The Ottoman Empire is founded in the 14th Century. From a small geographical base the empire quickly expands to incorporate all of Anatolia in the east and Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina in the west. Constantinople is captured in 1453, renamed Istanbul and made the imperial capital and the centre of Sunni Islam.

During the 16th Century the empire expands southward into Syria, Palestine and Egypt and westward into Hungary and on to the gates of Vienna. North Africa up to the Moroccan frontier is occupied. Kurdistan and Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) are taken from the Persians. Armenia in the extreme east of Anatolia is incorporated. Azerbaijan is seized.

Fortune turns at the end of the 17th Century when the Ottomans are forced to relinquish Hungary. The empire's long slide to oblivion has begun. By the middle of the 19th Century it has become the "sick man of Europe".

During the 1860s and 1870s a group of Turkish intellectuals known as the Young Ottomans call for reforms, including the establishment of an elected parliament and a written constitution. Abdül Hamid II becomes sultan of the empire in 1876. He quickly implements the key elements of the reformist program but within a year has the newly introduced constitution suspended and the empire's first parliament dissolved. Unrest continues in the colonial outposts and at home.

As disaffection with Abdül Hamid grows, groups advocating the restoration of the 1876 constitution spring up across the empire, merging in 1907 under the banner of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), popularly known as the Young Turks. Abdül Hamid is forced to yield when army units in Macedonia rebel. The constitution and parliamentary rule are reinstated on 24 July 1908.

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