The Ottoman Empire was founded as a small beylic just northwest of the Roman capital of Constantinople. Over the 14th century, they had crossed into Europe, relocated their capital, and assimilated smaller Turkic states either through conquest or declarations of allegiance. By the 15th century, the state grew into a mighty empire spanning three continents. In the subsequent centuries, the Ottomans began to move more precariously, shifting their focus from expansion to stabilizing their vast empire and preserving its power in the region.
Long 18th Century
Late Koepruelue era (1683-1703)
After the failed Battle of Vienna, a series of wars with the Holy League caused the Ottomans to lose their grasp on Hungary.
Tulip Period (1718-1748)
The Turks would lose even more territory in Europe following the subsequent Austro-Turkish War in the 1730s. Banat, Slavonia, and Serbia were lost to the Austrian Empire. These defeats pushed the Ottomans into a path of reform and establishing closer ties with the rest of the European states to improve their diplomatic standing among the nations in the coming years.
Shortly after the end of the Austro-Turkish Wars came the dominance of Bayezid III, son of the late Sultan Mehmed IV. Bejasid III witnessed the slow decline of Ottoman territory and wished to pull the empire away from what he called the 'path to decrepitude'.
Pax Osmanica (1748-1774)
Bejasid issued the Edict of Reorganization in 1747. Under the new reformist agenda, the Ottomans established better diplomatic ties with Genoa, France, and the United Kingdom. The reign of his son, Mahmud I, began a year after, following his death. His reign was most prominently known for the importation and translation and distribution of foreign science, philosophy, and literature into Ottoman Turkish and vernacular dialects. It was an era of political, economic, and cultural prominence during which the empire of the Ottomans ranked among the most powerful and influential in Europe and Asia.
Antebellum era (1774-1811)
Asr-e-Tebdil: Century of Change
Franco-Ottoman War (1811-1814)
In the midst of the French revolutionary period, Pax Ottomanica was broken in 1811 when the French Republic declared war on the Ottoman Empire. After defeating the archduchy of Austria and the rest of the Holy Roman Empire during the French Revolutionary Wars, the autocratic leader of the French, Austinu Spiga, shifted his focus on realizing his ambition of toppling the famed Ottoman Empire. For three-quarters of a century, the Ottomans had been at peace. Now their military might was once again tested, this time by the French.
The Ottoman military was not considered the best at the time. However, their familiarity with the region, plus a series of tactical and logistical blunders by the French, gave the Ottomans an advantage. This gave them a string of victories in battles on the Balkans. Eventually, with Austinu Spiga's grip over Austria loosening, the Ottomans were able to push through and liberate Austria from the French. By 1813, the combined strengths of Austrian, Ottoman, and British forces quickly began to overrun French-occupied territory in Europe.
The wars ended in defeat for the French and victory for the coalition. During the Congress of Vienna in 1814, the Ottomans had a firm upper hand on the negotiation table due to their efforts in the war. They were able to gain favourable concessions from France, including the payment of a huge indemnity and the cession of the island of Malta to the Ottomans. The end of the war also ushered in a new era of cooperation between Austria and the Ottomans, the former being indebted to the latter. The aftermath of the war gave the Ottoman Empire a renewed (and inflated) sense of nationalistic fervour, which seemed to negate the earlier theses of Ottoman decline.
Construction of the Suez Canal
In the 1810s, the Ottoman government started considering ideas construct a canal connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. This was motivated by the desire to connect Constantinople with the pilgrimage routes and to assert its position on the Indian Ocean. The canal was financed by the Ottoman government, Britain, and Genoa. Construction started in 1820 and was finished by 1836. In 1837, the Treaty of Edirne was signed between Britain and the Ottoman Empire, guaranteeing the British free access through the canal. This guarantee would later be violated by the Ottomans in 1884 and their charter revoked, leading to the 1885 Anglo-Turkish War.
Reign of Mustafa III (1819-1837)
Reign of Selim III (1837-1863)
Reign of Osman III (1863-1884)
Despite heavy national enthusiasm for the new reforms, one group became alienated: the Ottoman Christians. Historically, Ottoman Christians were considered dhimmi (meaning "protected") under Ottoman law in exchange for loyalty to the state and payment of the jizya tax. However, the new policies of the government severely limited their opportunities inside the empire. The Russian Empire, which was seen as the traditional protector of the Christians in the Ottoman empire, issued diplomatic protests and denounced the new government. However, this did very little to stop the new policies from being enacted. These caused waves of emigration of Orthodox Greeks, Armenians, and Christian Arabs into Russia, and more often into the Americas.
Red and Black Period (1884-1888)
Russo-Ottoman War (1884-1885)
The Russo-Ottoman War of 1884 erupted due to Russian ambitions in controlling the Black Sea. The Russians hoped to capture Constantinople, but the Ottomans were able to leverage their terrain advantage and successfully defended the city. However, the constant attacks by the Russians eventually started to overwhelm the Ottoman military. In early 1885, the Ottomans also faced another threat in the south: the British, who had ambitions to take control of Egypt. This pressured the Ottomans to sue the Russians for peace. In the resulting Treaty of Angorra (1885), the Ottomans ceded the Crimean peninsula to Russia, ending the nearly four hundred years of Ottoman presence in the region.
Anglo-Turkish War (1885)
Britain's diplomatic support to Russia during the Russo-Ottoman War soured their relations with the Ottoman Empire. As a response, in July 1884, the Ottomans boycotted the British and revoked their free access to the canal. This was in violation of the Treaty of Edirne (1836) which guaranteed the British free access. The British secretary of war, Wendell Monaghan, strongly advocated for a war against the Ottomans. Monaghan reported the outdated military tactics used by the Ottomans in their fight against the Russians, promising an easy victory. In 1885, the British sent an expedition force to Egypt, shortly gaining control of the region. Multiple skirmishes between the Ottomans and British ensued, but the war quickly ended in the same year with the war-exhausted Ottomans relinquishing control of Egypt.
Congressional Era (1888-1903)
The humiliating defeats in 1885 served as a wake-up call for the empire. The wars and hardships associated with the aftermath pushed the Ottoman state into reform. In 1888, mounting pressure from the public led to the establishment of the Ottoman Grand Congress. Thus started the Ottoman reform period, putting the people at the forefront of running the country along with the Ottoman sultan.
Hatayism and Orkhonism
The period between 1890-1901 saw two large political movements vying for power in the Grand Congress. The Hatayists (named after the ancient kingdoms in Anatolia) advocated for the secularization of the state and social equality. The Orkhonists, on the other hand, promoted the Turkification of the state. Both groups were nationalist by definition but had different means for achieving national ambitions.
Orkhonist rule (1903-1936)
In 1910, the new sultan, Bejasid IV, rose to power after the death of his predecessor. Bejasid, while claiming to have a centrist stance like his predecessor, was heavily sympathetic to the Orkhonists. Soon enough, a political alliance between the Orkhonists and Bejasid IV formed, making them more popular among the public. The Orkhonists were able to capture the majority in the Grand Congress. The Orkhonist party, led by Hamza Ishakoghlu (later adopting the surname Kojundschu, by Surname Edict of 1912), enacted multiple laws to realize their ambitions. Among them is the Turkish Settlement and Nationality Law, which aimed to create an Ottoman national identity by using Islam as a unifying force, and by resettling Turkish-speaking families to far-flung regions where they only make a minority, and vice-versa. The use of the common Turkish language was also promoted, instead of Ottoman Turkish, which had a lot of Arabic and Persian influences. Through these steps, Kojundschu hoped to meld all the groups in the empire into one people: the Ottoman nationality. Throughout the early 19th century, areas around Jazira, Macedonia, and Levantine cities would shift towards a more Turkish identity.
Since the death of Kojundschu in 1914, fellow Orkhonist Oguen Oesstekin took over leadership of the party. On the same year, Össtekin became the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire. Under Össtekin, the Ottoman empire began to slide to a dictatorial form of government gradually. To maintain their popularity, the Össtekin and the Orkhonist party began to consolidate military power and looked outward. Anti-Russian and Anti-British revanchist propaganda was scattered throughout the empire. They renewed a territorial claim in Crimea (which was taken by Russia during the 1884-1885 Russo-Ottoman War), after the sultan's familial relations with the old Crimean Giraj dynasty. They also promoted the idea of a Greater Ottoman state, one that controlled Egypt and therefore controlled the Mediterranean. Throughout the 1920s, the state would enter a rapid pace of industrialization and militarization. They found allies in Austria and France, who also had their own resentments against the British and Russians. In 1929, the three states formed the Tripartite Coalition, which strengthened their relationship and cooperation.
The Great War
The Great War began in the second trimester of 1935 and pitted the Tripartite Coalition, led by France, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austrian Empire, against the Cordial League, led by the United Kingdom and Russia. The Ottoman Empire, undergoing political modernization in the early 20th century, experienced a revanchist sentiment towards Crimea, which was once part of the empire and now under Russian control. The rise of the Orkhonist faction fueled this attitude, leading to the promotion of anti-Russian and anti-British propaganda throughout the empire. The Orkhonists sought to renew a territorial claim in Crimea and advocated for a Greater Ottoman state that would control Egypt and the Mediterranean. This ideology aligned with the resentments of Austria and France towards the British and Russians, leading to the formation of the Tripartite Coalition in 1929.
Role of the Ottoman Empire
The first phase of the war began with the Ottoman Empire's declaration of war against the Russian National Republic in May 1935. Ottoman forces swiftly captured cities in Crimea, taking advantage of the Russian focus on the eastern Russo-Corean War. The Ottomans also achieved a decisive victory in the Battle of Suez in December 1935, gaining control of the Suez Canal and hampering British naval power. In the second phase of the war, Ottoman troops crossed the Polish borders, leading to the siege of Kiev. The city ultimately capitulated to Ottoman forces in January 1937, and Poland was fully occupied by Austrian and Ottoman forces by June 1937.
In February 1938, the British launched an invasion of Ottoman Tripolitania with the assistance of Tunisia, resulting in the capture of Tripoly and the surrender of the Karamanli dynasty. Later in the year, the Ottoman Balkans was overrun by Cordial League forces, eventually leading to the capture of Constantinople by Russian forces.
The war concluded with the defeat of the Tripartite Coalition. The Russo-Ottoman Compromise, which was drafted before the war had ended, was ratified, and established a Russo-Rumelian condominium in Constantinople, while the Congress of Amsterdam, held from September 1938 to April 1939, determined the post-war fate of the Tripartite Coalition. New states were recognized or created within the former Ottoman Empire, including the Rumelia, Bulgaria, Hellas, Albania, Emirate of Ha'il, and various emirates in Mesopotamia. Tunisia also gained independence, and Jerusalem became an independent multi-religious state.
Warlord era (1940-1967)
The Ottomans were anguished by the loss of their vital territories, including their capital, and the division of their core lands. The country experienced a power shift among different cliques, and experienced a period of chaos and uncertainty, lacking effective leadership. Three main factions emerged: the Iskenderoghlus, primarily based in Cilicia, advocated for a federal monarchy based on millets; the Kelkitlis, hailing from Kissilirmak-Jeschilirmak, promoted a Bektaschi-Ahi Islamist structure; and the Gedissbejlis, centered in Sakarja (Adapassari-Eskishehir), represented a more moderate clique seeking to reconcile the post-war Ottoman Sultanate with old Orkhonist principles. These cliques primarily engaged in political and economic takeovers, further complicating the nation's stability. By the 1950s, the ideology of National Republicanism also spread within the Ottoman cliques. The pro-Russian and pro-British cliques found themselves in de facto division, with the north and west aligned more closely with Russia, and the central and southern regions leaning towards Britain. The tense political situation eventually led into a civil war in 1962.
Turkish Civil War (1962-1967)
The first stage of the war, which lasted from 1962 to 1964, was marked by Russia's support for National Republican rebels in the north and west. At the same time, Britain assisted the central Ottoman government in Konja. The conflict caused hundreds of casualties, which eventually led to the Hills Armistice of 1964. The armistice divided the country between main two factions: the central Ottoman government based in Konja, and the self-proclaimed Turkish National Republic based in Bursa. However, the peace was fragile and short-lived. Discontent erupted once again in the Ottoman Sultanate, leading to the second stage of the civil war in 1965.
Britain, in fear of a National Republican unification assisted by Russia, escalated its involvement in the conflict. In a controversial move, it agreed to station nuclear weapons in the country through an agreement with the sultanate's military government in Konja. This move, designed as a final deterrent, sparked outrage in Moscow and caused a diplomatic crisis between Russia and Britain. This event is known as the Turkish Crisis of 1966.
After years of conflict, the central government ultimately prevailed and reunited the country by 1967. To quell further unrest and prevent any future National Republican incursion, the sultanate underwent constitutional reform and adopted a nominal democracy.