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Nationalism in the Ottoman Empire Essay

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Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Empire was a Turkish empire that existed between the period of 1299 to 1923 through the control of an extensive region in Southeastern Europe, West Asia and certain regions of North Africa[1]. Ottoman Empire consisted of many provinces and states, some of which later got absorbed into the empire while others operated independently.

The empire also had control over other regions which were not part of the empire (but which sought allegiance to the Sultan of the empire) such as certain islands of the Atlantic Ocean. The Ottoman Empire therefore controlled a lot of land in the Mediterranean region and acted as a neutral trading block to both the Eastern and Western world[2]. Its collapse happened under imperial monarchy, after which it was taken over by Turkey when it became a republic[3].

The Ottoman Empire rose into dominance through conquest wars such as the battle of Kosovo which paved way for the empire’s expansion into Europe[4]. The battle of Nicopolis also saw the empire expand into other regions of the European continent but later, other conquests such as the battle of Ankara, the conquest of Constantinople and the invasion of Otranto expounded the empire even further into neighboring territories[5].

However, the empire experienced a period of stagnation and reform which saw some part of the empire’s territory revert to previous regimes such as the reversion of Balkans to Austria[6]. Many factors have been cited for the collapse of the empire; among them, environmental pressures, administrative challenges, financial constraints and the likes but this study identifies the rise of nationalism as the main cause for the collapse of the empire.

Although the Ottoman Empire is historically known to be under much of Turkish influence, its existence was not primarily defined by ethnic representation, but language and religious orientation[7].

In spite of the fact that Turkish descendants constituted a greater part of the population and started the empire in the first place, it did not take long for the Turkish rulers to note that, for the empire to utilize the enormous human potential that lay within its borders, they had to assimilate the inhabitants from their native languages into the Turkish culture[8].

This was necessary because the inhabitants had diverse potential. For example, the Greek were well endowed with administrative and managerial expertise; the Armenians were endowed with mercantile and trade skills and the Balkans captives made good soldiers[9].

Initially, all these ethnic subgroups thought of themselves as Turkish and often identified with the Turkish language. During the onset of the 19th century, there was a great nationalism wave that swept across Europe and left with it traces of the movement in the Ottoman Empire as well[10].

Considering many of the inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire were vassals of certain external countries (which were captured by the Ottoman Empire), many of them started to search for their own independence. For instance, many people who hailed from small cities and towns in Italy started thinking of themselves as Italians while pondering on the concept of establishing Italy as a country, with its own unique identity and governance structure.

Italianism was therefore seen as a viable concept among its previous inhabitants, instead of the initial perception as just a geographic identity. These sentiments were also expressed by inhabitants from Germany and subsequent years saw the unification of various inhabitants from common ascension like the Italians and Germans.

This unity worked for certain people but it acted counter-progressive for certain groups such as the Austro- Hungarian descendants[11]. This huge nationalistic wave was further fanned by the fact that the rulers of the Ottoman Empire never forced any of their inhabitants to adopt the unique Turkish identity. In so doing, many people such as the Arabs and Balkans retained their own identities[12].

For example, the Arabs retained their Muslim religion and the Balkans retained their own unique faith, which was also different from their rulers. Other regions within the empire such as those inhabited by the Greeks and the Serbians still had memories of how they enjoyed their autonomy before the rise of the Ottoman Empire; further increasing the prospects of nationalism.

These factors led to the continued growth of nationalist movements and certain European powers like Russia, Germany and England encouraged the same movement because they desired the fall of the Empire[13].This movement dented the power of the empire because thereafter, the Balkan wars emerged with the aim of liberating the Balkan’s from the Ottoman rulers.

The war later took another direction because the Balkan’s turned on their neighbors because of territorial disputes. To counter this revolution, the Ottoman rulers formed a resistance movement called the IMRO which engaged the Balkans in war and at times, in very brutal violence which earned the Ottoman rulers the title of “Blood thirsty Turks” (because their wars were extremely bloody and lethal)[14].

The conquest later moved to the Ottoman capital which had prehistorically lived in peace, but after the advent of nationalism, the region was now characterized by Arabs, Greeks, Kurds and the Armenian people. This revolution worsened just before the First World War when the Ottoman Empire found itself pulled into it because different nationalities started pushing for more representation within the empire.

At this point, the Ottoman rulers planned genocide against the Armenians and this greatly tarnished their image in the eyes of the world; a fact that still remains unsolved in the present day Turkish republic. Currently, there is a huge cloud of resentment by the Armenians over the Turkish people and although the term “genocide” has been outlawed in turkey, the events that transpired during the massive killings of Turkish revolutionists remains very clear[15].

Though many observers hold divergent opinions over the occurrence of the Armenian massacre, many hold the opinion that the killings were not intentional because the Ottoman rulers were only trying to counter increased resistance within its borders because the Armenians were siding with their enemies in territorial wars[16].

The war was further worsened by poor planning and unreliable soldiers on the Turkish side but regardless of these divergent opinions, it remains very clear that injustices of epic proportions took place; considering the Armenians were initially loyal servants of the Ottoman rulers.

After the wave of nationalism took centre stage in Ottoman politics, a number of effects were felt throughout the economy, puncturing the social fabric of the empire. Compared to the massive killing of Armenians by the Ottoman authorities, a less atrocious, but of equal magnitude displacement occurred when the Greeks and Turks decided to make their countries mono-ethnic.

This event saw the massive expulsion of people from both countries, despite the fact that Greeks who were expelled from turkey probably never spoke the language or seen the place in the first place. In the same regard, the Turks who were expelled from Greece had their forefathers live in the country since pre-historical days[17].

These two groups were then forced to seek habitation elsewhere; amid strangers. During this time, the Ottoman Empire had already died and was under turkey’s leader, Ataturk, who had at the time expelled Greek army men who’d planned to take over certain regions of the Byzantine Empire[18].

During the rule of Ataturk, Turkey had already given in to the concept of nationalism but it adopted a milder form of the concept when compared to its neighbors (because the then ruler said that whoever identified himself or herself as Turkish, and spoke the Turkish language, was to be regarded as Turkish)[19].

However, today, Turkey has found itself at crossroads when dealing with people who live within its borders and don’t want to be associated with the Turkish culture or language. With increased nationalist movements in the empire, the once multifaceted millet movement under the Ottoman Empire disintegrated into autonomous entrants.

Social amenities like schools hospitals and churches were built with exclusive ownership of different nationalities, thereby moving religious groups out of the wider Ottoman leadership. The Ottoman millet system thereafter crumbled under this movement as more autonomous identification was sought, with the identification of inhabitants under religious lines; coupled with predominant elements of ethnic nationalism.

This movement could also not contain the religious differences that existed within the Ottoman Empire, especially after the Armenians expressed their wish to be totally liberated from the Ottoman rule because they felt a Muslim regime could not effectively govern their largely Christian population[20].

This prompted the Armenians to grant them more independence and therefore the set up of religious administrative units kicked off. The decline of the empire greatly dented the economy of the region considering new trade routes were no longer passing through the Ottoman territory.

Initially, the empire harbored most trade routes between Europe and Asia because it stood at a strategic point between the two continents. Since most nationalities embraced the idea of nationalism to a great extent, the once homogenous nature of the Ottoman economy was no longer there. In other words, there was a loss of expertise because initially, different nationalities rallied behind the Ottoman leadership in establishing the dominance of the Ottoman economy in the region.

Internal wrangles thereafter ensued and the economic momentum that was once witnessed by the empire could no longer be sustained. The numerous wars being fought within the empire’s territory also greatly affected the economic development of the area because more energy was being directed at internal fighting and in making assertions of territorial control, such that, little resources were put into innovation and development.

This fact also partially caused the decline of the empire because the once superior goods from the Ottoman Empire could no longer compete with European goods which were produced from innovative industrial practices during the industrial revolution. The empire’s economy was therefore severely dented and its goods were rendered ineffective and obsolete[21].

The rise of nationalistic movements also left the wider Arabian world vulnerable to European influence because in the past, certain regimes from France and Britain had considerable interest in the Arab world and the existence of the Ottoman Empire meant that such regimes had to bypass the Ottoman leadership to deal with the Arab world.

The fall of the empire was quite a relief for the European powers because their power could be felt much more strongly now that the Ottoman leadership was no longer in existence. For instance, the domination of the British greatly increased after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire[22].

From the increased nationalistic movements and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the level of warfare increased among the nations involved because most countries found and increased need to cement their superiority over other nations. For instance, the Baton wars were primarily necessitated by nationalistic movements[23].

However, as nationalism ravaged the Ottoman Empire, it left with it a trail of nation-states which developed their own identities along ethnic, and language lines. The nationalistic movement of the 19th century essentially brought among the first emergence of nations-states which had their own political, economic and social systems. One of the most notable outcomes of the nationalistic movements from the Ottoman Empire was the emergence of the First World War which was largely based on national superiority.

The Ottoman Empire tried to defend Germany in the conquest but idealistically, the already formed autonomous units already had different ideologies of their own and instead chose to fight alongside other countries of their own choice as well.

The level of warfare therefore increased to a great extent and nation after nation were after exerting their influence on the global map. This fact even led to the scramble of colonies across the world because nations were after building their own profiles through the acquisition of more colonies globally[24].

Politically, states that broke away from the Ottoman Empire found themselves realigned on nationalistic lines. This became the new frontier where politicians marshaled their support from because political parties that advocated for nationalistic agendas found favor among voters. This also created a status of less critiquing for the existent political systems because so long as the political system had a nationalistic agenda, everyone would be okay with it[25].

An increased sense of intolerance among regions which broke away from the Ottoman Empire was also noted after nationalism entrenched itself. People who never shared a common nationality with the majority; or those who opposed the political system which the majority of the people identified with, found themselves on the receiving end of nationalistic conflicts[26].

Such was the level of conflict noted between Greece and Turkey because they expelled each other’s nationals from their own countries. The same was also exhibited when the Turks carried out a form of ethnic cleansing exercise on Armenians who opposed their current political system.

Also, Greece which was part of the Ottoman Empire found it increasingly difficult to grant territorial powers to Macedonia for trade purposes because it thought Macedonia was going to claim a portion of its Northern territory. Such was the kind of aggressiveness that shaped international politics as a result of nationalism. Nationalism forces therefore became the new attitude among breakaway nations, even though their language or religious inclinations never changed in the first place.

The effects of nationalism after the Ottoman Empire can even be seen in the 21st century where different states still adopt a widely nationalistic attitude when relating to other nations. For example, certain countries in the Western European block have hindered companies from Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic from trading in their territories because of the threat these nations pose on their national superiority[27].

Also in the pretext of preserving national heritage, certain governments such as Romania and Slovakia inhibit certain minorities in their country such as Hungarians from starting their own schools and using their native language to teach students[28]. Bulgaria is also oppressing the minority Turkish population from expressing themselves linguistically through cultural domination[29].

However, nationalism has not only affected nations that broke away from the Ottoman empire because across the world, certain countries like the US still adopt largely nationalistic policies in their political, economic and social systems. For example, the US currently holds the opinion that for its economic prosperity to continue, and for the well being of the country, a trade war needs to be waged against Japan; oblivious of the fact that many Americans live by trading with Japan in the first place[30].

In Europe, The French government is trying to restrict the number of American films currently being shown in its media because they believe the American culture threatens its national heritage and culture[31]. Such are the intrigues that characterized the fall of the Ottoman Empire, affecting the world today.

Nationalism has been identified as the main concept which led to the collapse of the millet concept in the Ottoman Empire[32]. In detail, the understanding of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire is much different from the concept of nationalism in today’s society because it was majorly built along religious lines, thereby explaining the intrigues that led to the collapse of the empire.

In fact, the concept of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire was very complex because each group awakened to this concept differently and disintegration happened much faster. This is true because the Ottoman Empire rose on the basis of regional integration, sourced from its expansive territory. The advent of nationalism in the European continent is therefore one of the most basic reasons why the empire collapsed.

Through this event, the empire suffered economic, social and political setbacks because the level of warfare increased, the economy plunged and the social fabric of the empire tore apart. The Ottoman leadership also found it difficult to contain the revolution and frantic efforts to reestablish the empire can be witnessed through its misguided efforts to carry out ethnic cleansing on the Armenians. Some of these actions still lie as unresolved issues even today.

However, the Ottoman leadership gave in to the nationalistic uprising as different regions sought autonomy from the Empire. Such an uprising was difficult to stop considering previous Ottoman regimes let certain religious and native identities coexist within its borders.

Many people therefore found it easy to revert back to their nationalistic ideologies and since the empire was multifaceted, the movement spread fast and was uncontrollable. Whether nationalism did any good to the breakaway nations or not is debatable but it can be concluded that the nationalistic force that started in Europe significantly contributed to the collapse of the empire and defines international politics today.

Works Cited

Berkes, Niyazi. The Development of Secularism in Turkey. London: Routledge, 1998.

Breuilly, John. Nationalism and the State. Manchester: Manchester University Press ND, 1982.

Duiker, William. Contemporary World History. New York: Cengage Learning, 2009.

Ebeling, Richard. Nationalism: It’s Nature and Consequences. June. 1994. Web.

Kieser, Hans-Lukas. Turkey Beyond Nationalism: towards Post-Nationalist Identities. London: I.B.Tauris, 2006.

Macfie, A L. The End of the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1923. London: Longman, 1998.

Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Roshwald, Aviel. Ethnic Nationalism and the fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia, and The Middle East, 1914-1923. Routledge, 2001.

Footnotes

  1. Macfie, A L. The End of the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1923. London: Longman, 1998, p. 1.
  2. Macfie, A L. The End of the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1923. London: Longman, 1998, p. 3.
  3. Kieser, Hans-Lukas. Turkey Beyond Nationalism: towards Post-Nationalist Identities. London: I.B.Tauris, 2006, p. 2.
  4. Macfie, A L. The End of the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1923. London: Longman, 1998, p. 3.
  5. Macfie, A L. The End of the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1923. London: Longman, 1998, p 3.
  6. Roshwald, Aviel. Ethnic Nationalism and the fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia, and The Middle East, 1914-1923. Routledge, 2001, p. 13.
  7. Roshwald, Aviel. Ethnic Nationalism and the fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia, and The Middle East, 1914-1923. Routledge, 2001, p. 57.
  8. Roshwald, Aviel. Ethnic Nationalism and the fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia, and The Middle East, 1914-1923. Routledge, 2001, p. 57.
  9. Duiker, William. Contemporary World History. New York: Cengage Learning, 2009, p. 16.
  10. Duiker, William. Contemporary World History. New York: Cengage Learning, 2009, p. 14.
  11. Roshwald, Aviel. Ethnic Nationalism and the fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia, and The Middle East, 1914-1923. Routledge, 2001, p. 57.
  12. Roshwald, Aviel. Ethnic Nationalism and the fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia, and The Middle East, 1914-1923. Routledge, 2001, p. 57.
  13. Duiker, William. Contemporary World History. New York: Cengage Learning, 2009, p. 15.
  14. Duiker, William. Contemporary World History. New York: Cengage Learning, 2009, p. 16.
  15. Roshwald, Aviel. Ethnic Nationalism and the fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia, and The Middle East, 1914-1923. Routledge, 2001, p. 59.
  16. Roshwald, Aviel. Ethnic Nationalism and the fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia, and The Middle East, 1914-1923. Routledge, 2001, p. 58.
  17. Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 67.
  18. Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 67.
  19. Breuilly, John. Nationalism and the State. Manchester: Manchester University Press ND, 1982, p. 118.
  20. Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 68.
  21. Breuilly, John. Nationalism and the State. Manchester: Manchester University Press ND, 1982, p. 118.
  22. Breuilly, John. Nationalism and the State. Manchester: Manchester University Press ND, 1982, p. 118.
  23. Berkes, Niyazi. The Development of Secularism in Turkey. London: Routledge, 1998, p. 5.
  24. Breuilly, John. Nationalism and the State. Manchester: Manchester University Press ND, 1982, p. 5.
  25. Breuilly, John. Nationalism and the State. Manchester: Manchester University Press ND, 1982, p. 5.
  26. Breuilly, John. Nationalism and the State. Manchester: Manchester University Press ND, 1982, p. 5
  27. Ebeling, Richard. Nationalism: It’s Nature and Consequences. June. 1994. p. 14.
  28. Ebeling, Richard. Nationalism: It’s Nature and Consequences. June. 1994. p. 14.
  29. Ebeling, Richard. Nationalism: It’s Nature and Consequences. June. 1994. p. 14
  30. Ebeling, Richard. Nationalism: It’s Nature and Consequences. June. 1994. p. 14
  31. Ebeling, Richard. Nationalism: It’s Nature and Consequences. June. 1994. p. 14
  32. Roshwald, Aviel. Ethnic Nationalism and the fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia, and The Middle East, 1914-1923. Routledge, 2001, p. 1.
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