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The Turkish Ottoman Period (1517-1918)

The Turkish Ottoman Period (1517-1918)

     Well before the Crusades, the whole of Syria was in the hands of the Ayoubite Sultans, who had replaced the Fatimides in Egypt – or rather, the Mamelouks, since the feeble Fatimide dynasty was under the tutelage of a military aristocracy.
     This was a confused period. Syria was divided into six provinces, each headed by an army general, or Bey. The Beys cared little for the authority of the Egyptian Sultan, and spent their time waging war.
     It was at this time too that fresh Mongol invasions occurred. About 1400 came the invasion of Tamerlane, a remarkable warrior, but fierce and cruel. The country was devastated once more.
     The ottoman Turks, masters of Constantinople and soon of the whole of the European peninsula of the Balkans, were protected from the West and free to concentrate on the annexation of Asia. They had no trouble in taking Syria from the Mamelouks; in 1517 Sultan Salim I crushed them at Mardjdabek, entered Aleppo, Damascus and Gaza, and brought all of Syria into his empire. He divided the country into wilayets, each headed by a Wali (governor), who irritated the population with taxes and abuses of all kinds. Syria lived under a shadow for four centuries.
     Trade with Europe was conducted through the commercial ports of the Levant, where the Europeans enjoyed certain privileges under the capitulatory system.
     In 1799, after taking Egypt, Bonaparte invaded Syria but was brought to a halt before Saint John of Acre. Mohammed Ali in turn coveted Syria, which was conquered by his son Ibrahim (1831-1832) and returned to the Ottomans as a result of the intervention of England.
     From 1860 onwards there was large-scale emigration to Egypt, Europe and especially America, mainly as a result of the ruin of handcrafts following the introduction of machinery and the industrial revolution in Europe.
     In 1876 Syria, like the rest of the Turkish Empire, thought for a time that it was to have a parliamentary regime when Sultan Abdul Hammed promulgated the constitution of December 23rd. But the constitution was a short-lived parody and Parliament was dissolved in 1877.
     Meanwhile, nationalist feeling was growing in Syria, with the Arab revolution, which was to mark the contemporary renaissance of the Arab world. As early as 1913, as result of clandestine national action, an Arab Congress held in Paris called for all Arabs to unite against the tyranny of the Turks.
     During the First World War Syria suffered greatly: famine in Lebanon, typhus, and the growing tyranny of the Turks. But the Turks, who were allies of the Germans, were beaten by the British and by the Arab army of Emir Fecal and chased out of Syria in October 1918.


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