Abdul Hamid II: 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire

Abdul Hamid II: 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire


Abdul Hamid II, also known as Abdülhamid II, was the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, reigning from 21 September 1842 until 10 February 1918, and was the last Sultan to maintain effective authority disintegrating Empire. The Hamidian Era refers to the era during which he ruled the Ottoman Empire. He led for decline marked by rebellions (especially in the Balkans) and unsuccessful war with the Russian Empire (1877–1878), and victorious battle against the Kingdom of Greece in the year 1897. He broadcasted the first Ottoman Constitution of 1876 on 23 December 1876, following an agreement with the Republican Young Ottomans, a symbol of progressive thought that defined his early leadership. In 1878, however, he suspended both the constitution and the parliament, claiming disputes with the Ottoman Parliament. During his rule, the Ottoman Empire continued to modernize, with reforms to the bureaucracy, the extension of the Rumelia and Anatolia railways, and the building of the Baghdad and Hejaz railways. In addition, the first local modern law school was created in 1898, along with mechanisms for population registration and press control. Education changes were the most far-reaching: several professional schools were founded in law, arts, crafts, civil engineering, veterinary medicine, customs, farming, and languages. Although Istanbul University was closed in 1881, it was reopened in 1900, and a network of secondary, elementary, and military institutions was established across the Empire. German companies were instrumental in the development of the Empire's railway and telegraph networks. The Ottoman Empire became renowned under Abdul Hamid's rule for the killings of Armenians and Assyrians in 1894 and 1896 and the employment of the secret police to stifle opposition and the Young Turks movement. He was roundly chastised and condemned by large parts of the Ottoman intelligentsia. During Abdul Hamid's rule, many attempts on his life were undertaken. Among the several murder attempts against him, the Yıldız assassination attempt by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in 1905 is one of the most well-known. In 1908, the Young Turk Revolution and the Committee of Union and Progress compelled Abdul Hamid II to summon the parliament and reinstall the constitution. On 27 April 1909, he would be deposed in an incident known as the 31 March Incident.

Early Life

On 21 September 1842, Abdul Hamid II was born in either Çırağan Palace in Ortaköy or Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. Sultan Abdulmejid I and Tirimüjgan Kadn, formerly known as Virjinia, had a son. He eventually became the adopted son of his father's legal wife, Perestu Kadın, when his mother died. Perestu was considerably known as the adoptive mother of Abdul Hamid's half-sister Cemile Sultan, who had lost her mother, Düzdidil Kadn when she was two years old. They grew up in the same family and spent their early years together. Abdul Hamid II travelled to faraway lands, unlike many earlier Ottoman sultans. He joined his uncle Sultan Abdülaziz on tour to Paris (June 30 –10 July 1867), London (12–23 July 1867), Vienna (28–30 July 1867), and the capitals or cities of some other European nations in the summer of 1867, nine years before he assumed the throne. They left from Constantinople on 21 June 1867 and came back on 7 August 1867.

Accession to Ottoman throne

After his brother Murad was deposed in August 1876, Abdul Hamid succeeded to the throne. Some observers were taken aback as he rode almost unnoticed to the Eyüp Sultan Mosque, where he was presented with the Sword of Osman. Most people anticipated Abdul Hamid II to embrace liberal causes, but he ascended to the throne in 1876, during the Empire's most critical and challenging moment. The Ottoman Empire was challenged by economic and political upheaval, local Balkan conflicts, and the Russian-Ottoman war of 1877–1878.

1st Constitutional Era (From 1876 to 1878)

Abdul Hamid collaborated with the Young Ottomans on a constitutional arrangement. This new theoretical shape might aid in the realization of a liberal transition with Islamic reasons. The Young Ottomans thought that the current parliamentary system was a continuation of the early Islamic tradition of consultation or shura. Abdul Hamid broadcasted the constitution and its parliament on 23 December 1876, responding to the 1875 insurgency in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the war with Serbia and Montenegro, and the outrage sparked across Europe by the brutality employed to suppress the Bulgarian revolt. The adoption of a constitution surprised the international Constantinople Conference in late 1876, but European powers at the conference rejected it as a significant change; they preferred the 1856 constitution, the Islâhat Hatt-ı Hümâyûnu, and the 1839 Hatt-ı Şerif of Gülhane, but questioned whether a parliament to act as an official voice of the people was necessary. In any case, it proved to be almost impossible, as with many previous attempted reforms of the Ottoman Empire. Russia's war preparations proceeded. The Ottoman Empire declared war on the Russian Empire in early 1877.

War of 93

With the Russian declaration of war on 24 April 1877, Abdul Hamid's greatest dread, approaching disintegration, was fulfilled. The Ottoman Empire fought without the assistance of European allies in that battle. By that time, Russian chancellor Prince Gorchakov had essentially bought Austrian neutrality through the Reichstadt Agreement. Despite continuing to be concerned about the Russian danger to the British presence in India, the British Empire chose to stay out of the fight due to popular opinion against the Ottomans following stories of Ottoman brutality in suppressing the Bulgarian revolt. The Russian triumph was swiftly realized, and the war was declared over in February 1878. The Ottoman Empire awarded independence to Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro; provided autonomy to Bulgaria; implemented reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina; and surrendered portions of Dobrudzha to Romania and parts of Armenia to Russia, which was also given a large indemnity. Abdul Hamid adjourned the constitution in February 1878 and dissolved the parliament after its sole assembly in March 1877, following the war with Russia. Abdulhamid governed the Ottoman Empire from Yıldız Palace for the following three decades. The Treaty of San Stefano substantially strengthened Russia's power in South-Eastern Europe by allowing it to rule newly independent republics. At the request of the Significant Powers (notably the United Kingdom), the pact was later altered in the Berlin Congress to reduce Russia's significant advantages. Cyprus was surrendered to Britain in 1878 in exchange for these privileges. Egypt experienced problems, with a discredited khedive having to be ousted. Due to Abdul Hamid's mishandling of ties with Urabi Pasha, Britain seized de facto control of Egypt and Sudan by dispatching soldiers to the two provinces in 1882. Cyprus, Egypt, and Sudan were theoretically Ottoman provinces until 1914 when Britain formally seized the lands in retaliation to Ottoman support for the Central Powers in World War I.

Hamidian Era


Abdul Hamid's mistrust of the Ottoman Navy's reformist admirals (whom he suspected of plotting against him and attempting to reinstate the 1876 constitution) and his subsequent decision to lock the Ottoman fleet (which had been the world's third-largest fleet during his predecessor Abdülaziz's reign) inside the Golden Horn resulted in the loss of Ottoman overseas territories and islands. Due to financial difficulties, he was obliged to accept foreign management of the Ottoman national debt. Bulgaria's unification with Eastern Rumelia in 1885 dealt another blow to the Empire. The Ottoman Empire saw the development of an autonomous and powerful Bulgaria as a significant danger. Abdul Hamid had to deal with Bulgaria for several years not to offend either Russian or German interests. There were also important issues with the Albanian question arising from the Prizren Albanian League and the Greek and Montenegrin boundaries. The European powers were adamant that the Berlin Congress's conclusions be implemented. Crete was granted 'expanded rights,' but the populace, which desired unification with Greece, remained unsatisfied. In first half of 1897, a Greek expedition sailed to Crete intending to overthrow Ottoman authority. This was intensively followed by a war in which the Ottoman Empire conquered Greece; nevertheless, the Treaty of Constantinople, the United Kingdom, France, and Russia took over Crete as an en depot. Crete was practically surrendered to the Ottoman Empire when Prince George of Greece was installed as king. The Ammiyya, an uprising by Druze and other Syrians in 1889 to 90 against local sheikhs' abuses, resulted in submission to the rebels' demands and concessions to Belgian and French firms to build a railroad between Beirut and Damascus. This was intensively followed by a war in which the Ottoman Empire conquered Greece.

Nevertheless, the Treaty of Constantinople, the United Kingdom, France, and Russia took over Crete as an en depot. Crete was practically surrendered to the Ottoman Empire when Prince George of Greece was installed as king. The Ammiyya, an uprising by Druze and other Syrians in 1889 to 90 against local sheikhs' abuses, resulted in submission to the rebels' demands and concessions to Belgian and French firms to build a railroad between Beirut and Damascus.

Political Decisions and Reforms

Most people anticipated Abdul Hamid II to have liberal ideas, while some conservatives viewed him as a dangerous reformer. Despite working with the reformist Young Ottomans as a crown prince and presenting himself as a liberal leader, he turned more reactionary after assuming the throne. Abdul Hamid succeeded in lowering his ministers to secretaries through a procedure known as stibdad, and he consolidated most of the Empire's administration into his own hands at Yıldız Palace. The 1875 insurgency in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the war with Serbia and Montenegro, the outcome of the Ninety-Three War, and the feeling aroused throughout Europe by the Abdul Hamid government in stamping out the Bulgarian rebellion all contributed to his apprehension for enacting significant changes. His educational efforts culminated in the founding of 18 professional schools and Darulfunun, which is today known as Istanbul University, in 1900. In addition, he established a vast network of secondary, elementary, and military schools around the Empire. For 12 years (1882–1894), 51 secondary schools were built. Because the objective of the Hamidian educational reforms was to oppose foreign influence, these secondary schools used European teaching techniques while instilling a strong sense of Ottoman identity and Islamic morality in pupils. In addition, Abdul Hamid restructured the Ministry of Justice and constructed rail and telegraph networks. The telegraph system was expanded to include the Empire's furthest reaches. By 1883, railways had connected Constantinople and Vienna, and the Orient Express had linked Paris and Constantinople. During his reign, the Ottoman Empire's railway network connected Ottoman-controlled Europe and Anatolia with Constantinople. Constantinople's influence over the rest of the Ottoman Empire was strengthened by the greater capacity to travel and communicate.

Abdul Hamid made precautions to ensure his safety. He was reminded of Abdülaziz's deposition, which convinced him that a constitutional government was not a desirable idea. As a result, information was strictly regulated, and the press was severely restricted. There existed secret police (Umur-u Hafiye) and a network of informants throughout the Empire. Many politicians from the Second Constitutional Era and the future Turkish Republic were arrested and exiled. To avoid contention, the curriculum of schools was closely scrutinized. Ironically, Abdul Hamid's schools and attempted to regulate became "breeding grounds of dissatisfaction" as students and instructors alike grumbled about the censors' inept limitations.

Armenian Question

Around 1890, Armenians began to press to execute the changes promised to them at the Berlin conference. To avoid such measures, Sultan Abdul Hamid granted Kurdish bandits semi-official authority in 1890 to 91, who were already aggressively mistreating Armenians in the regions. They were known as the Hamidiye Alaylari because they were made up of Kurds (as well as other ethnic groups such as Turcomans) and were equipped by the state ("Hamidian Regiments"). The Hamidiye and Kurdish brigands were allowed carte blanche to assault Armenians, seizing grain, supplies, and animals while evading punishment because they were only subjected to court-martial. The Armenians formed revolutionary groups in response to the bloodshed, including the Social Democrat Hunchakian Party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Clashes and disturbances broke out in Merzifon and Tokat in 1892 and 1893, respectively. Abdul Hamid II did not hesitate to use extreme tactics to suppress these uprisings, relying on local Muslims (mostly Kurds) to fight the Armenians. The Hamidian massacres resulted in the deaths of 300,000 Armenians as a result of this brutality. The killings in Armenia were extensively publicized in Europe and the United States, prompting significant reactions from international governments and humanitarian organizations. In the West, Abdul Hamid II was known as the "Bloody Sultan" or "Red Sultan." The Armenian Revolutionary Federation attempted to murder him with a vehicle bombing at a public appearance on 21 July 1905. Still, the Sultan was delayed for a minute, and the bomb went off prematurely, killing 26, injuring 58, and damaging 17 automobiles, Specifically cars. The western European countries took a more hands-on approach with the Turks due to the ongoing aggressiveness and the handling of the Armenian demand for reforms.

America and Philippines

At the commencement of the Moro Rebellion, Sultan Abdul Hamid II wrote a letter to the Moros of the Sulu Sultanate, asking them not to oppose American control and to collaborate with the Americans after being approached by Oscar Straus, the American envoy to Turkey. The Sulu Moros obeyed the command. In the year of 1898, American Secretary of State John Hay asked Straus to approach Sultan Abdul Hamid II of the Sulu Sultanate in the Philippines and request that the Sultan (who was also Caliph) write a letter to the Moro Sulu Muslims of the Sulu Sultanate, telling them to submit to American suzerainty and military rule. The Sultan complied and drafted the letter delivered to Sulu via Mecca by two Sulu leaders. It was effective because the "Sulu Mohammedans declined to join the insurrectionists and had put themselves under our army's authority, therefore acknowledging American sovereignty." When the Sulu Sultan fell under American rule, the Ottoman Sultan used his status as Caliph to instruct the Sulu Sultan not to oppose or battle the Americans. Because the agreement with the Sultan of Sulu was not submitted to the Senate until December 1899, President McKinley did not acknowledge Turkey's participation in the pacification of the Sulu Moros in his speech to the first session of the Fifty-sixth Congress in December 1899. Despite Sultan Abdul Hamid's "pan-Islamic" philosophy, he quickly agreed to aid Straus in persuading the Sulu Muslims not to resist America because he did not want to generate conflicts between Muslims and the West. The Sulu Sultan was convinced by the Ottoman Sultan, which led to collaboration between the American military and the Sulu Sultanate. The Americans sought Abdul Hamid in his capacity as Caliph to assist them in dealing with Muslims during their battle in the Philippines. The Muslim inhabitants of the region heeded Abdul Hamid's instruction to help the Americans. The Bates Agreement, which the Americans had signed with the Moro Sulu Sultanate and which definite the Sultanate's sovereignty in its internal affairs and governance. It was then violated by the Americans, who invaded Moroland, resulting in the Moro Rebellion in 1904, with war raging between the Americans and Moro Muslims and atrocities committed against Moro Muslim women and children, such as the enslavement of Moro Muslim women and children.

Support of Germany

The United Kingdom, France, and Russia, known as the Triple Entente, had tense ties with the Ottoman Empire. Abdul Hamid and his close advisers thought that these powerful nations should treat the Empire equally. According to the Sultan, the Ottoman Empire was a European empire distinguished by more Muslims than Christians. Abdul Hamid gravitated towards Germany due to unfriendly diplomatic attitudes from France (the conquest of Tunisia in 1881) and the United Kingdom (the installation of de facto authority in Egypt in 1882). Abdul Hamid hosted Kaiser Wilhelm II in Constantinople twice: the first time on 21 October 1889 and the second time on 5 October 1898. German officers oversaw the Ottoman army's structure (Baron von der Goltz and Bodo-Borries von Ditfurth). To restructure the Ottoman Empire's finances, German government personnel were brought in.

Furthermore, the German Emperor was said to have advised Hamid II on his contentious choice to name his third son as his heir. The friendship between Germany and the United States was not spontaneous; it had to be cultivated via railroad and loan concessions. The building of a Berlin-Baghdad railway, which had been a long-held German dream, was finally realized in 1899. When Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II ran into difficulties with Chinese Muslim forces, he turned to the Sultan for assistance. The Chinese Muslim Kansu Braves fought counter to the German Army during the Boxer Rebellion, defeating them with the other Eight-Nation Alliance soldiers. During the Seymour Expedition in the year 1900, the Muslim Kansu Braves and Boxers defeated the Alliance troops headed by German Captain von Usedom in the Battle of Langfang and besieged the trapped Alliance soldiers during the Siege of the International Legations. The Alliance soldiers barely made it through the Gasalee Expedition on their second attempt to confront the Chinese Muslim armies in the Battle of Peking. The Chinese Muslim warriors frightened Kaiser Wilhelm so much that he asked Abdul Hamid to find a method to stop them from fighting. In 1901, Abdul Hamid consented to the Kaiser's demands and dispatched Enver Pasha to China, but the insurrection had already ended. The Ottoman Khalifa issued an order imploring Chinese Muslims to avoid assisting the Boxers, reprinted in Egyptian and Muslim Indian newspapers. The Ottomans did not want conflict with European nations. The Ottoman Kingdom was ingratiating itself to gain German assistance, so the Ottoman Khalifa issued an order imploring Chinese Muslims to avoid assisting the Boxers reprinted in Egyptian and Muslim Indian newspapers.

Young Turk Revolution

The national humiliation of the Macedonian struggle and army hatred of royal spies and informers finally brought everything ahead. In 1908, the Commission of Union and Progress, a Young Turk group with particular clout among Rumelian army troops, launched the Young Turk Revolution. When Abdul Hamid learned that the soldiers in Salonica were advancing on Istanbul (on 23 July), he immediately surrendered. On 24 July, an irade proclaimed the reinstatement of the 1876 constitution, which had been suspended; the next day, other irades abolished spying and censorship and ordered the release of political prisoners. Finally, on 17 December, Abdul Hamid gave a speech from the throne opening the Ottoman parliament, saying that the first parliament had been "temporarily disbanded until the people's education had been raised to a suitably high level through the expansion of teaching; across the empire."


The Sultan's new attitude did not prevent him from being accused of colluding with the state's powerful reactionary elements, a suspicion confirmed by his reaction to the counter-revolution of 13 April 1909, known as the 31 March Incident, when a soldier insurgency significantly backed by a conservative upheaval in numerous parts of the military in the capital overthrew the new Young Turks' czar. As a result, Abdul Hamid was deposed by the government, which soldiers reinstated from Salonica, and his half-brother Reshad Efendi was declared Sultan Mehmed V on 27 April. In the Adana province, the Sultan's countercoup, which had appealed to hardline Islamists against the Young Turks' liberal reforms, culminated in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Christian Armenians.

Post Deposition

At Salonica, the ex-sultan was taken prisoner (now known as Thessaloniki). He was returned to prison in Constantinople in 1912 after Salonica surrendered to Greece. In the presence of his wife and children, he spent his final days learning, practising carpentry, and writing his memoirs in detention at Beylerbeyi Palace on the Bosphorus, where he died on 10 February 1918, just a few months before his brother, Sultan Mehmed V. He was laid to rest in Istanbul. Following a five-year legal battle, his nine widows and thirteen children were awarded US$50 million from his inheritance in the year 1930. His estate was estimated to be worth about $1.5 billion. Thus, Abdul Hamid was the Ottoman Empire's final Sultan to rule with total power. He oversaw more than 33 years of decline, during which the Empire was dubbed the "sick man of Europe" by neighbouring European nations.

Pan - Islamism

Abdul Hamid thought that Tanzimat's ideals, such as Ottomanism, would not unite the Empire's diverse peoples. He developed a new doctrinal premise, Pan-Islamism, to promote the idea that Ottoman sultans had been technically Caliphs since 1517, and he highlighted the Ottoman Caliphate. He recognized the Ottoman Empire's wide ethnic variety and thought that Islam was the only way to bring his Muslim people together. He promoted Pan-Islamism by urging Muslims living under European rule to form a single government. This posed a danger to numerous European countries, including Austria via Albanian Muslims, Russia via Tatars and Kurds, France via Moroccan Muslims, and the United Kingdom via Indian Muslims. Foreigners' rights in the Ottoman Empire were limited, as they impeded good governance. He eventually gave funding to begin building the strategically vital Constantinople-Baghdad Railway and the Constantinople-Medina Railway near the conclusion of his reign, making the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca more efficient. The Young Turks expedited and finished the building of both lines after he was ousted. Missionaries were dispatched to far-flung corners of the globe to teach Islam and the Caliph's rule. Abdul Hamid turned rejected Theodor Herzl's offer to pay off a large amount of the Ottoman debt (150 million pounds sterling in gold) in return for a charter permitting Zionists to settle in Palestine during his reign. "As long as I am alive," he famously told Herzl's Emissary, "I will not have our body split; only our corpse can be divided." Pan-Islamism has been an enormous success. Following the Ottoman triumph in the Greco-Ottoman conflict, many Muslims rejoiced and regarded the Ottoman victory as a victory for Muslims. After the war, Muslim territories had uprisings, lockouts, and newspaper protests against European imperialism. Due to considerable discontent inside the Empire, Abdul Hamid's appeals to Muslim sympathy were unsuccessful. The disturbance was widespread in Mesopotamia and Yemen; closer to home, only a system of deflation and surveillance could preserve a semblance of allegiance in the Army and among the Muslim people.

Personal Life

Abdul Hamid II was a talented carpenter who handcrafted some fine furniture, which can still be seen at Istanbul's Yıldız Palace, Şale Köşkü, and Beylerbeyi Palaces. He was also a fan of opera, and he was the first person to translate several opera classics into Turkish. He also composed opera pieces for the Mızıka-yı Hümâyun (Ottoman Imperial Band/Orchestra, founded by his grandfather Mahmud II, who appointed Donizetti Pasha as its Instructor General in 1828) and hosted famous European performers at the Yldz Palace Opera House, which was further restored in the year of 1990s and featured in the 1999 renowned film Harem Suare (the film starts with the scene of Abdul Hamid II watching a performance). He was also a big lover of Sarah Bernhardt, and he invited her to his private theatre several times. He was also a great wrestler for Yağlı güreş and the wrestlers' 'patron saint.' Wrestling competitions were held across the Empire, and selected wrestlers were invited to the palace. Abdul Hamid personally tested the athletes, and the best was kept in the castle.


Sultan Abdul Hamid II was a devout follower of Islam's traditional mysticism. Before becoming Sultan, he was influenced by Libyan Shadhili Madani Sheikh Muhammad Zafir al-Madani, whose teachings he would attend in incognito at Unkapani. After assuming the throne, Abdul Hamid II requested that Sheikh al-Madani returns to Istanbul. In the anew commissioned Yıldız Hamidiye Mosque, the sheikh began Shadhili recollection (dhikr) meetings; on Thursday evenings, he would assist Sufi masters in reciting dhikr. He also became the Sultan's close religious and political confidant. In 1879, the Sultan exempted all Madani Sufi lodges in the Caliphate from paying taxes (also known as zawiyas and tekkes). He even built a Sufi lodge in Istanbul for the Madani order of Shadhili Sufism, which he commissioned as part of the Ertuğrul Tekke mosque in 1888. The Sultan and the sheikh had a thirty-year connection until the latter died in 1903. 


F. A. K. Yasamee believes that: "He was a fascinating mix of resolve and trepidation, insight and imagination, kept together by extreme practical prudence and an instinct for power's basics. He was usually overlooked. He was a powerful domestic politician and an effective diplomat, according to his record."

In Popular Culture

  • Abdul the Damned (1935) depicts the Sultan towards the conclusion of his life.
  • Payitaht Abdulhamid, often known as 'The Last Emperor,' is a Turkish historical television drama series that depicts the last 13 years of Abdul Hamid II's reign.

Last updated: 2021-October-26
Tags: Ottoman Empire
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