Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Balkan Nationalisms in the Ottoman Parliament, 1909 *

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Balkan Nationalisms in the Ottoman Parliament, 1909 *

Article excerpt

On 30 January 1909, the minister of the interior for the new Ottoman government, Huseyin Hilmi Pasha, took the podium to answer an inquiry by a group of parliamentarians in the Chamber of Deputies. The parliament had been in session for barely six weeks. It had been formed after the elections that followed the July 1908 revolution which ushered in the second constitutional period in Ottoman history. In accordance with the atmosphere of newly gained freedom of the press, newspapermen and other guests were observing the proceedings. The newly elected body, which included many non-Muslim deputies from the minorities, was eager to prove its emphasis on "proper" parliamentary conduct and to be accepted among other constitutional regimes in Europe. There were members of various diplomatic missions among the audience; they were interested in seeing how the new government handled such inquiries.

As the minister's speech ended and several deputies took their turns to speak, however, arguments began to break out between deputies and soon all decorum was cast aside. What followed was a several day long verbal struggle which fully represented the ethnic troubles plaguing the empire. Based on those arguments, the aim of this article is to examine the language and symbolism of nationalist rhetoric and its presence in the official domain within the context of the Ottoman parliament. The interchange among the various groups in the parliamentary debates offers examples both of nationalism among the non-Muslim deputies, according to their ethnic and religious origins, and of Ottoman (and Turkish) nationalism as a response to these competing nationalisms.

The reason behind this outpouring of nationalist fervor was that the inquiry concerned itself with the violence and instability in Macedonia, or the Three Provinces, as it was called officially in the Ottoman Empire. It was the empire's most important Balkan province, but it was also a thorn in its side. Ethnic and sectarian violence between various communities in the province was costing both lives and resources, and the influence of the neighboring nations over these developments causing concern and proving potentially dangerous in the empire's weakened state. The original inquiry of 27 January, to which the minister was responding, was sponsored by a group of deputies, which included both Muslims and non-Muslims, all but one of whom were from cities in the Balkans. According to these deputies, law and order were lacking in the region; the number assassinations and armed assaults were on the rise; groups of bandits were roaming the countryside; and government forces were either unwilling or unable to cope with the situation. These were the conditions requiring a detailed reply by the minister of the interior.

These sources have attracted the attention of some very accomplished historians who study the effects of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire. (1) But what I would like to do is to emphasize the language itself that these deputies used, and to analyze, as it were, "between the lines." I believe the symbolism of the images evoked by the deputies and the very choice of words explains a lot about their political opinions and the hold of nationalist ideology in their rhetoric. This type of approach, which has not been applied to the documents from this period before, may prove to be very useful when dealing with sources such as these parliamentary records.

But before analyzing the outcome of the minister's speech and the debates that followed it, we need to look at the historical background of the problems in Macedonia and the theoretical framework to examine this issue. Regionally, the debate over Macedonia in the Ottoman parliament focused on what were known as the Three Provinces: Salonica, Manastir (Bitola) and Kosovo. Although it had no definite political boundaries other than those of the three provinces, the region was bordered on the north by the Sar Mountains; on the east by the Rhodope Mountains; on the south by the Aegean Sea, Mount Olympus, and the Pindus range; and on the west by Lake Ohrid. …

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