Young Turks

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Not to be confused with The Young Turks.
This article is about the reform movement within the Ottoman Empire. For other uses, see Young Turks (disambiguation).

The Young Turks (Turkish: Jön Türkler, from French: Les Jeunes Turcs, or Turkish: Genç Türkler) were a Turkish nationalist reform party in the early 20th century, favoring reformation of the absolute monarchy of the Ottoman Empire. Officially known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP; Turkish: İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti),[1] their leaders led a rebellion against the absolute rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II in the 1908 Young Turk Revolution.[2] With this revolution, the Young Turks helped to establish the Second Constitutional Era in 1908, and the Committee of Union and Progress, based on the ideas of the Young Turks, ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1908 until the end of World War I in November 1918.[3]

Like other revolutionary societies, the Young Turks had their origins in secret societies of "progressive medical university students and military cadets",[4] namely the Young Ottomans, driven underground along with all political dissent after the Ottoman constitution of 1876 was abolished and the First Constitutional Era brought to a close by Abdulhamid II in 1878 after only two years.[2] The Committee of Union and Progress favored a re-installation of the short-lived constitution of 1876,[2] written by the progressive Midhat Pasha.[5]

In 1913, the top leadership of the Committee of Union and Progress seized personal power in the 1913 Ottoman coup d'état. The CUP-led government was headed by Minister of the Interior and Grand Vizier, Talaat Pasha (1874–1921). Working with him were Minister of War, Enver Pasha (1881–1922), and Minister of the Navy, Djemal Pasha (1872–1922). Until German archives were opened,[6] historians treated the Three Pashas' government as a "dictatorial triumvirate". Recently, it has been found that the party was rent by internal disagreements and loosely headed by a large number of the party's central committee.[7] During World War I, the CUP leadership was responsible for the Armenian Genocide, which consisted of deportation and death marches into the Syrian Desert and the deaths of up to 1.5 million ethnic Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire.[8][9]

The term "Young Turks" has come to signify progressive, revolutionary, or rebellious members of an organization, especially ones agitating for radical reform.[10]

Prominent Young Turks[edit]

The prominent leaders and ideologists included:

  • Pamphleteers and activists


Congress of Ottoman Opposition[edit]

The first congress of the Ottoman opposition (1902) in Paris

The First Congress of Ottoman Opposition was held on 4 February 1902, at 20:00, at the house of Germain Antoin Lefevre-Pontalis, a member of the Institut de France. The opposition was performed in compliance with the French government. Closed to the public, there were 47 delegates present. The Armenians wanted to have the conversations held in French, but other delegates rejected this proposition.[citation needed]

The Second Congress of Ottoman Opposition took place in Paris, France in 1907. Opposition leaders including Ahmed Rıza, Sabahaddin Bey, and Khachatur Malumian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation were in attendance. The goal was to unite all the parties, including the Young Turks' Committee of Union and Progress, in order to bring about the revolution.


The Young Turks became a truly organized movement with the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) as an organizational umbrella. They recruited individuals prepared to sacrifice themselves for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in the Ottoman Empire. In 1906, the Ottoman Freedom Society (OFS) was established in Thessalonica by Mehmed Talaat. The OFS actively recruited members from the Third Army base, among them Major Ismail Enver. In September 1907, OFS announced they would be working with other organizations under the umbrella of the CUP. In reality, the leadership of the OFS would exert significant control over the CUP.

Young Turk Revolution[edit]

In 1908, the Macedonian Question was facing the Ottoman Empire. Tsar Nicholas II and Franz Joseph, who were both interested in the Balkans, started implementing policies, beginning in 1897, which brought on the last stages of the balkanization process. By 1903, there were discussions on establishing administrative control by Russian and Austrian advisory boards in the Macedonian provinces. The ruling House of Osman was forced to accept this idea, although for quite a while they were able to subvert its implementation.

However, eventually, signs were showing that this policy game was coming to an end. On May 13, 1908, the leadership of the Committee of Union and Progress, with the newly gained power of its organization, was able to communicate to Sultan Abdulhamid II the unveiled threat that "the [Ottoman] dynasty would be in danger" if he were not to bring back the Ottoman constitution that he had previously suspended since 1878. On June 12, 1908, the Third Army, which was in Macedonia, began its march towards the Palace in Istanbul. Although initially resistant to the idea of giving up absolute power, Abdulhamid was forced on July 24, 1908, to restore the constitution, beginning the Second Constitutional Era of the Ottoman Empire.

Second Constitutional Era[edit]

Declaration of the Constitution Muslim, Armenian, Greek leaders together[citation needed]

The unity among the Young Turks that originated from the Young Turk Revolution began to splinter in face of the realities of the ongoing dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, especially with the onset of World War I in 1914, with the Ottoman Empire joining the Central Powers against the Allies.

World War I[edit]

On November 2, 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers. The Middle Eastern theatre of World War I became the scene of action. The combatants were the Ottoman Empire, with some assistance from the other Central Powers, against primarily the British and the Russians among the Allies. Rebuffed elsewhere by the major European powers, the Young Turks, through highly secret diplomatic negotiations, led the Ottoman Empire to ally itself with Germany. The Young Turks needed to modernize the Empire's communications and transportation networks without putting themselves in the hands of European bankers. Europeans already owned much of the country's railroad system,[citation needed] and since 1881, the administration of the defaulted Ottoman foreign debt had been in European hands. During the War, the Young Turk empire was "virtually an economic colony on the verge of total collapse."[4]

At the end of the War, with the collapse of Bulgaria and Germany's capitulation, Talaat Pasha and the CUP ministry resigned on October 13, 1918, and the Armistice of Mudros was signed aboard a British battleship in the Aegean Sea.[12] On November 2, Enver, Talaat and Djemal, along with their German allies, fled from Istanbul into exile.[citation needed]

1914–1917 period: Armenian Genocide[edit]

Main article: Armenian Genocide

The conflicts at the Caucasus Campaign, the Persian Campaign, and the Gallipoli Campaign affected places where Armenians lived in significant numbers. Before the declaration of war at the Armenian congress at Erzurum, the Ottoman government asked Ottoman Armenians to facilitate the conquest of Transcaucasia by inciting a rebellion among the Russian Armenians against the tsarist army in the event of an Caucasian Front.

Jakob Künzler, head of a missionary hospital in Urfa, documented the large scale ethnic cleansing of both Armenians and Kurds by the Young Turks during World War I.[13] He gave a detailed account of deportation of Armenians from Erzurum and Bitlis in the winter of 1916. The Armenians were perceived to be subversive elements (a fifth column) that would take the Russian side in the war. In order to eliminate this threat, Young Turks embarked on a large scale deportation of Armenians from the regions of Djabachdjur, Palu, Musch, Erzurum, and Bitlis. Around 300,000 Armenians were forced to move southwards to Urfa and then westwards to Aintab and Marash. In the summer of 1917, Armenians were moved to the Konya region in central Anatolia. Through these measures, the Young Turk leaders aimed to eliminate the Armenian threat by deporting them from their ancestral lands and by dispersing them in small pockets of exiled communities. By the end of World War I, up to 1,200,000 Armenians were forcibly deported from their home vilayets. As a result, about half of the displaced died of exposure, hunger, and disease, or were victims of banditry and forced labor.[14]

Around this period, the Young Turks' relationship to the Armenian Genocide shifted. Early on, Armenians had perceived the Young Turks as allies; and the beginnings of the Genocide, in the 1909 Adana massacre, had been rooted in reactionary Ottoman backlash against the Young Turks. But during World War I, the Young Turks' increasing nationalism began to lead them to participate in the Genocide. In 2005, the International Association of Genocide Scholars affirmed[15] that scholarly evidence revealed the "Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire began a systematic genocide of its Armenian citizens an unarmed Christian minority population. More than a million Armenians were exterminated through direct killing, starvation, torture, and forced death marches." The IAGS also condemned Turkish attempts to deny the factual and moral reality of the Armenian Genocide.



Materialism and positivism[edit]

Another guiding principle for the Young Turks was the transformation of their society into one in which religion played no consequential role, a stark contrast from the theocracy that had ruled the Ottoman Empire since its inception. However, the Young Turks soon recognized the difficulty of spreading this idea among the deeply religious Ottoman peasantry and even much of the elite, as the Ottoman Empire had not experienced the Enlightenment in the same way that Western Europe had. The Young Turks thus began suggesting that Islam itself was materialistic. As compared with later efforts by Muslim intellectuals, such as the attempt to reconcile Islam and socialism, this was an extremely difficult endeavor. Although some former members of the CUP continued to make efforts in this field after the revolution of 1908, they were severely denounced by the Ulema, who accused them of "trying to change Islam into another form and create a new religion while calling it Islam".[16]

Positivism, with its claim of being a religion of science, deeply impressed the Young Turks, who believed it could be more easily reconciled with Islam than could popular materialistic theories. The name of the society, Committee of Union and Progress, is believed to be inspired by leading positivist Auguste Comte's motto Order and Progress. Positivism also served as a base for the desired strong government.[16]

Centralised government[edit]

During the late Ottoman Empire, all the intellectuals were state officials, and all Young Turks were on Empire payroll. They were reluctant to approach theories against the state, such as Marxism or anarchism. Another result of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution was the gradual creation of a new governing elite, which had consolidated and cemented its control over the Ottoman civil and military administration by 1913.


In regards to nationalism, the Young Turks underwent a gradual transformation. Beginning with the Tanzimat with ethnically non-Turkish members participating at the outset, the Young Turks embraced the official state ideology: Ottomanism. However, Ottoman patriotism failed to strike root during the First Constitutional Era and the following years. Many ethnically non-Turkish Ottoman intellectuals rejected the idea because of its exclusive use of Turkish symbols. Turkish nationalists gradually gained the upper hand in politics, and following the 1902 Congress, a stronger focus on nationalism developed. It was at this time that Ahmed Riza chose to replace the term "Ottoman" with "Turk", shifting the focus from Ottoman nationalism to Turkish nationalism.

Aftermath and legacy[edit]

The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is quoted on the front page of the 1 August 1926 The Los Angeles Examiner as denouncing the Young Turks and the CUP, saying:

These left-overs from the former Young Turk Party, who should have been made to account for the millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse, from their homes and massacred, have been restive under the Republican rule ... They have hitherto lived on plunder, robbery and bribery and become inimical to any idea, or suggestion to enlist in useful labor and earn their living by the honest sweat of their brow ... Under the cloak of the opposition party, this element, who forced our country into the Great War against the will of the people, who caused the shedding of rivers of blood of the Turkish youth to satisfy the criminal ambition of Enver Pasha, has, in a cowardly fashion, intrigued against my life, as well as the lives of the members of my cabinet.

As to the fate of the Three Pashas, two of them, Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha, were assassinated by Armenian nationals shortly after the end of World War I while in exile in Europe during Operation Nemesis, a revenge operation against perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. Soghomon Tehlirian, whose family was killed in the Armenian Genocide, assassinated the exiled Talaat Pasha in Berlin and was subsequently acquitted by a German jury.[1] Djemal Pasha was similarly killed by Stepan Dzaghikian, Bedros Der Boghosian, and Ardashes Kevorkian for "crimes against humanity"[17] in Tbilisi, Georgia.[6] The third pasha, Enver Pasha, was killed in fighting against the Red Army near Baldzhuan in Tajikistan (then Turkistan).[18]



  1. ^ a b Balakian, 143.
  2. ^ a b c Hanioğlu, 12.
  3. ^ Akçam, 48.
  4. ^ a b Demonian, 11.
  5. ^ Balakian, 136.
  6. ^ a b Demonian, 101.
  7. ^ Akçam, 153.
  8. ^ Walker, Christopher J. (1980), Armenia: The Survival of A Nation, London: Croom Helm, pp. 200–3 
  9. ^ Bryce, Viscount; Bryce, James; Toynbee, Arnold (2000), Sarafian, Ara, ed., The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915–1916: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Falloden (uncensored ed.), Princeton, NJ: Gomidas, pp. 635–49, ISBN 0-9535191-5-5 
  10. ^ Young Turks,
  11. ^ Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries[page needed]
  12. ^ Karsh, Efraim, Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, (Harvard University Press, 2001), 327.
  13. ^ Fisk,322.
  14. ^ Schaller, 8.
  15. ^ "Letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan"
  16. ^ a b M. Şükrü Hanioğlu. "The Political Ideas of the Young Turks"[page needed]
  17. ^ Demonian, 69.
  18. ^ Akçam, 353.


  • Akçam, Taner (2006). A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility.
  • Balakian, Peter (2003). The Burning Tigris: the Armenian Genocide and America's response.
  • Fisk, R. The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, Vintage. ISBN 978-1-4000-7517-1/
  • Hanioğlu, M. Şükrü (1995). The Young Turks in Opposition, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509115-9.
  • Demonian, Hripsimé (1996). The Sick Men of Europe. Gyumri State Pedagogical Institute.
  • "Letter to Prime Minister Erdogan". Genocide Watch. June 13, 2005. Archived from the original on June 4, 2007. Retrieved June 30, 2007. 
  • Schaller, Dominik J. and Jürgen Zimmerer (March 2008). "Late Ottoman genocides: the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and Young Turkish population and extermination policies—introduction", Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 10, No. 1.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]