The Collapse of the Ottoman Empire

Updated on May 27, 2018
Paul Barrett 96 profile image

Paul Barrett is a current fourth-year student at the University of Limerick, Ireland, majoring in English and History.

Ottomans were 'The Sick Man of Europe'
Ottomans were 'The Sick Man of Europe' | Source

This article will discuss how European influence over the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century, contributed to its decline and ultimate collapse. The key points that will be expanded upon will be the introduction of capitulations Western Europe, the rise of European imperialism and their desire for economic success. Finally, the political thought surrounding the rise of nationalist ideas that spread from western Europe in the nineteenth century outwards to the various ethnic groups that made up the Ottoman Empire will also be examined. This, in turn, leads to a discussion of the sectarian outlooks that began to build in the nineteenth century, with its roots in eighteenth-century conflicts, and the development of European powers as protectorates of religions. Also, a brief outline of the relationship that had grown between European powers and Ottoman Empire will be inspected. A key factor in this analysis will be the development of the ‘Eastern Question’ by European powers and the Orientalist lens in which they viewed the Ottoman people.

Firstly, an insight into the growing relationship that existed between the Ottoman Empire and Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The Ottoman Empire was seen by the Europeans through an Orientalist lens, by which the West was viewed as the place of modernity and progress, while the East was seen as backwards. At the cusp of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire, once renowned in European circles as a source of major power, now posed a rather different threat; by what means, could the Ottoman Empire be dismantled, without causing the major European Powers to resort to war. This was, in essence, ‘The Eastern Question’. By this time the Eastern Question involved the countries of Britain, France, Russia and Germany. The bulk of European thought at the time concerned the Ottoman Empire, with questions over the future of Egypt trying to gain autonomy and problems with Balkan Nationalism.

The Rise of the Ottoman Empire

The issues of economic dealings between Europe and the Ottoman Empire during the time period were crucial in the decline of the Empire as an economic power. The Ottoman Empire of the nineteenth was structurally and militarily lacking in comparison to their European neighbours. The Empire became more involved in European markets, in a time which saw a rise in the price of export consumer goods, causing large-scale pressures and economic decline for local producers within the Empire. Concurrently, in order to modernise the Empire, the Ottomans required a large sum of money. It was a circular problem for the Ottomans; they did not have the resources to update their infrastructure and economy, and due to their outdated systems, they were in a constant struggle to cope with the power of the European economy. Industry in the Ottoman Empire began to decline in the nineteenth century, as the Ottomans signed treaties with various European powers. The '1838 Anglo-Turkish Commercial Convention', removed any local monopolies in Turkey, allowing British trade and merchants to dominate in the area. The economic dealings of Europe in the nineteenth century had damaging effects on Ottoman fiscal sovereignty, culminating in the capitulations.

The capitulations were brought into effect in the nineteenth century by the European powers and had large-scale effects on the Ottoman State and its well-being. The Ottoman Empire of the nineteenth-century was one that was constantly beleaguered by war and mayhem, from other European powers and within from rebellions like that of Greece in the 1820s. Throughout the century, the problems of previous large-scale expansions of the Ottoman Empire began to take its toll on the State. The Empire lost territory and was then forced to sign capitulations, enforced by Europe. From an Ottoman point of view, this treaty was largely humiliating as they had to surrender land and large amounts of finance and monopoly rights to the Europeans. The Ottoman Empire at the end of the nineteenth-century had lost nearly all basic sovereignty, being so largely indebted to their European counterparts.

The nationalist movements in Europe had a pivotal influence on the Ottoman Empire’s various nation-states. Nationalism first existed as a concept in Ireland, started by the Irish Nationalist Party, as they attempted to separate themselves from Britain and create their own identity. At the beginning of the nineteenth-century, Ottoman and Russian Nationalism began to become heated as both countries struggled to control their Muslim populations and the lands they inhabited. The first area to be taken from the Ottoman Empire was done so through Russia Imperialism; Crimea. The Crimean War saw a large-scale exodus of Muslims from Russian into the Ottoman capital of Istanbul. Russian policy from the 1860s began to involve forcible evictions of Muslim inhabitants, with over 200,000 Muslims arriving in Istanbul after the war, causing a large strain to the already weakling Ottoman economy. These nationalists movements influenced by the West would culminate in the expansion of separate national agendas of Armenian, Arab, Turk and Balkan statehood, leading to the racial hierarchies in the early part of the twentieth century, fuelled by the Balkan expulsion of Muslims in 1878. The blemish of racism within the Ottoman State would tear its people, and eventually the nation itself, apart.

The Ottoman Empire fell greatly from its heights
The Ottoman Empire fell greatly from its heights | Source

North Africa likewise, was heavily influenced by Western Ideas, leading to a strain of its relationship to Istanbul in the nineteenth-century. Up until this time, Ottoman and North Africa relations had been largely amicable. However, in the nineteenth-century, nationalistic ideals began to emerge. The major Western influence and the break away from traditional Ottoman values is best captured by the Tunisian Organic Law of 1857, which for the first time, set the regulations for governments in one of the Ottoman territories, in non-Islamic terms. Throughout the Empire, all the powers involved in the Eastern Question placed the rights of their own country onto their people living within the Ottoman State. This was to such a point that between Russian and Austria alone, one in every hundred-person living in the Ottoman Empire were given the rights and privileges not given to their Muslim neighbour, causing widespread tension among local religious groups. Nationalist agendas in the Empire while seen as progress for the people involved was another step towards the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth-century.

Religious animosities were also heavily influenced by European powers at the time, further fuelling the decline of the Ottoman Empire. The middle-east at the time was a hotpot of various religions. Due to the large expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the centuries prior, the Islamic religion was not in the majority, despite Islam being the religion of the Sultan, and of the major powers in the empire at the time. Unlike in Europe, Islam as an administrative power did not follow the idea of a separation of church and state. This was one of the key factors in the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The various Ottoman nation states became influenced by the highly secular form of nationalism in Europe, which was in conflict with Ottoman ideals. The secularisation that the Ottoman people saw in Europe, could not be achieved in a nation under the rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who was claiming a lineage to the Prophet Mohammad.

The Fall of the Ottoman Empire

The Millet system was a major determining factor in the Ottomans losing control over their empire. The system played off the animosities developing in the Empire from the rise of Nationalism. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the millet system, once merely a religious affiliation, now began to be used by foreign powers such as the Russians, who began to foster alienation among the various communities that made up the Ottoman Empire. A further problem was that the millet system merely defined minority groups, but did not extend full nationality. The Ottomans then faced a problem, as statesman advocated a secularisation of affairs, how could this be achieved while still appeasing European powers pushing for the recognition and protection of Religious Minorities. The millet system and its exploitation by European powers, divided the Ottoman Empire, leaving cracks in the system that no Sultan was ever able to ultimately repair, in order to keep the Empire afloat.

These divisions also fed into the Eastern Question discussed earlier, as European powers began to colonise areas of North Africa and South East Asia under Ottoman control, weakening and shrinking the Ottoman Empire. At the start of the twentieth century, large tracts of land in these areas were under the grip of European powers as the Ottoman empire declined rapidly. European Imperialism in the Ottoman Empire was largely based on reactionary politics. When one power would try to amalgamize control of certain areas of the Empire, this would cause a reaction from another European in an attempt to create a balance in Europe, with little heed of Ottoman affairs. This is best encapsulated in French reactions to German foreign policy. Following the setting up of the Weltpolitik, aimed at transforming Germany into a strong global power, France reacted by vigorously strengthening its hold over Ottoman Empire territories. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire, that had once stretched to the gates of Vienna, was now struggling to survive, and would soon be engulfed and collapse in the war of European Imperialism; World War I.

Ultimately, it can be said most certainly that the fall of the Ottoman Empire was due in large part to the influence of Europe in the nineteenth century. The nationalist ideals that grew out of Western Europe, festered a sectarian cesspool in the empire that ravaged the land and its people. The European powers mindset in the nineteenth century, viewing the Ottomans as merely an annoyance needed to be cut up and divided, set in motion a chain of events throughout the century that would eventually lead to the Ottomans collapse after World War I. The Imperial motives and the quest for land and power, pitted religious groups at ground level throughout the Ottoman Empire against each other. European powers favoured Christian populations, culminating in large-scale violence and mistrust among religious groups, shaking the Empire to its core. By the start of the twentieth century leading up to the first world war, the Ottoman economy had been ravaged, by the unquenchable thirst of Europe for economic growth, and their hope that an economic war would eventually crush the empire. The legacy of European Imperialism and economic dominance and have left a scar on the land, as its people today still try to rebuild on the problems caused European influence in the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century.

The Fall of the Ottomans
The Fall of the Ottomans | Source

© 2018 Paul Barrett


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      22 months ago

      European influence did play an important role in the fall of this empire but the collapse of the empire was largely because of it's rulers, their policies, their approach towards favoritism and other reasons. While researching about the main reasons for the fall, I came across this article and found it to be discussing with great accuracy the real reasons that lead to the fall:


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