BECK index

Ottoman Empire 1700-1907

by Sanderson Beck

Ottoman Decline 1700-1826
Ottoman Reforms 1826-53
Ottoman Reforms 1853-75
Ottoman Empire under Abdulhamid 1876-1908
Young Turks and Armenians 1889-1907

This chapter has been published in the book Mideast & Africa 1700-1950.
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Ottoman Decline 1700-1826

Ottoman and Persian Empires 1300-1730

The Ottoman empire’s Grand Vizier Koprulu Huseyn was opposed by Mufti Feyzulla. When Huseyn died in 1702, his successor Daltaban Mustafa followed Feyzulla, who was murdered the next year. Mustafa II lived in Edirne, and in 1703 unpaid armorers led a military revolt that was sanctioned by the ‘ulama and forced him to abdicate in favor of his brother Ahmed III (r. 1703-30). The confiscated estates of the previous regime gave the Janissaries their largest bonus ever. Chorlulu Ali had governed Syria well and served as grand vizier 1706-10. Sweden’s Charles XII fled from Peter’s Russian army in 1709 and took refuge in the Bender fortress on the Dniester. The Sultan refused to extradite Charles to Russia because of the tradition of hospitality. A palace intrigue removed Chorlulu but spared his life. Despite an Egyptian revolt, Istanbul declared war on Russia in 1711. Serb Christians, who had already been fighting Muslims, joined Peter’s war to liberate Balkan Christians. The smaller Russian army was surrounded by the Turks and surrendered. Peter had to give back Azov, demolish his Dnieper and Taganrog fortresses, withdraw his army from Poland, and allow Charles to return to Sweden. The Ottomans also managed to buy what was left of the Russian fleet off Azov. In 1713 Peter signed a 25-year peace treaty at Edirne.

The war promoter Silahdar Ali, who had forced out Chorlulu and Baltaji Mehmed, became grand vizier in 1713 and declared war on Venice in January 1715. Several sieges in Morea were successful, but the next year Austria came to Venice’s defense. Silahdar Ali led the campaign from Belgrade but was shot dead. The camp at Peterwardein was taken as the Turks retreated to Belgrade, which was then besieged by Eugene. The new Grand Vizier Halil Pasha ordered another retreat, and Turkish losses were even greater. In the 1718 treaty of Passarowitz the Ottoman empire gave up the rest of Hungary, most of Serbia, and part of Wallachia and Bosnia to the Habsburg empire; but lacking trade, economically devastated Venice surrendered Morea.

Damad Ibrahim was grand vizier (1718-30) in the “era of tulips” when Ahmed III settled down to enjoy music and decorative arts. In 1720 his envoy Chelebi Mehmed and his son Said visited the court of Louis XV. Chelebi reported on fortresses, factories, and French society in his book Sefaretname. Said brought back the art of printing, and in 1727 Ibrahim Muteferrika (1674-1745) began operating the first Muslim printing press in Turkey. He asked why the Christian nations were now defeating the Muslims and suggested that European methods of warfare should be studied. Five public libraries opened to encourage learning. The Ottoman empire joined with Russia’s Peter to partition the northwestern part of the crumbling Safavid empire in 1724, though by 1730 Nadir Shah had pushed the Turks out of Hamadan, Kirmanshah, and Tabriz. This provoked a mutiny at Istanbul that killed the Grand Vizier and forced Ahmed to abdicate the throne to his nephew Mahmud. Patrona Halil and his 12,000 Albanians led the revolt; but he was summoned and murdered in the palace before the Sultan, and 7,000 of his followers were killed in three days.

After executing the Grand Vizier Damad Ibrahim in 1730 the Janissaries brought Mahmud I (r. 1730-54) from the Cage and put the abdicated Ahmed III in that restricted area. Ibrahim Muteferrika continued to promote military reform and European science. In his 1731 book Rational Bases for the Polities of Nations he asked why the Europeans were surpassing the Muslim nations. He described the three forms of government as monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. He argued that the antiquated Turkish military organization placed the Ottoman empire in peril. He criticized the tolerance of laziness and the indifference toward corruption. In the second part of the book he emphasized the importance of acquiring geographical knowledge, and in the third part he described the new methods and techniques of western military science he believed the Turks should adopt.

French ambassador Marquis de Villeneuve negotiated the remission of duties on French merchandise, and the new Grand Vizier Topal Osman favored French religious privileges. In a 1732 treaty the Turks ceded Tabriz and other territory to Kerman but retained Shirvan, Daghistan, and Georgia. Two years later the Russians invaded the Crimea and captured Azov. In 1737 the Habsburgs demanded that Moldavia and Wallachia be independent and that Bosnia and Serbia be ceded to them. Bosnia’s Governor-General Hekimoglu Ali Pasha repelled the attack. When the Austrians recaptured the Serbian fortress at Nish, the Ottomans went to war for their empire by marching on Belgrade. The Austrians agreed to demolish their new fortifications and leave the original Turkish walls. In the 1739 treaty of Belgrade the Austrians gave up their claims to Serbia, Bosnia, and Wallachia. French mediation also persuaded Russia to restore their conquests in the Crimea, Moldavia, and Bessarabia while they gained a little territory in the Ukraine. Russian ships were not permitted to use the Black Sea. In 1740 the Ottomans renewed their friendship treaty with France and signed one with Sweden. In 1743 the Ottoman empire agreed to a treaty with Persia’s Nadir Shah that returned to the borders of the 1639 Kasrisirin treaty. In 1742 the printing press that had printed only twenty books in Turkish was shut down for the next forty years.

Osman III succeeded his brother Mahmud in 1754 but was limited by his having been in the Cage, and he reigned for only three years. The capable Grand Vizier Raghib Mehmed took over governing in 1757 and implemented western improvements in harmony with existing institutions. He signed a treaty with Prussia in 1761 and modernized the army and navy. Mustafa III (r. 1757-74) did not really begin ruling until Raghib died in 1763. Russia under Empress Catherine II began fortifying a neutral zone between the Bug River and the Ukraine, and the Russian army burned down Balta near the Bessarabia frontier, killing Poles and Turks. Sultan Mustafa replaced the Grand Vizier with Hamza Pasha, who gave the Russian envoy Obreskov an ultimatum to withdraw from Poland. Obreskov refused and was imprisoned as the Ottomans declared war on Russia. This announcement gave Catherine time to mobilize five armies. Mehmed Emin was appointed grand vizier, but he was a man of the pen and did not understand military strategy. In 1769 the Turkish army crossed the Danube into Moldavia but suffered setbacks and retreated. The Russians moved into Moldavia and Wallachia, resisted only by the Tatars. The next year the Russian navy with English help went around Europe and invaded Greece, defeating the Ottoman fleet in the straits of Chios. The Russian siege of the Lemnos fortress was raised by the heroic efforts of the corsair Hassan from Algiers, who had collected four thousand volunteers from Istanbul.

In 1771 the Russians invaded both sides of the Crimea. By the end of the year Russia and the Turks agreed to an armistice, but the ‘ulama in Istanbul opposed giving up the Crimea and threatened an insurrection. Baron de Tort instructed Ottoman forces in artillery and naval warfare. In 1773 the Turks fought back in Bulgaria, but the Russians defeated them the next year. The Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji recognized the independence of the Tatars in the Crimea and Bessarabia though with the sultan as caliph, and it gave the Russians access to the Black Sea. The Russians agreed to withdraw their fleet from Greece, and Ottoman sovereignty was restored over Georgia and Mingrelia in Asia and over Wallachia and Moldavia in Europe. However, Christians were granted freedom of religion, and the Russians the right of protecting them. After these defeats by the Russians, the Ottoman diplomat Ahmed Resmi Efendi (1700-83) suggested that a declining empire should be content with its borders and pursue negotiation and peace instead of holy war.

Mustafa’s brother Abdul Hamid (r. 1774-89) had been in the Cage 43 years when he ascended the throne. War had depleted the treasury, and he had no donative to offer the Janissaries. For the next thirteen years he ruled in peace, resisting the temptation to intervene when Russians overthrew the Tatar khan Devlet Ghitrai in 1779. Their puppet khan allowed Catherine to annex the Crimea in 1783. The Khan was imprisoned and then released to the Turks, who beheaded him. Noble Tatars fought for their independence; but General Paul Potemkin’s Russian army massacred 30,000 of them while tens of thousands fled into exile. A few years later Empress Catherine and Potemkin toured this region with the Habsburg emperor Joseph II, instigating revolts in the Ottoman empire. Istanbul declared war in 1787 because Austrians had tried to surprise the fortress at Belgrade. Admiral Hassan was recalled from Cairo to attack the Kinburn fortress, but Russians led by General Alexander Suvarov defeated his invading force and the Ottoman fleet. A large Ottoman army crossed the Danube, and Emperor Joseph misled his large army that accidentally killed thousands of their own troops; on the retreat tens of thousands died of disease. Yet in 1789 the Austrians joined with the Russian army of Suvarov and invaded Bosnia and Serbia, killing 25,000 civilians at Oczakov. This news made Abdul Hamid ill, and he died in May 1789.

When young Selim III (r. 1789-1807) became sultan, he sent Hassan to lead the army; but again he was defeated by Suvarov, and Selim had Hassan executed to appease the panic in Istanbul. Joseph died in 1790, and his brother Leopold II, opposed to the war, signed a treaty restoring the territory the Austrians had conquered. Russia continued the war against the Ottoman empire; but a change in policy in England created an alliance with Prussia and Holland to preserve the Ottoman empire. The Turks wanted peace, and in 1791 Catherine agreed to relinquish the conquests west of the Dniester River.

Influenced by the French revolution, Sultan Selim promulgated a “New Order” (Nizam-i-Jedid). In 1791 he sent out instructions asking for memorials from top officials. The Naval Engineering School that had been founded in 1775 was reformed, and in 1795 a new Military Engineering School opened. Most of the instructors were French officers, and students were required to learn the French language. A large library of European books included Diderot’s Encyclopédie. The Ottoman empire began sending resident ambassadors to major capitals—first to London in 1793 and then in 1797 to Paris, Vienna, and Berlin. Their secretaries learned the language and studied the customs.

The New Order aimed to reform the military and government administration. Local governors had terms limited to three years so that they would be more responsive to the people. Tax farms were abolished as the imperial government began collecting taxes directly. Land reform affected the timars and zeamets (large fiefs), and the incomes from vacant estates returned to the imperial treasury. The Government controlled the grain trade. The grand vizier was required to consult the Divan (Council). A minister of the Divan administered a special treasury for paying infantry, and new taxes were put on alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and other commodities. A Turk named Omar Agha had been captured in the Russian war, and he persuaded the Grand Vizier to let him train a special corps by European methods. Their skills impressed Sultan Selim, but an attempt to reform the Janissaries caused a mutiny and had to be cancelled.

After Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, Selim III signed alliance agreements in January 1799 with Russia, England, and the Two Sicilies. Frenchmen in Turkey were imprisoned. For the first time the Russian fleet was allowed to pass through the straits into the Mediterranean Sea, and the Austrian navy helped them expel the French from the Ionian islands. Napoleon’s army invaded Syria; but their siege of Acre failed, and they had to retreat back to Egypt with heavy losses. The French withdrew from Egypt, and in the 1802 treaty of Amiens the British also relinquished Egypt to the Turks. That year the East India Company excluded the French from Oman and established permanent residency at Baghdad, and the British opened a mail line via Aleppo to connect London with India. Istanbul liberated French prisoners and restored their property.

Janissaries in Belgrade murdered the Ottoman governor and took over the lands of the Turkish cavalry (sipahi) in Serbia. Oppressed Christians sent mayors to Istanbul, and Sultan Selim sent the Bosnian army to support the Serbian insurrection against the Janissaries, whose four leaders were beheaded. The Serbians now wanted independence; they elected George Petrovic (Kara George) and appealed to the Russians as fellow Christians. Czar Alexander was still allied with the Turks and advised the Serbians to appeal to Istanbul; but the Divan and the Sultan rejected their demands, imprisoned the delegates, and sent three armies into Serbia. However, Kara George defeated them and expelled the Turkish garrisons from Belgrade and other fortresses.

In 1805 Selim III recognized Napoleon as Emperor, prompting Czar Alexander to ask to be recognized as the protector of Christians. Instead Selim deposed the Phanariot hospodars from Wallachia and Moldavia because he believed they were Russian agents. When the Russian army marched into Moldavia and Wallachia in 1806, the Ottomans declared war on Russia. In 1807 Admiral Duckworth sailed British ships into the Dardanelles and demanded that the Ottoman fleet surrender. Negotiations gave the Turks time to mount artillery and strengthen their fortifications with advice from the French General Sebastiani. Duckworth retreated, and Selim, using French artillerymen, was now allied with France. He levied new troops for the war against Russia, but Janissaries at Adrianople and in the Danubian theater of war resisted the redeployment. Selim suspended the reforms and appointed a Janissary leader as grand vizier; but Janissaries mutinied against the new uniforms and equipment, gathering in the Hippodrome. The new chief Mufti presided over trials of the reformers, and seventeen were beheaded. Selim tried to abolish the New Order but was deposed and went to the Cage, whence his cousin Mustafa IV emerged as the new sultan in May 1807.

A truce with the Russians enabled Bayrakdar Mustafa to lead his Bosnian and Albanian troops from the Danube to Istanbul. When they demanded to see Selim, Sultan Mustafa ordered Selim and his brother Mahmud strangled. Selim was executed, but Mahmud hid. The Albanians found him, deposed Mustafa, and enthroned Mahmud II in July 1808. Bayrakdar became grand vizier, executed the assassins and supporters of Mustafa IV, and revived the reforms that Selim had initiated. The responsibilities of local governors were more clearly defined, and the Janissaries were suppressed. After Bayrakdar sent home his Albanian and Bosnian armies, in November 1808 the Janissaries attacked his palace and burned him to death. The reforms once again were cancelled. In 1809 the Russians crossed the Danube from Wallachia and attacked the Turks’ camp at Shumla; despite resistance by the Bosnian army, they captured Rustchuk. In May 1812 the Russians signed a treaty at Bucharest restoring Moldavia and Wallachia to the Ottoman empire while retaining Bessarabia and access to the mouth of the Danube. The Turks occupied Belgrade in October 1813 and made Serbia a vassal state, as thousands fled to Austria.

Many Greeks avoided the authority of the Ottoman empire and became bandits (klepts). The Turks armed Christian armatoli to restrain them; but they often joined the Greeks. They also were pirates at sea, and the British taking of the Ionian Islands from France in 1814 inspired revolt. A secret Society of Friends (Hetaireia ton Philikon) had been founded in 1770 when the Greeks first revolted against the Turks. The poet Rhigas Pheraios promoted Greek nationalism with translations; but in 1797 while the French were trying to liberate the Ionian Islands, he was captured at Trieste with twelve chests of proclamations. Rhigas was convicted in Vienna and executed by the pasha of Belgrade. Adamantios Koraés (1748-1833) designed a modern Greek language and began publishing a patriotic periodical in 1811 from Vienna. The Hetaireia was revived at Odessa in 1814.

Elite Greek families lived in the Phanar district of Istanbul. Alexander Ypsilantis was from a Phanariot Greek family that had been hospodars (governors) of Moldavia and Wallachia. He served the Czar in the Russian army and in 1820 was elected commissioner of the Hetaireia after Corfiote Count John Capodistria declined the presidency. Ypsilantis crossed the Pruth and began a revolt that was supported by the hospodar of Moldavia, but he found that Romanians in Wallachia were not inspired by a Greek cause. The Czar dismissed Ypsilantis, and the Sultan had the Ecumenical Patriarch excommunicate him, sending an army to Bucharest. Ypsilantis fled to Austria, where that Emperor imprisoned him. His brother Dimitri Ypsilantis led the revolt in the Peloponnese which was proclaimed on March 25, 1821 while Sultan Mahmud was trying to subjugate his vassal Ali Pasha in Epirus. This “Lion of Janina” had been recognized by Napoleon and in 1819 had taken over the Adriatic port at Parga. Ali’s enemy Ismail had fled to Istanbul, and Ali sent two assassins after him, provoking the Sultan’s response. Ali held out against the Ottoman attempt to suppress him for nearly two years before he and his three sons were beheaded in 1822.

Greeks began taking over Morea fortresses, and Greek privateers captured ports. Greeks attacked Muslims and massacred the town of Livadia, and more than eight thousand Turks were slaughtered at Tripolitsa. Athens was fortified by the Turks and held out for a year. Mesolonghi and Macedonia rebelled as the monks of Mount Athos took up the cause. On Crete the Janissaries and Muslims slaughtered Christians, including six bishops at Candia. Phanariots at Istanbul were executed, and the Greek patriarch Gregory V was hanged on Easter Sunday. The Turkish navy took revenge for the loss of a flagship by destroying the island of Chios, enslaving and driving off its hundred thousand Christians. The Ottomans crushed the revolt north of the Gulf of Corinth; but Greeks in the Morea convened local assemblies. Dimitri Ypsilantis convened a national assembly near Epidaurus and proclaimed a constitution on the first day of 1822. Its main author Alexander Mavrokordatos, a Phanariot from Mesolonghi, was made president. Greek rebels led by Kolokotrones captured Nauplia; but he refused to recognize a national assembly and kidnapped four of its members; they withdrew and elected the Albanian Hydriot Koundouriotis president. The European powers met at Verona in 1822 but refused to receive Greek delegates they considered revolutionaries.

The English poet Lord Byron arrived at Cephalonia in 1823 with a large loan from a Greek committee in London, but the next year at Mesolonghi he observed the Greeks fighting each other. He had been instructed to give the money to Koundouriotis, but he gave Kolokotrones a share for surrendering Nauplia. A few months later the civil war continued, and Kolokotrones was captured. Mavrokordatos retired in disgust, and Byron died of malaria.

In 1825 Sultan Mahmud appealed to Muhammad ‘Ali of Egypt, offering control over Crete and the Peloponnese. Muhammad ‘Ali sent his son Ibrahim with a disciplined force that reconquered most of the Peloponnese for the Ottoman empire. Kolokotrones was released, but Ibrahim defeated him twice. The next year the Egyptians helped the Turks besieging Mesolonghi, and the government of Koundouriotis soon fell. Two British officers he had recruited insisted that the two factions reconcile. The National Assembly made a new constitution and elected Capodistria president, but Athens fell to the Turks in June 1827.

Ottoman Reforms 1826-53

Meanwhile in 1826 Britain and Russia had agreed on a compromise to let the Greeks manage their own internal affairs as long as they paid tribute to the Ottoman empire; France signed on at London in July 1827. The Greeks accepted this, but Sultan Mahmud II rejected it. The armistice was to be enforced by the three European navies. After a blockade they sailed into the bay of Navarino to make Egypt’s Ibrahim accept the armistice. When an Egyptian ship fired on an open boat of delegates on October 20, the French flagship retaliated. In the ensuing battle the Ottoman and Egyptian fleets were destroyed. The English persuaded Muhammad ‘Ali to withdraw the Egyptian troops; a French force made them go and stayed for five years because the Sultan would not agree to the armistice. After touring Europe, Capodistria returned to Nauplia in 1828 and appointed a governing Panhellenion under his control.

In 1826 the Russians had imposed the Convention of Ackerman on the Turks, claiming privileges for Moldavians and Wallachians, rights for Serbians, and former Turkish fortresses in Asia. The Sultan declared war on Russia the next year, and Czar Nicholas led the invasion across the Danube; but Turkish defenses caused heavy Russian casualties. The next year a larger Russian force led by Marshal Diebitsch besieged Silistria and routed a larger Turkish army outside of Shumla. Leaving that fortress behind, Diebitsch led the Russians over the Balkan mountains to surprise Edirne (Adrianople), which surrendered. He continued the march toward Istanbul, and in September 1829 the Sultan agreed to the Treaty of Adrianople. Russia gave back most of its conquests but gained part of Moldavia and the mouth of the Danube. Moldavia and Wallachia, though still under Ottoman sovereignty, gained self-government and the removal of most Muslims. Serbia was independent except for the fortresses at Belgrade and Orsova. The Russians had also won victories in Asia and annexed Georgia and part of the Caucasus. The Sultan finally agreed to the Treaty of London granting Greek autonomy, though Crete, Thessaly, and Albania remained Ottoman provinces. Capodristia rejected the appointment of Leopold of Saxe-Coburg as the Sovereign Prince of Greece; but his autocratic methods were resented, and Capodristia was assassinated by Maniots in 1831. Prince Otho of Bavaria was crowned king of Greece and reigned for a generation.

The success of the modern Egyptian army in Greece made the Turks evaluate their own incompetence. Janissaries had even burned houses in Istanbul to show they did not want to fight the Russians. In 1826 Ottoman sultan Mahmud II initiated reforms he had discussed with Selim III while they had been in the Cage for a year two decades earlier. He aimed to centralize his government over all provinces except Egypt and to remove the obstructive power of the Janissaries. With the support of the Chief Mufti and the ‘ulama he ordered the Janissaries to provide 150 men for a new corps using modern methods. When they protested at the Hippodrome as expected and then stormed government buildings, a fatwa authorized killing rebel leaders. About 3,000 students and thousands of people gathered at the palace and forced the Janissaries to return to their barracks, where they refused to surrender and were bombarded by Mahmud’s loyal artillery troops; 4,000 mutineers were killed. Thus on June 15, 1826 the Sultan abolished the Janissaries, and two days later he outlawed the Bektashi order of dervishes who supported them. He appointed a Serasker, who was both commander-in-chief and minister of war. New regulations called for 12,000 troops in the capital and others in the provinces serving for twelve years. Centralization gave Istanbul control over the provincial armies.

The grand mufti was given new judicial power. The ‘ulama became part of the state bureaucracy, as did the vakf, the pious foundation of Muslim charities. The grand vizier became prime minister, and his functions were divided into the ministries of Foreign and Civic Affairs; the treasurer (defterdar) became the minister of Finance. The ministries of Education, Commerce, Agriculture, and Industry were combined into the Board of Useful Affairs. A land survey registered all landholdings in order to reform the tax system, as the last vestiges of feudalism were abolished. A council devised new public laws with penalties for malfeasance, bribery, and corruption. Government officials were given salaries so that they could not collect fees (bahshish), which were hard to distinguish from bribes, for their services.

In 1824 Mahmud II had made primary education compulsory, though it still was under the clerics. Secondary schools were developed by the state, and starting in 1827 groups of students were sent to Paris. That year a state medical school was established to train doctors for the army, and a college of military science began in 1834. The first newspaper in Turkish was published at Istanbul in 1831; the Translation Office was opened in 1833; and the postal service began in 1834. European customs were adopted by the Sultan and his government. Offices were furnished with chairs, tables, and desks. Soldiers wore tunics, pants, and boots. The red felt fez, popular in North Africa, was adopted; having no brim, the Muslims could still touch their foreheads to the ground in prayer.

Ibrahim led an Egyptian invasion of Syria and Anatolia that took over Gaza, Jerusalem, Acre, Damascus, Aleppo, and Konya in 1832, and he was ready to march on Istanbul. Sultan Mahmud II appealed to Russia for help, which spurred the British and French to persuade Muhammad ‘Ali to withdraw the Egyptian army. In the 1833 agreement he was to retain control over Egypt, Crete, Syria, Damascus, Tripoli, Aleppo, and Adana during his lifetime. The Russians promised to assist Mahmud and gained a secret agreement to use the Straits for the next eight years. In 1838 Muhammad ‘Ali refused to pay tribute to Istanbul, provoking Sultan Mahmud to declare war and invade Syria. The Ottoman navy defected to Egypt, and Ibrahim again defeated the Turks in Syria. Britain, Russia, and Austria met and advised Muhammad ‘Ali to withdraw his forces from Syria and return the Ottoman navy to Istanbul. When he refused, the British fleet bombarded and destroyed the forts of Beirut and Acre. The British troops were supported by Syrians revolting against Egyptian domination, causing Muhammad ‘Ali to withdraw the troops from Syria and agree to the terms that recognized him as hereditary pasha of Egypt. Syria and Crete were restored to the Ottoman empire, and the Egyptian military was to be limited. Mahmud II had died in July 1839 and was succeeded by his 16-year-old son Abdul Mejid.

Young Abdul Mejid (r. 1839-61) developed a close relationship with British ambassador Stratford Canning. Foreign minister Mustafa Reshid returned from London and helped the new Sultan modernize his government along European lines. On November 3, 1839 in the Chamber of Roses in the Grand Seraglio, Abdul Mejid announced the Tanzimat or Reorganization, guaranteeing freedom and security of life, honor, and property; regular methods of taxation instead of tax farms; regular recruiting for military service with limited duration; and fair public trials according to law and no punishments without a legal sentence. The Council of Justice was organized in 1840; they could freely give their opinions, although they were all appointed by the Sultan. Distinctions between Muslims and others were to be eliminated. This meant Christians serving in the army as well as the navy, where they already served. Many Muslims disliked the new laws; clerics called the new commercial code blasphemy because it went beyond Islamic law. So the Sultan suspended the code and dismissed Reshid, demoting him to his former job as ambassador in Paris. The reactionary Riza Pasha became Serasker, and the anti-western Izzet Mehmed became grand vizier. Riza did reform the military, recruiting troops for five years active duty, followed by seven years in the reserves. Christians were not recruited, and the force reached 250,000; non-Muslims paid an exemption tax. For five years the Gulhane (Rose Chamber) reforms were thought of as the Gulhan (Dust Hole).

The reaction to granting those of other religions equal rights in the Ottoman empire caused some persecution of Jews. In Damascus when the Christian monk Tomaso disappeared in 1840, several Jews were accused of murder and tortured; four were even beheaded. On Rhodes a ten-year-old boy hanged himself, and Christians charged Jews with murder. Persecution of Jews in Syria spread, and a synagogue near Damascus was pillaged and destroyed. Adolf Crémieux in France came to the defense of the Jews, and a tribunal in Rhodes acquitted the accused Jews. Money was raised to find the murderer of Tomaso. Nine European consuls petitioned, and Egyptian Viceroy Muhammad ‘Ali released the nine prisoners at Damascus. During their decade of occupation the Egyptians had tried to disarm Syria, collect new taxes, and monopolize silk, cotton, tobacco, and coal. After the Egyptians withdrew, in 1841 the Ottomans secularized the judicial system with equality for non-Muslims.

Bashir II in Lebanon had defeated the Druzes in 1825 and cooperated with the Egyptian invasion of 1831; but in 1840 the British and French intervened to evict the Egyptians from Syria and removed Bashir. Conflicts between the Druzes and the Maronite Christians caused several wars between 1838 and 1845, though Ottoman authority established a new government for Lebanon in 1843 with a Druze governor in the south and a Maronite governor in the north. The Maronites rebelled in 1858, and then the Druzes and Muslims attacked the Maronites. European powers intervened again, and in 1861 the Ottomans promulgated new regulations with a Christian as the head of the government. The Maronites benefited from European education, which their clergy got at Rome. French Jesuits had established a school as early as 1728 at Aintura, and Maronite colleges were founded at Zigharta in 1735 and Ayn Warqa in 1789. After 1839 new schools were established at Zahleh, Damascus, and Aleppo. The American University of Beirut was founded in 1866 and the French University of Joseph in 1875. Many joined the Society of Arts and Sciences that started in 1847 and the Syrian Scientific Society that was founded ten years later to promote Arabic literature.

Stratford Canning defended the rights of Christians, protesting when a young Greek and a young Armenian were executed for having reverted to Christianity after converting to Islam. Canning learned that Riza and the Finance minister were involved in peculation with two Christian capitalists, and in 1845 the Sultan dismissed Riza. Reshid became grand vizier again and renewed the reforms. An Ottoman state university was planned, but the buildings were never completed. Local councils were elected to advise governors; but the majority Muslim Turks tended to be reactionary. Canning did persuade Abdul Mejid to ban the slave traffic by Turkish ships. In 1847 mixed civil and criminal courts with an equal number of Ottoman and European judges were established, and the revised penal code was promulgated in 1851. A year earlier the new commercial code went into effect, and trade began to increase. The population of major cities multiplied in one generation with many foreigners. An Ottoman bank had been instituted in 1840, and four years later the currency was safeguarded. The expenses of the Crimean War opened up foreign loans, and the Ottoman economy became dependent on the capitalist enterprises of Europeans. However, Canning’s efforts to reform prisons, improve roads, eliminate corruption, or improve imperial finances were not implemented. Abdul Mejid had a lavish new palace constructed with European elegance, increasing his debt, and he became preoccupied with rococo entertainment with European artists and musicians. In 1852 ambassador Canning returned to England.

In 1850 the new French president Louis Napoleon began insisting that the 1740 treaty on the Latin Church’s grants in the holy land be enforced. Russian pilgrims and money had made the Greek Orthodox Church dominant there. A new anti-Russian grand vizier gave the French concessions. In 1852 Czar Nicholas refused to recognize Napoleon III as emperor, and he sent the combative prince Menshikov as ambassador to Istanbul. He wanted a guarantee that Russia could protect all Orthodox subjects in the Ottoman empire. France sent a fleet to Salamis, and England sent Canning (now called Lord Stratford de Redcliffe) back to Istanbul. The Turks offered to settle the dispute between the Greeks and the Latins by paying for the repair of the churches in the holy land themselves under the supervision of the Greek patriarch. Menshikov insisted that foreign minister Mehmed Fuad Pasha be removed, hoping Reshid would be better. Menshikov asked for a direct alliance between Russia and the Ottomans, but Reshid rejected the protectorate. Stratford persuaded the Austrians to try to intervene; but Menshikov rejected this and left in May 1853.

Russian troops crossed the Pruth and occupied Moldavia and Wallachia. The Sultan and Stratford sent a note to the four powers (Britain, France, Austria, and Prussia) meeting in Vienna, but they rejected this and sent their own note to Russia. In September 1853 demonstrations erupted into riots in Istanbul, and the ‘ulama called for a holy war. Eventually the British told Stratford to order the British fleet into the Straits, and the Ottomans on October 4 gave the Russians a fortnight to withdraw from the Danube principalities. The Anglo-French squadron sailed into the Dardanelles on October 20, and three days later the Turkish forces crossed the Danube. Czar Nicholas announced that Russia would remain on the defensive; but in the Black Sea six Russian ships appeared in the Turkish harbor of Sinope in November and demanded that a Turkish flotilla and two transport ships surrender. The Turks refused and fired the first shot; then the Russians bombarded the ships, killing 3,000. The British and French immediately loaned the Ottoman empire £2,000,000.

Ottoman Reforms 1853-75

In early 1854 the allied ships sailed into the Black Sea. Britain and France demanded Russia withdraw its troops from Moldavia and Wallachia but got no reply. In the spring the Russian army crossed the Danube and besieged Silistria for five weeks. The Turks fought well and forced the Russians to withdraw to Bucharest, evacuating Moldavia and Wallachia as Austrian troops took their place. The Ottomans had won the Danube War; but the Crimean War began as Britain and France attacked the Russian stronghold at Sebastopol. The Turks played a minor role of support by defending Balaclava, Eupatoria, and Kars in Asia Minor. After the French captured Fort Malakhov in September 1855, Sebastopol fell. The treaty the next year made few territorial changes. Protection of the Rumanian principalities and the Orthodox Christians was transferred from Russia to the western powers, and the Black Sea was declared neutral and free of naval forces and arsenals.

During the Crimean War ambassador Stratford prepared a charter of reform for the Ottoman empire to extend the Tanzimat reforms, and this was incorporated into the 1856 treaty at Paris. Equal rights regardless of race, religion, or language were applied specifically to taxation, education, justice, property, public offices, and administration. However, France refused to allow enforcement of these rights into the treaty. The Reform Edict called for annual budgets, banks, employing European capital, codifying penal and commercial law, reforming the prison system, mixed courts for cases involving non-Muslims, and improving commerce, agriculture, roads, and canals. Stratford left Istanbul in 1858, succeeded by Henry Bulwer. By then the Ottoman treasury was empty; military pay was in arrears; inflation was increasing the cost of living; and the national debt was escalating.

In 1859 more than forty conspirators were arrested and interrogated in the Kuleli barracks for attempting to overthrow the government; the death sentences were commuted, and they were sent to prison or exile in the provinces. ‘Ali Pasha was replaced as grand vizier by the conservative Kibrisli Mehmed Emin Pasha. In 1860 thousands of Christians were killed in Lebanon by Druzes and in Damascus by Muslims. Ottoman imperial forces effectively pacified these provinces as the French landed troops in Lebanon to defend the Maronites. The next year the Porte at Istanbul agreed with the European governments to appoint a Christian governor for Lebanon.

Educational reforms took time to affect society. A plan for comprehensive state education had been formulated in 1846, and middle schools opened the next year. Schools for females began in 1858, and the year after that a school of political science helped to prepare civil servants. By 1867 the Ottoman empire of about forty million people had 11,008 primary schools with 242,017 boys and 126,454 girls; 108 rushdiye’s (middle schools) were educating 7,830 students; but only 225 were studying in specialized civil schools. The non-Muslim millets operated another 2,495 schools (mostly primary) with 125,404 students. The plan for free and compulsory primary schooling was not devised until 1869. Because of the need for teachers, these would take generations to reach large numbers of people.

Abdul Mejid died in 1861 and was succeeded by his brother Abdul Aziz, who would rule until 1876. He pensioned off his brother’s concubines but had even more himself, employing 3,000 eunuchs. In 1864 the provinces were organized into vilayets, and these were further subdivided into sancaks, kazas, kariye’s, and nahiye’s, which were groups of rural hamlets. The millets for non-Muslims were reorganized, and in 1865 the Jewish community approved a constitution; those in Istanbul elected a grand rabbi, but they had no clerical hierarchy like the Armenian and Greek millets. In 1867 moderates in Bulgaria asked for self-government under dual monarchy. Crete was rebelling; there was unrest in Montenegro and Syria; and the Turks withdrew their last garrisons from Serbia, where Prince Michael was trying to unite the Balkans against Ottoman rule. The urging of France, Britain, and Austria enabled the progressive ministers Mehmet ‘Ali Pasha and Mehmed Fuad Pasha to reorganize the High Council to improve justice and education. In 1868 Midhat Pasha, who had governed Bulgaria, Iraq, and the Danube province well, was appointed president of a Council of State that included Christians to prepare a budget and promote reforms. Husain Awni Pasha worked on education in order to improve the army. Nonetheless Abdul Aziz was reactionary and autocratic.

Whereas the Tanzimat had aimed at justice, now the young Turks wanted liberty and constitutional government. The first political party in Turkish history called the Patriotic Alliance or Young Ottoman Society was formed in 1865 as a secret society based on the Carbonari in Italy. Reshid Pasha had died in 1858, but two of his protégés led the movement. Ibrahim Shinasi had been a student at Paris during the revolution of 1848; he edited a newspaper in Istanbul and wrote poems and plays. Ziya Pasha went to Paris, London, and Geneva in 1867, and he advocated a constitution and national parliament.

Namik Kemal (1840-88) came from a family of Ottoman officials, and in 1857 he began working for the Institute of Translation. After Shinasi left for Paris in 1864, he edited the newspaper. When Egyptian prince Mustafa Fazil wrote an open letter to the Sultan in French demanding a constitution, Namik Kemal translated it into Turkish and published it in the paper. Exiled to the provinces, Kemal went to London and then to Paris with Ziya Pasha and seven others. In 1867 Abdul Aziz was the first sultan to visit Paris and London, where he came across the young radicals who were being financed by Fazil. In June 1868 Kemal and Ziya Pasha began publishing their Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, which means freedom.

Kemal translated French works into Turkish, and he wrote a series of “Letters on Constitutional Regime” to expound his liberal philosophy. He believed in the political sovereignty of the people and that the rights of individuals should be based on justice. He argued that Islam is compatible with republican government, and he proposed a council of state to draft bills and administer the laws, a national assembly to legislate and control the budget, and a senate to moderate the legislative body and the executive power by protecting the liberties of the people. Kemal argued that the superiority of modern civilization could no longer be doubted, and he urged Muslims to have faith in liberty and progress. He was the first Turkish writer to point out how the West had penetrated their economy, and he criticized the current financial, administrative, and educational conditions. Although he wanted to apply Western science, technology, economy, press, and education, he criticized the Tanzimat legal reforms for undermining the Muslim community. He argued that adopting the separation of state from religion was a serious error that opened the way for European interference. He became a patriotic romantic and urged an Islamic constitution.

Kemal’s patriotic drama Vatan (Fatherland) portrayed the heroic defense of Silistria and was performed at Istanbul in 1873. The audience was so moved by the play that the first three performances were followed by shouting and public demonstrations, causing Sultan Abdul Aziz to close the play, ban Kemal’s newspaper, and deport him to Cyprus for three years. There he wrote his most famous play Akif Bey about the sacrifice of a Turkish marine officer. His romantic tragedy The Miserable Child advocated marriage by free choice and prohibiting forced marriages. In 1875 his romantic comedy Gulnihal portrayed a tyrannical governor whose jealousy fails to keep two lovers apart.

The modern Turkish theater was suddenly coming alive. In 1860 the first published play was the one-act farce A Poet’s Marriage by Ibrahim Shinasi that satirized the custom of arranged marriages. In 1873 Mehmet Rifat’s tragicomedy The Tradition portrayed an elaborate circumcision ceremony. Following Kemal’s Fatherland, Ottoman victories were glorified in Mehmet Rifat’s Either a Veteran or a Martyr and Mehmet Sadettin’s The Danube or Victory. Also in 1874 Nuri’s Dandies of Our Time satirized Turkish imitation of European manners. In 1875 Ahmet Mithat Efendi, who had also been exiled with Kemal, exposed the bigotry of Muslim clerics in The Uncovered Head, feudal oppression in The Taking of Revenge or The Old Civilization of Europe, and showed that nobility comes from character, not from birth, in The Command of the Heart. Akhondov (1812-78) in Azerbaijan wrote several comedies satirizing social abuses and conservatism.

Mehmed Fuad died in 1869, and after the death of Mehmet ‘Ali in 1871 Sultan Abdul Aziz felt he was free from the reformers and could pursue his absolutist tendencies. He made his ministers directly responsible to him instead of to the grand vizier. He made the ambitious Mahmud Nelim grand vizier, and he dismissed ministers and rotated others. Abdul Aziz removed Nelim in 1872 and had six grand viziers in the next three years. He emulated the European luxuries he had observed and spent money building ironclad warships and railroads. In twenty years the Ottoman debt had risen from £4,000,000 to £200,000,000. More than half of the empire’s revenues were now going to pay its charges. In 1873 drought in Anatolia led to famine, and many taxes could no longer be collected. Tax farming, which had been declared abolished in the reforms of 1839 and 1856, was once again banned. A bad harvest and extortions for taxes erupted into insurrection in Herzegovina in June 1875 and spread to Bosnia, causing civil war between Muslims and Christians. Uprisings in Bulgaria were becoming stronger, and the latest in September 1875 at Stara Zagora was crushed. In October the government announced that creditors would only receive half the interest due. Minister Midhat Pasha was also deposed in 1875. This disorder would lead to a coup d’état and the acceptance of a constitution in 1876.

The Ottoman empire was in a very weakened and difficult situation. Their multi-ethnic empire had long been stretched to the limit of its military capacity, and now it was suffering from the competition of economic imperialism. Most of their merchants were Europeans or Ottoman Christians. The capitulations that the Ottoman empire gave the Europeans prevented them from imposing comparable tariffs to protect their industries. Thus cloth manufacturing, for example, in the Ottoman empire had decreased to about a third of what it had been a generation earlier because of European mercantilism. The diverse ethnic groups with different languages called millets were greatly affected by the growing nationalism of the 19th century, and these groups often received military assistance from the western powers, as the Greeks had. Missionaries funded private universities such as Robert College in 1863, the Syrian Protestant College in 1866, and the Université Saint-Joseph in 1874. In the early 1870s the French also influenced the development of the civil code.

Ottoman Empire under Abdulhamid 1876-1908

On May 2, 1876 Bulgarians in Serbia rose up in the Balkan Mountains near Filibe, where an Ottoman garrison could do little. The governor used volunteer militias to help regular troops defend the Muslim villages. The English press reported how the Muslims massacred thousands of Bulgarian Christians without mentioning that even more Muslims were killed. American missionaries and Bulgarians greatly exaggerated the figures. William Gladstone published a best-selling pamphlet “Bulgarian Horrors” to use this against his political rival, Benjamin Disraeli, who thus became unable to defend the Ottomans. On May 6 some Greeks seized a Bulgarian Christian girl who had converted to Islam and tore off her veil and clothes. A Muslim mob took revenge, killing the French and German consuls. The murderers were hanged.

On May 8 students left their religious schools to denounce the government for failing to stop the massacres. Their protests led to the dismissal of Nelim on May 12, and Sultan Abdul Aziz appointed Mehmet Rüstü as grand vizier along with Midhat as minister without portfolio and Hüseyin Avni as minister of War. Avni wanted to depose the Sultan and replace him with his brother, Prince Murat. He got Suleyman to surround the Dolmabahçe Palace with two battalions on May 30 with ships offshore. Murat was afraid he was going to be assassinated; but he was installed on the throne and brought his treasures to balance the state budget for the first year. Abdulaziz was confined in Topkapi Palace. Murat stopped the contributions from the state treasury to the Sultan’s purse. The liberal journalists Ziya and Namik Kemal became his private secretaries.

On June 6 Abdul Aziz slit his wrist with scissors and was found dead. Rumors that he had been assassinated by Hüseyin Avni or Murat made the latter nervous. On June 15 Abdul Aziz’s brother-in-law Çerkes Hasan disrupted a meeting at Midhat’s house by murdering Hüseyin Avni, Foreign Minister Rashit, and two others. He was quickly convicted and hanged on the 18th. Some believed that Midhat arranged this to remove those who opposed the constitution.

Meanwhile Prince Milan of Serbia made an alliance with Montenegro on May 26 and went to war against the Ottomans four days later. The Grand Vizier told Milan that the Bulgarian revolts would be suppressed and rights respected. Milan sent Bosnia and Herzegovina an ultimatum, demanding that his Serbian troops occupy Bosnia while giving Herzegovina to Montenegro. The Ottomans refused, and Milan declared war on July 2. King Carol of the United Principalities demanded that his nation be called Rumania and be allowed to have a commissioner in Istanbul. Russian volunteers went to Serbia under General Chernayev, but the Ottomans defeated them at Alexinatz in August. The cost of this war plus the loss of revenues from Bosnia and Bulgaria along with the refugees made it impossible for the Ottoman empire to pay the interest on its bonds. Mehmet Rüstü suspended payments in July, causing shock waves in European banks. Paper money was printed and quickly depreciated. When men were off fighting, crops were not harvested, causing famine.

Sultan Murat had a nervous breakdown, and Abdulhamid declined to be a regent and so was put on the throne as Abdulhamid II. He promised Midhat that he would approve the constitution, and the cabinet deposed Murat on August 31. The Serbs attacked the Ottomans twice at Alexinatz in September but were defeated. Ambassador Nicholas Ignatiev threatened a Russian attack, and the Ottoman army pulled out of Serbia on November 3. The next day Germany’s Otto von Bismarck accepted a British proposal for an international conference at Istanbul.

Sultan Abdulhamid II did not appoint Murat’s advisors, but Midhat got a constitutional commission appointed in October. They approved a parliament with an elected lower house and an appointed upper house. Abdulhamid had the clauses on ministerial responsibility removed, but freedom of the press was guaranteed. Midhat was appointed grand vizier again on December 19, and four days later the new constitution was promulgated. Most of it was based on the Belgian constitution of 1831, but authoritarian elements were taken from the Prussian constitution of 1850.

The Sultan still appointed and dismissed ministers and could declare war, make treaties, command the armed forces, promulgate secular laws, commute judicial sentences, and convoke and dissolve Parliament. Those in the Chamber of Notables were appointed for life, and members of the Chamber of Deputies were elected to four-year terms. The Deputies voted on budgets and authorized taxes. They had a Council of Accounting to audit all government departments. The Constitution recognized everyone as Ottomans with equal rights regardless of religion, though Islam was still the official state religion. Torture was absolutely prohibited. The courts developed by the Tanzimat system were retained, and judges were appointed for life. In the first election in November local councils did the voting and elected many of their own. The Sultan appointed 21 Muslims out of 26 to the Chamber of Notables, and they represented the ruling class in the capital.

At the Istanbul conference it was agreed that Muslim and Christian militias would be organized to police their own areas. Midhat rejected the proposals of the other powers, and the conference broke up on January 20, 1877. Abdulhamid dismissed Midhat and sent him to Europe in February. Midhat had negotiated a peace agreement with Serbia and Montenegro, and Prince Milan accepted it on February 28. Serbia agreed to tolerate religious freedom for Muslims, Jews, Armenians, and Catholics.

Russia got permission from Rumania for its army to pass through their territory, and on April 24 the Russian ambassador told the Porte that war had been declared. In June the Russians crossed the Danube and attacked Dobruca and Sistova with help from the Bulgarians. They took Tirnovo on July 1 and advanced to Sofia and Edirne. Nicopolis fell on July 16. Abdulhamid asked the Ulama to declare a holy war, and he appealed for money. In the east the Russians had taken Ardahan on May 18 and Dogu Bayezit on June 20. A Press Law was passed to allow censorship. When students protested the loss of Ardahan, the Sultan proclaimed a state of siege in Istanbul and sent them into exile. At Atadag 6,500 Ottoman soldiers surrendered on October 14, and Muhtar withdrew from Kars a month later.

While Ottoman garrisons left Montenegro for the east, the Montenegrans declared war and captured Bar and Ugun in January 1878. Grand Duke Nicholas besieged Istanbul, and the Porte agreed to an armistice at Edirne on January 31. The treaty signed on March 3 recognized the independence of Montenegro, Serbia, and Rumania and the autonomy of Bulgaria under Ottoman suzerainty. The Sultan agreed to pay a large war indemnity of 1.4 billion rubles, and many sold their property in Russian territory and streamed into the Ottoman empire as refugees. On May 20 Ali Suavi led thirty refugees and tried to restore Murat V to the throne; but most were killed, and Ali Suavi was tried and hanged.

The Cyprus Convention, signed on June 4, let the British occupy Cyprus in the name of the Sultan. The Congress of Berlin in July 1878 ratified the independence of Montenegro, Serbia, and Rumania, but Montenegro promised to pay part of the Ottoman debt. In this war against Russia the Ottoman empire lost about two-fifths of its territory and one-fifth of its people as well as substantial revenues.

On June 10, 1878 about eighty Albanian delegates met in the Kosovo town of Prizen and formed the Prizen League to work for Albanian autonomy and to block implementation of the Treaty of San Stefano that had been signed by Russia and the Ottoman empire on March 3, 1878. This abortive treaty assigned Albanians to Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria. The Prizen League supported Ottoman suzerainty. In July the League sent a memorandum to the Congress of Berlin, but Bismarck declared that no Albanian nation existed. A commission drew a border between Montenegro and the Ottoman empire, but the latter declined to suppress Albanian resistance. In 1881 Thessaly but not Epirus was ceded to Greece along with Albanian Arta. European pressure persuaded the Sultan to send an army led by Dervish Turgut that defeated the Prizen League at Ulcinj in April and gave it to Montenegro. Many Albanians remained loyal to the Ottomans, and the League’s leaders were arrested and deported. The Sufi order of Bektashis supported Albanian nationalism, and their publications were suppressed until 1908.

On February 13, 1878 the deputies had demanded that three ministers appear in the chamber to defend themselves against specific charges; but the next day the Sultan dissolved the chamber and ordered the deputies to return to their constituencies. During the next thirty years of Abdulhamid’s rule the Parliament would not meet again. Many Young Ottomans were disappointed by the failure of the constitution, and some accepted employment in the Sultan’s service. Others were banished, imprisoned or killed.

Namik Kemal was imprisoned for six months in Istanbul and then exiled to Chios for two years. He held minor posts in the Aegean Islands and died on December 2, 1888. Banned writers also included Ziya as well as Racine, Rousseau, Voltaire, Hugo, and Zola. The Parliament had enacted legislation that prohibited the criticism of lawmakers. About ten new periodicals appeared every year in Istanbul between 1876 and 1888, when strict political censorship reduced the growth to one per year. Midhat was governor of Syria 1878-80 and at Izmir until 1881; but the Sultan prosecuted him for the murder of Abdulaziz based on little evidence, and he was imprisoned in Yemen, where he was murdered in April 1883. Ibrahim Ethem succeeded Midhat as grand vizier and established the first modern printing press for the Ottoman government. After being governor of Bursa 1878-82, he worked on compiling the first scientific dictionary in Ottoman Turkish. He translated sixteen comedies of Moliere and old Turkish classics.

Mehmed Said, who was called Küçük (Little) Said, was grand vizier most of the time between 1879 and 1885 as well as in 1895, 1901-03, and three times after the revolution. He negotiated the debt settlement with the major powers, increased tax collection, and balanced the budget. He implemented examinations and pensions that modernized the civil service system. Between 1879 and 1881 new laws were instituted to standardize judicial procedures and protect citizens from corruption. Many new schools were organized in finance, law, fine arts, commerce, civil engineering, veterinary science, police, and customs, and in August 1900 the Darülfünum gave Turkey higher education that became the University of Istanbul.

Abdulhamid reduced expenditures of the palace and bureaucracies. When he became sultan, about eighty percent of state revenues went to pay the interest on the national debt. On December 20, 1881 he issued an imperial decree legalizing the restructured debt of the empire that was reduced and consolidated at £106,000,000 so that only about twenty percent of the current state budget went for the debt obligation. The Ottoman Public Debt Administration (PDA) was made up of British, Dutch, French, Italian, German, Austrian, and Ottoman bondholders. The PDA collected taxes that included salt and tobacco monopolies and revenues from Bulgaria, Eastern Rumelia, and Cyprus. They also controlled gas, electricity, and water. They supervised the construction of railways in Turkey and helped the economy prosper with European commerce. By 1888 Istanbul was connected by railway to Vienna. The French exploited the coal mines of Zonguldak on the coast of the Black Sea. The telegraph was developed throughout the Ottoman empire and gave the Sultan more direct control over his officials. Excessive spying and censorship made the empire a police state.

General von der Goltz of Germany began training the Ottoman Army in 1883, and Col. Baker of England organized the imperial police force. In 1888 the Deutsche Bank opened a new line of credit that helped the Ottoman government build a railway from Ankara to Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. The railroads had tripled by 1907, and paved roads also multiplied. Forced labor was used again from 1869 until 1889, when taxes were levied on adjacent villages. In 1888 the Agricultural Bank reformed the entire system of farm credit with lower interest. European financial interests managed to prevent the development of manufacturing in the Ottoman empire so that they would import their cloth, sugar, coffee, and other products. The Sultan promoted Muslim solidarity and assumed the title of the caliphate. Using voluntary contributions he had the Hijaz railway completed from Damascus to Medina between 1901 and 1908 to serve pilgrims going to Mecca.

Ahmed Midhat founded Tercüman-i Hakikat (Translator of Events) in 1878 and became a popular writer of 33 novels and fourteen volumes of history, one for each European nation. Semsettin Sami was financially assisted by the Greek merchant Papadopoulis. They founded the newspaper Sabah (Morning) that appeared daily from 1876 to 1916, though Semsettin left after eleven months. Semsettin joined the Albanian Cultural League and encouraged Albanian nationalism by publishing grammars and dictionaries with a Latin alphabet.

In 1893 the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Committee (IMRO) was founded in Salonica, and in 1895 it was countered by the External Macedonian Revolutionary Committee (EMRO) in Bulgaria. The British had been the Ottomans’ main trading partner, but their share of investment fell sharply after 1896. German investment grew rapidly from 1% to more than 25%, and France increased its share from 30% to 50%.

Meanwhile Sultan Abdulhamid promoted Pan-Islamism to unite his empire. The Arabic language was taught, but Said persuaded him not to raise it to be equal to the official language, Ottoman Turkish. This helped unite the Muslims against the Europeans, but the emphasis on Turkish nationalism still divided many Muslims.

Young Turks and Armenians 1889-1907

In 1887 Armenians in Geneva formed a radical nationalist organization with the journal Hunchak (Bell). In 1890 at Tiflis (Tblisi) the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) was formed, and they were called Dashnaks. Raids grew into a revolt in 1893 in Anatolia. The Armenians called upon Muslims to rise up against the Sultan’s dictatorship; but the result was that many Armenians were arrested and imprisoned. The Government reacted by organizing Kurdish tribes into regiments that were called Hamidiye units. In the autumn of 1894 they began slaughtering Armenians in the Sasun district, and massacres went on for the next two years in the east and in Istanbul. Many Armenians were given the grim choice between death or conversion to Islam. After Turkish troops massacred the Armenians, Kurdish tribesmen plundered their goods. An estimated 150,000 Armenians were killed or died of disease and starvation. The British, French, and Russians demanded an investigation, but in 1895 the Sultan set up a commission “to inquire into the criminal conduct of Armenian brigands.” The Germans did not criticize the Ottomans and became closer allies. When European diplomats urged that harsh governors be dismissed, the Sultan transferred those who had suppressed Armenians to better positions. The six European powers demanded an end to the slaughter; but they declined to risk their concessions, and the conference to help the Armenians in 1897 was a failure.

In June 1889 some Young Turks, who were named after a French newspaper, began meeting secretly as the Committee of Ottoman Union and aimed to establish a constitutional democracy by replacing the Sultan with Murat V or eventually Mehmet Resat. Ahmed Riza and Mehmet Murat were their leaders. Ahmed Riza was the most conservative and only wanted to bring democracy and eliminate corruption without changing the Ottoman political system. Murat advocated more radical changes but also by nonviolent means. In 1891 Ahmed Ihsan founded Servet-i Fünan (The Wealth of Sciences) as a vehicle for the new literature.

In 1894 Armenians in the Cilician village of Sasun complained about double taxes forced on them by Kurdish tribes in addition to the Ottoman taxes, and the courts ruled in their favor. However, the governor of the province incited Muslims against these Christians, and many Armenian peasants were killed and looted. The Armenian revolutionary Hunchak rebelled, and the army was sent and slaughtered many villagers. A British, Russian, and French memorandum suggested reforming the six eastern Anatolian provinces of Erzurum, Bitlis, Van, Sivas, Diyarbakir, and Harput. In November the Ottoman government sent a committee but ordered them “to investigate the looting and murders which Armenian gangs had committed.”1 A reform package was submitted in May 1895, but Abdulhamid II rejected them for violating his sovereignty and was reported to have said, “This business will end in blood.” He promised to appoint Christians and include them in the police. Hunchak organized a demonstration by 2,000 Armenians in Istanbul on October 1, and claiming they were violent, the Government massacred many Armenians. The Armenian disturbances spread in Anatolia, and they were massacred in Zeytun, Trabzon, Erzurum, Bitlis, Van, Harput, Diyarbakir, Sivas, and Çukurova. Based on the reports Kaiser Wilhelm II believed about 80,000 Armenians had been killed. Others have estimated that about 250,000 Armenians were slaughtered between 1894 and 1896.

In December 1895 the Young Turks in Paris led by Ahmed Riza began publishing the newspaper Meshveret (Consultation), and Murad Bey went to Cairo. In April 1896 the French government of Leon Bourgeois decided to ban the Turkish version of Meshveret and to extradite Ahmed Riza, who went to Geneva. In September 1896 the Istanbul branch of the Committee tried to plan a coup d’état; but the secretary Nadir Bey informed the palace, and 350 people were arrested.

A group of Armenians seized the Ottoman Bank in Beyoglu on August 25, 1896, planted bombs, and held hostages. Another group of Armenians forced their way into the Sublime Porte, wounded officials, and threatened the Grand Vizier with a pistol. A bomb thrown at the Sultan killed more than twenty of his police guards. After one day the terrorists were captured, and the demonstrators were driven away. The Sultan declared a general amnesty and appointed more Christians in the east.

In late January 1897 some rebels from Crete and other Greeks revolted and proclaimed Crete part of Greece. Prince George led ten thousand Greek soldiers who occupied the island, slaughtering Muslims. In the spring the Ottoman empire declared war on Greece, and Greeks fled from Epirus and Thessaly; but the European powers imposed an armistice, and by the end of the year the Sultan allowed Crete to be an autonomous region with a Christian governor under Ottoman suzerainty. The Ottoman troops were withdrawn, and the high commissioner Prince George promised to protect the Muslims with the Christian militia. The province of Macedonia remained corrupt and rapacious, and political terrorism continued there until the end of Abdulhamid’s reign in 1909.

After the Ottoman victory over Greece in 1897 Sultan Abdulhamid sent the secret police officer, Major-General Ahmed Celaleddin, to Europe to persuade the dissidents to return home and abandon their opposition, promising them high positions. He convinced the Young Turk leader Murad Bey to return from Geneva to Istanbul, where he joined the Council of State. In June, Major-General Resid presided over a special court martial to arrest, detain, and deport political cadets, and in late August they sent 78 officers as prisoners to Tripoli.

These activities delayed the movement until Damad Mahmud defected from the Sultan’s side on December 14, 1899. He and his two sons Sabahaddin and Lütfullah fled to Europe, and they advocated more revolutionary methods and joined with national groups. Damad Mahmud began writing for Osmanli in February 1900 in England, where he favored the British and opposed the Germans. In the fall Damad Mahmud published an open letter appealing to the Armenians to join them in united action. A radical appeal was made to Muslims in Istanbul calling for vengeance against Abdulhamid. The Ottoman government launched a campaign against Damad Mahmud, and in January 1902 he fled from Rome to England.

In February 1902 the first Congress of Ottoman Liberals met in a private home in Paris. Ahmed Riza spoke against foreign intervention, but Sabahaddin considered foreign assistance “benevolent mediation” and “equitable action.” The national minorities refused to support constitutional reforms that might strengthen the empire, and two factions split between Ahmed Riza and Sabahaddin. The latter claimed to have a majority and formed the Ottoman Freedom-lovers Committee. Sabahaddin also led the League of Private Initiative and Decentralization that established an alliance between the Young Turks and the Armenian Dashnaktsutiun. Other Young Turks who favored centralization of the empire eventually became the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).

An arrest warrant was published in newspapers for Sabahaddin and his brother Lütfullah. Ismail Kemal believed that with the Armenians they would be more likely to get support from western powers that had nearly intervened during the persecution of Armenians in 1895. However, Ismail Kemal could not lead the Albanians because he was pro-Greek and pro-British, and so he suggested a diplomatic solution for an independent Albania. Damad Mahmud died on January 18, 1903. His sons went from Paris to England with Ismail Kemal and tried to plot a military uprising. The coup plan never came off, though 32 were arrested. Ahmed Delaleddin had refused to organize a plot to kill Damad Mahmud, and in February 1904 he fled from a palace summons to the French embassy and to Egypt. Also in 1904 Imam Yahya, the hereditary ruler of Yemen, revolted again, and many Ottoman soldiers lost their lives fighting in Yemen until the situation was resolved in 1911. After graduating from the War Academy in January 1905 Mustafa Kemal organized a secret group called the Vatan (Fatherland Society), but it soon became known as Fatherland and Liberty.

The main issue that triggered resistance in the Ottoman empire was a new poll tax (Sahsi Vergi) on every person regardless of wealth. On December 9, 1905 about two thousand people in Sinob marched on the subgovernor’s office, and the local guild of wardens of Kastamonu petitioned the governor on January 6, 1906. Local guild members gathered at the post office and refused to leave until their petition was answered. The government banished the leaders to various provinces. The town of Diyar-i Bekir had complained about Governor Ibrahim in August and November 1905, and demonstrations began in Trabzon in October 1906 which forced him to leave office. After the post office was occupied again in November 1907, the Ottoman government sent in troops to end the demonstrations.

Young Turks founded the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) in 1906, and by the end of the year they had established seventeen branches that included groups in Cairo, Crete, Kizanlik in Bulgaria, and in the Caucasus and the Crimea. Also in 1906 Mehmed Talat formed the Ottoman Freedom Society (OFS) in Thessalonica, and they recruited members of the Third Army. The CUP established numerous chapters in major cities and towns throughout the Balkans, and in September 1907 the OFS began working with the CUP. Before the merger with the CUP the Ottoman Freedom Society had only one branch in Monastir founded by Major Enver Bey and Captain Kazim.

During the tax rebellion in Erzurum on February 27, 1906 a merchant was arrested for distributing revolutionary propaganda. Demonstrations began in March, and on the 25th an imperial decree abolished the new taxes; but by the end of the month they had blocked the streets and cut the military telegraph wire. The Grand Vizier sent a telegram, but 600 people signed a petition on April 30 to remove twelve local officials. The governor banished a revolutionary officer in September. When three more leaders were arrested in October, a crowd captured the governor and lynched two police commissioners. During a grain shortage a mob lynched two “profiteers” in September 1907. Mustafa Nuri was forced to resign, and Abdülvehab became governor on October 22. He conducted investigations and arrested about sixty people. Finally on November 25 Government forces arrived and tortured imprisoned revolutionaries to confess. On February 10, 1908 the Erzurum Criminal Court of Appeal sentenced eight to death, eighteen to life imprisonment, and the rest to several years.

On March 15, 1907 Hamdi, the provincial commander in Trabzon, was killed by Lt. Naci. In April the Armenian Dashnak leaders protested in Van with the Young Turks. In October food riots broke out in Aleppo. In November people were refusing to pay taxes in Aydin of western Anatolia, and in December the tax revolts spread in the Aegean region. On March 23, 1908 an Armenian informer named David was assassinated. Fighting broke out, but the rival CUP and League led by Sabahaddin joined together in solidarity.

Sabahaddin argued that the Turks and Armenians had a common cause against encroachments by the nomadic Kurds, and in April 1906 he had founded the journal Terakki (Progress) in Paris to promote social science, Ottoman friendship, Ottoman and Turkish rights, and organizations in various locations. Later he published his program for political reforms, and he urged dissidents in the provinces to form branches of the League of Private Initiative and Decentralization. His League tried to work with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) for joint action, and they formed a special committee with the CUP at the Second Congress of Ottoman Opposition Parties in December 1907 to coordinate various local actions that had erupted. The nonpayment of wages in the military was causing mutinies, and this spread to Istanbul in November 1907.

The Second Young Turk Congress met in Paris for three days in late December 1907. They planned to destroy the present administration and restore the constitutional government using revolutionary methods that included general rebellion with armed resistance, peaceful strikes, not paying taxes, and disseminating propaganda to win over the army. Ahmed Riza and Prince Sabahaddin agreed to this more violent program pushed by the Armenians, and the Congress unanimously decided to force Sultan Abdulhamid to abdicate, radically change the administration, and establish a government based on consultation and a constitution. The Armenians sought European intervention to bring about reforms that would protect them.

Ottoman Fall and Turkey 1908-1950


1. Uras, Tarihte Ermeniler, p. 295 quoted in A Shameful Act by Taner Akçam, p. 41.

Copyright © 2009-10 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book Mideast & Africa 1700-1950.
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Ottoman Empire 1600-1907
Ottoman Fall and Turkey 1908-1950
Persia (Iran) and Afghanistan 1600-1950
Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq 1600-1950
Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan 1600-1950
Palestine and Zionism 1600-1950
Egypt, Sudan, and Libya 1600-1950
Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco 1600-1950
West Africa and the French 1600-1950
West Africa and the British 1600-1950
Ethiopia and Somaliland 1600-1950
East Africa 1600-1950
Congo, Angola, and Mozambique 1600-1950
Southern Africa 1700-1950
Summary and Evaluation



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Chronology of Asia & Africa to 1800
Chronology of Asia & Africa 1800-1950
Mideast & Africa to 1950

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