Those who deposed Sultan Abdülaziz in 1876 tried to persuade the public with propaganda, but the people always expressed their love for the oppressed sultan with their laments
29 Nisan 2022 Cuma


Sultan Abdülaziz was the son of Mahmud II. He was born in 1830. His mother, Pertevniyal Valide Sultan, was a very intelligent and charitable lady. Abdülaziz lost his father at the age of nine. He lived a comfortable and free life during the reign of his elder brother, Sultan Abdülmecid. Upon his brother’s death in 1861, Sultan Abdülaziz ascended to the throne as the 32nd sultan and the 97th caliph.

Sultan Abdülaziz’s reign is generally divided into two periods. The period in which powerful viziers such as Ali and Fuad Pasha were at work continued until 1871. The second period, which had no powerful bureaucrats, resulted in disaster for the sultan.

There was no fundamental war in Sultan Abdülaziz’s time; however, the Montenegrin revolt, which had been going on since 1858, was suppressed in 1862. Wallachia and Moldavia united in 1864; a Prussian prince was appointed as the head of this privileged eyalet (primary administrative division of the Ottoman Empire) that came under the suzerainty of the Ottomans with the name of “Memleketeyn.” (means “Two Countries”)

The last remaining fortresses in and around Belgrade were left to the autonomous eyalet of Serbia in 1867. The rebellion in Crete also resulted in the island being granted autonomy in 1868. Egypt was given the opportunity to borrow foreign money; this resulted in disaster for the vilayet (province) in 1872.

Travel to Europe

When he ascended to the throne, Sultan Abdülaziz wanted to weaken the bureaucratic dominance that had taken hold of Ottoman political culture since 1839 and take over the reins, but viziers such as Ali, Fuat, Rüştü and Nedim Pasha, who had the support of foreign embassies behind them, did not allow this.

When he ascended to the throne, Sultan Abdülaziz wanted to weaken the bureaucratic dominance that had taken hold of Ottoman political culture since 1839 and take over the reins, but viziers such as Ali, Fuat, Rüştü and Nedim Pasha, who had the support of foreign embassies behind them, did not allow this.

Intellectuals such as Ziya Pasha and Namık Kemal, who were disturbed by the autocratic administration of bureaucrats and wanted a parliament to convene, fled to Egypt and France, and published especially against Ali Pasha. These young people, who called themselves Young Ottomans, were called Young Turks by Europeans. Strangely enough, the biggest supporter of Ali Pasha was France, even though these young people taking refuge in France were fierce opponents of the Pasha. After the death of Ali Pasha, they were forgiven by the sultan and returned to the country to be appointed to civil service in 1871.

A portrait of Sultan Abdülaziz.
A portrait of Sultan Abdülaziz.

Sultan Abdülaziz helped strengthen ties by visiting the privileged eyalet of Egypt in 1863. Upon the invitation of the Emperor of France, Napoleon III, to a Paris exhibition, the sultan went on a cruise to Europe in 1867. This is the first and only trip of an Ottoman sultan to foreign lands without military purpose.

Apart from France, he also visited Italy, Austria, Germany, Belgium and England and met with the rulers of these countries, who presented him with badges. This trip made quite a splash and the sultan gained attention with his character. Thus, he ensured that the negative European public opinion about the Ottomans due to the events in Rumelia was diminished.

Many rulers and noble personalities came to Istanbul to visit him on the occasion of the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. In Dolmabahçe Palace, he gave a feast to the future King of England, Prince of Wales Edward VII. The prince went down in history as the first person to dine together with a sultan.

Basis of the state

Although some say that Sultan Abdülaziz’s grandfather and older brother moved away from the path of reform, this is not true. He was in favor of preserving the national culture and making reforms. As a matter of fact, while declaring in the cülus (accession to the throne) edict that the reform movements started in the era of his father and elder brother would continue, he did not neglect to mention that the basis of the state was based on Shariah principles.

During Sultan Abdülaziz’s time, the vilayet and the court organization were arranged according to the example of France. The administration and the courthouse were separated from each other, and two high councils were established according to the Conseil d'Etat (the Council of State) and Cour de Cassation (Court of Cassation) model in 1868. These two high courts are still operating today as the Council of State and the Supreme Court.

The first act of codification of the provisions of Shariah law in the history of Islam took place in the time of Sultan Abdülaziz. In response to those who wanted to apply French civil law, a legislative committee under the leadership of Cevdet Pasha prepared a civil code called “Mecelle-i Ahkam-ı Adliyye” in 1869.

The Educational Organization was reorganized and the Education Council was established in 1869. Schools were established to train civil servants in 1862. Galatasaray High School was opened in 1868 according to the French model to train high-level bureaucrats. A modern university started its activities in 1870.

Boys' and girls' art schools were opened in 1869, and a girls' teacher's school followed them in 1870. Additionally, a captain's school, language school, pharmacy school and civil medicine school were established. Many technical schools were opened. A free boarding school was also founded to provide education for intelligent orphans and students.

The number of newspapers increased. Literature was revived. Ideas such as Turkism, Islamism and democracy began to be discussed in this period.

The passion for painting started in Sultan Abdülaziz’s time. He took painters such as Ivan Aivazovsky and Stanislaw Chlebowski under the auspices of the palace and had them make paintings of Istanbul.

A photo of Sultan Abdülaziz.
A photo of Sultan Abdülaziz.

Let it pass over my back

Sultan Abdülaziz attached great importance to transportation. During his reign, the length of the railway, which was 452 kilometers (281 miles) until then, tripled. The Istanbul-Paris railway concession was given to an Austrian company. The passage of this railway through the garden of Topkapı Palace caused some objections. The sultan famously said, "Let the railway be built even if it passes over my back." The part of this railway up to Sofia was opened in 1873.

Existing roads were repaired, and construction began on new ones. New roads were built in Nis, Bosnia, Vidin, Samsun, Amasya and Kastamonu. The iron bridge between Karaköy and Eminönü was put into service. Horse trams were put into service.

The Suez Canal was opened and the Mediterranean and the Red Sea were united. Attempts to operate ships on the Danube and Tigris rivers were initiated. Istanbul, Constanta, Varna ports and Izmir docks were built.

A company was established to operate ships in the Bosporus. In 1863, The Ottoman Imperial Bank was established in partnership with the French and British. This institution also served as the Central Bank until 1930.

More than twice the length of the existing telegraph lines were added. Post offices were opened in every district.

Sultan Abdülaziz wanted to apply the progress he saw in Europe to his country. Istanbul became a modern, socially and economically vibrant city in his time. The arrival of foreign visitors helped the repair and reorganization of the city. A tunnel operation was established between Karaköy and Galata in Istanbul. It was one of the first metro lines in the world and continues to operate today.

Foreigners were given the right to own property. By enacting the Passport Regulation and the Law of Nationality, "domestic foreigners" were sought to be naturalized in 1869.

The Bulgarians were given the right to leave the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and establish their own autocephalous churches in 1870. Non-Muslims started to develop economically and socially, forming the upper classes of the country and living by European standards. This was the beginning of some social problems in the future.

Passion for navy

Sultan Abdülaziz believed that in order for the Ottoman Empire to return to its old days, it had to have a strong army capable of hindering Russia's ambitions in particular. The navy he established in a short time was the world's third leading navy. The sultan commissioned the rehabilitation of the shipyards. He ordered that ships could not be made here for foreign countries.

The Ottoman land army was also one of the strongest armies of the time. Sultan Abdülaziz reorganized the Military Academy in 1866 with the experts he had brought from Prussia. Military secondary schools opened. He had the building in Beyazıt square that is known as Istanbul University today built and gave it to the Ministry of War.

Sultan Abdülaziz, accompanied by Emperor Napoleon III, arrives in Paris in 1867.
Sultan Abdülaziz, accompanied by Emperor Napoleon III, arrives in Paris in 1867.

Prince Karl told Sadullah Pasha, the ambassador to Vienna, that Sultan Abdülaziz was created as a soldier and that the sultan had an astonishing influence on his military knowledge. The sultan had actually studied the American Civil War and understood that the secret to the victory of the northerners was the Martin and Winchester rifles, which fired seven shots in one charge. He equipped the army by ordering 39,000 of one and 700,000 of the other. These weapons were used for the first time in the Siege of Pleven in 1877, causing great casualties to the Russians.

After Muslim lands were occupied one by one by the imperialists, Sultan Abdülaziz made sure to use the title of caliph. The fact that the sipahi revolt in India stopped thanks to a sign from the sultan and that the ruler of Eastern Turkestan, Yakub Khan, recognized the sultan as a political suzerain, caused concern in imperialist gatherings. The attempt to connect Yemen, Nejd and even Oman to the Ottoman center disturbed the British in particular, as it would undermine the safety of the Indian road.

And bankruptcy

Sultan Abdülaziz’s revitalization of the navy cost a fortune and revolts in Syria, Crete, Herzegovina and Bulgaria caused great expense. Domestic and foreign debts increased and the budget had a large deficit. However, considering the military and economic enterprises undertaken by the country, this increase was not abnormal.

It is not true that palaces were built with borrowed money. Only Beylerbeyi Palace was built, and the Çırağan Palace, the construction of which had begun during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid, was completed. The treasure exists for the good of the country and the nation, and it is not a waste to spend it locally. Sultan Abdülaziz even stopped the construction of the mosque he had built in Taşlık when there were rumors about its redundancy. He also gave up half of the allocation paid to him from the treasury.

With the encouragement of the Russian Ambassador Nikolay Pavlovich Ignatyev, who wanted to separate the Ottoman government from its European allies, the government of Grand Vizier Nedim Pasha declared the state bankrupt in 1875. Thereupon, government bonds hit rock bottom and many people lost in the European stock markets. Although all of the bureaucrats who knew of this news of bankruptcy in advance sold their bonds, Sultan Abdülaziz, who was the epitome of honesty, did not sell, thus losing a fortune.

Meanwhile, a rebellion broke out in Herzegovina in 1875. The diplomatic note given by Austria's foreign minister, Count Andrassy, who set his sights on Bosnia and Herzegovina, was accepted. Thus, the issue became an international crisis. Then a revolt broke out in Bulgaria in 1876. In connection with this, two consuls were killed in the events that took place in Thessaloniki.

The students, provoked by bureaucrats, took to the streets. Thereupon, the great powers of Europe gathered in Berlin and gave a memorandum to the Ottoman government.

Imperial Coach used by Sultan Abdülaziz during his visit to Paris, London and Vienna in 1867, currently at the Rahmi M. Koç Museum in Istanbul.
Imperial Coach used by Sultan Abdülaziz during his visit to Paris, London and Vienna in 1867, currently at the Rahmi M. Koç Museum in Istanbul.

Disastrous end

Both the bankruptcy of the state, the efforts of the grand vizier Nedim Pasha, known as Nedimof, to approach Russia, and the navy and caliphate policy of Sultan Abdülaziz brought an end to the sultanate. Midhat Pasha wanted to establish a constitutional administration in the Ottoman Empire like England, which he admired. He believed that reducing the powers of the sultan through parliament was impossible as long as Sultan Abdülaziz remained on the throne. For this reason, a number of bureaucrats, almost all of whom wanted to get rid of the sultan in some way, agreed on a coup.

A coup committee composed of Hüseyin Avni, Mithat, Rüştü, Redif, Süleyman, and Kayserili Ahmed Pasha and Sheikh al-Islam Hayrullah Efendi deposed Sultan Abdülaziz on fabricated grounds, claiming he was insane, irreligious, wasteful and ignorant of political affairs. They convinced the soldiers that they were acting to protect the sultan against the Russians who wanted to kidnap him.

On May 29, 1876, the palace was besieged and Crown Prince Murad Efendi was expelled from his apartment and given allegiance by the members of the committee. In the meantime, Sultan Abdülaziz, who was informed of the situation by the firing of ceremonial cannons, was taken from his palace, sent to Topkapı Palace and imprisoned in the apartment where his uncle Sultan Selim III had been martyred. His family was also humiliatingly evacuated from the palace. His wealth was plundered. The people of the harem were thrown onto the streets.

Sultan Abdülaziz, who was later transferred to Ortaköy Palace, was found dead in his room on June 4, 1876, with his wrists slashed after much torture was inflicted on him. As a result of the judgment made a few years later, it was legally established that Sultan Abdülaziz was murdered by the order of Avni Pasha. The incident was made to look like suicide.

A versatile ruler

Sultan Abdülaziz had a good education. He was fluent in Arabic, Persian and French. He wrote a booklet on Arabic literature and an article on the wisdom behind the prohibition of alcohol. His spelling was correct. He had a knack for calligraphy. The jeli thuluth tile on the back wall of the Valide Mosque was made by the sultan. He used to write most of his lines in garnet ink.

Sultan Abdülaziz was a good composer. Many of his works have survived to the present day. Although he was familiar with almost every instrument, he preferred to play ney, a wind instrument made of yellow reed. The pieces he played on his ney on summer evenings when his bedroom window was open made listeners shiver. All of his children were musicians; Şehzade Seyfeddin Efendi in particular became a master composer.

Sultan Abdülaziz was also a talented artist. The sketches he drew with a few pencil strokes impressed a master painter like Aivazovsky. This talent was also passed on to his son Abdülmecid Efendi. Sultan Abdülaziz was interested in sports, horse riding and especially wrestling. He was stronger and more robust than his brother. He was very interested in the military, especially the navy. His whole family inherited this curiosity.

Sultan Abdülaziz dressed simply. The short fez he wore became fashionable thanks to him. He used to visit a district of Istanbul by horse or carriage almost every day. His mother, Pertevniyal Valide Sultan, also did a lot of charity work. Apart from helping the poor, Sultan Abdülaziz built mosques in Istanbul and Konya, high schools, libraries, four fountains and five public fountains in Istanbul.

Sultan Abdülaziz was not fond of harem life. He lived with one wife until he became a sultan. His son Yusuf Izzeddin Efendi became the heir apparent for a while; however, the members of the CUP (The Committee of Union and Progress) killed him in 1916, making it look like a suicide, as he did not approve of their policies. His other son, Abdülmecid Efendi, became the caliph in 1922. His sons Şevket, Seyfeddin and Celaleddin Efendi and his daughters Esma, Emine, Nazime and Saliha Sultan reached adulthood.

A portrait of Sultan Abdülaziz.
A portrait of Sultan Abdülaziz.

‘I wish I were a tradesman’

From time to time, Sultan Abdülaziz was crushed under the responsibility he carried. He said to Başmabeynci (chamberlain) Mehmed Bey: "I wish I were a tradesman with a small shop in the Grand Bazaar. I would leave my house in the morning, I would come to work. In the evening, I would take sustenance to my family with whatever profit God gave, I would ride my donkey, not my horse. I would come to my house tired but not filled with a thousand troubles. My wife would greet me with a smiling face and my children with love. I would wash my hands and face, go to the head of the table, and enjoy our soup. I wish we weren't bothered with anyone's troubles.”

Sultan Abdülaziz worked hard for the country. He tried to raise effective statespeople. He went to the barracks, dealt with the food and clothing of the soldiers and inspected their wards. He personally conducted inspections in the Military Academy and the navy. He would carefully examine the petitions and the official writings of the Sublime Porte, the central government of the Ottoman Empire. He thought of the welfare of the state and worked to win the love of his people. He would take into account ideas and opinions about state affairs.

Memduh Pasha described Sultan Abdülaziz as handsome, charming, fast-paced, imposing yet gentle. Those who knew him told of his fondness for religion, his love for national culture, and his hatred for blind imitation of anything Western. He used to drink zamzam instead of water and read the Quran regularly every day. He belonged to the Mevlevi order.

Strangely enough, Midhat Pasha wrote in his memoirs in Taif, where he would later go into exile after being convicted for the murder of the sultan, describing Sultan Abdülaziz as "intelligent and alert; zealously wishing the well-being of the state” and characterized him as “a person who knows better than anyone else that the good administration of the state and country must be based on law and order.

The petition written by Sultan Abdülaziz to his nephew, who succeeded him after he was dethroned, is the clearest proof that he was a person with high intelligence who, despite the disasters he suffered, did not lose his determination. If the sultan made a political mistake, it is that he was too merciful.

It is the fabrication of Ali Suavi, one of the extremists of the Young Turks, that the sultan made the roosters fight and gave a badge to the victor. This is mentioned in the articles he wrote in Switzerland. Sultan Abdülaziz was one of the most loved sultans by the people. After his death, laments were sung: "Wake up, Sultan Abdülziz, wake up, the heart of the whole world is bleeding."