Ottoman Empire in 1913, Turkey in 2013
Like the republican history, the history of the Ottoman Empire is quite rich as regards military takeovers, upheavals and rebellions.
Those incidents were either triggered by major defeats or very tense periods of uncertainty and chaos created thanks to great contributions of some allies of the empire. The interregnum period, for example, was a product of a “touristic trip” of Tamerlane. Sultan Yıldırım Beyazid was defeated by Tamerlane in the 1402 Ankara War. Then, four sons of Beyazid, for 11 years, fought each other until Mehmed Çelebi defeated all his brothers, restored the integrity of the empire and became Sultan Mehmed I in 1413.
The neo-sultan would be enraged again, but the “ancestors” had some very barbaric traditions. For example, no one can deny the barbaric practice of extermination on the orders of the new sultan of his own brothers. One fundamental reason of that barbaric tradition was to annihilate all probable sources of future dissent or challenge to absolute rule and avoid at any cost situations like the interregnum period.
The 1913 coup, or as it is often called the “Bab-ı Ali Ambush,” is generally considered as the “mother” of republican coups. It was staged by the Union and Progress Party in the aftermath of the humiliating Balkan defeat that produced such a strong syndrome that it still continues in Turkish society. On Jan. 23, 1913 Enver Paşa, with a group of mutineers ambushed the Cabinet in session, murdered an adviser to the chief vizier, shot to death Defense Vizier Nazım Paşa and at gunpoint forced Chief Vizier Kıbrıslı Mehmet Kamil Paşa to resign.
With the coup Union and Progress came to power and sealed the death edict of the Ottoman Empire by entering World War I along with Germany. Union and Progress stayed in power less than a decade, but the ideology and mentality of it has survived in some form to this day.
In the Turkey of 2013, talking about a military coup threat would be absurd. Society has changed a lot since 1913, and the strong emotional links with “heirloom” Balkan lands are being replaced with a feeling of friendship and brotherhood toward peoples who fought us in the Balkan War.
This time, however, Ömer Seyfettin (an ethnic Kurd but ideologically of pan-Turkist nationalism) is not trying to enchant crowds in support of the Union and Progress coup and people walking in his shoes are suffering an acute Balkan syndrome. Could a Balkan defeat be avoided and empire be maintained if reforms recognizing fundamental rights and liberties of Balkan peoples were achieved and they were firmly engaged with the empire? It was as oppressive as regards freedom of thought but the Ottoman Empire was far more “democratic” and “tolerant” than republican governance in many areas, headed by minority rights. Even the beginning period of the republic was far more pluralistic than now. Can anyone believe that in the 1950 Parliament there were two ethnic Greek deputies? Today the number of our ethnic Greek citizens is less than a few thousand.
We must have made a mistake somewhere while “advancing” our democracy. Peoples have inalienable rights, such as their mother tongue, and no one can be considered a democrat if he cannot ask for the same of what he has by birth for others. This is not related with any ideology. It is just a requirement of being a human.