Second Constitutional Era of the Ottoman Empire

Second Constitutional Era of the Ottoman Empire


During the Ottoman Empire's last years, between the 1908 Young Turk Revolution and the dissolution of the General Assembly in 1920, the Second Constitutional Era was a time of restored parliamentary governance. The Young Turks, an underground organization of reformists, calling for the restoration of constitutional monarchy, opposed Sultan Abdulhamid II's absolutist reign. In the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, a group among the Young Turks known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) persuaded Abdulhamid II to reinstate the liberal Constitution of 1876 and the Ottoman parliament. Abdul Hamid had already suspended the Parliament and Constitution, which had barely been in place for two years. Unlike the brief First Constitutional Era, which lacked political parties, the second era began with unprecedented political plurality and publicly fought elections inside the Empire. As opposition parties sought to challenge the CUP's control and more authoritarian tendencies, the era was characterized by political instability. During the 31 March Incident, a reactionary revolt started by a mutiny among Istanbul's garrison soldiers; the CUP was momentarily banished from the city. Abdulhamid II was overthrown following the crisis, and his brother Mehmed V was named Sultan. The second-largest party, the Freedom and Accord Party, remained embroiled in a power struggle with the CUP. Its military branch staged a successful coup in July 1912, after electoral fraud by the CUP in the 1912 general election. Next, a coup the following year, the CUP seized control and crushed other opposition groups, essentially establishing a one-party dictatorship led by the "Three Pashas," Enver Pasha, Talaat Pasha and Cemal Pasha.

The Empire was in a continuous state of crisis as it lost territory after territory: Bulgaria proclaimed independence, Austria-Hungary seized Bosnia, and ethnic strife in Ottoman Macedonia raged. When the Balkan League overran Rumelia in 1912, the Empire lost the great bulk of its remaining European territory after Italy attacked Ottoman Tripolitania in 1911. The Ottoman Empire had participated in World War I in 1914. The increasingly radicalized CUP carried out ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Empire's Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek populations, an event dubbed the Late Ottoman genocides. The CUP leadership went to exile after the Ottoman capitulation in 1918, and the Allies captured Constantinople. By accepting the Amasya Protocol with Turkish revolutionaries in Ankara and consenting to a Misak-ı Millî, the Ottoman parliament enraged the Allies (National Pact). The Allies forced the assembly's dissolution as plans for the division of the Ottoman Empire proceeded following the Conference of London, putting the Second Constitutional Era to a close. During Turkey's War for Independence, several MPs became members of the Grand National Assembly and then continued their careers in the Republic.



The popularization of notions like nationalism and nation-states resulting from the French Revolution and Napoleonic conflicts made it increasingly difficult for multi-cultural nations and empires to look legitimate to minority ethnic groups. The Ottoman Empire was not immune to this tide of nationalism, and its Christian subjects would begin to desire complete independence in particular. As a result of these aspirations for freedom by Christians who did not identify with Ottoman authority, the Empire's formerly diversified culture would be turned upside down, resulting in cycles of bloodshed and distrust amongst neighbours. The Tanzimat reforms (1839-1876) were attempted to modernize the Ottoman Empire and establish a coherent Ottoman national identity focused on national pride in the House of Osman rather than in an ethnoreligious group to overcome the Empire's numerous issues. Another issue the Empire faced was that its Christian subjects made substantial economic progress compared to their Muslim counterparts thanks to external assistance from European powers, which Muslims were denied.

As a result, centralization and economic nationalism were essential goals of Ottomanism and Tanzimat, not only to establish equality under the law by bringing previously autonomous sections of society together, such as abolishing the outdated Millet system but also to empower the government to redistribute wealth and opportunity to its Muslim subjects. At the height of the Ottoman Empire's reform phase, Abdulhamid II rose to the throne in 1876. One of his first acts as Sultan was introducing a constitution, converting the Ottoman Empire into a constitutional monarchy and thereby beginning the Empire's first brief experience with democracy: the First Constitutional Era. Following criticism of his management of the war in the aftermath of the Russian invasion in 1877-1878, Abdulhamid invoked his constitutional right as Sultan to suspend Parliament and the Constitution. Instead, he ruled as an autocrat (istibdâd in the eyes of his contemporaries, albeit a few years into the new government, many-voiced longings for his old-fashioned tyranny), emphasizing the Empire's Islamic nature and his status as Caliph. The war with Russia in 1877-78 was painful for many in the Empire. The Russian Army came close to capturing Constantinople, and many Balkan Muslims were expelled and massacred throughout the battle. The Treaty of Berlin in 1878 established the independence of several Balkan countries as well as the loss of the Caucasian vilayets. When the Ottoman Empire declared bankruptcy in 1881, the Ottoman economy was taken over by the Ottoman Public Debt Administration, a European-controlled agency tasked with managing the Empire's finances. Though the Hamidian dictatorship was justified to keep the Empire from collapsing, many saw Abdulhamid as hypocritical for submitting to foreign pressure by giving sovereignty, territory, and the economy to western powers. The combination of European control over Ottoman finances and Ottoman Christian dominance of the Ottoman economy resulted in widespread anti-Christian bigotry among Ottoman Muslims. Following the Hamidian massecres (1894-1896), Ottoman Christians, particularly Ottoman Armenians, began to feel increasingly uncomfortable in their position as Ottoman subjects and began demanding autonomy from the government. The Young Turks movement arose as a loose alliance of empire forces instead of Sultan Abdulhamid II's absolutism. They claimed that codifying secular law in the Ottoman Empire would strengthen Ottoman nationalism and avoid ethnic strife, allowing the Empire to retain its last Balkan lands.

Young Turk Revolution in 1908

The Young Turk Revolution began in Macedonia with a small insurgency of followers of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) and rapidly spread throughout the Empire. Sultan Abdulhamid II, unable to reclaim control of the province, declared the reinstatement of the 1876 constitution and called a new session of Parliament on 23 July 1908. The Palace (Abdulhamid), the Sublime Porte, and the CUP, whose Central Committee was still located in Salonica and now constituted a significant deep state group, shared power informally after the revolution. The restored Ottoman Parliament had two chambers, as in 1876: a Senate (upper house) and a Chamber of Deputies (lower house). However, the Chamber of Deputies was being elected and governed by the people, with one member elected for every 50,000 men above 25 years old who paid taxes.

On the other hand, senators were appointed for life by the Sultan, had to be above 40 years old, and could not make up more than a third of the Chamber of Deputies' membership. Moreover, every four years, general elections were to be held. On the other hand, the general public did not vote directly for the Deputy he wanted to represent him in Parliament. Instead, registered voters in each of the 15 electoral districts had the right to elect delegates in the proportion of one representative for every 500 voters. These delegates (elected Administrative Councils) had the fundamental ability to pick the Chamber's members. Furthermore, these delegates in the elected Administrative Councils were charged with the administration of areas. As a result, these Councils were elected and acted as a local government and an electoral college in the provinces and districts.

Initial Reopening from 1908 to 1909

Most Young Turk organizations, including the CUP, became political parties once the Constitution and Parliament were restored. However, in the absence of this unifying force, the CUP and the revolution began to split, and several groups emerged after achieving the aim of restoring the Constitution. The Liberty (Ahrar) Party was formed by the Liberal Young Turk faction led by Prince Sabahaddin and was later renamed the Freedom and Entente Party in 1911. The Liberty Party was more liberal, had a considerable British influence, and was closer to the Palace. Despite working together with the Liberals, the CUP and the Liberals had quite different aims. Liberals supported administrative decentralization and European reform aid, as well as industrialization. The Ottoman Democratic Party was formed in February 1909 by Ibrahim Temo and Abdullah Cevdet, two of the CUP's initial founders. Returning to the capital from exile in Paris, Ahmet Rza was elected president of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower Chamber of Parliament, and gradually distanced himself from the CUP as it became more extreme. The former MPs (those competent to serve) who had convened 33 years earlier suddenly found themselves representing the people again when the Sultan announced that he had never formally disbanded the first Ottoman Parliament. After the revolution, the Parliament met for a brief and symbolic session. They were only given one task: to convene a fresh election. In the 1908 election, 142 Turks, 60 Arabs, 25 Albanians, 23 Greeks, 12 Armenians (including four Dashnaks and two Hunchaks), 5 Jews, 3 Serbs, 4 Bulgarians, and 1 Vlach were elected to the new Parliament. With just 60 of the 275 members in the Parliament, the CUP became the largest party. Despite the Liberty Party's best efforts, the CUP, the revolution's central driving force, was able to take the upper hand.

Hüseyin Hilmi Pasha, the minister of the interior, entered the platform on 30 January 1909 to respond to an inquiry sponsored by both Muslims and non-Muslims, all except one of whom were from Balkan towns. It was about how the government would cope with these deputies described as a lack of law and order, killings and armed attacks on the rise, and bandits roaming the streets. Ethnic and sectarian conflict between the Empire's diverse groups was claiming lives and resources. This was a significant occasion since the newly created system had passed the first test of "correct" parliamentary behaviour. Among the crowd were members of several foreign missions. Newspaper journalists and other visitors were present to observe the events, as the new Constitution guaranteed press freedom. The first portion of the protocol (ministerial address, opposition deputies) has been completed. However, deputies began to argue, and soon all decorum was thrown out the window; the verbal battle was a metaphor for the Empire's ethnic problems. The debates were held along the lines of nationalism among non-Muslim delegates, based on their ethnic and religious backgrounds, and Ottomanism as a response to these opposing ideas. The government approved the "Law of Associations" on 16 August 1909, prohibiting ethnically oriented political organizations. A month later, the government passed the "Law for the Prevention of Brigandage and Sedition," which established "special pursuit battalions" to hunt down guerrillas in Macedonia, made private citizens' firearm ownership illegal, and imposed harsh penalties on those who failed to report guerrilla activity. The administration further extended the educational system by establishing different schools while proclaiming that Turkish would be the only language of instruction.

Crisis of 31 March 1909

Threats to the constitutional and legislative experiment quickly emerged. The 31 March Incident occurred nine months into the new legislative term, expressing dissatisfaction and reactionary attitude against constitutionalism. With Mahmud Şevket Pasha's Action Army, the constitutionalists were able to control the Ottoman government from the reactionaries. Two days later, the National Assembly, which the people had elected, convened in secret and unanimously agreed to depose Abdulhamid II. They reasoned that the Sultan had encouraged and planned the countercoup and corrupted the troops to restore the old system. Mehmed V, his younger brother, was elected Sultan. Hilmi Pasha was re-elected grand vizier but resigned on 5 December 1909 to be replaced by Hakki Bey. The Constitution would be changed to enhance the democratically elected Chamber of Deputies at the expense of the Sultan's powers and the unelected Senate. All secret societies were likewise outlawed under the new constitutional changes.

Years of Peace from 1909 to 1911

On the 27th, Parliament was adjourned for three months. The CUP convened a congress in Salonica during the vacation and changed its bylaws. The CUP was no longer a secret organization. This was interpreted as a vote of confidence in the newly restructured Parliament, which had established the groundwork for significant financial and administrative reforms. Once in power, the CUP launched a slew of new programs aimed at further modernization. The CUP called for a schedule of orderly change under the leadership of a strong central government and the rejection of all outside interference. In addition, the CUP pushed industrialization and administrative changes.

Provincial administrative reforms rapidly resulted in a greater degree of centralization. In addition, the CUP executed the legal system's secularization, provided subsidies for women's education, and changed the administrative organization of state-run elementary schools. The new Parliament aimed to improve the Empire's communications and transportation networks while avoiding falling into the hands of European corporations and non-Muslim bankers. Germany and Italy already controlled the few Ottoman railways (5,991 kilometres of single-track railroads in the Ottoman dominions in 1914). Moreover, Europeans had been in charge of the defaulting Ottoman foreign debt since 1881. As a result, the Ottoman Empire was essentially a colony in terms of economics. Near Nazareth, conflicts between Zionists and Palestinian farmers erupted during this time. For the first time in the Ottoman parliament, a Palestinian representative from Jaffa raised Zionism.

Years of Crisis from 1911 to 1913

Many of the Parliament's most respected politicians, including Hakkı Pasha, Talat, Krikor Zohrab, Cavid, Halil Menteşe, Vartkes Serengülian, and Karekin Pastermajian, met in mid-October to discuss the Constitution and more cooperation between the CUP and liberals, rather than the CUP's constant intervention in government. When this plan was rejected, liberals banded together to form the Freedom and Accord Party, which quickly gathered 70 lawmakers. A by-election in Istanbul in December 1911, won by the Liberal Union candidate only 20 days after creation, was proof of a new political environment. The Ottoman administration faced several challenges during the years 1911 to 1913, both domestically and internationally. It culminated in a political power struggle between the CUP and Freedom and Accord that included a fraudulent election, a military uprising, and eventually a coup d'état against the backdrop of the catastrophic Libyan and Balkan Wars.

Saviour Officers' Revolt and the Great Cabinet

The CUP advocated for early national elections during the war against Italy to impede the Freedom and Accord Party's capacity to organize better and expand. The CUP gained an overwhelming majority in the general elections of April 1912, dubbed the "Election of Clubs" because of extensive electoral fraud and violence perpetrated by the CUP against Freedom and Accord candidates. Under Grand Vizier Mehmed Said Pasha, a government of CUP members was created. Angry at their election defeat, the leadership of Freedom and Accord looked for non-legal ways to reclaim power over the CUP, claiming electoral fraud. Around this time, several military officers, dissatisfied with perceived inequities within the military, formed the "Savior Officers," an armed organization that made its existence known to the imperial authority. The Savior Officers, who rapidly became partisans of Freedom and Accord, wreaked havoc in Istanbul's metropolis. The Savior Officers issued public announcements in newspapers after getting the backing of Prince Sabahaddin, another opposition leader. Finally, after delivering a statement to the Military Council in July, the Savior Officers persuaded Mehmed Said Pasha and his CUP ministers to retire.

Ahmed Muhtar Pasha's non-partisan administration replaced Mehmed Said Pasha. Ahmed Muhtar Pasha also disbanded the Chamber, which was still full of CUP members, and called for new elections on 5 August with the help of the Savior Officers. The elections were cancelled at the outbreak of the Balkan War in October, and Ahmed Muhtar Pasha resigned as Grand Vizier. The government passed a measure conscripting dhimmis into the Army. The new Grand Vizier, the Kâmil Pasha, created a Freedom and Accord cabinet and set out to eliminate any remnants of the CUP that remained following the Savior Officers' uprising. Kâmil Pasha sat down to peacefully resolve the current First Balkan War, leveraging his close connections with the British. However, as rumours grew that the capital would have to be relocated from Istanbul to inland Anatolia, the significant Ottoman military setbacks during the war continued to erode morale. The Bulgarian Army had quickly moved to Çatalca. In December 1912, Kâmil Pasha's administration signed an armistice with Bulgaria and sat down at the London Peace Conference to draft a treaty to terminate the war. The Great Powers–the British Empire, France, Italy, and Russia–attempted to settle the dispute by invoking the 1878 Berlin Treaty. The Sublime Porte received a message from the Great Powers requesting that the Ottoman Empire hand over Edirne (Adrianople) to Bulgaria and the Aegean islands under its control to Great Powers. Because of the Army's defeats thus far in the war, the Kâmil Pasha administration was inclined to accept the "Midye-Enez Line" as a western boundary and, although not ceding Edirne to Bulgaria openly, advocated handing it over to an international commission.

Raid on Sublime Porte

The Freedom and Accord administration, led by Kâmil Pasha, was deposed in a coup d'état (also known as the Raid on the Sublime Porte) orchestrated by CUP leaders Mehmed Talaat and Ismail Enver, who used the excuse of Kâmil Pasha "dishonouring the nation" by supposedly agreeing to give Bulgarians Edirne. Enver Bey and several of his friends stormed the Sublime Porte on 23 January 1913, when the cabinet was in session, killing the Minister of War, Nazım Pasha. Grand Vizier Mahmud Shevket Pasha led the formation of a new CUP administration. Although he was friendly with the now-opposition Freedom and Accord following the coup, Mahmud Shevket Pasha was murdered on 11 June 1913. After his death, Said Halim Pasha became his successor. The CUP crushed Freedom and Accord and other opposition groups, compelling many of its leaders to leave to Europe, including Prince Sabahaddin.

One-party State from 1913 to 1918

Following the Balkan Wars, the Ottoman Empire was divided into two primary factions: Turks and Arabs. The ratio of deputies from Arab regions grew from 23 per cent in 1908 to 27 per cent in the new framework, Turkomans from 14 per cent to 22 per cent, and overall CUP members from 39 per cent to 67 per cent. Minority concerns, like those affecting Armenians, dominated mainstream politics in the new unified framework. Armenian politicians backed the CUP, but the outcome was far from what was intended when the Parliament was constituted. Minorities became outsiders, and the CUP's majority in Parliament became a source of vulnerability rather than strength. In addition, the deported Muslims (Turks) from the Balkans settled in western Anatolia, bringing with them their problems. Armenians had hoped for increased representation in Parliament, but democracy's nature put them in a minority position. The Armenians had been in a protected status since 1453. Thus, this was an unexpected outcome. In 1913, Istanbul politics revolved around finding a solution to the demands of Arab and Armenian reformists. The Ottoman Empire's 19th-century politics grappled with the Balkan states' decentralist ambitions. The eastern provinces were exhibiting a similar tendency in 1913. With most of the Christian population has fled the Empire during the Balkan Wars, Ottoman politics was redefined, with a stronger focus on Islam as a unifying factor. External forces (imperialists) were Christians; therefore, this policy decision should be taken into account.

Despite the Ottoman Empire's loss of the Balkans and Libya and the CUP's single-party regime, the Ottoman ethnic minorities were to be represented in similar proportions in the Ottoman Parliament during the 1914–1918 term, with 11 Armenians and a dozen Greeks being elected as deputies and serving in that capacity. In 1914, new elections were held in a single-party system, and the CUP won all of the seats. Until 1918, Mehmed Talaat Pasha, the Interior Minister, Enver Pasha, the Minister of War, and Cemal Pasha, the Minister of the Navy, had effective authority. In 1917, Talaat Pasha ascended to the position of Grand Vizier. The Ottoman Empire was taken part in World War I by a covert Ottoman–German alliance formed by a faction within the CUP. The Empire's involvement as a Central Powers ally is documented throughout the war's history. The Ottoman Empire was isolated and surrendered as a result of Bulgaria's fall and Germany's submission.

End of Empire and Constitution from 1918 to 1920

The last elections were held during the Allies' military occupation of Constantinople. They were called following the Amasya Protocol, which was signed on 22 October 1919 between the Ottoman government and the Turkish National Movement to agree on a joint Turkish resistance movement against the Allies. The Misak-ı Millî (National Pact) with the Turkish National Movement was passed by the new session of the Chamber of Deputies on 16 March 1920, angering the Allies. Several members of Parliament were detained and deported. Sultan Mehmed VI was compelled to dissolve Parliament by the Allies on 11 April. Talaat Pasha and the remainder of the CUP cabinet resigned on 13 October 1918, and the Armistice of Mudros was signed at the end of the month aboard a British warship in the Aegean Sea. The Turkish Courts-Martial of 1919–1920 saw the CUP's leadership and a few former officials charged with subverting the Constitution, profiting during the war, and killing both Armenians and Greeks. The organizers of the atrocities, Talat, Enver, Cemal, and others, were condemned to death by the court. The Three Pashas (Talaat, Enver, and Cemal) were exiled from Constantinople on 2 November.

The Ottoman Parliament conducted its last elections in December 1919. On 12 January 1920, the newly elected 140 members of the Ottoman Parliament, who were overwhelmingly elected by the "Association for Defense of Rights for Anatolia and Rumelia," led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha, who stayed in Ankara, began the fourth (and last) session of the Parliament. Despite its short duration and unusual circumstances, the last assembly made a series of significant decisions known as Misak-ı Milli  (National Pact). On 22 October 1919, it signed the Amasya Protocol with the Turkish National Movement in Ankara. The two parties pledged to cooperate against the occupying Allies and push for these elections. Minister of the Navy Salih Hulusi Pasha represented the Ottoman government at the protocol.

In contrast, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Rauf Orbay, and Bekir Sami Kunduh represented the Turkish National Movement as Delegation of Representatives. On the night of 15 March, British forces began occupying key buildings and detaining five members of Parliament. The arrest was contested by the 10th division and the military music school.

The British Indian Army's firing killed at least ten students. The overall number of people killed remains unclear. Nonetheless, the Ottoman MPs met for one last time on 18 March. As a remembrance of its absent members, a black cloth was draped over the Parliament's pulpit. In addition, the Parliament wrote a note of protest to the Allies, expressing its displeasure with the imprisonment of five of its members. In practical terms, the 18 March meeting marked the end of the Ottoman parliamentary system, as well as the Parliament itself, the glorious emblem of a generation's desire for "everlasting freedom" for which men had given their lives. The Sultan had become the Empire's only absolute authority following the British attack on the Parliament. On 11 April, the Sultan issued his version of the dissolution of Parliament proclamation. As a result, approximately 100 Ottoman politicians were exiled to Malta. Over a hundred of the surviving members quickly boarded the train to Ankara, forming the nucleus of the new assembly. Under the Allies' insistence, Sultan Mehmed VI Vahdeddin officially closed the Ottoman Parliament on 5 April.