Shattered Dreams of Revolution: Der Matossian Lecture at NAASR


Shattered Dreams 3 book cover

By Aram Arkun

Mirror-Spectator Staff

BELMONT, Mass. — Dr. Bedross Der Matossian, assistant professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, spoke on his newly published book, Shattered Dreams of Revolution: From Liberty to Violence in the Late Ottoman Empire (Stanford University Press, 2014), at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) on November 7. The lecture, presented with slides, was well attended, with approximately 90 people present. Marc Mamigonian, director of Academic Affairs for NAASR, introduced the speaker to warm applause.

Der Matossian spoke about the impact of the 1908 Young Turk revolution on the Armenians, Arabs and Jews of the Ottoman Empire. These three ethnic groups were organized in semi-autonomous bodies called millets. As non-dominant groups of the empire, they benefited from reforms of the 19th century, but many of the reforms were halted by Sultan Abdul Hamid II until the 1908 revolution conducted by the oppositional Young Turk movement. The next ten years constituted what became called the Second Constitutional Period of the empire.

Der Matossian explored the changes in the Ottoman Armenian community created by the revolution. He showed how power passed from the Armenian patriarch to the Armenian National Assembly, with the reinstatement of the Armenian National Constitution. Patriarch Maghakia Ormanian, who was accused of collaborating with the sultan, was replaced, along with many local prelates.

The National Assembly focused on the formation of a commission to investigate Ormanian’s alleged abuses, the situation in the Armenian-populated eastern provinces, and the question of Jerusalem. The Assembly wanted to end provincial oppressions, institute constitutional reforms, and provide aid to famine victims.

The Armenian political parties began to openly organize and operate in the Empire. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation, in alliance with the Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), was opposed frequently by the Social Democratic Hnchagian Party, the Armenian Constitutional Democratic Party and the Reformed Hnchagian Party.

Unlike the Armenian community, the Jews of the Ottoman Empire had greater difficulty in taking advantage of the 1908 revolution to institute progressive millet reforms. However, the grand rabbi was eventually changed. Zionist representatives from abroad began to propagandize and work actively, but came into conflict with the new grand rabbi.

In the Arab provinces, the reaction to the 1908 revolution varied depending on region. Local notables, government officials and religious leaders often felt threatened, while new Arab political movements were born. Der Matossian analyzed in particular the situation in Damascus, Beirut and Mount Lebanon. If in Damascus the CUP was not fully successful in taking power from the notables and Muslim religious leadership, in Beirut the CUP became the most powerful political authority. In Mount Lebanon, a complex struggle between the laity, Maronite clergy and notables led to some reforms.

Der Matossian, in conclusion, contended that the Young Turk revolution, which intended to create secular Ottoman citizens, in fact strengthened ethno-religious political centers among the three peoples studied. The Chief Rabbinate remained the Jewish center of power. The Armenian National Assembly became more important than the Armenian patriarch, though Armenian political parties also gained in influence. In the Arab provinces, it was hard to fully remove ensconced supporters of the ancient regime

In the long run, the non-dominant ethnic groups of the Empire were fated to be disappointed with the CUP, and were too weak to pressure the latter to carry out the reforms they themselves desired. Once disillusioned, they turned to international intervention as an alternative and soon enough the Ottoman Empire “fell victim to the rise of nation-states.”

After the formal lecture, audience questions were answered by the speaker.

Der Matossian, a native of Jerusalem who studied at the Holy Translators School in the Armenian Quarter and graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, obtained his doctorate from Columbia University’s Department of Middle Eastern, Asian and African Studies in 2008 with a thesis titled “Ethnic Politics in the Post-Revolutionary Ottoman Empire: Armenians, Arabs and Jews during the Second Constitutional Period (1908-1909).” From 2008 to 2010 he was a lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Middle East History, and in the spring quarter of 2014 he served as Dumanian Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago.