I haven’t had a chance to read the book “The Ottomans: Khans, Caesars, and Caliphs” by American historian and London School of Economics professor, Marc David Baer.
However, a related article by Professor Panagiotis K. Ioakeimidis published in To Vima newspaper, on Sunday November 6, 2022, briefly presents “some of the central findings of the Baer study”, such as that the Ottoman Empire was a European empire that remains an integral part of European culture and history, with religious tolerance, secularism, and modernity – that the Ottomans were willing to accept anyone as a Muslim regardless of language, origin or social status.
The Ottoman Empire was far from being a favored state. And it is at least an insult to the people under the Ottoman yoke to try to beautify the empire as if it were a paradise of multiculturalism and tolerance of different religions.
In a place where the Islamisation, especially of children, the abduction of Christian women and their confinement in the sultan’s harems as well as the persecution of Christians were part of the policy of the Ottoman sultans. Suffice it to mention that in the Middle East, the prevailing religion until the 13th century was Christianity, which became a minority due to the politics of Ottoman despotism.
Islamisation and persecution was with fire and iron. If indeed the Ottoman sultans were tolerant of the free exercise by the subject peoples of their religious duties, why did the Treaty of Saint Stephen which was concluded on March 3, 1878, recognise Russia as the protector of all the Orthodox subjects of the sultan!
In the history of Greece and Cyprus, the beheadings of archbishops, the massacres of priests and prelates, the economic oppression of the subject masses by the Ottomans and the practice of terrorism have been recorded. According to Jean-Francois Colosimo, French historian and author:
“For the Sublime Gate the practice of tolerance always stops where the assertion of equality begins.”
The Ottomans were distinguished by their hatred of the Jews who were characterised as Zionists, of the Armenians who demanded their independence and of the Greeks who claimed their freedom.
Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the so-called “Red Sultan” with bloody hands, who hated the West, implemented a policy of terror against the oppressed subjugated peoples. Greeks, Armenians and other minorities of the empire suffer the brutality and massacres unleashed by the government forces, while at the same time using the unbridled mobs.
The two reforming sultanic decrees that were issued primarily served the interests of the Ottoman Empire and little of its subjects.
The first imperial decree, known as the Hati Sherif of Gülhane, was issued in November 1839 by the Sultan at a time when the Ottoman Empire needed the support of European powers to face its dangerous rival, the Egyptian Muhammad Ali, and prevent the dissolution of it.
And the second decree, the famous Hati Humayun, which was supposed to bring about the necessary reforms to improve the living conditions of the enslaved peoples, was issued by Sultan Abdul Mejid I, in February 1856, after intense pressure on the Sublime Gate by France and Great Britain.
The sultan thus bought the Great Powers’ respect for the territorial integrity of the empire with the groundbreaking reform. However, the assumption of power by the absolutist Abdul Hamid II, who involved the Sublime Porte in a war with Russia (1877-1878), suspended the process of reforms and reinstated the absolutist regime.
What is the purpose of beautifying the Ottoman Empire now, a hundred years after its overthrow?
Loria Markidis is a former ambassador to China.