Ottoman Empire #256 (1914)

Ottoman Empire #256 (1914)
Ottoman Empire #256 (1914)

The Ottoman Empire (دولت عليه عثمانیه‎ — Devlet-i ʿAlīye-i ʿOsmānīye in Ottoman Turkish or  Osmanlı İmparatorluğu/Osmanlı Devleti in Modern Turkish), also known as the Turkish Empire or Ottoman Turkey, was an empire founded at the end of the thirteenth century in northwestern Anatolia in the vicinity of Bilecik and Söğüt by the Oghuz Turkish tribal leader Osman. After 1354, the Ottomans crossed into Europe, and with the conquest of the Balkans, the Ottoman Beylik was transformed into a transcontinental empire. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire (known to the Ottomans as the Roman Empire) with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, at the height of its power under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire was a multinational, multilingual empire controlling much of Southeast Europe, parts of Central Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. At the beginning of the 17th century, the empire contained 32 provinces and numerous vassal states. Some of these were later absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, while others were granted various types of autonomy during the course of centuries.

With Constantinople as its capital and control of lands around the Mediterranean basin, the Ottoman Empire was at the center of interactions between the Eastern and Western worlds for six centuries. While the empire was once thought to have entered a period of decline following the death of Suleiman the Magnificent, this view is no longer supported by the majority of academic historians.

The empire continued to maintain a flexible and strong economy, society, and military throughout the seventeenth and much of the eighteenth century. However, during a long period of peace from 1740 to 1768, the Ottoman military system fell behind that of their European rivals, the Habsburg and Russian Empires. The Ottomans consequently suffered severe military defeats in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which prompted them to initiate a comprehensive process of reform and modernization known as the Tanzimat.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman state became vastly more powerful and organized, despite suffering further territorial losses, especially in the Balkans, where a number of new states emerged. The empire allied with Germany in the early 20th century, hoping to escape from the diplomatic isolation which had contributed to its recent territorial losses, and thus joined World War I on the side of the Central Powers. While the Empire was able to largely hold its own during the conflict, it was struggling with internal dissent, especially with the Arab Revolt in its Arabian holdings. During this time, major atrocities were committed by the Ottoman government against the Armenians, Assyrians and Pontic Greeks.

The Empire’s defeat and the occupation of part of its territory by the Allied Powers in the aftermath of World War I resulted in its partitioning and the loss of its Middle Eastern territories, which were divided between the United Kingdom and France. The successful Turkish War of Independence against the occupying Allies led to the emergence of the Republic of Turkey in the Anatolian heartland and the abolition of the Ottoman monarchy by the end of 1923.

The word Ottoman is a historical anglicization of the name of Osman I, the founder of the Empire and of the ruling House of Osman (also known as the Ottoman dynasty). Osman’s name in turn was the Turkish form of the Arabic name ʿUthmān (عثمان). In Ottoman Turkish, the empire was referred to as Devlet-i ʿAlīye-yi ʿOsmānīye (literally “The Supreme Ottoman State”) or alternatively ʿOsmānlı Devleti (عثمانلى دولتى). In Modern Turkish, it is known as Osmanlı İmparatorluğu (“The Ottoman Empire”) or Osmanlı Devleti (“The Ottoman State”).

The Turkish word for “Ottoman” (Osmanlı) originally referred to the tribal followers of Osman in the fourteenth century, and subsequently came to be used to refer to the empire’s military-administrative elite. In contrast, the term “Turk” (Türk) was used to refer to the Anatolian peasant and tribal population, and was seen as a disparaging term when applied to urban, educated individuals. As a sophisticated ruling class, the Ottomans looked down upon the Turkish peasantry, calling them Eşek Turk (the donkey Turk) and Kaba Turk (stupid Turk). Expressions like “Turk-head” and “Turk-person” were contemptuously used by Ottomans when they wanted to denigrate each other. In the early modern period, an educated urban-dwelling Turkish-speaker who was not a member of the military-administrative class would refer to himself neither as an Osmanlı nor as a Türk, but rather as a Rūmī (رومى), or “Roman”, meaning an inhabitant of the territory of the former Byzantine Empire in the Balkans and Anatolia. The term Rūmī was also used to refer to Turkish-speakers by the other Muslim peoples of the empire and beyond.

In Western Europe, the two names “Ottoman Empire” and “Turkey” were often used interchangeably, with “Turkey” being increasingly favored both in formal and informal situations. This dichotomy was officially ended in 1920–23, when the newly established Ankara-based Turkish government chose Turkey as the sole official name. Most scholarly historians avoid the terms “Turkey”, “Turks”, and “Turkish” when referring to the Ottomans, due to the empire’s multinational character.

I refer to those stamps issued between 1868 and 1923 as belonging to the Ottoman Empire and those after October 29, 1929, as issued by the Republic of Turkey.

The Ottoman Empire's decline from the period of its greatest extent in 1699 until the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923
The Ottoman Empire’s decline from the period of its greatest extent in 1699 until the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923

In the 13th century, Anatolia was divided into a patchwork of independent Turkish principalities known as the Anatolian Beyliks. One of these beyliks, in the region of Bithynia on the frontier of the Byzantine Empire, was led by the Turkish tribal leader Osman, a figure of obscure origins from whom the name Ottoman is derived. Osman’s early followers consisted both of Turkish tribal groups and Byzantine renegades, many but not all converts to Islam. Osman extended the control of his principality by conquering Byzantine towns along the Sakarya River. It is not well understood how the early Ottomans came to dominate their neighbors, due to the scarcity of the sources which survive from this period. One school of thought which was popular during the twentieth century argued that the Ottomans achieved success by rallying religious warriors to fight for them in the name of Islam. This theory, known as the Gaza Thesis, is now highly criticized and no longer generally accepted by historians, but no consensus on the nature of the early Ottoman state has yet emerged to replace it.

In the century after the death of Osman I, Ottoman rule began to extend over Anatolia and the Balkans. Osman’s son, Orhan, captured the northwestern Anatolian city of Bursa in 1326, and made it the new capital of the Ottoman state. This conquest meant the loss of Byzantine control over northwestern Anatolia. The important city of Thessaloniki was captured from the Venetians in 1387. The Ottoman victory at Kosovo in 1389 effectively marked the end of Serbian power in the region, paving the way for Ottoman expansion into Europe. The Battle of Nicopolis in 1396, widely regarded as the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages, failed to stop the advance of the victorious Ottoman Turks.

With the extension of Turkish dominion into the Balkans, the strategic conquest of Constantinople became a crucial objective. The empire had managed to control nearly all former Byzantine lands surrounding the city, but in 1402 the Byzantines were temporarily relieved when the Turco-Mongol leader Timur, founder of the Timurid Empire, invaded Anatolia from the east. In the Battle of Ankara in 1402, Timur defeated the Ottoman forces and took Sultan Bayezid I as a prisoner, throwing the empire into disorder. The ensuing civil war lasted from 1402 to 1413 as Bayezid’s sons fought over succession. It ended when Mehmed I emerged as the sultan and restored Ottoman power, bringing an end to the Interregnum, also known as the Fetret Devri.

Part of the Ottoman territories in the Balkans (such as Thessaloniki, Macedonia and Kosovo) were temporarily lost after 1402 but were later recovered by Murad II between the 1430s and 1450s. On November 10, 1444, Murad II defeated the Hungarian, Polish, and Wallachian armies under Władysław III of Poland (also King of Hungary) and John Hunyadi at the Battle of Varna, the final battle of the Crusade of Varna, although Albanians under Skanderbeg continued to resist. Four years later, John Hunyadi prepared another army (of Hungarian and Wallachian forces) to attack the Turks but was again defeated by Murad II at the Second Battle of Kosovo in 1448.

Sultan Mehmed II's entry into Constantinople in 1453. Painting by Fausto Zonaro.
Sultan Mehmed II’s entry into Constantinople in 1453. Painting by Fausto Zonaro.

The son of Murad II, Mehmed the Conqueror, reorganized the state and the military, and conquered Constantinople on May 29, 1453. Mehmed allowed the Orthodox Church to maintain its autonomy and land in exchange for accepting Ottoman authority. Because of bad relations between the states of western Europe and the later Byzantine Empire, the majority of the Orthodox population accepted Ottoman rule as preferable to Venetian rule. Albanian resistance was a major obstacle to Ottoman expansion on the Italian peninsula.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Ottoman Empire entered a period of expansion. The Empire prospered under the rule of a line of committed and effective Sultans. It also flourished economically due to its control of the major overland trade routes between Europe and Asia.

Sultan Selim I (1512–1520) dramatically expanded the Empire’s eastern and southern frontiers by defeating Shah Ismail of Safavid Persia, in the Battle of Chaldiran. Selim I established Ottoman rule in Egypt, and created a naval presence on the Red Sea. After this Ottoman expansion, a competition started between the Portuguese Empire and the Ottoman Empire to become the dominant power in the region.

Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566) captured Belgrade in 1521, conquered the southern and central parts of the Kingdom of Hungary as part of the Ottoman–Hungarian Wars, and, after his historic victory in the Battle of Mohács in 1526, he established Turkish rule in the territory of present-day Hungary and other Central European territories. He then laid siege to Vienna in 1529, but failed to take the city. In 1532, he made another attack on Vienna, but was repulsed in the Siege of Güns. Transylvania, Wallachia and, intermittently, Moldavia, became tributary principalities of the Ottoman Empire. In the east, the Ottoman Turks took Baghdad from the Persians in 1535, gaining control of Mesopotamia and naval access to the Persian Gulf. In 1555, the Caucasus became officially partitioned for the first time between the Safavids and the Ottomans, a status quo that would remain until the end of the Russo-Turkish War (1768–74). By this partitioning of the Caucasus as signed in the Peace of Amasya, Western Armenia, and Western Georgia fell into Ottoman hands, while Dagestan, Eastern Armenia, Eastern Georgia, and Azerbaijan remained Persian.

France and the Ottoman Empire, united by mutual opposition to Habsburg rule, became strong allies. The French conquests of Nice (1543) and Corsica (1553) occurred as a joint venture between the forces of the French king Francis I and Suleiman, and were commanded by the Ottoman admirals Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha and Turgut Reis. A month before the siege of Nice, France supported the Ottomans with an artillery unit during the 1543 Ottoman conquest of Esztergom in northern Hungary. After further advances by the Turks, the Habsburg ruler Ferdinand officially recognized Ottoman ascendancy in Hungary in 1547.

In 1559, after the first Ajuran-Portuguese war, the Ottoman Empire would later absorb the weakened east African Adal Sultanate into its domain. This expansion furthered Ottoman rule in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. This also increased its influence in the Indian Ocean to compete against the Portuguese with its close ally the Ajuran Empire.

By the end of Suleiman’s reign, the Empire spanned approximately 877,888 square miles (2,273,720 km²), extending over three continents. In addition, the Empire became a dominant naval force, controlling much of the Mediterranean Sea. By this time, the Ottoman Empire was a major part of the European political sphere. The success of its political and military establishment was compared to the Roman Empire, by the likes of Italian scholar Francesco Sansovino and the French political philosopher Jean Bodin.

In the second half of the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire came under increasing strain from inflation and the rapidly rising costs of warfare that were impacting both Europe and the Middle East. These pressures led to a series of crises around the year 1600, placing great strain upon the Ottoman system of government. The empire underwent a series of transformations of its political and military institutions in response to these challenges, enabling it to successfully adapt to the new conditions of the seventeenth century and remain powerful, militarily and economically. Historians of the mid-twentieth century once characterized this period as one of stagnation and decline, but this view is now rejected by the majority of academics.

The discovery of new maritime trade routes by Western European states allowed them to avoid the Ottoman trade monopoly. The Portuguese discovery of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 initiated a series of Ottoman-Portuguese naval wars in the Indian Ocean throughout the 16th century. Despite the growing European presence in the Indian Ocean, Ottoman trade with the east continued to flourish. Cairo in particular benefited from the rise of Yemeni coffee as a popular consumer commodity. As coffeehouses appeared in cities and towns across the empire, Cairo developed into a major center for its trade, contributing to its continued prosperity throughout the seventeenth and much of the eighteenth century.

Under Ivan IV (1533–1584), the Tsardom of Russia expanded into the Volga and Caspian region at the expense of the Tatar khanates. In 1571, the Crimean khan Devlet I Giray, supported by the Ottomans, burned Moscow. The next year, the invasion was repeated but repelled at the Battle of Molodi. The Crimean Khanate continued to invade Eastern Europe in a series of slave raids, and remained a significant power in Eastern Europe until the end of the 17th century.

In southern Europe, a Catholic coalition led by Philip II of Spain won a victory over the Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepanto (1571). It was a startling, if mostly symbolic, blow to the image of Ottoman invincibility, an image which the victory of the Knights of Malta against the Ottoman invaders in the 1565 Siege of Malta had recently set about eroding. The battle was far more damaging to the Ottoman navy in sapping experienced manpower than the loss of ships, which were rapidly replaced. The Ottoman navy recovered quickly, persuading Venice to sign a peace treaty in 1573, allowing the Ottomans to expand and consolidate their position in North Africa.

By contrast, the Habsburg frontier had settled somewhat, a stalemate caused by a stiffening of the Habsburg defenses. The Long War against Habsburg Austria (1593–1606) created the need for greater numbers of Ottoman infantry equipped with firearms, resulting in a relaxation of recruitment policy. This contributed to problems of indiscipline and outright rebelliousness within the corps, which were never fully solved. Irregular sharpshooters (Sekban) were also recruited, and on demobilization turned to brigandage in the Jelali revolts (1590–1610), which engendered widespread anarchy in Anatolia in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

With the Empire’s population reaching 30 million people by 1600, the shortage of land placed further pressure on the government.[67][obsolete source] In spite of these problems, the Ottoman state remained strong, and its army did not collapse or suffer crushing defeats. The only exceptions were campaigns against the Safavid dynasty of Persia, where many of the Ottoman eastern provinces were lost, some permanently. This 1603–1618 war eventually resulted in the Treaty of Nasuh Pasha, which ceded the entire Caucasus, except westernmost Georgia, back into Iranian Safavid possession.

During his brief majority reign, Murad IV (1623–1640) reasserted central authority and recaptured Iraq from the Safavids in 1639. The resulting Treaty of Zuhab of that same year decisively parted the Caucasus and adjacent regions between the two neighboring empires as it had already been defined in the 1555 Peace of Amasya. The Sultanate of women (1623–1656) was a period in which the mothers of young sultans exercised power on behalf of their sons. The most prominent women of this period were Kösem Sultan and her daughter-in-law Turhan Hatice, whose political rivalry culminated in Kösem’s murder in 1651. During the Köprülü Era (1656–1703), effective control of the Empire was exercised by a sequence of Grand Viziers from the Köprülü family. The Köprülü Vizierate saw renewed military success with authority restored in Transylvania, the conquest of Crete completed in 1669, and expansion into Polish southern Ukraine, with the strongholds of Khotyn and Kamianets-Podilskyi and the territory of Podolia ceding to Ottoman control in 1676.

Map of the Ottoman Empire, 1654
Map of the Ottoman Empire, 1654

This period of renewed assertiveness came to a calamitous end in 1683 when Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha led a huge army to attempt a second Ottoman siege of Vienna in the Great Turkish War of 1683–1699. The final assault being fatally delayed, the Ottoman forces were swept away by allied Habsburg, German and Polish forces spearheaded by the Polish king John III Sobieski at the Battle of Vienna. The alliance of the Holy League pressed home the advantage of the defeat at Vienna, culminating in the Treaty of Karlowitz on January 26, 1699, which ended the Great Turkish War. The Ottomans surrendered control of significant territories, many permanently. Mustafa II (1695–1703) led the counterattack of 1695–96 against the Habsburgs in Hungary, but was undone at the disastrous defeat at Zenta (in modern Serbia), September 11, 1697.

During this period, Russian warm seas expansion presented a large and growing threat. Accordingly, King Charles XII of Sweden was welcomed as an ally in the Ottoman Empire following his defeat by the Russians at the Battle of Poltava of 1709 in central Ukraine. Charles XII persuaded the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed III to declare war on Russia, which resulted in an Ottoman victory in the Pruth River Campaign of 1710–1711, in Moldavia.

After the Austro-Turkish War of 1716–1718, the Treaty of Passarowitz confirmed the loss of the Banat, Serbia and “Little Walachia” (Oltenia) to Austria. The Treaty also revealed that the Ottoman Empire was on the defensive and unlikely to present any further aggression in Europe. The Austro-Russian–Turkish War, which was ended by the Treaty of Belgrade in 1739, resulted in the recovery of Serbia and Oltenia, but the Empire lost the port of Azov, north of the Crimean Peninsula, to the Russians. After this treaty, the Ottoman Empire was able to enjoy a generation of peace, as Austria and Russia were forced to deal with the rise of Prussia.

Educational and technological reforms came about, including the establishment of higher education institutions such as the Istanbul Technical University. In 1734, an artillery school was established to impart Western-style artillery methods, but the Islamic clergy successfully objected under the grounds of theodicy. In 1754, the artillery school was reopened on a semi-secret basis. In 1726, Ibrahim Muteferrika convinced the Grand Vizier Nevşehirli Damat İbrahim Pasha, the Grand Mufti, and the clergy on the efficiency of the printing press, and Muteferrika was later granted by Sultan Ahmed III permission to publish non-religious books despite opposition from some calligraphers and religious leaders. Muteferrika’s press published its first book in 1729 and, by 1743, issued 17 works in 23 volumes, each having between 500 and 1,000 copies.

In 1768, Russian-backed Ukrainian Haidamaks, pursuing Polish confederates, entered Balta, an Ottoman-controlled town on the border of Bessarabia in Ukraine, and massacred its citizens and burned the town to the ground. This action provoked the Ottoman Empire into the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–1774. The Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca of 1774 ended the war and provided freedom to worship for the Christian citizens of the Ottoman-controlled provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia. By the late 18th century, after a number of defeats in the wars with Russia led some people in the Ottoman Empire to conclude that the reforms of Peter the Great had given the Russians an edge, and the Ottomans would have to keep up with Western technology in order to avoid further defeats.

Selim III (1789–1807) made the first major attempts to modernize the army, but reforms were hampered by the religious leadership and the Janissary corps. Jealous of their privileges and firmly opposed to change, the Janissary created a revolt. Selim’s efforts cost him his throne and his life, but were resolved in spectacular and bloody fashion by his successor, the dynamic Mahmud II, who eliminated the Janissary corps in 1826.

The Serbian revolution (1804–1815) marked the beginning of an era of national awakening in the Balkans during the Eastern Question. In 1811, the fundamentalist Wahhabis of Arabia, led by the al-Saud family revolted against the Ottomans. Unable to defeat the Wahhabi rebels, the Sublime Porte had Mohammad Ali the Great, the vali (governor) of Egypt tasked with retaking Arabia which ended with the destruction of the Emirate of Diriyah in 1818. The Suzerainty of Serbia as a hereditary monarchy under its own dynasty was acknowledged de jure in 1830.

In 1821, the Greeks declared war on the Sultan. A rebellion that originated in Moldavia as a diversion was followed by the main revolution in the Peloponnese, which, along with the northern part of the Gulf of Corinth, became the first parts of the Ottoman Empire to achieve independence in 1829. In 1830, the French invaded Algeria, which was lost to the empire. In 1831, Mohammad Ali revolted with the aim of making himself sultan and founding a new dynasty, and his French-trained army under his son Ibrahim Pasha defeated the Ottoman Army as it marched on Constantinople, coming within 200 miles of the capital. In desperation, the Sultan Mahmud II appealed to the empire’s traditional archenemy Russia for help, asking the Emperor Nicholas I to sent an expeditionary force to save him. In return for signing the Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi, the Russians sent the expeditionary force, which deterred Ibrahim from taking Constantinople.

Under the terms of Peace of Kutahia, signed on May 5, 1833, Mohammad Ali agreed to abandon his claim to the throne, in exchange for which he was made the vali of the vilayets (provinces) of Crete, Aleppo, Tripoli, Damascus and Sidon (the latter four comprising modern Syria and Lebanon), and given the right to collect taxes in Adana. Had it not been for the Russian intervention, it is almost certain Mahumd II would have been overthrown and Mohammad Ali would have become the new sultan, marking the beginning of a recurring pattern where the Sublime Porte needed the help of outsiders to save itself.

In 1839, the Sublime Porte attempted to take back what it lost to the de facto independent vilayet of Egypt, and suffered a crushing defeat, leading to the Oriental Crisis as Mohammad Ali was very close to France, and the prospect of him as Sultan was widely viewed as putting the entire empire into the French sphere of influence. As the Sublime Porte had proved itself incapable of defeating the Egyptians, Britain and Austria intervened to defeat Egypt. By the mid-19th century, the Ottoman Empire was called the “sick man” by Europeans. The suzerain states — the Principality of Serbia, Wallachia, Moldavia and Montenegro — moved towards de jure independence during the 1860s and 1870s.

During the Tanzimat period (1839–1876), the government’s series of constitutional reforms led to a fairly modern conscripted army, banking system reforms, the decriminalization of homosexuality, the replacement of religious law with secular law and guilds with modern factories. The Ottoman Ministry of Post was established in Constantinople on October 23, 1840, which began operating a postal service was established between that city and other major cities in the country. As late as 1863, there were only 63 domestic post offices in the entire empire, and service was sporadic and slow.

Foreign countries had maintained courier services through their official missions in the Empire since the 18th century, to permit transportation of mail between those countries and Constantinople. Nine countries had negotiated “Capitulations” or treaties with the Ottomans, which granted various extraterritorial rights in exchange for trade opportunities. Such agreements permitted Russia (1720 & 1783), Austria (1739), France (1812), Great Britain (1832) and Greece (1834), as well as Germany, Italy, Poland, and Romania, to maintain post offices in the Ottoman Empire. Some of these developed into public mail services, used to transmit mail to Europe.

Samuel Morse received a Turkish patent for the telegraph in 1847, which was issued by Sultan Abdülmecid who personally tested the new invention. Following this successful test, work on the first Turkish telegraph line (Istanbul-Edirne-Şumnu) began on August 9, 1847. The reformist period peaked with the Constitution, called the Kanûn-u Esâsî. The Empire’s First Constitutional era was short-lived. The parliament survived for only two years before the sultan suspended it.

The Christian population of the empire, owing to their higher educational levels, started to pull ahead of the Muslim majority, leading to much resentment on the part of the latter. In 1861, there were 571 primary and 94 secondary schools for Ottoman Christians with 140,000 pupils in total, a figure that vastly exceeded the number of Muslim children in school at the same time, who were further hindered by the amount of time spent learning Arabic and Islamic theology. The Arabic alphabet, which Turkish was written in until 1928, was very ill-suited to reflect the sounds of the Turkish language (which is a Turkic as opposed to Semitic language), which imposed a further difficulty on Turkish children. In turn, the higher educational levels of the Christians allowed them to play a larger role in the economy, with the rise in prominence of groups such as the Sursock family indicative of this shift in influence.

Turkish troops storming Fort Shefketil during the Crimean War of 1853–1856
Turkish troops storming Fort Shefketil during the Crimean War of 1853–1856

The Crimean War (1853–1856) was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining Ottoman Empire. The financial burden of the war led the Ottoman state to issue foreign loans amounting to 5 million pounds sterling on 4 August 1854. The war caused an exodus of the Crimean Tatars, about 200,000 of whom moved to the Ottoman Empire in continuing waves of emigration. Toward the end of the Caucasian Wars, 90% of the Circassians were ethnically cleansed and exiled from their homelands in the Caucasus and fled to the Ottoman Empire, resulting in the settlement of 500,000 to 700,000 Circassians in Turkey. Some Circassian organizations give much higher numbers, totaling 1–1.5 million deported or killed. Crimean Tartar refugees in the late 19th century played an especially notable role in seeking to modernize Ottoman education and in first promoting both Pan-Turkicism and a sense of Turkish nationalism.

As the Ottoman state attempted to modernize its infrastructure and army in response to threats from the outside, it also opened itself up to a different kind of threat: that of creditors. Indeed, as the historian Eugene Rogan has written, “the single greatest threat to the independence of the Middle East” in the nineteenth century “was not the armies of Europe but its banks.”

On January 1, 1863, Turkey issued its first adhesive postage stamps. It was the second independent country in Asia to issue adhesive stamps, preceded only by Russia in 1858, and two British colonies, Scinde District of India in 1852, India itself in 1854 and Ceylon in 1857. Turkey’s stamps came less than two years after its neighbor and former territory, Greece (independent 1832), issued its first stamps.

The design of these first stamps consists of the tughra, the Turkish emblem of sovereignty, for the then current ruler Sultan Abdülaziz, over a crescent bearing the inscription in Ottoman Turkish Devleti Aliye Osmaniye, or “The Sublime Ottoman Empire”. Between some of the stamps there is a control band with the words Nazareti Maliye devleti aliye, or “Ministry of Finance of the Imperial Government”. The stamp was designed and lithographed at the Constantinople Mint, and the writing is entirely in Turkish using Arabic script. The issue includes four denominations issued as regular postage stamps, and the same four values as postage due stamps. Including paper variants, a total of 10 Scott catalogue numbers have been assigned the issue.

“Dissatisfied” with the first issue as compared with “the well-executed stamps of other countries”, Turkey turned to France for its second issue of postage stamps, following Greece’s decision to have its first stamps printed in Paris. Commonly known as the Duloz issue, it was engraved by a Frenchman, Mr. “Duloz”, and originally printed by the Poitevin firm in Paris. The engraver has been identified as Pierre Edelestand Stanislas Dulos. Dulos was a highly skilled technical engraver and the inventor of a chemical process to produce recess or relief engraving plates, and engraved many French revenue stamps. The design was apparently prepared by the Turkish Ministry of Finance, but the name of the designer is unknown. The Duloz stamps were issued from 1865 to 1876, although two were overprinted for use in 1881–1882, and continued to be used for some time as the subsequent Empire issue was not valid for domestic postage until 1888. In 1868, printing plates for the stamps were sent to Constantinople, where the remaining Duloz stamps were printed. Some of the subsequent printings were poorly printed and badly perforated.

The Duloz stamps were typographed or relief printed and the design consists of a central oval enclosing a crescent and star with radiating lines, and “have a distinctly oriental character”. Each value was printed in a single color. Turkish writing in Arabic script is overprinted on the oval in black, stating Postai devleti Osmaniye or “Post of the Ottoman Empire”. The bottom inscription states the denomination in para, or fortieths of a piastre (kuruş), and accordingly differs on each value.

The Duloz stamps were reprinted in a series of issues with different colors and overprint script, from 1865 to 1882. Scott assigns 46 primary catalog numbers to the Duloz stamps, plus 29 numbers to the postage dues.

Effective July 1, 1875, the Ottoman Empire became a founding member of the General Postal Union, soon to become the Universal Postal Union, a multi-country treaty facilitating and standardizing the transport of mail between members. In January 1876, the Duloz stamps were overprinted with the values in western numerals (in piastres, not para) and French abbreviations as “a provisional series for franking letters to countries belonging to the Universal Postal Union”. The Empire hoped that joining the UPU would eliminate the foreign post offices operating in the country, but that did not occur as the foreign post offices continued to be competitive.

The Empire issue was first issued in September 1876, following Turkey’s entry into the Universal Postal Union, and unlike the preceding Duloz issue, the stamps bore the name of the country and the values in Western characters as well as Arabic. They were intended for use to countries in the UPU, but in March 1888 became officially valid for domestic use. The Empire stamps were issued from 1876 to 1890, and the basic postage stamps, not counting overprinted stamps, are assigned a total of 32 catalog numbers by Scott, including three postage dues.

The design of the Empire issue stamps consists of a crescent, with ends pointing upward, surrounding Arabic script, which reads, like the Duloz stamps, “Post of the Ottoman Empire”. In the bottom center of the crescent itself appears, also in Arabic writing, the denomination, e.g. 20 Paras or 2 Piastres. In side-panels to the lower left and right of the crescent appear only the numerical value, but in Turkish numerals. Below the crescent is a label with the words EMP: OTTOMAN, that is, Ottoman Empire, and below the label is the value in western numerals and letters, e.g. “2 Piastres”.

The stamps were typographed in two colors, except for the postage dues, which were printed only in black. There is a background composed of calligraphic letters, in mirror image, reading Postai devleti Osmaniye, or “Post of the Ottoman Empire”, and the Turkish year date 1291, equivalent to 1875. The color combinations used are often striking.

The Ottoman state, which had begun taking on debt with the Crimean War, was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1875. By 1881, the Ottoman Empire agreed to have its debt controlled by an institution known as the Ottoman Public Debt Administration, a council of European men with presidency alternating between France and Britain. The body controlled swaths of the Ottoman economy, and used its position to insure that European capital continued to penetrate the empire, often to the detriment of local Ottoman interests.

The Ottoman bashi-bazouks brutally suppressed the Bulgarian uprising of 1876, massacring up to 100,000 people in the process. The Russo-Turkish War (1877–78) ended with a decisive victory for Russia. As a result, Ottoman holdings in Europe declined sharply; Bulgaria was established as an independent principality inside the Ottoman Empire, Romania achieved full independence. Serbia and Montenegro finally gained complete independence, but with smaller territories. In 1878, Austria-Hungary unilaterally occupied the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Novi Pazar.

In return for British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s advocacy for restoring the Ottoman territories on the Balkan Peninsula during the Congress of Berlin, Britain assumed the administration of Cyprus in 1878, and later sent troops to Egypt in 1882 to put down the Urabi Revolt as the Sultan Abdul Hamid II was too paranoid to mobilize his own army, fearing this would result in a coup d’état, effectively gaining control in both territories. Abdul Hamid II, popularly known as “Abdul Hamid the Damned” on the account of his cruelty and paranoia was so fearful of the threat of a coup that he did not allow his army to conduct war games, least this serve as the cover for a coup, but he did see the need for military mobilization. In 1883, a German military mission under General Baron Colmar von der Goltz arrived to train the Ottoman Army, leading to the so-called “Goltz generation” of German-trained officers who were to play a notable role in the politics of the last years of the empire.

From 1894 to 1896, between 100,000 and 300,000 Armenians living throughout the empire were killed in what became known as the Hamidian massacres.

Ottoman officers in Constantinople, 1897.
Ottoman officers in Constantinople, 1897.

In 1892, the Ottomans issued a series of large stamps with an intricate design known by philatelists as the Arms and Tughra issue, the only western writing being the value both in numerals and spelled out in French. The center of the stamps bears the Ottoman coat of arms surrounding the tughra of Abdul Hamid II. Stamps were issued for regular postage and for postage due and were overprinted for use as newspaper stamps and for other purposes.

In 1898, the Empire issued a series of stamps for its armed forces occupying Thessaly during the Greco-Turkish War. The stamps have an intricate design incorporating the tughra and the bridge at Larissa and are of interest for their unusual octagonal shape and perforations which permit them to be separated into either squares or octagons. They are the first postage stamps ever issued octagonally perforated.

From 1901 through 1911, the Ottoman Empire issued a number of stamps with similar designs including the tughra of the reigning monarch. All early Ottoman stamps were printed within the country with the exception of the first two Duloz issues printed in Paris. All these stamps also had a distinct Ottoman appearance until 1913, when a series of stamps was issued commemorating the recapture of Adrianople from the Bulgarians. These stamps were designed by Oskan Effendi and were engraved and printed in England by Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co., Ltd., and are in a more international style, with central vignettes surrounded by a frame.

In early 1914, a series of finely engraved stamps, some in two colors, was issued depicting scenes of Constantinople and other images. They were designed by Oskan Effendi and printed by Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co. in England, and also have a more international appearance to them.

As the Ottoman Empire gradually shrank in size, some 7–9 million Muslims from its former territories in the Caucasus, Crimea, Balkans, and the Mediterranean islands migrated to Anatolia and Eastern Thrace. After the Empire lost the First Balkan War (1912–13), it lost all its Balkan territories except East Thrace (European Turkey). This resulted in around 400,000 Muslims fleeing with the retreating Ottoman armies (with many dying from cholera brought by the soldiers), and with some 400,000 non-Muslims fleeing territory still under Ottoman rule. Justin McCarthy estimates that during the period 1821 to 1922 several million Muslims died in the Balkans, with the expulsion of a similar number.

The defeat and dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (1908–1922) began with the Second Constitutional Era, a moment of hope and promise established with the Young Turk Revolution. It restored the Ottoman constitution of 1876 and brought in multi-party politics with a two-stage electoral system (electoral law) under the Ottoman parliament. The constitution offered hope by freeing the empire’s citizens to modernize the state’s institutions, rejuvenate its strength, and enable it to hold its own against outside powers. Its guarantee of liberties promised to dissolve inter-communal tensions and transform the empire into a more harmonious place. Instead, this period became the story of the twilight struggle of the Empire. Young Turks movement members once underground established their parties. including the Committee of Union and Progress and the Freedom and Accord Party. On the other end of the spectrum were ethnic parties which included Poale Zion, Al-Fatat, and an Armenian national movement organized under Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

Profiting from the civil strife, Austria-Hungary officially annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. The last of Ottoman censuses was performed with the 1914 census. Ottoman military reforms resulted with the Ottoman Modern Army which engaged with Italo-Turkish War (1911) that ended in the loss of the North African territories and the Dodecanese, Balkan Wars (1912–1913) that ended in the loss of almost all of the Empire’s European territories, and continuous unrest in the Empire up to World War I.

Map of the Ottoman Empire during World War I
Map of the Ottoman Empire during World War I

The Empire signed the secret Ottoman-German Alliance on August 2, 1914, and entered hostilities on the side of the Central Powers in October 1914, beginning with the Ottoman surprise attack on the Russian Black Sea coast on October 29. Following the attack, Russia and its allies, France and Britain, declared war on the Ottomans. There were several important Ottoman victories in the early years of the war, such as the Battle of Gallipoli and the Siege of Kut.

In 1915 the Ottoman government started the extermination of its ethnic Armenian population, resulting in the death of approximately 1.5 million Armenians in the Armenian Genocide. The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labor, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and systematic massacre. Large-scale massacres were also committed against the Empire’s Greek and Assyrian minorities as part of the same campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The Arab Revolt which began in 1916 turned the tide against the Ottomans on the Middle Eastern front, where they initially seemed to have the upper hand during the first two years of the war. The Armistice of Mudros was signed on October 30, 1918, and set the partition of the Ottoman Empire under the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres. This treaty, as designed in the conference of London, allowed the Sultan to retain his position and title.

World War I and its disruptions are reflected in Turkey’s stamps issued during the war, which included stamps depicting soldiers and battle scenes, a number of provisional stamp issues in which available stocks of older issues were overprinted due to paper shortages, and stamps issued to collect a tax for war orphans. Remainders of stamps as old as 1865 were overprinted,[26] some of which already had overprints, and sometimes multiple new overprints were added, resulting in a complex variety of configurations of interest to philatelists. The Allied Forces were victorious and occupied Constantinople, after which the Ottoman government collapsed. The Treaty of Sèvres was signed on August 10, 1920. and confirmed the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.

The occupation of Constantinople and İzmir led to the establishment of a Turkish national movement, Following the armistice, Mustafa Kemal (later given the surname “Atatürk”). formed a Nationalist Government in Ankara and the Turkish War of Independence against the Allies ensued. Outside of a small area surrounding Constantinople, Turkey was controlled by the Nationalist Government and is referred to philatelically as Turkey in Asia or Anatolia. From 1920 to 1922, small stocks of old postage stamps were overprinted after which a number of large revenue stamps with intricate designs and without Western lettering were handstamped for validation as postage. It has been stated that the study of the stamps of this period “is very difficult, for there are no reliable official records of the actual dates of their issue, or of the length of time for which they were used, and but few genuine letters with clear dates are available.”

On November 1, 1922, the National Assembly, led by Mustafa Kemal, abolished the Sultinate and the last Sultan, Mehmed VI abdicated and fled the country on November 17. This eventually led to the Treaty of Lausanne, July 24, 1923, which supplanted the Treaty of Sèvres. The Republic of Turkey was declared a republic on October 28, 1923. The caliphate was abolished on March 3, 1924. The republic’s first stamp issue was a definitive series depicting a star and crescent, somewhat reminiscent of the Duloz issue. This issue marked the end of the use of the tughra which had appeared as a design element in most of the Ottoman Empire’s stamps from 1863 to 1922.

.Scott #256 was released on January 14, 1914, part of a set of 17 pictorial stamps depicting views of Constantinople, the lower six values of which were lithographed and the remainder engraved (Scott #254-270). The 5-para violet brown stamp depicts Maiden’s Tower  (Kız Kulesi in Turkish), also known as Leander’s Tower (Tower of Leandros) since the medieval Byzantine period, is a tower lying on a small islet located at the southern entrance of the Bosphorus strait 220 yards (200 meters) from the coast of Üsküdar in Istanbul.

The Maiden's Tower in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo taken on January 23, 2004
The Maiden’s Tower in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo taken on January 23, 2004

After the naval victory at Cyzicus, the ancient Athenian general Alcibiades possibly built a custom station for ships coming from the Black Sea on a small rock in front of Chrysopolis (today’s Üsküdar). In 1110, Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus built a wooden tower protected by a stone wall. From the tower an iron chain stretched across to another tower erected on the European shore, at the quarter of Mangana in Constantinople. The islet was then connected to the Asiatic shore through a defense wall, whose underwater remains are still visible. During the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the tower held a Byzantine garrison commanded by the Venetian Gabriele Trevisano. Subsequently, the structure was used as a watchtower by the Ottoman Turks during the reign of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.

The tower, often named Leander’s Tower in reference to the legend of Hero and Leander (which took place in the Dardanelles strait, also known as the Hellespont in antiquity), was destroyed during the earthquake of 1509, and burned in 1721. Since then it was used as a lighthouse, and the surrounding walls were repaired in 1731 and 1734, until in 1763 it was erected using stone. From 1829 the tower was used as a quarantine station, and in 1832 was restored by Sultan Mahmud II. Restored again by the harbour authority in 1945, the most recent restoration began in 1998 for the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough, and steel supports were added around the ancient tower as a precaution after the August 17, 1999 earthquake.

The interior of the tower has been transformed into a popular café and restaurant, with an excellent view of the former Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman capital. Private boats make trips to the tower several times a day.

There are many legends about the construction of the tower and its location. According to the most popular Turkish legend, an emperor had a much beloved daughter and one day, an oracle prophesied that she would be killed by a venomous snake on her 18th birthday. The emperor, in an effort to thwart his daughter’s early demise by placing her away from land so as to keep her away from any snakes, had the tower built in the middle of the Bosphorus to protect his daughter until her 18th birthday. The princess was placed in the tower, where she was frequently visited only by her father.

On the 18th birthday of the princess, the emperor brought her a basket of exotic sumptuous fruits as a birthday gift, delighted that he was able to prevent the prophecy. Upon reaching into the basket, however, an asp that had been hiding among the fruit bit the young princess and she died in her father’s arms, just as the oracle had predicted. Hence the name Maiden’s Tower.

The older name Leander’s Tower comes from another story about a maiden: the ancient Greek myth of Hero and Leander. Hero was a priestess of Aphrodite who lived in a tower at Sestos, at the edge of the Hellespont (Dardanelles). Leander (Leandros), a young man from Abydos on the other side of the strait, fell in love with her and would swim every night across the Hellespont to be with her. Hero would light a lamp every night at the top of her tower to guide his way.

Succumbing to Leander’s soft words, and to his argument that Aphrodite, as goddess of love, would scorn the worship of a virgin, Hero allowed him to make love to her. This routine lasted through the warm summer. But one stormy winter night, the waves tossed Leander in the sea and the breezes blew out Hero’s light, and Leander lost his way, and was drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower in grief and died as well. The name Maiden’s Tower might also have its origins in this ancient story.

Due to the vicinity and similarity between the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, Leander’s story was mistakenly attributed to the tower.

A typical military sign from the Ottoman Empire known as "arma" (this Homeric Greek expression itself reflects to a symbol adopted under influence from abroad) in Turkish army (infantry) and displayed on the reverse side of the battalion banners (military colours) of European style introduced after Nizami-Jedid reforms. It is not the State coat of arms of the Ottoman Empire, as the Empire did not use any.
A typical military sign from the Ottoman Empire known as “arma” (this Homeric Greek expression itself reflects to a symbol adopted under influence from abroad) in Turkish army (infantry) and displayed on the reverse side of the battalion banners (military colours) of European style introduced after Nizami-Jedid reforms. It is not the State coat of arms of the Ottoman Empire, as the Empire did not use any.

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