The 31st March incident: Political élites faced with conflict during the Young Turk period

Paper presented at: Ottomans/Turks in Conflict, 1800-2010: New Approaches, Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar at Columbia University, New York, April 2011

« Il est, dans l’état présent de nos sociétés, inévitable que les diverses classes aient des intérêts opposés et prennent conscience de leurs antagonismes. Le malheur de la patrie commence quand la légitimité de ces heurts n’est pas comprise. » (Marc Bloch, L’étrange défaite)

The “31st March incident” (31 Mart vakası)1, a sequence of events lasting 13 days that took place in the Ottoman Empire in March/April 1909 (its start date being actually April 13, according to the Western calendar), is usually depicted as a reactionary movement, an insurrection under religious slogans aimed at overthrowing the constitutional régime that had been established in July 1908. Indeed, this interpretation of the 31st March incident as a religion-motivated reactionary movement is the reason why it has acquired a symbolic meaning that persists even today in Turkish political discourse. This interpretation acquired all its symbolic value only gradually, in subsequent years. However, its main elements were put forward as events unfolded and constituted the basis for a more or less coherent interpretation of the 31st March incident that can be discerned in the Minutes of the Parliament, which I will be using as my main source.2

Despite its religious overtones, there is much more to the 31st March incident than its interpretation as simply a reactionary movement would suggest. We know today that many different actors took part in the events of March/April 1909, coming from different milieus and pursuing different agendas. This, I think, will be easily revealed by going over the facts. What I am more interested in are the reasons why this interpretation of the 31st March incident was chosen by Ottoman political élites – i.e., in the constitutional context, mainly the parliamentarians – and what its implications were for the Ottoman political system. I argue that interpreting as a reactionary movement a sequence of events that had, for very specific reasons, shocked them, and designating as its main culpable Abdülhamid, whom they deposed, was the only option that Ottoman deputies had available, given their state of mind.

This state of mind is manifest in parliamentary debates from the very beginning of parliamentary term, in December 1908. Ottoman deputies all agree that what the constitutional régime and the nation need is for all of them to work together, putting what they define as the nation’s “general interests” above any other consideration. This, as I hope to show, is a perception of the constitutional régime that makes the expression of conflict very difficult; thus, the only way to cope with a major conflict, such as the 31st March incident, is by letting it be understood that it has nothing to do with the constitutional régime: it is foreign and hostile to what Ottomans have been trying to achieve since the restoration of the Constitution. However, to the extent in which the 31st March incident, despite its religious overtones, is also the expression of a political conflict within the régime – i.e. to the extent in which it is the expression not of a desire to overthrow the régime but to suggest a different way to implement it – interpreting it in this manner would signify the definitive delegitimization of conflict.

The 31st March incident and the Parliament’s stance

The 31st March incident started out as a military mutiny at the barracks of the avcı taburları (light infantry) of the Third Army in Istanbul.3 The alaylıs, i.e. military men who had risen through the ranks, were uncomfortable with the new régime’s reforms that were causing them to be treated as inferior to military school graduates (known as the mektepli). The alaylıs ask to be treated on an equal footing with the mekteplis and denounce radical cuts in their numbers, adding that they fear further cuts.4 To this move by the military are added demonstrations, attended mainly by low-ranking religious men (imam, hoca) and students of religious schools (softa), whose main slogan was the Şeriat; propaganda by religious-minded milieus, centered around the newspaper Volkan and a minor opposition group, the Mohammedan Union (İttihad-ı Muhammedi Fırkası), may have played a role in this development. At the same time, discomfort with the CUP’s perceived prominence in public affairs was growing among large segments of the population, especially after the assassination of opposition journalist Hasan Fehmi; events thus were not confined to the barracks but expanded to Istanbul streets.5

At first, the stance taken by deputies in the face of these events is not very easy to discern, for most of them seem to have met events with perplexity and confusion. In the weeks before the 31st March incident, tension had been mounting in Parliament. At the time of the elections, in autumn 1908, political affiliations had not yet crystallized and did not play a major role: almost all of the deputies elected were considered to be in one way or another affiliated to or backed by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the main actor of the Revolution; however this did not amount to much, only a few of the deputies feeling bound by the CUP centre’s decisions, the rest of them either simply backing the Committee most of the time, or having joined the opposition. In March 1909, there is one major opposition party in Parliament, the Liberal Party (Ahrar Fırkası), which should be placed in the lineage of the pre-1908 Young Turk opposition’s liberal branch.6

By April 13, several heated debates have taken place in Parliament. Aside from disagreeing on specific matters (for example, the law on public meetings7), opposition deputies object strongly to what they perceive of as the CUP’s effort to run the constitutional régime as it pleases, exhorting pressure on the government and on the deputies.8 To give only two examples, the opposition takes issue at how the president of Parliament, Ahmet Riza bey, a prominent CUP member, directs parliamentary discussions9; it also makes an issue out of protecting the freedom of expression, when the question of the alleged “anti-patriotic” attitude of certain foreign-language newspapers is brought up10. The final blow on CUP – Liberal Party relations was the assassination (possibly instigated by the CUP), on April 6 (24 Mart 1325), of opposition journalist Hasan Fehmi; Hasan Fehmi’s murder becomes the subject of yet another heated debate in Parliament, on April 7.11 It is thus reasonable to assume that the Liberals might have partially planned the 31st March incident, wishing to protest against the CUP’s growing power; however, and whether the Liberals had initially planned the events or not, things surely got out of their control.12

During the events, Parliament continues to function, despite the fact that some prominent CUP members, including the president of Parliament, have had to flee the capital.13 Deputies try to control the events, but they are under constant and growing pressure. On the one hand, continued upheaval in Istanbul (and Adana14) endangers the régime, and an overthrow of the constitutional régime is something that no deputy wishes.15 On the other hand, the Action Army (Hareket Ordusu) is organized in Macedonia, probably under CUP auspices, and starts marching on Istanbul with the aim of putting an end to the 31st March incident.16 A third element of pressure on Parliament is telegrams that keep on coming from the provinces, asking the Parliament’s reassurance that the constitutional régime is not in danger.17

The deputies’ attitude changes as balances among these elements of pressure change.18 At first, deputies seem to think that they can use the 31st March incident in their own benefit; it is as if they approve of the alaylıs’ action and demonstrations, as far as these can be used to further the opposition’s aims. On April 16 (3 Nisan), deputies accept the demands of the rebelled military, and assure the nation that the constitutional régime is not in danger, but at the same time demand calm and an end to demonstrations.19 On the following day, deputies start to be alarmed, since the upheaval is continuing; on April 17, 18 and 1920, deputies seem to be trying to determine the meaning of the events that have been taking place, wondering, for instance, if they constitute an “insurrection” (ihtilâl)21. All declarations are articulated in the same language: deputies, and the newly-formed government22, speak in the name of the “salvation of the fatherland” and ask for unity. It would seem that they are looking for a compromise that would put an end to upheaval without an intervention by the Action Army; for instance, Boşo effendi suggests that the 31st March incident might have violated legality, but Parliament should simply leave it behind it, instead of bringing into Istanbul a different faction of the army – i.e. the Action Army – to suppress it.23

This search for a compromise becomes all the more evident in another move by deputies: on April 17 (4 Nisan), a new coalition party, the Ottoman Alliance (Heyet-i Müttefika-i Osmaniye), is formed.24 The program of this new coalition, which brings together the CUP25, the Liberal Party, and a number of other organizations and committees, begins in the following terms: “All political parties, societies and committees that exist in our country, setting aside all disputes in order to assure the salvation of the fatherland and the constitutional régime that are in danger, have formed a coalition under the exalted Ottoman name”26. Then, its main aims are stated as follows:

First – In face of the circumstances that threaten the fatherland and the legitimate constitutional régime, it engages to try and defend the perpetuation of the legitimate constitutional administration unanimously and in cooperation, putting behind the disagreements and disputes between parties.

Second – In conformity with the fundamental provisions and the constitutional régime, which is consistent with the Holy Law, the Ottoman government is only answerable to Parliament. In consequence, the Ottoman Alliance will be united and unanimous, like every patriotic Ottoman, in working to ensure that all officials of this Assembly that holds the nation’s sovereignty, i.e. the nation’s representatives, will always possess their independence of consciousness and speech and will in no way be exposed to threats from anywhere.”27

This should be seen as the first attempt at a compromise between political élites. The coalition’s program repeatedly refers to the dangers, exterior and interior, that threaten the régime and the country, and to the need for order and unity in order to save the fatherland. If we add to this the stress put on the deputies’ “independence of consciousness and speech”, it would seem that the opposition, while feeling the need to cooperate with the CUP so that order is restored, still feels strong enough to try and impose at least one condition, which is actually its main demand: the CUP’s pressure on Parliament should cease. Obviously, this demand is not directed against the régime; on the contrary, it expresses the opposition’s view on how the constitutional régime should be implemented.

The 31st March incident does come to an end with a compromise between the CUP and the opposition, but the condition initially put forward by the opposition is not taken into account. As the Action Army approaches Istanbul, Parliament is convened in Ayastefanos, at the outskirts of Istanbul, in a joint session with Senate, as the General Assembly (Meclisi Umumî). A declaration is issued, according to which the 31st March incident was a coup against the régime28. A few days later, the Action Army enters Istanbul, and the General Assembly, who has returned to the capital, agrees to the imposition of Martial Law, with only minor objections by a few deputies.29 The General Assembly also decides to depose the sultan Abdülhamid.30 These decisions by the General Assembly let it be understood that the 31st March incident was an incidence of disorder aimed at bringing back the old régime. Putting the blame on Abdülhamid allowed deputies to continue working together.31 Even more so, the dethronement of a sultan identified with a hated absolutist régime allows deputies to consider this a fresh start in the constitutional régime, indeed to see this as the real start of the constitutional régime and to renew their commitment in it.32

Irtica vs. the nation’s “general interests”

In the following weeks, and as the Parliament’s interpretation of events is finalized, it becomes all the more apparent that the 31st March incident has hardened some beliefs already present in the deputies’ discourse since the beginning of parliamentary term. Imputing the events of March/April 1909 entirely on “reaction” (irtica), deputies bind themselves even tighter with certain principles according to which they have shaped the constitutional régime and their own role within it. Most importantly, deputies have set themselves to be the nation’s representatives and the guardians of what they perceive of as the nation’s “general interests”; irtica then comes to signify the exact opposite of the nation’s “general interests”.

The term “irtica” gradually takes its place in Ottoman political discourse from the aftermath of the 31st March incident onwards.33 In Parliament, the events that took place in Istanbul during these 13 days are termed a “reactionary movement” and are seen as forming a whole with the Adana massacres: “The events of Istanbul and those of Adana are the same. This is a reactionary incident.”34 This reading lessens the blow on Ottoman unity, since violence against a Christian community is seen as part of a reactionary movement directed against the whole Ottoman nation; at the same time, it has an effect on how “reaction” will be defined. The interpretation of the events of March/April 1909 in Istanbul and in Adana gives “irtica” certain characteristics. Most importantly, all that has transpired during these 13 days is seen as something foreign to the constitutional régime: If we look at historical events, we see that whatever bad happened in this country has always been done by absolutist governments.”, says Hristo Daltchef35; deputies are quick to search for the culprits of the Adana massacres among officials connected with the old régime.36

Even more so, events like these are seen as foreign to the history of the Ottoman nation. Even the massacres perpetrated against Armenians in 1895 are re-interpreted under this light, in order to prove that it is the absolutist government of the time that is to blame for these massacres – just as it is absolutists who are to blame for the Adana massacres – and that “the Ottoman people have always lived – and have wanted to live – in harmony. It is the absolutist government that has always been an obstacle to this.”37 Therefore, “[t]his is an act only perpetrated by a traitor. It cannot be generalized to a nation. Its [the nation’s] history cannot be tarnished. Ottoman History is safe from such filth. (Applause)” In the final analysis, it is only “traitors”, or “provocateurs”, according to Aristidi pasha’s expressions38, who are to blame.

There is, then, a dichotomy between an innocent (“safe from such filth”) Ottoman nation and reactionaries. Popular participation in the events of March/April 1909 is explained within this framework: the people are not to blame; they were simply manipulated into taking part by the reactionaries (“provocateurs”) who instigated the 31st March incident. As Dr. Riza Tevfik puts it,

[…] in Istanbul, as well as in many of our cities, there are plenty of people with no work or occupation, who do not even have ten paras and no food for tomorrow. What an extraordinary army this is against our liberty, if people like that are bought off by a rich party […]”39

İrtica thus takes up three main meanings: retrogression towards the old regime; treason against the nation; manipulation of the people. This is actually a codification of perceived threats against the régime and the nation.

Indeed, this rhetoric on the part of deputies is nothing more than a reiteration of those threats against which parliamentarians have shaped their understanding of the constitutional régime and of their own role within it. The perception of imminent threats, both external and internal, weighing against the Ottoman Empire, is discernible in all the deputies’ discourse. They seem to think that the constitutional régime is a remedy against these threats, since it will strengthen the Empire, which is faced with growing outside pressure.40 Leaving behind the Hamidian régime and all its misdeeds, consolidating the constitutional régime and all that it stands for (unity and order being probably its most fundamental principles41), is thus seen as a prerequisite for the accomplishment of the “sacred aim”42 that is the “saving of the state” (or “saving of the nation”).43

Ottoman deputies use a very powerful language, of which the “sacred aim” of saving the state is only one example. They, as the “National Assembly”, the “nation’s representatives”44, pledge pride in their (Ottoman) nation and promise to do anything in their power to “defend the nation’s rights”45 and to protect the integrity and indivisibility of their fatherland (vatan)46. In the Minutes of the Ottoman Parliament one comes across passages like the following:

[…] [I]f our territorial integrity comes to be somehow – in whichever way – endangered, […] we should try to respond with all the power of the state. […]

This is protecting the territorial integrity of our state. Today, we have proclaimed to the whole world that Ottomanism, as a political unit whose entity is composed of each one of the various elements, is the proprietor of this land. No one is entitled to claim this land; if he does so, we will tear out his eyes. This is, then, the duty bestowed on us.”47

It seems that Ottoman deputies are trying to create an imagery and an ideology which, in the lineage of Abdülhamid’s “official nationalism”48, will harness loyalty to the state. If, under Abdülhamid, the state is identified with the monarch, to whose sacred person sovereignty is bestowed, from 1908 onwards, sovereignty is gradually transferred to the nation.49 It is actually this transfer of sovereignty that is revolutionary about the 1908 Revolution: as the sultan’s symbolic power is less and less available – as the Hamidian régime starts to falter – the Young Turks, who have been using the term nation (millet) since before the 1908 Revolution, come to the fore and demand sovereignty in the name of the nation.50 At least for some brief months around July 1908, the – predominantly Muslim and even Turkish – CUP is seconded in this effort by non-Turkish and non-Muslim elements of the Empire.51 In order to succeed, Ottoman political élites have to create an ideology that will bind them together and that will also command the participation of Ottoman popular masses to this effort.52

Hamidian official nationalism was effective, for as long as it was, thanks to loyalty commanded by the sultan’s person and to a system of power structured around the sultan. From 1908 onwards, an effort is made – at least rhetorically – to replace this by the concept of “nation”, as evidenced by certain terms and declarations that I have already cited, or in the following declaration by Dr. Riza Tevfik:

Because it is certain that we shall act against certain important forces, forces beyond imagination. However, we shall certainly preserve, to the best of our forces, by all means, the rights and the sentiment of this honorable nation, of this illustrious state. (Applause)”53

The only materials that Ottoman deputies can use in order to create this “nation” are shared history54 and, most importantly, since this is something much more concrete, a concept of “general interests”55, i.e. interests of all Ottoman communities. Since, as already pointed out, the only common reference of all Ottoman deputies is the state, whose salvation they set as their “sacred aim”, then “general interests” are shaped in reference to the state; indeed, they are nothing more than this “sacred aim” of ensuring the Empire’s continued existence.

This conception of “general interests” has two main implications, one that concerns mainly the Parliament and one that concerns Ottoman society as a whole. Having set “general interests” as something sacred, something which is above any other consideration, indeed as a “raison d’État”, Ottoman deputies pledge to put aside all “particular interests”.56 This very much complicates the expression of different points of view and impairs political conflict: each time there is a debate where different points of view are expressed, one or more deputies, usually belonging to the opposition, are accused of trying to advance “particular”, “party” or “personal” interests. They rarely respond by saying that it is only normal that they should act according to their party’s principles; instead, they usually defend themselves of advancing party interests.57 One could say, then, that partisanship is a very serious accusation in Ottoman political discourse; as one deputy puts it: “[…] none of us takes sides. No one can take sides on the fatherland’s general interests.” And then he adds: “If someone is to take sides, I repeat that he is not worthy of [belonging to] this Assembly.”58

The second implication of the concept of “general interests” and the way in which these are defined has to do with the people’s role within the constitutional régime. The people have no saying whatsoever in defining the nation’s “general interests”, which in reality are, as we noted, state interests. If Parliament sees itself as the “nation’s representative” it certainly is not the people’s representative: deputies themselves do not seem to think so; they speak in the name of the nation, not in that of people, whom they consider to be ignorant. The idea put forth concerning the 31st March incident, that the people were manipulated, has a more general value and acceptance: it is thought that the people do not understand the meaning of the constitutional régime and are not in a position to appreciate or use correctly the liberty that they have been given; they could thus be manipulated by forces acting against the régime.59 Therefore, not only is it out of the question that they should have a saying in defining “general interests”, it is even imperative that they are held under tutelage, so as not to pose a threat for the régime and, on that account, for the salvation of the nation.60

Political game over? The impairment of conflict

In reality, the 31st March incident is where these two implications of “general interests” meet. First of all, it is a very serious conflict, an occasion when “party quarrels”, as they are pejoratively called by Hüseyin Cahit61, take precedence over “general interests”. Second, the 31st March incident is an occasion when the ignorant people are called into the political scene in a very dynamic manner, and control over them is lost.62 The Liberals, who might have had something to do with these events or, at least, tried to benefit from them, are as shocked and as terrified by events as Unionists are. Aversion to conflict and fear of the ignorant people and the repercussions that their involvement in politics might have, as well as the very real fact that they were unable to control the forces that had been unleashed, overrode the Liberals’ urge to oppose the CUP’s growing pressure on the political scene; they thus backed down and accepted a conciliating interpretation of the 31st March incident as a “reactionary movement”.

If the 31st March incident in a way confirmed the deputies’ fears of the threats that they perceive of against the régime and the nation, irtica confirms their response to these perceived threats. Before the 31st March incident, the importance and binding force of “general interests” is stressed and “taking sides” is a most serious accusation; after the 31st March incident, “taking sides” is replaced by an even stronger term, irtica. Terming “reactionary movement” an incident which also expressed a political conflict within the régime allows deputies to resolve – or, actually, to ignore – a serious conflict, but it comes with a price: it implies that political conflict itself will be considered to be irtica. In fact, it is politics as such that is delegitimized: the expression of conflicting views is seen as something dangerous, something the Empire and its people are not ready for.63 Therefore, irtica, convenient as it might be in the short-term, risks to backfire on those sections of Ottoman political élites that will be left out power: they will not be in a position to articulate opposition discourse and claim power.

Indeed, in subsequent months and years, accusations of irtica come to be used against anyone who opposes government policy. This is denounced in Parliament64, even by a deputy who used to be a member of the CUP, having joined the Committee prior to the 1908 Revolution, Dr. Riza Tevfik:

It is as if a man who objects to the present cabinet objected to the constitutional régime. In consequence, he becomes reactionary. If this is reaction, then I am a reactionary, I am one of the reactionaries, hang me. (Applause from right and left) What is this? This is ridicule. Are you the personified symbol of the constitutional régime?”65

Despite the opposition’s efforts to re-give irtica its real meaning, by attributing it also to the CUP (or the CUP-controlled government) when accusing it of actions contrary to the constitutional régime66, it proves very hard to do so. Political conflict having been delegitimized by its association with irtica, whoever manages to get a hold on power – be it by legal or illegal, extra-parliamentary methods – will indeed appear to be the “symbol of the constitutional régime”: no one will be able to oppose him effectively without losing credibility and legitimacy, since it will appear as if he opposed the régime.

1 A brief description of the 31st March incident is provided below.

2 The Minutes of the Ottoman Parliament (Meclisi Mebusan Zabıt Ceridesi – MMZC) were transcribed into modern Turkish and published for the first time in the 1930s. I have been using the edition published by the Grand Turkish National Assembly’s Printing-house in the 1980s. I refer to parliamentary sessions as follows: MMZC, period (ex. d. 1, meaning first period), assembly year (ex. içt. sen. 1, meaning first assembly year), session (ex. 1. inikat, meaning first session), followed by the session’s date in Ottoman. Page numbers, when used, are those of the 1980s edition (not all of the volumes have dates, and they were not all published on the same year; the first volume was published in 1982). For the Minutes of the General Assembly (Meclisi Umumî), I use MUZC, instead of MMZC.

3 My description of events is based mainly on Sina Akşin’s classic work on the subject: Şeriatçı bir Ayaklanma: 31 Mart Olayı, İmge Kitabevi, Istanbul 1994, passim and mainly pp. 229-298. Despite the book’s misleading title, Akşin’s reading of the 31st March is not that of a rebellion in the name of the Holy Law; rather, he claims that it was a military mutiny, organized by the opposition, which, however, got out of the opposition’s control and degenerated into a movement endangering the régime. See also: Nader Sohrabi, “Historicizing Revolutions: Constitutional Revolutions in the Ottoman Empire, Iran, and Russia, 1905-1908”, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 100, No. 6 (May, 1995), pp. 1383-1447; the 31st March incident is discussed in pp. 1411-1416

4 Sohrabi refers to a list of demands, mentioned in a number of sources, which presents the alaylıs’ demands in a very strong language; this list includes the demand for the restoration of the Holy Law. Sohrabi, however, argues that the most important aspect of their demands is not the Holy Law, but their opposition to reforms that were privileging military school graduates; see: ibid, p. 1414. Akşin, too, asserts that the military were probably using religion only as a tool; see: Akşin, op.cit., p. 294

There exists, in the Minutes of parliamentary debates, a letter signed by a great number of alaylı officers of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Armies, addressed to the deputies. This document corroborates Sohrabi’s and Akşin’s reading of the alaylıs’ demands: they complain of being looked down on by certain mekteplis and, most importantly, of the fact that large numbers of alaylıs were laid off. It is significant that this letter does not contain any religious terms; on the contrary, the military men who sign it, in a very constitutional fashion, speak of themselves as “children of the fatherland” [vatan evlâdı]; see: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 56. inikat, 3 Nisan 1325, pp. 24-25.

5 Akşin, op.cit., p. 249. On various groups joining the protests, see also: Sohrabi, op.cit., p. 1415

6 On the Liberal Party, see: Tarık Zafer Tunaya, Türkiye’de Siyasal Partiler, Vol. 1: İkinci Meşrutiyet Dönemi, İletişim Yayınları, Istanbul 1998, pp. 175-204.

7 See the discussion in: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 37. inikat, 18 Şubat 1324

8 Opposition newspapers actually accuse the CUP of having become a “government inside the government”; see: Sohrabi, op.cit., p. 1402

9 See the sessions of March 15 and March 22, 1909: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 41. inikat, 2 Mart 1325; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 44. inikat, 9 Mart 1325

10 MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 14 Mart 1325

11 MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 53. inikat, 25 Mart 1325

12 On the opposition’s stance, see: Akşin, op.cit., pp. 248-260, 293-298. Akşin’s thesis is that the opposition planned and organized the 31st March incident beforehand, but it very quickly lost control over the events.

13 According to the Levant Herald (which, it should be noted, generally backs the opposition), approximately 200 deputies (the Ottoman Parliament normally has around 290 members) took part in the session held on April 16 (3 Nisan), of which “plusieurs membres du Comité Union et Progrès”; Levant Herald, 17-4-1909, “À la Chambre Ottomane”.

14 In Adana, part of the city’s Armenian population was massacred during these days. The first reference to the Adana events in Parliament is to be found in: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 58. inikat, 5 Nisan 1325, pp. 69-71

15 Liberal opposition in no way wishes a return to the old régime. In fact, the Liberals seem to be even more hostile to Abdülhamid than the CUP is; see: Akşin, op.cit., pp. 252-256

16 On the Action Army, led by Mahmut Şevket paşa, see: ibid, pp. 287-292

17 A great number of these telegrams are to be found in the Parliament’s Minutes: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 56. inikat, 3 Nisan 1325; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 57. inikat, 4 Nisan 1325; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 58. inikat, 5 Nisan 1325; MMZC, d. 1. içt. sen. 1, 59. inikat, 6 Nisan 1325. According to Akşin, who bases this information on British documents, telegrams were sent after an initiative of the Unionists, who were prompt to represent events in Istanbul as a reactionary movement and to ask their provincial branches to react; see: Akşin, op.cit., pp. 256-257. This might be the case for at least some of the telegrams, but the fact is that each telegram has very different phrasing, which means that, even if some of the telegrams were sent on an initiative by the CUP, the CUP was surprised by the events and did not have the time to prepare sufficiently: consider, in contrast, that all telegrams sent out to the Great Powers in support of the anti-Austrian boycott in October 1908 are identical. Indeed, among telegrams sent during the 31st March incident, there are two telegrams, sent by two different CUP branches, one of which felicitates the Parliament on recent events while the other expresses its concern over the same events; see: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 58. inikat, 5 Nisan 1325, p. 73. Of course, this might be a result of the CUP’s insufficient organization, which had even allowed branches to be established in the provinces without the centre’s consent. At any rate, people in the provinces seem to be perplexed over the events that are unfolding in Istanbul.

18 This change of attitude is also discernible in opposition Press; see, for example, İkdam’s change of heart, on April 17: Akşin, op.cit., p. 120

19 MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 56. inikat, 3 Nisan 1325. During this session, the Parliament prepares an announcement, according to which the military’s demands have been accepted and a new government has been formed. The language used is very careful: deputies let it be understood that the military do not wish a departure from the constitutional régime; they also note that the constitutional régime is in compliance with the Holy Law.

20 MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 57. inikat, 4 Nisan 1325; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 58. inikat, 5 Nisan 1325; MMZC, d. 1. içt. sen. 1, 59. inikat, 6 Nisan 1325

21 To give just one example, Kozmidi effendi asserts that the 31st March incident was indeed ihtilâl: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 57. inikat, 4 Nisan 1325, p. 51

22 It should be noted that the government formed by Ahmed Tevfik pasha after the resignation of Hüseyin Hilmi pasha on March 31st asks for a vote of confidence on April 19; deputies, however, leave the issue pending, saying that they would like to wait for the government to present a full program; see: MMZC, d. 1. içt. sen. 1, 59. inikat, 6 Nisan 1325, pp. 98-99; Akşin, op.cit., pp. 157-158

23 MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 58. inikat, 5 Nisan 1325, p. 61

24 On this party, see: Tunaya, op.cit., pp. 238-240

25 The CUP’s participation in this coalition party was later described as a tactics movement; see: ibid, p. 238. It may have been a tactics movement, to the extent in which when power balances changed in its favor the CUP no longer needed to be part of such a coalition. Sina Akşin gives the information, based on British sources, that the Edirne, Üsküp and İşkodra branches of the CUP took part in the negotiations for the formation of the Ottoman Alliance; he then asserts that this is probably a mistake, arguing that it only means that deputies from these electoral districts who had been elected under the Unionist lists took part in negotiations; Akşin, op.cit., p. 113. This may have been true, but it should also be noted that disputes did exist between CUP branches, and especially between the centre of the organization and certain Macedonian branches; it is probable that these, too, played a part in the 31st March incident. In any case, the CUP’s ideology and its internal power balances have not yet been crystallized, by March 1909; actually, important splits take place in as late as April 1911. The 31st March incident is probably one of the events that reinforce certain CUP milieus in internal power balances and strengthen party discipline among deputies elected under the Committee’s lists.

26 Memleketimizde mevcut bilcümle siyasi Fırka, Cemiyet ve Heyetler hal-i tehlikede bulunan vatan ve meşrutiyetin temin-i selâmeti için kâffe-i ihtilâfatı bertaraf ederek nam-ı âli-i Osmanî altında bir Cemiyet-i müttefika teşkil etmişlerdir.”; Tunaya, op.cit., p. 238

27 Evvelâ: Vatanı ve Meşrutiyet-i meşruayı tehdid eden ahvale karşı Fırkalar beynindeki münakaşat ve münazaat unutularak müttehiden ve elbirliğiyle idare-i meşruta-ı meşruanın bekâsını müdafaaya sâî olmağı taahhüd ederler.

Salisen: Şerait-i esasiye ve Meşruteiyet-i şer’iyeye tevfikan hükümet-i Osmaniyenin yegâne murakıbı Meclis-i Mebusan’dır. Binaenaleyh Heyet-i Müttefika-i Osmaniye hâkimiyet-i milliyeyi haiz bulunan o Meclisin kâffe-i erkânı yani vükelâ-yı milletin daima istiklâl-i vicdan ve kelâma malik olmalarını ve hiçbir taraftan asla tehdide maruz kalmamalarını temine çalışmak hususunda her hamiyetli Osmanlı gibi müttefik ve müttehid olacaklardır.”; ibid, p. 239

28 Akşin, op. cit., p. 192

29 MUZC, d. 1. içt. sen. 1, 3. inikat, 12 Nisan 1325, pp. 27-33. Discussion on the Martial Law begins with the reading of a document issued by the Action Army Commander, Mahmut Şevket paşa; according to this, Martial Law has already been imposed. Deputies (and senators) thus discuss two matters: first, whether the Action Army is asking for their approval or simply informing them; second, whether they should make it clear that lifting or prolonging the Martial Law is in their jurisdiction. Finally, only a very brief statement according to which the General Assembly confirms the temporary imposition of Martial Law is voted.

30 According to Akşin, Abdülhamid’s deposition had already started to be discussed in the General Assembly on April 22 (9 Nisan) and finally took place on April 27 (14 Nisan): ibid, pp. 189-193, 222-227. See also the Minutes of the General Assembly, where the issue of the new sultan’s oath before the General Assembly is discussed: MUZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 4. inikat, 13 Nisan 1325, pp. 38-42

31 Ibid, p. 285

32 See the discussion that takes place in the General Assembly on April 26, regarding the new sultan’s oath: MUZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 4. inikat, 13 Nisan 1325, pp. 38-42

33 I have only once come across the term “irtica” or its derivatives in the Minutes of the Ottoman Parliament prior to the 31st March incident; even in that occasion, it is used in the sense of “conservative”. “İrtica” in the sense of reaction is used for the first time in one of the telegrams sent to Parliament: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 58. inikat, 5 Nisan 1325, p. 75. It is then used by deputies on April 19, one deputy speaking of “reactionaries” (irticaiyyün) in Adana and another one responding that there are “reactionaries” everywhere: MMZC, d. 1. içt. sen. 1, 59. inikat, 6 Nisan 1325, p. 96

I also found irtica, in its meaning of reaction against the régime, in the opening speech of the Grand Vizier, in the Minutes of the General Assembly. (είναι ο λόγος που νόμιζα ότι είναι του 1908, αλλά τελικά φαίνεται να είναι του 1910)

34 Hristo Daltchef effendi, MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 63. inikat, 18 Nisan 1325, p. 135. Similar statements are made by Varteks and Emrullah effendis; see, respectively: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 63. inikat, 18 Nisan 1325, p. 110; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 63. inikat, 18 Nisan 1325, p. 133

It could be argued that the codification of the 31st March incident as an incidence of “irtica” is completed in May 1909. On May 22, the Parliament receives a letter by deputies Ismail Kemal and Müfit, who try to defend themselves from accusations of having participated in the 31st March incident; they use the term “reactionaries”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 77. inikat, 9 Mayıs 1325, p. 600. Most importantly, the 31st March incident is referred to as a “reactionary event” in the governmental program presented in Parliament on May 24: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 78. inikat, 11 Mayıs 1325, p. 636

35 MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 63. inikat, 18 Nisan 1325, p. 135

36 The first people to be imputed with responsibility for the massacres are the local governor and the secretary of the Ministry of the Interior, who handled the affair in Istanbul; they are both seen as relics of the old régime. What the vali of Adana stated in the telegrams that he sent to Istanbul during the massacres is strongly criticized by deputies; the fact that he had had relations with the Palace is seen as incriminating evidence. His attitude, as well as that of the secretary of the Ministry, is seen as characteristic of the old regime’s officials; they are both accused of “playing with words” and of using the “language of the absolutist administration”. See the discussion of the 1st of May 1909: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 63. inikat, 18 Nisan 1325, especially pp. 108-136

37 Hristo Daltchef in MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 63. inikat, 18 Nisan 1325, p. 135

38[…] I am categorically certain that Muslims did not do this; because in 1311 [1895] Muslims did not do this. If, in 1311 [1895], a thought appeared, that the Muslims massacred the Christians, this is very wrong. There is no such thing in Ottoman history. Muslims and Christians have lived together for 700 years. There were the Celali uprisings, the Janissaries revolted, there were invasions, but at no time did they attempt to massacre the Christians. This was not even permitted [to happen]. There is definitely no such thing. This is an act only perpetrated by a traitor. It cannot be generalized to a nation. Its [the nation’s] history cannot be tarnished. Ottoman History is safe from such filth. (Applause) […]

[P]lease, let us think serenely. There is no race, no ethnicity. Armenians are not to blame, and neither are Muslims. I am categorically certain. This will be proved to be so. It is provocateurs who are to blame.”; Aristidi pasha, MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 63. inikat, 18 Nisan 1325, pp. 133-134. The two words used by Aristidi pasha are “hâin” (p. 133) and “müfsit” (p. 134).

39 MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 63. inikat, 18 Nisan 1325, p. 115. Dr. Riza Tevfik also says the following: “There exists one grave danger. We are composed of various elements. And these elements are, for the most part, almost all ignorant races in Anatolia. There is difference of creed, difference of race; the greatest evil is that we have been living, since so many years, like cats and dogs – pardon the expression. In a mischievous occasion, that is an occasion that will cause our freedom, human rights and our consciousness to be trampled upon, [this] can be a great tool in the hands of absolutists. This discord of ours [has] always [existed], for centuries, and unfortunately it was also confirmed by the previous days’ deplorable incident.

[…] We have to take this under consideration and, to my consciousness, I am sure that, in order to be able to inspire such mischievous acts in the place where these two races – who have always been presented like enemies to each other – have been living together, reactionaries have, no doubt, been involved.

There was a well-prepared, extraordinary plan; we should consider measures against it.”; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 63. inikat, 18 Nisan 1325, p. 115

40 Internal and external threats are seen as interrelated: the Ottoman state has to be strengthened internally, through reforms and the consolidation of order and unity, so as to be able to resist outside pressure and acquire the place that it deserves on the international arena. At any rate, deputies seem confident that the establishment of the constitutional régime is a very important first step towards the accomplishment of these aims. During the first two or three months after the inauguration of Parliament, almost any parliamentary discussions can be used as an example illustrating these beliefs of the deputies. Let us just cite two examples. Vartkes effendi states the following: “The government’s interior policy means the power and the future of the state. The power and the majesty of the state, the life of the country and of the nation, can exist thanks to justice. Today, regretful conditions inherited from the past, internally and externally, the natural consequences of events not only of the 32 years of the absolutist era, but of a period of approximately 200 years […] have provoked sedition in the interior – which is the only cause of the state’s decline but also its consequence – as well as foreign interventions and a number of wars. […]

The absolutist era, instead of removing and destroying at their root the reasons that provoke the abovementioned problems, that is, instead of assuring to all individuals and all peoples justice, law, rights and equality thanks to general reform, did not deviate from its path and succeeded in exciting to a frightening degree the lack of confidence and mutual hatred among the various Ottoman peoples and nations.”; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 31. inikat, 19 Kânunusani 1324, pp. 418-419

Rahmi bey makes the following declaration: “In the present state, we too have a constitutional régime, a just régime. We were one thing in Europe’s eyes, we are today something different. Today, we have a just government, Europe applauds us. Today, we [can] make laws that previously we could not institute, execute, apply.”; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 20. inikat, 17 Kânunusani 1324, p. 392

41Unity” (ittihat) or “brotherhood” (uhuvvet) is actually one of the slogans of the 1908 Revolution. The need for unity – and the responsibility of the Hamidian régime for the lack of it – is time and again repeated in Ottoman Parliament. The same goes for the need for “order” (âsâyiş). The best illustration for this is probably the Parliament’s answer to the speech of the throne by which Parliament was inaugurated. In this text, deputies repeat the need for “union” and “equality” among the “various elements” of the Empire, accusing those who benefited from the absolutist régime of having opened “wounds in the very heart of the nation”. They also stress the need for order, noting en passant that the “nation has accomplished a peaceful revolution” (meaning of course the 1908 Revolution). See: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 6. inikat, 15 Kânunuevvel 1324, pp. 65-66; my underlining. Indeed, the CUP, the main actor of the 1908 Revolution, lets it be understood from the beginning that it cherishes order: even though it wishes to see popular participation during the Revolution (for instance in the form of popular demonstrations in favor of the Constitution), it also tries to control popular outbursts. The same goes for workers’ strikes that break out in the months following the Revolution: the CUP is constantly trying to canalize them, always stressing the need for order to be respected.

42 A statement by Trayan Nali effendi goes as follows: “I think that we have all come here with an aim, a sacred aim. And we all think of the interests of our glorious fatherland, and it is certain beyond any doubt that the thoughts and the efforts of all of us go to the prosperity of the fatherland.” [Bendeniz zannederim ki, cümlemiz buraya bir maksat, bir maksadı mukaddes için geldik. Ve ancak vatanı muazzezimizn menafini düşünmek ve cümlemizin efkârı, amali, ikbâlı vatan olduğunda şek ve şüphe yoktur.]; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 22. inikat, p. 443

43 Expressions such as “saving of the state”, “saving of the nation”, “saving of the fatherland” are constantly repeated in Parliament. See, indicatively, the following: “berâatı necatı millet”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 11. inikat, 31 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 165; “devletin selâmeti”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 20. inikat, 17 Kânunusani 1324, p. 391; “vatanın temini selâmeti” and “selameti Mülk ve Devlet”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 21. inikat, 19 Kânunusani 1324, p. 407, 418; “Devleti Osmaniyenin bekası”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 22. inikat, 21 Kânunusani 1324, p. 450; “selâmeti vatan” and “vatanımızın selâmeti”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 27. inikat, 31 Kânunusani 1324, p. 599, 606; “vatan ve milletin saadet ve selameti”, “devlet ve milletimizin şan ve selâmeti” and “vatanın saadeti ve selameti”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, içtimaı fevkalâde, 26 Şubat 1324, p. 242, 243; “selâmeti vatan” and “memleketin selâmeti”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 47. inikat, 14 Mart 1325, p. 481, 484; “selameti mülk ve millet” and “selameti umumiye”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 53. inikat, 25 Mart 1325, p. 653

44 Even though the Parliament’s official title is “Meclisi Mebusan” (literally: “Chamber/Assembly of Deputies”, deputies use, from the very first parliamentary session, the term “Millet Meclisi”, meaning “National Assembly”. At the same time, they refer to themselves as “milletvekilleri” or “vükelâyı millet”, i.e. “representatives of the nation”. The Sultan himself in his speech addresses deputies as the “deputies of our nation” (“milletimizin mebusları”); during the same session, the temporary president of Parliament, Ali Naki effendi, also uses a similar expression (“Meclisi Mebusanı Millet”): MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 1. inikat, p. 3. A few days later, Boşo effendi states this very clearly: “to be a deputy is to represent the glorious Ottoman nation”; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 8. inikat, 18 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 92. For just a few more examples, see, indicatively: “Vükelayı millet hazaratı!” and “umum milleti Osmaniye nâmına”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 17. inikat, 10 Kânunusani 1324, p. 297, 299; “bütün bir milletin vekili”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 22. inikat, 21 Kânunusani 1324, p. 440; “Vükelâyi Millet”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 30. inikat, 4 Şubat 1324, p. 677

45We all love our duty. We all take pride in being called Ottomans. We have assured our electorate that we will work as much as possible for the expansion of the influence of our state and the defense of its rights and of its dignity.” [Osmanlı denmekle hep müftehiriz [ne mutlu Türküm diyene!]. Devletimizin tevsii nüfuzuyla müdafaaî hukuk ve haysiyeti için son dereceye kadar çalışacağımızı müntehiplerimize temin ettik.], says Boşo effendi: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 8. inikat, 18 Kânunuevvel, p. 92; my underlining.

The “rights” of the state to which Boşo effendi refers are constantly brought up by deputies, who use, to give just a few examples, the following expressions: “the defense of the fatherland’s sacred rights” (“hukuku mukaddesei vatanı müdafaa”): MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 8. inikat, 18 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 93; “the real rights of the state” (“hukuku sarîhâi Devleti”): MMZC, d. 1. içt. sen. 1, 11. inikat, 31 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 177; “our national rights and honor” (“hukuk ve haysiyeti milliyemiz”) which should be defended (“müdafaai hukuk”): MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 22. inikat, 21 Kânunusani 1324, p. 442

In fact, “rights” are used interchangeably with “interests”, such as in “national interests” or “the fatherland’s interests”: “menafii hakikiyei Osmaniye”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 11.inikat, 31 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 177; “milletin menafii”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 35. inikat, 14 Mart 1325, p. 481; “menafii umumiyei Osmaniye”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 35. inikat, 14 Mart 1325, p. 486; “menafii vatan”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 11. inikat, 31 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 172; “menafii hakikiyei memleket”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 27. inikat, 31 Kânunusani 1324, p. 601; “menafii vatan”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 30. inikat, 4 Şubat 1324, p. 677, “menafii umumiyei vataniyeyi”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 53. inikat, 25 Mart 1325, p. 653; “menafii mukaddese-i vataniye” and “vatanın menafii mukaddesesine”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 27. inikat, 31 Kânunusani 1324, p. 601, 603

46 Deputies usually refer to the Ottoman Empire as “vatan”, “vatanımız” (“our fatherland”) or “vatanı mukaddes” (“the sacred fatherland”). See, for some indicative examples: “vatanımız”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 11. inikat, 31 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 172; “vatan”: MMZC, d. 1., içt. sen. 1, 17. inikat, 10 Kânunusani, p. 312; “vatan-ı mukaddesimiz”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 20. inikat, 17 Kânunusani 1324, p. 379; “vatanı mukaddes”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 21. inikat, 19 Kânunusani 1324, p. 407.

47[…] şayet bizim tamâmiyeti mülkiyemizi bir suretle, her ne suretle olursa olsun tehlikeye maruz, her kimden gelirse gelsin bir gûnâ icraat husule gelirse, Devletin bütün şevketiyle bunu refe çalışmalıyız.

Bunda bir mesele yok; ama ilânihaye kırılmamız lâzım gelecek ise bunu meydandan kaldırmak için kırılmalıyız. (Alkışlar)

Devletimizin tamâmiyeti mülkiyesini muhafaza etmektir. Biz bugün âleme anlattık ki, Osmanlılığın tamamiyetini terkip den anâsırı muhtelifenin kâffesi bir vâhidi siyasi olmak üzere bu mülkün sahibidir. Hiçbir kimse, hiçbir sıfatla bu mülke sahip çıkamaz sahip çıkarsa gözünü çıkararız. İşte bize terettüp eden vazife budur.” This is stated by Kozmidi effendi: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 20. inikat, 17 Kânunusani 1324, p. 395. In this passage, Kozmidi effendi uses the term “Ottomanism” not in order to designate an ideology, but in order to describe a political entity comprising all Ottomans; it is likely that Kozmidi effendi, who is an Ottoman Greek, is adapting the use of “Ottomanism” to that of “Hellenism” in Greek.

See also two more similar statements, by Mustafa Asim and Sait effendis, respectively: “bütün vatanımızın her noktasını bütün hayatımızla muhafaza ederiz”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 20. inikat, 17 Kânunusani 1324, p. 379; “Kanunu Esasinin birinci maddesinde diyor ki ‘Devleti Osmaniye mahallin ve kıtaatı hâzırayı ve eyâlâtı mümtazeyi muhtevî ve yekvücut olmakla hiç bir zamanda hiç bir sebeple tefrik kabul etmez.’”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 11. inikat, 31 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 176

48 On Ottoman official nationalism under Abdülhamid, see: Selim Deringil, “The Invention of Tradition as Public Image in the Late Ottoman Empire, 1808 to 1908”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 35, No. 1, (Jan., 1993), pp. 3-29. See also: Selim Deringil, The Well-Protected Domains, I.B.Tauris, London-New York 1999. Deringil argues that: “This concept of national monarchy was precisely what the Ottoman ruling elite was aiming for with its policy of Ottomanism, a concept meant to unite all peoples living in Ottoman domains, Muslim and non-Muslim, Turkish and Greek, Armenian and Jewish, Kurd and Arab. As such, it was a fine example of Anderson’s definition of official nationalism because it was ‘an anticipatory strategy adopted by dominant groups who are threatened with marginalization or exclusion from an emerging nationally imagined community.’”; Deringil, “The Invention of Tradition…”, p. 5

49 Without going into details on this subject, probably the most revealing moment, regarding this transfer of power, is the Parliament’s motion of censure that results in the government’s resignation, on February 13, 1909; see: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 27. inikat, 31 Kânunuevvel 1324, pp. 590-612. This move by Parliament was preceded by a number of discussions where Parliament claimed the right to control the government. See, for example, the first interpellation of Kâmil pasha, where Şefik bey makes the following statement: “We have acquired our national rights. Today, we are in possession of our National Government.”; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 8. inikat, 18 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 95

50 I would say that the Young Turk movement and the 1908 Revolution are only the last phase of a process begun much earlier: at least since the middle of the 19th century, Ottoman opposition movements have been justifying their actions in the name of patriotism; see: Burak Onaran, À Bas le Sultan. La conjuration de Kuleli (1859) et l’organisation Meslek (1867). Les premières tentatives de détrônement après l’abolition des janissaires, PhD thesis, EHESS, Paris 2009, passim

51 This is evidenced in parliamentary debates, where we see Muslim and non-Muslim deputies alike speak in the name of the Ottoman nation. It should also be noted that non-Muslim communities rejoiced at the restoration of the Constitution in July 1908 and backed the 1908 anti-Austrian boycott.

52 If I use the term “nationalism” (be it “official nationalism”), which seems rather inadequate in an imperial context where a nation – whether we understand “nation” as a political or a cultural entity, real or imagined – does not exist, this is due to two main reasons, besides the fact that a better-suited term does not exist: first, I find that the concept of “official nationalism”, which has sufficiently proved its functionality, is suited for the Young Turk period as well as it is for the Hamidian régime; second, Ottomans themselves (Muslim and non-Muslim, as evidenced in parliamentary debates) use the term “nation” (millet) and employ a language – the language of their era – tainted with nationalist imagery. I have the impression that Ottoman political élites very well understand and want to use the power of the “nation” in the era of nation-states: they realize that their calls for respect of the Empire’s territorial integrity will be much more persuasive if backed by a “nation”; this is very much evident during the anti-Austrian boycott that breaks out in October 1908, but also in all these expressions used by parliamentarians to which I have referred, such as “rights of the nation” and “defense of rights”. If I were to describe the Ottoman élites’ ideology without using the term “nationalism”, I would say that theirs is an ideology aiming at integrating the people – both because they feel that the people as “nation” will help them to further their aims and because the entry into scene of the masses is more and more a fact that they cannot ignore (consider, for example, the spontaneous popular demonstrations and strikes during the 1908 Revolution and in subsequent months) – but at integrating the people in a controlled manner: they do not want Ottomans to get organized spontaneously, on their own initiative, and to express possibly conflicting views and aims; popular dynamics are to be expressed only under the élites’ guidance, with an eye at advancing what the élites set as the “national interests”.

53 Çünkü mafevkattasavvur bazı mühim kuvâya karşı hareket edeceğimiz bedihîdir. Fakat kuvvetimiz dahilinde elbette bu milleti muhteremenin bu Devleti Muazzamanın hukukunu, hissiyatını her veçhile muhafaza edeceğiz. (Alkışlar)”; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 8. inikat, 18 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 93

54 There is evidence in the Minutes of the Ottoman Parliament of an effort made to re-write Ottoman history in the direction of proving that Ottomans have always been living together in harmony and of retrospectively creating a concept of Ottoman national sovereignty. This is, for instance, discernible in almost all of the statements I have used in this paper; see, for example, declarations by Hristo Daltchef, Aristidi pacha and Vartkes effendi, notes 37, 38 and 40 above. See also the Parliament’s answer to the speech of the throne, very characteristic of the effort to prove that an Ottoman sovereign nation has existed before 1908: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 6. inikat, 15 Kânunuevvel 1324, pp. 65-66

55General interests” are used interchangeably with “national interests” and “interests of the fatherland” (see note 46 above): “menafii umumiye” and “Osmanlıların […] menafii umumiyesi”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 8. inikat, 18 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 92, 93; “menafii umumiye ve müştereke”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 17. inikat, 17 Kânunusani 1324, p. 303; “menafii umumiye”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 27. inikat, 31 Kânunusani 1324, p. 594; “menafii umumiye”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 53. inikat, p. 653

56 See, for instance, Pantche Doref’s declarations during a discussion on the Macedonian question: “In my humble opinion, the particular interests of the Patriarch or of the Exarchy [i.e. the Bulgarian Church] cannot be preferred over general Ottoman interests at a time when our state is in such strong need. (Strong applause) And we should at all times prefer Ottoman interests over particular interests. We should try to arrange particular interests only when Ottoman interests are not in question.” [Hepiniz tasdik ediyorsunuz, böyle müfrit ve inatçı kimseler Devletimizin hakiki evlâdı sayılmaz. Fikri acizaneme kalırsa Patrikhanenin, egzarhanenin menafii hususiyeleri, Devletimizin şiddetli ihtiyacı olan böyle bir zamanda menafii umumiyei Osmaniyeye takdim olunamaz. (Şiddetli alkışlar) Ve menafii hususiyeye, her vakit, menafii Osmaniyeyi takdim etmeliyiz. Ancak menafii Osmaniye mevzubahis olmadığı bir zamanda menafii hususiyeyi halle çalışmalı.] : MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 21. inikat, 19 Kânunusani 1324, p. 430. See also similar statements by Dr. Riza Tevfik and Vartkes effendi, respectively: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 17. inikat, 10 Kânunusani 1324, p. 303; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 21. inikat, 19 Kânunusani 1324, p. 419

57 A very characteristic discussion is that of March 3 on public meetings, one of the first discussions where we see an open conflict between the CUP and the Liberals: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 17. inikat, 18 Şubat 1324, pp. 134-164. See also the short but heated debate triggered by the assassination of Hasan Fehmi, only a few days before the 31st March incident: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 53. inikat, 25 Mart 1325, pp. 651-655

58Bizim hiçbirimize tarafgirliğimiz yoktur. Menafii umumiyei vataniyede hiç kimse tarafgirlik edemez.”; “Taraftarlık edecek olursa, bu Meclise layık olmadığını tekrar ederim.” Ismail bey (Gümülcine), in: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 27. inikat, 31 Kânunusani 1324, p. 594. During a different discussion, Yusuf Kemal says that no one is taking sides for or against the grand vizier, because the only thing that deputies act upon are “Ottoman rights, and the interests of the fatherland; absolutely nothing else. (Applause)” [Çünkü size arzediyorum ki, biz burada hiç kimsenin müdafii değiliz. Hiç, katiyen; çünkü daha açığını söyleyeyim, şimdiki Kabine, Fırkadan intahap edilmiş bir Kabine değildir.

Velev ki öyle osun, bizim yalnız tanıyacağımız hukuku Osmaniye ve menafii vataniyedir; başka bir şey değil. (Alkışlar)] ; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 37. inikat, 18 Şubat 1324, p. 141; see also other similar declarations by Yusuf Kemal in ibid, p. 140

59 See the following declarations by deputies who state either that liberty was “given” to the people or that the people do not understand what the constitutional régime is: Mustafa Asim effendi in MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 17. inikat, 17 Kânunusani 1324, p. 378; Pavlof effendi and Habib bey in MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 21. inikat, 19 Kânunusani 1324, p. 406, 425. Pançe Doref effendi speaks of the need to institute “constitutional schools [meşrutiyet mektepleri]”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 11. inikat, 31 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 173. The grand vizier, Kâmil pasha, during his first interpellation by Parliament, states that the government was obliged to send “advisors” (and even, in some cases, to dispatch military units) to the people of certain localities who misinterpreted the Constitution and “hesitated in accepting it”. He adds that there had been efforts, which he terms “treacherous”, to incite the people in order to bring back the old régime: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 11. inikat, 31 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 165. Aristidi pasha is also very eloquent when he states the following: “[…] the liberty with which he has been honored being subject to many different commentaries, the people understand [liberty] in a wrong way and [say] ‘we are free of everything, free of taxes, free of conventions’. They do not know that liberty takes the chain off from the people’s hands and legs, but does not throw it away, it attaches it to his consciousness; they do not know this.”; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 21. inikat, 19 Kânunusani 1324, p. 423

It should also be noted that, in any case, several flaws in the electoral process, which was carried out more like a negotiation between the CUP and various groups, had severely undermined the Parliament’s capability to represent all Ottomans.

60 The need for a “patriotic education” is also often repeated in Parliament; see, for instance, the Parliament’s response to the speech of the throne: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 6. inikat, 15 Kânunuevvel 1324, p. 66. All this is in line with what Füsun Üstel has described as the process of shaping “convenient citizens”: Füsun Üstel, “Makbul Vatandaş”’ın Peşinde. II. Meşrutiyet’ten Bugüne Vatandaşlık Eğitimi, İletişim Yayınları, Istanbul 2004. Except for “convenient citizens”, I think that the term “subjects of the nation” could also be used, especially in the imperial context: if what we have in the Young Turk period is a continuation of the Hamidian official nationalism without the sultan – or, to be exact, with a lesser role for the sultan – it could be argued that the Ottomans are no longer subjects of the sultan, since sovereignty is transfered to the nation, but are not citizens either, given the paternalistic fashion in which Parliament shapes the nation’s “general interests”; Ottomans are, then, in a way, “subjects of the nation”, to which they owe allegiance.

61But if we are to bring in this manner into our Parliament party quarrels [fırka münazaalarını] and newspaper gossips of this kind, at a time when the need for the fatherland to work in unity in our Parliament is evident, we will be wasting our time.”; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 17. inikat, 18 Şubat 1324, p. 135

62 It could be argued that connection between these two implications of “general interests” exists even before the 31st March incident, at least in the minds of CUP deputies: during the discussion on the assassination of Hasan Fehmi, Ismail bey of Gümülcine very strongly opposes the possibility of this incident to be “taken to the streets” (a demonstration on the issue has already taken place); he stresses that Parliament has been working so that “general unity” is preserved and that it should only take into account “the fatherland, general [public] salvation, order, progress”: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 53. inikat, 25 Mart 1325, p. 653

63 Compare the following two declarations. Even before the 31st March incident, during the discussion on public meetings, on March 3, Arif Ismet bey says that comparisons of Ottoman politics with politics as conducted, for instance, in Britain, are not meaningful, since the “level of education” of the British is different, “but we are not like that yet”; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 1, 17. inikat, 18 Şubat 1324, pp. 152-153. In a declaration published 10 months after the 31st March incident, and after it has informally been dissolved, the Liberal Party says, among other things, that after the “grievous event of the 31st March”, the Liberals had decided to wait until “political culture [“terbiye-i siyasiye”, which can also be translated as “political good manners” or “political education”] has been, at least to a certain degree, understood”; for this declaration, see: Tunaya, op.cit., pp. 203-204

Consider, also, that after the 31st March incident a number of restrictive laws (on Press, political associations, public meetings, vagabondage) are prepared by Parliament, following Mahmut Şevket pasha’s recommendation; see: Akşin, op.cit., p. 288. These laws are a good example of the Parliament’s mistrust towards the people. At any rate, in the way in which irtica is defined, popular participation has been identified with manipulating the people.

64 See: Lütfi Fikri bey in MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 2, 85. inikat, 26 Nisan 1326, p. 30 [“[…] bu mesele bir gazete tarafından Şefik El-Müeyyet Bey hakkında vaki olan bir neşirden. […] Tanin Gazetesi nakletmiş, […] Neyyiri Hakikat Gazetesi bir gazete olmak itibarıyla her şeyi yazabilir, tabii Matbuat Kanunu var. Hükümet kendisini o kanun dairesinde yazı yazmaya macbur etmek lâzımdır. Bu mecburiyet tabii Tanin Gazetesi için de var. Müdürü mesulü bizden olduğu için Hükümet vazifesini ifa etmiyor. Çünkü Hükümet her şeyde irtica arıyor. Halbuki bu gazetelerden daha büyük bir mürteci yok. Çünkü Kanunî Esasi pek sarih surette bütün mebusların sözlerinden dolayı katiyen ademi mesuliyet taraftarı iken kabul etmiştir. Mebusların hürriyeti kelamına karşı vuku bulan neşriyat ve bunları nakletmek bir cürüm, bence Kanunî Esasiyye karşı vaki olmuş bir cürümdür. Bir eseri irticadır. Eğer eseri irtica arıyorlarsa işte size eseri irtica. Necati Efendiyi nasıl verdinizse Tanin Gazetesini de Divanı Harbe vermeliydik. Fakat bir prensip takip ediyorsunuz onu da vermeliyiz.”]; Kozmidi effendi in MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 3, 10. inikat, 20 Teşrinisani 1326, p. 294 [“Kabineye muhalefet eden yahut Fırkai galibenin takip ettiği program ve siyaset kendisine hoş gelmediğinden dolayı itiraz edenler bulunursa, buna mürtecidir demek, hem kolaylıkla söylemek Rum olursa, (Etniki eterya)’dandır. Bulgar olursa, bilmem nedir, Ermeni olursa, (Taşnaksutyon) cemiyetindendir. Arnavut ise, Arnavutluk’un istiklalini isteyen fırkadandır demek, bendeniz zannederim ki…”]

65 Galatı his olabilir. […] Şimdi rica ederim, bir kere Selânik’te kara verdik, diyorlar. […] Ondan sonra tuhaf bir suiistimal daha var. Gûyâ bugünkü Kabineye itiraz eden bir adam, İdarei Meşrutaya itiraz etmiş oluyor. Binaenaleyh bu, irticâî olmuş oluyor. Eğer bu bir irtica ise, ben, isticâî bir adamım, irticâiyyundanım, asın beni. (Sağ ve sol taraflardan şiddetli alkışlar) Bu nedir? Bu rezalettir. Siz Meşrutiyetin timsali müşahhası mısınız?”; MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 2, 70. inikat, 29 Mart 1326, p. 42

66 Lütfi Fikri bey, deputy for Dersim and prominent figure of the liberal opposition, accuses Tanin, the main pro-CUP newspaper, of violating, with its publications, the deputies’ freedom of speech; he points out that this is an act against the Constitution, and, therefore, constitutes irtica [“Bir eseri irticadır”]: MMZC, d. 1, içt. sen. 2, 85. inikat, 26 Nisan 1326, p. 30


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