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Free Custom «Diplomatic History: The Ottoman Empire» Essay Sample

Free Custom «Diplomatic History: The Ottoman Empire» Essay Sample

Western Empires

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire was one of the most eventful happenings both historically and diplomatically in the modern world. Joining the Germans in declaring the war against the Allies during the First World War, while being in the middle of a domestic crises tipped the balance towards the impending forces both within and outside the empire that led to its consequent fall (Trumpener 2015). While most of the substantial powers had designs on most of the land, within which the empire straddled, the strategic thinking meant that the designs most of those nations had in the Ottoman Empire could not be actualized as they served as a deterrent towards other powers (McFie 2014). However, entering the war gave the large imperial empires of Britain and France the chance to subdivide the empire into their own spheres of influence.

Unbeknown to the Sultan or anyone in his government, the Great Powers had entered into a secret agreement between the then greatest imperial powers of the era: the British and the French (Tudgar & Hussein 2015). One of the perennial antagonists of the Ottoman Empire, namely Imperial Russia, although not being a significant beneficiary of that arrangement, agreed to it. The agreement is today known by the names of its chief negotiators Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot. The Sykes-Picot agreement is also known as the Asia Minor Agreement, which was officially the pact that led to the breakup of the empire.

The then imperial ambitions of Britain, the Third French Republic, and the Russian Empire spurred the agreement. While all those nations had converted the Ottoman lands, it was the first time they had taken the chance to divide it officially into different spheres, within which they would operate in the event the Allies won the war against the Ottoman Empire and the Germans (Gee 2015). The secrecy of the agreement was supposed to hide its potential effect on the Ottoman and Muslim world and also prevent other powers, like Italy, from demanding a piece of the Ottoman pie (Gee 2015). The fact that the British had other agreements, which contradicted the Sykes-Picot agreement, also made Britain and France keep the agreement secretive. An example of such an agreement is the one with Sharif bin Ali of Mecca and several other agreements that the British had with the Arabs about the Greater Syria, the area to the East of the Mediterranean that the Allies were to let the Arabs keep as the homeland for themselves (Charhood 2015, p.242). The dismemberment of the Empire did not just seek to punish the Ottomans for participating in the war against the Allies; it sought to influence the Empire in an utterly way. This is apparent from the fact that other than acquiring the Armenian-occupied provinces of the empire, the agreement also awarded Imperial Russia the Ottoman capital of Turkey.

The Syria Question

The British had several agreements with the Arabs. Those agreements were based on the promise that if the Arabs helped in defeating the Ottomans by launching rebellions in their areas, then the British would aid in setting up of the Arab homeland in the Greater Syria. The area corresponds to the present Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, some parts of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. This area lies between the Mediterranean Sea to the West, the Euphrates to the East, the Sinai Peninsula Arabian Desert to the South as well as the Taurus Mountains to the north.

However, both the French and the British, and possibly the Italians, wanted the areas for themselves due to its strategic location. In order to get a part of what they called the Greater Syria, they subdivided it into several parts so that each power could have a part. They divided the land along the Sykes-Picot line, which was arbitrary. The boundary was drawn from the East to the West almost in a straight manner (Patai 2015). The southern part was renamed Palestine and Transjordan, and the Britons took charge of it (Patai 2015). The French further subdivided their share into two parts: Lebanon and Syria (Khoury 2014). One has to remember that the abovementioned subdivision of the areas was entirely artificial. These were people, and the subdivision cut across families, communities and religious lines. In other words, the boundary lines were utterly arbitrary. For instance, the British formed a new country known as Transjordan by the new divisions, which did not have any historical basis. Furthermore, even the name itself was new to the Arabs (Bar-Joseph 2014). Stansfield (2015) argued that the subdivision of the Greater Syria into several parts in the eyes of some Arab historians, as well as the creation of artificial states marked the turning point of the Arab-West relations. In this regard, there was a feeling among the Arabs that the West could not be trusted. It is essential to note that the Islamic State (ISIS) claims that one of its objectives is to rectify the results of the Sykes-Picot agreement by joining of the Arab world.

Effects of the Sykes-Picot Line

It is apparent that from the historical and diplomatic point of view, the Sykes-Picot line was anything but a success. According to Tauber (2014), the British had promised the Arabs that if they rebelled against the Ottomans, they would regain their independence. They did not keep the promise. This had other consequences that the West could not have foretold. Kedourie (2013) explains that while there had been efforts to build constitutional governments in Iraq, Syria and Egypt in the early 20th century, the western colonial rule that followed led to a new form of nationalism, which always had a basis in Islam, in a bid to assert their independence over their new colonial masters. Moreover, while the Middle Eastern Arbs who were Muslims could have rationalized a rule over them by the Ottomans as a Caliphate, which is a legitimate Muslim government, Britain and France could never enjoy such a legitimacy in the Middle East (Hourani 2013). Thus, it is entirely possible that without reneging of the British agreements with the Arabs that brought about the modern colonialism in the Middle East and the state boundaries of today, a totally different international political and diplomatic dynamics could have developed in the area.

New States and Nationalism

The Ottoman Empire had ruled over the vast masses of people pertaining to different nationalities. One of the factors that led to its end was the national revolutions that created a new international and diplomatic dynamics in the Middle East and the European part of the empire (Pappe 2014). One of the most distinctive features of the Ottoman Empire was the millet system that sought to help the minorities in keeping as much of their culture as possible under the Ottoman rule (Toksöz 2015). Under the millet system, each nationality, or more specifically religion, in the Ottoman Empire was allowed to keep and organize its own affairs and, thus, could live for centuries with little or no discord between all the religious groups in the Ottoman Empire (Barkey & Gavrilis 2015, 30). Such were the Orthodox Greeks, Serbs, and others. This was revolutionary in most of Europe in the early days of the empire, whereas the abovementioned concept of minority or religious rights was previously unheard of.

This millet system had consequences that the Sultans could barely have envisioned. In the first place, it led to the thriving of ethnic/national/linguistic divisions in the empire (Barkey & Gavrilis 2015, 30). Thus, while the empire might have existed for hundreds of years, it is possible that Greeks, Serbs, Magyars and other minorities never had a collective Ottoman identity, although it is doubtful if the Ottomans sought to cultivate such an identity at all (Barkey & Gavrilis 2015, 30). While among Christian minorities, the millet led to the rise of the nationalism because their culture had thrived and the Islamic-Ottoman culture had not sought to assimilate into them, the opposite is true in regard to the non-Turkic Muslim population of the Empire. The Bosniaks, Albanians, Kurds, and Arabs were not left behind in the new fervor for political nationalism in the empire. One of the driving factors was the Arabs, Kurds, and Bosniaks, who, unlike the Christians, had been placed under the hegemony of the Turks as a part of the common Islamic culture and, thus, did not have their individual millets. 

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The first of these nationalities to gain the independence from the Ottomans was the Greeks, who did this with the help of the British. The British support for the secession of Greece ensured that the Ottomans would view them with suspicion for the rest of the existence of the empire (Clogg 2013). Furthermore, among other factors, that fact would also ensure that for the disastrous Ottoman support of the Germans during the World War I (Erickson 2016, p.260). With the successful revolt of the Greeks, other nationalities gained more encouragement from their example as well as from the European powers. The perennial Ottoman enemy, namely the Imperial Russians supported fellow slaves and Orthodox Christians - the Serbs and the Armenians (Todorova 2013). Thus, new states were created in South Eastern Europe that were most of the time antagonistic, yet later would unite militarily against the Ottomans in order to form the Balkan League, leading to more territorial losses for the Empire. By the end of 1912, all of the European Slavic nationalities under the Ottomans had won their independence. Furthermore, Turkey was slowly emerging from the ruins of the Empire in Anatolia.

While the rise of Christian Nationalism was an occasion that the Ottomans could anticipate, the revolt of the Arabs might not have been anticipated by them, since they were their fellow Muslims. In the first place, the religion among Muslims seemed to have been a greater unifying force than the regional movements, which in any case had a focus on the autonomy and conditions of conscription during peacetime (Witteck 2013). In the Arab peninsula, the population was nomadic. Hence, the Ottomans left them alone to a great extent, unlike those in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia, who had a more permanent existence and, thus, were more controlled by the Ottomans (Hopewood 2015). It seems apparent that throughout most of the empire’s existence, the Ottomans had the support and loyalty of their Arab subjects.

With the Ottomans in the First World War, the support was no longer evident. Firstly, the growth of a burgeoning Arab nationalism among the elites in the major towns in the Empire drew the inspiration from the Christian revolts against the Ottomans in the Western parts of the empire (Ahmad 2014). Secondly, there was the completion of the Damascus-Medina railway, of which the ruling tribes, such as the Hejaz, were fearful among other things, whereas it could have led to a more domination by the Ottomans (Watenpaugh 2014). This was one of the reasons that inspired the revolt led by Sharif of Mecca, Hussein Ali (Simon 2015, p.1151). This discord had already been apparent in the rest of central Arabia, where the Wahhabis, in conjunction with their political allies the Saudis, condemned the Young Turks government as impious (Crooke 2015, p.56). Furthermore, with the government implementing the Pan-Turkic agenda, the Arabs felt that their place was not in the Empire and alienated from them. 

The British further stoked the Ottoman empire’s of apartheid in the region. They supplied money and troops, in addition to promises to Sharif Ali that he would be made the king of the entire Arab world (Ahmad 2014). The Al-Fatat group, which had been formed in Paris, also found the encouragement from the British and the French (Ahmad 2014). The Arabs were unable to take Medina, which would have dealt a large strategic blow to the Ottomans. However, they seized the Holiest City in Islam, Mecca, and the town of Ta’if. With the help of the British navy, they also gained some Red Sea ports of Jeddah, Yanbu, Rbegh and, lastly, the strategic Aqaba (Mansfied 2013). The British further landed units of the Arab regular army, who had defected to the Arab cause.

Soon after that, the Ottomans agreed to an armistice, and the Arabs had to negotiate with the western powers on the course of the Arab lands. As it was mentioned above, the British and the French retained Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia and Jordan. Hussein ibn Ali was rewarded by the British for his support with the international diplomatic recognition of Hejaz as a kingdom (Ahmad 2014). They also installed his sons as the Emirs of Transjordan, Syria (where the son was displaced by the French) and Iraq. Since 1187, for the first time, Jerusalem has come under the control of a European Christian force (Ahmad 2014). This turned into a source of the contention that drives international relations and diplomacy in the Middle East until the present day.

The British, in control of the Palestine, which both the Jews and themselves considered the historical and spiritual home of the Jews, considered encouraging the settling of the latter in Palestine, with a substantial chagrin of the Arabs. While not encouraging the Jewish emigration into Palestine, they could barely stop it. In spite of the fact that the then High Commissioner for Palestine, Herbert Samuel (himself a British Jew) discouraged the immigration of the Jews in the interests of the population already residing in the Palestine area, the Jews continued flocking to the area (Cohen 2014). This was in direct contradiction to the mandate that had stated that the British would closely cooperate with the Jewish Agency to settle the Jews in Palestine (Cohen 2014). This made both the Jews and the Arabs distrustful of the British. Their perceived encouragement of the Jewish settlement in Palestine continues to be a source of the diplomatic disputes between the West and Arab nations to the present day.

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Nevertheless, with the Jews feeling threatened by the Arab population and being aware of the pogroms, persecution in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust in Europe, the Jewish nationalism in Palestine developed apace. The Arab nationalism in the Palestine also continued to grow, which identified the Jewish nationalism in the area as a threat to the Arabs. Thus, the area was fraught with a political chaos and violence from both sides. The British mandate found it impossible to keep the law and order in the area. Meanwhile, the political Zionism began taking shape with mass immigrations into Palestine, even in the face of British restrictions. The divisions between the Palestine Arabs and the British as well as the Jews, on the other hand, magnified after Amin al-Husayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, met Hitler to request for the opposition to the Jewish settlement in Palestine and the final solution to be implemented in the Arab world, too (Urban 2015, p.330). In retrospect, it seems unlikely that the Jewish immigration could have occurred on such a large scale under the Ottoman rule. It also seems likely that Zionism could have received the impetus it got if the Ottomans had still been in charge of what became the Palestine Mandate (Stein 2014, p.26). The Jewish nationalism was later supposed to lead to the creation of the State of Israel, starting the longest and probably the biggest diplomatic issue in the world. Israel is one of the most diplomatically isolated countries by their neighbors. Virtually, all the neighboring countries do not recognize Israel diplomatically, and there have been at least three wars between Israel and its neighbors. In addition, Israeli relations with other countries continue to determine how those countries relate with the Arab nations.

Communist Russia

While Kemal Ataturk did not have communist aspirations and believed that a free market liberalization was essential for the development of his country, this did not stop him from developing friendly relations with the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, were of the idea that the Turkish nationalist war for independence was akin to the Russian civil war, in which the Bolsheviks won (Saparov, 2014). Thus, rather than viewing a free-market proponent at their southern border as a threat, Lenin provided funds and equipment, including gold and armaments, which helped Ataturk in winning the Turkish War of Independence (Saparov, 2014). This was a reversal of both Imperial Russia and Imperial Turkey, which had been foes for a substantial amount of time of their respective existence. The Soviets extended to the diplomatic recognition of the new Kemalist government as the legitimate government of Turkey, for which the Russian Soviet Republic was among the first to initiate the international recognition. After hundreds of years of military confrontations over the territory under imperial rules, the new republics signed the Treaty of Moscow, under which they exchanged territories. In addition, the two weary of the war countries signed a non-aggression pact. However, during the Second World War, the relations between the two countries became tense. Russia also demanded some parts of Eastern Turkey and indicated that it wanted to withdraw from the treaties it had signed with Turkey unilaterally. Turkey also refused the Soviet Union in terms of the Straits after the Second World War, when it demanded for it to be allowed to be among the powers that would defend the Straits.

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