On February 10, 1918, the 34th Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II died after 9 years of his deposition from the Ottoman throne. He ruled for 33 years from 1876 to 1909. When he was dethroned, he was sent to Thessaloniki (now in Greece). In 1912, when Thessaloniki fell to Greece, he was then returned to captivity in Istanbul.
Sultan Abdul Hamid II is considered to be the founder of modern Turkey. Although he came to power at a time of political upheaval, he made some very major developments and changes throughout his empire.
At the time of his accession to the throne (in 1876), the Ottoman Empire had become bankrupt and could not defend itself against its many enemies. Although the Ottoman Empire, allied with the UK and France, managed to win the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) against the Russians, it had exhausted the empire’s resources to a great extent.
Apart from external threats, the empire was also struggling with internal politics. The Young Ottomans were dissatisfied with the Tanzimat and therefore, they publicly advocated a constitution that would limit the absolute rule of the sultan by creating a representative parliament similar to that in Europe.
As a result, the first constitution was promulgated by the sultan on December 23, 1876. The parliament convened for only two periods, in 1877 and 1878. On February 13, 1878, the sultan dissolved the parliament and restored the absolute monarchy.
Sultan Abdul Hamid II encouraged infrastructural and cultural modernization. Under his rule, Ottoman bureaucracy acquired rational and institutional features where admission into the civil service as well as promotion processes was arranged through objective criteria such as exams and rules.
He also created government schools for boys and girls throughout the empire, undertook railway construction, began to connect distant provinces to the capital, and extended telegraph lines to enable administrative surveillance from Albania down to Yemen.
Moreover, he opened many primary schools, high schools, blind and handicapped schools. He had Sisli Etfal Hospital and Poorhouse built for the people. He extended highways to the internal parts of Anatolia and had railways spread through Baghdad and Medina.
Sultan was a great admirer of Fine Arts. He established an Academy of Fine Arts and Schools of Finance and Agriculture. Abdul Hamid II’s modernizing efforts ultimately laid the foundation for modern Turkey; the founders of the Turkish republic were educated at schools founded by Abdul Hamid II.
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