The distinction between decorations and orders is somewhat vague, except that most orders imply a membership into a group. In the case of most Ottoman orders, as with many European orders, that membership was limited in number. Decorations have no such limitations, and are awarded purely to recognize the merit or accomplishments of the recipient.
Ottoman decorations, like the campaign medals, often came in multiple classes. In theory, the higher classes represented additional recognition after earning the lower classes. Unlike the campaign medals, the higher classes were not restricted for officers and high ranking civilians, but in practice the awards of gold Liyakat, Imtiyaz and Sanayi medals was extremely limited. They would not have been conferred on anyone of lower status without that person simultaneously being given a higher station. The military medals - the Liyakat and Imtiyaz medals, were awarded in a specific order of precedence. The lowest was the silver Liyakat, followed by the silver Imtiyaz, then the gold Liyakat and gold Imtiyaz. The War Medal of 1915 ranked below the silver Liyakat.
Statute ribbons for all of the Ottoman decorations are well documented, but it is not uncommon to find examples where the ribbons have been replaced. There also appears to have been some substitution during World War I, with the Sanayi medal being awarded in place of the Liyakat. German medal bars have been seen with the Sanayi medal planchet suspended on a Liyakat ribbon, with the crossed sabers device of the Liyakat medal attached to the ribbon.
Imtiyaz Medal (Imtiyaz Madalyasi)
This medal was instituted in 1882, and came in two classes, gold and silver. The gold Imtiyaz medal was the highest ranking military decoration of the Ottoman Empire. The silver medal ranked above the silver Liyakat Medal, but below the gold Liyakat. The planchet diameter is 37 mm, and bears the Ottoman military coat of arms on the obverse, with its inscription "Relying on Divine Guidance and Assistance, Abdulhamid Khan, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire". The tughra of Sultan Abdulhamid II is at the top. The reverse has an inscription in Ottoman that translates roughly as "Medal for Those That Have Shown Exceptional Loyalty and Bravery for the Ottoman Empire". Below that is a curved rectangular area where the name of the recipient could be engraved, and at the bottom is the date 1300 (1882). A few examples of this medal are known to have been struck with the name of the recipient in raised letters, instead of engraved. These were given to the heads of state of Turkey's allies during World War I. The ribbon of this medal is half red, half green. Awards dating from World War I have a ribbon device, in the same material as the medal itself, consisting of a bar with the year 1333 (1915) above a pair of crossed sabers.
Established in 1889, the Sanayi Medal was a merit medal for arts and sciences, but it appears to have been awarded in a much broader context than that description implies. The name of this medal was originally "Iftihar Madalyasi", which is the same name used earlier for the General Service Medal, but it was later changed to "Sanay-i Nefise Madalyasi" which translates roughly as "Medal of Beautiful Arts." It was generally referred to simply as the Sanayi Medal. Used primarily as a civilian medal for general merit, it was sometimes awarded to military personnel as well. In some cases, the Sanayi medal being is known to have been awarded as a substitute for the Liyakat medal. Most of the recipients were artists and artisans such as personnel of the Yildiz porcelain factory, or performers at the private theater of Sultan Abdulhamid II at the palace. The medal came in two classes, gold and silver. The obverse contains an Ottoman trophy of arms, and the reverse bears a laurel wreath with a space in the center for recipients to have their names engraved. The ribbon is half red, half white.
Liyakat Medal (Liyakat Madalyasi)
The name of this medal translates as "Medal of Merit," which indicates the general nature of its award criteria. Instituted in 1890, the Liyakat Medal became the basic military decoration of the late Ottoman Empire, through the end of the First World War. It was not strictly a military award, however, and could be awarded for general merit in society. In 1905 the statutes were amended to allow women to receive the medal for charitable work, service to mosques or schools, and other decidedly civilian merit. The medal could be inherited by the families of recipients, and heirs could even be allowed to wear the medal upon official approval. The diminutive 25 mm. medal came in both gold and silver classes, suspended from a red ribbon with narrow green side stripes. The obverse bears the ottoman trophy of arms with the sultan's cypher above it. The reverse bears the inscription "Medal of Merit Specially for Those Who Have Shown Loyalty and Bravery," and the date AH 1308 (1890 AD), the date of the founding of the medal. Awards made during World War I bear a ribbon clasp of crossed sabers with the year 1333 (1915), in the same material as the medal itself. Copies of this medal made in Germany and Austria around the First World War are sometimes found with and without the crossed sabers device. These copies are rarer than original pieces, and command a premium among collectors.
Red Crescent Medal (Hilali Ahmer Madalyasi)
Instituted in 1903 to reward services to the Red Crescent (the equivalent of the Red Cross in Islamic countries). The medal is round, 29 mm. in diameter, with a red crescent facing left on a white field enameled in the center of the obverse. Below this is a sprig of laurel, and above it the inscription "Humane Assistance". The uniquely shaped suspension bar bears the tughra of Sultan Mehmed Reshad V below a white enameled bar that reads "Ottoman Red Crescent Association." There is also a bar at the top of the ribbon, enameled white, which is sometimes seen with year designations on the bar, indicating years served with the Red Crescent. This medal came in three classes, gold, silver and bronze. There was also an oak leaf device worn on the ribbons of all three classes (white with a narrow red center stripe), but as this was a unique practice among Ottoman medals it is not clear whether this represented an additional award or a higher level within each class. Recommendations for award of the two lower classes were made by the Executive Committee of the Red Crescent, but only the Sultan himself could recommend a recipient of the first class. This medal continued to be awarded after World War I, until the establishment of the Republic.
1915 War Medal (Harp Madalyasi)
Created in 1915 as an award of merit specific to the current war (World War I), this medal was not a campaign medal, but a medal for military merit. The War Medal was the "entry level" gallantry award of the Turkish military in World War I, ranking below the silver Liyakat Medal. This medal is often referred to by nicknames, such as the "Gallipoli Star" in English, or the "Eiserner Halbmond" (Iron Crescent) in German. The medal is star shaped, approximately 56 mm. across, with ball finials, a raised silver edge and red field in lacquer or enamel. A raised crescent, open at the top, encircles the center of the badge, and inside the crescent is the tughra of Sultan Mehmed Reshad V, over the date "1333" (1915). The back of the medal is blank, with either a horizontal pin brooch or two vertical open hooks to attach it to the left breast of the uniform.
The original issue pieces of this award came in two varieties: silvered brass with red enamel or white metal with thin red lacquer. Those issued to officers were enameled, and were manufactured by a company that used the mark "BB&Co.", an unknown maker reputedly located in Berlin. These "BB&Co." examples are commonly seen on the market today, and have generally been thought to be German made copies, but it appears that "BB&Co." pieces were issued to officers, while the plain lacquered variety (sometimes even seen without any red lacquer at all) were issued to other ranks. "BB&Co." examples in solid silver have also been seen.
This decoration is the only Ottoman decoration which not awarded by authority of the Sultan, but rather was authorized by Enver Pasha, the Commander-in-Chief of the Ottoman military. Thus, the award documents do not bear the tughra of the Sultan. After the war, Sultan Mehmed VI officially recognized the medals as having been awarded by his will. Enver Pasha was by that time a despised outlaw living in exile.
There are a huge variety of German made private purchase examples, which were manufactured by virtually every German court jeweler from the World War I era through the 3rd Reich period. Private purchase badges can be found in silver, white metal, silvered bronze, bronze, and even aluminum, with a variety of pin attachments, screw back attachments, or rings at the top for wear on a medal bar. A few examples of a much larger size are known, almost certainly private purchase pieces.
The statute ribbon was red, 29 mm., with 5 mm. white stripes, 2.5 mm. from each edge for those who earned the medal in combat. For noncombatants, a reverse color scheme was used: white with red stripes. The ribbon was not to be worn with the medal itself, but was to be looped through the second buttonhole of the tunic when the medal was not being worn. However, these often turn up with the ribbon sewn onto the pin on the back, and it appears that this variation on the mode of wear was done during the war. There are also trapezoidal clasps that have been seen, designed to be worn on the ribbon, and bearing the names of various campaigns or theaters of operations during the war. The most commonly seen clasps are "Chanakkale" or "Chanak" (Gallipoli), "Kafkas", "Kanal", "Sana", and "Kut-ul-Ammara". "Irak" has also been seen, but this may be a post-war invention, as the nation of Iraq didn't exist until the Middle East was divided by the allies after the war. These campaign clasps had no official status, but their wear seems to have been accepted at the time of the war.