What role did nationalism play in the downfall of the Ottoman Empire?

Nationalism played a major role in the demise of the Ottoman Empire, as foreign powers capitalized on Turkish weakness in order to assist provinces who sought to break away from Istanbul's control.

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The Ottoman Empire ruled over a large territory comprised of numerous nationalities. Although they were ruled by the Turks, these people retained a strong sense of their own national identity. Over the course of the nineteenth century, some of these nationalities asserted themselves. Notions of national self-rule emerged from the...

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The Ottoman Empire ruled over a large territory comprised of numerous nationalities. Although they were ruled by the Turks, these people retained a strong sense of their own national identity. Over the course of the nineteenth century, some of these nationalities asserted themselves. Notions of national self-rule emerged from the Enlightenment and Romantic periods and took hold throughout Europe.

This led to several independence movements in the Ottoman Empire. For instance, throughout the 1820s, the Greeks fought for and attained their independence from the Ottomans and established their own nation-state. Other parts of the Ottoman Empire fell away over the course of the 1800s as nationalistic movements arose within them. This includes Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Bosnia.

Even Turkish nationalism contributed to the Ottoman Empire's downfall. The Young Turk movement and revolution of 1908 was a nationalistic uprising that led to the restoration of the Ottoman constitution. This triggered an attempted counterrevolution the following year. When WWI began, Turkish nationalists gained more strength and influence. However, the turmoil and infighting of the previous decade had greatly damaged an already weakened empire and made it less capable of effectively fighting this much larger conflict.

In the early twentieth century, Arab nationalism spread through Ottoman-held Arabia. During the First World War, the French and British capitalized in this and supported an Arab uprising against the Ottomans. After the Ottoman's defeat, the empire was dismantled and the Ottoman Empire came to a decisive end.

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Even before it's ultimate collapse at the end of WWI, the Ottoman Empire was referred to as "the sick man of Europe," meaning that it was barely limping along when compared to its heyday in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Splits in Islam weakened the spiritual authority of the sultan. Corruption and inefficiency led many people to seek change from above; when these reforms did not meet their needs, many Arabs sought Western help in their attempt to break free from Ottoman control. Many Arabs fought alongside British forces in Arabia in order to make their nationalist goals come true; unfortunately, many of these dreams were delayed when the victorious Allies created protectorates throughout the Middle East. Ataturk created the modern state of Turkey in order to focus on reform and secular nationalism. Through modernization, Ataturk hoped to bury the old corruption of the previous regime and make Turkey prosperous without its former empire.

Even before WWI foreign powers intervened in peeling away separatist areas from Ottoman rule. Greece won its independence with the aid of Britain. Russia intervened in peeling away Balkan territories in the name of pan-Slavism. In order to curry support, Russia encouraged Bulgarian nationalists to look back to the Middle Ages when Bulgaria was strong and the Ottoman Empire was not a presence in Europe. France and Britain took parts of North Africa from Ottoman control because they knew that the North Africans were only nominally under the control of Istanbul anyway.

By 1918, the Ottoman Empire was fading quickly as imperialist powers sought to capitalize on nationalist movements in order to weaken the once-great power. It was only through Turkish nationalism and secular modernization that Ataturk was able to maintain territory that was traditionally Turkish.

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The role of nationalism was crucial in the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire. Like all empires, the Ottoman Empire comprised of many different national and ethnic groups. Despite moves towards greater decentralization and self-determination, the ethnic minorities of the Empire deeply resented being ruled over by a Turkish sultan. Over time, nationalist ideas gradually began to seep into the far-flung corners of the Empire, inciting non-Turkish minorities to demand independence from Ottoman control.

The European powers exploited these growing nationalist tendencies as a means of weakening, and eventually destroying, the Ottoman Empire. In the early nineteenth-century the intervention of the British Navy—at that time the most powerful naval force in the world—proved pivotal to the achievement of Greek independence. A natural response to such foreign intervention was the development of a distinctively Turkish strain of nationalism, which in turn inspired a particularly strident and militant Arab nationalism. Both of these developments hastened the demise of the Ottoman Empire thus clearing the way for the subsequent founding of the modern secular Turkish state under Atatürk.

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Nationalism helped to weaken the Ottoman Empire at at least two separate points.  The first point made the empire weaker while the second point helped to destroy it completely.

The first episode of nationalism came during the early 1800s.  At this point, Ottoman territories in the Balkans rebelled against the empire.  This rebellion included armed uprisings in Serbia and in Greece.  The Greeks were actually able to win their independence through this rebellion.   These rebellions did not topple the Ottoman Empire, but they did leave it weakened.

Nationalism came into play again in WWI.  This time, the nationalist uprisings were mainly in the Arab parts of the empire.  These uprisings (helped along by the efforts of the Allies) helped to make it more difficult for the Ottomans to participate effectively in the war.  The loss in the war led to the complete destruction of the Ottoman Empire.

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