History, Department of


Date of this Version

Winter 2009


Jerusalem Quarterly 40 (Winter 2009-10), pp. 18-33


The Young Turk revolution of 1908 was a milestone in defining the struggles in the intra-ethnic power relations in the Ottoman Empire. The most dominant of these struggles took place in the realm of ecclesiastic politics in Jerusalem. With its Armenian and Greek Patriarchates and the Chief Rabbinate, Jerusalem became a focal point of the power struggle among the Jews, Armenians, and Greeks in the Ottoman Empire. The importance that the ethno-religious and secular leadership in Istanbul gave to the crisis in Jerusalem demonstrates the centrality of Jerusalem in ethnic politics in the Empire. Furthermore, it shows how the Question of Jerusalem became a source of struggle between the different political forces that emerged in the Empire after the revolution. The revolution gave the dissatisfied elements within these communities an opportunity to reclaim what they thought was usurped from them during the period of the ancien régime. Hence, in all three cases these communities internalized the Young Turk revolution by initiating their own micro-revolutions and constructing their own ancien régimes, new orders, and victories.

After the revolution the Chief Rabbinate of the Ottoman Empire and the Armenian Patriarchate and the Armenian National Assembly (ANA)2 initiated policies of centralization bringing the provincial religious orders under their control. In most cases they were successful. However, in the case of Jerusalem this centralization policy met with much resistance and caused serious difficulties for the leadership in Istanbul.

This essay is a comparative study of the impact of the Young Turk revolution on intra-ethnic politics in Jerusalem. It will demonstrate the commonalities and the differences between the three cases. The intra-ethnic struggles in all three cases were similar in that the local, central, and ecclesiastical authorities were very much involved. Furthermore, in these intra-ethnic struggles the local communities played an important role. In the Greek case these tensions led to severe deterioration in the relation between the local Orthodox Arab community and the Greek Patriarch Damianos. Thus, compared to the two other cases the Greek case is unique in that more than being a struggle within the ecclesiastic hierarchy it was more a struggle between clergy and laity something that still persists today.

The essay will contend that post-revolutionary ethnic politics in the Ottoman Empire should not be viewed from the prism of political parties only, but also through ecclesiastic politics, which was a key factor in defining inter and intra-ethnic politics. While the revolution aimed at the creation of a new Ottoman identity which entailed that all the ethnic groups be brothers and equal citizens, it also required that all the groups abandon their religious privileges. This caused much anxiety among the ethnic groups whose communities enjoyed the religious privileges that were bestowed on them by the previous regimes. Hence, despite the fact that the revolution attempted to undo ethno-religious representations it nevertheless reinforced religious politics as it was attested in Istanbul and Jerusalem.

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