Sever (Nurkan)

Nurkan Sever (Istanbul Medeniyet University), Allegations of Misconduct, Irregularity, and Intimidation in the 1912 Ottoman General Elections Held Within the Baghdad Province

The 1912 Parliamentary Elections occupies a completely distinctive place in the Ottoman Political History due to its dominant character, violated electioneering, and controversial practice. The ‘Committee of Union and Progress’ (İttihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti), which had lost power to the ‘Freedom and Accord Party’ (Hürriyet ve İtilaf Fırkası) in the 1911 By-election for the Istanbul deputy, called for an early general election without losing its sphere of influence any further, and concentrated on consolidating all its available power. In this period, when Unionist governors turned into the predominant instruments of the centralist government, on the other hand, deputies began to become game changers in provincial politics by means of their jurisdiction. Therefore, not jeopardizing its parliamentary majority and not creating a dichotomy between the governors and deputies in provincial administrations, became top priorities for the CUP. In order not to risk losing the election, the party was alleged of choosing to run a manipulative election campaign that went as far as intimidating candidates and voters in some constituencies. In some provinces, it was claimed that the provincial administrators misconducted their offices and interfered in the election campaigns, deputy nomination and voter designation processes. This election was to be referred as ‘battered elections’ (sopalı/dayaklı seçimler)[1], ‘big stick election’[2] or ‘the elections with the stick’[3] due to its coercive and violent reputation.

Contextual Structure

This study will focus on the reflections of the 1912 Ottoman Parliamentary Elections on the Mosul, Baghdad and Basra Provinces that make up Modern Iraq today. The main frame of the study employs the fact of power struggle between Unionist Governors and Non-Unionist Deputy Candidates as the fundamental context. At this point, the study will particularly zoom in to the alleged interventions of the Governors in the electioneering and nomination processes through instructing or attracting the local officials employed at their disposals.[4] It is alleged in the archival materials that some of these officials have neglected their primary duties during these propaganda periods and have spent most of their time in the governor’s offices and CUP branches.[5] The practices of Governor Cemal Bey in Baghdad and Governor Tahir Pasha in Mosul, which allegedly harmed the safety, impartiality, and integrity of the election, will be analyzed as exemplary cases.[6] The allegation of using coercion and violence against second-degree voters (müntehib-i sani) in order to elect Unionist candidates in Mosul was another irregular practice.[7]

Second context to be analyzed in the study is the correlation of tribal-based voters and their proportional weights within constituencies. Along the Constitutional regime, deputies progressively became decisive in matters concerning provincial politics, such as the relations between tribes and community. In the provinces where the tribes had a voice and could display separatist, nationalist or reactionary motives, this situation became much more critical. Aware of this sensitivity, the CUP was likely to have tried to turn it into an electoral advantage where the opponent tribes were not included in the census and not registered as voters. Sadun al-Mansur as the Leader of  Muntafiq Tribal Confederation of Basra Province, strongly objected to the parliamentary elections held in Muntafiq since the tribesmen were not counted and registered as voters.[8] However, the election was not renewed despite the severe objections, and the parliament justified the election in Muntafiq as it was not against the law not to apply for the votes of unregistered tribes in the election of deputies.[9] The same advantage was probably used in other constituencies where tribes were not expected to vote in favor of the Unionist candidates.

On the other hand, the third context on which the study will be built is how the pressure and intimidation on FAP branches by the CUP turned into an electoral strategy. For instance, Unionists’ electoral strategy in Basra was designed against the strong influence and reputation of Deputy Sayyid Talib who was a devoted Arab Nationalist, and the FAP’s rapid rise in the province.[10] A group of deputies led by Sayyid Talib appeared before the Grand Viziership and claimed that the FAP had been prevented from branching out in Basra.[11] This claim, which left its mark on the election in Basra, was swiftly and thoroughly investigated by the central authority but could not be proven in the end.[12]   Nevertheless, in the elections completed on April 1, 1912 in Basra, the CUP became the losing side and FAP candidates Zuhayrzade Abdullah and Sayyid Talib had been the candidates who won two seats.[13] In Baghdad, the FAP had filed very serious allegations against Governor Cemal Bey. Müftizade Muhammed Kamil as one of the founders of the Baghdad FAP Branch, claimed that Governor Cemal Bey left his duty for 3 months in order to ensure that the Unionists won the election.[14] According to his allegations, the Provincial Justice Department was transformed into a de-facto CUP club under his authority, attempted to shut down the FAP branch and intimidated the FAP members through unfounded lawsuits and interrogations.[15] However, the central authority did not consider it necessary to take an administrative measure against Governor Cemal Bey, as he had already resigned from his office.[16] Instead, the complainant was advised to go to court if he had a personal case with Cemal.[17]


The study which will focus on provincial politics and bureaucracy in the context of an allegedly non-democratic election process, will be based mainly on the Ottoman State Archives. However, the existing literature and the press of the period will be partially used where available and appropriate. Although the scope of the study is determined as three Ottoman provinces, it can be supported with examples from different provinces in the Middle East geography. The ideal version of the candidateship, electioneering and the voting procedure will also be examined with reference to the Election Law, regulations, and party by-laws. Based on these contexts, the study will partially focus on the political culture, election processes and voter behaviors of today’s Iraq. The study, which will link the CUP’s political legacy, strategy, and sociocultural codes with Modern Iraq, will thus contribute to the Modern Iraqi Political History as well.

Nurkan Sever has graduated from the Department of International Ottoman Studies at the Istanbul Medeniyet University in July 2021. He is currently at the stage of publishing his master’s thesis titled “The Mosul Incident of 1909 and its Socio-Political, Judicial and Military Consequences” as a book in Turkish Literature. He is also learning German for his doctoral study which he is planning to pursue in Germany by October 2022. Nurkan is interested in Unionist Governors, CUP’s Provincial Bureaucracy, Post-Constitutional Arab Provinces, Post-Constitutional Military Authorities, Law Enforcement and Public Order, German Influence in Ottoman Army and Bureaucracy, Political History of the Middle East and the Modernization of Turkey. He is native in Turkish, fluent in English and Italian and is able to read both printed and handwritten texts in Ottoman Turkish.”

[1] Y. Doğan Çetinkaya, The Young Turks and the Boycott Movement: Nationalism, Protest and the Working Classes in the Formation of Modern Turkey, (New York: I.B Tauris, 2014) p. 212

[2] Myron Weiner, Ergun Özbudun (eds), Competitive Elections in Developing Countries, (Durham NC: Duke University Press,1987) p. 334

[3] M. Şükrü Hanioğlu, A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire, (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press,2008) p. 155,156

[4] BOA, DH.SYS.103/2/Lef 2, 6 Ağustos 1328-19 August 1912; DH.SYS.  83/2/Lef 2, 22 Mart 1328- 04 April 1912

[5] BOA, DH.SYS.103/2/Lef 2, 6 Ağustos 1328-19 August 1912;   DH.SYS.  83/2/Lef 2, 22 Mart 1328- 04 April 1912

[6] BOA, DH.SYS.103/2/Lef 2, 6 Ağustos 1328-19 August 1912;  DH.SYS.  83/2/Lef 2, 22 Mart 1328- 04 April 1912; DH.SYS.  103/2/Lef 35, 29 Teşrinievvel 1328- 11 November 1912

[7] BOA, DH.SYS.103/2/Lef 35, 29 Teşrinievvel 1328- 11 November 1912

[8] BOA, BEO.3891/291792/Lef 1,26 Nisan 1327- 09 May 1911; Lef 3, 24 Nisan 1327- 07 May 1911

[9] BOA, BEO.3891/291792/Lef 1,26 Nisan 1327- 09 May 1911; Lef 3, 24 Nisan 1327- 07 May 1911

[10] TDV İslam Ansiklopedisi, IRAK (العراق) Ortadoğu’da bir İslâm ülkesi.–ulke, Access Date:10.06.2021

[11] BOA, BEO.3983/298665/15 Kanunuevvel 1327- 28 December 1911; BEO.3991/299297/Lef 1, 3 Kanunusani 1327- 16 January 1912  

[12] BOA, BEO.3983/298665/15 Kanunuevvel 1327- 28 December 1911; BEO.3991/299297/Lef 1, 3 Kanunusani 1327- 16 January 1912  

[13] Hamza Dülger, Power Struggle in the Ottoman Empire from the 1912 Elections to the 1913 Ottoman Coup D’etat (1912-1913) Unpublished MA Thesis , Institute of Ataturk’s Principles and History of The Turkish Revolution, Istanbul University, 2019

[14] BOA, DH.MTV. 18/47/Lef 2, 22 Temmuz 1328- 04 August 1912

[15] BOA, DH.MTV. 18/47/Lef 2, 22 Temmuz 1328- 04 August 1912

[16] BOA, DH.MTV. 18/47/Lef 1, 25 Temmuz 1328 – 07 August 1912

[17] BOA, DH.MTV. 18/47/Lef 1, 25 Temmuz 1328 – 07 August 1912

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search