The eighteenth century was signifying the gradual decline of the Ottoman Empire. Already by the seventeen-century in fact, the Ottoman expansion in Central Europe starting with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and reaching its zenith during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent seemed to be over. Consequently, consolidation of Ottoman rule in the conquered lands and the defense of earlier conquests against the European powers, the Habsburgs in particular, became the Ottomans primary concerns. Combined with these military and subsequent technological challenges emanating from the West, economic and social burden of wars launched on several fronts contributed to Ottomans loss of power. However, the alarming blow to the Ottoman state was the Treaty of Karlowitz signed in 1699 between the Ottomans on one side and the Habsburgs, Venice and Poland on the other; the loss of Hungary and Transylvania signified the beginning of the Ottoman retreat from Central Europe. Notwithstanding the last Ottoman victory on European soil against the Habsburgs and Russia following the war of 1736-39, Ottoman territorial losses soon became a problem of vital importance, since they revealed the need for a reform of the Ottoman state system in every sphere.
As in each society facing a transformative period, however, the establishment regarded political and social reforms as a challenge to their own interests and the so-called years of recession in the Ottoman Empire faced a clash between those trying to modernize different aspects of the political and social system, first and foremost the sultans, and those trying to preserve their own privileges. The first limiting power to change was the military. In fact, the need for reform at first had emerged as a question of military modernization, since the methods applied by the Ottoman army were considered to be outdated and far from being competible with western industrial and technological achievements. Moreover, the janissaries high degree of involvement in social and political matters was growing more and more evident. The first attempt at military reform was made by Sultan Osman II (1618-22), but failed costing him his life. The second serious attempt came from Selim III (1789-1807) who, aiming to have a European type of army, established the Sekban-ı Cedid, but again he was dethroned (May 1807), his reformist army was dispersed and reformist activities were obstructed. Another limiting power was the ulema, a well-entrenched body having their own hierarchy and enjoying financial independence through their control of large estates. Ahmed IIIs (1703-30) so-called Tulip Era which is regarded by many contemporary historians as the first step towards Ottoman enlightenment met the firm resistance of the ulema, as a result of which the sultan was dethroned following the famous revolt of Patrona Halil in 1730. As mentioned in the previous volume, on the other hand, the Ottoman success in the classical age mainly stemmed from the efficiency of a centralist system of government. The eighteenth century, however, witnessed the rise of the âyan-ı vilayet, of local people in the provinces who, with their newly acquired privileges, were gradually sharing the power of the central authority.
These circumstances were prevailing when Mahmud II (1808-1839) came to power who would restore the central authority and would make himself an absolute monarch. Mahmud II started a forceful campaign against the âyans in 1815 and the janissaries that resulted in the dismissal of the âyan pact, abolition of the janissary corps in 1826 and establishment of a European type of army, Asakir-i Mansure-i Muhammediye. However, the Ottoman Empire was entering a new phase where minorities affected by the ideals of the French Revolution and instigated by the great powers of Europe started to initiate popular revolts one-by-one, the first of which was the Greek revolt of 1821.
In the nineteenth century the Ottoman Empire became a focus of European balance of power politics; it was a period when the Great Powers of Europe began to formulate their foreign policies in accordance with the fatal developments within the Ottoman Empire and even the Concert of Europe, established following the end of the Napoleonic wars, was to be affected by their rivalry with regard to the future of the Ottoman Empire which, in the words of Russian tsar Nicholas I, was now the sick man of Europe. It was a time for partition and the clash of interests between the Great Powers with regard to the so-called Eastern Question was to serve to Ottoman diplomacy. To create space for diplomatic maneuvering against the European powers and to calm nationalistic tempers and in particular the revolutionary mood in the Balkans, Ottoman statesmen resorted to spectacular and speculative measures. Upon the pressure of European powers and with the hope that they will prevent the collapse of the empire, Tanzimat and Islahat firmans were declared both aiming to improve the conditions of the empires Christian subjects and a liberal trade regime was accepted. But they failed and even helped foster the collapse of the Ottoman state with destructive effects since they accelerated the emergence and subsequent growth of a bourgeois class particularly in the Balkans which would support the national movements for independence.
Ottoman intellectuals naively believed that the proclamation of a constitutional monarchy and the idea of Ottomanism or equality before the law would avoid the national aspirations of the non-Muslim minorities and thus, stop the collapse of the empire. The declaration of the constitution in 1876, therefore, was welcomed enthusiastically. However, their optimism was far from the reality. Whereas Abdülhamid IIs (1876-1909) abolition of the Meclis-i Mebusan, the Ottoman parliament, and subsequent support for Islamism dissatisfied the intellectuals, paradoxically they were welcomed by Turkish Muslim masses, since both implied their reaction against the policies of the Tanzimat. So, there emerged the famous dilemma of Turkish history: While indeed Abdülhamid was one of the greatest reformers among the Ottoman sultans and was defined as a diplomatic genius by German Chancellor, Bismarck, that managed to prevent the break-up of the Ottoman Empire for another two decades, the Turkish intellectuals regarded him as a despot who ruled the empire with oppression. This was the reason why the Young Turks forced Abdülhamid II to declare a constitutional monarchy in 1908 and the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) dethroned him in April 1909 and took charge of power.
In the shape of the CUPs domestic as well as foreign policies the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 are of particular importance. After realizing neither Ottomanism nor Islamism worked out and as the homeland of the Turks only Anatolia remained, they resorted to a new principle, Turkism, which they believed would save the empire. Besides, having been left alone in an environment of competing alliances on the verge of World War I and feeling the growing threat stemming from Russia, the ally of both France and England, they decided to enter the first global war on the side of Germany (Central Powers). The primary objective of the three Pashas (Enver, Cemal and Talat) that were in power during the war years was to compensate the territorial losses of the past with places particularly in the Tsarist Russian Caucasus. However, despite the victories of Ottoman forces on the Caucasian Front, following Bulgarias surrender, a member of Central Powers, war was lost.
Following the Moudros Armistice of Oct. 30, 1918, victorious powers occupied İstanbul and other parts of the Turkish realm. As the occupations and arrests of Ottoman authorities continued, foundations for the Defense of Ottoman Rights (Müdafaa-i Hukuk-i Osmani) began to be established throughout the country. In the meantime, the leaders of the Greek, Armenian and other minorities in the Ottoman lands set to action to get a share of Ottoman territories. On May 6, 1919, the United States, France and England secretly invited Greece to invade İzmir. Greeks occupied İzmir on the morning of May 15. This act caused resentment and bitterness among the Turks and contributed to the upsurge of Turkish nationalism under Mustafa Kemal, the famous commander of the battle of Gallipoli, who landed on May 19 in Samsun. National congresses started to be held, the most important being the Sivas Congress of September 1919, which formed the nucleus of the Ankara government. The imposition on the Ottoman State, on Aug. 10, 1920, of the Treaty of Sevres, strengthened the determination of Turkish nationalists led by the newly founded Turkish Grand National Assembly under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal to protect their homeland. The Turks mobilized and enthusiastically stuck to the Turkish National Oath (Misak-ı Milli) which declared all the territories within the national boundaries on the signing of the Armistice, and inhabited by a majority of Muslim (Turkish) population, to constitute an integral part of Turkey. Following the replacement of the militia by regular forces and Mustafa Kemals becoming Commander-in-Chief, the Greek occupation mainly supported by Britain could be stopped. Finally, on Aug. 26, 1922 the Turkish armies launched a general attack and routed the Greek army on all fronts. By Sept. 9 the remnants of the Greek army had evacuated. With the Treaty of Lausanne, signed on July 24, 1923, a new phase started which would led to the formation of the Republic of Turkey on Sep. 29, 1923.