Home History The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East
State Military Education and Elite Civil Education
Patriotism in uniform could bring its social rewards. In Germany it provided the potential status as reserve officer for boys who had undergone secondary educa tion to the age of sixteen, even if they went no further. In Britain, as the war was to show, even clerks and salesmen in the service of the nation could become offi cers, and in the brutally frank terminology of the British upper class, “temporary gentlemen.”15
Military education deserves, but has never received, a major explanatory role in the modern history of the region. As the largest state education project undertaken in the Middle East, and as a self-conscious engine of social leveling, the military education project had results that continue to unfold in Turkey and the Arab Middle East. And yet, despite the influence of people such as Mustafa Kemal, Enver Pasa, Cemal Pasa, Ismet Inonu, Nuri al-Sacid and uncounted others, all produced by the late Ottoman military system, military schools have only rarely attracted the attention of historians. Modern education also introduced army officers to politics, a legacy that has continued to affect the region.
Modern Ottoman State education began with military academies in the imperial capital. The Ottoman military academy (Mekteb-i Ulum-i Harbiye) opened in 1834. Military preparatory schools in the capital soon followed.16 Preparatory schools were intended to prepare cadets for the central military academy, but their organization and coordination were haphazard and unsystematic. By 1850 there were three or four military high schools including Istanbul, and the Damascus military school.17
Ottoman reformers systematized state education with the education law of 1869. The military and civil educational systems both came to be based around a similar set of assumptions and goals. The military system, however, despite the minimal attention of historians, predated the civil system and was always better funded and more carefully organized. The law called for a primary school, or ibtidaiye school, in each village, a middle, or rti§diye school in each town, and an idadiye or sultani preparatory school in each provincial capital. At the middle-school level (rti§diye) and above, the schools were divided into either military (asker- iye) or civil (mtilkiye) systems.18
The primary and middle schools were often combined to provide a total of six years of instruction. The next step, the preparatory school, provided an additional three years. The preparatory schools, which boarded students in the important cities, like the Damascus military school, or prestigious and expensive civil (Sultani) schools like Beirut’s Sultani, Damascus’ Maktab cAnbar, and Istanbul’s Galatasaray school, were sometimes combined with middle schools to provide up to seven years of instruction. The most promising students would continue their studies in an imperial service academy, either the military academy (or Mekteb-i Ulum-i Harbiye), or the Imperial Civil Service School (or Mekteb-i Mulkiye-i Sahane), or imperial medical school, or law school.19
Ottoman State schools attracted the sons and sometimes daughters of the ambitious rural and urban lower-middle classes. By 1890 thousands of children attended many hundreds of local village or urban primary schools, which would have differed slightly from less widespread earlier educational models. Some of the state elementary schools enrolled boys and girls together, and there were a smaller number of schools exclusively for girls. Boys were supposed to attend primary school from ages seven to eleven, girls from ages six to ten.20 The new state primary schools had a slightly fuller curriculum than more traditional Qur’an schools, and they also gained a reputation for more progressive, gentler methods and less corporal punishment.
Parents would take children to school in their quarter or village, and choose the schools based on what was available, their appreciation for the possibilities offered by education, and their hopes for their children. Urban areas, particularly the larger cities, always had more, and probably better, schools. Modern state primary schools existed alongside Qur’an schools, and schools run by churches and synagogues. Parents hoping for further education for their children, and perhaps careers in the government, would have chosen state primary schools, while other parents, both in towns and the countryside, followed the more common practice of arranging no formal education for their children.
Many families expected children to work from a young age, and needed their labor to help provide for the family. Other parents felt that the only purpose for formal education was to learn correct religious practice and read a holy book, and consequently sent their children to local Qur’an or church schools. Many parents probably did not appreciate the difference between state and religious primary schooling in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The value of education was not always self-evident, and certainly parents feared that the absence of their children in distant government employment might doom them to destitution in old age. As times changed, many parents designated one child for schooling, and the others for work or trade. This was an obvious strategy to spread the risk of a child not returning to help the family, on the one hand, and limiting the direct expense of school, and the indirect expense of lost labor, on the other. Such calculations featured in all modernizing states, and among many families today.
Children attended state primary school six days a week, four hours per day. They began their three years of instruction by learning the Arabic alphabet, the rudiments of religion, Qur’anic verses, reading and writing. There was still time for work or play at home or in the neighborhood, and the schools were nearby and not particularly large. The number of such schools ranged from as high as 50 to 20 schools per district (Qada: an administrative district smaller than a county or Sanjaq) in the region of Istanbul, Bursa, Sinop, Izmir, Jerusalem, Damascus, and Beirut. (See Figure 1.1.)
Figure 1.1. Ottoman Arab School Kids, c.1900 (collection of Dr. Wolf Dieter Lemke)
Children started with letters and basic reading, most often from the Qur’an. The primary-school curriculum expanded in the second and third years, as subjects and additional hours were added. In the second year students began to learn counting and numbers. In the third and final year of primary school, they were expected to have two hours weekly of Ottoman history, along with reading, math, religion and morality. Directed readings on prescribed topics took three hours per week and included morality, geography, and agriculture.21
Primary-school teachers were in short supply and were often employed under apparently casual circumstances, based on local need and with the minimal qualification of basic literacy in Ottoman Turkish or Arabic. Many teachers were non-Muslims. The practice of both casual employment and loose qualifications was identified as a problem, and teacher-training academies were established in Istanbul and provincial capitals including Damascus, Baghdad, and elsewhere by the first decade of the twentieth century, when there were at least sixteen such academies training primary-school teachers.22
After three years at a state primary school, students graduated to middle school (riqdiye). Middle schools were divided into state civil and military schools, though each comprised three years of instruction and a similar curriculum. As in other modernizing states, students wore military-type uniforms, with distinctions between the civil and military garb. Uniforms were dark blue woolen coats and trousers, with a red tarbush (fez) for headgear. Civil-school students had one row of embossed brass buttons, military school students had two rows in an open V shape.23
Middle schools were far more widely separated than primary schools and students often had to travel and board to attend. As government schools opened, villagers and townspeople learned of the new schools the way they learned most of their news, by word of mouth from people traveling beyond the village or quarter, or from people passing by. Family members would enquire with local officials or perhaps travel to enroll children in new middle schools. Despite suspicion of the government and its taxation, registration, and conscription, state schools became popular within a short period of time. (See Figures 1.2 and 1.3.)
Attending a military or civil middle school was probably a matter of resources for most families. Military middle schools were always completely free, including uniforms and books, and unlike civil schools, military middle schools sometimes had lodging and board facilities.24 Civil schools usually charged tuition, on a sliding scale based on the wealth of the child’s family. Children who did not already live in a regional or provincial center (sanjaq or wilayat), and who did not have
Figure 1.2. Beirut Rti§diye, c.1895 (Library of Congress, Abdul Hamid Photo Collection)
extended family to move in with, and who did not have money for tuition, were forced to attend military schools or curtail their education. In this way, the state reinforced a tendency for military-school students to hail from rural areas and more modest families than those educated within the civil system.
Curricula followed the pattern established in primary school. Studies focused on reading, writing, math, and religion, though students began to learn written and spoken Turkish, or Arabic depending on the native language of the region. In the later years Persian, Greek, or French was added. History, geography, and practical hygiene and comportment were also added. Each town of 500 houses was supposed to warrant a middle school, a goal that was generally met in the final Ottoman decades. After three years, students graduated to the preparatory school. The average student was now twelve or thirteen years old, and those who had lived in the same town as the middle school would be leaving their native village or town, and family house, for the
Figure 1.3. Rti§diye Students. c.1895 (Library of Congress, Abdul Hamid Photo Collection)
provincial capital to continue their studies. In this their experience was similar to children in modernizing states in Europe and America. Ambitious families accepted the absence of a child for education or immigration, in hopes of future prosperity.
Ottoman preparatory schools enforced the division between civil and military education. Ottoman Ministry of Education documents did not differentiate military-school students by religion, perhaps adopting an official state fiction that they were all Muslims. In practice, however, military schools seem to have enrolled a small number of non-Muslim students, particularly in regions where there were significant nonMuslim populations like Damascus, Baghdad, and Beirut.25
Civil schools were intended to compete directly with missionary education, and statistics listed students by religion and obviously enrolled nonMuslim students. Civil-school students paid high tuition and were exempted from legally required military service. Christians were also exempt until after the re-introduction of the Ottoman Constitution in
1908. Sultan Abdul-Hamid had evidently vetoed a recommendation early in his reign to conscript non-Muslims into the Ottoman military.26
The Galatasaray Lycee, founded in 1868 in Istanbul, was the prototype elite civil preparatory school. In its emphasis on French education, it was intended to attract the sons of Ottoman elites and compete directly with foreign missionary schools, many of which had been established by French Catholics, and American Presbyterian missionaries. The Galatasaray School, once also known as the Mekteb-i Sultani, eventually became a twelve-year preparatory school, and in the final Ottoman decades often sent its graduates to the Imperial Civil Service School. The Mulkiye School was older, having been founded in 1859, and was in competition with the Galatasaray School in the 1880s. The Galatasaray School, probably because of its emphasis on French instruction, produced a majority of high officials in the Foreign Ministry, while the Mulkiye produced a majority of the high officials in the Interior Ministry.27 After
1909, the Mulkiye became a special university faculty, attracting graduating students from the Galatasaray School and other Sultani schools.28
Midhat Pasa was the leading late-Tanzimat-era Ottoman reformist statesman. Midhat is most famous for leading the Ottoman constitutional movement of 1876, an achievement that led to his execution on the presumed orders of Sultan Abdul-Hamid. But Midhat was also the leading figure of Ottoman educational and provincial reform. Claims of Ottoman decline notwithstanding, the stunning catalog of his innovations predate similar reforms in any number of European countries. Midhat was governor of Baghdad province from 1869 72, Grand Vezir under Sultan Abdul-Hamid from 1876 to early 1877, and governor of Syria between late 1878 and 1880, after which time he was tried, exiled to Arabia, placed in prison, and strangled.29 He ordered the construction of schools, roads, bridges, and markets all over the Ottoman lands. Many still stand and some, like the famous Midhat Pasa (Basha) suq in Damascus, still bear his name.
Midhat Pasa arrived in Baghdad in 1869 with an imperial firman that listed a primary goal “to reorganize and improve the Sixth Imperial Army of Iraq.”30 He opened the military middle school in the year of his arrival, 1869, and he opened the military preparatory school in 1871, in time to accept the first class to complete the middle-school curriculum. Serving staff officers of the Ottoman 6th Army taught at both schools, and both schools offered free tuition to qualified students. The Baghdad middle civil preparatory school opened in 1871 and the civil preparatory, or high school (mekteb-i sultani) opened in 1873.31 By 1900, however, the number of students attending the Sultani School had reached only ninety-six students, up from sixty-eight in 1898.32 By contrast, the Baghdad military preparatory school enrolled 256 boys. The Baghdad military middle school enrolled 846 boys in the same year, a number only slightly lower than the combined total of all middle and preparatory schools, private, missionary, and state-run, in all of Baghdad, Mosul, and Basrah provinces.33 Over three-quarters of the Iraqi prime ministers from 1920 to 1958 were graduates of the Baghdad military preparatory school.
Damascus already had a preparatory military school and in 1875 military middle schools opened in Beirut and Damascus in new and impressive buildings. According to the Ottoman ministry of military education documents, the state, then on the verge of bankruptcy and insolvency, opened nine major provincial military middle schools in 1875 alone. School administrators found that students needed additional work to prepare for the preparatory schools. Consequently, the government used scarce resources to open an unprecedented number of middle military schools over the course of a single year.
When Midhat arrived in Beirut as new governor in 1878, he was pleased to find that a number of the city’s most prominent Muslim citizens had formed a charitable association for the development of civil education. With big ideas but a minuscule budget, Midhat Pasa made the association a centerpiece of his education reforms, and encouraged the establishment of similar associations in Damascus and elsewhere. The Jamciyyat al-Maqasid al-Khayriyya al-Islamiyya, or the Makkased Society, helped to fund and establish a number of schools, but the society’s fondest wish was the establishment of a Sultani Lycee on the model of the Galatasaray School in the imperial capital.34
Prominent families in provincial capitals like Baghdad, Beirut, and Damascus lobbied tirelessly for elite state civil educational institutions. In each city, however, the state built and opened military schools before the civil schools. In Damascus, the military preparatory school had been in operation since 1850, and in 1875, at least ten years before the civil preparatory (Maktab cAnbar) opened, the Damascus middle military school opened near the preparatory school in Damascus’ Marja
Sultan Abdul-Hamid judged Midhat and the independent educational societies a threat. And as Midhat was removed and exiled, the Makassed Society was dissolved and a state-controlled educational board took its place. State funding followed and the Beirut Sultani Lycee (Mekteb-i Sultani) opened in 1883. The Beirut Sultani moved into a splendid new building in the Basta quarter outside central Beirut. The school soon enrolled the sons of the most prominent and wealthy
Beiruti families.36 The teachers were important scholars and tuition was expensive. The Egyptian scholar-activist Muhammad cAbduh taught there briefly during his exile from British-occupied Egypt.
Students could board at the school or attend during the day, and fees were expensive; upwards of 15 gold Ottoman lira for board and tuition.37 By sultanic decree, students were exempted from military service a valuable benefit considering the low regard Ottoman-Arab elites held for military careers. Prominent families supported elite civil education as an “escape from the military careers they dreaded for their children.”38
The Damascus Sultani Lycee opened two years later in 1885. It was established in a beautiful mansion built by Damascene Jewish merchant Yusuf ‘Anbar, who had gone bankrupt building the huge house. After his bankruptcy, ownership reverted to the state. The mansion proved a perfect place to establish a large school, and the two schools, in Beirut and Damascus, soon enrolled close to a thousand boys between them. The curriculum lasted six years, and a sizable proportion of boys were boarders from other parts of the realm.39
Missionary education and Ottoman civil education were important in the late empire and in the formation of the modern Middle East. The growth of foreign and missionary education posed a challenge to Ottoman officials, and they intended elite civil preparatory schools to help counter the influence of foreign education. Ottoman elites worried ceaselessly about the activities of the missionaries, concerned that they sought to convert Muslims and subvert non-Muslim Ottoman sub- jects.40 The prospect that prominent Ottomans, especially Muslims, might send their children to be educated by missionaries was troubling. The missionary colleges opened in the mid 1860s, and in direct response, the Galatasaray Lycee opened in 1868.41 Provincial civil preparatory schools were supposed to follow, but money was always short and implementation was slow. The schools eventually enjoyed the prominence their advocates envisaged, and many Ottoman intellectuals and politicians attended and taught at the schools. Former students fondly chronicled their experiences in memoirs that further lifted the civil schools to a remembered prominence beyond that of the more numerous military schools.
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