Young Turks: Wikis


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The Young Turks (Turkish: Jön Türkler (plural), from French: Jeunes Turcs) were a coalition of various groups favoring reformation of the administration of the Ottoman Empire. The movement was against the monarchy of Ottoman Sultan and favored a re-installation of the shortlived Kanûn-ı Esâsî constitution. They established the second constitutional era in 1908 with what would become known as the Young Turk Revolution. The term Young Turks referred to the members of the Ottoman society who were progressive, modernist and opposed to the status quo. The movement built a rich tradition of dissent that shaped the intellectual, political and artistic life of the late Ottoman period generally transcendent to the decline and dissolution periods. Many Young Turks were not only active in the political arena, but were also artists, administrators, scientists, etc. The term "Young Turks" has subsequently come to signify any groups or individuals inside an organization who are progressive and seek prominence and power.[1]


Prominent Young Turks

Ahmet Riza, an early leader (1894), first president of the Chamber of Deputies.

The prominent leaders and ideologists included:




The Young Turks originated from the secret societies of progressive university students and military cadets. They were driven underground along with all other forms of political dissent after the constitution was annulled by the Sultan. Like their European forerunners such as the Carbonari, they typically formed cells, in which only one member might be connected to another cell.


The Young Turks became a truly revolutionary 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 Talat. The OFS actively recruited members from the Third Army base, among them Major Ismal 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.

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 France government. It was closed to public. There were 47 delegates present. The Armenians wanted to have the conversations to be held in French. Other delegates rejected this proposition.

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.


The 'Macedonian Question', in 1908, was facing the Ottoman Empire. Czar Nicholas II and Franz Joseph, who were both interested in the Balkans, started implementing policies, beginning in 1897, which bring 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

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.



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


Although the European public and many scholars commonly labeled the Young Turks as constitutionalists and the Young Turks employed rhetoric promoting constitutionalism, this was merely a device to stave off any intervention by the Great Powers in the domestic politics of the Empire. The Young Turks followed the principle of developing an intellectual elite to govern the Empire, never envisioning participation of the masses in policy-making or administration.

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".[3]

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.[3]

Centralized 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.


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.

Effect on Republic of Turkey

The Young Turk movement built a rich tradition of dissent that shaped the intellectual and political life of the late Ottoman period and laid the foundation for Atatürk's revolution. Most of their leaders believed that the state, not popular will, was the instrument by which social and political change would be achieved. They bequeathed to Atatürk the conviction that reformers should seize state power and then use it ruthlessly for their own ends, not to democratize society in ways that would weaken the centralized state.

Except for the shift in focus on nationalism, the official ideology of the early modern Turkish state was shaped during this period. The Young Turks who lived long enough to witness the coming into being of the Republic of Turkey saw many of their ideals realized – it was a regime based on a popular materialistic-positivist ideology and nationalism. The new regime worked to be included in western culture while exerting an anti-imperialist rhetoric and convened a parliament composed not of elected politicians but of virtually selected intellectuals working on behalf of the people without cooperating in any capacity with the 'ignorant' masses. The effect of the Young Turks on shaping the official ideology of early modern Turkey went far beyond the political changes they brought about.



  1. ^ Young Turks,
  2. ^ Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries
  3. ^ a b M. Şükrü Hanioğlu. "The Political Ideas of the Young Turks"


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