How stable was the Middle East under Ottoman rule?

How stable was the Middle East under Ottoman rule?

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Since the outbreak of WWI, the Middle East has been a strategic area; many powers have vied for control.

How stable was the region under Ottoman rule? Stable is, for the purposes of this question, defined as a lack of wars, and minimal criminal activity.

There were three main periods in the Ottoman Empire. The first was known for internal, but not external stability; the second was known for both external and internal stability; and the last was known for neither.

The Ottoman Empire took its form after the capture of Constantinople in 1453, which it took at its capital. For the next two and a half centuries, it was an aggressive power that waged war on eastern Europe, mostly in the Balkans, advancing as far as Hungary and Rumania, to the southern borders of Poland and Russia. That brought the Ottoman Empire into intermittent conflict with those two countries that ended with an Ottoman victory over (and a peace treaty with) Russia in 1718. The Ottoman Empire also attacked Italy and Austria to the west, losing the battle of Lepanto in 1571, and the battle of Vienna in 1683. During this expansionist era, the country's European borders were unstable, but the Middle Eastern core of the Empire was stable; a large, powerful and mostly successful army minimized crime and civil disorder and kept enemies away from the heartland.

The period of greatest peace and prosperity was in the mid-18th century, the half century during and after the so-called Tulip Period of 1718-1730. This was a time when the Empire mostly avoided wars and concentrated on internal economic development, based in part on tulip raising. This was the time when the Empire first opened itself to foreign capital, art, architecture, and ideas that led to a flourishing culture. Although Ottoman power was clearly peaking, this was a time of internal, as well as external stability that kept the peace in the Middle East.

After 1768, the Ottoman Empire became the "Sick Man of Europe" because of the rise of Russia (beginning under Catherine the Great), with the Ottoman Empire (along with Poland) its most important victim. The Empire was also wracked with internal strife, including in the Middle East, and spent 150 years "threatening" to fall apart before it actually did so in 1918.

The Ottoman Empire was in a state of decline, both internal and external, during the 18th and 19th centuries, accelerating during the latter period, and ending with its total collapse and dissolution during the events surrounding World War I.

Richard Hooker's The Ottomans tell's the story briefly.

Note that by 1800 the Ottoman's had totally lost control of the Barbary Coast and Egypt; European interference in the Lebanon was also disruptive.

The Balkan Wars of the late 19th century were preceded by the successful Greek War of Independence. All of these events signal the weakness of the Ottoman Empire, the "Sick Man of Europe"

The rise of of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire was primarily a 19th century affair; the systematic Ottoman response was the Tanzimat, reform and reogranization that lasted from 1839 to 1878. Many of the reforms were inspired by Western ideas, but failed to accomplish the goals, which were "to bring the benefits of a good administration to the provinces of the Ottoman Empire through new institutions."

Economic stagnation, the refusal to modernize, and the slow loss of territorial integrity means that peace and stability were lacking.

As reported in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World:

"Government and Society. The reign of Sultan Süleyman marked the peak of Ottoman power and prosperity as well as the highest development of its governmental, social, and economic systems. The Ottoman sultans preserved the traditional Middle Eastern social division between a small ruling class (askeri or “military”) at the top, whose functions were limited largely to keeping order and securing sufficient financial resources to maintain itself and carry out its role, and a large subject class of rayas (reâyâ, or “protected flock”), organized into autonomous communities according to religion (millets) or economic pursuit (esnaf, or “guilds”) that cared for all aspects of life not controlled by the ruling class."

The article provides details, but even this summary makes it clear that modern theories of police were lacking, and that order was primarily the responsibility of the autonomous communes, with a military presence as a reminder. Thus there are no statistics for criminal activity.

Rebellions in the Ottoman Empire (in Turkey) lists many rebellions, and provides links to the details. The article also provides rebellions by era; the period 1606-1699 is called Stagnation, 1699-1792 is called Decline, and 1792-1922 is called Dissolution.

The question is not very clear. But I believe that it intends to ask a comparison of the situation of the Middle East today, where you have lot's of conflicts, wars, disputes; and the reasons behind the same geography peacefully living for centuries under the the Ottoman times. If that's the case, my answer is below.

It is true that Middle East was (relative to the time of it's day), a lot more peaceful during the Ottoman period, compared to last hundred or so years. It is also important to note that there had been serious changes to the definitions of identity and nation during this period.

During the Ottoman period, the empire was a multicultural environment, where there was no absolute domination of a single ethnic or religious group in most of the regions and the cities. The identity was based on religion, not ethnic background, but there was a balance between different religious communities.

Firstly, with the rise of nationalism in Europe after the French Revolution, it didn't take long that ethnic differences started to gain an importance in the daily life in the Ottoman Empire. With the weakening of the Ottoman Empire, external powers (and especially Britain, France and Russia) have started to trigger the minorities of the empire, in order have better influences in the division of what is called the Sick Man of Europe, about to die.

Through these influences, especially the Christian minorities have gained economic and political privileges within the empire, which have later turned into nationalistic movements and ethnic conflicts. Metropolitan cities were shared by multiple ethnic groups, but later on claimed for one.

This has created serious conflicts between many groups and resulted in multiple wars before and after WWI.

Secondly, during the Cold War, the Middle East was positioned on a strategic place just near USSR, and became one of the strongest playgrounds of the rivalry between USSR and the USA. Radical religious movements were used against the communists. Intentionally and externally, conservatism is injected into the societies. But within decades, the radicalism had grown out of control.

Thirdly, once this radical religionism has started to threat the world, especially post 9/11, another external tailoring of the societies took place, which has targeted to divide the ethnic and religious groups. Unfortunately, this has only resulted in the enlargement of the influence of the radicals to all those countries. They were not model democracies before, but most were definitely far away from being extremists.

All these external touches to the Middle East have changed the social dynamics of the countries, in a manner like a mutation causing cancer difficult to fix. Unfortunately, the similar and unsuccessful involvements still take place today.

Middle East 1648 CE

The Ottoman empire now dominates most of the Middle east.

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What is happening in Middle East in 1648CE

Ottomans and Safavids

Over the past two centuries, most of the Middle East has come under the rule of two major powers. The Ottoman empire sent its armies east from Asia Minor to conquer Syria in 1516, Egypt in 1517, western Arabia (the Hejaz and Yemen) in the following years, and Iraq in 1534. The Ottomans have brought much needed peace and stability to these countries, and a measure of economic progress. To the east has arisen the other major Middle Eastern power, Safavid Iran. Under the Safavids, Iran has experienced a period of great cultural achievement, particularly in architecture.

The Ottoman Empire: Its Breakup in the Twentieth Century

The disappearance of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth centuries was one of the greatest political earthquakes in the modern period. The empire ruled much of the Middle East and parts of Europe for centuries. In its wake was left over two dozen countries, some with little ability to run an effective nation state. The following is an excerpt from a book by Martin Sieff on the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

T hink of the Middle East at the start of the twenty-first century: home to the richest, highest quality, most easily accessible oil deposits on earth cockpit of an extreme Islamist movement that wants to topple moderate regimes and wage aggressive war against the United States and the West nexus of an unending conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and widely regarded as the most dangerous area for confrontation between the major powers.

The Middle East is filled with unstable states, none of them more than ninety years old, most of them still suffering from crises of legitimacy. Arab nationalism is a volatile force. The region’s birth rate is extraordinarily high, and its rate of population increase vastly exceeds those of the nations of the European Union and Russia. The wealthiest and most strategically desirable real estate in the world is the oil-rich land of southern Iraq, Kuwait, the Gulf States, and the Dhahran region of Saudi Arabia.

But go back a hundred years, and you’ll find every one of those conditions reversed. The most backward, remote, and ignored parts of the region were the desert and the coasts of the Arabian (or Persian) Gulf. Neither the Ottoman sultans—who also embodied the caliphate that led all Islam in Constantinople—nor the chancelleries of any of the great European imperial powers bothered with those wastelands. In 1905, the region is unified politically and religiously, but the general attitude toward these conditions is one of apathy, lethargy, and resignation.

No major oil deposits have been found west of Persia. The caliphate that rules the region and gives it religious direction from Constantinople is ignored or widely despised by most Muslims. The main revolutionary force is a desire among middle-class professionals, students, intellectuals to establish Western-style parliamentary democracy in the Ottoman Turkish Empire. At this time, the region is a political, strategic, and economic backwater. None of the great imperial powers of the world regard it as worth a thimble of blood being spilled, let alone oceans of the stuff. There are two tiny Jewish communities in the land still known as Palestine. One contains traditional, extremely observant Jews who, politically, are entirely quiescent.

The second, even smaller, consists of weirdly idealistic dreamers— Jewish intellectuals from the czarist Russian Empire who dream of turning into farmers, but are making a bad job of it. Apart from the usual banditry, the land is peaceful and has been for hundreds of years. No one, including the tiny community of Jewish settlers, dreams that this will change for generations. (At the time, David Ben-Gurion, who would become Israel’s great founding father, aspired to become a member of an Ottoman Turkish parliament in Istanbul.) The Ottoman Turkish Empire—the region we call the Middle East today—is lightly populated. Poverty is terrible and universal. Health care, even by the poor American and European standards of the day, is abominable.

Even smallpox is still quite common. Public sanitary standards are nonexistent. Infant and child mortality rates are sky-high. Islam as a religion is exceptionally quiescent, passive, and subservient to the political authority of its Ottoman Turkish overlords. The fact that the Ottoman rulers in Constantinople are sultans, and therefore rule their vast empire—more than half the size of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent—as absolute political emperors, is far more important to their subjects than the fact that they also embody the highest religious authority in Islam.

In Palestine, the city of Jerusalem is a backwater, notable for its exceptional beauty from afar and its exceptional filth and poverty, even by regional standards, up close. A handful of Jewish pilgrims come every year to weep in the narrow, fetid alley in front of the last surviving enclosure wall of their ancient temple compound. Jerusalem has been under the firm, unyielding Turkish yoke for almost four hundred years. Nothing has changed. Nothing, it seems, will ever change. Fast forward a hundred years to the present. Everything has changed. Everything has become the opposite of what it was a century before. How did this happen, and what lessons should we should learn from it?

Ottomans exit, instability and strife enter

For the past ninety years, the defining characteristic of the Middle East has been political instability. European colonial empires, which brought stability to other parts of the world, had little steadying effect here. The heyday of British and the French dominion over the region lasted only twenty-five years—and that included World War II. By 1958, their political and economic influence had been eliminated from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, and Egypt. By 1962 the French were gone from Algeria as well, where they had been for more than 130 years. And the Italians had been in Libya so briefly that if you blinked you would have missed them. However brief, European rule over the Middle East was not quiet.

In the interwar years, Syria was rocked by fierce pan-Arab nationalist uprisings against the French, and the British had to put down a full-scale rebellion in Iraq and widespread rioting in Egypt. Under British rule, Iraq and Egypt (the two most populous nations in the region) were never stable, never secure, and never at peace. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s ferocious political intrigues swirled among the British overlords, the local rulers, and the parliamentary democracies installed by the British. In short, Western attempts to impose order on the Middle East failed. What worked in the Americas, Africa, or the rest of Asia did not work here. In the 1950s, the great tides of anti-Western, anti-imperialist passions swept all these corrupt, incompetent, quasi-parliamentary systems away.

They were replaced by regimes modeled on the new great hope of Arab intellectuals—the Socialist Paradise of the Soviet Union. Socialist dictatorships dedicated—at least in theory—to improving the standard of living of the peasant masses were installed in Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. Egypt, however, exported instability to much of the rest of the region. Through the 1950s and ’60s, Syria and Iraq could not even find a competent dictatorial socialist system to stabilize themselves. By the 1970s, they finally did, but the cost was a level of torture and oppression that exceeded anything the Ottomans had ever resorted to except when they were really mad. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, even this dubious breathing space of stability was starting to break down.

By contrast, the Ottoman Empire had ruled the whole vast region for four hundred years. There was no Renaissance, no Reformation, no Industrial Revolution, no steady process of improvement and discovery in medicine, hygiene, or public health. After a hundred years as the most powerful empire-state in the world through the sixteenth century, the empire entered a more than three-hundred-year process of long, slow economic and military decline relative to the brawling, dynamic nations of Europe to the northwest. In all that time, the Ottomans’ control over the region they had conquered at lightning speed in the first two decades of the sixteenth century was never seriously challenged from within, and it never faltered. When it came to controlling the region and preserving stability, the Ottoman Turks proved far superior to the British and the French in the first half of the twentieth century and to the Americans and Soviets who succeeded them. What was their secret?

The secrets of Ottoman success

When Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama found a new trade route to the east around the southern end of Africa, and Christopher Columbus and his successors found first the New World and then the way across the Pacific Ocean back to the old one, the Middle East became a global backwater overnight. This provided opportunity for the Ottomans, and they managed it masterfully. There were three key factors. First, they were locals. Second, they were utterly, relentlessly, and consistently ruthless. Third, they wanted only a quiet life.

Being locals who had already conquered and plundered across the Middle East for half a millennium before they finally came to stay in the early sixteenth century, the Ottoman Turks knew the neighborhood a lot better than the twentieth-century superpowers ever did. They did not think capitalism and democracy would solve all the Middle East’s problems, as American idealists from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush have. And they did not dream that communism or state socialism (such as the Soviets peddled) would do it either. Even the Turks’ complete indifference to the material well-being of their subjects played to their strengths and was a cause of their success.

They did not obsess about building sewers, dams, or schools as the British and French did. As a result, population remained low, and there was never a baby boom of angry, over-educated teenagers or students rampaging through the streets, shouting, “Turk, go home!” And even if there had been enough restless, energetic young people to give urban mobs that critical mass, the well-deserved Ottoman Turkish reputation for consistent, merciless slaughter when seriously crossed would have ensured that the mobs stayed at home or, if they were really determined to rape and plunder, found the opportunity to do so by joining the sultan’s armies instead. However, for all their capacity for merciless slaughter, the Ottoman Turks were never, after they won their empire, relentless conquerors or genocidal murderers like Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. Unlike Hitler and Stalin—or Saddam Hussein, the one modern Arab ruler nearest to being such a totalitarian monster—the sultan-caliphs did not have an endless, relentless appetite for blood. (The one who came closest, Abdul Hamid II, who massacred Armenians and Bulgarians remorselessly, was also one of the last and most influenced by Western love of “efficiency.”)

This was the third secret of their success: they left well enough alone. And unlike the British in particular, they did not make the mistake of arousing among their subjects vast and undefined dreams of freedom and wealth that they could never have been able to fulfill. In four hundred years, the Ottoman Turkish sultan-caliphs never came up with anything like Magna Carta, the Atlantic Charter, or the Constitution of the United States. That was why they lasted so long. It also helped that television hadn’t been invented yet. But if it had, you can bet the old sultan-caliphs would have kept a tight grip on it. No CNN or al-Jazeera for them.

Finally, for all their status as alien conquerors, the sultans were Muslim, and they embodied the caliphate—that is, they were understood to be the successors to Muhammad’s political authority. So they were not religious aliens to most of their subjects. And they also understood—as the British after them certainly did not—that political overlords throughout Islamic history were expected to keep the religious authorities strictly in line. Freedom of religious expression was inconceivable to the sultancaliphs and to their subjects too. So when the British declined to micromanage local religious preachers on the naïve grounds that as Christians they should leave Islam alone, this was invariably interpreted by every Middle East population under British control as a sign of weakness rather than friendship and tolerance. That helped explain, too, why the British lasted less than a single generation in the neighborhood. The Ottoman sultans had the formula down. But all empires crumble, and this one was brought down by trendy Westernization and modern ideologies.

The curse of modernity

Ignorance, apathy, and squalor may have been the pillars of the Ottoman Empire, but the result was long-lasting stability and tranquility. The empire’s downfall was brought about not by the insidious doings of the big, bad Western empires, but by the trendy shortsightedness of the Turks themselves—specifically, of the handful among them who had read Western books of political thought and made the appalling mistake of taking them seriously. In 1908, the first and greatest coup of half a century of Middle East coups stripped Sultan Abdul Hamid II in Constantinople of the absolute power he had enjoyed for more than thirty years. Abdul Hamid was notorious in the West for approving horrific massacres of the Christian Armenian community in the empire in 1896. When a group of apparently idealistic, obviously secular, and Western young army officers stripped him of his power to vast national rejoicing, liberal intellectuals and pundits across Europe and America rejoiced too. They were wrong, as usual.

The Young Turks, as the officers called themselves, were the prototype for innumerable similar West-adoring liberal cliques that would spread untold suffering and horror across the Middle East (as well as Asia, Africa, and Latin America) over the next century. For in their passionate enthusiasm to emulate the power of the West as quickly as possible, ancient empires and newly independent former colonial nations alike poured their resources into the training and arming of new armies led by presentable, Westernized young officers. They never stopped to realize that the more they abandoned the ancient customs and stripped such habits and restraints from their new armed forces, the greater would be the likelihood that the arrogant and ambitious young officers might turn their glittering bayonets and— later—shiny new tanks on their own ramshackle political overlords.

The Turks did it before anyone else. The leader of the group was a young officer named Ismail Enver (known as Enver Pasha, “Pasha” being a rank of honor). Enver is nearly unknown in Western circles today except for serious students of history. Within three years of seizing power, Enver had fought three wars in the Balkans in which tiny, parvenu Balkan nations stripped the empire of ancient provinces it had held for more than five hundred years.

Whereas previous Ottoman rulers facing such setbacks had been able to rely on their traditional ally, the British Empire, the landscape was different in the 1900s. By 1908, Britain had fatefully lined up with France and Russia in the Triple Entente to contain Germany, which, with the great Bismarck long since dead, was no longer shy about sticking its nose to the east. Bismarck had declared that nothing in the Balkans was worth the bones of a single dead Pomeranian grenadier. But the man who sacked him as chancellor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, didn’t take that advice. He had visions of himself as a modern-day Napoleon bringing enlightenment and progress to the slumbering East. That was as bad an idea for a German emperor as it would prove to be for later U.S. presidents, be their names Wilson, Carter, Clinton, or Bush. Under Wilhelm, Germany started inching closer to the Ottoman Empire, but was repelled by the corruption, ancient versions of Islamic ritual, and obvious foundering military incompetence that embodied Abdul Hamid’s regime.

By contrast, the German kaiser and his generals loved the no-nonsense, (apparently) virile Young Turks, with their dynamic, go-getting new ideas. It proved a marriage made in the infernal regions. In the six years after 1908, the Young Turks moved at remarkable speed into Imperial Germany’s corner, even though it meant making common cause with their most ancient enemy, the Catholic Christian multinational empire of Austria-Hungary under the rule of Emperor Franz Joseph.

The Young Turks had no time for the fuddy-duddy old religious traditions and customs that had defined the Habsburg Empire, like their own, for so long. But like the Habsburgs, they loathed the tiny, aggressive, fierce little nation-states of the Balkans like poison. And they hoped Germany would take care of their most dangerous enemy in modern times, the vast czarist empire of Russia to their north. So just as Nasser fifty years later would fatefully throw his lot in with the Soviet Union and embark on a policy of military buildup and eventual war against neighboring Israel, Enver Pasha embraced Imperial Germany. He imported German military advisors to modernize his own army and embarked on a course of confrontation against an England he wrongly thought to be weak and decadent.

World War I could have skipped the Middle East

Ironically, the Ottoman Empire could easily have stayed out of World War I (under the vastly superior, wise leadership of Ismet Inonu, Turkey later stayed out of World War II). The spark that set off the war and that destroyed Europe didn’t have to spread to the Middle East—and if not for Enver’s bungling, it wouldn’t have. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the firebreathing and extremely unpleasant heir to the Habsburg Empire, was shot dead on a visit to Sarajevo, capital of the province of Bosnia and Herzegovina, by an idealistic (aren’t they all) fanatic young student-killer called Gavrilo Princip.

The assassination triggered calls for war in the highest military and imperial circles in Vienna, Berlin, and St. Petersburg. Franz Joseph was too old, Czar Nicholas II quite simply too stupid, and Kaiser Wilhelm II too weak to stop them. But the Young Turks, for all their embrace of German generals as military advisors, had no treaty obligations to any of the feuding nations. England had been their traditional ally for more than 120 years since the days of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and had saved the empire’s bacon on more than one occasion. And England remained, as even Enver understood, the dominant naval power in the Mediterranean Sea.

Then Winston Churchill entered the picture. In the eight years from 1914 to 1922, there was something fatefully hapless about the young, brilliant, and dynamic Winston Churchill whenever he had to deal with Turkey under its rulers old and new. In all or most of his other dealings with the Middle East, he proved energetic, decisive, visionary, forceful, and even occasionally right. But whenever it came to dealing with the Turks, he always misunderstood them and made them mad.

As part of their ambitious modernization program, the Turks had ordered two new dreadnought battleships from the country most famed for building such things. In 1914, Churchill was still first lord of the admiralty, the civilian head of Britain’s fabled Royal Navy, still by far the largest and most powerful in the world. Britain, thanks to Churchill’s energy and public advocacy, had a powerful superiority over the Imperial German High Seas Fleet, and her allies France and Japan were among the world’s leading naval powers as well. Britain certainly didn’t need to seize the two Ottoman/Young Turk battleships being built in its shipyards. It could quietly have concluded some kind of compensation deal with Constantinople in which the ships were either held in British ports until the end of the conflict if the Turks agreed to stay neutral, or, if drawn into any conflict with their immediate neighbors, not to use the ships against either Britain or France.

Instead, Churchill immediately went macho. He ordered the battleships seized for Britain’s Royal Navy, in which they proved to have less than stellar careers. Reaction across the Ottoman Empire, and not just among the dominant Turks, was immediate. Protest meetings against Britain were held across the empire. The Young Turk rulers shared the outrage. German diplomats in Constantinople saw their chance and offered to replace the seized battleships at once. But the fly in the ointment was getting any German warship safely to Constantinople, as the British and French navies controlled the Mediterranean. In the early spring of 1915, however, Churchill and his brilliant but wildly unstable chief of British naval operations, First Sea Lord John “Jackie” Fisher, a septuagenarian hyper-energetic maniac-genius who believed Britain was the lost tribes of Israel, were obsessed with sweeping the raiders and overseas battle squadrons of the Imperial German Navy from the seas. And insofar as they micromanaged British naval dispositions to bottle up the German battle cruisers Goeben and Breslau in the Mediterranean, they made a hash of it.

At one fateful moment, Rear Admiral Ernest Troubridge, the British squadron commander off the southern tip of Italy, had the chance to trap the Goeben and Breslau by stationing a heavy cruiser at either end of the Strait of Messina. Instead, he put both the cruisers at the same end and allowed the German warships to sail out unmolested at the other end. On August 10, 1914, the Goeben reached safety in the harbor of the Golden Horn at Constantinople, bringing with her, as Churchill later wrote, untold misery and suffering for the peoples of the East. Guaranteed a strong naval force to replace the battleships Britain had seized, Enver and the Young Turks negotiated their fateful alliance with Germany. On October 30, 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined the world war—and thereby ended the centuries-long slumber of the Middle East.

Gallipoli: Underestimating the Turks

At first it seemed that having the Ottoman Empire on their side would be more of a liability to the Germans and the Austrians than an advantage. The British in particular were eager to knock the empire out of the war with a couple of bold moves, and they were sure it could be done.

A hastily gathered force from the Indian Army was sent to Basra and started the long slog up the Tigris River valley and through the desert toward Baghdad. It followed exactly the same route that the U.S. armed forces would use with considerably more success and élan eighty-eight years later in 2003. But that wasn’t enough for Churchill, who in the spring of 1915 directed his Mediterranean admirals to try to force the strait of the Dardanelles so that their fleet could sail through and put Constantinople, the greatest city of the Ottoman Empire, at the mercy of its heavy naval guns.

After a couple of halfhearted attempts that achieved nothing except to alert the Turkish defenses, the main attempt to force the Dardanelles took place on March 18, 1915. This was indeed, as Churchill recognized in his book The World Crisis: 1911–1918, the first, boldest, and best way to knock the Ottoman Empire quickly out of the war, though it is doubtful this would have saved Russia or brought an early end to the slaughter in Europe, as he and his admirers would later maintain. But as it was, Churchill was undone, as he was so often in those days, by his own execrable choice in the admirals he had chosen for high command.

The attacking Anglo-French battle fleet hit minefields in the early waters of the Dardanelles, and in rapid succession three battleships were sunk. The frustration of having their huge battle fleet superiority only a few score miles from the capital of Constantinople, the glittering dream city of the East, was too much for the British War Cabinet. Lord Kitchener, the brutal, energetic, and witless British war minister, was all for landing an army on the Gallipoli peninsula to sweep it free of those pesky batteries and then either advance overland to take Constantinople or finally open the Dardanelles so the fleet could sail through. Churchill was gung-ho for the idea. Neither of them seemed to have bothered looking at a relief map. The Gallipoli peninsula was even worse territory for a slow infantry advance than was the Western Front.

Neither Churchill nor anyone else gave any thought to the problems of landing a huge amphibious force against an enemy armed with modern weapons. The British, Australian, and New Zealand army that came ashore on the beaches of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, was rowed largely by hand in wooden boats whose sides couldn’t stop a single .303 rifle bullet. The waters off the beaches ran thick with blood. No one had yet dreamed of the kind of armored, steel-sided, powered landing craft, or LCT, that the British and Americans would use for all their successful amphibious landings in the European and Pacific theaters in World War II.

Once ashore, there were many more unpleasant surprises in store. The beaches were far smaller and narrower and the hills and cliffs stretching above them far higher and steeper than most of the beaches and hills on the D-Day beaches of Normandy. Tanks hadn’t been invented yet. (Churchill in fact would have a major and far happier role in developing them soon.) The British and Anzacs (Australians and New Zealanders) were commanded by an incompetent twit, General Sir Ian Hamilton (a Churchill favorite), while the Turks, who were fighting for their homeland, were led by one of the greatest leaders and generals in their history, Mustafa Kemal, the man later to be known as Ataturk, the father of the Turks.

Kemal had been in the original Young Turk revolutionary group, but was quickly bypassed by Enver and his friends as not being intellectual enough and lacking sufficient “polish.” (Like so many murderous incompetents after them, the Young Turks were snobs.) They thought Kemal too abrasive, too intelligent, and too unwilling to flatter them about their own self-imagined “genius.” What Kemal thought of them can be concluded from the dungeons and gallows to which he later consigned them.

Unlike them, Kemal also proved to be the one new-generation general who could actually win a major battle. He went on to win lots of them— and against the most modern Western armies. Kemal was advised by General Otto Liman von Sanders, a brilliant German general of Jewish origin distantly related to the family who owned the American department store Lehman Brothers. Kemal and von Sanders rushed reinforcements up to Gallipoli and kept the allied forces bottled up on the beaches. The allies, spearheaded by the Australians, made passionate efforts to storm the cliffs. It all culminated in the climactic battles at Suvla Bay from August 6 through August 21, 1915.

In The World Crisis, Churchill depicts that battle as the Hinge of Fate. Had the Australians been able to hang on, had the British generals managed to gather another company or two of troops, and had the War Cabinet in London shown just a little more backbone, he argued, the heights at Scimitar Hill would have been held, it would have been a downhillall- the-way sweep to Constantinople, the straits would have been opened at last, and endless, enormous convoys of British, French, and even American munitions would have flooded to Russia to prevent the collapse of the czarist army and prevent the Russian Revolution and all the hecatombs of death and suffering that flowed from it.

The issue remains an important one into the twenty-first century for U.S. policymakers as well as historians and war history enthusiasts. Before Paul Wolfowitz served as American deputy defense secretary from 2001 to 2005, urging the invasion of Iraq, as dean of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies in Washington he liked to take favored graduate students on trips to Istanbul to show them how close the Gallipoli campaign—and Churchill’s vision—came to changing the course of twentieth-century history.

But in reality, without tanks, trucks, and the tactical doctrine and training to carry out rapid armored war, the British couldn’t have hoped to advance at more than a crawl and the Turks would have fought them all the way and kept them bottled up. Also, the thirty-mile Gallipoli peninsula continues with hilly, ravine territory for miles beyond the landing beaches. Winning the battles at Suvla Bay and Scimitar Hill would just have been the prelude to endless bloodbaths of the kind already occurring on the Western Front. And by the time Suvla Bay was fought in August 1915, the Russian army had already lost millions dead on the Eastern Front and been forced out of Poland. Russia’s collapse by then was inevitable.

Lessons of Gallipoli

The British defeat at Gallipoli in 1915, and the much smaller one at Kut that same year, taught lessons to Western nations about getting entangled in the Middle East that are more relevant now than ever. First, local populations and nations in the region should not be despised or underestimated just because they have lost wars for scores or hundreds of years. Every war is different. The British and the Arab nations chronically underestimated the Jewish community in Palestine in 1947–1948, and Israelis underestimated the Egyptians and the Syrians in 1973.

Second, battles, wars, and military campaigns can be very easy to start but very hard to stop. Once you’re in, you’re in, and a campaign takes on a mad life of its own, sucking in unimagined resources as casualties soar and the deadlock deepens. The United States has been learning that in Iraq.

Third, local populations that perform miserably in the face of one kind of war can prove formidably brilliant in another kind of conflict. The Turks failed miserably when they attempted offensive operations against the British in Sinai in 1915 and 1916 and against the Russians around Lake Van. But when they had to fight a straightforward defensive struggle to protect their ancestral heartland at Gallipoli, or later against the invading Greek army in 1920–1921, Turkish peasant soldiers proved to be the epitome of courage, resilience, and toughness—and they won.

That lesson applies to twenty-first-century Iraq too. The Iraqi army, even at the height of its power in 1991, proved useless against the attack of a vast U.S. and allied force commanded by General Norman Schwarzkopf. It proved equally helpless against the lightning thrusts of the U.S. Army and Marines in the 2003 campaign. Yet the same soldiers had fought superbly and successfully against Iranian human wave attacks in the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War just a few years before. And when it came to a guerrilla war against U.S. forces with infinitely superior firepower from May 2003 on, the Sunni Muslim insurgents in Iraq proved to be innovative, adaptive, ruthless, and utterly relentless.

Europe’s “sick man” has some teeth

For more than a century before the start of World War I, the great Christian empires of Europe looked upon the Ottoman Empire as the “Sick Man of Europe”—a rotting edifice that would collapse if any serious power went to war against it. This widespread assumption lay behind the naïvely romantic belief among young British officers who sailed off to the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 that it would combine the epic heroism of the Trojan War with the gallantry and triumphs of the early Crusades.

But the British quickly learned the hard way that if the Ottoman Turkish Empire was a sick old man, it was a sick old man with teeth that still delivered a nasty bite. Winston Churchill’s visionary campaign to knock Turkey out of the war with a single blow was drowned in blood. The Turkish conscript soldiers led by Kemal fought with ferocious bravery and kept the British, Australian, and New Zealand divisions pinned down on their tiny beachhead. Later the same year, an Anglo-Indian army of 10,000 men led by Sir Charles Townshend marched up from the Persian Gulf to take Baghdad but was blocked by strong, unanticipated Ottoman resistance. Townshend, rather than sensibly retreat back to the safety of Kuwait on the coast, sat still for long, fatal weeks in the town of Kut while the Turks slowly but steadily built up their forces and cut off his line of retreat. The double British humiliations of Gallipoli and Kut smashed the old myth of the weak, corrupt, and cowardly old Turks. They put the British on the defensive, licking their wounds. It would be two years before far larger, better organized British armies started the laborious task of rolling up the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East from its extremities, driving into Palestine from Egypt and back into Mesopotamia, modern Iraq, from Kuwait.

Why Does The Middle East Have Straight Line Borders?!

Drawing the Middle East’s modern borders on map with a ruler certainly seemed simple. Perhaps that’s why the lines, set in 1916 by Englishman Sir Mark Sykes and Frenchman Francois Georges-Picot were straight ones. The infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement was a pact between Great Britain and France, in the middle of World War I (with Russia’s blessing). With it, they planned to completely dismember the Ottoman Empire. It led to the division of the Turkish-held Middle East into 5 French and British-administered countries – today’s Syria, Lebanon, Israel (then called Palestine), Jordan and Iraq. During World War I, the Turks had sided with Germany and Austria-Hungary and basically faced a war on three fronts.

Sykes & Picot were both colonial aristocrats and believed in the quaint notion that Second & Third World counties were incapable of self-rule, and far better living under their European masters. They had carved up Africa in a similar fashion. Plus the warring sides of WWI were still oblivious to the fact that the Middle East sat upon the largest hidden oil reserves in the world. At the time, all the 2 empires wanted was open shipping routes to Russia (via Istanbul) and a secure Suez Canal connection to India through Egypt.

So the two men literally drew straight lines on a map, dividing up territory ruled by the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years into brand new countries. Syria and Lebanon which would be under French control in the north. Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine which would be under British control in the south. Beneath them all sat Arab controlled Saudi Arabia. Following the end of World War I in 1918, the deed was done and signed into all the treaties.

Their hastily negotiated agreement continues to have profound ripple effects to this day.

For you see, the Sykes-Picot Agreement had MANY problems. The first lay in those damn straight lines, which failed to take into account any sectarian, tribal, or ethnic divisions. Sykes & Picot envisioned Lebanon as a Christian haven, Palestine with a Jewish community, and Syria, Jordan & Iraq with the region’s Muslims. That of course never happened and old racism and hatreds, suppressed for decades under strict Ottoman rule, came boiling to the surface.

Second, the agreement was made with NO Arab input of any kind … NONE . AND it ignored a promise Britain made to the Arabs that if they sided with them and rebelled against the Turks in WWI, they would finally gain their independence. When independence did not materialize after the war, Arab politics gradually shifted from constitutional parliaments to militant kingdoms. This led to the rise of dictatorial regimes that dominated many Arab countries for decades, to this day.

During World War I, Britain was willing to recognize and support Arab independence. The Arabs fulfilled their part of the agreement and revolted against the Turks, fueled in part by the famous British archaeologist T. E. Lawrence, aka “Lawrence of Arabia.” Britain, however, did not live up to its side of the deal. Lawrence later wrote that the Arab Revolt was useful, as it marched in line with Britain’s aims, i.e. the break-up of the vast Ottoman Empire. But, he also warned the Arab tribes were even less stable than the Turks, a ‘tissue of small, jealous principalities incapable of cohesion.’

During the 1800’s, the Ottoman Sultan had taken a hands-off approach to governing the Middle East, and did little to promote progress. At the first sign of any tribal identity, the Turks beheaded the movement’s leaders. The Sykes-Picot Agreement was a blatantly imperialistic solution. It took no account of the wishes of the people, ignored Arab and Kurdish boundaries, and provoked conflicts which continue to plague the region to this day. No other region on earth has seen so many border wars, civil wars and deadly coups in recent decades.

In 1918, World War I finally came to an end with a victory for the Allies.

The Ottoman Empire was defeated, carved up like tired bull, and split among the victors. Instead of the nation-states Britain & France had promised the Arabs, the victors divided the Middle East into countries which, because of those damn straight lines, are still among the most difficult to govern on earth. The strains unleashed on the Arab World after World War I remain as acute as ever, 100 years later.

The Middle East still finds itself living with a 1916 map that ignored the region’s Islamic and ethnic realities – there were Arabs and Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, Muslims and Jews. The nations and borders are still seen today as illegitimate by many of their own citizens. WWI spilled over in WWII. This was followed by: the founding of Israel in 1948, the race for Arab oil in Iraq, 3 Egypt-Israeli wars, countless Sunni-Shiite-Kurdish conflicts, 2 Iraq-Iran wars, 2 Persian Gulf Wars, and the rise of Al-qaeda and Isis.

With the exception of the 1978 Camp David Egypt-Israeli Peace Accords, no lasting peace in the region has stuck. The result has been seemingly unending conflicts that have yet to come to an end, a century later. All due to a few straight lines drawn on a map by two men, over a hundred years ago.


Turkey: Head of the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century on. Controlled parts of Europe, much of North Africa, all of the Fertile Crescent, none of the Gulf. Lost its imperial domains when it was defeated by European powers in World War I after having lost (most) North African provinces by the end of the 19th century. Turkey itself remained independent throughout. The Republic was re-established under Attaturk in 1923.

Iran: Earlier (Persian) empire became part of the Islamic Empire. Served as a bridge to the Indian subcontinent in the Moghul expansion to India. During the 19th century it became subdivided into “spheres of influence” with Russia dominant in the north and Britain dominant in the south. Iran remained ostensibly independent throughout. Constitutional government was established circa 1905. A Republic was established under Reza Shah circa 1925. His son, the “baby” Shah was overthrown in the late 1970s.


Egypt: British colony from 1882. British protectorate 1914. Constitutional monarchy under British tutelage from 1922 onward. More “autonomy” from 1936 onward. Last British troops depart from the Suez Canal Zone in 1956.

Sudan: From 1899 onward, under British control as part of Egyptian-Sudanese condominium. Independent after 1956.

Tunisia: French colony from 1881. Independent 1956.

Algeria: French conquest began in 1830. Won war of independence from France in 1963.

Morocco: French protectorate imposed in 1912. Became independent in 1956.

Libya: Italian colony from 1911. When Italy lost in World War II, she also “lost” Libya. A monarchy was established in 1951. Overthrown in 1969.


These countries had been part of the Ottoman Empire until World War I. The Sykes-Picot Agreement partitioned the area between Britain and France.

Syria: Colonized by France in 1918, became independent in 1946.

Iraq: Occupied by Britain in World War I. Nominally independent after 1932.

Jordan: British Mandate territory after 1918. Decolonized in 1946.

Palestine: British Mandate territory after 1918. Lost to Israel 1948-1967.

Lebanon: French Mandate after 1918. Decolonized in 1943 with National Pact. (Before 1918, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon were all part of Greater Syria.)


Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates: With the exception of Saudi Arabia, these are mostly “new States” that came into existence in the 1960s and 1970s, carved out of a region that had been under British military and naval “protection” from the 1830s onward. Present Saudi Arabia dates from the 1930s. Kuwait dates from the 1950s when it emerged from under Iraqi-British tutelage. Colonization was not important for these states because they had no resources that anyone wanted. This changed with the discovery of oil.


South Yemen: Results from the ex-British colony at Aden and a Marxist-Leninist revolution.

North Yemen: Results from a “loyalist” hold-out. Region is now almost a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia. The two Yemens merged in 1990, but the legacy of divisions remains, resulting in reoccurring crisis situations and instability.

This post is drawn from material provided by Janet Abu-Lughod.

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The Colonial Roots of Middle East Conflict

If you walk up the hill from the “Cola” transportation hub in Beirut – a city where buildings are still pockmarked from combat during the 1975-1990 civil war – you pass the somewhat tired buildings of the Lebanese Arab University. On your left you’ll see the old Municipal Sports Stadium where captured survivors from the 1982 Sabra-Shatila massacre were tortured and executed by Lebanese Falangists under Israeli supervision. Then, few blocks further down the street, you come to an unassuming gateway which opens onto to one of the most verdant and tranquil spots in all of Beirut. It is the British War Cemetery.

Here, on meticulously-manicured grounds, are buried British Empire casualties from the Western Asia campaigns of 1914-18, together with a smaller number of graves which were later added from the relatively minor skirmishes during Second World War. The Beirut cemetery is one of 23,000 gravesites and monument in 154 countries overseen by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, including dozens in the Middle East stretching from Khartoum and Cairo to Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran.

As befits the colonial mentality, not all the graves were treated equally. The dead from Britain and its white Commonwealth allies are marked by beautiful individual headstones with carefully-tended flower plantings. The Indians and the Arab natives, who did most of the fighting and dying during the imperial campaigns in the Middle East, were interred in anonymous mass graves, marked only years later by the erection of carefully segregated monuments: “the Hindu Soldiers of the Indian Army” here the “Muslim soldiers” there. A little apart, a marker says that “the Egyptian Labour Corps” and “the Camel Transportation Corps” were “buried near this spot.”

Just to the south, beyond the cemetery walls, the present-day Shatila refugee camp is obscured by large trees and extravagant landscaping.

If the fuse leading to the current Middle East catastrophe was lit by the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the explosives were well-prepared 100 years earlier. These days, everyone knows about the Sykes-Picot borders. As the saying goes: “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” Indeed, each of the new colonial entities in the Middle East encompassed territories with a patchwork of ethnic and religious communities. But there is little truth to the view that this led inexorably to the inter-communal conflicts of today. All modern borders are more or less artificial creations, whether delineated by the outcomes of war or by the pencils of colonial map makers.

It was more than just geography that laid the foundations for the present upheavals in the Middle East. Rather, instability was embedded in the political choices of the colonial powers within these borders. It was the way the colonialists ruled.

From the time of the earliest known empires, rulers have sought to govern distant lands “on the cheap” through local clients or through “native” troops. “Divide et Impera” the ancient Romans called it. The British Empire perfected the practice of Divide and Rule. This was how they ruled an immense Indian subcontinent with a relative handful of European soldiers and civil servants. The same pattern was repeated, though not as efficiently, in European colonies across the globe.

By the end of the First World War, the British were anxious to revise the secret 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement which had parceled out the former Middle East provinces of the Ottoman Empire. They wanted to annex Mosul – where geological surveys suggested substantial petroleum reserves – and to exercise exclusive control over Palestine, then regarded as an important strategic prize. The French assented in return for a share of the oil and a free hand in Syria.

Following the First World War, while the British were consolidating their control of what was to become Iraq, the French advanced in 1920 to conquer Damascus from their base in coastal Beirut. In Lebanon, they had already laid the foundations of a Maronite Christian-dominated protectorate split off from Syria and incorporating areas that were populated by Sunni and Shia Muslims. These communities did not accept the division of Syria or rule by a French-imposed proxy minority. The stage was set for generations of instability and latent or overt civil war in Lebanon that persists to this day.

In the rest of Syria, the nationalist resistance to the French was centered among the urban Sunni elites. The new rulers experimented with various schemes to divide Syria into ethnic-based governates, then managed country directly through a puppet colonial administration staffed by loyal or bought-off officials under French supervision. The French also recruited a territorial military force from which the majority Sunni urban population was largely excluded. Rural Alawites and other minorities formed the core of the collaborationist army and police forces, with predictable resentment on the part of many in the Sunni majority. This dynamic continued after Syrian independence and is part of the background for the current civil war.

In Iraq, the British crushed a revolt centered among the largely Shia-population of the Middle Euphrates and the holy Shia cities of Najaf and Karbala. Then they recruited their ally Faisal to rule as king of Iraq together with his retinue of Sunni former Ottoman military officers. This established a regime of Sunni Arab minority dominance over a mostly Shia (and Kurdish) population in Iraq that would culminate, after independence, in the Saddam Hussein dictatorship and the sectarian war after his overthrow

Finally, the British deployed their support for the Zionist project as a means to gain the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. Although there was genuine sympathy for the Zionist cause among sections of the British ruling class — either on Christian religious grounds or from the desire to have the Jews settle “over there” rather than “over here” – other, more practical imperial aims were discussed in private during the run-up to the Balfour Declaration of November 1917.

Palestine was viewed as an outer defense for British Egypt and the Suez Canal — as well as a Mediterranean terminus for a railway and an oil pipeline from newly-acquired British Mesopotamia. Imperial ministers also argued (naively, as it turned out) that a “Jewish Home” in Palestine would eventually become a European enclave in the Levant, dependent upon and loyal to the British crown. (In 1918, the population of Palestine was less than 10% Jewish.) Local Zionist rule promised to be cost-efficient colonialism by proxy – a prediction which turned out badly for the British and disastrously for the Palestinians. Eventually, it was the US rather than the British Empire which gained this strategic advantage, at least during the Cold War.

In the light of this history, it is hard to argue that sectarian conflict in the Middle East arose purely from local causes. Inter-communal violence was not entirely absent from the region before the advent of European colonialism, but a general pattern of tolerance and sectarian autonomy was upset by the colonial project in which the European powers manipulated ethnic differences in the service of their imperial aims. Oil, of course, was central then, as it is today.

Imperial meddling continues to this day, with predictably catastrophic outcomes for the people of the Middle East. But now the former colonial alignment of local proxies has now been reversed. Where the British once promoted Sunni predominance in Iraq, the US now backs Shia (and Kurdish) rule where the French employed ethnic/religious minorities to control Syria, the US and its regional allies promote Sunni revanchism. Only the continued reliance on Zionist control of Palestine remains unchanged.

The result has been to prolong the regional devastation begun by war and colonialism a hundred years ago. Today Syria lies shattered and perhaps permanently wrecked as a unified entity Iraq struggles to overcome decades of foreign invasion and continuing internal conflict Lebanon barely exists as an effective state and most Palestinians remain stateless under Zionist rule or in exile.

As a Roman historian famously commented on the rapacious empire-builders of his own day: “They make a wasteland and they call it peace.”

How stable was the Middle East under Ottoman rule? - History

The Ottoman Empire (Turkish: Osmanlı İmparatorluğu) was an imperial power that existed from 1299 to 1923 (634 years), one of the largest empires to rule the borders of the Mediterranean Sea. At the height of its power, it included Anatolia, the Middle East, part of North Africa, and south-eastern Europe. It was established by a tribe of Oghuz Turks in western Anatolia and ruled by the Osmanlı dynasty. In diplomatic circles it was often referred to as the Sublime Porte or simply as the Porte, from the French translation of the Ottoman name Bâb-i-âlî "high gate", due to the greeting ceremony the sultan held for foreign ambassadors at the Palace Gate. This has also been interpreted as referring to the Empire's position as gateway between Europe and Asia. In its day, the Ottoman Empire was also commonly referred to as the Turkish Empire or Turkey, though it should not be confused with the modern nation-state of that name.

The Empire was founded by Osman I. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was among the world's most powerful political entities and the countries of Europe felt threatened by its steady advance through the Balkans. At its height, it comprised an area of over 19.9m km²&mdashthough much of this was under indirect control of the central governmen. From 1517 onwards, the Ottoman Sultan was also the Caliph of Islam, and the Ottoman Empire was from 1517 until 1922 (or 1924) synonymous with the Caliphate, the Islamic State. In 1453, after the Ottomans captured Constantinople (modern İstanbul) from the Byzantine Empire, it became the Ottoman capital. Following World War I, during which most of its territories were captured by the Allies, Ottoman elites established modern Turkey during the Turkish War of Independence.

The Ottoman State originated as a Beylik within the Seljuk Empire in the 13th century. In 1299, Osman I declared independence of the Ottoman Principality. Murad I was the first Ottoman to claim the title of sultan (king). With the capture of Constantinople in 1453, the state became a mighty empire with Mehmed II as its emperor. The Empire reached its apex under Suleiman I in the 16th century, when it stretched from the Persian Gulf in the east to Hungary in the northwest, and from Egypt in the south to the Caucasus in the north. The Empire was situated in the middle of East and West and interacted throughout its six-century history with both the East and the West.

Mehmed II

During this period, the Empire vied with the emerging European colonial powers in the Indian Ocean. Fleets with soldiers and arms were sent to support Muslim rulers in Kenya and Aceh and to defend the Ottoman slave and spice trade. In Aceh, the Ottomans built a fortress and supplied huge cannon. The Dutch Protestants were helped by the Ottomans against Catholic Spain.

In the 17th century, the Ottomans were weakened both internally and externally by costly wars, especially against Persia, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Russia and Austria-Hungary. There was a long succession of sultans who were not as good as the generation of Mehmed II, Selim I and Suleyman I. The scientific advantage the Ottomans had over the other European countries also diminished. While the Ottomans were stagnating in a stalemate with their European and Asian neighbor countries, the European development went into overdrive. Eventually, after a defeat at the Battle of Vienna, in 1683, it was clear the Ottoman Empire was no longer the sole superpower in Europe. In 1699, for the first time in its history the Ottomans acknowledged that the Austrian empire could sign a treaty with the Ottomans on equal terms, and actually lost a large territory which had been in Ottoman possession for two centuries. Through a series of reforms, the empire continued to be one of the major political powers of Europe. The banking system was reformed and the guilds were replaced with modern factories. The Janissaries were disbanded, and a modern conscripted army was formed. Externally, the empire stopped going into conflicts alone, and started entering alliances like the other European countries. There was a series of alliances with countries such as France, Holland, Britain and Russia. A prime example of this was the Crimean war in which the English, French, Ottomans and others united against Russia. By the end of the 19th century the empire was weakened to a great extent. Economically, it had trouble paying the loans to the European banks. Militarily, it had trouble defending itself from foreign occupation (e.g. Egypt occupied by the French in 1798, Cyprus occupied by the British in 1876 etc.). Socially, the advent of nationalism and the yearning for democracy was making the population restless.

This eventually led to a series of military coups and counter coups, resulting in a constitutional monarchy, in which the sultan had little to no power and the Ittihad ve Terakki party was ruling the empire. The nationalistic policies of the Ittihad and Terakki party resulted in the secession of the Balkans in the Balkan war of 1910-12.

In a last-ditch effort to keep power in their hands by regaining at least some of the lost territories, the triumvirate led by Enver Pasha joined the Central Powers in World War I. The Ottoman Empire had some successes in the beginning years of the war. The Allies, including the newly formed ANZACs were defeated in Gallipoli, Iraq and the Balkans, and some territories were regained. However, the Ottomans were eventually defeated by the Allies in the Balkans, Thrace, Syria, Palestine and Iraq and its territories were colonized by the victors. In the Caucasus there was a stalemate between the Ottomans and the Russians. The Russians used their advanced guns and cannons and out-maneuvered the Ottomans using their Armenian allies within the empire. The subsequent persecution of the Armenians is today viewed as genocide by most historians. Militarily the Ottomans made use of the mountainous terrain and the cold climate, launching a series of surprise attacks. The Russian forces retreated after the Communist revolution in Russia, resulting in Ottoman victory on this front. Mustafa Kemal Pasha, who had made his reputation earlier during the Gallipoli and Palestine campaigns, was offically sent from occupied Istanbul to take control of the victorius Caucasus army , and to disband it. This army was instrumental in winning the Turkish War of Independence (1918&ndash1923), and the Republic of Turkey was founded on October 29, 1923 from the remnants of the fallen empire.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ottoman Empire".

The Middle East and the West: Rise of the Ottomans

For centuries after the Crusades, when Europeans talked of their conflicts with Islam, they invariably referred to the Turks, not the Arabs. The Ottoman Turks had swept out of Central Asia during the 14th century, conquering nearly all of modern-day Turkey, and then set about expanding their empire in the Arab Middle East and into Europe.

NPR's Mike Shuster continues a special six-part series on the long and turbulent history of Western involvement in the Middle East with a look at the rise of the Ottoman Empire.

The empire the Ottomans created was an Islamic state, and for a time the challenger to European control of the Mediterranean.

Many in Europe 400 years ago feared the Ottomans because they were Muslims, says David Lesch, professor of Middle East history at Trinity University in San Antonio. But he says that's not how the Ottomans perceived the nature of their conflicts with the Europeans.

"Obviously they saw value in spreading religion," Lesche says. "But the Ottoman Empire saw itself as very much, even more so a European empire than a Middle Eastern empire. And they took a very tolerant view toward non-Muslims since for most of the Ottoman Empire -- especially when it was at its largest -- most of its population was non-Muslim. It was in fact Christian."

Rulers on both sides pursued the same goals, despite their different religions, says historian Richard Bulliet, of Columbia University. "It was basically power politics of powerful states, and the Ottoman Empire was part of the European system of strong states struggling for territorial gain," he says.

The Ottomans were defeated decisively after launching their second assault against Vienna in 1683. By the end of the century, they had signed a peace treaty with a coalition of their European adversaries. They would never be as powerful again.

Timeline of Islam from the 18th Century to the Present

1995 Khobar Towers bombed by Al-Qaeda.

1996 US Embassy bombed in Kenya and Tanzania.

2003 Saddam Hussein ousted by Western forces.

2003 Train bombing in Madrid.

2005 Truck bombing in London

2010 Start of Muslim protests in the Middle East. The beginning of the "Arab Spring"

2011 Governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen overthrown by protesters. In Libya, violent suppression of protesters by the government led to international intervention and in October, Gaddafi captured and executed.

2012 Continued demonstrations in Syria are violently suppressed by the government.

The River Jordon is the key to understanding this conflict.

1900s The British at this time were the most powerful nation on earth similar to the Americans a century later. England had also since c1650 been one of the few safe havens for Jews in a Europe of Jew haters. Many rich Jewish banking families like the Rothschild's lived in England and as it became clear that nowhere in mainland Europe were Jews safe from persecution (except perhaps Holland) Rothschild persuaded the British government to support the creating a safe homeland for all Jews in their Biblical Promised Land Palestine. Following the victory over the Germans and their allies the Islamic Turks in 1918 the English were in the right position to implement this strategy.

1918 From this date onwards Jews commenced a steady flow to Palestine particularly from Germany and Russia where Jewish extermination "programs" were most prevalent. At this time the English divided Palestine into two using the Biblical texts and the River Jordon. On the West side Palestine, the old promised land and on the East side Trans Jordon renamed simply Jordon. Palestine had few inhabitants by to-days standards as the land did not support effective farming. Indeed no Arab group had made Palestine their homeland. As soon as some Jews arrived they set about draining marshes, irrigating deserts and planting trees.

Arabs from outside Palestine soon came to the area looking for the jobs created by the hard working, immigrant Jews and were welcomed as up to this time Jews and Muslims had always lived together in harmony. Unfortunately there is no history of Jews living in harmony with Muslims unless the Muslims werein a position to treat Jews as servants and defiantly not as equals or superiors. In Palestine (as in Cyprus) the local Muslims never showed the tenacious, entrepreneurial abilities of Jews (or Christians) and became jealous of their soon to be wealthier neighbours. Attacks on Jewish properties soon followed. When oil became an issue in the Middle East the English, rulers of both sides, tried to tread the middle path and did nothing to stop the flow of more, potentially trouble making Arabs, into Palestine looking for work.

1947 The English departed leaving the disaster waiting to happen to the United Nations:

  • Their original concept of Jewish lands on both sides of the river Jordon had turned into a split into Jewish Palestine 25% and Arab Jordan 75%.
  • Angry Arabs poised to kick the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea.

1948 As soon as the British were gone the Arab countries of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon agreed to not rest until they had "pushed the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea" and advised all Arabs living in Palestine to leave before the blood bath commenced. This created a huge refugee problem that exists even to-day.

Watch the video: How the Ottoman Empire was Carved Up Short Animated Documentary