Tanzimat: Wikis


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The Tanzimat (Ottoman Turkish: تنظيمات), meaning reorganization of the Ottoman Empire, was a period of reformation that began in 1839 and ended with the First Constitutional Era in 1876. The Tanzimat reform era was characterized by various attempts to modernize the Ottoman Empire, to secure its territorial integrity against nationalist movements and aggressive powers. The reforms encouraged Ottomanism among the diverse ethnic groups of the Empire, attempting to stem the tide of nationalist movements within the Ottoman Empire. The reforms attempted to integrate non-Muslims and non-Turks more thoroughly into Ottoman society by enhancing their civil liberties and granting them equality throughout the Empire.



Tanzimat emerged from the minds of reformist sultans like Mahmud II and Abdülmecid I as well as prominent reformers who were European educated bureaucrats, such as Âli Pasha, Fuad Pasha, Ahmet Cevdet Pasha, and Midhat Pasha. They recognized that the old religious and military institutions no longer met the needs of the empire in the modern world. Most of the symbolic changes, such as uniforms, were aimed at changing the mindset of imperial administrators. Many of the reforms were attempts to adopt successful European practices. Changes included universal conscription; educational, institutional and legal reforms; and systematic attempts at eliminating corruption. Tanzimat included the policy of “Ottomanism,” which was meant to unite all of the different peoples living in Ottoman territories, “Muslim and non-Muslim, Turkish and Greek, Armenian and Jewish, Kurd and Arab”. This policy officially began with the Imperial Rescript of the Rose Chamber of 1839, declaring equality before the law for both Muslim and non-Muslim Ottomans.[1]


The ambitious project was launched to combat the slow decline of the empire that had seen its borders shrink, and was growing weaker in comparison to the European powers. By getting rid of the millet system, the Ottoman Empire hoped to be able to control all of its citizens. They thought that the Great Powers would accept this as long as reforms were ongoing, leaving them to act as enforcers of these goals.


Tanzimat reforms began under Sultan Mahmud II. On November 3, 1839, Sultan Abdülmecid issued an organic statute for the general government of the empire named the Hatt-ı Şerif of Gülhane (the imperial garden where it was first proclaimed). It is also called the Tanzimat Fermanı. In this very important document, the Sultan stated that he wished "to bring the benefits of a good administration to the provinces of the Ottoman Empire through new institutions", and that these institutions would principally refer to:

  • guarantees to ensure the Ottoman subjects perfect security for their lives, honour, and property
  • introduction of the first Ottoman paper banknotes (1840)
  • reorganization of the army and a regular method of recruiting, levying the army, and fixing the duration of military service (1843–44)
  • adoption of an Ottoman national anthem and Ottoman national flag (1844)
  • reorganization of the finance system according to the French model
  • reorganization of the Civil and Criminal Code according to the French model
  • establishment of the Meclis−i Maarif−i Umumiye (1845), the prototype of the First Ottoman Parliament (1876)
  • institution of a council of public instruction (1846)
  • establishment of the first modern universities and academies (1848)
  • abolition of the capitation tax on non−Muslims, with a regular method of establishing and collecting taxes (1856)
  • non−Muslims were allowed to become soldiers (1856)
  • various provisions for the better administration of the public service and advancement of commerce
  • The establishment of railroads
  • Replacement of guilds with factories
  • the first Stock Exchange in Istanbul was established (1866)

The edict was followed up with the Hatt-ı Hümayun of 1856 (called Islahat meaning improvement) which promised full legal equality for citizens of all religions, and the Nationality Law of 1869 that created a common Ottoman citizenship irrespective of religious or ethnic divisions.

Rescript of the Rose Chamber of 1839:

The Rescript of the Rose Chamber was the first major reform in the Tanzimat reforms under the government of sultan Abdulmecid and a crucial event in the movement towards secularization. It abolished tax farming. It also created salaried tax collectors with a bureaucratic system. This reflects the centralizing affects of the Tanzimat reforms. Additionally, the Rescript of the Rose Chamber forced military conscription on districts based on their population size. Furthermore, it guaranteed the life and property for all subjects, including non Muslims. This put an end to the kul system, which allowed the ruler’s servants to be executed or have their property confiscated at his desire.

The most significant clause of the Rose Chamber is that it enforced the rule of law all for all, including non-Muslims. Non-Muslims in the Empire had many grievances and were treated as second class citizens and exploited by corrupt officials. These reforms sought to establish legal and social equality for all Ottoman citizens. The reforms eliminated the millet system in the Ottoman Empire. The millet system created religiously based communities that operated autonomously, so people were organized into societies, on often received privileges, based on the church they followed. This clause terminated the privileges of these communities and constructed a society where all followed the same law.

The new reforms called for an almost complete reconstruction of public life in the Ottoman Empire. Under the reconstruction, a system of state schools was established to produce government clerics. Ottomans were encouraged to enroll. Each province was organized so that each governor would have an advisory council and specified duties in order to better serve the territory. The new reforms also called for a modern financial system with a central bank, treasury bonds and a decimal currency. Lastly, the reforms implemented the expansion of roads, canals and rail lines for better communication and transportation.

The Rescript of the Rose Chamber also represented a move towards Westernization. It mirrored the liberal ideals of the French Revolution, which glorified humanity and individual rights. The Rescript was imagined as the savior of the Ottoman Empire by imposing “modernizing” and nationalizing forces. European powers were asked to oversee its enforcement in case the sultan reneged. This move towards western ideals was also an effort to keep Europe out of the Ottoman Empire. By conforming to their standards the Ottoman Empire hoped to appease Europe enough to keep them out of Ottoman affairs and avoid European control.

But the reaction to the Rescript was not entirely positive. Christians in the Balkans refused to support the reforms because they wanted an autonomy that became more difficult to achieve under centralized power. In fact, its adoption spurred some provinces to seek independence by rebelling. It took strong British backing in maintaining Ottoman territory to ensure that the reforms were instated. Associations such as the Muslim Brotherhood arose, that dissented from the loss of cultural traditions and religion in society. Although the Rescript of the Rose Chamber and the Tanzimat provided strong guidelines for society, it was not a constitution. It did not replace the authority of the sultan.


Turkish post card from 1895 about the Kanûn-ı Esâsî of November 23, 1876, with the sultan Abdülhamid II, the Grand Vizier, the millets and Turkey receiving freedom; the flying angel show the motto: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

Overall, Tanzimat reforms had far-reaching effects. Those educated in the schools established during the Tanzimat period included Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and other progressive leaders and thinkers of the Republic of Turkey and of many other former Ottoman states in the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa. The system was ultimately undone by negotiations with the Great Powers following the Crimean War. As part of the Charter of 1856, European powers demanded a much stronger sovereignty for ethnic communities within the empire, differing from the Ottomans who envisioned equality meaning identical treatment under the law for all citizens. This served to strengthen the Christan middle class, increasing their economic and political power. Muslims, on the other hand, received none of these benefits and were ultimately left worse off by the reforms. This led to anti-Western sentiment in a radicalized population, evidenced by the rise of groups like the Young Ottomans.

The reforms peaked in 1876 with the implementation of an Ottoman constitution checking the autocratic powers of the Sultan. The details of this period are covered under the First Constitutional Era. While the new Sultan Abdülhamid II signed the first constitution, he quickly turned against it.

State institutions were reorganized; laws were updated according to the needs of the changing world; modern education, clothing, architecture, arts, and lifestyle were encouraged.

Religious Freedom-The Reform Edict of 1856 was intended to carry out the promises of the Tanzimat. The Edict is very specific about the status of non-Muslims, making it possible “to see it as the outcome of a period of religious restlessness that followed the Edict of 1839.” Officially, part of Tanzimat was to make the state intolerable to forced conversion to Islam, and the execution of apostates from Islam was made illegal. Despite the official position of the state in the midst of Tanzimat reforms, this toleration of non-Muslims seems to have been seriously curtailed, at least until the Reform Edict of 1856. In fact, there was constant pressure on non-Muslims to convert to Islam, and the danger of execution for apostates remained real. Thus, Tanzimat, at least at first, failed to actively promote freedom to practice one’s religion without harassment. In fact, for the “Ottoman ruling elite, ‘freedom of religion’ meant ‘freedom to defend their religion.’”[2]

In Lebanon, the Tanzimat reforms were intended to return to the tradition of equality for all subjects before the law. However, the Sublime Porte assumed that the underlying hierarchical social order would remain unchanged. Instead, the upheavals of reform would allow for different understandings of the goals of Tanzimat. The elites in Mount Lebanon, in fact, interpreted the Tanzimat far differently from one another. As a result, “European and Ottoman officials engaged in a contest to win the loyalty of the local inhabitants-the French by claiming to protect the Maronites, the British, the Druze, and the Ottomans by proclaiming the sultan’s benevolence toward all his religiously equal subjects.”[3]

In Palestine, land reforms, and especially the change in land ownership structure via the Ottoman Land Law of 1858, allowed Russian Jews to buy land in Palestine, thus enabling them to immigrate there under the first Aliya. In order to boost its tax base, the Ottomans required Arabs in Palestine, as elsewhere, to register their lands for the first time. Since many fellahin wished to avoid paying taxes to the ailing regime, and furthermore were unable to write, many a local mukhtar were able to collectively register village lands under their own name. Thus, they were able to later claim ownership and to sell the local peasants' lands out from under their feet to the new Jewish immigrants, as they themselves relocated permanently to Syria or Turkey.[4]

In Armenia, the Armenian National Constitution (Turkish: "Nizâmnâme−i Millet−i Ermeniyân") of 1863 was approved by the Ottoman government. The "Code of Regulations" consisted of 150 articles which were drafted by the Armenian intelligentsia and defined the powers of the Armenian Patriarch under the Ottoman Millet System and the newly formed "Armenian National Assembly".[5]


  1. ^ The Invention of Tradition as Public Image in the Late Ottoman Empire, 1808 to 1908, Selim Deringil, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Jan., 1993), pp. 3-29
  2. ^ There Is No Compulsion in Religion": On Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire: 1839-18... more, Selim Deringil, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 547-575
  3. ^ Corrupting the Sublime Sultanate: The Revolt of Tanyus Shahin in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon, Ussama Makdisi, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 180-208
  4. ^ Gershon Shafir, Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 1882-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  5. ^ Richard G. (EDT) Hovannisian "The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times" p. 198.oo

See also


  • Edward Shepherd Creasy, History of Ottoman Turks; From the beginning of their empire to the present time, London, Richard Bentley (1854); (1878).
  • LAFI (Nora), Une ville du Maghreb entre ancien régime et réformes ottomanes. Genèse des institutions municipales à Tripoli de Barbarie (1795–1911), Paris: L'Harmattan, (2002).
  • LAFI (Nora), Municipalités méditerranéennes. Les réformes municipales ottomanes au miroir d'une histoire comparée, Berlin: K. Schwarz, (2005).

Further reading

  • Gelvin, James L. (2008). The Modern Middle East: A History (Second Edition ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-532759-5.  


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