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“If the Empire were to continue to exist, a new understanding of its problems and fresh solutions would have to be found.”—Norman Itzkowitz in Ottoman Empire and Islamic Tradition, p. 108 quoted in Kevin Goodman’s “The Tanzimat and the Problem of Political Authority.”
The above statement is made against the historical backdrop after the Ottoman Empire signed a “peace treaty” that ended a “six-year war, 1768-1774” with Russia, which was referred to as the Treaty of Kuchuck Kainardji (Goodwin 2). This represented a final blow in a “series of defeats” that took place in the eighteenth century by European countries (Goodwin 2). By the close of the eighteenth century, Europe no longer feared the Ottoman Empire. When the nineteenth century arrived, the bureaucratic class sought the need to improve the status of the Empire. As a result, the elite sought the need to use the Tanzimat (which is a “series of legal and administrative reforms” that were put in place in the period of “1839 to 1876”) to achieve this. However, it should be noted that some historians posit that the Tanzimat was not successful in perpetuating the Ottoman Empire, while others argue that its implementation prolonged its collapse. In fact, it can be argued that although the Arabians, for the most part, responded negatively to the changes and this led to the eventual collapse of the empire, the Ottoman reforms during the period of 1839-1876 represented attempts by the elite to align itself with adopted global practices of governance. Furthermore, there is evidence that suggests that the reforms were helpful in advancing the intentions of the bureaucracy to modernize the Ottoman Empire for a period of time as the elite attempted to implement changes in all sectors of society including education.
According to Stanford Shaw’s article, “The Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Tax Reforms and Revenue Systems,” the elite classes during the Tanzimat period were successful in implementing key tax reforms. For instance, Shaw mentioned that the tax reforms during this period were instrumental in moving the burden of taxation from real estate to wealth located in the urban areas. Furthermore, it replaced traditional methods of tax collection that collected taxes from “households and land plots” irrespective of household members’ ability to pay (421). In addition, the tax reforms helped to abolish a significant number of the “historic exemptions” that were given over hundreds of years (Shaw 421). These tax changes are significant because they were important in funding or refinancing other reforms, such as educational reforms. As would be explained, the educational reforms played a significant role in the Tanzimat period.
Emine Evered in “Empire and Education under the Ottomans: Politics, Reform and Resistance from the Tanzimat to the Young Turks,” explains that the bureaucratic classes in the Ottoman Empire believed that education was necessary in facilitating the industrialization process so that the “Ottoman economy” could “compete effectively both internationally and at home” (5). In addition, education was also necessary for instilling important values, such as loyalty to the Ottoman Empire, and to suppress any form of dissension or “unrest” (Evered 6). In fact, educational policies during the Tanzimat period were crucial in not only allowing the Ottoman Empire to achieve its modernizing objectives, but these were also important in promoting the elite’s “citizenship- and nation-building” initiatives as well (Evered 6). The style of governance during the Tanzimat sought to take care of “‘welfare of the population” and “‘the improvement of its conditions’” (Evered 6). This style of governance allowed the elite of the Ottoman Empire to take wide-sweeping approaching in its implementation of reforms in “education, health, and other social realms” (Evered 6). Nevertheless, it should be noted that some “traditional elements” still played a significant role when the Empire instituted the mektebs and medreses, for instance (Evered 8).
Additionally, it should be recognized that the implementation of strategic reforms during the Tanzimat not only affected the social domains of the Ottoman Empire, but also sought to secure important civil liberties for its citizens. For instance, Anthony Black mentioned in History of Islamic Political Thought: From the Prophet to the Present that the Tanzimat edict of 1839 indicated that there must be “‘guarantees insuring to our subjects perfect security for life, honor, and fortune’” (qtd. in Black 283). Sultan Abdulmecit I in 1846 noted further that since his subjects were “‘living all in the same country under the same government’” it is “‘wrong’” to make discriminations amongst themselves (qtd. in Black 283). There was a stronger decree delivered in 1856 that stated “all subjects” of the Sultan’s empire “without distinction of nationality [or religion], shall be admissible to public employment” (Black 284). These decrees meant that not only did not only secure the civil liberties of the subjects of the Ottoman Empire, but they also ensure that there was freedom from religious discrimination.
Moreover, the Ottoman Constitution created in 1876 took further steps in safeguarding the civil liberties of the subjects of the Ottoman Empire. For example, Article 10 of the constitution states that “[i]ndividual liberty is absolutely inviolable” (par. 16) and “all Ottomans enjoy individual liberty on condition of not attacking the liberty of other people” (par. 14). In addition, the Constitution of 1876 states that “[a]ll the subjects of the Empire are without distinction called Ottomans no matter what religion they profess” (par. 12). Therefore, along with the decrees proclaimed by the Sultans, the Ottoman Empire ensured that its subjects were free from religious discrimination.
On the other hand, Stanwood Cobb in his article, “The Difficulties of the Young Turk Party,” contends that the Constitution of 1876 “weakened” the Ottoman Empire rather than strengthen it (103). Despite their attempts at implementing “many reforms,” the subjects of the Ottoman Empire still had a desire to independent from it, and resisted any attempts at unification (Cobb 103). “Macedonia,” “Albania,” and “Arabia” are three examples of the states that did not want to remain a part of the Ottoman Empire (Cobb 103). Cobb argues that the “heterogeneous composition” of the Young Turks’ Empire made it difficult for them to control it (Cobb 104). Cobb acknowledged that although the Turks were gifted at conquering territory they were unsuccessful in ruling. The scholar noted that the Turks were different from the Russians, in that, although each controlled a vast territory, the Russians were able to forge out a “coherent Empire,” while the Turks had a difficult time doing so (Cobb 104). Despite the fact that much of the Turkish Empire still exists today has it did centuries ago, but by “force of arms” rather than “constitutional proclamations” (Cobb 104). Additionally, Cobb acknowledged the fact that there would be no “constitutional freedom in an Ottoman Empire” that is only “one-third Ottoman” and the remaining members of the Empire had no desire to remain a part of the Empire but desired “complete separation and autonomy” (Cobb 104). It was because of this, the Young Turks had to resort to trickery to gain the “upper hand” when winning seats in the Parliament, for instance (Cobb 104). However, it should be recognized that after the Parliament came into existence, it had “no real power” since it alienated many ethnic groups within the Empire, such as the “Greeks, Armenians, Arabs, and Albanians” (Cobb 104). Cobb indicates that the Young Turks Party that the only measures that could have been passed in the Parliament are those that had the “sanction of the Committee of Union and Progress” that “held its seat” in Salonica rather than Constantinople (Cobb 105). This was done for reasons pertaining to safety. However, this was proved to be ineffective since the Young Turks had to rule from this “military throne,” which was awkwardly positioned away from the “capital city” and the rest of the Empire (Cobb 105). The Young Turks Party had to the bidding of the Committee while defending their actions before “Parliament and the people” (Cobb 105). This meant that they were “puppets,” but despite being “puppets,” the Young Turks still had an “appearance of power” (Cobb 105).
Additionally, it should be noted that the Young Turks made some mistakes in governance that caused members of the Ottoman Empire to either be frustrated, angry, or lead them to revolt. For example, the Young Turks made it mandatory to learn the Turkish language and placed it as a national language. They also ensured that there was “no promotion in government service” without one knowing how to speak the language (Cobb 105). This was required of the Greeks and Albanians. Furthermore, “[t]axes and a stronger rule” were imposed on the Arabians, which caused them to revolt (Cobb 105).
In conclusion, although the Ottoman Empire, with the help of the Young Turks, sought to align itself with the governance styles practiced by the European countries during the nineteenth century, it was not successful in doing so. The Turks had a difficult time ruling an empire that covered a wide geographical region. This was mainly due to the fact that a majority of the population was not Turkish; and, as a result, it was difficult for them to implement certain measures as emphasized by specific Sultan decrees and constitutional provisions. Furthermore, many of the states that were a part of the Ottoman Empire desired to rule themselves independently from the elite of the Ottoman Empire.
Black, Antony. The History of Islamic Political Thought: From the Prophet to the Present. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburg UP, 2011. Print.
Cobb, Stanwood. “The Difficulties of the Young Turk Party.” The North American Review 195.674 (1912): 103-07. Print.
Evered, Emine. “Empire and Education under the Ottomans: Politics, Reform and Resistance from the Tanzimat to the Young Turks.” History of Education 44.5 (2015): 668-71. Print.
“Full Text of "The Ottoman Constitution, Promulgated the 7th Zilbridje, 1293 (11/23 December, 1876)"" Full Text of "The Ottoman Constitution, Promulgated the 7th Zilbridje, 1293 (11/23 December, 1876)" JSTOR. Web. 09 Jan. 2016. <https://archive.org/stream/jstor-2212668/2212668_djvu.txt>.
Goodwin, Kevin, "The Tanzimat and the Problem of Political Authority in the Ottoman Empire: 1839-1876" (2006). Honors Projects Overview. Paper 5.<http://digitalcommons.ric.edu/honors_projects/5>
Shaw, Stanford J. “The Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Tax Reforms and Revenue System.” International Journal of Middle East Studies Int. J. Middle East Stud. 6.04 (1975): 421-59. Print.