(TURKEY and ISLAM, 1876-1930 – continued)
In 1911, Italy warred against the Ottoman Empire for the possession of what was then a part of the Ottoman Empire: Libya. Italy won this war, which demonstrated the weakness of the Ottoman Empire. Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece wanted the Ottomans out of Europe, and they overcame their differences as to how Ottoman holdings in Europe were to be divided. Bulgaria and Serbia were demanding autonomy for Bulgarians and Serbs within the empire, and Greece was calling for the liberation of oppressed Christians – Greeks – living within the Ottoman Empire. Montenegro joined in the opposition against the Ottoman Empire, and in October, 1912, these four powers mobilized for war, for territory they believed was theirs. Germany backed the Ottoman Empire, and France backed Serbia.
In the war that followed, the Ottoman Empire suffered defeats. Enver Pasha and his former coup associates, who had left government, were unhappy over the losses. On December 3, Sultan Mehmed V and the cabinet leader, Muhtar Pasha agreed to an armistice. Students unhappy with weakness against their country's enemies were demonstrating in the streets of the capital, in tune with Enver and his associates. The Muhtar government appeared to be on the verge of giving up the city Edirne, also known as Adrianople (100 miles west and a little north of Constantinople) when, in early January, Enver Pasha led others in another coup against the government. Ideals had given way to what was seen as the priority of national survival. Enver and his clique claimed absolute power and went with an army to defend control over Edirne.
Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia began fighting among themselves, and the warring ended with Enver's regime still in control of Edirne but exhausted from war. The Enver regime was forced to give up control of a portion of Albanian-populated land, which was to become Albania (holding less than half of the Balkan's Albanians). It lost control over Macedonia, and the city of Salonika (Salonica) was now under Greek control, after 482 years of Ottoman control of that city. The Ottoman Empire now extended into Europe only as far as Edirne.
Turkey was being lead by Enver and associates belonging to the Committee for Unity and Progress (CUP). Elections were held in the winter of 1913-14, but opposition parties did not participate, and the new parliament was docile to CUP.
War broke out among the Europeans in August 1914 – while tensions had been rising between the British and Enver's government. Enver believed that Turkey had suffered losses because of its poor position regarding European alliances, and he viewed the war as opportunity to take back Islamic lands that had been absorbed by one of the Allied powers – Russia. Enver dreamed of reinvigorating the Ottoman Empire. He feared that if Britain, France and Russia won against Germany and Austria-Hungary, they might deprive the empire of more of its territory. So Enver led Turkey into the war on the side of Germany, jeopardizing the Ottoman Empire beyond his imagination.
Turkey helped the Germans bombard Russia on the Black Sea, Russia declared war on Turkey on November 2. France and Britain declared war on Turkey on Nov 5, and Britain found this an opportune time to cut the pretense that the Turks ruled in Cyprus and Egypt – lands that had been nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire but under British authority.
The Turks closed the straits between the Mediterranean and Black Seas, preventing Russia from exporting wheat by way of the Mediterranean Sea or receiving shipments of materials from its allies. To protect its oil wells in the Middle East, Britain moved a military force up the Persian Gulf to Iraq – part of the Ottoman Empire – where it began engaging Turkish forces. And in December, the Turks began an assault into Russia's Caucasus Mountains.
The Turks suffered a disastrous campaign in the Caucasus, and the massacres of Armenians began. The Armenians were blamed for the Caucasus disaster. They appeared to Turks to be siding with the enemy, the Russians. To the Turkish Muslim majority, the war appeared to be a war against the Christians – no matter that they were allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary. German generals were with the Turks, directing the war effort, but with crucial help from one of Turkey's better generals, Mustafa Kemal, the Turks drove the Allies from the Gallipoli Peninsula, successfully defending their capital.
Meanwhile the Turks were failing militarily in the empire's Islamic lands to the south. Enver had hoped that the Egyptians would rally behind the war effort on the side of Islamic unity. Sultan (and caliph) Mehmed had declared a holy war (jihad), but despite much Ottoman propaganda about Islamic unity the impact was minimal. The Arabs revolted against the Ottoman Empire in 1916. In January, 1917, the British drove the last of the Turkish forces from Egypt, opening the way for a British advance to Gaza. In March, the Turks pulled out of Baghdad, and the British moved in. In July, an Arab force with Lawrence of Arabia took control of Aqaba (on the gulf coast at the southern tip of Jordan).
In Turkey, corruption was on the rise among the newly rich, with people selling transportation permits and speculating in goods which the government was supposed to have requisitioned for the public. The public was growing demoralized and hostile toward the Enver government.
Enver was putting more hope in a German victory, but in the fall of 1918 the Germans were falling back on the Western Front in Europe, and under German generals the Turks were falling back on the Southern Front, as the British, in early October, seized Damascus and Beirut. The war appeared lost, and Enver and his associates stepped down from power around October 8, with Enver not staying to see what the Allies would do with him. The Sultan, Mehmed V, had died in July, and on October 30, the Ottoman Empire, under a new Sultan, Mehmed VI, and a new cabinet, led by Izzert Pasha, agreed to an armistice. And the Allies believed that they were in a position to do what they pleased with the defeated Ottoman Empire.
Copyright © 2000-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.