Sultan as Caliph

Sultan Abdulhamid II of the Ottoman Empire came to power deposing his brother. Sultan Murad V, who had been crowned sultan on 30 May 1876. Turks, originally from out east who had come west with the great Khans of Mongolian, had never adopted the Moslem term of “caliph” as ruler. Instead, they kept their own “sultan” for their ruler. Nonetheless whether calling it sultan or caliph, he was the sole ruler and interpreter, and defender of the faith.

Murad himself had deposed his uncle,  Abdülaziz, calling him “mad”. Three months later, Murad met the same fate, and his brother Abdulhamid was now Sultan. Abdulhamid lasted far longer than either of his two predecessors, over forty years, but was deposed on February 10, 1918, ironically by the Young Turks that his brother Murad V had created. By the time, Abdulhamid was dethroned, the Empire with all its faults was now so well identified with his persona, that the six-hundred-year rule of the Ottomans ended as well.

Perhaps though that was meant to be, fulfilling the Berber (North African) Sufi philosopher, Ibn Khaldun’s belief that nothing lasts more than a half century or so. Though upon reflection, that cannot be quite right, as the English Monarchy spans nearly a thousand.

Auspicious Beginnings

Abdulhamid was the second son of Sultan Abdülmecid I (25 April 1823 – 25 June 1861). His predecessor Murad was eldest but became a pariah to his people because of a series of expensive wars and lost. This made Turkey open to foreign intervention, as European monarchs looked to Ottoman extensive holdings, for further gain. With Hamid’s ascension both Serbia and Montenegro were brought peaceably back into the fold, while the Orthodox portions of these countries were agitated into muted revolts by Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Eventually this led to the Russo-Turkish War — 24 April 1877 where Turkey lost again.

After that disastrous war, Abdülhamid dismissed the Parliament suspending the constitution and installed a secret police to enforce his control. He ruled from his seclusion at Yıldız Palace, Constantinople, assisted by an expanded telegraph network (Uranus in the fifth) , severe censorship (Moon in the sixth) and countless civil infractions with the attendant monetary fees (fines & taxes).

Hamid cantonizes Turkey

The French-Swiss system of provinces, arrondissements and cantons was the basis for the Turkish parliamentary system. The sultan chose a vali, or governor general, and all work to the members of the canton flowed through him. There was no idea of free enterprise and independent businessmen who made their own money independent of the state — everyone looked to the Vali for income and wellbeing, much like feudal Europe. But as the Empire grew more invasive in the populace’s life, and the rise of nationalism took hold, Armenian separatists attempted an assassination coup on July 21, 1905. Then in July 1908 the Young Turks, deposed the Hamid a year later & installed his brother as sultan Mehmed V.

Hamid was sent to Salonika, Greece (the historical home of Alexander the Great) as a state prisoner. When the Greeks during the 1902 Balkan War reclaimed the town, Abdul Hamid returned to Constantinople. but his presence was problematic and caused many internal rebellions of adherents who wanted to reestablish his regime. So, Abdul Hamid was moved to his final home on Smyrna, Anatolia, Greece (now Turkey) where he died on February 10, 1918, and with him, the Ottoman Empire died too.


  • Pears, Sir Edin, Life of Abdul Hamid, London: Constable & Co., 1917
    • This book is part of the makers of the Nineteenth Century Series ed. by Basil Williams
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica: A dictionary of ARts, Sceinces, Literature and Information. Eleventh edition. Cambridge, England at the University Press c. 1911

%d bloggers like this: