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Princes, pasha’s, diplomats and consuls. Political and economical relations between Belgium and the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Leopold I (1831-1865)

dinsdag, 11 januari, 2011 - 14:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculteit: Arts and Philosophy
Jan Anckaer

In this dissertation the official political and economical contacts between the young and small kingdom of Belgium and the age old colossus the Ottoman Empire are being examined. Above all the diplomatic and consular relations and the delicate situation in which they started, are studied but also the Belgian position in two major conflicts about the place of the Ottoman Empire in the so called international concert of nations, the Turkish-Egyptian War and the Crimean War. We can situate this study within the broader framework of growing European interference in Ottoman internal politics and the attempts to increase European political and commercial influence in the Levant. Belgian foreign policy during the reign of Leopold I can be characterized by the imposed neutrality and it consisted mainly of a search for international recognition and new markets for the booming industry. One of our main questions was whether these characteristics were also valid for Belgian policy towards the Ottoman Empire.

Using Belgian and foreign sources, the most important agents in the Belgian-Ottoman relations, diplomats and consuls (including Ottoman), the Belgian royal court, the Foreign Office and the industrial and commercial entrepreneurs are presented and their role analyzed. This led to some remarkable conclusions which deserve further comparative research with other regions. There was the decisive factor of the foreign affairs budget which had a paralyzing effect on the day to day functioning of Belgian diplomats and consuls in the Levant. Further, the Foreign Office suffered from a knowledge deficit which caused a shift in the decision making process to the Chambers of Commerce. Apart from these, the already known lack of interest and enthusiasm for colonial adventures was also active regarding the Ottoman Empire, although the crown prince was its most active supporter. A further analysis of the royal agent made it clear there were differences concerning the colonial agenda between father, Leopold I, and son, the duke of Brabant. The study of the diplomatic and consular corps showed that a functioning network was developed, in spite of the financial limitations. Although in reality the network proved to be lacking respect from the local authorities and population, the role of certain diplomats made it sure that it could, to a certain degree, operate independent of the great powers. Unfortunately personal antagonisms and rivalries were frequent and they lead to diplomatic incidents and squabbles. The Belgian industrial and commercial elite in its turn could be characterized by conservatism, especially concerning production and transport methods, which caused the main conditions determining the Belgian Levant commerce to remain unchanged. Finally, studying the last agent, the Ottoman diplomatic and consular corps in Belgium, gave us an idea of the involvement of these representatives in the formation of civil servants, engineers, doctors, etc. and the facilitation of Ottoman commerce in Western Europe.