The Last Sultan of Three Continents: A Review of the Period of Abdülhamid II – 2

  1. Situation of Ottoman Empire in 1870s and The Enthronement of Abdülhamid II

     After the Treaty of Paris of 1856, Russian Empire increased the tension between Ottoman Empire by provoking Balkan nations against Ottomans and overleaping ‘Objectivity of Black Sea’ article, one of the article of 1856 Treaty, on several occasions. On the other side, there was a catastrophic famine in Anatolia because of ‘Great Depression’ in Europe in 1873; as a result of this depression Ottoman Empire has experienced difficulty economically and also this situation occasioned some social rebellions in the period of Sultan Abdülaziz. In consequence of this economic crisis, Ottoman Empire boosted tax receipts in whole of the empire and this case caused insurrections in Balkans, that had not been influenced from crisis, in April 1876.[1] In addition, Young Ottomans, who were against the period of Tanzimat had spreading idea of new regime; Namık Kemal and Ziya Pasha supported constitution and parliament for Ottoman Empire to be saved from crisis in 1860s and 1870s and this idea had a broad repercussion in the Empire.[2]

In December 1976, the leader of Community of Young Ottomans Midhat Pasha, also he was the pasha who suppressed the Bulgarian rebellion, became prime-minister. A group that be lead by Midhat Pasha and the Minister of War Hüseyin Avni Pasha by taking a fetwa from Şeyhülislam Hayrullah Efendi and by showing the problems mentioned above staged 30 March 1976 Coup and Sultan Abdülaziz was dethroned. Since, Abdülaziz did not tend to proclamation of constitutionalism; after that Murad V who was the following Sultan from Abdülaziz also was dethroned because of his health problems. In 31 August 1876, Abdülhamid II ascended the throne as 34th Sultan of Ottoman Empire and 113th Caliph of Islamic World.

  1. The First Constitutional Era and First Years of New Sultan

When Abdülhamid II became Sultan, the empire has been passing the most depressed time ever. The rebellions of Bulgarians and Bosnia-Herzegovina which started in the term of Abdülaziz passed to Serbia and Montenegro. Russian Empire that incited and supported these rebellions has been watching for an opportunity to solve “the Eastern Question”[3]. The rebellions could not be squashed because of inability of financial means. In last years of Abdülaziz, Mahmud Nedim Pasha had expressed that the external debt could not be discharged and this circumstance had caused big reactions in Europe; as a result of this situation, the demand of economic aid was impossible in first years of Sultan Abdülhamid II. Public opinion of Europe was arguing against Ottoman Empire.[4]

Abdülhamid II ascended the throne by compromising with Midhat Pasha and his friends who wanted to establish a constitutional government and dethroned Abdülaziz and Murad V because of this aim. In 23 December 1876, Kanun-i Esasi, the first constitution of Ottoman Empire, was declared when Great Powers of Europe came to Istanbul to discuss the Eastern Question. In this Conference, European Empires presented an offer, which has some article that put in jeopardy independence of Ottoman Empire, to Bab-ı Ali. This offer was discussed and denied with unanimity in Meclis-i Umumi (General Assembly of Ottoman Empire)[5] that was convened by the order of the Sultan in 18 January 1877. In addition, Prime-minister Midhat Pasha was dismissed and exiled by Sultan because of bad rumor about him in 5 February 1877.[6]

Although Midhat Pasha who was architect of Kanun-i Esasi was exiled, Abdülhamid II did not dispense with constitutional government; accordingly the constitution the elections have been made in three months and Abdülhamid II opened the assembly in 19 March 1877. The assembly was composed of sixty eight muslim and forty eight non-muslim deputies.[7]

British Empire and Russian Empire rallied in Britain, signed the London Protocol in 31 March 1877 and introduced into Bab-ı Ali. Yet, the Ottoman Assembly did not accept again due to same reasons. Therefore, Russian Empire declared war formally against Ottoman Empire in 24 April 1877; also Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria took sides with Russia. Russian army was better than Ottoman army in terms of quality and quantity; nevertheless Gazi Osman Pasha and Gazi Ahmed Muhtar Pasha were successful exceptional in west and east. These two pashas could hinder Russian Empire only for a while.

In the meantime, the assembly, that was sole decision making body for the war, was ruled by chaos. First assembly became a place which nation groups compete instead of a place that parties compete, every deputies interested only own nation’s problems.[8]

Furthermore, Astarcılar Kethüdası Ahmet Efendi disrespected to Abdülhamid II by accusing the Sultan with an unusual wording[9]; this was the last straw. Sultan Abdülhamid II suspended the assembly indefinitely by using the power vested in by Kanun-i Esasi. Also, important statesman, as Ahmet Cevdet Pasha, supported the Sultan in the matter of suspending the assembly (Berkes 2002, 227).[10] But, Sultan did not make a statement as the constitutionalism and the constitution was abandoned; on the contrary Abdülhamid II has often referred the existence of these institutes annuals of formal government.[11]

On the other part, Russian army could not be stopped by Ottoman army and Russian military units that were in Balkans came to Yeşilköy located ten kilometers from capital İstanbul. In 3 March 1878, Ottoman Empire concluded the Treaty of San Stefano with Russian. However, Britain Empire did not accept this treaty on account of the fact that this treaty violated  the Treaty of Paris of 1856; Britain, by taking supports of German and Austria Empires, brought Berlin Conference to pass. British was in search of providing security of the Suez Canal that was opened in 1869 and by making use of situation took Cyprus which has strategic significance in Mediterranean from Ottoman Empire by giving promise of protecting Ottoman’s interests in Berlin Conference (Ayaz 2015, 82)[12]; Bab-ı Ali accepted this treaty. In 13 June 1878, Berlin Treaty that caused big land loss, especially in Balkans, was signed. Besides, administration of Bosnia-Herzegovina was given to Austria-Hungary Empire in 1878, France invaded Tunisia in 1881, after one year Britain Empire appropriated to Egypt and in 1885 Bulgaria invaded land of Eastern Rumelia. There was almost no responsibility of Abdülhamid II[13]; because, the empire had been ruled by Bab-ı Ali since Tanzimat Edict. However, Sultan Abdülhamid II was not trust Bab-ı Ali because of  these failures and Sultan started to monopolize the administration of empire in Yıldız Palace gradually by taking supports of some significant and trustworthy statesman as Gazi Osman Pasha and Cevdet Pasha.


[1] Eric Jan Zürcher, Turkey: A Modern History, 3rd Edition, (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004), p. 72.

[2] “Namık Kemal and Ziya Pasha vehemently criticized westernization as inspired or imposed from outside with shattering effects on the traditional socio-economic set-up as well as on the traditional value system. They identified westernization with bureaucratic despotism, and thus expressed popular reaction to the government—the masses seeing in westernization the ruin of traditional crafts, unemployment and the concomitant erosion of the Islamic system of traditions and values.” (İnalcık 1998, 4). This chapter shows that Young Ottomans movement had an anxiety for future of Islam and tradition. Moreover this ideological movement, which really influenced opponent of polity Abdülhamid II who are Young Turks, is accepted one of the tajdid (renewal) movement. For more extensive information: Güler, İlhami. Dine Yeni Yaklaşımlar. Edited by Hasan Onat. (Eskişehir: Anadolu Üniversitesi, 2005) p. 92. and İnalcık, Halil. “Turkey Between Europe and the Middle East.” Journal of International Affairs 3 (1998): 3-5.

[3] For more information: Küçük, Cevdet. “Şark Meselesi Hakkında Önemli Bir Vesika.” Tarih Journal 32 (1979): 607-638.

[4] Cevdet Küçük, “II. Abdülhamid”. TDV İslam Ansiklopedisi (DİA), I (1988): 217.

[5] This assembly was composed of military, judiciary and civil members of the government and non-muslim spiritual leader.

[6] Yavuz Özgüldür and Serdar Özgüldür, “1876 Anayası’nın Hazırlanmasında Mithat Paşa’nın Rolü ve Fonksiyonu.” Osmanlı Tarihi Araştırma ve Uygulama Merkezi Dergisi 5 (1994): p. 344.

[7] Sina Akşin, “Birinci Meşrutiyet Meclis-i Mebusan.” Ankara Üniversitesi SBF Dergisi 25 (1970): p. 21.

[8] Küçük, “II. Abdülhamid,” p. 218.

[9] In order to reach more information about the event: Oğuz, Ahmet. “Türk Demokrasi Tarihinde Muhalefet Geleneğinin Oluşması Açısından Sultan II. Abdülhamid ve Dönemi.” Nevsehir University Journal of Social Sciences 2 (2013): 113-114.

[10] Niyazi Berkes, Türkiye’de Çağdaşlaşma. (İstanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2002), p. 227.

[11] Küçük, “II. Abdülhamid,” p. 218.

[12] Erhan Ayaz, “6-7 Eylül Olaylarının Türk Gazetelerindeki Yansılamaları.” Social Science 2 (2015):  p. 82.

[13] Küçük, “II. Abdülhamid,” p. 218.

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Muhammed İsmail AKKAYA

IR (Researcher on Russia and Central Asia)

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