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The Ottoman Empire

Anatolia was settled by Muslim Turks from the end of the eleventh century. They soon gained political control of the central plateau, and after the Mongol invasions of the mid-thirteenth century, Turkish warlords began to move into the coastlands. One of the most successful was Osman, who established himself in Byzantine territory in northwest Anatolia. From here his descendants were able to invade southeast Europe, beginning in the 1360s. Having survived Timur's invasion of Anatolia in 1402, they established themselves as the leading power there and in the Balkans. In 1453 the Byzantine empire was extinguished when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, which became their new capital, and in 1516 to 1517 they made themselves masters of the Mamluk empire. Further expansion followed, so that the Ottomans were probably the world's most powerful state in the later sixteenth century. Although they later lost ground, the dynasty proved immensely durable, remaining in power until 1922.

The government of Turkey was by common accord known in Europe and the United States as "The Sublime Porte." The Turks themselves called the Turkish Empire Memaliki-Othmanich, or the "Ottoman States" (kingdoms), in consequence of their having been founded by Othrnan, the great ancestor of the present reigning sovereign, Abd-ul-Mejid. They were no better pleased with the name of Turk than the people of the United States were, generally, with that of Yankee: it bore with it a meaning signifying a gross and rude man - nothing indeed very much like the european definition of it, when one would say any one is "no better than a Turk;" and they greatly prefered being known as Ottomans. They call their language the "Ottoman tongue" - Othmanli dilce - though some did speak of it as the Turkish.

The Ottoman Empire had Turkish origins and Islamic foundations, but from the start it was a heterogeneous mixture of ethnic groups and religious creeds. Ethnicity was determined solely by religious affiliation. Non-Muslim peoples, including Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, were recognized as millets and were granted communal autonomy. Such groups were allowed to operate schools, religious establishments, and courts based on their own customary law.

The destruction of the Ottoman Empire, the disintegration of Islamism, was the downfall of a moss-grown but singularly venerable and solid portion of the rampart of world-peace. For England and for France it seemed to be the disappearance of a necessary barrier to the expansion of the rival Powers, first Austria, then Germany, into the rich regions of the Middle East. During centuries the "integrity of the Ottoman Empire" was, for the old time diplomacy, one of the cardinal points of its compass, a categorical imperative, as it were, of diplomatic dogma. It was held that the prestige and the security of France and England demanded the maintenance of an intact Islamism. The liquidation of Islamism, begun by the French in Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco, pursued by the British in Egypt, and then by the Italians in Tripoli.

It is universally agreed that the policy of maintaining the independence and integrity of the Ottoman Empire was not adopted for the sake of the Turks. No generous admiration for the virtues of the Osmanlis induced our statesmen to go to war for the maintenance of their power. The Ottoman Empire was upheld for the convenience of the European Powers, and to prevent the convulsions that were expected to follow its dissolution.

The crescent moon and star were the device adopted by Mahomet II when he captured Constantinople in 1453. Originally they were the symbol of Diana, the patroness of Byzantium, and were adopted by the Ottomans as a triumph, for they had always been the special emblem of Constantinople, and in Moscow and elsewhere the crescent emblem and the cross may be seen combined in Russian churches, the crescent badge, of course, indicating the Byzantine origin of the Russian church. The symbol originated at the time of the siege of Constantinople by Philip the father of Alexander the Great, when a night attempt of the besiegers to undermine the walls was betrayed by the light of a crescent moon, and in acknowledgment of their escape the Byzantines raised a statue to Diana, and made her badge the symbol of the city. Both the man-of-war and mercantile marine flags are the same, but the imperial standard of the sultan is scarlet, and bears in its center the device of the reigning sovereign. This device is known as the "Tughra," and consists of the name of the sultan, the title of khan, and the epithet al-Muzaffar Daima, which means "the ever victorious."

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:04:00 ZULU