In the period of nearly a century beginning in 1826 – the year in which the Janissary Corps was abolished – until the end of the First World War in 1918, Istanbul witnessed a great number of significant political developments. This era saw an increase in external and internal threats against the Ottoman sultanate, as well as the emergence of new actors on the political stage; at the same time, there were innovations and changes in the language, the symbols, and the conduct of politics. The palace, which was both the sultan’s private residence and the heart of the state administration, was moved from the ancient city center to the shores and slopes of the Bosphorus. Similarly, the Sublime Porte (Bâbıâli), the next most important center of the bureaucracy after the palace, was complemented by the addition of the Serasker Gate (Bâb-ı Seraskerî, i.e., the “Gate of the Commander in Chief,” later known as the Ministry of War) in Beyazıt. The embassies of the great European states, which were concentrated in the district of Beyoğlu (known at the time as Galata or Pera), interfered in Ottoman politics to an unprecedented extent and became places of refuge in which local political actors, in a rivalry with one another, might seek support or protection. In place of bureaucrats contending with one another like de facto political camps, political parties arose which were patently structured along ideological lines. In this contentious political atmosphere, which became more and more acrimonious, high-level political actors also had more and more need of popular support. Different classes of people began to take part in street demonstrations which laid the groundwork for later changes of regime. These individuals included local residents, artisans and shopkeepers; wage laborers who came into the city from the countryside; students from the madrasas (religious schools), from the university known as the Darülfünun, and from the military schools; and the rank and file of military units stationed in the city.

1- Sultan Selim III’s admission of a European envoy. On the Sultan’s left Shahzada Mustafa (IV) and Shahzada Mahmud (II) (d’Ohsson)

Selim III was dethroned on May 29, 1807, in a rebellion led by the Janissaries. Of the following seven sultans, four (if one includes the last one, Mehmed Vahdeddin VI) were likewise dethroned in military coups. Prior to the nineteenth century, the political winds were blowing from Istanbul to the vast domains of the Empire, which constituted the hinterland of Istanbul. But things were reversed with the arrival of Alemdar Mustafa Pasha --an âyan (provincial notable) in the town of Rusçuk (Ruse) -- in Istanbul on July 21, 1808, at the head of a contingent of soldiers to reinstate Selim III to the throne and one week later to capture the seal of grand vizier by seizing the Sublime Porte. A full century later, a military uprising that began in Manastır (Bitola) would force Abdülhamid II to reconvene the Parliament and reenact the Ottoman constitution known as the Kanun-ı Esasi; on April 25, 1909, the Army of Freedom (Hürriyet Ordusu), consisting of forces attached to the Second and Third Armies as well as bands of Balkan Muslims and non-Muslims, would be deployed from Salonica, occupying Istanbul and deposing Sultan Abdülhamid II.

The winds of threat and occupation blowing during this period from the Balkans to the Ottoman capital manifested themselves in other events as well. After the loss of the Crimea, the frontier between the Ottoman and Russian empires started to shift southward. In the wars of 1828-29 and 1877-78, the Russian army got as far as Edirne and then Ayastefanos (Yeşilköy), on the outskirts of Istanbul. Such events would cause the officials in Topkapı Palace and the Sublime Porte to turn more towards the West, especially towards London, Paris, and Vienna, the capitals of the great European powers of that era. When the governor of Egypt, Mehmed Ali Pasha (Muhammad Ali), who owed formal allegiance to Istanbul, defeated the Ottoman army with his own forces in 1832-33 and marched as far as Kütahya, the search for political and military support was even directed towards St. Petersburg, the Russian capital. The Ottoman-Russian War of 1853-56, known as the Crimean War, turned Istanbul from a stage of European political rivalry into a military encampment for the allied military forces of the Ottomans, British, French, and Italians.

The alliances made with Western powers in foreign policy would soon have an effect on the Ottomans’ internal affairs as well. The territorial integrity of the Ottoman country and the defense of Istanbul began to be seen as a question of European politics. As a result, matters of internal politics, such as which prince would occupy the Ottoman throne, or which vizier or minister would become grand vizier, became subject to interventions carried out by diplomatic ambassadors in Istanbul on the instructions of their own ministries of war and foreign affairs. Dozens of diplomats, military attachés and advisors, and embassy dragomans serving in Istanbul in the nineteenth century – in particular, influential ambassadors such as the British diplomat Canning, the Russian diplomat Ignatieff, and the German military advisor von der Goltz Pasha – came to be accused of plotting, organizing, supporting, or hindering numerous important events in Ottoman political history during its final stage. Nevertheless, neither they nor any of the local actors in Ottoman politics, from the highest-ranking to the lowest, were capable of dealing with these complex rivalries and conflicts on their own. The dynamic, mercurial nature of politics usually rendered even the most meticulously worked-out plans useless in the medium and long term. Those who engaged in intrigue or plotted coups seemed victorious for a while, only to lose – sooner or later – the power and influence they thought they had acquired. Every political organization, which had been set up in the belief that it would be permanent, eventually produced the forces that would oppose it and destroy it. In most cases, the rule of those who had sought positions of political power with promises of reform – and even revolution – ushered in even harsher and more violent repression and tyranny than the previous era, with documents such as the Charter of Alliance (Sened-i İttifak), the Tanzimat (Reorganization) and Islahat (Reform) edicts, and the Kanun-ı Esasi (Constitution) remaining merely on paper.

2- Sultan Mustafa IV (Topkapı Palace Museum)

The new standing army that from 1826 onward replaced the Janissary Corps, which had by then already ceased to be a military force and had turned into one of the main actors in Istanbul’s political and economic life, failed to meet the high expectations of the sultan. Officers who had graduated from the Medical School (Mekteb-i Tıbbiye) and the Military Academy (Mekteb-i Harbiye) – which had been founded in order to train an officer corps for the army – became politicized just a half-century later, as had been the case with their predecessors. Hüseyin Avni Pasha, the first graduate of a military academy to become commander in chief, was one of the main instigators of the coup of 1876, in which Sultan Abdülaziz was dethroned. Likewise, the young graduates of the military academy who had been sent to Macedonia to fight against bands of Bulgarian separatists would use in July of 1908 the irregular military tactics acquired in the process against their own senior commanders, who remained loyal to the palace and the sultan. These young officers, being opponents of the regime, founded the Committee of Union and Progress (İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti), which would have a significant impact on the final decade of the Ottoman Empire; they became known at the time as the “heroes of liberty.” In January of 1913, they made a raid on the Sublime Porte and also attacked the Ministry of War, thus overthrowing the cabinet. The second decade of the twentieth century, in which the Ottoman sultanate’s political life came to an end, saw a single-party hegemony in which the sultan had been reduced to “the notary of Dolmabahçe Palace.” At the turn of the century, when European and world politics tended towards extremism, Istanbul was in tune with the spirit of the age. There were no longer any Janissaries; however, in practice, violence still prevailed in politics. In earlier times, there had been clashes right in the center of the city between supporters and opponents of the sultan armed with guns and artillery. From the 1890s onward, assassinations with bombs and guns, as well as murders by unknown assailants, were openly carried out in the streets of Istanbul. During these years, Muslim and non-Muslim political opponents made use of their foreign connections in trying to overthrow Abdülhamid II. Bombs were put under the sultan’s carriage, or were used against his security forces during the dictatorship of the CUP, which came to power after the sultan was dethroned. Furthermore, opposition journalists were shot in the streets in broad daylight. Starting at the end of Sultan Abdülaziz’s reign, the concept of the “political crime” (politika töhmeti) became part of the Ottoman political lexicon. This concept were not empty words, either, as could be seen from the Muslim and non-Muslim prisoners held captive in the Ottoman Empire’s first General Prison and the buildings of the Ministry of Security, which were built in Sultanahmet Square.

The Milestones of a New Era: The Greek Revolt, and the Abolition of the Janissary Corps and the Bektaşi Order

3- Janissary, a major and a cannoneer from New Order (Nizam-ı Cedid) corps(Brindesi)

Selim III ascended to the Ottoman throne in 1789, the year in which the French Revolution broke out; he was deposed in 1807, during the revolt of Kabakçı Mustafa, thus bringing an end to his project known as the Nizam-ı Cedid (New Order), which he had begun to implement in the military and state administration. These series of military and financial measures were aimed at increasing the political, administrative, and financial control of the sultan and the central government, both in the capital and in Rumelia (the Balkans) and Anatolia. Various interest groups were united in opposition to Selim III’s program, hoping to preserve the status quo by replacing him with Mustafa IV. Although Mustafa IV’s fourteen-month-long sultanate was ended when Alemdar Mustafa Pasha occupied the capital with the Balkan forces under his command, the sultan feared that his predecessor would be restored to the throne and thus ordered the execution of the deposed Selim III. In a violent surprise attack in Topkapı Palace on July 28, 1808, Selim III lost his life; however, Prince Mahmud, another of the attackers’ targets, ran away, crossing the rooftops of the palace at the last minute. Thus, with the support of the âyan (provincial notable) of Rumelia, who gained control of the city, Mahmud became the new occupant of the throne. However, a faction in the Janissary Corps did not approve of this change of ruler. They even deliberated among themselves what they would do in the event that Mahmud should attempt to alter the policies that Mustafa IV – whom they themselves had put on the throne – had promised to implement. As there was no other prince in the Ottoman dynasty at the time, they considered enthroning either Princess Esma Sultan, or the head of the Mevlevi dervish order in Konya, or a prince from the Giray dynasty of the former Crimean Khanate.

Mahmud II, who had come to the throne through these political developments, never forgot those who had attempted to kill him on that day, as is clear from a look at the list of people whom he ordered to be executed a full eighteen years later, when the Janissary Corps was abolished. However, he was not overhasty in re-implementing the centralization project, which his cousin, Selim III, had attempted to carry out in a politically haphazard manner. He kept a close watch on various developments and opportunities, not only in Istanbul, but throughout the Empire, as well as abroad. Four months after Mahmud’s accession to the throne, there was a second uprising, from November 16 to 19, 1808. Although Mahmud was unable to prevent his grand vizier, Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, as well as the agha (chief) of the Janissaries, Mustafa Pasha, from being killed by the rebels, he did not hesitate to order the strangling of the deposed sultan, his own brother Mustafa IV. He watched from afar and took a lesson from events, such as the fierce clashes fought by soldiers of the Sekban-ı Cedid (the new army which Alemdar Mustafa Pasha had created from his own forces), which spread to the Janissaries’ courtyard in the palace; the setting on fire of the Sublime Porte; the cannon bombardment of the Janissary Barracks by the fleet, which remained loyal to him; and fires in places under the central political authority of the city: Sultanahmet, Hagia Sophia, the Divanyolu, and the Armorers’ Barracks. He also witnessed the burning of the barracks in Selimiye (Üsküdar) and Levent, places outside the city where the forces of both the Nizam-ı Cedid and the Sekban-ı Cedid held drills. Admiral Ramiz Pasha, the Qadi Abdurrahman Pasha, and Naval Minister Moralı Ali Efendi – who had opposed the rebels and remained loyal both to Mahmud and to his cousin Selim III – fled by sea, first to Yeşilköy and then to Rumelia, leaving Mahmud to fend for himself, so to speak. As with his predecessor Mustafa IV, Mahmud had only one choice: come to terms with the rebels (whose armed contingent was made up of Janissaries), accede to their demands in the short term, and see to it that they would not be punished for their illegal political intervention.

Mahmud II spent the first years of his sultanate establishing a balance of power; his first priority was eliminating powerful local figures in Rumelia and Anatolia. In time, some of the rural âyans and other gentry – who shared not only the sultan’s political authority over the country, but also local tax and commercial revenues – died a natural death; some of them were removed through the hidden machinations of the sultan, or through outright military intervention, a process that culminated in the removal of Ali Pasha of Tepelena, the governor of Ioannina. However, this time the sultan faced another political problem within the empire. After the death of Ali Pasha, the Greek separatist movement took advantage of the political vacuum in the Morea (Peloponnese); in 1821, it succeeded in creating a small-scale revolt which started in Wallachia and Moldavia, and later moved to the Morean Peninsula, which would form the heartland of the state of Greece. The forces of the central administration, consisting of Janissaries and mercenary groups, were completely unable to bring this irregular war – fought for five years by bands of Greek guerillas – to a close. However, thanks to the naval and land forces sent by Muhammad Ali, the governor of Egypt, the Ottomans were able to decisively crush the rebellion on April 23, 1826. But the military success, which they had achieved, was not matched by any political success. Nearly all the great European powers – especially England, France, and Russia – took sides with the rebellious Greeks against the Ottoman Empire, upsetting all the plans laid by the sultan and his statesmen in Istanbul. Unable to reach a formal accord with his internal and external political rivals, Mahmud II decided to take advantage of the concerns that the Greek Revolt had created in public opinion.

4- Sultan Mahmud II (Topkapı Palace Museum)

5- Charter of Alliance (BOA HH, no. 746/36242)

Mahmud had already, for some time, been trying to carry out a purge of the Janissary Corps, with the help of Agha Hüseyin Pasha, and to fill its commanding ranks with individuals who would be loyal to the sultan. Right around this time, he recalled the half-finished project launched by his murdered cousin, and set out to establish a new standing centralized army. However, in terms of foreign affairs, the conditions were not very suitable for taking such a step. Russia’s demands had not been met after the Greek Revolt, and it was once more preparing to make war on the Ottoman Empire, for the first time since the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-12. However, the increasingly vocal Janissaries, who were using the Greek Revolt as an excuse to stir up a rather xenophobic sort of popular religious nationalism on the part of the Muslim community of Istanbul, were starting to threaten the political authority of Mahmud II. The members of the Janissary Corps sent threatening messages to the sultan through their own commanders. Claiming that they did not trust the city’s Greeks and Armenians (whom they referred to as gâvurs, i.e., “infidels”) they demanded that they be expelled from Istanbul and even slaughtered. Since its conquest, Istanbul had been administered through a multi-religious, multi-ethnic imperial system; thus, from the point of view both of internal and external politics, it was impossible for the sultan to agree to such a radical purge being carried out. The Sultan tried to dodge the issue by noting on the margins of the official response to the Janissaries’ demand that he could not order the expulsion of the city’s Greek population on his own and that he could only do so if the Sheikh al-Islam issued a fatwa (religious ruling) to that effect. Similarly, Mahmud took a dim view of Agha Hüseyin Pasha’s offer to gain full control over the army by killing the oppositional groups within the Corps – consisting of low- and mid-level officers known as ustas (masters) – through a sudden coup. Mahmud’s plan was not to act until the time was right, and to purge his opponents within the Corps without resorting to measures that would seem illegitimate in the eyes of the public. Unlike Selim III and Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, Mahmud won over the statesmen of the Sublime Porte and the members of the ulema (community of Muslim religious scholars), by and large, with his appointments and dismissals; nonetheless, it was difficult to predict how the political actors in Istanbul would behave in the event of a possible Janissary rebellion.

6- Sultan Mahmud II’s ceremony throne with his sultanate signature
    (Topkapı Palace)

7- Representational engraving depicting the bringing of the Sacred Flag to Sultanahmet mosque in order to abolish the Janissary Corps and the speeches given there (Allom)

8- Sultan Mahmud II

9- The imperial edict regarding the abolishment of the janissary corps (BOA
    HH, no. 318/51356C)

Actually, during the Greek Revolt, it was not the Janissary masters alone who set a precedent for making the fate of Istanbul’s Greeks a political issue. In a general assembly meeting attended by the aghas and commissioned officers of the Janissaries, Ottoman statesmen raised this issue, with the sultan approving the decision made by the assembly. In this meeting, held six months after the revolt broke out, a number of extraordinary and attention-grabbing proposals were made. It was held that all Muslims in the city should be armed at all times; that Istanbul’s Greeks should be carefully monitored, with those strong enough to make war sent to a location in Anatolia; and that the Phanariot Greeks, who up until then had played important roles in Ottoman diplomacy, should be put to death, down to the very last one. Furthermore, the assembly decided how the people of Istanbul should respond in the event that the Russians declared war. The proposal to send all “able-bodied Greeks” in Istanbul into exile in Anatolia met with universal approval. After Mahmud II’s approval was obtained concerning this matter, they began to take a census of the Greeks living in the city; two days later, in a council at the office of the Sheikh al-Islam, it was decided to send all single, unemployed and able-bodied Greeks into exile. Moreover, in order to prevent Greek non-Muslim subjects from fleeing to the Mediterranean or the Black Sea in ships belonging to foreign merchants licensed by the state – and to prevent Greek rebels from being aboard the ships entering the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus – the council decided to take the precaution of stationing inspectors at both Straits. Likewise, in order to stop the “flight of non-Muslim subjects” to Rumelia – whether by land or sea – and prevent rebels from Rumelia and Anatolia from coming to Istanbul and making propaganda, the council resolved to require a permit for Greeks going to and from Rumelia. In the aforementioned assembly, the question had arisen of gathering and expelling not only the Greeks living in Istanbul, but also “some vagrants,” as a security measure. However, when Mahmud II reviewed these decisions, he gave instructions that the expulsion of the Greeks from Istanbul should be postponed.

Another striking measure that was thought necessary in order to guard Istanbul against a possible Greek revolt, as well as occupation by the Russians, was to arm the Muslim population in the capital, a measure that was resorted to during the abolition of the Janissary Corps. This decision ran counter to the old Ottoman political statutes, which, in order to create a distinction between the governing class and the governed – both Muslim and non-Muslim – had put restrictions on people’s bearing arms, riding horses, and wearing certain clothes. From this time forth, the authorities were responsible for paying constant and close attention to ensure that no Muslim man in Istanbul went outside unarmed. To this end, in accordance with the demands of the Janissary commissioned officers, weapons confiscated by the state from non-Muslim subjects would be distributed to fellow Janissaries who were too poor to purchase their own.

Beginning in the first months of 1826, when the Greek Revolt came to a close, the sultan, his trusted statesmen, members of the Janissary Corps, and members of the ulema convened in secret meetings, and in principle reached an agreement about the changes that would be carried out in the structure of the military. Finally, on May 26, 1826, at a meeting at the residence of the Sheikh al-Islam, it was decided to raise new infantry forces; in order not to provoke a hostile reaction from the Janissaries, these were to be formally attached to the Janissary Corps, and would be known as the Eşkinci. Grand Vizier Selim Mehmed Pasha and Reis Efendi Seyyid Mehmed Efendi took the floor; they mentioned Russia’s intervention on behalf of the rebellious Serbs, and England’s intervention on behalf of the rebellious Greeks, as well as the possibility of Russia’s declaring war, and attempted to persuade the participants at the meeting that they were in a “state of emergency.” In their opinion, the Christian powers had previously formed an agreement to divide the lands of Islam among themselves, and were now acting accordingly. In such a climate, it was absolutely necessary for all Muslims – not only elites like members of the ulema, statesmen, or Janissaries, but also the common people – to devote themselves to the cause of the state and the defense of the nation against such an attack.

In practice, this meant supporting the planned restructuring in the army, and, in the event of a possible revolt, not collaborating with the Janissaries. In fact, this wish became a reality. A coterie of religious figures, including the Sheikh al-Islam, high-level members of the ulema, and religious teachers, offered a unanimous opinion that it would be permissible to train soldiers using European methods in order to counter the military tactics employed by their European enemies. This ideological support was crucial, for every intervention and coup that would cause a fundamental change in the existing political structure – whether carried out by the sultan or by his subordinates in an alliance against him – ultimately had to receive legitimacy through the law. Moreover, in the Janissary rebellions of 1703, 1730, 1807, and 1808, and the palace coups that followed, many eminent members of the ulema – in order to preserve their own interests as a group, in opposition to the reigning sultan – had given decisive support to the Janissary Corps and its supporters in the uneducated working class. The ulema would always continue to play an important role in the abolition of the Janissary Corps and in later political upheavals of the nineteenth century. It was this practice that lay behind the sultan’s having the Sheikh al-Islam issue a fatwa regarding the Eşkinci project; it was also why he had this accord set down in writing in the form of a written deed. The fatwa implicitly cast blame on the Janissaries, drawing attention to the fact that for five years the Ottomans had been unable to defeat the bands of Greeks who were in revolt within the empire, let alone the Christian powers of Europe themselves. One month later, an edict was issued which listed the grounds for abolishing the Janissary Corps. The edict put the entire blame for the Ottomans’ lack of military success on the Janissaries, holding them solely responsible due to the disobedience that prevailed in their ranks for a century of territorial losses. However, if the Ottoman military forces experienced a decline over time vis-à-vis their rivals, this was not merely the Janissaries’ fault. Military factors, events in Europe, and new sociopolitical and socioeconomic dynamics both in Istanbul and in the Ottoman territories as a whole had a great influence on the change in the balance of power.

After the issuing of this document, there was another meeting at the office of the Sheikh al-Islam on May 28, 1826. Present at the meeting were high-level statesmen, such as the grand vizier, the Sheikh al-Islam, the agha of the Janissaries, the guardians of the Bosphorus, the Reis Efendi, the Chief Treasurer, the superintendent of the Mint, and the superintendent of the Artillery, along with religious figures such as judges, teachers from madrasas and mosques, and preachers. Also in attendance were representatives of the Janissary Corps. In addition to the agha of the Janissaries, there were also certain high-level commissioned officers whom the sultan-bureaucracy alliance had won over: sekbanbaşı and a number of former sekbanbaşıs, regimental scribes (orta mütevellileri), company aghas (bölük ağaları), and the aghas of the baggage-trains (katar ağaları). The state of the Janissary Corps came up for criticism in the meeting. The grand vizier himself, Selim Mehmed Pasha, remarked that it was necessary for the Islamic soldiery to recognize war as a religious obligation – a jihad – and that submission to the ultimate authority (known in the Islamic political tradition as ulü’l-emr) was likewise a necessity. All of these remarks were expressions of an intention to establish the authority of the political leadership (centered on the caliph/sultan) over the armed forces.

The deed, the fatwa, and the memorandum regarding the Eşkinci were signed by the viziers, statesmen, the Sheikh al-Islam, the ulema, the teachers from the mosques, the leaders of the tarikats (religious orders), the agha of the Janissary Corps, and the Janissary commissioned officers. The agha of the Janissaries, Mehmed Celaleddin – along with the qadi of Istanbul, the custodian of fatwas, and the teachers from the mosques – then went to the building known as the Agha Gate (Ağa Kapısı) and announced these decisions to his fellow Janissaries. In the meantime, the members of the ulema who accompanied the agha of the Janissaries gave advice to the other members of the Corps; they did not fail to make thinly-veiled threats, stressing that those who did not abide by these decisions would suffer “needless bloodshed.” Right from the start, in order to delegitimize a possible reaction from the Corps and/or the people who would claim that the new European military training being imposed upon the Corps was un-Islamic, religious figures of different ranks were given the duty of deflecting such criticism in various ways. Actually, both sides concealed their underlying political intentions, endeavoring to legitimize their own positions with reference to Islamic jurisprudence; the Janissaries described this new setup, in which they were to be used entirely as a tool of political authority, as the “infidel drill”; crying, “We want the Sharia,” they demanded that the existing laws be preserved. The state, with the support it gained from the ulema, intended to frame a political-military issue entirely within the confines of religion, and to suppress any dissident opinions, which might arise right from the beginning. Actually, it is understandable that both sides would resort to such tactics within a social order in which the Islamic religion was the main source of law and political philosophy. In fact, similar discourses would be employed in the military uprising known as the “March 31 Incident,” which took place in Istanbul at the beginning of the twentieth century.

10- Janissaries: Orta Ustas, Ustas, and Karakullukçus (A. Cevad)

11- The grave of Alemdar Mustafa Paşa who was killed in the riot that took
    place November 15, 1808 and whose body was thrown into a well near Yedikule.
    His grave is near the well where his body was thrown into

12- The transfer of Alemdar Mustafa Paşa’s grave to the graveyard of Zeynep
    Sultan Mosque

13- Alemdar Mustafa Paşa’s grave which was transferred to the graveyard of
    Zeynep Sultan Mosque

Just three weeks after the new military forces, ostensibly established under the umbrella of the Janissary Corps, began training, the expected outcome occurred: the Janissaries rebelled, unaware that this was to be their last rebellion. However, on this occasion they faced a political will that was better prepared and more determined. This powerful coalition consisted of the sultan and a host of different groups who were allied with him: the statesmen of the Sublime Porte; the high-level and low-level members of the ulema; madrasa students; other classes of soldiers who did not act in concert with the Janissaries (the Artillerymen, the Grenadiers, the Sappers, and those from the Dockyards); and the Muslim inhabitants of the city, who, under the guidance of the neighborhood imams, were invited to gather beneath the “banner of the Prophet,” which the caliph-sultan had unfurled in Sultanahmet Square, “as though they were about to wage a holy war against the infidels.” On June 14, 1826, starting at the evening call to prayer, the Janissaries began to gather in the square known as the Et Meydanı (Meat Square), under the leadership of a few low-ranking and mid-ranking Janissary commissioned officers. As in previous similar incidents, they first attacked the Agha Gate in the Süleymaniye district. Among their targets was the agha of the Janissaries, Mehmed Celaleddin, who they claimed had sold them out by acting with the sultan and the Sublime Porte. However, they did not find him there. At that point, they began their revolt – if only symbolically – by taking out their famous cauldrons from the barracks and the Armory, with little opposition on the part of the armorers. Next, as had happened in previous rebellions, they scoured the cafes and streets, inviting their followers and supporters from the city’s unemployed, wage laborers, and petty artisans to join them. Their manservants were dispatched to the districts of Tahtakale, Asmaaltı, Unkapanı, and other places, urging the porters and wage laborers there to support the Janissaries. This crowd assembled and then made a raid on the home of Egypt’s representative to the Sublime Porte, Necib Efendi, who had supported the Eşkinci by supplying it with a drill-master, Davud Agha. Afterwards, they marched to the Sublime Porte.

Upon being informed of these events, Mahmud II returned to Topkapı Palace from his coastal palace in Beşiktaş, and immediately had a meeting with his trusted statesmen and commanders. They agreed to resist the rebellion and suppress it forcibly. The next morning, they set up their headquarters in the courtyard of the Sultanahmet Mosque. A group of artillerymen and sailors started to make their way from the Divanyolu towards the Janissary barracks. They were under the command of Head Artilleryman Numan Agha, Mehmed Pasha, and Agha Hüseyin Pasha, formerly the agha of the Janissaries, who recently had been appointed the guardian of the Bosphorus, another strategic military position, after it became clear that his life was at risk in his previous position. At the same time, aghas and soldiers of the Grenadiers and Sappers, among other military corps that were on the side of the sultan, began to march towards the same destination, along the Valens Aqueduct and the Avenue of the Meat Sellers. Both groups were accompanied by townsfolk as well as madrasa students, who had also clashed with the Janissaries in the streets of Istanbul back in 1815. When these civilians reached the palace, they were given muskets and cartridges from the Inner Armory. Upon the arrival of these two groups at the Et Meydanı, the members of the Janissary Corps withdrew into their barracks in order to protect themselves. At that point, a mounted artilleryman named İbrahim Agha (nicknamed “The Black Hell”), ordered his subordinates to fire their cannons upon the barracks. They captured the Janissaries who remained in the Et Meydanı and began to take them to Sultanahmet Square. Meanwhile, the gates that opened onto the area within the walls – the area considered the center of the city – were closed, and orders were given not to let any non-Muslim, whether an Ottoman subject or a foreigner, inside this area.

Town criers invited a crowd of civilians to gather beneath the sacred banner and support the sultan. It can be presumed that a significant part of this crowd was made up of classes of people who had suffered commercially from the Corps’s monopoly over certain businesses, as well as ordinary people who had long been upset by the disturbances in the streets of Istanbul since the Rebellion of Kabakçı Mustafa: the gunfights which had occurred among different Janissary battalions; the quarrels which broke out between the Janissaries who practiced a certain trade, and merchants and tradesmen who were not members of the Corps; and the incidents of plunder and robbery, as well as harassment and rape of women, in which Janissaries or their supporters took part. Members of the Corps who levied an increase on transportation costs, as well as the porters and boatmen who took sides with them, earned the hostility of the tradesmen and merchants. Janissary regiments which did not wish to allow anyone other than themselves into the construction business, or which worked less for more money and forced their customers to purchase construction supplies from their own associates, provoked a reaction, over time, from rival artisans and workers, as well as their employers. Because of their membership in the Corps, the Janissaries were not only exempt from taxes, but also possessed de facto invulnerability against intervention by the Sublime Porte. As a privileged and organized social force, they sometimes behaved like a labor union on the labor and service markets, and sometimes like a corporate trust that set prices. Such events periodically brought the non-Janissary civilian population – and especially the property-owning urban middle class – to the point of rebellion, causing them to seek redress from the Sublime Porte and to protest before the Agha Gate. The sultan and his viziers then stepped in, calling on the agha of the Janissaries, the Janissary scribe, and high-level Janissary commissioned officers to settle the matter within the Corps itself. However, this time the situation was different: whoever in the city was opposed to the Janissaries had been armed by the palace itself and deployed against the Corps.

On June 15 and 16, 1826, the heart of Istanbul was filled with armed clashes, giving the appearance of an actual civil war. A few thousand Janissaries and their supporters were killed, while a few hundred of them were arrested and brought before the commander in chief and the grand vizier at the Agha Gate and in Sultanahmet Square, where they were sentenced to death as political criminals without any formal trial. Their corpses were first taken to Sultanahmet Square; from there, they were dragged on the ground by the children of the workers in Gedikpaşa and Hagia Sophia hamams (public baths), and finally thrown into the sea from the Ahırkapı Dock. According to information provided to London by the British ambassador, Stratford Canning, who was serving in Istanbul at the time, there were 150,000 members of the Janissary Corps in the city. However, of this exaggerated number, only 40,000 were registered, i.e., were licensed to receive a salary from the Corps. There were roughly an additional 30,000 soldiers; thus, the members of the Corps were estimated to number 70,000 in total.

According to this information obtained by Canning, one of the members of the court was unable to endure the ghastly sights laid before him, and became completely immobile and unresponsive. The commander of the imperial guards was also put to death, after having been dismissed from his post for allowing the escape of some of the convicted ones caught and packed into jail, as well as some of the accused Janissaries at one of the three execution sites in Istanbul. Pandora’s Box had been opened; this was not an opportunity to be squandered. Anyone who was opposed to the sultan and his political coalition, or who could potentially become opposed to them, became a target for the “purge of the sword.” As Ambassador Canning learned “from a secret source,” “It was as if everyone who had shown any enthusiasm for the Janissaries’ schemes since the sultan’s ascension to the throne had his name recorded in a ledger; and whoever might be capable of such sympathies was assiduously sought out and killed.” Elderly men who insisted that they had played no part in the last rebellion were reminded of some small incident twenty years before, and were told that they deserved to be punished as accomplices of the Janissaries. An atmosphere of terror prevailed in Istanbul, as evinced by the deserted streets of the city and the downcast faces of its inhabitants.

There was a thoroughgoing purge, not only in the center of the Ottoman capital known as Dersaadet (the Abode of Felicity), but also in Üsküdar, where the Janissaries and the porters who took sides with them had had their way since the killing of Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, sometimes terrorizing the local inhabitants. İzzet Mehmed Pasha, the governor of Kütahya, who lived in Beykoz, had the Janissaries who were caught on the Asian side taken to Üsküdar, where most of them were executed. The rebels who still remained from the eras of Selim III and Alemdar Mustafa Pasha were rounded up here and there and forced to pay the price for their past deeds. About 300 imperial boathouse guards living in the villages of Üsküdar, who were seen as secret supporters of the Janissaries, had their special red cloth caps taken from them, and were sent back to their home provinces after their names were found in the Janissary ledgers. Members of many professions – grocers, vegetable-sellers, kebab-sellers, coffee house owners, and confectioners, and especially boatmen and porters – were put to death or exiled. Not only had they supported the Janissaries in various palace coups, but they had also provoked a reaction from the people and the artisan classes through their overbearing interference in daily life in Üsküdar.

On June 17, 1826, after clashes lasting for two days, the Janissary Corps was officially abolished through an edict read from the pulpit of Sultanahmet Mosque; this was communicated to the people of Istanbul. Directly afterwards, the order was issued to the local qadis and civil administrators all over the country to close down the Janissary organizations in their regions. Although the abolition of the Janissary Corps, which had existed for four centuries, and related organizations may have occurred for military and technological reasons, this strategic decision nonetheless had serious political, social, and economic consequences.

This purge was successfully completed in Istanbul much faster than had been anticipated; in the days that followed, it was continued, albeit with different targets. An atmosphere of martial law prevailed in the city; many suspect social classes, who were thought to represent a threat to the sultan’s authority, faced various punitive measures aimed at either inducing them to leave the city or neutralizing them politically. Among these classes were certain groups originating from the provinces, united by their town of origin or profession, who had been migrating to Istanbul – in different numbers at different times – since the end of the sixteenth century, even though they were technically forbidden from entering the capital. Granted, this population, who could be described as the city’s poor, or its “riffraff,” were useful to statesmen or Janissary aghas when they were about to embark on a campaign and desperately in need of soldiers; nonetheless, in essence, they represented a force from which various political and social factions might potentially receive support in an uprising against the sultan. These groups were referred to by the bureaucracy of the Sublime Porte as the “Kurds and Turks.” They were of rural or tribal origin, and became influential in politics, the labor market, and commerce through their ties to inhabitants of Istanbul from the same hometown. Among these communities were thousands of porters, day laborers, grocers, vegetable sellers, boatmen, cartmen, hamam attendants, and idle young men. The security forces were given orders to assemble them here and there, after which they attempted to force them onto boats and send them back to their hometowns in Rumelia and Anatolia. Those who were married were left alone, if clear charges did not exist against them.

Among the communities united by ethnic solidarity that were exiled from Istanbul to their hometowns were Albanians. With strong attachment to their hometowns, and their warlike nature, groups of plundering Albanian bandits were wreaking havoc in Rumelia. The central government, wishing to include them in the established order, even if only to a limited extent, used the expedient of enrolling them in the army as irregular mercenaries, or as enlisted Janissaries. As part of the sociopolitical purge, which began with the abolition of the Janissary Corps, superfluous individuals from these Albanian groups holding certain occupations (e.g., hamam attendants, bakers, bagel sellers, and bun sellers) were among those who were sent away from the capital. The newly-founded Superintendent of Guilds and Markets was given the task of making sure that these Albanian tradesmen and laborers did not carry weapons, whether secretly or openly. The wheat and animals found in the bakeries of bakers sent into exile were turned over to the Granary to pay off their debts; their bakeries were left in the hands of wholesale merchants as well as bakers of Armenian origin who were found to be trustworthy. When it came to porters, preference was shown to the city’s Armenian residents as well (whose loyalty the state had not yet come to question), rather than the Turkish and Kurdish populations, whose involvement in political incidents had made them suspect. However, this situation would change as the years went on. As a result of the Armenian political movement, which began in Istanbul in 1890, Armenians were dismissed from their jobs as porters and similar occupations, with the state attempting to fill their places with Muslim Turks and Kurds.

14- Sultan Mahmud II and Nusretiye Mosque and Mahmudiye Galley in the background (Topkapı Palace Museum)

Along with the new military, which possessed a regular, standing army, and would be based on compulsory military service in the years to come, Ottoman statesmen endeavored to establish a more authoritarian political order. In this new era, their official discourse contained more references to issues such as religious brotherhood and the unity of civil society and the state. These propaganda activities targeted primarily the Muslim population, especially that of Istanbul; the great loss of trust brought about by the Greek Revolt played a large role in this state of affairs. Granted, some steps were taken to benefit the non-Muslim population of the Ottoman Empire, through such political measures as the Tanzimat and Islahat edicts, whose proclamation was compelled by political conditions both within and without the Empire. Nonetheless, the tendency in Istanbul politics to give more attention to the Muslim population, which began in 1826, would also be perpetuated in the following era as a political legacy handed down from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic.

15- Sultan Mahmud II (inside the line) and the parade of the army of Asakir-i Mansure-i Muhammediyye (MSA, no. 11/1482)

However, despite all this propaganda, as well as the implementation of martial law, it proved impossible to carry out a wholesale purge of the centers of opposition within the urban and rural Muslim populations, whether in Istanbul or in the countryside. That terrifying ghost of the previous epoch, which the British officer Adolphus Slade (who was present in Istanbul at the time) termed the “Spirit of Janizzaryism,” would not be erased from the city’s memory for some time. Just two years after the establishment of the new post-Janissary military, during the fall of Edirne in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29, Commander in Chief Hüsrev Pasha (who had become the most important political figure of this new era, after the sultan) attempted to prevent the potential outbreak of an opposition movement by creating an atmosphere of terror in Istanbul. This policy was in response to rumors circulating among the people that “the Janissaries would return.” In order that the rising tide of opposition to the war among the population of Istanbul should not threaten the political regime, Hüsrev Pasha resorted to automatic execution or imprisonment of all those who raised their voices in protest.

16- Sultan Mahmud II and Sultan Abdülmecid (Topkapı Palace Museum)

According to an account by the chronicler Ahmed Lütfi Efendi, the question arose of arming the city’s male Muslim population against a potential occupation by the Russians; however, rumors began to circulate that this policy would not apply to tradesmen. There was an attempt to intimidate the people through means such as the following: executing twenty people in the neighborhoods of Istanbul within the space of a few days, on the grounds that they were opponents of the regime; requiring that everyone living in the city have a guarantor; and issuing an imperial decree from the sultan ordering the “killing of those who spoke out against the state and the military.” Nonetheless, it was impossible to get rid of a popular Istanbul myth that the Janissaries would return – like a Messiah – and take control of the capital. In order to instill fear in the people, Commander in Chief Hüsrev Pasha roamed through the city with numerous guards and soldiers in tow, ordering the executions of Ahmed Agha, the steward of the Haberdashers, in Eminönü, in the presence of the dried goods sellers; Abdi, the sergeant of the Imperial Council, in Unkapanı; the steward of the Wax Dealers at the Zindankapısı (Dungeon Gate); and Halil the Boatman in Üsküdar. Later, the following individuals were added to this list: Şakir, the steward of the Porters; Ali, the steward of the Coal Dealers; Mehmed Usta the Stonemason; a scribe; and a few Muslims and non-Muslims accused of theft. Most of the stewards of the aforementioned classes of tradesmen were given a sentence of exile, due to their having failed to inform the state of the “unseemly groups” in their midst. Meanwhile, orders were given to demolish a famous coffeehouse in the Fish Market. The same justification was always provided for every killing: the executed person had aroused suspicion of being a Janissary.

17- Tanzimat Edict dated November 3, 1839 (BOA MFB, no. 48)

In clamping down on the Janissaries as an institution and a community, there were repercussions not only for the members of the Corps, but also for the public spaces of civil society – coffeehouses – where they and different classes of people socialized. For it was here that the underclass, the Janissaries, and the unemployed – all perceived as a threat to the established order – would mingle; it was here that the “idle people” would sit from dawn to dusk, even late into the evening, and criticize state officials. As in the era of Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, measures were once more taken to prevent the people from gathering in coffeehouses, barbershops, and even mosques, and having discussions about politics. For, as was pointed out by the Rev. Robert Walsh, then the British embassy chaplain, barber shops and coffeehouses served as a “medium for the dissemination of news and gossip.” The barber who went to give the sultan a shave every morning also gave him the latest news in the capital, functioning like a “gazette” the sultan needed to read in order to learn what the people were thinking.

An order was issued calling for the destruction of “any place in which there is any amount of coffee” in marketplaces and hans (inns often including shops and workplaces) in Istanbul, within, around, and outside the city walls, in all the neighborhoods from Eyvan-ı Saray (Ayvansaray) to Yedikule; or, such places were not to operate as coffeehouses from that time forth, and were likewise to be prevented from being turned into barbershops. The justification provided for this order was that it was necessary for the people “to be engaged in the arts and commerce, and not remain idle.” In these sweeps, which were carried out without delay, a significant percentage of the 1,133 registered coffeehouses in Istanbul (182 in Eyüp, 511 in Galata, and 250 in Üsküdar) were destroyed. As for the owners of the 1,658 barbershops in the city (1,098 in Âsitâne, 86 in Eyüp, 356 in Galata, and 128 in Üsküdar), they were ordered to send away customers after their shaves lest they stayed in the barbershops and “assembled” with others. Other spaces on the government’s black list included spots where the city population would assemble: docks, certain promenades, and places outside Yenikapı where entertainment was provided by storytellers and singers. These regulations were essentially motivated by political considerations. Nevertheless, in a decree sent from the Sublime Porte to the qadi of Istanbul and to Hüseyin Pasha, the commander in chief of the Mansure Army (Asâkir-i Mansûre), regarding the measures to be taken against barbershops and coffeehouses, the practice of “a group of perpetually unemployed and shiftless individuals” of gathering at such locales during prayer time, rather than at mosques, and conversing on topics “forbidden by the Holy Law,” was put forth as a religious justification for closing some of these places.

Istanbul’s idle and unemployed classes were seen as a threat by the sultan and the Sublime Porte. Thanks to their ties to their countrymen, these people often found temporary lodging in rooms for single men, and rooms above coffeehouses, upon their arrival in the city; these places were also targeted by the state. First it became illegal for tradesmen and locals to put up their fellow townsmen, who came from outside Istanbul, in these rooms. However, in due time, in order that the property owners should not suffer financial losses, permission was more frequently granted to open registered rooms for single men, as well as hans. Through measures such as these, the state attempted to prevent the young, male, violence-prone unemployed or temporarily employed population of the city from becoming an organized, collective group that would constitute a political force.

18- Sultan Abdülmecid (Topkapı Palace Museum, no. 17/118)

19- Islahat Edict dated February 18, 1856 (BOA MFB, no. 663)

The formal discontinuation of the Bektaşi Order as an institution was yet another link in the chain of political developments that began with the abolition of the Janissary Corps. On July 8, 1826, three weeks after the abolition of the Corps, there was a meeting in Topkapı Palace at the mosque known as the Mosque of the Aghas, or Bâbüssaâde Mosque; present at this meeting, which was chaired by Sheikh al-Islam Kadızade Tahir Efendi, were the grand vizier, high-level religious functionaries, and sheikhs (religious leaders) of the Nakşibendi, Mevlevi, Halveti, Celveti, and Sa‘di orders. The meeting, which Mahmud II is said to have observed from behind a screenhad a single objective: carrying out a purge of the Bektaşî order, just as had been done to the Janissary Corps.

20-21 The medallion awarded to those who served in Crimean War (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Atatürk Library)

The sultan, along with the grand vizier and the sheikh al-Islam, who may or may not have been working with him voluntarily, wished to clothe these entirely political projects in a mantle of legitimacy by obtaining the consent of prominent representatives from the Sufi orders in the capital. However, neither the sheikhs of the orders, nor Sheikh al-Islam Mehmed Tahir Efendi, found any credibility in the accusations leveled against the Bektaşis, namely, that they were rafızis (heterodox Shiite Muslims who did not recognize the caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar) and mülhids (apostates); they therefore did not wish to take part in these wholesale efforts to delegitimize the Sufi orders, their practices, and their high-ranking members. In the meeting, the evidence put forth of the Bektaşis’ heterodoxy and apostasy, i.e., of their failure to abide by religious ordinances which were binding on everyone, consisted of the usual baseless accusations: that some members of the order drank wine; that they did not fast or pray; and that they had insulted certain prophets and companions of the Prophet Muhammad in their various rituals, such as their rites of mourning and their ceremony of worship known as the ayin-i cem. The allegation, based on this evidence, that the members of the order had dared to commit “blasphemy for which the death penalty was legally mandated,” as well as the wish for society to be rid of these groups – whose numbers, it was pointed out, were increasing day by day – made it entirely obvious that this was not a matter of religious or civil law, but of politics. In fact, when some of the sheikhs were asked for their opinion in the meeting, they said that because they were not themselves members or associates of the orders in question, they had no real notion of what they were like; thus, they refrained from condemning them. At the same time, there were some who stated that they had heard talk of such behavior in Üsküdar. A fatwa issued by Yasincizade Abdülvehhab Efendi on this subject proposed “political” punitive measures (i.e., capital punishment) for those found guilty of “heterodoxy and apostasy.” The decision reached in the end was in accordance with Mahmud II’s wishes. The Bektaşi order was proclaimed illegal, just like the Janissary Corps, ceasing to be an integral element in the politics, social order, and theological/intellectual climate of the Ottoman Empire.

The process of inventorying and then confiscating all the mobile and immobile property belonging to the Bektaşi lodges was set into motion. Meanwhile, the state set about punishing the Bektaşi elders known as dedes (grandfathers) and babas (fathers), as well as their disciples, either by executing them or by exiling them from Istanbul. While the sheikh al-Islam appeared to be the one overseeing all of these activities, Mahmud II himself was ultimately the driving force behind everything that occurred. Feeling that Sheikh al-Islam Mehmed Tahir Efendi was not sufficiently assiduous or assertive in the investigation, the sultan, on his own initiative, wrote a note to Grand Vizier Selim Mehmed Pasha, which was to be communicated to the sheikh al-Islam. This note gave instructions for the Bektaşis, whom the sultan had previously found guilty, to be investigated by the sheikhs of the tarikats residing in Istanbul and Üsküdar, religious teachers, and other low-level members of the ulema, in the presence of the neighborhood imams and others who were knowledgeable about such matters.

22- Sultan Abdülaziz (Topkapı Palace Museum, no. 17/943)

First, on July 10, 1826, the Bektaşi lodges in Istanbul were raided. The members of the order who were found there were arrested, and – along with the books and portable goods which were seized from them – were taken to Darphane prison. The initiates and disciples were then taken before the Sheikh al-Islam and subjected to an examination concerning “correct beliefs.” Some of those who affirmed that they obeyed the Holy Law, or at least were able to provide scholarly evidence of this in their responses, were set free; others were accused of “practicing the Iranian Shiite art of taqiyya” (dissimulation of one’s true faith under duress), and within a week’s time were sentenced to exile or death. In this atmosphere of martial law, where little heed was paid to the Holy Law (which enshrined the rights of the individual), a few dozen Bektaşis had their sentences carried out. In accordance with the decision made in the meeting regarding the closing of the Bektaşi order, the following individuals were executed: Esad Baba, who had been arrested and taken to Istanbul after being caught in Manastır with a book containing an unconventional interpretation of verses of the Qur’an; Hüseyin Baba, the sheikh of the Yedikule Dervish Lodge; Kıncı Salih Baba, the sheikh of the Şahkulu Sultan Dervish Lodge in the Üsküdar neighborhood of Merdivenköyü (Merdivenköy); Ahmed Agha, a former qadi and son of the agha of Istanbul; Kürkçüzade Salih Efendi, Yusuf Agâh Efendi’s keeper of the Seal, a deputy scribe of the Artillerymen from the former Clerks of the Imperial Council; and Nahılcı Mustafa.

Seven sheikhs and two scribes from Üsküdar were exiled on the grounds that they were under the influence of the Bektaşis. In addition, the leaders of prominent Bektaşi lodges in Istanbul, along with most of their disciples and friends, were sent into exile to cities with madrasas, such as Kayseri, Birgi, Tire, Hadım, and Amasya. Among those who were sent away from Istanbul on charges of being Bektaşis were statesmen and members of the ulema, who were unlikely to have had any close ties to the Bektaşi order. Chief among these were the former ambassador İsmail Ferruh Efendi, a writer of commentaries who was one of the members of the intellectual circle known as the Beşiktaş Cemiyet-i İlmiyyesi (Beşiktaş Society of Learning), who was sent to Bursa; the chronicler and doctor Şânizade Ataullah Efendi; Melekpaşazade Abdülkadir Bey (one of a group of religious functionaries who were added to the list of exiles through a note signed by Mahmud II himself), who was sent to Manisa, and who one year later would become the qadi of Istanbul, and afterwards a member of the Supreme Council; and the scholar Kethüdazade Arif Efendi, whose accusation with “apostasy and heterodoxy” disturbed many people at the time. In addition, the following people were included among those sent away from the capital on charges of being a Bektaşi or an apostate, as a result of denunciations stemming from personal jealousy and political score-settling: Fehim Efendi, the son-in-law of İsmail Ferruh Efendi; Chief Accountant Hâtıf Efendi; Recaizade Ahmed Cevdet Efendi; his brother Şamil Efendi; Akif Bey, who had been ambassador to Vienna; and Mehmed Baba, a Bektaşi sheikh of the Şehidlik Dervish Lodge in Rumelihisarı.

At first, the sultan himself followed the operation closely; certain dervish lodges fell victim to his zeal and could not be saved from destruction. Among these were dervish lodges outside the city center of Istanbul, including the Karaağaç Dervish Lodge, the Karyağdı Dervish Lodge in Eyüp, the Bademli Dervish Lodge in Sütlüce, the Nerduban Karyesi (Merdivenköy) Dervish Lodge, the Çamlıca Dervish Lodge, the Öküz Limanı Dervish Lodge, the Şehidlik Dervish Lodge in Rumelihisarı, the dervish lodge in Üsküdar built by Kıncı to be his headquarters as sheikh, and the one in Yedi Mahalle constructed by the steward of the Candle Makers. Those saved from destruction – due to their date of establishment being more than sixty years in the past – either were assigned to other Sufi orders, or were transformed to function as mosques or schools.

With a political ruling, the official existence of the Bektaşi order had been brought to an end; over the following ten years, its members would go underground. A full eighty-two years after the shutting down of the Janissary Corps and the dervish lodges, there would be many covert Bektaşis among the members of the CUP who spearheaded the uprisings of 1908-09, which concluded with the re-promulgation of the Kanun-ı Esasi (the Ottoman Constitution of 1876) and the deposition of Mahmud II’s grandson, Sultan Abdülhamid II.

Palace Coups in the Tanzimat Era: The Kuleli Incident, the Deposition of Abdülaziz, and the Raid on Çırağan by Ali Suavi

With the abolition of the Janissary Corps, a new era began in Ottoman political and military history. In the period from 1826 until 1839 – the year in which Mahmud II died – not only the Janissaries, but many centers of political opposition in Istanbul and in the provinces were eliminated. However, the process of renewal which had begun in the military – as well as the creation of a regular, standing, centralized army – was unable to achieve the hoped-for success against the Ottomans’ great political rivals, both external and internal. In the 1828-29 Russo-Turkish War, which followed directly upon the abolition of the Janissary Corps, the Ottomans could not prevent the Russians from advancing as far as Edirne in the west and Erzurum in the east. The crushing defeats suffered in the battles of 1832-33 and 1839 against the army of Muhammad Ali, the governor of Egypt – who was officially subordinate to Istanbul, but in practice became more and more independent as time went on – also left Istanbul vulnerable to a serious threat from the south.

While the Ottoman army was suffering a defeat at Nizip at the hands of the Egyptian forces, in Istanbul Mahmud II took his last breath, leaving the throne to his son Abdülmecid. In order to mitigate the risk of Muhammad Ali’s advancing from Syria to Anatolia, Mustafa Reşid Pasha, then serving as an ambassador and as foreign minister, was made grand vizier. After consulting the British government – the superpower of that era – he prepared a document containing various political reforms. This document, which later became known as the Tanzimat Edict, was announced to the Ottoman public and the world at large on November 3, 1839, in the Gülhane (the garden of Topkapı Palace). This Edict of Gülhane contained many clauses; two of its provisions are particularly striking. The first was a series of revisions giving certain powers to bureaucrats of the Sublime Porte within the one-man administration established by Mahmud II after 1826. The second consisted of a promise of certain rights to the Ottoman Empire’s Muslim and non-Muslim subjects, on the principle of “equality before the law.” Thus, in the end, the rivalry between Istanbul and Cairo created somewhat more scope for bureaucrats and the common people in the game of politics. The reign of the new sultan, Abdülmecid, which lasted from 1839 to 1861, became known as the “Tanzimat Era.” In addition, one also speaks of an “Age of the Sublime Porte,” mainly personified by Mustafa Reşid Pasha and his pupils, Fuad Pasha and Âli Pasha. Especially from the 1860s onward, officers and commanders who were graduates of the Military Academy would be added to the administrative and fiscal palace officials who formed the basis of the civil bureaucracy. Some members of these two coteries attained their rank and position by winning the sultan’s trust, while other members of the same class did not have their career expectations met. The latter began to create a political opposition through the medium of various secret societies. From this time forth, the palace coups, which had once been spearheaded by Janissaries, would now be led by cliques of civil and military bureaucrats.

23- Şeyhulislam Hasan Hayrullah Efendi’s fatwa for the dethronement of Sultan
    Abdülaziz (BOA Y. EE, no. 21/28)

The first such instance was a coup plot exposed by an informant on September 14, 1859. This plot was secretly masterminded by a group consisting of leaders of the Sufi orders, members of the ulema, bureaucrats, and military commanders. The Crimean War of 1853-56, which the Ottoman Empire – in alliance with Britain, France, and Sardinia – fought against Tsarist Russia, effectively turned Istanbul into a base for numerous foreign military forces, thus greatly changing the atmosphere of the city. According to information provided by Cevdet Pasha, it appears that Sultan Abdülmecid and Mustafa Reşid Pasha did not actually wish for a pitched battle with Russia; diplomats of the period, such as Âli Pasha and Fuad Pasha, were of like mind. However, some in the military – in particular Muhammad Ali – were attempting to undermine Reşid Pasha politically by seeming to support a military conflict. They hoped that by inciting the people and the madrasa students to go out into the streets, they could create chaos which might lead to the removal of the grand vizier from power. However, the sultan was not cowed by this commotion in the streets. When the sultan’s hoca (tutor), Ömer Efendi of Akşehir, suggested that the sultan circumvent the danger of an insurrection by changing some of his ministers – as Sheikh al-Islam Arif Hikmet Efendi, had advised – the sultan rebuked Ömer Efendi, saying: “Dear tutor, if we dismiss ministers from their posts on the word of a few miserable wretches, we will not be able to govern this state.” Another anecdote is as follows: One evening around this time when an atmosphere of insurrection was present in the city, a squadron of cavalrymen was ordered to escort the sultan’s carriage on the way back to the Topkapı Palace after having eaten dinner in Tophane. The sultan commented on this precaution with the words: “If all the people turn against me, one squadron of cavalry will not be able to protect me.”

Before the Crimean War, the sultan’s opponents put up posters in the streets of Istanbul, urging the sultan to unsheathe his sword, and denouncing his statesmen, who were attempting to resolve the conflict with Russia by diplomatic means. Upon the outbreak of the war, however, they fell silent without having achieved their aim. Although the three-year-long war ended in victory for the Ottomans and their allies, financially speaking, it brought the state to near-bankruptcy. Along with the Ottomans’ foreign loans, the influence of the great European powers in Ottoman politics also increased. In the run-up to the Treaty of Paris, the Islahat Edict was promulgated on February 18, 1856, in accordance with the wishes of the European powers. In this edict, the Ottoman Empire promised more rights to its non-Muslim subjects. These developments led to a resurgence of dissatisfaction with the sultan and the government in the Muslim public of Istanbul.

There followed a coup attempt that later came to be known as the “Kuleli Incident,” in a reference to the Kuleli Barracks, where the suspects were sentenced. Its leaders were Ferik Hüseyin Daim Pasha – the chief of the Deliberative Council of the Army of the Serasker Gate (later renamed the Ministry of War) – as well as Sheikh Ahmed Efendi of Sulaymaniya, a teacher in the Beyazıt Madrasa. These two were joined in the coup plot by officers such as Cafer Dem Pasha, Major Rasim, Major Ali, and Major İsmail, as well as notable figures from the madrasas and dervish lodges: Nasuhi Efendi, a teacher in the Fatih Madrasa; Sheikh İsmail Efendi of Kütahya; Sheikh Feyzullah Efendi of Hazergrad (Razgrad); and the mufti (Islamic jurist) of Tophane, Bekir Efendi. Arif Bey, a clerk from Tophane, represented a different element in the group, one which was rooted in the palace bureaucracy, and which had a more Westernized way of life. The conspirators consisted of a core group of forty-five to fifty people; their aim was to create a striking force made up of soldiers serving under the aforementioned commanders, as well as the disciples and pupils of the sheikhs and madrasa teachers. The conspirators’ plot consisted of two steps. First, a small number of people would carry out the assassinations of Sultan Abdülmecid and a number of his statesmen. Next, an uprising would be staged in the city, which would allow the conspirators to gain power. The plan was to hire a number of Circassian fighters, who had previously served in the Russian, Austrian, and British armies; these would be used as fedayeen (martyr-assassins), killing the sultan during his procession to Friday prayers, in Kâğıthane, or in the garden of Hacı Hüseyin. The leader of the Circassian fedayeen was named Şuayib, the son of the mufti of the tribe of Kabartay. His fellow fedayeen were individuals from the same tribe.

24a- Sultan Abdülaziz’s dethronement and his transfer from Dolmabahçe Palace to Topkapı Palace

24b- Sultan Abdülaziz’s dethronement and his transfer from Dolmabahçe Palace to Topkapı Palace

24c- Sultan Abdülaziz’s dethronement and his transfer from Dolmabahçe Palace to Topkapı Palace

However, before this coup plot could be carried out, it was discovered by the state, and the conspirators were imprisoned at the Kuleli Barracks. The guardian of the Bosphorus, Major General Hasan Pasha – whom the conspirators had wished to bring over to their own ranks – informed his superior, Commander-in-Chief Rıza Pasha, of the situation. As a result, on September 14, 1859, forty-one people were caught red-handed at the Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque, where they had assembled. This was followed by other arrests, with nearly 300 people being taken into custody on the grounds that they had played a role in this secret coup plot. The conspirators were investigated one by one; after a trial, in which their ringleaders were found guilty, they received prison/internment sentences of varying lengths, and were expelled from Istanbul.

The perpetrators in this attempted palace coup explained that their aim had been to “implement the Sharia.” During the time the conspirators were being held at Kuleli, posters were put up at certain madrasas in Istanbul and in various other places, which called upon the Muslim population of the city to save their imprisoned brothers, who were fighting in order to promote their religion and their religious law. In a system which accepted the Islamic religion as the basis of the political and social order, both the state and its political opponents employed the discourse of “restoring and enacting the Sharia” in order to legitimize their own actions. However, the true basis for the conflict between those in power and their opponents was not theological, but rather had to do with their political disagreements. For instance, while posters were being put up in the streets, unknown individuals attached a letter to a basket of melons sent to the palace secretary-in-chief (Mabeyn-i Hümayun). The letter stated, “The people do not want Âlî Pasha and Fuad Pasha; nor are these pashas indispensable,” and expressed a wish that Âli Pasha and Fuad Pasha be replaced by statesmen such as Mehmed Pasha of Cyprus, Rüşdi Pasha, Vefik Efendi, and Rıza Bey.

The first organized opposition group to emerge from among Istanbul’s Muslim elite during the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz was made up of a group of bureaucrats who would later become known as the “Young Ottomans.” This political group, originally known as the Patriotic Alliance (İttifak-ı Hamiyet), is commonly believed to have been founded in a secret meeting in the Belgrade Forest in 1865. It included palace bureaucrats as well as members of the first generation of newspaper columnists, such as Nuri Bey, Reşad Bey, Namık Kemal, Ayetullah Bey, Refik Bey, Agâh Efendi, Ali Suavi, and Ebuzziya Tevfik. The group advocated transforming the sultanate into a constitutional regime, and convening the national assembly with the promulgation of the Kanun-ı Esasi; it had the support of a number of influential political figures.

The first of these was Mustafa Fazıl Pasha, who came from the dynasty of Muhammad Ali of Egypt and was thus entitled to take up the position of khedive (governor) in Cairo. However, Sultan Abdülaziz and the Sublime Porte gave İsmail Pasha, the current khedive, the right of transferring his position to his son, depriving Mustafa Fazıl Pasha of his right to become the khedive. Another opposition figure was Crown Prince Murad Efendi, who was in line to succeed to the Ottoman throne. Namık Kemal and Ziya Pasha, two prominent names in the Young Ottoman movement, were regular guests at the prince’s summer villa in the Kurbağalıdere area of Kadıköy. Other visitors to the villa, who were among the main plotters of the coup which would dethrone Abdülaziz, included Hüseyin Avni Pasha; Midhat Pasha; the prince’s jeweler, Hristaki; his doctor, Kapolyon Efendi; and palace secretary Ziver Bey, after whom a district in present-day Kadıköy is named. While these individuals believed that they were meeting in secret, everything that occurred at Murad Efendi’s summer villa was regularly reported to Sultan Abdülaziz. The person making the reports was another prince of the era, Abdülhamid Efendi, who was not very fond of Namık Kemal or the Young Ottomans. He would succeed to the Ottoman throne after Abdülaziz and Murad Efendi.

The Young Ottomans’ first patron, Mustafa Fazıl Pasha, gave his support to this secret society’s plan of staging a palace coup. To this end, fedayeen were inducted into the society: one such prominent individual was Mehmed Bey, the son of Necib Paşazade Ahmed Bey. They devised a plan whereby they would raid the Sublime Porte on a day when the ministers were assembled there, slay the ministers, and replace them with new staff. What Mehmed Bey had in mind was to have his uncle Mahmud Nedim Pasha, then serving as the governor of Tripoli, brought to Istanbul and made grand vizier. On the pretext of going on an outdoor excursion, the group gathered in the Meadow of Veli Efendi (the site of the present-day Veliefendi Hippodrome); here, on the verbal instructions of Azmi Bey (the acknowledged leader of the society), they resolved to put their plan into action in a few days. However, among those who were in Veliefendi that day was the son of Subhi Pasha, who disclosed this secret plan to his father upon returning home. Subhi Pasha became extremely agitated at what he had heard, and immediately brought his son to Âlî Pasha in the middle of the night and informed the grand vizier of the situation. As had occurred in the Kuleli Incident, yet another coup attempt had been foiled, thanks to an informant.

In the aftermath of this first abortive coup attempt, the activities of the Young Ottomans continued in secret, more in the form of discussion than action. Eventually, Hüseyin Avni Pasha, as well as the mayor of Istanbul, Haydar Efendi, was expelled from the capital for having taken part in such meetings. Mustafa Fazıl Pasha was forced to go to Paris, while Ziya Pasha fled to London. Both of them represented a departure in Ottoman political history with their frank letters worded like memoranda, addressing Sultan Abdülaziz from abroad.

However much the Young Ottomans might accuse Fuad Pasha and Âli Pasha of conducting a passive foreign policy and leading the sultan down the wrong path, the equilibrium of Istanbul politics was upset when these important statesmen and protégés of Mustafa Reşid died, Fuad Pasha in 1868 and Âli Pasha in 1871. After Âli Pasha’s death, in particular, a fierce rivalry emerged in the Sublime Porte and the Serasker Gate between Mahmud Nedim Pasha and Hüseyin Avni Pasha, as well as the officials who were close to them. Whenever one of these two ambitious bureaucrats occupied a position of power, he tried to drive the other one out of Istanbul and cast him in a bad light with the sultan. Compared to his predecessor Abdülmecid, Abdülaziz made the authority of the palace felt more strongly by the civil and military bureaucracy; in this, he was more akin to his father, Mahmud II. Consequently, Abdülaziz, too, would in the end pay the price for this rivalry between his pashas.

In May of 1876, as the state’s financial situation got worse and worse and the revolt in Herzegovina created anxieties among the people of Istanbul, this unceasing political struggle seemed about to turn into a coup backed by the army. In fact, it was not the sultan himself who was chiefly responsible for the increase in political tension in Istanbul, but rather Mahmud Nedim Pasha, whom he appointed grand vizier for the second time in August of 1875. The grand vizier, who thought he had gotten the better of his mortal enemy, Hüseyin Avni Pasha, exacerbated the animosity against himself by having his rivals appointed to governorships in places far from the capital. The complete failure to suppress the revolt in Herzegovina led to a marked increase in rumors (which were then used to incite the people) that the grand vizier had become a puppet of the Russian ambassador, Ignatieff. Added to this was the fact that one night, without the knowledge of anyone other than himself and the Russian ambassador, Mahmud Nedim had cut bond yields in half, in order to save the state from bankruptcy. As a result, Mahmud Nedim became a target not only of his internal political rivals, but also of foreign powers such as Britain and France, which held Ottoman bonds. This time, however, people were not merely displeased with the grand vizier himself. According to the chronicler Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, while the office of grand vizier had previously served as a screen to protect the sultan from opposition, with Mahmud Nedim Pasha this changed; thenceforth, the sultan was always privy to the grand vizier’s misdeeds. The main reason for this was Mahmud Nedim’s practice of obtaining written approval from the sultan for every action of his, including the appointments and dismissals he made due to personal grudges. Many individuals who had lost their rank and position, especially Hüseyin Avni Pasha, began to feel antipathy towards Sultan Abdülaziz, who they thought had supported such decisions on the part of Mahmud Nedim Pasha. As a result, another palace coup seemed imminent in Istanbul.

In actual fact, even before the grand vizierate of Mahmud Nedim Pasha, a secret plot had begun, led by Hüseyin Avni Pasha. The first graduate of the Military Academy to become commander in chief, Hüseyin Avni Pasha was appointed to this position for the second time in 1873; at that point, his involvement in his own secret political activities started to gain momentum. At villas and waterside mansions, he began nighttime discussions on the subject of deposing Sultan Abdülaziz with various people, including an army commander named Abdülkerim Nadir Pasha, Grand Vizier Şirvanizade Rüşdü Pasha, Sadık Pasha, and Midhat Pasha. Great pains were taken to conceal these activities from the outside world; oddly, it was the conspirators themselves who later revealed them to the sultan. The grand vizier was totally unsympathetic to Hüseyin Avni’s plans for a coup, being resolutely opposed to interference by the military in such matters; he said that this would cause the army to become like Janissaries all over again. In the end, after three months of these secret meetings and negotiations, no consensus was reached concerning a coup. Instead, it was agreed that by forcing Sultan Abdülaziz to accept a list of conditions resembling a constitution, the influence of the state bureaucracy would be broadened, and the sultan’s power weakened accordingly. Midhat Pasha drew up this political document. However, Commander in Chief Hüseyin Avni Pasha did not believe this project would meet his own expectations; he came before Sultan Abdülaziz as if he were a statesman loyal to the sultan and informed him of the plot. Another visitor to the sultan around this time was the grand vizier, Rüşdü Pasha. Fearing that Sultan Abdülaziz would learn of their plans sooner or later, and unaware that Avni Pasha had informed on them, Rüşdü Pasha told the sultan that Midhat Pasha had penned a list of conditions intended to be detrimental to the sultan, and requested that Midhat Pasha be dismissed from his post.

25-Sultan Murad V (Topkapı Palace Museum, no. 17/123)

Sultan Abdülaziz acted on this information from his grand vizier and commander in chief, dismissing first Midhat Pasha and then Şirvanizade Rüşdü Pasha. As for Hüseyin Avni Pasha, in February of 1874 he was rewarded with the grand vizierate, in addition to being commander in chief. However, as often occurred during this era, his term of office did not last very long, ending on April 25, 1875. After being dismissed from his posts, Avni Pasha went to France and Britain. Despite his lack of official qualifications, he is known to have taken part in certain secret meetings in French government circles in Paris. At the time that the Herzegovinian Uprising broke out it was hoped he might become a kind of savior, and a year later he was once more made commander in chief. However, after Mahmud Nedim Pasha was appointed to Esad Pasha’s post of grand vizier, Hüseyin Avni Pasha was again dismissed from his position in his first month in office. Minister of Justice, Midhat Pasha, reacted to Avni Pasha’s dismissal by resigning, despite the fact that his relations with the latter had never been very cordial. Hüseyin Avni was sent away from the city, having been appointed to the governorship first of Salonica and then – at his own request – of Hüdavendigâr, of which Bursa was the administrative center. Meanwhile, Rüşdü Pasha and Midhat Pasha, who would act in concert with him in the days that followed, remained in Istanbul.

Rüşdü Pasha is said to have counseled visitors to his villa and waterside mansion that the state was in quite dire straits, while Midhat Pasha incited and encouraged madrasa students to go out into the streets and protest against the government. Mahmud II had been the first to use the young madrasa pupils as a dynamic street-fighting force during the abolition of the Janissary Corps in this internal political conflict. As had occurred in the Kuleli Incident, there was a wish to have the students pour out into the streets as a fighting force against the existing government. On May 9, 1876, a group of students from Istanbul’s madrasa, most of whom were said to be originally from Rumelia, went out into the streets, protesting the revolts by non-Muslims in Herzegovina and Bulgaria, as well as the state’s insufficient protection of the Muslim people living there. A few thousand people assembled at the Fatih Mosque; the following day, the crowd’s ranks were swelled by the local people. In a manner reminiscent of the Janissary rebellions of old, they gathered in front of the Gate of the Sheikh al-Islam (Bâb-ı Meşihat) by the Süleymaniye Mosque, crying, “We don’t want Mahmud Pasha or Sheikh al-Islam Hasan Fehmi!”

In fact, this crowd was not well organized, and the security forces were able to disperse it. However, neither the government nor the sultan was capable of accurately diagnosing what had occurred, and taking the necessary steps as a result. As the inner circle around Sultan Abdülaziz in the palace had been won over by bribes and gifts by Hüseyin Avni Pasha and Mahmud Nedim Pasha, he did not pay attention to public opinion in the city or the crowds in the streets. However, he was not satisfied with Grand Vizier Mahmud Nedim Pasha’s assessment that the protestors were simply demanding the dismissal of the sheikh al-Islam. Therefore, he sent some of his trusted palace servants to the Süleymaniye Mosque. The intelligence they gathered was quite different. The student protestors turned out to be accusing both the sheikh al-Islam and the grand vizier of treason, and were demanding that both be dismissed. At that point, the palace secretary was immediately dispatched from Dolmabahçe Palace to the Sublime Porte, and set about getting the Imperial Seal from Mahmud Nedim. Meanwhile, the protestors had arrived at the Sublime Porte; they raided the building on Cağaloğlu Hill that housed the office of the grand vizier as well as a number of his ministers, seeking to bring about Mahmud Nedim’s resignation. The palace secretary outdid them and after obtaining the seal from Mahmud Nedim, he told him to leave immediately.

Upon the dismissal of Mahmud Nedim Pasha, familiar faces were assigned to the important political posts in the government. Mütercim (Dragoman) Rüşdü Pasha, who had previously served as commander in chief and grand vizier, was again appointed grand vizier after three years. Hüseyin Avni Pasha, who was in Bursa but whose real concerns lay in Istanbul, was once more appointed commander in chief; furthermore, a close associate of his, Ahmed Pasha of Kayseri, became grand admiral of the Navy. As for Midhat Pasha, his new position was that of chairman of the Council of State. Thus, the team of conspirators, who wished to depose not only Mahmud Nedim but also Sultan Abdülaziz, acquired control over the state and the army. With the dismissal of Hasan Fehmi Efendi, the office of the sheikh al-Islam had become vacant; it was filled by Hayrullah Efendi, the main palace imam. This last appointment was in line with the wishes of the conspirators, who reasoned that in the event of a possible coup, Hasan Fehmi Efendi – who was close to Sultan Abdülaziz – would not issue a fatwa calling for his dethronement. Therefore, they presented Hayrullah Efendi to the sultan as a candidate for the position of sheikh al-Islam, attempting to persuade Abdülaziz that if this individual – who they said was adored by those in the madrasas – should be appointed, then the revolt would come to an end. Sultan Abdülaziz, who did not trust Hayrullah Efendi, and only grudgingly admitted him to his presence, would afterwards say to him, “I would not have made you my Sheikh al-Islam, but they wished it so; therefore, I have entrusted you with this duty.” However, this appointment, which was made as a temporary expedient, would come at a heavy cost to the sultan in the days that followed.

This group of opposition figures, who had once more gained rank and position, lost no time in commencing secret meetings amongst themselves. Hüseyin Avni Pasha, who had been put at the head of the army, was the conspirator most impatient to dethrone Sultan Abdülaziz in a coup. One reason for his impatience was that although he had been appointed to high echelons of power several times, in each case he had been dismissed shortly thereafter. Another reason was the personal enmity between Sultan Abdülaziz and Hüseyin Avni Pasha, who was said to have had affairs with some of the palace concubines. Grand Vizier Rüşdü Pasha, on the other hand, was not quite so eager for a coup; he attempted to evade Hüseyin Avni Pasha’s insistent demands to that end. As for Midhat Pasha, he maintained that they could take action if they obtained a fatwa. His primary goal was to draft and promulgate the text of a constitution; in this way, he hoped, the Ottoman political system would be transformed for good into a constitutional monarchy.

In the event that Sultan Abdülaziz were deposed, it would be necessary to put one of the princes on the throne. Therefore, obtaining support from the members of the sultan’s dynasty was also crucial. The conspirators settled on Prince Murad, who had previous connections to the Young Ottoman movement. The prince’s Western lifestyle and way of thinking made him a suitable candidate, one to whom the Western states would also remain faithful. Around this time, rumors were circulating that Sultan Abdülaziz was planning to make a change in the succession to the sultanate, in order to leave the throne to his son Yusuf İzzeddin Efendi; this caused Murad and the other princes to lean towards laying the groundwork for a possible deposition.

26- Sultan Abdülhamid II (Topkapı Palace Museum)

27- Pronouncement of Constitution (Kanun-ı Esasi) on December 23, 1876 (<em>L’Illustration</em>)

At last, a consensus was reached that political circumstances were suitable both at home and abroad, and that there was no need to wait any longer. The conspirators resolved to dethrone the sultan, using the land and sea forces in Istanbul, on May 31. Commander in Chief Hüseyin Avni Pasha took measures to guarantee a fatwa from the new sheikh al-Islam, Hayrullah Efendi; he then explained the situation to a number of other high-ranking Ottoman military officers, with whom he had secret meetings: Redif Pasha, chief of the Deliberative Council of the Army; Süleyman Pasha, Superintendent of the Military Academy; and Naval Minister Ahmed Pasha of Kayseri. All of them declared that they agreed with their commander, on whom they depended for support, as they were well aware. However, something unpredicted happened: Sultan Abdülaziz invited Hüseyin Avni Pasha for a private meeting at the palace on May 29. Hüseyin Avni Pasha had to account for the possibility that the sultan had been informed of their secret plot; he offered his apologies and did not go to Dolmabahçe Palace. Instead, in a change of plans, he gave orders for the military forces to besiege the palace that night without delay. At that point, Süleyman Pasha summoned the cadets under his command at nighttime, and made a stirring speech. The young officer trainees were drawn into this political conflict, thus inaugurating a tradition, which would persist in Turkey after the establishment of the Republic. The cadets were made to put their hands on the Qur’an, and – as with the statesmen and members of the ulema prior to the abolition of the Janissary Corps – to swear an oath, saying, “We will see this through, even if it kills us! There is no turning back!” On the night of May 29, 1876 – the 423rd anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul on the Gregorian calendar – the cadets from the Military Academy emerged from their school in Pangaltı, armed with weapons. Then, acting in concert with the artillerymen from the Beyoğlu Barracks and under the command of Süleyman Pasha, they blockaded Dolmabahçe Palace. Both of these groups, along with some Syrian reserve army battalions that had come to Istanbul around that time, were under the high command of Redif Pasha during this operation. In addition to the siege conducted by land, they took control of entry and exit to the palace by sea, by means of Naval warships, rowboats, and dinghies.

Since the sultan and those in the palace were asleep, unaware of what was going on, the forces carrying out the coup encountered no resistance. On their behalf, Süleyman Pasha went to the apartments of Prince Murad, who was to be put on the throne. He had Murad removed from the palace, and brought him to the Serasker Gate in Beyazıt before sunrise. The conspirators’ original plan had been to have Prince Murad coronated in front of Topkapı Palace’s Imperial Gate (Bâb-ı Hümayun), in accordance with long-standing custom. However, given that the coup had taken place two days earlier than planned, the coronation site of the new sultan was changed to the Serasker Gate. In a first for Ottoman history, Prince Murad (now Murad V) was proclaimed sultan at dawn on May 30, after his uncle Sultan Abdülaziz had been dethroned through an illegal fatwa and by force. The ministers, statesmen, and part of the ulema were informed of the situation; together with the conspirators, they lined up in rows to pay formal homage to the new sultan. With a portion of the local population also in attendance, the area around the Serasker Gate and Beyazıt Square (the present-day location of Istanbul University) was filled with people. However, Prince Murad, who had been taken from his palace apartments at night, without warning, was highly traumatized by what had occurred. Even in the first few hours of his sultanate, he appeared worn out and exhausted, so much so that when everyone returned to Dolmabahçe Palace, Rüşdü Pasha, Hüseyin Avni Pasha, Midhat Pasha, and Hayrullah Efendi noticed that Murad was in poor shape psychologically. They spent not only that night at the palace, but also the following day and night.

27- Bloody suppression of Ali Suavi and his friends’ 1878 coup attempt by Yedi Sekiz Paşa in Çırağan Palace

Sultan Abdülaziz – who had been unable to keep a sufficiently close eye on political developments in the capital, or to properly diagnose the threat to himself right until the very end – was not in any better shape than his nephew. Hüseyin Avni Pasha, along with his entourage, had come to the sultan in the palace at night and said, “My Sultan, until this moment you were the sultan; now the nation has deposed you and enthroned his Excellency Sultan Murad.” This was the first occurrence of a political discourse which would be repeated in all subsequent coups of the Ottoman and Republican periods. A group of state officials, seeing themselves as “the representative of the nation,” removed the legitimate holder of political power from office without the people’s knowledge, while supposedly doing so in the name of the people. The people of Istanbul – whom they described as a “nation,” in accordance with the political language current in Europe at the time – would learn of this event in due time, through cannon shots and messengers sent into the streets. The festivities held in the city over the following three days and nights served to conceal the illegality of the coup. The procession through the streets was further ornamented by the presence of foreign ships in the harbor of Istanbul. Russia viewed these political developments in Istanbul as contrary to its own interests; although its ships did not take part in the celebrations for the first two days, they later joined in.

28- Sending Midhad Paşa to exile (<em>L’Illustration</em>)

While Prince Murad was being taken to Beyazıt, Sultan Abdülaziz and his harem were put in a six-oared rowboat, and sent to Topkapı Palace, which was no longer used by the imperial dynasty. During this short voyage, Sultan Abdülaziz was extremely shocked by the treatment that he and the women in his company received. He was also greatly distressed at being put up in the apartments where Selim III – the last sultan before himself to be forcibly dethroned – had been killed. The very next day, he personally wrote a letter to the new sultan, Murad V, asking if he might receive permission to reside at Beylerbeyi Palace. Murad V looked favorably upon his uncle’s request; however, the pashas who had put the new sultan on the throne had established a sort of tutelage over him. Claiming that Beylerbeyi Palace was not ready for habitation, they had the former sultan moved to a cramped residence next to the police station in Feriye, on the northeastern edge of Çırağan Palace; they said they had done so for reasons of security. In this new residence of his, he was not permitted to be served by the palace staff, consisting of Abdülaziz’s palace secretary and other attendants in his inner circle, on the grounds that he was no longer sultan. Instead, it was said that Abdülaziz and his harem would require male servants in their new residence. With the complicity of Queen Mother Şevk-efza (the mother of the new sultan, Murad V), Abdülaziz’s personal retinue now came to consist of the old palace servants Pehlivan Mustafa Agha, Hacı Mehmed Agha, and Mustafa Agha of Algiers. These appointments by the new post-coup government created suspicion around the death of Abdülaziz, which occurred on the morning of his third day in his new dwelling place.

Abdülaziz was found in his apartments on the morning of June 5, 1876, with the veins in his arms slashed; although doctors were summoned and tried to save him, he died due to loss of blood. Hüseyin Avni Pasha – as though he had heard the rising shrieks and laments from Çırağan Palace – immediately crossed over from his waterside mansion on the opposite shore of the Bosphorus. He is said to have permitted a small number of doctors to examine the sultan’s body, in order to determine the cause of his death. According to the official report – which was always viewed with suspicion due to its having been prepared under the supervision of and pressure from Huseyin Avni Pasha -- Abdülaziz had remained alone in his room in order to trim his beard, and had then committed suicide by cutting his wrists with a small pair of scissors. Thus, Sultan Abdülaziz became the first victim in a coup, which – despite having been carried out by the armed forces – had ended in one night, without any bloodshed at all.

In the immediate aftermath of the death of Abdülaziz, the conspirators – who were drunk with power – behaved in ways that alienated the people. First, Dolmabahçe Palace was systemically plundered, in a manner similar to the plundering that would take place years later in Yıldız Palace, upon the deposition of Abdülhamid II. The plunderers seized the property belonging to Sultan Abdülaziz’s harem, his daughters and wives, his mother, and the princes, consisting of cash, bonds, stocks, and jewels. Part of this was distributed to the restive soldiers of the First Army as a “coronation bonus.” The jewels were given to Murad V’s Greek jeweler, Hristaki, to be sold in Paris; however, no one ever saw Hristaki or the jewels again. Many high-ranking individuals had a role in the seizure of the former sultan’s possessions, from Şevk-efza (the new queen mother) to Marshal Chamberlain Nuri Pasha, from Midhat Pasha to Mahmud Celaleddin Pasha and Namık Pasha.

Hüseyin Avni Pasha, the mastermind behind the coup, profited from the psychological state of the newly crowned Murad (who was demoralized right from the start), behaving like a peremptory regent. As for Midhat Pasha, he was busy having a constitution hastily drawn up, transforming the political system in accordance with his own wishes. Just eleven days after the suspicious death of Sultan Abdülaziz, the Istanbul public was shaken up by newspaper reports of another violent incident. On the night of June 15, 1876, the ministers had assembled at Midhat Pasha’s residence in Beyazıt; while they were in a meeting, an officer named Circassian Hasan made a raid on the council of pashas, shooting and killing Commander in Chief Hüseyin Avni Pasha and Foreign Minister Raşid Pasha with his revolver, and wounding the grand admiral of the Navy with his dagger. During the raid, a naval aide-de-camp named Şükrü Bey and Ahmed Agha (who was in the service of Midhat Pasha) also lost their lives. The perpetrator of the raid, Circassian Hasan, was captured, though wounded; as a result, the public learned the details of his identity – and of how the murder had been carried out – through the questioning which began the next day.

Circassian Hasan was a commissioned officer who had graduated from the Military Academy. As he was a relative of Sultan Abdülaziz’s third wife, he benefited from the patronage of the palace. Despite having been directly promoted to captain rather than lieutenant while at the Military Academy – on condition that he serve in the Sixth Army, stationed in Iraq – he did not go to Baghdad, but remained in Istanbul. Thereupon, he received a prison sentence (with the approval of Hüseyin Avni Pasha, the commander in chief at the time) but was later released and made one of the Sultan’s aides-de-camp, with the rank of senior captain. With Abdülaziz’s dethronement, Circassian Hasan lost his patron. He was imprisoned once more, but through the intervention of Prince Yusuf İzzeddin was set free yet again, and was immediately to go to Baghdad. Abdülaziz’s suspicious death right at that moment must have enraged Circassian Hasan, who already had a personal grudge against Avni Pasha. On the evening of the day he was released from prison, he resolved to carry out the plan he was hatching, and went to Hüseyin Avni Pasha’s mansion on the shore of the Bosphorus. However, learning that the commander in chief was at Midhat Pasha’s villa, he made his way towards Beyazıt.

When he entered through the main door of the villa, the aghas in the service of the ministers – who were likely to be an obstacle to him – were dining below. Taking advantage of this opportunity, he quickly went up the steps to the second floor. Encountering Midhat Pasha’s man Ahmed Agha at the door of the drawing room where the meeting was being held, he said that he held the rank of senior captain, and that he had an urgent telegram for the commander in chief. However, Ahmed Agha did not let him in, saying that Circassian Hassan needed to summon Hüseyin Avni Pasha’s aide-de-camp, who was on the bottom floor. This answer put Circassian Hasan into a rage; he repeated that he held the rank of senior captain, and sent Ahmed Agha downstairs to summon the aide-de-camp. Immediately afterwards, he darted into the meeting room, a revolver in one hand and a dagger in the other, and bolted the door behind him. Everything happened in an instant: Circassian Hasan shot his main target, Hüseyin Avni Pasha, with a revolver. Foreign Minister Raşid Pasha, who then tried to stop him, also lost his life. A number of soldiers and gendarmes, hearing of the incident, rushed to the villa, but it took them some time to get into the room, as it was bolted. The grand vizier and grand admiral fled into the adjoining room and locked the door. Circassian Hasan attempted to get into this room for a while, in order to shoot Grand Admiral Ahmed Pasha, who had played an important role in the coup. He was unable to do so; however, he killed Ahmed Agha and Şükrü Bey, who jumped on top of him. Finally, this half-hour-long solo raid came to an end; the perpetrator was apprehended and taken to the commander in chief’s building.

29- Abdülhamid II’s sultanate signature (Yıldız Palace Museum)

30- The box in which Ayasofya Treaty (3 March 1878) was kept (BOA MHD, no. 276

31- The box in which Berlin Treaty (13 July 1878) was kept (BOA MHD, no. 276)

As in similar events in the years to come, no instigator (either local or foreign) was found to lie behind this incident. Circassian Hasan, who had been taken alive, was subjected to an interrogation that lasted only one day. Afterwards, he was executed before the eyes of the people of Istanbul, being hanged on a tree in Beyazıt Square. However, the effects of this violent raid were felt for quite some time in political circles. Members of the government started to carry revolvers and daggers at their sides, or to have their servants carry them strapped to their waists, a practice which lasted for a while. With the sudden death of Hüseyin Avni Pasha – the most powerful political figure in post-coup Istanbul – the field was open to Rüşdü Pasha the Dragoman and Midhat Pasha. From this point onwards, the two would be in a struggle for power. Despite being grand vizier, and possessing a wider sphere of influence, Rüşdü Pasha was unable to remove Midhat Pasha from politics; there was a widespread belief that the latter had the support of Britain.

After the Circassian Hasan Incident, the work of the newly-established commission continued with the drafting of the Constitution. The commission worked at the Sublime Porte by day, and Server Pasha’s villa by night; within four to five months, they had composed the text of the first Ottoman constitution. However, as a parliament had not yet been formed, the promulgation of the Constitution was subject to the approval of the government ministers and the sultan’s written permission. Yet, on this point, too, there was a dispute between Grand Vizier Rüşdü Pasha and Midhat Pasha.

As the conflict between the two pashas continued, Murad V’s psychological state got worse and worse with every passing day. There was an attempt to conceal this from the public as far as possible; nonetheless, just ninety-three days after Murad V’s ascension to the throne, high-level statesmen and members of the ulema were summoned to a meeting of the General Assembly, to be held at the Imperial Gate of Topkapı Palace. The only item on the agenda was dethroning Murad V – with the backing of a fatwa from the sheikh al-Islam – on the grounds that he was not in possession of his faculties, and replacing him with his brother, Prince Abdülhamid. This meeting was only for show; the participants arrived at the pre-ordained decision, and on August 31, 1876, Abdülhamid II – who would remain the Ottoman sultan and the Islamic caliph for the next thirty-three years – began his rule. Thus, another short-term beneficiary of the coup had lost out in the end.

The team of conspirators, particularly Midhat Pasha, had met with Prince Abdülhamid before he was put on the throne, and stated that they would support him on condition that he agreed to enact the Constitution. He gave them the answer they were hoping for, and agreed to their offer. On December 24, 1876, four months after ascending to the throne, Abdülhamid approved a draft of the Constitution, thus ushering in the Constitutional Era of Ottoman political history. A week before Abdülhamid’s approval of the Constitution, Grand Vizier Rüşdü Pasha resigned, and Midhat Pasha was appointed grand vizier for the second time. In taking this step, Abdülhamid had also been influenced by the so-called Dockyard Conference, held in Istanbul. Representatives of the great European powers of the day had participated in this conference, in which the political future of the Ottoman Empire had been laid on the table. Three months after the promulgation of the Constitution, elections for parliamentary deputies were hastily carried out, and on March 19, 1877, the Ottoman Parliament (known as the Meclis-i Mebusan or Chamber of Deputies) was inaugurated with the participation of Abdülhamid II.

However, the effect of the Constitution upon Istanbul turned out to be short-lived. As a result of the uncompromising policies of Midhat Pasha and his associates, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Ten months later, Abdülhamid II took the political initiative; on February 5, 1878, he dismissed Midhat Pasha and sent him in exile to Europe. On February 13, 1878, a week after Midhat Pasha’s dismissal, the first Ottoman parliament was also suspended. At the end of the year, after an exile of roughly ten months, Midhat Pasha was appointed governor of Syria, and was thus excluded from Istanbul politics. It would be thirty years before the first Ottoman constitution would again be put in force and the Parliament would once more be reconvened for deliberations.

Murad V had been dethroned due to being psychologically unfit to rule; nonetheless, there were political cliques who desired to have him back on the Ottoman throne. From the summer of 1876 until the summer of 1878, these cliques attempted to carry out one secret plot after another. Towards the end of 1876 – two and a half months after the coronation of Abdülhamid II – a plot was formed to smuggle away Murad from his residence in Çırağan Palace to Europe. The conspirators’ goal was that after the prince had been taken away from Istanbul they would circulate propaganda to the effect that “Abdülhamid II had stolen the sultanate,” and eventually would restore Murad to the throne. In this plot (in which Murad’s son, Selahaddin Efendi, was believed to participate), a team of four people, dressed in women’s clothes, attempted to enter the Çırağan Palace. However, they were caught before they had achieved their aim. It became evident that foreign actors were behind this plot.

32- While Armenians were organizing a demonstration in Istanbul

The second attempt to put Prince Murad back on the throne consisted of the Raid on Çırağan Palace, led by Ali Suavi, a one-of-a-kind figure in the Young Ottoman movement. During the reign of Sultan Abdülaziz, Ali Suavi had gone into exile in Paris, and was known for his writings in the newspaper Muhbir (The Reporter), which he published there. After the change of sultan, Ali Suavi returned to Istanbul, and was made director of the Galatasaray Lycée. However, he was not able to remain in this position for very long, and became an opponent of the regime again. At the time, Istanbul was full of refugees who had been forced to leave their homelands after the Russian army had occupied Rumelia. Always an enterprising person, Ali Suavi founded the Üsküdar Society, with the purpose of looking after these refugees. The Rumelian refugees with whom he kept company could potentially provide the popular support he needed in order to bring his political dreams to fruition.

33- Sultan Abdülhamid II’s going out from Yıldız Palace for Friday procession

Ali Suavi believed that only by reinstalling Murad on the throne would he have a chance of realizing the liberal political ideas he advocated. He sent secret letters to Murad, using Nuri Bey of Üsküdar as a go-between. Another prince, Kemaleddin Efendi, also lent his support to this intrigue. Ali Suavi, who was married to a British woman, anticipated that Britain would look favorably on having Murad restored to power, which would be to its own benefit. Similarly, it was expected that masons in Istanbul and elsewhere would support this plan; Prince Murad himself had become a mason in 1868. However, the only group to work with Ali Suavi consisted of a few hundred Rumelian immigrants. On May 20, 1878, Ali Suavi and nearly 300 refugees boarded barges in Kuzguncuk and made their way by sea towards Çırağan Palace, on the opposite shore. Before long, this multitude disembarked at the palace wharf. Wounding the guards who came at them, some of them managed to enter the palace; some, including Ali Suavi, even reached the Harem. Along with the group’s supporters in the palace, they then entered Murad’s apartments. Despite being dressed as a refugee, Ali Suavi approached Murad and told him they had come to make him sultan. However, Murad declined Ali Suavi’s offer. Murad either had not been informed that this exploit would be carried out that day, or was overcome with trepidation on suddenly seeing the raiding party before him. When Ali Suavi said that they would proclaim him sultan, “whether he wished it or not,” Murad became more hostile, putting his hand on his revolver and stating that he would shoot Ali Suavi. However, the raiding party was undeterred by this reaction. They took him by the arm and attempted to lead him to the drawing room, in order to perform their own version of an homage-paying ceremony.

34- Sultan Abdülhamid II

35- Abdülhamid II’s sword bearing the letters of “‘Ayn” and “Ha” / The symbol in Arabic script on Abdülhamid II’s sword

The symbol in Arabic script on Abdülhamid II’s sword

As these things were going on at Çırağan Palace, word spread to the outside. The people at Yıldız Palace learned of the raid, as well as the famous guardian of Beşiktaş, Yedi Sekiz Hasan Pasha, who was said to be sitting in a nearby coffeehouse at the time. Hasan Pasha would become one of the most important members of Abdülhamid II’s security forces in Istanbul in the years to come, and would also gain notoriety for his brutal treatment of political opponents in jail. Quickly arriving with his gendarmes, Hasan Pasha darted inside with a club that he got from the doorkeepers; seeing Murad surrounded by the members of the raiding party, who were carrying him off, he fell upon them right then and there, beating some of them to death with his club. Murad, quite overcome with terror, leaned against the wall and watched this horrifying spectacle. Next, Hasan Pasha took a Winchester rifle from the gendarmes, who were still immobilized with shock, and opened fire on the refugees. Meanwhile, the soldiers who had been dispatched to Çırağan entered the palace. Those from the raiding party who managed to stay alive began to flee for dear life. Ali Suavi was not among them; he was one of those who had been killed by blows of Hasan Pasha’s club and his bullets. Although it may have been carried out in an amateurish, unplanned fashion, Ali Suavi’s raid was a source of great concern to the new sultan, Abdülhamid II. Abdülhamid felt himself in such danger that he even asked the British ambassador in Istanbul if in an emergency the British would provide a ship for him to escape from the city.

36- The Action Army in the streets of Istanbul, a. Niyazi Bey in Taksim barracks (<em>Resimli Kitap</em>)

36- The Action Army in the streets of Istanbul, b. Artillery units’ passage through Pangaltı Street (<em>Resimli Kitap</em>)

36- The Action Army in the streets of Istanbul, c. The marines’ arrest by the Action Army (<em>Resimli Kitap</em>)

36- The Action Army in the streets of Istanbul, d. The artillery units of the Action Army (<em>Resimli Kitap</em>)

36- The Action Army in the streets of Istanbul, e. The artillery units in front of Dolmabahşe Clock Tower (<em>Resimli Kitap</em>)

36- The Action Army in the streets of Istanbul, f. The Action Army in front of the Ministry of War (<em>Resimli Kitap</em>)

36- The Action Army in the streets of Istanbul, g. The transfer of the surrendered second unit over Galata Bridge (<em>Resimli Kitap</em>)

The third and last known attempt to reinstall Murad to the throne occurred roughly two months after Ali Suavi’s raid. The conspirators, led by Cleanty Scaliéri (grand master of the Prodos Mason Lodge) included Murad’s mother, the former queen mother Şevk-efza; Nakşibend Kalfa, one of her servants; and the statesmen Aziz Bey and Ali Şefkati Bey. With the assistance of Malkam Khan, the charge d’affaires of the Iranian Embassy in Istanbul at the time (who was a mason himself), Scaliéri also met with the British ambassador Layard, and tried to convince him that Murad had recovered his mental health. This plan came into being at a time when Britain wished to acquire Cyprus, in return for its own support in ending the Russo-Turkish War, as well as the support which it would provide to the Ottomans in peace talks. Accordingly, the question arose of whether Britain had a role in the matter at hand. On July 8, 1878, there was a raid on a secret meeting in Aziz Bey’s house; some of the conspirators were wounded, and some succeeded in fleeing the country.

After the coup, which took place in Istanbul on May 30-31 in 1876, had completely upset the political equilibrium, it took some years to restore it in favor of the palace and the sultan. At the beginning of the 1880s, Abdülhamid II was no more able to establish his authority over the bureaucratic circles. The milestone of this new era was the Yıldız Court, charged, for the first time in Ottoman political history, with judging and punishing the perpetrators of a palace coup. A written report by Mahmud Celaleddin Bey (Pasha) – later minister of finance and public works – claimed that Sultan Abdülaziz’s death had not been a suicide, but murder. Abdülhamid took this opportunity to carry out a political purge of the surviving conspirators (especially Midhat Pasha, whom he saw as a threat), and had an investigation commission set up for this purpose. Sultan Abdülaziz’s family also sought to prosecute those who were thought to have been involved in the event. The hearings would be held in tents set up before the Malta Pavilion in the garden of Yıldız Palace, and in front of the jail near Ortaköy. The defendants in this political trial included Midhat Pasha, then serving as governor of Aydın and brought to Istanbul from İzmir; former grand vizier Mütercim Rüşdü Pasha; District Governor İzzet Bey, the former marshal of Tophane; Murad V’s mother, Queen Mother Şevk-efza; Arz-ı Niyaz Kalfa, one of the female palace servants at the time; the aghas who had been appointed Abdülaziz’s private servants during his stay in Çırağan Palace, namely Pehlivan Mustafa (Mustafa the Wrestler), Mustafa of Algiers, and Mehmed; Abdülaziz’s personal servants Fahri, Seyyid, Binbaşı Necib, and Namık Paşazade Ali Bey, who were accused of having collaborated with the conspirators; and Murad V’s palace secretary and brothers-in-law Damad Nuri and Damad Mahmud Celaleddin Pasha.

These hearings, which began in a legally disputable fashion on June 15, in a tent in the palace gardens, did not seem likely to result in a fair trial, and were over within three days. The former queen mother – as well as the former grand vizier, who was ill and in exile in Manisa – did not take part in the hearings. The panel of judges gave its verdict two weeks later, ruling that Sultan Abdülaziz had been killed in his apartments in Çırağan Palace by the aghas assigned as his personal servants; that İzzet Bey and Seyyid Bey had aided the killers; and that those two men had incited Necib Bey, Ali Bey, Nuri Pasha, Mahmud Pasha, and Midhat Pasha to act. All of those who were convicted were sentenced to death. The British ambassador in Istanbul stepped in to seek clemency for Midhat Pasha, who was long known for his close ties to Britain. The sultan gathered a number of high-ranking civil and military officials in Yıldız Palace and desired to know whether they approved of the death sentences or not. Most of them voted in favor of execution; nonetheless, the sultan used his authority to commute these sentences to exile and internment. The aghas and pashas were boarded onto the İzzeddin, a famous steam ship of that era, and were sent by sea to Jeddah, from which they were to be taken to Taif. Everyone was concerned about the fate of Midhat Pasha, who later perished at Taif in a suspicious manner, one that recalled the death of Sultan Abdülaziz.

Istanbul in the Age of Political Extremism: The Raid on the Ottoman Bank, and the Plot against Abdülhamid II

During more than a quarter century from the early 1880s, when Abdülhamid II effectively took control of Ottoman politics, until Abdülhamid’s dethronement by a military coup in 1909, Istanbul (like almost everywhere in Europe) witnessed a tendency towards political extremism, both by government officials and the civilian population. Abdülhamid’s opponents dubbed his style of politics “despotism,” i.e., authoritarian rule by a single individual. The sultan and his bureaucrats, on the other hand, equated these opponents with the anarchists and nihilists who were violently rebelling against the state in Russia and Continental Europe. In fact, both sides were right. The sultan did not feel secure on the throne, and became unable to tolerate any voice of opposition in the territories over which he ruled, especially in Istanbul. By the same token, his Muslim and non-Muslim opponents did not remain inactive. Influenced by the ideas and actions of leftist revolutionary, anarchist, and nihilist organizations in Europe and Russia, they made protests, and carried out bombings and assassinations in Istanbul.

The main perpetrators of these acts of political violence in Istanbul were Bulgarian and Armenian organizations advocating regional autonomy. These organizations had come into being in the aftermath of decisions made at the Congress of Berlin, which had brought the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War to a close, and had stipulated administrative reforms in Rumelia and Eastern Anatolia. These organizations’ main centers of activity were Macedonia and Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia, inhabited by large numbers of Bulgarians and Armenians, respectively. From the 1890s onwards, such organizations also became visible through various acts that they carried out in Istanbul. Their aim was to get the attention of the great Western powers that strove to protect the non-Muslim Ottoman population, and to have them put diplomatic pressure on Abdülhamid II and the Sublime Porte, who were not receptive to their demands. Secret committees of Bulgarians and Greeks in Rumelia, employing fighters whom they chiefly mustered from among villagers, carried out a guerilla war against the Ottoman army. Illegal Armenian political parties, in particular the social democratic Hunchakian Party, modeled themselves on their Bulgarian and Greek counterparts, undertaking political activities in rural parts of Anatolia. The Hunchakian Party was founded in Geneva in 1887 by six Armenian students from Tsarist Russia who had gone to Europe in order to continue their studies. Later, the administrative center of the party was moved to Paris, then Athens, and finally London. The Hunchakians carried out their first large-scale act in Istanbul by organizing a protest in Kumkapı in 1890; earlier the same year, they had also staged a revolt in Erzurum. It was this organization that lay behind incidents in Merzifon, Kayseri, and Yozgat in 1893, as well as the Sasun Rebellion, which broke out in 1895, and the protest at the Sublime Porte in Istanbul.

On September 30, 1895, the Hunchakians and their supporters among the Armenian community assembled in front of the Armenian Patriarchate in Kumkapı, and began to make their way from Kadırga Harbor towards the Sublime Porte. This group arrived at the Tomb of Sultan Ahmed, while another group got as far as the Iranian Embassy, near the Sublime Porte on the hill of the same name (Bâbıâli). This protest soon turned into a clash between the Armenians and Muslims in the city; on the first day, approximately fifty Armenians lost their lives. Gendarmes and soldiers acted together against the demonstrators; the Muslim tradesmen and madrasa students also took it upon themselves to intervene, and clashes between them and the Armenians became even more violent that night. Unrest in the Galata, Tophane, Tersane, and Kadıköy districts was only quelled on October 3, 1895. The march on the Sublime Porte – the first Armenian incident on a scale that Istanbul had never before witnessed – cost the lives of fifteen Muslims and hundreds of Armenians. In a congress organized by the Hunchakian Party in London in 1896, delegates from Anatolia and Egypt harshly criticized the party’s violent tactics, which were mainly employed by its Russian branch. The delegates asserted that such acts of provocation in Ottoman cities such as Istanbul would be detrimental to Istanbul’s Armenian bourgeoisie and Muslim population, as well as to capitalists in the West; they also said that it would not be advantageous for the Armenian political movement to adopt a revolutionary socialist line. The congress resulted in the Hunchakians being split into two, and unable to operate anywhere but Transcaucasia and Bulgaria. From this date onward, the Hunchakian Party was replaced by another Armenian revolutionary organization, the Dashnaktsutyun. The militants of the Dashnaktsutyun also wished to preserve the Western public’s interest in and support for the Armenian cause, by performing sensationalist activities in Istanbul.

On August 26, 1896, approximately a year after the demonstration led by the Hunchakians and the Kumkapı Armenian Patriarchate at the Sublime Porte, Istanbul was shaken up by another Armenian incident. This time, twenty-six members of the Dashnaktsutyun attempted an armed attack on the Galata side of the Golden Horn. They were led by a man named Karekin Pastermadjian, whose code name was “Armen Garo.” The group’s target was the building housing the General Directorate of the Ottoman Bank (the most important financial institution of its day) in Galata, on present-day Bankalar Caddesi. On the day in question, at one o’clock in the afternoon, a group of militants approached the building disguised as porters and entered after clashing with the guards. Because the group was unable to close the door of the building, the gendarmes continued firing from the outside. Two of the militants were carrying bombs and sticks of dynamite; when the bombs they were carrying fell to the ground and exploded, they were killed on the spot, blown to pieces. The other members of the raiding party, who began to panic when the soldiers wouldn’t stop firing into the building, tossed bombs out through the door onto the street. The soldiers retreated when the bombs exploded; when they began firing again, the Dashnaktsutyun militants resumed throwing bombs. They finally succeeded in closing the door and reinforcing it with sandbags. At four minutes past midnight, three of the members of the raiding party were dead and eight wounded, six critically.

Within a short period of time, the militants had taken over the Ottoman Bank and had also taken 154 hostages, consisting of bank staff and customers. At first, the staff fled and gathered together in the rooms on the upper floor; later, they started to roam through the corridors. Before long, the gendarmes and soldiers blockaded the building. The members of the Dashnaktsutyun then went on the defensive, sending letters outlining their demands to the foreign embassies in Istanbul. The Armenian militants made the following demands: the resignation of the new patriarch, whose appointment had been ordered by the sultan; the immediate implementation of sweeping administrative reforms in the governments of provinces where Armenians lived; an assurance of security for the lives and property of the Armenian population in the region; and a pardon for ethnic Armenian political prisoners in Ottoman prisons. The militants knew that they needed the European powers to step in on their behalf before their ammunition ran out. Therefore, they threatened to detonate the bombs they had brought with them – thus blowing up the building and those inside – unless their demands were met immediately.

Two hours after entering the building, they freed Monsieur Auboyneau, the Ottoman Bank’s assistant director, whom they had taken hostage, permitting him to go to Yıldız Palace with their demands. Another hostage whom they freed was Hakkı Bey (later Grand Vizier İbrahim Hakkı Pasha). Hakkı Bey had come to the bank in order to see to the affairs of Abdülhamid II, who had significant personal deposits in the Ottoman Bank consisting of various securities. In a twist of fate, the Armenian militant who took Hakkı Bey hostage that day (Karekin Pastermadjian), would be elected to the Ottoman Parliament when Hakkı Bey was grand vizier. Pastermadjian served 1908-12 as the Erzurum deputy of the Dashnaktsutyun Party, which had formed an electoral coalition with the CUP.

M. V. Maximov, the consul-general and interpreter from the Russian Embassy, had also taken part in the talks with the Ottoman authorities at Yıldız Palace. At 10:00 p.m., the committee left the palace and returned to Galata, where it tried to persuade the militants to end their operation, saying that they would be free to exit the bank and leave the country. The Dashnaktsutyun militants spoke with Maximov for nearly an hour from the windows of the bank, demanding that soldiers from the foreign war ships in Istanbul come onto land and prevent attacks against the Armenians in the city. Maximov, however, hinted that this would be impossible. At the same time, he said that they would prevent attacks against Armenian civilians, and that the Istanbul ambassadors of six great powers would send a message to the Sublime Porte concerning the enactment of reforms in Eastern Anatolia within the next six months. Finally, towards morning, the members of the raiding party agreed to go outside. In the course of the day they had lost four people, and had only eighteen of their 120 bombs left. Accompanied by soldiers, they were taken to Galata Harbor and the yacht of the director of the Ottoman Bank carried them to a French ship bound for Marseilles. They were thus allowed to slip out of Istanbul, as was promised.

The Armenian militants had entered into negotiations with the government and the embassies, who they believed would listen to them; meanwhile, on the other side of the Golden Horn, the local Muslim population, madrasa students, and vagrants had quickly become involved in this incident, just as had happened one year previously. Their numbers swiftly increasing, they began to walk over the bridge towards Galata; when they had arrived in front of the bank, they demanded to be let inside. However, the Dashnaktsutyun militants, petrified with fear, threw bombs onto the madrasa students from the windows. While this may have prevented the crowd from entering the building, it set off clashes between Istanbul’s Muslims and Armenians that would last for three days. The state was said to have armed a group of civilians with clubs, and to have tolerated their use of violence; these civilians took fierce revenge on behalf of their co-religionists who had been killed and injured by the bombs thrown in front of the bank. A few thousand Armenians were killed in these clashes. At last, on August 28, 1895, an intervention by soldiers and gendarmes suppressed this small-scale civil war.

37- The Action Army when entering Istanbul with its artillery forces

Through the Raid on the Ottoman Bank, Istanbul first became acquainted with political violence that made use of bombs and dynamite. In the years that followed, bombs would come to be used in political assassinations, as they were used all over the world. The first target of these assassination attempts in the Ottoman Empire was Abdülhamid II himself. In 1880, Tsar Alexander II of Russia became the first monarch in the modern world to be targeted by this new method of assassination. In February of that year, a carpenter who was a member of the Russian Workers’ Movement dynamited the foundations of the palace, causing the death of eleven soldiers. By chance, the Tsar came to the site of the blast later than expected, and thus was spared. However, such assassination attempts by political dissidents continued apace. A mine was planted on a railroad, blowing up a bridge over which the Tsar was expected to pass; finally, in 1881, the Tsar was killed in a bomb attack. The following heads of state also lost their lives as a result of political assassinations by anarchists or revolutionaries: President Garfield of the United States (1881); President Carnot of France (1894); Shah Naser al-Din of Iran (1896); Prime Minister Canovas del Castillo of Spain (1897); Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1898); King Umberto of Italy (1900); and President McKinley of the United States (1901).

38- The execution of those who participated 31 March Incident “Triple execution in Eminönü on May 3, 1909”

Anarchism, which had emerged merely as a philosophical movement, was opposed to the state and to authoritarian regimes; by the end of the nineteenth century, the word had come to be synonymous with terrorism in many European countries. Anarchism was unable to acquire a philosophical foothold in the Ottoman Empire; nonetheless, by the 1890s, Istanbul had become a haunt of European and Russian anarchists, socialists, and nihilists, who often came there posing as tourists. Sultan Abdülhamid II had a political department set up within the Istanbul police force; modeled on the Parisian Directorate of Police, this was known as the “First Department.” Through his civilian police officers and detectives, he attempted to keep tabs on these foreign militants who came to Istanbul, as well as on his domestic Muslim and non-Muslim opponents.

However, despite all these precautions, the sultan was directly affected by this new world-wide tendency towards political radicalism. An assassination plot led by three Russian Armenians was carried out on July 21, 1905, in Istanbul. The gunman was a Belgian anarchist named Edward Jorris, who worked at the Istanbul executive office of the famous Singer company. Jorris had come to Istanbul four years earlier, and starting to work as a secretary for the Istanbul branch of the company Deutsche Levantline. After being caught, he made a statement in which he declared that his political philosophy was anarchism, and that he had taken part in this operation because he was opposed to every kind of authoritarian ruler and government.

On Friday, July 21, 1905, a bomb was set off in front of Yıldız Mosque. The Istanbul police gradually learned the details of this assasination plot, which had been planned for a long time. The leaders were a group of Russian Armenians named Samuel Fain (Kristafor Mikaelyan), his daughter Robina Fain, and Lipa Rips (Konstantin Kabulyan). Wishing to carry out an operation that would attract attention in the Ottoman capital, these individuals considered blowing up various public places, from the Ottoman Bank to the Tünel Metro, from the Cercle d’Orient building on the Cadde-i Kebir (today’s İstiklal Caddesi), to the Galata Bridge. Finally, they decided to target Abdülhamid II. Abdülhamid left the palace every week in a procession to his Friday prayers, which he invariably performed at Yıldız Mosque, almost adjacent to Yıldız Palace. The conspirators watched Abdülhamid’s Friday processions for a certain period to learn how many minutes after his prayers the sultan left the mosque and returned to the palace. They were going to use a time bomb for the assassination; thus, everything needed to be planned down to the minute. They calculated that every week, after finishing his prayers, the sultan came to the gate of the courtyard of Yıldız Mosque after an average interval of one minute and forty-two seconds.

Lipa Rips and his wife, as well as Samuel Fain and his daughter Robina Fain, had begun preparing for this assassination seven months in advance, first coming to Sofia on their way to a meeting of Armenian revolutionary committees in Geneva. Kendiryan, another Armenian revolutionary militant, had followed them there. Samuel Fain and Kendiryan got in touch in Sofia, and, in a location outside the city, began their experiments in bomb throwing. However, this dangerous game ended in an explosion that claimed both of their lives. This event led to a change in the plan of attack; the conspirators decided they would explode a bomb hidden beneath a fixed object. As part of this plan, a carriage was purchased from Vienna and sent to Istanbul. The time bomb to be used in the assassination was obtained from Paris and smuggled into the capital by way of Athens and Varna. The 300,000 francs which were spent on the carriage and time bomb were acquired from the conspirators’ connections in America, Russia, and Bulgaria. The team obtained fake permission to access the site of the planned assassination from the Russian Embassy in Istanbul; the militants then watched everything from the area set aside for foreign guests at the Friday procession. Lipa Rips and Robina Fain brought the carriage there.

At noon on July 21, 1905, Sultan Abdülhamid II’s life was saved by a twist of fate, as is often the case in botched assassination attempts. After his prayers, the sultan made his way towards the staircase of the Yıldız Mosque that led to the stepping-stone of his carriage for his ride back to Yıldız Palace. He entered into a brief conversation with Sheikh al-Islam Cemaleddin Efendi on the stairs, which saved him from the deadly effect of the bomb apparatus known as the “machine infernale” (infernal machine), which at that moment exploded with great force. The bomb, containing eighty kilograms of explosive material, instantly turned the area in front of Yıldız Mosque into an inferno. A hole seventy centimeters deep was left at the blast site, and a total of twenty-six people (including three soldiers and four journalists) lost their lives. Fifty-six people were wounded, some seriously. Of the horses harnessed to the seventeen obliterated carriages, twenty were killed. According to the memoirs of Tahsin Pasha, the palace secretary at the time (and the person in Yıldız Palace who was closest to Abdülhamid), the sultan kept his calm amidst this chaos. He immediately leapt into his carriage, and responding with a smile to the onlookers’ applause and cries of “Long live the sultan!” took the reins in hand and drove to the building known as the Fenced Pavilion (Çit Köşkü).

The shock was over quite soon; the wounded were then taken to Yıldız Etfal Hospital and Gümüşsuyu Hospital, while Jorris, who had set off the bomb, was immediately arrested along with some members of his team. After initial interrogations, a large-scale, international investigation was begun. All of the seventeen carriages which had been blown apart in the explosion were examined; the owners were found for sixteen of these carriages. However, one of them had no registration from the government authorities in Istanbul. The wheel rims of this carriage had four corners and they were enclosed in rubber tires to prevent lurching. However, this particular model of carriage was unknown in Istanbul at the time. Accordingly, the investigators focused on finding out from which country the carriage had been brought to Istanbul. They were aided by the Impost Office (the customs authority at the time) and the Ottoman embassies. Finally, it was discovered that the carriage had been made to order in Vienna, and brought to Istanbul by the aforementioned individuals.

Following a trial, the Belgian anarchist Jorris was sentenced to death on December 18, 1905, five months after the incident. Belgium then stepped in and citing the 1838 immunity agreement between itself and the Ottoman Empire, requested Jorris’s release. Then a surprise occurred. Possibly because he understood that he would be diplomatically obligated to release Jorris, Sultan Abdülhamid pardoned the man who had made an attempt on his life. The sultan went even further, arranging to have Jorris inform on European anarchist circles on his behalf, in exchange for a certain sum of money. Abdülhamid II had emerged with his life and authority intact from the first large-scale assassination attempt by bomb ever witnessed in Istanbul. At the time, soldiers and politicians who were secret members of the CUP were quite disappointed that the sultan had survived; four years later, Abdülhamid would be dethroned in a military coup led by the CUP.

Freedom” by Coups: The Re-Promulgation of the Constitution, the March 31 Uprising and the Deposition of Abdülhamid II, the Raid on the Sublime Porte, and the Unionist Single-Party Rule

39- The dethronement of Abdülhamid II painted by last caliph Abdülmecid (MSA)

If the nineteenth century was the “longest century” in Ottoman political history, then the years 1908-18, during which the Ottoman Empire gradually drew to a close, politically speaking, were its longest decade, fraught with numerous internal and external political developments. Abdülhamid II had witnessed his uncle, Sultan Abdülaziz, beingdethroned in a coup, and later losing his life; he had also witnessed how his brother, Murad, was put on the throne in the same coup, and later deposed through a fatwa. In his own thirty-three-year sultanate, Abdülhamid attempted to keep a close watch on his many internal political opponents as well as external political threats. Internally, the sultan was contending with Armenian and Bulgarian revolutionaries, while at the same time, young dissidents from Istanbul’s educated Muslim class also came to oppose him. These young officers and bureaucrats were graduates of the Medical School, the Military Academy, and the Civil Service Academy, who united under the rubric of a secret political organization. When their activities were brought to light, some of them escaped arrest and fled to Paris, Geneva, and Cairo. After the Congress of 1902, held in Paris, a large portion of these individuals became part of the “Committee of Progress and Union” (as it was initially called), under the leadership of Ahmed Rıza Bey; the rest gathered under the umbrella of the Ottoman Freedom Association (Osmanlı Hürriyet Cemiyeti) in Salonica in 1906. One year later, the two groups united. This movement modeled itself on Bulgarian and Armenian secret societies, and was organized into cells and units; it later changed its name to the Committee of Union and Progress. Its military wing was made up of young commissioned officers who had graduated from the Military Academy, and who belonged to the Third Army (also known as the “Rumelian Army”), whose center had moved from Manastır to Salonica.

The most famous among these were the units of Ahmed Niyazi, a senior captain and local commander of the district of Resne, near Manastır; Staff Major Enver Bey (later Enver Pasha); and Senior Captain Eyüb Sabri Bey, commander of the Ohrid Reserve Battalion. Following the rapprochement of Russia and Britain, there was a widespread conviction that international politics was turning against the Ottomans, and that Abdülhamid II would no longer be able to maintain the balance of power. Accordingly, these officers, in command of their own units, instigated a revolt in Manastır, one of the most important cities in Ottoman Europe. Of their own commanders who were close to the sultan, they kidnapped some and shot others. The sultan’s own soldiers took to the hills and threatened to march on Istanbul; finally, on July 23, 1908, worn out by the pressure caused by internal and external political circumstances, Abdülhamid II reinstated the Ottoman Constitution, which he had suspended for thirty-one years. The people of Istanbul only learned of this development by hearsay, or by reading about it in the newspapers the following day.

40a- The anniversary celebrations of Second Constitutionalism. Arch of Triumph built on the Hill of Eternal Freedom

40b- The parade of the infantry

40c- The parade of the cavalry

Unlike previous military coups, this one – which the sultan’s opponents called the “Revolution” – had been staged in the leading cities of Rumelia, rather than in Istanbul. Istanbul politics had once more come under the influence of the strong political winds blowing from the Balkans, as they had one hundred years previously. Although Abdülhamid II remained on the throne, the CUP and other opponents of the sultan issued propaganda in Salonica and Istanbul to the effect that “freedom” had come to the city and to the nation. In this atmosphere of naive optimism, parliamentary elections were held without further ado. Many former secret societies, especially the CUP, began to transform themselves into political parties. On December 17, 1908, the Chamber of Deputies was reconvened in its building (now no longer in existence) near Hagia Sophia. Abdülhamid II also took part in its first meeting. A great crowd of people also gathered in Hagia Sophia Square to celebrate this event.

In the May 1876 coup, cadets from the Military Academy had joined the ranks of the madrasa students, who had been a part of Istanbul politics since the abolition of the Janissary Corps. With the re-promulgation of the Constitution, students from the madrasa and other schools, who had become politicized in the nineteenth century, were joined by students in the faculties of public administration, medicine, and law at the University, which had opened in 1900. Student marches and protests began around this time, and continued, for various reasons, until 1920; they mainly took place at locales such as Yıldız Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace, the Sublime Porte, the Chamber of Deputies in Sultanahmet, and various newspaper buildings.

The reinstatement of the Constitution and the granting of official permission to political parties, unions, and various associations to carry out activities, caused political tension in Istanbul to increase with every day that passed. The press was the battleground for harsh polemics between several factions that had previously rallied around their opposition to Abdülhamid II: the centralist CUP; the supporters of Prince Sabahaddin, a proponent of decentralization; and the Islamists, who found both groups excessively Western and secular. Civil society was in a volatile state; within the army, as well, tensions were increasing day by day. Just like the rivalry between the young officers of the CUP and the senior pashas who were close to the sultan, a struggle for power was taking place between the officers who had graduated from the Military Academy and their unschooled counterparts. Disagreements and quarrels erupted in the barracks between the young CUP officers – who had been influenced by Western political ideas, a positivist outlook which was inimical to religion, and an understanding of modern military discipline – and their uneducated non-commissioned officers. By the spring of 1909, these quarrels had begun to spill over onto the streets of Istanbul. Such quarrels were largely triggered by attempts to carry out purges – sometimes for political reasons, sometimes for military ones – of unschooled commissioned and non-commissioned officers who were not affiliated with the CUP. The final straw was the subjecting of privates and sergeants to increasingly harsh discipline by their young educated officers. At the same time, the soldiers were insulted by some of their superiors on account of their religious beliefs.

41 “Selatin-i Âli Osman (Sultans of the family of Osman)”: Ottoman sultans from Osman I up to Mehmed V (Mehmed Reşad)
(In the middle of the picture), on his right Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror and on his left Sultan Selim I, (Topkapı Palace Museum)”

In fact, the first bottom-up oppositional activity among the military forces in Istanbul arose in October of 1908. Certain Albanian and Arab forces had been assigned the task of guarding Yıldız Palace by Abdülhamid II; there was a wish to expel these forces from the capital, on the grounds that they were hostile to the new regime. A group of soldiers, some of whom were about to be discharged, opposed this plan, and refused to be sent to Yemen. The soldiers demonstrated and made themselves heard, stating that they had served their terms, and requesting that they be discharged immediately. Next, forces from the Fourth Chasseurs Battalion, which had been brought to Istanbul from Salonica in order to support the Constitutional government, were posted on the outskirts of Yıldız Palace and were asked to suppress the protests. After this unrest had dissipated, a second revolt broke out, this time in March of 1909, among the Albanian palace guards. The soldiers from the Chasseurs Battalion were issued machine guns and sent to deal with the Albanian guards; thus, this small-scale rebellion was also quelled.

The Fourth Chasseurs Battalion – brought to Istanbul from Salonica, the main base of the CUP – had been charged with the task of preserving and protecting the Constitutional regime. Commencing a tradition of “viewing the army as the custodian of the regime,” a tradition that would be continued in the subsequent Republican era, the Chasseurs battalions were dubbed the “guardians of freedom.” However, what the CUP really wanted was to use these forces to put pressure on various individuals and groups in Istanbul politics that the CUP viewed as opposed to its own interests. This hidden agenda was exposed when the CUP compelled Kâmil Pasha – the first grand vizier of this new era – to resign. In February of 1909, Kâmil Pasha had made new appointments to the Ministry of War and the Ministry of the Navy, in order to counteract the CUP’s influence over the government. As Kâmil Pasha was removed from power by a vote of no confidence in the Parliament, rumors circulated throughout the city that the CUP would use the Chasseurs battalions to depose Abdülhamid II. Conversely, others spread reports that Kâmil Pasha had issued instructions for these battalions to be sent back to Salonica. In the end, Kâmil Pasha was unable to endure these pressures and resigned. On February 14, 1909, Hüseyin Hilmi Pasha, the former general inspector of Rumelia, was appointed grand vizier.

However, in the days that followed, events did not unfold as the CUP had wished. At dawn on April 13, 1909, the soldiers in the Chasseurs battalions (the “guardians of freedom”) stationed in the Taşkışla barracks revolted, chanting “We want the Sharia!” Most of the rebellious soldiers were privates and sergeants. They refused to listen to their commanders who sought to calm them down, and even jailed some of them. Then they began to march towards the Chamber of Deputies in Hagia Sophia Square. Within a short period of time, soldiers in the other barracks had joined them. This rebellion later came to be referred to as the “March 31 Incident,” due to the fact that it occurred on March 31 of the Rumi (Julian) calendar, which had gone into official use during the Constitutional Era, a date corresponding to April 13, 1909 on the Gregorian calendar. Like many similar incidents throughout the nineteenth century, this revolt erupted with a “demand for the Sharia”; nonetheless, it really had to do with low-ranking soldiers, infuriated by the conduct of their superiors, wanting to voice their grievances. The harsh treatment that the CUP officers from Salonica dealt out to sergeants and privates who were more senior than they were sparked a military revolt which would wreak complete havoc upon the political status quo in Istanbul. Another factor was a political murder by an unknown individual on the Galata Bridge on the night of April 6 - 7. On that night, Hasan Fehmi Bey, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Serbesti (Freedom) – who was closely allied with the opposition Liberal Union Party (Ahrar Fırkası) – was shot on the bridge as he was returning from Beyoğlu. Hasan Fehmi’s funeral turned into a rally for opponents of the CUP; the university students who gathered for this event began to march towards the Sublime Porte and the Chamber of Deputies, expressing their outrage.

Another factor that allowed the CUP to present the March 31 Incident as a religious uprising was an act of provocation carried out by the members of the movement known as the Society of Muhammad (Cemiyet-i Muhammedî), led by an individual named Derviş Vahdeti. Standing in the streets and marketplaces, with their record-books open to record people’s names, they forced passers-by to answer the question, “Do you want the Sharia?” The fact that Vahdeti (who was from Cyprus) knew English would later give rise to another rumor, namely that the group was controlled by Britain, which was at odds with the CUP. However, there was no basis for this charge. By the same token, the propaganda that the supporters of the Cemiyet-i Muhammedî were opposed to the Constitution was unfounded as well. On April 26, 1909, Gerard Lowther, the British ambassador in Istanbul, sent a report to London, in which he provided a day-by-day, hour-by-hour account of what had occurred in the city over the previous thirteen days. According to this report, the protestors who had poured out into the streets had nothing to do with the Constitution or the Europeans. The only protest in which they took part consisted of their stopping Muslims with black or colored caps, making them take off these caps, and crushing them underfoot.

Those who initially took part in the uprising were soldiers from the Istanbul-based First Army, as well as the Third Army’s Fourth Chasseurs Battalion (which had been brought in from Salonica); it soon grew with the participation of other groups, which were displeased with the CUP’s control over the state and the military. The insurrectionists gathered in Hagia Sophia Square, and then surrounded the Chamber of Deputies. Afterwards, they stationed themselves at either end of the Galata Bridge spanning the Golden Horn, armed with machine guns, thus gaining control over passage between Galata and Istanbul. To a large extent, they also gained control over boat and ferry traffic between Istanbul and the Anatolian side, especially Kadıköy and Üsküdar. By cutting telegraph lines, they made it difficult for the civil and military authorities to keep up with what was happening or to intervene. Mahmud Muhtar Pasha, who as commander of the Imperial Guard Army was responsible for the security of the city, went from his house in Moda to the Ministry of War headquarters in Beyazıt upon hearing of the uprising. However, when the state failed to issue orders to intervene, and Mahmud Muhtar Pasha’s own forces joined the rebels, he felt helpless, and resigned from his post. The rebels surrounded Muhtar Pasha’s villa and he was only able to save his life by fleeing to the house of his British neighbor.

Among those who lost their lives in this chaos were parliamentary deputies and state officials. The first victim was Minister of Justice Nâzım Pasha. On his way to Dolmabahçe Palace in the company of Minister of the Navy Rıza Pasha, his carriage encountered a roadblock upon the Galata Bridge and he was forced to drive back to the Chamber of Deputies. While his carriage was entering the outer gate of the Parliament, a soldier mistook him for Ahmed Rıza Bey – a CUP member who was president of the Chamber of Deputies – and opened fire, shooting him in the heart. In this attack, which cost Nâzım Pasha his life, Minister of the Navy Rıza Pasha – who was sitting beside him – was wounded in the foot. When the truth emerged and they realized that the dead person was Nâzım Pasha, the rebels set their sights on Ahmed Rıza Bey and then made their way towards the Sublime Porte. Ali Fuad (Türkgeldi), then the head of the office of inter-ministerial correspondence at the Grand Vizierate, described in his memoirs what happened next. According to his account, Ahmed Rıza saw that a crowd had assembled in front of the building, and penned his own resignation without further ado. He then had this document read out loud to the people from the stepping-stone used for carriages in front of the Sublime Porte, while he himself hastily slipped out via the back door.

Another person killed during the March 31 Incident due to a resemblance to someone else was Emir Arslan Bey, the Deputy from Latakia. Emir Arslan was mistaken for Hüseyin Cahid Bey, one of the prominent members of the CUP during that period; his carriage was then sprayed with bullets and he died on the spot. Then there was Ali Kabulî Bey, a commissioned officer in the Navy who was the captain of the Âsâr-ı Tevfik, a famous battleship of that era. Ali Kabulî was harsh in his attempts to suppress the rising discontent among the sailors on his ship, and even threatened to have Yıldız Palace bombarded. As a result, he was arrested by his subordinates and, with his hands bound, he was taken to the Kasımpaşa Dockyard. From there, soldiers took him to Yıldız Palace, where he was bayoneted to death near the palace gate, in a place where Abdülhamid II could observe what was happening.

This uprising, which quickly wreaked political havoc in the city, led not only to the resignation of Ahmed Rıza, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, but later forced Grand Vizier Hüseyin Hilmi Pasha and his cabinet to resign during the night. Around the same time, the Chamber of Deputies issued a declaration that the rebels’ demands had been accepted. This declaration ordered that there be “compliance with the Sharia”; Abdülhamid II was also induced to approve a pardon for the rebellious soldiers. Next, it was announced that Tevfik Pasha had been assigned to fill the vacant post of the grand vizier, while Edhem Pasha would be taking over Ali Rıza Pasha’s position as the minister of war. The new grand vizier received a note from the sultan regarding his appointment on the following morning, to the sound of gunfire. The soldiers also withdrew to their barracks that night.

Just when things seemed to have quieted down, the city was shaken by the news that an army was on the outskirts of Ayastefanos (Yeşilköy); the last time this had occurred had been during the Russian occupation of 1878. However, this time, the occupation forces did not belong to another country. The commanders of the Third Army in Salonica and the Second Army in Edirne, regarding the events in Istanbul as a threat to the Constitutional regime, had set out with a detachment made up of their own forces as well as numerous volunteers. Right at the start of the March 31 Incident, a CUP deputy named İsmail Canbolat had sent a telegram to the CUP headquarters in Salonica with the message, “The Constitution is done for!” This prompted action from prominent civilian and military members of the CUP, as well as officers and pashas from the Third Army who – even if they were not members of the CUP – believed that this event was a threat to the constitutional order.

42- Grand vizier casting his vote in the ballot box in front of Sublime Porte

At first, its leaders considered calling this detachment the “Macedonian Army” or the “Army of Freedom”; the staff captain at the time, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), was the one to name it the “Army of Action.” Among those who marched to Istanbul with their men in order to “preserve freedom” were others who, like Atatürk, would later occupy the highest positions of power in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic: Staff Captain Kâzım (Karabekir) and Enver Pasha, as well as Niyazi Bey of Resen and the heads of Bulgarian and Albanian bands in Rumelia. This strange task force also included Greek, Macedonian, and Jewish volunteers, as well as small numbers of Armenian volunteers who were members of the Dashnaktsutyun and the Hunchakians. At the core of the Army of Action was a division of the Salonica-based Third Army, as well as two divisions from the Edirne-based Second Army. In addition to these regular soldiers, veterans and other reserve forces from the army were called up for duty and included in this detachment. Until it reached Istanbul, command of this entire force was in the hands of Major General H. Hilmi Pasha and Brigadier General Şevket Turgut Pasha, who were the highest-ranking officers in this deployment. On April 21, 1909, six days after the Army of Action set out from Salonica, Mahmud Şevket Pasha made his way to Istanbul by train in order to take over from these two commanders. In addition to being commander of the Salonica-based Third Army, Mahmud Şevket Pasha had been deputized to act as general inspector of the Province of Rumelia as of November 1908.

This detachment would once more change the political balance of power in Istanbul in favor of the CUP. As it went into action, an outpouring of telegrams from higher-ranking and lower-ranking provincial governors closely allied to the CUP reached the Sublime Porte. More telegrams came from administrative councils and from CUP clubs. The telegram senders stated that they did not recognize Grand Vizier Tevfik Pasha and the deputies in his cabinet as legitimate. Confident that they had once more obtained the backing of the army, they embarked upon an intense psychological campaign. The members of Tevfik Pasha’s cabinet, influenced by the insults and threats made against them, chose to make terms with their opponents, striving to prevent another military campaign which would once again plunge Istanbul into a heated conflict. However, the command staff of the Army of Action – which had arrived by train through Küçükcekmece at Çatalca, Hadımköy, and Ispartakule on April 17, and then had reached Ayastefanos and the gunpowder factory on the coast of Bakırköy – had no intention of stopping or retreating. Following the arrival of the Army of Action at Çatalca, a second advisory committee was sent there on April 18; this included Ahmed İzzet Pasha, Chief of the General Staff, and Mahmud Pasha of Çürüksu (Kobuleti). However, these meetings as well did not lead to the result for which the government had wished. According to a report by the military attaché then serving at the British embassy in Istanbul, there was a final attempt at negotiating with the Army of Action when it arrived at Yeşilköy. However, the religious figures who had been sent there as negotiators were treated roughly by the soldiers, and sent back where they had come from. The Army of Action had not just come to Yeşilköy with soldiers and bands from Rumelia. It had also been accompanied by a number of individuals who had hurriedly left Istanbul and come to Salonica during the March 31 Incident: Ahmed Rıza Bey, Hüseyin Cahit Bey, Cavid Bey, Rahmi Bey, Talat Bey, Nâzım Bey, and Emanuel Carasso (Karasu). There is no doubt that this group of CUP members did not wish to come to terms with the existing government in Istanbul, but rather to take total control of the city, and they made suggestions to this effect to the army commanders.

The Halkalı Agricultural College was chosen as the headquarters of the Army of Action (Hareket Ordusu), whose plan was to split up into two wings and occupy Istanbul. On the night of April 23, 1909, the Army of Action slowly began to enter Istanbul. The sultan and the government made a joint decision that the troops based in Istanbul would not show any resistance to this detachment of Rumelian occupying forces. On April 24, the main forces of the Army of Action split up into four wings, and set about occupying strategic locations to the north of Istanbul. One of these wings occupied the area known as Bendler (the Weirs), via the village of Kalfa; the upper parts of Alibeyköy, from the area to the west of Metris Farm and Silahtarağa Farm; and the hills to the north of Kâğıthane. Next, marching in the direction of Maslak and Şişli, it reached Beyoğlu and the Taşkışla Barracks. Another wing was easily able to capture the Davutpaşa Barracks and Rami Barracks, whose soldiers had gone to Istanbul to serve as an honor guard. Afterwards, this wing of the Army of Action marched by way of Edirnekapı to the Ministry of War in Beyazıt, and took control of the Ministry. Another wing made its way to Tophane, following the tramline from Karaköy. Here, however, it encountered fierce resistance from the soldiers in Istanbul. In the clashes between the two sides – especially at the Artillery Barracks in Taksim, the Taşkışla Barracks, and the Tophane Barracks, the Army of Action suffered 470 casualties (120 dead and 350 wounded), while the Istanbul forces, which resisted them, suffered 1,050 casualties (250 dead and 800 wounded).

Two battalions, whose right-side vanguards had encamped on the shore of Ayamama Creek in Yeşilköy, occupied first the gunpowder factory on the coast of Bakırköy (present-day Ataköy) and then the military’s factories on the coast of Zeytinburnu. From there, they swept through to the center of Istanbul, following the railroad from Yedikule to Sirkeci (the present-day Halkalı-Sirkeci suburban line). They met with no resistance upon their arrival at Ahırkapı, and one of their flanks made it to Topkapı Palace. Part of this flank was made up of the artillerymen of the Third Army, under the command of Captain Ziya Bey, as well as the Third Battalion of the 11th Regiment, answering to Major Hamdi Bey; these forces proceeded to the Sublime Porte via the Divanyolu. When they came before the Iranian Embassy on Cağaloğlu Hill, they were subjected to fire from rebel soldiers who had encamped at the nearby Soldiers’ Club, as well as from some of the houses in the area. People’s worst fears had come true. As in 1807, 1808, and 1826, the streets of Istanbul had become the site of gun and artillery fights between opposing military forces. This time, however, a new type of weapon, the machine gun, was used as well. The members of the Army of Action began to shoot cannon-balls at those who had opened fire on them. This tactic neutralized the resistance from the rebels, and caused the surrender of the soldiers in the Sublime Porte and the Soldiers’ Club.

On its first day, this campaign was successful in Istanbul and in Galata, i.e., on both sides of the Golden Horn. However, gun and artillery battles continued for another day at the Selimiye Barracks in Üsküdar, and in the surrounding area. With the surrender of the rebel soldiers in Selimiye, and the Second Division in Yıldız, Istanbul was now under the military control of the Army of Action, and the political control of the CUP. The re-enactment of the Constitution had caused the members of the CUP to share power with Abdülhamid II; with this revolt, which broke out on April 13, they had suddenly become defenseless in Istanbul. With the aid of the armies of Rumelia and Edirne, the military and civilian branches of the CUP were able to surmount this difficulty. Deftly employing the tactics of guerilla warfare and covert resistance which they had learned in Rumelia, they managed to turn this crisis into an opportunity for themselves. First of all, they proclaimed martial law in the city on April 25. Abdülhamid II was the primary target of this authoritarian system, which remained in effect for three years, and would also be continued for various reasons during the years of single-party rule under the Republic. The forces guarding Abdülhamid were dispersed, and the palace staff fled, suddenly leaving the sultan all alone in Yıldız Palace, vulnerable to attack from the bands of his opponents surrounding the city.

Eventually, things turned out as expected. On April 25, the members of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies gathered at the Yeşilköy headquarters of the Army of Action, under the name of the “National General Assembly”; the proposal on which they had agreed was then carried out. This project, which was confirmed in a secret session of the Chamber of Deputies near Hagia Sophia on April 26, consisted of obtaining a fatwa (to be prepared by the official known as the custodian of fatwas) calling for Abdülhamid’s deposition, and then dethroning the sultan. The next day, there was another session of the assembly, to which the sheikh al-Islam and the custodian of fatwas were summoned. However, things did not go as planned; the custodian of fatwas turned down the offer. Küçük Hamdi Efendi of Elmalı, one of his subordinates (who would become famous during the Republican era for his Turkish-language commentary on the Qur’an) was eager to take on this task. He composed a fatwa, which a delegation then took to its meeting with Abdülhamid II at the Fenced Pavilion of Yıldız Palace on April 27. This delegation contained a number of non-Muslims, including, most notably, Emanuel Carasso. Its spokesman, Esad Pasha of Durrës, echoing the words spoken thirty-three years earlier by Hüseyin Avni Pasha to Sultan Abdülaziz, announced its decision with the sentence, “The nation has removed you from the throne, in compliance with a fatwa!” Just as in the coup of July 23, Abdülhamid did not put up a fight during the March 31 Incident and its aftermath. Upon hearing this declaration, which was an affront to his dignity, he merely replied, “So be it: fate has ordained it so.” His only wish was to spend the rest of his life at Çırağan Palace. However, Abdülhamid was treated much as his deposed uncle Abdülaziz had been in the past. His wish was not granted; instead, a decision was made to have him sent straight away to the Villa Allatini in Salonica. The main opposition to Abdülhamid’s residing at Çırağan Palace came from Selahaddin Efendi (the son of Abdülhamid’s predecessor, Murad V).

Immediately afterwards, the successor to the throne was chosen. Abdülhamid’s brother, Prince Reşad, was proclaimed Sultan Mehmed V, in a coronation ceremony performed at the Ministry of War in Beyazıt (just as had occurred with Prince Murad in the coup of May 30-31, 1876). The local people gathered outside the ministry to watch this extraordinary coronation ceremony, in which senators and deputies made their way through the orderly ranks of volunteer militiamen and artillery privates belonging to the battalion of Niyazi Bey of Resen. Following the coronation – which took place in an atmosphere of a full-fledged military coup – a thoroughgoing “witch hunt” was commenced. A bloody purge began to be carried out, with the aim of settling scores from the “now-defunct era” of Abdülhamid II.

First of all, the soldiers and madrasa students who had led the revolt of March 31 were arrested. Between May 3 and July 23, 1909, dozens of commissioned and non-commissioned officers, enlisted men, madrasa teachers and students, palace aghas, policemen, and gendarmes who had not fled Istanbul, despite the entry of the Army of Action into the city, were hanged at gallows set up at Hagia Sophia and the Galata Bridge, and in Beyazıt, Fatih, Kasımpaşa, and Beşiktaş. Among them were Sergeant Hamdi of Ankara, the leader of the rebels, and Derviş Vahdeti, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Volkan (The Volcano). Many people were imprisoned, sentenced to hard labor, or exiled to coastal cities far from Istanbul. Though they were accused of being directly or indirectly connected to the uprising, their true crime was being opponents of the CUP. Because the revolt had been started by privates in the Imperial Guards Army in Istanbul, it was this institution which suffered the greatest repercussions. Nearly 10,000 privates and non-commissioned officers in the Imperial Guards Army were sent to Salonica, Kosovo, and Manastır, and made to do roadwork and other military construction projects. The Imperial Guards Army was disbanded, and reconfigured as the First Army. A law known as the Purge of the Ranks (Tasfiye-i Rüteb), drafted by Enver Pasha, brought about a purge in the army staff. Those who were not thought to have deserved the rank they bore (whether by virtue of their age or their accomplishments), along with those who were believed to be opposed to the CUP or sympathetic to Abdülhamid, were either dismissed or forcibly retired from the army.

Some pashas were court-martialed; Abdülhamid’s minister of war, palace secretary, minister of the interior affairs and minister of the navy, mayor of Istanbul, commander in chief, and superintendent of the Military Academies were accused of attempting to overthrow the existing government and regime. Their property was confiscated and they were stripped of their titles; then, just like low-ranking insurrectionists, they were sentenced to exile and sent away from Istanbul. Furthermore, many soldiers and civilians, wishing to save themselves from martial law, fled to various locations both at home and abroad. The expressions irtica (reactionism) and mürteci (reactionary) were invented by the members of the CUP in order to discredit the March 31 Incident and its supporters, by implying that such people wished to return to the era prior to July 23, 1908. These terms effectively became a label for anyone who was opposed to the CUP. These wholesale political accusations were a legacy of the March 31 Incident to Turkey’s political lexicon; for many years after the end of the Ottoman sultanate and the transition to the Republic, they would quiver like the sword of Demosthenes above the heads of the religiously devout, both the common people and intellectuals. The monument built upon a hilltop in Şişli and known as the Monument of Liberty (Âbide-i Hürriyet), where the fallen members of the Army of Action were buried, became a tangible memento of this era for Istanbul.

Abdülhamid’s deposition was followed by a tragic event: the raiding and plundering of Yıldız Palace by members of the Army of Action as well as Rumelian bands who had voluntarily joined the campaign. A Bulgarian chieftain named Sandanski entered the palace with his men, accompanied by Enver Bey. Just as in the plundering of Dolmabahçe Palace following the dethronement of Sultan Abdülaziz, the soldiers seized jewels, cash, promissory notes, bonds, and stock shares; these were delivered to a commission set up with the purpose of transferring them to the state treasury. Aside from this moveable property, they also acquired the reports of informants and detectives which had been presented directly to Abdülhamid throughout his sultanate, along with the sultan’s vast library. Most of these informants’ reports were burned after they had been read, for some of the signatures at the bottom belonged to individuals who had suddenly become “champions of liberty” in this new era. The books were first taken to the Ministry of War; they were subsequently transferred to the University, then known as the Darülfünun, and afterwards to its later incarnation, Istanbul University, becoming the basis of its Rare Books Library collection. The building in which Yıldız Palace was located was allocated to the Military Academy of the time, the Military Staff Training College. In the Republican era, as well, Turkish Military Academies would continue to operate here for an extended period.

After the successful occupation of Istanbul by the Army of Action, stability soon returned to the city. Although martial law continued to be in force, the bands of volunteer fighters started to be sent back to Rumelia from May of 1909 onwards, in order to remove the atmosphere of military occupation from the city. It took until the beginning of September for the military forces – which had gathered under the rubric of the Army of Action, a provisional task force – to return to the armies to which they properly belonged. In the meantime, positions of the highest civil and military authority were filled by individuals who had held such posts before the outbreak of the March 31 Incident.

Although the members of the CUP had appointed a sultan and grand vizier who they thought would not get in their way, they were not yet in full control of the Sublime Porte and the army. Their parliamentary rival, the Freedom and Accord Party (Hürriyet ve İtilaf Fırkası, previously the Ahrar Fırkası or Liberal Union Party), constituted a potent opposition force, even with a small number of deputies. Writers in the Istanbul press who took the opposition party’s line also continued to make their opinions known to the public. Although there had been a purge of the senior pashas as well as the unschooled non-commissioned officers, the divisions in the officer corps still remained. Another group of coup-plotters emerged who were opposed to the CUP; these would later be united under the name of the Savior Officers (Halaskâr Zabitân). Starting in the middle of 1910, this tension led the members of the CUP to apply to Istanbul politics the tactics of irregular, guerilla warfare that they had learned in Macedonia. This tendency first manifested itself in murders of journalists by unknown assailants. On June 9, 1910, Ahmed Samim Bey, a writer for the opposition newspaper Sada-yı Millet (The Voice of the Nation), which was owned by the Greek parliamentary deputy Kozmidi Efendi, was shot to death by unknown assailants in front of a börek (savory pie) shop in Bahçekapı; on the evening of July 10, 1911, another opposition journalist, Zeki Bey, was also killed in similar fashion in front of his house in Bakırköy.

The CUP had come to power making two claims: in domestic politics, it claimed to have brought about more freedom through a constitutional regime; in foreign affairs, it claimed to have preserved the territorial integrity of the nation. However, in public opinion, it was thought to have fallen far short of these lofty goals. The power of the CUP’s civilian and military opponents was strengthened by revolts in Rumelia – especially in Albania – which could not be suppressed, as well as by the 1911-12 Turco-Italian War. The opposition may have been purged from the Parliament in the new elections of 1912; nonetheless, on July 16, 1912, the group calling itself the Savior Officers issued a memorandum that forced the cabinet of Said Pasha to resign, and had it replaced with the government of Ahmed Muhtar Pasha. On July 24, the new government ended the martial law that had lasted for three years in Istanbul. Thus, the first step was taken towards ending the political domination of the CUP. However, these attempts at normalization came to a halt when the Balkan states formed an alliance against the Ottomans, and began preparing for war. War broke out in October, and a swift defeat followed. Ahmed Muhtar Pasha then resigned and was replaced by Kamil Pasha, an experienced statesman who had little connection to the CUP.

The members of the CUP were quite upset by the successive appointments to the grand vizierate of two individuals of whom they disapproved. Therefore, as had occurred in previous governmental and palace coups, they attempted to put the existing government in a difficult position on the eve of the Balkan War, by causing commotion in the streets. First, on October 3, 1912, the students of the University demonstrated in favor of making war. The students were protesting the government, which was opposed to the war on the grounds that the Ottoman military was still insufficiently prepared to fight against the allied Balkan states. The very next day, the CUP held a rally in Sultanahmet Square. The leaders of the CUP, including Talat Pasha, led this large gathering. Setting off from Sultanahmet, it marched to the garden of Dolmabahçe Palace. That same morning, the Freedom and Accord Party – which was sympathetic to the government –also held a rally in Sultanahmet Square, voicing support for government’s policy of buying time by focusing on diplomacy. Three days later, on October 7, 1912, the CUP’s provocations took on another dimension, as university students and CUP supporters influenced by the pro-CUP press were provoked into action. This time, the protestors’ target was the Sublime Porte itself, where they wreaked total havoc. Members of the Ottoman government, especially Grand Vizier Kamil Pasha, were subjected to harsh criticism and insults from its internal political opponents for having been forced by the great Western powers of the time to carry out administrative reforms in Rumelia. Their energy unflagging, the protestors then went to Dolmabahçe Palace. Sultan Mehmed V, who could not avoid them, was compelled to meet with them and listen to their demands, just like with the Janissaries in times past.

This first raid on the Sublime Porte was a harbinger of a second raid three months later, which resulted in a violent overthrow of the government. In the first stage of the Balkan War, the Ottoman army was swiftly and unexpectedly defeated on all fronts, and the enemy forces took control of Edirne; this considerably weakened public support for the government and the army. In fact, the CUP – which forced the cabinet of Kamil Pasha into war, and increased political polarization in the army – was just as responsible for this crushing defeat as the cabinet. However, the Istanbul public was in search of a hero who would save Edirne, if nothing else. The most obvious choices were Mahmud Şevket Pasha – who had served as the commander of the Army of Action as well as minister of war, and who had preferred to remain on the sidelines during the Balkan War, rather than hold a position of authority – and the young, bold Enver Bey, the leader of the military wing of the CUP.

The government held meeting after meeting at the Sublime Porte, searching for a way to liberate Edirne, while the CUP carried on with its street politics. The CUP had already begun to disseminate “black propaganda” (misinformation) to the effect that “Edirne will be given up to the enemy!” Finally, there was a direct intervention into politics, in the form of the notorious Raid on the Sublime Porte of January 23, 1913 which was planned by both civilian and military members of the CUP. According to an account by İ. Hami Danişmend (who personally witnessed the raid) Enver Bey, seated on a white horse, proceeded from Cağaloğlu to the Sublime Porte, and entered the building with eight to ten CUP fedayeen under his command. No one hindered this group of armed men from nonchalantly entering the second most important governmental building in Istanbul. Everything had been planned in advance; with the aid of men in the army and civil bureaucracy, the CUP had arranged for the guards in front of the Sublime Porte to be changed, putting pro-CUP officers in charge of them. Some civilian CUP members, such as Talat Bey, had already entered the building before Enver Bey, and waited for him inside.

Another eyewitness to the raid was the palace secretary of that era, Ali Fuad (Türkgeldi), who was among those who were inside the building at the time; he had been sent by the sultan to the Sublime Porte in order to meet with Grand Vizier Kamil Pasha. The subject of the meeting was the contents of a telegram sent to Prince Abdülmecid, which the prince had then presented to Sultan Mehmed. The telegram had been sent from Çatalca, the Ottoman army’s last line of defense in the Balkan War; it contained a warning to watch out for the CUP supporters in the army. Sultan Mehmed, taking this new piece of intelligence seriously, had sent his palace secretary to warn the government. Kamil Pasha was reading this telegram at the very moment that Enver Bey and his fedayeen – having just darted into the Sublime Porte – were killing the six people (including two guards) they encountered in the outer lobby. Hearing this sudden commotion, Ali Fuad looked out his window and saw a bunch of people – some wearing turbans, some bareheaded, and accompanied by children of various ages – making their way towards the Sublime Porte, crying “Allahu akbar!” Highly agitated, he turned to the grand vizier, and cautioned him with the words, “They are climbing up the railings in order to get inside, sir . . . now they have climbed over the railings!” Kamil Pasha’s response – “Inform the guards what is happening, so that they may shut the doors” – highlighted the lack of information sharing among leadership during coups. However, those who were at the door had no intention of stopping; as for the guards, they were neither inclined to nor able to shut the door.

Meanwhile, Enver Bey and his fedayeen had made it as far as the inner lobby, where they shot the civil police commissioner, Celal Efendi, as well as the burly minister of war, Nazım Pasha, who put up a fierce resistance. Ironically, Nazım Pasha – who lost his life in this raid – had previously been warned that the CUP officers (especially Enver Bey) were involved in politics, and should therefore be dismissed from their posts. However, he did not act accordingly, thinking it sufficient to obtain assurances from the aforementioned officers that they would no longer take part in politics. On the day of the raid, therefore, Nazım Pasha was taken aback at suddenly seeing Enver Bey standing before him in the Sublime Porte with a revolver in his hand. Nazım Pasha became enraged and firmly resisted the raiding party. However, by the time these young officers had carried out a raid on the Sublime Porte, it was too late to discipline them with a reprimand.

At that very moment, Ali Fuad was leaving the room where he had met with Kamil Pasha; he heard the sound of gunfire coming from the grand lobby, and then the sound of glass breaking. Panicking, he entered the room facing the sea that was used for meetings with ambassadors. There, he saw Minister of Finance Abdurrahman Pasha, Minister of Post and Telegraph Musurus Kikis Bey, the directors of Deutsche Bank, and the chief dragoman of the German embassy, who were negotiating the terms of a loan, as if nothing out of the ordinary were occurring. Seeking to save his own life, Ali Fuad took refuge in the corner. Finally, he heard a cry of “Aiii!”; it soon became clear that this cry had come from the minister of war, who had been shot in the head. After the raid, Enver Bey confessed everything to Ali Fuad. According to his account, Nazım Pasha had been killed by mistake, rather than as part of the plan; the grand vizier’s aide-de-camp, Nafiz Bey – along with Nazım Pasha’s own aide-de-camp, Tevfik Bey of Cyprus – had apparently opened fire on the raiding party, and the CUP fedayeen had then used their guns, shooting and killing these two people, as well as the minister of war.

The soldiers who were present, supposedly in order to guard the Sublime Porte, reacted to this strange yet well-planned raid merely by approaching the site and then piling arms in front of the adjoining mosque known as the Nallı Mescit. Thus, the CUP raiding party was allowed to carry out the last part of its plan. Kamil Pasha himself, as well as the servants in the Sublime Porte, told Ali Fuad what then occurred: Talat Bey and Enver Bey, emboldened by the soldiers’ failure to intervene, came up to the aged grand vizier, and demanded that he write his own resignation. At first, Kâmil Pasha balked at this idea; then, seeing that he had no other choice, and being harshly berated by Talat Bey, he penned his resignation as Talat Bey and Enver Bey had requested. However, the conspirators were not pleased with the grand vizier’s explanation of the reasons for his resignation, namely that he had done so “at the suggestion of the military”; they forced Kâmil Pasha to add the expression “of the people” to his statement. In previous coups, those who had dethroned Abdülaziz and Abdülhamid had made a point of informing the sultans that it was not they themselves but “the nation” which had carried out these coups; similarly, the plotters of this last coup in Ottoman political history presented themselves as the “representative of the people.”

Having obtainied the grand vizier’s resignation, Enver Bey then took the palace secretary Ali Fuad, who was in the Sublime Porte at that moment, and started driving towards Dolmabahçe Palace in the automobile of Sheikh al-Islam Cemaleddin Efendi. Sultan Mehmed V, when presented with the fait accompli of Kamil Pasha’s resignation, put up no more resistance than the latter had done; he agreed to issue a written order replacing Kamil Pasha with Mahmud Şevket Pasha as grand vizier, as well as making Mahmud Şevket Pasha minister of war. Meanwhile, a large crowd was still waiting at the Sublime Porte, cheering, “Mahmud Şevket Pasha will liberate Edirne for us!” The sultan’s written order was brought from the palace and read out loud on the stepping-stone of the Sublime Porte. However, when even this was insufficient to pacify the crowd, Mahmud Şevket Pasha himself addressed the people, asking them to put an end to their demonstration.

As the crowd gradually dispersed, one would certainly never have predicted that just five months later, on June 11, 1913, as the new grand vizier was driving in his automobile on the Divanyolu, he would be waylaid and killed in an armed attack. Although the actual perpetrators of this assassination were arrested and hanged, it never became clear which local or foreign powers lay behind it. However, the CUP did not fail to exploit this opportunity, turning Mahmud Şevket Pasha’s assassination into a pretext for a violent purge of its own political opponents. New military courts were set up and Istanbul once more came under martial law. Among those who were executed on the orders of Cemal Bey (later Cemal Pasha), then serving as the guardian of the city of Istanbul, was Damad Salih Pasha, who was married to one of the princesses in the imperial dynasty. Likewise, many political opponents were imprisoned in the Bekirağa Troop Barracks, part of an extension of the Ministry of War building in Beyazıt; a total of 350 people were also put onto ferries and exiled to Sinop. Some also fled the country or were forced into exile abroad.

After the killing of Mahmud Şevket Pasha, Said Halim Pasha became grand vizier, while Talat Bey, one of the members of the CUP resistance, also joined the cabinet as minister of the interior. Ahmed İzzet Pasha, the former chief of the Military Council of High Officers who had close ties to the CUP, was made minister of war in this cabinet. After Edirne was won back from the Bulgarians on July 21, 1913, a factional split emerged in the army, causing Enver Bey to be appointed minister of war on January 3, 1914. At the time, Enver Bey held the rank of kaimmakam (corresponding to the rank of colonel or lieutenant colonel); he was immediately promoted to major general, thus becoming a pasha and, at a young age, reaching the highest echelons of the Ottoman army. The third important CUP figure to occupy a position in the cabinet was Cemal Pasha. He was transferred from the Ministry of Public Works to the Ministry of the Navy, thus putting not just the army but also the fleet under the control of the CUP.

The years 1914-18, on which the Talat-Enver-Cemal trio made its mark, were a difficult time for the Ottoman Empire. The trio viewed Sultan Mehmed V and Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha merely as rubber stamps; Talat, Enver, and Cemal were the ones chiefly responsible for the Ottoman Empire’s entering the First World War on the side of the German-Austro-Hungarian alliance. It was Talat, Enver, and Cemal who signed a defense treaty with Germany on August 2, 1914, a treaty that mainly benefited the Germans. Moreover, when the German battleships Goeben and Breslau – which were escaping from the British and French fleets – sought refuge with the Ottomans, Talat, Enver, and Cemal were the ones who decided to take these ships and their crews into the service of the Ottoman Empire, rather than turning them away or disarming them. Neither the Sublime Porte nor Sultan Mehmed V were informed of Minister of War Enver Pasha’s ordering these two ships, under the command of German Admiral Souchon, to make their way to the Black Sea and bombard the Russian harbor of Sevastopol on October 29, 1914. On hearing of this, Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha wished to resign, but was pressured into refraining from doing so. Although they possessed insufficient political experience, within a few years the members of the CUP resistance had become the rulers of the Ottoman Empire; without doing a sufficient amount of strategic planning, they had arrived at the conviction that they would ensure a bright future for the Ottoman Empire by entering the Great War on the side of Germany. Undoubtedly, their decision was influenced by their wish to reinforce the power they had acquired in Istanbul politics. A wartime mobilization would provide the government with extraordinary authority over every aspect of the life of its society, including the economy, and would completely eliminate any voices of opposition in domestic politics.

Between November 3 and 5 of 1914, Russia, Britain, and France declared war one after another; soon afterwards, on November 11, the Ottoman Empire announced that it was at war with these countries. Thus, the Ottomans too were taking part in this first “Great War,” which began in Europe around the beginning of August 1914, and turned into a full-scale world war in the years that followed. Before long, the effects of the war were felt in Istanbul. The allied British and French fleets blockaded the Dardanelles, and began bombarding the coasts; at this point, the Ottoman statesmen began preparing to move their capital to Anatolia, as a temporary measure. They decided to move to Eskişehir. First, palace officials sent from Istanbul chose dwelling places in the city, which would be suitable for the sultan and his retinue. Afterwards, all the precious objects in the Imperial Treasury were put into chests, and sent to Konya.

The former sultan, Abdülhamid, was then residing at Beylerbeyi Palace; as all these preparations were taking place, the question arose of whether to take him to Eskişehir, along with his brother Mehmed V, rather than leaving him in Istanbul. On the instructions of Mehmed V, the matter was broached to Abdülhamid, and he was asked for his views. However, the former sultan’s answer was quite explicit. Abdülhamid reminded them that during the War of ‘93, his ministers had proposed moving to Gallipoli on the grounds that the Russian army was marching towards Istanbul, and he had replied that if he left the capital even once, he would never return. Therefore, just as he had refused that earlier offer so did he refuse this one. Just then, they received word that some enemy ships in the Dardanelles had been sunk with artillery-fire and that the attack had been repulsed; Abdülhamid’s wish came true and the proposal was shelved. However, this war, which lasted for four years, was to end in disaster, not only for the CUP’s three men in power, but for the Ottoman Empire and its capital, Istanbul. On February 3, 1917, Talat Pasha replaced Said Halim Pasha as grand vizier; on October 8, 1918, Talat resigned, and with that, the CUP’s time was up. By the time Talat, Enver, and Cemal left the country whose civil and military organization had been under their control, the borders of the Ottoman Empire had shrunk considerably, becoming more or less equal to those of today’s Turkish Republic. On July 3, 1918, a few months before the end of the war, Mehmed V died. The following day, his brother Mehmed Vahdeddin Efendi ascended to the throne with the title of “Mehmed VI,” inheriting a total wreck of an empire. This last sultan of the Ottoman Empire was forced to witness the occupation of Istanbul (which had been Ottoman territory since 1453) by enemy forces for the first time since the conquest of the city. However, like his brother Abdülhamid, Mehmed VI also refused to abandon the capital. He remained in Yıldız Palace until the sultanate was formally abolished through a decision of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara.


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This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.

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