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Young Ottomans

By:
Şerif Mardin
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Young Ottomans

The libertarian movement known as the Young Ottomans (Yeni Osmanlılar) developed the first constitutionalist ideology to appear in the Ottoman Empire; it was influential circa 1860–1876. In the first half of the nineteenth century Ottoman officials embarked on a policy of reforms that came to be known as the Tanzimat (Regulation). The first political expressions of this reform policy were contained in two documents: the Hatt-ı Hümayun of Gülhane (1839), a semi-constitutional charter that promised security of person and property to all Ottoman subjects, and the Reform Edict of 1856, which covered a more diverse catalog of rights and made a special point of guaranteeing protection to the non-Muslim population of the empire. The Reform Edict had extensive negative repercussions among Ottoman Muslims; one of its outcomes was the so-called Kuleli Conspiracy (1859). The leader of the conspiracy was a Naqshbandī (Tk., Nakşibendî) shaykh, and some younger officials took part in it. This alliance of disgruntled clerics and young officials shifted during the 1860s into a more clearly liberal-constitutionalist stance inspired by Western liberalism. At that time the religious component was relegated to a secondary role, possibly because the democratic ideals expressed in recently founded journals by the young officials could reach a wider audience through their use of demotic Turkish, although at least one newspaper represented the conservative strain.

In 1865 some young civil officials in Istanbul established a secret society, the Patriotic Alliance. With one foot in officialdom and another in journalism, these men began systematically to criticize the policy of the architects of the Tanzimat. Among their targets were two Ottoman officials, Âli Paşa and Fuad Paşa, who had shared the direction of Ottoman internal and foreign policy. These statesmen were accused of using westernization to establish the autocratic rule of a bureaucratic elite, of undermining Ottoman culture through their neglect of Islam as a guideline for social and political values, and of having failed to defend the interests of the Ottoman Empire against the encroachments of Western powers. Two leaders of the Young Ottoman movement, the poet Mehmet Namık Kemal and the administrator Ziya Bey (later Paşa), eventually had to flee from Istanbul into exile in 1867. They organized an opposition movement in Paris and London, funded by an Ottoman-Egyptian prince who expected to use the movement for his own narrower aims. The exiles were joined by the cleric Ali Suavi, who represented the earlier Islamic reaction to the Tanzimat and who seemed to support constitutionalism.

Kemal and Ziya soon perceived that Suavi's ideas of democracy had a very different foundation from theirs; Ziya himself was more conservative than Kemal. The newspaper they published, Hürriyet (Freedom), boldly expressed democratic ideals in Turkish, but it soon had to cease publication because of conflicts among the movement's leaders. After 1870 the Young Ottoman leaders returned to Turkey and continued their defense of libertarian ideals, with repeated interruptions by censorship and exile. Their ideas were partially instrumental in inspiring civilian and military officials to dethrone Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861–1876), although the Young Ottomans themselves had never opposed the monarchic principle in theory.

The Young Ottomans were in part responsible for the elaboration of the first Ottoman Constitution (1876) and the short-lived Ottoman parliament it created. Namık Kemal's impassioned defense of liberty as well as his fiery patriotism—both strongly influenced by European Romanticism—continued to be an inspiration for the Young Turks who emerged in the 1890s.

See also KEMAL, MEHMET NAMıK; OTTOMAN EMPIRE; SUAVI, ALI; TANZIMAT; and YOUNG TURKS.

Bibliography

  • Berkes, Niyazi. The Development of Secularism in Turkey. London, 1998.
  • Bilgegil, M. Kaya. Yakın Çağ Türk kültür ve edebiyatı uzerinde araştırmalar. Vol. 1, Yeni Osmanlılar. Ankara, 1976.
  • Mardin, Şerif. The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought: A Study in the Modernization of Turkish Political Ideas. Syracuse, N.Y., 2000.
  • Tansel, F. A.“Kemāl, Meḥmed Nāmıḳ.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 4, pp. 875–879. Leiden, 1960–.
  • Tevfik, Ebuzziya. Yeni Osmanlılar Tarihi. 3 vols. Edited by Zeyyat Ebuzziya. Ankara, 1973–1974.
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