Resisting Nationalisms in the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire in 1856 was massive and comprised a large number of varying ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups (see map).


The nationalism that swept the western world in the 19th century touched the Ottoman empire. As the various subject peoples agitated for independence and nationhood, Sultan Abdul Mejid I (r. 1839-1861) issued this proclamation in 1856.

From the Imperial Rescript, “Islahat Fermani”

“My Sublime Porte will take energetic measures to insure to each sect, whatever be the number of its adherents, entire freedom in the exercise of its religion. Every distinction or designation pending to make any class whatever of the subjects of my empire inferior to another class, on account of their religion, language, or race, shall be forever effaced from administrative protocol. The laws shall be put in force against the use of any injurious or offensive term, either among private individuals or on the part of the authorities.

“As all forms of religion are and shall be freely professed in my dominions, no subject of my empire shall be hindered in the exercise of the religion that he professes, nor shall he be in any way annoyed on this account. No one shall be compelled to change their religion….

“Proceedings shall be taken, with as little delay as possible, for the reform of the penitentiary system as applied to houses of detention, punishment, or correction, and other establishments of like nature, so as to reconcile the rights of humanity with those of justice. Corporal punishment shall not be administered, even in the prisons, except in conformity with the disciplinary regulations established by my Sublime Porte; and everything that resembles torture shall be entirely abolished.”

Questions for consideration:

  1. What other empires at this time were dealing with similar issues of nationalism?
  2. How might these proclamations from the Sultan disarm possible nationalist desires?
  3. What specific issues besides religion does the Sultan address here?