Yıldız Palace was the third most important center that was used as an administrative center after the Topkapı Palace and the Dolmabahçe in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and played a role in the history of Istanbul and the state. This palace was most efficiently utilized as an administrative center in the era of Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1908). The administration of Istanbul and the Empire was carried out in its majority from Yıldız Palace during his reign and partly afterwards.
The area where Yıldız Palace is located was a hunting ground for Ottoman sultans as well as a private resort area. Initially, Sultan Ahmed I had a little pavilion built there. Then at the end of eighteenth century, Selim III had a second pavilion built there for his mother Mihrişah Sultan and it was named “Yıldız Pavilion.” The sultans had various kiosks built there at different times. When Abdulhamid II moved there from the Dolmabahçe in April 1877, the palace was named “Yıldız Imperial Palace.” The most important reason for the Sultan to start residing at Yıldız Palace was to maintain his own security. When Abdulhamid II was a prince, he witnessed the dethronement and then slaying of his uncle Sultan Abdulaziz who had been residing in the Dolmabahçe Palace. In this regard, Dolmabahçe Palace was a place where security was hard to ensure. It could be easily sieged by land and by sea, especially when it came face to face with a threatening navy, in which case all hands were tied. These factors caused Abdulhamid II to move to Yıldız Palace, which was in a higher location where it was so much easier to ensure security.
After moving to Yıldız Palace, Abdulhamid II initiated a major construction projects by including the surrounding lands. In addition to the kiosks, which were used as residences by sultans and princes and appointed to government officials when required, various buildings such as theatres, museums, libraries, pharmacies, zoos, mosquesmosques, baths, repair shops, carpenter’s shops, iron shops and locksmith’s shops were also added.
The park extending from the front of the Hamidiye Mosque to Beşiktaş and Ortaköy was surrounded by thick and high walls by Abdulhamid, blocking the connection between the palace and the outside. The private hall of Abdulhamid II was the Big Kiosk. During the reign of Abdulhamid II, approximately 12,000 people were residing in Yıldız Palace and in the surrounding area; 5000 of whom were officials and 7000 of whom were soldiers. Yıldız Palace resembled a city scene due to the wide area that it covered and its crowded population.
The closing of the parliament on February 13th, 1878 constituted the first step in Abdulhamid II’s later attempt to take the government out of Bâbıâli (the Sublime Porte) and move it to the palace. Abdulhamid II gradually increased his domination of the palace. Hence, the increase in the number of official secretaries in the palace is an indication of the fact that this activity and government business were carried out from the palace. For instance, while the number of secretaries in the palace during the reign of Murad V was between three and six, it gradually increased during the first years of Abdulhamid II’s reign. In 1878, the number of palace secretaries increased to ten. This number increased to 19 in 1890, 24 in 1894 and 28 in 1878. The increase in the number of secretaries indicates the growing business carried out in the palace. When Abdulhamid II set the government aside and transferred the business that needed to be carried out in Bâbıâli (Sublime Porte), the bureaucratic transactions in the palace increased considerably and the palace bureaucracy replaced Bâbıâli.
After taking the state administration under his control, Abdulhamid II steered the government through his private decrees and constantly reminded the grand vizier what kind of decisions should be made on specific matters. This situation changed the operation of the bureaucratic system in the following way: The Sultan transferred his opinions regarding the solution of an issue to Bâbıâli by means of a private decree. Afterwards, that matter was discussed by the government, mostly resubmitted to the palace for the passing and approval of a decision that was in harmony with the sultan’s opinions and after the decree was issued it was effectuated. Abdulhamid II continued to engage in this style of administration until the declaration of Second Constitutional Period in 1908.
Abdulhamid II was in the habit of sleeping and waking up early. He woke up before sunrise and had a bath in the hamam (Turkish bath). Afterwards, he performed the morning prayer and had a light breakfast. After smoking and drinking his coffee, he went into selamlık (the portion of the house reserved for men) and started his daily business. Firstly, he called in the head secretary and spoke to him about that day’s agenda. The duty of the head secretary was to liaison the correspondence between the state bureaucracy and the palace. The letters received from government agencies went through the head secretary’s office and after being recorded there, they were submitted to the sultan. The replies to be given to these letters and decrees on various subjects were sent to government offices also from the Bureau of the Chief Secretary. Sultan Abdulhamid II either personally read the memorandums sent to the palace or had a chamberlain read them to him and after listening, he gave his decision. Abdulhamid II paid special attention to ensure that his decrees were properly delivered to the places concerned.
Abdulhamid II would engage in official business until around 11am. Then he would go over to the harem and had lunch before laying on the lounge in the bedroom where he rested for fifteen or twenty minutes. Then he would wake up again, go over to Selamlık Hall to start working on the rest of his business that remained from the morning. During this afternoon working session, he would welcome the head secretary again. He would meet with the council of ministers on occasion and receive other official visits. This work would continue until the evening. Abdulhamid II would allow for himself to be woken up at night in case there were important or urgent matters to decide on.
There were two organizations in Yıldız Palace; one official and one private. While the official organization consisted of departments which directly engaged in correspondence and official transactions, the private organization consisted of departments that solely dealt with private affairs of the sultan.
Departments which consisted of the private organization were the following: esvapçıbaşılık (department of the chief garment maker), seccadecibaşılık (department of the chief prayer rug supervisor), ibriktarbaşılık (department of the chief ewer-bearer), tütüncübaşılık (department of the chief tobacconist), kahvecibaşılık (department of the chief coffee maker), kilercibaşılık (department of the chief pantryman) and kitapçıbaşılık (department of the chief book supervisor). These departments engaged in the private affairs of the sultan. The officials in these departments were the men who had been in the entourage of the sultan since his appointment as heir to the throne and gained his trust due to their long years of experience. Most of them dealt with nothing but their duties and were only interested in spending time living in prosperity and providing the sultan with loyal service. On the other hand, there were official departments within the palace where state affairs were carried out practically. These formal officers who acted as an army of consultants were individuals who made their knowledge and experiences available to the sultan any time he wished. These departments were as follows:
- Mabeyn Müşirliği Dairesi (The Department of Marshall of the Palace Chancellery)
- Başkitabet Dairesi (The Bureau of Head Secretary)
- Mabeynci Beyler Dairesi (The Department of Chamberlain Gentlemen)
- Teşrifat Nazırlığı Dairesi (The Department of Protocol Minister)
- Teftiş-i Askerî Komisyonu (The Commission of Military Inspection)
- Maiyet-i Seniyye Erkân-ı Harbiyesi (Military Staff of the Palace)
- Yaverler Dairesi (The Department of Aide-de-camps)
- İzzet Paşa Dairesi (The Department of İzzet Pasha)
- Derviş Paşa Dairesi (The Department of Dervish Pasha)
- Şakir Paşa Dairesi (The Department of Şakir Pasha)
- Kamphofner Paşa Dairesi (The Department of Kamphofner Pasha)
- Alexandre Karatodori Paşa Dairesi (The Department of Alexandre Karatodori Pasha)
- Mütercim Nişan Efendi Dairesi (The Department of the Translator Nişan Efendi)
- Hususi Şifre Dairesi (The Department of Special Codes)
- Mabeyn Mütercimleri Dairesi (The Department of Chamberlain Translators)
These departments in Yıldız Palace played a major role in the most important decision-making in relation to the administration of the country under the leadership of Abdulhamid II. In addition, there were other areas such as the Translation Department where books and newspapers in foreign languages, as well as official and private letters from abroad were translated for the sultan. Among the official personnel who worked in these departments were several high-level officers and experts, most of whom were given very generous salaries. In addition to the above mentioned, there were security officers with several titles such as tüfekçibaşı (head of the palace guards armed with rifles), tüfekçi (palace guards armed with rifles), hassa soldiers (private soldiers of the sultan) or guards and various numbers of different artists and foremen. There were also several employees such as caretakers, grooms, tablakârs (tray bearers) and watchmen.
Abdulhamid II occasionally visited the palace library. There were around 30,000 volumes of books and the number of employees were thirty. Sometimes the sultan received the council of ministers and other official invitees in the library. Moreover, a distinguished fine arts gallery was created in the palace.
Thanks to the intelligence agency that he had established, Abdulhamid II was informed of every event that occurred at home and abroad and sought solutions accordingly. While being so modest in expenditures on himself and his family, and constantly abstaining from extravagance, the sultan did not hesitate to distribute large amounts of grants and benefits for the secret services. Thus, he established an intelligence agency that stemmed from the palace and spread to Istanbul and then to every corner of the country. He fed the agency members from his private treasury, lavishing gifts on them. However, these expenses were not made in vain, but to be informed of the activities intended to split the Ottoman Empire, which was under attack from every direction, and also to protect the unity of the country. As a result, Yıldız Intelligence was known to reach such a level that it could compete with prominent intelligent agencies world-wide.
Thanks to the system he established in Yıldız, Abdulhamid II followed the developments in Istanbul and the country closely and became aware of occurrences without leaving the palace. He ruled his capital and the state from there. He used the palace as an administration center for 32 years. However, during that period, the palace witnessed and hosted a staggering number of important events and decisions related to the history of the city and country, which are not comparable to the number of years.
Sultan Mehmed Reşad V who came to the throne after Abdulhamid II mostly resided in the Dolmabahçe Palace. However, the last Ottoman ruler Sultan Mehmed VI Vahdeddin who came to the throne on July 4th, 1918 preferred to reside in Yıldız Palace like Abdulhamid II. An unlucky ruler, he came to the throne following the defeat in World War I and had to later witness the occupation of Istanbul. During the occupation years, he suffered from imposition places by the occupation forces and could not use any initiative. On the other hand, Yıldız Palace hosted a development that was a turning point in not only Istanbul’s, but also Turkey’s history. Mehmed VI Vahdeddin commissioned Mustafa Kemal Pasha to be the General Inspector of the Ninth Army in the room where his elder brother Abdulhamid II was notified about his dethronement. Mustafa Kemal Pasha also said goodbye to the sultan in this palace. This meeting also marked the last and foremost function that Yıldız Palace carried out as an administrative center.
On May 15th, 1919, a day before his departure, Mustafa Kemal Pasha came to Yıldız Palace and had a meeting with Sultan Mehmed VI Vahdeddin. Pasha relates this meeting in Yıldız Palace as follows:
In a little hall of Yıldız Palace, we sat closely, almost knee to knee with Vahdeddin. On his right, there was a table on which he put his elbow, and a book on the table. The scene that we saw from the window of the hall, which was facing Bosporus was as follows: Enemy battleships lined up on parallel lines! It was as though the cannons on their broadside were pointed at Yıldız Palace! By turning our heads to the left and the right, it was enough to see the scene from where we were sitting. Vahdeddin started speaking, saying these words that were branded in my mind forever:p>
-Pasha, pasha, you served the country very well to this day and everything is recorded in this book, (he put his hand on the book I mentioned before and added) written in history.
Then I realized that it was a history book. I was listening closely and quietly:
-Forget them, he said, this may be your most important service of all. Pasha, pasha, you may save the country!
I was baffled at his last words. Could Vahdeddin be speaking from his heart? Could Vahdeddin, who attempted to save his state and reign by seeking connection with the hundredth degree liaisons of foreign governments, have regretted all he had done? Did he realize that he was deceived? However, I deemed it would be dangerous to carry the subject further based upon an assumption. Thus, I answered him simply:
-I appreciate your kindness and faith in me. You can be assured that I will serve to the best of my a
As I spoke, I was struggling to solve the puzzle in my head. How could I expect a superior and noble gesture from a man I comprehended very well, whose every thought, opinion and tendency I knew during both his time as heir and sultan? Apparently, the country had to be saved and I was the one who could do it. But how? I instantly arrived at a judgment: Vahdeddin meant that we had no power. Our only choice was to comply with their politics. My duty was to solve the issues that they were complaining about. If I could please them and pacify the Turks who went against their politics, I would have met Vahdettin’s expectations.
-Do not worry, Your Highness, I said, I understand your valuable point and intentions very well. With your permission, I will immediately take action and I shall not forget your orders for one moment. After being blessed with his wishes for my success, I left the hall. Naci Pasha, the sultan’s aide-de-camp and my mentor, immediately met with me. He held something in his hand within a small case.
-A small souvenir from Your Highness, he said. It was a clock on which Vahdeddin’s initials were engraved.
-Okay, thank you, I said. My aide-de-camp took it.
Then we walked away from the palace cautiously, afraid that our footsteps would be heard, as if we wanted to hide that we were leaving Yıldız Palace and about to go on the way.
[Murat Bardakçı, Şahbaba, İstanbul 2006, p. 133-134]
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