From Istanbul to Tabriz: Modernity and Constitutionalism in the Ottoman Empire and Iran
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From Istanbul to Tabriz:
Modernity and Constitutionalism in the Ottoman Empire and Iran

Many scholars consider the Iranian constitutional revolution of 1906–11 as a turning point in the history of modern Iran that ushered in a long century of popular struggles and resistance against the absolutism of the shahs (Qajars and Pahlavis) and Western imperialism. The historiography of the Iranian constitutional revolution is rich and varied; the recent publication in Iran of primary sources like newspapers, memoirs, political tracts, parliamentary debates, and consular reports only enhances it further.1 The international dimension of the Iranian constitutional revolution is receiving more attention with access to foreign consular reports in the British, Turkish, and French archives.2 Except for a few notable studies, the Turkish constitutional movements of 1876 and 1908, by comparison, have received much less attention from scholars of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey.3 Despite two divergent historiographies, a comparative study of the Ottoman and Iranian constitutional movements is just beginning to receive some attention.4 With a few notable exceptions, [End Page 154] most of the existing historiography has emphasized the role of Western thought in the development of Turkish and Iranian modernity, while local and regional influences have been ignored. Moreover, less attention has been paid to the reception of Western ideas and the subsequent cross-fertilization of modernist discourse among different intellectual and social groups. The aim of this study is to shed light on the relationship between Turkish and Iranian reformists, intellectuals, and activists by drawing on Turkish archival material, consular reports, narrative sources, Persian newspapers, and books printed in Istanbul.5 I highlight the role of Iranian and Ottoman reformists in this formative period in the articulation of two competing discourses: Western liberal constitutionalism based on French and Belgian models and an Islamist constitutionalism (mashrutay-i mashru'ah) that was popular among the ulema and more traditional classes.6 In Iran the merchants, in alliance with some members of the Shi'i ulema, played an important role in the mobilization of urban masses in the constitutional movement of 1906–11. The conservative outcome of the Iranian constitutional movement had to do with the active participation of these two tightly knit social groups, which composed the traditional middle class and survived until the Islamic revolution of 1979. The urban masses made up of artisans and professional members of guilds played an important role in the success of the Iranian revolution of 1906. The latter vein of Iranian constitutionalism laid the foundation for the constitution of the Islamic Republic in 1979. In the Ottoman Empire, the merchant bourgeoisie was largely non-Muslim and prone to nationalist ideologies that promoted independence (Armenians and Greeks); the ulema were closely tied to the state and were independent of the middle class. The reforms of the Tanzimat era undermined the status of the lower-ranking ulema, while the nationalist movements for independence dealt a heavy blow to the position of non-Muslims. The Ottoman state manifested the strongest modernist impulse, which can be traced back to the eighteenth century; under pressure from Western powers and in order to save the empire from further disintegration, a new class of bureaucrats and reformists created a pan-Ottoman discourse for a modern type of government that would grant citizenship rights to all male subjects regardless of religion and ethnicity and would continue the Tanzimat reforms. But Islam and Turkish ethnic sentiments were emerging as the dominant intellectual paradigms in the aftermath of wars of independence and the Russo-Turkish wars that led to the ethnic cleansing of the Balkans and the Caucasus and created millions of Muslim refugees crossing into the Ottoman lands. The Transcaucasian Muslim refugees of Crimean and Azeri background identified with both the Sunni Ottomans and the Shi'i Iranians and settled in both states. In both states, these groups played an important role in forging a nationalist discourse.

The intellectual interaction between Ottoman and Iranian reformists and intellectuals took place in several phases that began first in the Ottoman Empire during the Tanzimat reforms (1839 – 78) and culminated in the granting of the first Ottoman constitution of 1876 by Sultan Abdülhamid II (1876–1909...