MESA Banner
Shifting Tides in Late Ottoman Times

Session XII-04, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • This article discusses the global and transnational features of the Afghan Constitutionalist (Mashrūtah) Movement, and their later interlocutor, Mahmud Tarzī, who reconfigured mulk (country, land, territory) into Vatan (fatherland), and qaum (people, political community, and later nation) into a millet (nation) via the Ottoman concept of Ittihad-i Islam (“Pan-Islamism”) in the early 20th century in Afghanistan. Ittihad-i Islam, as a form of modern nationalism, had promoted an interpretation of world politics that strengthened nationalistic awakening in the late Ottoman Empire and Afghanistan. In essence, it provided faith-based politics in order to imagine a modern nation, which was morally distinct from Europe, but at the same time, shared Europe’s civilizational features. The Afghan constitutionalism reflected corollaries of modern state-building in Afghanistan as well as the exposure of Afghans to transnational ideologies such as modern Islamism, constitutionalism, and nation-building at the age of modernism. While the Afghan Constitutionalist (Mashrūtah) Movement (ACM) have remained on the dark side of history, the role of Mahmud Tarzī, an Afghan reformer, politician, and intellectual, in the Afghan-Ottoman relationship in the beginning of the 20th century has been overemphasized by historians. However, there has been a strong continuity in the intellectual, political, and social relationship between these two countries since mid-19th century. Certain personalities played crucial roles as interlocutors. Thus, this article stresses Tarzī’s global and transnational works, including the genesis of his intellectual character as an important ramification of modernity’s invention of a “universal man”.
  • My paper argues that the Ottoman government institutionalized the Caliphate as a colonial institution in Yemen in the context of the early twentieth century interimperial borderland of the southern Red Sea region. The Ottoman presence in Yemen was akin to the European colonial administrations that became the strategically important in the context of new imperialism. From the second half of the nineteenth century to the onset of World War I in 1914, New Imperialism was an era of heightened imperialistic growth. Not only the older colonial powers of Western Europe, but also newcomers such as Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the United States, joined the fresh attempt to expand territorial control. Examining publications such as Sebîlü'r-Reşad, İçtihâd, and İslâm Mecmûası, I explore Ottoman Imperial policies and contemporaneous intellectual discourse about Yemen. I contextualize the Ottoman presence in Yemen in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as a new imperialism in the minds of the Istanbul-based intellectuals. I argue that the writings about Yemen published in the Istanbul press in the early twentieth century presented the Ottoman administration in Yemen as a colonial territory. I assert that the Istanbul-based intellectuals perceived the Ottoman caliphal authority in Yemen as a colonial administration akin to Italian and British colonies in the surrounding region. I discuss the primary sources from the perspective of the Cambridge school of intellectual history that probes the ideas’ political function in the historical context. I employ Ann Laura Stoler‘s imperial formation idea to integrate the nineteenth-century imperialist discourse into the Ottoman context. The imperial territories are determined by the legal definition of relevant territories. Lauren Benton states that colonial powers found reasons to create semiautonomous spaces that were legally and politically differentiated from more closely controlled colonial territories. The Da’an agreement, between the Ottoman imperial center and Imam Yahya in 1911, distorted the imperial Islam represented by the Sultan Caliphate in the Ottoman Yemeni territory. I discuss the Ottoman caliphate formation as an colonial institution based on the anomaly derived from the official entanglement of the Zaydi authority with the Ottoman Caliphate‘s legal territory. I argue that the Ottoman Caliphate‘s legal authority shaped the Ottoman core Islamic lands, and the formation of the Ottoman Caliphate as an colonial institution in terms of the anomalous legal territories in Yemen in terms of the entanglement of regional Zaydi sovereignty to the Ottoman Caliphate with the Da’an agreement.
  • This paper explores the historical moment in which the concept of a “national language” began to spread among Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. It does so by examining the establishment of educational associations aimed at changing the language practices of non-Armenophone Armenians in three parts of the Ottoman Empire: Aleppo, Kayseri and Diyarbekir. I argue that these associations were part of a cultural nationalist movement that gained momentum in urban centers beginning in the 1840s. It was in this ideological atmosphere that non-Armenian language practices began to be viewed as problematic, as they ran counter to the intelligentsia’s new conceptualization of an Armenian identity rooted primarily in language rather than in religion. Through an examination of the founding principles of the associations, I show how their leadership sought to introduce these communities to a new ethnolinguistic understanding of Armenian identity in an attempt to integrate them into a national community in the making. Relying on untapped Armenian-language printed materials, this paper shines a spotlight on the unexamined dynamics of Ottoman Armenian cultural nationalism and draws attention to the role of Armenification in the formation of an Ottoman Armenian national identity. Existing scholarship on Armenian nationalism has focused overwhelmingly on political nationalism and on the work of Armenian revolutionary parties in the final decades of the Ottoman period. Traveling deeper into the nineteenth century, this paper draws on the concept of cultural nationalism, an ideology devoid of overtly political aspirations that emphasizes the development of a national consciousness rather than a nation-state. With regard to Armenian identity formation, research has focused less on the construction of Armenian identity and much more on its erasure in the form of Turkification. Here, I look not at Turkification but Armenification, framing it within the rise of Armenian cultural nationalism. In particular, I show how the creation of an ethnolinguistic conception of Armenian identity prompted intellectuals to mobilize in hopes of changing the varied language practices of Armenians in the Empire, thereby, from their perspective, Armenifying them. This language-based process of Armenification entails writing back into history the notion that Ottoman Armenians were linguistically diverse, with many having little knowledge of any form of Armenian and using Turkish, Kurdish or Arabic as their primary or sole language. While Ottoman-era Armenian-language sources are replete with references to this linguistic heterogeneity, scholars have largely overlooked non-Armenophone Armenians or have misleadingly portrayed them as historically aberrant.
  • This paper will examine the worldview of the late Ottoman ulema regarding the concept of ittihâd-ı İslâm. As highlighted in the works of Ismail Kara, ittihâd-ı İslâm brought together two key concepts in late Ottoman thought: ittihâd – unity in the face of the many divisions and nationalisms that threatened the existence of the empire; and the idea of the transnational Islamic ümmet/millet under the umbrella of the caliphate. A considerable amount of Ottoman political and journalistic writing in the Second Constitutional Period (1908-1920) utilizes ittihâd-ı İslâm as a conceptual paradigm. However, existing secondary literature limits the notion of ittihâd-ı İslâm to the concept of “pan-Islamism”. The latter refers chiefly to: i) Sultan Abdülhamid II’s (r. 1878-1908) foreign policy towards Muslim subjects in largely colonial, non-Ottoman territories, ii) British fears of the unifying impact of such a policy in their colonial domains, particularly India. Due to its association with Hamidian policy, there is little work on the articulation of the thought-world of ittihâd-ı İslâm during the Second Constitutional Period. By surveying primary source literature in Ottoman Turkish and Arabic, chiefly writings of ulema such as şeyhülislam Mustafa Sabri Efendi (d. 1954), Zahid al-Kawthari (d. 1952), and the activist founder of the İttihâd-ı Muhammedî Cemiyeti (The Muhammedan Union), Derviş Vahdeti (d. 1909), the paper will attempt to present the thought-world of late Ottoman thinkers regarding ittihâd-i İslâm outside the restrictive prism of pan-Islamism as foreign policy.
  • This paper focuses on the late Ottoman intellectual world and explores the making of the historical discipline in the Ottoman Empire. The paper argues that this transformation was the consequence of a number of interrelated factors, such as the turbulent developments in late Ottoman politics, Ottoman(ist) efforts to forge a “national” historical master narrative after the 1908 Constitutional Revolution, and Ottoman historians’ engagement with European historical thought and writing. The paper primarily deals with the relationship between the politics and history in the late Ottoman context and surveys the changing political perceptions, and increasing public uses, of history in the Ottoman Empire from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Then, it focuses on the historiographical campaign that was fueled by the ideals of the 1908 Revolution and examines how the Ottomans established historical associations, history journals, archival organizations, and a history department at the university, all of which constitute the essential building blocks of modern historiography. Next, the paper concentrates on the changes in the Ottomans’ understanding of historiography in the 1910s and analyzes the ways in which they sought to turn the historian’s craft into a scientific mode of inquiry. Lastly, it concludes with a brief epilogue on peculiarities of the Ottoman case of professionalization of history and their impact on the evolution of historical scholarship in post-Ottoman Turkey.
  • After the foundation of the republic in 1923, Turkey inherited both the intellectual and institutional legacy of historical studies established in the late Ottoman period. A seeming milestone in converting Ottoman historical institutions to republican purposes came when the first professional historical association of the Ottoman realm, Tarih-i Osmani Encümeni (Ottoman Historical Society, founded in 1909), was renamed Türk Tarih Encümeni (Turkish Historical Society) in 1924. Yet although its name changed, Türk Tarih Encümeni retained Ottoman studies as its primary field of research until its abolition in 1931. Ironically, the society was abolished because of its exclusive focus on Ottoman history. Its place was taken that same year by the Turcocentric Türk Tarihi Tedkik Heyeti (Commission for the Study of Turkish History), later renamed Türk Tarih Kurumu (Turkish Historical Association). However, many members of the former Ottoman Historical Society joined the new historical association. It had also acquired the library collections of the former institution. The establishment of a formally identical institution with an agenda of dismantling the dominance of Ottoman history over the broader history of the Turks represented a shift in the republican mindset, but one that developed gradually and retained clear vestiges of the Ottoman institutional past. This paper explores the process of the transformation of the Ottoman Historical Society into the Turkish Historical Society. It delves further into the dichotomous nature of the early Turkish Republic’s repurposing of late Ottoman institutions. While the early Republican historians absorbed the positivist agenda of the late Ottoman historical institutions, which put the history writing into a broader global historiographical framework, they modified this agenda to provide a legitimate base for nationalist theses arguing that Turks are descendants of the first human civilizations and a homogeneous Aryan race. Ultimately this paper argues that the Republican institutions utilized these very agendas of the late Ottoman historical institutions in order to “de-Ottomanize” the history writing, meaning to sever the Republic’s relationship to its immediate Ottoman past.