Turkey: From Failed Reforms to a Modern Jihad Genocide

Turkey's ardent desire to enter the European Union may be fulfilled in the near future. As Europe grapples with the prospect of admitting an Islamic nation with a fast—growing population into the borderless would—be superstate, the claim is being made that Turkey's history is one of relative tolerance. Europeans are instructed not to worry. This is the third in a three—part series examining the history of Turkey's 'tolerant' version of Islam. Part 1 may be found here, and Part 2 here.

Why did the Tanzimat reforms, designed to abrogate the Ottoman version of the system of dhimmitude, need to be imposed by European powers through treaties, as so—called 'capitulations' following Ottoman military defeats, and why even then, were these reforms never implemented in any meaningful way from 1839, until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I ?

Edouard Engelhardt [53] made these observations from his detailed analysis of the Tanzimat period, noting that a quarter century after the Crimean War (1853—56), and the second iteration of Tanzimat reforms, the same problems persisted:

Muslim society has not yet broken with the prejudices which make the conquered peoples subordinate...the raya [dhimmis] remain inferior to the Osmanlis; in fact he is not rehabilitated; the fanaticism of the early days has not relented...[even liberal Muslims rejected]...civil and political equality, that is to say, the assimilation of the conquered with the conquerors.

A systematic examination of the condition of the Christian rayas was conducted in the 1860s by British consuls stationed throughout the Ottoman Empire, yielding extensive primary source documentary evidence. [54]. Britain was then Turkey's most powerful ally, and it was in her strategic interest to see that oppression of the Christians was eliminated, to prevent direct, aggressive Russian or Austrian intervention.  On July 22, 1860, Consul James Zohrab sent a lengthy report from Sarajevo to his ambassador in Constantinople, Sir Henry Bulwer, analyzing the administration of the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, again, following the 1856 Tanzimat reforms. Referring to the reform efforts, Zohrab states: [55]

The Hatti—humayoun, I can safely say, practically remains a dead letter...while [this] does not extend to permitting the Christians to be treated as they formerly were treated, is so far unbearable and unjust in that it permits the Mussulmans to despoil them with heavy exactions. False imprisonments (imprisonment under false accusation) are of daily occurence.  A Christian has but a small chance of exculpating himself when his opponent is a Mussulman (...) Christian evidence, as a rule, is still refused (...) Christians are now permitted to possess real property, but the obstacles which they meet with when they attempt to acquire it are so many and vexatious that very few have as yet dared to brave them...Such being, generally speaking, the course pursued by the Government towards the Christians in the capital (Sarajevo) of the province where the Consular Agents of the different Powers reside and can exercise some degree of control, it may easily be guessed to what extend the Christians, in the remoter districts, suffer who are governed by Mudirs (governors) generally fanatical and unacquainted with the (new reforms of the) law..

In his comprehensive study of 19th century Palestinian Jewry under Ottoman rule Tudor Parfitt made these germane observations: [56]

Inside the towns, Jews and other dhimmis were frequently attacked, wounded, and even killed by local Muslims and Turkish soldiers. Such attacks were frequently for trivial reasons: Wilson [in British Foreign Office correspondence] recalled having met a Jew who had been badly wounded by a Turkish soldier for not having instantly dismounted when ordered to give up his donkey to a soldier of the Sultan. Many Jews were killed for less. On occasion the authorities attempted to get some form of redress but this was by no means always the case: the Turkish authorities themselves were sometimes responsible for beating Jews to death for some unproven charge. After one such occasion [British Consul] Young remarked: 'I must say I am sorry and surprised that the Governor could have acted so savage a part— for certainly what I have seen of him I should have thought him superior to such wanton inhumanity— but it was a Jew— without friends or protection— it serves to show well that it is not without reason that the poor Jew, even in the nineteenth century, lives from day to day in terror of his life'.
...In fact, it took some time [i.e., at least a decade after the 1839 reforms] before these courts did accept dhimmi testimony in Palestine. The fact that Jews were represented on the meclis [provincial legal council] did not contribute a great deal to the amelioration of the legal position of the Jews: the Jewish representatives were tolerated grudgingly and were humiliated and intimidated to the point that they were afraid to offer any opposition to the Muslim representatives. In addition the constitution of the meclis was in no sense fairly representative of the population. In Jerusalem in the 1870s the meclis consisted of four Muslims, three Christians and only one Jew— at a time when Jews constituted over half the population of the city...Some years after the promulgation of the hatt—i—serif [Tanzimat reform edicts] Binyamin [in an eyewitness account from Eight Years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855, p.44] was still able to write of the Jews— 'they are entirely destitute of every legal protection'...Perhaps even more to the point, the courts were biased against the Jews and even when a case was heard in a properly assembled court where dhimmi testimony was admissible the court would still almost invariably rule against the Jews. It should be noted that a non—dhimmi [eg., foreign] Jew was still not permitted to appear and witness in either the mahkama [specific Muslim council] or the meclis.

The modern Ottomanist Roderick Davison acknowledges that the reforms failed, and offers an explanation based on Islamic beliefs intrinsic to the system of dhimmitude: [57]

No genuine equality was ever attained...there remained among the Turks an intense Muslim feeling which could sometimes burst into an open fanaticism...More important than the possibility of fanatic outbursts, however, was the innate attitude of superiority which the Muslim Turk possessed. Islam was for him the true religion. Christianity was only a partial revelation of the truth, which Muhammad finally revealed in full; therefore Christians were not equal to Muslims in possession of truth. Islam was not only a way of worship, it was a way of life as well. It prescribed man's relations to man, as well as to God, and was the basis for society, for law, and for government. Christians were therefore inevitably considered second—class citizens in the light of religious revelation—as well as by reason of the plain fact that they had been conquered by the Ottomans. This whole Muslim outlook was often summed up in the common term gavur (or kafir), which means 'unbeliever' or 'infidel', with emotional and quite uncomplimentary overtones. To associate closely or on terms of equality with the gavur was dubious at best. 'Familiar association with heathens and infidels is forbidden to the people of Islam,' said Asim, an early nineteenth—century historian, 'and friendly and intimate intercourse between two parties that are one to another as darkness and light is far from desirable'...The mere idea of equality, especially the anti—defamation clause of 1856, offended the Turks' inherent sense of the rightness of things. 'Now we can't call a gavur a gavur', it was said, sometimes bitterly, sometimes in matter—of—fact explanation that under the new dispensation the plain truth could no longer be spoken openly. Could reforms be acceptable which forbade calling a spade a spade?...The Turkish mind, conditioned by centuries of Muslim and Ottoman dominance, was not yet ready to accept any absolute equality...Ottoman equality was not attained in the Tanzimat period [i.e., mid to late 19th century, 1839—1876], nor yet after the Young Turk revolution of 1908...

Indeed, an influential member of the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress, Sheik Abd—ul—Hack, a 'progressive' Young Turk, made this revealing declaration writing in a Parisian Muslim review, (Le Mecherouttiete, edited by Sherif Pasha, Paris), in August, 1912: [58]

Yes! The Musulman religion is in open hostility to all your world of progress.  Understand, you European observers, that a Christian, whatever his position may be, by the mere fact of his being a Christian is regarded by us as a blind man lost to all sense of human dignity.  Our reasoning with regard to him is as simple as it is definitive.  We say:  the man whose judgment is so perverted as to deny the existence of a one and only God, and to make up gods of different sorts, can only be the meanest expression of human degradation; to speak to him would be a humiliation for our intelligence and an insult to the grandeur of the Master of the Universe.  The presence of such miscreants among us is the bane of our existence; their doctrine is a direct insult to the purity of our faith; contact with them is a defilement of our bodies; any relation with them a torture to our souls.  Though detesting you, we have condescended to study your political institutions and your military organization.  Over and above the new weapons that Providence procures for us through your agency, you have yourselves rekindled, the inextinguishable faith of our heroic martyrs.  Our Young Turks, our Babis, our new Brotherhoods, all our sects, under various forms, are inspired by the same idea; the same necessity of moving forward.  Towards what end?  Christian civilization? Never! Islam is the one great international family.  All true believers are brothers.  A community of feeling and of faith binds them in mutual affection.  It is for the Caliph to facilitate these relations and to rally the Faithful under the sacerdotal standard.

Throughout the Ottoman Empire, particularly within the Balkans, and later Anatolia itself, attempted emancipation of the dhimmi peoples provoked violent, bloody responses against those 'infidels' daring to claim equality with local Muslims. The massacres of the Bulgarians (in 1876) [59], and more extensive massacres of the Armenians (1894—96) [60], culminating in a frank jihad genocide against the Armenians during World War I [61], epitomize these trends. Enforced abrogation of the laws of dhimmitude required the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. This finally occurred after the Balkan Wars of independence, and during the European Mandate period following World War I.


Erdogan's efforts to further re—Islamize Turkey are entirely consistent with a return to Turkey's Ottoman past as the heartland of an Empire established by jihad, and governed by the Shari'a. Indeed, both the current Erdogan administration, and the regime headed by the overtly pious Muslim Erbakan, a decade ago, reflect the advanced state of Islam's "sociopolitical reawakening" in Turkey since 1950—1960,  when the Menderes government——pandering to Muslim religious sentiments for electoral support——re—established the dervish orders, and undertook an extensive campaign of mosque construction [62]. Despite Frank Gaffney's apparent failure to understand this continuum of related historical phenomena, I share his acute concerns. And ultimately, we agree that Turkey's bid to join the EU should be rejected.


[53] Edouard Engelhardt, La Turquie et La Tanzimat, 2 Vols., 1882, Paris, Vol. p.111, Vol. 2 p. 171; English translation in, Bat Ye'or. Islam and Dhimmitude— Where Civilizations Collide, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001, pp. 431—342.
[54] Reports from Her Majesty's Consuls Relating to the Condition of the Christians in Turkey, 1867 volume, pp. 5,29. See also related other reports by various consuls and vice—consuls, in the 1860 vol., p.58; the 1867 vol, pp. 4,5,6,14,15; and the 1867 vol., part 2, p.3 [All cited in, Vahakn Dadrian. Chapter 2, 'The Clash Between Democratic Norms and Theocratic Dogmas',  Warrant for Genocide, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Transaction Publishers, pp. 26—27, n. 4]; See also, extensive excerpts from these reports in, Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity, pp. 409—433.
[55] Excerpts from Bulwer's report reproduced in, Bat Ye'or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity, pp. 423—426
[56] Tudor Parfitt, The Jews of Palestine, Suffolk (UK), 1987, Boydell Press, pp. 168, 172—73.
[57] Roderick Davison. 'Turkish Attitudes Concerning Christian—Muslim Equality in the Nineteenth Century' American Historical Review, Vol. 59, pp. 848, 855, 859, 864.
[58] Quoted in,   Andre Servier. Islam and the Psychology of the Musulman, translated by A. S. Moss—Blundell, London, 1924, pp. 241—42. 
[59] Januarius A. MacGahan. The Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria. (reprinted) Geneva, 1976; Yono Mitev. The April Uprising and European Public Opinion, Sofia Press, 1978; Philip Shashko. 'The Bulgarian massacres of 1876 reconsidered: reaction to the April uprising or premeditated attack?' Etudes Balkaniques, 1986, Vol. 22, pp. 18—25.
[60] Vahakn Dadrian. The History of the Armenian Genocide, Providence, Rhode Island: Bergahn Books, 1995, pp. 113—172.
[61] Dadrian, History of the Armenian Genocide, pp. 219—234.
[62] Speros Vryonis, Jr. The Mechanism of Catastrophe—The Turkish Pogrom of September 6—7, 1955, and The Destruction of the Greek Community of Istanbul,  New York, Greekworks.com, 2005, p. 555.

Dr. Bostom is an Associate Professor of Medicine, and the author of the forthcoming The Legacy of Jihad, on Prometheus Books (2005).