Foundations of the Hamidiye Light Cavalry Troops

While carrying out the project of the Hamidiye troops, Abdulhamid II thought of connecting the tribes to the state and using them as the power preventing the regional riots. The developments taking place for a while also played a role in the foundation of Abdulhamid’s desire for putting such a project into practice. If we are to list these, they are as follows (Kodaman, 2010: 135-136):

  • The Big Powers not being able to prevent the opening war of Russia against the Ottoman Empire and not intervening in any way.
  • The fact that the Eastern Problem was reverted to Anatolia where Muslims were in the majority, and especially to Eastern Anatolia by Article 61 of the Berlin Treaty, and the legal and political status of the region became discussable.
  • That Armenians known as “the loyal nation” until 1878 displayed hostile attitudes with their activities of rebelling against the legitimate state.
  • Their reaction to the Russian occupation being full of sympathy and some of them cooperating with the Russians and abusing Muslims.
  • The demand of the Armenian Patriarch Nerses from the Russian Chief Commander Grand Duke Nikolay that an article requiring autonomy for Armenians is put in the San Stefano Armistice Treaty to be signed.
  • An Armenian committee being sent to the Berlin Congress with the encouragement of the British Ambassador Layard and the addition of Article 61, which required special reforms for Armenians, to the agreement text.
  • Armenians creating armed troops, guerrilla groups, and organizations in Eastern Anatolia and distributing arms to the people.
  • The Dashnaksutyun and Hunchakian organizations opening branches everywhere and speeding up their propaganda activities.

All of these developments required Abdulhamid II to be precautious. Abdulhamid II was seeing the intense pressure on the Balkans and was aware of the obligation of holding Ottoman Rumelia together as a whole. For this reason, he wanted to keep the Eastern provinces and all of Anatolia tightly in his hand and turn these places into the last fortresses of Islam. Also the fact that European countries had put forward their idea of establishing an Armenian state in the east in this period caused Abulhamid to take such a precaution. After the ’93 War and the occupation of the entire Caucasia by the Russians, Anatolia became both the center of the empire and the chamber where immigrants from the Balkans and Caucasia gathered. The fact that the Russians settled in the Kars and Ardahan regions at the end of the 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian War caused Armenians to start activities targeting all Eastern Anatolia; this situation caused the reaction of the Muslim people who held the majority and it also caused the activities of nomad tribes to get intensified. It can be said that while Abdulhamid II was establishing the Hamidiye Troops and arming the tribes, he planned to use these as a deterrent force against those allying with the foreigners as well as to use them for a war in the future (Kodaman, 2011: 350-352).

Ilustration 1895 No 2727-7

Ilustration 1895 No 2727-7

II. Abdülhamid Hamidiye alaylarını kurarken merkezi Erzincan’da olan IV. Ordu Komutanı Müşir Zeki Paşa’nın yaptığı tekliften de etkilenmiştir. Müşir Zeki Paşa Rus-Kazak Alaylarını yakından tanımadığından dolayı Hamidiye Alaylarının kurulması fikrinin oluşmasında II. Abdülhamid üzerinde etkili olmuştur (Gürhan, 2006, s. 835). Buna göre Sultan Abdülhamid’in fikir ve düşüncelerine önem verdiği, Şeyh Şamil’in torunlarından Müşir Mehmet Zeki Paşa, Van, Erzurum ve Bitlis taraflarına yaptığı bir seyahat dönüşünde Padişahın “Anadolu’yu nasıl buldun?” sorusuna şu cevabı vermiştir: “Padişahım, Anadolu her bakımdan tamamen ihmal edilmiştir. Hududumuzun öbür tarafındaki Moskoflar ise, bize örnek teşkil edecek derecede gayret göstermektedirler. Mesela bir Kazak teşkilatları var ki, hakikaten örnek alınmağa değer. Ruslar, hudutları içindeki aşiretlerden çok istifade ediyorlar. Bunları silah altına almıyorlar ama yılda bir buçuk ay belli bir yerde topluyorlar, talim ve terbiyeye tabi tutuyorlar ve sonra hepsini yine serbest bırakıp evlerine gidiyorlar. Bağ, bahçe ve tarlalarında, sürülerinin başında çalışma imkânı veriyorlar” (Aytar, 1992, s. 53-54).

When Abdulhamid II was establishing the Hamidiye troops he got influenced by the offer of Müşir Zeki Pasha who was the fourth Army Commander in Erzincan. As Müşir Zeki Pasha did not closely know the Russian-Kazakh Troops he was influential on Abdulhamid II for the idea of creating the Hamidiye Troops (Gürhan, 2006: 835). Müşir Mehmet Zeki Pasha, whose opinions and thoughts the Sultan gave importance to and who was from the grandchildren of Sheikh Şamil, replied to the question of the Sultan “How did you find Anatolia” after his travel to the regions of Van, Erzurum, and Bitlis as follows: “My Sultan, Anatolia has been neglected in all aspects. Muscovies on the other side of our borders, on the other hand, give their all in a way to constitute an example for us. For example, they have such a Kazakh organization that it is worth of being taken as a model. The Russians greatly benefits from the tribes within their borders. They don’t call them to arms but they gather them in a certain place for one and half month in a year, give them instructions and educations and then leave them free and let them go to their homes. They give them the opportunity of working in their own lands and with their flocks”(Aytar, 1992: 53-54).

Right after these expressions of M. Zeki Pasha, the establishment of the Hamidiye troops started with the command of the Sultan. We can actually talk about the influence of Şakir Pasha from the officers of the Yıldız Palace on the establishment of the Hamidiye troops. Şakir Pasha also closely knew the Russian-Kazakh troops and became influential in the development of the idea of the Hamidiye troops (Karaca, 1993: 174).

With the establishment of the troops, as well as the military benefits, which were aimed at, it was also thought that the people of the region would develop in the way of a civilization. In this way, the life levels of nomad tribes would get higher within the laws and orders of the state. The children of the tribes would be educated through the primary schools in accordance with the lifestyles of the tribes. Thanks to these troops, the Russian border would be secured, Armenian riots would be prevented, and the security of the region would be ensured. The Hamidiye troops to be established as an organization securing the security and the order of the region would also be used against the illegal actions of the tribes.

Among the purposes of establishment of the Hamidiye troops, reducing the authority of the sheiks in region should also be mentioned. Tribe leaders were able to be taken under control more easily as compared to the sheiks (Olsen, 1992: 35). In this way, Abdulhamid II would be able to strengthen his authority in the region by taking the tribes under his control.

The plans and projects of the establishment and organization of the troops planned in such a theoretical framework were prepared by a committee including Şakir Pasha in Istanbul. When the formation of the troops became the topic of discussion, an amnesty was granted to the tribe members about whom a prosecution was started before, due to the abuse of laws and orders. Şakir Pasha thought that the people who were engaged in illegal activities despite the amnesty should not have been ignored. Şakir Pasha said as follows on this issue:

“No matter how forgiving the state is, the tribes should behave in accordance with the idea of the formation of the troops. Being a member of the troops should not give them the right to maintain their old bad habits and break the laws in the future. Otherwise, the leading justice foundation of the government would be damaged. Even if such an amnesty was done before, this should not serve as a model for the future events in terms of the protection of the law”

(Karaca: 175).

The Operation of the Hamidiye Light Cavalry Troops

Servet-i Fünun No 115

Servet-i Fünun No 115

The Hamidiye Cavalry troops showed that they would be beneficial after their establishment. This situation disturbed Britain and Russia which hoped for help from the unrest and conflicts in the region and did not avoid provoking Armenians. The Hamidiye cavalry troops were made a subject matter even in the British Parliament. A deputy made a speech meaning that the 4th Army Commandership forced Armenians to supply horses free of charge for the Hamidiye Cavalry troops in the British Parliament’s session on 29 March 1892. The deputy also mentioned that Armenians who didn’t want to give their horses were put under heavy pressure (BOA, Y. A. HUS. No. 258/6).

As it is apparent, Britain wanted to wear the practice out by pointing out its discomfort about the establishment of the Hamidiye Cavalry troops in its own parliament. However, how much did the claims of the British deputy reflect the reality? After such a rumour was spread out, Prime Minister Cevad Pasha asked the 4th Army Commander to research the issue. It was understood as a result of the investigation that no event of taking the horses of Armenians by force took place.

A report of Şakir Pasha also put forth the malicious intentions of foreign countries, especially Britain and Russia on the issue of the Hamidiye Cavalry troops:

“It is apparent that the Hamidiye Cavalry troops put a steel barricade before the malicious intentions of Armenian mischiefs and some foreigners who want to plot mischief in the region. Even though Kamil Pasha and some old statesmen criticise these troops, the objection of foreigners to the troops is the indicator of how accurate this practice is. Our Sultan created this organization by eliminating all kinds of difficulties. While all Kurds and tribes under the command of the 4th Army were in a state of disorder, these troops became a strong security power when we connected them to our government under the name of the Hamidiye Cavalry soldiery. An event possible to turn into a conflict between two tribes was solved with a telegraph sent from the 4th Army commandership thanks to the connection of tribes to the Hamidiye organization. The problem of a British girl disappearing on the Iran border was also similarly solved thanks to the connection to the Hamidiye troops.

Thanks to the census, many people who were not recorded emerged. Some Kurds and Bedouin Arabs who would not think of loyalty to the state, let alone being soldiers before, sincerely adopted the articles of the sultan’s legal code and started to compete among each other for the loyalty and obedience. The benefits of the organization brought the cavalry troops considered as the only reason of the military victories apart from the times of peace to a level where European countries could not reach.

In this way, armies without expenses were created. If we think that there were twenty five thousands soldiers and animals only in forty six cavalry troops, the power created can be better understood. Although the powers which have interests in Anatolian land criticized this organization, the abolishment of an organization which came to this point makes very bad effects”

(Süphandağ, 2012, s. 92-94).

Abdulhamid II also mostly agreed with the opinions of Şakir Pasha. He, therefore, ordered the number of Hamidiye Cavalry troops to be raised to hundred with a command he gave in July of 1892 (BOA, Y.PRK. BŞK., no. 26/73).

A large-scale Armenian riot broke out in Taluri in 1894. The Ottoman Empire chose to quell the continuance of the riot. For this a military operation was arranged. The action was like the operation of a natural process. There was a riot in a region and the state was using military power to quell that riot. However, Britain, which has been having an attitude against the Hamidiye troops, wanted to intervene in the problem. In October of 1894, the British ambassador wrote a letter with an inscription saying that it is very urgent and important to the Ottoman government. In the letter Britain was mentioning the Armenian events in Taluri and stating that it didn’t like the way of quelling the riot. They especially criticized that a strict commander was sent to the riot region and demanded that a mild commander is sent to the region if the riot is required to be quelled.

When these claims and demands put forward by Britain were learnt by Sultan Abdulhamid, the Sultan gave a very harsh answer to the presuming demands of Britain (BOA, İ.HR, no. 436/51).

“If there are some people who attempt to do brigandage in a country, there is nothing more natural and necessary than the banishment and nurture of them. When the situation is like this, the expression of Britain ‘if the quelling of rebelling Armenians is necessary’ has been received with astonishment. The command given to Zeki Pasha, the commander of the 4th Army is quite clear. Armenians rioted in Taluri, attacked Muslim villages and burnt them, massacred Muslim leaders and abducted a Muslim girl, and did every kind of vileness. The duty of Zeki Pasha is to arrest these butchers who commit all of these crimes without recognizing any law or order and to punish them. Zeki Pasha left for the region in accordance with the order given to him. Britain should know this. If there is brigandage in a country, determining who is going to command the forces sent against them concerns only that country. A foreign country does not have the right and authority to make a strange demand like ‘appoint a mild commander.’ The characteristic to be looked for here is not if the commander is mild or not, but if he can thoroughly perform the duty given to him or not. As for the issue of the Hamidiye Cavalry troops; these troops are part of the Ottoman military forces and they have been given guard posts. These troops are under the administration of the 4th Army. They drill within an arrangement and have no difference from other Ottoman military forces. Among the officers of these there are active Ottoman officers. The thing that has been done is here is to send three Hamidiye troops and other members of the 4th Army to the region to ensure the public order. During the military operation, the regular army is sent against the brigands and the Hamidiye troops perform their duty of ensuring the public order in the region. Britain has to know this so.”

This point should also be reminded. When the Armenian events broke out, there was a point which Sultan Abdulhamid especially gave importance to. It was that the quelling of the events should definitely be done by security forces. Abdulhamid II never wanted that Muslim people who were attacked reacted back at Armenians and the problem turned into a conflict between civilians. For this reason, he often emphasized on not making civil people get involved in the problem in his orders.

The Armenian events were intensified with the provocations of Russian consuls in Eastern Anatolia. Related to this, Zeki Pasha writes in his writing on 18 June 1893 that the Russian consul of Erzurum wanders around Beyazıt region and tries to gather information about the Hamidiye troops. Within this context, the consul went to the Beyazıt Üçkilise monastery and met the priests here. The priests told the consul that the Hamidiye troops pressured Armenians and Armenians were seized and attacked. Zeki Pasha pointed out in his report that what the priests said was made up and such kind of actions targeted weakening the troop organization and abolishing the troops if possible. Zeki Pasha had mentioned in another report that similar events had taken place. The Russian consul and the committee with him had gone to Kars and stopped by many places in the region while returning to Erzurum. He was getting in touch with Armenians in the places he stopped by and listening to their complaints about the Hamidiye troops. Zeki Pasha had pointed out in his report that such complaints were untrue (BOA, BEO, no. 226/16838).

Russia was maintaining its politics of directing Armenians to riot and the activities of deception of the world public opinion about the events which took place in this period. In the information given to foreign agencies from the Russian embassy in August of 1893, it was stated that members of the Hamidiye troops attacked Armenians, and the Armenians who were scared passed the border and migrated to Russia. The statements of Russian ambassador Nelidov were to attract the attention of the world public opinion. In this way, the perception that Armenians were massacred in Eastern Anatolia would be settled. The 4th Army Commander Zeki Pasha researched the claims of Russians. All of the claims were untrue. The developments which took place in the Hamzaşeyh and Yoncalı villages were not as they were projected. Hamzaşeyh was made up of 200 households and Yoncalı was made up of 300 households. In these villages where Armenians resided, the people of 15 households in Hamzaşeyh and 10 households in Yoncalı wanted to become Muslims. There was no pressure in this decision by them. Other Armenians living in the villages tried to prevent these people from converting to Islam and they provoked them in various ways. For this tense atmosphere some gendarme forces were sent to the villages. In the meantime, some troublesome Armenians went to the Russian border and they were rejected from there. The events taking place were things like this and the claims of the Russian ambassador were invalid (BOA, BEO, no. 270/2024).

The terror created by the Armenian organizations in the region had reached severe dimensions. The organizations carried out many activities such as attacking Armenian villages with Kurdish clothes, committing murders, breaking out riots, closing down the shops of Armenian shopkeepers, threatening Armenians who didn’t cooperate with them, and engaging in some activities provoking Muslims. The government was aware of these and was trying to take some precautions. Sultan Abdulhamid II explained the targets of terrorist organizations as follows (Engin 2013: 46):

“It is apparent that those causing the events aimed at making Muslims engage in some activities against Armenians by provoking the Muslim people and inviting foreign countries to intervene in if they succeeded in this.”

Consequently, the Hamidiye Cavalry troops disturbed Russia ever since their establishment and Russia didn’t avoid propagating against these troops. They developed the discourse that these troops suppressed Armenians as the most valid method in this context. Within the framework of this discourse, applications were being made to Ottoman officials and the abolishment of the troops and punishment of troop members were being demanded. These claims mostly came to be false. The fact that Russia, and then Britain, often expressed their discomfort in this way was an indicator that the Hamidiye Cavalry troops were actually useful. The existence of public order in the region, thanks to the troops, prevented the efforts of Russia to encourage Armenians to rebel. In conclusion, we can say that the Hamidiye troops carried out the function expected from them.


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