The threat posed to the survival of the Ottoman Empire by the growing strength of the Greek, Armenian and Bulgarian nationalist organisations, particularly in Macedonia and the eastern provinces, and the failure of the government to respond effectively, provoked a flurry of activity among the Young Turks. In 1902 the Young Turk organisations abroad convened a congress in Paris, designed to unite the movement; but the congress quickly split into two groups: those who believed that the salvation of the empire lay in increased centralisation and those who believed it lay in increased decentralisation and some kind of federal structure. More significantly, in 1906, a group of army officers and civil servants, led by Talaat Bey, the chief clerk in the correspondence division of the Salonika Directorate of Posts, founded a society in Salonika known initially as the Ottoman Freedom Society, and later as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), committed to the reform of the Ottoman Empire and the restoration of the 1876 constitution. Thereafter membership of the society spread rapidly, particularly among the officers of the Second and Third Army Corps, based in Edirne and Salonika; and on 4 July 1908 Ahmed Niyazi (a major in the Second Army Corps), fearful that a military commission despatched from Istanbul to investigate subversion in the army might discover his part in the conspiracy, led some 200 or so of his men and a small band of civilians sympathetic to the cause into the hills above Monastir, calling at the same time for the restoration of the constitution. In the following

weeks similar mutInIes, inspired for the most part by the agents of the CUP, broke out throughout the area; and on 7 July, Shemsi Pasha, one of the high-ranking officers sent from Istanbul to investigate, was assassinated in the streets of Monastir; while troops despatched from Anatolia to suppress the mutiny were persuaded to refrain from firing on their comrades in arms. As a result, on 24 July Abdul Hamid, thus unexpectedly convinced of the urgent need for reform, was persuaded to announce the restoration of the constitution, the principal rebel demand. l

Little is known of the early history of the Ottoman Freedom Society or CUP as it became known. According to a British Intelligence report, it originally employed the 'linked group system', in which groups of five were formed, each group having a leader. 2 The leaders of five adjacent groups then in turn elected a representative, and these representatives another, until the top of the pyramid was reached; though it is unlikely that so rigid a system was ever strictly adhered to. In the early stages the conspirators frequently used membership of a masonic lodge as cover for their activities, thereby persuading the British, in particular, that the movement was largely inspired by jews, socialists and freemasons'.3 Following the Young Turk revolution of 1908 the CUP changed its status to that of a political party, openly arguing its case; and to this end sub-committees or clubs were set up in every quarter of the capital, and in the provinces. Each sub-committee or club was entitled to elect a delegate to attend an annual general council, which together with a central executive committee was responsible for determining policy. Nevertheless, in the years following the revolution power and influence within the committee remained primarily with the army, supported by the police and the gendarmerie, and by a small, select band of fedailer (volunteers, prepared to sacrifice themselves for the cause).