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Middle East
Dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and instability in the middle east
Oct 2015

The current issue of JST focuses on the chaos and brutal killings of the innocents by the Islamic State militia (ISIS) in the Middle East.  Those conversant with the history of the region would recall that the character and the culture of the region have been largely influenced by outside forces.  Historically, the people of the region have successfully gone through the process of Hellenization, Romanization, Christianization and finally Islamization.  The Ottomans who ruled the area for almost five centuries provided an element of stability in administration. After the First World War, there was a dismemberment of the Ottoman empire.   Independent states in the Arabic speaking provinces of the erstwhile empire were created by the victors like Britain.  An attempt is made in the present issue to trace the rise of ISIS and other movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaida, Boko Haram, Al Shabab etc. from these new states.

The pages that follow are based on the works of H.G. Wells (A Short History of the World), Harold Nicolson (Curzon), Bernard Lewis (The Middle East) and Eugene Rogan (The Fall of the Ottomans).
 
Muhammed And Islam: 
A prophetic amateur of history surveying the world in the opening of seventh century might have concluded very reasonably that it was only a question of a few centuries before the whole of Europe and Asia fell under Mongolian domination. There were no signs of order or union in Western Europe and the Byzantine and Persian Empires were manifestly bent upon mutual destruction writes H.G. Wells in his book, A Short History of the World. Then, suddenly the Bedouin flared out of Arabia for a brief century of splendor. The man who fired this Arab flame was Prophet Muhammed. The religion, Islam, founded by Prophet Muhammad stood for uncompromising monotheism; detachment from the sacrificial priest and the temple; insistence on perfect brotherhood and equality before God of all believers. These are the features that made Islam a power in human affairs.
 
The Great Days of the Arabs:
The Byzantine army was smashed at the battle of Yarmuk in 634 AD. Syria, Damascus, Palmyra, Antioch, Jerusalem and the rest came under Muslim control. Large elements of the population went over to Islam. The Persians fought the Arabs under the legendry Rustom at the battle of Kadessia in 637 AD and were routed. The conquest of Persia followed and the boundaries of the Moslem empire were pushed far into Western Turkistan until it met the Chinese. Egypt fell almost without resistance. The tide of Moslem conquests now poured along north coast of Africa to the strait of Gibraltar and Spain. Spain was invaded in 710 AD and the Pyrenees Mountain were reached in 720 AD. In 732 AD the Arab advance had reached the centre of France where it was stopped at the battle of Poitiers. Between 672 AD and 718 AD Arab Muslims made repeated attacks to conquer Constantinople. The city held out.
 
In 630 Prophet Muhammad conquers Mecca and in 632 he is no more.  Abu Bakr becomes the first Caliph.  Between 633-637, Arabs captured Syria and Mesopotamia; between 639-642 Egypt is conquered including Alexandria. In 644 Caliph Umer who had succeeded Abu Bakr (in 634) is murdered and by this time, the map of Muslim conquests looked as given belows:
 
Rise and spread of Islam:
At the beginning of the Christian era (CE), the region called the Middle East was disputed between two imperial powers. The western half, running from the Bosphorus to the Nile delta was part of the Roman empire: the eastern half was called Persia (Iran). The map of South-West Asia and North Africa which included Egypt, was different from that of the Middle Eastern empires.  Both Christians and Islamic civilizations have common roots in the Middle East - those of the Jews, the Persians and the Greeks.  Major developments that took place in the first six centuries of CE included: the rise of Christianity, particularly after the conversion of the emperor Constantinople. (311-337); shift of the centre of gravity of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople. The name Byzantine is derived from the name of the settlement which previously existed on the site of the city of Constantinople; 
 
Both the Byzantine and the Persian empires were overwhelmed by the rising tide of Islam but there is an important difference between their fates. The Byzantinian suffered crushing defeats and lost many provinces to the Arabs. The last remnant of the Greek Christian Empire, Constantinople, was overwhelmed in 1453 AD. The Persian Empire was entirely incorporated within the Arab Islamic empire. The Byzantian magnates of Syria and Egypt could flee to Byzantine whereas the Zorastrians of Persia had no place to seek refuge. The only place open to them was India. The Perso-Roman wars had completely weakened Iran.
 
The Rise of Seljuk Turks: 
By the eleventh century, the Islamic state and society had shown many signs of internal weakness. Most important of all the reasons was the wave of invaders from the east, the people of the great Asian steppes.  The Muslims had first met the Turks on the eastern borders of the empire and for sometime earlier the Muslims had been importing them as slaves also known as Mamluks, an Arabic word meaning owned. As early as 868 AD the first independent dynasty in Muslim Egypt was founded by a Turkish military slave. The Ghaznivid (962-1186) of Afghans who invaded India several times was also founded by a Turkish slave. About this time, two great migrations of the Turkish peoples transformed the face of the Middle East. The two Turks were: Oghuz Turks and the Kipchaks. The former were forced out by the latter.  The Oghuz, forced out of their homeland, migrated into Islamic territory.  The most important being Seljuks, after the family name that led them, had entered the Islamic territory in the late tenth century as far as Balkh and Bukhara and embraced Islam.  The successor of Seljuks conquered many Islamic cities including eastern Iraq and Baghdad.  By 1079  they had conquered Syria, Palestine and a greater part of Anatolia. 
 
The Seljuks conquest created a new order in the Middle East. They were Sunni Muslims and retained the caliph as nominal rulers. They adopted the title of Sultan after the conquest of Baghdad in 1055 A D. In the second half of the 11th century, the Seljuk Great Sultans ruled over an empire comprising the whole of South West Asia and Analolia.  The most important were the Seljuk monarchs of Kirman, Iraq, Syria and Anatolia; all owing allegiance to the Great Sultan at Khurasan.
 
Turkish Islam was dedicated from the start to the advancement of the faith and the power of Islam. It was born on the eastern frontiers against heathendom and was carried to the western frontiers against Christiandom and took control of the Caliphate.  
 
The Mongol Conquests: 
In the thirteenth century while efforts were being made to unify Christendom under the rule of the Pope, far more momentous events were a foot in northern parts of Asia.  In 1214 AD, Jengis Khan, Leader of the Mongol confederates, made war on Kin Empire and captured Pekin. He then turned westward and conquered western Turkistan, Persia, Armenia, India down to Lahore, South Persia, and as far as Hungary and Silesia. His successor made some more conquest in Russia and Poland.
 
Destruction of Baghdad: 
Mongol Prince Tenuzin assumed the title of Jenghiz Khan and launched on an extraordinary career of conquests. The vengeance of Jenghiz Khan was swift and overwhelming. In 1219 he led his armies into the lands of Islam. By 1220 he had conquered Bukhara and Samarkand, next they conquered eastern Iran. By 1240 the Mongols had conquered western Iran, Georgia, Armenia, and overwhelmed the forces of Seljuk Sultan of Anatolia. In January 1258, the Mongol armies converged on the city of Baghdad.  The last Abbsid caliph, al-Mustasim, pleaded for terms of surrender or for mercy.  But the city was stormed, looted and burnt, and on 20 February 1258, the caliph was put to death. The House of Abbas, for almost five centuries the titular head of Sunni Islam, had ceased to exist.  The destruction of the great historic institution of the caliphate was the end of an era in Islamic history.
 
Politically, the Turks and the Mongols were everywhere dominant.  Turkish or Mongol dynasties ruled all the countries from the Mediterranean to Central Asia and India and Syro-Egyptian empire of the Ma…. 
 
Ottomans Conquer The Middle East
With the conquest of Constantinople, in 1453 AD Sultan Mehmed II, henceforth came to be known as Fatih, the conqueror. This victory established the Ottomans as the spearhead of Islam pointing to the West, and brought it immense prestige within the Islamic world. Mehmed II now devoted his attention to the conquest of Asia.  One of these targets was the manifest decline of the Mamluk Sultanate which had ruled Egypt and Syria since the mid-thirteenth century. In a sense, the Egyptian sultanate had, in its last years, become a kind of Arab Byzantium. In the North, Iran had taken over the political and cultural leadership of Islam. The Syro-Egyptian sultanate had already been weakened by a complex of causes, both internal and external. The death blow to the sultanate came from the armed conflict with Ottoman sultanate. The Ottomans had mastered the art of using handguns and cannon whereas the Mamluks were reluctant to use them.
 
Ottomans overpower Iran Egypt, Syria and Western Arabia:
But before launching the final attack on the Mamluks Sultans of Egypt, the Ottomans had to face another and far more dangerous Muslim enemy, Iran. The new Safavid dynasty of Iran had created a mighty state embracing the whole area between the Mediterranean lands and the approaches to Central Asia and India. The Shiite regime in Iran was seen in Turkey as both a threat and a challenge. Turks gave it a religious character and renewed the old rivalry between the rulers of Anatolia and Iran. Both the Ottoman Sultan and the Safavid Shah were for one another heretics and usurpers beyond the pale of toleration.
 
In 1502, Sultan of Turkey ordered the deportation of Shiites from Anatolia to Greece. By 1511, the Ottomans faced a dangerous Shiite revolt in Central Anatolia. In 1512, there was an open warfare between Iran and Turkey. A long and bitter struggle between the two empires followed, in which the bloody repression of the Shiites in Turkey and of the Sunnis in Iran watered their mutual hate. The resulting struggle was for both the leadership of Islam and the control of the Middle east. The struggle ended with a limited victory for the Ottoman. This success paved the way for the absorption into the Ottoman realms of the Arabic speaking countries. In the sharp war  in 1516-17, the Ottoman overthrew the tottering Manmluk Sultanate which had dominated Egypt, Syria and Western Arabia for a two and half centuries. From there possessions, Ottomans extended their sovereignty towards the borders of Morocco and Arabia.  The Ottoman Sultans now ruled over the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina and the Arab heartlands of Islam. 
 
Ottomans Conquer Europe: 
With the Persians tamed and the Mamluks of Egypt conquered, the Ottomans were now prepared to persue their major task, the war with Europe. Under the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566) the Ottoman empire was at the peak of its power. In 1526, at the decisive battle of Mohacs, the Ottomans shattered the army of the kingdom of Hungary. From this, the Sulyman's armies advanced in 1529, for the first time, and laid siege to Vienna. Once again, after the first Moorish landing on the Spanish coast in 710 AD, the advance of Islam posed a mortal threat to Christendom.  The crusades were over; the Jihad had begun again.  Richard Knolls, (Historian of the Turks) expressed the common feeling of Europe when he wrote: the Turkish  empire as the present Terror of the World.
 
The sixteenth century saw the highwater mark of the Turkish tide. In central Europe, the first unsuccessful attempt to take Vienna in 1529 inaugurated a century and a half of bloody and inconclusive struggle. This ended with the second failed siege of Vienna in 1683. In the east, on the other hand, the Ottoman, from their base in Egypt and Iraq asserted their naval power in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. In the Mediterranean, however, the Ottomans suffered their first major defeat in the naval battle of Lepanto in1571.  
 
Russians Challenge The Ottomans:
In the meantime, changes of far-reaching importance were taking place in the north. In 1480, Tsar Ivan the Great of Moscow threw off the Tartar yoke and ended all tribute and their dependence on the Ottomans. After having ended the Muslim domination, the Russians pursued their masters into their own lands. In 1552, the Russians captured Volga, Tatar capital at Kazan; in 1556 Russians captured the Caspian port of Astrakhan. By this time, Russians had captured the entire course of Volga river.  With Astrakhan as a base, Russians advanced towards independent Muslim states of Northern Caucasus. The seventeenth century had begun with a grudging concession of equality between the Ottomans and the Christians. It eventually ended with an unequivocal admission of defeat on the part of the Ottomans.
 
Decline of the Ottoman Empire:
In the Islamic empires, the Arabic word Sultan had denoted both the state and the sovereign. When Suleyman the Magnificent was invested with the sword of Osman in 1520, he became master of a perfect machine of absolutist government ruling over an empire that stretched from Hungary to the borders of Persia, from the Black Sea to the Indian Ocean. The Ottoman historians attribute the decline of the Empire from the death of the Suleyman the Magnificent (1566). The main cause was the decay of the Sipahiclass-the feudal gentry. The feudal gentry had been the backbone of the Ottoman State in its early days. This neglect of the feudal gentry was caused by Sultan's preference for professional slaves (Janissary) troops over feudal levies; and lack of technological advance in military affairs. Originally, the corps of Janissary was a closed and privileged corporation. They were recruited exclusively from Christian captives and slaves. The decline had begun when the corps began to recruit by inheritance and by purchase.
 
Dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire in Christian Europe:
The clash between Christian Europe and Ottoman Islam has been compared with the confrontation in our own day between the free World and the Soviet Union.  Earlier, however, the persecuted Christians in their own lands and Jews had found refuge in the Ottoman lands.  The Ottomans failure in 1683 to capture Vienna was decisive and final. Instead of the strength, it was now the weakness of the Ottoman State that posed a problem for Europe. That problem came to be known in European histry as the Eastern Question. The Sultan was also called the Sickman of Europe.
 
In 1908, the volatile Balkan region comprising the states of Greece, Bulgaria and Macedonia had risen in rebellion and demanded a return to parliamentary rule.  Sultan Abdulhamid II(1876 - 1908) was an absolutist; and the treasury had been declared bankrupt in 1875.  Turks had violently suppressed the Bulgarian separatists.  In 1876, he had promulgated  the Ottoman Constitution. Russia wanted the control of Constantinople and the two straits- Bosphorus and Dardanelles thereby linking Black Sea to the Mediterranean. European neighbours did not allow this to happen by insisting on the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire. Russians declared war on the Ottomans in April 1878 and by January 1879, Russian forces were at the gates of Istanbul.
 
In the peace treaty concluded at the Congress of Berlin, the Ottomans lost two-fifths of the empire's territory and one fifth of its population in the Balkans and eastern Anatolia-(which included the provinces of Kars, Ardhan, and Botum). These were Turks homelands.  Furthermore, in 1878 Britain secured Cyprus as a colony, France occupied Tunisia in 1881. Egypt, the autonomous Ottoman province, was placed under British colonial rules in 1882. Further dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire appeared to be on the card. On Young Turk's demand, the Constitution of 1876 was restored in 1908. It goes to the credit of Abdulhamid that between 1882 and 1908 he protected the Ottmans domain from further dismemberment. 
 
Rise of Young Turks:
His autocratic style gave rise to radical movement called the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), a secret society of civilians and military men founded in 1900. It worked under the umbrella of Young Turks. The party aimed at restoration of the Constitutional Rule of 1876.  The Young Turk revolution, however, did not result in any freedom as was thought to be. The CUP decided to leave the Sultan with his powers in tact. He was still the Sultan for the masses and the caliph for the Muslim world.
 
This instability in the Ottoman state encouraged the former Ottoman province of Bulgaria to declare independence on 5 October 1908.  Next day, the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire announced the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Also Crete announced its union with Greece.  On 12-13 April, 1909, Soldiers of the First Army mutinied against CUP.  The Third Army in Macedonia went into action against the First Army and  mobilized a campaign force called 'The Action Army' to march on Istanbul.
 
Massacre of Armenians:
Revolution and counter-revolution within  the Ottoman society, led to massacre of Armenians by Muslim crowds in the southern city of Adana. The roots of the pogrom dateback to 1870. The Armenians wished to be independent. They were a separate ethnic group with its own language and Christian liturgy.  They had all the pre-requisites for a nationalist movement bar one. They were not concentrated in one geographical area. They were dispersed between the Russian and Ottoman empires. The largest concentration was in Istanbul.  Under the provisions of the Congress of Berlin 1878, Ottomans were forced to cede three provinces, with sizeable Armenian population to Russia: Kars, Ardahan and Batum. Further, the Ottomans were asked to provide autonomous status to the Armenians in the provinces of Erzurum, Bitlis and Van and also report the progress to European powers.  However, the Ottomans did nothing of the kind and instead between 1894 and 1896 Armenians were the target of a series of terrible massacres. By 1896 it was estimated that between 100,000-300,000 Armenians had been killed.  The European powers, still remained  divided in their policies on the Armenian question.  
 
North Africa:
The French occupied Algeria in 1830, Tunisia in 1881.  Also the Provinces of Benghazi and Tripoli in Libaya were occupied by the Italians in 1911. These were Ottoman's last possessions in North Africa.  
 
Balkans Wrest Independence; Greece had secured independence from the Ottoman rule in 1830; Serbia was a principality  under Ottoman suzerainty  since 1829; and it got independence in 1878; and so also Montenegro. Bulgaria got independence in 1908. Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria had their own territorial ambitions on Albania, Macedonia and Thrace. In October, 1912, Montenegro, Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria declared war on Ottoman Empire. Fearing adverse consequences, Ottomans relinquished the Libyan provinces to Italian rule.  Under the 1913 Treaty of London, Ottoman Government signed away 60000 square miles of territory and nearly 4 million inhabitants, surrendering all European possessions excepting a small portion of Eastern Thrace.  Losing Libya was nothing compared to ceding Albania, Macedonia and Thrace. Since being conquered from the Byzantine Empire five centuries earlier, these European territories had been the economic and administrative heart of the Ottoman world.
 

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