On March 3rd, 1924, the Ottoman Caliphate, which had spanned almost 600 years, was abolished by a vote in the Turkish National Assembly.
A caliphate is an Islamic state headed by a Caliph – an individual who is regarded by others as the religious successor to Muhammad and the leader of the entire Islamic faith. Throughout history, many groups have established Caliphates – most recently, the Sunni extremist group known as ‘ISIS’ announced a Caliphate over an area encompassing various Middle Eastern territories including Iraq.
The abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate 97 years ago stemmed from the transition of the Ottoman Empire into the Turkish republic. The Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922) saw the advancement of Turkish nationalist groups, in terms of both military victories and in public opinion. By the end of the conflict, the Caliph’s authority had declined to the point that the newly appointed Caliph Abdülmecid II held a purely ceremonial role for the duration of his short-lived reign (1 year, 3 months and 14 days).
In the early 1920s, Turkish nationalists enjoyed great success in elections to parliament and, in 1923, were successful in securing formal recognition of a Turkish republic and new borders through the Treaty of Lausanne. The newly founded Turkish Grand National Assembly quickly moved to abolish the Caliphate.
Your office, the Caliphate, is nothing more than a historic relic. It has no justification for existence. It is a piece of impertinence that you should dare write to any of my secretaries!
- – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, 1st President of Turkey (1923-1938)
The abolition of the Caliphate, on March 3rd, 1924, resulted in the exile of all members of the Ottoman House and the Caliph himself. While this move was partially based on the nationalist’s secular and progressive ideology – not to mention their fundamental opposition to remnants of the Ottoman Empire – it was enabled by the actions of two pro-Caliph Indian brothers. These men had distributed pamphlets across Turkey calling for the defence of the Caliph. The government condemned this as foreign intervention and a threat to state security. The Turkish Grand National Assembly promptly retaliated by abolishing the Caliphate.
Many people are of the view that history often repeats itself. In 1924, nationalism shook the world and in 2017, it continues to do the very same. Read more on the resurgence of nationalism in global politics: