1878-1908 World War I

The Ottoman Empire 1908-1914

In the early years of the 20th century the Ottoman Empire, still extending over three continents, after a number of failed attempts to implement political reform, suffered from a combination of problems : a stagnating economy, state revenues being insufficient to pay for the expenses, a corrupt administration and a degree of lawlessness in the provinces; an inefficient bureaucracy; the nation's army, infrastructure (transportation network, postal service etc.), education systems were outdated; political structures (the MILLET SYSTEM) was an obstacle to political reform. Among the Empire's non-Muslim peoples, nationalistic propaganda aiming at the establishment of nation states or the annexation of Ottoman territory into existing nation states caused an explosive situation, Macedonia, the Aegaean islands which were still Ottoman, and Armenia being hotspots. The Muslim peoples, speaking Turkish or other languages, were much less affrected; yet liberal and patriotic thought, among the literate Turks, gained ground. The Ottoman government responded by censoring liberal and patriotic literature, closing down suspicious newspapers, firing liberal teachers etc.
In 1908 a group of Turkish Muslim officers, the so-called YOUNG TURKS, organized in the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress), staged a coup d'etat and forced Sultan ABDUL HAMID to accept a constitution. The event, often in exaggeration coined the Young Turk Revolution, marks the beginning of a Turkish national movement. The Young Turks' motives were to facilitate overdue political, economic, judicial reform, not to end the Ottoman Empire. Young Turk demands included a written constitution, a bicameral parliament, universal adult (manhood) suffrage, civil rights and the status of Turkish as the national language, freedom of religion and equal treatment of all citizens no matter which religion and ethnicity they belonged to, free education, the reform of the armed forces and the extension of railroads etc. From 1908 onward, the CUP played a critical role in the formation of governments.
Most outside governments regarded the coup as a violation of the Ottoman constitution; BULGARIA proclaimed full independence and the formal annexation of Eastern Rumelia; AUSTRIA-HUNGARY proclaimed the annexation of BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA (but returned the Sandjak of Novipazar to Ottoman rule); CRETE proclaimed unification with GREECE.
The Italian government (which, in an agreement with France, had accepted French rule in Tunisia in exchange for French recognition of Italian claims on CYRENAICA and TRIPOLITANIA) in 1911 declared war on the Sublime Porte (the Italo-Ottoman War) and occupied, after overcoming determined resistance, the last two Ottoman provinces on African soil. The Italian Navy also occupied the DODECANESE ISLANDS, obviously with the intention to return them to the Sublime Porte in return for the latter's recognition of Italian rule over the Cyrenaica and Libia. Meanwhile, BULGARIA, SERBIA, MONTENEGRO and GREECE formed a coalition, declared war on the Sublime Porte (the FIRST BALKAN WAR) and defeated the Ottoman forces; the Ottoman Empire lost almost her entire territory in Europe.

In addition to the existing interior problems, the Ottoman Empire found that most foreign governments had an attitude either reserved or hostile toward her. With Africa partitioned, the Ottoman territories in Africa (until 1911) and Arabia were among the last potential trophies of an imperialistic policy. The Russo-Ottoman rivalry continued; England was unreliable as an ally. Only Germany seemed committed to keep up good relations.

Els Joves Turcs (1908) (The Young Turks, 1908), from La Pagina de la Historia, in Catalan
DOCUMENTS The Young Turks: Proclamation for the Ottoman Empire, 1908, from Modern History Sourcebook
REFERENCE Jason Goodwin, Lords of the Horizons, 1999, 352 pp.
Article : Turkey, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1913 pp.1149-1165 on events of 1912) [G]
Article : Turkey, in : New International Year Book 1909 pp.711-717, 1913 pp.689-694, 1914 pp.706-711 [G]
Article : Turkey and the Balkans, in : New International Year Book 1913 pp.694-701 [G]
Article : Turkey, in : Stateman's Year Book 1910 pp.1263-1284 [G]
Jacob Gold Schurman, The Balkan Wars 1912-1013 (1916), posted by Gutenberg Library Online

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on April 22nd 2002, last revised on October 15th 2007

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