TUNALI HILMI: AN OUTSTANDING FIGURE IN THE PROCESS OF IDEOLOGICAL CHANGE FROM OTTOMANISM TO TURKISM
Volume 1, No. 2 – July 1997
TUNALI HILMI: AN OUTSTANDING FIGURE IN THE PROCESS OF IDEOLOGICAL CHANGE FROM OTTOMANISM TO TURKISM
By M. Lutfullah Karaman�?�?�?�?�?�??�?�??�?�?�?�??�?�??�?
In modern Turkish history, particularly toward the nineteenth century’s end, quite a large number of Ottoman intellectuals, worried about the disintegration of their Empire, by and large followed the policy of “Ottomanism”. This policy had first developed into an ideology largely through the efforts of Ottoman statesmen, during the Tanzimat (Re-organization) era (1).
It was based upon the idea of creating an “Ottoman nationality” by fusing the different “millets” (religious/ethnic communities) and granting all subjects the same rights and obligations. The creation of an “Ottoman nation” was essentially aimed at preserving the state’s territorial unity (2). In time, Ottomanism appeared to become almost the state’s official policy.(3).
The increase in educational modernization during Sultan Abdulhamid II’s reign produced hundreds of educated men and introduced most of them to the liberal thought of the West. This younger generation of intellectuals came to be known as a whole as the “Young Turks”. They came from different backgrounds and expressed their views in differing ways. Nonetheless, particularly before the beginning of the second period of Mesrutiyet, i.e., the 1908 Revolution, a good deal of them believed in the realization of Ottomanism and thus opposed the sultan’s pan-Islamist policy(4).
The Young Turks wanted to gain support from both non-Turkish Muslims (Arabs, Albanians..) and non-Muslims (Christians, Jews) provided that these elements should adopt Ottoman citizenship. Thereupon they tried to arouse and develop a sense of Ottoman nationality. That idea might have been meaningful in theory yet was contrary to the realities of the time. For the idea of nationalism had already spread among Ottoman minorities. Still, even after the Young Turks took power in the 1908 revolution, most of them favored not Turkish nationalism but Ottomanism, as they still thought it useful to halt the Empire’s disintegration (5).
As the disenchantment of non-Turkish (non-Muslim) elements from the Empire continued, accelerating after the revolution, it was apparent that the above-mentioned policy could not be the remedy (6). In view of increasing separatist movements of several ethnic groups of the Empire at the start of the twentieth century, a transition from Ottomanism to Turkish nationalism inevitably emerged. This trend rested on the conviction that it would be impossible to conciliate broadly varying “national” interests of the subject peoples and maintain a unified Empire (7)
In line with that change of ideas, development ran through the Young Turk (Committee of Union and Progress) regime, and the national struggle of the early 1920s to the nationalism of a new Turkish state. Many a Young Turk intellectual consequently come to the forefront as Turkish nationalists. One such Young Turk is Tunali Hilmi, a striking figure in this process. In this paper, he is shown as a special case in the process of transition from the ideology of Ottomanism to Turkism.
Tunali Hilmi was born in 1871 in one of the Balkan provinces of the Empire and became politically active while studying at the Gulhane medical school. He escaped to Switzerland in 1896 and intensified his work. In Geneva, he started publishing his views, along with several friends, in their newspaper, Osmanli. At that time, he had quite similar thoughts compared to other Young Turks around him. He, too, was an adherent to Ottomanism as well as a supporter of the Mesrutiyet, demanding the re-application of the 1876 Constitution -long awaited since its suspension in 1878 ending the first period of Mesrutiyet (8).
The main idea defended by Osmanli was to protect the Empire’s unity by giving equal rights to all its peoples without giving priority to any one of them, and by establishing an Ottoman identity and consciousness (9). In accord with this idea, Tunali Hilmi tried to persuade these communities that being an Ottoman did not require being Turkish or abandoning their own religion:
Let Ottomanism not frighten any one of you! Being an
Ottoman does not mean being a Turk…It neither
harms anybody nor affects any nationality
disturbingly. With this in mind, whoever does not
wish to become the Ottoman?! All of you, come! Become
Ottomans all together….Get rid of the evils coming
out of this (then-present) separation (10)
Considering Ottomanism as the only way to preserve the unity of the Empire, he wants to assure those subjects by stressing that it would not harm them. On the contrary, the “melting pot” of Ottomanism would provide unity despite continued diversity:
Our deliverance, peace, and all kinds of interests
are…in being Ottoman….Ottomanness is a receptacle
…a cauldron….What boils that is the fire
of Ottomanness. Its watchman is the Ottoman! (11)
It is fascinating to compare his concept of Ottomanism with other doctrines of assimilation and nation-building, as opposed to communal nationalism or particularist interests:
Remember, once, that your ancestors had lived
together, without regarding each other
(discriminatingly) as the Jew, the Christian, the
Druze, or the Muslim….Once, envisage that all of
you were the people of this state, that all lived
together on the same land, and that you as a whole
were regarded as the Ottomans…God knows, neither
grudge nor discreditability continue to exist among
yourselves! And you see that there is nothing other
than unity, and peaceful co-existence!
Do not say: it is a dream! Once think that you
are ‘human being’, also that you are ‘Ottoman’; above
all, begin to look for the deliverance and the safety
within Ottomanness; especially, avoid, once, having
contact with those who tried to take some of you away
from the Ottoman (body)…(12)
His romantic political approach is quite pronounced:
Now I say publicly: I have no affiliation with any
association! I am a new Ottoman having no attachment
(to any society); I am (just) an Ottoman, a Muslim. I
do not belong to any society other than that of the
After going to Cairo in 1898, Hilmi maintained his activities on behalf of the Young Turks, among the Egyptian intellectuals, writing his “khutbas” (sermons), which he had begun in Geneva, and urging Ottoman unity (14). He explicitly extolled “Ottomanness” as superior to “Turkishness.” Turkish nationalism was as much a threat to the empire as any other type:
Anything that is of use and suitable for the
…Turkishness of a Turk, for his mind,
for his heart, for all kinds of his feelings, will
certainly be of use and suitable for the feeling, the
heart, the mind, and the nationality of each one of
you. For example, Turks, if they get themselves out
of “being Ottoman”, they are ruined….If they put
into their minds strange fancies which are
detrimental to Ottomanness, they are again
Equally, Hilmi’s style was populist and modern, using words and expressions widely used by the man in the street(16). The people should rise up against the government to bring about unity and save the country:
It is of no use and no meaning but only harm to
“build” separate committees, instead of establishing
only one committee by always sharing one another’s
grievances and by uniting as Ottomans, of participating
in…its entirety against the government….(17)
On the other hand, compared to the others gathered around Osmanli, Hilmi did emphasize the Turkish language and ethnic element in the Empire more, especially since he was not a member of any other ethnic sub-group like most of his friends (18). This sometimes seemed to contradict his other writings:
The genuine Ottomans are the Turks! Every Ottoman
must be able to read what a Turk wrote… The Turkish
language means the Ottoman language…(19)
Elsewhere, discussing future goals, he concludes:
Turkish shall be the formal language of the
Every civil servant shall be speaking Turkish, as
well as reading and writing, in accordance with his
position. Whole procedure in all of the governmental
offices shall take place in the Turkish language.(20)
Conscious of the appeals of nationality and the difficulties of equality, Hilmi may have understood these dilemmas better than his other Young Turk friends (21). Indeed, as early as 1897, in an open petition addressed to the Sultan–written but not signed by himself–he gives dominance to Ottomanism and yet the Turkish element keeps coming through in his formulations:
…The Arabs have rebelled several times…the
Albanians, they also have a room with a few lines in
the history of rebellion. Even the Laz…and the
Kurdish (people)…have performed one or more small
events of insurrection….Justifications for those
(events) were mainly the oppression (of the center)….
The Turks, this remaining nation is also in
hunger, destitution, and under oppression! This
nation that is obedient, patient, gentle, and
deliberate.., as a matter of reality, leave their
places [sic] with difficulty, just like the bullet in
a rifle; once they come out, then, they go to the
This early writing obviously implies that he had an inherent Turkism in his mind that would later be an important facilitating factor in his ideological transition to Turkish nationalism.
In Cairo at the moment of the 1908 Revolution, Hilmi still sought Ottoman unity as a new era of mesrutiyet opened. He thought this would see the success of Ottomanism:
It seems Ottoman unity has been newly born….We
tried hard over time to success in getting this
baby; do you know what we suffered from (not having
it) and how late we reached (this goal)? One day
the time came….The Turk, guiding
all of his fellow-countrymen, was struggling for
advancing on the way to Ottomanism, for being
Ottomanised….July 23, 1908 came….It made
everyone ready to receive (people) with open arms
saying, “We all are brothers, the Ottomans” (23)
These statements, however, obviously connote that even though he still, in the Revolution’s first years, held the ideal of Ottoman unity, he was well aware of the Turk’s significant role in the effort to reach it, differing from the other nations that made up the Ottoman whole. A striking example of this attitude can be seen in one of his articles considering the road to the 1908 Revolution:
…The Turk is rather tired; he should rest! It was
the destiny of the Turk that he would conquer and
govern this country. And it so happened. Yet the
burdens of administration and the military
commitments substantially corroded “Turkishness” of
the Turk! It might be said that the Turk killed
himself in order to revive those people whom he
discovered on the point of dying, in the past, in
these provinces. He even sacrificed himself for the
Islamic religion, for the Caliphate!.. We should not
expect the loyalty to the Ottoman unity from the
Turks alone; we all ought to show it…(24)
It is this somewhat nationalistic awareness or, more accurately, inherent inclination to Turkism that facilitated the transformation in Hilmi’s ideological position. While he continued to articulate Ottomanist sentiments for several years, it was to get transformed. True, though he shared the adherence of some other Young Turks to Ottomanism for several more years, it was quickly eroded in disappointment as the other subjects of the Empire failed to cooperate. Earlier, even in 1900, he seems to have been profoundly disappointed and to have openly admitted the impossibility of the idea he so passionately espoused:
Young Ottomans are the new-minded Ottomans. Although
they are required to be made up of those who have had
newer ideas from within every element and religion of
all the Ottomans, regrettably, they are not as such.
Instead, they are almost made up of only the Turks,
or together with them, the other Ottoman Muslims. It
is true that, among them, there are some Ottomans
other than the Turk, the Muslim. Yet those are very
As for the distinction of the other new-minded
people from the Young Ottomans, it is, as a matter of
fact, their rejection of being the Ottoman.(25)
For a considerable time, Hilmi, aiming at Ottoman unity, even had his several writings translated into various languages so as to be able to address several ethnic elements of the Empire. Yet, when he finally understood that only Turks listened to him attentively, he began to abandon his “dream” of Ottoman unity.
His “Turkism” appeared and developed in view of events. The Albanian revolt beginning in 1910 first caused many a Young Turk to realize the reality that it would be impossible to conciliate differing national interests and to attain a unified empire. The subsequent Turco-Italian War in 1911-12, the Balkan Wars in 1912-13, and World War One which began in 1914 all became further milestones in the process of ideological transformation. Herewith, the booming development of a Turkish national(ist) consciousness emerged (26). Hilmi’s inclination to the Turkish language and people first facilitated, then widely opened, for him the way of ideological transition to Turkish nationalism, upon the impact of those dramatic events (27).
Following the 1908 revolution, Hilmi returned to Istanbul and was appointed to several government positions. In 1920, as forces that would create the new Turkish republic were gathering, he was elected to the National Assembly in Istanbul as a deputy from Eregli. A few months later, he became a member of the Turkish nationalist Grand National Assembly in Ankara, where he served as a member of Kemal Ataturk’s Republican People’s Party from 1923 on. (28).
There, during his years as a deputy in the Assembly (of the new regime), till his death in the summer of 1928, Hilmi was invariably seen as an enthusiastic Turkish nationalist, his Turkism especially evident in his defensiveness toward the Turkish language:
Gentlemen! There is skill in my language. I employ
the Turkish equivalent of any word, no matter whether
French, or Arabic, or Chinese! If the word sinif
does not exist in my language, I take it from Arabic;
I generalize this, yet (for its plural form) I do not
say sunuf but siniflar….Hitherto this nation’s
remaining backward has been due to that hybrid
(Ottoman) language which is one hundred thousand
times worse than Esparanto!(29)
So as to clearly show his sensitivity over Turkish, it will further be suitable to give two other interesting excerpts, from his speeches in the Assembly:
…Chairman! I request very much from all of your
(Assembly’s) committees not to put the expressions
which I shall not be able to understand…into their
bills. Let them put their Turkish translation…while
writing such things!(30)
…I hope the Minister of Education abstains
himself from bringing to the Assembly such a bill
written in utter confusion; it is full of the Arabian
and Persian words!…I hope that the Minister,
henceforth, shuns from appearing before me with a
bill of law like this one! (31)
Now decrying the hybrid Ottoman tongue, he takes every opportunity to extol a Turkish language linked to Turkish nationalism, as in this speech on a proposed law promoting that vernacular:
…Friends! I have been preparing (this bill) for
thirty-five years; and now, I am before you with my
opinions of thirty-five years…
…Friends! To whichever country you go in the
world, (you see) that country has two languages: one
of them is the ordinary language, the folk one. The
other one is the language pertaining to the higher
subject-matters. Yet (here) we have three languages;
at first, today’s confounded and contaminated
language: the one which has been killing the Turk for
centuries: the fabricated one which has been made up
of the Arabian and Persian rules (of grammar)…
Now, friends, we shall abolish this (language) and
we shall use the language of the people.
…It is said that the Turkish language ought to
become simplified. No, friends, the Turkish language
will certainly become Turkish! If not, (then) the
Turk cannot be saved!…
Now I ask, friends: Do you consent to live
under the laws of a foreign state? (If not) Then, how
can you consent to use your language itself by the
Arabian and Persian rules?!..(32)
Tunali Hilmi, like many other Young “Turks,” once favored the idea(l) of Ottomanism, at the turn of the century and even in the early years of the second Mesrutiyet. He had once regarded the separatist movements of ethnic nationalists in the Empire as “the wrong dream”(33). Yet – as such movements grew more later – the consciousness of Turkish national identity developed to the point of extreme enthusiasm in Hilmi’s mind, as either an extension or repudiation of his earlier thought.
Notes and References:
(1). See Ercumend Kuran, “The Impact of Nationalism on the Turkish Elite in the Nineteenth Century,” in W. R. Polk and R. L. Chambers (eds.), Beginnings of Modernization in the Middle East (Chicago: at the University Press, 1968), p.110; Cf. David Kushner, The Rise of Turkish Nationalism, 1876-1908 (London: F. Cass, 1977), pp.2-3.
(2). Yusuf Akcura, Uc Tarz-i Siyaset, reprint (Ankara: Turk Tarih Kurumu, 1976), p.19; Cf. Roderic H. Davison, “Nationalism as an Ottoman Problem and the Ottoman Response,” in W. W. Haddad and W. Ochsenwald (eds.), Nationalism in a Non-National State, the Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (Columbus: Ohio State University, 1977), pp.39-40.
(3). To this purpose, some of the Articles of the Constitution make sense, the most striking one being Article 8, which reads: “All subjects of the Empire are…called Ottomans, whatever religion they profess.” See Stanford J. Shaw and E. K. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Vol. II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977), p.177.
(4). Ibid., p.255; Cf. Jacob M. Landau, Pan Turkism in Turkey, A Study in Irredentism (London: C. Hurst, 1981), p.45. Incidentally, for a brief information on Abdulhamid and the politics of pan-Islamism, see my “Pan-Islamizm, Osmanli Hilafeti ve II. Abdulhamid,” Turk Yurdu, Vol. 9, no. 17 (June 1987), pp.10-17.
(5). See Harry Luke, The Making of Modern Turkey (London: McMillan, 1936), pp.163ff.; Yusuf Akcura, Turk Yili-1928 (Istanbul, 1928), p.329. As a matter of fact, many of the educated people, in the second half–especially at the end of the nineteenth century, did not use the word “Turk” in reference to themselves, they rather thought of themselves as “Ottoman”; the term “Turk” was by and large used to indicate “uneducated mass”. See Davison, “Nationalism as an Ottoman Problem..,” p. 35; Cf., in particular, C. E. Bosworth, “Language Reform and Nationalism in Modern Turkey (Part I),” The Muslim World, Vol. LV, no. 1 (January 1965), p.62.
(6). Akcura, in his, above-mentioned, well-known Uc Tarz-i Siyaset, dwells illuminatingly upon the obstacles before the perfect “Ottoman unity” (see, pp.28ff.).
(7). Here, more than any other event, the Balkan Wars stand as milestones. It was sharply realized, during these wars, that it was only the Turkish element of the Empire that had striven, and suffered, for the unity of the Empire. For that awakening of “national consciousness” in the minds of the Turks upon the Balkan Wars, see, in particular, Necdet Kurdakul, Osmanli Imparatorlugundan Orta Doguya, Belgelerle Sark Meselesi (Istanbul: Dergah, 1976), pp.119-22. Furthermore, for the development of Turkish nationalism within this context, see, inter alia, Landau, op. cit., pp.46-7; Shaw & Shaw, op. cit., pp.260, 289ff; Luke, op. cit., pp.155-67; Ernest Jackh, The Rising Crescent: Turkey, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1944), pp.97-100; Geoffrey Lewis, Turkey, 2nd ed. (New York: Praeger, 1960), pp.42-3; and Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), pp.341-48.
It can be additionally noted at this point that the motivation toward purification and reform in the language (particularly observed as the salient aspect in the case studied in this paper), beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, was part of the general awakening of Turkish nationhood, stimulated by the growth of the Western-oriented nationalism which was apparently the cause of dismemberment of the Empire. For this, see in particular, Bosworth, “Language Reform and Nationalism in Modern Turkey (Part II),” The Muslim World, Vol. LV, no. 2 (April 1965), p.117.
(8). Akcura, Turk Yili-1928, pp.394-96.
(9). See Serif Mardin, Jon Turklerin Siyasi Fikirleri, 1895- 1908 (Istanbul: Iletisim, 1983), pp.106, 112; Cf. M. Sukru Hanioglu, Bir Siyasal Dusunur Olarak Doktor Abdullah Cevdet ve Donemi (Istanbul: Ucdal Nesriyat, n.d.), pp. 213-14.
(10). Hilmi, Bir Gecmisin Yadigari: Onuncu Hutbe, 2nd printing (Kahire/Cairo, 1327/1909), pp.49-50.
(11). ibid., p.68.
(12). ibid., p.53.
(13). Hilmi, Murad (Geneva, 1317/1900), p.228.
(14). See A. Bedevi Kuran, Inkilap Tarihimiz ve Ittihat- Terakki (Istanbul, 1948), pp.113-14. A large part of Hilmi’s Onuncu Hutbe, written in Cairo, is seen as having focussed on those dangers, and thereupon having emphasized and defended the indispensability of unity among the Ottoman subjects (see, especially, pp.11-8).
(15). Hilmi, Onuncu Hutbe, p.19.
(16). Mardin, op. cit., p.107.
(17). Hilmi, Onuncu Hutbe, p.45.
(18). Hanioglu, op. cit., pp.217-19.
(19). Onuncu Hutbe, p.3.
(20). Murad, p.102.
(21). Akcura, Turk Yili-1928, pp.394-95.
(22). “Makam-i Akdes-i Hazret-i Hilafetpenahiye,” Osmanli (5 Receb 1315/1 Kanun-u Evvel [December] 1897), pp.2-3 (parentheses mine).
(23). Onuncu Hutbe, pp.63-5 (parentheses mine).
(24). ibid., p.70.
(25). Hilmi, Murad, p.10.
(26). See, supra, note 7.
(27). See, supra, note 21.
(28). Akcura, Turk Yili-1928, p.395.
(29). See Turkiye Buyuk Millet Meclisi Zabit Ceridesi, Period II, Vol. 3, p.661 (parentheses mine).
(30). ibid., Vol. 21, p.282.
(31). ibid., Vol. 23, p.265
(32). ibid., Vol. 23, p.387 (parentheses mine). Beside Hilmi, another Young Turk, Ziya Gokalp (one of the most influential Turkish nationalists), also considered the Ottoman language in his own words as “the mixture of artificial superfluities” as well as “an Ottoman Esparanto”; see Frank Tachau, “Language and Politics: Turkish Language Reform,” Review of Politics, Vol. 26, no. 2 (April 1964), p.193 (cited from Gokalp, Turkish Nationalism and Western Civilization, compiled & translated by N. Berkes, New York, 1959, p.290).
(33). Such an idea is seen in his Onuncu Hutbe, for instance: “(the idea) To establish some other governments in these places is a ‘strange fancy’ (kuruntu, in Turkish) or a `pleasant daydream’ (hulya).” For this and more, see pp.11-20.