1908-1914 Shift to Young Turks

Dr. Richard Hovannisian, professor of Near Eastern Studies at UCLA, speaks about the radicalization of the Young Turks in the Ottoman Empire from 1908-1914.

Transcript (Text)


When the Young Turk Revolution took place in the spring of 1908, there was universal celebration among all the minority populations of the Empire. And indeed, it was celebrated around the world by the liberal press as having brought an end to the regime of the Bloody Sultan who was Abdul Hamid II, ushering in a new phase of liberty, equality for all the populations of the Ottoman Empire. But that revolution quickly went sour, in part, because of the European powers that took advantage of this moment to get more.

Austria, which had been occupying the region of Bosnia since 1878, then decided just to annex it outright. Bulgaria, which had been autonomous—that is self-governing but not fully independent—declared the independence of its country in 1908. The large island of Crete, which was largely Greek, declared its union with the motherland as it called it, the island of there. And ultimately, the Italians wanted something and so they landed in Libya, or Tripoli, as it was known at the time. So the European powers are all doing something.

And on top of that, then in 1912 as war clouds begin to gather in Europe, the Russians then raise, once again, the Armenian question and reforms for the Armenian Christian minority, which is being persecuted by the Kurds and others. There is an enormous absence of security of life and property, the abduction of girls, and so forth and demands for reforms. And the Russians, for their own purposes, sort of pick up that campaign.

And all of these allow, therefore, this extreme wing of the Young Turks—who had never really embraced the ideas of equality, even though it was in their motto and who were really strong nationalists who wanted to preserve the Turkish empire, not to dissolve further the Turkish empire—allowed them to have a coup d'etat with minimal bloodshed and to seize power illegally from the elected government in 1913.

And so from 1913 onward, the Ottoman Empire is ruled by this clique—ultra-nationalist, right-wing clique—of Young Turks that is led by, but not limited to, three individuals that are referred to as the triumvirate, that included the Minister of War, or Military Affairs, Enver Bey, or Enver Pasha; the Minister of the Interior, Talaat Bey, who became then the honorific title of Pasha. And the third was the Minister of the Navy, or Marine, who was also the commander of an army in Syria, Djemal Pasha. These three individuals, plus others around them, known as the Young Turks—Young Turk secret—not secret, but tightly knit central committee that made most of the decisions.

It's very much like any other dictatorial country, you have a formal government—there's a government of the USSR, and then there's the Communist Party. There's the government of Germany, and then there's the Nazi Party. There's a government of the Ottoman Empire, and then there's the Young Turk Party. And in all cases, it's the parties who are making the decisions, and the governments are just sort of window dressing for the parties. And actually, there is a great, also, interchange between the two, because sometimes they are the same individuals, both in party and in state.

And so it is this group that decides, as the war clouds do gather in Europe, that in case of a new World War—not a new World War. In case of a major world conflict, in which Germany is involved, Germany will certainly be the victor because Germany now, with Bismarck, has united all the Germanic regions, has become a major industrial power, has been able to challenge the British on the seas, and looks like everything is going for it. And so that is the country to link up with, especially if that country is going to go to war with Russia, a traditional enemy, because extreme and extensive territories have been lost to Russia and to its surrogates: the Serbs, the Bulgarians, the Romanians, the Greeks. And so if we side with the Germans, we have this as this golden opportunity to win back much of these territories that we once had and had been lost.

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