Young Turks

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search

The Young Turks (Turkish: Jön Türkler (plural) or Turkish: Genç Türkler (plural), from French: Les Jeunes Turcs) were a secularist Turkish nationalist reform party in the early twentieth century, favoring reformation of the absolute monarchy of the Ottoman Empire. Officially known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP),[1] their leaders led a rebellion against Sultan Abdul Hamid II.[2] They ruled the former Ottoman empire from 1908 until the end of World War I in November 1918.[3]

Like other European revolutionary societies, such as the Carbonari of the Italian Risorgimento,[citation needed] the Young Turks had their origins in secret societies of "progressive medical university students and military cadets",[4] driven underground along with all political dissent after the Constitution was abolished by Hamid.[2] CUP favored a re-installation of the short-lived constitution of 1876,[2] written by progressive Midhat Pasha.[5] They established the second constitutional era in 1908 with what would become known as the Young Turk Revolution.[citation needed]

In 1913, as the government was losing the Second Balkan War,[6] Committee of Union and Progress seized power. The CUP-led government was headed by Minister of the Interior and Grand Vizier, Mehmed Talaat (1874–1921). Working with him were Minister of War, Ismail Enver (1881–1922) and Minister of the Navy, Ahmed Djemal Pasha (1872–1922). Until German archives were opened,[7] historians treated the Three Pashas' government as a "Dictatorial Triumvirate". Now it appears that the party was rent by internal disagreements and loosely headed by a large number of the party's Central Committee.[8]

The term "Young Turks" has since come to signify any groups or individuals inside an organization who seek prominence and power.[9]


Prominent Young Turks

The prominent leaders and ideologists included:


Congress of Ottoman Opposition

The first congress of the Ottoman opposition (1902) in Paris

The first congress of Ottoman Opposition was held on February 4, 1902, at 8 pm, at the house of Germain Antoin Lefevre-Pontalis. He was a member of the Institute France. The opposition was performed in compliance with the French government. It was closed to public. There were 47 delegates present. The Armenians wanted to have the conversations held in French, but other delegates rejected this proposition.[citation needed]

The Second congress of the Ottoman opposition took place in Paris, France in 1907. Opposition leaders including Ahmed Riza, Sabahheddin Bey, and Khachatur Maloumian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation were in attendance. The goal was to unite all the parties, including the CUP, in order to bring about the revolution. However, varying positions on issues such as nationalism made unity among the factions impossible.[citation needed]


The Young Turks became a truly organized movement with the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) as an organizational umbrella. They recruited individuals prepared to sacrifice themselves for the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. In 1906, the Ottoman Freedom Society (OFS) was established in Thessalonica by Mehmed Talaat. The OFS actively recruited members from the Third Army base, among them Major Ismail Enver. In September 1907, OFS announced they would be working with other organizations under the umbrella of CUP. In reality, the leadership of the OFS would exert significant control over the CUP.

The Young Turk Revolution

In 1908, the Macedonian Question was facing the Ottoman Empire. Tsar Nicholas II and Franz Joseph, who were both interested in the Balkans, started implementing policies, beginning in 1897, which brought on the last stages of the balkanization process. By 1903, there were discussions on establishing administrative control by Russian and Austrian advisory boards in the Macedonian provinces. The House of Osman was forced to accept this idea although for quite a while they were able to subvert its implementation. However, eventually, signs were showing this policy game coming to an end and on May 13, 1908, the leadership of the CUP, with the scale of its organization, having had increased their power to such a point, were able to say to the Sultan that the 'Dynasty will be in danger', if he were not to bring back the constitution. The Third Army in Macedonia on June 12, 1908 begins its march to the Palace and on July 24, 1908 the constitution is restored.

Constitutional Era

Declaration of the Constitution Muslim, Armenian, Greek leaders together[citation needed]

With the Committee of Union and Progress coming out of the election box the unity among the Young Turks that was originated from the Young Turk Revolution replaced itself with the realities of the Ottoman Empire. The details of the political events can be found under Second Constitutional Era, while the details of the military events can be found under Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

1914–1917 period: Armenian Genocide

The conflicts at the Caucasus Campaign, the Persian Campaign and the Gallipoli Campaign affected where the Armenian people lived in significant amounts. Before the declaration of war at the Armenian congress at Erzurum the Ottoman government requested from Ottoman Armenians to facilitate the conquest of Transcaucasia by inciting a rebellion with the Russian Armenians against the tsarist army in the event of an Caucasian Front.[50][51]

Jakob Künzler, head of a missionary hospital in Urfa, has documented the large scale ethnic cleansing of both Armenians and Kurds by the Young Turks during World War I.[11] He has given a detailed account of deportation of Armenians from Erzurum and Bitlis in winter of 1916. The Armenians were perceived to be subversive elements that would take the Russian side in the war. In order to eliminate this threat, Young Turks embarked on a large scale deportation of Armenians from the regions of Djabachdjur, Palu, Musch, Erzurum and Bitlis. Around 300,000 Armenians were forced to move southwards to Urfa and then westwards to Aintab and Marash. In the summer of 1917, Armenians were moved to the Konya region in central Anatolia. Through this measures, the Young Turk leaders aimed at eliminating the Armenians by deporting them from their ancestral lands and by dispersing them in small pockets of exiled communities. By the end of World War I, up to 1,200,000 Armenians were forcibly deported and almost half of the displaced perished.[12]

Around this period, the Young Turks relationship to the Armenian Genocide shifted. Early on, the Armenians had perceived the Young Turks as allies; and the beginnings of the Genocide, in the 1909 Adana Massacre, had been rooted in Ottoman backlash against the Young Turks. But during World War I, the Young Turks increasing nationalism began to lead them to participate in the Genocide. In 2005, the International Association of Genocide Scholars affirmed[13] that scholarly evidence revealed the "Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire began a systematic genocide of its Armenian citizens – an unarmed Christian minority population. More than a million Armenians were exterminated through direct killing, starvation, torture, and forced death marches." The IAGS also condemned Turkish attempts to deny the factual and moral reality of the Armenian Genocide.

World War I

On November 2, 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers. The Middle Eastern theatre of World War I became the scene of action. The combatants were the Ottoman Empire, with some assistance from the other Central Powers, and primarily the British and the Russians among the Allies of World War I. Rebuffed elsewhere by the major European powers, the Young Turks, through highly secret diplomatic negotiations, led the former Ottoman empire to ally itself with Germany. The Young Turks needed to modernize the Empire's communications and transportation networks (which still relied on camel caravans),[citation needed] without putting themselves in the hands of European bankers. Europeans already owned the country's only railroad system[citation needed] and since 1881 the administration of the defaulted Ottoman foreign debt had been in European hands. During the War, the Young Turk empire was "virtually an economic colony on the verge of total collapse".[4]

At the end of the War, with the collapse of Bulgaria and Germany's capitulation, Talaat and the CUP ministry resigned on October 13, 1918, and an armistice was signed aboard a British battleship in the Aegean sea.[citation needed] On November 2, Enver, Talaat and Djemal, along with their German allies, fled from Constantinople into exile.[citation needed]



The European public and many scholars commonly labeled the Young Turks as liberals.[dubious ] The Young Turks did adopt liberal ideas, and under the influence of the theories of Gustave Le Bon,[citation needed] they devalued parliaments as hazardous bodies.[vague]

Materialism and positivism

Another guiding principle for the Young Turks was the transformation of their society into one in which religion played no consequential role. In this ultra-secular and somewhat materialistic structure, science was to replace religion. However, the Young Turks soon recognized the difficulty of spreading this idea and began suggesting that Islam itself was materialistic. As compared with later efforts by Muslim intellectuals, such as the attempt to reconcile Islam and socialism, this was an extremely difficult endeavor. Although some former members of the CUP continued to make efforts in this field after the revolution of 1908, they were severely denounced by the Ulema, who accused them of "trying to change Islam into another form and create a new religion while calling it Islam".[14]

Positivism, with its claim of being a religion of science, deeply impressed the Young Turks, who believed it could be more easily reconciled with Islam than could popular materialistic theories. The name of the society, Union and Progress, is believed to be inspired by leading positivist Auguste Comte's motto Order and Progress. Positivism also served as a base for the desired strong government.[14]

Centralised government

During the late Ottoman Empire, all the intellectuals were state officials, and all Young Turks were on Empire payroll. Their participation in the government apparently had led them to value state. They were reluctant to approach theories against the state, such as Marxism or anarchism.

Another result of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution was the gradual creation of a new governing elite, which had consolidated and cemented its control over the Ottoman civil and military administration by 1913.

As empire-savers the Young Turks always viewed the problems confronting the Ottoman Empire from the standpoint of the state, placing little if any emphasis on the people's will. Thus the Young Turks' inclination toward authoritarian theories was by no means a coincidence. All the theories that the Young Turks developed and took particular interest in, such as biological materialism, positivism, Social Darwinism, and Gustave Le Bon's elitism, defended an enlightenment from above and opposed the idea of a supposed equality among fellow-citizens.[citation needed]


In regards to nationalism, the Young Turks underwent a gradual transformation. Beginning with the Tanzimat with ethnically non-Turkish members participating at the outset, the Young Turks embraced the official state ideology: Ottomanism. However, Ottoman patriotism failed to strike root during the first constitutional era and the following years. Many ethnically non-Turkish Ottoman intellectuals rejected the idea because of its exclusive use of Turkish symbols. Turkish nationalists gradually gained the upper hand in politics, and following the 1902 Congress, a stronger focus on nationalism developed. It was at this time that Ahmed Riza chose to replace the term "Ottoman" with "Turk". However, it was not until 1904 that nationalism came to be based on a scientific theory, and following the Japanese victory over Russia, the Young Turks began to base their nationalism on the pseudo-scientific race theories of Europe.[citation needed]

Aftermath and legacy

The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is quoted on the front page of the August 1, 1926 The Los Angeles Examiner as saying:

These left-overs from the former Young Turk Party, who should have been made to account for the millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse, from their homes and massacred, have been restive under the Republican rule ... They have hitherto lived on plunder, robbery and bribery and become inimical to any idea, or suggestion to enlist in useful labor and earn their living by the honest sweat of their brow ... Under the cloak of the opposition party, this element, who forced our country into the Great War against the will of the people, who caused the shedding of rivers of blood of the Turkish youth to satisfy the criminal ambition of Enver Pasha, has, in a cowardly fashion, intrigued against my life, as well as the lives of the members of my cabinet.

As to the fate of the Three Pashas, during Operation Nemesis, Soghomon Tehlirian, whose family was killed in the Armenian genocide, assassinated the exiled Talat in Berlin and was subsequently acquitted after a German jury.[1] Djemal was similarly killed by Stepan Dzaghikian, Bedros Der Boghosian and Ardashes Kevorkian for "crimes against humanity".[15] in Tbilisi, Georgia.[7] Enver was killed in fighting against the Red Army near Baldzhuan in Tajikistan (then Turkistan)[16]



  1. ^ a b Balakian, 143.
  2. ^ a b c Hanioğlu, 12.
  3. ^ Akçam, 48.
  4. ^ a b Demonian, 11.
  5. ^ Balakian, 136.
  6. ^ Akçam, 8.
  7. ^ a b Demonian, 101.
  8. ^ Akçam, 153.
  9. ^ Young Turks,
  10. ^ Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries[page needed]
  11. ^ Fisk,322.
  12. ^ Schaller, 8.
  13. ^ "Letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan"
  14. ^ a b M. Şükrü Hanioğlu. "The Political Ideas of the Young Turks"[page needed]
  15. ^ Demonian, 69.
  16. ^ Akçam, 353.


Akçam, Taner. A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility. (2006)

Balakian, Peter. The Burning Tigris: the Armenian Genocide and America's response. (2003)

Fisk, R. The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, Vintage. ISBN 978-1-4000-7517-1

Hanioğlu, M. Şükrü. The Young Turks in Opposition, Oxford University Press. (1995) ISBN 0-19-509115-9.

Demonian, Hripsimé. The Sick Men of Europe. Gyumri State Pedagogical Institute. (1996)

"Letter to Prime Minister Erdogan". Genocide Watch. June 13, 2005. Archived from the original on June 4, 2007. Retrieved June 30, 2007. 

Schaller, Dominik J. and Jürgen Zimmerer. Late Ottoman genocides: the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and Young Turkish population and extermination policies—introduction, Journal of Genocide Research, Vol.10, No.1, March 2008.

Suggested Reading

External links