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Crescent of Crisis: The Middle East and the Balkans from the Ottomans to Today


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutor: Fred Anscombe
  • Assessment: a 5000-word essay (100%)

Module description

Lands that were once part of the Ottoman Empire form an arc around the eastern Mediterranean, a crescent that has gained notoriety in recent decades as a region of striking instability. Yugoslavia suffered bloody breakup in the 1990s, and Bosnia remains a centre of unresolved tensions; Iraq and more recently Syria have collapsed into battlegrounds for internal factions and external forces; and Turkey’s penchant for military coups, authoritarian government and repression of Kurds suggest that its stability is only relative to the turmoil of nearby countries.

External commentary often presents tensions across this crescent as legacies of the Ottoman Empire and its violent end, and in this module we will delve into the question of Ottoman origins of contemporary problems. We will examine the internal and external pressures upon Ottoman state and society during the empire’s last years; the difficult process of transition from Ottoman provinces to post-Ottoman nation-states; and the influence of popular perceptions of the Ottoman-era past in modern political affairs, including the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the wars in Iraq and the rise of ISIS, and Turkey’s embrace of ‘neo-Ottomanism’.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Introduction to the Ottoman Empire and the idea of a ‘post-Ottoman space’
  • Communal identity in the Ottoman Empire
  • The Ottoman Empire and Europe
  • Bloody ends: wars and population displacements
  • Building the post-Ottoman Balkans
  • Building the post-Ottoman Middle East
  • Building post-Ottoman Turkey
  • The breakdown of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian crisis
  • The breakup of Iraq, from the Gulf Wars to ISIS
  • Erdoğan’s Turkey: the return of Ottomanism?

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • display a good knowledge of major themes in debates about late Ottoman history, Ottoman legacies to post-Ottoman states, and the origins of contemporary political problems in southeastern Europe and western Asia
  • compare and contrast historical developments across disparate geographic regions and extended chronological periods
  • handle primary sources with confidence and demonstrate the ability to use them as a means of critiquing current paradigms.