The Lynch Concession
The government’s plan to offer a commercial concession to a foreign enterprise in Iraq triggered a political crisis that pitted Iraqi and a number of other Arab deputies against the government and culminated in the resignation of Grand Vizier Hüseyin Hilmi Pasha. A British navigation company, Lynch Brothers, had operated on the Tigris since 1839. More than a commercial venture, the Lynch Company signified Britain’s interests in this critical region between its Egyptian and Indian possessions. Toward the end of 1909 the Ottoman government considered the proposed merger of the Ottoman Hamidiye Company (also operating on the Tigris) with Lynch, which would have given the latter a long-term monopoly over river transportation. The Unionists for the most part favored the merger in the hope of receiving a much-needed loan from the British government in return for the concession. Some Arab deputies interpreted this as a lack of governmental concern for the empire’s Arab territories. They opposed the expansion of British influence in the area, which would not only undermine local trade but also expose the region further to the Anglo-German rivalry in that part of the empire.
Hüseyin Hilmi Pasha pressed for the endorsement of the merger. Earlier in his career Hüseyin Hilmi had served as mutasarrıf in Karak and in Nablus. In 1898 he had been sent to Yemen to undertake reforms and establish government authority. He did not distinguish himself and was removed from that post in 1902. Immediately following this inglorious service he was appointed inspector of Rumelia. The Arabic Al-khilafa (London) had expressed astonishment about his new appointment and written that Hüseyin Hilmi Pasha’s governorship in Yemen was clearly responsible for the worsening of the situation in that troubled province. The perception of disservice in the Arab provinces may have reinforced Arab opposition to him.
Hilmi Pasha was only implementing the Committee’s decision. The CUP’s material need for loans and the psychological need for the political support of the liberal European powers were such that it was willing to recognize the British monopoly in the two rivers, which already existed de facto, in return for closer relations. The Committee failed to predict the reaction of local elements, whose economic and political interests the concession jeopardized. By acting in the face of local demands the government not only allowed a political issue to manifest itself as a national one but also set a precedent for Britain to aggravate such differences in an ethnically divisive direction. The concession was opposed by Iraqi deputies, Unionist and non-Unionist alike, including Tanin’s Babanzade İsmail Hakkı. All but four Arab deputies abstained in the vote of confidence that the Chamber granted Hüseyin Hilmi Pasha. Despite the vote in his favor, the grand vizier resigned his post. Mahmud Shawkat Pasha, an Iraqi himself and like many officers not a friend of Britain, most likely threw his weight for Hüseyin Hilmi’s resignation following the vote.
There was a growing need in the CUP for a grand vizier who was better versed in foreign affairs and someone who could accommodate the will of the Committee and the quest of the army, led by Mahmud Shawkat Pasha, for a greater share of political power. The choice fell on İbrahim Hakkı Pasha, who was serving as ambassador in Rome. Having received his education in the Mülkiye and served in several diplomatic and administrative posts, he offered wide experience and promise to deal with pressing issues confronting the government such as the search for loans, the related Lynch question, and insurgency in different parts of the empire. İbrahim Hakkı had worked on commissions that regulated commercial and diplomatic relations with foreign countries before serving in Young Turk cabinets as minister of education and later minister of the interior. In his new cabinet he appointed Mahmud Shawkat as the minister of war. İbrahim Hakkı’s first task was to reverse his predecessor’s decision in the Lynch affair.
The crisis over the Lynch concession lasted only two weeks, and when it ended the initiative for merger was scrapped. The crisis revealed much about the state of imperial politics. It pointed to the CUP’s ineptitude in formulating policy and judging local reaction. It thus demonstrated that the CUP’s control over both the central and provincial government was incomplete. The Lynch affair was the first time that a local issue was vigorously pressed against the will of the government in the Chamber. There was remarkable unity against the measure in Iraq. The landlords, the merchants, the tribes, Christians, Jews, Arabs, Kurds, Turks, and also the local Committees of Union and Progress all opposed the measure. The Lynch affair gave the fledgling decentralists the opportunity to assert themselves. Future parliamentary leaders of the opposition, such as Lütfi Fikri and Rıza Nur, jumped on the bandwagon. Finally, the Lynch affair revealed that other modes of participatory politics could transcend Parliament. This would not be the first time that a CUP-led vote of confidence failed to forestall a political crisis in the face of extraparliamentary pressures. Local rallies and a petition campaign backed by Iraqi as well as overlapping contingents of Arab and decentralist deputies ultimately obstructed the concession. İstanbul had no choice but respond to pressures from the widening public realm. Interestingly, the Arab deputies would not display similar unanimity in Parliament again. The Lynch crisis developed immediately before the crystallization of parliamentary opposition. Though it partly explains the propensity of the Arabs to join the Moderate Liberals, once ideological divisions between the centralists and the decentralists started to take shape, future political divisions followed those lines.