In this article I consider the late Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary in an inter-imperial framework of enquiry. There is much critical scholarship about the imagined regions of the Middle East and Eastern Europe – but historians have also carefully maintained their imagined boundaries.Footnote 1 Yet, the study of diplomatic cooperation, trade relations, political borrowings and shared visions about imperial federalism provide an unconventional history of two middle powers in the age of French and British dominance. Here I do not follow the great historiography of comparing empires. My perspective is a relational, circulatory and croisée one.Footnote 2 This Eastern Mediterranean-European relational view can be extended to the post-imperial nation states in interwar period, to the often-shared Soviet umbrella during the Cold War and to today's intertwined regionalism, symbolised by the strategic friendship between Turkish president Erdoğan and Hungarian prime minister Orbán.Footnote 3
I start with a framework for a relational history between the two empires in their last five decades. I argue that this period witnessed increased cooperation, and that this is the formative period of contemporary Eastern Mediterranean-European regionalism. My goal is to call for further research about relational and circulatory histories at the level of empire. By sketching an inter-imperial framework, the article attempts to move beyond Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Balkan exceptionalisms, as well as beyond narratives of ‘imperial decline’.Footnote 4 A middle power relational history provides an alternative narrative not only to nationalist histories but also to Great Power-centred histories of colonialism; and it contributes to the rethinking of nationalism within imperial formations.Footnote 5 In general, this is an experiment with taking the two middling, ‘central’, empires to be an alternative modern Europe.Footnote 6
To illustrate the possibilities of the inter-imperial framework, the second half of the article zooms in on one particular idea: the transformation of the Ottoman Empire along the lines of Austria-Hungary. I narrate how Muslim thinkers used comparison for imperial reform. I describe two types of such reform visions after the 1908 restoration of the Ottoman constitution: a quickly forgotten Egyptian–Ottoman dualist idea, and a more popular, ethnic Arab–Turkish dualism. Among Ottoman Arab intellectuals, this idea was the longest living version of federal visions, surviving even the First World War.Footnote 7
The case of Ottoman dualism is illustrative of reform ideas about composite imperial formations. In the pre-war political plans under consideration, self-governance did not include complete self-determination. Independence – in fact, ‘complete independence’ (istiqlal tamm in Arabic) – meant autonomy within an imperial unit. As the post-1867 Hungarian government enjoyed a distinct administrative identity within an empire, this model (and federalism in general) was attractive for pre-war Ottoman Arabs to reconcile ethnic autonomy with Muslim imperialism. In this way, instead of being elements in nation state pre-histories, we can see these plans as visions about transforming the Ottoman Empire into a Muslim system of inter-polity relations.Footnote 8
One way to categorise this particular Muslim dualism is to say that it was a ruling ethnicity-based imperial vision. As such, it should not be seen as only one among the reform ideas of federalism expressed in the Ottoman Turkish, Armenian, Greek, Ladino or Hebrew press after 1908. Turkish–Arab dualism was a vocabulary for ethnic-national autonomy, albeit with a special claim on the two ethnicities’ distinguished political position. I use ‘ethnicity’ here in a loose sense to denote named group self-identification, as imagined language and race communities.Footnote 9 My intention is not to connect the nostalgic and false claim about Austro-Hungarian multi-ethnic pluralism with the similarly nostalgic and false views about the Ottoman Empire.Footnote 10 In the dualist modality, Arabs and Turks were to be the only ruling Ottoman ethnicities, just like Hungarians were ‘independent’ on the expense of Slavs in their empire. Yet in the light of dualist visions, sovereign nationhood appears as an accidental outcome. In this way, this article joins a recent wave in new imperial history about the transition of Muslim peoples to the post-imperial existence.Footnote 11
The appearance of the Austro-Hungarian composite model in the late Ottoman political imagination helps to re-map the late Ottoman Empire outside of British-French dominance in global intellectual history. For instance, historians often focus on the concept of ‘decentralisation’, borrowed from French sociological theory and widely debated in the Ottoman press after 1908.Footnote 12 Yet my findings suggest that the intellectual scope of Ottoman thinkers was much broader than the toolbox of French and British imperial governance. Ottoman intellectuals looked at Germany, Switzerland, the United States and Austria-Hungary to find working solutions to their problems. There was – and has been – an Eastern-Euro-Mediterranean ecosystem of political thought.
In terms of logic, the inter-imperial connection is not a necessary precondition to the emergence of Ottoman dualism. The advocates of this idea could have devised it without having relations and without having Austria-Hungary in their neighbourhood – as much as Austria-Hungary was in the ‘neighbourhood’ of, for instance, Damascene Arabs. In fact, a belt of new nation states – Romania to Serbia – started to separate the two empires in the period. This belt is the reason for their changed behaviour towards each other. Yet the entanglements of the two empires provide a solid spatial basis to socio-intellectual history. I start with this empirical background of inter-imperial relations.
Imperial Relational History: Middle Powers
In this section, I sketch a framework of research through a short pre-1918 relational history between the two imperial projects. Literature on modern Austrian(-Hungarian)-Ottoman relations, often in a nationalist perspective, is growing in German, Turkish, Hungarian, Czech and English scholarship (less so in Arabic).Footnote 13 Yet the golden age of Ottoman-Austrian relations is still the eighteenth century in scholarship, while there is a spectacular increase in studies about the ‘Eastern foreign policy’ of Austria-Hungary with a focus on South Slavic (Balkan) nationalisms and the Ottoman-Habsburg borderlands in the nineteenth century.Footnote 14 The following incomplete catalogue of relations identifies further themes for research.
In terms of diplomatic history, the main reason for the cautious cooperation between Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s after centuries of war was the strength of Russia. In post-Napoleonic Europe, Prince Metternich considered the Ottoman Empire the key to stop Russian expansionism. This is the reason why Austria did not support the Greek independence wars in the 1810s and 1820s. The Austrian Empire was part of the larger Christian coalition in 1839–40, which saved the Ottoman dynasty from the rebelling governor of Egypt. Metternich supported Mustafa Reşid, the reformist Grand Vizier in 1837–41, and had an exchange about their shared conservative vision of slow reforms to maintain their empires.Footnote 15 The Ottoman government established a permanent Ottoman embassy in Vienna in the 1830s at the same time with Paris and London. Austria became an Ottoman ally in the Crimean war in 1854–56 – after the fall of Metternich and despite Russian help against the Hungarian revolt. The gradual diplomatic rapprochement continued, again, despite the Ottoman asylum given to the 1848–49 Hungarian revolutionaries, or the 1878 Austro-Hungarian occupation and 1908 annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina (see more on this below). In 1910 the Austro-Hungarian Empire supported the Ottomans in the Cretan crisis. The last territorial debate over Adakale (an Ottoman island in the Danube occupied by Austria-Hungary in 1913) did not significantly hurt the diplomatic relations.Footnote 16
In terms of economic history, it appears that the combined overland and sea trade volume made the Habsburg polity the second largest economic partner of the Ottoman Empire as early as the 1840s, after Britain. Some claim that the Austro-Hungarian trade became marginal by the 1900s compared to the British, French and Italian volume of trade.Footnote 17 Although an inter-imperial economic history is yet to be written, a quick glance at easily available data proves that Austro-Hungarian trade with the Ottomans was far from marginal. Trade volumes change year by year but it appears that Austria-Hungary was consistently the second or third importer to the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth century. For instance, in 1913 the Austro-Hungarian consul in Haifa reported 4.182.319 francs import from Austria-Hungary (sugar, wood, cement, fez, paper), which was the second largest volume of foreign import after that of Britain in this Ottoman port.Footnote 18 In 1913–4 Austria-Hungary was the second largest importer to the Ottoman Empire (6,146,720 liras, the first was the British import with 8,128,590 liras); it appears that this was 24 per cent of all imports. During the First World War, naturally, as the geographically closest imperial ally among the Central Powers, Austria-Hungary became the biggest importer to the Ottoman Empire (9,551,923 liras in 1916–7) while the Ottomans exported the most to Germany during the war.Footnote 19
Booming economic relations rested on new steam-powered connections in the sea (from Trieste and Fiume to Istanbul and other Ottoman ports), in rivers (the Danube and the Tisza river, the two meeting in Serbia, and ending in the Black Sea) and on land (the only direct train line, however, had to go, again, through Serbia). An interstate hydro-history of de-Ottomanizing the Danube is yet to be written (this river was the subject of constant negotiations and technological experiments). Of course, the Orient Express en route to Istanbul stopped in Vienna and Budapest as well from the 1880s.
The economic relations explain why Austro-Hungarian consuls and merchants resided in Saloniki, Izmir, Beirut, Haifa, Alexandria and Cairo. The Austro-Hungarian ambassador Markgraf Johann (János) von Pallavicini (d. 1941) was the doyen foreign ambassador in the Ottoman capital in the period of 1908–18. On the opposite side, Hüseyin Hilmi Pasha (d. 1923) was a legendary ambassador in the Habsburg capital in the period 1912–21. In addition to the Ottoman embassy in Vienna, there was a network of Ottoman merchant-consuls (şehbender) in Vienna, Ragusa, Trieste, Timișoara and Buda(Pest) (the two chief consuls lived in Vienna and Pest), who reported frequently about everyday commerce and politics in the late nineteenth century.Footnote 20
The Habsburg family achieved semi-celebrity status in the Ottoman press, and they even appeared in person. In 1869 Franz Joseph's visit to Istanbul, Jerusalem, Suez and Cairo prompted poets to write praising Arabic poetry.Footnote 21 We should not forget that the Habsburg emperor still had the Crusader title ‘King of Jerusalem’ and that the members of this Catholic dynasty often went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Jordan river.Footnote 22 Archduke Franz's visit to Jerusalem in the 1880s and his celebration by the Ottoman bourgeois-aristocracy prompted much Arabic and Turkish reporting.
Intermediaries included not only diplomats, merchants and aristocrats but also refugees, runaway slaves, soldiers, journalists, students, tourists, actors, prostitutes, criminals, musicians, circuses and Orientalists circulating between the two empires. Next to the foundational Habsburg Orientalist Baron Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (d. 1856) and his monumental work Geschichte des osmanischen Reiches, one must mention Habsburg Hungarian Orientalists such as the controversial Ármin Vámbéry (d. 1913) and the linguist Ignác Kúnos (d. 1945), collector of folk tales, both regulars in the Ottoman capital. Kúnos was also the director of the Hungarian Royal Academy of Oriental Trade (Oriental Academy, 1883/1899), which trained experts in trade and foreign relations with ‘Oriental’ countries. As we have seen, the trade volume justified this education. A fun fact: Mátyás Rákosi, later the Stalinist Hungarian dictator, studied in this school. The Academy of Oriental Trade in Budapest hosted Ottoman students regularly, too, and employed a Turkish lecturer, Ömer Feridun, in the 1900s.Footnote 23 (The debate about the origins of the Hungarian language made the study of Turkish very important for identity politics). Tourism was booming in all directions, too: in 1910, the world traveller Idwar (Edward) Ilyas described in Arabic the dualist administrative structure of Austria-Hungary and the ‘love’ of the Habsburg peoples towards Emperor Franz Joseph; he also described Vienna and Budapest.Footnote 24 The Ottoman press regularly published articles about the Austro-Hungarian army; for instance, the journal Irtiqa (‘Advancement’) did so during the spring of 1899. By 1912 a detailed introduction into the affairs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its army was available in Ottoman Turkish, even for public consumption.Footnote 25
The Ottoman diplomatic and military elite had thorough first-hand experience with the fin-de-siècle administrative Austro-Hungarian system. The ambassadors reported about Habsburg political and commercial life. For instance, the Ottoman ambassador in the late 1860s, Ibrahim Haydar Efendi (d. 1885), described the 1867 Compromise (Ausgleich) in detail, including the legal and territorial arrangements, from the appointment of Van Beust as chancellor (Haydar called the attention that ‘this post was unoccupied since the retirement of Prince Metternich’) to the final decrees in December. An important member of the corps diplomatique, Haydar Efendi himself joined Franz Joseph's Hungarian coronation ceremony in Pest (after requesting the necessary credit for his travel) in June 1867. The Ottoman consul in Temesvár, Murad Efendi, also travelled to Pest to join the ceremony. Murad had been key to informing the Ottoman foreign ministry about Croatian discontent and the continued Hungarian claims on Fiume during the spring of 1867.Footnote 26
In fact, Sultan Abdülaziz (r. 1861–76) and his entourage (including foreign minister Fuad) could have acquired the details about the Ausgleich themselves, in person, because they spent three days in Vienna (staying in the Schönbrunn Palace) in July 1867. This was just a few weeks after Franz Joseph's symbolic Hungarian coronation. The sultan's next stop was actually Pest, arriving on a steamship on the Danube in the evening of 31 July. The Hungarian grandees celebrated the somewhat reluctant sultan the next day during a ceremonial lunch because the Ottoman government sheltered the 1848 rebels.Footnote 27 In 1868 the Habsburg ambassador Anton Prokesch von Osten in Istanbul reminded the Ottoman government that due to ‘the new constitutional arrangement’ (usul-i meşrute üzere olan nizamat-i cedide) Franz Joseph must be called ‘His Imperial Majesty and Royal Highness’ in official correspondence, and the embassy and the consulates would also change their designation in this manner.Footnote 28
Increased relations did not exclude hostility. Sultan Abdülhamid II's (r. 1876–1909) support of the flourishing Turcophilia in the Hungarian political elite caused unease in the Vienna government and at court. (A version of this Turcophilia became Turanism by the 1900s, and transmuted into today's mutual fascination with Turkish-Hungarian ‘brotherhood’.) The presence of Ottoman diplomats often caused unintended consequences. For instance, Hungarian anti-Russian university students organised a supporting demonstration in front of the Ottoman consul's house (in Ősz street) in Buda in 1876, when the Russian–Ottoman war was ongoing (the demonstration resulted in a major police intervention).Footnote 29 Austria-Hungary, in turn, participated in the Great Power coalitions that exercised pressure on the Ottoman government to open their markets and to maintain the legal privileges of European subjects (the Capitulations). Austria-Hungary also claimed protection over Ottoman Jews and Catholics in Egypt and the Sudan. The Habsburg Catholic Church was keen to replace the French and Italian Catholic missions in the Levant (especially in Palestine) during the First World War, which may have caused anxiety in the wartime Ottoman administration.Footnote 30
The last real tension was Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Berlin Congress in 1878 decided that Austria-Hungary should administer this predominantly Muslim province under continued Ottoman sovereignty.Footnote 31 Imperial Foreign Minister Count Andrássy reluctantly accepted this decision as a pre-emptive measure against Serbian occupation, what he and the Habsburg imperial elite conceived as a Slavic state with Russian influence.Footnote 32 The nature of occupation thus was political and not economically exploitative. It, however, provided ample opportunity for the occupiers to formulate mini-civilisatory discourses. Distilling the 1870s imperial self-perception into Hungarian nationalist essentialism, Béni Kállay, the governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1883 and 1903, thought that ‘the Hungarian people . . . which became a Western nation from an Eastern one . . . but not without some Eastern characteristics’ must perform a civilisational mission: ‘therefore we must take upon ourselves the mediation between the two great currents of humanity’ (a közvetítést az emberiség fejlődésének két nagy áramlata között nekünk kell tehát elvállalnunk).Footnote 33 Compared with French colonisation in Algeria, the principles of Austro-Hungarian governance – at least in Bosnia-Hercegovina - were integration, freedom of religion and the acknowledgment of the Muslim landowners’ rights. The occupation considered Muslims to be the counterforce to Orthodox Christians, and thus against Slavic (Serbian) nationalism. Yet Austria-Hungary also introduced universal conscription and mercilessly suppressed the resulting uprising in 1882, the borders were carefully demarcated, the Austrians were anxious to cut local ties with the Ottoman government and the pro-Muslim institutional policies (including a council of religious scholars chaired by the mufti of Sarajevo) contributed to shape Ottoman Islam into a non-imperial mode. Tensions between the two middle powers played out only indirectly, such as in the competition between Istanbul and Vienna-Budapest as destinations for Muslim Bosnians’ education. Bosnian refugees migrated to Ottoman territories and, after disappointments, back to Austro-Hungary.Footnote 34 The 1908 annexation was resolved through diplomacy (the real tension occurred between Serbia, supported by Russia, and Austria-Hungary); a Turkish imam for Bosnians arrived in Budapest, and in the First World War Muslim Bosnian soldiers served loyally in the Austro-Hungarian army – when, anyway, their ‘external empire’ was the ally of their actual government.Footnote 35
The inter-imperial framework opens up even wider, unexpected entanglements. As a conclusion to this overview, let me provide the example of the Ottoman Egyptian-Austro-Hungarian elite's circulatory entanglement. This is also important as the context of the first version of Ottoman dualism, to be discussed below. There is a connected sub-imperial (perhaps we can call it inter-provincial) history between the province of Egypt and Austria. This connection increased after the province of Egypt became a ‘khedivate’ in 1867 (the Ottoman hereditary governor received the exclusive title and rank ‘khedive’). Among other issues, this meant the privilege that the governor of Egypt, the khedive, was able to act as semi-autonomous in European diplomacy.
Khedive Ismail (r. 1863–79) spent a year as a teenager in Vienna as early as 1845. In 1869 he invited French Empress Eugene, Emperor Franz Joseph and Count Andrássy as VIP guests for the grandiose Suez Canal Opening Ceremony. Ismail paid an Austrian publisher to publish propaganda articles about his government in German, and in 1873 even his court poet compared the gardens of Vienna to the Ezbekiyya Garden in Cairo.Footnote 36 After the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, Austria-Hungary became the neutral power for the ruling family of Egypt. Ottoman-Egyptian ‘princes’ were sent to study in the Theresianum in Vienna in the late 1880s and 1890s.Footnote 37 In the 1880s Austro-Hungarians also came to look for work in occupied Egypt (there was a batch of Hungarians in the 1860s). The most famous Austro-Hungarian official during the British occupation was perhaps Max Herz (d. 1919), the chief architect of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l'Art Arabe in Cairo.Footnote 38 Habsburg aristocrats often went hunting in Egypt and vice versa. Importantly, in 1892, it was from the Theresianum that Abbas Hilmi II (r. 1892–1914) returned to Egypt to become the new khedive. Later, this last khedive also married an aristocrat of Hungarian origins. Several Egyptian-Jewish business families acquired Austro-Hungarian citizenship, including the Qattawis (Cattaoui). The Qattawis financed the charity ‘Hospital Rudolph’ in Cairo, named after the crown prince. The khedivial government even invited Ignácz Goldziher (d. 1921), the famous Hungarian Orientalist, to teach at the new University of Cairo (he rejected the request).Footnote 39 The late Ottoman-Egyptian elite regularly visited Vienna, Prague and Budapest, and maintained economic and political relationships with the Habsburg-Hungarian aristocracy and merchants.
Europe as a historiographical practice, which often takes nationalisms as its subject, and the European Union as its telos, confines the modern history of Habsburg-Ottoman connections to a secondary place. In contrast, one may argue that inter-imperial history is a prefiguration of contemporary relations – in fact, today's politicians selectively use motives from the imperial past to advocate their goals. After the First World War inter-imperial relations changed into regional cooperation among the new nation states. The cordial diplomatic relations continued between the new Turkish and Hungarian republics, both governed by formerly imperial generals who disguised themselves as civil politicians. ‘Middle East’ and ‘Eastern Europe’ became solid imagined political concepts in this age of nation states. Egyptian-Austrian, Egyptian-Hungarian, Egyptian-Czechoslovak and many other new national relations had to be redefined; but France and Britain cut the mandated territories (Syria, Palestine, Iraq) out of international relations. The post-imperial differentiation process proved very difficult both in legal, economic and social terms in the 1920s. For instance, were former Austro-Hungarian ‘enemy’ subjects in post-Ottoman Egypt still protected by the Capitulations? (They were not protected anymore yet received special legal treatment.) The questions involved in the post-imperial national reconfigurations remained thorny international problems until the 1950s.
The above sketch of inter-imperial relations proves, I hope, that twentieth-century and contemporary inter-national regionalism had an earlier formative period in the age of empire. Its main analytical value for historians, though, is that it can accommodate those economic, political and social developments, which are simply lost in nation state histories, and whose storylines were cut by the First World War. In this regard, inter-imperial history in the case of the vanquished Ottoman and Habsburg formations is an ancillary kind of history: it is the mapping of untaken paths and horizons of expectations. This is where I turn now.
The Emergence of Ottoman Dualism, 1867–1908
Visions of Ottoman imperial transformation in the 1900s belong to an order of imperial reform ideas like the ‘Duna-federation’, the Grossösterreich-plans, the United States of Austria or the post-colonial French African federation. These visions and projects for reformed federal-imperial structures were never realised.Footnote 40 In this section, I trace a particular kind of imperial vision: the idea of transforming the Ottoman Empire into a dualist union between the khedivate of Egypt and the central government, à la Austria-Hungary. In the next section, I proceed to the more well-known ethnicity-based Turkish–Arab dualist vision. Before going into details, however, a quick remainder is in order about what the Austro-Hungarian model was exactly. What did Haydar Efendi and Murad Efendi describe to the Ottoman foreign ministry in 1867?
The Austrian Empire suspended Hungarian statehood after the 1848–9 revolution. The empire attempted to create a centralised confederative model. Yet Austria lost the German federation to Prussia in 1866, and Franz Joseph decided to reach a settlement with the Hungarian aristocrats and bourgeoisie, led by Ferenc Deák, a small landlord-lawyer. The Compromise (Ausgleich, a settlement, in Hungarian Kiegyezés) established a unique federal model of two polities in 1867. (Various types of composite governance had been part of both Hungarian royal and Austrian imperial traditions.) The Ausgleich was not one single event but a series of negotiations, laws, symbolic acts and ratifications from February to December 1867. This legal process restored the Hungarian monarchy as an independent government (and Franz-Joseph as the king) but not as a fully independent state. In fact, it created a new federal-imperial structure, a type of composite empire. The new polity was a personal union between two monarchies, the Austrian Empire (‘the kingdoms and countries represented in the Imperial Council’) and the Kingdom of Hungary (‘the countries of the Hungarian Sacred Crown’), in which the same person occupied the two thrones or, more precisely, chaired the Imperial Council while wearing the Hungarian crown. The two governments had common federal institutions in foreign affairs, military affairs and fiscal affairs (ministers responsible to both parliaments and the emperor-king) and they agreed on a customs’ union. It is telling how the latter was made into Hungarian law: it was a ‘customs and trade union between the countries belonging to the Hungarian crown and his Majesty's other kingdoms and countries’. Importantly, Hungary was ‘independent’ within this structure.Footnote 41
Historians of Europe highlight that the 1867 Compromise was a triumph of liberal political norms in Habsburg imperial history.Footnote 42 Such a moment is missing from Ottoman imperial history. The Young Ottomans, the contemporary Ottoman liberal group in the 1860s, did not take up dualism as an institutional solution. There were no Arab and Turkish ethnicity-based political demands (yet) at the time and the Young Ottomans did not think of ethnicity as a political argument; there was no need to consider a dualist reform plan. Any supposition about an institutional codification of ‘home rule’ of Arabs in the 1860s is anachronistic. The main institutional demand of the Young Ottomans was an imperial constitution, which they only received in 1876 and only for two years. There is no 1867 in late Ottoman history.Footnote 43
Comparative studies of official policy remark that ‘Habsburg and Ottoman practices of accommodating religious and ethnic difference developed along lines diametrically opposed to each other’.Footnote 44 Indeed, between 1878 and 1908 Sultan Abdülhamid II governed directly, in the shadow of a suspended constitution without giving ethnicity-based privileges (there was, however, a different type of administrative privilege given to provinces led by strong governors).Footnote 45 Instead of an imperial policy and legal institutions, we have to rely on press articles, interviews, political speeches, private diaries and anecdotes to understand the development of Ottoman dualism until 1908.
The earliest Ottoman idea in a dualist modality occurred in Arabic in the provinces and not in the centre. Importantly, it was not Arab but in Arabic. It was a comparison between Egypt within the Ottoman system to Hungary within the Habsburg system. Arabic-speaking, especially Greater Syrian Christian (living in the provinces that today are Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Palestine and Jordan), intellectuals were aware of Egypt's peculiar semi-autonomy and that the khedivate was an innovation in the Ottoman system. Whether this is a forgotten origin in Arab nationalist thought needs more research. The following is merely an introduction into the Arabic intellectual reception of the Austro-Hungarian solution and its discovery of the Egyptian analogy.
We have seen that the Ottoman government received very precise reports from its Vienna ambassador and the merchant-consuls about the Ausgleich. But what did the Ottoman public know about the Austro-Hungarian political solution? Did imperial and provincial elites understand the institutional-legal basis of the dualist government structure?
The booming Ottoman press in various languages (Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Armenian, Greek, Ladino, Hebrew, French and Italian) provides some access to the development of the Ottoman public's knowledge about Austria-Hungary from the 1870s. Reports and news on Austria (in Arabic al-Nimsa, in Turkish vocalisation Nemse, often transcribed in Arabic as Awusturiya, in Turkish vocalization Avusturya) or Austria-Hungary (in Arabic al-Nimsa wa-l-Majar, in Turkish Nemse ve Macar) were a natural part of the Ottoman Turkish and Arabic press and the new printed book culture. The Istanbul and Izmir papers regularly published news about Austria; the Pester Lloyd was an often-quoted source. In British-occupied Egypt, the authorities tacitly encouraged critical publications about Abdülhamid II's government in particular. In the province of Egypt, Austria-Hungary had an especially good public reputation.Footnote 46
In Ottoman Arabic printed books and journals, the Austrian Empire figured in universal histories, including a somewhat loose understanding of the Ausgleich. A few examples suffice. In an 1873 book the Christian writer Yuhanna Abkariyus in Beirut reported that despite the lost Prussian war in 1866 and extensive debt, the emperor was good-natured and thus crowned as the ‘sultan of Austria and king of Hungary’, bringing his country great prosperity.Footnote 47 The Beiruti journal al-Jinan in an 1876 article compared the financial crisis in Egypt to the financial crisis of Hungary, namely, that just as Hungary needed Austria's financial help, Egypt might need the Ottoman central government to pay debts.Footnote 48 The Beiruti Christian author Butrus al-Bustani invoked the Austria-Hungarian comparison in his 1876 Arabic encyclopaedia article about ‘Esarhaddon’, a neo-Assyrian king who united Assyria and Babylon in those ancient times ‘as now Hungary is united with Austria, that is, he was the king of Assyria and he was the king of Babylon’.Footnote 49 In the same year Butrus al-Bustani's nephew Salim al-Bustani published in their journal al-Jinan a detailed description of Austria-Hungary as part of a series about ‘united’ or composite (muttahid) empires. He described the post-1867 form of government as ‘composed of two parts: the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in which the connection is the hereditary kingship (al-malakiyya bi-l-irth) within the Habsburg-Lothringian family’.Footnote 50 Others only took note of the 1805 birth of the Austrian Empire; for instance, in an Arabic general geography published in 1883 in Egypt, a certain Mahmud Bajuri described Austria, Hungary and Bohemia as originally independent kingdoms, only united into a single state when Napoleon took Germany away from the German-Austrian emperor.Footnote 51
Lisan al-Hal, an important Arabic newspaper in Beirut, regularly published analysis about the Berlin Congress during 1878. They reported in detail the negotiations, the conduct of Count Andrássy, the objections of the Ottoman centre and, finally, the consequences of the Austro-Hungarian military occupation, namely that the sultan's sovereignty (siyada) over Bosna is challenged and practically lost. The journal also mentioned somewhat melancholically that in this process Britain was only an onlooker.Footnote 52
In the 1870s Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (d. 1897), a Muslim thinker and reformer, and the forefather of Muslim anti-colonialism, also taught imperial comparisons to his disciples in khedivial Cairo. He made a comparison of the British occupation of Afghanistan and the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosna-Hercegovina with the British-French financial supervision of Egypt. He warned the Egyptians that such informal control would soon turn into military occupation. In 1878 al-Afghani also compared various types of despotism in various empires, and favoured what he called ‘enlightened despotism’ for the Ottoman Empire. He ridiculed the Russians, who had no constitution at the time.Footnote 53
In the 1890s Muslim journalists started to propose federalist visions on an Arab ethnicity basis. They were mostly Syrian Muslim thinkers living in Egypt and paid by the khedive. Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi (d. 1902), an important intellectual, suggested the United States as an analogy for a new, post-Ottoman Muslim federation in the 1890s. His friend Rashid Rida (d. 1935), later a very successful Muslim religious entrepreneur, also proposed the idea of federation, although with the opposite goal, as a reform plan of the Ottoman Empire. He actually used Austria-Hungary in 1898 in his journal al-Manar as a bad example. He warned that the Ottoman sultan should unify the language of the empire in order to fare better than the Austrian emperor who ‘fell from the heart’ of a mixed population speaking various languages.Footnote 54
A serious observer was Hasan Husni al-Tuwayrani (d. 1897), a bilingual intellectual born in Egypt to Turkish parents, who circulated all over the empire in the 1880s. He published an Arabic book in 1892 on what we may call a comparative political economy of empires. In it he extolls Austria-Hungary (what he calls simply al-Nimsa – Austria) because the Hungarian government ‘has separate ministries and a parliament, which is independent in its transactions and deeds. It enjoys complete independence (istiqlal tamm) in its administration and economy’. He remarks that Franz Joseph is ‘only’ a king in Hungary.Footnote 55
Regardless of whether they were held up as cautionary or instructive, such comparisons are indicative that Ottoman Arabic-speaking elites understood the Austro-Hungarian solution, and some of them emphasised the legal-institutional structure of this polity. It is important to call attention to Tuwayrani's point that the Hungarian government enjoys ‘complete independence’ in its administration.
Explicit dualist demands were prompted not by a change in ‘imperial knowledge’ but by the reaction from the provinces to central institutional policy.Footnote 56 This change was the 1908 restoration of the imperial constitution, which included the possibility that Egypt may return to the empire. Indeed, the Ottoman belonging had an increased legal and political value in the khedivate during the British occupation.Footnote 57 Yet autonomy was also precious to Egyptians, and thus al-Tuwayrani's observation of ‘complete independence’ within an imperial system was taken up again.
In 1908 Muhammad Tawfiq al-Bakri (d. 1932) proposed an unusually clear and direct plan in the Arabic press. This man was the powerful and learned leader of Sufi orders in the khedivate of Egypt. He was also decorated by the Ottoman sultan – in fact, he even held the old and useless imperial rank of Chief Military Judge of Anatolia (Anadolu kazasker). Being an Ottoman loyalist, al-Bakri had a changing relationship with Khedive Abbas Hilmi II.Footnote 58
Al-Bakri proposed the transformation of the Ottoman Empire along the lines of the Austro-Hungarian empire in an interview to the leading nationalist journal al-Liwa’ in September 1908. The topic of the interview was the restoration of the Ottoman constitution in July 1908. Al-Bakri capitalised on this momentum to demand a distinct constitution for Egypt. He emphasised ‘complete independence’: ‘from now on we must make our programme the full independence (istiqlalan tamman) of Egypt and the persistent unity with the Ottoman state like the unity of Hungary with Austria’.Footnote 59
A month later al-Bakri published an article in al-Liwa’ in response to some criticism of his interview. He affirmed that his goal was to argue for a powerful Ottoman state like Japan was in Asia. In order to create such a polity Egypt must be ‘fully independent in a full unity (ittihad tamm) with the Exalted State’. Al-Bakri argued that there were only three possible futures for Egypt: to remain fully part of the empire, to achieve administrative (idari) independence and to achieve full independence in full unity. His logic was related to the constitution: in the first case, the khedive could only provide rights as delegated by the sultan, in the second case the Egyptian constitution would be practically that of an independent country's (‘like Australia is independent of England’) and in the third case it would be the Austro-Hungarian model or the German imperial one (he referred to the works of Bismarck as his sources). He added that the imperial tribute from Egypt may not be needed once the Ottomans managed to regulate their economy and that he did not see any problem with mentioning together the names of the caliph and the khedive in the Friday prayer (this was the symbolic Muslim recognition of sovereignty). His final point was that the dualist solution was the best because Egypt should never stand against the Ottoman Empire.Footnote 60
His idea of complete independence is different from what we mean today when we talk about nation state independence. He calls ‘administrative’ (idari) independence what we call today a sovereign state in an imperial commonwealth, such as Australia or Canada. In al-Bakri's theory, this ‘administrative’ (idari) independence was not the Austro-Hungarian case. He thought administrative independence did not provide as much complete independence as a third type of relationship, the dualist solution. It appears that for him ‘independence’ had two meanings: independence as state sovereignty and independence as autonomous (Muslim) existence, protected from Western dominance. For al-Bakri, the second was more important than – and preferable to – the first.
This view, what we may also call a form of Muslim imperial liberalism, might not have been as exceptional as it seems among Egyptians. As we have seen, the Ottoman-Egyptian elite, the immediate environment of al-Bakri, were a rich, provincial-imperial group very familiar with Austria-Hungary. Al-Bakri was educated together with the khedivial family's sons in the 1880s, although he did not follow them to the Theresianum. Like many young elite Egyptians in the 1890s, al-Bakri clearly considered Egypt part of the Ottoman Empire. Importantly, al-Bakri did not mention the British occupation of Egypt explicitly. His theory appears to concern only Egypt's relationship to the Ottoman government. This sheikh, decorated by the sultan, used the example of Austria-Hungary because he was looking for a way to ground formal internal autonomy for the Egyptian monarchical polity within an imperial partnership. No wonder that al-Liwa’ published a grand article on its title page in the next issue in which the author declared Egypt among the most important components of the Ottoman Empire.Footnote 61
The immediate context of this comparison in the autumn of 1908 was a short moment of Egyptian expectation that the Committee of Union and Progress (Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti; CUP) – the leading group in the coup d’état – might re-occupy British-occupied Egypt, too. However, Enver (d. 1922), one of the CUP military leaders, soon made it clear in an interview with The Times, which was translated into Arabic, that the CUP had no interest in upsetting the status quo in Egypt.Footnote 62 The restoration of the Ottoman constitution nonetheless prompted the British occupiers to call for a representative assembly in Egypt and discussions about a constitution started in late 1908.Footnote 63 The promise was that, instead of the original empire, a new empire – the British one –, would deliver a constitution.
Was al-Bakri's suggestion realistic? It would have been difficult to create exactly the same monarchical personal dualist union in the Ottoman Empire. The khedivate was only an exclusive, hereditary governorship in the imperial structure. It would have been extremely bizarre for the sultan to become a ‘sultan-khedive’ on the pattern of the ‘emperor-king’. One also has to note that whereas in Hungary the Catholic aristocrats and the rich bourgeois had direct access to Vienna, the elite of Egypt – the khedivial household and associated houses – remained largely Ottoman in the period, and the emerging Arabic-speaking rural landlords had no direct access to the sultan. In another work I interpret the 1882 ‘Urabi revolt, at least in part, as an effort by the Egyptian army officers and notables to communicate directly with the sultan.Footnote 64 When Egyptian notables in the 1890s finally established direct connections at the sultanic palace, the Nile Valley was already under British occupation. Al-Bakri's suggestion, a casual idea, had no practical future in 1908.
Ottoman Dualism as an Ethnicity-Based Idea, 1908–1914
The 1908 constitutional moment introduced another form of Ottoman dualist vision, which reached the level of high political discussions and remained on several politically conscious individuals’ horizon of possibilities until 1921. This was an Arab-Turkish or Turkish-Arab ethnicity-based dualist vision of the Ottoman Empire, which was most seriously discussed in the spring of 1913. In this final section I argue that 1913 could have been a late 1867 in the Ottoman Empire. I contextualise the well-known dualist vision within the above inter-imperial framework.
Historians of Europe have rejected the view of ‘absolutism and anarchy’ in the late Austro-Hungarian Empire and have shifted their attention to a more nuanced understanding of imperial practices and reform plans.Footnote 65 Such a shift is missing concerning late Ottoman political history. Historians of Ottoman ethnic and religious groups trace back to this period the origins of the cruel politics of the CUP during the First World War, including the genocide of Armenians. Others focus on the Turkish-Arab relationship, ultimately from national perspectives – this is especially important because the 1916 so-called ‘Arab revolt’ during the war has remained a topos of treason in contemporary Turkey. However, new research suggests that before 1914 most non-dominant groups did not demand independence publicly but they became disillusioned with the constitution, that the CUP discursively rejected but legally realised the administrative decentralisation of the provinces and that even self-proclaimed Turkish nationalists considered federalism with Arabs in the 1910s.Footnote 66
Egypt was certainly one location where the Arab-Turkish idea was born. We have seen that a number of Muslim intellectuals in khedivial Egypt, al-Kawakibi, Rida and especially al-Bakri suggested versions of imperial transformation in the late 1890s and 1900s. External observers pointed out that the two main ethnic Muslim groups in the empire were the Arabs and the Turks in the 1890s. Apart from al-Bakri's sophisticated suggestion about the Egyptian-Ottoman dualist union in 1908, the early reformist visions did not formulate a dualist political analogy with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Al-Kawakibi and Rida did not think in terms of governmental institutions but rather in terms of innovations emanating from the Muslim deep past, the imagined ideal structure of the caliphate: councils, an Arab caliph perhaps similar to a pope and global Muslim organisations. Syrians in Egypt with khedivial support against Ottoman centralisation were a leading group in formulating Arab ethnicity as a political claim within Muslim proto-globalisation.Footnote 67
The 1908 constitution, its continuous amendments, the declaration of independent Bulgaria and the 1911–3 territorial losses allowed these earlier formulations of ethnicity-based political demands to become publicly discussed topics in the Ottoman and the diaspora press. Yet the various non-dominant groups did not only advocate claims vis-à-vis the central government.Footnote 68 Importantly, their visions were also on the expense of each other. For dualist Arabs, in order to create a proper comparison to Austria-Hungary, the Arab political existence should have been embodied in a monarchical position but, since this was not the case (there was not, yet, an Arab throne or an Arab king with a racial claim), the proponents of this idea took ethnic-linguistic grouping as the basis of the political claim.
The idea that ethnicity provides ground for legally codified political institutions was played out in the larger discursive field of ‘decentralisation’ (in Ottoman Turkish adem-i merkeziyet, in Ottoman Arabic la-markaziyya). This idea originated from Prince Sabaheddin (d. 1948), a disgruntled member of the sultanic family, who lived in Paris, Istanbul and, after 1924, Switzerland.Footnote 69 The French proto-sociologist Edmond Demolins's (d. 1907) theory about individualism as the basis of (British) success had a great impression on this Ottoman prince. Sabaheddin identified individualism with administrative decentralisation as the Ottoman Empire's imagined future secret of success. He supported the Young Turk movement and their Paris conference in 1902, and his subsequent pamphlets introduced the idea of decentralisation. His followers even established a ‘Society for Decentralisation and Private Initiative’. And yet, after the 1908 revolution, to the great sorrow of the prince, the CUP in government moved precisely the opposite direction: towards even stronger centralisation. The constitution was modified in 1909 and after.Footnote 70 In the tense imperial parliament Sabaheddin thus supported the liberal ‘Freedom and Accord Party’ (Hürriyet ve I‘tilaf Firkası, in French known as Entente Libérale, established in 1911), which in late 1912 initiated a coup but was overthrown by the CUP within a few months.Footnote 71 The liberal party's programme explicitly contained administrative decentralisation.
1908–9 was not only the moment of restoring and modifying the Ottoman constitution. It was also the moment of the Austro-Hungarian incorporation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in a very special way: by providing a constitution in 1910 without a formal annexation. This polity was not attached territorially either to Austria or to Hungary (there was even the possibility of ‘trialism’ – an Austria-Hungary-South Slavic federal empire). Austro-Hungarian legal experts debated whether this was a move towards, again, administrative decentralisation.Footnote 72
The first analogies between Austria-Hungary and an Arab-Turkish Empire appeared in this momentum of shared obsession with imperial decentralisation and constitutional transformation. The majority of the Arab provincial deputies in the Ottoman parliament gradually gravitated towards the liberals (the first party was called Ahrar ‘Liberals’) and later towards the main ‘Freedom and Accord Party’ in 1911. In this year Emrullah Efendi, a former minister, publicly questioned whether Sabaheddin wanted to transform the Ottoman Empire ‘by imitating’ Austria-Hungary. Provincial elites in exile in Egypt and Paris made decentralisation their main political demand in this period. For many Syrians, decentralisation meant the transformation of the empire in order to accommodate administrative autonomy for the ‘Arabs’. A German Orientalist in Damascus observed that ‘belonging to the al-Ahrar’ meant belonging to the ‘national party’ in the city; and a reform committee demanded, among other things, the official use of Arabic in Beirut in the spring of 1913. At the same time, in January 1913 an ‘Ottoman Administrative Decentralisation Party’ (Hizb al-La-markaziyya al-Idari al-‘Uthmani) emerged in Cairo. The members of this party often referred to the federal models of Switzerland or the imperial German federal model as their favoured comparison. Finally, an Arab Congress in Paris in June 1913 formalised the demands into a united communication. Although the grand narratives of Arab nationalism present the 1913 gathering as part of an Arab nationalist-separatist movement, it is quite clear that most participants wanted a reformed empire; and it is also clear that other Ottoman Arabs were critical, arguing that political decentralisation would cause more harm than gain. The later pan-Islamist Shakib Arslan (d. 1946), for instance, argued that the decentralists made ‘mistakes in comparison’ (aghlat fi al-kiyas) when they compared the situation of Arabs in the Ottoman Empire to German federalism and Australia. In sum, decentralisation and comparison became much discussed issues among Arabic-speaking intellectuals between 1908 and 1914.Footnote 73
The Ottoman 1908–14 momentum had an inter-imperial dimension also in the sense that many interested foreigners speculated about the direction of reform and the problem of multi-ethnicity. The later Zionist militant Ze'ev Jabotinsky (d. 1940) remarked in a Russian article in January 1909 that if a full-fledged Arab nationalist movement started, it would be the beginning of the ‘Austro-Hungarian’ phase of the Ottoman Empire, after which, he thought, a multi-national federation would be the future, final stage (he hoped the same for Austria-Hungary itself).Footnote 74
Historians have shown that the German general Colmar Freiherr Von der Goltz (d. 1916), who worked for the Ottoman army in the late 1880s, also ‘contemplated an Austro-Hungarian model for the Ottoman Empire’. Von Goltz first applied his observation of two Muslim imperial peoples in an ethnicised language (Turks and Arabs) in 1897, and this short work appeared in Turkish in 1906 in Cairo (!). He also regularly advised his former Ottoman military students to learn about the Arabs. In a long essay in May 1913 he emphasised the military importance of Arabs for the ‘Turkish half’ of the empire. Yet he did not explicitly mention the Austro-Hungarian ‘model’ in his essay, published as the lead article of the Viennese journal Neue Freie Presse. Many of his publications were translated to Turkish during 1912–3, and his writings became an important foreign source of ideas for the CUP leadership. Von Goltz actually died in Baghdad, as a Central Powers German general defending the Ottoman Empire in 1916.Footnote 75
1913 was truly the year of imagining Turco-Arab ethnic politics and consequently, for some, the year of the Austro-Hungarian comparison. Austria-Hungary also presented a dark reminder in the press: the Arabic journals at the time compared the loss of Libya to Italy with the 1878 loss of Ottoman Bosnia-Hercegovina to Austria-Hungary.Footnote 76 Indeed, the spring of 1913 was a global momentum for Ottoman imperial transformation. The loss of Libya, the First Balkan War, the activity of the Decentralisation Party in Cairo, the heated discussions in the Greater Syrian provincial cities, the attention given to Von Goltz's essay in May 1913, the June 1913 Arab Congress in Paris and many press articles all converged to exercise immense public pressure on the autocratic holders of the Ottoman government to discuss, however reluctantly, imperial reform on a dualist ethnic basis. The British Ambassador to Istanbul remarked to his superiors in London that the CUP government now held that the empire should be transformed into a ‘Turco-Arabia’ like Austria-Hungary, with the Sultan-Caliph as the link between the two elements.Footnote 77
The Grand Vizier Mahmud Şevket (d. 1913), an Ottoman military leader born in Baghdad, considered seriously the Austria-Hungarian dual model in the spring of 1913 until he was assassinated on 11 June 1913. This general not only had sympathies for Arabs being educated in Baghdad, but he had also worked with Von Goltz in the 1880s and visited Germany several times.Footnote 78 Şevket's diary records how in March 1913 he worried about losing the Arab provinces.Footnote 79 His government instructed the Vienna ambassador, Hilmi Pasha, to analyse the Austro-Hungarian electoral law (tangentially, Şevket considered Hungarians to be friends of Turks).Footnote 80 Historian Hasan Kayalı writes that ‘in the Ottoman press other suggestions were put forward. Ahmed Ferid . . . criticised the notion of a biracial Turco-Arab empire on the Austria-Hungary model. According to Ahmed Ferid, Austria-Galicia-Bohemia-Carinthia provided a more appropriate analogy than Austria-Hungary’.Footnote 81 Leading CUP intellectuals, such as the sociologist and Turkification advocate Ziya Gökalp himself, actually acknowledged and preferred the existence of two imperial nations (millet) in the Ottoman lands (at the expense of multi-national equality).Footnote 82 Had Mahmud Şevket survived and remained Grand Vizier, he could have taken advantage of this momentum to remake the empire on an ethnic dualist basis in 1913.
Arab secret and not so secret societies also used the dualist comparison in 1913. In the imperial capital in October 1913, the Ottoman Arab officers’ Covenant society (al-‘Ahd) demanded – explicitly in Arabic – ‘to work for the internal independence for the Arab regions, so that they will remain united with the Istanbul government, as Hungary is united with Austria’.Footnote 83 The leader of this society, the Ottoman Egyptian officer ‘Aziz al-Misri (d. 1965) once surprised his military superior Cemal (d. 1922, a Young Turk general and the famous governor of the Syrian provinces during the First World War) with a very angry outburst and a demand for Arab dignity. Later, Cemal remembered that, in his eyes, the Austria-Hungary comparison represented the most radical option among the decentralist ideas.Footnote 84
It is important to highlight that ‘independence’ had a federalist dimension in this Arabic proposal. Similar to the idea of al-Bakri in 1908, it appears that ‘independence’ within an imperial system appeared a viable solution to the Ottoman (Muslim) Arab soldiers. The CUP leadership opposed such a composite solution – in this regard they continued the Abdülhamidian policy. After the war, as I will show below, they changed their mind.
Historians suggest that ‘Aziz al-Misri and the Arab military officers chose the Austria-Hungary comparison over other federal models because it was geographically close and similarly multi-ethnic.Footnote 85 The inter-imperial context indeed gives us clues. These military officers wanted to strengthen the empire. The Austro-Hungarian comparison had been an idea circulating in this period in various languages, and we cannot exclude some type of army connection between the secret military society's reform model, Von Goltz's suggestion and Mahmud Şevket's plans. We have to consider ‘Aziz al-Misri's Egyptian background, too. In the aftermath of 1908 there was confusion in British Egypt about the political future. Some Egyptians, who usually did not consider themselves Arabs, celebrated Turk-Arab unity in the 1908 constitution.Footnote 86 Other Egyptians encouraged Arab autonomy in 1908–9.Footnote 87 And there was the Ottoman-Egyptian dualist idea, including a separate constitution, that al-Bakri proposed in the autumn of 1908. Finally, in the spring of 1913 British propaganda in Egypt advocated race as a ‘fundamental fact’ in Ottoman politics, thereby exploiting earlier circulating notions about Arab and Turkish ethnic differences.Footnote 88
Instead of constitutional transformation and the making of institutions which would have mediated ethnicity-based demands, the chosen strategy of the CUP government was appeasement and an ‘Islamist reinterpretation of Ottomanism’ in late 1913. The empire did not appropriate ethnicity as the basis of administrative difference. To be sure, the CUP government arrested ‘Aziz al-Misri and sent him back to Egypt. On the other hand, they offered more administrative positions to the provincial elite, the Syrian and Iraqi notables. This appeasement resulted in the presence of more Arab representatives in the 1914 imperial parliament and the loyalty of the majority of Arabs to the empire during the First World War. Ottoman dualist visions did not translate into a dualist institutional arrangement. As for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it allied with the Ottomans and, together, they fought and lost the First World War.
The Revival of Ottoman Dualism, 1914–1921
The relevance of Ottoman dualism did not end with the outbreak of the war. In fact, there are many reports and anecdotes in memoirs about how the dualist idea became even more popular during the war. For instance, in the summer of 1917, two Syrian-run periodicals in Egypt (al-Muqattam and al-Manar) printed a letter from Paris according to which the Ottoman government was considering to change the constitution into a dualist (‘ala al-asas al-thana'i) Turco-Arab regime, modelled after Austria-Hungary. The US declaration of war on Germany prompted this idea, but the writer remained extremely sceptical of the CUP's intentions and thus did not give credit to the news.Footnote 89 During the war the British supported the 1916 Arab revolt and helped to create an Arab kingdom in the Hijaz, led by the Sharif of Mecca, soon King Husayn (r. 1916–24), who attacked the Ottoman government. Unsurprisingly in the light of the above, an aborted Hijazi peace proposal to the Ottomans in June 1918 contained an offer to transform the Ottoman Empire along the lines of Austria-Hungary – there was certainly a claim for an Arab kingship.Footnote 90
Alp Yenen, Gülsüm Polat and Fadil Bayat prove that Ottoman politicians, intellectuals, and military leaders considered some type of federal cooperation between Arabs and Turks on an ethnic basis until 1921. There was a ‘federalist moment’, as Yenen calls it, after the Ottoman armistice in October 1918. Sometimes these plans and visions explicitly mentioned the Austro-Hungarian model. In November 1918 the Arab-British delegation sent a secret proposal for an Arab-Turkish federation to the Ottoman Grand Vizier. Arab officials and businessmen initiated sporadic overtures toward a possible future federalism along Austro-Hungarian lines (despite this model empire, in fact, disintegrating) or at least cooperation with the Ottoman government in the critical period between 1919 and 1921. In February 1920 even General Mustafa Kemal considered ‘unit[ing] in the form of a confederation, once each nation has established independence’. Some political leaders in the short-lived Syrian kingdom in Damascus also proposed Arab-Turkish unity in 1920 spring.Footnote 91 Some type of federalism either among Arabs or in a dualist union with the Turks is a standard feature of Arabic petitions and memoirs in this period. In the still imperial capital, politicians and intellectuals also devised various visions to remake the Ottoman Empire in 1919 against nationalist plans.Footnote 92
Thus, it appears that between 1918 and 1921, in a period of chaos, occupation and continuing war, some type of dualist unity based on ethnic nationhood between Arabs and Turks remained as a popular political vision. Yet this time, as the Hijazi proposal and Mustafa Kemal's remarks indicate, army leaders considered themselves representatives of Turkish and Arab nations. The point is that, indeed similar to the Austro-Hungarian institutional solution in 1867, a new composite empire should have been established. The Hijazi or even the 1919–20 Syrian solution would have offered an Arab kingdom in union with the sultanic (Turkish) imperial government. This solution would have been an almost perfect analogy to the Austro-Hungarian model, which took as its administrative basis the territories belonging to the Hungarian crown and the territories belonging to the Austrian imperial council. The problem would have been, of course, finding the right person to embody this legal union.
This paper has offered an alternative to nation-based readings of late Habsburg and Ottoman imperial history. I have sketched a framework of research, pointing at gaps in our knowledge about the post-1867 diplomatic, economic and social relations between the two middle powers. I have proposed that middle power imperial relations (and the circulations between them) offer a new historical framing, beyond the Great Power-Middle East and Eastern Europe narratives. Within this framework, I have described the Egyptian-Ottoman dualist idea and the story of the more popular ethnicity-based Arab-Turkish dualism. I have highlighted that ‘independence’ within an empire was an ideal in Muslim Arab liberal thought in the 1900s and 1910s. Whether this ideal influenced, for instance, the Hijazi announcement of the Arab kingship in 1916, and how it played out exactly in twentieth-century Arab nationalism, needs further research.
The Ottoman Empire did not disintegrate with the armistice in late 1918. Unlike the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which disintegrated in a painful process upon defeat, the Ottoman Empire remained in place despite the Allied occupations. There was no revolt in Istanbul. Models of imperial decline tend to point at decentralisation (liberal imperialism) as a causal explanation for the Austro-Hungarian dissolution. It is striking that some Ottoman leaders and intellectuals considered the dualist solution after the armistice as a possible new imperial beginning of the two imagined nations.
I thank the editors and reviewers of CEH for their comments, as well as Sandrine Kott, Cyrus Schayegh and Gábor Vaderna. I am also thankful for the help of Melis Taner, Kim Greenwell and Cynthia Hoglen. I benefitted from discussions during the conference ‘Imperial Comparisons’, organised by Arthur Asseraf and Alex Middleton, 8–9 July 2016, Oxford University. This article has an independently written, close relative: Alp Yenen's ‘Envisioning Turkish-Arab Federalism between Empire and Nationalism’, Die Welt des Islams, 61 (2021), 71–112. I benefitted from a fellowship at the Paris Institute for Advanced Study (France), with the financial support of the French State, programme ‘Investissements d'avenir’, managed by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-11-LABX-0027-01 Labex RFIEA+).