“Analyse the Hamidian era from the perspective of either the Balkan or the Anatolian or the Arab provinces, discussing the different ways in which that region was treated by the Ottoman government, and the different ways that region responded”. The Balkan region of the Ottoman Empire had always been a crucial part of it vast domains. The Balkan states can be credited with shortening the lifespan of a troubled empire. More specifically, Albania it can be argued contributed a great deal in bringing about the eventual demise of the Empire.
The late British MP Audrey Hebert succinctly stated that, “In the end, like Samson in the Temple of Gaza, they pulled down the columns of the Ottoman Empire upon their own head. It was the Albanians and not the Serbs or Bulgars or Greeks who defeated the Turks”. It is strange then that not enough research has been done to deeply analyze the Albanian nations’ contributions towards the Ottoman Empire. This essay will look at the Hamedian agenda in relation to the Balkan region, focusing specifically on the Albanian nation.
This essay will analyze the Sultans policies vis-a-vis the Albanians to conclude that in the end the Empire lost a once great ally of the Empire due to its detrimental centralizing policies, which attempted to strip away national in a time when nationalism was a central them in the region. The loss of Albania within the Balkans culminated in the Young Turk revolution, which brought an end to the Hamedian era. Sultan Abdul Hamid II is generally remembered as a pious ruler. The Hamedian agenda was multi-faceted. The Sultan sought to unify the Muslims under the banner of Islam to repel outside intruders.
He also wanted complete authority in order to centralize his Empire. The Ottoman context at this time was characterized by strong nationalist calls from within the Empire. This sweeping nationalism was inspired by Western Europe and various European states encouraged nationalist movements within the Empire thus further compounding the multitude of political, social and economic problems confronting the Sultan. Sultan Abdul Hamid II attempted to undermine the growing nationalist problem by employing his policies of pan-Islamism.
Pan-Islamism gained real momentum only after the signing of a treaty in Berlin in 1878. The treaty was a consequence of the Ottoman defeat against the Russians a year earlier. As a result the Sultan auspiciously suspended the constitution and exiled Ottoman Bureaucrats whose where seen as a threat to the Sultans power. The major outcome of this European headed congress however was that the Empire had lost large parts of the majority Christian Balkan territories. The Sultan then distanced himself from the secular orientated ideas of the preceding Tanzimat era.
His policies “went from being, ostensibly supra-religious during the hey-day of the Tanzimat, to more emphasis being placed on Islam in tone and nuance”. An example of this is his education policy, which put forward school curriculums very Islamic in nature. The Balkans had always been a key economic resource for the Ottoman Empire, owing to its large population, huge fertile lands and well located position inside Europe. The congress’s decision resulted in Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria gaining independence. This greatly hindered the Sultan’s desire for centralization.
Without worrying about ruling a large Christian population, the Sultan could now focus exclusively on his Muslim subjects. He did this in two ways. Firstly, the Sultans’ subjects needed to form “a cohesive new core of identity,” especially since the Muslim population made up over 70% of the Empire. Secondly, Abdul Hamid was not afraid to use his title as Caliph of the Believers to rally support from his subjects to call for jihad against the infidel colonialists. Of course this was part of the pan-Islamic propaganda used so well by the Sultan. In 1877 the Islamic agenda of the Sultan became very apparent.
The San Stefano, treaty was forced on the empire after the Russians had defeated the Ottomans in war. The treated stipulated that the majority Albanians lands be given to Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro. The Albanians were ethnically non-Slavic and most of them were Muslims. They were known to be very loyal to the Empire. Some of the best soldiers who served in the Janissary corps came from Albania. Not long after the treaty of San Stefano, prominent figures from Albania came together in response to a congress that they perceived as dangerous to the Albanian national interests.
This phase in Albania’s’ history is known as the national awakening. The initial result of this congress was the formation of the “league of Prezren” on 20 June 1878, lasting until 1881. With a coalition of land-owners, religious scholars and intellectuals, the league had almost 300 members. They came from Kosovva, Yannya, Isscodra, and Monasstir. The league submitted a document consisting of sixteen plans to the Sultan in 1878. At least 47 Albanian representatives signed this document. Article 1 clearly outlined that the Albanians were not against the Empire.
Article 2 had clearly stated the Leagues’ loyal stance towards Abdul Hamid. We find the following in article 6: “In view of the situation in the Balkans, we will not allow any foreign troops to enter our territory. We will not recognize Bulgaria and do not even wish to hear its name mentioned. If Serbia does not agree to give up the regions it has occupied illegally, we will deploy volunteer corps (akindjiler) against it and do our utmost to bring about the return of these regions. We will do the same with Montenegro. ” “It is understood that the Government may not interfere in the affairs of the League.
Accordingly, the League will not interfere in the administrative affairs of the Government, unless the latter can be shown to have issued orders involving the use of force. ” (Article 14) The formation of the league coupled with the resistance against the decisions of the congress of Berlin contributed in heightening the nationalistic tendencies of the Albanians. The call amongst the Albanians to unify the four populated vilayets into one autonomous province grew louder. However this clearly ran counter to the Sultan’s policy to unite the Empire on an
Islamic basis and not a nationalist one, therefore rendering their demands impossible to accept. The Albanians became increasingly disgruntled with the policies of the Empire. However the Sultans endeavour to redefine the Ottoman identity as purely Islamic was “mainly directed at curbing nascent proto-nationalist acuities of the Ottoman Muslims. ” Such a context deemed the ideas of league as harmful to the agenda of Abdul Hamid. The notion of a separate national entity, in this case “Albanianism’’ was thus actively suppressed by Abdul Hamid.
Indeed Albanian nationalism became very pronounced and posed a threat to the Sultan. The idea of a national identity became so popular in Albania, that a traveller from England became astonished to observe that Albanians viewed themselves as Albanians and not as “Turks or Christians like other minorities in the Empire”. However language became a key hindrance for the Sultans plans. The Albanian language united them. In the wider Balkan context language aided in further agitating the growing nationalistic tendencies within the region.
However the use of language as a basis for Albanian unity was not welcome by all. The Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople outlawed the use of the Albanian script in writing. Sticking to the social contours set by the Sultan the Patriarch intended to divide the Albanians on the basis of creed. ” Local Orthodox Patriarchs threatened Albanian bishops teaching the language with excommunication. However such attempts were ultimately unsuccessful. The Albanian issue was also expressed in military terms further perplexing the Sultans problems.
The Albanians fiercely resisted the points of the aforementioned treaty, which gave away territory to its neighbours, in particular the cessation of Ulcinnj, Plavve and Gusinnje to Montenegro. The Albanians represented by the league were even prepared for what they believed to be an imminent attack by Montenegro and Serbia. The military capabilities of the Albanians were well known to the Sultan. A close confidant to the Sultan and chief secretary of the Empire Tahsin Pasha (1894-1909) describes the Sultans views towards the Albanians. The Albanians occupied first place [in the empire]. Abdul Hamid believed in the bravery and devotion of Albanians. This certainly constituted the foundation of Abdul Hamid’s policies…in Rumeli; the Albanians were considered a bastion of Abdul Hamid’s policies” The Sultan was able to use the military might of the Albanian forces. 1879 was the year in which they defeated an army form Montenegro in Gussnye. The Empire would support or restrain Albanian military activity depending upon its political interests at the time.
Albanians generally fitted into the wider Ottoman political plans, and although the league acted as an independent government inside Albania, collecting taxes and administering the region for example, the Sultan largely ignored this due to the Albanian opposition to a complete dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and its territories. However in 1881 when the pan-Islamic policy of the Sultan had reached a new level, the league was seen as a threat and officially dissolved. Many people were exiled to the western peninsula of Asia.
Following on from the dismantling of the League of Prezren, Abdul Hamid had always attempted, until his removal in 1909, to use the loyal elements of the Albanians to maintain control of the Balkan region. The former vizier Mehmet assad Sefvett Pasha suggested that the Albanians should be heavily relied on for security in Europe. The general Derrvish Pasha also supported this view. The Sultan was fully aware of the strategic importance the Albanians held within the Empire. The Albanian population was of great size, and well placed in the Balkan region. They were key in defending the Empire from the Balkans.
Due to the loyalty and importance the Albanians had to the Sultan, he expanded the role of the Albanians within the Empire. Many were hired as his palace guards, and given a greater chance of participation in the Ciragan Palace (the Ottoman Parliament). They were also appointed to keep the Sheikh-a-Islam safe. Nevertheless Abdul Hamid maintained a feeble hold over population of Albania. Tribal loyalty was a strong force amongst the Albanian people. This loyalty eventually evolved to become expressed through nationalism, a notion that had already swept the region.
The Sultans use of pan-Islamism to centralize his Empire, and more specifically to create a loyal defensive Albanian front in Europe became interpreted as an infringement on the Albanian right to self-recognition. The Alabanian language was used to promote national solidarity amongst the Albanian population, something the Sultans at times abstract policies could not deal with. However it is also true that the Albanians shared a common cause with the Sultan. They rejected and resisted foreign encroachment of the Empire and did not wish for its dissolution.
The formation of the league of Prezren is evidence for these sentiments. In the end the question of why the Albanians and the Sultan could not work together, even for the short term to solve these shared issues is difficult to answer. However what becomes pretty clear is that the Sultans policy of uniting his empire on the basis of religion was persistently competing with the powerful force of nationalism, and in this case Albanianism. To conclude, nationalist movements, which had engulfed the Balkans— the Serbs, Montenegrins and Greeks — had an impact on the Albanians.
The Albanians wanted greater autonomy within the Empire. The Albanians did not necessarily despise the rule of Abdul Hamid or his Empire. They were after all “loyal subjects for 500 years” and always “felt secure,” within the Empire. They disagreed with the idea that they could not gain greater autonomy like the rest of the Balkan states around them. Abdul Hamid’s attempt at centralization infringed on the national aspirations of his subjects thus pan-Islamism was antithetical to granting self-government to the different segments of the Ottoman Empire.
The Albanians wanted greater autonomy but this clearly ran counter to the Sultans plans of centralization via the medium of pan Islamism. The Sultan lost the support of the Albanians and this paved the way for the committee of union and progress to gain huge support in the Balkans (especially in Macedonia). This eventually led to the dethronement of the Sultan. The Sultans policy failed to confront a tough nationalism, and ultimately became his undoing.
Courtney from Study Moose
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