Decline of the Ottoman Empire Term Paper

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The Ottoman court, administrative, and military language were all Turkish; however, high culture in the Empire was cosmopolitan and popular culture in Anatolia and Thrace could only be called "Turkish." According to McCarthy, three primary factors ultimately decided the fate of the Muslims of Ottoman Europe, the Crimea, the Caucasus, and Anatolia: 1) the military and economic weakness of the Ottoman Empire, 2) nationalism among Ottoman Christian peoples, and 3) Russian imperial expansion.

Much like the United States outspending the Soviet Union to win the Cold War, the Ottoman Empire was not able to maintain any degree of parity with the European powers and by 1800, Ottoman Empire government was internally weak, and found that it was not able to support its antiquated Ottoman military system, much less a modern army and navy that would be capable of defending the empire against its increasing powerful adversaries. McCarthy reports that the reforms of the 19th century had built up the Ottoman forces to a level that enabled the Ottomans to subjugate their internal enemies and expand centralized control of the empire, but they were unable to stand against their external enemies. "The armies of the European Powers were better trained, had better weapons, and in far greater numbers than the Ottoman forces. Beset by strong opponents, the Ottomans had no "breathing space" to put their house in order." The empire needed more time to respond to these external threats, but the European nations did not allow them the time they needed to build the infrastructure needed to support a modern nation, nor did they allow time for build a modern military force. McCarthy reports that the Ottoman armies fought wars in 1806-12, 1828-29, 1832-33, 1839-40, 1853-56, 1877-78, 1897, 1911-13, 1914-18, and 1919-23, as well as dealing with major insurrections in 1804, 1815-17, 1821-30, 1866-68, 1875, 1876, and 1896-97. As a result, "Armies that should have been in training were continually forced to fight unprepared and were decimated again and again." The revenues the empire needed to modernize were diverted to these failed military enterprises, failures that also resulted in the loss of territory and morale. "In short, Ottoman weakness caused Ottoman losses, and the losses kept the Ottomans too weak to rebound." It was also Ottoman weakness that allowed the nationalism of the various Ottoman minority groups to come into play.

While the Ottomans endured, the Turks were not considered to be a political group and there was a paucity of a sense of "nationhood" in the modern European sense. "In the final Ottoman years, philosophers, historians, writers, and sociologists had declared that common culture and language dictated that there was a Turkish nation, just as there was a French or German nation. The belief does not seem to have spread far among the Turks of Anatolia and Thrace." This was all to change after World War I and more particularly the Turkish War of Independence. During these struggles, a sense of "nationhood" emerged among the Turkish people that helped to define them as Turks: "Turks were forced to stand together as Turks against invaders, without assistance.... Standing on their own, the Turks found that they were Turks -- attacked because they were Turks, driven from their homes because they were Turks, forced to defend themselves as Turks, able to rely on no one but other Turks." McCarthy says that Mustafa Kemal was able to recognize this emerging sense of nationhood and use it to his - and the country's - advantage. "He was to draw on national feeling once again after the wars to create a new system of government, radically reforming the old political culture of the Ottomans and creating the Turkish Republic."


The research showed that at its height, the Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful states in the world; however, as a result of both internal and external political and economic forces (but mostly the latter it would seem), the empire was doomed and by 1922, the Old Guard was gone and the beginnings of a new Turkish state had been established. Today, the modern city of Constantinople has a population of around 12 million people, nearly all of whom are completely Turkish, and Kurdish despite the historic influx of traders from eastern Europe and central Asia regions. The closure of the last Orthodox seminary on Turkish soil in 1970 made the ultimate survival of the Oecumenical Patriarchate and the dwindling Greek community doubtful. In the final analysis, "Its new and exclusively Muslim character, however, does not stop Istanbul and Turkey, as in the days of the Ottoman sultans, from yearning to be part of the 'system of Europe', and to join the European Union."


Allen, Thomas B. 1994. Turkey Struggles for Balance. National Geographic 185 (May): 3-35.

Mansel, Philip. 2003. Europe's Muslim Capital: Philip Mansel Explores the City of the Sultans from 1453 Onwards, and Finds it Characterised by a Vibrant Multi-Culturalism until the Ottoman Demise of 1922. History Today 53 (June): 20-23.

McCarthy, Justin. 1995. Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821- 1922. Princeton, NJ: Darwin Press.

The Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923. London: Longman.

Quataert, Donald. 2000. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shaw, Philip J. 2004. Ottoman Empire. In Encyclopedia [premium service].

Thomas B. Allen (May 1994). Turkey Struggles for Balance, p. 13.

Stanford J. Shaw (2004), Ottoman Empire, p. 2.

McCarthy (1995), p. 5.

Donald Quataert (2000), the Ottoman Empire 1700-1922.

Justin McCarthy (1997), the Ottoman Turks: An Introductory History to 1923, p. 314.

Philip Mansel (June 2003). Europe's Muslim Capital: Philip Mansel Explores the City of the Sultans from 1453 Onwards, and Finds it Characterised by a Vibrant Multi-Culturalism until the Ottoman Demise of 1922, p. 20.

Mansel, p. 21.

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