Ottomans in Syria: “Turkish Colonialism”, or Something Else?

  • James A. Reilly (Prof. Dr., University of Toronto)


Syria under Ottoman rule offers material for interrogating the concept of colonialism. The Ottoman Empire governed the predominantly Arabic-speaking population of the Syrian lands for four centuries (1516–1918). Ottoman rule in Syria bears at least a superficial resemblance to modern colonialism, including implantation of new populations, economic exploitation by administrators, and co-optation of “warlike” or “tribal” communities into the imperial structure. But the story of the Ottoman Empire in Syria is more complicated than a binary colonizerscolonized vision allows. The Ottoman sultanate transitioned from a powerful pre-modern empire to a beleaguered and defensive-minded modern state. Rather than representing “Turkish colonialism”, Ottoman rule in Syria illustrates an instance of how an older imperial structure tried to adapt to new and unfavourable circumstances of modern statehood.

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How to Cite

Reilly, J. A. (2020). Ottomans in Syria: “Turkish Colonialism”, or Something Else? . Comparativ, 30(3/4), 274–284.