Sunday, October 17, 2010

Names to Call Turkey Before 1922 (Ottoman Empire)

I've often struggled with what to call the region of Turkey before 1922, when it was finally dissolved and the modern state emerged. Calling it "Turkey" just seems strange, but it really is the best term for what ancient historians called Asia Minor or Anatolia. It makes sense because the people who inhabit Turkey are Turks, people from the steppe who originated in modern-day Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and the like. And the long-time rulers of Turkey were also Turks who went by the name of the Ottomans.
The Family Crest of the Imperial House of Osman
Now, the Ottomans, or House of Osman,  were a dangerous and tricky bunch who followed succession tactics other empires wished they had the guts to try. The Ottomans rose out of the ashes of the Sultanate of Rûm, which itself was a sorry successor state to the Byzantines (Rome) in central Anatolia. Rûm was fairly easily consumed by the Mongol Ilkhanate in the 1200s and the Ottomans carved out a niche from the Ilkhanate as it fell to pieces in the early 1300s. Osman I was the first traditional ruler of the Ottoman state, but Murad I was the first one to actually declare himself sultan in 1361. He claimed the title Sultan of Rûm, directly challenging the declining power of the Byzantine Empire in western Anatolia. Furthermore, Murad I was the first sultan to be (possibly) born of a Byzantine princess, thereby raising the prestige of the family within Europe. But family troubles began even in these early times. Murad had three sons of age old enough to inherit the throne. The youngest of the three was killed at Murad's insistence when he was found fraternizing with the son of the Byzantine Emperor. His eldest son, however, got the worse end of the deal as he was killed upon his younger brother, Bayezid's, command, immediately following the death of Murad at the Battle of Kosovo. Thus Bayezid because the next sultan of the Ottoman Empire and began the long tradition of killing male siblings to ensure a single succession to the throne.

Bayezid began the long process of taking over the Byzantine Empire. He laid siege to Constantinople in 1494 and continued for seven years, even defeating a short-lived crusade sent against him by the King of Hungary. But Bayezid's fate was sealed when Tamerlane rose up in the east and defeated Bayezid, taking him away in captivity. Bayezid left many children behind and no clear successor and so a short civil war developed that has become known as the Ottoman Interregnum. Each son pieced off a little portion of the empire for himself. Mehmed was the favored choice of Tamerlane, but his brothers fought hard to keep their portions. Eventually, Musa allied with Mehmed against Suleyman and Suleyman was defeated and executed. However, Musa was now much more powerful. The two brothers clashed and Mehmed arose triumphant, single sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
Mehmed II entering Constantinople
Mehmed I led Turkey into a new wave of conquest, slowly surrounding the remnants of the Byzantine Empire. Though his reign was short, Mehmed I is often seen as the true founder of the Ottoman Empire. His son, Murad II, became sultan next and resumed the siege against Constantinople and slowly conquered the remaining principalities in Asia Minor. The Byzantine Emperor managed to raise up Murad's brother as a pretender to the throne, but Murad had his brother executed. By the end of his reign, Murad had control of almost all of the Balkans except Greece, completely surrounding the Byzantine Empire. His son completed the job. In 1453, Mehmed II completed the siege of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire fell. Mehmed moved the capital of the empire there and renamed the city Istanbul. He also took on the title Caesar & Augustus of Rome and vowed to protect the Eastern Orthodox Church by installing the Patriarch of Constantinople as the supreme patriarch of the church. Following this victory, Mehmed reunited the Anatolian Peninsula, defeated the Greek Empire of Trebizond and defeated the White Sheep Turks. In Europe, Mehmed conquered the remainder of Serbia and pushed into Romania, defeating Vlad IV Tepes "Dracula" multiple times. His final move was to take over Italy itself, but despite a good start, Mehmed's death in 1481 ended hopes to reunify the entire classical Roman Empire.

His son, Bayezid II, continued the Ottoman desire for conquest. He pushed against Venetian holdings in the hopes of becoming a strong seafaring power. He also fought against the Persians who were trying to push for a Shi'a empire. One of his best contributions was transporting many of the Jews, who were being removed from Spain, to the Ottoman Empire, where they could contribute to the wealth and grandeur of the Ottoman state. Bayezid's reign ended with infighting between his two sons, ending in one of their deaths. He decided to abdicate in 1512, in favour of the surviving son, rather than risk murder by that son.

During Selim I's reign, the Ottomans conquered the majority of the Middle East, Persia excepted. With the capture of Egypt from the Mamluks in 1517, the Ottomans passed the succession of the caliphate, up until then held by the Abbasid caliphs, to themselves, imprisoning the last of the Abbasid line. That same year, Selim captured the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, thereby establishing Ottoman control of the Sunni Islam religion.
The Ottoman Empire at its maximum extent (1683)

Suleiman I, known as the Magnificent, was the next of the many sultans. He reformed the state and brought its military to the very borders of the Habsburg Empire. But his army was checked at the Siege of Vienna in 1529, and the Ottoman military never ventured that far into foreign lands again. The Ottoman Empire reached its largest expanse during his reign, covering over 1 billion acres. Most of northern Africa was conquered, as well as the remaining parts of the Middle East and southern Persia. The Ottoman fleet was unbeatable and it ruled the Mediterranean, Red and Black Seas, and the Persian Gulf. His reign was the longest in the dynasty and when he died in 1566, his throne passed to his son Selim II.
The Battle of Lepanto

Selim II prompted the decline of the Ottoman dynasty and power in the region. He didn't care much for warfare and he met a great defeat against the Russians in 1570. His loss at the Battle of Lepanto the next year signaled the end of Ottoman dominance in the Mediterranean, although the fleet was rebuilt soon after its defeat. The successive sultans quickly passed power on to their wives, mothers, or Grand Viziers. Sure, they still killed their brothers (and sometimes sisters) to secure their power base, but then they were happy just letting someone else rule in their name. Many problems were also attributed to the fact that the sultans stopped killing their least all of them. That meant that there were rivals for power around constantly, and this helped make quick ends to numerous sultans. Murad IV temporarily revived the authority of the throne, but nearly ended the dynasty as well when he ordered the death of the last Ottoman upon his deathbed.
Mahmud II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
Ibrahim was not killed and assumed the throne but the reign of himself and his successors didn't improve, especially when Mehmed IV gave up supreme power to the Grand Vizier. Things only got worse for the dynasty as they fell into obscurity. Many became poets or historians or just lazed around the harem. Oddly, few produced children which was an important reason why they stopped killing their brothers. By the time aspiring modernists did arise in the dynasty, the established order was against them and they had little power to change the declining course of events. Slowly but surely the outer territories of the empire fell away through rebellions and conquests. Russia and Persia pressured the northeastern borders while Austria and rebels in Greece pushed the Ottomans out of the western provinces. Egypt rebelled but, for a while, pretended to remain a part of the empire while tribes in Saudi Arabia vied for power over the cities of Mecca and Medina. The empire was in flux and things were rapidly getting worse. The Ottoman Empire didn't begin to modernize until 1839, many years behind its European brethren.

The final straw was World War I. Through the reign of Abdülmecid I, the empire had shifted irreversibly into a constitutional monarchy with the sultan having little real power. However, as figurehead of the empire it was Mehmed V that made the last call to Jihad by a Caliph against the Allied Powers in 1914, signaling Turkey's entry into the Great War. Throughout the war, Mehmed hosted dignitaries from the other Central Powers but had little to do with the war effort. He died just months before Turkey's defeat. In the ensuing Treaty of Sevres in 1920, Turkey lost the majority of its claims, passing them off as protectorates to France and the United Kingdom, or losing them outright to independence. Turkey was now confined to the Anatolian Peninsula with borders matching today's. The dynasty was officially removed from power in 1922, although a member of the family remained the titular Caliph of Islam for another two years until he too was removed.
Mehmed VI leaving for exile, 1922

The story of the Ottomans is long and hard with much tragedy, infighting, and death. It was once one of the greatest, most advanced, and most intellectual dynasties in the world, but that fell away with pride, arrogance, and contentment. Now, the Middle East is a piecework of various states all created by the aftereffects of the Ottoman Empire. Each state traces its history back to when the Ottomans were removed from the region. But Turkey isn't likely to return the sultan any time soon. The dynasty's pretenders still live on in Paris today, fondly remembering a time when their siblings would have been dead meat.

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