ABDULHAMID II (Western Colonialism)


Ottoman sultan (r. 1876-1909). The reign of Sultan Abdiilhamid II began on August 31, 1876, during a period of profound crisis for the Ottoman Empire. In 1878 the sultan inaugurated a new course in domestic and foreign policies that had a lasting impact on the history of modern Turkey and the Middle East.

Abdulhamid’s prime foreign policy objective was to defend the empire’s independence and territorial integrity. He was preoccupied with the empire’s vulnerability to the influence of the European Great Powers. He feared not only military attack from without but also the Powers’ ”peaceful penetration” of the empire’s independence and integrity from within, such as through the establishment of ”zones of influence” leading ultimately to partition, as in Egypt and India. Abdulhamid’s success in preserving the empire’s integrity and independence for thirty years must be attributed primarily to his diplomacy. He avoided peacetime alliances with the Great Powers, maintaining an overall diplomatic stance of ”neutrality” or ”noncommitment.” He distanced the empire from its former protector, Great Britain. He harmonized relations with the empire’s traditional enemy, Russia, and initiated the longest period of peace in Russo-Ottoman relations for more than a century. He also inaugurated a close relationship with Germany in order to restrain Britain and Russia.

Abdulhamid was a staunch authoritarian. He dissolved the parliament in 1878, establishing his own absolute control over the executive organs of government. Abdulhamid was determined to control in detail the initiation and implementation of policy. He ignored the rules of bureaucratic hierarchy, exerting personal authority over provincial as well as central officials. Abdulhamid was a strong centralizer, determined to curb all tendencies toward provincial autonomy.

Abdulhamid saw Islam and Muslim solidarity, expressed in a common loyalty to the caliphate, as crucial to the empire’s efforts to resist European penetration and the separatist aspirations of his non-Turkish Muslim subjects. This policy was expressed in much official deference to Islam and to religious leaders, and in an officially sponsored religious propaganda that at times assumed a ”pan-Islamic” form by appealing to Muslim solidarity outside the Ottoman Empire. Abdulhamid emphasized Islam domestically in order to invoke the loyalty of his Muslim subjects—in particular non-Turkish Muslims like the Albanians and the Arabs.

The reign of Abdulhamid was one of considerable achievements in the field of social and economic reform. He continued the beneficial aspects of the Tanzimat reforms and encouraged construction of schools, railways, harbors, irrigation works, telegraph lines, and other infrastructural projects. He also encouraged improvement in finance, trade, mining, and agricultural export, as well as in education, civil administration, security, and military affairs. However, his financial caution did significantly limit the extent of his civil and economic reforms.

Opposition to his rule was led by the so-called Young Turks, a group consisting of intellectuals, students, and officers. Their chief organization, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), demanded the restoration of the parliament as a means to curb autocracy and preserve the integrity of the empire. CUP military officers staged an uprising in Macedonia in the summer of 1908. Fearing internal chaos, the sultan proclaimed the restoration of the parliament on July 24, 1908. A counterrevolution broke out in Istanbul in April 1909 against the policies of the CUP. The CUP crushed this rebellion and also dethroned Abdulhamid on April 27, 1909, falsely accusing him of having instigated the rebellion. He was placed under house arrest, which he remained under until his death on February 10, 1918.

Sultan Abdulhamid II. The reign of Abdulhamid II began in 1876 when the Ottoman Empire was at war with Serbia and Montenegro and facing a threat from Russia.

Sultan Abdulhamid II. The reign of Abdulhamid II began in 1876 when the Ottoman Empire was at war with Serbia and Montenegro and facing a threat from Russia.

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