Disintegration of the Ottoman Empire

Every parasitic organism looks out for an occasion which would lower the immune defenses of its host in order to begin to multiply, gain strength and take over some part of the host. That is why these are called opportunistic organisms. A good example are fungi. These microbial cells cause yeast infections when their host takes antibiotics to fight off bacterial infection. Antibiotics kill good (yeast-fighting) alongside bad (infection-causing) bacteria. Same is with parasitic groups: They are always on the look-out for the weak moment of their government in order to spark separatist movements by armed rebellions. In the 19th century, the Haik subjects of the weakening Ottoman Empire proved to be one such opportunistic group that rose in armed resistance against Ottoman central authority once the Empire started to show unmistakable signs of a crippling disease; a disease that lowered all internal and external defensive mechanisms. In order to better understand the causes of this Haik infection, therefore, it may be useful to step away from our main topic and investigate, in some detail, the factors that led to the weakening and the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.

With the Renaissance movement in 15th c., the Reformation of the 16th c., and the Enlightenment of the 17th. c., the road was paved for Rationalism and Positivism in European thought, which in turn, ushered the Industrial Revolution in England in the 18th. c. The advances in science and technology found many applications in the military field in terms of better weaponry, arsenal, and battlefield tactics and maneuvers. Bernard Shaw , in his classic "What Went Wrong: The Clash between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East" suggests:

"With the advent of New Learning, the Europeans advanced by leaps and bounds, leaving the scientific and technological and eventually the cultural heritage of the Islamic world far behind them. The Muslims for a long time remained unaware of this. The Renaissance, the Reformation , the technological revolution passed virtually unnoticed in the lands of Islam, where they were still inclined to dismiss the denizens of the lands beyond the Western frontier as benighted barbarians, much inferior even to the more sophisticated Asian infidels to the east. Thes had useful skills and devices to impart; the Europeans had neither. It was a judgment that had for long been reasonably accurate. It was becoming dangerously out of date.

Usually the lessons of history are most perspicuously and unequivocally taught on the battlefield, but there may be some delay before the lesson is understood and applied. In Christendom the final defeat of the Moores in Spain in 1492 and the liberation of Russia from the Tartars were understandably seen as decisive victories. But in the heartlands of Islam, these happenings on the remote frontiers of civilization seemed less important and were in any case overshadowed in Muslim eyes by such central and vastly more important victories as the ignominious eviction of the Crusaders from the Levant in the 13th century, the capture of Constantinople in 1453, and the triumphant march of the Turkish forces through the Balkans toward the surviving Christian imperial city of Vienna, in what seemed to be an irresistible advance of Islam and defeat of Christendom.

The great battle of Mohacs in Hungary, in August 1526, gave the Turks a decisive victory, and opened the way to the first siege of Vienna in 1529. The failure to capture Vienna on that occasion was seen on both sides as a delay, not a defeat, and opened a long struggle for mastery in the heart of Europe".

However, the Ottomans, beginning with the death of Suleiman the Magnificient in 1566, could not keep up with European revolutions in thought and in technology. They began to lose against their foes in Europe, where their territories began to shrink; and their economy was affected as a result of these losses. The weakened State found itself in a precipitous decline, which had its consequences in the deterioration of the central administrative power. Local Lords and Vassals abused this loss of central authority by exerting more and more harsh treatment of their subject populations, which largely consisted of Christians. Popular discontent constituted a fertile soil, on which the European rivals of the Ottoman Empire would easily sow the seeds of rebellion in order to divide the Empire from inside.


The capitulations that were granted to European powers by overly confident Sultans of the glorious past were the perfect excuse for rival Empires of later centuries to intervene in Ottoman internal affairs, in economic as well as social spheres.

    • Mehmet II "The Conqueror":

    • Bayezid II

    • Selim I

    • Suleyman I "The Magnificient": In 1536, the Ottomans entered an agreement with the French that permitted them to trade throughout Ottoman lands. Total religious liberty was also given to the French. They were granted the right to maintain the guard the Holy Places, which created a French protectorate over the Catholics in the Ottoman Empire. With the death of Suleiman, the era of voluntary capitulations ended. As the 17th c. began, the Ottomans saw themselves further and further weakened by military losses, a crippling inflation and a major decline in administrative integrity. The era of forced capitulations had begun.

  1. Foreign Interventions into Ottoman Internal Affairs: The Great Powers interfered with the internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire on a regular basis. Their excuse has always been the "ill-treatment of the minorities" within the Empire. The external interference would act as the major factor influencing the Haik Revolution, next to in importance, perhaps, the spread east of the romantic ideals of the French Revolution in the late 18th c. and the German Nationalistic movement in the early 19th c. The reaction to Ottoman rule was fueled by the revolutionary ideas of the French Revolution and the nationalistic currents of the anti-Napoleonic movements, particularly in Germany.

    • Mustafa II and Karlowitz: Ottomans met major defeat on the European battlefield for the first time during the second siege of Vienna between July 17 and September 12, 1683. In the words of Bernard Lewis: "For most of the 17th century, ...fill in...p 16-19 and to form alliances with European powers against other European powers".

    • Ascent of Principality of Muscowy to Imperial Russia: Ivan The Terrible (1533-1584) stands at the beginning of modern Russian history. The following is excerpted from A.J. Grant's 'A History of Europe: Part III - Modern Europe Including Great Britain' (Longmans, Green and Co., NY, 1930). Ivan favored the middle and lower classes, opened his country to the commerce of Western Europe, and showed some interest in learning. Upon the extinction of his blood line in 163, a boy of 16, Michael Romanoff, was chosen and nearly all the rulers of Russia since that date have been descended from him. The great epoch in the history of Russia came when in 1689 Peter the Great mounted the throne, which he occupied until 1725. This ferocious tyrant was passionately interested in science and in industry, and anxious, above all things, to introduce the civilization of Europe into his own semi-barbarous land, despite a dogged resistance from the habits and traditions of the people supported by the Church. From early youth, he had been attracted by ships and sea-faring life. It was largely that he might know how to organize a fleet that he set out on his famous travels which took him to Holland, England, and France. On his return, he built a considerable navy, and sailing with it down the river Don, appeared before Azov and took that strong Turkish fortress (August 6, 1696). The open sea was always in his thoughts, and he was shut out from the entirely. In the south, the Turkish power controlled the shores of the Black Sea; in the north access to the Baltic was barred by Poland and, above all, by Sweden. Peter invaded the Swede King Charles XII's Baltic provinces while the latter was in Saxony; but was unable to hold them. Charles, in an act that preceded Napoleon and Hitler, determined to march on Moscow and capture it. But the resistance of the Russians grew fiercer as their own country was invaded and Charles abandoned the idea. Ivan later took from Sweden all the provinces lying round the Gulf of Findland, where he founded the city of St. Petersburg. In 1721, he was acclaimed as 'Father of the Fatherland, Peter the Great, and Emperor of all Russians'.The most remarkable of Peter's successors was Catherine II, the German wife of Peter III, who, in 1762, gained the throne by the deposition and murder of her husband.As part of their policies of becoming an Empire, Russians intervened with the Turco-Persian war of 1723-1727 by sending troops to the Caspian Sea and seizing the Khanate of Kuba, to the north of Baku. Some 40 years later, for the first time, they acquired the coveted right of interfering with internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire. The events in Poland lead to the Russo-Turkish war of 1768, which ended with heavy Ottoman territorial losses in the Balkans and in Transcaucasia (Kabartay on Elbrus). With the treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca, signed in 1774 between Sultan Mustafa III and Empress Catherine II (The Great), Russians obtained the right to intervene on behalf of the Orthodox Christian population of the Ottoman Empire. Also, the Crimean Tatars were made independent of the Ottoman Empire, thus giving Russia an outlet to the Black Sea.In 1787, Catherine the Great of Russia and Emperor Joseph II of Austria-Hungary met at Kherson in the Crimea, just north of Yalta, and devised a plan to partition the Ottoman Empire's European territories of Wallachia, Moldavia; to establish an Orthodox Greek state, which would be called Dacia; and to create a Greek-Orthodox New Byzantium when Constantinople would fall.From 1796 to 1828, a series of Russian victories over Persia, culminating with the treates of Goulistan (1813) and Turkmenchai (1828), granted the Russians vast territories in the Caucusus, including Baku, Karabag, Georgia, Erevan, Nachitchevan and, most importantly, Echmiadzin where the See of Orthodox Haik resided. Next to 1774, 1828 would thus be the second turning point in the enless and unscrupulous Russian exploitation of Haik subjects towards the fulfilment of their imperial ambitions in the centuries to come. Next, Tzar Nicholas I (1825-1855) created what would later become the Soviet Republic of Armenia, by uniting the khanates of Erivan and Nachitchevan and declaring himself King of Armenia, akin to his title in Europe, King of Poland. He would also coin the term "The Sick Man of Europe" when referring to the Ottoman Empire ( Sam Weems, Armenia:The Secret of a Terrorist Christian State"With the Crimean War, which raged from 1854 to 1856, Britain realized for the first time the severity of Russian expansionist threat. She interfered on behalf of the Ottoman Empire, thus forcing the Vienna Peace Treaty, in which the Russian protectorate over the Orthodox Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire was lifted.

    • Greek War of Independence: Meanwhile in the west, the foundation of Greece as a nation independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1826 set a precedent for similar nationalistic movements in the Balkans, precipitating the death and exile of millions of Muslim from the area into Anatolian soil. In his classic 1897 study The War of Greek Independence: 1821-1833, W. Allison Phillips writes the following: "Everywhere, indeed, the conduct of the insurrection was characterized by the same treachery and unbounded cruelty. It may perhaps be permissible to make allowances for the excesses of a wild people, whose passionate hatred, suppressed for centuries, had at least found a vent. But nothing can excuse the callous treachery which too often precceded deeds of blood; and since Europe passed a heavy judgment on the cruel reprisals of the Trk, historical justice does not allow us to hide the crimes by which they were instigated". The Greek War would also cause the weakening of Ottoman forces in the East, from which the Russians benefited maximally by moving into Asia Minor, all the way to Erzourum, and forcing the Treaty of Edirne in 1839, in which the Caucuses fell entirely into Russian hands.

    • The Balkan Problem: In this section, we once again refer to the words of A.J. Grant in his History of Europe. The preponderance of Germany in Europe after 1871 was unquestioned, and Bismark used the prestige of the country to draw to his side the Emperors of Russia and Austria. This is what is called the League of the Three Emperors. Western Europe remained at peace, if not peaceful, and t seemed as though in the West, the State System had reached its permanent form. But the Balkan Peninsula was continually agitated by movements and alarms; and every great diplomatic change in Europe down to the war of 1914 has been closely related to some development in the Balkans. The decadence and disintegration of Turkey have gone on continuously; and nearly all round her circumference there has been a narrowing of her frontiers and the formation of new states. The two forces that have constantly undermined the power of Turkey are religion and nationality in close alliance. The majority of the population of the Turkish dominions in Europe are Christians of the Eastern or "orthodox" Church, and the Muslim yoke has pressed on them with irritating and oppressive force. They have all felt moreover that the Turks are aliens, and they have been accustomed to look to Russia for protection and sympathy. Greece had established itself in the south in complete independence as early as 1829. The mountain state of Montenegro in the west, after heroic combats, had won for itself practical independence, though the Turkish government had never recognized its independence. To the north of Danube, Roumania possessed self-government but remained nominally within the limits of the Ottoman Empire. South of the Danube, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia abd above all Bulgaria, were in continual unrest. The Turks were conscious of the weakness of their hold upon these peoples and looked to austere methods to keep them in subordination. There were many promises of reform, but they came to little or nothing. In 1875, the mutterings of rebellion developed into open defiance of the Turkish power in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The insurgents won some early successes, but then they were overwhelmed by the Turkish armies. At the same time the Bulgarians, who were on the eve of a similar movement of independence, were crushed by the Turks.It was recognized by diplomatists that the Balkan peninsula was the storm-center of Europe. Russia and Austria were interested as neighbor; Great Britain because of her commercial interests in the Mediterranean. There were conferences, proposals and counter-proposal at plenty. At last, in 1877, Russia sent an ultimatum, and as her demands were not accepted, war came at once. The other great powers stood aloof and looked on at the duel.In the war, both the Turkish troops and their commanders showed unexpected powers, and it seemed for a time as though the Russians might be driven back behind the Danube, but in the end, the numbers wealth and organization of Russia and the corruption of the Turkish government produced their inevitable results. The Russians, helped only by the Roumanians, penetrated in the neighborhoods of Constantinople and Turkey lay at their mercy. The treaty of San Stefano was forced upon the Turks, and, if it had been put into effect, Turkey would have ceased to be an important power in Europe. But here the European powers again intervened, Great Britain under Disraeli taking a leading part. The power of Germany and the influence of Bismarck were displayed by the choice of Berlin as the site of a European Congress, which led up, after much discussion, to the Treaty of Berlin. The deep humiliation of Turkey, implied in the Treaty of San Stefano, was avoided in the Berlin treaty, but her loss in territory and prestige was great. Romania, Montenegro and Serbia were declared sovereign and independent states. Bosnia and Herzegovina, while remaining nominally within the Turkish dominions, were placed under the administration of Austria. Instead of the greate state of Bulgaria, which had been planned by the treaty of San Stefano, a comparatively small State with that name was established, stretching only as far south as the Balkan mountains, but enjoying practical independence. To the south of the mountains, a state was created under the name of Roumelia, with large powers of self-government, but still under the suzerainty of the Sultan,. Great Britain claimed and obtained Cyprus as the reward of its services in defence of the Sultan. But there too, nomilal suzerainty of the Sultan was still maintained.

The "Armenian Problem"

According to Haik sources (page 1 2 3 , the concept of "Armenian Problem" was first coined as a word in Article 16 of the Treaty of San Stefano.

    • San Stefano: Article 16

    • Cyprus Convention: Article 2

    • Berlin Treatise: Article 61

    • Note Identique des Grandes Puissances: 1880

    • Note Collective et le Projet de Reformes: 24 May 1895

  1. The United States and the Missionary Movement: The United States chose not to exert a direct political or military interference with Ottoman affairs. Instead, they sent missionaries to divide the population and to conquer the castle from within. As always, the Ottomans were utterly unaware, initially, of the work of these people and of the consequences thereof. Their characteristic "laissez-faire" attitude would cost them very dearly, though. And, by the time they understood what was going on, it was already too late. The scholarly work by Cagri Erhan on the Ottoman official attitudes towards American missionaries is one of the most enlightening sources on the issue.

    • Goodell: Goodell, Goodell

    • Bliss: Bliss

    • Cyrus Hamlin: The life and achievements of one of the most illustrious characters among these Protestant American missionaries, Cyrus Hamlin is narrated by Malcolm P. Stevens and Marcia R. Stevens in the Saudi Aramco World 1984 article, 'A College on the Bosporus' , and illustrated by Michael Grimsdale. The greatest contribution of Dr. Hamlin to the Turkish cause is a letter, 'A Dangerous Movement Among the Armenians', which he wrote to the Congregationalist in 1894, and in which he exposes, with no uncertain words, the heinous plans of the Huntchakist guerrillas of inciting inter-communal massacres in the Eastern Vilayets of the Ottoman Empire, with the intention of founding an independent republic there (For ease of legibility of the letter, please click here).


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