The latter seventeenth century saw the marked advance of Western civilization at the expense of Islamic power, culminating in Europe’s victory in the “Great Turkish War.”
Despite a brief resurgence under the martial dynasty of vizirs (prime ministers) of the Koprulu family, it became evident that the tide of Islam had been turned and that the West would begin to dominate its rival. In one last push–an attempt to assert a rebirth of their power after losing naval supremacy in 1571 and failing to take advantage of Europe’s own internal struggles–the Ottomans besieged Vienna in 1683. The intervention of Poland, however, in the name of Christian solidarity, saw the invaders routed and pushed east. An extended contest followed between the Ottoman Empire and the “Holy League” that rallied to the aid of Austria featured a string of defeats for the Turks. The Ottomans deposed their Sultan, hoping that new leadership would revive their fortunes, but it was for naught. After briefly retaking part of Serbia, they failed to contain the European advance.
Polish soldiers return from Vienna with Ottoman loot.
(It was during this struggle that the Ottomans, to their eternal disgrace, used the Parthenon as an ammunition storehouse, leading to an explosion and the partial destruction of this irreplaceable monument to the glory of ancient Greece.)
In 1699, the Ottomans were forced to agree to the Treaty of Karlowitz as a defeated power. By its terms they ceded extensive territories, including Hungary and parts of Romania and Croatia, long held to be within the “House of Islam.”
In the words of Middle East historian Bernard Lewis, the treaty was “a fateful opening to the eighteenth century.” It began a series of humiliating defeats and an almost continuous string of cessions of territory to Europe’s powers.
A new pattern of East-West relations arose. Europe’s power-hungry regimes could hardly be expected to passively observe the decay of Islamic power. The impressive swath of Ottoman territory in Europe would have to be allotted to some appropriate power. Its remaining presence in the Mediterranean would also demand attention, as its connection to Western imperial projects in Asia emerged. Thus the “Eastern Question” was born. How would the West, now in the ascendant, conduct its relations with the Middle East?