Welcome to Your Historical Compass

"The purpose of this blog is to generate discussions about historical issues. Students, enthusiasts, and friends are all welcome to join by reading and participating with comments. I hope to generate interest in history and offer help to the perplexed." Caleb Johnson

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Ottoman Empire and the Modern Middle East Pt. 1

Much discussion has arisen about the Middle East, and how it became the way it is. How the modern borders were drawn, why the area seems rife with conflict. These things can, in many ways, be summed up in one phrase: The Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Empire at its Height
The Ottoman Turks were a nomadic tribe that migrated to the west in the early middle ages. They settled in modern day Turkey -Turkey meaning land of the Turks- outside of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. After centuries of conflict with the Byzantines, the Ottomans conquered the Byzantines and changed the name of the capital from Constantinople to Istanbul. From there, the Ottomans expanded their empire into the Middle East and Europe, conquering much of the Balkans and even laying siege to Vienna twice. They moved east and conquered Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula. At its height, the Ottoman Empire was the most powerful state in the western hemisphere. The Empire was a very autocratic state run by the Sultan and a group of administrators, or Pashas. This autocracy had the effect of tying the prosperity of the empire to the Sultan himself. If the Sultan was strong and wise, then the empire would prosper and expand. If the Sultan was weak, then the empire tended to fall into decline.

A significant event occurred when a league of European kings and princes formed an armada to curb the growing power of the Turkish navy. At the battle of Lepanto 1571, the European naval forces heavily defeated the Turkish navy and altered the path of the Empire as a whole. From that date the Empire fell into significant decline and was know by other nations as "the sick man of Europe." By the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire had fallen behind Europe in the industrial revolution and had seen the British, Russian, Italian, and French nations pick away various parts of the empire. Indeed, the only reason the empire lasted so long was that the French and British could not see the Russians in control of Constantinople.  However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the empire made one last attempt to reassert itself and regain some of its former glory. In 1914, it joined World War I on the side of Germany and Austria. Whether they lost or won, the Ottomans had tied the fate of their empire to the outcome of the war.

Next week's post will feature part 2 of this series and will relate the events that followed the beginning of World War I.


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