Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, various European Masonic obediences set up lodges throughout the Ottoman empire, many in Istanbul, while another important centre was Smyrna. Freemasons were also active in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Cyprus and Macedonia. Lodges were established in the main political, economic and cultural centres of the Empire. There was a strong parallelism between the Ottoman Masonic geography and that of European colonial expansion. It is easy to delineate the social and ethnic structure of lodges, but we know less about what was going on behind the walls of Masonic temples. For sure, Ottoman Freemasons, like their brethren in other parts of the world, when not busy with ‘table works’ or ceremonies, dedicated themselves to philanthropic activities. A considerable part of the annual income of the lodges was used to finance various charitable works (assistance to orphans, to brethren in distress …) and to fund educational institutions. The lodges were also places for the discussion and exchange of ideas about current themes: socialism, feminism, venereal diseases, progress of science, etc. Some mingled with politics, displaying a highly nationalistic discourse. The politicization of Ottoman/Turkish freemasonry climaxed during the years of the Young Turk revolution (1908–1914), when an autochthonous obedience was created. One of the goals of the new organization, coldly received by most European freemasonries, was to rid the Ottoman Empire of foreign penetration. After the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, this national freemasonry continued to flourish, except for 13 years between 1935 and 1948 when Masonic activity was banned.
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