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şerif Mardin
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The Turkish term Tanzimat (regulation) denotes a period of social and political reform that transformed the Ottoman Empire by integrating into it institutions deliberately copied from those of Western Europe. It is generally agreed that the period began with the proclamation of the quasi-constitutional Charter of Gülhane in 1839, but its end date is harder to determine. Its impetus was halted in 1877 by Sultan Abdülhamid II's suspension of the Ottoman Constitution of 1876, but the sultan continued elements of the Tanzimat's social program. Another end point sometimes proposed, the granting of special privileges to Ottoman Christians in 1856, overemphasizes the importance of external pressures on a movement that was in fact driven by internal concerns.

The origins of the Tanzimat lie in the latter half of the eighteenth century, which saw successive efforts to modernize the Ottoman Empire. The most important aspects of this were the modernization of the military, particularly the establishment of a school of military engineering (1776–1794), and a trend among the bureaucratic elite toward imitating the lifestyle of the Western upper classes. The first printing press in the empire was installed in 1729, and translations of Western scientific texts on medicine, botany, astronomy, and mathematics appeared throughout the rest of the century. Along with increasing appreciation of the material aspects of Western culture, the elite became interested in what may be called Western civil society; though the ideas of the French Revolution had little influence among the Ottoman elite, these ideas clearly affected the empire's Christian educated classes. The political theory that most noticeably underlay later Ottoman reforms is a variation on the idea of enlightened despotism known as Cameralism.

The reform movement was at once an attempt at modernization and an effort to prevent the disintegration of a multiethnic, multireligious empire. At the inception of the Tanzimat the Ottoman Empire comprised or at least effectively controlled the present territories of Albania, northern and eastern Greece, Crete, Serbia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Romania, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Libya, and had loose ties with Tunisia.

Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808–1839) had already linked these two goals of Ottoman policy in his efforts to quell rebellions by ambitious provincial dynasties like the Kurdish Babans or by regional Ottoman notables like Ali Pasha of Janina and Muḥammad ʿAlī of Egypt. On the advice of some of his younger councillors, in 1837 the sultan established two new bodies: an embryonic Council of Ministers (Dâr-i Şurâ-yı Bâb-ı Âli) and the Council of Judicial Ordinances (Meclis-i Vâlâ-yı Akam-ı Adliye). The evolution of these bodies during the nineteenth century eventually led to the separation of the executive from the judiciary. (The Assembly of Provincial Notables that convened in Istanbul in 1845 did not, however, much affect the administration of the empire.)

The charter known as the Gülhane Rescript of 1839 was authored primarily by Minister of Foreign Affairs Mustafa ReŞid PaŞa, who wrote that it was “only intended to introduce a complete security of life, property and honor of individuals and regulate the internal and military expenditures of the Porte.” In fact, it has been argued that the Rescript was framed to protect the advantages of Ottoman bureaucrats who resented the sultan's power over them (Mardin, 2000).

Foreign conflicts marked the first years of the Tanzimat period. The first was the attempt by Muḥammad ʿAlī to detach Egypt and Syria from the empire; this was resolved by a European-driven compromise in 1841 that established Muḥammad ʿAlī and his heirs in possession of Egypt but forced him out of Syria. See MUḥAMMAD ʿALī DYNASTY. The second was the Crimean War, which had complex origins involving Russian assertions of the right to protect Ottoman Orthodox Christians as well as the interests of European alliances. In 1856 Britain, France, and their allies forced Russia to accept preliminary peace terms.

In February 1856 the Ottoman government proclaimed the second important document of the Tanzimat, the Edict of Reforms (Islâhat Fermanı). This document guaranteed under the law that Muslims and non-Muslims would have equal rights and obligations in regard to military service, the administration of justice, taxation, admission to educational institutions, and public employment. The edict removed the civil powers formerly held by the heads of Christian congregations under the millet system, which had provided for separate administration in certain minority communities. Instead, the churches were to be governed by a synod of clergy and a national council of laymen. These features, which were widely resented in both Muslim and Christian communities, were made public by the Ottomans in the days preceding the Congress of Paris of 1856, which confirmed this engagement. The Congress also resulted in Turkey's admission to the European alliance and in guarantees of its territorial status.

The first generation of Tanzimat reformers, the supporters of Reşid Paşa, were succeeded by a second generation after 1856. The leading officials of the new era, Âli Paşa and Fuad Paşa, alternated in holding the highest offices and continued efforts to erode the sultan's powers and transfer them to the higher bureaucracy. They in turn were accused of autocratic malfeasance by a new movement, the Young Ottomans, who promoted constitutionalism and parliamentary government.

The Young Ottomans rose out of newly established institutions such as the Bureau of Translation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where they had ongoing contact with Western institutions and publications. They came to adulthood during a period when the new Turkish journalism was opening windows on current events and scientific advances in the West. The foundation for the movement was laid by the Istanbul journalist and bureaucrat İbrahim şinasi, who founded the successful periodical Tasvir-i Efkâr (Herald of Ideas) in 1862. This was the first journal to address not merely the elite, but the wider audience of readers from all the educated classes—an appeal parallel to that of the European Enlightenment. It and its successors subtly transformed Turkish opinion, preparing the way for the Young Ottomans. That organization apparently originated in intellectual, primarily bureaucratic circles in the 1860s; the group's first formal meeting was held in 1865 under the leadership of Mehmet Namık Kemal, a young official who was also a poet and a contributor to Tasvir-i Efkâr. The Young Ottomans later founded their own journal, Hürriyet (Liberty).

While bureaucratic reformers were interested in representative government, there was religious ferment among the ʿulamāʿ. They realized that the Tanzimat reforms undermined their role as social arbiters and that the secular schools founded under the Tanzimat had a similar effect on their control of education. In particular, the rüşdiye, a primary and middle school on the Western model, gained popularity and replaced the traditional religious curriculum with such new subjects as arithmetic, geography, composition, and secular history. The extended course of theological study in madrasahs (Tk., medrese) gave way to a shorter, more practically oriented form of education. The concerns of the ʿulamāʿ were voiced most forcefully by Ali Suavi, a seminarian with a bureaucratic career who preached at the şehzade Mosque and wrote for the journal Muhbir. He approached the Young Ottomans when he was forced to join some of their leaders in exile in Europe, but they found little common ground with Suavi and the alliance was short-lived. See SUAVI, ALI.

The core of the Young Ottomans were forced by the regime into exile in Europe, where the movement tended to disintegrate. The ideas of Namık Kemal appear in retrospect to be its most cogent and influential results. He was inspired by both Enlightenment contractual theories and nineteenth-century European constitutional currents, and perhaps by French thought under the “liberal empire.” Whether out of respect for the ferment among the conservative ʿulamāʿ or out of a more general consciousness of the Islamic nature of Ottoman culture, Kemal combined his Western influences with an Islamic foundation. From the West he took the idea of a representative government—a novel concept in the Islamic world—but he proposed that such a body be based on Islamic values. Also novel was the idea of Ottoman patriotism, which inspired some of Kemal's most trenchant articles and his most moving poems. There were serious practical obstacles to both Kemal's innovations: he did not clarify how Islam was to inspire the legislators, nor how Ottoman patriotism could take hold in an empire characterized by deep ethnic and religious divisions. Nevertheless, during his widely fluctuating career (he returned to Turkey and was alternately employed by the government or jailed by the government) he appears to have had some influence in the process leading up the Ottoman constitution of 1876. See KEMAL, MEHMET NAMıK; and Young Ottomans.]

The major factor leading to the 1876 constitution, however, was the general setting of the Tanzimat. It established a series of reforms that set the stage, notably the evolution of consultative and judicial bodies, the codification of civil law (the Mecelle) based on Şerʿi (Ar., sharʿī; religious) logic, the modernization of education, and the application of the Law on the Administration of the Provinces (1864–1871). The Mecelle represented the only concession granted by the Tanzimat to religion. See MECELLE. The Law on the Administration of the Provinces was based on the French administrative system; it rationalized central administration by dividing the empire into vilayets (departments) and sub-vilayets or kaza. Mithat Paşa, the Ottoman governor of the Danube province, elaborated this legislation by strengthening government in the provinces at the same time as he expanded local representative institutions.

The revolutionary movement of 1876 originated among Islamic seminary students protesting the submissive policies of Grand Vizier Mahmud Nedim toward Russia. The agitation enabled a group of ministers, including Minister of Military Education Süleyman Paşa, to depose Sultan Abdülaziz and enthrone Prince Murad, who was known to support liberal ideas. When it became obvious that Murad V was mentally incompetent, the young Prince Abdülhamid was installed as Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909).

With the empire facing dual crises of war with Russia and massive foreign debt, a committee was formed to work on a draft constitution. It included Mithat PaŞa, now grand vizier, as well as leading Young Ottomans and members of the deposing junta. Working quickly under pressures from the war and Western debtor nations, they proclaimed the Ottoman Constitution on December 3, 1876. The newly constituted parliament met for five months in 1877; the sultan then dismissed Mithat Paşa and suspended the constitution. The resolutions of the Congress of Berlin convened in 1878 to settle the outcome of the war parceled out the peripheral territories of the Ottoman Empire among the new Balkan states, with Russia acquiring Kars, Ardahan, and Batum. Most of the architects of the constitution were soon exiled; Süleyman Paşa was tried for treason and involvement in the death of Sultan Abdülaziz, and Mithat Paşa was murdered in exile. See also ABDüLHAMID II.

The rule of Sultan Abdülhamid II has generally been characterized as despotic, and only recently have scholars noted his support for the main reforms of the Tanzimat. Although the democratic thrust of the 1860s was extinguished after 1878, the modernization of Turkey under the Young Turks (1908–1918) and the Republic (1923) can be seen as an uninterrupted movement proceeding from the Tanzimat, facilitated by the internal policy of the sultan.

The foreign policy of the Tanzimat and its architects proved less successful. They were unable to prevent the empire from being broken up into a number of successor states. The policy of uniting the subjects of the empire under a law applied equally to them all was unsuccessful. This was due, in part, to the slow pace of reform, but this slowness was unavoidable in the immense and ultimately intractable task of unifying an extremely diverse society.



  • Ahmet Cevdet Paşa. Tezâkir. Edited by Cavid Baysun. Ankara, 1953–1967.
  • Davison, Roderic H.Nineteenth Century Ottoman Diplomacy and Reforms. Istanbul, 1999.
  • Karal, Enver Ziya. Osmanlı Tarihi VI: Islahat Fermanı Devri 1856–1861. Ankara, 1954.
  • Karal, Enver Ziya. Osmanlı Tarihi VII: Islahat Fermanı Devri 1861–1876. Ankara, 1956.
  • Karpat, Kemal H.The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State. Oxford, 2001.
  • Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. 3d ed.New York, 2002.
  • Mardin, şerif. The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought. New ed.Syracuse, N.Y., 2000.
  • Shaw, Stanford J., and Ezel Kural Shaw. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. Vol. 2. Reform, Revolution and the Republic. Cambridge, 1977.
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