Losing Istanbul
Arab-Ottoman Imperialists and the End of Empire
Mostafa Minawi



ON THE 27TH OF APRIL 1909, THREE OFFICERS ARRIVED AT Yıldız Palace to the sound of wailing and weeping from the harem and the sultan’s private quarters. They came to deliver official notification of the military court’s decision to exile the sultan and his family to Salonica (Thessaloniki), with immediate effect. As soon as he heard the news of their arrival, the sultan came out and sat on a throne. The color had drained from his face and he was shaking. Miralay (Colonel) Galib (Ar. Ghaleb) Bey, from the 1st regiment of the Ottoman Army (the Macedonia Regiment), approached the sultan and repeated to him the military council’s decision and asked him to prepare to leave the palace immediately.1 Sultan Abdülhamid II (Ar. ‘Abd al-Hamid) (r. 1876–1909) reportedly asked the men to help him find another way, maybe even moving him to the Çırağan Palace instead of being completely exiled from his beloved Istanbul. When he could not get any positive response, he went silent for a few minutes, then asked if it was certain that his life would be spared. Galib assured him that his life was in no danger. The sultan’s youngest son, Abdürrahim (Ar. ‘Abd al-Rahim), seemed not to trust Galib’s word and continued to ask the officer over and over if his promise of safe passage was true. Hearing the fear in his son’s voice, Abdülhamid’s eyes welled up with tears that began to flow down his gray beard. He seemed unable to understand, asking why he was being punished in a way none of his ancestors had been. The officers answered that his fate was in fact better than that of many of his ancestors. Sending him into exile at that moment, they argued, was better than putting his life in danger—a subtle reference to a history of regicide in the empire that went back to the reign of Sultan Osman (Ar. ‘Uthman) II in the early seventeenth century.2

Around 1 a.m., the sultan, along with three princes, three princesses, four concubines, and a few members of his entourage and palace servants, were loaded into a convoy of armored automobiles. While the people of the imperial capital slept, the sultan’s convoy slowly made its way to Sirkeci, the last station on the European railway system, which terminated a short walk from the church-turned-mosque Aya Sofia and the old royal residence and center of the Ottoman dynasty’s power, Topkapı Palace. The convoy was flanked by members of the cavalry, with foot soldiers lining the street. When it arrived at the station, the sultan and his companions boarded the train in almost complete silence. Within minutes it took off under cover of darkness, destined for Salonica, which would be the deposed sultan’s residence until 1912.3 It was said that Sultan Abdülhamid II tried to take one last look at the walls of the city he had lost, but it was difficult—the curtains on the train windows were tightly closed. However, one of his young sons was able to sneak one last look through a gap in the curtains with sadness in his eyes.4

This story is a dramatic recounting of the last few hours of the longest reign of any Ottoman sultan, as reported in a Beirut-based Arabic-language newspaper, painting a vivid picture of the end of an era and the beginning of what was to be a hopeful fresh start for the people of this ailing empire. The sultan’s exile came a few months after the military coup, usually referred to as the Young Turk Revolution, that effectively ended his reign and reinstated the Ottoman constitution. Along with him, the coup took down a substantial number of loyalists who had built their careers around service to the palace. Many of the closest advisors to the sultan were Ottoman imperialists who came from Arabic-speaking majority provinces in the Levant and whose fates were tied to his.

This book offers an experiential history of some members of the Arab-Ottoman community who set up households in Istanbul in the 1880s, worked for the Yıldız Palace in various capacities, and deeply identified with Ottoman imperial rule.5 They held on to the possibility of an alternative future for their children under the large tent of an imagined diverse and inclusive Ottoman state until their hopes were dashed with the collapse of the last Muslim imperial rule in the region.

Collecting pieces of the lives of two men and their extended families, this book aims to construct an intimate history of global circumstances through public and private experiences of the last four decades of the Ottoman Empire. It argues that the two men, Shafiq (Shafīq) al-Mu’ayyad (Tr. Şefik el-Müeyyed) Azmzade (1861–1916) and his nephew Sadik (Sādiq) al-Mu’ayyad (Tr. Sadık el-Müeyyed) Azmzade (1858–1910), and their families embodied the trials and tribulations of the empire they identified with, whose strengths and weaknesses were refracted through their careers and whose loss meant the end for a community of İstanbul’lu Arab-Ottoman imperialists (figures 1 and 2).

FIGURE 1. Sadik al-Mu’ayyad Azmzade, late nineteenth century.
Source: Azmzade Private Family Archive. Reprinted with permission.

FIGURE 2. Shafiq al-Mu’ayyad Azmzade, late nineteenth century.
Source: The public al-’Azm Facebook page. Reprinted with permission.

Few could have felt the winds of change more than the Arab-Ottomans who worked and lived in the heart of the empire, through the fast and dramatic events of the last four decades of Ottoman rule. This was the last generation to spend its entire life under Ottoman rule, taking their last breaths in the dying days of the empire. The very last generation to be born under Ottoman rule was their children and grandchildren—old enough to remember living in imperial Istanbul but young enough to have a post-Ottoman afterlife in the new geopolitical realities of the age of the nation-state.6

A Brief Sociopolitical Context of the Hamidian Period

The political movements that Abdülhamid tried to suppress in the last two decades of his reign spun out of his administration’s control in its last few years. They took the sultan and a whole generation of palace loyalists down, changing the demographic makeup of Istanbul’s ruling elites.7 A decade after his exile, vast territories of the empire that his family had ruled for more than six hundred years became part of the contested history of Southeast Europe and Southwest Asia.8 Abdülhamid did not live long enough to witness the fateful dissolution of the empire and the end of the institution of the caliphate, which he had reinvented as a modern political institution of a global racialized Muslim community in response to claims of racialized Hellenistic Christian superiority.9 Although he had warned of European designs on the empire, he could not have imagined that the region would be almost unrecognizable within a decade of his departure.10 Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Albanians, Jews, and Turks would splinter and be divided between nation-states with contested territorial boundaries, European colonial mandates, and a settler-colonial ethnostate embedded in the heart of the Levant.

European victors of World War I, American representatives, and a handful of former citizens of the empire decided the fate of the majority of the population in Southwest Asia.11 Ottoman state policies enacted during Sultan Abdülhamid II’s reign against the Armenian-Ottoman population foreshadowed the ethnic cleansing of the native Armenian and Greek populations of Anatolia in this polyglot empire.12 However, it would have been much harder for contemporary observers to predict that the empire’s largest Muslim population, from which some of his closest advisors hailed, would also break off. Even though a variety of political opposition movements came to light under Abdülhamid’s rule, the “Arab versus Turk” style of ethnoracial differentiation became a real threat to the unity of the empire only a few years after his departure.13 Soon after World War I, Southwest Asia was carved into a puzzle of nation-states that left many former members of the empire marginalized, alienated, or displaced.14

Shafiq and Sadik’s Generation

The penultimate Ottoman generation at the center of this book was the one that experienced the internal centralization efforts of the Hamidian administration; major defeats and territorial losses in the late 1870s; desperate and often violent efforts to silence perceived threats to the rule of the Ottoman dynasty; the second constitutional revolution; and finally a fleeting alternative possibility of twentieth-century inclusive Ottoman citizenship that transcended the ethnic and religious hierarchies of the past. This generation was as comfortable in Beirut, Damascus, or Sofia as in Istanbul. They skillfully negotiated a multilingual world of late nineteenth-century imperialism, allowing them to advance their careers as palace bureaucrats, diplomats, and policy advisors. They lived a life of privilege, affording them the opportunity to imagine an ideal existence of an Ottoman—not as a member of the ruling dynasty but as a citizen who identified with an Ottoman fatherland that honored its multicultural and multilingual reality; a precarious idea that rose and fell during their lifetime.15 By no means was this generation of imperialists limited to Arab-Ottomans or Turkish-Ottomans.16 However, the Arab-Ottomans of Istanbul did hold a unique place in the history of late Ottoman imperialism, which will become clear as the reader follows the lives of Sadik and Shafiq and their families throughout the book.

As the Ottoman Empire moved toward a more centralized and bureaucratized system of governance and administration in the second half of the nineteenth century, men from notable Levantine families found new career options to consider as the power of their provincial families was being curtailed. With the right pedigree, education, and transimperial connections, they could follow career paths that took them to the imperial center, allowing them to break away from their families’ traditional provincial careers as municipal councilors, provincial administrators, land-owning elites, and wealthy merchants. Those traditional family roles, which often passed down from one generation to the next, accumulated a great deal of social and political capital. This history also came with the burden of decades worth of decisions, alliances, and missteps that their ancestors had made. Public memory was long, Istanbul’s loyalty contingent, and the palace and the Sublime Porte often used events from the past to justify investing in one family’s future success versus another’s.

The Azmzades had centuries worth of provincial experience and history they carried with them. During the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II (the Hamidian period), a new generation of Azmzades used their education and connections to forge a new kind of career in the metropole, in the process extending the family’s network of power to the capital and beyond. Some established their households in the city, close to the palace and among other palace favorites. Moving away from the comfort of ready-made opportunities available to them in their family’s homestead was not the only or the most obvious option for a young Azmzade in the 1880s. Many chose to stay in the Levant and continue the tradition of provincial and municipal careers while holding on to the vestiges of a bygone golden era of provincial notables.17 However, after the 1860s, opting for a career in imperial service became an attractive option, which allowed some of the more ambitious members of the family to build their careers, far away from the safety and constraints of the family’s powerful bases in provinces like Aleppo, Syria, Egypt, and Beirut.

As Sadik rose through the ranks, he developed a reputation for his negotiation skills on some of the most sensitive diplomatic assignments—whether accompanying a Russian grand duke to Jerusalem and the German kaiser to Damascus or representing the sultan in the Sahara Desert, Germany, Abyssinia, western Arabia, Russia, Bulgaria, eastern Anatolia, and Macedonia. The records Sadik left behind paint a picture of a proud and conflicted man struggling to maintain his relevance as the empire crumbled. It all came to a sudden end during World War I, with his family being one of the casualties of war, splitting along newly established national borders, never again to be reunited.

Shafiq’s life gives the reader an example of a sedentary civil service career in the palace. Shafiq was able to amass political and financial capital, which he spent in support of his business dealings and his relatives in Istanbul, Cairo, and Damascus. After reinstatement of the constitution, he reinvented himself as a deputy elected to represent the Province of Syria.18 His luck ended with the arrival of World War I, when he was charged with treason and executed in 1916. Members of his family were interned in Bursa during the war, but they eventually returned to the Levant and reestablished their political influence under the Amir Faisal administration and the French colonial government.19

Shafiq and Sadik were only two of many Arab-Ottoman imperialists working for the Hamidian administration. One of the most (in)famous in this generation was their relative and the sultan’s close advisor Izzet (Tr. İzzet/Ar. ‘Izzat) al-‘Abid (al-‘Ābid).20 Izzet greatly influenced the way Arab-Ottoman imperialists like the Azmzades perceived their role in the empire, and how they would later be perceived as the embodiment of the corruption of the Hamidian period. His memoirs, which were made available by his family only in 2019, provide insight into the sociopolitical world of Arab-Ottoman men of the palace.21

Losing Istanbul Three Ways

Losing Istanbul operates on three levels. The first is the voyeuristic level of a curious spectator observing the colorful lives of this generation of Arab-Ottoman imperialists unfold on the pages of the book. A deep dive into the details of the lives of Sadik and Shafiq shows how significant events were experienced on the individual level and, conversely, suggests an alternative understanding that takes an individual’s disposition as a driving force behind some of the state’s policies. One level deeper brings the reader to the complex topics of ethnicity, race, and the anxiety of life under a creeping Western political and cultural hegemony and in an increasingly ethnoracialized Ottoman center. Yet one level deeper uncovers the operation of microhistory to get at a “total history” in the tradition of the Annales school.22

One way to approach Losing Istanbul is as a story of two handsome, well-educated, well-traveled Arab-Ottoman men who spent the bulk of their careers working for the palace and living a privileged life with their families in Istanbul, from the mid-1880s to the mid-1910s. It affords readers a “fly on the wall” perspective on the inner workings of the Ottoman state through the personal lives of Arab-Ottoman statesmen. Shafiq and Sadik hailed from a powerful provincial family that was a feature of regional politics in Damascus and Aleppo and one that has been extensively studied but only as a provincial or Syrian phenomenon.23 This book turns the spotlight on Istanbul’s Arab-Ottoman community through the social spaces of the Azmzades—their careers and the intimacies of their quotidian life set against the dramatic background of Istanbul’s glamorous high society; the political intrigue of the palace; and the near-constant existential anxiety that came with living at the center of a vanishing imperial world order. Marriages and births; palace receptions and circumcision ceremonies; corsets and medal-adorned uniforms; travel and (mis)adventure—all are part of the story. The ugly side of imperialism also features prominently, including classism, corruption, slavery, the rise of racism, ethnoracial discrimination, and ethnic cleansing.

The goal is to give the reader a street-level understanding of the experience of the final four decades of an ailing empire through the eyes of a small community of Arab-Ottomans in Istanbul that identified with the idea of an Ottoman Empire until the end. I use experience throughout in both its passive and active senses.24 The word tajruba (Tr. tecrübe) is better suited for what I mean because it encompasses both passive and active meanings. One meaning refers to something that a person goes through passively, in the process impacting one’s senses, disposition, and character. The other refers to experimentation, in which one partakes in “tests,” constructs, and ponders one’s condition, often acting as the subject, object, and in some cases narrator of perceived reality.

Another layer of analysis is meant for students of Ottoman history interested in themes such as imperial identification(s), ethnoracialization, and racism in the late Ottoman Empire. First, however, a note on the term “Arab-Ottoman imperialist” and why it is fundamental to the arguments I present. I use imperialist to refer to Arab-Ottomans who built their careers, social connections, and sense of self around the Hamidian-era palace and who pegged their survival to the success of Ottoman imperialism. They stood in contrast to others from Arabic-speaking majority provinces who opposed Hamidian rule or were not as invested in Ottoman imperialism, who lived too far away from the political currents of the time to care, and who gradually became invested in alternative futures, with Arab separatist nationalism being an extreme version of these futures.

The other choice of terminology is the hyphenated Arab-Ottoman signifier, which risks coming across as an anachronistic borrowing from the hyphened identifiers of countries that tout their multicultural heritage. Having lived in Canada, I see terms like Arab-Canadian or French-Canadian as culturally acceptable ways to acknowledge difference without causing offense. Canada’s “multiculturalism” policies were initially proposed as a way to address the grievances of Canadians of French origin who had always felt that their cultural identity was under threat. Then they were extended to include an increasingly diverse immigrant population. The country’s “multiculturalism” remains controversial for many reasons, including the message it sends about the need for some Canadians to explicitly identify their ethnic or national origins. In contrast, the majority—White Canadians of Anglo/Irish origin—do not need an additional marker to signify their national belonging. In order to avoid replicating a similar logic in the Ottoman case, where an “Ottoman” is often, erroneously, assumed to mean “Turk” while the rest of the ethnic groups need to be more finely ethnically or religiously identified, I follow the same naming convention for Turkish-Ottomans as I do for others like Armenian-, Greek-, or Kurdish-Ottomans, whenever it is relevant to the discussion.25

I also insist on the use of the hyphenated signifier to reflect the way public discourse acknowledged and emphasized the different ‘anaser/anasır (sing. Ar./Tr.: ‘unsur/unsur). Unsur literally meant “element,” but in the context in which it was mostly used in the early twentieth century, it better corresponded to the English use of ethnies or ethnic groups that made up the Ottoman peoples. I argue that outside of the official state discourse the discussion was less about the various religious sects and increasingly about the various ethnic groups. By 1908 the use of al-‘unsur al-‘arabi, which means the Arab ethnic group, was a common way of referring to Ottomans who identified themselves or were identified as having an Arab origin. Turks were similarly referred to as an unsur. Both one’s ethnic group—Arab, Greek, Kurdish, Albanian—and its belonging to a wider Ottoman fatherland—Ottoman—were important signifiers at this juncture in imperial history, particularly in the context of the life of statesmen living in Istanbul. To make both elements visible and indivisible, I use Arab-Ottoman throughout the book. To avoid the perils that the modern use of the hyphen presents in Canada, I use this method to signify all ethnic groups, including Turkish-Ottomans.

Unsur is not to be confused with millet, which was inherited from the early days of the Ottoman state, initially referring to state-recognized non-Muslim populations of the empire: the Greek Orthodox (Rum), the Armenians, and the Jews. The meaning of millet changed over time, and in the late nineteenth century the state used millet to refer to any legally recognized “nationality of people.”26

Historian Ussama Makdisi argues that “religious difference” plagued an unsuccessful nineteenth-century Ottoman project of “equal citizenship.”27 In addition to religious difference and the nineteenth-century notion of millet, I argue that unsur was a necessary addition to the vocabulary of public discourse, which acknowledged the rise of an ethnoracial identification beyond the Ottoman state–recognized millet or an evolving sectarian system. Unsur reflected a new social reality that acknowledged the ethnoracial identification of peoples and a global trend of racialization and ethnonationalism. Istanbul was not immune to this late imperial mentality, where a person’s unsur, or ethnicity, became rigid categories and had real implications for urban Ottoman society. It is telling that in Arabic ‘unsuriyya, from ‘unsur, developed to also mean racism in the twentieth century.28

There is a sentiment in the Ottoman history field to minimize the loaded meaning of ethnoracial markers, such as Arab and Turk, before the emergence of widespread ethnonationalism in the region during World War I and after.29 I argue that the exclusive focus on political organization and the rise of nationalism has left us blind to the rise of ethnoracial differentiation in Ottoman society well before the rise of populist nationalism. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Ottoman society’s self-perception was undergoing a transformation. Arab or Turk, for example, were not innocuous signifiers but critical ethnoracial markers deployed in the Ottoman metropole with positive and negative connotations. They were also embraced by some and avoided by others in the small circle of Arab-Ottoman statesmen well before the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, the 1911 loss of Libya to Italian colonialism, the 1912 Balkan losses, or World War I. Arab-Ottoman and Turkish-Ottoman acknowledge and amplify this reality.

It is important to distinguish the rise of ethnoracial differentiation in the Ottoman center and the often-parallel rise of “isms,” whether Arabism, Turkism, or nationalism. To borrow the famous adage from statistical sciences, correlation does not imply causation. Political and intellectual projects such as what came to be known as al-Nahda (the Awakening), Arab nationalism, Turkification, and Turkish nationalism have been hotly debated in Ottoman historiography.30 For example, historian Erol Ülker argues that there was no uniform policy of Turkification employed by the ruling Committee of Unity and Progress (CUP) between 1908 and 1918. He contends that, even though many different methods were used in a nation-building project across the empire, one can only talk of Turkification as a form of Turkish nationalism after 1913.31 Similarly, historian Hasan Kayalı, in his seminal book Arabs and Young Turks, argues that what was perceived by Arab-Ottoman politicians and intellectuals as an attack on Arabism was in fact a form of state centralization. He suggests that Arab politicians’ accusations of the CUP forcing Turkification were not driven by nationalist ideology. They were “new games of politics” deployed as opposition to the government and were expressed in an “anti-Turkish idiom.” The charge of Turkification was meant to hurt the CUP and its standing in Arab public opinion.32 However, the rise of Arabism and the various ideas of nationalism in the Arabic-speaking majority provinces were in fact a long precipitative process that began well before World War I and was ultimately usurped by a few Hijazi Arab-Ottomans with dreams of grandeur.33 Even after World War I, a political imagination and centuries of history and social ties that connected different parts Southwest Asia continued in various parts of the former empire during the long period of separation that stretched into the early 1920s.34

Thus, even though Turkification and Turkish nationalism might not have been influential state-sponsored projects before World War I, one cannot ignore the informal currents of ethnoracial differentiation taking place well before then. The sense of marginalization of Arab-Ottomans did not emerge overnight after the Young Turk Revolution; nor was it manufactured by local politicians. It was a much longer process that spilled out into the open after 1908, particularly after the disappointment of the unfulfilled promises of the revolution.35

Acts and ideation of ethnoracial differentiation in Istanbul came through the details of daily life, coloring Arab-Ottomans’ experiences there. Ethnoracial differentiation, which was a feature of late imperialism around the globe, and which some historians have pointed to along the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire, manifested itself in the Ottoman metropole as well.36 I have argued elsewhere that much of the derogatory rhetoric of difference employed by Ottoman statesmen in describing the Bedouins of the Hijaz, for example, should not be measured against British or French methods of colonial rule as normative examples of late imperialism. The particularity of the Ottoman case should give us pause before making a sweeping generalization about Ottoman impressions of inhabitants of the frontiers.37 In this book, however, I do not shy away from noting where ethnoracial identification, which is often associated with frontier regions or colonial possessions, was reflected in the society of the Ottoman metropole as well.38

The third layer of Losing Istanbul addresses historians interested in the theoretical underpinnings of an experiential history of a group of people outside of the tradition of historical biographies. I use sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and social space because they provide a rich and malleable framework for understanding the lifeworld of a group of individuals who adapted to a changing world, across empires, cities, and cultures. A social space, though often aligned with a physical space, such as a neighborhood, a place of work, or even a nation-state, is not a physical space. A social space is produced and reproduced through individuals’ engagement in social practices, which often mirror their perspectives, positionalities, relationships to one another, and strategies for mobility.39 Perhaps most important, it is not static as a space, but changes over time based on the positionality of a particularly social agent in relation to society and other social agents.40 A habitus is an embodied orientation to the world and a position in social space that is often long-lasting.41 It is a “system of dispositions” and a long-lasting structure of perception and action that comes as the product of social and historical conditions that are constantly changing. Although dispositions are long-lasting and tend to perpetuate themselves, they can be changed through historical events, education, intentions, and consciousness. This collective system of perceptions creates a habitus, making it equally vulnerable and susceptible to change.42

Habitus and social space are concepts developed in tandem. They are best understood together in order to navigate the multitude of layers of the turbulent late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It bears repeating that this book is not a biography of two men. It is a glimpse into the changing lifeworld of men and women who shared overlapping social spaces, systems of disposition, and a patchwork of fractured habitus. Even though the Azmzades were only a few of many Arab-Ottomans who established themselves in Istanbul in the late nineteenth century, their lives provide an excellent case study of a community that had to continuously negotiate a place for itself in a quickly changing empire.

Since the sources did not explicitly deal with the inner lives of these imperial men and women, I had to rely on tools developed by literary scholars for “inscribing fragments of . . . consciousness” in a text that at first glance might appear devoid of any hidden meaning.43 Reading the texts “against the grain” has allowed me to shine a light on the social consciousness of Arab-Ottomans in Istanbul, and at times their subconsciousness, as they performed who they thought they were and where they thought they fit in or wanted to. In particular, I attempt to understand their habitus, changing positionality, and the emergence of notions of difference that have, with a few notable exceptions, eluded scholars of the Ottoman Empire.44 Leaning on the work of thinkers from a variety of fields, I investigate Sadik’s identification or purposeful (dis)engagement with “Ottoman-ness,” “Europeanness,” “Arab-ness,” and “Whiteness” from his writings during his travels in Africa and Europe and while accompanying Russian and German royalty in the Levant.45 I highlight Sadik’s response to the European gaze on “the Orient,” as well as his evolving understanding of his subject position in an imperial world order. As he pondered what I call the “intimate other” in the Sahara and North Africa, I learned more about him and his self-conscious obsessions and social anxieties than about the objects of his observations.46 I put Sadik’s habitus in conversation with historical events of the period and the textual and pictorial evidence that Sadik and his family left behind.47 The result is a surprising insight into where a Muslim, Arab-Ottoman member of a global imperial class positioned himself and how that positioning evolved as the empire’s internal and external political and social dynamics changed.


1. For all military ranks, I use Redhouse Yeni Türkçe-İngilizce Sözlük for an approximation of how turn-of-the-century Ottoman military ranks mapped to American military ranks. They are not exact, but they give a sense of the rank of the military officer for readers more familiar with the American military system. Redhouse Yeni Türkçe-İngilizce Sözlük, 8th ed. (Istanbul: Redhouse Yayınevi, 1968).

2. See Baki Tezcan, The Second Ottoman Empire: Political and Social Transformation in the Early Modern World (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

3. See Jacob M. Landau, “Abdülhamid II in 1912: The Return from Salonica,” in The Balance of Truth: Essays in Honour of Professor Geoffrey Lewis, ed. Çigdem Balim-Harding and Colin Imber (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2010), 251–54.

4. The description of Abdülhamid’s departure is translated and edited by the author from a column in a newspaper published in Beirut. “Kayfa Safara ila Selanik,” al-Ittihad al-‘Uthmani, June 5, 1909, 3.

5. In cities like Istanbul in the late nineteenth century, even though households employed several people, they were much closer to well-known aristocratic urban households of the Victorian era, where only the immediate family lived. I bring this up so my description will not be confused with historian Jane Hathaway’s influential conceptualization of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Egyptian households, which were extended client-patron networks that centered around one family. Jane Hathaway, The Politics of Households in Ottoman Egypt: The Rise of the Qazdağlis, Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

6. For more on the generation that survived the war and went on to play a role in post-Ottoman Arab nation-states, see Michael Provence, The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

7. For a straightforward understanding of the reasons for the 1908 revolution, see Feroz Ahmad, “The Young Turk Revolution,” Journal of Contemporary History 3, no. 3 (1968): 19–36.

8. I try not to use the problematic “Middle East” as part of my commitment to avoid terms that were imposed on the region by Western powers and have shifted over time as Western policies and geopolitical interests in the region have changed. “Southwest Asia” is a more accurate geographical descriptor that refers to a part of the Asian continent that were under Ottoman rule. For further discussion on the creation of the concept of the Middle East as a geopolitical region and its wider political implications, see for example Michael E. Bonine, Abbas Amanat, and Michael E. Gasper, ed., Is There a Middle East? The Evolution of a Geopolitical Concept (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012); Guillemette Crouzet, Inventing the Middle East: Britain and the Persian Gulf in the Age of Global Imperialism, translated by Juliet Sutcliffe (Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2022); Karen Culcasi, “Constructing and Naturalizing the Middle East,” Geographical Review 100, no. 4 (2010): 583–97.

9. Cemil Aydın, “The Emergence of Transnational Muslim Thought, 1774–1914,” in Arabic Thought Beyond the Liberal Age, Towards an Intellectual History of the Nahda, ed. Jens Hanssen and Max Weiss (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 133–39. For further excellent analysis of the institution of the sultan-caliph during the reign of Abdülhamid II in the global context of racialized religious groups and interimperial competition, see Cemil Aydın, The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 65–98; Cemil Aydın, “Imperial Paradoxes: A Caliphate for Subaltern Muslims,” ReOrient 1, no. 2 (2016): 171–91. For a detailed understanding of Islam as a modern political state tool during the reign of Abdülhamid II in the Ottoman Empire, see Kemal H. Karpat, The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001).

10. Engin Deniz Akarlı, “The Tangled Ends of an Empire: Ottoman Encounters with the West and Problems of Westernization—an Overview,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 26, no. 3 (2006): 353–66.

11. The international treaties that followed World War I and led to a de jure partition and colonization of most of Southwest Asia have been written about for decades. Here are some of the more recent publications: Hamza Karčić, “Sèvres at 100: The Peace Treaty That Partitioned the Ottoman Empire,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 40, no. 3 (2020): 470–79; Djene Rhys Bajalan, “The First World War, the End of the Ottoman Empire, and Question of Kurdish Statehood: A ‘Missed’ Opportunity?” Ethnopolitics 18, no. 1 (2019): 13–28; Othman Ali, “The Kurds and the Lausanne Peace Negotiations, 1922–23,” Middle Eastern Studies 33, no. 3 (1997): 521–34; Keith David Watenpaugh, Being Modern in the Middle East: Revolution, Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Arab Middle Class (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 121–59; Eugene Rogan, The Arabs: A History (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 147–74; James Barr, A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914–1948 (W. W. Norton, 2013); Elizabeth F. Thompson, How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs: The Arab Congress of 1920, the Destruction of the Syrian State, and the Rise of Anti-Liberal Islamism (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020).

12. Karen Barkey and George Gavrilis, “The Ottoman Millet System: Non-Territorial Autonomy and Its Contemporary Legacy,” Ethnopolitics 15, no. 1 (2016): 26.

13. Arabism and Arab nationalism are some of the better researched topics in Middle Eastern studies. Most of the studies focus on intellectual history, with a few addressing some political and social manifestations beyond the intellectual and political classes. In English, some books that have taken up this issue as part of Ottoman history include Hasan Kayalı, Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism, and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908–1918 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997); William Cleveland, The Making of an Arab Nationalist: Ottomanism and Arabism in the Life and Thought of Sati‘ al-Husari (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016); C. Ernest Dawn, ed., From Ottomanism to Arabism: Essays on the Origins of Arab Nationalism (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1973); James L. Gelvin, Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999); Rashid Khalidi et al., eds., The Origins of Arab Nationalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993); James L. Gelvin, “‘Arab Nationalism’: Has a New Framework Emerged? Pensée 1: ‘Arab Nationalism’ Meets Social Theory,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 41, no. 1 (2009): 10–12; Michael Provence, The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005). For a very popular, albeit linear, Arab-nationalist telling of the rise of Arab nationalism, it is hard to ignore the lasting power of one of the first books to tackle the issue, originally published in 1938: George Antonius, The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement (reprint) (Berlin: Allegro Editions, 2015).

14. See Eugene Rogan, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East (New York: Basic Books, 2016); Sean McMeekin, The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908–1923 (London: Penguin, 2015); Erik Jan Zürcher, Turkey: A Modern History (London: I. B. Tauris, 1998).

15. There are many studies on the various tools that the Hamidian state used to inculcate a sense of Ottomanness, or Ottoman loyalty, in its subjects-cum-citizens. Some have focused on education, while others have looked at the mechanics of infiltration of the central state in the day-to-day life of subjects across the empire. For example, see Benjamin C. Fortna, Imperial Classroom: Islam, the State, and Education in the Late Ottoman Empire (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002); Selçuk Aksin Somel, The Modernization of Public Education in the Ottoman Empire, 1839–1908: Islamization, Autocracy, and Discipline (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001); Selim Deringil, The Well-Protected Domains: Ideology and the Legitimation of Power in the Ottoman Empire, 1876–1909 (London: I. B. Tauris, 1998); Avner Wishnitzer, Reading Clocks, Alla Turca (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); İpek K. Yosmaoğlu, “Counting Bodies, Shaping Souls: The 1903 Census and National Identity in Ottoman Macedonia,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 38, no. 1 (2006): 55–77.

16. There are tens of books and articles on the rise of various forms of nationalisms in the wake of the Ottoman Empire. The following is but a small sample, including only sources that do not relate to Bulgarian independence or the Macedonian and Armenian Questions, as those are dealt with in more detail later in the book. Feroz Ahmad, The Young Turks and the Ottoman Nationalities: Armenians, Greeks, Albanians, Jews, and Arabs, 1908–1918 (Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press, 2014); Isa Blumi, Rethinking the Late Ottoman Empire: A Comparative Social and Political History of Albania and Yemen, 1878–1918 (Istanbul: İsis Press, 2003); Houri Berberian, Roving Revolutionaries: Armenians and the Connected Revolutions in the Russian, Iranian, and Ottoman Worlds (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2019); Aslı Iğsız, Humanism in Ruins: Entangled Legacies of the Greek-Turkish Population Exchange (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018); Umut Ozkirimli and Spyros A. Sofos, Tormented by History: Nationalism in Greece and Turkey (London: C. Hurst, 2008); Michelle Campos, Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011); Barbara Henning, Narratives of the History of the Ottoman-Kurdish Bedirhani Family in Imperial and Post-Imperial Contexts (Bamberg, Germany: University of Bamberg Press, 2018).

17. Here I am referencing the “notables” as a political concept first introduced by the late Albert Hourani in 1966. Since then, there have been many revisions of the concept and much legitimate critique. However, the concept remains generative, igniting debates and discussions about the power of the so-called notables and how and when it functioned in relation to the Ottoman state. For more on the politics of the notables and some well-known published debates on them, see Albert Hourani, “Ottoman Reforms and the Politics of the Notables,” in Beginnings of Modernization in the Middle East, the Nineteenth Century, ed. William Polk and Richard Chambers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 41–68; Philip Khoury, “The Urban Notables Paradigm Revisited,” Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée 55, no. 1 (1990): 215–30; James L. Gelvin, “The ‘Politics of Notables’ Forty Years After,” Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 40, no. 1 (2006): 19–29.

18. On the second constitutional period and the representatives in the parliament, see Nader Sohrabi, Revolution and Constitutionalism in the Ottoman Empire and Iran (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011). Also see the edited volume on the postrevolutionary period, with a few pieces on the parliament and politicians after 1908: Noémi Lévy-Aksu and François Georgeon, eds., The Young Turk Revolution and the Ottoman Empire: The Aftermath of 1908 (London: I. B. Tauris, 2017).

19. Gelvin, Divided Loyalties; M. Talha Çiçek, Syria in World War I: Politics, Economy, and Society (London: Routledge, 2016).

20. ‘Izzet signed his name on French documents preserved in the Ottoman Bank papers as Izzet, which is the spelling I adopt for his name. Salt Research, Ottoman Bank Archives, Sundry Documents, İzzet, IMDIV00304352.

21. Izzet Holo al-‘Abid, Abdülhamid’in Kara Kutusu, Arap İzzet Holo Paşa’nın Günlükleri, ed. Pınar Güven and Birol Bayram, vols. 1 and 2 (Istanbul: İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2019).

22. Michael Harsgor, “Total History: The Annales School,” Journal of Contemporary History 13, no. 1 (1978): 1–13.

23. Two English-language books give a detailed political and social history of the Azmzades’ role in the local power rivalry and provincial structures of power. Linda Schatkowski Schilcher, Families in Politics: Damascene Factions and Estates of the 18th and 19th Centuries (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1985); Philip S. Khoury, Urban Notables and Arab Nationalism: The Politics of Damascus, 1860–1920 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

24. David Carr, Experience and History: Phenomenological Perspectives on the Historical World (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014).

25. Additionally, multiculturalism, where settlers are folded into a wider notion of belonging, erases the history of the violence of settler colonialism by ignoring the question of the native Canadians, known as the First Nations people. The First Nations people continue to be politically, socially, and culturally marginalized in their native land. Evelyn I. Légaré, “Canadian Multiculturalism and Aboriginal People: Negotiating a Place in the Nation,” Identities 1, no. 4 (1995): 347–66; H. Srikanth, “Multiculturalism and the Aboriginal Peoples in Canada,” Economic and Political Weekly 47, no. 23 (2012): 17–21; David Bruce MacDonald, “Reforming Multiculturalism in a Bi-National Society: Aboriginal Peoples and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada,” Canadian Journal of Sociology 39, no. 1 (2014): 65–86; Canadian Encyclopedia, s.v. “multiculturalism,” (accessed May 5, 2021).

26. James W. Redhouse, A Turkish and English Lexicon, 4th ed. (Istanbul: Çağrı Yayınları, 2011), 1965. For more on the millet system, see Benjamin Braude, ed., Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire, abr. ed. (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2014); Ergün Çakal, “Pluralism, Tolerance, and Control: On the Millet System and the Question of Minorities,” International Journal on Minority and Group Rights 27, no. 1 (2020): 34–65; Barkey and Gavrilis, “The Ottoman Millet System”; Karen Barkey, Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

27. Ussama Makdisi, Age of Coexistence: The Ecumenical Frame and the Making of the Modern Arab World (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2019), 11–12.

28. Redhouse, A Turkish and English Lexicon, 1324. For a discussion of the development of terms for “race” in Arabic and Turkish, see Elise K. Burton, Genetic Crossroads: The Middle East and the Science of Human Heredity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2021), 15–16.

29. For example, Zouhair Ghazzal’s argument that terminology identifying Arab or Turk was not helpful in the context of the Ottoman Empire. As I mentioned, in the last two decades of the empire, those words became meaningful and consequential before the spread of Arab or Turkish nationalism. Zouhair Ghazzal, “The Historiography of Arab-Turkish Relations: A Re-Assessment,” review of “al-‘Alaqat al-‘Arabiyya al-Turkiyya (Arap-Türk Münasebetleri)” by Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and Muhammad Safi al-Din Abu al-‘Izz, Turkish Studies Association Bulletin 24, no. 1 (2000): 124–25.

30. For a critical rethinking of the Nahda and the intellectual history of the Arab world at the turn of the twentieth century, I highly recommend Jens Hanssen and Max Weiss, “Language, Mind, Freedom, and Time: The Modern Arab Intellectual Tradition in Four Words,” introduction to Arabic Thought Beyond the Liberal Age, Towards an Intellectual History of the Nahda (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 1–37.

31. Erol Ülker, “Contextualizing Turkification: Nation Building in the Late Ottoman Empire 1909–18,” Nations and Nationalism 11, no. 4 (2005): 615–17.

32. Kayalı, Arabs and Young Turks, 113–14.

33. There are many popular recountings of the so-called “Arab Revolt” that tout the heroics of T. E. Lawrence and the Hashemites. A quick Google search produces hundreds of hits. The revolt remains a sensitive topic in Turkey and in most of the Arab world, with the former painting all Arabs with a broad brush of treasonous conspiracy because of it and the latter incorporating it into nationalist accounts of the birth of the various Arab nation-states. There are less sensational treatments of the revolt; see, for example, Rogan, The Arabs; Rogan, The Fall of the Ottomans; Eliezer Tauber, The Arab Movements in World War I (London: Routledge, 2014); Kayalı, Arabs and Young Turks.

34. For the latest monograph-length book on this topic, see Hasan Kayalı, Imperial Resilience: The Great War’s End, Ottoman Longevity, and Incidental Nations (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2021).

35. See Campos, Ottoman Brothers, 20–92; Bedross Der Matossian, Shattered Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014).

36. Selim Deringil, “‘They Live in a State of Nomadism and Savagery’: The Late Ottoman Empire and the Post-Colonial Debate,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 45, no. 2 (2003): 311–42; Thomas Kuehn, Empire, Islam, and Politics of Difference (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2011).

37. Mostafa Minawi, “Beyond Rhetoric: Reassessing Bedouin-Ottoman Relations along the Route of the Hijaz Telegraph Line at the End of the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 58, no. 1–2 (2015): 74–104.

38. The permeation of colonial discourse and tools of differentiation from the colonies into the metropole has been well studied in the British and French imperial context. Two seminal works tackle this issue: Ann Laura Stoler and Frederick Cooper, “Between Metropole and Colony: Rethinking a Research Agenda,” in Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, ed. Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 1997), 1–56; Kathleen Wilson, ed., A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity, and Modernity in Britain and the Empire, 1660–1840 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

39. Deborah Reed-Danahay, Bourdieu and Social Space: Mobilities, Trajectories, Emplacements (New York: Berghahn, 2020), 7.

40. Reed-Danahay, Bourdieu and Social Space, 23.

41. Reed-Danahay, Bourdieu and Social Space, 7.

42. Pierre Bourdieu, “Habitus,” in Habitus: A Sense of Place, ed. Jean Hiller and Emma Rooksby (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2002), 27–29.

43. I have borrowed this term from Durba Ghosh’s discussion of the “Imperial Turn” in 2012. Even though she used this term in reference to accessing the agency of the “subaltern,” its use paralleled accessing the personal lives of elites like Sadik, who almost never wrote outside of the gaze of imperial censorship. See Durba Ghosh, “Another Set of Imperial Turns?” American Historical Review 117, no. 3 (2012): 772–93.

44. A seminal work on race and racism in the context of the Ottoman Empire is Eve Troutt Powell, A Different Shade of Colonialism: Egypt, Great Britain, and the Mastery of the Sudan (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2003). Others have studied racism in the context of the institution of slavery in the Ottoman Empire. See for example, Terence Walz and Kenneth M. Cuno, eds., Race and Slavery in the Middle East: Histories of Trans-Saharan Africans in 19th-Century Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Mediterranean (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2010); Abdulhamit Avras, “Early Modern Eunuchs and the Transing of Gender and Race,” Journal of Early Modern Cultural Studies 19, no. 4 (2020): 116–36. More recently the study of race and racism in the late Ottoman Empire and the post-Ottoman states has been the object of much more attention. Two works that stand out are Ezgi Güner, “The Soul of the White Muslim: Race, Empire, and Africa in Turkey” (PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2020); Murat Ergin, Is the Turk a White Man? Race and Modernity in the Making of Turkish Identity (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2017). Several promising young scholars who work on race and racism in Southwest Asia are waiting in the wings.

45. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, translated by Charles Lam Markmann, 2nd ed. (London: Pluto Press, 2008); Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2004); Homi K. Bhabha, “Forward to the 1986 Edition,” in Black Skin, White Masks, 2nd ed. (London: Pluto Press, 2008); Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, rev. ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1974).

46. Here I borrow the term from Edward Said when he described the European fascination with the people of the “Near East” in their travelogues. Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Pantheon Books, 1978); Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books, 1994).

47. Bourdieu, “Habitus”; Will Atkinson, Bourdieu and After, A Guide to Relational Phenomenology (London: Routledge, 2020); Reed-Danahay, Bourdieu and Social Space.