A Peace to End All Peace:
July 20, 2002 10:56 AM   Subscribe

A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin. Ever wonder how the Middle East got so screwed up to start with? It all happened in an eight year time span, 1914-1922. The destruction of the Ottoman Empire laid the foundation for over half of the current conflicts in the world. Coupled with Huntingtons' Clash of Civilizations, this book does more to explain WTF went wrong.
posted by Mack Twain (13 comments total)
It's all T.E. Lawrence's fault, really...
posted by clevershark at 10:57 AM on July 20, 2002

but 'orance got us the guns.
posted by clavdivs at 11:09 AM on July 20, 2002

Absolutely right -- we wouldn't want to dig up all that old stuff from back during the Siege of Vienna. One of my professors loved to remind us that history is not a sure thing, and had things gone just a bit differently, we all could be speaking Turkish today. The coffee that the Turks left in their wake has proven just as popular as The Red Man's Revenge -- tobacco.
posted by sheauga at 11:23 AM on July 20, 2002

...we all could be speaking Turkish today.

Now there's a silly saying, no matter what language is featured in it. Sorry to say, but the world has a very, very long history of peoples being conquered by other peoples. If the saying had any sense behind it we would undoutedly all be speaking the same language today. Eastern Europe has a fairly large variety of languages, yet that entire region was subject to political control by Russians for most of the last century. The Romans controlled the known world for a non-negligible period, yet those they conquered did not speak latin, and indeed among the cultured Romans Greek was often the favored language.

Heck, even English came to us from a country which has been invaded, a little less than 1000 years ago, by a bunch of Normands from France.
posted by clevershark at 12:08 PM on July 20, 2002

History eh, great innit.
posted by johnnyboy at 12:31 PM on July 20, 2002

clevershark, your example of English is somewhat disingenuous, considering that the original inhabitants of the island spoke a variant of Gaelic rather than one of German, based on an invasion a mere 500 years earlier. And while the Romans did not force all conquered peoples to speak Latin, we have a dozen Romance languages as a result of Latin creoles. The Ottomans, of course, were a specific counterexample. But the joke is not, of course, in the truth of the statement itself but in the implication.

That empire never really resembled the Roman or other military empires, and existed as long as it did mainly because of the Caliphate. Certainly from the lake 1700s on the Western sea powers were concluding anti-piracy treaties -- protection money -- with the Berbers, making hardly a reference to Istanbul; and France, and later England, invaded Egypt rather as easily as filing some paperwork. The "Empire" was in decline for most of its existence, particularly so in the Arab lands where Minor Asian traditions conflicted with longstanding culture. The Empire collapsed, but it wasn't pushed so much as it fell. Well, poked, prodded, and perhaps startled a little, after which it lost its balance and fell.

Under the Ottomans Arabs fought many a skirmish for political control. the Arab Revolt was fought for Arab self-interest; Ottoman support of the Axis also. At an extreme opposite viewpoint, the mess is as much the result of Arab desire for a replacement empire which the Western powers naturally feared. Certainly Europe treated the Middle East hardly differently than they treated themselves; the multiple boundary changes, with regard as much to alliances and cynical geopolitics as to ethnic and linguistic affiliations, show that Europeans were pawns in this game as often as anyone else. See, by way of comparison, the carving up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In truth, the wars of the Middle East in the 20th century have revolved around Israel, whose Zionist roots began in the 19th century, long before the Western powers had designs so grand on the region, rather than anything remarkable about mis-drawn boundaries.

Great Power politics, before the 20th century concept of self-determination of peoples arrived, was always like this. For a period of time, the Ottomans even played at being a great power; the Young Turk revolution was largely about becoming a modern, important power again with political muscle to spare.

Certainly examples like Sykes-Picot were cynical in the extreme; but they were not exceptional. And by the standard of what had gone before, they were liberating.
posted by dhartung at 1:25 PM on July 20, 2002

Daniel Pipes, bleh.
posted by donkeyschlong at 1:38 PM on July 20, 2002

I can heartily recommend the book having picked thru it over a few years.

Unfortunately this post appears at a time when I've smoked a couple so I'll leave it there. ;-)
posted by i_cola at 3:32 PM on July 20, 2002

Blame it on events in the early 20th century? Nice try. Apparently the Crusades, the Roman Empire, the Greeks, the Medes, the Persians, the Babylonians, the ancient Egyptians, and the followers of Moses had nothing to do with it....

Oh, Modern Middle East! that makes previous centuries and millenia irrelevant!
posted by ilsa at 4:15 PM on July 20, 2002

What Dhartung said.

Also, during the first half of twentieth century almost all empires dissolved (except probably the Russian empire which would take about 40 more years) leaving behind a whole plethora of territorial disputes. That's how the world has always been. Almost all the South Asian territorial disputes are a legacy of the British empire. The whole Balkan mess is a function of the fragmentation of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The middle east is screwed up not because the Ottoman empire got destroyed (it is impressive that it lasted as long as it did), but because it did not get replaced by a modern, representative entity that Middle easterners could rally around and identify with.

institutionalized corruption had been the bane of the Ottoman empire and institutionalized corruption would have shaken up the current generation of middle eastern countries if it were not for the Western support of status quo.

Friedman mentioned in one of his columns a few months back that U.S. should stop supporting the corrupt regimes of middle east, because it is not sustainable and that after the pent up frustrations of the unwashed masses explodes all over that part of the world, what would replace it is probably going to be gentler, more representative and friendlier to the rest of the world. If what has been happening in Iran in the last few years is any indication, I would tend to think there is merit in that argument.

However, I must admit that I haven't read the book. There may be more to it that this post and the Amazon blurbs suggest.
posted by justlooking at 6:43 PM on July 20, 2002

I doubt we'd be speaking Turkish, even if the Ottoman Empire succeeded. The Turks, the people, never really felt an ownership of the Ottoman Turkish language1. Modern revisionist historians2 as well as the Turkish people3, 4, 5 are quick to distance themselves from the centuries of Arabic influence over the Turkish language. Even though the Turkish government never misses an opportunity to flaunt the rich collection of
calligraphy from the Ottoman era
and display the advances the Turkish scholars made in adapting the Arabic alphabet set6 to the Turkish phonetic range, their shameless attempt to Latinize the language while isolating it from its natural growth is a testament to their self-loathing. And you thought that banning the Fez7, 8, 9 alone would've sufficed in their hopes of becoming "Europeans"10, 11.

Recent dictionaries and reports on language growth from the government run Turkish Language Association claims that only 14% of the words currently used in Turkish language are of foreign origin12. Spoken languages can not grow if they can't adapt to foreign cultural influences and adopt foreign words along with the populace. Nearly 35-40% of the Turkish words were of foreign origin in 19322.

Government statements that the calligraphy "provides a good glimpse into Turkish culture. At the same time it shows the artistic flavour and art loving characteristic of Turks,"13 are just empty words aimed at starry eyed Westerners. No nation so conflicted about their own language has ever succeeded in imposing their speech on others.

BTW, sheauga, I've been meaning to write you a "nefarious email" for a while. Drop me note from a convenient fake email address that you plan to check in the next day or two. The email in my profile works.
posted by tamim at 1:39 AM on July 21, 2002 [1 favorite]

tamim: Lovely post! Your technique with the little labels and footnotes is very interesting. (You can figure out my E Ee-ZEEmail from my site, BTW.)
posted by sheauga at 4:15 AM on July 21, 2002

I sense a drift here from a discussion about the British empire (Ireland/India/Middle East) to a moving back to Ottomans, who lost out to the Brits. The Brits, by the way, asked the US to take over the area from them but we turned it down and thus it ended up with a UN decision as to its future.
posted by Postroad at 6:51 PM on July 21, 2002

« Older   |   Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments