Second Constitutional Era

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The Second Constitutional Era (Ottoman Turkish: ايکنجى مشروطيت دورى; Turkish: İkinci Meşrûtiyyet Devri) of the Ottoman Empire began shortly after Sultan Abdul Hamid II was forced to restore the constitutional monarchy after the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, resulting in the revival of the Ottoman parliament, the General Assembly of the Ottoman Empire. The 1876 constitution was also restored. Both parliament and the constitution had initially been suspended for over three decades by Abdul Hamid II in 1878 after only two years of functioning, which had ended the First Constitutional Era.

The period established many political parties and groups. A series of elections during this period resulted in the gradual ascendance of the Committee of Union and Progress's ("CUP") domination in politics. The second biggest party, Liberal Union ("LU"), was in fact a coalition of parties led by Prens Sabahaddin. The constitutional era ended after World War I with the Occupation of Istanbul on 13 November 1918. The last meeting on 18 March produced a letter of protest to the Allies, and a black cloth covered the pulpit of the Parliament as reminder of its absent members.


Hüseyin Hilmi Pasha was the first Interior Minister after the re-enactment of the constitution. After the elections he became the first Grand Vizier (Prime Minister) of the constitutional period.

The Young Turk Revolution, which began in the Balkan provinces, spread quickly throughout the empire and resulted in the Sultan Abdulhamid II (who had suspended the parliament in 1878, thus ending the first constitutional period of the Ottoman Empire) announcing the restoration of the 1876 constitution and reconvening the parliament on 3 July 1908.

The reason behind the revolt, still localized at that stage, had been the Sultan’s heavily oppressive policies (istibdâd as marked by contemporaries, although many expressed longings for his old-fashioned despotism a few years into the new regime), which were based on a vast array of spies (hafiye), as well as constant interventions by the European powers to the point of endangering the Empire's sovereignty.

Constitution of 1876[edit]

Meeting of the first Ottoman Parliament

The legal framework was that of Kanûn-ı Esâsî of the First Constitutional Era that had prevailed in 1876. Since the sultan declared that he had never officially dissolved first Ottoman Parliament, the former parliamentarians (those still able to serve) who had gathered 33 years before suddenly found themselves representing the people again at the restoration of constitutionalism.

As in 1876, the revived Ottoman Parliament consisted of two chambers: a Senate (upper house) and a Chamber of Deputies (lower house). The Chamber of Deputies was elected by the people, in the ratio of one member for every 50,000 males of the population over the age of 25 who paid taxes. Senators, on the other hand, were nominated for life by the Sultan, had to be over 40 years of age, and their number could not exceed a third of the membership of the Chamber of Deputies.

General elections were to take place every four years. The general population did not, however, vote directly for the Deputy that he desired to represent him in the Parliament. In each of the 15 electoral districts, registered voters were entitled to choose delegates in the proportion of 1 delegate for 500 voters, and these delegates (elected Administrative Councils) had the actual power of choosing the representatives in the Chamber. Moreover, the administration of territories was entrusted to these delegates in the elected Administrative Councils. Thus, these Councils were elected and served not only as an electoral college, but also as a local government in the provinces and districts (Turkish: vilayets).

The parliament convened after the revolution only briefly and rather symbolically. The only task they performed was to call a new election. In the first Parliament, the president of the Chamber of Deputies was a Deputy from Jerusalem, Yusif Dia Pasha Al Khalidi.

First term, 1908[edit]

The Ottoman parliament meeting in December 1908.
Ahmed Rıza, an early leader (1894), first president of the Chamber of Deputies.

The new parliament comprised 142 Turks, 60 Arabs, 25 Albanians, 23 Greeks, 12 Armenians (including four Dashnaks and two Hunchaks), 5 Jews, 4 Bulgarians, 3 Serbs and 1 Vlach in the elections of 1908. The CUP could count on the support of about 60 deputies.[1] The CUP, the main driving force behind the revolution, managed to gain the upper hand against the Liberal Union (LU). LU was liberal in outlook, bearing a strong British imprint, and closer to the Palace. CUP come as the biggest party among a fragmented parliament by only 60 of the 275 seats.

On 30 January 1909, the minister of the interior, Huseyin Hilmi Pasha, took the podium to answer an inquiry sponsored by both Muslims and non-Muslims, all but one of whom were from cities in the Balkans. It was about how the government would deal with what these deputies called lacking of the law and order; the rise of assassinations and armed assaults; the roaming of bandits. Ethnic and sectarian violence between various communities in the empire was costing both lives and resources. This was an important event as the newly established system was passing the first test regarding the "proper" parliamentary conduct. There were members of various diplomatic missions among the audience. The new constitution secured the freedom of the press, newspapermen and other guests were observing the proceedings. The first section of the protocol (minister's speech, deputies oppositions) achieved. However arguments began to break out between deputies and soon all decorum was cast aside, the verbal struggle was representation of the ethnic troubles plaguing the empire. The interchanges were performed along the nationalism lines among the non-Muslim deputies, according to their ethnic and religious origins, and of Ottomanism as a response to these competing ideologies.

March Incident, April 1909[edit]

But shortly events of a startling nature occurred, which seemed to mean the abrupt termination of this experiment in constitutional and parliamentary government. After nine months into the new parliamentary term, discontent and reaction found expression in a fundamentalist movement named as the Ottoman countercoup of 1909.

The countercoup ultimately resulted in the counter-revolutionary 31 March Incident. According to the Ottoman Rumi calendar, 31 March Incident actually occurred on 13 April 1909. Many aspects of 31 March Incident, which started within certain sections of the mutinying army in Istanbul, are still yet to be analyzed.

The Chamber of Deputies met in secret session two days later, voted unanimously for the deposition of Abdulhamid II. His younger brother, Mehmed V, become the new Sultan. Hilmi Pasha again became grand vizier, but resigned on 5 December 1909, when he was succeeded by Hakki Bey.

Constitutional Revision, August 1909[edit]

The CUP was again in power. Holding that the "Countercoup" had been inspired and organized by the Sultan, who had corrupted the troops so that he might restore the old regime, they resolved to terminate his rule. However, there is very little evidence to show that Abdulhamid actually organised the 1909 counter-coup. This was achieved by removing the powers of the Sultan from the constitution and removing him from the throne. This brought the parliament's powers being consolidated and increased as a result of these changes.

The new constitution banned all secret societies. Parliament was prorogued for three months on the 27th. During the recess the CUP met at Salonica and modified its own rules. CUP ceased to be a secret association. This was regarded as an expression of confidence in the reformed parliament, which had laid the foundation of the important financial and administrative reforms.

For most the new changes in constitution was received as a state of enlightenment and prosperity. However if this parliament was able to render the capability of self-governing was in question. The mighty statesmanship of governing the Empire was required from them.


Chamber of Deputies after a session

Tensions and clashes arose between Zionist colonists and Palestinian farmers near Nazareth. A Palestinian deputy from Jaffa raised the Zionist issue for the first time in Ottoman parliament.

Once in power, the CUP introduced a number of new initiatives intended to promote the modernization of the Ottoman Empire. CUP advocated a program of orderly reform under a strong central government, as well as the exclusion of all foreign influence. CUP promoted industrialization and administrative reforms. Administrative reforms of provincial administration quickly led to a higher degree of centralization.

Although the CUP collaborated with the LU, their respective goals contrasted strongly. LU favored administrative decentralization and European assistance to implement reforms and also promoted industrialization. In addition, the CUP implemented the secularization of the legal system and provided subsidies for the education of women, and altered the administrative structure of the state-operated primary schools. The new parliament sought to modernize the Empire's communications and transportation networks, trying at the same time not to put themselves in the hands of European conglomerates and non-Muslim bankers.

Germany and Italy already owned the paltry Ottoman railways (5,991 km of single-track railroads in the whole of the Ottoman dominions in 1914) and since 1881 administration of the defaulted Ottoman foreign debt had been in European hands. The Ottoman Empire was virtually an economic colony.

Towards the end of 1911, the opposition gathered around the re-organized LU seemed on the rise. A by-election in December 1911 (actually covering a single constituency) in which the Liberal Union candidate won was taken as a confirmation of a new political atmosphere and its repercussions were extensive. By 1912, the Committee of Union and Progress had been in power for four years.

Second term, 1912[edit]

The CUP then sought national elections before the things slipped out of the party's control, as they perceived. In the two-party general elections held in the spring of 1912. The CUP wins an overwhelming majority in fresh elections held in April. Military losses to Italy see its support quickly dwindle. The CUP still had the upper hand in the Parliament. But with the Balkan countries preparing to launch a war against the Ottoman Empire. Many deputies owing allegiance to those countries. The Parliament that opened proved unworkable. In July it is forced to yield office to a political coalition called the Liberal Union.

On 5 August 1912, due to the situation of emergency created by the Albanian revolt and the First Balkan War, the Parliament was closed.

Coup of 1913[edit]

Said Halim Pasha was the Grand Vizier (Prime Minister) between 1913-1917

The LU government with Mehmed Kamil Pasha as the Grand Vizer was overthrown in a coup d'état engineered by CUP leaders Ahmet Cemal Pasha and Ismail Enver Pasha. On 23 January 1913, Enver Pasha burst with some of his associates into the Sublime Porte while the cabinet was in session. Yakup Cemil shot the Minister of War Nazım Pasha. A new CUP-led government was formed, headed by Mahmud Şevket Pasha. The primary reason for the coup had been the disastrous fortunes of the Ottoman Empire during the Balkan Wars.

Mahmud Şevket Pasha was assassinated on 11 June 1913. He was succeeded by Said Halim Pasha.


After the Balkan Wars, Ottoman Empire became an entity with two major constituents; namely Turks and Arabs. In the new framework, the percentage of representatives from Arab provinces increased from 23% (1908) to 27%, Turkomans 14% (1908) to 22% and in total CUP members from 39% (1908) to 67%.

Interestingly, in this new consolidated structure minority issues, such as those affecting the Armenians, dominated mainstream politics. Armenian politicians were supporting the CUP, but when the parliament was formed the result was very different from the expected one. The Balkan wars had significantly shifted from a multiethnic and multireligious Ottoman Empire to a Muslim core. The size of the CUP's majority in parliament proved to be a source of weakness rather than strength as minorities became outsiders. The deported Muslims (Turks) from the Balkans were located in the western parts of Anatolia and they brought their own issues. Armenians were expecting more representation through the parliament, but the nature of democracy kept them in a minority position. That was an unexpected result for the Armenians after they had been in a very protected position since 1453.

In 1913, politics in Istanbul was centred around trying to find a solution to the demands of Arab and Armenian reformist groups. 19th century politics of Ottoman Empire dealt with the decentralist demands of the Balkan nations. In 1913, the same pattern was originating from the eastern provinces. With most of the Christian population having already left the Empire after the Balkan Wars, a redefinition of Ottoman politics was in place with a greater emphasis on Islam as a binding force. The choice of this policy should also be considered as external forces (imperialists) were Christians. It was a policy of "them against us".

In 1913, the CUP was trying to govern through populist politics. To gain more legitimacy among the population the CUP propagated an Islamic propaganda effort with anti-imperialist rhetoric. All around the Empire CUP clubs were springing up. The CUP was challenging traditional forces; this proved to be the source of its destruction.

Third term, 1914 - 1918[edit]

Taking account of the loss of the Balkans and of Libya for the Ottoman Empire and despite the single-party regime installed by the CUP, the Ottoman ethnic minorities were going to be represented at similar proportions during the 1914-1918 term of the Ottoman Parliament, with 11 Armenians and a dozen Greeks being elected as deputies and having served in that capacity.[1]

New elections in a single-party framework were held in 1914 and the CUP gained all constituencies. The effective power lay in the hands of Mehmed Talat Pasha, the Interior Minister, Enver Pasha, the Minister of War, and Cemal Pasha, the Minister of the Navy, till 1918. Talat Pasha became the grand vizier himself in 1917.

Declaration of War, 1914

A fraction within the CUP led the Ottoman Empire to make a secret Ottoman–German Alliance which brought it into World War I. The Empire's role as an ally of the Central Powers is part of the history of that war. With the collapse of Bulgaria and Germany's capitulation, the Ottoman Empire was isolated.

Talat Pasha was the Grand Vizier (Prime Minister) between February 1917-October 1918
Ahmed Tevfik Pasha was the Grand Vizier (Prime Minister) between November 1918-March 1919

Fourth term, 1919[edit]

The last term elections were performed under the military Occupation of Constantinople by the Allies.

End of CUP, 1919[edit]

On 13 October 1918, Talat and the CUP ministry resigned, and the Armistice of Mudros was signed aboard a British battleship in the Aegean Sea at the end of the month. On 2 November, Enver, Talat and Cemal escaped from Constantinople into exile.

Occupation issues, January 1920[edit]

The last elections for the Ottoman Parliament were held in December 1919. The newly elected 140 members of the Ottoman Parliament, composed in their sweeping majority of candidates of "Association for Defense of Rights for Anatolia and Roumelia (Anadolu ve Rumeli Müdafaa-i Hukuk Cemiyeti)", headed by Mustafa Kemal Pasha, who himself remained in Ankara, opened the fourth (and last) term of the Parliament on 12 January 1920.

National Oath, February 1920[edit]

Despite being short-lived and the exceptional conditions, this last assembly took a number of important decisions that are called Misak-ı Milli (National Oath).

Dissolution, March 1920[edit]

On the night of 15 March, British troops began to occupy the key buildings and arrested five parliament members. The 10th division and military music school resisted the arrest. At least 10 students died under the gunfire of the British Indian army. The total death toll is unknown. Nevertheless, on 18 March, the Ottoman parliamentarian came together in a last meeting. A black cloth covered the pulpit of the Parliament as reminder of its absent members and the Parliament sent a letter of protest to the Allies, declaring the arrest of five of its members as unacceptable.

In practical terms, the meeting of 18 March, was the end of the Ottoman parliamentarian system and of the Parliament itself, the noble symbol of a generation's quest for "eternal freedom" (hürriyet-i ebediye) for which men had sacrificed themselves. The British move on the Parliament had left the Sultan as the sole tangible authority in the Empire. The Sultan announced his own version of the declaration of the Parliament's dissolution on 11 April. About a hundred Ottoman politicians were sent to exile in Malta (see Malta exiles).

More than a hundred of the remaining members soon took the passage to Ankara and formed the core of the new assembly. On 5 April, the sultan Mehmed VI Vahdeddin, under the pressure of the Allies, closed the Ottoman Parliament officially.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Philip Mansel, "Constantinople City of the Worlds Desire" quoted in Straits: The origins of the Dardanelles campaign