A mighty empire falls

From sultan to president

The Ottoman Empire lasted for over 600 years, ruling over huge areas of the Middle East, Eastern Europe and North Africa. This Islamic superpower was ruled by a Sultan, who had absolute religious and political power of those he ruled.

Whilst often viewed with suspicion or hostility by those outside of the empire or non-Muslims, the Ottomans actually made significant advances in medicine, created wonderful art and were at the forefront of scientific advances.

It was the Ottomans who gave us surgical instruments such as forceps, scalpels, and catheters – still in use today.

Additionally it was the Ottomans who also gave the world possibly the greatest title for a leader ever -  “Suleiman the Magnificent.”

Suleiman the Magnificent: Rocking the sort of headwear you'd expect of someone referring to themselves as 'magnificent'.

Rise of the Ottomans

The Ottoman Empire, established around 1299 by Osman I, marked the beginning of a formidable state that would endure for centuries. Originating as a small Anatolian principality, the Ottomans gradually expanded their territory through a series of military conquests and strategic alliances.

The pivotal moment in their rise came in 1453 when Mehmed II successfully captured Constantinople, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire and establishing the Ottomans as a dominant force in the region.

Under the rule of Mehmed II and his successors, the Ottoman Empire experienced a period of rapid expansion and consolidation, reaching its zenith during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566). Suleiman's leadership saw the empire extending its influence across three continents, encompassing Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa.

This era, often referred to as the "Golden Age" of the Ottoman Empire, witnessed significant cultural, economic, and military achievements.

The Ottoman Empire operated on a system of governance known as the millet system, which allowed religious and ethnic communities a degree of autonomy in exchange for loyalty to the central authority. This approach contributed to the empire's ability to govern diverse populations, fostering a sense of unity despite the empire's vast multicultural composition.

Beginnings of the decline

However, by the late 17th century, the Ottoman Empire faced challenges that would mark the beginning of a gradual decline. Military defeats against European powers, economic troubles, and internal strife weakened the once-mighty empire. The Ottoman leaders attempted to address these issues through the implementation of reforms, but the decline persisted.

As the Ottoman Empire entered the 1600s, it stood at a crossroads, facing both external pressures and internal challenges that would shape its trajectory in the coming centuries. The geopolitical landscape was evolving, setting the stage for the empire's complex interactions with neighboring powers and influencing its subsequent history.

During the 1700s, the Ottoman Empire, once an unrivaled power, began to experience a steady decline known as the "Long Decline" or "The Sick Man of Europe."

Military defeats against European powers, internal strife, and administrative inefficiencies weakened the empire.

The Ottoman government attempted reforms known as the Tanzimat to modernize institutions, but progress was slow.

A detailed map of the Ottoman Empire, it's divisions and vassals in the year 1875 under sultan Abdul-Aziz.

AbdurRahman AbdulMoneim

In the 1800s, the Ottoman Empire faced increasing challenges, particularly from nationalist movements within its diverse territories. The empire's inability to address the aspirations of various ethnic and religious groups contributed to unrest. Additionally, external pressures intensified with European powers intervening in Ottoman affairs.

The Crimean War (1853–1856) and the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) highlighted the empire's military vulnerabilities.

The Tanzimat reforms continued under Sultan Abdulhamid II, who also adopted authoritarian measures to quell dissent. However, these efforts proved insufficient to reverse the empire's decline. The Young Turks, a reformist group, eventually rose to prominence, leading to the deposition of Abdulhamid II in 1909.

By the late 19th century, the Ottoman Empire faced territorial losses in the Balkans and continued to grapple with economic challenges. These factors, coupled with the empire's involvement in World War I, would further hasten its decline.

First World War

By the start of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire's decline was essentially irreversible.

Possibly as a way to reassert itself, the Ottomans threw in their lot with the Central Powers and joined the war on the side of the German and Austro-Hungary empires.

The decision to join the Central Powers stemmed from the Ottoman desire to reclaim lost territories and protect its sovereignty against perceived threats from the Allies. However, the Ottoman military faced numerous challenges, including outdated weaponry, insufficient resources, and internal dissent.

The Gallipoli Campaign of 1915-1916, where Ottoman forces successfully repelled the Allied invasion, showcased the resilience of the Ottoman military but also highlighted the strain on the empire's resources.

Reflecting the role of the Ottoman Empire in the Central Powers, here Germanys' Kaiser Wilhelm is pictured wearing an Ottoman Empire Generals Uniform.


Ultimately the decision to partake in the First World War proved to be a mistake as following the Armistice, the Ottomans lost territories to the victors.

Ottoman soldiers who were captured by the British while fighting on the Tuzhurmatu front 70 kilometres south of Kirkuk. April, 1918.


Ottoman Empire soldiers during the First World War.

The Treaty of Sèvres

​The Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 was signed between the Allies of the First World War and the Ottoman empire and saw large chunks of the Ottoman Empire ceded to the Allied countries.

Many of these were under ‘mandates’ which was similar, but different from colonialism.

  • France received mandates and control over Syria, Lebanon and neighbouring parts of south-eastern Anatolia, including Antep, Urfa and Mardin. Cilicia, including Adana, Diyarbakır and large portions of east-central Anatolia all the way north to Sivas and Tokat, were declared a zone of French influence.
  • The Greek government administered the occupation of Smyrna from 21 May 1919 followed by a protectorate being established on 30 July 1922.
  • Italy gained control of the Dodecanese Islands.
  • Greece gained parts of Eastern Thrace, the islands of Imbros and Tenedos and the islands of the Sea of Marmara.
  • Britain gained mandates over Iraq and Palestine and influence over the independent Kingdom of Hejaz.
  • Armenia was recognised as a "free and independent" state.

Map showing the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

War of Independence

The Turkish War of Independence, spanning from 1919 to 1922, marked a critical juncture in the Ottoman Empire's demise. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a visionary military leader, spearheaded the resistance against foreign occupation and the imposition of the Treaty of Sèvres.

Atatürk's leadership galvanized a nationalistic fervor, uniting diverse ethnic and religious groups under the banner of a new Turkish identity.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and fellow officers, during the Turkish War of Independence.

Colorized Film Footage of Turkish War of Independence (youtube.com)

...the final chapter in the Ottoman Empire's decline...

The War of Independence culminated in the decisive Battle of Sakarya and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which recognized the sovereignty of the newly-formed Republic of Turkey.

Atatürk's efforts not only thwarted foreign intervention but also laid the foundation for modern Turkey, signaling the final chapter in the Ottoman Empire's decline.

The Republic of Turkey

​By 1922, the Ottoman empire was no more. The title of Sultan was eliminated and Turkey – the centre of the Ottoman empire became a republic the following year, with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk becoming its first president from 1923 until his death in 1938.

The first president of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

...These transformative measures laid the foundation for Turkey's evolution...

Atatürk initiated a series of sweeping reforms aimed at modernizing and secularizing the nation. The 1924 constitution abolished the caliphate, separating religion from politics, and granting women the right to vote.

In the 1920s, Atatürk introduced the Latin alphabet, replaced the Islamic legal system with a European-inspired legal code, and implemented economic policies to stimulate industrialization. These transformative measures laid the foundation for Turkey's evolution into a modern, secular state and positioned it as a key player in the geopolitics of the region.

Map of the Republic of Turkey in the 1920s, along with it's territorial ambitions at the time.

(17) Map of the Republic of Turkey in the 1920s, along with it's territorial ambitions at the time. : MapPorn (reddit.com)

Global repercussions

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War significantly influenced the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East and had repercussions during the Second World War.

The dismantling of the Ottoman Empire marked the end of the imperial system that had existed for centuries.

The power vacuum created by the disintegration of the empire contributed to regional instability, with newly established states and territories facing challenges in defining their borders and establishing governance.

During the Second World War, Turkey, as the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, pursued a policy of neutrality for much of the conflict.

This was in stark contrast to its involvement in the previous world war.

The Turkish leadership, under President İsmet İnönü, sought to avoid entanglement in the global conflict and focused on maintaining Turkish sovereignty and stability.

Further reading

Fromkin's comprehensive work explores the intricate geopolitical forces behind the Ottoman Empire's collapse, detailing the post-World War I negotiations and the subsequent reconfiguration of the Middle East.

McMeekin provides a detailed account of the Ottoman Empire's final years, examining the impact of World War I and the ensuing conflicts, offering a nuanced analysis of the complex factors that led to its demise.

Ihrig delves into the post-Ottoman era, exploring the legacy of Atatürk and his influence on both Turkish nationalism and Nazi Germany, shedding light on the intricacies of the Ottoman Empire's dissolution and its aftermath.

Barr explores the geopolitical maneuverings in the aftermath of the First World War, detailing the challenges faced by the Ottoman Empire and the ensuing power struggles. This well-researched narrative provides a nuanced understanding of the complex dynamics that shaped the Middle East's post-Ottoman landscape.

Rogan provides a compelling narrative of the Ottoman Empire's involvement in the First World War and its subsequent collapse, exploring the military campaigns, political developments, and societal changes that marked the empire's demise.

Anscombe's work focuses on the 19th-century context of the Ottoman Empire, examining internal challenges and uprisings, offering historical context to understand the eventual dissolution of the empire after the First World War .