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The 1908 Revolution

In July 1908, the CUP took advantage of a general crisis in Ottoman Macedonia, forcing Abdülhamit II to restore the Constitution.84 The réintroduction of the Constitution was met with enthusiasm and high expectations by all ethno-religious groups throughout the empire. Press censorship was lifted, and the Ottoman reading public experienced a press boom of unprecedented proportions.85 The first international reactions to the Revolution were hostile: autonomous Bulgaria declared its full independence, and Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had been under its military occupation since 1878. Moreover, many problems that had been repressed under Abdülhamit’s rule, now resurfaced, and there was a series of violent strikes.

The Second Constitutional Period

The first general elections for a new lower chamber were held in November 1908, this time according to the two-stage system described in the election law of 1877 -which had in the meantime been approved by Sultan Abdulhamit II.S6 The new number of seats (between 240 and 288, there is no agreement on this point) indicates either considerable population growth since 1876 or closer observance of the rate of representation, or both.87 There is disagreement concerning the ethnic composition, too. According to Feroz Ahmad, 147 deputies were Turks (including Kurds, Circassians, and other Muslims from Anatolia), 60 Arabs, 27 Albanians, 26 Greeks, 14 Armenians, 10 Slavs, and 4 Jews.88 As for the professional and class backgrounds of deputies, a contemporary observed that the biggest group were the men of religion (“nearly forty”), followed by landowners and members of the liberal professions, and finally, "seven or eight” members of the CUP, who were deputies for Salonica, Edirne and Istanbul.89 The last category is not a professional one, but we know that the CUP-deputies were journalists, government clerks and officers - products of the Hamidian public schools.90

The numbers given above indicate that the new parliament was dominated by members of the traditional elites, who, in this first election, were often supported by the CUP, but not necessarily in line with its program. With the exception of the Armenians, who already had two rivaling parties prior to 1908, a spectrum of political parties only started to truly unfold in the course of the first years of parliamentary practice.91 Relations between the CUP and all other groups soon cooled considerably, and an opposition party, the Liberal Union, emerged.92

The new lower chamber, now called Meclis-i Mebusan (Chamber of Deputies, MM), was opened with a formal ceremony on December 17, 1908. Ahmet Riza, a distinguished Young Turk intellectual who had spent almost 20 years in exile, was elected its first President. In his very first speech, he spoke of "national sovereignty,” and many deputies preferred to call their parliament “national chamber” (millet meclisi) rather than use the actual name.93 This terminology indicates that the 1908 chamber, already during its first sessions, considered itself to be representing a nation that was not identical with the state.94

Before discussing the application of the rules of conduct, it seems necessary to at least briefly outline the general legal and political situation within which the Chamber of Deputies worked. The Revolution of 1908 had reintroduced the Constitution, but it had also ushered in a period of heightened conflict, extralegal measures, and violence. Following the Revolution, the state of emergency was declared and not lifted until 1918 (it is a matter of debate how much this mattered).95 The year 1908 saw an explosion of strikes, and an attempted counterputsch in Istanbul (April 1909) triggered an anti-Armenian and anti-Assyrian pogrom in Cilicia that killed between 10,000 and 30,000 people.96 Political assassinations, such as that of journalist Hasan Fehmi (1909) and Mahmut $evket Pasa (1913), became more frequent. There were uprisings in Yemen and Albania in 1910 and 1911, and Italy invaded Tripolitania in 1911. With the outbreak of the First Balkan War in October 1912, the empire entered its last - and final - decade of war. In January 1913, the CUP putsched itself into frill control of the executive. During these years, the Meclis was dissolved four times: in February 1912 (followed by new elections), in August 1912 (with new elections only taking place in 1914), in November 1918, and, for the last time, in April 1919.97 In the course of the decade between 1908 and 1918, 1,061 “temporary” laws, i.e., laws that were not subject to parliamentary control, were issued by cabinets, the most famous one being the law of April 1915 ordering the deportation of all Ottoman Armenians.98 This record of extralegality and violence has to be taken into account when assessing the workings of the Chamber of Deputies.

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