The Ottoman Empire was the most powerful force in the world. How did it go?



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The Ottoman Empire was the most powerful force in the world. How did it go?



During the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire was at its height. Porta, as the Ottoman Empire was called in diplomatic circles, controlled an area that extended to Asia Minor, Southeast Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. In history, the Empire is remembered for its strong military, developed trade and impressive achievements in many fields from architecture to astronomy.

Despite numerous reforms and efforts to modernize, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. The decline was long and slow. It happened just after the end of World War I because the Ottomans were on the German side. It was devastated by the 1922 agreement, when the last Turkish sultan, Mehmed VI, was ousted. The Sultan, left Constantinople in a British warship, and the people and elite of the former empire were faced with the difficult task of creating a modern state.



Although they do not fully agree, historians claim that six factors caused the Ottoman Empire to collapse.

1. Agrarian as dominant form of economy

While the Industrial Revolution conquered Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, the economy of the Ottoman Empire depended most heavily on agriculture.

“They lacked factories and mass production to compete with the UK, France and Russia,” explains Princeton University historian Michael A. Reynolds. Economic growth was weak during the mentioned period. When World War I came, an underdeveloped industry conditioned the Turkish Army's poor equipment. Heavy weapons, iron, and steel were lacking to support the troops by building railways.

2. Lack of unity

At the height of power, the Empire included Bulgaria, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, the Western Balkans, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Romania, Syria, parts of the Arabian Peninsula and northern Africa. Even if the great powers did not destroy the stability of the Ottoman Empire, Reynolds does not believe that such a heterogeneous entity could grow into a modern democratic state.

“Many nations and cultural differences have made the survival of the empire impossible. Homogeneous societies that share the same culture, language and religion are more likely to build a democratic state,” Reynolds explains.

The libertarian movements of the peoples within the Empire have been strengthened for centuries, resulting in the increasing degree of autonomy conferred on the rebel territories by the end of the 19th century. After the defeat in the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, the Ottoman Empire slowly but surely lost its influence in Europe.

3. Low level of education

Despite efforts to educate residents during the 19th century, the Empire was increasingly lagging behind its European competitors. Estimates say that by 1914, between 5 and 10 percent of literate people lived in the Ottoman Empire.

“Human and natural resources were relatively underdeveloped,” Reynolds explains. This means that the state apparatus lacked trained soldiers, engineers, clerks, doctors and other professionals.

4. The pernicious effect of the great powers

“The biggest competitors of the Ottoman Empire were constantly working to bring it down,” explains historian Eugene Rogan. Austria and Russia supported the Balkan nations in their fight for final liberation from the Turks. The British and French claimed to be in Constantinople-controlled Africa and the Middle East.

5. Destructive rivalry with Russia

Imperial Russia was expanding its territory, putting more and more Muslim populations under control. Thus it became an existential threat to the Ottoman Empire. Still, the rivalry with Porto cost dearly the imperial family in Russia. When the Russians and Ottomans found themselves on opposing sides in World War I, Porta interrupted the flow of goods arriving to Russia via the Black Sea. Tsar Nicholas II. and his Foreign Minister Sergei Sazanov opposed negotiations that would reconcile the shaken empire. That deal may have prevented the October Revolution, writes History.

6. The Ottoman Empire chose the wrong side in World War I

The alliance with Germany brought about a downfall. Before the war, the two countries signed a secret treaty. A conflict ensued, followed by a bloody battle at Gallipoli. It was to protect Constantinople from the invasion of the Allied forces in 1915 and 1916. In the end, the Ottoman Empire lost about half a million soldiers. The number of wounded and sick soldiers increased to 3.8 million. At the end of 1918 an armistice with the United Kingdom was signed.

Participation in World War I was crucial to the disintegration of the once powerful empire. Cornell University historian Mostafa Minawi claims that the Empire had the potential to transform itself into a modern multiethnic state. Instead, World War I brought ruin, with the victors dividing its territory.

The Ottoman Empire was the most powerful force in the world. How did it go?

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