The Young Turks were a Turkish nationalist reform party, officially known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) — in Turkish the Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti — whose leaders led a rebellion against Sultan Abdul Hamid II (who was officially deposed and exiled in 1909). They ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1908 until the end of World War I in November 1918.
The Young Turks had their origins in secret societies of progressive university students and military cadets, driven underground along with all political dissent after the constitution was abrogated by the Sultan. Like their European forerunners, such as the carbonari of the Italian Risorgimento, they typically formed cells, of which only one member might be connected to another cell. From the spontaneous bloodless revolution in Saloniki that led to the old pasha's resignation, the CUP was a force to be reckoned with.
In 1913, as the government was losing the Second Balkan War, the CUP seized power. The CUP-led government was headed by Minister of the Interior/Grand Vizier, Mehmed Talaat (Talaat Pasha, 1874–1921). Working with him were Minister of War Ismail Enver (Enver Pasha, 1881–1922) and Minister of the Navy Ahmed Djemal (Dejmal Pasha, 1872–1922). Until German archives were opened, historians treated the CUP government as a dictatorial triumvirate; now it appears that the party was riven by internal dissent and loosely guided by a large directorate of the party's Central Committee. Ottoman territory was splintering away at the edges: Bosnia-Herzegovina annexed by Austria-Hungary (1908), Libya and the island of Rhodes by Italy (1912), a rebellion in Albania, rumors of French designs on Syria. With the example of Egypt as a warning, the Young Turks needed to modernize the Empire's communications and transportation networks (which still relied on camel caravans), without putting themselves in the hands of European conglomerates and non-Muslim bankers. Europeans already owned the paltry railroad system (5991 km of single-track railroads in the whole of the Ottoman dominions in 1914) and since 1881 administration of the defaulted Ottoman foreign debt had been in European hands. The Ottomon Empire was virtually an economic colony.
Rebuffed elsewhere by the major European powers, the Young Turks, through highly secret diplomatic negotiations, led the Ottoman Empire to ally herself with Berlin during World War I. The Empire's role as an ally of the Central Powers is part of the history of that war. With the collapse of Bulgaria and Germany's capitulation, the Ottomon Empire was isolated. On October 13, 1918, Talaat and the CUP ministry resigned, and an armistice was signed aboard a British battleship in the Aegean at the end of the month. On November 2, Enver, Talaat and Djemal, with their German allies, escaped from Constantinople into exile.
Public assurances of equal treatment for the Empire's non-Muslim minorities that had been given in 1908 had evaporated once the Young Turks were in power. Even among the Islamic majority, it was the Turkish-speaking segment of the Empire that was in control. In 1915 the Young Turks came down hard on Arabic secret societies in Damascus, as well as persecuting the Armenian minority between 1915 and 1918 (see Armenian Genocide for details). Soghomon Tehlirian, whose family was killed in the Armenian genocide, assassinated the exiled Talaat in Berlin and was subsequently acquitted after a jury trial. Djemal was similarly killed by Stepan Dzaghikian, Bedros Der Boghosian and Ardashes Kevorkian in Tbilisi, Georgia. Enver was killed in combat against the Red Army near Baldzhuan in Tajikistan (then Turkistan)
Since 1908, "Young Turks" has become a nickname for any brash group of young usurpers and subsequently passed into general usage: eg "Ash were the Young Turks of the Britpop scene". The term's association with the Armenian genocide, as details of the massacres eventually surfaced, has caused it to fall out of favor.
This usage is likely also the foundation for the title of the Rod Stewart hit song from the early 1980s.