Adaptation of the internal regulations
The constitutional revision of 1909 made it necessary to adapt the internal regulations of the MM accordingly. A parliamentary commission that was formed to this end in 1910 submitted a draft regulation to the chamber in 1911, which in turn sent it to another committee. It is probably due to the political turmoil of 1912 that a new draft was prepared and approved by the chamber only after the 1914 elections. This text contained 20 instead of 16 sections and a total of 182 instead of 105 paragraphs.109
A comparison between the internal regulations of 1877 and 1909 reveals that most changes were adaptations to the new Constitution and the increased importance that the MM had within it: those six sections that cannot be found in the 1876 text deal with issues that were either far less important or not relevant at all in 1876: Section 5 discusses the proposition of bills by the Meclis.110 Section 9 is devoted to the discussion of budget laws, which could now be rejected altogether. Section 10 regulates temporary laws, the new name for laws issued by the cabinet only - an old practice now supposed to become the exception. Section 18 regulates the internal administration of the parliament, including a library. Two other new sections seem to reflect previous parliamentary experience or insufficiency of previous rules, namely section 6, which details the conduction of sessions, and section 17 containing the duties of the parliamentary President, his vice presidents, and the minute keepers. Section 3, which discusses the examination of the deputies’ election documents, had previously been part of section 1.
Most changes, however, were additions of paragraphs to previously existing sections that reflect the increased importance of those procedures. Section 2 (previously section 3) discussing the forming and responsibilities of branches and commissions was extended from 13 to 20 paragraphs. The section about bills, which had only contained three paragraphs, now included seven. Questions and
Explanations, formerly comprised of five paragraphs, now contained 20. The section about relations to the Senate was extended from three to eight paragraphs. The stipulations concerning punishments for violations of the rules by parliamentarians (for such offenses as prolonged absence without leave, but also disruption of speeches or sessions) became more detailed.
Application of the nizamname in the
Meclis-i Mebusan, 1908-1920
As the new nizamname would only be passed in 1914, deliberations and debates up to that point should have been conducted according to the older rules issued in 1877. It may seem that the deputies, by amending the 1876 Constitution almost single-handedly, preemptively performed tasks that they officially only gained with the 1914 nizamname. This was not the case, as they followed art. 116 of the 1876 Constitution, which allowed the Meclis to suggest changes to articles of the Constitution by a two-thirds majority, send them off to the Senate, and if the Senate also passed them with the same majority, submit them to the Sultan for approval.111 The elderly Mehmet V acquiesced in the changes.
In the 1908 parliament, there were several cases of deputies whose election was challenged by the Meclis. These included one deputy whose election credentials were (initially) found to be incomplete, several accused of corruption or notoriety, and one who was found not to be resident in his electoral district.112 The rale that all deputies had to know Turkish was not always observed: the four Dashnak Armenian deputies did not speak Turkish, and in at least one instance, a deputy seems to have read his resignation letter out in Arabic.113 Attendance, too, appears to have been unsatisfactory: two deputies from [Kut] al-Amara in present-day Iraq, whose election credentials had been accepted, never showed up in Istanbul. Their cases were discussed only in 1910, and it was decided to have new deputies elected from their districts. Such a procedure was not discussed in the nizamname, but the Senate had previously decided that 91 days of absence without leave would annul a deputy’s mandate.114 As for the conduct of sessions, observation of rales for speeches, questions, and so forth, it seems that the chamber was generally observant of those rales. There were at times hot debates, but overall, the deputies seem to have fought with words, not fists.115 Outside of sessions, however, considerable violence was used against deputies. After losing its majority in the Istanbul by-elections of 1911. the CUP made use of violence, threats, and intimidation in order to win again in the early elections (known as “elections with the stick”) of 1912.116 In 1914, the CUP negotiated quotas with the Greek and Armenian leaders, and the resulting parliament was more representative of the different ethnic groups than any previous one, also containing more Arab deputies than before.117 Prior to the empire’s entry into the First World War, the new Meclis made four changes to the Constitution that can be read as strengthening the Chamber of Deputies: it became harder for the Sultan to dissolve the chamber, new elections had to be held quicker than previously (four instead of six months after a dissolution of parliament), and budget laws were specified to be valid for only one year.118 In February 1915, deputy salaries were more than doubled to 50,000 kurus™
Things deteriorated quickly with the Ottoman entry into the First World War. In what is today considered the beginning of the Armenian Genocide, more than 200 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Istanbul, including four current members of the MM, were arrested and deported in April 1915.120
During the war years, the MM continued to work, helping to keep up the appearance of a constitutional regime that had actually been turned into a dictatorship.121 The session period was shortened again from six to four months, and the chamber often merely sanctioned “temporary” laws that had previously been passed by the cabinet.122 Some browsing in those years’ minutes conveys the impression of business as usual, the subject mostly being budgets of state institutions and minor regulations. Moreover, the more political bills betray the chamber’s character as a mere accomplice of CUP policies: In 1916, Turkish was made the empire-wide compulsory language for business transactions and correspondence of foreign companies (such as those running railways, tramways, etc.). Additional changes to the Constitution accomplished a strengthening of the central administration: in 1916, it became easier for the Sultan (by now a puppet of the CUP) to dissolve the chamber and harder to dismiss a cabinet.123 Another change made it possible for nonresidents to run for deputy of up to three electoral districts.124
On November 4,1918, during the first postwar session of the MM, several Greek deputies put forward a motion concerning the wartime massacres against Armenians and forced deportations against Greeks. During the ensuing debate, however, most of the Muslim deputies no longer listened to them.125 At this point, the CUP had officially dissolved itself, and the Armistice of Moudros had been signed. From November 13, 1918, onward Allied troops started to occupy parts of the country: the French occupied Cilicia and the Italians occupied the south-western part of Anatolia around Antalya. In May 1919, Greek forces landed in Smyrna/izmir. These landings provoked at first scattered and then more organized resistance on the part of the Muslim population, especially in those areas where Muslim refugees had been settled in houses of Christian deportees: wartime policies of social engineering now pitted returning survivors against incoming refugees.126
The last Ottoman election in late 1919 was boycotted by Armenians, Greeks, and the Liberal Party, and the resulting Meclis was dominated by the movement of the “Societies for the Defense of Rights,” a coalition of former CUP members and provincial Muslim notables from Anatolia and Thrace. This movement held several congresses in 1918 and 1919. The Erzurum (July-August 1919) and Sivas (September 1919) congresses elected a preliminary government called the “Representative Commission” (Heyet-i Temsiliye). The last MM convened in January 1920, adopting the “National Pact,” a document that famously stated the territorial claims of the nationalist movement, on January 28, 1920.127 The chamber was dissolved in March 1920, following the full Allied military occupation of Istanbul. At this point, the Heyet-i Temsiliye issued a call for new elections to a Great National Assembly (Buyiik Millet Meclisi, henceforth: BMM) to be convened in Ankara. The call explicitly stated that non-Muslims must not be elected to the new parliament, which indeed did not happen.128 It also lowered the threshold for electability to the age of 25.129 Eighty-eight former members of the MM became part of the BMM, which first convened in Ankara on April 20,1920. The other deputies were representatives of the Societies for the Defense of Rights from all over Anatolia and Thrace.
With the BMM (the adjective “Turk” would only be added in February 1921), the movement against the Allied occupation and partition of the remains of the Ottoman Empire gained a pillar of legitimization whose importance can hardly be overstated. Based on the BMM, which claimed to represent the nation (understood as the community of all non-Arab Muslims in the empire), the movement could form a government that would, for the next three years, function as a counter-government to that in Istanbul. The BMM was clearly a continuation of the MM insofar as it adopted its internal regulations and, at least theoretically, operated within the Ottoman constitutional framework. In 1921, it passed a number of additions to the Constitution that are considered the embryo of the modern Turkish Constitution, famously stating that “sovereignty is vested in the nation without any condition.”130 On the other hand, however, the new parliament had revolutionary character insofar as its function differed fundamentally from that of its predecessors: it was cut off from the other Ottoman constitutional institutions, namely the State Council, the Senate, and the cabinet in Istanbul, which, according to the Ankara government, were hostages of the Allied occupation. The Ankara governments were formed out of the BMM, which was their sole source of legitimacy, and, as there was no new state yet, Mustafa Kemal had himself elected President of the parliament in order to legitimize his de facto leadership. As a result of this central legitimizing function, the first BMM was much more powerful than any of its predecessors (and all successors, too). It initially had legislative, judicative, and executive functions, the latter being represented by the Ankara governments, which called themselves “government of the (T)BMM.” In line with its indispensability, the TBMM sat year-round. Vested with the right to draft and pass laws by the MM’s rules and the Ottoman Constitution, and no Sultan or Senate to block bills, the BMM was able to pass even such laws that its own governments violently opposed. In the following years, the Ankara cabinets passed many decrees and other minor legal texts, but anything that was called a law had to pass through the BMM. This bottleneck function led to many rather serious conflicts between governments and the BMM, especially during the first legislative period (1920-1923). A case in point is the 1920 law for the prohibition of alcohol.131 The Ankara government opposed the bill due to fiscal concerns -alcohol taxes were an indispensable source of revenue - but the chamber nevertheless passed the law.132 It is telling that Ali Sukrii, one of the most prominent advocates of that law who later evolved into an important member of the opposition, was murdered in March 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Papa’s bodyguard.133
As mentioned above, the BMM theoretically combined legislative and executive powers. The latter, however, could only be fully implemented over time, and with the help of the notorious “independence tribunals” from 1920 onward.134 Unlike all later TBMMs, the first one of 1920-1923 was really elected by local
Ottoman parliamentary procedure 235 people, and it was a very “heterogeneous and unruly body” that frequently opposed legislation proposed by the government.135 Therefore, the minutes of the first legislation period are much more instructive (and more fun to read) than the ones dating from later periods. Similar to the late Ottoman MM, the TBMM was initially united, but soon split up into two major groups (known as the first and second group) that later crystallized into parties. As already in 1912, the main point of contention was the role of the state: the first group, which would evolve into the People’s Party, favored a strong central state, while the second group called for more liberal, accountable and business-friendly policies. Members of the second group tended to be from areas that were not under Allied occupation (also not from the lost Balkan territories, where most former CUP members hailed from), and were more likely to have a liberal profession than a state job.136
The first TBMM was dissolved in 1923, after it had become clear that a majority for the acceptance of the Lausanne Peace Treaty would not be reached.137 The ensuing elections were performed according to a new election law (passed in April that year) that no longer contained tax requirements for voters and lowered the voting age (still only for males) to 18.13S Only three candidates belonging to the oppositional “second group” and very few independent candidates were elected to the TBMM.139 All others belonged to the newly formed People’s Party (Halk Firkasi) led by Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk). Like this, the power of the TBMM was brought under control of the People’s Party. In the following three decades, there were only two short experiments with oppositional parties in 1924-1925 and 1930. The period between 1923 and 1946 in Turkey is therefore known as the “single-party period.”
Throughout this period, discontent can only rarely be traced through the parliamentary minutes. Bills were voted through with only veiy little or no previous deliberation, and the parliament "functioned more as an extension of the executive than as a real check on the government.”140 Instead, resistance seems to have been voiced mostly in two arenas whose minutes are unfortunately unavailable: first, the meetings of the parliamentary group of the People’s Party, and second, the meetings of the commissions in charge of certain parts of the legislation.141 There are two other indications of discontent in the TBMM: the first is newspaper reports from behind the scenes (which are instructive only until 1925, when the oppositional press was closed), and the second is the number of deputies who put up passive resistance by voting with their feet.142 The number of deputies actually voting was often lower than that of those who were either present, but did not bother to vote, or did not show up in the first place.143 The casting of dissenting votes was a risky business: according to F. W. Frey, only five deputies who dared do so during the single-party period were reelected.144
When the TBMM first convened in April 1920, there were some discussions concerning the procedural rules for this new parliament. Deputies were aware that the 1914 nizamname of the MM did not fully match the new parliament anymore, and therefore decided to task a commission with changing it accordingly.145 It is not entirely clear which articles were changed between 1920 and 1927. The few changes that were actually recorded concerned very minor points, but surprisingly left issues such as the person of the Sultan and the number of commissions untouched.
In the following section, I shall discuss the text of the internal rules of conduct (according to the 1914 text) and compare it to the actual procedure followed in the parliament. First, I shall point at some obvious but mostly organizational issues. Second, I shall study one of the parliament’s most important decisions, namely the 1923 alteration of the Basic Law (Te^kilat-i Esasiye Kanunu) which changed the form of the Turkish state to a republic, and show in which points the procedure followed here deviated from the nizamname. At the end of the paper, I will make some remarks concerning the changes made in the 1927 nizamname.