the young turks -- 4/25/23

Today's selection -- from A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire by David Fromkin. In the early 1900s in Turkey, the “Young Turks” emerged as a political group committed to moving that country forward. They attempted this in part by creating a secret revolutionary organization and party known as the Committee of Union and Progress (C.U.P.):
"Ambivalent in its attitude toward Europe -- scorning it as non-Moslem, while admiring its modern ways and achievements -- the C.U.P. intended to throw off the shackles of Europe in order to imitate Europe more closely. The Young Turks seem to have had no coherent plan for bringing European economic domination to an end, but they wanted, somehow, to do it.
"A vital item on the C.U.P.'s internal agenda was the modernization of transport and communications. European interests were willing to supply the networks and systems which the Ottoman Empire lacked, but of course wanted to own them, preferably on the basis of exclu­sive concessions. The C.U.P. leaders, like other Ottoman leaders before them, wanted the European technologies to be introduced but were determined to avoid European ownership or control. During the nineteenth century, Turkey had created her own postal service, even though it coexisted within the empire alongside postal ser­vices maintained for themselves by various European powers. Re­jecting an offer from a British company, the Ottoman Empire also created its own telegraph network. A few telephones were in use in Constantinople and Smyrna in 1914; a foreign group had been given a concession to install a telephone system in Constantinople in 1911, but had not made much progress. 

A lithograph celebrating the Young Turk Revolution

"The coming of the steamship had put Ottoman maritime traffic largely in the hands of foreign interests. Such as they were, the empire's few railway lines were also in foreign hands. There were few roads and still fewer automobiles to make use of them: 110 in Constantinople and 77 elsewhere by 1914. The traditional form of transportation was the caravan of camels, horses, mules, and animal­ drawn carts -- and it could not compete against the foreign-owned railroads. The usual speed of a mixed caravan was between two and three miles an hour, and its daily stage was only between fifteen and twenty miles. Railroad speeds were at least ten times greater, and the railroad cost of transporting goods was perhaps only 10 percent of the caravan cost. 

"The C.U.P. dilemma lay in wanting to switch from caravan to railroad without allowing the empire to pass into the control of the Europeans who owned the railroads. Europeans already exercised an economic preponderance which the C.U.P. resented but could do nothing about. Turkey was in the unequal position of being able to supply only natural resources and having to import her manu­factured needs. Industrialization was necessary in order to redress the balance; but the Porte had no program to achieve it. The empire could supply only unskilled labor; as the Europeans constructed railroads and other types of machinery, they brought along Euro­peans to maintain them. Technical training for the local population was what was needed; again the Porte had no program to provide it.

"Europeans also shared in the control of what is at the heart of a political entity: its finances. Because the Porte had defaulted on a public debt of more than a thousand million dollars in 1875, the Sultan was obliged to issue a decree in 1881 that placed administration of the Ottoman public debt in European hands. A council was created for the purpose and was given control of almost one-quarter of the Ottoman Empire's revenues. It wielded exclusive authority over the customs duties on such basic items as alcoholic spirits, stamps, salt, and fish.  The Sublime Porte was no longer master even of its own Treasury or Customs House. The C.U.P. wanted to take back control in these areas, though it had no refinancing program to propose.

"Bitterly resented by all Ottoman leaders were the Capitulations, the concessions that provided Europeans with a privileged economic position within the empire and which placed them for many purposes under the jurisdiction of their own consuls rather than of the Ottoman courts. No Turkish policeman could enter the premises of a European or American without the permission of the latter's consul. The C.U.P. wanted to cancel these Capitulation privileges.
"Another ground for C.U.P. resentment was that the European powers had, on occasion, violated Ottoman sovereignty in inter­vening in defense of Christian minorities and Christian rights. The European disposition to do so posed a threat to the C.U.P.'s secret agenda, for the Young Turks proposed to assert their power not only against foreigners but also against other groups inhabiting the empire. This ran contrary to what they had pledged in 1908. The public program of the C.U.P. had called for equal rights for all the many religious, ethnic, and linguistic groups that resided within the empire. Once in power the C.U.P. showed the dark side of its nationalism by asserting instead the hegemony of Turkish-speaking Moslems over all others. The Turkish-speaking and Arabic-speaking populations of the empire were roughly equal -- each about 10 million people, or about 40 percent of the total population apiece -- yet in the Ottoman Chamber of Deputies there were perhaps 150 Turks as against only about 60 Arabs. (The figures are not exact because it is not clear in every case who was Arab and who was Turk.) The remaining 20 percent of the population, including the important Greek, Armenian, Kurdish, and Jewish communities, was discriminated against even more severely than were the Arabs. According to the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910-11), the Ottoman Empire at the time was inhabited by twenty-two different 'races', yet 'no such thing as an Ottoman nation has ever been created.' If ever there were a chance of creating one, the C.U.P. leaders threw it away by excluding 60 percent of the population from its purview."



David Fromkin


A Peace to End All Peace


Holt Paperbacks


Copyright 1989 by David Fromkin


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