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The Ottomans: Europe's Muslim Emperors Online

The Ottomans: Europe's Muslim Emperors  Online
Original Title :
The Ottomans: Europeu0027s Muslim Emperors
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TV Series / Documentary / History
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TV Series
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The Ottomans: Europe's Muslim Emperors Online

Rageh Omaar sets out to discover why the Ottomans have vanished from our understanding of the history of Europe. It was the world's last Islamic empire - a super-power of a million square miles. From its capital in Istanbul it matched the glories of Ancient Rome. And after six centuries in power it collapsed less than a hundred years ago. So why do so few realise the importance of Ottoman history in today's Middle East? Filmed on location in Turkey, the Balkans, Greece and the Middle East, Rageh examines this great dynasty from a religious, economic and social perspective.
Series cast summary:
Rageh Omaar Rageh Omaar - Himself - Presenter 3 episodes, 2013

User reviews



I watched this great series on the BBC and it was good Rageh Omaar and the BBC are great intellectually and good candidates for making documentaries with Rageh an Oxford History graduate being the ideal presenter for this documentary and the BBC being rational and logical when making documentaries unlike the cartoon programs on the History Channel. It starts with the rise of the Ottoman empire and its origins though details about their Mongol for fathers are ignored. This reference would of explained their origins better.

The second episode was about how they ruled their empire. Compared to Europe the Ottomans were liberal and humanist. A reviewer has attacked this documentary for being pro-Ottoman which is a rhetorical polemic and in context his review reflects his personal beliefs disguised as history rather then genuine fact. It was well balanced as in some cases the Greeks had a loud voice too. Each community had its dimms based on a religion but they had the right to be governed by their own religious and cultural laws under Muslim rule and had equal rights in every social aspect. They only had to pay a tax and if they could not afford to then the devrisheme system came in as insurance for that. Looking at European imperialism the genocide of the greater American Indians an expansion of Crusading and the aggressive enforcement of Christianity on Africa, Asia and the Americas who really was the intolerant one. He also contradicts himself by saying by comparison American segregation was multi-cultural when it was designed to stop that and keep blacks permanently socially low and isolated the same as apartheid in South Africa. The series and this episode however ignores the permanent and significant impact of Islam in the European Balkans such as Bosnia and Albania proof no one was forced to convert.

The third episode was good in how the Ottoman empire declined and how modern Turkey came along now with a revival of the Ottoman heritage, roots for National identity and with a growing economy Geo-political awareness. However I feel Mehmet Ali of Egypt should of got a mention and the Megali Idea the Greek version of the Nazi lebensraum which was supported by Neo-Classicists which provoked the Turks in to the Greco-Turkish war were mutual interests culminated in a populations swap. The Armenian accusations were handled with ambiguity. It started as a war acting in Russia's interests for which there is a historical record but ended in deportation as a result there was no ideological motive. In the same context The Boer war and the Indian mutiny can easily be considered genocide. There should of been one more episode about the post Ottoman world as the last episode was squeezed in about the final days of the Ottoman empire and its legacy to which are the bulk roots of the problems in the Middle East after the European takeover. However a great series on a silent topic never found in mainstream documentaries. It is also a challenge to Eurocentric views which are still fairly dominant but now are being challenged


Excellent documentary,

Do not listen to people telling this documentary do not tell the whole story. All episodes take an hour to watch which is long in terms of TV story telling. Still the aim of the documentary is to give a glimpse of the Ottoman history and their importance in power politics rather than telling a historical story. And they do it perfectly. As the documentary states without knowing the Ottoman millennium nobody can really understand the Middle East and the Balkans truly.

Ottomans as the Muslim emperor's of Europe has became a sign of the "evil" for the other part of the continent, defined by brutality etc. The memories of a Muslim power challenging Christian Europe is so fresh and unforgettable that people generally put all bad things on them. This approach is not history, but pure Eurocentrism. The reality is Ottomans were an Empire, who acted like an empire which had sheer force but also good aspects like the Romans. You can not see a soul, blaming the Romans for their brutality (kiling 700 thousand people just for fun, even killing Jesus himself) but just thankful thoughts claiming them to be their father. Because they are the good figure in the contemporary ordinary Western mind. Ottomans and their descendants are the ultimate "OTHER" for the Westerners, thus what ever they do and did in the past will accepted as bad. A biased view, but a social reality. This is why people easily play the "anachronism" card, blaming the Ottomans not to be democratic enough, not giving the Jews to wear beautiful and colorful hats, where in the contemporary Europe people were burning each other because of the religion. And while everybody is talking about the poor Christian slaves of the time, where Europeans take slave trade to an industrial level putting tens of millions people on boats just for profit. The comments becomes pure fun, when we hear about Ottomans converting Kurds to Islam. It is not important for the ordinary mind that Kurds have been Muslims almost 500 years before the Ottomans. Since Islam is bad and the Ottomans are savages, what option is left to see poor Kurds to be converted to that backward religion other than those savages. This documentary is a simplified version of a 600 years of power politics and culture that everybody can easily understand if all prejudices are left aside. If not as Einstein said "breaking prejudices is harder than breaking atoms."


It is never a promising sign when the title of a documentary is factually incorrect. The Ottomans only ever ruled a small part of Europe, which they gained by conquest, and which was resisted and resented by Europeans. From this falsehood the journalist Rageh Omar - who is not a historian, which shows - tells a distorted history of the Ottoman (Osmanli) Empire which owes more to modern political correctness than historical reality.

The Ottomans are one of histories longest lived and most interesting dynasties and it is a shame that the BBC has only provided 3 hours in which to tell their story and that they have hired a journalist rather than a reputable historian to tell it.

As the title suggests, this is largely the story of the interaction between the Ottomans and Europe, which unfortunately distorts history. The long-running wars against the Shia Persians are mentioned only once, Ottoman attempts at global power (like the naval war for the Indian Ocean with the Portuguese) are ignored, and their alliance with the Barbary Corsairs never even mentioned (which is like a history of the British Empire without the trans-Atlantic slave trade; worse, as it went on longer, enslaved more and was never repudiated).

The first episode covers the creation of the Ottoman dynasty and their wars with the Eastern Roman Empire (wrongly referred to as Byzantium throughout), culminating in the fall of Constantinople. The second covers from the sixteenth century, with Suleiman the Magnificent, to the nineteenth, when it became the "Sick Man of Europe". The third episode covers the Balkan Wars, the First World War, Ataturk's Revolution and the challenges of modern Turkey.

As ever, the Eastern Roman Empire gets short shrift (when will we get a major series on them?). There is no scene setting (the loss of the most important provinces of Christian Syria and Egypt to the Arab Muslims) and Rageh downplays the aggressive, destructive nature of the Turks (who settled in Anatolia because they'd ravaged it). He also leaves out the massacres, rapes, and enslavement of the population of Constantinople after it fell. Admittedly, this was permissible under the rules of war of the day -- but so was the 1099 massacre in Jerusalem by the Crusaders, which BBC documentaries always harp on about. The 4th Crusade is blamed for the fall of Constantinople for sacking it 250 years previously; as opposed to the creeping Turkish conquest of Roman territory and ceaseless assaults on Constantinople presumably...

There is a complete failure to understand that the Ottomans subsequently adopted aspects of Roman culture (the Turkish bath is in fact Roman), with the Sultan taking the title of Caesar and Roman governance/architecture being copied. Even foreign policy was similar: pagan, later Christian, Rome fought Zoroastrian Persia just as Sunni Ottomans fought Shia Persians.

There's a lot of guff about Ottoman multi-culturalism and tolerance which ignores the fact that non-Muslims were still second class citizens. They faced discrimination in the courts, had to pay extra taxes, were denied political power and, in the case of the Christians, were preyed upon by the devshirme; this meant the kidnapping, enslavement and forced conversion of Christian children in order to turn them into Muslim Ottoman soldiers and civil servants. This is defended on the basis that some of these slaves rose to high positions. So what? By these standards, American racial segregation was tolerant and multi-cultural -- but I doubt any BBC documentary would ever argue that!

The Ottomans might have been tolerant in comparison to Tamerlane but they were hardly unique. The Latin Crusader kingdoms operated in the same way, with non-Christians tolerated but nonetheless second class citizens. Again, I doubt we'll get any documentaries arguing that the Crusaders were tolerant multi-culturalists. Anyway, the "multicultural" Ottoman Empire only worked because of harsh collective punishments and a brutal system that used neutral slaves (the devshirme) as a bureaucratic/military elite to prevent ethnic/nationalist conflict. When that faltered, so did the empire. Let's also not forget that the reason the Empire contained so many cultures was because they'd conquered them.

The end of the empire is a chance to attack nationalism, as if the Ottoman subject peoples should be grateful for their own conquest and rule by a foreign power. Amazingly the British are blamed for the ethnic cleansing of Greeks living in Asia by the Turks! Once again the European powers are blamed for creating artificial states in the Middle East (so did the Ottomans; it worked fine so long as an empire ruled over them) after the First World War. He soft-pedals the Armenian Genocide and says it is disputed -- but only by the Turks.

On modern Turkey Rageh is almost delusional. He details the Ataturk Revolution but it's clear that his heart belongs to Erdogan and the promise of a neo-Ottoman, Islamist, democratic, prosperous Turkey. Which is unfortunate because the economy is tanking, their neo-Ottoman foreign policy has failed, Islamism is destroying the successes achieved by secularism, and democracy is under threat (there are over 100 journalists in Turkish jails). He even misunderstands attacks on the historical soap opera "Magnificent Century" as being by secularists who don't want to look backwards when most are actually by Islamists for it (accurately) showing harem women wielding power and the Sultan drinking alcohol.

Ultimately, this is a rubbish series. The history has huge gaps in it, the conclusions are erroneous, the filming is repetitive (and makes bad use of slow-motion), and Rageh doesn't know what he's talking about. Whilst there is a good mix of opinion among the talking heads (although they're overwhelmingly pro-Ottoman), Rageh appears to have a bad case of power worship. In fairness, the series was far too small to deal with its subject properly -- but that doesn't excuse the poor storytelling or the politically distorted history. Much better to buy a good book on the Ottomans instead.


its a shame that bbc providing such a biased documentary, didn't expect this from BBC. facts twisted tried to represent Muslim leaders negative! Do not watch, complete bullshit ! its better to watch pogo then this propaganda. highly disappointed ! very selective panel of historians to speak rubbish about ottomans !
Silver Globol

Silver Globol

In the end I struggled to decide whether this series was meant as history or propaganda. The most disturbing part for me was watching Rageh Omaar question whether the slaughter of Armenians by the Ottomans was genocide. To most people and historians the deliberate murder of 75% of an ethnic group with the purpose of wiping them out constitutes genocide. Rageh and the BBC can obfuscate this as much as they like for their own political ends, but the wholesale slaughter and destruction of an ethnic group and its culture is certainly genocide. To deny or even justify this is evil of the highest form.

Furthermore, I have a hard time understanding why the Ottomans were portrayed as victims through this 'documentary'. Since when could you be classified as a victim after invading most of the Middle East and southeast Europe, committing slavery and genocide? The true victims were those colonised by the Ottoman Empire, particularly those subjected to genocide on the basis of their faith and ethnicity, which are Armenians, Assyrians, Pontic Greeks and Lebanese Maronites.