The Sick Man of Europe – History of the Ottoman Empire (1800 – 1900)


the 19th century in the ottoman empire pushed the turks into a position of desperate defensiveness and required the centuries-old conquering power to make alliances with unexpected nations in order to prevent collapse without a doubt the 1800s marked a rapid decline for the ottoman empire and through challenge after challenge at each sultan who would take the throne over the next 100 years going into the new century salim iii was still the sultan of the empire.

The Sick Man of Europe - History of the Ottoman Empire (1800 - 1900)

recently napoleon and his french troops had taken power in egypt and styled themselves as the liberators of egypt from the ottoman empire although constant revolts and discord back home in france forced napoleon to make a subtle retreat before causing too much damage to the ottomans by 1801 the french officially pulled out of the territory allowing saleem a sigh of relief although the ottoman sultan actually had a strong respect for napoleon himself.

in 1804 france began attempting to win over salim’s support whilst russia wanted to keep the ottomans leaning to their side napoleon himself even wrote to sultan saleem referring to him as most high and invincible prince the great emperor of the muslims and imploring him to explain why he would let the russians influence his decision the frenchman also noted that he himself recognized the title of emperor for saleem so the sultan should do the same for him.

in return he lastly notes that the russians have fifteen thousand men at korfu pointing out that those troops surely were there to oppose the turks and not the french salim truly wished to grant napoleon the favor but was too intimidated by the military might of the russian british alliance that faced the french the ottomans ultimately agreed to maintain a defensive alliance with russia until 1806 at which point war broke out between the empires once again.

the russians were outraged by saleem’s decision to depose his vassal states russophile governors in moldavia and wallahia meanwhile within the empire salim was faced with rebellion from his janissary and yamak troops due to his new reformist policies the sultan was eventually ousted from the throne and put into prison in 1807. mustafa iv was assigned as saleem’s successor an attempt was made by reformist supporters to reinstate salim.

as sultan but mustafa ordered his assassination before anything could be done the new sultan’s endeavors to undo his predecessor’s reforms were cut short by saleem the third’s brother mahmud ii whose supporters quickly deposed mustafa in july of 1808 and crowned muhammad in his place sultan mohammed ii wished to continue the westernization reforms of his brother but was first faced with more pressing matters the war with russia was only ended in 1812 with the treaty of bucharest and the ottomans were forced to give bessarabia or eastern part of moldova over to the Russians.

after facing demoralizing losses the serbian fight for autonomy shook the balkans in 1815 and the greeks were moving in the same direction themselves in 1821 greeks in the moria revolted against ottoman sovereignty triggering the start of their war for independence also a romanian uprising existed at the same time sultan mahmud initially called on the governor of egypt for help and the ottomans were temporarily able to regain control.

until an alliance of britain france and russia rooted the ottoman egyptian coalition at the bay of navarino in october of 1827. mahmud reacted by declaring war on russia as the dispute with greece continued another russo-turkish war waged on from 1828 through 1829 and the following year the ottoman empire was forced to acknowledge greek independence in 1831.

the governor of egypt muhammad ali pasha confronted sultan mahmud about a promise that had been made to him earlier in which mahmud agreed to make ali the governor of syria and tarsus mahmud refused to follow through and ali reacted by sending troops under the command of his son ibrahim pasha to seize damascus aleppo and cogna and then march towards constantinople sultan mahmud who had stunningly sacked the entire janissary corps back in 1826.

now had to seek aid from foreign powers he first appealed to the british who declined due to france’s support of the egyptians mahmud then turned to russia who agreed to an alliance still the egyptians routed the ottoman forces at nizip in june 1839 around the same time that sultan mahmud began the tanzamat reform era which brought about a more modernized and european inspired turkey.

before he was able to see the results of these changes though mahmud ii died of tuberculosis in the summer of 1839 abdul masid the first replaced mahmud as the new sultan and continued the increasing reforms within the empire the year after the new young sultan took the throne the oriental crisis of 1840 occurred during the ongoing egyptian ottoman war and the entirety of the ottoman naval forces defected to muhammad ali and the egyptian cause france was ready to back.

History of the Ottoman Empire (1800 – 1900)

The Sick Man of Europe - History of the Ottoman Empire (1800 - 1900)

the egyptians but britain russia austria and prussia came to the ottoman sultan’s aid the european powers then established the convention of london in july of 1840 promising the egyptians territory in sudan egypt under the condition that those lands remain a part of the ottoman empire though mostly as a formality muhammad ali was hesitant to accept the deal and turn to the french for support against it but his once allies now switched sides in october of that year triggering.

a military response against the egyptians from the ottomans and europeans finally muhammad ali agreed to his opponent’s terms in november giving up syria adana crete the hijas and the holy land in addition to handing the ottoman naval forces back over to sultan abdul masseed in 1853 the ottoman empire entered the crimean war yet another conflict with russia one of the main factors leading to the discord was further dispute surrounding the russians role.

as protectors of orthodox christianity in ottoman vassal states britain and france quickly backed the turks fearing the growing power of the russians meanwhile austria aligned once again with russia eventually though austria threatened to switch sides and back the ottoman cause forcing russia to accept peace terms resulting in the treaty of paris on march 30 1856 just before the conclusion of the war sultan abdul masid issued the hati humayan which established that all classes and ethnicities would be treated equally.

in all matters within the empire in 1861 the ottoman sultan was pressured by the european powers into recognizing lebanese autonomy and died shortly after from tuberculosis abdul aziz became the next sultan of the ottoman empire after the death of his brother sultan abdul aziz continued the reforms and westernization of abdul masseed taking significant advice from france.

on the establishment of a council of state and public education system the empire’s first civil code was also promulgated during his reign as tensions and rebellions rose in the balkans the ottomans once again became unsatisfied with russia this time due to its support of the revolts from the balkan states the russo-turkish war of 1877 to 1878 broke out with russia leading.

a coalition of romanian bulgarian serbian and montenegrin troops the conflict proved disastrous for the ottoman empire ending in a decisive victory for russia and its allies the formal declaration of independence from romania serbia and montenegro the establishment of the principality of bulgaria austria-hungary’s occupation of bosnia and herzegovina and britain’s seizure of cyprus all confirmed by the congress of berlin in 1878.

furthermore just before the main portion of the war had erupted sultan abdul aziz had actually been dethroned by his own ministers due to a plethora of frustrations within the empire this meant that sultan abdul hamid ii would be responsible for handling the resolution of the balkan unrest initially murad v had taken the throne in abdul aziz’s place but he was deposed after 93 days due to accusations that he was mentally ill and unfit for the job one of sultan abdul hamid’s initial actions was to promulgate the first ottoman constitution in 1876.

although it only lasted for two years before the sultan suspended it in 1878 over the next few years france extended their reach into tunisia and britain came to power in egypt in 1882 prompting the ottomans to look toward germany for friendship around which time the greco-turkish war was sparked in 1897 by the disagreement between the ottomans and greeks as to whether crete should remain under the ottoman empire or unite with greece germany austria-hungary france italy Russia.

and britain all backed the ottomans and wished to maintain peace in crete the war was short-lived and a defeat for greece which was forced to pay heavy reparations and allow crete to remain an autonomous state under ottoman sovereignty though sultan abdul hamid ii and his forces were undeniably victorious against the greeks and crete the issue would continue into the next century.

The Sick Man of Europe - History of the Ottoman Empire (1800 - 1900)

additionally unrest in the balkans was far from over as the 1800s came to a close problems with armenia and its neighbors began in the 1890s and only grew with time as the ottoman empire was pushed more and more in the direction of urgent defense over its dwindling power and territory a fall from grace that would only get worse in the years to come.

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