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The Invention of Tradition as Public Image in the Late Ottoman Empire, 1808 to 1908

  • Selim Deringil (a1)


The nineteenth century, a time when world history seemed to accelerate, was the epoch of the Risorgimento and the Unification of Germany. It was also an epoch which saw the last efforts of dynastic ancien régime empires (Habsburg, Romanov, Ottoman) to shore up their political systems with methods often borrowed from their adversaries, the nationalist liberals. Eric Hobsbawm's inspiring recent study has pointed out that, in the world after the French Revolution, it was no longer enough for monarchies to claim divine right; additional ideological reinforcement was required: “The need to provide a new, or at least a supplementary, ‘national’ foundation for this institution was felt in states as secure from revolution as George III's Britain and Nicholas I's Russia.”



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1 Hobsbawm, Eric, Nations and Nationalism (Cambridge, 1990), 84.

2 Smith, Anthony, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford, 1986), 106.

3 Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, 1983), 82.

4 Mardin, Şerif, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought (Princeton, 1962), 60.

5 Hobsbawm, Eric and Ranger, Terrance, eds., The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, 1983), 266.

6 This article is part of a larger project which aims at the understanding of the transformation of the Ottoman self-image in the nineteenth century.

7 Hobsbawm, , Nations and Nationalism, 4579.

8 Ibid., 49.

9 Ibid., 67.

10 Ibid., 110.

11 Anderson, , Imagined Communities, 82103.

12 Ibid., 82.

13 Ibid., 87.

14 Findley, Carter, “The Advent of Ideology in the Islamic Middle East,” Studia Islamica, LVI (1982), 171.

15 Hobsbawm, and Ranger, , The Invention of Tradition, particularly 114, 101–62, 263307.

16 Cannadine, David, “The British Monarchy c. 1820–1977,” in Hobsbawm and Ranger, The Invention of Tradition, 126.

17 Başbakanhk Arşjvi Yildiz Resmi Manizat 135/22. Prime Ministerial Archives (Istanbul) [hereafter, BBA]. Official correspondence between Yildiz Palace and the Ministries [hereafter, Y.ARES Y.AHUS].

18 Ibid. See also David Cannadine, “The British Monarchy,” 121: “As the real power of the Monarchy waned, the way was open for it to become the centre of grand ceremonial once more.” Similarly, as real power declined in the Ottoman Empire, the emphasis shifted to claiming legitimacy through pomp and ceremonial.

19 Hobsbawm, , “Introduction: Inventing Traditions,” in The Invention of Tradition, 6.

20 Smith, , Ethnic Origins of Nations, 15.

21 BBA Y.A HUS 261/91 Imperial Chancery to Yildiz Palace. 11 Zilkade 1309/ 8 June 1892. The matter developed over a crate of mirrors being sent from Greece to Crete. It must be remembered that these were turbulent years leading up to the autonomy of Crete and the Ottoman-Greek War of 1897.

22 BBA Y.A HUS 184/65 Grand Vizier Kamil Pasa to Yildiz Palace. 14 Muharrem 1303/ 24 October 1885.

23 BBA Y.A HUS 306/46. Grand Vizier Cevad Paşa. Sublime Porte Receivers Office no: 589 12 Safer 1312/ 16 March 1894. To this day, non-Muslim places of worship display the Turkish flag (very prominently), yet one never sees a mosque displaying the national colours.

24 BBA Y.A HUS 261/141 Grand Vizier Cevad Paşa to Vilayet of Konya. 23 Zilkade 1309/ 20 June 1892.

25 For concise information on the fes, see Brill, E. J., Encyclopedia of Islam (Leiden, 1987), 96; see also Trevor-Roper, Hugh, “The Highland Tradition of Scotland,” in Hobsbawm and Ranger, The Invention of Tradition, 1541. The fes and the kilt seem to share certain characteristics. Both were the result of an imported idea. The kilt was the product of the pragmatic imagination of an English Quaker entrepreneur, and the fes, the headgear of North Africa. Both became symbols of their respective societies to the point of total assimilation into the local culture. Just as the foreign tourists today buy kilts when they visit Scotland, they are often seen in the tourist traps of Istanbul sporting the fes as a “traditional” aspect of the city. Both the kilt and the fes therefore retain largely fancy dress value. Indeed, when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk set out to ban the latter as a symbol of Ottoman decadence, he condemned it as “the headcovering of Greeks,” hoping thus to direct the popular odium of the recent war against the Greek invasion of Anatolia against it and replace it with the modem cloth cap or hat. See Göle, Nilüfer, Modern Mahrem (Istanbul, 1991), 52.

26 Hobsbawm, and Ranger, , Invention, 7, 11, 270, 277.

27 Üngör, Etem, Türk Marşiar (Turkish Marches) Türk Kültiirünü Araştirma Enstitüsü. seri IV sayt A.3 (Ankara, 1965), 87. This is a very interesting book which gives the complete scores of all the major examples of official music. See also Gazimihal, Mahmut R., Türk Askeri Muzikalan Tarihi (The History of Turkish Military Bands) (Istanbul, 1955), 84. I thank Dr. Cern Behar for both these references.

28 Ünguör, , Türk Marşian, 90115.

29 Ibid, 74.

30 Tanzimat'dan Cumhuriyet'e Türkiye Ansiklopedisi (The Encyclopedia of Turkey from the Tanzimat to the Republic) (Istanbul, 1985), 1216, 1220.

31 Gazimihal, , Türk Askeri Muzikalan Tarihi, 84.

32 Supplement du journal Malumat 1311. Marche composé par Mile. Laurette Rosette; Dicran Thohadjian, “Grande Marche trés humblement dedié a Sa Majeste Imperiale le Sultan Abdul Hamid Han. Empereur des Ottomans. Composée specialement pour le journal Malumat a l'occasion de l'Année 1313 de l'Hegire.” Both marches and their scores are part of the Cem Behar collection.

33 Personal collection of Dr. Edhem Eldem. I owe thanks to Dr. Eldem for bringing this medallion to my attention. The medallion is in bronze and was struck in Brussels.

34 Salname-i Vilayet-i Hiidavendigâr (Almanac for the Vilayet of Bursa), year 1303/1885, pp. 110–33.

35 Düstur (Register of Ottoman Laws) l.Tertip Istanbul Matbaa-i Amire 1289. (Istanbul Imperial Press 1289/1872), p. 4.

See also Hurewitz, J. C., The Middle East and Africa in World Politics (New Haven, 1975), 269–71. My version differs slightly from that of Hurewitz, in that I have preferred to use “prevail” where Hurewitz uses “survive (payidar)”. For a good overall description of the Ottoman reform process known as the Tanzimat, or re-ordering, see Lewis, Bernard, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London, 1971).

36 Düstur, p. 5.

37 Ma'oz, Moshe, Ottoman Reform in Syria and Palestine (Oxford, 1968), 23. Ma'oz states that differing versions were circulated in the Arab provinces. These were not quite as explicit in their declarations of equality. On the disturbances in the provinces, see Mardin, Şerif, The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought (Princeton, 1962).

38 Mitchell, William Ramsay, “The Intermixture of Races in Asia Minor,” Proceedings of the British Academy 1915–16, pp. 359422. I owe thanks to Professor Şerif Mardin for this reference.

39 Akşin, Sina, Türkiye Tarihi II (Istanbul, 1988), 8.

40 Ipşirli, Mehmet, “Osmanhlarda Cuma Selamhǧi. Halk Hükümdar Münasebetleri Açisindan Önemi” (The Institution of Friday Prayer in the Ottoman State. Its Importance for the Relationship of the Ruler and the People), in Prof. Bekir Kütükoǧlu' na Armaǧan (Istanbul, 1991), 459–71. The official department in question was called the Maruzat-i Rikabive Dairesi (The Bureau of Petitions of the Stirrup). Dr. İpşirli, has done a detailed analysis of the content of these petitions and points out that in most cases they were acted upon.

41 Batur, Afife, “Batihlaşma Döneminde Osmanh Mimarhǧi” (Ottoman Architecture during the Period of Westernization), Tanzimat'dan Cumhuriyet'e Türkiye Ansiklopedisi, pp. 1060–1.

42 Duguid, Stephen, “The Politics of Unity: Hamidian Policy in Eastern Anatolia,” Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 9 (1973), 139–55.

43 Braden, Jean Haythorne, The Eagle and the Crescent: American Interests in the Ottoman Empire. 1861–1870 (Ph.D Disser., Ohio State University, 1973), 13.

44 Salt, Jeremy, “A Precarious Symbiosis: Ottoman Christians and the Foreign Missionaries in the Nineteenth Century,” International Journal of Turkish Studies, 3:3 (19851986), 56.

45 Ibid, 65.

46 Smith, , The Ethnic Origins of Nationalism, 142. Smith talks about how this programme was tried in both Habsburg Austria and Romanov Russia but yielded the opposite result to the desired result. The parallels with the Ottoman case are striking here.

47 On the Hanefi Mezheb, see The Encyclopedia of Islam (Leiden and London, 1965), 162–4, s.v. “The Hanafiyya.”

48 Hobsbawm, , “Introduction: Inventing Traditions,” in Hobsbawn and Ranger, The Invention of Tradition, 5.

49 BBA Irade Dahiliye (Imperial Edict) 99013 Yildiz Palace Imperial Secretariat 24 Cemaziyelahir 1309/26 January 1892. The Imperial Edicts cover all spheres of state activity. They are separate collections, such as Dahiliye (Internal Affairs), Hariciye (Foreign Affairs), and Maarif (Education).

50 BBA Irade Dahiliye 100258 Yildiz Palace Imperial Secretariat No.6975 27 Şevval 1309/26 May 1892.

51 BBA Irade Meclis-i Mahsus 4687 Mutasarrif Muhammed Hassa to the Sublime Porte. Telegram 13 Haziran 1306/26 June 1891. The Ottoman administrative units of the time were broken down into provinces (Vilayet), administered by a Governor or Vali, districts (Sancak) administered by a Mutasarrif, and the communes (Kaza) administered by a Kaimakam model was the Code Napoléon, and the major reorganization of the provincial administration took shape under the Law of Provincial Administration (Vilayet Kannunamesi) of 1869. See Ortayli, IIber, Tanzimattan Sonra Mahalli ldareler 1840–1878 (Provincial Administration in the Ottoman Empire) (Ankara, 1974).

52 Ibid. Telegram from Governor of Beirut, Aziz Paşa, to Sublime Porte. 14 Haziran 1306/27 June 1891.

53 BBA Irade Dahiliye 99649 Governor of Syria to Sublime Porte, No.32 19 Cemaziyelahir 1309/21 January 1892.

54 Ibid.

55 BBA Irade Dahiliye 100687 Yildiz Palace Imperial Secretariat No.8185 29 Zilkade 1309/26 June 1892.

56 Guest, John, The Yezidis. A Study in Survival (London and New York, 1987).

57 Ibid, 126. For information on the Yezidi faith see Joseph, Isya, Devil Worship. The Sacred Books and Traditions of the Yezidiz (London, 1919; reprint, the Health Research Institute of California, 1972).

58 BBA Irade Dahiliye 97741 Sublime Porte to Yildiz Palace 20 Rebiyulevvel 1309/25 October 1891.

59 BBA Irade Dahiliye 97741 Sublime Porte to Yildiz Palace 20 Rebiyulevvel 1309/25 October 1891.

60 Guest, , The Yezidis, 128.

61 BBA Irade Dahiliye 53 7 Agustos 1308/ 20 August 1892. This material is located in the Irade Dahiliye catalogue for the year H.1310 (1893)

62 Guest, , The Yezidis, 129–30.

63 BBA Irade Dahiliye 53, Telegram from Ömer Vehbi Pasa to Sublime Porte 7 Agustos 1307/ 20 August 1892.

64 BBA Bab-i Ali Evrak Odasi (Chancellery of the Sublime Porte BEO) 149343 6 Zilkade 1320/ 8 February 1903; BEO 149900 16 Zilkade 1320/15 February 1903.

65 BBA Irade Dahiliye 97552 Yildiz Palace Imperial Secretariat, No.458, 26 Safer 1309/12 October 1891; Irade Hariciye 20918 17 Rebiyulahir 1309/22 October 1891.

66 BBA Irade Dahiliye 97963 Yildiz Palace Imperial Secretariat No. 1492 30 Rebiyulevvel 1309/4 November 1891.

67 An Eastern statesman, Contemporary Review, “Contemporary Life and Thought in Turkey,” vol. 37 [1880], 334–43.

68 BBA Yildiz Esas Evraki (YEE) Original collection of all Sultan Abdülhamid II's archives. 14/1188/126/9 Bagdad 9 Ramazan 1309/ 8 April 1892. Süleyman Hüsnü Paşa had a distinguished career in the Ottoman army and was typical of the Ottoman officer who was something of an intellectual. He is known as the author of the His-i Inkilab (Will to Revolution), a tract outlining the necessary reforms to save the empire from ruin, which he presented to Sultan Abdülaziz. He remained anathema in the eyes of the suspicious Abdulhamid. The sultan used the defeat in the Russo–Ottoman war of 1877–78 to magnify his share in the failure and exile him to Bagdad, where he died soon after he wrote the above report. On him, see Türk Meşhurlan Ansiklopedisi (Encyclopedia of Famous Turks) (Istanbul, 1943), 360.

69 Deringil, Selim, “Ottoman Counter-Propaganda against Shi'ism in Hamidian Iraq 1880–900,” Die Welt Des Islams, vol. 30 (1990), 4562.

70 BBA Irade Hususi 16 Yildiz Palace Imperial Secretariat no: 13509 6 Zilkade 1315/ 30 March 1898. Signed by the Private Secretary to the sultan, Tahsin Paşa. This indicates that the sultan took a personal interest in the matter.

71 BBA Irade Hususi 111 23 Zilkade 1315/ 22 April 1898 Yildiz Palace Imperial Secretariat no: 14212.

72 BBA Irade Hususi 96 6 Şevval 1315/ 29 February 1898 Yildiz Palace Imperial Secretariat no: 12249; also Irade Hususi 16 6 Şevval 1315.

73 Manneh, Butrus Abu, “Sultan Abdulhamid II and Shaikh Abulhuda Al-Sayyadi,” Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 15 (1979), 131–53; Le Gall, Michel L., Pashas Bedouins and Notables (Ph.D disser., Princeton University, 1986), 226–7: Muhammad Zafir B. Hamza al-Madani (1829–1903) met Abdulhamid in 1871 while the latter was still an insignificant prince unlikely ever to rule. He gradually became a close confidante of the sultan. In 1888 Abdulhamid established a Madani lodge (zaviye) near the Yildiz Palace. Although Le Gall states that Zafir's relations with the Senusis were not brilliant, he was always regarded as the liaison man between the Palace and North African Muslims. See also Tanzimat'dan Cumhuriyet'e Türkiye Ansiklopedisi, p. 1087. After his death in 1903, the sultan had an elaborate shrine/mausoleum constructed for Sheikh Zafir in ornate art nouveau by his court architect, Raimondo d'Aronco. It still stands as a relic of late Ottoman folly architecture.

74 Duguid, , “The Politics of Unity,” 139.

75 BBA Y.A RES. 15/38 Memorandum of the Council of State 17 Cemaziyelevvel 1299/ 7 April 1882 no: 72. The actual wording of the law is significant because it carries a certain “worried” tone not usually found in a dry legal document. The preamble to the “Law permitting foreigners to buy property in Ottoman dominions” reads as follows: “In order to prevent malpractices and dispel doubts about the purchase of property in Ottoman domains by foreigners … and in order to secure the orderly execution of regulations pertaining to this exceptionally important matter it has been decreed that….” Article One then reads: “Apart from the territory of the Hicaz … [foreigners are permitted to purchase property] in all the territories of the state.” See, Düstur (Register of Ottoman Laws) 1. Tertip (1289). The law is dated Gurre-i Cemaziyelevvel 1284/ (31 August 1867).

76 BBA Y.ARES 15/38.

77 An interesting parallel in this context might be drawn with the Dutch colonialists' concept of “foreign orientals” as opposed to “Dutch orientals,” that is, subjects of the Dutch East Indian colonies. See Anderson, , Imagined Communities, 112.

78 BBA Y.A RES 15/38.

79 Cohn, Bernard, “Representing Authority in Victorian India,” in Hobsbawm and Ranger, Invented Traditions, 174.

80 Hobsbawm, , Nations and Nationalism, 49.

81 BBA Y.A RES 93/38 Memorandum by Minister of Education. Zühdü Paşa to the office of the Şeyhülislam. 20 Receb 1315/ 16 December 1897.

82 Ibid.

83 Ibid.

84 Ibid., and memorandum by Council of State 16 Şaban 1314/ 21 January 1897 no: 3119. Also see enclosure, Minutes of the Council of Ministers of the Sublime Porte, no: 294. The intention of the measure is being discussed here. Clearly, unauthorized copies of the Qu'ran and other religious publications must have continued to come into Ottoman lands because police measures to stop them were extremely limited. Yet there was discussion of what to do with copies of unauthorized Qu'rans which had been seized, because destroying even faulty copies was objectionable. The Commission for the Inspection of Qu'rans became the Superintendency for the Printing of Qu'ans and Legal Works after 1909 and was subsumed by the Young Turk administration under the Bab-i Fetva, the Ministry of Religious Affairs. See “Shaikh al-Islam” in Brill, E. J., First Encyclopedia of Islam, 276, 277, 278.

85 BBA Irade Meclis-i Mahsus 4625 26 Rebiyulevvel 1307/ 22 November 1889. This exclusivist tone is apparent in the very “Law on Ottoman Nationality” (Tabiyet-i Osmaniye Kanunu 19 January 1869), which states in Article Eight: “The Children of one who has died or abandoned Ottoman nationality, even if they are minors, are not considered to be the same as their father and continue to be regarded as Ottoman subjects. (However) the children of a foreigner who has taken Ottoman nationality, even if they are minors, will not be considered the same nationality as their father and will be considered as foreigners.” See Düstur Tertip, I., p. 1618.

86 BBA Irade Hususi 102 Yildiz Palace Imperial Secretariat 23 Cemaziyelahir 1311/2 January 1894 no: 4642.

87 Ochsenwald, William, The Hicaz Railroad (Charlottesville, NC 1980), 7677.

88 BBA Irade Hususi 62 Yildiz Palace Imperial Secretariat 20 Muharrem 1311/4 August 1893 no: 450.

89 BBA Irade Dahiliye 27 13 Şaban 1313/ 30 January 1896. This particular complaint was instigated by the Dutch Consul in Cidde.

90 On the issue of mistreatment of pilgrims, see Ochsenwald, W., Religion and the State in Arabia. The Hicaz under Ottoman Control 1840–1908 (Columbus, Ohio, 1984), particularly 20, 113–4, 122.

91 BBA YEE Kamil Paşa Evrakina Ek (Additional Collections of the Private Papers Belonging to Grand Vizier Kamil Paşa), 86–3/264. 6 Ramazan 1307/27 April 1890.

92 BBA YEE 31/1950 Mükerrer/4583 22 Zilkade 1299/ 6 October 1882 (emphasis mine).

93 Sir Muir, William, The Caliphate: Its Rise Decline and Fall. (From Original Sources) (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1891), 590.

94 See Smith, , Ethnic Roots of Nationalism, 134: “In fact, the state only came into its educator role in the latter half of the 19th century, when mass compulsory primary education became the norm in Western countries.” Although it would be inaccurate to speak of mass or compulsory education in the Ottoman context, throughout the Tanzimat and the Hamidian periods there was a concerted effort to spread schooling even into the remoter parts of the empire. In this sense the Ottomans were not behind Europe in appreciating the importance of education in forging a citizenry. On the educational reforms in the Hamidian era see, Kodaman, Bayram, Abdülhamit Dönemi Eǧitim Sistemi (Istanbul, 1983).

95 Hobsbawm, Eric, “Mass Producing Traditions: Europe 1870–1914,” in Hobsbawm and Ranger, The Invention of Tradition, 264, 277, 282.

96 Wortman, Richard, “oscow and Peterburg: The Problem of Political Center in Tsarist Russia 1881–1914,” in Wilentz, Sean, ed., Rites of Power (Philadelphia, 1985), 244–75.

97 Gluck, Carol, Japan's Modern Myths (Princeton, 1985), 39.

98 Deak, IstvanDeak, “The Habsburg Monarchy: The Strengths and Weaknesses of a Complex Patrimony.” (Monarchies Symposium, Columbia University, 10 2627, 1990).

99 Weber, Max, Economy and Society (New York, 1968), 327.

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The Invention of Tradition as Public Image in the Late Ottoman Empire, 1808 to 1908

  • Selim Deringil (a1)


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