Beginning in the 16th century, much of the Arabic-speaking regions of North Africa and the Middle East became Ottoman provinces. There were few economic, political or intellectual achievments associated with the Arabs that occured in this period.

In 1516-17, the Ottomans defeated the Mamluks and absorbed Syria, Egypt and western Arabia into their empire. The provinces of Aleppo, Damascus and Tripoli were so valuable and brought in so much tax revenue they were controlled directly by Istanbul. Aleppo was a major international trading center . Damascus was the kick off point for caravans to Mecca. Control was maintained by striking deals with powerful families in Syria.

The Ottoman Empire organized society around the concept of the millet, or autonomous religious community. The non-Muslim "People of the Book" (Christians and Jews) owed taxes to the government; in return they were permitted to govern themselves according to their own religious law in matters that did not concern Muslims. The religious communities were thus able to preserve a large measure of identity and autonomy. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

The administrative system in a Turkish vilayet (province) was under a wali (governor general) appointed by the sultan. Province were composed of sanjaks (subprovinces), each administered by a mutasarrif (lieutenant governor) responsible to the governor general. These subprovinces were each divided into districts. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, ed. Libya: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1987*]

Executive officers from the governor general downward were Turks. The mutasarrif was in some cases assisted by an advisory council and, at the lower levels, Turkish officials relied on aid and counsel from the tribal shaykhs. Administrative districts below the subprovincial level corresponded to the tribal areas that remained the focus of the Arabs' identification.*

Although the system was logical and appeared efficient on paper, it was never consistently applied. In an effort to provide a tax base in North Africa, the Turks attempted unsuccessfully to stimulate agriculture. However, in general, nineteenth-century Ottoman rule was characterized by corruption, revolt, and repression. The region was a backwater province in a decaying empire that had been dubbed the "sick man of Europe."

Websites and Resources: Ottoman Empire and Turks: The ; Ottoman Text Archive Project – University of Washington ; Wikipedia article on the Ottoman Empire Wikipedia ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on the Ottoman Empire ; American Travelers to the Holy Land in the 19th Century Shapell Manuscript Foundation ; Ottoman Empire and Turk Resources – University of Michigan ; Turkey in Asia, 1920 ; Wikipedia article on the Turkish People Wikipedia ; Turkish Studies, Turkic republics, regions, and peoples at University of Michigan ; Türkçestan Orientaal's links to Turkic languages ; Turkish Culture Portal ; ATON, the Uysal-Walker Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative at Texas Tech University ; The Horse, the Wheel and Language, How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World", David W Anthony, 2007 ; Wikipedia article on Eurasian nomads Wikipedia

Pashas and Ottoman Rule Over Its Provinces

pashas presenting their gifts to the sultan

The Ottomans ruled their provinces through pashas, who governed with unlimited authority over the land under their control, although they were responsible ultimately to the Sublime Porte. Pashas were both administrative and military leaders. So long as they collected their taxes, maintained order, and ruled an area not of immediate military importance, the Sublime Porte left them alone. In turn the pashas ruled smaller administrative districts through either a subordinate Turk or a loyal Arab. Occasionally, as in the area that became Lebanon, the Arab subordinate maintained his position more through his own power than through loyalty. Throughout Ottoman rule, there was little contact with the authorities except among wealthier Syrians who entered government service or studied in Turkish universities. [Source: Thomas Collelo, ed. Syria: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1987 *]

The system was not particularly onerous because the Turks respected Arabic as the language of the Quran and accepted the mantle of defenders of the faith. Damascus was made the major entrepot for Mecca, and as such it acquired a holy character to Muslims because of the baraka (spiritual force or blessing) of the countless pilgrims who passed through on the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.*

Ottoman administration often followed patterns set by previous rulers. Each religious minority — Shia Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Armenian, and Jewish — constituted a millet. The religious heads of each community administered all personal status law and performed certain civil functions as well.*

Ottomans in the Balkans

Macedonia and much of the Balkans also endured 500 years of Ottoman rule. The Turks first penetrated into the Balkans in 1371 after the Battle of Marica and claimed Macedonia in 1392. The Macedonians were allowed to practice Orthodox Christianity under the Ottoman Turks. They rebelled from time to time but none of the rebellions accomplished very much.

Bulgarians, Macedonians and other southern Balkan people are descendants of pagan Slavic tribes that migrated from what is now Russia into the southern Balkans more than a thousand years ago and overran Christains communities founded by Roman colonists. The people in the Balkans adopted the Eastern Orthodox faith of the Byzantine Empire mainly through the efforts of the Byzantine missionaries St. Cyril and St. Methodius. Their disciples, St. Kliment and St. Naum, established a seat of higher leaning in Ohrid, present-day Macedonia in 896 and created the Cyrillic alphabet used by Russians, Macedonians and Bulgarians.


Before the Turks arrived, much of the Balkans, including Macedonia, was ruled by Serbia. One of the greatest heros — or villains, depending on your side — of this period was the Serbian warrior Marko Krajevic, who, according to legend, carried a 100-pound mace of iron, silver and gold and cried upon killing an infamous Albanian rebel, saying "I killed a far better knight than I am."

In the Middle Ages, Montenegro was under the control of Serbia; but when the battle of Kosovo laid Serbia at the mercy of the Turks, in 1389, Montenegro became independent; and independent it has remained. It is a country of warriors, who were well prepared to play their part in the late Balkan War. One Romanian told the Washington Post, "the history of the Balkans is that when a a small nation feels threatened there is an explosion.”

Following a defeat by the Ottomans to Russia in an 1877-1878, the power exerted over the Balkans by the Ottoman Empire was greatly reduced. Afterwards nationalist and rebel movements were born in Macedonia and other Balkan Countries. Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo are the main Muslim strongholds in the Balkans today.

Ottomans in Bulgaria and Transylvania

The Ottoman Turks occupied and ruled Bulgaria for about 500 years from 1369 to 1878. They moved into Bulgaria around 1393 and occupied much of the country before they conquered Constantinople. Christian boys were taken away from their families at a young age to be trained as Janissaries—the sultan's elite troops.

Ottoman forces captured the commercial center of Sofia in 1385. Serbia, then the strongest Christian power in the Balkans, was decisively defeated by the Ottomans at the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389, leaving Bulgaria divided and exposed. Within ten years, the last independent Bulgarian outpost was captured. Bulgarian resistance continued until 1453, when the capture of Constantinople gave the Ottomans a base from which to crush local uprisings. In consolidating its Balkan territories, the new Ottoman political order eliminated the entire Bulgarian state apparatus. The Ottomans also crushed the nobility as a landholding class and potential center of resistance. The new rulers reorganized the Bulgarian church, which had existed as a separate patriarchate since 1235, making it a diocese under complete control of the Byzantine Patriarchate at Constantinople. The sultan, in turn, totally controlled the patriarchate. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Vlad the Impaler

Roughly between the period of 1500 to 1900 various parts of Romania were under the jurisdiction of the Ottoman Turk, Habsburg and Hungarian empires at various times. In 1417 Walachia in present-day Romania became a principality of the Ottoman Empire, which was in the process of enveloping southeastern Europe. Although Transylvania eventually became an autonomous principality of the empire in 1541, in the fifteenth century Moldavia and Walachia slid into severe decline, and under Ottoman rule all the regions of modern Romania became isolated from the outside world.

A notable rebel against the Ottomans in the fifteenth century was Vlad Ţepeş, who as the ruler of Walachia (1456–62) gained a reputation for cruelty on which the Dracula legend was built. The Moldavian prince Stephen (1457–1504) led campaigns to keep his territory free of Hungarian and Ottoman control. He succeeded against the Hungarians but failed against the Ottomans. Aided by the Ottoman defeat of Catholic Hungary, in the sixteenth century the Protestant Reformation spread among Transylvania’s German and Hungarian populations. The government of Transylvania was among the first in Europe to guarantee a limited freedom of religion.In the late sixteenth century, several regional powers, including the Holy Roman Empire, vied for de facto control of the Ottoman Empire’s Romanian territories. In 1683 Jan Sobieski's Polish army crushed an Ottoman army besieging Vienna, and Christian forces soon began to roll back the Turkish occupation of Europe. In 1699 the Ottoman government officially recognized Austria's sovereignty over Transylvania.

Ottoman Rule in Bulgaria

The Ottomans ruled with a centralized system much different from the scattered local power centers of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The single goal of Ottoman policy in Bulgarian territory was to make all local resources available to extend the empire westward toward Vienna and across northern Africa. Landed estates were given in fiefdom to knights bound to serve the sultan. Peasants paid multiple taxes to both their masters and the government. Territorial control also meant cultural and religious assimilation of the populace into the empire. Ottoman authorities forcibly converted the most promising Christian youths to Islam and trained them for government service. Called pomaks, such converts often received special privileges and rose to high administrative and military positions. The Ottoman system also recognized the value of Bulgarian artisans, who were organized and given limited autonomy as a separate class. Some prosperous Bulgarian peasants and merchants became intermediaries between local Turkish authorities and the peasants. In this capacity, these chorbadzhi (squires) were able to moderate Ottoman policy. On the negative side, the Ottoman assimilation policy also included resettlement of Balkan Slavs in Asia Minor and immigration of Turkish peasants to farm Bulgarian land. Slavs also were the victims of mass enslavement and forcible mass conversion to Islam in certain areas. [Source: Library of Congress]

“Traditional Bulgarian culture survived only in the smaller villages during the centuries of Ottoman rule. Because the administrative apparatus of the Ottoman Empire included officials of many nationalities, commerce in the polyglot empire introduced Jews, Armenians, Dalmatians, and Greeks into the chief population centers. Bulgarians in such centers were forcibly resettled as part of a policy to scatter the potentially troublesome educated classes. The villages, however, were often ignored by the centralized Ottoman authorities, whose control over the Turkish landholders often exerted a modifying influence that worked to the advantage of the indigenous population. Village church life also felt relatively little impact from the centralized authority of the Greek Orthodox Church. Therefore, between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, the villages became isolated repositories of Bulgarian folk culture, religion, social institutions, and language. *

“Notable Bulgarian uprisings against the Ottomans occurred in the 1590s, the 1680s and the 1730s; all sought to take advantage of external crises of the empire, and all were harshly suppressed. Beginning in the 1600s, local bandits, called hajduti (sing., hajdutin), led small uprisings. Some writers now describe these uprisings as precursors of a Bulgarian nationalist movement. Most scholars agree, however, that hajdutin activities responded only to local misrule and their raids victimized both Christians and Muslims. Whatever their motivation, hajdutin exploits became a central theme of national folk culture. *

Balkans in 1877

“By 1600 the Ottoman Empire had reached the peak of its power and territorial control. In the seventeenth century, the empire began to collapse; the wealth of conquest had spread corruption through the political system, vitiating the ability of the central government to impose order throughout the farflung empire. For the majority of people in agricultural Bulgaria, centralized Ottoman control had been far from intolerable while the empire was orderly and strong. But the growing despotism of local authorities as the central government declined created a new class of victims. Increasingly, Bulgarians welcomed the progressive Western political ideas that reached them through the Danube trade and travel routes. Already in the 1600s, Catholic missionaries in western Bulgaria had stimulated creation of literature about Bulgaria's national past. Although the Turks suppressed this Western influence after the Chiprovets uprising of 1688, the next century brought an outpouring of historical writings reminding Bulgarian readers of a glorious national heritage.” *

Marko and the Turks (1450)

Before the Turks arrived, much of the Balkans, including Macedonia, was ruled by Serbia. One of the greatest heros — or villains, depending on your side — of this period was the Serbian warrior Marko Kralevich (Krajevic), who, according to legend, carried a 100-pound mace of iron, silver and gold and cried upon killing an infamous Albanian rebel, saying "I killed a far better knight than I am."

Marko Kralevich is the half-mythical hero of the Serbians, and they delight in the old ballads composed about his victories over Turks and Magyars. After he was slain in battle, his people still believed that some time he would appear and would rescue them from oppression. The old Serbian tales “Marko and the Turks” (c. 1450) goes: [Source: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World's Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. VI: Russia, Austria-Hungary, The Balkan States, and Turkey, pp. 415-419]

“Vizier Amurath is gone a-hunting;
Hunting in the leafy mountain-forest:
With him hunt twelve warriors, Turkish heroes:
With the heroes hunts the noble Marko:
White days three they hunted in the mountain;
Nothing found they in the mountain-forest.
But, behold! while in the forest hunting,
They a lake, a green-faced lake, discover,
Where a flock of gold-wing'd ducks are swimming.

“There the proud vizier lets loose his falcon,
Bids him pounce upon a gold-wing'd swimmer;
But the falcon turned his glances upwards,
And he mounted to the clouds of heaven.
To the proud vizier said princely Marko:
"Vizier Amurath! is it allow'd me
To let loose my own, my favorite falcon?
He a gold-wing'd duck shall doubtless bring thee.'
And the Moslem swiftly answer'd Marko:

“"'Tis allow'd thee, Marko! I allow thee."
Then the princely Marko loosed his falcon;
To the clouds of heaven aloft he mounted;
Then he sprang upon the gold-wing'd swimmer—
Seized him—rose—and down they fell together.
When the bird of Amurath sees the struggle,
He becomes indignant with vexation:
'Twas of old his custom to play falsely—
For himself alone to grip his booty:
So he pounces down on Marko's falcon,
To deprive him of his well-earn'd trophy.
But the bird was valiant as his master;
Marko's falcon has the mind of Marko;
And his gold-wing'd prey he will not yield him.
Sharply turns he round on Amurath's falcon,
And he tears away his proudest feathers.
Soon as the vizier observes the contest,
He is fill'd with sorrow and with anger;
Rushes on the falcon of Prince Marko,
Flings him fiercely 'gainst a verdant fir tree,
And he breaks the falcon's dexter pinion.
Marko's golden falcon groans in suffering,
As the serpent hisses from the cavern.
Marko flies to help his favorite falcon,
Binds with tenderness the wounded pinion,
And with stifled rage the bird addresses:
"Woe for thee, and woe for me, my falcon!
I have left my Serbians,—I have hunted
With the Turks,—and all these wrongs have suffer'd."
Then the hunters in their course pass'd by him—
Pass'd him by, and left him sad and lonely.

Marko Mrnjavcevic

“There his falcon's wounds to heal he tarried—
Tarried long amidst the mountain-forests.
When the wounds were heal'd, he sprung on Sharaz,
Spurr'd his steed, and gallop'd o'er the mountain;
Sped as swiftly as the mountain Vila.
Soon he leaves the mountain far behind him:
Reaching then the gloomy mountain borders;
On the plain beneath him, with his heroes—
Turkish heroes twelve, the princely Marko
The vizier descries, who looks around him,
Sees the princely Marko in the distance,
And thus calls upon his twelve companions:
"You, my children! you, twelve Turkish heroes!
See you yonder mountain mist approaching,
From the darksome mountain traveling hither?
In that mountain-mist is princely Marko;
Lo! how fiercely urges he his courser!
God defend us now from every evil!"

“Soon the princely Marko reached the Moslems,
From the sheath he drew his trusty saber,
Drove that arm'd vizier, and all his warriors—
Drove them from him—o'er the desert scatters,
As the vulture drives a flock of sparrows.
Marko soon o'ertakes the flying warriors,
From his neck their chieftain's head he sever'd;
And the dozen youths his trusty saber
Into four-and-twenty halves divided.

“Then he stood awhile in doubtful musing;
Should he go to Jedren [Adrianople] to the sultan—
Should he rather seek his home at Prilip?
After all his musings he determined:—
"Better is it that I seek the sultan;
And let Marko tell the deeds of Marko—
Not the foes of Marko—not the Moslems!"

“So the hero Marko sped to Jedren.
To the sultan in divan he enter'd;
And his fiery eyes look'd fiercely round him,
As the hungry wolves around the forest;
Look'd as fiercely as if charged with lightnings.
And the sultan ask'd the hero Marko,
"Tell me what hath vexed thee, princely Marko?
Say in what the sultan hath annoy'd thee?
Tell me what misfortune hath disturb'd thee?"
Then the princely Marko tells the sultan
What with Amurath Vizier had happened;
And the sultan feigned a merry laughter:
And with agitated brow responded,
"Blessings be upon thee, princely Marko!
Hadst thou not behaved thee thus, my Marko,
Son of mine I would no longer call thee.
Any Turk may get a vizier's title,
But there is no hero like my Marko."

“From his silken vestments then the sultan
From his purse drew out a thousand ducats,
Threw the golden ducats to the hero:
"Take these ducats from thy master, Marko,
Drink to my prosperity, thou hero!"

“Marko took the purse of gold in silence,
Walk'd away in silence from the palace;
'Twas no love of Marko—no intention
That the hero's lips should pledge the sultan:
'Twas that he should quit the monarch's presence,
For his fearful wrath had been awaken'd.

Ottomans Verus the Persian Safavids

Safavid map

From the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, the course of Iraqi history was affected by the continuing conflicts between the Safavid Empire in Iran and the Ottoman Turks. The Safavids, who were the first to declare Shia Islam the official religion of Iran, sought to control Iraq both because of the Shia holy places at An Najaf and Karbala and because Baghdad, the seat of the old Abbasid Empire, had great symbolic value. The Ottomans, fearing that Shia Islam would spread to Anatolia (Asia Minor), sought to maintain Iraq as a Sunni-controlled buffer state. In 1509 the Safavids, led by Ismail Shah (1502-24), conquered Iraq, thereby initiating a series of protracted battles with the Ottomans. In 1514 Sultan Selim the Grim attacked Ismail's forces and in 1535 the Ottomans, led by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-66), conquered Baghdad from the Safavids. The Safavids reconquered Baghdad in 1623 under the leadership of Shah Abbas (1587-1629), but they were expelled in 1638 after a series of brilliant military maneuvers by the dynamic Ottoman sultan, Murad IV. [Source: Helen Chapin Metz, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

The major impact of the Safavid-Ottoman conflict on Iraqi history was the deepening of the Shia-Sunni rift. Both the Ottomans and the Safavids used Sunni and Shia Islam respectively to mobilize domestic support. Thus, Iraq's Sunni population suffered immeasurably during the brief Safavid reign (1623-38), while Iraq's Shias were excluded from power altogether during the longer period of Ottoman supremacy (1638-1916). During the Ottoman period, the Sunnis gained the administrative experience that would allow them to monopolize political power in the twentieth century. The Sunnis were able to take advantage of new economic and educational opportunities while the Shias, frozen out of the political process, remained politically impotent and economically depressed. The Shia-Sunni rift continued as an important element of Iraqi social structure in the 1980s.

By the seventeenth century, the frequent conflicts with the Safavids had sapped the strength of the Ottoman Empire and had weakened its control over its provinces. In Iraq, tribal authority once again dominated; the history of nineteenth-century Iraq is a chronicle of tribal migrations and of conflict. The nomadic population swelled with the influx of beduins from Najd, in the Arabian Peninsula. Beduin raids on settled areas became impossible to curb. In the interior, the large and powerful Muntafiq tribal confederation took shape under the leadership of the Sunni Saadun family of Mecca. In the desert southwest, the Shammar--one of the biggest tribal confederations of the Arabian Peninsula--entered the Syrian desert and clashed with the Anayzah confederation. On the lower Tigris near Al Amarah, a new tribal confederation, the Bani Lam, took root. In the north, the Kurdish Baban Dynasty emerged and organized Kurdish resistance. The resistance made it impossible for the Ottomans to maintain even nominal suzerainty over Iraqi Kurdistan (land of the Kurds). Between 1625 and 1668, and from 1694 to 1701, local shaykhs ruled Al Basrah and the marshlands, home of the Madan (Marsh Arabs). The powerful shaykhs basically ignored the Ottoman governor of Baghdad.

Ottomans Versus Russia

In the early eighteenth century, Russian Tsar Peter the Great (Peter I) initiated a long-lasting goal of Russian foreign policy, to gain access to warm-water ports at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. Peter first moved to eliminate the Ottoman presence on the north shore of the Black Sea. Russia's main objective in the region subsequently was to win access to warm-water ports on the Black Sea and then to obtain an opening to the Mediterranean through the Ottoman-controlled Bosporus and Dardanelles straits. Despite territorial gains at Ottoman expense, however, Russia was unable to achieve these goals, and the Black Sea remained for the time an "Ottoman lake" on which Russian warships were prohibited.*

During the next two centuries, Russia fought several wars to diminish Ottoman power. In a ruinous sixteen-year war, Russia and the Holy League--composed of Austria, Poland, and Venice, and organized under the aegis of the pope--finally drove the Ottomans south of the Danube and east of the Carpathians. Under the terms of the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, the first in which the Ottomans acknowledged defeat, Hungary, Transylvania, and Croatia were formally relinquished to Austria. Poland recovered Podolia, and Dalmatia and the Morea were ceded to Venice. In a separate peace the next year, Russia received the Azov region. In 1774 the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kaynarja gained Russian ships access to Ottoman waterways.

he Ottoman Empire fought three wars with Russia in the nineteenth century. The Crimean War (1854-56) pitted France, Britain, and the Ottoman Empire against Russia. Under the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, Russia abandoned its claim to protect Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire and renounced the right to intervene in the Balkans. War resumed between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in 1877. Russia opened hostilities in response to Ottoman suppression of uprisings in Bulgaria and to the threat posed to Serbia by Ottoman forces. The Russian army had driven through Bulgaria and reached as far as Edirne when the Porte acceded to the terms imposed by a new agreement, the Treaty of San Stefano. The treaty reduced Ottoman holdings in Europe to eastern Thrace and created a large, independent Bulgarian state under Russian protection.*

Turks and Russians in the Crimea and the Caucasus

During the Middle Ages the Turks controlled most of the Crimean peninsula and Byzantine and Genoese built fortresses and trading posts on the coast, where treasures brought from China on the Silk Road were shipped to Europe. In the mid-13th century Mongols lead by Batu Khan claimed the Crimea. These tribesmen, later called Tatars by the Russians, allied themselves with Ottoman Turkey and supplied the great Istanbul-based empire with white slaves. [Source: Peter White, National Geographic, September 1994]

part of the Caucaus contested by the Russian and Ottoman empires

The Russian achieved victory over the Turks in the Russo-Ottoman War of 1768-75 with the help of the Cossacks. Afterwards the semi-autonomous Cossack state was broken up, the Ukraine became buffer zone between Russia and Turkey, and the way was paved for expansion into the area and the eventual seizure of the Crimea and the Black Sea Coast.

Russia fought numerous wars with Persia and the Ottoman Empire for control of the Caucasus region as well as with resistance movement of indigenous Caucasus ethnic groups. The resistance was particular strong in the 19th century from mountain people such as the Chechens, Circassians, Avars and others.

In the late 17th century the Ottoman empire controlled the land south of the Caucasus mountains, including present-day Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Tsarist Russia controlled the land north of the Caucasus mountains. The Georgian kingdoms were acquired by Russia in 1804. Persia ceded northern Azerbaijan and Yeravan (part of Armenia) to Russia in 1813 as part of the Treaty of Gulistan and an agreement made after a war from 1826 to 1828.

Ottomans in the Caucasus

Numerous wars were fought between Russia, Persia and the Ottoman Empire for control of the Caucasus region as well with resistance movements of indigenous Caucasus ethnic groups. In the late 17th century the Ottoman empire controlled the land south of the Caucasus mountains, including present-day Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Tsarist Russia controlled the land north of the Caucasus mountains.

In the sixteenth century, the Azerbaijani Safavid Dynasty took power in Persia. During the latter half of the 16th century wars between the Turkish Ottoman empire and the Safavids led to Ottoman occupation of Eastern Caucasus between 1578 and 1603. As the Safavid authority began to wane, the Russians’ and Ottomans’ rose. The Azerbaijani Safavid Dynasty fought off efforts by the Ottoman Turks during the eighteenth century to establish control over Azerbaijan; the Safavids could not, however, halt Russian advances into the region.

After a 10-year war in the early 19th century, Persia lost Baku, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Dagestan and other territories to Russia, which managed to hold on to them and make them part of the Soviet Union. The Georgian kingdoms were acquired by Russia in 1804. Persia ceded northern Azerbaijan and Yeravan (part of Armenia) to Russia in 1813 as part of the Treaty of Gulistan and an agreement made after a war from 1826 to 1828. The Treaty of Gulistan between Iran and Russia drove Iran out of the Caucasus and brought the entire region between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea under the Russian sphere.

Ottoman-era Armenian Colonel of Artillery

In the mid 1800s, Muslim forces lead by a Chechen imam named Shamil fought a holy war against the Russian "infidels" in Chechnya and Dagestan. Spurred on by a desire for freedom and a belief they were protected by God, they battled against incredible odds and killed thousands of tsarist troops. In 1859, the forces of Aleksandr Baryatinskiy finally captured Shamil. He and band of Murids were finally surrounded at Gunib in Dagestan and captured after a 15-day siege. After Shamil surrendered, many formally independent enclaves became part of the Russian Empire. Some areas came under Russian control. Others came under Ottoman control. Some of the territory abandoned by Muslim groups was claimed by the Christian Ossetians. Avaria was annexed by the Russian Empire but was able to maintain a high degree of autonomy.

Ottoman Empire in Armenia

By the 16th century, Greater Armenia had been absorbed into the Iranian and Ottoman empires. This essentially divided the Armenian community into two cultural and linguistic halves: eastern and western, each of which now has its own standardized dialects and cultural and literary traditions.

The Ottomans claimed Armenia after Tamerlane’s death in 1405. Control of Western Armenia by the Turks endured until the early 20th century, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Control of Eastern Armenia by Iran endured until the early 19th century, when Russia took over the region At its height the Safavid Empire (1502-1736) embraced the modern states of Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Afghanistan and parts of Syria, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

Armenians and Turks got along during much of the Ottoman period. The Ottomans valued Armenian as architects and craftsman and treasured their sensuous carvings, tiles, rugs and lace. Armenians, along with Jews and Greeks, made up a large part f the intellectual and financial communities in the Ottoman Empire. Still they were often resented by the Turks because the were better educated, wealthier and more Westernized.

Like the Jews, Armenians were prevented from owning property and became bankers and moneylenders and were despised for this. The Armenian diaspora began establishing itself abroad, settling in cities in the Middle East, Africa, and China.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History “ by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples “ by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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