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From Empire to Republic

The Role of American Missionaries in US-Ottoman Empire Relations and their Educational Legacy

Hacer Bahar

This book focuses on American missionary activities in the Ottoman Empire. After the construction of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission in 1810, American missionaries started to spread the Gospel around the world. The Ottoman Empire was perceived as a strategic place since it occupied Jerusalem. By the time they arrived, American missionaries found a weak central authority. Some of the Ottoman officials considered that Westernization of the public institutions in the Empire could strengthen central authority. In order to protect its integrity, the Ottoman Empire started to grant freedoms to the minorities. After gaining liberties, American Missionaries further strengthened their position in the Empire. This book analyzes the strong image of American missionary schools through Robert College which was established in 1863. Robert College which reflects American ideals, preserves its distinguished place to this day.

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3 Early Ottoman-American Relations

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Before American interest started in the Ottoman Empire, a long standing European impact can be seen to have existed. When the first Sultan of the Empire, Mehmet II, conquered Constantinople in 1453, he inherited colonies of Genoese and Florentines. Their compatriots could also be found in ports along the country’s coastline, with these communities being vital for trading purposes. Keen to make its mark in an international arena, the Ottoman Empire continued existing commercial relationships and began to develop new diplomatic relations. In 1535, the Empire granted its first capitulations. This means it granted rights and privileges to foreigners who dwelt in the empire (Kennedy 2008: 15).

Early American-Ottoman encounters date back to the Barbary Wars which took place during 1801–05 and 1815–16. The wars raised the question of the protection of American citizens. At that time, the American government could not protect its citizen-sailors. When their vessels were captured, they were sent into slavery and relatives of those captives petitioned the American government to pay ransoms. However, the government was unable to pay anything as the national coffers were empty at that time. The American sailors’ captivity led to a debate over whether there should be a branch of the national navy to protect American shipping. In 1815, American sailors gained their freedom with the support of the American Navy and the Marines. In 1823, the United States started to follow the Monroe Doctrine which stipulated that the United States would not tolerate...

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