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While much of the Empire's expansion can be attributed to military success invasion was often unnecessary. Political tactics for expansion were sometimes more effective; Sultan Orhan received the Gallipoli peninsula through his marriage to the daughter of a pretender to the Byzantine thrown, while half the land belonging to the Turcoman ruler of Germiyan in Anatolia was acquired through Prince Bayezit's marriage. Through swift political tactics the Ottoman Empire would often come to possess an over-lordship of their former allies, in effect absorbing them into the Empire (Quataert, 2000). Newly acquired subjects rarely detested the new occupation. The economic power of the Empire improved their conditions immensely in relation to previous Christian feudalism and control was peacefully maintained through symbiotic fiscal relationships (Kamrava, 2005).
The Decline of the Ottoman Empire
As the center of gravity of the Western world moved from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic seaboard, a series of defeats marked the turning point of Ottoman fortunes in the East. The first came in 1571 when, in a three-hour battle, a Christian fleet composed of 208 Venetian, Spanish, Genoese, and papal galleys destroyed 90% of the Ottoman fleet of 260 ships in Greece's Bay of Lepanto. For the next hundred years, the Turks tried to regain their momentum and expand deeper into Europe. However, in 1683 they suffered a horrendous defeat at the hands of the Habsburg Army in Vienna. This defeat began the reverse of 300 years of expansion. Shortly thereafter the Empire lost most of its European territories and eventually Egypt to Napoleon. Weakened by this setback the loss of several other cities, including Athens, to the Christians followed. At this time Russia, under Peter the Great, joined the Holy Alliance against the Turks and the inevitable crushing of the Ottoman Empire by the Christian empire had begun (Smith, 1994).
The battles ebbed and flowed for another hundred years, but, as America won its freedom and the French their revolution, the Moslem empire steadily gave ground. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was imminent, and European powers started positioning themselves to claim the spoils. France sought to maintain influence in Jerusalem, Egypt, Algeria, and later, Tunisia. Its building of the Suez Canal (1859-1869) conflicted with Britain's plans to control the land and sea routes to Asia (Smith, 1994).
While jockeying for position in the Middle East, France and England joined forces during the Crimean War (1854-1856) to prevent Russian expansion from getting out of hand in the Balkans. But ten years later, while England was occupied with the conquest of India, Russia pushed the Turks out of most of Europe. However, those gains by Russia were largely lost when Britain recalled some of her troops from India and, in concert with France, denied Russia's political ambitions (Smith, 1994).
While the expansion of the Ottoman Empire manifested a rough geographic outline for the Middle East, its collapse has had great impact on the contemporary state of affairs in the region. The failure to modernize militarily was a product of the large-scale refusal of progressive reform as the Empire had consistently done in its earlier years. While power was being centralized in Europe's modern states, the Sultan had become a representative symbol more than the source of Ottoman political power, which had fundamentally dissolved into the hands of competing factions. This was largely due to carelessness and weak leadership on behalf of Sultans in the second half of the sixteenth century and beyond. The Empire's weakness offered the European colonial powers the ability to pick apart the Empire in what became known as the "Eastern Question," that is the issue of once the Ottoman Empire died, which colonial powers would acquire which lands. Competition formed mainly between Britain and France (Kamrava, 2005). The furthest western territories were taken by the French, as was modern day Syria after the First World War. The British claimed the lucrative regions of the central Middle East, while Italy held present day Libya (Smith, 2006). The colonization and de-colonization created the countries we see today; countries often split up against the grain of national identity due to European ignorance of population demographics.
As military and executive failure made way for European Colonialism, the Empire's internal political failures had reactions that still reverberate in today's cultural and political struggles. Local national identities began to immerge as control began to collapse (Kamrava, 2005). The economic strength and openness of the Ottoman's early period betrayed it in later years. The trade relations between east and west began to tilt in the west's favor and contributed heavily to the Empire's inability to modernize appropriately to the times. The disintegration and struggles of the Empire's government in its waning years produced an uneven political culture of rapid upheavals and radical social movements in many Middle Eastern states today. The collective public psyche of the Middle East has never quite recovered from the shift to western dominance, a sociological phenomenon that undoubtedly entered the realm of international affairs (Smith 2006).
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