Ottoman constitution of 1876
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The Ottoman constitution of 1876 (Ottoman Turkish: قانون اساسى, "basic law"; Turkish: Kanûn-u Esâsî) was the first constitution of the Ottoman Empire. Written by members of the Young Ottomans, particularly Midhat Pasha, during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876–1909), the constitution was only in effect for two years, from 1876 to 1878. Historically however, it represented the first modern constitution in the world outside Europe and the Americas.
The major reason for the introduction of the Constitution was Midhat Pasha’s recognition of the need for reform and a check on the power of the Sultan. However, the Constitution that was put in place certainly[according to whom?] represented a certain limitation of the autocracy of the monarch, although Abdulhamid could still imprison or send to exile people who he considered harmful to the state, or to his emerging absolute rule, in spite of the opening of the first parliament. Although the rules in the Constitution had been twisted[according to whom?] to suit Abdulhamid’s needs, it was suspended in 1878 and those who created it were exiled. Midhat Pasha died in exile in Taif.
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. In the context of the reforms, Western educated Armenians of the Ottoman empire drafted the Armenian National Constitution in 1863. The Ottoman Constitution of 1876 was under direct influence of the Armenian National Constitution and its authors. The Ottoman Constitution of 1876 itself was drawn up by Western educated Ottoman Armenian Krikor Odian, who was the advisor of Midhat Pasha.
The Constitution proposed a parliament divided into two parts: The senators were elected by the Sultan, and the Chamber of Deputies was elected by the people, although not directly (they 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.
Second Constitutional Era
The Constitution was put back into effect in 1908 as Abdulhamid came under pressure, particularly from some of his military leaders. Abdulhamid’s fall came as a result of the Young Turk revolution, and these Young Turks put the 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 CUP (Committee of Union and Progress).
Significance of the Constitution
The Ottoman Constitution represented more than the immediate effect it had on the country. It originally represented the country’s willingness to change and grow, even partially westernize. The liberal thinking and intellectualism that came along with the creation of the Constitution were new to the Ottoman Empire and represented a new, progressive generation of Ottomans. Despite its original failure, the Constitution did show some positives. It allowed the leadership to slowly transform from an authoritarian to a more democratic system, which included political parties and elections. These had to an extent dissolved the authoritarianism, although a form of military dictatorship ensued after the Constitution was reenacted.
References and notes
- 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).
- Cleveland, William L & Martin Bunton, A History of the Modern Middle East: 4th Edition, Westview Press: 2009, p. 82.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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"
- 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.