Arda Akıncı on what truly marked the end of the Hamidian era – the abolition of espionage.

Arda is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Salamanca.

On July 24, 1908, the Grand Vizierate sent a telegram to the Inspector General of Rumelian Provinces, announcing that Sultan Abdülhamid II had declared an amnesty to political prisoners, as well as the “abolition” of spying in the Ottoman Empire. This came just a day after the Young Turk Revolution, and was perceived as a clear victory for the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). 

Established in the late 1880s and organized as a political opposition movement, the CUP was far from being politically or ideologically unified. On the contrary, the movement accommodated critics of the Hamidian regime hailing from various ideological backgrounds. What unified them was their critique of the personal rule of the Sultan, which they often described as the “period of oppression” (devr-i istibdad). As far as historians of the CUP and the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 are concerned, the main aim was to restore the constitution of 1875, which the sultan had suspended in 1878, and the Ottoman Parliament. And so the first request of the CUP was indeed the restoration of the Ottoman constitution. But, as we have seen, another high priority was the empire-wide abolition of espionage. Why did the abolition of spying matter so much to the political opposition? 

One reason stems from the Hamidian spies’ targeting of members of the political opposition movement since the late 1880s. Indeed, this spy network shaped the organization of opposition movements from their inception, restricting their activity at the heart of the Empire and leading their members to organize either in the borderlands of the Empire (such as Egypt) or in other parts of Europe (such as London or Paris). For the political opposition state espionage represented everything that was wrong with the regime: the sultan was nothing more than a tyrant and his spies were the tools and the symbols of this tyranny


We may know something of the intelligence-gathering activities of Abdülhamid II, yet we know much less about the abolition of this activity in 1908. This despite the considerable scholarly attention devoted to the Revolution of 1908. Where addressed, it is considered a by-product of the revolution. This blurs our picture of the abolition, the exile of spies in the aftermath of the 31 March Incident, as well as the transformation of Ottoman intelligence activities after 1909. 

Understanding the CUP’s profound antipathy toward spying helps us to place its abolition in a more historical frame, that of the confrontation of the political opposition movement with the Hamidian Regime and its agents. This perspective allows us to re-examine the exile of spies in 1909 as a continuation of this policy. Just like the aftermath of the 1908 Revolution, right after the countercoup attempt known as the 31 March Incident, the CUP not only dethroned Abdülhamid II, but launched investigations into Hamidian spies. The Second Court Martial put high-ranking bureaucrats of the Hamidian Era on trial, condemning most of them to exile in remote corners of the Empire. Seen in this way, the abolition of spying was only the initial step towards removing the Hamidian legacy of state espionage, which was followed by the expulsion of the pillars of this network. 


After the abolition of spying and the punishment of spies, the establishment of the Commission for the Investigation of Documents (Tedkîk-i Evrak Komisyonu) constituted the third step in the CUP’s policy. The Commission was founded in 1909, to investigate and categorize the documents found in the Yıldız Palace, including, but not limited to, secret intelligence reports. Ali Galip Bey, a member of the Assembly of Notables (Âyan Meclisi) led the Commission, which worked for at least three years until the Gazi Ahmed Muhtar Pasha cabinet decided to abolish the body in 1912. What is interesting is that, according to the accounts of another member of the Commission, Asaf Tugay, once Enver Pasha became the Minister of War in 1914, an order was given to burn the reports in their possession.  

The final stage of the CUP’s policy against the Hamidian intelligence network was to reform and reorganize it, by creating a new agency: the General Directorate of Public Security (Emniyet-i Umumiyye Müdiriyeti), which took over responsibility for intelligence gathering from the Ministry of Gendarmerie under a regulation of August 4, 1909. The General Directorate incorporated an intelligence branch (İstihbarat Şubesi) composed of a director, two deputy-directors and thirty intelligence officers.  This transformation of the intelligence service truly was the end of an era – the Hamidian Era.