In one of the stranger pieces of news to come our way here at Via Meadia lately, Prince Orhan Aal Othman, a descendant of the former ruling dynasty of the Ottoman Empire, is quoted in an interview blaming Theodor Herzl, the founding father of modern Zionism, for the collapse of his family firm. As the Prince expresses himself,I could just say the Ottoman Empire fell because, well, it sucked. You don't topple the Eastern Roman Empire and deserve to survive. But Walter Russell Mead gets a li'l more specific:
“The Ottoman state did not collapse in a year or two, or even ten or twenty years. It began when Sultan Abdulhamid made his decision in his meeting with Dr. Herzl. Herzl made several requests to meet Sultan Abdulhamid, and he was refused – once, twice, and three times. The fourth time, he met him, and [Herzl] prepared the ground… he asked him for land in Palestine, to serve as a place for settlement of the Jews. When the Sultan rejected this request – that was the beginning of the fall of the Ottoman state. A decision was made that there should no longer be an Ottoman state, a caliphate, or a sultanate.”Check out the clip from MEMRI. Really, watch it. It’s worth the time. Who knew that the fall of the Ottoman Empire, also, was due to the schemes and machinations of those cunning, scheming, omnipotent and all-seeing Jews?
As it happens, there is absolutely no historical linkage between Herzl’s meeting with the Sultan and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The empire fell because the Young Turks ruling the country at the time were not very good at international politics, and hitched their wagon to the German star in World War One. Despite a brilliant campaign by Mustafa Kemal (who would take the name Ataturk, overthrow the last feeble Ottoman ruler and proclaim the Turkish Republic) at Gallipoli and despite much courage shown by Ottoman soldiers from modern Iraq to the Balkans, there was no way the feeble empire could survive the collapse of the Central Powers’ cause. Siding against Britain in World War One was the worst and last political mistake the Ottoman Empire made.Indeed, quite a few of the problems of the Middle East today date from the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Make no mistake, the Arabs hated the Ottomans, who, remember, were Turks and not Arabs, and were happy with the Empire's downfall. But the Europeans' badly botched the aftermath. The US ignored the negotiations for the Treaty of Sevres, which broke up the Ottoman holdings, because President Wilson didn't care about anything else except getting his damn League of Nations. How'd that work out for ya?
The Jews did not secretly conspire to destroy this falling state. If anything, Jewish opinion in Europe was sympathetic to the Ottoman cause in that war because of the hostility of many Jews to the viciously anti-Semitic Russian empire on the other side. Many European Zionists thought they would have a better chance getting a Jewish state if Germany and the Ottomans won the war, when Germany would be supreme in Europe. The Kaiser, Wilhelm II, was the first ruler who had met with Herzl, proclaimed himself a convert to the cause, was responsible for pushing the meeting between Herzl and the Sultan, and had more than once expressed his sympathy for the Zionist project in a way that, in 1914, no other European head of state had ever done. (Supporters of the Balfour Declaration in the west argued that promising a homeland for the Jews was necessary to counter Germany’s overwhelming sympathy among the world’s Jews.)
Once embroiled in the war with Great Britain, the Ottoman Empire had little chance of survival, and Arabs, Kurds, Russians, British, Armenians, French, Greeks, Turks, Bulgarians, Italians and Jews began to fight for the scraps. In some ways the fighting and conflicts convulsing the Middle East today from Iraq to Tunisia are aftershocks from the fall of what was once the greatest empire of its time.
Mustafa Kemal and his "Young Turks" did not like the Ottomans kowtowing to the West and formed their own group, which fought a civil war against the Ottomans, and had among their targets Greek residents of the Empire. Remember that Ionia, on Turkeys' Aegean coast, had been Greek for millennia, and Constantiniple had been the capital of the predominantly-Greek Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. The result was a lot of ethnic cleansing, the Treaty of Lausanne, which re-established Turkish suzerainty over Ionia and completed the downfall of the Ottoman regime; the removal of the Turkish capital out of Constantinople to Ankara and, ultimately, more ethic cleansing, with Greeks driven out of Turkey both by international agreement and by pogrom.
I actually like Turkey, and I think its Islamist path right now is a tragedy for the world, but let's not make the Ottoman Empire out to be some utopia (like Assassin's Creed: Revelations seems to do). With a few exceptions (Suleiman the Magnificent being one), the Ottomans were thugs. All the talk about their religious tolerance is garbage. They practiced the dhimmi system, with segregation of non-Muslims, reducing them to second-class citizens and forcing them to pay special taxes, just like the Arabs did; they just called it the millet system instead of dhimmi. The legacy of Ottoman rule has been a poisonous one, especially in the Balkans. The wars in the former Yugoslavia were so fierce in part because the Serbs, who had especially suffered under Ottoman rule, were determined to never again live under Muslim rule. The result was Bosnia and Kosovo.
Feel sorry for Turkey today and hope it turns to a friendlier, more prosperous path, but don't fell sorry for the Ottomans. They had it coming.