- Sultan Abdülhamid II from the Pen of his Detractors: Oriental Despotism and the Sexualization of the Ancien Régime
- Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association
- Indiana University Press
- Volume 5, Number 2, Fall 2018
- pp. 47-73
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Sultan Abdülhamid II (r. 1876–1909), dubbed the "Red Sultan," was widely satirized in both the European and the Ottoman press. While cruelty and paranoia were the main topics on which his representations were focused, he was also frequently sexualized with reference to his harem; one German novel referred to him as "Lord of a Thousand Women." What precisely was the function of this sexualization? This article suggests that Abdülhamid perfectly fit the European model of the "Oriental despot" which, as Alain Grosrichard has argued, was fundamentally sexualized. In turn, Abdülhamid's identification with despotism helped recast the European powers' colonial ambitions as efforts to enlighten and emancipate, rather than enslave and exploit. The sexualization of Sultan Abdülhamid was taken up again by the Kemalists during the 1920s, and this time it served the function of helping construct the identity of the nascent Republic of Turkey by juxtaposing it against the Ottoman Empire as its "constitutive Other." In this respect, it bears some similarities to the sexualization of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution.