Their role in the Middle East and North Africa was pretty similar to that of the French and British, who succeeded them. The French and British rule of their areas is generally called colonial rule, the Ottoman rule isn't. Why so?
Colonialism in its strict and historic sense means the practice of settling a large number of colonists in subject countries, as did the British in North America, Ireland, Southern Africa, Australia, New Zeeland, the French in Algeria, the Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America, the Russians in virtually all of their annexed territories, and many parallel examples in the pre-modern world. In this strict sense the Ottoman Turks did not practice colonialism; they did not send significant numbers of Turks to live in conquered lands. The Ottoman Empire was, however, an imperial power which ruled a large number of foreign countries against the will of the native population
The Ottoman Empire, like China, did not fit the "classic" definition of colonial power.
The European countries are considered "colonists" because they colonized or settled lands far from their homelands in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia.
The Ottomans (and Chinese) conquered areas that were outside of, but adjacent to, their homelands. I would call it a "creeping" colonization. But many people characterize these two countries as "conquerers," rather than "colonizers."
The French and British rule of their areas is generally called colonial rule, the Ottoman rule isn't.
Actually, that's not quite right. You can see the Ottomans listed here at the side of other "well known" colonial powers like the US or Japan. The Ottomans were active in the Balkans, North Africa, and the Arab World.
I think it's worth briefly describing what other European colonialism looked like to put the Ottoman colonialism in context.
What one often means by colonialism is countries sending waves of settlers overseas, as occurred when the major colonial powers (Spain, Portugal, France, and the UK) colonized the Americas. State sponsored migrations like those slowed down after former American colonies gained their independence. There were a handful of major settlements outside of the Americas, for instance in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. But these were exceptions rather than the rule.
Elsewhere, the Europeans met hostile environments (deserts, tropical diseases) and densely populated areas. Colonial powers didn't settle them. Rather, they'd claim them and set up trade outposts. Improvements in travel conditions and medicine later led them to also bring in troops and administrators in the 19th century. And settlers came too, but there was no large scale state-sponsored migration like in the Americas. The number of Europeans in these colonies was very small. So small, in fact, that some observers quipped Indians could drown the Brits living there were they to spit all at once.
Lastly, there was an exception to the exception. Large scale migrations occurred in North Africa to the point where 1.6 million or so "pieds noirs" came back to France when Algeria, Morocco, and Tunis gained independence. But Algeria was special. It was a French "Département" i.e. part of France proper. Schools were teaching "Nos ancêtres, les Gaulois" (our ancestors, the Gauls) to Algerian kids. While it's also called colonialism, it's tempting to file it under cultural conversion, cultural spread, or something to that effect.
My admittedly vague understanding of Ottoman colonialism is that it shared traits with the three above descriptions - though mostly the third. The empire itself was culturally diverse, with the Ottomans in control of the administration and the population mostly left to its own affairs. Settlers were sent in its periphery (rather than overseas) to spread Turkish culture. Much like Russia, one might add.
Another factor that made them different is that they were considered the Sick man of Europe until they collapsed. European powers at the time were awaiting when they'd be able to partition the empire between themselves.
Mostly because we are talking about different times and different contexts. I don't know what you have in mind and exactly how you came to this specific comparison but the similarities do not seem that obvious and calling “colonialism” every territorial expansion to dominate culturally diverse populations is not very useful. If anything, the most natural analogies would be with the Habsburg monarchy, the Russian Empire, or Persia and those aren't usually considered colonial powers either.
If we're discussing colonialism in political discourse, there's a very simple answer, which seems to me both obvious and politically incorrect. The people who talk of colonialism generally do so from a pre-existing world view, in which colonialism is all about evil white Europeans invading & oppressing virtuous peoples with darker skin. (In extreme cases, virtuous because their skin is darker.)
Since the Ottomans tended to have the same (North Africa) or darker (Balkans) skin than the subject peoples of their empire, therefore by the above criteria, they can't possibly be colonialists, can they? And this logic carries over to e.g. Russian expansionism in the Baltics, Chinese forays into Tibet, &c.
It's the same sort of reasoning that claims that black people can't be racist: that is, it's a claim that is stated for political reasons (whether or not the person making the claim actually believes it), without having any basis in actual evidence.
A colonial relationship is defined by exploitation of one territory (the "colony") by another (the "metropole"). This can involve settlement by citizens of the metropole in the colony at the expense of the colony's native population, but it is not required. More often the aim is to extract cheap labour and raw materials from the colony and to use the colony as a market for the metropole's manufactured goods. Oftentimes the colony will be restricted from direct trade with any other territory (including other colonies of the same metropole!). A good tell-tale sign of a colonial relationship in later times was that the colony would not be represented politically in the metropole's government (or only the metropole's settlers would be represented).
The Ottoman empire does not fit any of the above. It was simply a large multi-national empire, a hold-over from medieval times. An imperial power perhaps, but not a colonial one. It conceived of itself first and foremost as a guardian of Islam, defending Muslims from infidel powers and conquering new territories for Islam when the opportunity arose (though not much of the latter happened after 1600). There's no evidence that its Muslim subjects at least viewed it any differently, and in fact many Arab territories in Arabia and North Africa actively sought to join the empire for the very purpose of seeking protection from the Spanish and Portuguese.
The empire modernized and secularized considerably during the course of the 19th century but still conceived of itself as a unitary state, not a metropole surrounded by colonies. When the Ottomans experimented with constitutional government in 1878 and 1908-1913, all of their territories were allowed to elect native representatives to the Ottoman parliament.
The Austrian empire was similar. It too was a medieval holdover and conceived of itself for much of its history as a protector of Catholicism. It ruled over many nations, many of whom were not happy with its rule, but no one ever refers to them as colonies.
The answer is quite simple. As a historical researcher, the colony term is used as "if a nation or someone's aim is opening trade opportunities -> source. However, Ottoman Empire never conquered any place for the purpose of trade, rather it was all about getting other lands and so in all scientific books, you will see "conquered" term.
Ottomans was planing to get more lands for their religion. Even, their financial system was not directly related trading.
On the other hand, there have never been any evidence that the Ottoman plan was getting precious metals such as gold and silver, or diamonds.
No. Ottomans were not colonial power because they did not colonize outside the continental territories of Europe. They did not get past Aleppo in the South. Netherlands founded and claimed the New Netherlands; Dutch settlers who founded New Amsterdam (New York) and many other cities in New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
The Great Game
"The Great Game" was a political and diplomatic confrontation that existed for most of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century between the British Empire and the Russian Empire, over Afghanistan and neighbouring territories in Central and South Asia. It also had direct consequences in Persia and British India. Britain was fearful of Russia invading India to add to the vast empire that Russia was building. As a result, there was a deep atmosphere of distrust and the talk of war between the two major European empires.    Britain made it a high priority to protect all the approaches to India, and the "great game" is primarily how the British did this. Some historians have concluded that Russia had no plans involving India, as the Russians repeatedly stated to the British. 
The Great Game began on 12 January 1830 when Lord Ellenborough, the President of the Board of Control for India, tasked Lord William Bentinck, the Governor-General, with establishing a new trade route to the Emirate of Bukhara.    Britain intended to gain control over the Emirate of Afghanistan and make it a protectorate, and to use the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire, the Khanate of Khiva, and the Emirate of Bukhara as buffer states between both empires. This would protect India and also key British sea trade routes by stopping Russia from gaining a port on the Persian Gulf or the Indian Ocean.   Russia proposed Afghanistan as the neutral zone.  The results included the failed First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838, the First Anglo-Sikh War of 1845, the Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1848, the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878, and the annexation of Kokand by Russia.
Historians consider the end of the Great Game to be the 10 September 1895 signing of the Pamir Boundary Commission protocols,  when the border between Afghanistan and the Russian empire was defined.     : p14 The 1901 novel Kim by Rudyard Kipling made the term popular and introduced the new implication of great power rivalry. It became even more popular after the 1979 advent of the Soviet–Afghan War. 
The 5 Greatest Superpowers of All Time
While the world has known many great empires, the list of superpowers is shorter. It is much harder for a state to become and maintain superpower status because that requires an overwhelming dominance over all its rivals. As with lists, there is no way to include everything that deserves a mention, and I have admittedly left out strong contenders like the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire, the Spanish Empire, the Arab Empire, the Mauryan Empire and the Tang Dynasty. Here are five of the greatest superpowers in history:
The Roman Empire—which reached the height of its power in the second century—was by far the dominant power in most of the ancient world. Though its power did not reach as far as India and China, the Roman Empire’s prowess was unquestioned in the Middle East and Europe. It covered almost all the major population centers and civilizations of antiquity, including Greece, Egypt, the Levant, Carthage, Anatolia and Italy. The population of the Roman Empire at its peak was about 60 million, dwarfing all its neighbors and comprising a large portion of the world’s population. The empire’s size meant that it did not need to trade much except to acquire luxury resources (silk, lapis, spices, incense and so on).
The empire was by far militarily dominant over its neighbors, with the partial exception of the only major organized state that bordered it—Persia, whose power was still nowhere equal to Rome’s. While Roman legions could and did ravage Persia’s heartlands, there was no chance that a Persian army could reach Rome. Rome’s legions were essentially undefeatable in pitched battles with its enemies. Rome ultimately fell not because of external threats, but due to continuous civil war, economic depredations and an over-reliance on mercenaries.
The Mongol Empire was the world’s largest land empire. The empire’s rise is all the more amazing because a group of Mongol tribes numbering no more than a million managed to conquer empires that were literally hundreds of times bigger. This was achieved through outstanding tactics, mobility, incorporation of the technology of the conquered peoples and logistics (favorable to pastoral peoples like the Mongols).
The warlord Temujin united all the Mongol tribes by 1206 at the age of fifty, at which point he was acclaimed the universal ruler (Genghis Khan). After conquering northern China, he wrecked Central Asia when Mongol ambassadors were killed there, a personal affront to Genghis Khan. The subsequent conquest of Central Asia from 1219 to 1221 and Iran wrecked that region and is one of the most brutal events in history. Though contemporary chronicles exaggerated figures, probably 15-50 million people in this region died (most of the population of Central Asia). Genghis Khan’s heirs ruled an empire that went on to conquer most of Eurasia, including much of the Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe, China and Russia. The empire ushered in a brief period of peace and trade across much of the world. Ultimately, however, despite some setbacks in Japan and the Levant, the real threat to the Mongol Empire’s dominance was rivalry between its rulers, and the empire fragmented into four khanates, which in turn collapsed or were conquered. The legacy of the Mongol Empire lives on in the fact that 8 percent of the world’s men are descended from Genghis Khan.
The British Empire grew out of the colonial and trading ventures of Great Britain in the eighteenth century, and by the early twentieth century, it had become history’s largest empire, covering a quarter of the world’s surface—so large that the “sun never set” on it. At its height, over a fifth of the world’s population lived in it.
Unlike previous great empires, the basis of Britain’s power was its navy, which it could use to strike far and wide. This allowed Britain to enforce freedom of navigation and oppose slavery and piracy, making the world a safer place. Instead of seeking to control vast inland territories for resources, the empire depended on trade and control over strategic chokepoints—Suez, Malacca, Aden, Hormuz, Gibraltar were all British. This made Britain very wealthy.
Britain’s empire was very diverse and included territory on all the world’s continents, comprising a vast array of cultures. More so than other empires, it ruled over a heterogenous population, giving it time to evolve and perfect ways to rule multiple regions either directly or through local rulers. British rule extended to places as different as India, Egypt and Canada.
Perhaps it was inevitable that a country with the size and resources of the Soviet Union would become a superpower. The Soviet Union inherited most of the population and territory of the Russian Empire, an empire that had grown so large through conquest so as to be called the “prison of nations.” The basis of Soviet power was its enormous size that made it difficult to knock out in war, as Hitler discovered.
This huge, resource-filled landmass could be marshalled to weather and defeat foreign armies. The Soviet Union’s huge land army, backed by nuclear weapons, was a juggernaut that was unstoppable via conventional battle. The Soviet Union’s geographical advantage also led many in the West to fear that, based on the Heartland theory of geopolitics, whoever controlled the Eurasian heartland could then control Eurasia and thus the world.
Soviet power continued to grow ever greater because of its obsession with security. Thus, Soviet armies continued to roll on and on in order to keep their enemies as far away from the homeland as possible. This culminated in the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe and much of Northeast Asia.
The United States became the first true global superpower in the aftermath of World War II. At the end of that war, America was home to half of the world’s GDP, a proportion that was never before and has never since been matched by any one country. For four decades, the Soviet Union rivaled it, but the United States was always stronger because of its economy, geography and alliances. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, militarily and technologically, it has enjoyed almost total dominance in the air and seas, as well as a conventional land advantage.
The United States combines some of the best features of previous superpowers. It controls an enormous, continental-sized, resource-rich territory like the Soviet Union and has a strong military that can wreak total havoc on its enemies like the Mongols. Like the Roman Empire, America really has no military rival. Most importantly, though, America—like Britain—has built its power on the basis of a nonfinite, nonterritorial resource (commerce), and like Britain, America has a superb navy that can access all the world’s major sea routes.
However, we should remember all superpowers ceased to be such at some point, and most often due to internal events. Even the greatest superpowers, no matter how dominant economically and militarily, should remember this.
Akhilesh Pillalamarri is an assistant editor at The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter:@AkhiPill.
Nostalgia for a role in shaping order in the Mediterranean should not be interpreted as a desire to realise lingering imperial dreams. If anything, it is a sign of a weakness on the part of a state that has had to deal with consequences of instability in the region, writes Valdai Club expertVincent Della Sala.
When one thinks of the Age of Empire, as the British historian Eric Hobsbawm called the decades prior to the start of World War One, Italy does not quickly come to mind. The newly unified country arrived late to the imperial banquet at the end of the nineteenth century, having to pick through what was left after European great and not so great powers had already ravaged Africa and Asia. While Italy never managed to build a colonial empire, the imperial impulse shaped its history in the first half of the twentieth century and continues to affect parts of the country’s domestic and foreign policies. The idea that the Mediterranean Sea is “mare nostrum” (“our sea”) is a central pillar of Italian foreign policy and even thinking about internal security.
Italy’s relatively late unification and state development does not mean that there is no imperial history for contemporary Italians to somehow see part of their own cultural heritage. Rome is still colloquially called the “Eternal City”, a term from the heyday of the Roman empire, and every Italian child is taught that at one time it was “Caput Mundi” (Capital of the World). From Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England to the Temple of Hercules in Jordan, signs that political power once rested in Rome remain standing throughout Europe and North Africa. Although formally not an Empire nor a political entity, the Catholic Church also provides another imperial legacy that emanated from Rome and any visitor to Venice is reminded that there was a third empire, the Venetian Republic, that once ruled over the Mediterranean from territory that is now Italy. Like all empires, these three brought back material and cultural treasures that are still visible in many parts of Italy.
Clearly, centuries had elapsed between when the Mediterranean and the Italian peninsula had been seats of political and economic power and Italian unification in 1860. Italy’s late arrival to the imperial chessboard meant that it had to either conquer foreign lands already under the control of European empires or engage in diplomatic manoeuvres to convince other states to cede parts of their colonies. Not having the military capacity to challenge European powers, Italy began to strike a series of agreements to acquire colonies in Africa or outposts in China, which ostensibly led to a series of obligations that conditioned Italy’s participation in World War One. For instance, it was France’s decision to take over Tunisia and not concede it to Italy that led it to join Germany and Austria in the Triple Entente in 1882.
Italy’s late nineteenth century ambitions brought as many nightmares as did the realisation of its imperial dreams. Desire to gain territory in Asia was largely extinguished by the other European powers and Italy had to settle for access to a city port in China rather than the coveted Borneo. A secret agreement with the British Empire gave it a presence in the Horn of Africa, leading to Italy’s control of Eritrea and Somalia. However, all would not go smoothly as planned. Italy had acquired control of Massawa in 1896, giving it a port on which to build its African colonial ambitions but also denying Ethiopia access to the Red Sea. This would be the first of many tensions that led to at least two major military confrontations in the Horn of Africa and a decisive defeat at Adwa in 1896.
The political consequences of military defeat at the hands of the Ethiopian forces had consequences for domestic politics and led in the early twentieth century to nationalist fervour that called for an expansion of Italian colonial territories. In 1911-12, Italy went to war with the Ottoman Empire and was able to gain as concessions most of what today is Libyan territory. Along with the Horn of Africa and Albania, also seized from the crumbling Ottoman Empire, these three areas constituted the expanse of Italy’s imperial holdings at the start of WWI.
Not surprisingly, Italy’s Fascist regime in the 1920s and 1930s harked back to a time when Rome was indeed Caput Mundi and sought to recreate an imperial power. Mussolini’s rise to power was in part fuelled by the “humiliation” of the post-war settlement that did not deliver the territories, especially in the Adriatic, that Italy believed were promised for its participation on the winning side. Fascist Italy revived dreams of the “mare nostrum”, looking to use it as the basis to become a major maritime power able to rival Britain and France. A short-lived occupation of Corfu was justified on the grounds that it had been part of the Venetian Republic for over 400 years.
Fascist Italy’s imperial dreams led to an invasion of Ethiopia in 1936, essentially bringing an end to the ineffective League of Nations. It was also an important part of the formal creation of the Italian Empire that same year. With the 1939 invasion of Albania, which Italy had ceded in 1920, the Fascist empire included what is now Libya, Eritrea and Ethiopia. It did not extend much further despite ambitions to annex large parts of the Dalmatian coast and as far as Romania. The Empire did not last very long as military defeats as early as 1940 saw its borders shrink and it came to an end, effectively by 1941. The post-war settlement stripped Italy of any its imperial claims although it continued to administer what was called Italian Somaliland under a UN mandate until 1960.
Italy’s short and not very extensive imperial experience did not produce the political, economic and even cultural windfall that the United Kingdom continues to draw upon with the Commonwealth, France with the Francophonie and even Spain with ongoing links with Latin America. Italian did not become a widely diffused language in Africa or Asia, nor did colonial links create privileged relations in newly formed states or developing economies. Its relations with former colonies has provided as many challenges as it has opportunities. This is especially the case in Libya, which has remained Italy’s beachhead in North Africa and the Middle East. Italy’s post-colonial relationship with Libya passed through a number of phases during the Ghaddafi regime. One of his first acts was to re-visit a treaty between the two countries and to nationalise Italian assets in 1970s and to demand wartime and colonial reparations.
Italy’s geography at the centre of the Mediterranean and the history of the peninsula ensure that the idea of “mare nostrum” and the reflex to intervene are never too far away. Even the newly formed government of Mario Draghi, supposedly more internationalist and Europeanist, felt it important to send both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to Libya to oversee talks to help re-establish order in the county (and secure Italian economic interests).
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28 See, for example, Baer, Honored by the Glory of Islam Metin And, 16 . Yüzyılda İstanbul: Kent—Saray—Günlük Yaşam ( İstanbul : Yapı Kredi Yayınları , 2011 )Google Scholar .
29 Kuran , Timur , The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East ( Princeton : Princeton University Press , 2011 ), 5Google Scholar .
32 Faroqhi , Suraiya , Artisans of Empire: Crafts and Craftspeople under the Ottomans ( London : I. B. Tauris , 2009 )Google Scholar idem., Men of Modest Substance: House Owners and House Property in Seventeenth-Century Ankara and Kayseri ( Cambridge : Cambridge University Press , 1987 )Google Scholar idem., Making a Living in the Ottoman Lands, 1480 to 1820 ( Istanbul : Isis Press , 1995 )Google Scholar Doumani , Beshara , Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700–1900 ( Berkeley : University of California Press , 1995 )Google Scholar Hanna , Nelly , Artisan Entrepreneurs in Cairo and Early-Modern Capitalism (1600–1800) ( Syracuse : Syracuse University Press , 2011 )Google Scholar idem., In Praise of Books: A Cultural History of Cairo's Middle Class, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries ( Syracuse : Syracuse University Press , 2003 )Google Scholar idem., Making Big Money in 1600: The Life and Times of Isma‘il Abu Taqiyya, Egyptian Merchant ( Syracuse : Syracuse University Press , 1998 )Google Scholar Faroqhi , Suraiya and Veinstein , Gilles , eds., Merchants in the Ottoman Empire ( Paris : Peeters , 2008 )Google Scholar Fleet , Kate , European and Islamic Trade in the Early Ottoman State: The Merchants of Genoa and Turkey ( Cambridge : Cambridge University Press , 1999 )Google Scholar Mayer , Ann Elizabeth , ed., Property, Social Structure, and Law in the Modern Middle East ( Albany : State University of New York Press , 1985 )Google Scholar .
33 Hanna, Making Big Money.
34 The final chapter of Nelly Hanna's most recent book does address Egyptian economic history into the twentieth century, arguing that there were multiple forms of capitalism in the early modern period and that “the development of forms of artisan capitalism” were later “subsumed by more dominant ones” (Artisan Entrepreneurs, 194).
35 Lewis , Bernard , What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East ( New York : Oxford University Press , 2002 )Google Scholar Bulliet , Richard W. , The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization ( New York : Columbia University Press , 2004 ), 47 – 93 Google Scholar .
36 See, respectively, Andrews , Walter G. and Kalpaklı , Mehmet , The Age of Beloveds: Love and the Beloved in Early-Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society ( Durham : Duke University Press , 2005 )Google Scholar Casale, Ottoman Age of Exploration Philliou , Christine M. , Biography of an Empire: Governing Ottomans in an Age of Revolution ( Berkeley : University of California Press , 2011 )Google Scholar Krstić , Tijana , “ Illuminated by the Light of Islam and the Glory of the Ottoman Sultanate: Self-Narratives of Conversion to Islam in the Age of Confessionalization ,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 51 ( 2009 ): 35 – 63 CrossRefGoogle Scholar Brummett , Palmira , Ottoman Seapower and Levantine Diplomacy in the Age of Discovery ( Albany : State University of New York Press , 1994 )Google Scholar Necipoğlu , Gülru , The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire ( London : Reaktion , 2005 )Google Scholar McGowan , Bruce , “ The Age of the Ayans, 1699–1812, ” in Halil İnalcık with Quataert , Donald , eds., An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire: Volume Two, 1600–1914 ( Cambridge : Cambridge University Press , 1997 ), 637 – 758 Google Scholar Quataert , Donald , “ The Age of Reforms, 1812–1914 ,” in Halil İnalcık with Quataert , Donald , eds., An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire: Volume Two, 1600–1914 ( Cambridge : Cambridge University Press , 1997 ), 759 – 944 Google Scholar Freely , John and Burelli , Augusto Romano , Sinan: Architect of Süleyman the Magnificent and the Ottoman Golden Age ( London : Thames and Hudson , 1992 )Google Scholar İnalcık , Halil , The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age, 1300–1600 , Itzkowitz , Norman and Imber , Colin , trans. ( New York : Praeger , 1973 )Google Scholar .
The Most Important Empires In History
Being an imperial power doesn’t impress people the way it used to. A century ago, countries strived to be a dominating world power and were willing to fight wars to either acquire an Empire, or hold on to the one they already had.
Nowadays, of course, in this “kinder, gentler” world, imperialism is considered politically incorrect. As a result—and because maintaining an empire is prohibitively expensive—they are basically no more, though a few remnants hang on (such as the Falkland Islands for the British and the Comoro Islands for France).
At one time, however, they were all the rage, with some of them extending around the globe and a few of them lasting for hundreds and, in a few cases, even thousands of years.
10. The Mayan Empire (ca. 2000 BCE-1540 CE)
How does the Mayan Empire make it onto the list alongside such well-known empires like the Roman, British, and Mongol Empires? Easy. It holds the record for the longest running empire—almost 3500 years! That’s more than twice as long as the Roman Empire, and 1500 years longer than the various Chinese dynasties combined! While very little is known about its first 3,000 years, its demise and brief interaction with the Spanish in the 16th century is the stuff of legends . Today, all we have left of the Mayans is their impressive pyramid-like structures scattered across the Yucatan peninsula, and a doomsday calendar that seems to have everybody up in arms nowadays.
9. The French Empire (1534-1962)
Eventually becoming the second-largest empire in history (second only to the British Empire), at its zenith the French Colonial Empire extended over 4.9 million square miles, and covered almost 1/10 of the Earth’s total land area.
Its influence made French one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world for a time, and brought French architecture, culture, and cuisine to the four corners of the globe.
Alas, like all the great European empires, its collapse came about incrementally over a long period of time, as it lost territories to other emerging nations—especially to the British—and it suffered through two World Wars, which drained it financially.
Though it continued to hold onto to some of its territories well into the 20th century (and still does to this day), by 1962, with the granting of independence to rebellious Algeria, the French Empire was basically no more, bringing a close to a long and cultured era in human history.
8. The Spanish Empire (1492-1976)
One of the first global empires, at its height it possessed territories and colonies in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania, making it one of the most important political and economic powers in the world for several hundred years. Its establishment in the 15th century also ushered in the modern global era, and five centuries of European dominance of global affairs before competition from other European powers—particularly the French and British—weakened Spain to the point that, by the end of the 19th century, it was but a shadow of its former greatness. The end didn’t finally come until the 1970s, however, when it granted its last colonies in Africa and South America their independence, spelling finito to 600 years of Spanish colonialism. Its chief contribution came in its discovery of the New World in 1492 and the spread of Christianity to the western world, both of which was to dramatically change the geo-political dynamics of the planet and lay the foundation for the modern western world.
7. The Qing Dynasty (1644-1912)
This was the last ruling dynasty of China before the country became a Republic, bringing an end to many hundreds of years of imperial rule. Preceded by the better-known Ming Dynasty, the Qing dynasty was founded by the Manchu clan Aisin Gioro in what is today Manchuria in 1644. It grew quickly until, by the 18th century, it covered all of what is today’s modern China, Mongolia, and even parts of Siberia—an area of over 5.7 million square miles (and making it the 5th largest empire in history, according to land mass.) The Qing Dynasty was finally overthrown following the Xinhai Revolution, however, when the Empress Dowager Longyu abdicated on behalf of the last emperor, Puyi, in February of 1912, bringing an end to a long line of Emperors stretching back over 1500 years. Not a bad run by any standards!
6. The Umayyad Caliphate (661-750)
I bet you’ve never heard of this one, but it proved to be one of the fastest growing—though shortest-lived—Empires in history. Organized in the aftermath of the death of the venerated prophet Muhammad, it was the mechanism by which Islam was spread across the Middle East and into North Africa, sweeping aside everything in its path. Actually, the Umayyad Caliphate was the second of the four Islamic caliphates established after the death of Muhammad but, at its height, it would cover more than five million square miles, making it the largest empire the world had yet seen (modern Arab nationalism regards the period of the Umayyads as part of the Arab Golden Age of Islam). Though it was eventually superseded by various other caliphates and empires (including the Ottoman Empire), it laid the foundation for what was to be a nearly unbroken string of Muslim control in the region, that continues to this day.
5. The Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550-330 BCE)
More commonly referred to as the Medo-Persian Empire, this Asian Empire was the largest one in ancient history which, at its height, extended from the Indus valley of modern day Pakistan to Libya, and into the Balkans. Forged by Cyrus the Great, it is best remembered as the chief foe of the Greek city states during the Greco-Persian Wars, for emancipating its slaves and releasing the Jews from their Babylonian captivity, and for instituting the usage of official languages throughout its territories. It wasn’t very long, however, before it fell victim to Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, and was quickly defeated and absorbed into Alexander’s own vast, but short-lived, Empire.
4. The Ottoman Empire (1299-1922)
The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and longest lasting empires in history. During its height (under Suleiman the Magnificent) in the 16th century, it stretched from the southern borders of the Holy Roman Empire to the Persian Gulf, and from the Caspian Sea to modern day Algeria, giving it de facto control of much of southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. At the beginning of the 17th century the empire contained no fewer than 32 provinces, along with numerous vassal states, making it one of the truly great empires whose influence continues to be felt to this day.
3. The Mongol Empire (1206-1368)
Though short-lived as Empires go—it lasted a mere 162 years—while it was around, few were as frightening, or grew as quickly, as this one. Under the leadership of Ghengis Khan (1163-1227), it started small—basically just present-day Mongolia—but within seventy years it had grown into the largest contiguous land Empire in human history, eventually stretching from Eastern Europe to the Sea of Japan. At its height, it covered an area of 9 million square miles, and held sway over a population of 100 million.
2. The British Empire (1603 to 1997)
Though it lasted a mere 400 years, no empire was larger than the one the comparatively-small island nation of Great Britain was able to maintain until fairly recently. How big was it? At its zenith in 1922, the British Empire held sway over nearly half a billion people (a fifth of the world’s population at the time) and covered more than 13 million square miles (almost a quarter of the Earth’s total land area)! Not bad for a country slightly smaller than the state of Oregon. In fact, at one point the sun never set on the British Empire, not because God couldn’t trust an Englishman in the dark, but because of its global reach.
1. The Roman Empire (27 BCE to 1453)
This is a no-brainer, as absolutely no Empire is as well known and has been as thoroughly studied as is the one that owned the Mediterranean and much of Europe for almost 1,500 years.
Founded in 27 BCE, when the Roman senate granted Octavian the title of —thereby ending the old Roman Republic (which itself had already stood a good 500 years)—it ended nearly 1500 years later when the Ottoman Turks, under Mehmed II, sacked the last vestiges of the old Empire’s capitol, Constantinople, in 1453.
Of course, by that time it was a mere shadow of its former glory (and was no longer even ruled from Rome) but, at its zenith in 117 CE, it was the most powerful nation on the planet, bar none. While it wasn’t the largest, or even the longest-lasting Empire in history, its influence on western culture—especially in regards to architecture, language, literature, art, and science—cannot be underestimated.
In fact, it’s difficult to imagine how the world would look today if there hadn’t been a Roman Empire those many centuries ago.
The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany’s Bid for World Power
Excerpted from The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empires and Germany’s Bid for World Power, 1898 to 1918 by Sean McMeekin (footnotes omitted). Copyright © 2010 by Sean McMeekin. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Some day, when the full history is written – sober history with
ample documents – the poor romancer will give up business
and fall to reading Miss Austen in a hermitage.
— John Buchan, Greenmantle (1916)
Prologue: The View from Haydarpasha
On a small promontory jutting out from the Asian shoreline of Istanbul, where the Bosphorus meets the Sea of Marmara, sits the stunning neo-classical façade of Haydarpasha station. So perfectly does the edifice fit the small peninsular setting that, from a distance, Haydarpasha appears almost to float on the water. This is no accident. A masterpiece of German architecture of the late Wilhelmine era, Haydarpasha in fact rests not on the shore itself but on over a thousand wooden piles, each driven into the earth by steam-hammer, which support a state-of-the-art steel-carcass bearing system. Although damaged over the years by fires, explosions and sabotage, the original structure still stands as a monument to German engineering in its golden age.
The dramatic setting brilliantly captures the allure of the city which lies astride two continents. Haydarpasha, Istanbul’s railroad gateway to Asiatic Turkey and the East, is physically oriented towards the West, commanding one of the finest views of Istanbul’s European shoreline. The minarets of the Blue Mosque beckon across the upper reaches of the Sea of Marmara, along with the golden cupola and faded red brick of the Hagia Sofia, and the outlines of Topkapi Palace and the Sublime Porte, just above the old fortress walls of Byzantium. Scanning to the right, one takes in the entrance to the Golden Horn, and further north, on a very clear day, it is just possible to catch a glimpse of the suspension bridges spanning the Bosphorus.
Like many of the world’s great buildings, Haydarpasha seems to come from a vanished era, its very grandeur a reproach to the bland mediocrity of the present age. Built almost exactly one hundred years ago, Haydarpasha conjures up the astonishing confidence of Europe’s fin de siècle era, the crusading imperial spirit of an age which knew neither irony nor apology. There is nothing subtle about the station, or the intent behind it. Haydarpasha was designed to be a flagship station of the beloved Berlin to Baghdad railway of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Here the German Emperor’s Weltpolitik first took concrete form, seeking to unite East and West, Asia and Europe, and put imperial Germany firmly on the path to world power.
It was an intoxicating vision, one of the all-time great gambits of history and yet it is all but forgotten today. The Kaiser’s dream of empire has mostly fallen down the memory hole, a victim both of the amnesia accorded history’s great losers and of its having been overlaid by the nihilistic horrors of Nazism. Even without the comparison of the ideas of his hideous successors, the Kaiser’s vision remains oddly appealing. Wilhelm’s oriental fixation had something of the feeling of a love affair, as he courted the affections of the various peoples of the Ottoman Empire. To be sure, Wilhelm wanted Germans to lead the way in ‘civilizing’ the Middle East, reinvigorating its moribund economy and integrating it with Europe’s. In this sense, Germany’s Wilhelmine Drang nach Osten was akin to the Russian push into Siberia and Central Asia or America’s path to the Pacific under Manifest Destiny – and a good deal more sensible in economic terms than the mad European Scramble for Africa. The Kaiser’s vision was the most romantic, and arguably the most sympathetic, of all of these imperial projects. The subjects he wished to bring into the modern age were not primitive tribesmen, but the once-great peoples of the Near East, whose ancestors had given the world writing, Abrahamic religion, democracy, philosophy and science. Let the Americans have the plains, the Russians Siberia, the French and Belgians and British various malaria-ridden lands in Africa. Germany would build her own economic empire in the very cradle of Western civilization.
Wilhelm’s motivation was not exclusively economic, of course. Rummaging around in a London apartment vacated by a German family after the outbreak of war in 1914, the new English tenant ‘came across a German geographical globe with a system of projected and completed railways clearly marked from Berlin to Madras via Constantinople, southern Persia, Baluchistan, and Bombay’. Here was the map of an empire to crown all empires, with Wilhelm strutting across the world stage as a true modern Alexander, taking in Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Persia and toppling the British Raj. German steel rails would conquer this vast expanse, fording deserts, mountains and swamps to introduce European technology to Asia, while bringing the silks, spices, minerals and raw materials of the Orient to the markets of the West. Whereas Hitler was willing to concede the British their global, sea-based empire in exchange for recognition of his own domination of the Eurasian landmass, Wilhelm wanted the British Empire too, including its crown jewels of Egypt and India.
It may have seemed like a pipe dream, but Wilhelm had a trump card up his sleeve: Islam. Long before the formal crowning of the Triple Entente in 1907, the Kaiser had begun sizing up the enemy coalition coalescing against him. Russia, France and particularly Great Britain all shared one colossal Achilles heel: they each now ruled over millions of unruly Muslim subjects, whose resentment at being dictated to by infidels might easily be inflamed in a European war. Strange as it might seem today in our post-colonial age, the greatest Muslim power on earth a hundred years ago was not Afghanistan, Persia or even Ottoman Turkey (then the only independent Islamic countries of note) but the British Empire, which counted over 100 million Muslim subjects, scattered across the Indian subcontinent, the Gulf States, Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Even Tsarist Russia’s count of 19 million Islamic subjects was greater than the entire Ottoman population, infidel and Muslim alike, and France was not far behind. Imperial latecomer Germany, by contrast, could reasonably claim innocence in the Islamic world, having only a smattering of Islamic subjects in her own tiny African empire.
That the world’s Muslims had less ground for resenting Germany than her enemies in the Triple Entente did not, of course, necessarily mean they saw themselves as German allies. Not for nothing, however, had the ancient Chinese notion that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ become a favoured proverb in the Arab world. The Kaiser would not have to make Muslims love him if he was to weaken the Entente powers, merely ensure that the furies of their pent-up ressentiment were directed at their proper target – and far away from the Germans. So long as the powers remained at peace, Wilhelm would have to be reasonably careful about spreading sedition in the colonial territories of the Entente. If a war of the Great Powers ever came, however, the gloves would come off.
In the meantime, Wilhelm could busy himself with one of history’s great diplomatic charm offensives. Sultan Abdul Hamid II, whose paranoia about foreign designs on his Ottoman realm was legendary, was a promising target for seduction. Menaced by the Russians in the Balkans, the French in North Africa, and the British in Egypt and Arabia, the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ was desperate for a strong European ally who could stand up to the Entente bullies. The Kaiser, who dreamed of extending German influence into the Islamic world of the Near East, was in need of a sponsor who could give him credibility with Muslims – and Sultan Abdul Hamid was by title also Caliph, or supreme religious authority, of Sunni Islam. It was a match made in heaven.
Although there were fits and starts along the way, the romance between Kaiser and Sultan was in full flower by the first decade of the twentieth century. Spurred on by a sense of shared threat of Entente encirclement, a team of German engineers and Turkish workmen broke ground at Haydarpasha in May 1906. The signing of the longfeared Anglo-Russian Convention in August 1907 only heightened the sense of urgency, and the great neo-classical masterpiece on the Asian shore was completed ahead of schedule in summer 1908, shortly after the signing of the third and final Baghdad railway convention between Kaiser and Sultan. As German railway experts began the first surveying work on the Taurus mountains near the Cilician Gates once traversed by Alexander’s army, it seemed there was nothing that could stop the expansion of German influence in the Near East, as Teutonic engineers began prospecting for oil and mineral resources in Anatolia, Syria, Mesopotamia and Arabia, even as salesmen plied German machines, manufactures and medicines. Once the Orient Express was up and running from Berlin to Baghdad and the Persian Gulf, it would be game, set and match in the German bid for world power.
Sean McMeekin is Assistant Professor of International Relations at Bilkent University in Turkey.
The author of The Armenians in Modern Turkey, historian Talin Suciyan, puts the Armenian genocide survivors at the center of her research to provide a new perspective on the history of the Turkish Republic. Suciyan analyzes the experiences and lives of its Armenian population several decades after the genocide. In this interview, Deniz Yonucu speaks with Suciyan on her research and innovative anthrohistorical approach to understanding the paths that led to the annihilation of Armenians, the effects of the genocide in modern Turkey, and the importance of focusing attention on the experiences of survivors after catastrophic experiences of genocides. The survivor as described in this interview is neither a wretched of the earth, who is forced to live a tortured life, nor a subaltern whose voice cannot acquire speech. The survivor instead is an existence whose past, present and future is constantly denied, and therefore robbed from her.
A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.
Historian Talin Suciyan's first book, The Armenians in Modern Turkey: Post-genocide Society, Politics, and History, was originally published in English in 2015 and later published in Turkish by Aras Publishing in 2018. 1 From archival documents and a large number of never-utilized Armenian and Turkish primary sources—including memoirs and diaries—Suciyan argues that the Armenian genocide did not end: it continues today. Her book sheds light on how and in what forms the effects of the genocide manifest themselves in modern Turkey, how this terrible atrocity has been embraced by the Turkish ruling elites to this day, and what it means to be an Armenian in Turkey from an anthrohistorical perspective.
In one of his best-known essays from the Nazi era, “On the Concept of History,” Walter Benjamin argues that “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.” 2 In order to understand our society, we need to focus our attention on the experiences of the oppressed as well as those of the survivors, who have suffered the darkest forms of human-made catastrophes. Benjamin could not survive the Holocaust. His legacy urges us to look deeply at the threshold between life and death where, as we elaborate in this interview, the survivor has been condemned to exist. The survivor as described in this interview is neither the wretched of the earth, who is forced to live a tortured life, nor the subaltern whose voice, put in Rancièrian terms, cannot acquire speech and remains as noise. The survivor is instead an existence whose past, present, and future is constantly denied, and therefore robbed from her.
Putting the Armenian genocide survivors at the center of her research in The Armenians in Modern Turkey, Suciyan provides a new perspective on the history of the Turkish Republic and analyzes the experiences and lives of its Armenian population several decades after the genocide. The history of the Armenians in Turkey is the history of Turkey. As Suciyan aptly demonstrates, this history is not an exception to Turkish history but rather is central to it. Her second book manuscript, titled Either Save Us from This Misery or Order Our Death (Ya Derdimize Derman Ya Katlimize Ferman): Tanzimat of the Provinces, focuses on the surviving archives of the annihilated. There she shows how the Tanzimat project (1839–76), celebrated in Turkish and Ottoman mainstream historiography as the milestone of Ottoman modernization and centralization, turned its Armenian population into outcasts. We spoke with Suciyan on her research and innovative anthrohistorical approach in order to better understand not only the practices of the Ottoman and Turkish ruling elites but also their complicity with certain segments of the non-Armenian population. The interview took place in her office at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where she teaches Ottoman and Turkish history.
Deniz Yonucu:Talin, drawing on archival documents, reports from eyewitnesses, and oral history narratives, your book demonstrates how Armenians from various class, regional, and political backgrounds were left with the horrific reality of the genocide in the decades that followed it. You also show how Turkish ruling elites and local populations have maintained this catastrophe through denialism to date. These documents and reports give proper answers to the seemingly paradoxical question, “How come Turkish ruling elites, who until very recently claimed there was a radical rupture between the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic, nonetheless deny the Empire's biggest crime?” The evidence clearly shows that the Turkish ruling elites have continued to view Armenians as the enemies of and potential threats to the Turkish nation-state and have acted accordingly. For example, a decision by the Cabinet of Turkey brought the remains of Talaat Pasha (one of the principal organizers of the Armenian genocide) from a Berlin cemetery to Istanbul for a grand reburial in 1943. This is a symbolic event that illustrates the way in which the genocide was appropriated by post-Ottoman Turkish ruling elites. Your book, therefore, depicts not only what you call the “denial habitus” but also the continuation of the anti-Armenian practices and policies throughout the twentieth century. Can you elaborate on that?
Talin Suciyan: Persistent anti-Armenianism is inherent to the habitus of denial. We have not looked at the results of 1915 to determine how much the Republic was influenced by it. How is it that we just accept that this catastrophic event, which irrevocably influenced the entire region and all its ethnic groups, became essentially traceless in the years that followed? A large section of the literature either denies, fails to observe, or deliberately rejects a different writing of the history. Even though research has gradually begun to take a different direction in the past two decades, it is absolutely undeniable that 105 years after the genocide, we are still a long way from where we need to be. Above all, the surviving generation that I place at the center of my research has passed on, making writing history from a new angle even more difficult.
The Ottoman administration recognized, and was very knowledgeable of, the denominational and regional differences of its populations. In particular, they were very aware of Armenian history and administration. They had a keen understanding of the conditions and influences of the Armenian administration in Constantinople in the form of the Catholicosate in Cilicia (Sis), the Patriarchate in Jerusalem, and the Catholicosates in Akhtamar and Echmiadzin. As the Armenians were one of the autochthonous peoples of the region, it makes complete sense that the Ottoman administration knew of their historical presence. This aspect of Ottoman administration may sound foreign to us today, yet, as the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul was an Ottoman institution, this understanding of it by the state should come as no surprise. Armenians used the Turkish language fluently and professionally in writing, speech, and print (while using the Arabic or Armenian alphabet). They were consequently an important part of the Ottoman Empire and had a consistent relationship with it for hundreds of years together with the Rum (Greek), they constituted the largest part of the empire's Christian population within the borders of contemporary Turkey. The majority of Armenians were peasants or artisans, but there was a considerable Armenian presence in the finance sector as well, which gave them great responsibility but limited influence. They had a vivid cultural life with their own institutions all over the Empire. The decision to exterminate Armenians also meant the extermination of the past and the creation of a new starting point for history. The goal was to make a new world, one that featured no Armenian in its past, present, or future.
We still live with the consequences of this decision. The will of this decision was constitutional and persists today. In my book, I have tried to show just how systematic the complicity of the non-Armenian population was. If you want to write a different history of the Ottoman Empire, you need to focus on the Armenians. This is not due to their intrinsic importance but to the state's determination in its decision to annihilate them, a stance consistently supported by its society. This policy has gone uninterrupted over the last hundred years, with incalculable sums invested in denial, and with denial penetrating every aspect of life, thereby perpetuating the original denialist structures. Through this process arose a “nation” where state and society met. By placing Armenians at the center of our discussion, we can learn much more about other groups, too. I would like to say the following: the Armenians possess the oldest and most fundamental knowledge of this land. Instead of waiting for the victims to speak, we can consider how the perpetrators committed their crimes. We do not need to search for concentration camps similar to the ones found in Europe but can simply look around neighborhoods throughout Turkey for the evidence. Seeing the remains of blown-up churches and monasteries in the provinces today is no surprise in fact, quite the opposite: it is ordinary. The striking part is that the churches, cemeteries, and Armenian quarters have become deserted, empty landscapes. Today Armenians exist through their absence. Merely realizing this fact is an important intervention.
Without questioning their structurally superior positions, academics and intellectuals in Turkey who pretend to be sympathetic to the Armenians have made it their duty to dictate to them what they should do and what conclusions should be drawn from Armenian history and their scientific and artistic contributions. Hence on top of the systematic annihilation of the people, we witness manifestations of outright epistemic violence. The reason why Turkish intellectuals have always cautioned against diasporic Armenians and have labeled them negatively is that diasporic Armenians do not silently accept this epistemic violence rather, they question it and object to its enactment. Therefore, for progressive Turks, the best Armenians are those who are subjugated by the view of the majority population and who accept Turkish structural superiority. The best Armenians are also the ones who accept that if there is to be a struggle for recognition, it should only be done in ways agreed to by the Turkish majority. Thus, the best Armenians are the ones who are yet again victimized by epistemic violence.
DY:What you describe is at the core of colonialism and of the political subjectivities informed by colonialism. In your book, you also highlight topics that you consider important for further research. These include relations between the Kurds and Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. You say it is important to see how the Ottoman ruling elites handled these relations. In fact, important research has already been done on the Hamidiye cavalry 3 and the role the Kurds played in the Armenian genocide. However, your concern, as far as I understand it, is to go beyond that—to try to understand the “governmentality” of the empire by looking at its management of Armenian-Kurdish relations. Do I understand you correctly?
TS: Yes, that is exactly what I'm getting at. Actually, I just finished my new research on Tanzimat by utilizing the nineteenth-century archives of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. These untapped sources shed light onto Kurdo-Armenian relations as well as Ottoman-Armenian and Ottoman-Kurdish relations, and the changing power relations in the provinces throughout the Tanzimat period. What I learned from this study is that structural transformations that took place as part of the Ottoman modernization project are crucial to understanding the history of 1915. History is not a series of confrontations between good and evil “nationalist intoxications.” To explain genocides and other mass atrocities with reference only to nationalism shifts our attentions away from the structure and its institutions. If we discuss the Hamidiye cavalry without considering its many preconditions in the first half of the nineteenth century, it would be tempting to think that its founding provided the vital basis for a genocide to occur. A significant portion of the Kurdish tribes in 1915 had been active members of the Hamidiye cavalry in the 1890s. Some of the tribal chiefs sent their children to the Tribal School (Aşiret Mektebi) in Istanbul. This shows that the Ottoman administration saw the Kurds not just as armed paramilitary groups but also as administrative cadres who served the interests of the Empire, or, at least, as mediators in the region. The significance of the Tribal School depended not on the final historical outcome but on the motivations of the participants and the state. But what was the larger context of it all? What was the reason for all this? Most would answer by explaining that the Ottoman Empire was in a weakened position after being defeated in wars and, as a result, was placed under the control of “imperialist Western powers.” It is no coincidence that questions about the early nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire's policies towards its peoples and about which politics were employed against the Armenians and Kurds are either left with major gaps or go unanswered. It is quite striking that more is being published today on Kurdish perpetrators in connection to 1915. We must ask ourselves whose responsibilities are subsequently being mitigated or made invisible as a result.
An important point to consider is that there is a sharp tendency in Ottoman and Turkish historiography to depict historical change through major ruptures. Hidden within this conceptualization of the historical narrative lies a denialist mechanism. For example, take the year 1946, considered by mainstream literature to be a “very libertarian” one in which politics in Turkey switched to a two-party system. If we were to read about it in Armenian sources, we would instead see clearly that this time was by no means liberal or free. It was a time when many Armenian intellectuals of the first surviving generation fled after the genocide to other countries while others were arrested. As a result, the Armenians, and by extension Turkey, lost a large part of their intellectual base for the second time. Similarly, the predominant literature regarding Tanzimat does not attempt to depict that time as a new order but as a time of progress and reform. When someone discusses the “modernization” of Turkey, the story will always begin with “the reform period of Tanzimat.” This is because we always equate modernization with reform. Up until the 2000s, in the accepted Tanzimat narrative, which was always told from the perspective of the capital, the eastern provinces were never relevant to understanding what Tanzimat and the nineteenth century really meant. The first of its kind to do so was the book Der verpasste Friede (The Missed Peace) by Hans-Lukas Kieser.
We see that this was the period when landownership became a burning issue, and the alliances between Kurdish tribal chiefs and the Ottoman administration made it impossible for Armenians to sustain their lives in the villages. Furthermore, the smallest unit of society, the family structure, was turned upside down for Armenians, making living conditions unbearable. This led to famine, starvation, and mass migration. Many changes in the administrative divisions also paved the way for other problems for the Armenians. Instead of looking at the Balkan or Arabian provinces, we can look at the regions of contemporary Turkey where Armenians have lived under two power holders, namely the Kurds and the state, to understand how the “progressive” conditions of the nineteenth century are still experienced in Turkey today. Furthermore, if we seriously consider the question in relation to how 1915 came about, we must also question how the Ottomans collected information on their people starting in the first half of the nineteenth century, how it was used, and what role it played in the newly made administrative divisions. Only then can we understand that the establishment of the Hamidiye cavalry was one of the cruelest outcomes of the futile struggles against inequality and injustice for over half a century. Only then can we comprehend the cause and effect relations at stake.
DY:Earlier, you said that “history is not a series of confrontations between good and evil ‘nationalist intoxications.’” Can you define more clearly what you mean by “nationalist intoxication”?
TS: Attributing genocide solely to nationalism prevents us from considering deeply rooted historical and structural developments. The simplistic explanation that genocide originates from nationalism also enables a state to distance itself from responsibility by determining its own nationalism as “good,” and the nationalism of others as “bad” or “evil.” Once the blame in a narrative is shifted to Turkish nationalism, Kurdish nationalism, or Armenian nationalism, the responsibility of the primary organizer, the state, disappears. By simplistically condemning nationalism in order to condemn a genocide, we end up with a “multicultural fast food” that is easier for everyone to consume. People who would otherwise question the state's decision to commit genocide are relieved to find that “bad” nationalism is actually at fault, something completely different from the nationalism they subscribe to as citizens of a nation-state. It is an easier pill to swallow. Condemning “evil nationalism” and embracing “good nationalism” in a nation-state happens almost by necessity or even as part of a zeitgeist. After all, “good nationalism” is considered the sine qua non of a nation-state. Hence, we as citizens are instructed to fight against “evil nationalism” while peacefully supporting its good versions. This is how the state's true character remains undisclosed: the colonialism, racist attacks, and systematic discriminations it was founded on remain untouched. This binary between good and bad nationalism also serves to obscure various historical factors responsible for genocide, including colonial practices of violence as well as administrative and structural tools of governance. It helps to blur the structural continuities between empire and nation-state. Likewise, nostalgic fantasizing about the “good old times, when we used to live together happily” is not coincidental. Nation-states are neither democratic nor egalitarian institutions, and the illusion that they one day might be so must be reflected in both their future and their past in order to legitimize their very existence. Not only do this illusion and reflection guarantee the nation-state's legitimacy this legitimacy also interferes with any attempt at revealing the initial truth behind the state's criminal structures. It is obvious that those who have established and profit from this legitimacy are well aware of the fact that revealing the deep structures of a crime such as genocide would destroy this legitimacy. Keeping these imaginings alive immunizes the criminals, the masses that participated in the crime, the structures that promoted the crime, the tools used, the crime scene, and the preparation leading up to the crime. This immunity and legitimacy create a habitus that ensures the reproduction of denial on a daily basis. In this narrative, the victim can only exist alongside nationalism as a perpetrator the victim's legal, political, social, economic, and cultural struggles can only be read in the framework of nationalism. In the case of Ottoman Armenians, their more than a half-century-long struggle for justice and equality is almost exclusively referred to within the context of nationalism, whereas the issue was absolutely structural, like land ownership, like unfair taxation, like unequal treatment before the law, like the arbitrary exile of Armenian villagers from their villages, and the ban on practicing their handcrafts, and much more. However, there is no one to object to this narrative of reversal of the victim to perpetrator, once the victims are physically annihilated.
DY:What you are saying is vital. You say that it is crucial to understand the structural relations that conditioned the genocide. This, as well as the way in which this structure continues and is reproduced, is extremely significant. As you often emphasize in your book, one aspect of this is denial.
By denying the very presence of the survivors, by eliminating them in a certain way and silencing them, the nation-state ensures that the structural relationships and the political realities ruling elites created will continue. By blaming “bad nationalism” alone for the genocide, the Armenians, as you so aptly put it, are accused of being party to this nationalism, one of many such nationalisms. At the same time, this seemingly critical and egalitarian position levels the Armenians with all the other identities in Turkey and obscures the fact that the Armenians know the profoundest truth about the genocide and thus also about the Turkish state and its formation.
TS: The survivors were of the generation who knew their land best. The reason for the expulsion of Armenian survivors from the provinces was to hinder the persistence of that knowledge in everyday life there. The Armenians who were pushed out of the provinces to Istanbul could be surveilled there by the communal mechanisms and state institutions in place. This state-society alliance of control was considered “safer” than the continued existence of Armenians in the “distrusted provinces.” Those who decided in 1915 that the Armenians could live in the desert and nowhere else also decided that Armenians in post-1923 Turkey could live only in a panopticon. In light of this, the intellectuals of Turkey could pose questions such as: If the Armenians were an autochthonous people of Anatolia, why is the only remaining Armenian community in Istanbul? Why did the fact that the Armenian population was herded together into Istanbul not raise any suspicions amongst majority intellectuals? If the Lausanne Treaty really was legally enacted, why did Armenians not have the right to establish schools or monasteries or run their churches in Kayseri, Yozgat, Malatya, or Muş? We are still waiting for these simple questions to be asked.
DY:These are very important, stimulating remarks and questions. You say that the Armenians who went from the provinces to Istanbul in the years after the genocide occupied the lowest place in the social hierarchy. These people witnessed the cruelest violence that can be experienced in this world. They looked death in the eye and then were exposed to the violence of the Ateşoglu-Yıldırım gangs, which literally made life hell for them. After they were forced to leave the provinces and settle in Istanbul, they found themselves in a foreign world. They were foreign both to the city and its Armenian community. They were also impoverished, and their survival was only by sheer accident. Walter Benjamin reminds us that if we want to understand the past and society, we must pay attention to the oppressed, those whose voices are never heard. In the first chapter of your book, you convey to us the voices of those Armenians who came from the provinces, lived in Istanbul, in Gedikpaşa, worked in the small shoe factories, who were foreign to the Turks and Armenians of Istanbul, and who had lost their language. What do the stories of these people at the bottom of the social hierarchy tell us overall about Turkish society?
TS: To follow Benjamin's argument and take it a step further: if we are prepared to face the incomprehensible experiences of those who have survived, we can open ourselves to entirely new perceptions and experiences by which to understand the world. The effects of this new awareness would be perceptible in every area of our lives: our truths, our opinions, the sources we consult and our understanding of them, our world view, and our way of life. By putting the survivors at the center of research, we support no political program, we serve no state, we offer no argument in our comfort zone, and we do not fulfill any condition of a power relation. With the courage to look into humanity's most difficult experiences, we can attempt to get in touch with the millions of people whose will and self-perception have been stolen or disrupted. At the same time, trying to understand the dynamics behind the will to annihilate teaches us to question the legitimacy of those things which flowed from it. The survivors are different from the subalterns. Our goal cannot simply be to find their voice, as is often the goal in subaltern studies. The survivors are in a sense the angels of history. We can observe them, and we can bring the debris piled up in front of them to the present, but we cannot speak for them, as we cannot see the catastrophe the way they saw and experienced it. As renowned historian Harry Harootunian mentioned in his recent interview on his new book The Unspoken As Heritage: The Armenian Genocide and Its Unaccounted Lives, postcolonial theory has little to offer on the genocidal impulse of historic colonial empires. Sidestepping this impulse according to him means overlooking the colonial expropriation which led ultimately to the killing fields of Europe. 4 Hence, when we place survivors at the center of our study, we are going beyond subaltern studies. Is that not what the people of the region who suffer either from war, genocide, expulsion, or racism essentially need?
In 1922, Istanbul was already a place of immigration. The survivors, as people who had been forced to leave the provinces, who were threatened, whose property was taken, and who faced the potential kidnapping of their daughters, flocked to Istanbul. The trip was made by those who were able to do so. Others could not make the trip as easily, such as the many surviving women who had been kidnapped, raped, Islamized, and consequently trapped in the provinces. Those who made it to Istanbul stayed in the shelters known as the kaghtagan centers (kaghtagayan) for weeks, months, or even years. Their lives before 1915 had disappeared along with their families. We are talking about people who not only lost everything but whose very survival exclusively depended on how deeply they were able to cut their ties with themselves and their identity.
Armenians tried to preserve these kaghtagan centers through the end of the 1930s. Yet even in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and beyond, long after the centers had closed, the migration did not stop. The Armenians who stayed at these centers were provided with food and accommodation but were otherwise expected to support themselves. It took them years to build a relationship with the Armenians in Istanbul. The difference between the Armenians of Istanbul and those who escaped from the provinces was like that between those who were alive and those who had witnessed death and survived. Naturally, the Istanbul Armenians knew what had occurred, as many had lost relatives, such as the majority of their intelligentsia who were deported and murdered. There were no longer any safe places for Armenians even Istanbul was unsafe. But beyond these facts is the following: the Armenians in the provinces lived in the “Yergir,” their historical homeland for generations. Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, these Armenians were known in Istanbul as bantukhd, migrant workers. Armenians from the provinces were known to their urban counterparts for the unending oppression they had to endure in the villages. However, the Istanbul Armenians did not know about village dynamics or what it was like to experience the harsh conditions and oppressive circumstances those in the provinces had endured for over a century. To understand what that meant, what Armenians from the provinces had survived, took almost a century. For example, consider the author Hagop Mıntzuri, 5 who survived by accident while his entire family perished in 1915. By chance, he had traveled to Istanbul to have his tonsils removed before the deportations began and was not able to return. He spent the rest of his life writing about his village life because although it was gone, it could at least exist in writing, in literature.
For many who left the provinces, life in Istanbul meant new worries, new deprivations, new hardships, and new fights for survival. While they understood that Istanbul was not a cure-all, many took the first opportunity they could to move to another country. Many surviving Armenians emigrated to the United States or Canada, or were migrant workers in Germany. Throughout my schooling in Istanbul, I saw many schoolmates move away with their families. The common denominator of this continuing exile was the kaghtagan existence. Regardless of where they went, they did not meet anyone interested in their past, what they had lived through, and what this meant for their current existence. Those who left before the founding of the Republic were themselves in a similar situation, generating a multitude of effects on the subsequent generations. They found themselves in unfamiliar places, in foreign countries where they could not speak the language, and their lives went in completely unexpected directions. For decades, many lacked a bureaucratic authority to turn to for even the simplest of matters.
The members of the surviving generation remained survivors, whether in Istanbul, the United States, or another land. No one was interested in what it meant to be a person who was taken away from their home, their family, even alienated from their self, and forced to be invisible. In this invisibility a single catastrophe was hidden the catastrophe only they could see, which was invisible to everyone else.
DY:A catastrophe that is stared at by the angel of history, yet the violence of progress allows us to pretend it did not happen. Thank you very much, dear Talin, for shedding light into the dark corners of history.
Pre-State Israel: The Ottoman Empire Enters World War I
The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers to form the Triple Alliance with the signing of the August 1914 Turco-German Alliance. Turkey formally entered World War I on October 28, 1914, with the bombing of Russian Black Sea ports. The Triple Entente, or Allied Powers, declared war on the Ottoman Empire on November 4.
Two major factors led to Ottoman involvement on the side of the Central Powers: German pressure and the opportunism of Turkish minister of war Enver Pasha. Other motives for joining the Central Powers were the German victories early in the War and Turkey&rsquos friction with the Triple Entente. Germany&rsquos aim was clear: to keep Turkey from joining the enemy (and by gaining Ottoman support, encourage Romania and Bulgaria to enter the Alliance). The German military mission of 1913 to Turkey under Liman von Sanders organized the Turkish army and navy under German leadership and brought forth the Turco-German Alliance. The secret treaty (only five people in Turkey were aware of it, one being Enver Pasha) was signed 2 August 1914.
The Allies had strategic interests in the Turkish Straits but failed to provide a coherent defense of Turkey from Germany. To that extent, Turkey was driven into the Turco-German alliance but Turkish leadership, fearful of disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, was divided on a course of action. Turkish ambassador in Paris Rifat Pasha advised that neither side would hesitate to dismantle the Empire. According to Rifat, Germany was not as strong as Enver Pasha perceived and considered Turkey to be merely a pawn. Nonetheless, Enver Pasha defied Rifat&rsquos pleas to avoid alliance with either side and took what he saw as an opportunity to claim a victory in war.
Enver Pasha chose to ally Turkey with the Central Powers, justifying the alliance by citing Germany&rsquos early victories in the War. Being on the winning side would provide the opportunity to forge a swift victory over neighboring enemies and avoid the imminent disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.
Alliance with the Central Powers appealed more to Turkey than alliance with the Allied Powers for additional reasons. Friction with the Entente came on two levels: firstly, Turkey and the Allies clashed over Turkey&rsquos harboring of German warships and, secondly, over Russia&rsquos interest in the Turkish Straits. On top of a long-standing objective to possess that territory, the Balkan Wars caused Russia to fear loss of access to the straits in 1912. Then in 1913, Russia threatened to occupy Ottoman territory if German military under Liman von Sanders was not removed. Russia was an archenemy and relations with the other Allied Powers were weak.
Encyclopedia Britannica. 15th ed. Macropaedia, vol. 28. Chicago, 1992
Harry N. Howard, The Partition of Turkey: A Diplomatic History, 1913-1923, (New York H. Fertig, 1966.)
A. L. Macfie, Profiles in Power: Ataturk, (London and New York Longman, 1994).
Sources: WebChronology Project Elizabeth Caliendo, [email protected]
Researched by: Caroline E Heintzelman, [email protected]
Written by: Jennifer N Harlow, [email protected]
April 21, 1997
The Ottoman Empire, 1300 - 1650: The Structure of Power
This is a portrait of the building of an Empire, how its institutions came into being and how they changed over the course of three centuries. I was particularly struck by what a great job Imber did showing us the gradual centralization of power on the sultan. The sense of inevitable, dangerous, ambiguous isolation was just overwhelming as in chapter after chapter Imber leads us from obscure origins to splendid, thrice gated palaces full of people who can&apost remember what the outside world looks This is a portrait of the building of an Empire, how its institutions came into being and how they changed over the course of three centuries. I was particularly struck by what a great job Imber did showing us the gradual centralization of power on the sultan. The sense of inevitable, dangerous, ambiguous isolation was just overwhelming as in chapter after chapter Imber leads us from obscure origins to splendid, thrice gated palaces full of people who can't remember what the outside world looks like. We follow the Empire just to the brink of its collapse in a whirl of infighting, backstabbing and overstretch. It isn't hard to see it coming in every aspect of life.
The opening chapter is a bewildering crash course of names and dates for those who don't have much familiarity with the history of the Ottoman Empire. Again, you won't remember much of it but "War, war, war, war, afternoon tea, war, war, war," but you'll definitely leave with an impression of what building this empire was like. My favorite chapters were the ones on succession, family life, and life in the palace. (Did you know, for example, that most of the sultans were born to non-Turkish slave girls? And that there was a period where the empire was ruled by a succession of queen mothers? Fascinating.) The chapters on the formation of the army/Janissary class and rule in the provinces were also really good.
I will admit that I ended in skimming much of this book, but I think that's okay. I had no hope of remembering all the minutiae of names and dates that this guy was throwing at me anyway, and I think I understood the central point in any case. Recommended to all students of the Ottoman Empire- though real beginners (like me) might seek a source that concentrates on the political history of the Empire in more digestable, more fully discussed chunks. I'm on the look at for a book like that if anyone has recommendations. . more
-¿Hubo otras Prusias? A veces lo parece-.
Lo que nos cuenta. Primero, la formación, desarrollo y cénit de la Sublime Puerta, breve y en orden estrictamente cronológico, y después la descripción de su estructuras de gobierno, justicia y militares, desde un punto de vista eminentemente organizativo y de administración.
¿Quiere saber más del libro, sin spoilers? Visite:
Lo que nos cuenta. Primero, la formación, desarrollo y cénit de la Sublime Puerta, breve y en orden estrictamente cronológico, y después la descripción de su estructuras de gobierno, justicia y militares, desde un punto de vista eminentemente organizativo y de administración.
¿Quiere saber más del libro, sin spoilers? Visite:
For decades, readers seeking an introduction to the Ottoman empire have turned to Halil Inalcik’s seminal work The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1600. Written by the dean of Ottoman history, it provided an overview of its history and an examination of its components that has stood the test of time. Over the three and a half decades since its publication, however, a wealth of new scholarship has emerged that has refined and developed our knowledge. The fruits of this can be seen in Colin For decades, readers seeking an introduction to the Ottoman empire have turned to Halil Inalcik’s seminal work The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300-1600. Written by the dean of Ottoman history, it provided an overview of its history and an examination of its components that has stood the test of time. Over the three and a half decades since its publication, however, a wealth of new scholarship has emerged that has refined and developed our knowledge. The fruits of this can be seen in Colin Imber’s study, one that treads much of the same ground as Inalcik but does so with the benefit of an additional generation of study.
The layout of Imber’s book is similar to that of Inalcik’s (which Imber helped translate) an initial section chronicling the political and military history of the period followed by chapters providing an analytical overview of various aspects of the empire. But whereas Inalcik’s book provided a broad ranging survey that included its cultural and religious elements, Imber focuses more narrowly on the institutions of state: the palace, the bureaucracy, and the military. This allows him to provide a more detailed examination of the military state, one that describes its development and shows how it both conquered and governed the lands of three continents.
Clearly written and well grounded in the literature of the field, Imber’s book is a detailed and up-to-date account of the factors underpinning Ottoman power in the first centuries of its existence. Anyone seeking an introduction to the Ottoman empire would do well to start with it. With its concentration on imperial institutions and its closer examination of such things as the Ottoman navy (which has received far more scholarly attention in recent decades than it had when Inalcik wrote his book), it complements rather than replaces Inalcik’s longstanding survey, providing readers with a good foundation for exploring in more detail the last and greatest of the Muslim empires. . more