X. TURKS, 2nd Wave

  • Mamluks (or Mamelukes): They were Islamic. They were a dynasty of Turkic mercenaries ruling over Egypt, Palestine, and the eastern shore of the Red Sea from about 1250 to 1517. They succeeded their Ayyubid Iranian masters in power. They defeated a small Mongol force at the Battle of Ain Jalut in Palestine in 1260, effectively halting Mongol expansion in the Middle East. They defeated the last of the Christian Crusaders of Europe by taking the city of Acre in 1291. They survived a transient defeat by Tamerlane at Aleppo in Syria in 1400. They were absorbed by the Ottoman Turk Empire in 1517. They unsuccessfully fought against Napoleon Bonaparte’s French invasion of Egypt in 1798. Some of them later served across Europe as mercenaries for Napoleon. Napoleon’s personal bodyguard was a Mamluk named Roustam Raza.
  • Ottoman Empire: The Ottomans were Islamic. They were a distant offshoot of the Oghuz Turks . They started in what is now northwestern Turkey under the leadership of a smalltime but effective and energetic local warlord named Osman. Osman’s father had been a Turkic warrior who was granted a small fief in northwestern Turkey by one of the later Seljuk sultans. Osman inherited his father’s fief and modestly expanded it during 1300-1326, mostly at the expense of the rapidly fading Greek Christian Byzantine Empire. Osman’s successors built on what he started with ever-accelerating speed and ever-increasing power. Expanding from Turkey, they took land in the Balkans, effectively isolating the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, from the rest of Christian Europe. They conquered the Christian Serbs, Bulgars, and other Balkan peoples at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, something the Serbs have been hypersensitive about to this day. They smashed an army of western European Christian Crusaders at the Battle of Nicopolis, just south of the Danube River, in 1396. The Ottomans were defeated temporarily by Tamerlane at the Battle of Ankara, in the middle of modern-day Turkey, in 1402. After regrouping themselves, they eliminated the last meaningful remnant of the Byzantine Empire by taking Constantinople (now, since 1930, called Istanbul) in 1453. They made Constantinople their capital city, converting the great Christian churches there into mosques. They crushed an army of Christian Hungarians at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526. They were frequently at war with the Islamic Safavid Persians to their east. Mesopotamia changed hands back and forth between the Ottomans and the Safavids with the Ottomans winning out in the end.

The Ottomans ruled all the Middle East, the Balkans, and much of the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea at the height of their power. Their empire reached its greatest glory during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, 1520-1566. By the time of Suleiman, the Ottomans, who were originally horse nomads, had become a settled, urbanized, sophisticated “Great Power” with a large and excellent navy to impose their will across the Mediterranean and Black Seas. They were a Great Power who interacted with the Great Powers of Europe in the standard European way.

Christian Europe finally halted the Ottoman tide in three military campaigns of tremendous ferocity and enormous importance. First, in 1565, the Ottomans invaded the Mediterranean island state of Malta and laid siege to the city of Malta. A joint European force under the leadership of the famous Knights of Malta broke the siege and forced the Ottomans to evacuate the island with great loss. Second, a combined Spanish and Venetian navy destroyed the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto, fought in the waters off the western coast of Greece, in 1571. Third, in 1683, a huge Ottoman army laid siege to the Austrian city of Vienna. A coalition of European armies, among whom the Poles were preeminent, broke the siege and routed the Ottoman army.

Throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Austrians and Russians waged wars to steadily whittle away at Ottoman lands in southeastern Europe. The Greeks, who soon gained European support, revolted against the Ottomans starting in 1821. The Greeks finally achieved their full independence as a modern nation in 1832. The British and Italians took over what had been Ottoman possessions in Egypt and Libya respectively. A coalition of European Balkan countries defeated the Ottomans in the First Balkan War of 1912-1913. As a result, Ottoman lands in Europe were reduced to a tiny enclave around the city of Constantinople. But the Ottomans still ruled over Palestine, Arabia, and Mesopotamia from their core region of Turkey. They underwent a period of attempted aggressive internal reform and modernization under the “Young Turk” movement. The badly shrunken Ottoman Empire joined as allies with the Germans and Austrians in World War I, 1914-1918. The Ottomans successfully repelled a British amphibious invasion on the shores of Gallipoli in 1915. Also in 1915, the Ottoman Turks massacred large numbers of their Christian Armenian subjects in the Caucasus region on the suspicion that the Armenians were helping the Russians. The Ottoman Empire was destroyed by British invasions and Arab revolts by the end of the war in 1918. The Ottoman Empire’s central remnant became the modern nation of Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was the victorious Ottoman general at Gallipoli.

  • Black Sheep Turks (or Qara Qoyunlu): They were a distant offshoot of the Oghuz Turks . They held power off and on in what is now eastern Turkey, Iraq, and western Iran about 1360-1480 AD. They survived being conquered by Tamerlane and subsequently managed to take most of Mesopotamia away from Tamerlane’s successors. By the late 1400s they had been completely taken over by the White Sheep Turks .
  • White Sheep Turks (or Aq Qoyunlu): They were a distant offshoot of the Oghuz Turks . They had the same story as the Black Sheep Turks but they were more powerful. Like the Black Sheep Turks, they survived spending time under the boot heel of Tamerlane . By the late 1400s, they had completely taken over the Black Sheep Turks to become lords of Mesopotamia and Iran. Their little empire lasted until 1501 when they were overthrown by the Safavid Persians .
  • Uzbeks: They emerged east of the Ural Mountains about 1430 AD by breaking away from the Mongol Khanate of the Golden Horde . They overthrew the heirs of Tamerlane (the “Timurids,” see above) in the late 1400s. Today, they have reemerged with their own country in the form of the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan.
  • Kazakhs: They emerged around the Aral Sea by about 1480. Their national hero is Ablai Khan who was their ruler from 1771 to 1781. Ablai’s great achievement was to forestall as long as possible the encroachments of the Russian and Chinese empires on Kazakh independence. Today, the Kazakhs have reemerged with a country of their own in the form of the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. The Kazakh government spent forty-million dollars making the movie Nomad: The Warrior, a blockbuster fictionalized epic about the youth and coming-of-age of Ablai Khan. Released in 2005, the movie was a worldwide box office bomb. Notwithstanding some wooden acting and lame dialogue, much of the movie is visually magnificent and provides a worthwhile vision of the environment of the horse nomads and their culture. The Kazakh people were generally furious about how their country was lampooned in the comedic movie Borat, released in 2006.

NOTE: The Russians took the name of the Kazakh Turks, corrupted it to “Cossacks,” and applied it to the renegade, outlaw Europeans who migrated to the steppe lands and intermarried with some of the Kazakh Turks during the late 1400s and 1500s. These people formed a hybrid European-Asian nomad culture on the wild southeastern frontiers of Czarist Russia. The most famous Cossack is the fictional Taras Bulba from the novella of that name by Nikolai Gogol. The probable real-life model for this character was Bogdan Khmelnitsky. Khmelnitsky was a Cossack chieftain who led a successful revolt against the Poles, 1648-1657, the Poles being the dominant power in the Ukraine at that time. The American-made Hollywood epic Taras Bulba, released in1962, is a not-bad view of the dynamics of life and war on the old steppe. A Russian-made film titled Taras Bulba came out in 2009 and was released on DVD in the United States in 2010 under the title The Conqueror.

NOTE: There were dozens of other small Turkic states that existed at various times throughout the Middle East.