Timur - Tamerlane (1336-1405)
Into the confusion and disorder, weakness and instability of the divided little countries of the East came Timur, who was to be known as Tamerlane. Even though the winds of change were blowing in the East, the intervention of Tamerlane, of Turkic origin, did not help to build a new order but only added another burden to an age of transition. He overran the East, invaded Persia and Iraq, raided India, thrust into the Volga country and left havoc, death, and destruction wherever he went. He sacked Aleppo in Syria and the burning of Damascus is described as "butchery" by a twelve-year old Damascene, Ahmad ibn Arabsha, whose account of these horrors is related in his work, Timur, the Great Prince.
The Ottoman Empire (1299-1919)
During this time of rivalries, pillage, assasinations, power struggles and counter plays, a new Muslim Empire was appearing in Asia Minor. This Empire, to rule the East for six hundred years, had its beginnings in the remnants of a small tribe of Turkmans which had fled from Genghis Khan. They were settled by the Seljuq Sultan on the borders of Byzantine territory in the little town of Sugut near the Sea of Marmora. Their leader, Ertoghrul accepted the land in return for military service. While Ertoghrul remained pagan, his son, Othman, who succeeded him, was converted to Islam, and his descendants were to restore Islam to a conquering empire.
Othman's neighbors were Christian, and with the vigor of the new convert, Othman set out to make them Muslims. Slowly Othman extended his patrimony about seventy miles to the north and south, coming to the shores of the Bosphorus, and approaching Constantinople. While Othman himself was
no great conqueror, he bequeathed his name to one of the world's great empires, the Othmanli, a name which was corrupted in Europe to "Ottoman."
Othman's son, Orkhan, moved in the same slow fashion as his father, getting more converts from Christian Byzantium by economic encouragement than by conquest.
To be in the Othmanli army one had to be Muslim. The warrior class had the greatest benefits; therefore, many Greeks, discouraged and disgusted with their own governments joined Islam and the Othmanlis. The fact, too, that Byzantium was in decadence contributed to the rise of the Othmanlis. By infilitration and diplomacy, Orkhan increased his territory, planting Muslim colonies, building forts, and winning people over by offering better conditions.
A combination of more aggressive later rulers, religious troubles between Rome and the Orthodox Church, and political jealousies and rivalries between Christian states, allowed the Othmanlis to establish a firm foothold in Europe. During the reign of Murad, son of Orkhan, large companies of Orthodox Christians fought in Othmanli armies, and Murad established the Janissaries, the world famous crack troops of the Ottoman army, made up of Christian boys who were converted willingly or unwillingly to Islam.
Subsequent Othmanli rulers continued to annex territory by warring or peaceful means, and political machinations continued, either between Othmanli relatives or Christian ruling houses, one set pitting another against a third. At last, in 1451, Muhammed II began work to build a fort on the Bosphorus opposite one previously built on the Asian shore.
The two Othmanii castles could then, by their artillery, close the Bosphorus to the fleets of Venice, Genoa and Byzantium. The intention was, clearly, to blockade Constantinople which the sultan was determined to take.
Constantine XI, the heroic last Byzantine Emperor, sent ambassadors to the West pleading, unsuccessfully, for assistance against the Ottomans. While the Byzantine forces were some seven thousand strong, these included monks and volunteers with no military training. Many were armed only with swords, and the Byzantine army had only a few iron cannon to face the large Othmanli artillery. A force of one hundred fifty thousand Othmanli, over eighty thousand of them professional soldiers including the Janisseries (by that time the finest troops in the world) lay siege to Constantinople on April 11, 1451.
The defense of the city was heroic. On May 28, Constantine ordered religious processions, holy icons were carried through the streets, and the Emperor, with his ministers and army commanders, received the Holy Eucharist, the last Christian service held in the Cathedral of Santa Sophia. The City then prepared to die. The next day it was all over. The Emperor was dead. Muhammed II, thereafter known as The Conqueror, rode into the city, proceeded to Santa Sophia, mounted to the sanctuary, pulled down the altar and trampled it.
By the sixteenth century, the Ottomans had absorbed the major part of Hungary, made Transylvania a tributary principality, and pushed deep into eastern Europe, and south into Persia and Arabia. They defeated the Mamlooks of Egypt and took Cairo in 1517. Algiers was conquered in 1518.
Mediterranean shipping was threatened by corsairs such as the colorful Greek-born Khair ed Din, known as Barbarosa, who sailed under Turkish auspices. One by one, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Arabia and Yemen came under Ottoman rule.
As the Ottomans thrust north and west, much of Greece fell under Ottoman power. The Ottomans then formed a friendship with France and directed their attacks toward Austria and Spain. The Ottoman State was founded on two basic institutions -- the army and religion. Administration of the territories was dependent upon local "pashas" and "hospodars" who usually purchased their posts at exorbitant prices and resorted to corruption and bribery to improve upon their original investment.
Their extortions were directed primarily toward the Christians. In the Balkans, the Rayas were reduced to abject poverty, and in the Middle East, particularly in the Lebanon, where the majority of the population was Christian, the people suffered not only from extortion, but from suppression of religion, education and political rights.
Although there were periods of religious tolerance, depending upon the inclination of the reigning sultan, there were also massacres, not only of Christians, but also of Muslim Arabs who disagreed with the existing administration.
In Egypt, in the Levant, and in the Arabian desert lands, where once the glorious Empire of the Arabs was a light to the world, an age of darkness fell. Here began the "Long Sleep of the Arabs." True, the poets rhymed their plaintive songs which became part of Ottoman literature, and there were a few intellectuals whose candles glowed against the
surrounding dark. There were artists and artisans whose work became a part of Ottoman art. There were priests and teachers who handed down, generation to generation, the word of a Christian God, and stories of ancient glory. There were some Muslim Arabs who preached resistance.But these were not four hundred years of enlightenment for a whole people,nor were they years of liberty and self-determination for independent nations. They were, rather, years of suppression, of occupation, of corrupt governments and corrupt leaders.
Suppression and poverty did not always deter, but often inspired the brave to resist. In the mountains, in desert wadis, in the small villages, and in the cities, there were determined individuals in every century who spoke out to their people, who fought back, and who died for their liberty. As the Ottoman Empire began to crumble, and Turkey became known as "the sick man of Europe" the Arab's desire to throw off their yoke became an insatiable drive. Men met in secret to plan uprisings. They were sometimes betrayed, but they met again.
The Massacres of Christians by the Druze in 1841 and again in 1860 fanned the flames of hatred that burned not only against the Druze, but also against the Turks who were thought to have incited the attacks. The religious conflicts between some Muslims and Christians that resulted from these merciless attacks prevail to this day. "Sinth el Sitheen" ("the year of '60") was a phrase that struck terror into the hearts of even the children of Arab immigrants to America.
The "new nationalism" of the nineteenth century was perhaps a combination of religious bias and the political hatred of Turkish domination. Those Christians who fought the Ottoman did so, first, because he was the
political oppressor, and only incidentally because he represented the religion of the majority, Islam.
The Muslim Arabs who fought him had no such dual motives. Their battle was for national freedom, and their struggle was not as Muslim against Muslim, but as Arab against Turk.
During the middle 1800's, a kind of guerrilla warfare went on in the streets of Damascus and Beirut, Jerusalem and Baghdad. It was a strike and run warfare, conducted by the young bloods of both religions against the administering authority in the person of the tax collector or the street soldier. Many a young Damascene or Beiruti ancestor of Arab Americans was smuggled out of the country by night to save him from the police. Prison, execution, beatings and torture at the whim of the authorities awaited the guerrillas, and a man could disappear forever for smacking a club against a Turkish head, or holding up the tax collector.
Resistance was especially strong in the Lebanese mountains. Bands of rebels fought the Turks from strongholds on rocky crags or in the mountain caves. At times, they struck the enemy by night, returning to the village to tend their little vineyards by day.
One of the greatest heroes of this hapless resistance against a superior force was Yousef bey Karam of Ehden. Folk history remembers his manhood, patriotism and bravery in stories and poems and ballads, and one of the first acts of the Arab immigrant community in Springfield, Massachusetts was to establish a Society bearing his name.
In the waning years of the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan ruthlessly persecuted the liberals and governed with a network of spies.