Mehmed VI: The Last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire

Mehmed VI, the 36th and last sultan of the Ottoman Empire, reigned from July, 1918 to November, 1922. His forced renunciation of the monarchy and subsequent exile paved way for the establishment of the Turkish Republic, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.  Mehmed VI ascended the throne after the death of his brother, Mehmed V.

Mehmed VI was the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire. His departure in 1922 meant that curtains closed in on an empire whose history went as far back as the late 13th century.

Early Years

Born Mehmed Vahideddin in on January 14, 1861 in Dolmabahçe Palace, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), he was the youngest son of Sultan Abdülmecid. He lost both parents at an early age. As a result, he was placed in the care of his stepmother. Tired of her domineering conduct, he left home at the age of 16.

Mehmed grew up around nannies, maids and tutors. He received special education and later attended Faith Madrasa. He studied literature,  music and calligraphy. Mehmed grew up in the Ottoman Imperial Harem, a place he lived during his brother, Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s 33 years of reign.

He was an avid reader and was trained in the naskh script. He also had the passion for the Arabic kanun. He became the heir to the throne  in 1916. With his personal assistant, Mehmed made official visits to Germany and Austria between 1916 and 1917.

Influenced by his late brother, Mehmed  developed a strong dislike for the Young Turks and the national-liberal  Committee of Union and Progress, which would later affect his political decisions. He vehemently contested the Committee’s ideologies as he believed their actions were pushing the empire off the cliff. His protests angered the C.U.P. which kept him under watch. Some members of the Committee even tried to assassinate him.

The turbulent reign of Sultan Mehmed VI

Mehmed ascended the throne on July 3, 1918. His ascension came after the death of his brother Mehmed V, which occurred before the end of WWI. Mehmed was a more dynamic leader than his predecessor. His primary goal was to  preserve the empire; hence, he tried to work out an agreement with the Allies.

The Ottoman Empire, during this period, was confronted with an impending defeat during the WWI. The Allies, uninterested in any negotiations, put forward some rigid conditions in a pact known as the Treaty of Sèvres. On August 10, 1920,  Mehmed appointed a group of representatives to sign the treaty, and by so doing, set a series of actions in motion.

Per the terms of the agreements, Britain, together with allied forces, seized Baghdad, Jerusalem and Damascus. Much of Ottoman’s territory was shared among these European powers.

Following a series of negotiations, the nationalists got Mehmed VI to agree to an elections in late 1919. The results of the elections saw a majority of the nationalists return to the new Parliament to establish a secular nation-state. The nationalist government effected the denunciation of Mehmed VI, after which a provisional constitution was prepared.

In the I920 conference at San Remo, France for instance, was granted an authorization to govern Syria, and Britain was to assume control over Palestine and Mesopotamia.

Following the 1918 Armistice of Mudros and founding of the Allied military administration in Istanbul, the national-liberal Committee of Union and Progress was ousted. Mehmed VI named his brother-in-law as Vizier, and Parliament was indefinitely suspended in April, 1920.

The terms of the Treaty also led to the removal of Ottoman’s control over Anatolia, a reduction in the expanse of Turkey and an recognition of Hejaz as an independent state.

Enraged by these changes, the Turkish nationalists established the Turkish Grand National Assembly, an Atatürk-led nationalist movement. They expanded their military zones in August, 1922, leading to their victory over the Greeks and their succeeding dominance over Turkey.

End of Mehmed VI’s reign

With the Ottoman Sultanate officially ending on November 1, 1922, Mehmed VI became the last Ottoman Sultan. The abolition of the Sultanate was carried out by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. Mehmed VI left the capital on November 17 that year. Image: Mehmed VI exits from the back door of the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul

At the height of the nationalist movement, the strength of its military positions was enhanced in August 1922. Mehmed and his wives could barely leave the palace for fear of being attacked. The Sultanate was deposed on November 1, 1922.  Mehmed VI was subsequently banished from Istanbul.

On November 16, 1922, the deposed ruler sent a note to Sir Charles Harington, governor of Gibraltar, seeking refuge with the Government of Britain. Mehmed VI made efforts to rise again as a ruler in the Hejaz but all attempts failed.

On 16 May, 1926, he died at age 65.

Legacy

Mehmed VI’s obsession with his own survival and the preservation of the empire pushed him to be inconsiderate and inattentive to the needs of his people. His readiness to dissolve Parliament, adopt personal rule, even in the wake of a declining empire, showed his lack of patriotism and unwillingness to make room for a shared and largely democratic system of governance.

Interesting Facts about the Decline of the Ottoman Empire

In the 1500s, the Ottoman Empire was one of the world’s most powerful economies. It presided  over many territories, which included a large part of southeastern Europe. However, from the mid-19th century, the empire began to decline slowly. An administrative system that was once thriving became ineffectual. The people were unhappy because the taxes they paid went into the cushioning of the flamboyant lifestyle of the sultans. At the same time, loans from European banks that were used to fund the Crimean War were being repaid, almost crippling the dynasty.

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