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Capsule Review

Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires, 1908–1918

In This Review

Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires 1908-1918
Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires 1908-1918
By Michael A. Reynolds
Cambridge University Press, 2011 340 pp. $90.00 Purchase

This book brings a usefully different perspective to the final years of great-power entanglement in the Ottoman Middle East. Rather than highlighting the Balkan Wars, Gallipoli, the Arab revolt, and “the twice-promised land,” Reynolds moves eastward to concentrate on the clash between those two old enemy empires, the Russians and the Ottomans, both destined to die by the decade’s end. Their disputed border cut through a “belt of mixed population,” home to Christians and Muslims: Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Circassians, Georgians, Kurds, and others. In this region, Reynolds argues persuasively, both empires were guided more by raison d’état than by religious solidarity or nationalism. That fact led to wartime ironies (the Ottomans pushing the Transcaucasians to assert an independence about which the Transcaucasians were dubious) and turned multiple groups into the victims of tragic massacres (most of all the Armenians, but the Kurds and others as well). With a fine objectivity, Reynolds draws on both Ottoman and Russian sources and reveals how the actions and attitudes of the two declining empires shaped the post-imperial paths of Turkey and the Soviet Union.

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