Military Culture and Late Ottoman Society

In comparison with civil schools, military schools opened earlier, got better buildings and more funding direct from the state treasury, enrolled more students, and did not charge tuition. By contrast, schools opened in the civil system, under the Ministry of State Education, opened more slowly, were built and operated with a greater concentration of local funds, and charged very high tuition fees.

The civil schools were prestigious and drew their students from the families of established Ottoman elites. Tuition was expensive and the schools existed in direct competition to the foreign missionary schools, which the state and its elites saw as a threat. Military education, by contrast, was designed to draw the sons of notable rural and provincial families into the state system, and was an important tool of state integration. Prussia, France, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire also drew military cadets from the rural and provincial middle classes and educated them at minimal expense to their families. By 1900 there were scores of Ottoman military middle and preparatory schools in operation, enrolling tens of thousands of students from Yemen to the Balkans.

People in many rural and pastoral regions had violently opposed the demands of the state for revenue, registration, census-taking, and conscription, but provincial schools became quickly popular and oversubscribed. The policy of attracting the children of influential local families enjoyed rapid success, and by 1897, there were eight provincial military preparatory schools (idadiye), with 2,764 students. Three times as many boys were simultaneously enrolled in military middle schools (rti$diye) throughout the empire.42 By 1899 over 25 percent of the Ottoman Officer corps of 18,000 had been educated and commissioned through the military educational system.43

The Imperial Military Academy in Istanbul was the final educational destination for young men from the provinces. But the military preparatory schools were not the only path to the imperial academies. There was also the A$iret Mekteb-i Htimayun, or the Tribal School, in Istanbul, which recruited the sons of influential nomadic and rural families. The school boarded boys from the provinces and provided a more highly structured curriculum than the provincial schools. The larger provincial schools also boarded students, but the Tribal School operated in the imperial capital and virtually imprisoned students within the school compound. Boys from the ungoverned frontier regions would attend by nomination and once at the school they would undergo a “civilizing” process to turn them into loyal Ottomans. The journey from Iraq, Yemen, the Syrian desert, Hijaz, or Libya to the Tribal School might take more than a month, by land and steamship, after which boys were normally greeted in a special ceremony attended by imperial digni- taries.44 Tribal School students received a heavier dosage of religion, and various types of behavioral conditioning, than students in the regular preparatory schools.45 They received remedial-level basic skills in reading, writing, and languages, to compensate for their lack of preparation relative to other provincial students.

School administrators expected Tribal School students to be illiterate at the time of arrival in Istanbul. And though they began their studies about the age of 12, the first-year curriculum resembled that of a state primary school for 6-year-olds. Most of the provincial middle schools and some preparatory schools also offered remedial courses of study an obvious nod to their function as laboratories of state integration and social leveling. Both Tribal School and provincial school graduates usually matriculated to the Imperial Military Academy in Istanbul. By the time students arrived in the capital they had spent up to nine years in the Ottoman military education system without expense to their families. The increase continued during the last fifteen years of the Ottoman State, as ever more officers came from the military education system, rather than up through the ranks. After the 1908 revolution, and especially after the unsuccessful counter-revolution of 1909, many illiterate senior officers were pensioned off and retired from service. In the period after 1908, educated military officers took their place as a self-conscious and unchallenged state elite.46

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