Ottoman Empire

   Tracing its origins to the end of the 13th century, the Ottoman Empire at its zenith was one of the greatest Islamic states in history. In 1453, the Ottomans finally captured Constantinople and ended the Byzantine Empire. In the following century the Ottoman Empire grew to span three continents — southeastern Europe, southwestern Asia (the Middle East), and northern Africa. During its period of growth, the Ottoman Empire confronted the Christian West as the champion of Islamic expansion. Europe's modernization, however, began to roll the Ottomans back, and by the 19th century, they were seen as the sick man of Europe. Nevertheless, the empire lasted into the 20th century, when defeat in World War I led to its final collapse. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923.
   The Ottoman Empire first incorporated the Kurds in 1514, following its famous victory (with considerable Kurdish support, it should be noted) over Safavid Persia at the Battle of Chaldiran northeast of Van. The border thus established basically lasted into the 20th century. Most Kurds lived within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire, where they usually enjoyed a large amount of local autonomy until the Ottoman centralization policies of the 19th century destroyed the semi-independent Kurdish emirates. The remainder of the Kurds lived within the Persian Empire. During the ensuing centuries, the Kurds inhabiting the frontier marches played a major role in the confrontations between the two empires.
   Ottoman backwardness in the 19th century contributed to the stunted sense of Kurdish nationalism that failed to take advantage of its opportunities at the end of World War I. To this day historians debate whether Sheikh Said's famous rebellion against Turkey in 1925 was motivated by genuine Kurdish nationalism or simple longing for the abolished caliphate. Certainly the stunted sense of Kurdish nationalism helped prevent Sheik Said from uniting most of the Kurdish tribes under his banner.
   Historical memories of European imperialist schemes to weaken and divide the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries continue to influence modern Turkey to oppose recognition of Kurdish rights, which might snowball into demands for Kurdish independence. The seemingly stubborn refusal of modern Turkey to admit that its citizens of Kurdish ethnic heritage constitute a minority can be partially understood in light of the old Ottoman principle that Islam took precedence over nationality among Muslims and that only non-Muslims could hold some type of officially recognized minority status. Indeed, this very principle was recognized by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which made no provisions for the Kurds in Turkey while overturning the stillborn Treaty of Sevres (1920) that had sought to provide for Kurdish autonomy or even independence.
   Memories of what many remember to be harsh Ottoman rule probably continue to influence successor Arab states such as Iraq and Syria to be wary of modern Turkey. The Ottomans hanged the elder brother of Mulla Mustafa Barzani in World War I for supposedly conspiring with the Russian enemy.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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