JamesBetzelosProfessorMantenaHIS44028November 2017 The Rise of the Ottoman Empire and its Effect onSoutheastern Europe As a manifestation of the Turkishtribes inhabiting Anatolia (Asia Minor), the Ottoman Empire came to be recognized as one ofthe most significant and powerful empires in the history of Europe and theworld. Founded by Turkishtribal leader Osman I, the empire rose towards the end of the 13th Century, saw a period of great expansionduring the 16th and 17th centuries, and eventually fell in 1922after maintaining power for over 600 years. At the peak of its dominance, the Ottomans held control overmost of Eastern,Central,and Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and parts of Africa. The capital of the empire was very strategically located inConstantinople (now Istanbul) on the tip of Northeastern Greece, allowing for direct control andjurisdiction between the Eastern and Western worlds of the time. During the middle and endingstages of their reign, the Ottomans eventually began to suffer multiple military defeats, causing them to lose asignificant amount of their territories. Despite these territorial losses, the Ottoman Empire had still managedto sustain power, ultimatelydeciding to join the Central Powers in the midst of World War I throughout theearly years of the 20th Century as an attempt to prevent any furtherlosses of land.
Duringthis period,the Ottoman government had been dealing with damaging internal conflicts andbegan inflicting major atrocities against the Balkan states such as Greece andAssyria. Thoughthere exists a plethora of theories, beliefs, and opinions on the rise of the Ottoman Empire inSoutheastern Europe, the profoundly negative impact it had politically, socially, and economically on states suchas Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria during the earlyyears of rule is irrefutable and undeniable.The defeat of Ottoman reign is marked by the over-poweringof Allied Powers and the conclusion of World War I. As a result of its fall, the empire was broken down anddivided up.
This, subsequently, led to the Turkish War ofIndependence in which the Ottoman Empire was completely destroyed and theRepublic of Turkey was established. While the Ottomans maintained rule over andsignificantly impacted most of Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa, the effect this empire had on the Balkan states ofSoutheastern Europe is something that cannot be over-looked when consideringits overall rise and era of reign.The rise and foundation of the very powerful Ottomanrule, specifically within the Balkan states, can be attributed as the causeof many of the issues experienced in these countries.1 “Nothing will ever equal the horror of thisharrowing and terrible spectacle,” claimed an observer who experienced the sack of Constantinoplein 1453 first-hand.2 However, before considering the effect of the Ottomans onSoutheastern Europe, one must first reflect upon the political, social, and economic conditions that allowed for theformation of such an empire. Its establishment in Southeastern Europe and the means by which thiswas achieved is largely debated amongst many different historians and orientaliststo this day.
The first factor to take into consideration are thehistorical conditions of the time. During this period, the second Serbian Empire was in the midst of itscollapse,with the Byzantine Empire steadily growing weaker as well. The Balkan Peninsula wasbeginning to enter a period of turmoil, experiencing large amounts of political, social, and religious chaos.3 Internal struggles amongst members of the Slavruling families,along with that of the Byzantine Empire led to the creation of a void in theBalkans and allowed for the emergence of the newly established Ottoman rule. These unfavorable conditions ofthe Balkan states were obvious contributors to the Ottoman rise, however, they do not provide the mostthorough explanation, as the origins of the empire go much deeper. As stated previously, there are many differentthoughts on this subject.
Considered to be the most widely accepted view to explain the rise ofOttoman rule in Southeastern Europe is that of H.A. Gibbons who authored the book entitled The Foundation of the Ottoman Empire. 4Gibbons’ theory on this subject touches on a numberof different factors, but essentially argues that the spread of Islam was the maincontributor to Ottoman rise in the Balkans. He begins with the founder of the empire, Osman I. Prior to the establishment ofan empire, Osman’sfather,Ertughrul,fled the country in fear of the impending Mongol invasion. This, consequently, lead to Osman’s reign over asmall tribe located in Anatolia during which Ala al-Din Kai-Qubad I ruled. Before immersing itself in theMuslim environment and eventually accepting Islam as their faith, this tribe was characterized asa group of pagan Turks working as herdsmen.
Following their assimilation into the Muslim culture, the tribe, invigorated with a new-foundspirit,began forcing the Christian Greeks of the surrounding territories to convert toIslam. In previousyears, the Muslimsand Christians of these areas experienced pleasant relations with each otherand for the most part kept to themselves. During this time of peace there existed only about400 Muslim warriors. Following Osman and his tribe’s conversion to Islam, that number began to multiplywith the country’s borders beginning to grow towards Greece and the Byzantines, leading to a mixed race ofPagan Turks and Christian Greeks. This period marked the creation of the newly-foundedOttoman race.Almost immediately following the foundation of Ottoman rule, its numbers grew at asurprisingly rapid pace.
This immediate growth and expansion was a direct cause of theassimilation of the Greek people who made up a significant amount of the empire.5Although the mixing of Christian Greeks into Muslimculture and Ottoman rule was a primary cause of the empire’s immediate andrapid expansion, itwas not,however, thesole factor.One must also take into account the weakened conditions that which the Byzantinesand Balkan states were experiencing during this time. This weakened state onlyworsened during Ottoman invasions, leading to a depopulated Constantinople anddisbanded Byzantine Empire and allowing for more Ottoman growth.Another factor to take into consideration is the veryauthoritarianist personalities of the Ottoman rulers who helped to create andestablish the policies implemented as a means of converting Christians Greeks, specifically those of theBalkan peninsula, toIslam. These policiesconsisted of rules and laws that indirectly forced conversion. For example, prisoners of war were given thechance to accept Islam in order to avoid slavery. The law of devshirme was also established, making it very beneficial forthe Balkan people to immediately convert.
6 When considering Gibbon’s theories as to how theOttoman Empire rose to power in the Balkans and rapidly expanded, one would assume that the massivereligious assimilation that occurred was the primary and sole cause. Based on firsthand experience, the writings of Orgier Ghiselande Busbecq agree with this viewpoint. “The very earth, as I have said, seemed to mourn and to long for Christian care andculture.And even more so Constantinople itself; nay, the whole of Greece.”7Busbecq,illegitimiate son of the Count of Busbecq, was alive to experience the Ottoman sack ofConstantinople in 1453. In the mid 1500’s, he was sent on a journey to Turkey under the command of ArchdukeFerdinand I during which he wrote a series of letters to a friend of his. These writings consisted ofobservations and accounts regarding both the physical nature and human natureof the empire. AlthoughBusbeq admired the physical beauty of the land and respected the Ottoman systemof government, heclearly recognized the significant impact it had on the European nationsreligiously,socially,and politically.
Moreover, he warned of the impendingdanger that loomed over Europe, explaining how a disheveled Europe was no match for the united andgrowing Ottoman empire. During its rise, there were many different political and social factorsthat played major roles toward Ottoman expansion. Under the name Seljuk, the Anatolian Turks formed a powerful politicalgroup. This groupconsisted of 3 subgroups: nomads, villagers, and urban life. 8The nomads,who shifted residency seasonally, raised animals and did farm work to make a living.
The tribes they inhabited werevery war-like. Giventhe chance, nomadson the frontier would constantly raid and plunder any and all enemy territorythey happened to find. The people of these tribes were also very prone to rebellion andanarchy whenever the central government weakened. In relation to the villagers and urban occupants, the nomads were a veryaggressive people that despised the other two groups. The villagers made up thelargest portion of Anatolia’s population.
9 The village lifestyle appeared for the first times laterin the twelfth century. This class of people coming from western Turkey brought their farmingculture to Anatolia. Most villagers who did not work the land, worked as laborers or sharecroppers to provide forthemselves.
Although villagers were important to society, urban dwellers proved to be themost significant cultural component to the Anatolian Turks. Urban life in Anatoliaflourished during the early Seljuk conquests. In the early thirteenth century, the Anatolian Seljuk saw greatsuccess both politically and militarily.10 This was due in large part to their strategicpositioning.
After their initial conquest, they organized their administrative system and gained access to the seaon the north and south shores. Because of how profound successful trade is for the development of citylife, AnatolianTurks and their rulers did everything they could to ensure this component wasprotected.Another theory regarding the Ottoman rise is thatwhich claims they went about their Balkan conquests in a gradual and somewhatpeaceful manor.This theory makes the claim that there were two separate and systematicallyimplemented steps carried out by the Ottomans during their conquests ofSoutheastern Europe.11 The first of these steps was to create some type ofsuzerainty over the neighboring states, followed by the eradication of the native dynasty. The Sultan had absolute powerand answered to no one. The only source of authority in the land was his word. Therefore, anyone who worked for orcarried out business under the name of the Sultan was considered of higher rankin the population.
12The eradication of the native countries government, in turn, allowed direct Ottoman controlover the state and the establishment of the timar system. Timar was a system in which therevenue of a conquered territory would be allocated among soldiers and othermembers of the military class in the form of land grants. The system itself was based ona meticulous recording of the native state’s population and resources. This theory of gradual conquestargues that the establishment of the timar did not mean a revolutionary changeof the conquered state’s social and economic order, but was instead a “conservativereconciliation of local conditions and classes with Ottoman institutions whichaimed at gradual assimilation.”13 Thisclaim, however, can be seriously disputed bythe first-hand accounts of those who experienced Ottoman invasion and reign intheir home countries.
Leading up to and during the middle of the 15thCentury,the Byzantine Empire had been in the midst of a great decline in power. In 1453, the last of the domain met itsdemise following an invasion led by the Sultan Mehmed II in which the Ottomansoldiers wreaked havoc on the city and its population for about fifty-sevendays.14 The fall of Constantinople not only marked theconclusion of the Byzantine Empire, but also caused the significant weakening of Christianity. With Constantinople out of theway, the Muslimarmies of the Ottoman rule were now able to more easily expand into Europe andspread the Islamic faith.
The impact of these invasions on the Balkan states issomething that cannot be over-looked when studying Ottoman reign. The effects are shown through variousfirst-person accounts recorded by those who experienced Ottoman invasion and rulein their native lands. “People frightened by the shouting ran out of their houses and were cutdown by the sword before they knew what was happening. And some were massacred intheir houses where they tried to hide, and some in churches where they sought refuge.
“15This scene,depicted by a first-hand observer of the sack of Constantinople, helps to paint a vivid pictureof the cruelty and ruthlessness of the Ottoman soldiers during their rise to power. Greece had not been the only country subject to thesekinds of atrocities as the Ottoman Turks dominated the Balkans for over fivecenturies.The Ottoman presence in these areas was so profound that it resulted in thecreation of the image of the Turk as the prime enemy of the Balkan nations.16 “Elderly citizens were ruthlessly beaten, temples were desecrated, and sacred objects were either destroyedor melted down and sold.”17 TheBalkans regained their independence from the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900’s, however great amounts ofhostility and anger are still in existence to this day. There were several differentelements that played a role in the demonization of Turks by the Balkans. Aside from the damage caused by Ottoman invasions, economies of these nationsdeteriorated during their reign, especially that of Greece in which life for urban citizens becameruralized and the Christian population was subject to heavy taxation.
Although the Ottomans did notnecessarily require the Greeks to convert to Islam, many did in an effort to avoidany social or economic backlash they may encounter from the Ottoman reign. Those who did convert wereconsidered turncoats by those who did not, causing a significant amount of social controversyamongst the citizens. An excerpt from a former Greek newspaper articlestated, “forcenturies the Turks have enslaved people, destroyed and plundered nations, civilizations, monuments, antiquities, and violated human rights.”18Ottoman presence in the Balkans caused the demonization of the Turks and theimage of them as the ruthless oppressors of the Balkans that still exists tothis day.
Themass overlapping of various races, political views, and religious beliefs within the nations took a hugetoll on the Balkans. In the mid 1990’s, a survey taken in Greece recorded that abouteighty-nine percent of those asked view the Turks as their enemy to which theystill have hostility towards. Two other surveys conducted around the same time in Bulgaria showed themajority of the population view Turks as untruthful religious fanatics. In February of 1993, Greece and Serbia both accusedTurkey of attempting to carry out some sort of neo-ottomanist policy when theyundertook a tour of the Balkans under the leadership of President Turgut Ozal.19 While media outlets and other news sources do play alarge part in strengthening this picture of the Turkish people, the perception is very real. The overall rise of the Ottoman Empire inSoutheastern Europe, resulting from a combination of favorable historical conditions, religious expansion, and an oppressive style of rulecan be attributed as the cause of many of the issues experienced in thesecountries.
20 During the 13th-15th centuriesand throughout Ottoman reign, the Balkan nations were subject to major atrocities and a great amountof social,economic,and political upheaval. The oppressive hold the Ottoman Turks had on the Balkans created the imageof them as a ruthless people and their prime enemy still to this day. 1 Koprulu, Mehmed Fuad.
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