Since the outbreak of WWI, the Middle East has been a strategic area; many powers have vied for control.

How stable was the region under Ottoman rule? Stable is, for the purposes of this question, defined as a lack of wars, and minimal criminal activity.

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    What do you mean by "stable"? Mar 24, 2015 at 11:29
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    Lack of wars, and criminality maintained to an acceptable level
    – Bregalad
    Mar 24, 2015 at 11:47
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    An acceptable level of criminality is one that doesn't call into question the legitimacy of the state; I think it is a legitimate part of the analysis. None of these criteria are going to have formal Key Performance Indicators, but criminality is, I believe, a recognized indicator of whether the state has effective control.
    – MCW
    Mar 24, 2015 at 12:40
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    Kind of a vague question. Mar 24, 2015 at 15:12
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    @MarkC.Wallace - In general a good policy. However, in this case I think the phrase is being used to justify his interest in the topic, not as a piece of foundational information. Still, it would be vastly improved with a link to such a person.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 24, 2015 at 16:33

4 Answers 4


There were three main periods in the Ottoman Empire. The first was known for internal, but not external stability; the second was known for both external and internal stability; and the last was known for neither.

The Ottoman Empire took its form after the capture of Constantinople in 1453, which it took at its capital. For the next two and a half centuries, it was an aggressive power that waged war on eastern Europe, mostly in the Balkans, advancing as far as Hungary and Rumania, to the southern borders of Poland and Russia. That brought the Ottoman Empire into intermittent conflict with those two countries that ended with an Ottoman victory over (and a peace treaty with) Russia in 1718. The Ottoman Empire also attacked Italy and Austria to the west, losing the battle of Lepanto in 1571, and the battle of Vienna in 1683. During this expansionist era, the country's European borders were unstable, but the Middle Eastern core of the Empire was stable; a large, powerful and mostly successful army minimized crime and civil disorder and kept enemies away from the heartland.

The period of greatest peace and prosperity was in the mid-18th century, the half century during and after the so-called Tulip Period of 1718-1730. This was a time when the Empire mostly avoided wars and concentrated on internal economic development, based in part on tulip raising. This was the time when the Empire first opened itself to foreign capital, art, architecture, and ideas that led to a flourishing culture. Although Ottoman power was clearly peaking, this was a time of internal, as well as external stability that kept the peace in the Middle East.

After 1768, the Ottoman Empire became the "Sick Man of Europe" because of the rise of Russia (beginning under Catherine the Great), with the Ottoman Empire (along with Poland) its most important victim. The Empire was also wracked with internal strife, including in the Middle East, and spent 150 years "threatening" to fall apart before it actually did so in 1918.

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    The Ottoman Empire got started rather earlier than the conquest of Constantinople. Several major Ottoman victories in the Balkans and Rumania -- Kosovo (1389), Nicopolis (1396), and Varna (1444) -- all predate the capture of Constantinople. Jun 18, 2016 at 17:25
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    @PeterErwin:Yes, the Ottoman Empire "got started" before Constantinople but I said it "took its form" with the capture of that city (which it made its capital). Because "Constantinople" defined the Ottoman Empire.And the question was about how well the Ottomans controlled/policed the Middle East, which basically started with the capture of Constantinople.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 18, 2016 at 20:04
  • Do people still say "Rumania"?
    – cipricus
    Oct 27, 2022 at 16:16

The Ottoman Empire was in a state of decline, both internal and external, during the 18th and 19th centuries, accelerating during the latter period, and ending with its total collapse and dissolution during the events surrounding World War I.

Richard Hooker's The Ottomans tell's the story briefly.

Note that by 1800 the Ottoman's had totally lost control of the Barbary Coast and Egypt; European interference in the Lebanon was also disruptive.

The Balkan Wars of the late 19th century were preceded by the successful Greek War of Independence. All of these events signal the weakness of the Ottoman Empire, the "Sick Man of Europe"

The rise of of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire was primarily a 19th century affair; the systematic Ottoman response was the Tanzimat, reform and reogranization that lasted from 1839 to 1878. Many of the reforms were inspired by Western ideas, but failed to accomplish the goals, which were "to bring the benefits of a good administration to the provinces of the Ottoman Empire through new institutions."

Economic stagnation, the refusal to modernize, and the slow loss of territorial integrity means that peace and stability were lacking.

As reported in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World:

"Government and Society. The reign of Sultan Süleyman marked the peak of Ottoman power and prosperity as well as the highest development of its governmental, social, and economic systems. The Ottoman sultans preserved the traditional Middle Eastern social division between a small ruling class (askeri or “military”) at the top, whose functions were limited largely to keeping order and securing sufficient financial resources to maintain itself and carry out its role, and a large subject class of rayas (reâyâ, or “protected flock”), organized into autonomous communities according to religion (millets) or economic pursuit (esnaf, or “guilds”) that cared for all aspects of life not controlled by the ruling class."

The article provides details, but even this summary makes it clear that modern theories of police were lacking, and that order was primarily the responsibility of the autonomous communes, with a military presence as a reminder. Thus there are no statistics for criminal activity.

Rebellions in the Ottoman Empire (in Turkey) lists many rebellions, and provides links to the details. The article also provides rebellions by era; the period 1606-1699 is called Stagnation, 1699-1792 is called Decline, and 1792-1922 is called Dissolution.

  • This is an interesting bit of info however I would have expected the answer to contain a chronological log of rebellions, uprisings in the middle east during Ottoman rule rather than discussing administration and decline of the Empire.
    – NSNoob
    May 30, 2016 at 10:37
  • For a detailed analysis of the 19th century see [Crisis of the Ottoman Empire]( amazon.com/Crisis-Ottoman-Empire-Zeitschrift-Dialektologie/dp/… ) May 30, 2016 at 12:22

The question is not very clear. But I believe that it intends to ask a comparison of the situation of the Middle East today, where you have lot's of conflicts, wars, disputes; and the reasons behind the same geography peacefully living for centuries under the the Ottoman times. If that's the case, my answer is below.

It is true that Middle East was (relative to the time of it's day), a lot more peaceful during the Ottoman period, compared to last hundred or so years. It is also important to note that there had been serious changes to the definitions of identity and nation during this period.

During the Ottoman period, the empire was a multicultural environment, where there was no absolute domination of a single ethnic or religious group in most of the regions and the cities. The identity was based on religion, not ethnic background, but there was a balance between different religious communities.

Firstly, with the rise of nationalism in Europe after the French Revolution, it didn't take long that ethnic differences started to gain an importance in the daily life in the Ottoman Empire. With the weakening of the Ottoman Empire, external powers (and especially Britain, France and Russia) have started to trigger the minorities of the empire, in order have better influences in the division of what is called the Sick Man of Europe, about to die.

Through these influences, especially the Christian minorities have gained economic and political privileges within the empire, which have later turned into nationalistic movements and ethnic conflicts. Metropolitan cities were shared by multiple ethnic groups, but later on claimed for one.

This has created serious conflicts between many groups and resulted in multiple wars before and after WWI.

Secondly, during the Cold War, the Middle East was positioned on a strategic place just near USSR, and became one of the strongest playgrounds of the rivalry between USSR and the USA. Radical religious movements were used against the communists. Intentionally and externally, conservatism is injected into the societies. But within decades, the radicalism had grown out of control.

Thirdly, once this radical religionism has started to threat the world, especially post 9/11, another external tailoring of the societies took place, which has targeted to divide the ethnic and religious groups. Unfortunately, this has only resulted in the enlargement of the influence of the radicals to all those countries. They were not model democracies before, but most were definitely far away from being extremists.

All these external touches to the Middle East have changed the social dynamics of the countries, in a manner like a mutation causing cancer difficult to fix. Unfortunately, the similar and unsuccessful involvements still take place today.

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    Yes, but what about Ottoman Empire, say, before 1700? Was there really nothing to talk about in terms of stability, riots etc.? Hard to believe...
    – Matt
    Apr 29, 2016 at 11:42
  • This answer began well but the second half of it fails miserably, given how the Soviets used nationalism and group identity, and the myth of revolution as a solution, to exploit various groups in the Middle East as any other major power. As such, the answer is incomplete, though it begins well. Apr 29, 2016 at 11:48
  • @Matt - I don't think that the Ottoman Empire before 1700 was anything different than the rest of the world that time, in means of stability. What I mean is that it was not comparable to the relative situation of the Middle East today. Certainly there were instability, riots, civil wars - but these were typical of the time more or less everywhere else.
    – Can
    Apr 29, 2016 at 14:37
  • @KorvinStarmast - Yes, the Soviets also used nationalism and group identity. I didn't want to mean that Soviets did right and US wrong. In general, everyone tried to shape Middle East in accordance with their internal strategies. What I want to express is that these strategies where too shallow to consider the sociological aspects of the Middle East. What they have injected in to the region caused a transformation of the identity, which - even today - could not be settled.
    – Can
    Apr 29, 2016 at 14:40
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    @KorvinStarmast - cont. - Once I met a guy from Baghdad about 10 years ago. He was complaining that before the war, they were even unaware of who is Shia or who is Sunni Muslim in their apartment blocks - they were all neighbors. But then, it came to such a situation that now, nobody wanted to live in the same city with the other, as if those people they have known for years were someone else.
    – Can
    Apr 29, 2016 at 14:48

Middle East was pretty stable compared to today. For instance, Iraq. In Ottoman era there was no Sunni-Shia strife between Arabs. Not even a little bit. After the emergence of Wahhabi Saudis and their Karbala Massacre things began to change. Even in this case Ottoman authorities backed Shia Iraqis against Wahhabi Bedouins.

Another example Syria. In Syria throughout 400 years of Ottoman era there was only one violent interfaith strife. Even in that one Ottoman authorities backed Christians against furious and resented Muslims. After the return of civil order, the pursuit of stolen property and legal charges against those who had injured or stolen from Christians began. Governor of Aleppo issued a decree informing citizens that they had 10 days to return stolen goods, and after that, those found with stolen property would be punished as thieves and rebels.

Lebanon was almost independent. Lebanon was so autonomous that the Ottomans did not care when the ruling Sunni Muslim Shihab family converted to Maronite Christianity. The only thing that the Ottomans cared about was regular taxes and the maintenance of order. It is impossible to even think that such a thing would be possible today.

I don't even need to mention Palestine.

For Kurds, they were also largely autonomous. Until the oppressive Young Turk (perpetrators of Armenian genocide) and Kemalist regime they were never rebelled. When autonomous Kurdish Emir of Botan committed atrocities against Assyrians Ottomans stripped him from his Emirate and exiled him. So yes, compared to today, the Middle East was indisputably stable and better.

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    would be significantly improved by sources.
    – MCW
    Oct 25, 2022 at 22:07

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