The Zollverein was a customs union, first forged in 1833, that eventually embraced most of the 39 German states, as well as Norway-Sweden and Luxembourg. Spearheaded by Prussia, the initiative is historically remarkable for being the first time that independent states had forged a full economic union without forming a political federation. The Zollverein foreshadowed the unification of Germany, in 1871, although the exact nature this connection is today disputed by historians.
In the period following the Crimean War (1853-6), Prussia and the other Zollverein states found themselves at a disadvantage with respect to trade and commercial relations with the Ottoman Empire. Britain and France had backed the Sublime Porte in defeating Russia during the late conflict and had obtained a dominant influence over the Ottoman economy, including banking, direct investment and foreign trade. This relationship was aided by the fact that France and Britain had comprehensive free trading rights with the Sublime Porte, while German states could only trade with the Ottoman realms subject to high tariffs and much red tape. At the same time, German companies saw tremendous potential in the Ottoman market, and lobbied Berlin and the other German capitals to sign a trading agreement what would give them access to this vast realm on terms that would allow them to compete with their French and British competitors. In particular, German manufactured goods and expertise in fields such as engineering were of great value in the Ottoman Empire.
In 1861, Prussia, acting on behalf of all the Zollverein states, instructed its embassy in Constantinople to negotiate a comprehensive trade treaty with Mehmed Emin Âli Pasha, the Ottoman Foreign Minister. The terms of this accord were agreed on January 29, 1862, with the final treaty being ratified by Âli Pasha and Johann Ludwig Guide von Rehfues, the Councillor to the Prussian Embassy in Constantinople, on March 20, 1862.
Within, the treaty features 26 articles that frame and regulate the new Ottoman-German relationship, with the view to providing fair and open low-tariff trade.
In the years after the treaty was enacted, German firms did see a noticeable improvement in their trade with the Ottoman Empire. However, the growth in commerce was somewhat tempered by the Ottoman Empire’s economic woes (the imperial treasury defaulted on its foreign debt in 1875, essentially declaring bankruptcy) and military defeats (Russia throttled the Ottomans during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8). Moreover, French and British firms provided stiff competition to German enterprises operating in the Ottoman lands.
Sultan Abdul Hamid II (reigned 1876 – 1909) was personally grateful to German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck for overseeing the Treaty of Berlin (1878), whereby the initial war gains of Russia and her allies against the Ottomans were severely curtailed. The Sultan was also resentful of France and Britain’s exploitatively paternalistic relationship with his country, and while still maintaining cordial relations with Paris and London, actively cultivated new foreign partners, foremost Germany.
It was in this context that the 1862 Ottoman-Zollverein Commercial Treaty was ‘dusted off’. The Zollverein’s trading privileges were assumed by the German Empire (which had been formed in 1871) and were to form the basis for the newly upgraded and intensified Ottoman-German economic relationship.
It was in this context that the Sublime Porte commissioned the present pamphlet, printing the entire text of the 1862 accord in Constantinople in 1882. While the treaty text had previously been printed in statute books and within some journals, to the best of our knowledge the present work is the first separate printing of the treaty. Written in French, the main diplomatic language of the day, it was designed to be intelligible to both senior Ottoman and Germans officials and diplomats who would all have been fluent in that tongue. The work would have been issued in a very small print run, as it was intended only for high-level official use.
Through the 1880s, German companies received more frequent and ever-larger Ottoman government arms and infrastructure contracts, while German banks provided loans and invested in a variety of leading Ottoman private entities. In 1889, Deutsche Bank scored two major coups against the Franco-British establishment in Constantinople when it managed to convince the Sultan to grant it control of both of the Ottoman Empire’s most important railways: the Rumelian Railway (which linked Constantinople to the rest of Europe via ‘The Orient Express) and the Anatolian Railway /later to become the ‘Bagdadbahn’, which aimed to connect Berlin with the Persian Gulf via Constantinople).
Over the next generation, the preference of the Sultan and his ministers for Germany intensified. French and British influence at the Sublime Porte declined, while German banks, arm dealers and industrial concerns assumed an ever-larger role in the empire’s civilian economy and its growing military-industrial complex.
The takeover the Ottoman Empire by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), better known as the ‘Young Turks’ in 1908-9, brought the Ottoman-German relationship to a new level of intensity. This trajectory led both the Ottoman and the German empires to join forces in World War I against the Entente Powers, with famously devastating results. Thus, the 1862 OttomanZollverein Commercial Treaty set in motion series of events that were of the greatest historical consequence.
A Note on Rarity
The present official Ottoman printing of the treaty is very rare. We cannot trace any examples in libraries outside of Turkey.
References: N / A – Rare – No Records found in any Western libraries. Cf. [Re: Period Announcement and text of Treaty:] Memorial des Großherzogthums Luxemburg, Erster Theil, Acte der Gesetzgebung, und der allgemeinen Verwaltung (No. 14), Dinstag, 28. April 1863 (Hamburg, 1863), pp. 129 – 139.