Posts Tagged ‘Sultan Abdul Hamid’

(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)


(July 23, 1908)


1908 was a break it or make it year for the Ottoman Empire, which was on the brink of collapse. Its interrupted process of modernizations was to be resumed.


The process of internal reform initiated with the imperial edicts of 1839 and 1856 led to the promulgation of the Constitution of 1876, which ushered the First Constitutional Era. Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876-1908), who had sanctioned the Constitution, suspended it in 1878 and launched his thirty-year long tyrannical rule.


The conservative politics of Abdul Hamid went against the current of social reform and more liberal environment. His tightened rule dismissed all claims by minorities. His repressive policies peaked with the massacre of Armenians in 1894-1896, which cost the life of some 300,000 people.


The Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), an underground organization founded in 1889, functioned as an umbrella party for the movement of the Young Turks, which sought to end with the rule of Abdul Hamid and to prevent the collapse of the empire. To this goal, they looked forward to an alliance with the revolutionary forces that functioned within the ethnic minorities, including the Armenians, in two opposition congresses convened in 1902 and 1907. The Hunchakian party rejected to cooperate on the grounds that the CUP tried to impose its Ottomanist plan and leave aside any particular concern or demand from the minorities. On the other hand, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation accepted the offer, considering a priority the overthrow of Abdul Hamid’s regime. Different methods of civil disobedience were anticipated, with an armed rebellion anticipated for October 1908.


The CUP had moved its headquarters to Salonica (Thessalonika in Macedonia, now part of Greece) in 1906. Military officers gained to the cause of the Young Turks accelerated the revolt after a meeting of King Edward VII of England and Czar Nicholas II of Russia in the Baltic port of Reval (now Tallinn, the capital of Estonia) in June 1908. During the meeting, new reforms were drafted for the region of Macedonia, which in the end would be detached from the Ottoman Empire after the Balkan War of 1912.

The fear that the meeting was a prologue to the separation of Macedonia led to the mutiny against the sultan, which was initiated by major Ahmed Niyazi on July 3 with a demand to restore the constitution. The movement spread rapidly throughout Macedonia. The attempt by Abdul Hamid to suppress the uprising failed, with the garrisons of Constantinople and Asia Minor being also favorable to the rebels. The sultan capitulated and on the night of July 23-24 the restoration of the Ottoman Constitution of 1876 was announced. Abdul Hamid II became a nominal ruler and the power went to the revolutionaries. Decrees establishing freedom of speech and press, and a general amnesty were soon issued.

General elections were held in November and December 1908, and the CUP won a majority in the Parliament. The election was marred with fraud and threats in places where Armenian candidates were on the ballot. As a result, only 12 Armenian deputies were elected out of a total of 230.  The Senate reconvened on December 17, 1908, and the Chamber of Deputies held its first session on January 30, 1909.

Armenian hopes that the motto of “equality, fraternity, freedom, justice” carried by the revolution would turn into real change were soon dashed.


In April 1909 Abdul Hamid attempted to seize his power back with promises to restore the sharia-based system and eliminate secular policies. He attracted the support of masses of theological students and clerics, as well as army units, which revolted on April 13, 1909. The Liberation Army coming from Macedonia and commanded by Mahmud Shevket Pasha restored the status quo and quashed the counterrevolutionary movement on April 24, 1909. However, in the meantime, the double massacre of Adana and surroundings, with its catastrophic sequel, was carried both by representatives of the “ancien regime” and the local Young Turks on April 13-15 and April 25-27, 1909, with an outcome of up to 30,000 Armenians, as well as Assyrians and Greeks massacred. The failure of the Ottoman government to prosecute and thoroughly punish the culprits of the massacre created profound disillusionment among Armenians. By 1910-1911 the revolutionary movement, caught in the conflict within the CUP among conservatives and liberals, was finished. The Libya war of 1911 and the Balkan War of 1912 essentially threw the empire out of Africa and Europe, and led to the coup d’état of January 1913 and the establishment of the government headed by the triumvirate of Talaat, Enver, and Jemal. World War I and the Armenian Genocide were not very far ahead.


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Prepared by

the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)


Demonstration of Bab Ali (September 30, 1895)


       The three great powers (Great Britain, France, and Russia), backed by Germany, Austria, and Italy, had demanded that Sultan Abdul Hamid II introduce the reforms in the “provinces inhabited by Armenians,” as stipulated by the Treaty of Berlin (1878) in what was called the Armenian Reform Program of May 11, 1895. The refusal of the sultan to carry the reforms led the Social Democratic Hnchakian Party to stage the demonstration of Bab Ali (Great Door or Sublime Porte) in Constantinople on September 30, 1895.

        The party was represented in the Ottoman capital by the Board of Directors, that give instructions for nearly all party activity in Turkey with the approval of general headquarters at Geneva, and the Executive Committee, which directed the organization work according to the instructions of the Board of Directors.

        The Executive Committee chose three men to supervise the demonstration after receiving the order from the Board of Directors. The leader was Garo Sahakian. After various discussions, the Board of Directors decided that the demonstration should be peaceful. Months of preparations were ended on September 28, when the Hnchakian Party presented a letter in French to the foreign embassies and to the Turkish government. The letter stated that the demonstration would be “of a strictly peaceful character” and would be aimed to express Armenian wishes with regard to the reforms. It added that “the intervention of the police and military for the purpose of preventing it may have regrettable consequences, for which we disclaim beforehand all responsibility.”

        The demonstration took place two days later. The Turkish government had taken security measures; soldiers were posted on the streets around administrative buildings, and the police were alerted. Around noon, the Hnchakian leaders entered the Armenian Patriarchate, from where they led thousands of demonstrators to the palace of the Sultan.

        Garo Sahakian, head of the demonstration, was to present the petition to the Sultan on behalf of both the Armenians of Constantinople and of the six Armenian provinces. The petition, written by the Hnchakian Board of Directors, complained against massacres, unjust arrests, Kurdish injustices, corruption of tax collectors, and the massacre in Sasun (1894). It demanded: (a) equality before the law; freedom of the press; freedom of speech; and freedom of assembly; (b) right of habeas corpus to all persons under arrest, and permission to Armenians to bear arms if the Kurds could not be disarmed; (c) a redrawing of the six Armenian provinces; (d) an European governor for the provinces; and (e) financial and land reforms.

       Garo Sahakian and some demonstrators, after reaching the gates of Bab Ali, were denied entrance by the officer in charge, and Sahakian was seized by the zaptiehs (Turkish police). Brought before a Turkish official, he was imprisoned after delivering the petition. Fighting and violence had already broken out. Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested on that day and for several days ensuing. The prisons became crowded with wounded men and scores of dead bodies were collected from the streets of Constantinople.

       The rioting and bloodshed in Constantinople alarmed the Turkish government and disturbed Europe. The Ottoman Council of Ministers assembled to discuss the situation, while some of the leading European papers gave much attention to the rioting in Constantinople. Finally, pressure by European governments induced Sultan Abdul Hamid to sign the Armenian Reform Program on October 17, 1895, about a month after the bloody demonstration. The Hnchakian Revolutionary Party considered this a great victory. However, this signature did not bring peace to Ottoman Armenians. Like so many decrees by the Sultan, this one too became a dead letter.


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