When the Ottoman Empire was at its territorial height in the
16th Century, it was the most technologically advanced nation in
the world, and was greatly feared by the Christian nations of
Europe. However, from then on the empire began to decline relative
to the western nations, which advanced significantly in
technological and political terms, and succeeded in acquiring large
empire in the Americas and Far East. Following the Napoleonic Wars
and the rise of nationalism, Greek nationalists started to agitate
for independence, which they succeeded in doing with British,
French and Russian assistance, while an Albanian general, Mohammed
Ali, took control of Egypt, declared independence and conquered
much of the Ottoman Empire's Arabian territory, and came close to
taking Constantinople. It was only the western powers intervention
from preventing the Ottomans being overthrown completely.
After these events, the Ottomans realised they had to reform to
catch up to the western world as a major power, and also to
guarantee their own empire's independence.
In 1828, Murad III, Sultan committed to reform, as a first step
violently purged the Janissaries, the Sultans traditional bodyguard
who over the centuries had become unreliable and were against
reform and modernisation. He replaced them with a modern
professional army based on western models with modern uniforms and
equipment, and adopted modern tactics. It was also under his reign
that the Tanzimat was enacted, which started in 1839 and was
continued by his successor, Abdulmecid.
Over the decades, the Ottomans made a very good job of reforming
and modernising. The empire that was nearly destroyed in the 1820s
had become a modern nation state, which in 1876 opened its first
parliament, albeit with limited powers. Also in this period, they
decisively defeated Serbia and Montenegro, crushed the Bulgarian
rebels and very nearly defeated Russia one-on-one in the war that
followed. However, the aftermath of the war was disastrous for the
Ottomans. They only lost due to a lack of unified leadership, also
being vastly superior in weaponry and, initially, in numbers.
The Ottomans lost Bulgaria and Bosnia, which provided a third of
the Empire's revenues, and Sultan Abdulhamid II then suspended
parliament, partly holding them responsible for the defeat and
feeling strong government was necessary following the instability
that followed defeat.
However, under Abdulhamid's autocracy, local governmental
democracy flourished, and the empire continued to invest in
education and modernisation of the empire.
His autocracy, however bred resentment, which culminated in the
Young Turk revolution, starting in 1908, which resulted in severe
instability, which Italy took advantage of to seize Libya, and
Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro seized the remaining
Ottoman territories in Europe.
Even so, the armed forces were modernised, and it took WWI to
dismember the empire, and even then the Allies had a hard time,
mainly due to underestimation. In Palestine the Ottomans held off a
British army ten times its size for three years, and the Gallipoli
campaign was also a success, where a young army officer, Mustafa
Kemel (Ataturk) made his name.
After the empire was defeated, he was able to muster an army
that drove the Allied and Greek forces completely out of Turkey,
and abolished the Sultanate which had failed to support him, and
proclaimed the modern Turkish Republic.
In the West, the 19th Century is often seen as a period of
terminal decline for the Ottomans, which was the perception at the
time, is totally inaccurate.
Thanks to the reform movements, the Ottomans were incalculably
stronger at the turn of the 20th Century than they were at the turn
of the 19th Century.