(MUSLIMS in the MIDDLE EAST, 1700 to 1837 – continued)
In the early 1820s, Mahmud II, Ottoman sultan since 1808, was fighting a rebellion by his Greek subjects – what became known as the Greek War of Independence. The Greeks slaughtered some 30,000 Turks and Turks retaliated by massacring Greeks in Constantinople (Istanbul). Fath Ali Shah tried to take advantage of the Greek rebellion, but without success. He and Mahmud were bitter rivals – a Sunni Muslim sultan against a Shia Muslim shah – both of them called zill-ullah (shadow of God). Fath Ali Shah was obliged to withdraw from the war in 1823, signing a treaty with the Ottoman sultan that involved no changes of territory.
In 1824, to help fight against the Greek rebellion, Mahmud sought help from his governor in Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, supposedly his subordinate but superior to him militarily. The governor sent his son Ibrahim as the head of a force that landed in 1825 at Navarino (Pylos) on the western coast of the Peloponnesian Peninsula (also known then as Morea). Ibrahim's force fought their way eastward, easily defeating the Greeks and massacring numerous Christians – which offended more people in Western Europe, especially in London. And, in 1826, the Egyptians overran Athens, and many in Europe concluded that the Greek rebellion was a lost cause.
Mahmud felt disgraced that Muhammad Ali Pasha's military was better than his, and he was planning to strengthen his military. This required crushing an old institution in Ottoman Turkey: the Jannisaries. As described in a previous chapter, this was an institution of fighting men originally consisting of children taken from Christian slaves, selected for their potential as warriors, given military training and brought up as Muslims. Originally the Janissaries had been devoted to asceticism, celibacy and to other behavior that matched Islamic values. They had been proud warriors, an effective fighting force with esprit de corps, and had been eager for glory and much feared by Europeans. The Janissaries had become a power in Turkey, with feudal powers, not unlike the Samurai of Japan in their days of power. And like the palace guard in Ancient Rome, or Eunuchs in China, they had been the makers and breakers of kings. Also, they had become indolent, corrupt and opposed to reform.
Mahmud Sultan feared the Janissaries and surrounded himself with a military force with western artillery. Mahmud ordered the Janissaries to adopt the European form of military drill. The Janissaries refused. In late May, 1826, the Sultan Mahmud moved to expand his military force, and in June the Janissaries revolted, with the help of provocateurs loyal to Mahmud. Those Janissaries who rushed Mahmud's palace were gunned down with grapeshot from Mahmud's artillery. Mahmud's force bombarded the barracks of the Janissaries and hunted down and killed Janissaries wherever they could find them. The event was called Vak'ayi-Hayriye (The Auspicious Incident). And a curse was pronounced on the name Janissaries.
British trade with Turkey had risen over past decades, and the British were concerned about stability and unilateral Russian advances southward against Turkey. The new tsar in 1826, Nicholas I, was also interested in stability in Turkey and interested in cooperating with Mahmud. He was an Orthodox Christian, as were the Greeks, but his support for his brother Orthodox Christians was ambivalent. He viewed Ottoman rule over the Greeks as legitimate and the Greek revolt as a violation of the conservative order that he wanted to preserve in Europe as well as in Turkey.
Mahmud was hostile and afraid of the Russians and closed the strait of Bosporus, alongside Constantinople, to Russian ships. Nicholas could not tolerate this. The British and French, who still favored the Greeks, joined with the Russians in a combined navy – mostly British. In September, 1827, an Egyptian fleet with troop transports landed at Navarino Bay, and on October 20 the combined fleet of British, French and Russians attacked the Egyptian fleet bottled at Navarino and destroyed most of it.
Mahmud exhorted Muslims everywhere to a jihad against Russia, calling it "a struggle for the faith and for our national existence" and for everyone, rich and poor, "a sacred duty." In April, 1828, Russia declared war against Mahmud. That year the French landed a force of about 14,000 on the Peloponnesian Peninsula, and the Egyptians evacuated the peninsula. In 1829, the Russians were at Adrianople (Edirne), the going rougher for the Russian force than Nicholas had imagined. Nicholas was unenthusiastic for more war and uninterested in conquest of Constantinople and the straits. Britain, France and other European powers gathered and pressured Mahmud to sue for peace, the result being the Treaty of Adrianople, signed in September. In that treaty, Mahmud promised independence for a portion of Greece; granted autonomy to Serbia; gave Russia permission to occupy Moldavia and Walachia (Wallachia) until a large indemnity was paid; opened the straits to the merchant ships of all nations; and gave to Russia a piece of land at the mouth of the Danube River, on the Black Sea.
Defeated militarily, Mahmud continued with reforms, for the sake of military power, until his death in 1839. His military needed officers with some education, and so he initiated reforms in education and sent some young men for schooling in Europe. For the sake of those wounded in battle, his education program included the creation of medical doctors. And Mahmud moved against the independent powers of feudalistic landholders and semi-autonomous governors. He succeeded in Mesopotamia, but he was less than successful regarding Egypt.
Copyright © 2009-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.