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Ottoman Empire

The Tanzimât (Ottoman Turkish: تنظيمات, Tanẓīmāt), literally meaning reorganization of the Ottoman Empire, was a period of reformation that began in 1839 and ended with the First Constitutional Era in 1876.[1] The Tanzimât reform era was characterized by various attempts to modernize the Ottoman Empire and to secure its territorial integrity against nationalist movements from within and aggressive powers from outside of the state. The reforms encouraged Ottomanism among the diverse ethnic groups of the Empire, attempting to stem the tide of nationalist movements within the Ottoman Empire.

The reforms sought to grant emancipation to non-Muslim subjects of the Empire and to integrate non-Turks more thoroughly into Ottoman society by enhancing their civil liberties and granting them equality throughout the Empire. Though many changes were made to improve civil liberties; many Muslim residents of the empire saw this as foreign influence into the world of Islam. This perception negatively contributed to the efforts made by the state.[2]


The Tanzimât emerged from the minds of reformist sultans like Mahmud II and Abdülmecid I and prominent, often European-educated bureaucrats, who recognized that old religious and military institutions no longer met the needs of the empire. Most of the symbolic changes, such as uniforms, were aimed at changing the mindset of imperial administrators. Many of the officials that were affiliated with the government were encouraged to wear a more "western" style of dress. Many of the reforms were attempts to adopt successful European practices. The reforms were heavily influenced by the Napoleonic Code and French law under the Second Empire as a direct result of the increasing number of Ottoman students being educated in France. Changes included the elimination of the devshirme system of conscription in favour of universal conscription; educational, institutional and legal reforms; and systematic attempts at eliminating corruption. Included in the Tanzimat was a policy of so-called Ottomanism, which was meant to unite all of the different peoples living in Ottoman territories, "Muslim and non-Muslim, Turkish and Greek, Armenian and Jewish, Kurd and Arab". This policy officially began with the Edict of Gülhane of 1839, declaring equality before the law for both Muslim and non-Muslim Ottomans.[3]

Causes and goals

The ambitious project was launched to combat the slow decline of the empire that had seen its borders shrink and its strength weaken in comparison to the European powers. There were internal as well as external reasons for the reforms.

Internally, the Ottoman Empire hoped that, by getting rid of the millet system, it would be able to control directly all of its citizens through the creation of a more centralized government. This change was also meant to increase the legitimacy of Ottoman rule. Another major hope was that by being more open to various demographics, more people would be attracted into the empire. There was fear of internal strife between Muslims and non-Muslims, and allowing more religious freedom to all was supposed to diminish this threat. Giving more rights to the Christians was considered likely to reduce the danger of outside intervention on their behalf.

Externally, the Ottomans were growing scared of an escalating intervention of the European powers in Ottoman affairs, this being a driving reason for the Tanzimat Reforms. After the Crimean War, which was caused by Russia's incursion into the Ottoman Empire in the 1850s, the Ottoman leaders tried to avoid a repeat of the situation. They thought that the Great Powers would accept the Tanzimat as long as reforms were ongoing, leaving them to act as enforcers of these goals.


The Tanzimât reforms began under Sultan Mahmud II. On November 3, 1839, Sultan Abdülmecid issued a hatt-i sharif or imperial edict called the Edict of Gülhane or Tanzimât (تنظيمات) Fermânı. This was followed by several statutes enacting its policies.

In the edict the Sultan stated that he wished "to bring the benefits of a good administration to the provinces of the Ottoman Empire through new institutions." Among the reforms were[4]

Edict of Gülhane of 1839

Main article: Edict of Gülhane
Mustafa Reşid Pasha, the principal architect of the Edict of Gülhane
(The Ottoman Imperial Edict of Reorganization, proclaimed on November 3rd, 1839)

The Hatt-ı Şerif, lit. Noble Decree or Imperial Rescript of Gülhane, was the first major reform in the Tanzimat reforms under the government of sultan Abdulmecid and a crucial event in the movement towards secularization. The decree, named after the rosehouse (gülhane) on the grounds of the Topkapi Palace, abolished tax farming. It also created a bureaucratic system of taxation with salaried tax collectors. This reflects the centralizing effects of the Tanzimat reforms. Additionally, the Edict of Gülhane imposed forced military conscription within the administrative districts based on their population size.

However, the most significant clause of the Gülhane decree is the one enforcing the rule of law for all subjects, including non-Muslims, by guaranteeing the right to life and property for all. This put an end to the kul system, which allowed the ruler's servants to be executed or have their property confiscated at his desire. These reforms sought to establish legal and social equality for all Ottoman citizens. The reforms eliminated the millet system in the Ottoman Empire. The millet system created religiously based communities that operated autonomously, so people were organized into societies, some of them often receiving privileges. This clause terminated the privileges of these communities and constructed a society where all followed the same law.

The new reforms called for an almost complete reconstruction of public life in the Ottoman Empire. Under the reconstruction, a system of state schools was established to produce government clerics. Ottomans were encouraged to enroll. Each province was organized so that each governor would have an advisory council and specified duties in order to better serve the territory. The new reforms also called for a modern financial system with a central bank, treasury bonds and a decimal currency. Finally, the reforms implemented the expansion of roads, canals and rail lines for better communication and transportation.


The reaction to the edict was not entirely positive. Christians in the Balkans refused to support the reforms because they wanted an autonomy that became more difficult to achieve under centralized power. In fact, its adoption spurred some provinces to seek independence by rebelling. It took strong British backing in maintaining Ottoman territory to ensure that the reforms were instated.

Edict of 1856 and religious freedom

The Reform Edict of 1856 was intended to carry out the promises of the Tanzimat. The Edict is very specific about the status of non-Muslims, making it possible "to see it as the outcome of a period of religious restlessness that followed the Edict of 1839." Officially, part of the Tanzimat's goal was to make the state intolerant to forced conversion to Islam, also making the execution of apostates from Islam illegal. Despite the official position of the state in the midst of the Tanzimat reforms, this tolerance of non-Muslims seems to have been seriously curtailed, at least until the Reform Edict of 1856. The Ottoman Empire had tried many different ways to reach out to non-Muslims. First they tried to reach out to them by giving all non-Muslims an option to apply for Dhimmi status. Having Dhimmi status gave non-Muslims the ability to live in the Ottoman Empire and own property but this ability was not without special taxes (jizya).

In fact, there was constant pressure on non-Muslims to convert to Islam, and the danger of execution for apostates remained real. Thus, the Tanzimat, at least at first, failed to actively promote freedom to practice one's religion without harassment. For the "Ottoman ruling elite, 'freedom of religion' meant 'freedom to defend their religion.'"[8]

Effects of the Tanzimat reforms

The 1876 Constitution: Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the Grand Vizier, and the millets grant freedom to an idealized female figure representing Turkey, whose chains are being smashed. The flying angel displays a banner with the motto of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity in Turkish (Arabic script) and in Greek. The scene takes place in a generic Bosphorus scenery. Reproduced from a 1908 postcard (not 1895, the printed caption is inaccurate) celebrating the re-introduction of the constitution thanks to the Young Turk Revolution of 1908.

Although the Edict of Gülhane and the Tanzimat provided strong guidelines for society, it was not a constitution. It did not replace the authority of the sultan.

This being said, overall the Tanzimat reforms had far-reaching effects. Those educated in the schools established during the Tanzimat period included major personalities of the nation states which were to develop from the Ottoman Empire, such as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and other progressive leaders and thinkers of the Republic of Turkey and many other personalities from the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa. The system was ultimately undone by negotiations with the Great Powers following the Crimean War. As part of the Charter of 1856, European powers demanded a much stronger sovereignty for ethnic communities within the empire, differing from the Ottomans who envisioned equality meaning identical treatment under the law for all citizens. This served to strengthen the Christian middle class, increasing their economic and political power.

Arab notables generally opposed the Tanzimat. They could see that positions of administrative authority in the changing Ottoman state were going to young men trained in the government schools. Beginning in the 1870s, many of the leading Arab families adopted the practice of enrolling their sons in the higher academies of Istanbul. Upon completing their studies, these young Arabs obtained positions in the Ottoman bureaucracy and thus gave their families access to the government. Indeed, throughout the Tanzimat, the Arab urban elite managed to preserve their privileges and to make themselves indispensable to the Ottoman officials sent out from Istanbul. The politics of the notables survived the centralizing reforms.[9]

The reforms peaked in 1876 with the implementation of an Ottoman constitution checking the autocratic powers of the Sultan. The details of this period are covered under the First Constitutional Era. Although the new Sultan Abdülhamid II signed the first constitution, he quickly turned against it.

State institutions were reorganized; laws were updated according to the needs of the changing world; modern education, clothing, architecture, arts, and lifestyle were encouraged. This reorganization and addition of state institutions resulted in an enormous increase in the number of bureaucrats in the Ottoman Empire.

Some scholars argue that from the Muslim's population traditional Islamic view, the Tanzimat's fundamental change regarding the non-Muslims, from a status of a subjugated population (dhimmi) to that of equal subjects, was in part responsible for the Hamidian massacres and subsequent Armenian Genocide. In their view, these were inevitable backlashes from the Muslim community to the legal changes, as the Tanzimat's values were imposed from above and did not reflect those of society.[10]

Effects in different provinces

In Lebanon, the Tanzimat reforms were intended to return to the tradition of equality for all subjects before the law. However, the Sublime Porte assumed that the underlying hierarchical social order would remain unchanged. Instead, the upheavals of reform would allow for different understandings of the goals of the Tanzimat. The elites in Mount Lebanon, in fact, interpreted the Tanzimat far differently from one another, leading to ethno-religious uprisings among newly emancipated Maronites. As a result, "European and Ottoman officials engaged in a contest to win the loyalty of the local inhabitants — the French by claiming to protect the Maronites; the British, the Druze; and the Ottomans by proclaiming the sultan's benevolence toward all his religiously equal subjects."[11]

In Palestine, land reforms, especially the change in land ownership structure via the Ottoman Land Law of 1858, allowed Russian Jews to buy land, thus enabling them to immigrate there under the first Aliya. In order to boost its tax base, the Ottoman state required Arabs in Palestine, as elsewhere, to register their lands for the first time. As a rule the fellahin didn't trust the ailing regime, fearing that registration would only lead to higher taxation and conscription. Prevailing illiteracy among the fellahin meant in the end that many local mukhtars were able to collectively register village lands under their own name. Thus, they were able to later claim ownership and to sell the local peasants' lands out from under their feet to the new Jewish immigrants, as they themselves relocated permanently to Syria or Turkey.[12] Alternately, rich Christian or Muslim families, the so-called class of the 'Effendis", were able to accumulate large amounts of land which they exploited by themselves or sold on.

In Armenia, the Armenian National Constitution (Turkish: "Nizâmnâme−i Millet−i Ermeniyân") of 1863 was approved by the Ottoman government. The "Code of Regulations" consisted of 150 articles drafted by the Armenian intelligentsia and defined the powers of the Armenian Patriarch under the Ottoman Millet System and the newly formed "Armenian National Assembly".[13]

See also


  1. Cleveland, William L & Martin Bunton, A History of the Modern Middle East: 4th Edition, Westview Press: 2009, p. 82.
  2. Roderic. H. Davison, Essays in Ottoman and Turkish History, 1774-1923 – The Impact of West, Texas 1990, pp. 115-116.
  3. The Invention of Tradition as Public Image in the Late Ottoman Empire, 1808 to 1908, Selim Deringil, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Jan., 1993), pp. 3-29
  4. 1 2 NTV Tarih history magazine, issue of July 2011. "Sultan Abdülmecid: İlklerin Padişahı", pages 46-50. (Turkish)
  5. Ottoman Bank Museum: History of the Ottoman Bank
  6. Istanbul Stock Exchange: History of the Istanbul Stock Exchange
  7. 1 2 Cleveland & Bunton, A History of the Modern Middle East, Chapter 5 pg.84 of 4th edition
  8. There Is No Compulsion in Religion": On Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire: 1839-18... more, Selim Deringil, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 42, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 547-575
  9. Cleveland, William (2013). A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. pp. 85–86. ISBN 0813340489.
  10. Movsesian, Mark L., Elusive Equality: The Armenian Genocide and the Failure of Ottoman Legal Reform (May 5, 2010). St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1600745; Islamic Law and Law of the Muslim World Paper, Forthcoming. http://ssrn.com/abstract=1600745
  11. Corrupting the Sublime Sultanate: The Revolt of Tanyus Shahin in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon, Ussama Makdisi, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 180-208
  12. Gershon Shafir, Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 1882-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  13. Richard G. (EDT) Hovannisian "The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times" p. 198.oo



Further reading

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