Rise and fall of the Ottomans | By Tariq Aqil 

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Rise and fall of the Ottomans


WORLD history has seen the rise and fall of many empires and dynasties such as the Persian, Greek, Roman and the more recent British Empire.

It is a fact of history that no empire or dynasty could match the grandeur, awe and magnificence of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire and dynasty was founded in 1299 by the breakdown of several Turkish tribes.

The empire expanded phenomenally and grew to include many areas of present day Europe. It became one of the largest, most powerful and the longest lasting empires in world history.

The Ottoman Empire encompassed the areas of Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and North Africa. It covered an area of 7.6 million square miles at its height by 1595.

By the 18th century the empire was on a rapid decline and on the conclusion of the First World War, and the defeat of Germany the Ottoman Empire finally ended up on the dust heap of history, leaving only Turkey as the last remnant of the once mighty and glorious Ottoman Empire.

By 1299 the Seljuk Turk empire started to break up and after the final break up it was the beginning of the rise of the Ottoman Turks who took control of other states belonging to the former empire and by the middle 1400s almost all other Turkish dynasties were under the yoke of the Ottoman Turks.

At the start of the Ottoman Empire the foremost goal of the leaders was to expand the borders of their empire. The very earliest expansions occurred under Osman 1, Orkhan and Murad 1.

Bursa was one of the earliest capitals of the empire fell to enemy forces in 1326 but by the end of the century the Ottomans achieved many great victories and added more areas to their Empire and this was the time when they were finally on the doorsteps of the European Continent.

Osman 1, a leader of a small nomadic tribe from Anatolia launched raids against the weakening Christian Byzantine Empire and by 1299 had declared himself the supreme leader of Asia Minor and consequently his successors expanded further into the Byzantine areas with the help of some foreign mercenaries.

In 1453 the Ottomans finally succeeded in destroying the mighty Byzantine Empire and triumphantly captured the seemingly unconquerable capital of the byzantine dynasty called Constantinople or modern day Istanbul which was named after Constantine the first Christian emperor of Rome.

Like other empires of the day the Ottoman Empire too was dynastic and expanded rapidly across the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa.

The only hereditary role was that of the supreme ruler or Sultan and the other elite of the Empire had to earn their positions by dint of their hard work merit and service to the ruler.

The 16th century reign of Suleiman the magnificent saw the apex of Ottoman power and influence.

Throughout the Ottoman Kingdom there was a great boost in arts, technology and architecture and by and large, the Empire basked in peace, religious tolerance and enjoyed a high level of economic and political stability. This period also saw the practice of many atrocities and horrors.

Female slaves from conquered territories were forced into sexual slavery as concubines. Male slaves were used for military and domestic labour.

Many brothers and cousins of the reigning Sultan were imprisoned or many times mercilessly murdered just to protect the Sultan from any challenge to his rule.

At the peak of its power the Ottoman Empire was a key player in European politics and in some areas had more Christians than Muslims.

In the 17th century it was the beginning of the decline for the empire and it started to lose its stronghold.

The Ottoman Sultan failed to defeat and capture the city of Vienna for the second time in 1683 and now there were no new territories to conquer and no new lands to exploit so this was the beginning of the end.

Some other factors for the fall of the Ottoman Empire were intrigues with in the royal family, strengthening of the European powers, greater competition in trade and the start of the industrial revolution and, of course, greater power and influence of the clerics.

By the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was jokingly called the “Sick man of Europe” It was the First World War that sounded the death knell of the empire when Germany lost the war and Turkey as of Germany had to face the consequences of defeat.

More than two thirds of the Ottoman army became casualties and three million civilians were killed.

It was during this time that about 1.5 million Armenians were butchered in death marches during their expulsion from Ottoman territories.

Finally in 1922 under the leadership of Mustafa Kamal the Turkish Nationalists abolished the Sultanate and the Ottoman Empire what was once history’s most successful empires met an inglorious end when all its territories were taken away through various treaties after the treaty of Versailles in the aftermath of the World War-I.

—The writer is Professor of History, based in Islamabad.