Ottomanism was a political trend popular in the 1870s and 1880s in which loyalty to the sultan was replaced with loyalty to the Ottoman state, the fatherland (vatan). A single Ottoman citizenship was intended to replace religious, ethnic, and linguistic divisions among the Empire’s diverse subjects. Administratively, Ottomanist policies emphasized a strong central state to which all subjects were bound. In promoting religious equality (Tanzimat Reforms), the state assumed control over previously independent community schools with the intention of teaching a common curriculum in order to create uniform citizens, which was vehemently opposed by religious leadership.
Non-Muslims and non-Turks felt threatened by efforts on the part of the state to elide their differences, which had long been preserved under the Empire by the Sultan’s hands-off policy towards loyal ethnic and religious minority groups. Christians, in particular, interpreted Ottomanism as a project meant to impose Islam on their communities, and they increasingly turned to European powers for support (for example, the Maronite community in Syria looked to the French). Thus, Ottomanism unwittingly politicized ethnoreligious difference, raised minorities’ awareness of that difference, and created the conditions for proto-nationalist revolts that ultimately contributed to the erosion of the Empire.
Kemal H. Karpat, “Historical Continuity and Identity Change or How to be Modern Muslim, Ottoman, and Turk,” Ottoman Past and Today’s Turkey, ed. Kemal H. Karpat (Boston: Brill, 2000), pp. 1-28