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Committee for Union and Progress

COMMITTEE FOR UNION AND PROGRESS

the principal young turk organization that left its mark on the politics of the ottoman state from the 1890s to 1918.

The Turkish name translates literally as the "Society for Union and Progress," although reference to it as komite is common in its conspiratorial phases. Its members are referred to as unionists. Its precursor was the Ottoman Union Society, a secret circle of liberal-minded students in the imperial military medical school in Constantinople (now Istanbul) who aspired to overthrow the autocratic regime of Sultan Abdülhamit II. The founders were Ibrahim Temo (Albanian); İshak Sükuti and Abdullah Cevdet (both Kurds); and Mehmet Reşid (Circassian). Despite its clandestine organization modeled along the Italian Carbonari, Abdülhamit's police discovered and suppressed the society as its cell spread among higher schools in Constantinople.

After 1895, the society established contact with Ottoman liberals in European exile. Its name changed to Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) under the influence of positivist Ahmet Riza, who became the president of the first European branch of the committee and represented the centralist camp in the Young Turk movement abroad. The first issue of Riza's Meşveret on 3 December 1895 publicized the CUP's program. The internal and external branches of the CUP differed on the appropriateness of use of force against the regime. Over this issue, the gradualist Ahmet Riza forfeited his leadership temporarily to Murat Bey (Mehmet Murat), a revolutionist exile from the Constantinople organization. After two unsuccessful coup attempts in 1896 and 1897, the domestic leadership, which now included high officials and officers, was imprisoned. In Europe, rivalries between Young Turk groups and within the branches weakened the committee.


After 1906, underground revolutionary activity intensified in the empire, particularly in Macedonia. Two groups, Patrie and Liberty and the Ottoman Liberty Society, merged in Salonika and contacted Ahmet Riza, who had reorganized with Bahattin Şakir the exile community under the name Progress and Union. The Macedonian and the external branches agreed to cooperate under the more familiar name of Committee for Union and Progress around the revised program of forcing Abdülhamit to submit to constitutionalist demands. The leadership of the domestic branch used the organizational tactics of Macedonian nationalist committees, masonic lodges, and Sufi brotherhoods to expand membership. Committee army officers had ready access to arms and disaffected men, whom they led in July 1908 to rebellious acts that triggered the revolutionary wave.


The 1908 revolution brought an end to the secrecy of the CUP. Its central committee, however, dominated by ethnic Turks and still in Salonika, remained exclusive and its proceedings clandestine. The administrative inexperience and social insecurity of its leaders (among them civilians Mehmet Talat, Bahattin Şakir, Midhat Şükrü; and officers Cemal Paça and Enver Paşa) kept the committee from taking charge of the government. After securing a decisive majority of approved candidates in parliament, the CUP established a parliamentary group. It redefined itself as a political party only in 1913. The headquarters of the committee moved to Constantinople at this juncture, and decision making was broadened with the institution of a general assembly next to the central committee.

The society exercised more direct control over government after the counterrevolutionary attempt of April 1909 by placing its men in key cabinet positions. Its main objective was to unify all ethnic and religious groups around an Ottomanist allegiance. The CUP cultivated friendly relations with the great powers, while seeking the abolition of the capitulations. The centralist policies it imposed in the name of preserving the territorial integrity of the empire at a time when large territories were breaking away, strengthened the CUP's decentralist rivals. Its manipulation of the 1912 elections through its control over the state machinery gave the society a Pyrrhic victory. It was forced to give up power to the leaders of the old regime in 1912.


Alarmed by losses in the Balkan War and fearful of the government's suppression of their clubs, the unionists carried out a coup on 23 January 1913, to topple Kamil Paşa and replace him with Mahmut Şevket Paşa. The assassination of Mahmut Şevket later in 1913 gave the excuse to the society to crush its opposition and come to uncontested power. Wartime emergency after 1914 facilitated the establishment of single-party rule. The disastrous outcome of World War I discredited the unionist leadership. In November 1918, as the three strongmenTalat, Enver, and Cemalfled abroad, the Committee for Union and Progress dissolved itself.


Both as society and party, the Union and Progress had a diverse membership and grassroots political organization. Its clubs sponsored cultural and educational activities. It coopted the notables in the countryside, even though the latter did not always favor its policies. Its constituency included the officialdom, army officers, workers, and younger professionals and small merchants (especially in the Turkish provinces).

see also abdÜlhamit ii; ahmet riza; balkan wars (19121913); capitulations; cemal paŞa; cevdet, abdullah; enver paŞa; kamil, kibrish mehmet; Şevket, mahmut; talat, mehmet; young turks.


Bibliography

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

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