"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Reforming Ottoman Governance and Killing Ottoman Christians

In talking with my students about Eastern Christian encounters with Islam, both ancient and modern, I find they struggle (as perhaps only idealistic Americans can) with recognizing that reform efforts (or, worse, revolutions) do not always work, and in fact as often as not end up not merely failing, but making things worse. In recent examples, we look at Egypt post-Mubarak, at least under Morsi; we look at Iraq post-2003; and we look at Syria, and what will likely happen there if Assad is ever overthrown. But the paradox holds true for earlier examples, as we continue to learn with numerous new studies out on the sunset of the Ottoman Empire, including Fuat Andic and Suphan Andic, Reforming Ottoman Governance (Gorgias Press, 2014), 186pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Reforms in the Ottoman Empire began in 1718 during the period known as the Tulip Era, which ended in 1730 with a bloody janissary uprising. Sultan Selim III, who reigned from 1789 to 1807, tried to engage with domestic reform, but was most interested in reforming the military. This conflicted with the interests of both the janissaries and the religious leaders and made the sultan a victim of another janissary uprising. In the nineteenth century the Empire was plagued with internal revolts and suffered from the unending imperialist appetites of European powers. Mahmud II, successor to Selim III, strove to change the paradigm of governance with his personal administration. His most daring action was the eradication of the unruly janissary organization. In the nineteenth century internal turmoil again created havoc in the Ottoman Empire. The concept of a constitutional monarchy penetrated the Empire, first in the form of Tanzimat in 1839, and subsequently with the issuance of a constitution in 1876. The sultan of the time, Abdülhamid II, became convinced that he could run the Empire alone and suspended the constitution. He was dethroned by a military coup in 1909. The janissaries had disappeared from the Empire, but their mentality had not. A new constitution was declared by amateur politicians and military officers, members of a revolutionary committee known as 'Union and Progress', also known in the West as the 'Young Turks'. They were well intentioned, but faced two disastrous wars, one in Libya, the other in the Balkans. Their administration quickly degenerated into a dictatorship and they had hardly enough time to carry out any meaningful reforms. In 1914 the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War together with Germany, the death knell of an empire that had lasted seven hundred years.

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