The Ottoman Empire: 1299-1920

Islam       Session Sixteen

Item #4, bullet #4 of outline:  The Ottoman Empire: 1299-1920

The termination of the first Islamic Empire in 1258 created a leadership void for Islam, but did not destroy it.  Even as the Abbasid caliphate was disintegrating a force of non-Arab Muslims was increasing in strength and areas of control.  The Seljuk Turks, many of whom were former slaves of Muslim masters,  were gaining control of Anatolia (generally accepted as the western two-thirds of the Turkish peninsula) and asserting leadership of the Islamic movement.  The leader of this movement was Osman I, from whom the name Ottoman was derived.  By 1260 the Ottomans occupied most of northwest Anatolia, were threatening the Byzantine Empire and eyeing Southeast Europe.  In 1299, the Ottoman Empire officially came into being with the coronation of Osman I as, “Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.”

Bernard Lewis in his book, “The Middle East”, describes the Ottoman’s expansion into European Turkey and SE Europe:

  • “Its (the Ottoman’s) position in the far west (of Anatolia), on the borders of Byzantine Bithynia and on the edge of the defences of Constantinople, gave this principality greater tasks and greater opportunities, and this attracted support from elsewhere. Osman and his successors carried on incessant border warfare against the Byzantines.  In 1326 they took Bursa, which became the capital of their rapidly growing state.  In 1354 Ottoman forces crossed the Dardanelles into Europe, and within a few years conquered Gallipoli and then Adrianople, which became and for almost a century remained their main base in Europe.  A series of victories against the Serbs and Bulgars, notably at the battles of Maritza (1371 ) and Kosova (1389),brought a large part of the Balkan peninsula under Ottoman rule, and reduced most of the rest to vassalage.  This inaugurated further rapid victories in Macedonia, Bulgaria and Serbia.  Each war of conquest in Europe was preceded by an expansion . . . in Anatolia, which strengthened the home base of Ottoman power.”  (#9, P. 107)

At its height (in the middle of the 16th century), the Ottoman Empire extended from Hungary in the north to Somalia in the south; and from Algeria in the west to Iran in the east.  Included in these lands were the present day countries/areas of Algeria, Tunisia, coastal Libya, Egypt, coastal Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Georgia, The Crimea, Bulgaria, Moldavia, Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Croatia, Southern Romania and Hungary.  It controlled over 15,000,000 people.  Some notable dates:

  • 1366 AD: Capital of Empire moved from Bursa to Europe (The European portion of present day Turkey)
  • 1395 AD: Took control of the Balkans after many years of conflict
  • 1453 AD: Under Mehmet I, Constantinople is conquered.  This marks the end of the Byzantine Empire.
  • 1516 AD: Syria and Egypt conquered
  • 1521 AD: Belgrade (in present day Serbia) conquered
  • 1526 AD: South and South-Central Hungary taken
  • 1529 AD: Unsuccessful siege of Vienna
  • 1532 AD: Unsuccessful siege of Vienna
  • 1535 AD: Took Baghdad from the Persians

The Ottoman Empire existed for more than 600 years and can be roughly divided into:

  • 1299 AD – 1566 AD: Formation and expansion
  • 1566 AD – approximately 1830 AD: Consolidation and maintenance of the Empire
  • 1830 AD – 1922 AD: Decline and dissolution

One can mark the end of the empire with the abolition of the Sultanate in 1922, or the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, or the abolition of the caliphate in 1924 – take your pick!  Actually, with the signing of the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 which mandated the partitioning of the Empire, for all intents and purposes, it no longer functioned as the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman’s acquisition of great land masses and subjugation of millions people was by no means peaceful or invited by those conquered.  All such increases in the Ottoman Empire were accomplished by the sword and featured atrocities, many of which were horrific, almost beyond description.  The following quote is an appropriate lead into the description of several massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman armies as they conquered new lands.

“What is striking in the accounts of jihad (more later about Jihad – for now we will define it simply as “war in the name of Allah”) is not so much the barbaric excesses to which Muslim warriors and rulers have been prone, but that they follow so naturally from the teachings and example of Muhammad himself.  Indeed, “excess” is an inaccurate term:  these deeds of savagery are only “excessive”when viewed from a non-Muslim perspective.  They are perfectly in line with Islamic instructions to conquer, kill, pillage, and humiliate the infidel as enjoined in the Koran and exemplified by the life of Muhammad.  (#2, P. 80) 

Below are some examples of unspeakable atrocities committed by the Ottoman’s:

  • The conquest of the Famagusta citadel in Cyprus in 1570 is described by Gregory Davis in his book, “Religion of Peace?” as he quotes from the book, “The Burning Tigris”, by Balakian:

“On August 17, (the Muslim commander) Lala Mustafa ordered (Governor) Bragadino to be taken out of his cell.  The time had come for the big show . . .  By so humiliating the man who had once been the ruler of their daily lives Lala Mustafa wanted to make clear to the citizens of Famagusta that the old order had truly changed.  Bragadino was saddled up like a donkey and dragged and kicked around the town like an animal, with bags of dirt and soil tied to his back.  Each time he passed before Lala Mustafa he had to lick the ground in front of him.  He was then hauled up to the high spar of a galley mast exposed to the multitudes so that all could see what had become of the proud Venetian patrician, now nose-less and earless, hauled down and tied to a post.  Then Lala Mustafa told him what his fate was to be:  to be flayed alive.  He died during the torture.  His torturers then filled his flayed skin with straw, placed it astride a cow and took this pathetic, tortured effigy, still streaked with blood, around town under the shelter of a parasol.  Then they hung the straw-filled skin, like a large, bloody, bloated balloon, from the yardarm of Lala Mustafa’s galley.” (#2, P. 79)

  • The massacre of the Serbian knights in January of 1804: Seventy prominent Serbian nobles were decapitated in the public square of Valjevo and their heads were put on display.                                                                                                       
  • “Almost the entire Greek population of the island of Chios, tens of thousands of people, was massacred or enslaved in 1822.” (#18, P. 120) 
  • In 1823, 8,750 Greeks were slaughtered at Missolongi, Greece. (#18, P. 120) 
  • In 1850, thousands of Assyrians were murdered in the province of Mossul. (#18, p. 120)  
  • In 1860, some 12,000 Christians were slaughtered in Lebanon. (#18, P. 120)
  • In early May of 1876 an armed uprising in Batak, Bulgaria by locals under Muslim domination was brutally defeated by their Muslim masters. Of the town’s 7,000 inhabitants, about 5,000 were murdered.  The slaughter of the leader of the uprising, Trendafil Kerelov, was horrific.  A witness, his son’s wife, described the brutal killing:

“My father in law went to meet the Bashi-Bazouk when the village was surrounded by the men of Ahmet Aga, who said that he wanted all the arms laid down.  Trendafil went to collect them from the villagers.  When he surrendered the arms, they shot him with a gun and the bullet scratched his eye.  Then I heard Ahmet Aga command with his own mouth for Trendafil to be impaled and burnt.  The words he used were “Shishak aor” which is Turkish for “to put on a skewer (as a shish kebab).  After that, they took all the money he had, undressed him, gouged his eyes, pulled out his teeth and impaled him slowly on a stake, until it came out of his mouth.  Then hey roasted him while he was still alive.  He lived for half-an-hour during this terrible scene.  At the time, I was near Ahmet Aga with other Bulgarian women.  We were surrounded by Bash-Bozouk, who had us surrounded, and forced us to watch what was happening to Trendafil.”  One of her children, Vladimir who was still a baby at his mother’s breast, was impaled on a sword in front of her eyes.  “At the time this was happening, Ahmet Aga’s son took my child from my back and cut him to pieces, there in front of me.  The burnt bones of Trendafil stood there for one month and only then were buried.” :  (#27, Article Entitled; “Batak Massacre”)

To be continued.