Ottoman constitution of 1876

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Ottoman constitution of 1876

The Ottoman constitution of 1876 (Ottoman Turkish: قانون اساسى, "basic law"; Turkish: Kanûn-u Esâsî) was the first constitution of the Ottoman Empire.[1] Written by members of the Young Ottomans, particularly Midhat Pasha, during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876–1909), the constitution was only in effect for two years, from 1876 to 1878 in a period known as the First Constitutional Era. Historically, however, it represented the first modern constitution in the world outside Europe and the Americas.

In the course of their studies in Europe, some members of the new Ottoman elite concluded that the secret of Europe's success rested not just with its technical achievements but also with its political organizations. Moreover, the process of reform itself had imbued a small segment of this elite with the belief that constitutional government would be a desirable check on autocracy and provide them with a better opportunity to influence policy. Sultan Abdul Aziz's chaotic rule led to his deposition in 1876 and, after a few troubled months, to the proclamation of an Ottoman constitution that the new sultan, Abdul Hamid II, pledged to uphold.[2]

Background[edit]

The Ottoman Constitution was introduced after a series of reforms were promulgated in 1839 during the Tanzimat era. The goal of the Tanzimat era was to reform the Ottoman empire under the guidance of Westernization.[3] In the context of the reforms, Western educated Armenians of the Ottoman empire drafted the Armenian National Constitution in 1863.[4] The Ottoman Constitution of 1876 was under direct influence of the Armenian National Constitution and its authors.[5] The Ottoman Constitution of 1876 itself was drawn up by Western educated Ottoman Armenian Krikor Odian, who was the advisor of Midhat Pasha.[5][6][7]

It is important to discuss first the beginning of attempts at reform within the empire. Under the reign of Sultan Selim III, there was a vision of actual reform. Selim tried to address the military's failure to effectively function in battle; even the basics of fighting were been lacking, and military leaders lacked ability to command. Eventually his efforts led to his assassination by the Janissaries.[8] This action led to Mahmud II becoming Sultan. Mahmud can be considered to be the “first real Ottoman reformer,” [9] since he took a substantive stand against the Janissaries by removing them as an obstacle (by killing them).[9] This led to what was known as The Tanzimat era, which lasted from 1839 to 1876. This era was defined as an effort of reform to distribute power from the Sultan (even trying to remove his efforts) to the newly formed government led by a Parliament. These were the intentions of the Sublime Porte, which included the newly formed government.[10] The purpose of the Tanzimat Era was reform, but mainly, to divert power from the Sultan to the Sublime Porte. The first indefinable act of the Tanzimat period was when Sultan Abdülmecid I issued Edict of Gülhane.[11] This document or statement expressed the principles that the liberal statesmen wanted to become an actual reality. The Tanzimat politicians wanted to prevent the empire from falling completely into ruin. During this time the Tanzimat had three different sultans: Abdul-Mecid (1861 – 1876), Abdul-Aziz (1861-1876) and Murad V (who only lasted 3 months in 1876).[12] During the Tanzimat period, the man from the Ottoman Empire with the most respect in Europe was Midhat Pasha.[13] Midhat dreamed of an Empire in which “there would be neither Muslim nor non-Muslim but only Ottomans.” [13] Such ideology led to the formation of groups such as the Young Ottomans and the Committee of Union & Progress (who merged with the Ottoman Unity Society).[14] These movements attempted to bring about real reform not by means of edicts and promises, but by concrete action.

European influence[edit]

After its pinnacle during the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire was thereafter in constant regression rather than being able to progress as its European counterparts did. As European power increased, the Ottomans saw a lack of progress themselves.[10] In the Treaty of Paris (1856), the Ottomans were now considered part of the European world. This was the beginning of the first steps of intervention that the Europeans (i.e. Great Britain and France) began in the Ottoman Empire. One of the reasons they were taking a step into Ottoman territory was for the protection of Christians in the Empire. There had been a long-lasting political war between Muslims and non-Muslims within it.[15] This was the focal point for the Russians to interfere, and the Russians were perhaps the Ottomans' most disliked enemy. The Russians looked for many ways to become involved in political affairs especially when unrest in the Empire reached their borders. The Russians and Ottomans went to war on numerous occasions for different reasons. The Ottomans saw the Russians as their most fierce enemy and not one to be trusted.

Framework[edit]

After Sultan Murad was removed from office, Abdul Hamid II became the new Sultan. Midhat Pasha was afraid that Abdul Hamid would go against his progressive visions; consequently he had an interview with him to assess his personality and to determine if he was on board.[16] The Constitution proposed a bicameral parliament, the General Assembly, consisting of the Sultan-selected Senate and the generally elected Chamber of Deputies (although not directly; the populace chose delegates who would then choose the Deputies). There were also elections held every four years to keep the parliament changing and to continually express the voice of the people. This same framework carried over from the Constitution as it was in 1876 until it was reinstated in 1908. All in all the framework on the Constitution did little to limit the Sultan's power. Some of the retained powers of the Sultan were: declaration of war, appointment of new ministers, and approval of legislation.[17]

Domestic and foreign reactions[edit]

Reactions within the Empire and around Europe were both widely acceptable and potentially a cause for some concern. Before the Constitution was enacted and made official, many of the Ulema were against it because they deemed it to be going against the Shari'a.[18] However, throughout the Ottoman Empire, the people were extremely happy and looking forward to life under this new regime.[19] Many people celebrated and joined in Muslim-Christian relations which formed, and there now seemed to be a new national identity: Ottoman.[20] However many provinces and people within the Empire were against it and many acted out their displeasure in violence. Some Muslims agreed with the Ulema that the constitution violated Shari'a law. Some acted out their protests by attacking a priest during mass.[21] Some of provinces referred to in the constitution were alarmed, such as Rumania, Scutari and Albania, because they thought it referred to them having a different change of government or no longer being autonomous from the Empire.[21] Yet the most important reaction, only second to that of the people, was that of the Europeans. Their reactions were quite to the contrary from the people; in fact they were completely against it—so much so that England was against supporting the Sublime Porte and criticized their actions as reckless.[22] Many across European saw this constitution as unfit or a last attempt to save the Empire. In fact only two small nations were in favor of the constitution but only because they disliked the Russians as well. Others considered the Ottomans to be grasping for straws in trying to save the Empire; they also labeled it as a fluke of the Sublime Porte and the Sultan.[23]

Second Constitutional Era[edit]

The Constitution was put back into effect in 1908 as Abdul Hamid II came under pressure, particularly from some of his military leaders. Abdul Hamid II’s fall came as a result of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, and the Young Turks put the 1876 constitution back into effect. The second constitutional period spanned from 1908 until after World War I when the Ottoman Empire was dissolved. Political groups and parties were formed during this period, including the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).

Significance of the constitution[edit]

The Ottoman Constitution represented more than the immediate effect it had on the country. Despite the latitude it gave to the sovereign, the constitution provided clear evidence of the extent to which European influences operated among a section of the Ottoman bureaucracy. The constitution also reaffirmed the equality of all Ottoman subjects, including their right to serve in the new Chamber of Deputies. The constitution was more than a political document; it was a proclamation of Ottomanism and Ottoman patriotism, and it was an assertion that the empire was capable of resolving its problems and that it had the right to remain intact as it then existed.[24]

See also[edit]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ For a modern English translation of the constitution and related laws see, Tilmann J. Röder, The Separation of Powers: Historical and Comparative Perspectives, in: Grote/Röder, Constitutionalism in Islamic Countries (Oxford University Press 2011).
  2. ^ Cleveland, William (2013). A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. p. 79. ISBN 0813340489. 
  3. ^ Cleveland, William L & Martin Bunton, A History of the Modern Middle East: 4th Edition, Westview Press: 2009, p. 82.
  4. ^ Joseph, John (1983). Muslim-christian relations & inter-christian rivalries in the middle east : the case of the jacobites.. [S.l.]: Suny Press. p. 81. ISBN 9780873956000. Retrieved 21 January 2013. 
  5. ^ a b H. Davison, Roderic (1973). Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 1856-1876 (2, reprint ed.). Gordian Press. p. 134. Retrieved 21 January 2013. "But it can be shown that Midhat Pasa, the principal author of the 1876 constitution, was directly influenced by the Armenians." 
  6. ^ United States Congressional serial set, Issue 7671 (Volume ed.). United States Senate: 66th Congress. 2nd session. 1920. p. 6. Retrieved 21 January 2013. "In 1876 a constitution for Turkey was drawn up by the Armenian Krikor Odian, secretary to Midhat Pasha the reformer, and was proclaimed and almost immediately revoked by Sultan Abdul Hamid" 
  7. ^ Bertrand Bereilles, La Diplomatie turco-phanarote. Introduction till Rapport secret de Karatheodory Pacha sur le Congrès de Berlin, Paris, 1919, p. 25. Quote translated from French: "The majority of the government officials in the Ottoman Empire selected a Greek or an Armenian as their advisor in reform." The author mentions two names amongst these "advisors", Dr. Serop Vitchenian, who was the adviser to Fuad Pasha, and Grigor Odian, deputy to Midhat Pasha, who is the author of the Ottoman constitution of 1876.
  8. ^ Devereux, Robert (1963). The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament. Baltimore: The John’s Hopkins Press. p. 22. 
  9. ^ a b Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 22
  10. ^ a b Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 21
  11. ^ Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 25
  12. ^ Findley, Carter V. (1980). Bureaucratic Reform in the Ottoman Empire The Sublime Porte 1789 - 1922. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 152. 
  13. ^ a b Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 30
  14. ^ citation needed
  15. ^ Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 24
  16. ^ Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 43
  17. ^ A history of the Modern Middle East, Cleveland and Bunton p. 79
  18. ^ Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 45
  19. ^ Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 82
  20. ^ Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 84
  21. ^ a b Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 85
  22. ^ Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 87
  23. ^ Devereux, Robert, The First Ottoman Constitutional Period A Study of the Midhat Constitution and Parliament, The John’s Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963, Print, p. 88
  24. ^ Cleveland, William (2013). A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. pp. 79–80. ISBN 0813340489. 

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