The End of the Ottoman Empire

Directed by Mathilde Damoisel

104 minutes / Color
English; French / English subtitles
Release: 2017
Copyright: 2016

For six centuries, the Ottomans, named after the Osman dynasty in Turkey, ruled over three continents and seven seas: in Eastern Europe, from Vienna to Crimea, all around the Black Sea and the Caucasus; in Mesopotamia; in Arabia, from Cairo to Aden; in the Mediterranean, from Greece to Alexandria...

A great power, home to an unprecedented mosaic of peoples and faiths, the Empire controlled the Holy Places of Islam, Christianity and Judaism-yet would collapse in less than a century.

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From 1830, when Greece won its independence, until 1923, when Mustafa Kemal abolished the Sultanate and proclaimed the modern Republic of Turkey, THE END OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE explores the political, economic, and social processes that led to the fall of the Ottomans. On the ruins of the Empire, a whole new world was born, one of new nation-states, borders, and ethnic and religious fractures.

With rare footage, archival images, and interviews with the most renowned international historians, this two-part film analyzes these new lines of division and reminds us that the Ottoman past still matters today, across the Balkans and the entire Middle East.

First Part: The Nations Against the Empire

The first part of the film explores the period starting with the independence of Greece in 1830 and finishing with the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. A period during which the Ottoman Empire would totally recede from Europe, after five centuries of domination.

This is a little-known page of history, often denigrated by local national historiographies. But, as Mark Mazower, from Columbia University recalls, it had been a rich, even if complicated, history of coexistence between Christian, Muslim and Jewish peoples. As the XIXth century saw the rise of nationalism, religious identities shifted to exclusive national identities – Serbian, Greek, Bulgarian… - which still clash and conflict.

Three forces were at work during the XIXth century: rising nationalism; European imperialism, which saw the Great Powers of the time, France, England, Russia, Germany, covet the territories and resources of the weakened Ottoman Empire; and finally the Ottomans’ failure to adapt their Empire to modernity and to reform. All together, these forces would eradicate Ottoman presence in Europe.

Second Part: “A Fragmented Middle East”

In 1914, a weakened Ottoman Empire joined World War 1 on the side of Germany, Bulgaria and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It literally had to fight on every one of its borders.

After losing the Balkans, the Empire withdrew to Anatolia – Asia Minor – and to the Arab provinces of Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Hedjaz. This withdrawal into the Anatolian and Muslim core of the Empire, as historian Hamit Bozarlan describes it, is an essential feature of the time. The extermination of the Armenian, Christian, population of  Anatolia, the first genocide of XXth century, took place in this specific context.

It is also in the same context that the Ottoman power tried to keep hold of its Arab provinces, their last protection. But the truth was that the Arab peoples had grown angry at the centralizing policies led by the Young Turks government, and they had started to express their own national ambitions. In 1921, the Allies tried to impose reduced sovereignty over a smaller territory – Istanbul and Western Anatolia. It triggered a fierce rebellion, led by a Turkish officer, Mustafa Kemal. He fought the Allies as well as the last imperial troops. In 1923, he abolished the Sultanate and proclaimed the Republic of Turkey. In order to obtain “homogeneous” territories, where diverse and mixed populations used to coexist, the new Turkey expelled more than a million Christians to Greece. Nearly half of million Muslims were at the same time deported from Greece to Turkey. A massive population exchange which really marked the end of the Ottomans, and the victory of the Nation-States. 

"Illustrated by archival imagery, The End of the Ottoman Empire tells the essential backstory of our world today." Susan Oxtoby, Curator at Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA)

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  • Official Selection, Middle East Studies Association MESA Film Festival


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Mathilde Damoisel | 2017 | 52 minutes | Color | English; French | English subtitles

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