I thought I would post a bit of something that I hope let's people understand some of why we have seen such autocratic regimes in the Middle East. It must be remembered that the Ottoman Empire ruled the Middle East until the end of WWI. The Ottoman empire existed for over 700 years. A great deal of time. It has an impact of the region as much as the ancient Greeks and Romans have on us today.
So here goes. When an old Sultan died no one except his closest advisor knew who would be the successor. That advisor, was in truth the slave of the Sultan. I'll get to how that works in a minute. That advisor would then go to the chosen son and tell him he was the successor, that son was then required to kill all his brothers. This way there was never a struggle power, it was thought best for all that a struggle did not take place, as it could result in the breakup of the empire. In the last two hundred or so years of the empire, this practice changed to the unfavored being locked up in the harem, without being allowed contact with any one except for the servants, this lead to some who went mad, something like being locked into the Tower of London.
Everyone in society had their place, the Ottoman's had "guilds" similar to the ones in old Europe, except they even went so far as to have guilds for thiefs. Everyone wore a specific type of clothing or turban to let everyone know what place in society that they held.
Now about those slave/advisors. The Ottoman's had what was called a boy tax. Every so many years they would go out into the empire and take boys of young age from their families, only those who were not Muslims, then they would raise the child in the Muslim faith and he would then become part of the administration of the empire. All were considered the slaves of the Sultan. The reason behind this was that the Sultan did not wish to make slaves of people who were already Muslims, but it was felt it was ok to do so with those who were not of the Muslim faith. But they could not have people who were not Muslims running the administration of the Empire either. The administrative positions were not something the man's children could inherit, new trainees were placed in for old or dead administraters.
There were many, many times in which the people of Constantinople rioted in protest for things that were not going well, including the military however it was not the Sultan they went after, though this did happen in later years when the empire was weak. Protesting in the streets was not an uncommon occurance, and generally it meant the death of a top adminstrator. I can't remember exactly what the death was called, but it involved garroting with a silken cord, the body of the dead man thrown to the crowds as appeasment in many cases. I can't stress how often this occured. so much so that there was a specific name for this manner of death. I just can't remember it right now.
ALL power revolved around the Sultan in such a way that even the monarches of Western Europe envied it. Until it became apparent in later years that the Sultan actually ended up being a slave to his slaves. In truth the slaves ended up with more power than the Sultan, and he often was in great fear of what would happen if the anger of the people totally erupted. Riots became more frequent, and the Jannasaries, the main corp of the military went after more than one Sultan, and replaced him with those in the "gilded cage" from the Harem, who had no idea how to run anything because he had never been out of the Harem enough to learn. There was a firm belief that without a totally authotarian gov't the people would tear the empire totally apart. As this became more and more apparent, the Sultan relied more and more on the Mullahs to help keep the people in check. This resulted in many cultural and tribal traditions becoming more like religious edicts.
The empire thus became weaker and weaker, to the point that they lost WWI, an empire that once had been able to threaten Western Europe over and over with near impunity.
Much of the downfall of the Ottoman's can be traced to these norms of their society, which weakened them from within and from without. The Jannasaries refused to learn new weaponary or new battle tactics. The old was always better than the new. As the Ottoman's waned they looked more and more frequently backwards instead of forwards. In some ways they attempted to emulate the west, but in truth it was little more than a facade.
I personally see so much of why the Middle East is what it is today because of the long history of the Ottomans, in the same way as America takes so much of her history from the British. As you know this is my thing and I would very much like to see others do some reading so they could understand better where the culture there comes from and why. I think it helps when looking at what is going to come out of the SH regime, as well as the other countries in the area. It bears remembering that the Sultan owned everything, absolutely everything in his world. The wealth of the Sultan was astounding. The Palaces of SH makes me think of that.
If you have time look up some information on the Ottoman's. It can lead to a great deal of understanding.
Apr 7, '03
And the facinating history lesson continues. Thanks rncountry
Time has not been on my side for getting to read yet, hopefully soon.
Apr 8, '03
Great post and advice Helen.. Thanks !
Apr 8, '03
wow, great post....printing that one.
Apr 8, '03
Definately print worthy, keep on bringing the insight. It is much appreciated.
Apr 8, '03
I've been trying to come across a good text that discusses some of this, in a narrative sort of way.
Apr 8, '03
Helen, thanks for taking the time to share your vast knowledge of history with us! I enjoy reading it, and it certainly helps broaden my perspective.
Apr 8, '03
Suzy, I'll do some searching on the net and see if I can find something that will be good. There is a fair amount of information on the web, but much of it is not indepth.
Let me see what I can find.
Apr 8, '03
rncountry, I depend on people like you and my husband to keep me informed about things in history as that is not my most favorite subject. If my teachers made it sound as interesting as you and my husband do, I would have loved it. You are just great. Thanks for a great post.
Apr 8, '03
Glad you guys like this. Disabled I'd probably have a grand time discussing things with you hubby. It is too bad that history tends to be taught in such a dry manner in school, because it can be such a fascinating subject.
Suzy, I guess I am not finding much of what I would like on the web, lots of bits and pieces out there if you put in Ottoman Empire in a search, but little that really goes into much depth. So I went through some of the stuff I have here and home and thought there is a book that may be good. I do not have this book at home, it is one I took out of the library but wrote down the author and name in case I wanted to use it to refer back to. It was written in 1877 by a British man. The name is "The Ottoman Power in Europe: It's Nature, It's Growth and it's decline" by Edward Freeman. Recall that it is written after the Crimean war, and it's judgements of the Ottoman's are somewhat harsh, and to our modern eyes racist as well, but the history is sound. The reason I thought of this one is that the book makes an argument for Britian to do the "right thing" and help free the people's of the remaining bits of the Ottoman empire. It also gives a good view of the West of what the Ottoman's were.
Sometimes more modern books gloss over the more horrid aspects of the Ottoman empire, not quite neglecting the widespread use of slavery, instead noting that the Ottoman's did treat their slaves according to the Koren and therefore the slaves were better treated than ones of the Roman times and actually through most of history. This is true on the face of it, but what some books do not go into well is how very dependent the Empire was on those slaves. The Ottoman's also tended to favor slaves out of the Balkans, and because it was not legal to make Muslims slaves the bulk of those people were Eastern Orthodox. This is part of what brought on the Crimean war as the Russian Czar insisted he had the right to extend his protections to those of the Orthodox faith, including those in the Holy Lands. The fear of Russian dominance made the British and the French allies of the Ottoman's, an interesting thing given the past history of Ottoman attempts at conquest of Western Europe. Another thing that often gets forgotten and is not in this book, is the wholesale slaughter of the Christian Armenians by the Ottoman's, starting in the late 1800's. By 1915 the Nationalist Young Turks lead the murder of over a million Armenians. After WWI they were tried for this and actually convicted, but the New secular Turkey(now) would not actively pursue punishment. Some historians believe that this lax attitude with no international outcry emboldened Hitler's pursuit of the Jews.
In any case this particular book is one I found worthwhile, even though it is harsh because I felt it summed up much of the problems of the Ottoman empire and could see how much of those problems impacted not only on the Middle East, but also on the Balkans which puts the conflicts in Kosova and Bosnia in fresh prespective.
Apr 19, '03
Wow I learned alot.
Apr 20, '03
Just now got around to reading this.
I do believe it is essential to understand the history of a people
in order to comprehend their thinking, their actions or lack thereof.
We so often ask "why do they DO this? Why do they THINK this way? Can't they see..." etc., etc. etc.
Look at us. As young as we are, we are quite set in our thinking, our conceptes of freedom, justice, independence, etc. And we are only 200 years young. Those who have had seven, eight, nine or more centuries of living a certain way surely have a far more difficult task ahead of them in CONSIDERING alternative ways of living/thinking...much less ACCEPTING a new model.
It is so important to keep the historical perspective in mind when we deal with other nations. We simply cannot judge or understand them by our own standards.
Apr 20, '03
Last edit by donmurray on Apr 20, '03