The Young Turks were an incredibly diverse group of Turkish citizens who rebelled against Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II and his extremely authoritarian government in the early 20th century. They are often credited with laying the groundwork for the modernization of the Ottoman Empire, and they played a very important role in Turkish history. The association of the Young Turks with radical ideas and revolutionary change is so widespread that the term is often used in slang to refer to groups of youthful and politically active individuals who agitate for change.
The origins of the Young Turks lie in 1889, when an atmosphere of quiet dissent began to spread throughout the Ottoman Empire, among students and disaffected members of the military, primarily. After a brief period of constitutional government from 1876-1878, the Sultan suspended the Turkish Constitution, causing a great deal of unrest among many Ottoman citizens. The Young Turks began meeting in small cells to talk about the creation of a secular, constitutionally based government as an alternative to Turkey's existing monarchy, and the movement quickly spread until 1906, when they came out in the open and began to actively agitate for change.
Two years later, the Young Turk Revolution took place, restoring the Turkish Constitution and disenfranchising the Sultan. They instituted a number of reforms, some of which were extremely progressive. In 1913, a coup took place, displacing a number of “Old Turks” from power and firmly establishing the position of the “Three Pashas,” three men who ruled Turkey until the end of the First World War.
The Young Turk Revolution established a sense of Turkish nationalism and pride. Their reforms to the Turkish government and general opinion helped Turkey enter the 20th century, and set the stage for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his Republic of Turkey, which rose from the ashes of the dismantled Ottoman Empire after the First World War. The modern Turkish state would probably be a very different place if the Young Turks had not mustered the courage to act. a
While the Young Turks certainly set radical reforms in Turkey in motion, they also destroyed the Ottoman Empire with poor foreign policy decisions, starting with the disastrous choice to enter the First World War on the side of Germany. Historical evidence also shows that the Three Pashas were responsible for the mass murder and deportation of Armenians during the First World War which came to be known as the Armenian Genocide.