Scientific Essay, 2013
18 Pages, Grade: A
2 Jews in the Ottoman Empire:
3 Jewish Immigration & Modern Zionism:
4 The Build up to and Years of World War I:
6 Work Cited
The four months of this course have focused on the various aspects and influencing factors of the Armenian Genocide. The course has explored the Armenian Nationalist Movement, Ottoman massacres, Armenian resistance, foreign indifference, missionary work, the First World War, the height of the Genocide, and its subsequent legacy and denial. Sporadically throughout the course work there have been brief mentions of the various other ethno-religious groups within the Ottoman Empire, most of which were minority groups. This includes but is not limited to the Kurdish Muslims, members of the Greek Orthodox faith, Balkan nationalists, and Jewish Zionists, all of whom experienced their own unique treatments and persecutions under Ottoman rule during the years that encompassed the Armenian Genocide.
Although all of these groups evidenced similar separatist/nationalist leanings, it was only the Armenian Christians who suffered to the point of genocide at the hands of the Turks. I intend to examine the treatment of the Jewish population residing in Ottoman territory, how the Ottomans responded to the Zionist movement, and why the Jews were spared the fate that befell their Armenian neighbors.
Under Ottoman rule, the Palestine province had been divided into several districts known as Sanjaks, and “incorporated within the province of greater Syria.” These districts were made up of Gaza, Jerusalem, Nablus, Lajun, and Safed. Spread out across the province was a sizable Jewish population; while not a majority, it was large considering that Jews had not yet begun returning to the land at the time. (Smith 19)
As for the Ottoman Empire, the multi-religious nature of the vast amount of territory initially posed many problems for governance. In order to deal with, they created the Millet System, which separated each non-Muslim group into its own class. This then evolved to incorporate the dhimmi status for the non-Muslims, which outlined what rights they had as Ottoman subjects. (Barkley 15)
The Millet system was first organized as a loose administrative set of laws, made in the nineteenth century, and acted as a guide for multi-religious rule, in the hopes of keeping a peaceful status quo. (Barkley 16) The four main groups of the Ottoman Empire were “Muslims, Greeks, Armenians (and) Jews.” The Muslims were considered Ottomans, while the Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, all of whom were not Muslim, received a different set of rights in their Millets. (Davison 320)
The non-Muslims in the aforementioned dhimmi category, would be “protected, could practice their own religions, preserve their own places of worship and to a large extent run their own affairs provided they recognized the superiority of Islam.” For the most part, this system broke down religious groups to be “separate, unequal, and protected.” (Barkley 16)
As a minority group that also was non-Muslim, the Jews had a different set of legal rights attached to their Ottoman citizenship, as “Muslims had traditionally viewed Jews as occupying dhimmni status, protected by, but subordinate to, Muslims.” (Smith 36)
As previously noted, “despite their autonomy, the dhimmi were not considered equals of Muslims and their inequality was manifest in a series of political and legal limitations.” For example, intermarriage was forbidden between dhimmi men and Muslim women, and dhimmi testimony would not be counted in court against a Muslim. On top of legal restrictions, “the dhimmi were also subject to humiliating practices.” Religious observance was allowed, but it could not “disturb Muslims.” Churches and synagogues were generally not allowed to be built. Most individuals under the dhimmi status were not allowed to ride horses past Muslims, or permitted to bear arms. Different dhimmi groups were assigned to wear distinguishing colors (Jews, for instance, had to wear some form of turquoise). As well, dhimmi houses could not have windows overlooking the Muslim parts of the town. So though this was beneficial in some ways; autonomy, and freedom to worship, the Ottoman Empire was still lacking in religious tolerance. (Akcam I 24)
The Millet groups, though unequal in rights, resulted in considerable changes in the governance of the Ottoman Empire, presumably because of two reasons: first, their contact with Europe by way of merchants and diplomats (a network which religion played a factor in building). (Davison 319) Secondly, there was the simple flux of social and political changes throughout the world that the Millets helped incorporate into the Ottoman Empire. (Davison 319)
Though negligible to political change, the Millets’ primary Western influence was manifested through clothing. Naturally, along with clothing, other visual influences appeared in furniture and furnishings, and gradually “these habits spread to Turks in the seaboard cities, especially upper-class Turks.” (Davison 322) The expansion of non-Muslim jobs also played a part in bringing about Western influence, particularly as Millet members began to dominate the profession of translation. (Davison 324) Millet schools played a large role, too. Those attended them were often considered more educated, and graduated with Western values, and many Turks felt it necessary to obtain greater education less they fall behind. Overall, though they may have been separated in legal rights, non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire were responsible for laying a great deal of the groundwork for modernizing trends in the Ottoman Empire. (Davison 331)
The middle of the 1880’s saw the growth of anti-Semitism throughout Western and Eastern Europe, so much so that leaders of the Jewish community abandoned the idea of assimilation as an answer to what was known as the Jewish question. “They came to realize that Jews were not only a religious group, but also a separate nation.” This belief was a huge part of the foundation of modern Zionism, the idea that Jews should once again have their own sovereign nation and join their Jewish brethren still living in their ancestral homeland in the Palestine province of the Ottoman Empire. (Oke 329-330)
Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist, became one of the primary leaders of the Jewish Zionists. Realizing that due to Ottoman sovereignty, the “decision is in the sole hands of His Majesty the Sultan,” in 1896, Herzl went to Istanbul to meet with Abdulhamid II. Knowing that the Empire was riddled with debt, Herzl made an offer of 20 million pounds in exchange for the allowance to have the Jews living in Europe join the Jews living in Palestine, but the Sultan responded with an adamant rejection. (Oke 330)
Herzl did not accept no for an answer, and proceeded to have a second meeting with Abdulhamid, stating that in exchange for the allowance of settlement, the Jews would buy the Ottoman debt from the Europeans, and place it back in Turkish hands. This proposition was much more favorable for Abdulhamid, and he agreed, although the deal fell through during the negotiations, in part due to fear of nationalist movements. (Oke 330)
The Ottoman refusal was primarily rooted in the “pressure of separatist movements in the Balkans and East Anatolia, [and] the Turkish Government feared the possibility of nurturing another nationality problem within its domains.” In truth, the empire was dealing with significant trouble stemming from nationalists from the Balkans, from the Armenians. (Oke 331)
Further fears arose for the Ottomans, when Herzl began meeting with the British, and negotiating over Jewish settlement in the Sinai, which was interpreted as proof of Jewish expansionist designs. (Oke 331) From then on, Abdulhamid was self-described as “the enemy of those Jews who entertained certain ideas over Palestine,” though he was still intent on protecting those Jewish subjects and Jews in service to the Ottoman Empire.
It was resolved that the Ottoman Empire would do what it had to do to prevent Jewish nationalism from reaching a point comparable to the Armenian movement within their territory, which the Ottomans felt was only solvable by the destruction of the Armenian people. (Oke 332)
In addition, Abdulhamid was “haunted by the fear of opening another door for European influence, and stressed to Herzl that any Jewish immigrants that were allowed into Palestine, must become Ottoman subjects and placed under the Millet system.” Though Herzl supposedly gave these instructions, most did not look for citizenship. This enhanced the perception that “the Zionists were another advance guard of further political European influence.” (Oke 333)
Turkey, realizing to clamp down on Jewish immigration would reflect poorly on them in world opinion, decided it would benefit to have one of the great powers on its side. Naturally, it turned first to its closest European ally: Germany. The problem was that the German leader, Kaiser Wilhelm II, had been largely a supporter of Jews leaving Europe, thus in favor of Zionism. However, the Sultan was able to convince Wilhelm that Zionism was a threat to “the integrity of the Ottoman Empire (and that) the Germans should renounce the idea…because this project, by creating a state at the center of the Ottoman empire, would assure the ruin of Turkey.” This reasoning managed to convince the Germans to pull their support; subsequently, like dominos, the Russians and the French also rescinded whatever support they had given. (Oke 334)
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