The Decline of the Ottoman Empire, c.1798-1913

Robert Johnson puts the decline of a once-great Empire into an international context.

For decades, the decay of the power of the Ottoman Turks in the eastern Mediterranean was known to the British as ‘The Eastern Question’. Lord Morley, a Liberal politician of the late nineteenth century, described it as ‘that intractable and interwoven tangle of conflicting interests, rival peoples and antagonistic faiths’. It was typical of the Europeans to dismiss the Turks as incapable of running an empire, for they regarded them as ‘Oriental’ and therefore inherently unable to modernise. In short, they were seen as racially inferior.

The old regime’s gradual disintegration seemed to reinforce these views. It is not surprising that the Ottoman Empire, racked by rebellions, corruption in the administration, financial weaknesses and military defeats, was labelled the ‘Sick Man of Europe’. The decline of the Ottoman system, as with the demise of all empires, created dangerous instabilities and fostered new ambitions amongst the region’s powers. However, what Morley and his type did not acknowledge was that the interference of the Great Powers made the situation far worse.

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