Committee of Union and Progress

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Committee of Union and Progress
إتحاد و ترقى
İttihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti
Leaders after 1913 "Three Pashas" (Enver Pasha, Talaat Pasha, Djemal Pasha)
Slogan Hürriyet, Müsavaat, Adalet[1] (Liberty, Equality, Justice)
Founded 1889 (1889)
Dissolved 1918 (1918)
Headquarters Istanbul (formerly in Salonica)
Ideology Ottoman nationalism
Political position Right-wing
Religion Islam
International affiliation None
Politics of Turkey
Political parties

The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) (Turkish: İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti) began as a secret society established as the "Committee of Ottoman Union" (Turkish: İttihad-ı Osmanî Cemiyeti) in Istanbul in February 6, 1889 by medical students Ibrahim Temo, Çerkez Mehmed Reşid, Abdullah Cevdet, İshak Sükuti, Ali Hüseyinzade, Kerim Sebatî, Mekkeli Sabri Bey, Selanikli Nazım Bey, Şerafettin Mağmumi, Cevdet Osman and Giritli Şefik.[2][3][4] It was transformed into a political organization (and later an official political party) by Bahaeddin Sakir, aligning itself with the Young Turks in 1906, during the period of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. However, at the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, the Young Turks disaffiliated themselves from the CUP.[citation needed]

Begun as a liberal reform movement in the Ottoman Empire, the party was persecuted by the Ottoman imperial government for its calls for democratization and reform in the Empire. Once the party gained power in the Young Turk Revolution in 1908 and consolidated its power in the 1912 "Election of Clubs" and the 1913 Raid on the Sublime Porte, it grew increasingly more splintered and volatile (and after attacks on the Empire's Turkish citizens during the Balkan Wars of 1912–13, nationalist) as its three leaders, Enver Pasha, Talaat Pasha, and Djemal Pasha, formed the triumvirate known as the Three Pashas and gained de facto rule over the Ottoman Empire and the party itself. During World War I, this leadership was responsible for the Armenian Genocide, among other acts.

At the end of World War I, most of its members were court-martialled by the sultan Mehmed VI and imprisoned. A few members of the organization were executed in Turkey after trial for the attempted assassination of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1926. Members who survived continued their political careers in Turkey as members of the Republican People's Party (Turkish: Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP) and other political parties in Turkey.

Revolutionary Era: 1906–1908[edit]

The Committee of Union and Progress was an umbrella name for different underground factions, some of which were generally referred to as the "Young Turks". The name was officially sanctioned to a specific group in 1906 by Behaeddin Shakir. The organization was based upon the revolutionary Italian Carbonari.[5] The CUP had built an extensive organization, having a presence in towns, in the capital, and throughout Europe. Under this umbrella name, one could find ethnic Albanians, Bulgarians, Arabs, Serbians, Jews, Greeks, Turks, Kurds, and Armenians united by the common goal of changing the Ottoman absolute monarchical regime.

Sultan Abdulhamid II persecuted the members of the CUP in an attempt to hold on to absolute power, but was forced to reinstitute the Ottoman constitution of 1876, which he had originally suspended in 1878, after threats to overthrow him by the CUP in the 1908 Young Turk Revolution. However, after the meeting of the goal to change the regime of Abdulhamid, in the absence of this uniting factor, the CUP and the revolution began to fracture and different allegiances began to emerge.

The Young Turk Revolution played a significant role in the evolution of Committee of Union and Progress from a revolutionary organization to a political party.

Change through revolution[edit]

The revolution and CUP's work had a great impact on Muslims in other countries. The Persian community in Istanbul founded the Iranian Union and Progress Committee. Indian Muslims imitated the CUP oath administered to recruits of the organization. The leaders of the Young Bukhara movement were deeply influenced by the Young Turk Revolution, and saw it as an example to emulate.

The Chinese Revolution of 1911 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 diverted the attention of world revolutionaries from the Young Turk Revolution.

In 1909, there was a countercoup by Islamists against the CUP, which culminated in the 31 March Incident, when reactionaries rebelled against the restoration of the constitutional system and retook power in Istanbul in support of Sultan Abdulhamid II's absolute rule. However, the CUP easily defeated the reactionaries by organizing the "Army of Action" (Turkish: Hareket Ordusu) and taking back Istanbul within a few days.

Second Constitutional Era: 1908–1912[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Second Constitutional Era.

The first 1908 election to the Ottoman parliament, the General Assembly of the Ottoman Empire, after the Young Turk Revolution netted the Committee of Union and Progress only 60 of the 275 seats, despite its leading role in the revolution. Other parties represented in Parliament at this time included the Armenian nationalist Dashnak and Hunchak parties (four and two members respectively) and the main opposition, the Liberty and Entente party, sometimes referred to by Ottoman historians as the "Liberal Union".

As a result of the "Law of Associations", which shut down ethnically based organizations and clubs, by the time of the second general election in 1912, the smaller ethnic parties had coalesced with the Liberal Union. Now alarmed at the success of Liberal Union and increasingly radicalized, the CUP won 269 of the 275 seats through electoral fraud and violence, which led to the nickname "Election of Clubs" (Turkish: Sopalı Seçimler).[6] In most republics, this is the margin required for wholesale transformation of the constitution, but the Ottoman Empire was technically a constitutional monarchy, although it is unlikely Sultan Mehmed V could have prevented the revision of the constitution. This Parliamentary session was very short due to the outbreak of the First Balkan War; sensing the danger, the government won passage of a bill conscripting dhimmis into the army. This proved too little and too late to salvage the Ottoman toehold in southeast Europe; the Ottomans lost Albania, Macedonia, and western Thrace.

On 5 August 1912, the government shuttered Parliament. Just prior to that, it had succeeded in passing the "Law for the Prevention of Brigandage and Sedition", a measure ostensibly intended to prevent insurgency against the central government, which assigned that duty to newly created paramilitary formations. These later came under the control of the Teşkilat-i Mahsusa.

Coup and aftermath: 1913–1918[edit]

Enver Bey (center) talking to the British attaché in Istanbul immediately after seizing power in the 1913 Raid on the Sublime Porte, also known as the 1913 Ottoman coup d'état.

In spite of parliamentary elections, non-partisan figures from the pre-revolutionary period known as the "Old Turks" still dominated the Ottoman cabinet, known as the Sublime Porte. The Grand Vizier Mehmed Kamil Pasha and his minister of war, Nazım Pasha, became targets of the CUP, which overthrew them in a military coup d'état known as the Raid on the Sublime Porte on 23 January 1913.

The emerging government could hardly be called constitutional. Indeed, 1913 was a period of government by assassination as Nazım and then his successor Mahmud Sevket Pasha were both slain, Nazım at the very instant the CUP seized power. The following year, new legislation made the CUP the Empire's only legal political party; all provincial and local officials reported to "Responsible Secretaries" chosen by the party for each vilayet.

Absent the wartime atmosphere, the CUP did not purge minority religions from political life; at least 23 Christians joined it and were elected to the third Parliament. This is one possible motivation for the entry into the war, another being the "pan-Turkic" ideology of the party which emphasized the Empire's manifest destiny of ruling over the Turkic people of Central Asia once Russia was driven out of that region. Notably, two of the "Three Pashas", Enver Pasha and Djemal Pasha, would in fact die in the Soviet Union leading Muslim anti-Communist movements years after the Russian Revolution and the Ottoman defeat in World War I.

Armenian Genocide[edit]

Although the CUP had worked with the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire to reinstall constitutional monarchy against Abdul Hamid II, factions in the CUP began to view the Armenians as a fifth column that would betray the Ottoman cause after World War I with nearby Russia broke out;[7] these factions gained more power after the 1913 Ottoman coup d'état. Indeed, the first major offensive the Turks undertook in World War I was an unsuccessful attempt to drive the Russians from the portion of partially classic Armenia, which they had retaken in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. After the failure of this expedition, the CUP's leaders (Enver, Djemal, and Talaat, known collectively as the "Three Pashas") were involved in ordering the deportations and massacres of between 1 and 1.5 million Armenians in 1915–1916. As explained in the key indictment at the trial (in absentia) of the Three Pashas, the Armenian Genocide massacres were spearheaded by the Special Organization (Ottoman Turkish: تشکیلات مخصوصه, Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa) under its leader, the Turkish physician Behaeddin Shakir.


The dissolution of the CUP was achieved through military trials.

As the military position of the Central Powers disintegrated in October 1918, the government resigned. A new Grand Vizier, Ahmed Izzet Pasha, negotiated the Armistice of Mudros at the end of the month. The position of the CUP was now untenable, and its top leaders fled three days later.

British forces occupied various points throughout the Empire, and through their High Commissioner Somerset Calthorpe, demanded that those members of the leadership who had not fled be put on trial, a policy also demanded by Part VII of the Treaty of Sèvres formally ending hostilities between the Allies and the Empire. The British carried off 60 Turks thought to be responsible for atrocities to Malta, where trials were planned. The new government obligingly arrested over 100 party and military officials by April 1919 and began a series of trials. These were initially promising, with one district governor, Mehmed Kemal, being hanged on April 10.

Any possibility of a general effort at truth, reconciliation, or democratization was, however, lost when Greece, which had sought to remain neutral through most of World War I, was invited by France, Britain, and the United States to occupy western Anatolia in May 1919. Turkish nationalist leader Mustafa Kemal rallied the Turkish people to resist. Two additional organizers of the genocide were hanged, but while a few others were convicted, none completed their prison terms. The CUP and other Turkish prisoners held on Malta were eventually traded for almost 30 British prisoners held by Nationalist forces, obliging the British to give up their plans for international trials.


The CUP has at times been identified with the two opposition parties that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk attempted to introduce into Turkish politics against his own party in order to help jump-start multiparty democracy in Turkey, namely the Progressive Republican Party and the Liberal Republican Party. While neither of these parties was primarily made up of persons indicted for genocidal activities, they were eventually taken over (or at least exploited) by persons who wished to restore the Ottoman Caliphate. Consequently, both parties were required to be outlawed, although Kazim Karabekir, founder of the PRP, was eventually rehabilitated after the death of Atatürk and even served as speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

It was also Karabekir who crystallized the modern Turkish position on the controversial Armenian Genocide, telling Soviet peace commissioners that the return of any Armenians to territory controlled by Turks was out of the question, as the Armenians had perished in a rebellion of their own making.[citation needed] Historian Taner Akçam has identified four definitions of Turkey which have been handed down by the first Republican generation to modern Turks, of which the second is "Turkey is a society without ethnic minorities or cultures."[8] While the postwar reconstruction of Eastern Europe was generally dominated by Wilsonian ideas of national self-determination, Turkey probably came closer than most of the new countries to ethnic homogeneity due to the subsequent population exchanges with neighboring countries (e.g. population exchange between Greece and Turkey).

Atatürk was particularly eager that Islamism be marginalized, leading to the tradition of secularism in Turkey. This idea was culminated by the CUP in its more liberal heyday, as it was one of the first mass movements in Turkish history that abandoned political Islam.

Antisemitic conspiracy theories[edit]

Between 1910 and 1916, antisemitic Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theories regarding the party were fuelled within the British government through diplomatic correspondence from Gerard Lowther (British Ambassador to Istanbul) and Gilbert Clayton (Chief of British intelligence in Egypt).[9][10][11][12]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the 2010 alternate history novel Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, the Young Turk Revolution in 1908 fails, igniting a new revolution at the start of World War I.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ پاره، دولت اعليه، قوسطنطنيه، رشاد، 1908 ۲۰
  2. ^ Vahit İpekçi, Dr. Nâzım Bey’in Siyasal Yaşamı, Yeditepe Üniversitesi Atatürk İlkeleri ve İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsü, İstanbul 2006
  3. ^ Ali Haydar Bayat, Hüseyinzade Ali Bey, 1998
  4. ^
  6. ^ Hasan Kayalı (1995) "Elections and the Electoral Process in the Ottoman Empire, 1876-1919" International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp 265–286
  7. ^ Uğur Ümit Üngör (2008) Geographies of Nationalism and Violence: Rethinking Young Turk ‘Social Engineering’, European Journal of Turkish Studies, 7 | 2008
  8. ^ Balakian, Peter (2004). The Burning Tigris. HarperCollins. p. 375. ISBN 978-0-06-055870-3. 
  9. ^ Germany, Turkey, and Zionism 1897-1918, Isaiah Friedman
  10. ^ The revolution of 1908 in Turkey By Aykut Kansu
  11. ^ British foreign policy under Sir Edward Grey, By Francis Harry Hinsley
  12. ^ Arabic political memoirs and other studies, By Elie Kédourie


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