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The Tanzimât (Ottoman Turkish: تنظيمات), literally meaning reorganization of the Ottoman Empire, was a period of reformation that began in 1839 and ended with the First Constitutional Era in 1876. The Tanzimât reform era was characterized by various attempts to modernize the Ottoman Empire and to secure its territorial integrity against nationalist movements from within and aggressive powers from outside of the state. The reforms encouraged Ottomanism among the diverse ethnic groups of the Empire, attempting to stem the tide of nationalist movements within the Ottoman Empire. The reforms attempted to integrate non-Muslims and non-Turks more thoroughly into Ottoman society by enhancing their civil liberties and granting them equality throughout the Empire.
The Tanzimât emerged from the minds of reformist sultans like Mahmud II and Abdülmecid I as well as prominent reformers who were European-educated bureaucrats who recognized that the old religious and military institutions no longer met the needs of the empire in the modern world. Most of the symbolic changes, such as uniforms, were aimed at changing the mindset of imperial administrators. Many of the officials that were affiliated with the government were encouraged to wear a more "western" style of dress. Many of the reforms were attempts to adopt successful European practices. The reforms were heavily influenced by the Napoleonic Code and French law under the Second Empire as a direct result of the increasing number of Ottoman students being educated in France. Changes included universal conscription; educational, institutional and legal reforms; and systematic attempts at eliminating corruption. Included in the Tanzimat was a policy of called Ottomanism, which was meant to unite all of the different peoples living in Ottoman territories, "Muslim and non-Muslim, Turkish and Greek, Armenian and Jewish, Kurd and Arab" Ottomanism. This policy of Ottomanism officially began with the Imperial Rescript of the Rose Chamber of 1839, declaring equality before the law for both Muslim and non-Muslim Ottomans.
The ambitious project was launched to combat the slow decline of the empire that had seen its borders shrink, and was growing weaker in comparison to the European powers. By getting rid of the millet system, the Ottoman Empire hoped to be able to control all of its citizens. One of the major ideas behind the Tanzimat was to be more open to various demographics to attract more people to the Ottoman Empire. By getting rid of the millet system the Ottomans wished to build a more centralized government in order to further their direct control of the empire and to increase the legitimacy of Ottoman rule. The Ottomans were also growing scared of a possible intervention of the European powers on Ottoman affairs which was most likely a driving reason for the Tanzimat Reforms. Because of this growing fear from the outside as well as fear of internal strife between Muslims and non-Muslims; Ottoman rule decided to revamp their government, which came by way of the Tanzimat, to allow more religious freedom to all. Also they did not want a repeat of the Crimean War, which was caused by Russia's incursion into the Ottoman Empire in the 1850s. They thought that the Great Powers would accept the Tanzimat as long as reforms were ongoing, leaving them to act as enforcers of these goals.
The Tanzimât reforms began under Sultan Mahmud II. On November 3, 1839, Sultan Abdülmecid issued an organic statute for the general government of the empire named Hatt-ı Şerif (the Imperial Edict) of Gülhane (the imperial garden where it was first proclaimed). It is also called as Tanzimât (تنظيمات) Fermânı and was followed by a series of edicts enacting the imperial statute of 1839.
In this very important document, the Sultan stated that he wished "to bring the benefits of a good administration to the provinces of the Ottoman Empire through new institutions", and that these institutions would principally refer to:
- guarantees to ensure the Ottoman subjects perfect security for their lives, honour, and property (1839, see Rescript of the Rose Chamber below for details);
- the introduction of the first Ottoman paper banknotes (1840);
- the opening of the first post offices of the empire (1840);
- the reorganization of the finance system (1840);
- the reorganization of the Civil and Criminal Code (1840);
- the establishment of the Meclis-i Maarif-i Umumiye (1841) which was the prototype of the First Ottoman Parliament (1876);
- the reorganization of the army and a regular method of recruiting, levying the army, and fixing the duration of military service (1843–44);
- the adoption of an Ottoman national anthem and Ottoman national flag (1844);
- the first nationwide Ottoman census in 1844 (only male citizens were counted);
- the first national identity cards (officially named the Mecidiye identity papers, or informally kafa kağıdı (head paper) documents, 1844);
- the institution of a Council of Public Instruction (1845) and the Ministry of Education (Mekatib-i Umumiye Nezareti, 1847, which later became the Maarif Nezareti, 1857);
- the abolition of slavery and slave trade (1847);
- the establishment of the first modern universities (darülfünun, 1848), academies (1848) and teacher schools (darülmuallimin, 1848);
- the establishment of the Ministry of Healthcare (Tıbbiye Nezareti, 1850);
- the Commerce and Trade Code (1850);
- the establishment of the Academy of Sciences (Encümen-i Daniş, 1851);
- the establishment of the Şirket-i Hayriye which operated the first steam-powered commuter ferries (1851);
- the establishment of the modern Municipality of Istanbul (Şehremaneti, 1854) and the City Planning Council (İntizam-ı Şehir Komisyonu, 1855);
- the so-called "Hatt-ı Hümayun of 1856" (called Islahat meaning improvement) promising full legal equality for citizens of all religions (1856);
- non-Muslims were allowed to become soldiers (1856);
- various provisions for the better administration of the public service and advancement of commerce;
- the establishment of the first telegraph networks (1847–1855) and railway networks (1856);
- the replacement of guilds with factories;
- the establishment of the Ottoman Central Bank (originally established as the Bank-ı Osmanî in 1856, and later reorganized as the Bank-ı Osmanî-i Şahane in 1863) and the Ottoman Stock Exchange (Dersaadet Tahvilat Borsası, established in 1866);
- the Land Code (Arazi Kanunnamesi (1857);
- the permission for private sector publishers and printing firms with the Serbesti-i Kürşad Nizamnamesi (1857);
- the establishment of the Civil Service School, an institution of higher learning for civilians (1859)
- the establishment of the School of Economical and Political Sciences (Mekteb-i Mülkiye, 1859);
- the Press and Journalism Regulation Code (Matbuat Nizamnamesi, 1864); among others.
- the establishment of the Imperial Ottoman Lycée at Galatasaray, another institution of higher learning for civilians (1868)
- the so-called "Nationality Law of 1869" creating a common Ottoman citizenship irrespective of religious or ethnic divisions (1869).
Rescript of the Rose Chamber of 1839
The Rescript of the Rose Chamber was the first major reform in the Tanzimat reforms under the government of sultan Abdulmecid and a crucial event in the movement towards secularization. It abolished tax farming. It also created salaried tax collectors with a bureaucratic system. This reflects the centralizing effects of the Tanzimat reforms. Additionally, the Rescript of the Rose Chamber forced military conscription on districts based on their population size. Furthermore, it guaranteed the life and property for all subjects, including non Muslims. This put an end to the kul system, which allowed the ruler's servants to be executed or have their property confiscated at his desire.
The most significant clause of the Rose Chamber is that it enforced the rule of law for all, including non-Muslims. These reforms sought to establish legal and social equality for all Ottoman citizens. The reforms eliminated the millet system in the Ottoman Empire. The millet system created religiously based communities that operated autonomously, so people were organized into societies, often receiving privileges, based on the church they followed. This clause terminated the privileges of these communities and constructed a society where all followed the same law.
The new reforms called for an almost complete reconstruction of public life in the Ottoman Empire. Under the reconstruction, a system of state schools was established to produce government clerics. Ottomans were encouraged to enroll. Each province was organized so that each governor would have an advisory council and specified duties in order to better serve the territory. The new reforms also called for a modern financial system with a central bank, treasury bonds and a decimal currency. Finally, the reforms implemented the expansion of roads, canals and rail lines for better communication and transportation.
The reaction to the Rescript was not entirely positive. Christians in the Balkans refused to support the reforms because they wanted an autonomy that became more difficult to achieve under centralized power. In fact, its adoption spurred some provinces to seek independence by rebelling. It took strong British backing in maintaining Ottoman territory to ensure that the reforms were instated. Although the Rescript of the Rose Chamber and the Tanzimat provided strong guidelines for society, it was not a constitution. It did not replace the authority of the sultan.
Overall, Tanzimat reforms had far-reaching effects. Those educated in the schools established during the Tanzimat period included Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and other progressive leaders and thinkers of the Republic of Turkey and of many other former Ottoman states in the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa. The system was ultimately undone by negotiations with the Great Powers following the Crimean War. As part of the Charter of 1856, European powers demanded a much stronger sovereignty for ethnic communities within the empire, differing from the Ottomans who envisioned equality meaning identical treatment under the law for all citizens. This served to strengthen the Christian middle class, increasing their economic and political power.
Arab notables generally opposed the Tanzimat. They could see that positions of administrative authority in the changing Ottoman state were going to young men trained in the government schools. Beginning in the 1870s, many of the leading Arab families adopted the practice of enrolling their sons in the higher academies of Istanbul. Upon completing their studies, these young Arabs obtained positions in the Ottoman bureaucracy and thus gave their families access to the government. Indeed, throughout the Tanzimat, the Arab urban elite managed to preserve their privileges and to make themselves indispensable to the Ottoman officials sent out from Istanbul. The politics of the notables survived the centralizing reforms.
The reforms peaked in 1876 with the implementation of an Ottoman constitution checking the autocratic powers of the Sultan. The details of this period are covered under the First Constitutional Era. Although the new Sultan Abdülhamid II signed the first constitution, he quickly turned against it.
State institutions were reorganized; laws were updated according to the needs of the changing world; modern education, clothing, architecture, arts, and lifestyle were encouraged. This reorganization and addition of state institutions resulted in an enormous increase in the number of bureaucrats in the Ottoman Empire.
Some scholars argue that the Tanzimat's fundamental change from the Muslim's population traditional Islamic view of a subjugated non-Muslim population (dhimmi), was in part responsible for the Hamidian massacres and subsequent Armenian genocide. In their view, these were inevitable backlashes from the Muslim community to the imposed legal changes, as the Tanzimat's values were imposed and did not reflect those of society.
The Reform Edict of 1856 was intended to carry out the promises of the Tanzimat. The Edict is very specific about the status of non-Muslims, making it possible "to see it as the outcome of a period of religious restlessness that followed the Edict of 1839." Officially, part of the Tanzimat was to make the state intolerable to forced conversion to Islam, and the execution of apostates from Islam was made illegal. Despite the official position of the state in the midst of the Tanzimat reforms, this tolerance of non-Muslims seems to have been seriously curtailed, at least until the Reform Edict of 1856. The Ottoman empire had tried many different ways to reach out to non-Muslims. First they tried to reach out to them by giving all non-Muslims an option to apply for Dhimmi status. Having Dhimmi status gave non-Muslims the ability to live in the Ottoman Empire and own property but this ability was not without special taxes Dhimmi.
In fact, there was constant pressure on non-Muslims to convert to Islam, and the danger of execution for apostates remained real. Thus, the Tanzimat, at least at first, failed to actively promote freedom to practice one's religion without harassment. In fact, for the "Ottoman ruling elite, 'freedom of religion' meant 'freedom to defend their religion.'"
In Lebanon, the Tanzimat reforms were intended to return to the tradition of equality for all subjects before the law. However, the Sublime Porte assumed that the underlying hierarchical social order would remain unchanged. Instead, the upheavals of reform would allow for different understandings of the goals of the Tanzimat. The elites in Mount Lebanon, in fact, interpreted the Tanzimat far differently from one another. As a result, "European and Ottoman officials engaged in a contest to win the loyalty of the local inhabitants — the French by claiming to protect the Maronites; the British, the Druze; and the Ottomans by proclaiming the sultan's benevolence toward all his religiously equal subjects."
In Palestine, land reforms, especially the change in land ownership structure via the Ottoman Land Law of 1858, allowed Russian Jews to buy land in Palestine, thus enabling them to immigrate there under the first Aliya. In order to boost its tax base, the Ottomans required Arabs in Palestine, as elsewhere, to register their lands for the first time. Since many fellahin wished to avoid paying taxes to the ailing regime and also were illiterate, many local mukhtars were able to collectively register village lands under their own name. Thus, they were able to later claim ownership and to sell the local peasants' lands out from under their feet to the new Jewish immigrants, as they themselves relocated permanently to Syria or Turkey.
In Armenia, the Armenian National Constitution (Turkish: "Nizâmnâme−i Millet−i Ermeniyân") of 1863 was approved by the Ottoman government. The "Code of Regulations" consisted of 150 articles drafted by the Armenian intelligentsia and defined the powers of the Armenian Patriarch under the Ottoman Millet System and the newly formed "Armenian National Assembly".
- Albanian Revolt of 1847
- Decline of the Ottoman Empire
- Ottoman military reform efforts
- Tanzimât (تنظيمات) Fermânı (3 November 1839)
- Islâhat Fermânı ( Islâhat Hatt-ı Hümâyûn-u, خط همايون) (18 February 1856)
- Young Ottomans
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