Ted Thornton
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Safavid and Ottoman Eras
1500 - 1914
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click here for larger photo
Blue Mosque, Istanbul, 1606-1616

See also Benchmarks in the History of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey.  See also Iran.

1500 The Shiite Safavids under Shah Ismail established themselves in Persia (Iran). Shiite Islam became the official religion of Persia. From 1501 until 1722, the Safavids ruled Iran and parts of Iraq.

1508   The Safavids captured Baghdad.

1514   War between the Safavids and the Ottomans. The Safavids aligned themselves with the Austrian Hapsburgs against the Ottomans.

1517   The Ottomans captured Egypt and Syria. Mamluk rule came to an end.  An Ottoman protectorate was established over the holy places in Arabia. Palestine fell under Ottoman control and remained so until 1917. In the same year, Portuguese traders reached Canton.

1519 Cortez reached Mexico and began conquering the Aztecs.

1520 -1566   Reign of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I, "The Magnificent."  The Ottoman Empire reached its height in his reign. Among his many achievements was the wall surrounding the old city of Jerusalem, built in 1542.  In 1557, work was completed on the mosque named after him (Süleimaniye Camii), the largest mosque in Istanbul.

1521   Martin Luther was excommunicated. Beginning of the Protestant Reformations. The same year, the Ottomans reached Belgrade.

1526 - 1707  The Muslim Mughal Empire began in India under Babur (1483-1530) who led invading Muslims into India from central Asia in response to the weakening of the Delhi Sultanates. The Mughal Empire slipped into decline after 1658, the result of repressive laws aimed at Hindus.  

1529  The Ottomans stormed Vienna for the first time.

1531   Second Ottoman siege of Vienna.

1535  The Ottomans captured Baghdad, Tripolitania, Tunisia, and Algiers.

1542   Portuguese traders reached Japan.

1546  The Ottomans established direct rule over Basra (in southern Iraq), but had difficulty maintaining authority over the area due to its distance from the empire's center and the strength of the Arab tribes there. 

ca. 1550 Publication of Reprobatio Quadruplex ("Four-fold Damnation"), attributed to John of Wales by tradition, but probably the work of a Spanish Dominican monk whose mission was to arm Christian polemicists with arguments to use in debates with Muslims on which of the two religions was superior. (See "Wars of Words and Images")

1551 Libya was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire.

1556 - 1605   Akbar the Great, building on the conquests of Babur (1483-1530) who led invading Muslims into India from central Asia, consolidated and established the Mughal Empire in India.  This Empire lasted until 1707.  In 1556, construction was completed on the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, erected on the site of a Hindu shrine designating the birthplace of the Hindu avatar Ram.  This set the stage for violent conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in the future, especially in 1993 (following the destruction of the mosque in 1992) and in 2002

1560 The Battle of Djerba (an island of the coast of Tunisia): the Ottomans overwhelmed a huge joint European fleet sinking half its ships.

1571   The Battle of Lepanto:  On October 7, a naval battle took place at the mouth of the Gulf of Patras off Lepanto, Greece between the fleet of the Holy League under the command of John of Austria and the Ottoman fleet under the command of Uluç Ali Pasha. The Ottoman fleet was almost completely wiped out.  This was the first major defeat of the Ottomans by a Christian military force.  (The Spanish writer Cervantes fought on the Christian side and lost the use of his left arm.) 

1571 - 1574  Spain consolidated its rule over the Philippines.

1588   Death of the Ottoman architect Sinan (b. ca. 1489). Among the best known of his buildings is the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul (completed in 1558).  Another is the Rustem Pasha Mosque, also in Istanbul, which Sinan completed in 1561. 

Suleimaniyye Mosque, Istanbul, 1558

 

Rustem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul, 1561

Also in 1588, the Spanish Armada was destroyed during the Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604): Spanish sea power went into decline after this.

1593 -1606  Ottoman wars against the Hapsburgs.

1594  Euclid's Elements was printed in Arabic in Rome with a commentary by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.

1598  Safavid Shah Abbas I moved his capital from Qazvin to the more centrally located city of Isfahan. The splendor of Isfahan became legendary as the saying Isfahan nisf-i-jahan ("Isfahan is half the world!") entered widespread use.  (Peter Stearns, ed., The Encyclopedia of World History, sixth edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 362).

1600  The East India Tea Company was founded in England. (see also)

1601 English playwright William Percy published his play Mahomet and His Heaven, but the play was never performed. A new edition edited by Matthew Dimmock was published in the UK in 2007. Any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad at all was regarded by orthodox Muslims as blasphemy. (See also Wars of Words and Images)

1607   The first permanent English settlement in America was established at Jamestown, Virginia.

1616  Construction of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul was completed. The architect Sedefkar Mehmet Agha designed it on the orders of Sultan Ahmet I.

1623-1624 The Safavids launched attacks against Ottoman controlled areas of Iraq gaining control over the northern Kurdish areas, Baghdad, and the holy Shia cities of Najaf and Karbala. The Ottomans had gone into Baghdad to crush a rebellion led by Janissary officer Bakr Subashi, who then appealed to the Safavid ruler Shah Abbas I for aid. Abbas captured Baghdad for the Safavids in January, 1624 as well as other areas of Iraq. The Ottomans recaptured Baghdad in 1638 and a treaty with the Safavids in 1639 ended a century of off and on conflict.

1631  Construction on the Taj Mahal by Mughal Shah Jihan was begun, a monument built to honor his favorite wife Mumtaz ("the excellent"). It was completed in 1653.

1641 This year, sandwiched between the second and third Ottoman sieges of Vienna, Michel Baudier, court historian to French King Louis XIII, employed the phrase “dirty delicacies” to describe the Muslim enemy in his book Histoire générale de la Religion des Turcs (Rouen: Jean Berthelin, 1641): 

“’Mahomet’s voluptuousness and brutal mind only feed on the dirty delicacies of sensuality, and are blind to those of the soul...Not content to have had a bordello on earth...he lifts it up to heaven.’” (Quoted in Jane Smith, “Old French Travel Accounts of Muslim Beliefs,” in Yvonne Haddad, Wadi Zaidan Haddad, ed. Christian-Muslim Encounters (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1995), 233.) (More: "Wars of Words and Images")

1648  The Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants throughout Europe ended with the Peace of Westphalia enshrining in broad terms the principles of national self-determination and religious tolerance.

1652  Capetown was settled by the Dutch.

1656-1661  Mehmed Koprulu, an Albanian by birth who had risen up through the devshirme system to become the patriarch of one of Istanbul's most important and powerful families, was appointed Grand Vizier by Sultan Mehmed IV during a rebellion in Istanbul and a Venetian blockade of the Dardanelles. Despite his age (he was a vigorous eighty years old when he took up his official duties), Koprulu broke the blockade, ruthlessly put down internal dissent in the army and the civilian population, rooted out administrative corruption, and instituted reforms of the bureaucracy. He put an end to the Kadazadeli movement: followers of a conservative member of the ulema (Muslim "scholars") Kadizade Mehmed Effendi, who had led a violent puritanical campaign aimed at establishing a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam and destroying such "innovations" as the Sufi mystical orders. Koprulu banished the Kadazadeli leaders and confiscated their properties.  (See Peter Stearns, et. al., The Encyclopedia of World History. Sixth Edition (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2001), 354).

1658-1707   Reign of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who reversed Mughal policies of conciliation toward Hindus and began promoting Muslim supremacy.  In 1659, he prohibited drinking, gambling, and prostitution. In 1664, he did away with taxes that were not legal under Islamic law. In 1668 he banned music at court and imposed the jizya poll tax on non-Muslims.  A series of weak rulers after Aurangzeb coupled with rising Hindu antagonism sent the Mughal Empire into decline after 1707 and set the stage for British rule beginning in 1757.  (see Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1988), 437ff.)

1660   In Istanbul, a crowded city where fires were frequent, one of the very worst fires broke out on July 24 and destroyed huge swaths of the city. In the wake of a campaign to Islamize the city, many churches and synagogues that burned down were not permitted to rebuild.  The fire occurred during a period of political and financial crisis and Islamization was seen as a way of maintaining Ottoman authority.  (See Marc David Baer, "The Great Fire of 1660 and the Islamization of Christian and Jewish Space in Istanbul," International Journal of Middle East Studies, v. 36, n.2, May, 2004, 139-181)

1683  The final Ottoman siege of Vienna (see also 1529 and 1531). On September 12, a smaller (30,000) Polish, German, and Austrian force under the command of Jan Sobieski (King John III) defeated a larger Ottoman force led by Kara Mustafa.  The Polish king was hailed as the savior of Europe

1688  The Ottomans were driven from Belgrade.

1690  First English incursions into India. Calcutta was founded by the English.

1699  Treaty of Karlowitz. The Ottomans were forced to give up many of their European territories, including Hungary, to the Hapsburgs.

1704  The English took Gibraltar from Spain. Also this year, Tales of the Arabian Nights was published in Europe.

1706  The first Arabic printing press in the Arab world began operating in Aleppo, Syria.

1707 Decline of the Mughal Empire in India. (see above)

1713 – 1784  Life of the French Enlightenment figure Denis Diderot.  The project he oversaw and for which he is best known, Encyclopedie, was published in volumes from 1751-1772.  Diderot, in championing reason and knowledge, did not apparently recognize a much earlier champion: Muhammad.

“’One can view Muhammad as the greatest enemy that human reason has ever known. One century after his religion was established, one saw men filled with his spirit cry that God would punish Caliph al-Mamun for having introduced the sciences in his domains; and that if someone imitated him, it was necessary to impale him and to take him in this way from tribe to tribe, preceded by a herald who would say, here is what was and what will be the recompense of the impious, one who prefers philosophy to tradition and to the divine Quran.’” 

(Quoted by Rebecca Joubin, “Islam and Arabs Through the Eyes of the Encyclopédie: The “Other” as a Case of French Cultural Self-Criticism,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 32, no. 2 (May,2000), 201)

Some context is necessary here. For his part, Muhammad saw the quest for knowledge as a divine duty for all Muslims: “My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” (Qur’an s. 20:114); and, “He who goes forth in search of knowledge is in the way of Allah until he returns.”  (Hadith Tirmidhi, 39:2).  The Abbasid academies of the Caliph al-Mamun in ninth century Baghdad and those of the Umayyads in Spain represent two of the earliest venues where the lights of reason shown brightly during times when Diderot’s own region, by comparison, was staggering through its “dark ages.”  This is not to say that the voices of reason and science in Islamic civilization did not have their enemies among more fundamentalist Muslims; only that Muhammad himself does not deserve the epithet in Diderot's comment above, a comment which, by the way, contains no hint of the epithets being hurled at Diderot's own work by religious authorities in his time. (More: "Wars of Words and Images")

1722 An Afghan invasion of Iran initiated the decline of the Safavids. By 1730, the dynasty was finished.

1729 The first Turkish printing press in the Ottoman Empire went into service.

1735 The Wahhabi movement to purify and reform Islam began in Arabia.

1736 Nadir expelled the Afghans from Iran and became Shah.

1739 Nadir Shah captured Delhi from the Mughals.

1741 In his play, Mahomet le Prophète ou Fanaticism ("Mohammed the Prophet, or Fanaticism") Voltaire described Muhammad as “the imposter.” (See Rebecca Joubin, “Islam and Arabs Through the Eyes of the Encyclopédie,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 32 (2000), 198.)  (see Voltaire's views on Jews) (More: "Wars of Words and Images")

1744  In the Arabian peninsula, an alliance was forged between Muhammad Ibn Saud and Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the leader of the Muwahidun ("those who advocate oneness"), better known in the West as the Wahhabis

1747 Ahmad Shah Durrani united the Pashtun tribes and created the nation of Afghanistan.

1750 By this time, the Ottomans were forced to accept the fact that most of Iraq was under the control of a dynasty of Georgian Mamluks.

1757 British rule over India began following the defeat of the Nawwab of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey. The British went on to take the French settlement at Chandernagor the same year. 

1768 - 1774   The Russo-Ottoman war was fought over Black Sea territories. The ensuing Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji opened the Turkish straits to Russia.  The Sultan was forced to renounce suzerainty over the Khan of Crimea and over the Muslim Tatars living along the North shore of the Black Sea.  The Ottoman Empire was also forced to accept foreign rights of intervention on behalf of Orthodox Christians residing in the Ottoman Empire, an enormous blow to Ottoman Muslim pride.  The defeats marked by the treaties of Karlowitz and Kuchuk Kainarji led the Ottomans into a period of introspection during which they began to ask themselves where they had gone wrong.  This led to a period of political and religious centralization, administrative reform, and modernization in an effort to recapture lost ground.

1773  In the wake of weakening Ottoman influence in the Arabian peninsula, the tribe of Saud captured Riyadh. The Saudis drew their inspiration largely from the puritanical Muslim sect known as the Wahhabis. The Saudi-Wahhabi alliance began to spread a political and religious reform movement throughout the Arabian peninsula.

1774-1789  Reign of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid I.

1783  Russia occupied the Crimea. Muslim Tartars fled.

1784  An American ship, the Betsey, was seized by Moroccan privateers in the Mediterranean Sea.  This was the first in a series of skirmishes that came to be known as "The Barbary Wars."  (See ahead 1801.)

1789 - 1807 Reign of Ottoman Sultan, Selim III, who instituted his al-nizam al-jedeed ("the new order"), an attempt to bring the outmoded Ottoman administrative machinery into the modern era. The reforms were aimed at updating the army in particular, and a new infantry unit, modeled along European lines, was created. Selim's reform attempts met with opposition, especially from the Janissaries who feared that the new  European-style military training and equipment would render them obsolete. They, along with other elements of the Ottoman elites, arranged for Selim to be deposed  in 1807.

The origins of the Janissaries ( Yeni Cheri , "New Force"), Ottoman foot soldiers renowned for their heroism, gallantry, and skill, are shrouded in legend. They emerged under a recruiting and training system called the devshirme ("boy levy"). Somewhat resembling the Mamluk system, pre-adolescent Christian boys were taken from their families, housed in special barracks, converted to Islam, and trained either for military or bureaucratic service. Offsetting the unpleasantness of being separated from one's family was the promise of eventual membership in the Ottoman ruling class. The Janissaries exercised immense power in the palace. Few Sultans survived who displeased or ignored them. The military band of the Janissaries with its thunderous martial music became the envy of European nations (who quickly copied the concept). Legend boasted that the music of the Janissary bands alone often sufficed to frighten foes into surrendering. (more)

The French Revolution began in 1789, and George Washington was elected the first president of the United States of America.

1791  Under the terms of the Treaty of Sistova, the Ottoman Empire agreed to return captured Austrian slaves to Austria, including those who had converted to Islam.   The Ottoman ulema (Islamic clerics and scholars) were angered because surrendering any  Muslims to a non-Muslim country was considered a violation of Islamic sharia law.  They were persuaded by the Sultan to swallow their objections when he convinced them that the stability of the empire depended on solidarity.

1794 - 1925 The Qajar dynasty ruled Iran.

1798   Napoleon invaded Egypt.  Many historians of the Middle East date the beginning of modern Middle East history with this event.  The Ottoman Empire, of which Egypt was a part, had been watching events in revolutionary France with mounting concern, especially disturbed by the shrinking authority of religion.  The Ottoman "Porte" (foreign ministry) issued a proclamation following Napoleon's arrival that began with these words: 

...In the name of God, the merciful and the compassionate.  O you who believe in the oneness of God, community of Muslims, know that the French nation (may God devastate their dwellings and abase their banners) are rebellious infidels and dissident evildoers.  They do not believe in the oneness of the Lord of Heaven and Earth, nor in the mission of the intercessor on the Day of Judgment, but have abandoned all religions and denied the afterworld and its penalties.  They do not believe in the Day of Resurrection and pretend that only the passage of time destroys us and that beyond this there is no resurrection and no reckoning, no examination and no retribution, no question and no answer.

(Quoted by Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2001), 130-131)  

For his part, Napoleon had made efforts to woo local Egyptian Muslim officials and expressed his personal respect for Islam. 

Also in 1798, the British fleet under the command of Horatio Nelson destroyed the French fleet in the harbor of Aboukir, east of Alexandria, cutting off Bonaparte's supply lines. 

1799 Napoleon's coup d'état in France. Muhammad Ali, at the head of an Ottoman expeditionary force of Albanian troops, tried unsuccessfully to drive Napoleon out of Egypt.  He succeeded, with British help, two years later.

1799 - 1871   Life of the Pennsylvania Quaker adventurer Josiah Harlan who in the 1820s and 30s pursued his dream of becoming "king" of Afghanistan and inspired Rudyard Kipling's story The Man Who Would Be King.  (See Ben Macintyre, The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan (New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2004)

1801  Two months after the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson as President, Tripoli (Libya) declared war on the United States because the Americans had refused to pay tribute to raiding Arab corsairs (see also).  The ambassador from Tripoli had explained to Jefferson in Paris in 1786 that Muslims considered such raids their duty according to both the Qur'an and the Hadith, and  that they were therefore bound to wage attacks on all who refused to acknowledge Muslim authority (a case of supersessionism on the high seas!). American land and naval campaigns compelled Tripoli to sue for peace on June 4, 1805.

A joint British and Ottoman campaign in Alexandria followed by a general European treaty brought an end to the French occupation of Egypt.

1803  Indian Muslim resistance to British rule manifested itself in a  fatwa ("religious opinion") issued by Shah Abd al-Aziz declaring India dar al-harb ("a house of war") and calling for a holy war ("jihad") against the British.  His student, Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi, following a pilgrimage to Mecca (1821-24), returned to India and started a puritan reform movement resembling Wahhabism in the Arabian peninsula. He called for the destruction of polytheism, including prohibitions against Sufi shrine worship and Shiism. A rise in evangelical Christian missionary activity at the time sponsored by the British added explosive fuel to the coming clash. These developments along with the appearance of the Fara'idi movement (an Islamic reform movement) laid the foundations for the Sepoy mutiny of 1857.  (see Ira Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1988), 720-722) (see "Wars of Words and Images" and especially discussion of "supersessionism.")

1804 On May 18, Napoleon was proclaimed emperor of France.

In 1804 in Hausaland (Nigeria), the Shehu Usuman dan Fodio initiated a jihad on behalf of Muslim Fulani nomads who were struggling to overthrow their farming Hausa rulers, also Muslims. The jihad ended with the ouster of the Hausas and the establishment of a Fulani caliphate in Sokoto in 1808.

1805 Muhammad Ali (died 1848), an Albanian by birth and an Ottoman military officer by trade, was appointed "pasha" in Egypt and established a dynasty there which successfully challenged Ottoman authority. This dynasty lasted until the abdication of Egypt's last king, Farouk, in 1952.  (see also, and also)

Muhammad Ali's rise to power owed much to the unusually abundant popular support native Egyptians were willing to lend this non-Arabic speaking foreign usurper with his blonde hair and gray-hazel eyes. Egyptians were weary of the effects of declining trade, extortion by their former rulers, the Mamluk beys, and the failure of these same beys to stave off the invasion of Napoleon. Muhammad Ali won over both the ulema (Muslim clerical and scholarly leadership) and the tujjar (tradesmen).

His dream was to create an independent empire, free of all formal ties to the Ottomans. To this end he moved to weaken the power of the Ottomans within Egypt (whom he rightly suspected would eventually seek his downfall) and sought alliances with Great Britain and France.

His land reform program inside Egypt created a new class of petty landowners from which he molded a new administrative class, for the first time in hundreds of years made up of native Egyptians. This laid the foundations for the eventual creation of the independent state of Egypt.

1808  The great reforming Ottoman Sultan, Mahmud II came to power.  He reigned until 1839 (see also 1831).

Also in 1808, the Fulani caliphate began in Sokoto (northern Nigeria). (British colonial rule began in 1903).

1810 François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), writing about what he regarded as the salutary impact of the Crusades, said:

"'The Crusades were not only about the deliverance of the Holy Sepulchre, but more about knowing which would win on the earth, a cult that was civilization's enemy, systematically favorable to ignorance [he means Islam], to despotism, to slavery, or a cult that had caused to reawaken in modern people the genius of a sage antiquity, and had abolished base servitude.'" (Quoted by Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 172) (See also "Wars of Words and Images")

1811 On March 1, Muhammad Ali, having grown weary of sharing power with the Mamluks, employed a variation of the old "banquet trick" to dispose of them (recalling the hapless end of Odoacer in 493, and the use of the same tactic by Amrus Ibn Yusuf in 807).

Also in 1811, Muhammad Ali, on behalf of his Ottoman sponsors, waged a successful campaign against the Wahhabis in Arabia.

1815 Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo.  The Congress of Vienna, presided over by Austria's Fürst von Metternich, attempted to redefine borders and sovereignty in a Europe turned topsy-turvy by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic conquests that had followed.  The failure of the congress to deal with rising national aspirations and social changes sowed some of the seeds of the revolutions of 1848.  Failure to include the Ottoman Empire in the final settlement also sowed the seeds of trouble in the Middle East in the century that followed. 

1817 - 1898  Life of Indian Muslim revivalist philosopher Sayyid Ahmad Khan

1820 The British concluded pacts with Gulf region Arab sheikhs.

1820 -1823 Muhammad Ali conquered the Sudan. Printing presses began rolling in Egypt.

1821 - 1829 The Greek war of independence from the Turks (also).

1826  Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II (reigned 1808-1839) took steps to reorganize, modernize, and above all centralize power in his own hands.  Part of this campaign included the extermination of the Janissaries on June 15, an event reminiscent of Muhammad Ali's massacre of the Mamluks fifteen years earlier. The Sultan also took steps against the Muftis and the Qadis by stripping them of their power to administer Islamic trusts (vakf, pl. evkaf, from the Arabic waqf ) and centralized the collection and distribution of these funds in his own hands.

1829  The Greeks gained their independence from the Ottomans.  Following Russian victories against the Ottoman Empire and the resulting Peace of Adrianople, the Ottomans made a critical adjustment in their reigning ideological conception of themselves.  Up to this point, they had been governed by their status as Muslims and their obligations under the Qur'an to wage holy war ( jihad ) against non-Muslims.   After this point, in a clearly weakened state, they began to see their survival hinging on the opposite position:  on their ability to nurture and depend upon close relations with at least one non-Muslim, European power.  Traditional hostility to the Christian world could no longer be justified.

1830 Algiers fell under French rule. (more)

1831  Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II further centralized his rule through two measures.   He undertook a census and survey the immediate objectives of which were conscription and taxation.  He also abolished the timars.  A timar  was a military fiefdom, one of the hallmarks of Ottoman feudalism since the earliest days of the empire.  Each timar had been awarded to a sipahi (feudal cavalryman) in exchange for the sipahi's pledge to render military service to the Sultan.

1832   Ibrahim, son of Muhammad Ali, invaded Syria, challenging Ottoman authority in that region. The Egyptians founded the city of Khartoum in the Sudan. By this time, Ibrahim and Muhammad Ali were presiding over an empire which rivaling that of the Ottomans in size.

1838   Muhammad Ali had not calculated carefully enough the extent to which his ambitions might eventually conflict with the interests of the British, especially pertaining to commerce and military links with the Far East. So, when he announced his intention to declare Egypt and Syria independent of Ottoman rule (he was willing to pay the "Porte" three million pounds in exchange for independence), it was the British who intervened. Lord Palmerston, the British Foreign Secretary, warned him that Great Britain would side with the Ottomans as it was in the interest of his country to prevent the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.

Palmerston, whose real aim was to weaken both Ottoman and Egyptian trading interests to the advantage of Great Britain, proposed to the Ottomans a new system of tariffs and trade which, he argued, would break up Muhammad Ali's monopolies and favor those of the Ottomans. In fact, these measures were to hurt the Ottoman Empire as a whole even more. This agreement was known as the Treaty of Balta Liman and it was signed in the summer of 1838. After 1840, Europeans gained a virtual free hand in the Egyptian market. Cheap British goods flooded into Egyptian markets and local industries quickly began to go belly-up. (See Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid, Egypt in the Reign of Muhammad Ali, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1984, 238-239).

The upshot is that while Muhammad Ali left Egypt richer and better governed than it had been before his time, Egypt failed in its efforts to industrialize because now the British controlled the economy.

Islamic revivalist and reformer Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani was born in 1838. 

1839 Ibrahim defeated the Ottomans whose fleet retreated to Alexandria. Palmerston's warnings to Muhammad Ali after this began to take a more bellicose tone.

In 1839, the British established themselves in Aden.

In 1839, Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II died and was succeeded by Abdulmejd.  Thus began the period of Ottoman history known as the Tanzimat ("reorganization") which lasted until 1876, the most intense phase of nineteenth century Ottoman reform.  The aims of this reform program included the restructuring of Ottoman governing institutions along modern European lines, standardization of military conscription practices, the abolishment of tax farming, the elimination of corruption, and the promotion of equality among the religious millets ("communities of faith"): henceforth, Muslims and non-Muslims were to be considered equals before the law.  The Tanzimat  was largely carried out by Europeanized Ottoman bureaucrats and led to the growth of secularization which in turn undermined the very foundation of Ottoman society:  its fundamental Islamic structure and traditions.  As Noah Feldman points out (The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State. Princeton Univ. Press, 2008), the balance of powers that had presided over centuries of rule in Muslim countries   - between military rulers (sultans) and religious-legal scholars (ulema) - was replaced with a mechanism that quickly led to an absolutist (and secularized) state (as in the case of Abdulhamid in 1878).

1840  On August 16, Britain's Lord Palmerston sent Muhammad Ali an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of Egyptian forces from Syria. The Pasha refused to comply. The British fleet began bombarding Beirut on September 11, and an Anglo-Turkish force went ashore.

Next, the British fleet appeared in the harbor at Alexandria within view of the Pasha's bedroom window. He knew by then the game was up.

1841  Muhammad Ali's peace treaty with the British and the Ottomans stripped him of his empire save Egypt itself and the Sudan. Henceforth, Egypt's economy became an export market for agricultural goods: raw materials were exported to Europe for manufacture into finished products that were then sold back to Egypt.

1842 England annexed Hong Kong from China.

1844 The Bahai movement began in Iran.

1848   Death of Muhammad Ali.

1849   Muhammad Abduh, the great Egyptian Muslim reformer, was born.  The British captured Punjab.

1852   Egypt's first railway went into operation.

1854 - 1855   The Crimean War: The Ottoman Empire and its allies, Britain and France, made war on Russia. The struggle was sparked by the Russia's occupation of Romania, an attempt to defend Christian interests in Ottoman occupied territories. Russia was defeated.

1855   Permission to build the Suez Canal was given to Ferdinand de Lesseps, a French diplomat and promoter. The Canal was completed and opened in 1869.

1856 - 1857   The Anglo-Iranian War: Britain fought to protect links with India through Iran.  In 1857, the British won a concession from the Shah to install a telegraph line across Iran to link Great Britain with its colony India to the east.  Britain was anxious that the uprisings in India (see Sepoy Mutiny below) threatened lines of communication.

In 1857, the Sepoy Mutiny, what some Indian historians call India's "first war of independence," ended the domination of India by the East India Company.  The Sepoys were Hindu and Muslim recruits in the British colonial forces.  Britain had exercised sovereignty over India since the Battle of Plassey in 1757.  While tensions had been long in building, the catalyst was the Sepoys' refusal to use their newly issued Enfield rifles because of a rumor that the cartridges had been greased with cow and pig fat, an affront to both Hindu and Muslim beliefs. The rebellion was brutally suppressed.  In its wake, the British abolished the East India company and established direct rule of India.  The last Mogul emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was deposed.  These events spurred Muslims to establish a new religious center, Darul Uloom, in the Indian town of Deoband dedicated to the purification of Islam from British and modernist influences.  Deobandi Muslims grew steadily from that point.  Afghanistan's Taliban movement of the 1990s was an offshoot of the Deobandis.  (Further reading: William Dalrymple, "When East Fought West,"Time, vol. 169, no. 21, May 21, 2007 -- available through ProQuest on NMH Virtual Desktop)

1859   In August, Edwin Drake began operating the first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania (USA).

1860   Armed conflict between Maronite Christians and Druze (an offshoot of Muslim Shia) in Lebanon led to French intervention. Connections between France and the Maronites went back to Crusader times. The current troubles started when the governor Ibrahim, son of Muhammad Ali, instituted policies that altered the balance of power between the religious groups in the Mount Lebanon area.   In particular, Ibrahim abolished the special  jizya ("compensation") taxes on Jews and Christians, who up to that point were not required to serve in the armed forces.  However, at the same time he imposed universal conscription and ordered all groups to disarm.  When the Druze refused to give up their weapons, Ibrahim sent a force of armed Christians against them in 1837.  Two years later, Ibrahim then ordered the Christians he had sent against the Druze to disarm.  They refused. An all-out uprising against Ibrahim then ensued involving all the religious groups in Mount Lebanon, an event that helped spur the evacuation of the Egyptians from the Levant.  Encouraged by Ottoman pledges of equal status for Christians (in 1839 and 1856), Christians began undertaking economic and educational enterprises with European partners, activities that struck other religious groups as unbefitting a religious minority.  Tensions smoldered.  Finally, in 1860, Druze militiamen massacred Christians and destroyed the entire village of Zahle.  The fighting spilled over into Damascus where  more Christians were killed and several European consulates were burned.  In all, 22,000 Christians were massacred. This crisis prompted Lebanese leaders to craft the principle of confessionalism: political representation based on religious affiliation and size of religious community. By the end of World War I, Christians were the majority at a little more than fifty percent of the population, followed by Sunni Muslims, then Shia Muslims (with the Druze counted as one third of the Shia population). -- See Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Fourth Edition (New York: Bedford St. Martin's, 2001), 264.

Also in 1860, West African Muslim territories fell under French control.

Also in 1860, Lincoln was elected president in the United States and Spain invaded Morocco. The resultant treaty left Morocco's finances under Spanish control. (more)

1861  The Tunisian constitution was proclaimed. The American civil war began.

1863 -1879   Reign of the Khedive ("sovereign") Ismail in Egypt.

1866   The Syrian Protestant College (to be renamed later, The American University of Beirut) was founded. The first Egyptian representative assembly was convened. (see United States)

1867  A new Ottoman land and tax reform measure changed the pattern of land ownership in Palestine (that is to say well in advance of Zionism:  extensive Jewish investment and colonization in Palestine did not begin until after 1882).   This was the second of two land reform initiatives (the first was in 1858).

1869 In Egypt, the Suez Canal was opened (construction had begun in 1855).

1871 The unification of Germany took place.

1872  The Reuter Concession, a huge monopoly on banking, mining, and railway construction, was awarded to a British subject, Baron Julius de Reuter. This concession (along with a tobacco concession to a British entrepreneur in 1891) was later revoked in the face of angry opposition from Iranian citizens. This did not deter the British who, by 1919, had established a virtual protectorate over Iran.

1874 - 1922   Life of Farah Antun, Lebanese Christian and journalist who argued for the establishment of a secular state with full equality for Muslims, Jews, and Christians. 

1875  Faced with bankruptcy, Egypt's Khedive Ismail sold Egypt's shares in the Suez Canal Company to Britain. British Prime Minister Disraeli bought the shares to ensure British control of the sea routes to India. (more)

1875 - 1938   Life of Indian Islamic revivalist philosopher Muhammad Iqbal.

1876  A group calling itself the "Young (or New) Ottomans," which had formed in 1865 and which had begun publishing a newspaper in 1868, gained influence over the government, drew up a liberal constitution, and tried to persuade Russia, France, and Britain to let the empire settle its internal problems on its own.  The group sprang up at the encouragement of Sultan Abdulaziz (reigned 1861-1876) and was dedicated to upholding traditional Ottoman and Islamic institutions in the face of increasing Westernization.  The Young Ottomans had been influenced by such Western thinkers as Montesquieu and Rousseau.  Two prominent leaders among them were Namik Kemal and Ziya Pasha.

In April, 1876, the Bulgarian town of Batak rose up against Ottoman rule. The uprising provoked a brutal response from the Ottomans, who massacred thousands of the residents. The incident met with outrage throughout the world and contributed to Russia's causes to go to war against the Ottomans. 

1876 - 1909  Reign of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II.

1877  On February 5, Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II abruptly deposed his grand vizier, Midhat Pasha, who had been appointed by Sultan Abdulaziz in 1872 and who had been a prime force behind the constitution approved the preceding year. Midhat was further ordered to leave the country. 

1878  Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II dissolved the parliament and abolished the constitution.  This spelled the end for the Young Ottomans and the end of the tanzimat reforms initiated in 1839.  Abdulhamid II began to rule as a despot.  Considering the empire was fighting for its life in another war with Russia (which had begun in 1877), it is conceivable that despotism was the only way to maintain unity. The Young Ottoman movement would rise again in a new form as the "Young Turks"  (see 1889).  The Russo-Turkish War ended with the Treaty of San Stefano: the Turks lost control of Rumania, Bulgaria, and Thrace.

1879   An uprising of Egyptian officers undermined control of the Suez Canal by the British and the French. They pressed the Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) to replace Ismail with his son, Tewfik. Ismail's extravagance had run up a debt of 100 million pounds. Ismail abdicated and died in Istanbul in 1895. Tewfik, by 1881, had brought the financial crisis created by his father under control. (see also, and the Urabi Revolt of 1881 following)

1881 The French occupied Tunisia. This event along with increasing French and British involvement in Egyptian affairs sparked a nationalist revolt against rising European influence in Egypt led by an army colonel, Urabi Bey, under the slogan, "Egypt for the Egyptians!"  This prompted the landing of a British and French occupation force the following year. 

Pogroms in Russia in 1881 sparked the first wave of Jewish immigration into Palestine. Roots of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Between 1881and 1885, Muhammad Ahmed al-Mahdi led a successful revolt against Egypt in the Sudan. British General Gordon was killed in Khartoum in 1885. The British defeated the rebels in 1898 and set up a protectorate over the Sudan.

1882   British and French forces landed at Alexandria to occupy the city and protect Europeans. Urabi was exiled to Ceylon (known after 1972 as Sri Lanka). Egypt remained under a British protectorate until 1922. (see also Cromer's Egypt)

Also in 1882, the first Aliyah ("ascension"), the first well-organized wave of Jewish  immigration into Palestine, took place.  The First Aliyah consisted of individuals and small groups, mainly under the inspiration of "Hibbat Zion" ("Love of Zion," an organization of Russian Jews) and the BILU  movement, an organization of mostly students from eastern Europe.  "BILU" was an acronym for words from Isaiah 2:5, "House of Jacob, come, let us go up."

1883-1907   The British consul in Egypt, Lord Evelyn Baring Cromer, who had begun overseeing Egypt's finances (1877-1880) before becoming Finance Minister of India (1880-1883), returned to Egypt in the wake of the Urabi uprising and the onset of the British Protectorate to rule Egypt virtually single-handed until 1907 when he retired for health reasons.  He reformed Egyptian finances and irrigation practices and consolidated Britain's control over Egyptian affairs.

1885    In January, British General Charles George Gordon was killed during fighting in the Sudan (Khartoum) with Mahdist forces

The Berlin conference: European nations divided up Africa. Systematic European colonialism of Africa and the Middle East began.

1886   In France, Edouard Drumont published his book, Jewish France, arguing that the influence of Jews on France had been destructive. Drumont called for the ejection of the Jews from the country and the division of Jewish property. Anti-Semitic rallies followed. (See Persecution of Jews in Europe)

1888   Invention of the internal combustion engine.

1889  The Young Turk movement was born from the ashes of the Young Ottoman movement. Ahmed Riza (1859-1930) was a prominent member.

1890  Zanzibar became a British protectorate.

1891 In Iran, Shah Nasir al-Din's harem erupted into open rebellion against him: his 1,600 wives, concubines, and eunuchs swore an oath to renounce the smoking of tobacco in protest against oppressive taxation and the Shah's arbitrary confiscation of private fortunes. During the Shah's forty year reign of prodigal spending Iran had gone bankrupt.  He had begun selling "concessions" to foreign interests (largely British) to make up the shortfall. (see 1857 and 1872, for example)  The final straw was the Shah's sale of Iran's tobacco industry to Great Britain for 15,000 British pounds. From that point on, Iranian tobacco growers would have been obliged to sell their product to the British Imperial Tobacco Company, and users would have been forced to buy their tobacco from shops affiliated with Britain's retail system.  Stunned that the "Tobacco Revolt" had begun in his own harem, the Shah backed down and cancelled the sale, but he had to pay compensation to the British. (See Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah's Men:  An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2003), 30ff.)

Also in 1891, Dar as-Salaam became a German protectorate.

1893 The French arrived in Timbuctu.

Also in 1893, the British drew a boundary dividing the mountainous frontier region of Afghanistan from territory that eventually became part of Pakistan.  Called the "Durand Line," after Sir Mortimer Durand, Foreign Secretary of India who drew it, the division has contributed to instability in the "Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) region between ever since.  (See Patrick Seale, "Danger Along the Durand Line, Middle East Times, Sept. 30, 2008)

1894 The Dreyfus Affair erupted in France.

1896  Theodor Herzl, a journalist and playwright from Vienna, published The Jewish State, calling for a Jewish national homeland.  See Christian Persecution of Jews and  Roots of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Also in 1896, Marconi patented the wireless.  A Young Turk coup attempt against Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II failed.  In spite of the abortive attempt, Young Turk agitation against the Sultan and his despotic rule continued to mount.

1897 The first Zionist Conference, led by the founder of the movement  Theodor Herzl, was held in Basel. 

1898   On September 2, British General Horatio Herbert Kitchener defeated the Sudanese Mahdist forces at the Battle of Karari near Omdurman. Future British politician Winston Churchill saw action there.  A British "condominium" was formed over the Sudan which lasted until 1956.

Also in 1898, the Spanish-American War broke out, with the United States occupying Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, and, until 1902, maintaining troops in Cuba. By the end of the twentieth century, some historians would begin referring to this event as the beginning of the "American Empire."   When the United States seized the Philippines from Spain, it  inherited a conflict between Christians and Muslims that went back nearly four centuries. The islands had been under Spanish rule off and on since the late 1400s.  In 1635, the Spanish had built Fort Pilar in Zamboanga to establish Christian control over a strategic strait.    (See also the American-Philippine campaign on Zamboanga, 1913.)  Some of the rhetoric in Congress following the U.S. occupation of the Philippines repeated some (by that time) well entrenched notions of "manifest destiny" in America's image of itself. (See United States)

Also in 1898, Lord George Curzon, newly appointed Viceroy to India, wrote about what would become known as "the great game" between Tsarist Russia and Great Britain for control over Central Asia:  "'Turkestan, Afghanistan, Transcaspia, Persia - to many these words breathe only a sense of utter remoteness, or a memory of strange vicissitudes and of moribund romance.  To me, I confess they are pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for the domination of the world.'" (in Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 145).  The phrase "great game" (originally coined by a British officer named Arthur Conolly) was reprised in the 1990s as what some analysts dubbed the "new great game":  competition chiefly between Russia, the United States, and China (but also with smaller countries like Argentina) to build pipelines for natural gas and oil through Central Asia. (Ahmed Rashid, Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 2002), 7) (see also)

1899 Mubarak, the Emir of Kuwait, signed a pact with Great Britain making Kuwait a British protectorate.

1900   In January, 1900, Egyptian troops at Omdurman (scene of the 1898 Anglo-Egyptian victory over Mahdist forces) and under the overall command of British Lord Kitchener, became insubordinate and threatened mutiny.  The incident heightened mistrust between Egyptian and British soldiers.

The French destroyed the Rabah Empire in Chad. Muhammad Abduh, Grand Mufti of Egypt, led an Islamic reform movement. 

Also ca. 1900, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic work, appeared in print for the first time. 

1901 Death of Queen Victoria. A British firm led by William Knox D'Arcy (after 1909 called the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co.) won a concession to explore southwest Iran for oil deposits.

1902  The Saudis recaptured their home town of Riyadh from the rival Rashidi tribe.

Also this year, Muslim reformer al-Kawakibi died.

In September, 1902, American admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan published an article in the (London) National Review entitled "The Persian Gulf and International Relations." This marked the first published usage of the term "Middle East." The term "Near East" (referring to the Levant) was already in use at this time.  Mahan's "Middle East" was meant to refer to western approaches to India through the Persian Gulf region.  However, as Charles Kurzman points out, the concept "Middle East" is an "unstable construction": opinions have varied considerably on which regions or states should be included (for example). By the same measure, the term "Muslim world" is arbitrary, unstable, and imprecise "since it suggests that Muslims live apart from members of other faith traditions, and that Muslims are to be defined primarily by their faith" (Charles Kurzman, "Cross-Regional Approaches to Middle East Studies: Constructing and Deconstructing the Region," Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, vol. 41, no. 1, June 2007, 24 and 28). 

1905  The Saudis under King Ibn Saud (reigned 1901-1953) secured control over the Arabian peninsula by signing a peace treaty with the Ottomans

1903   Jirji Zaydan published The History of Islamic Civilization.

British colonial rule in Nigeria began on March 15, 1903 and lasted until 1960

Also this year in Aurangabad, South India, Sayyid Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi was born.   He lived until 1973 and became widely known for his fiery revolutionary rhetoric and his embrace of the concept of militant jihad as the means to rid the world of all enemies of Islam.

1906  In Iran, the first successful constitutional revolution in Middle East history forced the Shah, Muzzafa ad-Din, to grant a written constitution that vested power in an elective authority.

Also in 1906, The "Danishway Incident" occurred in Egypt.

In 1906, the Young Turk movement, which had continued to grow steadily, began to form revolutionary cells in such cities as Damascus, Jerusalem, and Jaffa.  Among the members of the Damascus cell was the future President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal ("Ataturk").

1907  Britain and Russia divided Iran into "spheres of interest." France and Spain divided Morocco: Spain got the north, France the coastline and the Algerian frontier (click for more).

1908  A constitutional revolution instigated by the Young Turks (calling themselves the "Committee of Union and Progress," or, "CUP") broke out, spurred by mutinies throughout the Ottoman army (soldiers' pay had gone severely in arrears and morale was low).   To avoid being deposed, Sultan Abdulhamid II gave in and on July 23 announced the restoration of the constitution of 1876.  The Young Turks were then in control of the government.  Like many large movements, they were divided in their objectives.   The chief issues of the liberal wing were decentralization of the government and autonomy for religious and national minorities.  The nationalist wing favored centralization and Turkish domination over minorities. 

Also in 1908, Austria annexed Bosnia. Bulgaria declared its independence.  Rebellion broke out in Crete.

From 1908 until 1922 there was almost constant warfare in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey.  Modern Turkey, according to Feroz Ahmad (in Albert Hourani, Philip S. Khoury, and Mary Wilson (eds.), The Modern Middle East:  A Reader (Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 1993), 125f.), was built on war; the whole society was organized for warfare. The Young Turks resembled the Jacobins during the French Revolution in their republican zeal, their intolerance of opposition, and their ruthlessness.  The CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) was the most radical wing of the Young Turks and had been deeply influenced by Jacobin political thought (i.e. by Robespierre, Saint Just, Danton, and company).

Also in 1908, the Hijaz railway reached Medina. The "Hijaz" is the narrow western portion of the Arabian peninsula bordering the Red Sea in which both Mecca and Medina are located.  The name comes from an Arabic word meaning "to separate":  a reference to the highlands that separate this area from the plateau that stretches eastward across the peninsula. 

A British oil company that had begun drilling in Iran in 1901 made its first strike. By 1914, thousands of barrels were being pumped to a refinery on the Gulf island port of Abadan. Iran was home to some 10% of the world's oil reserves.

1909  Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II was deposed following the suppression of an Ottoman counter revolt.

In April, 1909, the Jewish defense force Hashomer (Heb. "The Watchman") was formed to protect Jewish settlements in Palestine from attacks by Palestinian Arabs. 

1910   Albania rose up against Ottoman rule.

1911 On October 3, the Italian fleet shelled Ottoman forts in Tripoli (Libya). The aerial bomber was born in Libya on November 1 when an Italian pilot threw a hand grenade out of the cockpit of his plane at tribesmen (see William R. Polk, The Arab World (Cambridge, MA, 1980), 157).

1912 The Ottomans ceded Libya to the Italians.  The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) that had led the constitutional revolution of 1908 won elections through bribery and intimidation.  The army then forced it to resign in favor of a rival party called the Liberal Entente.

1913 As a result of the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), the Ottomans retained only a small region between Edirne and the Dardanelles in Europe.  Serbia and Bulgaria absorbed most of the remaining European lands in the Ottoman Empire.  In Turkey, there was a counter-coup in favor of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) on January 23 led by Enver Pasha. CUP took back control of the government. CUP quickly moved to suppress all opposition parties and by the following year controlled nearly all the seats in the Parliament as well as all the government ministries.  On the eve of World War I, democracy in Turkey was dead:  power was concentrated in a triumvirate of CUP leaders. 

Also in 1913, a Philippine-American expedition under the command of U.S. General John ("Black Jack") Pershing mounted a campaign in Zamboanga against seafaring Muslims who had been kidnapping Christians for ransom. One thousand Muslims were killed, mostly women and children.  In spite of this event, American sovereignty was generally supported because the United States promoted religious freedom and was tolerant of Islam.  American pacification was so thorough that mosques in Zamboanga began to fly American flags and some Muslims sent petitions to Washington requesting formal annexation.   (see also 1898, Spanish-American War and the United States)

1914  The Ottomans entered World War I on the side of Germany. Enver Pasha (age 31) was the Minister of War. Eager to forge an alliance with a European power to protect Turkey from Great Britain and to regain Egypt from Great Britain and the Caucasus Mountains from Russia, Enver on August 1, the eve of the war, made a secret pact with Germany. The Turks conspired with the Germans to attack Russia.  Russia then declared war on Turkey, and the British and the French, Russia's allies, followed suit. The Ottomans proclaimed a jihad against Britain, France, and Russia. David Fromkin points out that by pushing Turkey into a war it did not need to fight, Enver sealed the fate of the entire Middle East.  In a sense, then, he became the "father" of the modern Middle East because as a result of the "great war" which he played a major role in starting, the Ottoman Empire fell chiefly into the hands of the British and the French who created many of the modern boundaries in the Middle East and set the region on the course it took through the twentieth century.  (David Fromkin, "How the Modern Middle East Map Came to be Drawn," Smithsonian, May, 1991, 132-148; see also Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. and Lawrence Davidson, "The Roots of Arab Bitterness," in The Contemporary Middle East, Karl Yambert (ed.) (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2006), 27ff.).

Benchmarks in the History of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey


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