Greatest Nations: Turkey - C. F. Horne

Downfall of Turkish Power and Efforts of the Kiuprili

[Illustration] from Greatest Nations - Turkey by C. F. Horne


[Authorities: As before, also Coxe, "History of the House of Austria"; Curtis, "The Turk and his Lost Provinces"; Finlay, "Greece under the Ottoman Dominion."]

One of the surprising facts of history is that the Ottoman empire, having fallen into such utter descrepitude at home, still continued, and to this day continues, to exist. For more than a hundred years, even after the accession of Selim the Sot (1566), it managed to retain its wide territories practically undiminished, its frontiers on the whole, advancing rather than receding. This century of empty bombast, this semblence of strength after the reality had departed, was due largely to the condition of Western Europe. There in the fierce religious strife of Catholic and Protestant had culminated in the terrible "Thirty Years' War," which left the Empire of the Germans even more exhausted than was that of the Turks. Other causes for the apparent vitality of the Ottoman State lay in the enormous and preponderating strength which it had attained during the three centuries from Osman to Solylman, and in the high character of the common Turks for honesty and valor, traits which all these later generations with their indescribably evil government, have not wholly eradicated. Moreover something must be accredited to the good fortune of Mahomet III, who had so unexpectedly seen defeat shift into overwhelming victory at Cerestes (1596), to the fury of Murad IV who fought fire with fire, and finally to the noted family of Kiuprili. Five of the sons of this house held the Grand Vizierate at intervals between 1656 and 1710, and were the real rulers of the empire, displaying a spirit of wisdom and patriotism scarce inferior to that of the early Osmanli.

Sultan Ibrahim, the foolish, had been at length deposed by the exasperated victims of his tyranny, deposed and slain, protesting to the last that his words were inspired of God and that this assault upon him really could not be. His child son, Mahomet IV (1648-1687), was girded with the sword of Osman, and anarchy ran riot. Sultanas and slaves contested for rule over the child and the empire, until a general council or divan of the chief officials was called in desperation, and all agreed that the only escape from the endless disaster and horror on every hand was to place a strong Vizier in full control.

Austrians at St. Gotthard


Mahomet Kiuprili, seventy years old, who had begun life as a kitchen-boy and risen by stern rigor and justness through all the ranks of state, was the chosen man. He made every general, every sultana, swear absolute obedience to him before he would accept the office. Then he held it with a hand of iron. Every offender whom he ever suspected was executed without mercy. He never reprimanded. "His blows outsped his words." Thirty thousand officials are said to have perished during the five brief years of his sway. Then he died, handing down his authority to his son, Achmet Kiuprili, a young man of only twenty-six, but a patriot and statesman yet greater than his sire.

Mahomet Kiuprili had restored order to the state; Achmet sought to restore its ancient military strength. The degeneracy of the Turkish arms had long been suspected in Europe; the German Empire recuperated rapidly from the Thirty Years' War; and, after a peace of seventy years enforced by the weakness of both East and West, hostilities in Hungary were renewed. In 1664, the Vizier, having gathered an army that in numbers and outward appearance resembled one of the old-time levies of valiant and victorious Turks, advanced against Austria, capturing fortress after fortress. He was met by the Imperial general Montecuculi, eminent as a writer and tactician as well as a soldier. Montecuculi points out for us how much the Turkish military organization had degenerated in the previous seventy years, spent only in Asiatic warfare; and he shows also how vastly European arms and tactics had developed by the experience of the Thirty Years' War. Though his troops were much inferior in number, he completely defeated Achmet in the battle of St. Gotthard. The tide of victory had turned at last.

Achmet hastened to make peace. Yet with such art did he take advantage of the internal dissensions of the German Empire, that he exacted his own terms of profit rather than loss. The respite thus secured he devoted to the training of his antiquated army. A war for the conquest of the island of Crete had been dragging on for twenty years; he ended it with vigor and success (1669), and next turned his attention to the north. The Cossacks beyond the Turkish border line, in what is now southern Russia, admitted some vague allegiance to either Poland or Russia and were domineered over by both governments. In 1672, they appealed to Turkey for protection, and their district, the Ukraine, was enrolled in the list of Turkish dependencies. Both Poland and Russia protested and threatened war.

Siege of Vienna


Kiuprili defied them in a letter worthy of the days of Solyman: "If the inhabitants of an oppressed country, in order to obtain deliverance, implore the aid of a mighty emperor, is it prudent to pursue them in such an asylum? When the most mighty and most glorious of all emperors is seen to deliver and succor from their enemies those who are oppressed, and who ask him for protection, a wise man will know on which side the blame of breaking peace ought to rest. If, in order to quench the fire of discord, negotiation is wished for, so let it be. But if the solution of differences is referred to that keen and decisive judge called 'The Sword,' the issue of the strife must be pronounced by the God who has poised upon nothing Heaven and earth, and by whose aid Islamism has for a thousand years triumphed over its foes."

War with Poland followed. At first the Vizier was so successful that not only the Ukraine but other parts of Poland were surrendered to him. Then however, arose the famous Polish leader, Sobieski, who twice defeated Kiuprili, at Khoczim (1673) and at Lemberg (1675). A general under the Vizier, more fortunate than his master, restored the balance of power by checking Sobieski, and the dissensions of the Poles led them to accept the loss of their territory and conclude peace (1676).

This same year Achmet Kiuprili died. Despite his repulses at the hands of Montecuculi and Sobieski, he had outranked both their governments at the game of diplomacy. He extended the frontier of the Turks to its widest European extent, and he restored among his people their ancient confidence in themselves and in their destiny. Better still, he did all this with justice and without extortionate taxation. Under him the prosperity of the Turkish common people began to revive. Blessings, not curses, were heaped upon him at home, and he was hailed with truth as the "light and splendor of the nation."

His death may well be taken as marking the last expiring glow of Turkish power. The boy Sultan, Mahomet IV, was now grown a man, and he conferred the Vizierate not on one of the Kiuprili, but on a brother-in-law of his own, Kara. Mustapha, who in contradistinction to his predecessor, has been poetically called by the Ottomans "the curse of the Empire." His ambitions were as vast as his abilities were weak. Like the common Turks, he seems really to have believed in the invincibility of his race, and he planned to conquer all Germany and hold it as an empire of his own.

He had first, however, to encounter Russia, which now began to assert herself against the Porte and started that victorious southward advance by which she has assumed the role of the avenger of Greek Christianity upon the Moslems. Russia had not been a party to the treaty by which Poland transferred to Turkey the land of the Cossacks. She encouraged the Cossacks in rebellion against their new suzerain, and when Kara Mustapha led an immense army into the disputed territory, Cossacks and Russians joined in defeating him at Cehzrym (1677). Astonished at the wholly unexpected overthrow, the Turks recalled their failure at Astrakhan a century before, and acquired toward the Muscovites an instinctive fear never afterward overcome. Mustapha yielded the Ukraine to Russia and sought an easier glory elsewhere.

A revolt of the Hungarians against Austrian tyranny furnished an excuse for the interference of the ambitious Vizier. The greater part of Hungary was already Turkish, and the remainder now asked, as had the Cossacks, for Turkish protection against Christian oppression. Mustapha raised an army of two hundred and seventy-five thousand regular troops, beside vast swarms of irregulars more like brigands, whose numbers probably swelled the total to half a million men. With this enormous force he advanced in 1683 to accomplish the project of his dreams, the conquest of Vienna, that barrier which had broken the first tremendous wave of Ottoman advance under Solyman.

Christendom, divided into its many petty states, could muster no such host as Mustapha's to oppose him; but it had now soldiers better than the Turks, a spirit nobler than theirs, and generals immeasurably superior to the incompetent Vizier. The Emperor fled from Vienna, but its citizens defended it under Count Stahremberg. For two months they held back the Turks; then the end seemed near. The walls were in ruins; the besieged garrison was woefully depleted and a final assault must almost inevitably have been successful. But Mustapha suddenly displayed an avarice as ill-timed as his previous ambition. If Vienna were stormed, his soldiers would plunder it at will; if it surrendered, he could hold them back and exact an enormous payment for himself. So he negotiated, and the Viennese negotiated and thus kept him in check while the Emperor who had fled, strove desperately to persuade some one to lend him an army for the rescue of his capital. Sobieski of Poland, the victor over Kiuprili, finally marched to Vienna's aid. Mustapha refused to believe the news that the Christians were advancing against him. The Poles and Germans combined had managed to raise less than seventy thousand men, and the Vizier was sure they would not dare attack him. Hence he was culpably negligent, and Sobieski's final assault was somewhat in the nature of a surprise. The Viennese joined in the attack and the Turks gave way under it almost immediately. Their vast army dispersed in utter rout. Mustapha, bewildered and furious, blamed the defeat upon everybody but himself, and as he fled southward with his officers he had them slain one after another, day after day, until finally there came from Constantinople the dread order for his own execution.

Recovery of Buda


As news spread of the great national disaster, the Ottoman Empire was attacked on every side. Her foes had only been held in check by fear; they leaped on her like wolves on a wounded stag. In the north, Russia declared war and advanced with the Cossacks against the Khan of the Crimea. From the north-west came the Poles. The Imperial armies entered Turkish Hungary. The Albanians revolted. Even feeble Venice found an able general in Morosini and reconquered the lower part of Greece, the ancient Peloponessus. The Imperial forces repossessed themselves of Buda, the Hungarian capital; in 1687 they gained a great victory at Mohacs, the very field on which Solyman had crushed the Hungarian power. The Sultan Mahomet IV was compelled to abdicate. Once more there was tumult and unbridled riot in Constantinople.

Yet the proud Turks did not yield readily to their foes. For a brief time a third Kiuprili was made Vizier, a brother of Achmet. He crushed the Albanian revolt; he recaptured Belgrade, which had surrendered; he inaugurated vast internal reforms. Then—if he could not save his country he could at least die for it—he attacked the Imperial armies at Slankamen, rashly we are told, and perished leading on a last desperate, unsuccessful charge of his devoted soldiers (1691).

The next Sultan, Mustapha II (1695-1703), for a moment promised better things. He defeated the Imperialists in several minor battles, but in 1697 he was overthrown at Zenta by the celebrated general Prince Eugene. Thereon Mustapha fled to Constantinople and abandoned himself like his predecessors to the life of the seraglio.

In the extremity to which the staggering empire was thus reduced, it was saved by a fourth Kiuprili, Housein, descended from a brother of the first Vizier of the race. Being invested with the Vizierate (1697), Housein sought for peace; and England and Holland, alarmed at the increasing power of the other European States, aided his efforts. Much against the will of some of the combatants, a general treaty was arranged in 1699. From the town of the Danube where the envoys met, this was known as the Peace of Carlowitz.

Reckoning from the first ill-starred advance of Kara Mustapha against Vienna, this war had lasted sixteen years. It left Turkey shorn indeed, but by no means crushed. Poland, after the first great victory of Sobieski, had taken little part in the contest, the death of her king involving her in difficulties of her own. Yet in recognition of her services to their cause, the victorious Powers insisted that by the treaty she receive again the provinces of which Achmet Kiuprili had deprived her. Russia during the early years of the war had found her best efforts checked by the Khan of the Crimea, who with his wild Tartar riders proved a most valuable Turkish ally. Toward the end of the struggle, that mightiest of the Czars, Peter the Great, had come into complete authority, and in a siege noteworthy upon both sides, he had won from the Turks their chief northern defense, the fortress city of Azov at the mouth of the Don. This with its surrounding territory, Russia retained, thus winning the first step of her advance, a foothold on the Sea of Azov. To Venice was given up the whole of the Peloponessus, though the Turks probably intended this concession to be only temporary, knowing that the region could some day be recovered. One of their ambassadors scornfully told the Venetian minister a story of a pickpocket who, creeping up while some mighty wrestlers were engaged in contest, stole the garments of one. He added point to the sarcasm by remarking that later the pickpocket would probably have to yield up the purloined robe and his own skin as well.

The main loss to Turkey was on the Hungarian frontier. There she had met the Imperial forces, and there suffered her principal defeats. Most of Hungary and all Transylvania, her possessions of nearly two centuries, were given over to Austria, and certain rights and privileges were exacted for the Christians of the Balkan regions which remained under Ottoman rule, thus establishing a pretext for further interference. The disintegration of European Turkey was vigorously begun.

Kara Mustapha