Abdul Hamid II

Nation: Turkey


Birth Date: September 22, 1842
Turkey Abdul Hamid II Sultan Cover
[1917 Book] Serbian Minister Vouches for His Character
[1922 Book] German Crown Prince Recalls His Hospitality
[1917 Book] Serbian Minister Vouches for His Character
From The Memoirs of a Balkan Diplomatist (1917) by Cedomilj Mijatovic (1842-1932):

In 1900, I was transferred from London to Constantinople as Serbia's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Sultan Abdul Hamid.

In Constantinople I met many interesting men. But the most interesting of them all was Sultan Abdul Hamid [Abdul Hamid II], not because he was Sultan, but because he was somewhat a fascinating personality apart from his position. I know well that he was far from popular in England, that the massacre of the Armenians in Constantinople in 1892 was attributed to his own orders, and that he was accused of abandoning the traditional Anglophile policy of Turkey and replacing it by a Germanophile policy. The latter accusation was well founded. But I cannot honestly say as much of the former, although I have met several well-informed diplomats who were in Constantinople during the massacres and who were inclined to believe that the signal came from the Yildiz Kiosk, the Palace in which Abdul Hamid resided.

I saw Abdul Hamid fairly often and had prolonged conversations with him, but I never once gained the impression that I was talking to a bloodthirsty monster. On the contrary, he appeared to me always a kind-hearted, God-fearing, quiet, patient man, loving music, poetry, and philosophy. It is true I found him also and that to my own cost a sly and slimy Oriental diplomatist, very difficult to be dealt with by modern European methods.

I happened to win the Sultan's good graces when, in presenting the accrediting letter from my Sovereign, I expressed my belief that his Majesty, following the example of his ancestors, the former Sultans, who always tried to do justice, would deal equitably with the Serbs under his sceptre. On a later occasion he told me that he was pleased to hear a foreign diplomatist speak reasonably of his forefathers.

"We Turks know," he remarked, "that all our Sultans have tried to do justice, but you are the first foreign diplomatist who has acknowledged that fact!"

"That is," I answered, "because I am not only a diplomatist, but also something of a historian, and I can prove my statement to be an historical fact!"

How shrewd Abdul Hamid could be I had a hint of from King Milan [Milan I of Serbia]. King Milan abdicated in February 1889. He, who so far had been an atheist, was seized suddenly and to me, as one of his intimate friends, quite inexplicably with the idea of spending Easter in Jerusalem. On his return, speaking to me of the Sultan, he said: "I will show you what a clever diplomatist and generous man Abdul Hamid is. On my way to Jerusalem I had to pass through Constantinople and, of course, was bound to visit the Sultan. As his vassal I had rebelled twice against him, my Suzerain, and really provoked Russia's attack on Turkey in 1876, so I wondered what my reception would be. I expected him to be formal and cold. I knew I had no right to anticipate more than bare indispensable courtesy. Judge of my surprise to find Sultan Abdul Hamid waiting for me on the threshold of the Yildiz Kiosk and greeting me with this most unexpected speech: 'I receive with pleasure under my roof the man who has reestablished Serbia in her ancient dignity as a Kingdom. We know well how much the Serbs contributed in old times to the greatness and glory of the Ottoman Empire! So I greet you as a Sovereign who has done his duty to his people!' I was moved almost to tears by those generous words. I understood him practically to say: 'Yes, you rebelled twice against me, but you did it conceiving it to be your duty to your people!'" King Milan appeared touched even while relating the incident to me.

I once saw Abdul Hamid in a fine philosophical mood. On the day on which I received King Alexander's [Alexander I of Serbia] telegram announcing his engagement to Madame Draga Mashin. The Sultan, late in the evening, sent an aide-de-camp with a royal carriage to convey me to his presence in Yildiz Kiosk. There he inquired whether I had obtained more details about the engagement of my King, whether I personally knew Madame Mashin, and whether it were true that she was older, and, if so, how many years older than the King. I told him that I knew her when, as Mademoiselle Lunyevitsa, she married my own Secretary (of the mining department of the Ministry of Finance), Svetozar Mashin, and that she must be eight or nine years the King's senior.

When he heard that I had a good photograph of her at the Legation, he asked me to fetch it at once. When I handed it to him he gazed upon it for a minute or two, and then said: "Yes, she seems to have beautiful eyes. But it is clear that she, is not very young. I wonder what strange folly has seized your King. When he came to visit me two or three years ago he seemed an intelligent young man and won all my sympathy. But where is his intelligence now? Oh, it seems to be folly!"

I ventured to say, "I cannot explain it, much less defend it, for the King himself told me, only three months ago, that he was to go in June with his father to see a young, beautiful, and highly cultured German Princess, in order to become engaged to her."

"Strange! Strange!" the Sultan muttered, and then fell silent as though lost in thought. After two or three minutes he suddenly rose from the sofa, brushed his forehead with his left hand, pushed his fez slightly back on his head, and observed, "But, after all, Monsieur le Ministre, what right have we to criticise the action of the young King of Serbia? Do we not know that even men of ripe age, great experience, and strong will are poor and helpless creatures when in the company of the woman they love? Certainly we have no right to be astonished or to find fault with Alexander. Therefore, Monsieur le Ministre, do not report to your King any of my earlier utterances, but wire that I had summoned you to express my congratulations and best wishes for his happiness with the wife of his choice!"

I was surprised and pleased with that bit of philosophy about the weakness of even the strongest man when in love.

Mijatovic, C. (1917). Sultan Abdul Hamid. In The memoirs of a Balkan diplomatist (pp. 81-85). London: Cassell and Company.
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[1922 Book] German Crown Prince Recalls His Hospitality
From Memoirs of the Crown Prince of Germany (1922) by Crown Prince Wilhelm (1882-1951):

The picture that awaited my brother Eitel Fritz and me as we arrived at Constantinople on board the English yacht "Sapphire" on a wonderful spring morning, was absolutely enchanting; and the events of the few days during which we were guests at the Golden Horn augmented the impression that we were dreaming a dream out of the "Arabian Nights."

Shortly after our arrival in the harbor, the Sultan's favorite son came to welcome us in the name of his father; and towards noon the Estrogul Dragoons - excellent-looking troops on small white Arabs - escorted us to the Yildiz Kiosk, where the Sultan received us at the head of his General Staff and his court suite,

Abdul Hamid was an exceptionally fascinating personality - small, bow-legged, animated, a typical Armenian Semite. He was exceedingly friendly, I might almost say paternal, towards us.

We were quartered in a very beautiful Kiosk of the enormous palace buildings of the Yildiz. About half an hour after we had occupied our rooms, the Sultan came to pay us a return visit. He arrived in a little basket-chaise, driving the nimble horses himself and followed on foot by his entire big suite. This included many elderly stout generals, and as the Sultan drove at a trot and these good dignitaries were determined not to be left behind, their appearance when they got to the palace was anything but ravishing.

The rules of the country permitted Abdul Hamid to speak nothing but Turkish; consequently, our conversations with him had to be interpreted sentence by sentence and were excessively wearisome. Moreover, the old gentleman understood our French perfectly, and when I happened to tell him some humorous anecdote or other, it was most amusing to see him laughing heartily long before the dragoman, with the solemnity of a judge, had given him the translation.

In the evening a banquet was to be given in our honor. Where this was to take place no one knew at first, since the Sultan's fear of would-be assassins was so great that he took the precaution to keep the time and place of such festivities secret as long as possible. At the last minute, therefore, and much to the confusion of the marshals of his court, he issued the command for the dinner to be given in a great reception-room.

The Sultan and I sat at the head of an interminably long table. Everyone else, including my poor brother, had to sit sidewise so as to face the Padishah; there was not much chance of eating anything, but the sight of the Sultan is as good as meat and drink to a believing Mohammedan.

It struck me that my exalted host was wearing a very thick and badly fitting uniform, till a sudden movement on his part revealed to me the fact that he had a shirt of mail concealed underneath it. In conversation he evinced great interest in all German affairs and proved to be thoroughly informed on the most varied subjects; we discussed naval problems, the recent results of Polar research, the latest publications on the German book market and, above all, military questions.

The days that followed were no less interesting than the first. We visited the sights of the city and its environs, and the old gentleman displayed a touching care for our welfare.

On the last day of our sojourn he invited us to a private dinner in his own apartments. The only other people present were my attendants, the German ambassador and the Sultan's favorite son. The Sultan, who was very fond of music, had asked me to play him something on the violin. The Prince accompanied me on the piano, and we played an air from "Cavalleria Rusticana," a cavatina by Raff and Schumann's "Traumerei." Then there followed an affecting incident. As a surprise for the old gentleman, I had practiced the Turkish National Anthem with my army doctor, Oberstabsarzt Widemann; and as soon as we had finished playing it, the Sultan, who seemed to be deeply moved, flung his arms about me; then, at a sign from him, an adjutant appeared with a cushion on which lay the gold and silver medal for arts and sciences, and this the ruler of all the Ottomans pinned to my breast. Then he showed us his private museum containing all the presents received by him and his ancestors from other European Princes. Here, among a great quantity of trash, were grouped a number of beautiful and valuable articles. Thus, I recall an amber cupboard presented by Frederick William I.

This meeting with old Abdul Hamid has remained for me one of the most interesting encounters that I have ever had with foreign princes.

Wilhelm. (1922). Student life. In Memoirs of the crown prince of Germany (pp. 48-51). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
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