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Second Constitutional Era
The Second Constitutional Era (Ottoman Turkish: ايکنجى مشروطيت دورى; Turkish: İkinci Meşrûtiyyet Devri) of the Ottoman Empire was established after the 1908 Young Turk Revolution which forced Sultan Abdulhamid II to restore the constitution of 1876 and the Ottoman Parliament. The parliament and the constitution had been previously suspended by Abdulhamid in 1878 after only two years of functioning. Whereas the short First Constitutional Era didn't feature political parties, the Second Constitutional Era featured never before seen political pluralism and elections.
Many years of absolutist rule by the Sultan Abdulhamid II was opposed by the Young Turks, a liberal reformist intellectual movement persecuted by the government which called for the restoration of constitutional monarchy. They argued that the codification of secular law in the Ottoman Empire in the form of constitutionalism foster a sense of Ottoman nationalism that would no longer necessitate European control over Ottoman territory to prevent ethnic conflict. In 1908, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), a Young Turks group, forced Abdulhamid to reinstate the constitution in the Young Turk Revolution, and elections were once again held. Abdulhamid would try and fail to retake absolute power in the 31 March Incident the next year, leading to his deposition and the ascension of Mehmed V. A series of elections and other events during the period resulted in the gradual ascendance of the CUP's domination in politics. The second largest party, with which the CUP was involved in a 2-year power struggle, was the Freedom and Accord Party (also known as the Liberal Union or Liberal Entente).
Sustained constitutionalism did not dissipate the tensions between the empire's many ethnic groups nor gain more sympathy from European powers. Immediately after the revolution, Bulgaria declared independence, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia, and the ethnic conflict in Ottoman Macedonia, the birthplace of the revolution, continued unabated. In 1911 Italy invaded Ottoman Tripolitania, and in 1912 the Balkan League totally overran Rumelia, without much reaction from the great powers. In the middle of a perpetual state of emergency, in 1913 the CUP overthrew the Liberal Union government in a coup, repressed other opposition parties, and effectively created a one party dictatorship. The dictatorship was led by the "Three Pashas", Talaat Pasha, Enver Pasha, and Cemal Pasha. In 1914 the Ottoman Empire would enter World War I, and the CUP would conduct ethnic cleansing and genocide against the empire's Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek citizens.
In 1918 the Ottoman Empire surrendered and most of the top CUP leadership fled into exile. The Liberal Union would be rehabilitated and with Allied support attempt to purge the CUP. In the Allied occupation of Constantinople, the parliament's decision to work with the Turkish revolutionaries in Ankara by signing the Amasya Protocol and agreeing in 1920 to the Misak-ı Millî (National Pact) angered the Allies, who forced the Sultan Mehmed VI to dissolve the parliament, thus ending the Second Constitutional Era. The last meeting on 18 March 1920 produced a letter of protest to the Allies, and a black cloth covered the pulpit of the parliament as reminder of its absent members.
Many of the deputies and senators of the Ottoman Parliament continued their political careers in the Empire's successor states. Many were able to escape from Constantinople to Ankara and continue representing their constituents in the Grand National Assembly during Turkey's War for Independence, and ultimately continued their career in the Republic. Throughout much of the Second Constitution Era, the Ottoman Empire was in a state of emergency. While the constitution was law, it was hardly enforced and rule of law all but collapsed after 1913.
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 23 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.
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
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. The CUP, the main driving force behind the revolution, managed to gain the upper hand against the Liberal Young Turk faction which organized itself as the Ottoman Liberty Party. The Liberals were 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, Hüseyin 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.
On 16 August 1909, the government passed the "Law of Associations", which banned ethnically based political parties. A month later, the government passed the "Law for the Prevention of Brigandage and Sedition", which created "special pursuit battalions" to hunt down guerrillas in Macedonia, made it illegal for private citizens to own firearms and imposed harsh penalties for those who failed to report the activities of guerrillas. The government also expanded the educational system by founding new schools, while at the same time announcing that henceforward Turkish would be the only language of instruction.
31 March Incident, 1909
Threats to the experiment in constitutional and parliamentary government soon appeared. Nine months into the new parliamentary term, discontent and reactionary sentiment against constitutionalism found expression in a fundamentalist movement named as the Ottoman countercoup of 1909. The countercoup ultimately resulted in the counter-revolutionary 31 March Incident (which actually occurred on 13 April 1909). The constitutionalists were able to wrestle back control of the Ottoman government from the reactionaries with Mahmud Şevket Pasha's Action Army (Turkish: Harekat Ordusu). The popularly elected Chamber of Deputies met in secret session two days later and 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. The constitution would be amended to strengthen the popularly elected Chamber of Deputies at the expense of the unelected Senate and the Sultan's personal powers.
The CUP was once 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. This was achieved by removing the powers of the Sultan from the constitution and removing him from the throne. This served to largely remove the remaining threats to the parliament and constitutionalism. The new constitutional amendments banned all secret societies. Parliament was prorogued for three months on the 27th. During the recess, the CUP held a congress at Salonica and modified its own rules. The 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.
Tensions and clashes arose between Zionists 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 Liberals, their respective goals contrasted strongly. Liberals 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 Freedom and Accord Party (also known as the Liberal Union) (LU) in November 1911, which seemed on the rise. Only 20 days after formation, 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.
Second term, 1912
The period of 1912–13 was a highly turbulent time for the Ottoman government in terms of both domestic and foreign affairs. It marked a political power struggle between the CUP and the LU, consisting of rapid exchanges of power involving a rigged election, a military revolt, and finally a coup d'état on a background of the disastrous Balkan Wars.
"Election of Clubs" and CUP government
In the middle of the war against Italy, the CUP now called for early national elections in order to thwart the new Freedom and Accord's ability to better organize and grow. In the two-party general elections held in April 1912, nicknamed the "Election of Clubs" (Turkish: Sopalı Seçimler) because of the widespread electoral fraud and violence engaged in by the CUP against Freedom and Accord candidates, the results showed that CUP won an overwhelming majority (269 of 275 seats in the Chamber of Deputies). A cabinet of CUP members was formed under Grand Vizier Mehmed Said Pasha.
Savior Officers' revolt and LU government
Angered at their loss in the election, the leadership of LU sought extra-legal methods to regain power over the CUP, complaining vocally about electoral fraud. At around this time, a group of military officers, uncomfortable with injustices it perceived within the military, organized itself into an armed organization known as the "Savior Officers" (Turkish: Halâskâr Zâbitân) and made their presence known to the imperial government. The Savior Officers, quickly becoming partisans of Freedom and Accord, soon created unrest in the capital Istanbul. After gaining the support of Prince Sabahaddin, another opposition leader, the Savior Officers published public declarations in newspapers.
Finally, after giving a memorandum to the Military Council, the Savior Officers succeeded in getting Mehmed Said Pasha (who they blamed for allowing the early elections that led to the CUP domination of the Chamber) and his government of CUP ministers to resign in July. Mehmed Said Pasha was succeeded by the non-partisan government of Ahmed Muhtar Pasha (the so-called "Great Cabinet", Turkish: Büyük Kabine). With the support of the Savior Officers, Ahmed Muhtar Pasha also dissolved the Chamber, which was still full of CUP members, and called for new elections on 5 August. The eruption of the Balkan War in October derailed plans for the elections, which were canceled, and Ahmed Muhtar Pasha resigned as Grand Vizier. The new Grand Vizier, the LU's beacon Kâmil Pasha, formed a LU cabinet and began an effort to destroy the vestiges of the CUP government remaining after the Savior Officers' revolt. Using his friendly relations with the British, Kâmil Pasha also sat down to end the ongoing First Balkan War diplomatically. However, the heavy Ottoman military upsets during the war continued to sap morale, as rumors that the capital would have to be moved from Istanbul to inland Anatolia spread. The Bulgarian Army had soon advanced as far as Çatalca, a western district of modern Istanbul. At this point, Kâmil Pasha's government signed an armistice with Bulgaria in December 1912 and sat down to draw up a treaty for the end of the war at the London Peace Conference.
The Great Powers–the British Empire, France, Italy, and Russia–had begun to engage in the relationship of Bulgaria with the Ottoman Empire, citing the 1878 Treaty of Berlin. The Great Powers gave a note to the Sublime Porte (the Ottoman government) that they wanted the Ottoman Empire to cede Edirne (Adrianople) to Bulgaria and the Aegean islands under its control to the Great Powers themselves. Because of the losses experienced by the army so far in the war, the Kâmil Pasha government was inclined to accept the "Midye-Enez Line" as a border to the west and, while not outright giving Edirne to Bulgaria, favored transferring control of it to an international commission.
Raid on the Sublime Porte
The LU government with Kâmil Pasha as the Grand Vizier was overthrown in a coup d'état (also known as the Raid on the Sublime Porte, Turkish: Bâb-ı Âlî Baskını) engineered by CUP leaders Enver and Talaat Bey, who used the pretext of Kâmil Pasha "dishonoring the nation" by allegedly agreeing to give away Edirne to the Bulgarians. On 23 January 1913, Enver Bey burst with some of his associates into the Sublime Porte while the cabinet was in session, a raid in which the Minister of War Nazım Pasha was killed. A new CUP government was formed, headed by Grand Vizier Mahmud Shevket Pasha. Mahmud Shevket Pasha would be assassinated on 11 June 1913 in revenge by a relative of Nazım Pasha, although he was genial towards the now-opposition LU after the coup. After his death, he was succeeded by Said Halim Pasha, and CUP began to repress LU and other opposition parties, forcing many of their leaders (such as Prince Sabahaddin) to flee to Europe.
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%.
In the 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 protected position since 1453.
In 1913, politics in Istanbul was centered around finding 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 "us against them".
Third term, 1914
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.
New elections were held in 1914 in a single-party framework, and the CUP gained all constituencies. The effective power lay in the hands of Mehmed Talaat Pasha, the Interior Minister, Enver Pasha, the Minister of War, and Cemal Pasha, the Minister of the Navy, till 1918. Talaat Pasha became the grand vizier himself in 1917.
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.
Fourth term, 1919
The last term elections were performed under the military Occupation of Constantinople by the Allies, but they were called under the Amasya Protocol signed on 22 October 1919 between the Ottoman government and the Turkish National Movement, in order to agree on a joint Turkish resistance movement against the Allies.
When the new session of the Chamber of Deputies convened on 16 March 1920, it passed the Misak-ı Millî (National Pact) with the Turkish National Movement, angering the Allies. Several MPs were arrested and deported. The Allies forced sultan Mehmed VI and he dissolved the parliament on 11 April.
End of CUP, 1919
On 13 October 1918, Talaat Pasha and the rest of 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. The Turkish Courts-Martial of 1919–20 took place where the leadership of the Committee of Union and Progress and selected former officials were court-martialled under charges of subversion of the constitution, wartime profiteering, and the massacres of both Armenians and Greeks. The court reached a verdict which sentenced the organizers of the massacres, Talat, Enver, Cemal and others to death. On 2 November, the Three Pashas (Talaat, Enver, and Djemal) escaped from Constantinople into exile.
Occupation issues, January 1920
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 Rumelia (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 Pact, February 1920
Despite being short-lived and the exceptional conditions, this last assembly took a number of important decisions that are called Misak-ı Milli (National Pact). It had signed the Amasya Protocol with the Turkish National Movement in Ankara on 22 October 1919, in which the two groups of agreed to unite against the Allies occupying the country and call for these elections. At the Protocol, the Ottoman government was represented by Minister of the Navy Salih Hulusi Pasha, and the Turkish National Movement was represented by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Rauf Orbay, and Bekir Sami Kunduh in their title of Delegation of Representatives (Heyeti Temsiliye).
Dissolution, March 1920
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 parliamentarians 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 100 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.
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- Incomplete list of Ottoman deputies in 1908-1912 term - in Turkish
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- Incomplete list of Ottoman deputies in January–March 1920 (last) term; official closure April 1920; - in Turkish
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