From Şikayet to Political Discourse and ‘Public Opinion’: Petitioning Practices to the King-Crane Commission

Yuval Ben-Bassat and Fruma Zachs

Abstract: The King-Crane Commission, named after its two chairs, Henry Churchill King (1858-1934) and Charles R. Crane (1858-1939), was an American investigative commission set up to explore possible political arrangements for the former Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I and the collapse of the Empire. While most research has dealt with the issue of whether the petitions submitted to the King-Crane Commission were a genuine manifestation of ‘public opinion’ or merely manipulations by interested elite parties, this article shifts the focus beyond this debate. We argue that a textual analysis of these petitions can shed light on the transformation of the traditional Ottoman form of appeal into a modern political tool used to recruit and generate ‘public opinion’ and foster modern political discourse. We first present a historical overview of petitioning in the Ottoman Empire and the key changes in petitioning practices in the last half of the nineteenth century. We then discuss the King-Crane petitions and highlight their differences from traditional petitions, as well as their contribution to the emerging national discourse in Greater Syria. We show that petitions shifted toward stances that were more ideological and political in nature, a development that coincided with the collapse of the Empire.

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