World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Ottomanism and notions of the Empire on the verge of its collapse (356) - Panel

· Date: THU 22, 2.30-4.30 pm

· Institution: Bogazici University - Istanbul (Turkey)

· Organizer: Vangelis Kechriotis

· Language: Ottomanism and notions of the Empire on the verge of its collapse

· Description: The contested character of Ottomanism as an ideology that preoccupied friends and foes has been one of the most debated aspects of the late Ottoman period. Especially, after 1908, with the restoration of the constitution, the re-emergence of the Ottomanist project, the effort, in other words to create a common identity among the different ethno-religious elements of the Empire, by way of providing equal rights of citizenship, was greeted with enthusiasm domestically and abroad. Yet, it soon became clear that, for a large part of the Muslim bureaucratic an military elite, Ottomanism was envisaged as a dynamic process of creating a new nation, dominated by and large by the Turkish element, while for most of the other ethno-religious groups, it entailed a necessary compromise, a solidarity based on political unity which would definitely not affect the cultural and ethnic specificities of the diverse populations.
One debate is related to the way that the term was used by the Ottoman officialdom, mainly the Young Turks who were in power. Thus, Zafer Toprak, for instance, has argued that, since Ottomanism is the term used in all official documents in the Empire until its eventual collapse in 1918, we are not allowed to assume that the hidden agenda of the bureaucracy was to promote Turkism. Şukru Hanioglu, on the other hand, has claimed that Turkish nationalism was already a well-established ideology among the Unionist circles even before 1908.
Whatever the case, during these volatile years, members of almost every ethno-religious community, journalists, scholars or professionals engaged whole-heartedly in the political struggle that seemed to be opening new avenues for cooperation among the elites at least of these communities and sincere adhered to safeguarding the integrity of the Empire. Interestingly enough, many of these individuals, who had already emerged as prominent figures within their particular communities, were going to play an important role in the post-Ottoman period in new contexts dominated by their respective national aspirations. Hence, in the new conjuncture, they needed to re-evaluate and reformulate their earlier contribution to the Ottomanist ideal, so that they could conveniently justify their position as a matter of necessity rather than genuine adherence.
The purpose of the panel will be to discuss and reflect on such individuals that derive from four different communities, Greek-Orthodox, Jewish, Armenian, Süryani and Muslim Arab, by inviting scholars who have thoroughly studied the respective cases. The approach we encourage the panelists to follow engage the use of biography, a way of narrating the past that has recently remerged and has agreeably contributed in highlighting not only the role of individuals in the making of history, as the traditional use of biography had it, but, by turning the table around, by introducing subjectivity and tracing the way that broader developments are experienced by still rather prominent individuals. In the context of the studies on this particular period, this approach has already successfully been employed in a research project that was launched at a meeting organized recently at the University of Zürich by Prof. Hans-Lukas Kieser, who has, as a matter of fact, be invited as a chair to the prospective panel.

Chair: Prof. Hans-Lukas Kieser (University of Zürich)

Paper Presenter: Vangelis Kechriotis (Bogazici University - Istanbul), “A Cappadocian in Athens, an Athenian in Istanbul and a parliamentary for Izmir/Smyrna: the multiple personae and loyalties of Pavlos Carolidis “

Pavlos Carolidis was born in Endürlük (Andronikio), near Kayseri (Kesaria), in Cappadocia, in 1849. He spent his school years in Izmir, studying at the ‘Evangelical school’ (Ευαγγελική Σχολή), from where he graduated in 1867. He then moved to Athens and studied History at the University there. He completed his studies in Tübingen, from where he graduated in 1872. He then taught for two years in Istanbul and, for the period 1875-86, he taught History and Latin at his alma mater, ‘Evangelical school’, in Izmir. Finally, in 1886, he was appointed professor of History at the University of Athens. In 1908, upon the restoration of the Ottoman constitution he was nominated and elected a parliamentary deputy. His origin from a Turcophone region of Cappadocia as well as his thorough knowledge of Ottoman history and language played a role in his endorsing the ideology of Ottomanism and, together with a few other Greek-Orthodox parliamentarists turning against the directives of the Hellenic government and the pro-Hellenic circles in Istanbul and in Izmir. He was even elected on the CUP ticket in 1912, which cost him his position at the University of Athens, a position which he was supposed to resume after the end of his tenure at the Ottoman parliament. His political choices, eventually, made it impossible for him to securely settle in any of the cities that marked his life, Izmir, Athens or Istanbul. This paper aims at addressing the political and ideological trajectory of one of the most controversial figures of the period by making use of his personal archive, memoirs, his publications and the contemporary Greek- and Turkish press.

Paper Presenter: Michelle Campos (University of Florida), “Jews, Be Ottoman!”: The Struggle between Civic Ottomanism and Hebraism in the Yellin brothers of Jerusalem and Beirut”

Born and raised in the Old City of Jerusalem, the young Jewish lawyer by the name of Shlomo Yellin was the quintessential Levantine: he spoke Yiddish with his Polish father, Arabic with his Iraqi mother, Hebrew with his Zionist older brother, and Judeo-Spanish (Spanyolit) with his Sephardi Jewish neighbors, corresponded in English with the niece he later married, and wrote notes to himself in French. Yellin was also the perfect Ottoman gentleman: at the prestigious Galatasaray Imperial Lycée in Istanbul, he studied Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, and Persian language, literature, translation, and calligraphy; Ottoman and Islamic history; hygiene, math, science, philosophy, geography, and French literature. After a brief stint at a German university, Yellin graduated from the Ottoman Imperial Law Academy with certification in Islamic law (fiqh and evkaf), Ottoman civil (mecelle) and criminal law, and international commercial and maritime law. My paper explores the dynamic ‘civic Ottomanism’ of Shlomo Yellin, taking into account his vision of the Ottoman nation and the role of the Ottoman Jewish community in imperial revival. At the same time, both Shlomo and his elder brother David worked for the Zionist movement in Palestine, serving instrumental roles in land purchases, lobbying the local and central Ottoman government, and mediating with their Arab neighbors. Shlomo died prematurely in 1912 while traveling from the northern Galilean Zionist colonies to Beirut, but David, who was a member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council, continued to straddle his Ottomanist and Zionist commitments until the end of empire.

Paper Presenter: Kaïs Ezzerelli (University Paris 1- Sorbonne), “The Syrian intellectuals of the late Ottoman period, between Ottomanism and Arabism: the example of Muḥammad Kurd `Alī (1901-1918)”

This paper proposes to examine the role of Arabic Syrian scholars in promoting a decentralized form of Ottomanism, in the late Ottoman period, on the basis of a power-balance between the various communities which composed the Empire. It intends to study the particular vision developed by these intellectuals about the Ottoman nation, but also about their own Ottoman identity and the rights and duties of the Ottoman subjects. In order to be able to throw light upon the contradictions and the late reformulations of these notions of Ottomanism, it will adopt a diachronic perspective and a biographical approach. Therefore, I would like to explore this topic through the personality and intellectual commitments of Muḥammad Kurd `Alī (1876-1953), a Syrian publicist who led one of the most important Arabic press’ enterprise of the region during the Young-Turkish period: Al-Muqtabas (the Borrowed), which was altogether a publishing house, a monthly magazine and a daily newspaper close to the Arabic Renaissance Society in Damascus.

The primary sources of this study will mainly consist of Kurd `Alī’s articles and books published during the period which is under scrutiny, but also his famous Memoirs, Al-Muḏakkirāt, published from 1948, which present an original reconstruction of the relations between Turks and Arabs at the end of the Ottoman Empire. In order to emphasize Kurd `Alī’s example, I would like to introduce some points of comparison with other prominent intellectuals of his generation, like Šakīb Arslān and Muḥammad Rašīd Riḍā.

Paper Presenter: Ohannes Kılıçdağı (Bilgi University-Istanbul), “Ottomanism among the Anatolian Armenians after the 1908 revolution”
Ottomanism as the ideology and the policy that accepted all ethnically and religiously diverse communities of the empire as one Ottoman nation received great support and popularity after the 1908 Revolution. This revolution was a promise of a new democratic political and social life. Democracy as a regime has two prerequisites. One is the legal framework; the other is the existence of “peopleness” among the members of the nation. After the 1908 Revolution, there was a legal framework, a constitution. What lacked for democracy was the “peopleness”. Ottomanism was the ideology and the policy that was supposed to create this “peopleness”. Despite all efforts the Revolution could not save the empire from the final devastation. According to Turkish Muslim statesmen and intellectuals, writing both at that time and later, one of the main reasons of this failure was the lack of commitment of non-Turks and non-Muslim to this project. They have claimed that minorities, which they imagine as a monolithic homogeneous entity, followed their separatist aims. This article questions this claim and tries to detect one of non-Muslim groups’ attitudes toward Ottomansim, namely Armenians. While doing this it uses as primary sources the articles written by Anatolian Armenian intellectuals and professionals after the 1908 Revolution and published in two different provincial journals in Sivas (Hoghtar) and Harput (Yeprad). This paper, after describing the atmosphere and people’s psychology just after the 1908 (July) Revolution and the 1909 Adana (April) incidents through using the primary sources, aims at demonstrating that there were Armenian intellectuals who supported Ottomanism (and military service in the Ottoman army as its one of prerequisites) and tried to shape Armenian public opinion around it at those times. They imagined a common future with all other communities of the empire. They had very concrete proposals on how the different communities of the Empire could be bound. Although they did not name their project so, one can say that some examples of these proposals were based on the economic functionalism on the one hand, and on the public space theory on the other. While an Armenian intellectual was proposing the establishment of firms as economic partnerships between Turks, Armenians, and other groups another was claiming that the variety and volume of public space shared by all should have been increased in order to create an Ottoman nation.

Paper Presenter:Benjanin Trigona- Harany (independent scholar), “The two Awakenings of Naûm Fâik”

Naûm Fâik (born 1868, Diyarbakır) is remembered today as the leading Süryani intellectual, author and poet of the early twentieth century. However, the fact that he, like so many other non-Muslims, espoused Ottomanism is less known – or ignored – by his modern admirers. Less than two months after the 1908 revolution, Naûm Fâik established in Diyarbakır an association named İntibâh [the Awakening] to serve the Syriac Orthodox community as it awoke from the darkness of “its own ignorance”. The organisation quickly spread to other cities in the Ottoman Empire and the United States, with delegates attending a conference in Diyarbakır in 1910. The organisation’s constitution stated that its goals included strengthening the community and the community’s faith in Ottomanism through the establishment of educational institutions, newspapers and printing presses. Naûm Fâik was himself already teaching at the Süryani school in Diyarbakır and, in 1910, he established the influential Kevkeb Mednho, a trilingual Ottoman, Syriac and Arabic biweekly newspaper. Naûm Fâik was also involved as another Diyarbakır organisation, the Uhuvvet i Osmaniye Cemiyeti [Ottoman Fraternal Association], worked with İntibâh to bring together Muslims, Arabs, Armenians, Süryani, Chaldeans, Jews, Greeks and others to promote friendship, understanding and the development of the common Ottoman motherland.And yet, two years later Naûm Fâik set out with his family for Beirut, from where they sailed to New York. Naûm Fâik abandoned the empire, its constitution and the Ottomanist ideal for the Süryani emigrant communities of New Jersey. By 1916, as reports of massacres of Süryani reached the United States, Naûm Fâik’s new newspaper, Bethnahrin [Mesopotamia], was looking to a new future in which the Süryani would be emancipated from Ottoman rule. The old theme of an ‘awakening’ was not abandoned, however; instead, we find it recycled as a post-war call for the unity of different groups under an Assyrian identity. This paper seeks to examine how Naûm Fâik drifted from being an influential Ottomanist proponent in the Süryani to a supporter of Assyrian nationalism.