Thirty fourth Ottoman padishah (B. September 12, 1842, Istanbul – February 10, 1918, Istanbul). He was the son of Sultan Abdülmecid from Tir-i Müjgân Kadınefendi. Since his mother could not recover from tuberculosis and died when he was eleven years old he was raised by his stand-in mother and Pirustu, the childless woman lord of the sultan. He was of medium height, had a beak nose, big shiny eyes and had straight black hair as seen in the photographs. All the sources about him agree on the fact that he had marvelous intelligence and memory and was hard-working and resolved but was too skeptical. In the same sources it is also stated that he treated people respectfully and kindly and knew how to conciliate them.
He received Turkish lessons from Gerdan Kıran Ömer Efendi, Persian lessons from Ali Mahvi Efendi, Arabic and other lessons from Ferid Efendi and Şerif Efendi, Ottoman history lessons from Vak’anûvis Lütfi Efendi, French lessons from Edhem and Kemal Pashas and a Frenchman called Gardet, music lessons from two ladies called Guatelli and Lombardi. He grew up within the Westernization efforts of the Tanzimat (T. N. Reform) era.
Prince Abdülhamid participated in the Egypt and Europe trips of his uncle Abdülaziz and was interested in stock gambling in his youth. He had a huge personal wealth when he ascended to the throne. He was very cautious and leery because of the events he witnessed in the era. Dethronement of the two padishas before him increased his unease and he saw the possibility of his own dethronement. He was closely involved with state affairs and he worked until late hours and made important decisions by himself. He had a retentive memory and he knew how to charm people. He was a master carpenter; when he had extra time after dealing with state affairs he spent his time in the carpenter’s shop of the palace. He was fond of Western music. He had seventeen children from eight wives and five odalisques.
When he ascended to the throne after he agreed with constitutionalist Mithat Pasha and his friends (August 31st, 1876), Serbia and Montenegro wars were added to the Bosnia, Herzegovina and Bulgarian uprisings. Russia, who was supporting these uprisings, was looking for an opportunity to resolve the Eastern Question for his own hand. The negative influence in Europe generated by the decision that Mahmut Nedim Pasha made regarding the external debts in the recent years of Abdülaziz was not forgotten yet. Making a transition to constitutional governance was being discussed within the political and highbrow circles in Istanbul. Despite the military success achieved against Serbians, Sublime Porte (central administration) had to accept the diplomatic note given by Russia on ending the war and signed an armistice with Serbia. In the meantime the commission that was formed to prepare the constitution started its work. Mithat Pasha was appointed as the Grand Vizier (prime minister) (December 19th, 1876) in place of Rüştü Pasha, who resigned from his office. Four days later, the countries that had a signature under the Paris Agreement came together in Istanbul to discuss the situation in Balkans (Constantinople Conference). On the same day Kanun-i Esasi (Ottoman Constitution) was declared (December 23rd, 1876). The purpose behind declaring the Constitution on the same day as the Constantinople Conference was to prevent the extreme demands regarding the privileges that were going to be granted to the minorities in Balkans. However, the great powers did not take the Constitution seriously and they presented a program that forced the Ottoman Empire to make serious concessions in the Balkans. Thereupon, the Ottoman Government rejected the decisions of Constantinople Conference. At the request of Sultan Abdülhamid II the issue was discussed once more in an extraordinary assembly and was rejected again. The decision was declared to the relevant countries in the last meeting (January 20th, 1877) of Constantinople Conference. Ambassadors of the great powers left representatives in place of themselves and departed Istanbul.
After the conference was adjourned, Abdülhamid II discharged Grand Vizier Mithat Pasha from his office and by basing on the famous Article 113 of the Constitution he deported him. However, he did not object to the Constitution. He went through the elections and gathered the Assembly (March 19th, 1877). The London Protocol that was prepared with the initiative of England, who wanted to prevent Russia from declaring war, was rejected after being discussed in Meclis-i Mebusan (T.N. first Turkish parliament) and Ayan (T. N. Upper House) Assemblies. With that, Russia declared war on Ottoman Empire on April 24th, 1877 (the ’93 War). The war escalated to the detriment of the Ottoman Empire in Eastern and Western fronts. Russians reached Erzurum in the east and Edirne in the west. Abdülhamid II had to ask for ceasefire. He requested the peace conditions set forth by Russians to be discussed and concluded in the Assembly. However, the Assembly did not want to undertake such a responsibility. The Second Assembly that was elected in pursuance of the Constitution came together in the beginning of January 1878. As a result of the tension caused by the defeat, statesmen were severely criticized in the Assembly and the Assembly demanded the commanders that led to defeat to be put on trial. A treaty was signed with the Russians on January 31st, 1878. After this, based on the power vested in him by the Constitution, Abdülhamid II suspended Meclis-i Mebusan indefinitely (February 13th, 1878).
Russians got to San Stefano (Yeşilköy) as the British moved their fleet into Marmara. With the Treaty of San Stefano signed between Russia and Ottoman Empire (March 3rd, 1878) Montenegro, Serbia and Romania were given full independence and land; existence of Bulgaria was then recognized to stretch away from Danube to Aegean and to include Macedonia. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Crete and provinces with Armenian residents were given privileges; Kars, Ardahan, Batum and Bayezit were ceded to Russia and serious war compensation was burdened.
However, by the initiative of England, who found the Treaty of San Stefano against its interests, it was decided to hold a new congress in Berlin. In the meantime, Cyprus was temporarily left to the British rule (June 4th, 1878) in return for their assistance in Berlin Congress. Certain amendments were made to the provisions of Treaty of Berlin (July 13th, 1878) and Treaty of San Stefano. Ottoman Empire suffered a great loss of land, apart from paying serious war compensation. The Treaty brought along with itself many issues that quickened the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Bosnia-Herzegovina was left to Austrian rule (1879), France captured Tunisia (1881) and the British invaded Egypt (1882).
After suspending Meclis-i Mebusan, Abdülhamid II gradually seized the control of the state. He turned the Yıldız Palace, which was his personal residence, into the center of government as well. He formed a series of special consultative committees around himself. He managed to enchain the high ulama and the aristocracy of bureaucrats and pashas, who started to gather in the Palace, with promotions, salaries and gifts. He debarred the prime ministers that he appointed as grand viziers from their traditional authorities as well as from the authorities given by Kanun-i Esasi (the Constitution). Once he secured his foot on the ground, by charging Mithat Pasha with the murder of Abdülaziz, he had Mithat Pasha put to trial in the private court he established in Yıldız Palace. In the meantime, the attempted coup of Ali Suavi, who intended to dethrone Murat V once more, and the revelation of Kleanti Skalieri- Aziz Bey Committee, who worked on the same purpose as Ali Suavi, increased his concerns about being dethroned. Thereon, he inclined towards a strict autocratic regime and formed a comprehensive intelligence service. Due to his despotism, he was called the “Crimson Sultan” by the dissidents and the leaders of illegal organizations.
Abdülhamid’s main purpose in his foreign policy was to maintain the status quo and to avoid new conflicts. He carried out a successful balance policy in the affairs of Ottoman Empire with European countries. He declared war on Greece, who helped the uprising in Crete (1897). He approached Western countries’ initiatives in the region with caution and tried to set them against each other. Against England, whom he regarded as the most dangerous country, he put up France in Egypt, and Germany in Persian Gulf. He put up France and Italy against each other in North Africa. He especially avoided getting into a new conflict with Russia. He did not implement the provisions of Berlin Agreement, which were about making reforms in the provinces where Armenians resided, by stating that Armenians did not constitute the majority anywhere. He rejected Zionists’ money offer that was made in order to found a state in Palestine. He was hoping that economic cooperation with Germany could strengthen the country. In order to put especially the British to trouble he wanted to pursue an Islamist foreign policy by taking advantage of Caliphate institution. He appointed the ulama and public officers of Arabian provinces to high positions and put them to his personal service. He granted privileges to tekkes and zawiyas (T. N. Islamic monasteries) in Arabian provinces and provided them financial assistance. He provided favorable opportunities to the sect leaders he gathered in Istanbul. By this way, he increased the prestige of caliphate in Islamic countries many of which were occupied by the European countries. There were times when the European diplomacy surmised that there was a hidden power in the caliphate of Abdülhamid.
Abdülhamid II paid attention to ensure that external debts did not increase a lot and the existing debts were paid regularly. Nevertheless, he also had to get into debt in order to get out of constant financial difficulties, although it was not to the same extent as the sultans before him. Düyun-u Umumiye İdaresi (T. N. the Ottoman Public Debt Administration), which was founded to pay the external debts (1881), possessed the whole economic life by seizing certain revenues of the country. Foreign capital investments in the country increased. Railroads were constructed in Anatolia and Rumelia with French, English and German capital. Giving privilege to Germany for the railroad construction in Baghdad was met with the reaction the British and French.
New arrangements that began with Tanzimat continued during the reign of Abdülhamid as well. Important steps were taken in the popularization of education and strengthening its quality. Number of junior high schools and high schools was rapidly increased. Hukuk Mektebi (Academy of Law), Sanayi-i Nefise (Academy of Fine Arts), Ticaret Mektebi (Academy of Business) and Darülfünun (Istanbul University) were opened. Law enforcement agency was reorganized by taking into consideration the modern examples of it. Retirement fund was established. Criminal Procedure Law and Commercial Customs Law were enacted.
Abdülhamid regime could not prevent a new dissident generation from coming into existence despite its repressive methods, seeming stagnancy and the rapid developments it provided in education, bureaucracy, transportation and certain areas of the economy. Secret societies were founded in higher education institutions especially in Tıbbiye (Medical School) and Harbiye (Military School) and secret committees that mostly consisted of military officers but also involved the civilians were founded. Dissidents, who fled to Europe, established centers in Paris and Geneva and received vast supports from European countries. In June of 1908, associations in Bitola and Thessalonica revolted against the Abdülhamid regime. Telegrams that requested Kanun-i Esasi to be put into effect rained down on the Palace. Under these circumstances Abdülhamid was forced to put Kanun-i Esasi into effect (July 23rd, 1908). The new Meclis-i Mebusan was opened on December 17th, 1908, by Abdülhamid himself. Following the 31 March Incident (April 13th, 1909), which had a nature that wasn’t revealed then, Resistance movement of İttihad ve Terakki Fırkası (T. N. Party of Union and Progress), who constituted a quorum in the Assembly, both repressed the uprising by marching on Istanbul with the Hareket Army they gathered together from the revolting forces in Rumelia and ended the sultanate of Abdülhamid II (April 27th, 1909). Abdülhamid, who was then unseated, was settled in Alatini manor house in Thessalonica along with his relatives. He was brought back to Istanbul during the Balkan Wars (1912-13), when it was understood that Thessalonica could not be defended. He spent rest of his life in Beylerbeyi Palace under custody. He died from liver cancer and his body was buried in Mausoleum of Mahmud II in Divanyolu with a ceremony peculiar to rulers.