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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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Soon after the formation of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in 1810, Protestant American missionaries started to establish missions around the globe to spread the gospel. One of the most significant places missionaries aimed at settling was Jerusalem which then lay within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. At that time, when the first American missionaries arrived in the Ottoman Empire, it was losing its central power due to wars and invasions. By the late eighteenth century, with the treaty signed with Russia and Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, the Ottoman Empire further lost its power. In 1829, Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire with the support of the Great Powers. The rivalry between Russia and Britain with regard to expansionism also showed its influence in the Ottoman Empire. The Russians sought access to warm water ports, via the strategic Bosphorus Strait, and also coveted Ottoman territories in the Balkans. As the Balkan nations started to gain independence, the “Eastern Question” emerged and the Ottoman Empire became vulnerable to European incursions. In order to regain its strength, some Ottoman officials sought to modernise the Empire by adopting Western measures. Modernization started with the military and resulted in the abolition of the Janissaries, a form of Imperial Guard that had long dominated the Ottoman military establishment, in the early nineteenth century. In order to protect its integrity, the Ottoman Empire started to grant freedom to minorities through imperial decrees issued in 1839 and 1856, with...

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