Abdul-Hamid II

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ABDUL-HAMID II (1842–1918), sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1876 to 1909.

Abdul-Hamid II's reign as sultan was marked by the attempted promulgation of a constitution in 1876, his subsequent suppression of the constitution, and, in 1908, the Young Turk Revolution that forced its reinstatement. Paradoxically, while in the early years of his reign Abdul-Hamid II was criticized for his liberal principles and his aggressive approach to reform, he was ultimately deposed in 1909 in the midst of a reformist movement that viewed him as an obstacle to reform. Repeatedly in the course of his rule he resisted undertaking reforms, despite the intense pressure of the Great Powers of Europe. In addition to the question of reform, internal economic crisis that led to European intervention and the proliferation of various nationalist/revolutionary movements that eroded Ottoman territorial control were two major recurring themes over the course of his rule.

In 1876, an international conference met in Istanbul. There a proposed constitution, written by the reformer Midhat Pasa (1822–1883), was unveiled. Despite the conference's demands, Abdul-Hamid II ultimately refused to accept the constitution and sent its author into exile. While he at first ratified the constitution, purely to stifle western complaints, he suspended it as soon as external pressure abated. Abdul-Hamid II's position annoyed both the Great Powers and an increasing number of his subjects. A group of reformers soon emerged, galvanized in large part by their opposition to the sultan's disregard for the notion of reform. The result was the formation of the constitutionalist reform group Committee of Union and Progress (CUP; in Turkish, the Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti). Angered by the Ottoman loss of much of the Balkans, growing European intervention in the region, and the long-standing Ottoman political elite, the CUP established a base in the city of Salonica in the early twentieth century and began planning a revolution. In 1908, the Salonican CUP successfully forced the restoration of the 1876 constitution. Abdul-Hamid II was forced from power and exiled—ironically, to Salonica. As CUP troops threatened to march on Istanbul, Abdul-Hamid II capitulated immediately and agreed to step down. His brother Reshid Effendi, who was proclaimed Sultan Mehmet V (1844–1918) on April 27, 1909, succeeded him.

Economically, the Ottoman Empire was in crisis during portions of Abdul-Hamid II's reign. In the late 1870s, the empire became increasingly unable to manage its foreign debt burden. Ultimately an international finance control commission was formed to handle the empire's foreign debt, which passed an 1881 decree by which imperial revenues were passed on directly to the Public Debt Administration. This was a major blow to Abdul-Hamid II's attempts to rebuff the interventions of foreign powers and it angered many in the Ottoman Empire.

Externally, too, Abdul-Hamid II's reign was marked by major turbulence. While the Young Turks and other advocates of reform created internal

difficulties, nationalist expansionist movements in the Balkans had a devastating impact as well. During the course of Abdul-Hamid II's reign, there was a major insurrection in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Russo-Turkish War, a war with Serbia and Montenegro, and the Greco-Turkish War. Just years after his deposition came the Balkan Wars (which pitted a Bulgarian, Greek, and Serbian coalition against the Ottomans and ultimately gave Greece possession of Macedonia). Greece virtually doubled in size between the 1880s and the close of World War I, gaining Thessaly in 1881 and Epirus, Macedonia, and Crete in 1913. All of these territorial gains came at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. Abdul-Hamid II was resented by his subjects for his inability to stem the rapid successive loss of so much Ottoman territory.

Loss of Ottoman territorial control was not an issue only in the westernmost provinces. After the 1877–1878 Russo-Turkish War, Abdul-Hamid II attempted to bring Kurdish tribes under his control by coopting them, creating a special Kurdish cavalry—the Hamidiye cavalry—in 1891. The Kurds, who had traditionally enjoyed near autonomy, were now an armed autonomous element that the Ottomans had to struggle to suppress. At the same time, they had to contend with the growing Armenian nationalist movement, which by the 1880s was organized under the leadership of various revolutionary parties. In Egypt, Abdul-Hamid II failed satisfactorily to reassert Ottoman control, and it came increasingly under British domination.

Abdul-Hamid II's reign coincided with the development of an array of nationalist movements: the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), the Greek "Great Idea," Pan-Slavism, and movements for a "Greater Bulgaria" and a "Greater Serbia." The guerrilla warfare of the multiple groups and contingents connected to these movements led to vicious internecine strife in outlying Ottoman territories and laid the ground for the series of bloody interethnic conflicts and mass population movements that characterized the early decades of the twentieth century. Notable among them is the Armenian genocide, the first wave of which (1915–1916) took place late in Abdul-Hamid II's reign. By its end in 1924, well over one million Armenians had been killed.

See alsoArmenia; Balkan Wars; Eastern Question; Ottoman Empire; Russo-Turkish War; Young Turks.


Haslip, Joan. The Sultan: The Life of Abdul Hamid II London, 1958.

Karpat, Kemal H. The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman Empire. New York, 2001.

McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Peoples and the End of Empire. London, 2001.

Quataert, Donald. The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922. New York, 2000.

K. Fleming