Climate change: what we can learn from the Ottoman Empire about the consequences of global warming (and how droughts can lead to wars)


At the end of the 16th century, hundreds of bandits stormed the rural fields of Anatolia on horseback, pillaging villages, inciting violence and destabilizing the power of the Sultan.

Four hundred years later and a few hundred kilometers away, in what is now Syria, a series of widespread protests in 2011 turned into a bloody civil war that persists to this day.

These dark episodes in Mediterranean history share key characteristics that offer a warning for the future: Both events forced dozens of people to leave their homes. Likewise, both have their political origins and have had dramatic political consequences.

And both were driven by extreme temperatures which are often associated with climate change.

As an environmental historian, I have researched and written extensively on environmental stresses and conflicts in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

While severe droughts, hurricanes, rising sea levels, and climatic migrations may seem like new and unique phenomena in our time, past crises like the ones I just mentioned and others carry how climate change can destabilize human societies.

Let’s take a closer look.

Drought in the heart of an empire

We live in a time of global warming due in large part to unsustainable human practices.

Climate change: what we can learn from the Ottoman Empire about the consequences of global warming (and how droughts can lead to wars)

Commonly known as Anthropocene, this era is believed to have arisen in the 19th century, immediately after another period of great global climate change called The little ice age.

The Little Ice Age brought cooler than average temperatures as well as extreme weather conditions to many parts of the world.

Unlike current anthropogenic warming, it was probably caused by natural factors like volcanic activity and it affected different regions at different times, to different degrees and in very different ways.

Its appearance at the end of the 16th century was particularly noticeable in Anatolia, a predominantly rural region which became the heart of the Ottoman Empire and whose boundaries are roughly those of present-day Turkey.

Much of their land was traditionally used for growing cereals or for raising sheep and goats. They were an important source of food for the rural population, as well as for the inhabitants of the bustling Ottoman capital, Istanbul (Constantinople).

The two decades surrounding 1600 were particularly difficult.

Anatolia has gone through some of its coldest and driest years in its history, tree rings and other paleoclimatological data suggest.

This period also droughts frequent, as well as frost and flooding. At the same time, residents of the region suffered from animal plague and oppressive state policies, including the seizure of grains and meats to deal with a costly war in Hungary.

Celali’s rebellions

Prolonged crop failures, war and hardship exposed major shortcomings in the Ottoman supply system.

Climate change: what we can learn from the Ottoman Empire about the consequences of global warming (and how droughts can lead to wars)

Bad weather crippled the state’s efforts to distribute limited food supplies, hunger has spread through the countryside to Istanbul, accompanied by a deadly epidemic.

In 1596, a series of uprisings known as the Celali Rebellions broke out, becoming the most enduring internal threat to state power in the Ottoman Empire’s six centuries of existence.

Peasants, semi-nomadic groups and provincial leaders contributed to this movement with a wave of violence, vandalism and instability that lasted much of the 17th century.

As drought, disease and bloodshed persisted, people abandoned farms and villages, fleeing from anatolia looking for more stable areas.

The famine killed many people who did not have the resources to leave.

The weakening of the Empire Otomano

Before this point, the Ottoman Empire had been one of the most powerful regimes of the early modern era.

It encompassed vast territories in Europe, North Africa, Middle East and controlled the holiest places in Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Climate change: what we can learn from the Ottoman Empire about the consequences of global warming (and how droughts can lead to wars)

During the previous century, Ottoman troops had entered Central Asia to annex much of Hungary. They also advanced into the Habsburg Empire, threatening Vienna in 1529.

Celali’s rebellions left important political consequences.

The Ottoman government succeeded in restoring relative calm to rural Anatolia in 1611, but at a price.

The sultan’s control over the provinces weakenedirreversibly, and internal control over the Ottoman authority helped to curb its expansionist tendency.

The Celali rebellions closed the door on the Ottoman “golden age” and pushed this monumental empire into a spiral of decentralization, military setbacks and administrative weakness that would disrupt the Ottoman state for the remaining three centuries of its existence.

Climate change: a threat multiplier

Four hundred years later, environmental stress again coincided with social unrest and launched Syria into a long-lasting and devastating civil war.

This conflict arose against the backdrop of political oppression and the Arab Spring movement, and at the end of one of the worst droughts in modern history in Syria.

The scale of the environment’s role in the Syrian civil war is difficult to measure because, as in the Celali rebellions, its impact was indelible. social and political pressures.

But the brutal combination of these forces cannot be ignored. This is why military experts today speak of climate change as a “threat multiplier”.

Now entering its second decade, the Syrian war has driven out more than 13 million Syrians from their homes.

Climate change: what we can learn from the Ottoman Empire about the consequences of global warming (and how droughts can lead to wars)

About half are internally displaced, while the rest have sought refuge in neighboring countries, Europe and beyond, dramatically escalating the global refugee crisis.

Lessons for today and tomorrow

The Mediterranean region may be particularly prone to the negative effects of global warming, but these two stories are far from isolated cases.

As Earth’s temperatures rise, the weather will increasingly hamper human affairs, exacerbate conflictspromotes migration.

In recent years, low-lying countries like Bangladesh have been devastated by flooding, while drought has disrupted lives in the Horn of Africa and central America, sending large numbers of migrants to other countries.

The history of Mediterranean offers three important lessons to tackle current global environmental problems:

  • First, the negative effects of climate change are disproportionately diminishing on poor and marginalized people, who are less able to react and adapt.
  • Second, environmental challenges tend to affect more when combined with social movements and, often the two are linked indistinguishable.
  • Third, climate change has the potential to stimulate migration and resettlement, spur violence, overthrow regimes, and radically transform human societies around the world.

Ultimately, climate change will affect us all in dramatic, painful and unforeseen ways. But by looking to the future, we can learn a lot from our past.

* Andrea Duffy is Director of International Studies at Colorado State University.

This note was originally published on The Conversation and is published here under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here.

Climate change: what we can learn from the Ottoman Empire about the consequences of global warming (and how droughts can lead to wars)

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