Young Turks

views updated May 23 2018


Name given to groups in Ottoman society who demanded and strove for political and social change in the last several decades of the Ottoman Empire.

"Young Turk" is an expression coined in Europe that invokes three distinct phases of the Ottoman constitutionalist movement: the anti-Tanzimat current better known to historians as the "Young Ottoman" movement; the constitutionalist opposition to Sultan Abdülhamit; and the Second Constitutional Period introduced by the reinstitution of the constitutional regime in 1908. There was at no point a distinct organization called the Young Turks; nor did the groups recognized as Young Turks generally embrace this name. Nevertheless, historians identify the last three decades of the empire in reference to Young Turks, while "the Young Turk period" corresponds more precisely to the decade of their political predominance from 1908 to 1918.

Young Turk activity began in the late 1880s. Until the revolution of 1908, their opposition to Abdülhamit manifested itself both within the empire and abroad. The two spheres of activity were linked together only loosely. When a group of medical students in Constantinople (now Istanbul) founded in 1889 the secret cells of what would develop into the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP), individual intellectuals in exile had already launched a political and journalistic campaign against the Hamitian regime. The best known in the latter group was Khalil Ghanim, a Syrian Christian, who published a journal called La jeune Turquie (Young Turkey).

The Constantinople secret committee spread rapidly in the capital's higher schools and soon became known to the authorities. Reprisals forced many to exile, whereupon an expatriate liberal opposition came together around Ahmet Riza, a French-educated official in the Ministry of Agriculture. Influenced by European positivists, he failed to return from a mission in 1889 and turned into a vocal critic of the Hamitian regime. In 1895, he joined Khalil Ghanim, Alber Fua (a Jew), and Aristidi Paşa (a Greek) to publish Meşveret, which became the leading voice of Young Turks.

The next year, a member of the Constantinople secret committee, Murat Bey, fled to Cairo and later to Geneva. A Russian Turk who taught at the influential Mülkiye (civil service) school, Murat Bey was better connected with the liberal currents in Constantinople. His Mizan outshone Meşveret, both of which were smuggled into the empire. Murat was an Islamist-Turkist revolutionary, in contrast to Ahmet Riza's elitist and gradualist outlook. The two men were united in their anti-imperialism and denunciation of the Hamitian autocracy. Murat, however, joined Abdülhamit in 1897. Rivalries within the Young Turk movement in exile continued with the publication in Geneva of Osmanh by İshak Süküti and Ahmet Cevdet Paşa, founding members of the CUP in Constantinople. As repression increased in the empire, Young Turk activity shifted almost entirely to Europe and Egypt for a decade. The flight of Damad Mahmud Paşa, the brother-in-law of the sultan, to join the Young Turks in Europe opened a new phase in Young Turk activities.

Under the moral guidance and financial support of ailing Mahmud Paşa and the presidency of his son Sabahettin, the Young Turks held a conference in Paris in February 1902, which crystallized the divisions within the movement. Representatives of all major religious groups in the empire attended. The meeting revealed the separatist inclinations of Christian factions, while two groups around Ahmet Riza and Sabahettin divided over the suitability of centralist versus decentralist policies in achieving the ultimate aim of preserving the integrity of the empire. Subsequently, Sabahettin formed the Society of Administrative Decentralization and Private Initiative, modeled along the teachings of economist Frédéric Le Play and Edmond Demolins and as a rival to the CUP. A second conference in 1907 aimed at a reconciliation failed to bring Greek, Albanian, and some Armenian factions to the table.

Meanwhile, domestic opposition and conspiracy against the Hamitian regime regrouped in Macedonia. Different oppositional groups coalesced to revitalize the CUP, which in 1907 contacted the Ahmet Riza group in Europe. However, the exile communities had no role in the immediate circumstances that led to the Young Turk Revolution. If international events like the Japanese victory over Russia and the Russian and Iranian revolutions energized Young Turks everywhere, the nationalist activity among the Balkan peoples and the perceived threat to the empire by enhanced relations between Britain and Russia impelled the unionists in Salonika and Monastir to action.

Due to the role they played in the revolution, leaders of the Macedonian branches of the CUP eclipsed the other factions after 1908. They were, however, too inexperienced to take the helm of government and too insecure to embrace other Young %
Turk groups, including the CUP leadership in Europe. The differences within the Young Turk movement were now expressed in multiparty politics. The decentralists under Sabahettin formed the Liberal party before the 1908 elections. Even though they failed to block the election of a large majority of CUP candidates to parliament, the decentralists became an increasingly more potent opposition to the CUP, supported by autonomy-minded minority groups. Other parties that formed in 1910 and 1911 soon merged in the Ottoman Liberty and Entente party. The CUP's attempts to manipulate the elections to retain power undermined parliamentary rule, eliciting an ultimatum from a group of military officers called Saviors. Coupled with foreign preoccupations such as the Italian and Balkan wars, the Young Turk governments gave way to governments led by old-school politicians in 1912. In 1913 the CUP wrested power with a coup d'état. Despite conciliatory measures to the liberals, the CUP remained as that faction within the Young Turk movement that dominated Ottoman politics until the end of the empire.

The Young Turks promoted the ideology of Ottomanism in an attempt to foster in all peoples of the empire a commitment to the Ottoman home-land within the framework of a constitutional government. There were organizational similarities, some ideological continuity, and shared political goals between the Young Ottomans and Young Turks. Despite what the ethnocentric term "Young Turk" suggests, the movement represented ethnically and religiously a much more diverse group than the Young Ottomans.

The Young Turk movement embraced varied ideological orientations (Westernism, Islamism, Turkism, positivism, centralism, decentralism), socio-economic backgrounds (lower middle-class students and officers, high officials, members of Ottoman and Egyptian royal households), and ethnic-religious affiliations. It was unified in the conviction for the necessity of reform designed to preserve the empire. The Young Turks were responsible for instituting the beginnings of modern politics in the Middle East, for expanding education and journalism, and for realizing economic, social, and administrative reforms. The movement provided the political nuclei for the successor states of the Ottoman Empire.

see also ahmet riza; committee for union and progress; ottomanism; tanzimat; young ottomans.


Ahmad, Feroz. The Young Turks: The Committee of Union and Progress in Turkish Politics, 19081914. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969.

Ramsaur, Ernest E. The Young Turks: Prelude to the Revolution of 1908. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957.

hasan kayali

Young Turks

views updated May 29 2018


Young Turks is the term generally applied to the opposition to the Ottoman sultan Abdulhamit II's rule (Ar., ˓Abd al-Hamid, 1876–1908). Although the foundations of the movement can be traced back to 1889, it only became politically active prior to the Young Turk Revolution in 1908. Its members at the time forced the reinstatement of the constitution and the parliament after thirty years of autocracy. Between 1908 and 1918 it was the Young Turks who governed the Ottoman Empire.

The Young Turks belonged to the generation following that of the Young Ottomans, whose legacy was the constitutional era inaugurated in December 1876. But when in February 1878 Sultan Abdulhamit II dissolved the parliament and embarked on absolute rule, an opposition slowly began to form underground. In 1889 a group of students from the imperial Medical School formed an alliance called the Association for the Union of Ottomans. By 1895 they had changed their name to the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP). The CUP was mostly active in Europe and Egypt. Its members came from diverse backgrounds, ethnically and professionally. Due to Abdulhamit's autocratic rule, many educated Turks, Greeks, Kurds, Arabs, Albanians, and Armenians came to support the idea of Ottomanism, a nineteenth-century ideology that combined Ottoman culture and Islam with modern nationalism. In 1902 the First Congress of Ottoman Liberals was held in Paris where the opposition to the sultan came into the open.

In 1906 some military officers and government officials formed another group called the Ottoman Freedom Society, in Salonika. They joined the CUP in 1907 and because of their reputation for action these men became the ruling faction. From then on the new coalition was named the Committee for Progress and Union (CPU). In the same year, between 27 and 29 December, the Second Congress of Ottoman Liberals met in Paris and resolved to topple Abdülhamit II from power.

By the spring of 1908 those CPU members who had served in the Ottoman army in Macedonia began to act more openly. They reacted to Abdülhamit's efforts to discipline and spy on their activities by assassinating inspectors and others loyal to the sultan. In July, Adjunct Major Ahmed Niyazi Bey and later Enver Bey renounced their loyalty to the sultan and took their troops into the mountains to engage in guerilla activity. Later, the special military commander sent to take control of the Macedonian army was assassinated by a CUP member. The CPU further pressured the sultan with a series of telegrams threatening to occupy the capital if the constitution were not reinstated. In July 1908, Abdülhamit felt obliged to reinstitute the 1876 constitution, inaugurating the second constitutional era, also known as the Young Turks' revolution.

The event was celebrated by every ethnic group that stood to acquire greater security. Yet when the parliament began meeting, the division among the Young Turks's supporters became clear. Two major factions were identified: unionists CPU and the liberals. The unionists favored a strong centralized state to achieve modernization and progress. The liberals wanted a decentralized and autonomous polity benefiting non-Muslim and non-Turkish groups. The multireligious and multinational population of the empire eventually forced the Young Turks to adopt a middle way, which has been called Ottomanism. Meanwhile, Turkist and Islamist thinkers were still involved in the government.

In April 1909 an insurrection led by an Islamist organization made it clear that Muslim influences were strong among the unionists. But in 1912 a military coup brought the liberals into power. Meanwhile the demographics of the empire were changing: the Ottoman army had suffered repeated defeats in the Balkans, and during its last withdrawal from 1911 to 1913, the empire lost almost all of its remaining European lands and one-quarter of its population. The unionists took advantage of the political turmoil and in January 1913 took over the government once and for all. By June, they had eliminated the liberal opposition.

Throughout World War I, with the deportation and ethnic cleansing of Armenians and the arrival of Turkish people from the Balkans and Caucasus, the empire population became increasingly Muslim-Turkish and Arab. The unionists started to rely more on religion. Their pan-Islamism was often aimed at appeasing Arab constituencies who were displeased with the empire.

In the prewar period, both the Turkish and the Arab nationalists were intent on forming a solid nationalist ideology. Under the CPU, official and popular sentiment started to embrace Turkish nationalism. The Turkish Hearth (Türk Ocagi), founded after March 1912, was a side organization of the CPU whose original duty was to advocate Islamism and Ottomanism. But they were also trying to convince Turkish people that the only way for the empire to survive was to embrace Turkish nationalism. The Turkish Hearth was also responsible for propagating the use of Turkish instead of other languages. Under CPU pressure, government officials increased the use of Turkish in government administration, and as the religious schools and courts came under state control, Turkish started to predominate. The immigrating Caucasian and eastern European Turks participated in these developments, and a project to unite all the Turks, or all the Turanian people, began.

After 1914 the notion of Arab independence emerged, along with the possibility of the Ottoman Empire's fall and the inevitability of subsequent foreign hegemony. Many such ideas were current in Beirut, Damascus, and Basra, where the independence movements in the Balkans had already been noted and the Young Turks had been active. Triggered by an alliance between Sharif Husayn of Mecca and the British, in 1916, the Arab Revolt started the separation of Arab lands from the Ottoman Empire.

During World War I, the Ottoman Empire proved incapable of fighting on a scale equal to the European forces. The end of the war in 1918 also signaled the end of the Young Turks era. After the ensuing war for independence, the new Turkish republic was formed, owing much of its social infrastructure to the Young Turks. Although under the CPU the state ideology remained Ottomanist and Islamist, the emergence of non-Turkish Muslim nationalist movements among the Balkan and Arab populations strongly influenced Turkish intellectuals and statesmen. The major intellectual development of the Young Turks era was Turkish nationalism. The secular ideas of Young Turks leaders like Ziya Gökalp found popular support long after the CPU.

See alsoModernization, Political: Administrative, Military, and Judicial Reform ; Revolution: Modern ; Young Ottomans .


Ahmad, Feroz. The Young Turks: The Committee for Union andProgress in Turkish Politics, 1908–1914. London: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Hanioglu, H. Sukru. Preparation for a Revolution: The YoungTurks, 1902–1908. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Kayali, Hasan. Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islam in the Ottoman Empire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Murat C. Mengüç

Young Turks

views updated Jun 08 2018


Between 1828 and 1867, the phrase Young Turk was used to denote those Ottoman intellectuals and statesmen advocating liberal reforms and a constitutional regime for the Ottoman Empire. Specifically, when a number of leading Ottoman intellectuals fled the Ottoman capital to organize an opposition movement in Paris financed by the Egyptian prince Mustafa Fâzıl (1829–1875) the European press called them Young Turks. Turkish historiography labels this group the Young Ottomans. Later on, British and French diplomatic correspondence used the terms Young Turk and The Young Turkey Party to refer to those statesmen who supported the movement for a constitution.

Following the end of the short-lived constitutional regime in 1878, both Ottomans and Europeans referred in general to the opponents of the regime of Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909) as the Young Turks. It was the Ottoman Freemasons who, in 1893, first formally named their political branch The Committee of Young Turkey at Constantinople. Then, in 1895, the main opposition group, the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress, advertized its French journal as "Organe de la Jeune Turquie."

From this point on, the phrase Young Turk was used among Ottoman subjects (of all religions) to denote opposition organizations dominated by Muslim dissidents.

young turk movement: ideas and policies

The Young Turk movement took place in Europe and British-ruled Egypt between 1878 and 1908. Members of this movement founded a host of political parties, committees, and leagues to topple the absolutist regime of Abdülhamid II and replace it with a constitutional monarchy. Although their European contemporaries and many scholars commonly labeled the Young Turks liberals and constitutionalists, these traits were promoted by a small minority in the movement. Members of the major Young Turk organizations did not adopt liberal ideas and viewed constitutionalism merely as a device to stave off great-power intervention in the Ottoman Empire.

The initial activities of the Young Turks did not go further than the publication of a few journals. In 1889, the major Young Turk organization was established in the Royal Medical Academy, which originally called itself the Ottoman Union Committee. After protracted negotiations between the original founders and Ahmed Rıza (1859–1930), who led the Young Turk movement intermittently between 1895 and 1908, the name was changed to the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress. This new title reflected the staunch positivism of Ahmed Rıza, who had unsuccessfully proposed naming the group "Order and Progress," after the famous aphorism of philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857). This committee, which remained the most important Young Turk organization until the end of the movement, was a loose umbrella organization until 1902. While some branches supported the gradual reform program of the positivists, others advocated revolution; still others were dominated by the ulema, the Muslim learned establishment.

In 1902, a schism developed in Paris at the First Congress of Ottoman Opposition Parties. The majority party, led by the sultan's brother-in-law Mahmud Celâleddin Pasha and his two sons Sabahaddin and Lûtfullah Beys, allied itself with Armenian and Albanian committees. They promoted the idea of a coup with British assistance. This willingness to work with foreign powers sparked the opposition of the minority party, under the leadership of Ahmed Rıza. It adopted a Turkist policy, demanding a leadership role for Turks, and categorically rejecting any foreign intervention in Ottoman politics. The majority party reorganized itself in 1905 under Sabahaddin Bey's leadership; in that year Sabahaddin Bey also founded the League of Private Initiative and Decentralization, and he worked toward creating a mutual understanding with the non-Muslim organizations. Also in 1905, the minority party, under the leadership of Bahaeddin S̜akir, reorganized itself under the new name, the Ottoman Committee of Progress and Union. In 1907 this new organization merged with the Ottoman Freedom Society, which had been established by army officers and bureaucrats in Salonica in 1906. From this point on, the Young Turk movement spread deeply among the Ottoman officer corps in European Turkey. In July 1908, the Ottoman Committee of Progress and Union carried out the Constitutional Revolution, which marked both the end of Abdul-Hamid II's regime and the Young Turk movement. Some European historians call the new administration "the Young Turk government." This usage is misleading, because actually both regime and opposition after 1908 came from former Young Turks.

Because all members of organizations dominated by the Muslim opponents of the sultan and their sympathizers in the empire were called Young Turks, this phrase does not necessarily refer to individuals who shared similar ideas. For instance, ulema and ardent positivists worked together in various Young Turk organizations as members. In the early stages of the movement, many Young Turks, including the original founders of the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress, were adherents of mid-nineteenth-century German materialism and admirers of Ludwig Büchner (1824–1899). Social Darwinism also deeply influenced many Young Turks. Positivism, too, was advanced by various Young Turk leaders, and the French organ of the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress used the positivist calendar for a while. Interestingly, French social scientist Gustave Le Bon (1841–1931) and his theories on crowd psychology made a strong impact on almost all members of the movement. Le Bon's ideas shaped the elitism promoted by the Young Turks. For their part, Sabahaddin Bey and his followers were deeply influenced by the Science sociale movement, particularly by Edmond Demolins (1852–1907). (The Science sociale movement aimed at turning social research into a branch of science through scientific research and creating a truly scientific method of study and analysis of social phenomena.) Following the reorganization of the Ottoman Committee of Progress and Union, these ideas receded to the background. Practical political ideas took their place. For instance, a proto-nationalism emerged. It stressed a dominant role for ethnic Turks in the empire, while resisting European economic penetration and political intervention in the Ottoman Empire.

See alsoNationalism; Ottoman Empire.


Hanioğlu, M. S̜ükrü. The Young Turks in Opposition. New York, 1995.

——. Preparation for a Revolution: The Young Turks, 1902–1908. New York, 2001.

Petrosian, Iu. A. Mladoturetskoe dvizhenie: vtoraia polovina XIX-nachalo XX v. Moscow, 1971.

M. ŞÜkrÜ HanioĞlu

Young Turks

views updated May 18 2018

Young Turks Group of Turks who wished to remodel the Ottoman Empire and make it a modern European state with a liberal constitution. Their movement began in the 1880s with unrest in the army and universities. In 1908, a Young Turk rising, led by Enver Pasha and his chief of staff Mustata Kemal (Atatürk), deposed Sultan Abdul Hamid II and replaced him with his brother, Muhammad V. Following a 1913 coup d'etat, Enver Pasha became a virtual dictator. Under Atatürk, the Young Turks merged into the Turkish Nationalist Party.

Young Turk

views updated May 23 2018

Young Turk • n. a member of a revolutionary party in the Ottoman Empire who carried out the revolution of 1908. ∎  a young person eager for radical change to the established order.