The Last Sultan of Three Continents: A Review of the Period of Abdülhamid II – 1


Until quite recently, the discussion of the term of Sultan Abdülhamid II had not been made in order to examine the Padishah; these discussions had possessed  qualification of a history revenge that was emerged in the light of the Ottoman – the Republic conflict. In addition, last period of Ottoman history had been analyzed with a point of view and intellection of euro-centralist and modernization.[1] These ” Is Kızıl Sultan or Ulu Hakan? ” polarization, shaped in the shade of conflict which is between ‘Secular’ and ‘Islamist’ coteries, has become obsolete in academic area since last forty years. This article examines the period of Sultan Abdülhamid II by benefiting from some references which are belong to significant historians and experts, who has worked on this term academically to arrive the answer of this question: “Was this period decadence or splendour?”

  1. Historical Background of the Period of Sultan Abdülhamid II

     Sultan Mahmud II made various reforms that comprise a basis for modernization of Ottoman Empire; some of these reforms are the abolition of Janissary Corps, establishment of ‘Sublime Porte’ (Bab-ı Ali), which was the government of the state, instead of Imperial Council (Divan-ı Hümayun) and in addition to these many changes were made  in the area of education, journalism and social.[2] The importance of the reforms of Sultan Mahmud II and the point which divide the improvements of Mahmud II from other Sultans who also made some improvements is that other Sultans made reforms mainly on military, yet the improvements of Sultan Mahmud II almost surrounded whole of the field of the empire. Additionally, young people who grew up in new school system had a huge significance for the modernization of Ottoman Empire.

The modern period of Turkey was started properly with  1939 Tanzimat Edict by majority of historians[3]; because it formed a basis for constitutionalism in Ottoman. This edict, announced by Abdülmecid I, was formed in order to provide the support of European great powers in the Convention of London of 1840. Besides, preventing of minority rebellions was one of the reason of this Edict which made all the people equal without any ethnic or religious discrimination before the law. With this edict the authority of Sultan was restricted and the supremacy of the law was stated for the first time.[4] In 1956, after Crimean War, Grand Vizier (Prime-minister) Mehmed Emin Ali Pasha had The Reform Decree of 1856 (Islahat Fermanı) prepared and put into place in February 18 to provide supports European powers in the Treaty of Paris of 1956 and to attain same advantages with Tanzimat Edict. According to this edict non-muslim subjects gained various rights; besides this edict only brought an arrangement for non-muslim subjects and this situation caused a conflict between muslim and non-muslim subjects.

On the other hand, Ottoman Empire had different relations between great powers; British Empire had tried to maintain territorial integrity of Ottoman Empire to hinder Russian desire to gain access to the warm waters. Yet, after the Treaty of Berlin of 1978 British Empire gave up this policy and invaded Egypt in 1882.[5] In other respects, France that after Napoleon Bonaparte had tried to maintain territorial integrity of Ottomans until 1830; France revealed desisting from this policy by invading Algeria in 1830 and Tunisia in 1881. Russian and Austrian Empires had same wish that dominating Balkans. Additionally, Russian Empire wanted to establish hegemony among orthodox subjects that lived in Istanbul, Ottoman Empire.  Apart from all these, in Germany the central authority was constituted in 1871 and German Empire was established. German Empire has gotten along with Ottoman Empire after the Treaty of Berlin of 1878.






[1] Nadir Özbek, “Modernite, Tarih ve İdeoloji: II. Abdülhamid Dönemi Tarihçiliği Üzerine Bir Değerlendirme.” Türkiye Araştırmaları Literatür Dergisi 1 (2004): p. 71.

[2] Mehmet Karagöz, “Osmanlı Devletinde Islahat Haraketleri ve Batı Medeniyetine Giriş Gayretleri (1700-1838).” Osmanlı Tarihi Araştırma ve Uygulama Merkezi Dergisi 6 (1995): p. 193.

[3] For instance; Ahmad, Feroz. The Making of Modern Turkey. (London: Routledge, 1993). Zürcher, Eric Jan. Turkey: A Modern History, 3rd Edition. (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004). 78.

[4] ‘The Charter of Alliance’ (Sened-i İttifak) also restricted the authority of Sultan however this alliance could not be implement properly; Mahmud II was a mere spectator in the event of murder of Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, who formed The Charter of Alliance, committed by Janissaries and Sultan annihilated the alliance to restore central authority again when he obtained the power. For more extensive information: Shaw J.S., E.K. Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey,v.2. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) 2-3.

[5] According to Henry Kissinger who was 56th the U.S. Secretary  of State: “Great Britain’s support for Turkey in the 1870s ended abruptly when Gladstone, who regarded the Turks as morally reprehensible, defeated Disraeli in the election of 1880.” (Kissinger 1994, 101).

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Muhammed İsmail AKKAYA

IR (Researcher on Russia and Central Asia)

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