbul government under Ahmed Tevfik Pasha officially resigned. The dethroned sultan left the country a few days later. The previous heir to the throne, Abdülmecid II, was appointed caliph.
On October 13, 1923, Ankara was declared the capital and on October 29, the Republic was proclaimed; Mustafa Kemal Pasha became president, Ismet Pasha, who would later be given the surname “Inönü”, prime minister of the newly founded republic, due to the victories against the Greek army at Inönü. In March 1924, the caliphate was abolished, Abdülmecid and all members of the Osman dynasty had to leave the country.
Concept of the Reich, political and social order
Devlet-i ʿAlīye – the sublime dominion
From its beginnings until the reforms of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire was characterized by diverse forms of rule and different relationships between the center and regional forces. In contrast to the linguistically, culturally or ethnically uniform nation-state, the term “empire” or empire is used for this organizational form of “state” power.
According to Klaus Kreiser, this way of exercising power was less the result of a conscious political decision than an expression of a lack of means to organize such a large and diverse area uniformly and centrally. Kreiser therefore speaks of the Ottoman Empire as an “empire against its will”. The Islamic term ” al-daula” (Arabic الدولة, DMG al-daula ‘cycle, time, domination’, Turkish devlet) is primarily associated with a “house” or a dynasty, and thus with the person and family of the ruler, less with the institutions of a state administration. Over the centuries, state structures had developed more strongly in the Ottoman Empire than in the rest of the Islamic world.
The House of Osman exercised its control over strategically important points, such as cities, fortifications, roads and trade routes, as well as its ability to claim resources for itself and demand obedience. Insofar as in the course of the history of the empire different territories were added to the empire at different times, the rule was not exercised uniformly everywhere, but regionally different. The empire had various options for action in the newly conquered territories: The subjugated territories could be completely incorporated or managed as vassal states with different degrees of access, or even enjoy partial autonomy. In any case, loyalty to the person of the sultan, the payment of tribute and the provision of troops were demanded.
Since the medieval and early modern empire lacked fast and effective means of communication, a standing army and regular income in sufficient quantities to enforce a uniform central structure throughout the empire, the central government was dependent on the cooperation of local rulers. Relations with them were based on principles similar to those of the later colonial “indirect rule”: the central office maintained independent relations with the regional rulers, to whom “state” tasks such as the collection of taxes and their payment to the state treasury were entrusted, but rarely interfered in the local administration.
In contrast to the colonial model of rule, however, it was in principle possible for every Ottoman subject to rise to the social elite and up to the sultan’s court in the capital. Historians such as Karen Barkey see this flexible and pragmatic power structure as one of the reasons for the long existence of the empire under a single ruling dynasty.
The Sultans organized their rule from Istanbul as a center in a form comparable to the modern hub-spoke model. In this way, the central government largely prevented regional forces from uniting and acting against them. In the 16th and 17th centuries, this model of government proved itself during several Celali uprisings. Towards the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, however, the rulers in the provinces (ayan or derebey) had gained extensive autonomy from the central government. In 1808, their political influence had reached a climax with the agreement of the Sened-i ittifak under Grand Vizier Alemdar Mustafa Pasha.
De facto, the ayan and derebey at this time acted like local ruling dynasties with considerable military power. The authority of the sultan was limited to Istanbul and its surroundings. Above all, the Balkan provinces with their large estates and commercial enterprises benefited from better connections to the world market and the only loose control by the central government. Pamuk suspects that it is therefore no coincidence that it was precisely in these provinces that the political disintegration of the Ottoman Empire began with the Serbian independence movement from 1804 and the Greek Revolution of 1821.
In contrast, the empire sought to compensate for the losses elsewhere. After regaining direct rule over Tripolitania, the Ottomans annexed Fezzan as a base for the further advance into the Sahara and sub-Saharan Africa. Likewise, the Ottomans strengthened their control over Arabia and re-established direct rule over Yemen. The expansion of the Ottoman-dependent Egyptian dynasty of Muhammad Ali, which extended the borders of Egypt and thus of the Ottoman Empire via Sudan to present-day Uganda, the Congo Basin and present-day Somalia, aims in the same direction.
In Western Europe, the country was also referred to as “Turchia” (“Turkey” or Turkish Empire) from the 12th century onwards, after the ethnic descent of the dynasty.
Society and administration of the Ottoman Empire
The social order of the empire followed military principles: The elite class of the Askerî included the non-taxable ranks of the Ottoman military, members of the court and the imperial administration as well as the spiritual elite of the ʿUlama’. Subordinate to these was the taxes and duties paid Reâyâ. For many centuries, Ottoman society was characterized by the coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups under the suzerainty of the sultan and the central government. High officials and important artists and artisans did not only come from the Islamic-Turkish population, but Greeks, Armenians, Jews and other groups supported the culture of the Ottoman Empire. In the last decades of its existence, nationalism, also understood ethnically, led to the demise of this centuries-long fruitful tradition of living together.
At the center of power were the sultan (from Arabic سلطان, DMG sulṭān ‘ruler’) and his dynasty, whose values and ideals legitimized their rule, determined the organization, policies and procedures within the administrative apparatus, and created the elites who worked in this apparatus. From the 15th century, the empire was organized as a sultanate patrimonial, as well as as an order of estates, Islamic in its values and ideals, shaped according to the idea of a huge budget with the sultan at the top. The rule of the sultan was basically bound only by the Sharia (Turkish Şeriat or şer-i şerif, “the noble law”), within limits also by laws of his predecessors. A special interpretation of Sharia according to the Hanafi school of law also legitimized political power religiously.
Marriages of the sultans often served to strengthen foreign and domestic political alliances: Until about 1450, the sultans mostly married women from neighboring dynasties, later from the Ottoman elite itself. Children – and thus possible successors – emerged predominantly from relationships with concubines. The mother of a reigning sultan (Valide Sultan) thus had a rank and political significance that did not correspond to her original social status. During the period of “women’s rule” from the end of the 16th to the middle of the 17th century, influential sultan mothers secured the power of the dynasty.
An inheritance division of the empire was unknown. A male descendant of the sultan inherited the entire empire. Until the second half of the 19th century, there was no explicit and comprehensive regulation on the succession to the throne; at the latest at the death of a Sultan, there was often a dispute between his descendants. From about the end of the 14th century, an Ottoman prince (şeh-zāde) was handed over an Anatolian sanjak for administration at the age of about fifteen, so that he could gain experience in administrative matters and learn the art of government as a prince-governor (çelebi sulṭān) under the guidance and supervision of an educator (lālā).
The sultan could try to influence the succession by giving his favored son the governorship closest to the capital. The victor in the succession dispute usually persecuted the defeated brothers and relatives and had them murdered. This custom was seen as problematic by the sultans themselves and their contemporaries: Selim I’s first act as ruler was to order his brothers and all his nephews to execute. In order not to force his son, the later Suleiman I, to do the same, he renounced the conception of further sons. The Selim-nāme of Şükri-i Bidlisi, the first of a series of historical works dealing with this period, had the purpose, among other things, to trivialize the sultan’s violent accession to the throne and his role in history.
With Murad III (from 1562 to 1574) and Mehmed III (from 1583 to 1595), only the eldest sultan’s sons were actually appointed as presumptive successors and not only nominally as governors (in Manisa), while the others, too young princes for a governorship, remained imprisoned inside the Topkapı Palace. This ensured that the designated ruler could undisputedly ascend the throne and have his (half-)brothers in the palace executed without difficulty. After Mehmed III’s accession to the throne in 1595, no princes were sent away, but kept in the part of the sultan’s palace originally called şimşīrlik or çimşīrlik (roughly ‘boxwood garden’) and later ḳafes ‘cage’. In the event of an unforeseen change of power, as in the case of Mustafa I after the death of his brother Ahmed I, the new sultan took office completely unprepared.
The characteristic of the Ottoman elites was their recruitment from the dominated peoples. Hereditary nobility in the European sense was largely unknown, although there were influential families such as the Çandarlı, who had several Grand Viziers such as Çandarlı II. Halil Pasha (vizier 1439–1453). Until the end of the 16th century, many high administrative officials came from Christian families from Rumelia, who had been forcibly recruited in the course of the boys’ harvest and, after their conversion to Islam, enjoyed a thorough education that qualified them to the highest state offices.
As was customary in many Islamic states, the sultan was assisted by a dīwān of viziers. Several times a week, the Reichsrat (Ottoman همايون ديوان İA dīvān-ı hümāyūn). In later times, the Dīwān was usually led by the Grand Vizier, no longer by the Sultan himself. After the domed hall in Topkapı Palace, where this meeting took place, the other viziers were also called “dome viziers” (Kubbealtı vezirleri). The governors of Cairo, Baghdad and Buda also held the rank of vizier, they were called “outer viziers”. Since Suleiman I, the role of the Grand Vizier as the absolute representative (vekīl-i muṭlaḳ) of the Sultan has been fixed.
Representing the Sultan, he became the head of the civil and military organization and chief judge. In the event that the Sultan did not lead a campaign himself, the Grand Vizier had the role of general (serdār). Only the household of the Grand Lord and the Islamic scholar-hood were exempt from his authority. At his appointment, the Grand Vizier was given the Imperial Seal (mühr-i hümāyūn, ‘the exalted seal’). Since 1654 he had his own residence, the Sublime Porte (Ottoman پاشا قاپوسى İA Paşa ḳapusı, german ‘ Gate of the Pasha’, later Ottoman باب عالی Bâbıâli, german ‘ Sublime Porte’, rarely also باب اصفی / Bāb-ı Āṣefī).
The members of the military and administration were considered direct subjects (ḳul) of the sultan, who was obliged to maintain them, but also exercised direct jurisdiction over them. In this way, the Sultans strengthened their rule. After the 17th century, the central government in the provinces lost its direct political influence to regional rulers (ayan or derebey), who could act largely independently as long as their loyalty to the sultan was not in question. The sultans thus remained the guarantors of political legitimacy. With reforms since the beginning of the 19th century, the government tried to bring the administration and economy back to central control.
The Ottoman administration had two other important institutions: the Court Chancellery and the Tax Office. The Court Chancellery was concerned with the correspondence, which became increasingly extensive over time, issued documents, and documented the decisions of the Court Council, which it published in the form of decrees (Fermanen). The most important office was that of nişancı, the Tughra draughtsman. His task was to create the Tughra over important documents and thus to certify the document. In reports by European diplomats, this official is often referred to as the “Chancellor”. The clerks of the court chancellery were headed by the reʾīsü ‘l-küttāb, the chief scribe. All documents produced were registered in the central registry, the defterhane, which was headed by a chief registrar (defter emini).
The Ottoman Empire financed itself mainly by taxes. Already in the second half of the 15th century, Mehmed II placed the tax officials (Defterdare) directly under the Grand Vizier. The Defterhane was located in the Topkapı Palace right next to the room where the State Council met. One of the most important tasks of the Defterhane was the quarterly payment of wages for the Askerî. The head of the financial administration was the Defterdar.
Initially, there was only one Defterdar, about the time of Bayezid II, a second was appointed, who was responsible for Anatolia, while the first, the başdefterdar retained responsibility for the European part of the empire. After the conquest of the Arab territories, a third was added, based in Aleppo, Syria. The officials of the tax administration used a special script (siyāḳat) for their records, which could only be read by the officials of the authority, and which was forgery-proof, mainly because of the special number marks used.
The ruling social elite in the Ottoman Empire was divided into four institutions: the official scholarhood of the empire (ilmiye), the members of the court (mülkiye), the military (seyfiye) and the administrative officials (kalemiye).
Since the late 16th century, the Ottoman sultans installed a leader (mufti) of the ʿUlamā’ in each Eyalet, headed by the chief mufti or ” sheikülislam” (Turkish Şeyhülislâm) in Istanbul. In this way, the Sultan was able to exert greater influence on the ʿUlamā’, which formally remained superior to the Sultan due to its privilege of Sharia interpretation. In case of unwelcome decisions, the sultan could simply replace one mufti or the şeyhülislâm with another. With the bureaucratization of the ʿUlamā’ in the Ilmiye group, a further step towards the centralization of power in the person of the ruler was taken.
The reforms of Mahmud II further weakened the political influence of the ʿUlamā’: the Şeyhülislâm now received the position of a state official who had to follow the sultan’s instructions. The newly established Ministry of Religious Endowments controlled the finances of the Vakıf Foundations, thus depriving Islamic scholars of control over significant financial resources.
Subjects, equality, “fatherland” in the 19th century
Until the reforms of the 19th century, taxable subjects were regarded as reâyâ (“flock”), from whom loyalty and obedience were expected. The Tanzimat decrees aimed to give all inhabitants of the empire equal in principle and equal rights: The decree of Gülhane granted legal certainty to all subjects in 1839, the Hatt-ı Hümayun replaced the term ” reâyâ ” with ” tebaa” (from Arabic tabiʿ, ‘belonging’, ‘dependent’) for the first time in 1856. Reâyâ remained as a term only for the non-Muslim subjects in the Balkans and unchanged in Arabic, there without reference to the religious confession.
Tebaa, however, did not describe the politically participating citizen or citizen, but continued to serve to distinguish the subject from the sovereign, the sultan. The Ottoman Constitution of 1876 finally declared equality (“müsavet”, from Arabic مساواة, DMG musāwāt ‘fair treatment, equality’) of all tebaa before the law. Since Islam remained enshrined in the constitution as the state religion, this was contrary to the principle of equality.
The new term ” Osmanlı” was first applied to all inhabitants in the Ottoman Constitution of 1876, not only to the elites. Based on the ideas of European philosophers such as Montesquieu and Rousseau, Ottomanism defined membership of the Ottoman state politically, not ethnically or religiously. With the Tanzimat reforms, the term ” vatan” (from Arabic الوطن, DMG al-Watan ‘homeland, fatherland’) as a term for the empire. Vatan initially had a rather apolitical, emotional meaning, similar to German terms. For example, in 1850, the district governor of Jerusalem called on all non-Muslims to participate in the support of the poor and elderly, “since we are all brothers in the fatherland (ikhwān fīʿl waṭan) .” From about 1860, it was more commonly used in the context of patriotism and loyalty to the sultan.
Population and religion
Population of the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire was a multi-ethnic state. The total population of the Ottoman Empire is estimated at 12 or 12.5 million people in 1520–1535. At the time of its greatest spatial expansion towards the end of the 16th century, about 22 to 35 million people lived in the Ottoman Empire – although the uncertainty is enormous. Between 1580 and 1620, population density rose sharply. In contrast to Western and Eastern European countries, which experienced strong population growth after 1800, the population of the Ottoman Empire remained almost constant at 25 to 32 million. In 1906, about 20–21 million people lived in the territory of the Reich (reduced by territorial losses in the 19th century).
Throughout its history, the Ottoman Empire was a transit space in which there were many opportunities for networking and identity formation in the interplay of identification and demarcation. Trade routes by sea and land connected distant areas. Cities served as hubs for trade and cultural exchange. As a rule, residents of different religions, languages and ethnic origins lived in the cities and regions. Due to their relations with their places of origin, the inhabitants were able to maintain communication and trading areas even beyond the boundaries of rule. At the same time, independent social structures and identities developed in the new location, often characterized by multilingualism.
The history of Constantinople offers an example of this: After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, the heavily depopulated city had to be repopulated. This was done at the invitation of the authorities, but also through forced migration and deportation (sürgün). The majority settled Muslims, but also Jews from the Balkans. From 1492, the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain by the Alhambra Edict followed, and after 1496/1497 also from Portugal. A decree of Sultan Bayezid II welcomed them. Armenians and Greeks continued to live in the city. The Ottoman historian Gelibolulu Mustafa Âlî (1541–1600) described in his historical work Künhü’l-aḫbār how newly immigrated Turkish and Tatar tribes had mixed with the local population, Arabs and Persians as well as converted to Islam, formerly Christian Serbs. At least the social elite saw themselves as “Rûmi”.
Growing population pressure in certain regions or social unrest such as the Celali uprisings of the 16th and 17th centuries triggered massive population shifts. Shepherd nomads, mostly Turkmens, Kurds or Arabs, migrated to western Anatolia and Cyprus, the Aegean islands or the Balkans in search of better grazing places or under pressure from stronger nomadic groups. In addition, the Ottoman government pursued a policy of active deportations in order to get rid of unwelcome sections of the population or to repopulate an area important to the state.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Muslim Bosnians fled Hungary back to Bosnia. At the same time, the Ottoman administration sought to push Turkmen and Kurdish nomads to the border of Syria, where they would be settled as a counterweight to the Bedouins who were increasingly immigrating to Syria in the 18th century. The wars in the Balkans were accompanied by devastating epidemics and famines, which further reduced the population. In the 18th and 19th centuries, refugees from the Russian-conquered Balkan territories, Circassians and expellees were taken in by the Crimea.
The settlement of Albanian mercenaries on the Morea led to the flight of parts of the Greek population at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. The Ottoman administration repopulated these areas with Anatolian settlers, as an incentive served a temporary exemption from the land tax (kharaj). At the end of the 18th century, oppression and exploitative taxation by local rulers led to a pronounced rural exodus. The French Consul General de Beaujour reported that in the period from 1787 to 1797 in Macedonia there were only two rural inhabitants for every town. At the same time, the Western European population was divided 1:5–6 between urban and rural areas. Famine and natural disasters reduced the population in many parts of the country in the 18th century.
Until the second half of the 15th century, the empire had a Christian majority and was under the rule of a Muslim minority. As Sunni Muslims, the sultans followed the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. Since the conquest of the Mamluk Sultanate in Egypt in 1517, they also had sovereignty over the Hejaz and the holy Islamic cities. In the 18th century, this fact was cited to justify the Ottoman Caliphate. In the empire, Christianity (Orthodox, Armenians and Catholics), Judaism (see Ottoman Jews), Alevism and Shiite Islam, Yazidism, Druze and other denominations and religious communities were represented.
In the late 19th century, the non-Muslim population began to decline considerably – not only because of territorial reductions, but also because of migration. The proportion of Muslims was 60% in the 1820s, gradually rising to 69% in the 1870s and then to 76% in the 1890s. In 1914, only 19.1% of the Reich population were non-Muslim, mainly Christians, and some Jews.
|Population distribution of the Millets in the Ottoman Empire 1906, according to census|
|Muslims a||15.498.747–15.518.478||74,23–76,09 %|
|Greeks b||2.823.065–2.833.370||13,56–13,86 %|
|Armenians c||1.031.708–1.140.563||5,07–5,46 %|
|Protestants d||53.880||0,26 %|
|Other dd||332.569||1,59 %|
|Note: a The Muslim millet included all Muslims including Turks, Kurds, Albanians and Arabs.
b The Greek millet included all Christians of the Greek Orthodox Church, including Slavs and Albanians.
c This includes the various Syrian churches.
d The first source does not include Protestants and “others”.
Muslims considered heretics, such as Alevis, Ismailis, and Alawites, had a lower rank than Christians and Jews. In 1514, Sultan Selim I, nicknamed “the fierce” because of his cruelty, ordered the massacre of 40,000 Anatolian Kizilbash (Shiites), whom he considered heretics, declaring that “killing a Shiite in the afterlife would bring the same reward as killing 70 Christians”.
Reform of the millet system in the 19th century
The Hatt-ı Şerif of Gülhane (1839) had guaranteed individual rights and thus implied the equality of all citizens of the Ottoman Empire. The Hatt-ı Hümâyûn of 1856 proclaimed the idea of a “heartfelt band of patriotism” (“revabıt-ı kalbiye-ı vatandaşî“), but challenged the resistance of Muslims, for example in Syria and Lebanon, who saw their privileged status guaranteed by Sharia law threatened. With the reorganization of the millet system in the edict of 1856, the Ottoman government responded to the fact that more and more non-Muslim religious communities claimed millet status, as well as to the corruption prevailing in the illets.
New guidelines came into force in 1860–62 for the Greek Orthodox Church, in 1863 for the Armenian Church, and in 1864 for the Jews. On the one hand, the creation of laws (nizam-nāme) for the non-Muslim communities raised hopes for a general imperial constitution. The practice of separate legislation for individual religious communities, on the other hand, ignored the ethnic differences that formed the basis of the nationalist currents of the 19th century. As a result, the reform projects promoted political separatism rather than reinforcing the idea of a common Ottomanism (“osmanlılık”).
In the conflict of Enlightenment, Islamic and Turkish nationalist schools of thought, the cohesion of the different religious and ethnic groups and finally the empire itself broke down. The political dominance of the Young Turks led to a nationalist redefinition of citizenship and ultimately to emigration, deportation and genocide of groups that had belonged to Ottoman society for centuries. In the 20th century, the deportation law of 1915 triggered a resettlement campaign that eventually led to the Armenian genocide; the Greek population, which had been native to Asia Minor since antiquity, was also forced to emigrate between 1914 and 1923.
Economy of the Ottoman Empire
Already at the time of its foundation, the Ottoman Empire benefited from its favorable location on the old trade routes for raw materials, trade goods and precious metals, such as the Silk Road. Trade continued after the Ottoman conquest and contributed to the economic success of the founding of Osman. Promoting trade and gaining control of trade routes remained an essential objective of Ottoman policy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The European expansion, which began in the 15th century, changed the economic balance in favor of Western Europe in the long run: First, large quantities of silver from the Spanish colonial empire reached Europe. In the Ottoman Empire with its silver currency, this led to inflation. With the discovery of the sea route to India, Portugal gained direct access to the spice market, for which Egypt and Venice had previously had a monopoly.
In the period from 1720 to 1765, trade expanded both in the Ottoman Empire and in Western Europe. Production picked up and new craft centers were founded. The Ottoman domestic market remained economically far more important than foreign trade. It was not until about 1750 that the Aegean region first found access to international trade via the ports of the Levant. At that time, the import of goods from abroad did not necessarily lead to a trade deficit; on the contrary, the Reich’s trade balance with France, for example, remained positive.
|Exports to Marseille||9.970.000||21.800.000||32.440.000|
|Imports from Marseille||–||14.600.000||17.480.000|
|French trade deficit||–||7.200.000||15.765.000|
While in the 18th century the import of luxury goods had little effect on domestic production, cheaper and better quality American sugar and coffee found such great sales in the country that domestic production in Egypt and Cyprus was affected. From 1720, American coffee was imported, which was about two to three times cheaper than the goods traditionally sourced from Arab Yemen.
The pricing policy of the central government, which forced producers to sell their goods below the cost of production to the authorities or even to supply them for free, in the sense of a tax liability, led to the continued withdrawal of capital and, in the long run, to the weakening of the economy. In the second half of the 18th century, the war costs became so high that tax revenues could no longer cover them.
Towards the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, the Balkan provinces in particular prospered with their large estates and commercial enterprises due to their better connection to the world market and the only loose control by the central government. The Tanzimat reforms from 1839 onwards aimed not only at a renewed centralization of administration and finance, but also at liberalizing the economy. The reforms, however, counteracted the interests of the large landowners and merchants, who could have benefited from a quick connection to the emerging capitalist world market.
The period from 1820 to the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1853 is characterized by the significant expansion of export trade under the influence of Great Britain, with which a free trade agreement had existed since 1838. Later, such agreements were also concluded with other Western European states. The production of agricultural primary goods increased above all in the coastal regions, while the import of industrially manufactured goods put artisanal production under pressure there. Until about 1820, domestic trade in the Ottoman Empire, as well as trade with Russia and Egypt, had the predominance in economic volume, export trade with the West only increased significantly in the period after the European Coalition Wars.
As late as the mid-1870s, long-distance trade accounted for only 6–8% of total and 12–15% of agricultural production. From about 1850, more and more outside capital flowed into the country in the form of government bonds and direct investments. Until the state bankruptcy in 1876, the Ottoman state took out more new loans on unfavorable terms than it serviced old debts. Most of the borrowed money went into the purchase of foreign arms and consumer goods, which widened the trade deficit.
In the second half of the 19th century, Western Europe searched on the one hand for sales markets for its products that had been produced cheaply and in bulk since the industrial revolution, and on the other hand increasingly sources of food and raw materials had to be developed. For the Ottoman Empire, this initially led to a significant increase in the volume of trade, but also to shifts in the exchange of goods towards a predominant export of raw materials, which were further processed in Europe, and an import of trade goods. Investments by European states in infrastructure, such as the construction of the Suez Canal (opened in 1869) or the Baghdad Railway (1903–1940), served on the one hand to facilitate the transport of goods, and on the other hand tied the Ottoman economy ever closer to the Western economy.
The last quarter of the 19th century was marked by extraordinary political, social and economic crises. In 1876, the Reich declared bankruptcy and had to agree to European debt management. This caused further capital outflows, as foreign debt now had to be serviced preferentially. Apart from the direct costs, the ongoing wars deprived large sections of the working male population of production and, by weakening production and trade, further reduced much-needed tax revenue. The loss of the economically strong European provinces after 1878 was not only a political but also a dramatic economic break. The growing share of cheap American agricultural goods in world trade, imported under the terms of free trade agreements concluded with the Western powers, put pressure on Ottoman producers and reduced state incomes. The economy stagnated.
From 1903 onwards, foreign loans were increasingly taken out again, which strengthened the political and economic influence of the donor countries on the Reich. After the revolution of the Young Turks in 1908, fiscal income increased significantly due to more efficient tax collection, but could not cover the simultaneous expenses, and the deficit rather widened. After 1910, the Ottoman Empire was so integrated into the capitalist world economy that its various regions can be seen as part of different spheres of influence of European centers rather than as an economically independent space.
Book printing and newspapers
The printing press with movable type became known in Ottoman culture shortly after its invention but was not widely used. Individual Western European printers, such as the Typographia Medicea founded in Rome in 1584, produced predominantly Catholic texts in Arabic, Syrian or Coptic language and script, but also individual works by Islamic, Arabic-speaking authors. Despite their high printing quality and lower price, editions of non-religious books such as the Canon of Medicine by ibn Sīnā (1593) or the Elements of Euclid by Nasīr ad-Dīn at-Tūsī (1594) hardly found any sales among Islamic buyers, while handwritten copies were often traded. According to Pektaş (2015), Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli reported in 1732 that more than 80,000 scribes worked in Istanbul alone.
In contrast, there were only a few printing works, such as that of the Greek Nicodemus Metaxas (founded in 1627), as well as a few Jewish and Armenian printing works and a small one belonging to the Jesuits. 1727 allowed Sultan Ahmed III. the establishment of a printing press with Arabic characters, which published some secular works. The printing of religious writings remained prohibited. The Court Chancellery of the Ottoman Empire issued all official documents in calligraphic handwriting until its end.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian expedition marks the beginning of a direct and active confrontation between the Islamic world and Europe and European ideas. Napoleon’s invasion brought with it the modernization of Egyptian provincial administration; technical innovations from Europe were introduced, not least among them the printing press, which was originally intended to disseminate the proclamations of the Emperor of the French. A printing works was already active in Cairo around 1820. After a brief resistance, al-Azhar University used the new technology, making Cairo one of the centers of Islamic book printing. Mecca received a printing press in 1883. The newly introduced printing revolutionized the communication and exchange of reform ideas within the intellectual elite.
The Syrian scholar ʿAbd ar-Rahmān al-Kawakibī (1854–1902) published two books in which he blamed the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Abdülhamid II for the decline of the Islamic world and glorified the Arab contribution to the formation of Islam: Taba’ i’ al-Istibdad (‘The Nature of Despotism’) and Umm al-Qura (‘The Mother of Cities’, 1899). In it, he called on the Ottoman Sultan to give up his illegitimate claim to the caliphate. The Arabs should once again assume the leading role in Islam. His idea that Arabic Islam represented the purer form of doctrine prepared the ground for Arab opposition to the Ottoman Empire as well as for the Nahda Islamic revival movement.
Significant reform impetus came from Egypt, which found readers throughout the Islamic world in the form of printed magazines. The Egyptian reform thinker Muḥammad ʿAbduh (1849–1905) first used the term Islāh for political and social reforms. ʿAbduh had worked with Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani until 1887. Together they published the magazine al-ʿUrwa al-Wuthqā (“The Solid Band”). For the first time, the Pan-Islamic idea of Islam as a “religious bond that [is] stronger than that of nationality and language” reached a broad public. In 1876 ʿAbduh published the newspaper al-Ahrām. In the magazine al-Manār (“The Lighthouse”), which he published from 1898 together with Raschīd Ridā (1865-1935), he worked out his reform ideas further. ” al-Manār” appeared for almost 40 years and found readers throughout the Islamic world. The series of articles published there by ʿAbduh appeared summarized in his work Tafsir al-Manār.
The idea of Islāh became of particular importance for the future because it sought to understand and justify all aspects of modern life from the teachings of Islam. After the death of ʿAbduh, Raschīd Ridā continued “al-Manār”. Under his editorship, the thematic focus was on the conflict with the colonial powers, whereby Ridā’s hope that the Ottoman Caliphate could act as the protecting power of Islam was not fulfilled. He continued to devote himself to preserving the Islamic identity and, from the mid-1920s, placed his hopes in the new Saudi ruler, ibn Saud.
The reforms of the Tanzimat period aimed at centralizing and rationalizing the administration of the empire along the lines of Western European nation-states. The new technology of telegraphy enabled more efficient management of territory and population but also led to a new dependence on foreign capital. The central government made a point of maintaining control of this facility. The overhead lines were built with the help of French engineers under Ottoman direction. The Istanbul-Edirne connection was the first to be established in 1855. The British Electric Telegraph Company laid the first undersea telegraph line between the battlefront of the Crimean War (1853-1856) near Balaklava and the coastal city of Varna, where it was connected to the European telegraph network and further to Istanbul. In 1861 the government opened the Funun-i Telgrafiye Mektebi, which trained its own Ottoman telegraph specialists to ensure state control of the telegraph network.
From 1855 to 1871 telegraphy was administered by the High Telegraph Commission (telgraf komisyon-ı âlisi), a sub-office of the Ministry of the Interior. In 1871 it was combined with the postal administration in the new Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs (Posta ve Telgraf Nezareti). Postal workers handled an ever-increasing volume of administrative, business, and personal messages in a variety of languages and in two Morse codes for the Latin and Arabic-Persian alphabets. The latter was developed by the Ottoman telegrapher İzzet Bey in 1877.
While the land connections remained entirely in Ottoman hands, the submarine cables were laid and maintained by foreign private companies. The main interest of the British government lay in a secure connection between Great Britain and India across the Red Sea due to the underwater location. In 1858-1859 the British Red Sea Telegraph Company laid the first submarine cable between Suez and Karachi with a concession from the Ottoman government and financed by British donors. After 1865, technical improvements made it possible to manufacture long-lasting and durable overseas cables.
From 1860 to 1900 a total of 41 undersea cables were laid by several British companies. 19 were owned by the Reich, the rest was privately owned, which was bought out entirely by the Eastern Telegraph Company by 1905. In contrast to the private railway companies, which were also given far-reaching decision-making powers with the concessions, the foreign telegraph companies are only described in more recent research as “one of many actors who influence the social and technical dynamics of the […] infrastructure in the Reich certain”.
The vast territory of the Ottoman Empire was divided into regions subject to varying degrees of influence and control of the central government:
- A large part of the core countries was directly administered according to a sophisticated system.
- Some territories were administered semi-autonomously according to special rules.
- A number of vassal states were obliged to pay tribute.
Directly managed territories
Until the Tanzimat period, the directly administered territories in large provinces, the Eyâlet (Ottoman ايالت) is divided. From 1867, these territorial units were replaced by the vilayet. At the head of the administration of an Eyalet was the Beylerbey, who had the rank of Pasha of two horse tails (Tugh), in the late period also often viziersrank (three horsetails).
An eyâlet consisted of two or more sanjaks under the direction of beys. Most sanjaks comprised several hundred to a thousand fiefs (called Tımar, Zeamet/Ziamet or Hass depending on their size), from which the members of the feudal cavalry (Sipahis) earned their livelihood; only the Eyalets Egypt, Baghdad, Abyssinia and al-Hasa were not further subdivided into sanjaks and tımars.
The Maghreb was administered similarly to the central territories of the empire but enjoyed extensive autonomy for a long time. Some dominions (“hükümet“) of Kurdish and Arab princes in the east were also almost autonomous and usually only had to perform military successes.
Among the vassal states were those that paid tribute and/or were obliged to follow the army. Regular tributes were paid by the principalities of Transylvania, as well as the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, which also provided military succession. The princes of Moldavia and Wallachia were also appointed by the Sultan. Only military succession was provided by the Crimean Tatar Khanate, whose khans from the Giray family were subject to confirmation by the Sultan. Only tribute was paid by the Republic of Ragusa. Areas such as Georgia and Mingrelia paid tribute only irregularly and depending on the political situation.
The status of these vassal states was sometimes quite delicate. The city of Ragusa belonged to the Hungarian crown, even though Ragusa’s relations with Hungary evaporated over time. The voivodes of Transylvania were also part of the Hungarian crown. At first, they acted as rival pretenders with the Habsburgs and bore the Hungarian royal title under Ottoman suzerainty. Later, in addition to the suzerainty of the Ottoman sultan, they temporarily recognized the suzerainty of the Habsburgs in their capacity as Hungarian kings. The acceptance of the princely title showed the detachment of Transylvania from Hungary.
Furthermore, the network of relations was complicated by other circumstances, such as the takeover of the Polish crown by the Transylvanian prince Stephen Báthory, the attacks of the Transylvanian princes directed against the Habsburgs and the temporary dependence of the Moldavian and Wallachian princes on the prince of Transylvania, in addition to their dependence on the Ottoman sultan. Only the developments after the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, which ended the Great Turkish War, ensured a settlement. The Ottomans recognized the rule of the Habsburgs in Transylvania, which led to the end of the independent principality and its incorporation into the Habsburg Monarchy, and the Ottomans deprived Moldavia and Wallachia of almost all independence by installing foreign princes from the circle of the Phanariots of Istanbul, their own subjects.
Other countries subject to tribute at times
From 1517 until the final conquest by the Ottoman Empire in 1571, Venice paid for the possession of Cyprus, and the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I from 1533 to 1593 for his possessions in northern Hungary. Between 1590 and 1603, after the Ottoman-Safavid Wars, the Persian Empire was also tributary under the Safavids, but remained politically independent.
Division of the territory of the Reich after the First World War
The division of the Ottoman Empire carried out by the victorious powers primarily followed the self-interests of the Western European powers and did not take into account regional and cultural contexts that had grown over centuries, nor the interests of the Arab allies of the Entente. The conflicts resulting from this division still shape the political and social history of the Middle East.
Already during the war, the Entente powers had made a number of agreements on a future division of the Reich’s territory. Fearing possible Russian war fatigue in view of German and Ottoman military successes in Poland and eastern Anatolia, the Constantinople Agreement of March 1915 provided that the Tsarist Empire would be given the occupation of Constantinople and control of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles in the event of victory. With the termination of the treaties with the Allies after the Russian October Revolution of 1917, this agreement became obsolete. In 1916, the Emir of Mecca, Hussein ibn Ali, had declared Ottoman suzerainty abolished and proclaimed himself King of Arabia. He was eventually recognized as king of the Hejaz.
In the Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 1916, the Ottoman Empire was divided into European spheres of interest. This agreement essentially served to secure France’s claim to Ottoman Syria by granting France “direct control” over a zone along the Syrian coast through southern Lebanon into Anatolia. In return, Britain was able to claim direct control over southern Mesopotamia and an extensive zone of indirect control from Gaza to Kirkuk. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised Jews a “national home” in Palestine. This was contrary to British promises to Arab allies. Compliance with the Balfour Declaration presupposed a continued British military presence in Palestine. The sometimes contradictory agreements meant that a solution could ultimately only be achieved through compromise or by force.
At the Conference of San Remo (19 to 26 April 1920), the victorious European powers Great Britain, France and Italy agreed on the projected division of the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire and divided them and the remaining territory of the empire into Western European spheres of interest. The desire of the former Arab allies for independence was shattered by the San Remo Agreement. On March 8, 1920, a “Pan-Syrian Congress” declared the independence of the territories of Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and parts of northern Iraq and appointed Faisal I as king. With the defeat of Faisal at the Battle of Maysalun by French troops, these plans were thwarted. Faisal’s brother Abdullah was proclaimed King of Transjordan, while Faisal assumed control of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1921.
The Treaty of Sèvres of 10 August 1920 provided for the preservation of the Ottoman monarchy and administration but severely restricted the national territory: the straits of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles were therefore under the control of an international commission. Greece received Thrace, the last European province of the empire, and was to gain control over the western Anatolian port city of İzmir. An independent Armenian state was to be established in eastern Anatolia and the Russian Caucasus, and the Kurdish regions of southeastern Anatolia were to enjoy semi-autonomy. The Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire were separated.
France received the League of Nations Mandate for Syria and Lebanon, Great Britain the Mandate for Palestine on both sides of the Jordan River and Mesopotamia. Today’s Iraq emerged from the three Ottoman vilayets of Baghdad, Mosul and Basra, including Kurdish northern Iraq. Another Arab state emerged in Transjordan. The Hejaz and Yemen became independent. The loss of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, the Dodecanese and Cyprus in previous years and decades was confirmed and the Ottoman Empire had to renounce any remaining rights and claims to these territories. The Ottoman Empire received neither a guarantee of its territorial existence, but rather had to agree in advance to future unilateral territorial cessions, nor protection against further encroachments on its sovereignty.
The legacy of the Ottoman Empire
The Western and Central European Christian monarchies and the Ottoman Empire share a centuries-long common history. The image of “the Turk”, often used in the generalized sense for Muslims, represents the cultural-historical “image of the other” from about the late 14th century to modern times. Far more than other Islamic countries, knowledge of the Ottoman Empire shaped Europe’s idea of the Islamic world. On the part of the Republic of Turkey, terms such as “Sèvres syndrome” refer to the experience of the impending division of the Ottoman Empire in 1920, which still has an effect on Turkish foreign policy.
The division of the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire, defeated in World War I, into British and French mandates caught the Arab countries of the Middle East largely unprepared. For almost a quarter of a century, the states, which had emerged without regard to historical or ethnic affiliation, were busy gaining full independence from Europe and finding new identities for their countries. The borders drawn by the victorious powers in 1918 lost their validity in the civil war in Syria – with Turkish participation – as well as in Iraq.
The assertion of Ottoman Islam as an “imperial religion” by Suleiman I and the later reforms of Mahmud II can hardly be overestimated in their world-historical significance. In this way, the Ottoman government was able to partially limit the political influence of the Sunni scholars through the status of state officials and financial control over the Vakıf foundations. In contrast, the Persian Qajar Shahs, especially the Naser ad-Din Shah (reigned 1848–1896), who ruled at the same time as Abdülmecid I and Abdülaziz, had not succeeded in gaining central control over the clergy in accordance with Ottoman conditions.
Compared to the Sunni clergy, Shiite religious scholars were able to exert considerably greater political influence over their followers. Since they could continue to dispose of the income from the religious endowments and additionally from the Muslim Zakāt tax, they had the financial means at their disposal to act politically independently, partly against the government of the Shah. The political position of the Shiite clergy during the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran had a particularly pronounced effect.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the leading republican politicians of the early years of the Turkish Republic drew a clear historical line between the Ottoman Empire and its successor state. The introduction of the Latin alphabet or the enshrinement of laicism in the Turkish constitution were seen as attempts to institutionalize this separation. The period after 1908 is characterized by a growing influence of the military in Ottoman politics; this, together with the idea of a strong state, continues in the history of modern Turkey.
In 1971, 1980 and 1997, the military temporarily took political power in coups. Atatürk represented the Enlightenment ideal of the fundamental equality of all citizens, as it had already been introduced in the empire by the Ottoman Hatt-ı Hümâyûn Edict of 1856. In relation to the time of the Ottoman Empire, this idea is described with the term Ottomanism. The contrast between the official concept of a unified Turkish nation and the de facto ethnic diversity of the country continues with the question of a separate Kurdish state one of the basic internal political conflicts of the Ottoman Empire into the present.
With the founding of the Turkish Republic, the history of the Ottoman Empire formally ended. Nevertheless, it remains present in the current political discussion: Under the slogan of “neo-Ottomanism”, efforts are summarized to interpret the history of the empire in the sense of current (Turkish) politics.
Between 1950 and 2008, about 3-5 million Turks emigrated to Europe. In 2017, 1.5 million Turkish citizens lived, in 2013 almost three million “people of Turkish origin” lived in Germany alone. The history of the Ottoman Empire is also part of the history of the largest group of inhabitants with foreign roots in Germany.