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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter IV. Federalism and the decline of the empires

The political program of Hellenism in Turkey

Georgios Boussios
Traduction de Mary Kitroeff

Texte intégral

1Title: πoλιτικόν πρόγραμμα τοῦ Έλληνισμοῦ έν Tουρκία (The political program of Hellenism in Turkey)

2Originally published: as a leaflet in Istanbul, 1912

3Language: Greek
The excerpts used are from the original which can be found at the ‘Ion Dragoumis archive’ in the Gennadion Library in Athens, pp. 7–9, 11–13, 24–25.

About the author

4Georgios Boussios [1876, Grevena (Ottoman Macedonia) – 1929, Athens]: activist, politician and journalist. He was born into a well-off family of merchants. He concluded his primary education in his hometown. He then moved to Istanbul and studied at the Greek-Orthodox Commercial School on the island of Heybeliada (Gr. Chalki). After his father’s premature death, he took over the family business. Soon, though, he was involved in politics, which cost him the loss of the family fortune. Initially, he took part in the ‘Macedonian struggle,’ the bloody conflict between Bulgarian and Greek guerilla bands for the control of the Christian populations in the region. He was arrested by the Ottoman authorities and imprisoned for three years in Monastiri (Tur. Manastrr, Mac. Bitola). After the restoration of the Ottoman Constitution in 1908, he was released thanks to the general amnesty granted by the government. He thus resumed his political activity. He was elected a deputy in the Ottoman Parliament for the sancak (sub-prefecture) of Servia (Tur. Service), in Western Macedonia. From the very beginning, he opted for cooperation with the non-Turkish deputies of the Parliament. In 1910, he was appointed the head of the ‘Eλληvικός Пολιτικός Σύvδεσμoς (Greek political association), the alter ego of the secret ‘Society of Constantinople.’ The aim of these associations was to coordinate the action of the Greek deputies. Moreover, due to his flamboyant and critical articles, when Young Turks returned to power with the Bab-i Ali (Sublime Porte) coup, in 1913, Boussios was banned from politics and deported to Greece. In the 1915 Greek elections, he worked closely with Ion Dragoumis, a leading political figure of the period, in the part of Macedonia that had in the meantime been annexed by the Hellenic Kingdom in order to deal with the urgent problems of the ‘Newly Annexed Lands.’ His support for Dragoumis led him to identify with the royalist camp during the ‘National Schism’ (in 1916–17) against the supporters of Eleftherios Venizelos. In 1922, few weeks before the collapse of the front in western Asia Minor (Anatolia), in conditions of high tension and gloomy prospects, King Constanine I entrusted him with the mandate of setting up a government. Thus, after the 1922 catastrophe in Asia Minor, he withdrew from politics. Parallel with his political activity, Boussios was systematically involved in journalism. Between April 1910 and December 1912, he published in Istanbul—whether under his real name or a penname—the newspaper Пολιτκή Eπιθεώρησις (Political review), which was closed down as a result of censorship and subsequently republished under different names. While there is no lively memory of him for his role in the politics of the Hellenic Kingdom, Boussios is remembered for his role in Turkish politics. He is described in the relevant accounts as Busho effendi, and he became notorious for having declared that “I am as Ottoman as the Ottoman Bank” referring to the joint British—French venture aiming at safeguarding the payments to the European stock market of the Ottoman public debt.

5Main works: Tό πολιτικόv πρόγραμμα τοῦ’Eλληνισμοῦ έv Toυρκία (The political program of Hellenism in Turkey) [1912].


6Since the late 1880s, new generations, graduates of the schools like Miilkiye (Civil Servants Academy) and Harbiye (Military Academy) or schools established by Sultan Abdiilhamid II himself, were inspired by liberal and constitutional ideas as well as Ottoman patriotism. However, these young officers and officials, generally known as the Young Turks (Jön Tiirkler), in contact with Western ideas and modes of social behavior, could not tolerate what they perceived as the decay of the Empire. The most radical among them gradually joined the Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress, CUP). In June 1908, the tsar of Russia and the king of Britain met at Reval (Est. Tallin) on the Baltic Sea, discussing, among other things, a proposal for the resolution of the ‘Macedonian Question’ based on foreign control. On July 1908, following these unexpected developments, but also as a result of widespread social unrest, the Young Turks organized an uprising in Rezna and Manastir (Gr. Monastiri, Mac. Bitola) and threatened to march on Istanbul. Thus, Sultan Abdülhamid was forced to re-establish the constitution of 1876 and proclaim elections.

7In the meantime, the ‘long’ nineteenth century had been marked by the struggle in Macedonia (see Krste Petkov Misirkov, On Macedonian matters). Greek, Bulgarian, and also self-proclaiming Macedonian groups fought against one another in a determined attempt to attract the allegiance of the Christian populations. Greek officers and diplomats had already organized networks to that end. Lieutenant Athanasios Souliotis-Nikolaidis, who in 1906 had already founded the Ὀργάvωσις Θεσσαλovίκης (Society of Thessa-loniki), set up, together with the diplomat Ion Dragoumis, a similar structure two years later, the ’Oργάνωσις Kωvσταvτιvουπόλεως (Society of Constan-tinople). Initially, the primary concern of the Society had been to fight against the Bulgarians, even by seeking the support of the Ottoman authori-ties. However, the Young Turk movement altered the political environment dramatically. The elections proclaimed by the Sultan provided all ethno-religious communities (millet) with the right of representation in the new Ot-toman Parliament. Furthermore, müsavat /ισοπολιτεία (equality before the law) was once again officially introduced. This was part of a political project aimed at demolishing the old distinctions among the millets and bringing all Ottoman subjects under a common political umbrella by offering them Otto-man citizenship regardless of religion or culture. The project was certainly not a novelty. It had been initiated through the Tanzimat as a policy insti-gated largely ‘from above,’ contributing to the emergence of dynamic middle and upper bourgeois groups, mainly but not exclusively, among the non-Muslim communities. However, in terms of political culture, especially after the dissolution of the first Ottoman Parliament in 1878 the Ottomanist ideal had never been consolidated among the non-Muslim communities. When this project re-emerged during the Second Constitutional Period, it enjoyed wide-spread support among all communities and constituted the platform for a consensus among them. It was presumed that the modernization agenda her-alded by the constitution provided the Greek-Orthodox communities with a unique opportunity to translate their social and economic influence into po-litical authority.

8The ‘Society of Constantinople’ worked towards this aim. However, de-spite some limited support from the Hellenic state, it did not really represent the official Hellenic policy. The Hellenic state had initially discouraged any involvement in Unionist activities, demonstrating its preference for the abso-lutist regime, not so much as a matter of principle but out of fear that any change would endanger the ‘privileges’ of the Patriarchate and the Greek-Orthodox communities. Furthermore, due to the Greek defeat in the 1897 war against the Ottomans, the supporters of irredentism had lost their political momentum, at least temporarily. The impact of the defeat, the interests of the ομογενείς (Greeks living outside the Hellenic state), as well as the Bulgarian threat had instigated in Athens an atmosphere of cautious friendship towards the Ottoman Empire.

9This did not last for long, though, as the policy of the Unionists became authoritarian over time. Both the Hellenic state and the ‘Society’ granted their support to the opposition liberal party, whose most prominent figure, Prince Sabahaddin, advocated decentralization of the state and preservation of the autonomy of diverse ethnic groups. Yet, the Greek-Orthodox were not unanimous in their support. The majority among them formed the ‘Greek Political Association,’ an alter ego of the ‘Society,’ also directed by Souliotis–Nikolaidis. After the prohibition on all ethnically-based political associations in 1910, the association was renamed the ‘Constitutional Politi-cal Association,’ a new formation open to deputies from all non-Turkish eth-nicities.

10The Parliament was eventually closed down and new elections were scheduled for the spring of 1912. The ‘Constitutional Political Association’ supported the oppositional Entente Liberal party. To its despair, the latter was badly beaten in the elections which became known as sopalι seçim (elec-tions with a beating stick) due to the extensive violence used by the CUP members. However, decision-making over the electoral coalitions and the debate over the motives and the sincerity of the Young Turks triggered a con-flict between the ‘Association’ which was also supported by the Hellenic state, on the one hand, and local Metropolitan and community authorities both in Istanbul and in the provinces with large Greek populations.

11The main challenge against the non-Muslim communities was the elimina-tion of their status of autonomy in educational and religious matters with ‘privileges’ (Tur. imtiyazlar, Gr. προνόμια) that had been institutionalized by the Tanzimat, but pre-existed in various forms well before that. Despite the widespread assumption that Gennadios Scholarios, a fervent anti-Western clergyman, was appointed Patriarch by Mehmed II in 1453 with full authority over the Greek-Orthodox population, recent scholarship has demonstrated that the ‘privileges’ were officially recognized only with the Tanzimat re-forms in the mid-nineteenth century (see Hovsep Vartanian, The constitu-tional truths). The modernizing Young Turk regime treated the community ‘privileges’ as well as all millet institutions as remnants of the past which had to be abolished. It is exactly through these ‘privileges,’ however, that the Greek-Orthodox and most of the other non-Turkish communities envisioned their survival, rejecting the idea of a centralized homogeneous state and fa-voring a kind of federalist pattern, which would allow them a large amount of autonomy.

12Boussios’s speech ‘The political program of Hellenism in Turkey’ was de-livered in this political conjuncture. After his electoral failure in 1912, he addressed the members of the ‘Association’ and described the political atti-tude of the Greek-Orthodox community throughout the constitutional period. The ‘policy of subservience,’ he claims, had been replaced, between 1910 and 1912, by the ‘policy of ethnicities.’ This boiled down to the defense of the national autonomy of Hellenism of the Empire and gained the respect of Greek-Orthodox deputies both within the Empire and outside.

13Thanos Veremis and Caterina Boura’s introduction to the publication of Souliotis-Nikolaidis’s account on ‘Society of Constantinople,’ dated 1984, was the first attempt to re-evaluate the political choices of the Greek-Orthodox at the turn of the twentieth century. During the last two decades, Greek revisionist views on the late Ottoman Empire led to a reassessment of the constitutional period as a whole, which was complemented by an exten-sive interest on the period witnessed among Turkish intellectual circles. Thus, the ‘policy of ethnicities’ is no longer considered to have been the only possible strategy of survival for the Ottoman Greek-Orthodox community.


The political program of Hellenism in Turkey

15[…] Whatever the reason and whatever the intention for proclaiming the constitution, we know one thing only, one thing only do we want and it is not possible but to want it, because it is an instinct [which exists] in us and in every race. We want to preserve our national self-existence. As we study the situation, we find that it is not possible for us to preserve our national self-existence under a constitution with only as many rights as we had gained be-fore the constitution. […]

16If among these demands of ours, one can find equality before the law, that is a constitution. For if it does not exist, then that means the dissolution of ethnicities and the abolition of their existence. […]

17Nonetheless, this policy prevailed during the first two years of the consti-tution due to the momentum of servility. The result of this policy was two-fold. On the one hand, half a dozen people had a good time, feeding on the crumbs of their rulers' table, while on the other hand, there could be heard, everyday and without cease, the complaints of the nation, persecutions, viola-tions, injuries and so many other illegalities which sullied the new regime and filled with desperation the souls of those who pinned so many hopes on the golden promises of its prime movers. […]

18The nation then, not we, but the nation, which did not know in detail [about] the other deceptions, [the nation] awoke and saw where the policy of flattery and servility was taking us. And we, who are no more than the flesh of its flesh and the mind of its mind, we felt, [along] with it, that a different policy was needed. And the nation combined sincerely with other ethnicities which found themselves in the same position as us and, reinforced as much as possible, stood before those who only take power into account, and told them, to their face, the truth, the truth which always saves. It told them that this state will be destroyed if they continue this policy of domination, for, without a constitution, this state will not stand, as they themselves have seen, having been forced to rebel, but even a constitution only for them will not stand through domination; and it told them we do not mean to deceive them because it would be for the better and in our interest if both the state and the ethnicities were saved. This is the policy which experience has revealed to the nation—if these people could, they would see that it was the policy of true love for them because it was a policy of sincerity and not perfidy. […]

19This is what I had to say. With a political program of the nation as it is summarized in the petition by the members of Parliament, with a policy which is not servile, undignified and unavailing to us, or perfidious for the state, but a policy of true friendship towards other ethnicities which candidly tells the people in power that the only way for them to be saved is to sin-cerely accept the self-existence of the ethnicities as well as their equality be-fore the law, we have increased the prestige of Hellenism, we have rendered the souls of the Hellenes more free, we have thwarted plans for the disinte-gration of ethnicities, we have laid the foundations for a more positive accep-tance of our program. If this state is not destroyed, it is not possible for our program not to succeed. If it is destroyed, our ethnicity will thus be salvaged. We will protect this program and our policy as the apple of our eye. Nor is it possible to abandon them because of two or three members of Parliament who will supposedly not orate before 400 foot-stamping men, or because of some other reason. Political struggles, just as any struggle, have their trials and troubles. In the past, we suffered more, without the respective successes. We hold the flag of the just of the ethnicities, which constitute the very spirit of civilization of this century. We shall not abandon it, nor will we leave it to be seized by another ethnicity which will find itself at the head, when the moment comes, which will not be late in coming, for the recognition of our program which will save the ethnicities as well as the state.


Mary Kitroeff (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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