The “Union and Progress” Association in Turkey..the organization that deposed the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II


“Union and Progress” is a revolutionary Turkish organization that was founded under the name “Ottoman Union Society” on June 2, 1889, then changed its name in 1915, and sought to change the system of government and establish a “modern democratic state.”

The association was able to depose Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1909 and reach power, and it adopted the national thought and followed the secular doctrine in enacting legislation and laws.

It formed a one-party government, and suppressed the opposition from 1913 until it dissolved itself after defeat in World War I in 1918.

Origin and establishment

The “Union and Progress” – which began its activity under the name “Ottoman Union Association” – was founded on June 2, 1889, by a group of medical students at the Military Medical School in Istanbul, namely: Ibrahim Timo, Abdullah Jawdat, Isaac Sokoti and Muhammad Rashid.

The organization started an intellectual club for medical students, and their activity did not go beyond reading newspapers opposed to the government issued abroad, and literary works written by members of the “Neo-Ottoman Society” such as Namik Kemal and Diaa Pasha.

The members of the association had been influenced by the ideas of liberation, democracy, and the modern state system, through contact with Western thought. They were seeking to make changes in the Ottoman Empire, reform the political system, establish democracy, and establish a constitutional government that achieves freedom, equality, and justice for all.

Then the ideas of the Union Society or “Ittihadists” spread from the Military Medical School to all higher schools, increasing the number of members, and the founders of the Society tried to create an effective organizational structure.

The students were organized in the form of secret cells, according to the organizational model of the Italian “Carbonari” association, and were influenced by the Masonic lodges in their slogans and secret organizational structure.

ideological orientation

The federalists tended at the beginning of their inception to “Ottomanization”, which aimed to establish a developed Ottoman Empire, based on liberal institutions that could guarantee the loyalty of all religious and ethnic groups of the state.

Then the association began to slide towards nationalism, and even towards Turanism, which aims to unify people of Turkish origin, and try to impose Turkification on the subjects of the state from other nationalities, and demand the purification of the Turkish language from the impurities introduced by non-Turkish nationalities, especially Arabs and Persians.

Freemasonry and the Jews played a major role in the emergence of the Turkish nationalist trend, and fueling it among the unionists, as the Turkish nationalism intensified after merging with the “Ottoman Freedom Association” in 1907 based in Thessaloniki, a stronghold of Jews and Freemasonry at the time.

Many members of Turkish nationalism, such as Talaat Bey, Dr. Nazim, and Bahaa El Din Shaker, joined the ranks of the association, who were influential and leading figures in it.

This trend has grown since the establishment of the one-party government in 1914, and the association’s conference held in 1916 was an ideological turning point in its history, as the association announced its adoption of Turkish national thought, and decided to adopt the principle of secularism through legislation and laws.

Ibrahim Temo
Ibrahim Taimo is one of the military medical students and one of the founders of the “Union and Promotion” Association (websites)

political track

The association’s activities began to grow and its idea spread rapidly, and it reached the ears of Sultan Abdul Hamid, who saw to impose tighter control over the School of Military Medicine, so he appointed Muhammad Zaki Pasha to manage it.

Zaki opened a comprehensive investigation against the association in 1893, and 9 prominent members were expelled from the school, deported to Tripoli and Fezzan, and pardoned after a few months. Some members had fled abroad, among them activists in the organization such as Ibrahim Timo, Isaac Sokoti, and Abdullah Jawdat.

The first public appearance of the association was in 1895, when its members owned a printing press, so they printed leaflets and distributed them in Istanbul, through which they expressed their regret over the bloody events that accompanied the Armenian revolution, and held Sultan Abdul Hamid directly responsible.

A group of unionists fleeing the Ottoman Empire and some students settled in Paris, among them Nazim Thessaloniki, a student at the Academy of Medicine in Paris, and he was trying to spread the association’s thought and expand its circle, so he contacted Ahmed Reda Bey, a former employee of the Department of Knowledge in the Ottoman Empire residing in France, and persuaded him to join them. He was also appointed as the head of the Paris branch.

And Ahmed Reda – who was said to have been influenced by the ideas of the philosopher Auguste Kant and his constitution (regularity and promotion) rose up. So Reda took the word (progress) as inspiration from the “Kant” constitution to gather more supporters, and he advised the members in 1895 to change the name of the association to the “Union and Progress Association.”

A regulation was prepared to replace the scattered organizational charts organized by the “Ottoman Union Association” and stipulated that Sultan Abdul Hamid should be deposed, the constitution drawn up by Midhat Pasha in 1876, and the parliament restored.

In 1896, the association in Istanbul planned a military coup to overthrow Sultan Abdul Hamid, but the coup failed, and the leaders of the association were arrested and its members were expelled from schools and government jobs, and some of them were exiled to remote areas of the country.

As a result of these events, the Society lost its influence in the country to a large extent, which made it focus on its activities abroad, so its members established the Geneva and Cairo branches, and opened branches in many Balkan cities.

They issued a group of newspapers and magazines that express their ideas, such as Al-Mashura newspaper in Paris and Al-Mizan in Egypt, and the Paris branch officially became the headquarters of the association.

After the failed coup, the Egyptian government expressed its dissatisfaction with the association’s activity on its soil, which forced Murad Bey Mazangi (head of the branch) and some of his companions to move to Paris.

With the arrival of Mizanji, the association was divided among itself, as Ahmed Reza represented the extremist left wing of the association, while Mizanji represented the right wing, so its members who opposed Ahmed Reza’s hardline line appointed Mizanji as president in 1897.

This tension in the structure of the organization, in addition to the victory of the Ottoman Empire over Greece in the same year, increased the prestige of Sultan Abdul Hamid and negatively affected the effectiveness of this organization.

Meanwhile, Sultan Abd al-Hamid commissioned Ahmed Jalal al-Din Pasha to negotiate with members of the association abroad, and he was able to convince Mezanji and a group of members of the association, promising them to make reforms and end the judicial prosecution against them, so many of them returned to Istanbul, and some of them were assigned to represent the Ottoman Empire in foreign countries. .

Because of that agreement, the association lost many of its members and activities, and only Ahmed Reda, Dr. Nazim, and a small group remained, but the association soon regained some of its strength, with the accession of Mahmoud Jalal al-Din Pasha (son-in-law of Sultan Abdul Hamid) and his two sons, Sabah al-Din and Lotfallah, who fled To France in 1899, then Ismail Kamal Bey joined them.

Sultan Abdul Hamid II.. the last battles of the last Ottoman caliph
Sultan Abdul Hamid II dismissed him by the “Union and Progress” Association on April 27, 1909 (Al-Jazeera)

The federalists agreed with the newcomers on the basic principle (toppling the Sultan), but Prince Sabah al-Din’s adherence to the principle of cooperation with all religious and ethnic groups in the state with the possibility of allowing foreign intervention was contrary to Ahmed Rida’s thought, which led to a dispute and division between them.

Joining the “Ottoman Freedom” Association for the Unionists

The “Union and Progress” Association was seeking to expand its scope and increase its strength, so it contacted the “Ottoman Freedom” Association in Thessaloniki, which also seeks to overthrow the Sultan and “establish a constitutional rule.” After many discussions, the “Freedom” Association accepted to merge under the “Ottoman Union and Progress” Association. In 1907, its branch in Thessaloniki became the headquarters of the “Union and Progress” Association inside, and the Paris branch was the general center and the headquarters of the association abroad.

The Association of “Ottoman Freedom” had close contact with Freemasonry and the “Dunma” Jews, and many of its members were affiliated with Freemasonry, and some of their meetings were held in Masonic lodges, and they received great support from the Jews.

This cooperation and close relationship with Freemasonry and the Jews continued after the merger, and became a prominent feature of the “Union and Progress” Association.

The “Freedom” Association was also dominated by a military revolutionary character, and it had penetration into the Third Royal Army in Macedonia, and it included many of its officers. Some of its members, such as Niyazi Bey and Anwar Bey, formed military battalions, and this made it easier for the association to stage a military coup against the Sultan.

In 1908, the battalions of Niazi Bey, Anwar Bey, and other armed association brigades began a rebellion in Macedonia against the Sultan, and armed factions from Albania joined them, and a wide segment of the military sector supported them across the country.

Violence erupted in Macedonia, so Sultan Abdul Hamid sent Shamsi Pasha to quell the rebellion, but he was killed. The process of deterring the rebels did not succeed, and civil and military disobedience spread to many cities.

The Sultan saw that events might get out of control, so he agreed to the demands of the rebels and promised to restore the constitution and parliamentary work. He also issued a general amnesty, and allowed dissidents in exile in Europe and different parts of the country to return to Istanbul.

The “Union and Progress” Association in Turkey..the organization that deposed the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II
The federalists were able to reach power and rule in the name of Sultan Abdul Hamid and deposed him (Getty Images)

Federalists in power

The “Union and Progress” Association emerged after the rebellion it led, and the Sultan submitted to its demands as the most important political force, which encouraged it to open branches all over the country, and moved its internal headquarters from Thessaloniki to Istanbul, and its members participated in the parliamentary elections that took place in 1908, and won a landslide victory Almost all of the members of the council were among them.

After winning the elections, the “Ittihadists” worked to limit the Sultan’s powers and interfere in political affairs excessively, which led to the Royal Guard units – with the support of the “Ahrar” group and Muslim religious scholars – attempting a coup in 1909.

The demonstrators called for the protection of the Sultan, the abolition of the constitution, the overthrow of the government, and the application of Islamic law. The “Unionists” confronted this revolution with a quick and decisive military action, as the third royal army moved from Macedonia, led by Lieutenant General Muhammad Shawkat, to Istanbul, besieging the palace in which Sultan Abdul Hamid resided and declaring martial law.

The parliament met and announced its agreement to depose the Sultan, and he was dismissed on April 27, 1909 and exiled to Thessaloniki, and his brother Muhammad Rashad (Muhammad V) was installed in his place.

In 1910, the association was registered under the new Associations Law by the Council of State, and it became a formidable force, ruling in the name of the Sultan after it took control of it.

The association left the premiership to eminent and experienced personalities who were not affiliated with it, such as Hussein Helmy Pasha, Hakki Pasha, and Muhammad Saeed Pasha, but the actual rule was in the hands of the ministers affiliated with it, such as Talat Pasha and Jawed Bey. She wanted.

It cracked down on the opposition, and the Turanian tendency spread among its ranks, and its transgressions multiplied, which led to its division against itself, and the dissidents established in 1911 a party they called the “New Party”.

The “new party” called for the necessity of adhering to democracy and the constitution, and attacked the abuses issued by the “Union and Progress” Association. Then, in the same year, the “Freedom and Coalition” party appeared, which included all opponents of the federalist program.

Many of the members of the “Freedom and Coalition” party were members of the House of Representatives, and they began to influence public opinion and spread their ideas, and pressure increased on the government of Muhammad Saeed Pasha, which had the support of the Assembly, and it was forced to submit its resignation.

The new government – founded by Ghazi Ahmed Mukhtar Pasha in 1912 – dissolved Parliament, and prevented officers from affiliating with parties and interfering in politics.

The federalists did not like the new procedures, so they led a military coup that overthrew the government of Muhammad Kamel Pasha, and established a new government led by Mahmoud Shawkat Pasha in January 1913, who was unable to remain in agreement with the federalists, and his reign did not last long, as he was assassinated in June from the same year.

Shawkat Pasha is considered the last independent figure in power. After his assassination, the federalists formed a one-party government and suppressed the opposition. They exiled supporters of the “Freedom and Coalition” party and forced some of them to flee Istanbul. The trio of Talaat Pasha, Anwar Bey and Jamal Pasha took control of the “Union and Progress” administration.

The “Union and Progress” Association in Turkey..the organization that deposed the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II
Mustafa Ataturk saw the need to “cleanse the country” of the remnants of the federalists who tried to assassinate him in 1926 (Getty Images)

Because of the political circumstances and the parliamentary system, the Society faced an urgent need to appear as a contemporary political party. Through the 1913 conference, it categorically asserted that the Society was a political party, but it kept its secret organizational structure, and the party always ruled through it in secret.

In 1914, a secret treaty was signed with Germany, as well as the attack on Russian targets in the Black Sea, and participation in the First World War was made a reality for many within the government, which led to the emergence of multiple disputes within the association.

The 1916 conference was a turning point in the history of the association, as it announced the adoption of Turkish nationalism as an ideological line. It also made radical changes in the political program of the party and decided to adopt the principle of secularism in legislation and laws.

Thus, power continued in the hands of one party until Turkey’s defeat in World War I, when the association itself dissolved, and its leaders fled abroad in November 1918.

The unionists who remained in the country tried to continue their activities by forming a party they called the “Renewal Party”, but they did not succeed, and the party was dissolved and its assets confiscated in 1919.

However, they tried to reorganize after the victory in the Turkish War of Independence, but Mustafa Ataturk believed that there was no place for them in the new regime, and he saw the need to “cleanse the country” of the remnants of the Federalists, especially after the attempt to assassinate him in Izmir in 1926, so they pursued and carried out a wide liquidation process in their ranks. .


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