Bedross Der Matossian

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The Young Turk revolution of 1908 restored the Ottoman constitution, suspended earlier by Sultan Abdul Hamid II, and initiated a new period of parliamentary politics in the Empire. Likewise, the revolution was a watershed moment for the Empire’s ethnic communities, raising expectations for their full inclusion into the Ottoman political system as modern citizens and bringing to the fore competitions for power within and between groups. In Shattered Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire (Stanford University Press, 2014), Bedross Der Matossian examines how Ottoman ethnic communities understood and reacted to the revolution. Focusing on the Arab, Armenian and Jewish communities, and using sources in multiple languages, including Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Ladino and Ottoman Turkish, Der Matossian highlights the contradictions and ambiguities in interpretations of  Ottomanism and its reification as political structure. How, for example, could these groups express loyalty to the ideas of the revolution while protecting their own communal interests?

For the Young Turks, the goal of the revolution was first and foremost to centralize power and to preserve the territorial integrity of the Empire. They saw constitutionalism and parliamentarianism as vehicles to this end. For the non-dominant ethnic groups in the Empire, however, the Revolution meant freedom and equality, often understood as political decentralization and the preservation of their ethnic privileges. Through in depth analysis of revolutionary festivals, debates in the ethnic press, electoral campaigns, parliamentary discourse and then reactions to the 1909 counter-revolution, Der Matossian shows us that the dreams of the revolution were shattered under the weight of the incompatibility these understandings.

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