Sultan of Turkey restores constitution at demand of Young Turk rebels

On this day in 1908, amid turmoil in the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Abdul Hamid decrees restoration of the constitution, fulfilling the main demand of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), a rising reformist political party known as the Young Turkey Party, or the Young Turks.

In the first decade of the 20th century, members of the CUP, one of many rebellious secret societies within Turkey, infiltrated the Ottoman Third Army, which was charged with the difficult duty of pacifying Macedonia, an Ottoman province in the center of the Balkans region coveted by Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria alike and plagued by lawlessness and disorder. The goal of the Young Turks was to modernize and reinvigorate the faltering empire and stop Europe from taking Ottoman territory—starting with Macedonia.

Spurred to action by the revelation, in June 1908, that Russia and Britain had hatched a plan to send in European officers to police Macedonia and restore order, the Young Turks briefly surfaced from their murky secrecy to lodge their forceful protests against such measures, which would effectively have meant Turkey had lost control of yet another province. The sultan took the opportunity to send his officials to arrest various CUP leaders; the Young Turks eluded capture and fomented a rebellion within the army, demanding restoration of the Turkish constitution. As a response to the mounting turmoil, the sultan had no choice but to grant this demand, which he did on July 24, 1908, calling a session of parliament to address the Young Turks’ further calls for reform.

The following year, with disorder still rampant, the Ottoman army, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (later known as Ataturk, he became the first president of Turkey) declared martial law and consolidated power for the CUP, forcing the sultan to abdicate in favor of his more compliant brother. Though the Young Turks did not fully gain control of the Ottoman Empire until 1913—in a rebellion led by the army officers Enver Pasha, Mehmed Talaat and Ahmed Djemal—the events of 1908 put the European powers on notice that a change was occurring in the previously stale, fading empire. A more immediate result of the turmoil in Macedonia was the creation of similar secret societies within the Serbian army, founded by ultra-nationalist officers eager to grasp as much territory as possible for Serbia. In 1914, one of these societies, the Black Hand, would be blamed for aiding the young terrorists who plotted and carried out the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in late June 1914—the incident that sparked the chain of events that led, one month later, to the outbreak of the First World War.

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