I love to write about history and past times. It enlivens centuries years old characters in me and I live in those times with them.
The glorious Ottoman Empire reached its peak in the 15th Century with a vast territory that extended over the three continents — ruling Asia Minor, the Middle East, North Africa, and southeastern Europe.
With the vast military and naval prowess, lucrative commerce, impressive achievements in architecture, and the prevalence of various branches of knowledge, science, and innovations, it didn’t last long. It lived out for 600 years and accomplished impressive feats to rule probably unmatched in history. Given the resources it had, it could have easily survived into the 21st Century.
But some reasons eroded the strength of this mighty empire. Various Sultans overlooked or failed to cope with the apparent challenges that brought the empire to its knees. However, according to historians, siding with central powers in World War I was the single last decision that put the last nail on its coffin. The final collapse gave way to the rise of the modern nation of Turkey.
1# It lagged in the Industrial Revolution
No doubt that the empire was awe-inspiring, but it collapsed. The size of a country or empire does guarantee that it will last long.
The innovations and progressions do. According to Michael A. Reynolds, the author of Shattering Empires, Europe made rapid progression in the industrial revolution in the 1700s and 1800s, while the Ottoman Empire remained an agrarian society. It largely depended upon farming.
Given the vastness of the territory, the revenues earned from agriculture sufficed to pay back loans to European creditors and kept the economy afloat. But the might of their fallacious economic prowess was tested when it came to fighting in World War I.
The Empire failed to respond to the threat suitably because it lacked the industrial setup to produce heavy war weaponry. It also failed to build railroads from iron and steel that could support the movement of military and munition.
2# It was a conglomeration of multiple geographies, races, and languages
At its height, Ottoman Empire stretched enough to engulf various diverse territories such as Lebanon, Israel, Palestinian, Jordan, Hungary, Greece, Egypt, Romania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, parts of Arabia, and Africa that inhibited heterogeneous people who spoke different languages and their cultures were starkly different.
They also have various aspirations in terms of pursuing different paths of prosperity and economic systems. This tremendous diversity caused the gradual collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Professor Reynolds expresses this condition in his words,
“The odds probably would have been against it, because of the empire’s tremendous diversity in terms of ethnicity, language, economics, and geography.”
He further says that such an empire with such heterogeneous societies couldn’t evolve into a modern democratic nation, as “homogenous societies democratize more easily than heterogeneous ones.” The ethnic and national differences led to revolts in many parts of the empire that lost many territories to rebellions and Bulgaria won its independence in the 1870s.
Many other small territories stood against the imperial might of the Ottomans that resulted in the Balkan Wars in 1912–1913 which forced the empire to allow the European territories to be independent.
3# The empire lagged in educating its people as per European countries
In the literacy competition, the European countries went far ahead of the Ottoman Empire.
Despite improvement policies for education in the 1880s, the people of the empire couldn’t come up to a level where they could stand shoulder to shoulder with European countries. According to an education survey of 1914, only 5 to 10 percent of people could read or write, the rest were illiterate.
The lack of education naturally resulted in the lack of professional doctors, engineers, military officers, clerks, and other professionals that could put the empire on the innovative patterns as per modernity. According to Reynolds, “The human resources of the Ottoman empire, like the natural resources, were comparatively undeveloped,” and this lethargy could only be broken down by the emergence of a new nation-state.
4# The enemy countries weakened it by supporting rebellions
The Ottoman Empire was a thorn in many European countries because they controlled much of the Mediterranean maritime trade routes and also was a powerful kingdom that could pose a serious blow to the rise of European colonial might.
Thus, according to Eugene Rogan, Austria and Russia sparked rebellions covertly and supported them to hasten the demise of the empire. They openly supported Balkan nationalist rebellions to strengthen their own positions in the region. The colonial ambitions of France and Britain also played a role to weaken the Ottomans internally by supporting rebellions to carve territories in the Middle East and North Africa controlled by the Ottoman Empire.
5# Russia stood as a destructive adversary to it
Russia was a neighboring Czarist empire that always strived to spread its influence to the territories controlled by the Ottomans.
According to Reynolds, “The Russian Empire was the single greatest threat to the Ottoman Empire, and it was a truly existential threat.” Part of the Ottomans taking side with the Central Powers was the reason that Russia was in the Allied block.
The rivalry played an important role in choosing partnership and that’s why the Ottoman Empire chose Germany over Russia. The Russian Empire collapsed before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and that’s because, during WWI, the Ottomans blocked the chain of supply to Russia from other European countries through the Black Sea.
Tzar Nicholas II and his ministers were also opposed to negotiating a peace treaty with the Ottomans. Had they negotiated a peace treaty with the Ottomans, both empires could have been saved.
This adversary also forced the Ottomans to side with Germany. This was the single most significant mistake of the empire that misunderstood the turn of the tide. The Germans and the Ottomans signed a secret treaty that brought the empire to its knees.
The horrible campaign on the Gallipoli Peninsula for protecting Constantinople from Allies in 1916 was the bloodiest and brutal fight that cost half a million soldiers to the empire. Over the course of the battle, that brought ravages on the empire, it finally signed an armistice with Great Britain and gave up the war.
According to Mostafa Minawi, the Ottoman Empire had the potential to usher in an era of modernity and to evolve into an industrialized empire, despite all other odds of heterogeneity that were considered to be the causes of its demise.
However, the fateful role of WWI proved to be fatal for the empire. Had the Ottoman Empire chosen the winning side in the war, it might have survived into the 21st century.
The article is originally published on Medium.com by the author (israrkhan1112.medium.com)
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Israr Khan