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Growth of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire was a Turkish Islamic empire that existed from 1299 to 1923. In 1453, the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople and thus the Byzantine Empire. Christians living in the Ottoman Empire were forced to pay a tax to the Muslim rulers. The Ottoman Empire was defeated by the allies in World War I. Much of its territory was divided between the United Kingdom and France by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which was affirmed by several League of Nations mandates.

Adoption of Islam[]

Before adopting Islam—a process that was greatly facilitated by the Abbasid victory at the Battle of Talas (751), which ensured Abbasid influence in Central Asia—the Turkic peoples practised a variety of shamanism. After this battle, many of the various Turkic tribes—including the Oghuz Turks, who were the ancestors of both the Seljuks and the Ottomans—gradually converted to Islam, and brought the religion with them to Anatolia beginning in the 11th century.

Largely for practical reasons, the Ottoman Empire was, in a broad sense, tolerant towards its non-Muslim subjects; it did not, for instance, forcibly convert all of them to Islam. Nevertheless, non-Muslims were devoid of most rights and were not allowed to take active part in Ottoman state affairs. The sultans took their primary duty to be service to the interests of the state, which could not survive without taxes and a strong administrative system. The state's relationship with the Greek Orthodox Church, for example, was largely peaceful, and the church's structure was kept intact and largely left alone but under close control and scrutiny until the Greek War of Independence of 18211831 and, later in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the rise of the Ottoman constitutional monarchy, which was driven to some extent by nationalistic currents. Other churches, like the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, were dissolved and placed under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Church. On the other hand, the empire often served as a refuge for the persecuted and exiled Jews of Europe, as for example following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, when Sultan Beyazid II welcomed them into Ottoman lands.

Christianity and Judaism in the Empire[]

Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II did not disband the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, but instead brought it under close control by installing Gennadius II Scholarius as the patriarch, after receiving from him a hefty fee[1] and thus establishing him as the ethnarch of the Millet of Rum; that is, the Orthodox Christian subjects of the empire, regardless of their ethnicity. Under the millet system—which applied to other non-Muslim religious groups as well—people were considered subjects of the empire but were not subject to the Muslim faith or Muslim law. The Orthodox millet, for instance, was still officially legally subject to Justinian's Code, which had been in effect in the Byzantine Empire for 900 years. Also, as the largest group of non-Muslim subjects (ذمي zimmi) of the Islamic Ottoman state, the Orthodox millet was granted a number of special privileges in the fields of politics and commerce, in addition to having to pay higher taxes than Muslim subjects.

Similar millets were established for the Ottoman Jewish community, who were under the authority of the Haham Başı or Ottoman Chief Rabbi; the Armenian Orthodox community, who were under the authority of a head bishop; and a number of other religious communities as well.

Although the Ottoman state did not directly and harshly pursue a policy of forced individual conversion, it did decree that, for reasons of outward distinction, the people of the different millets wear specific colors of, for instance, turbans and shoes—a policy that was not, however, always followed by Ottoman citizens[2]. Moreover, from the time of Murad I through the 17th century, the Ottoman state also put into effect the devşirme (دوشيرم), a policy of filling the ranks of the Ottoman army and administrative system by means of forcefully collecting young Christian boys from their families and taking them to the capital for education and an eventual career either in the Janissary military corps or, for the most gifted, the Ottoman administrative system. Most of the children thus collected were from the empire's Balkan territories, where the devşirme system was referred to as the "blood tax". The children themselves were not forcefully converted to Islam—though they ended up becoming Islamic due to the milieu in which they were raised—but any children that they had were considered to be free Muslims[3].

Battle of Vienna[]

In 1683, sultan Mehmed IV (16481687) reacted to Austrian Habsburg interference in Hungary with an Ottoman offensive which resulted in the second siege at Vienna, the Battle of Vienna. The siege turned some of the Ottoman allies against it, and Pope Innocent XI abandoned his secular interests to agitate for a general crusade against the Ottoman Empire. In the following decades, the Ottoman Empire was not just an occupying force; it was an instrument in European politics. The Battle of Vienna was a turning point in the 300-year struggle between the forces of the Christian Central European kingdoms and the Muslim Ottoman Empire. It brought about a long period of stagnation, ending 230 years of growth and the empire's expansion into Europe.

Fall of the Ottoman Empire[]

When World War I began in 1914, the Ottoman Empire took part in its Middle Eastern theatre. In a final effort to regain some of the empire's lost territories and to challenge British authority over the Suez canal, a triumvirate—the Three Pashas, led by Minister of War Enver Pasha—agreed to join the Central Powers. The Ottoman Empire had some successes in the beginning years of the war. Also, during the war, they began large-scale deportations and massacres of Armenians, effectively eliminating the Armenians from Anatolia by the end of the war. The Allies—including the newly formed Australian and New Zealand Army Corps ("ANZACs")—were defeated in the Battle of Gallipoli, Iraq, and the Balkans, while British naval landing attempts were repulsed and some territories were regained. Fighting the Russians in the Caucasus, however, the Ottomans lost ground—and over 100,000 soldiers—in a series of battles. The 1917 Russian revolution gave the Ottomans a chance to regain these areas, but continued British offensives ultimately proved to be too much. The Ottomans were eventually defeated due to key attacks by the British general Edmund Allenby, as well as assistance from the Arab Revolt and the Republic of Armenia, which declared war upon the Ottoman Empire in a bid to gain international recognition as a sovereign nation.

The initial peace agreement with the Ottoman Empire was the Armistice of Mudros, followed by the Treaty of Sèvres, the treaty which granted recognition to the Republic of Armenia. The United Kingdom obtained virtually everything it had sought—according to the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement made together with France in 1916, while the war was still going on—from the empire's partition. The other powers of the Triple Entente, however, soon became entangled in the Turkish War of Independence.

The Turkish War of Independence was organized against the plans of the Allies. Angered by the Sèvres agreement, Mustafa Kemal—who had been an important force at the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli—raised an army that expelled the Greeks, the Italians, and the French, confronted the Republic of Armenia, and eventually threatened the British as well. On April 23, 1920, these Turkish revolutionaries, under Mustafa Kemal's leadership, formed a parliament (the Büyük Millet Meclisi, or Grand National Assembly) in Ankara, so as to direct the war against the invading forces. In the end, these revolutionaries asserted their right to an independent national existence.

The final blow to the Ottoman Empire came on November 1, 1922—after the expulsion of the invading forces—when the Grand National Assembly abolished the sultanate. The last sultan, Mehmed VI Vahdettin (1918-1922), left the country on 17 November, and the Republic of Turkey was officially declared on 29 October 1923. The title of caliphate—the very last official remnant of the empire—was constitutionally abolished several months later, on 3 March 1924.



  1. Mansel, 10
  2. Mansel, 20–21
  3. "Devsirme", Encyclopaedia of the Orient
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