Franco-Turkish Relationship during First Empire
Part 1: 1799 - 1805
For centuries the Ottoman Empire was one of the greatest and most powerful states in Asia. In 1683, its army was fighting in the middle of Europe, besieging Vienna. The empire was the largest and most influential of the Muslim empires of the modern period, and their culture and military expansion crossed over into Europe.
Despite the fact that at the beginning of the 19th Century Ottoman Empire was in decline, presenting only a shadow of the previous glory, it still was an essential power to be considered by European states. By 1799, Ottomans were reluctant to take part in European affairs due to their internal weakness. It seemed that "the sick man of the Europe" was waiting for the final hour.
At the same time, 30-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte, general of the French Republic, returned from his ill-fated Egyptian Campaign. Unfortunately, the French seizure of Egypt had produced results contrary to those, which Napoleon had intended. Instead of striking a blow at the colonial power of Britain, the invasion had alarmed the Ottoman Porte and driven it into an alliance with the British as well as the long-standing enemy of the Turks, Russia. Yet, by 1802, the Peace of Amiens would put an end to the war between France and the Second Coalition. The Peace would give Napoleon, who was now the First Consul of France, a respite during which he could begin to mend French relations with the Ottoman Empire. The years 1802-1807 would witness a decidedly pro-Turkish policy on the part of Napoleon. For him, this slowly deteriorating empire would come to play, in these years, an integral role in his European diplomatic strategy. Friendship and alliance with the Ottoman Empire could serve him not only as a useful tool against the commercial power of his greatest enemy, Britain, but even more so (by 1805) as a means to bend Russia and its Tsar to his will.
In his goal to rebuild and strengthen Franco-Turkish relations, Napoleon benefited from two things. The first factor, riding in his favor was the long history of diplomatic and economic relations that had existed between France and the Ottoman Empire, since the 16th Century. While many European nations had, over the centuries, made agreements and sent ambassadors to the Turkish court, the French had been one of, if not the most highly favored nation. The French were the first to conclude a commercial treaty with the Turks. French businessmen invested heavily in the Ottoman Empire and by the late 18th Century, all Roman Catholics in the Ottoman Empire were placed under French protection.
A second factor, which benefited Napoleon, was that the Ottoman sultan, Selim III, had, for most of his life, been somewhat disposed towards the French. As the nephew of the Sultan Abdul Hamid, Selim had ascended to the throne in the same year that revolution had exploded in France: 1789. Since the time that he had been a young prince, secluded in the palace, Selim had apparently developed a personal taste for things European. Though he had a fondness for Western European theater, music, art and poetry, his greatest interest was in European military institutions and practices. Even before he became sultan, he had secretly written to the French court of Louis XVI requesting advice on how to build up the Ottoman armed forces to the level of those in Europe. This early desire for military reform would come to fruition after he became sultan, when the wars between the Ottoman Empire and the ambitious Catherine the Great of Russia had revealed the overall weakness, lack of discipline and lack of training among the Ottoman forces.
After the Peace of Jassy in 1792, which ended the war between the Ottoman Empire and Russia, Selim had hoped to stay out of the European conflicts that had arisen as a result of the French Revolution, though he personally sympathized with the French in their struggle. Selim's desire for neutrality stemmed from his wish to have time in which to implement his plans for military reform. One of the most important of these was to be the reform of the unruly janissary corps. Selim also had other grand designs such as the creation of an entirely new military force, the Nizam-i- Cedit (or "new order"), which was to be equipped, clothed, drilled and instructed in a totally European manner with rank to be based on ability. To aid him in these reforms, Selim at first utilized the skills of General Albert Dubayet, French ambassador to the Porte in 1796. Dubayet had brought with him several model artillery pieces as well as French artillery officers, drill sergeants and engineers to aid the sultan in bringing his army up to date. Selim wished to reform the janissaries along the same lines as the Nizam-i-Cedit, trained, equipped and clothed in the European manner. In the end Selim's efforts were not overly successful. The janissaries bitterly opposed the reforms and refused to be trained in the manner of Europeans. In addition they did all that they could to hamper the creation of the Nizam-i-Cedit. Except for some marked improvements in the artillery corps, by the end of his reign, Selim's forces remained at the same low level as they had been when he first became sultan.
This period of reform was interrupted, however, when Selim found himself forced to take sides in the European conflict when General Bonaparte's forces invaded Egypt and Syria. As a result, Selim would declare war on France on September 11, 1799. In doing so, he not only allied himself to England, but also with his oldest and most important enemy - Russia. As it is well known with the death of Catherine the Great 1796, her son Paul I became tsar. He made overtures for rapprochement with the Turks in order to secure, via the alliance signed with the Turks in 1799, the right for Russian warships to pass through the Straits. He also gained concessions on the issue of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia (which will be discussed later).
Selim would be troubled by these alliances in the years to come. Yet, Russia withdrew from the anti-French coalition not long after signing the alliance with the Porte and by 1801, Britain had agreed to negotiate a peace with France. In June of 1802, a formal peace treaty was signed between Britain and France at Amiens. Among the many articles in this treaty, Article 8 stated that the possessions and integrity of the Ottoman Empire were to be preserved as they were before the war. More importantly, the Turks decided to enter into a separate peace with France, in conjunction with Amiens - a peace for which they received little British or Russian support. Through this agreement, France regained her former privileges (such as capitulations and as the protectors over the sultan's Catholic subjects) and for the first time, the Porte gave French merchant vessels the right to trade freely on the Black Sea.
With this treaty, Napoleon restored many of the rights that had been enjoyed prior to the Revolution and set the Ottoman Empire and France on the road to rebuilding their diplomatic relations. In addition, Napoleon had opened up new markets by which France could trade with Russia, the Balkans and even into Persia. These new markets, he hoped, would rival and perhaps surpass British commercial interests in the East.
For Napoleon, his signature on the Peace of Amiens did not mean that he had suddenly abandoned all his plans to destroy Britain's commercial and naval supremacy, nor did mean that he had forgotten his territorial ambitions for France in the realm of the Ottoman Empire. Napoleon especially desired to regain French control over the Ionian Islands (which he won in 1797, but lost to Russia after 1799) and also had his sights set on controlling key areas on the Adriatic Coast in the Balkans. The key point in his future plans was Constantinople, now Istanbul.
In reality, Amiens (for both France and Britain) was regarded as more of truce than a definite termination to their conflicts. Not only did Napoleon continue to concern himself with plans for Britain, but he soon found his attentions turned more seriously towards Russia as well.
In 1801, a new tsar, the young Alexander I, had ascended to the Russian throne, after assassination of his father Paul I. Like his grandmother Catherine, Alexander held definite designs for the European provinces of the Ottoman Empire, which lay south of his realm. He especially desired to control the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, the Dardanelle and naturally set his sights at the historical goal of Russia - the acquisition of Constantinople. But, Alexander's ambitions did not lead him to take rash actions. Instead, he decided it best, for the moment, to approach the Porte in a cautious and amicable manner. Only in this way could he maintain the privileges, which Russia still enjoyed from the 1799 alliance (The Porte was at this time still permitting Russian ships to pass through the straits and to continue to hold a protectorate over the Ionian Islands) and keep his influence with the Porte strong enough to rival any ambitions of Napoleon.
Brune Goes to Constantinople
Meanwhile, Napoleon was determined to damage any diplomatic influence which either Britain or Russia had built up at Constantinople during the previous war. Therefore, in October of 1802, Napoleon dispatched General Guillaume Brune as French ambassador to the Porte. His instructions to Brune read:
"The intention of the government is that the ambassador at Constantinople should resume, by every means, the supremacy which France had for two centuries in that capital...he must constantly hold a rank above the ambassadors of other nations."
Brune was further instructed to protect French commerce and to take the Catholic subjects of the Porte under his protection. Thus, upon his arrival, Brune immediately set out to cultivate connections at the Porte, not merely to arrange the plans and disposition of the sultan and his advisors, but to also thwart any interests which might run counter to those of Napoleon. Brune specifically encouraged that the sultan be firm with his provincial governors (the pashas) in order that opponents might not influence them. Ironically though, Napoleon was, at the same time, placing French diplomatic agents in the Ottoman provinces to curry favor with these governors. Also, by 1804, Napoleon would open up relations with the Shah of Persia. By following such a policy, Napoleon was ensuring that France would benefit regardless of whether Selim maintained his empire or if it fell into complete dissolution. But, it seems that it was far more desirable to Napoleon, at this point, that the Ottoman Empire be sustained, for its separation would open the door for Russia to grab its share of territory.
From 1802-1805, Brune attempted to accomplish the goals, which Napoleon had charged him with, but his path to French diplomatic supremacy at the "Porte was constantly thwarted by the skillful ambassadors of Russia and Great Britain. As for Selim III, the period of "peace" that he had believed he had entered into in 1802 proved to be a disappointing illusion. Pressed on all sides by the conflicting interests of the European ministers, Selim was determined to remain as neutral as possible, juggling the ministers with noncommittal answers or vague promises. But, this became an extremely daunting task when his realm became increasingly plagued with a series of domestic crises. In 1802, for example, the Wahabis captured the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Selim was heavily criticized by his subjects for his failure to avoid this. So, to combat the Wahabis Problem, Selim appointed Djezzar Pasha as governor of Damascus (famous Djezzar "the Butcher" who opposed Napoleon at Acre in 1799).
Djezzar was already known for his rebellious behavior towards the sultan, having at times refused to pay tribute and even having executed the sultan's messengers. He was only one example of the many Turkish notables whose independent activities and refusal to acknowledge the Porte's authority afflicted Selim throughout his reign. Such men ruled as if they were mini-sultans with complete authority over their areas of jurisdiction. Yet, by far the greatest internal problem Selim would face would be the outbreak of the Serbian revolt in 1804. At first, this revolt was aimed not at the Porte but at the cruel janissary overlords of the region. Selim initially sent forces to support the Serbs. However, it wasn't long before pressure from other janissary groups and the ulema caused Selim to withdraw his support. When the Serbs won without his help and demanded certain rights, Selim was in a quandary. This was a conflict that would eventually lead to more serious problems for Selim, which will be discussed later.
The Allies Pressure the Turks
In the meantime, events were occurring in Europe that threatened to embroil the Ottoman Empire in yet another foreign conflict. In May 1803, war resumed again between France and Britain, and by early 1804 Russia and France severed diplomatic relations. The severing of diplomatic relations between Russia and France had nothing to do with events in the East. Instead, Alexander's annoyance with Napoleon was caused by purely European issues such as the French execution of the Duc d'Enghien, a member of the exiled Bourbon family.
This situation only served to heighten existed tensions in the Turkish court and drove the European ministers into even greater competition to win Selim to their side.
Tsar Alexander especially ordered his ambassador to closely scrutinize the actions of the Porte to watch for any signs that it was yielding to French pressure. This was wise, for French pressure was to grow when, by late December 1804, the French asked Selim to officially recognize Napoleon's new title as Emperor of France. Napoleon needed this recognition not only to break the diplomatic isolation that was being forced upon him with the formation of a Third Coalition in Europe, but he also hoped that this might be the means to create hostilities between Turkey and his enemies so as to entice Selim to side with France. Initially, Selim seemed to have no problem with granting recognition, but Italinsky, Russian Ambassador, insisted to him that the title of Emperor belonged to Alexander alone. Moreover, Italinsky and the British ambassador now began to pressure and cajole Selim into refusing recognition.
On January 30,1805, Napoleon wrote to Selim, chiding him for allowing the Russians to control his decisions and intimating that the presence of Russian troops in the Eastern Mediterranean were there to be used against the Ottoman Empire:
"Most high...and invincible prince, the great Emperor of the Muslims, Sultan Selim, in whom all honor and virtue abound . . . You, descendant of great Ottomans, emperor of one of the greatest empires in the world, do you cease to reign? Why do you suffer the Russians to dictate to you? You refuse to give to me what I grant to you (i.e. the title of Emperor) If Russia has 15,000 men at Corfu, do you think that they are there against me?
Yet despite this appeal, Selim still refrained from recognizing Napoleon's title, though he would have liked. The fact was that Selim feared the military and naval power of Britain and Russia who, he reasoned, were far more capable at the time of backing up their wishes with force than was Napoleon. Therefore, Selim told Brune that he could not recognize Napoleon's title until the other powers did. Brune immediately threatened to leave Constantinople if Selim kept up his refusal and if he continued to allow Russian warships to pass through the Straits. This response prompted Selim to think of reconsidering, but Italinsky quickly warned him that the slightest change in the Ottoman Empire's conduct would be an affront to the Tsar. He was backed up in this threat by the British ambassador. As a result, Brune left Constantinople, However, this did not completely sever French diplomatic relations with the Porte. Brune had left Pierre Ruffin, his subordinate charge d'affaires, to continue in his place.
Meanwhile, the British hailed the departure of Brune and Russians as a great achievement and they used his absence to further attempt to pressure Selim to enter into a defensive and offensive alliance against Napoleon. Eventually, Selim agreed to a defensive alliance, and that only with Russia. The terms of this alliance were drawn up on September 23, 1805. Under it, the Porte and Russia mutually agreed that if either were attacked by a third party, they would aid one another. Selim also reaffirmed his permission to allow Russian warships to pass through the straits. Alexander realized, however, that the loyalty of the Turks was suspect and that Selim really favored France over Russia. He also knew that the outcome of the war in Europe would ultimately determine the Porte's future actions. He was right. In October and December of 1805, Napoleon won two stunning victories over the Third Coalition at Ulm and Austerlitz. These victories made a great impression in Constantinople. In the subsequent Treaty of Pressburg, Austria gave to France the territories of Venetia, Dalmatia, Istria and the port of Cattaro. Now the French Empire was the next door neighbor of; the Ottoman Empire.
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