(TURKEY and ISLAM, 1876-1930 – continued)

home | 1901-WW2 Index

TURKEY and ISLAM, 1876-1930 (2 of 4)

previous | next

Turkey from 1911 to the End of World War One

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 again 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 January 1913, Ismail Enver, one of those who had participated in taking power in 1908, led another coup. He had been a progressive military officer and one of the revolution's heroes. Now he bore the title of pasha and was Enver Pasha. He and his clique put aside the revolution's early ideals and claimed absolute power. Enver led an army to defend the empire's control over the city of Edirne, just inside Europe in Thrace. 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 territory that was to become Albania. The empire had lost control over Macedonia, and Salonika came under Greek control after 482 years of Ottoman control of that city. The Ottoman Empire now extended into Europe only as far as Edirne.

Enver Pasha

Enver Pasha as the War Minister of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

Elections were held in the winter of 1913-14, but opposition parties did not participate, and the new parliament was docile to Enver and what was still called the Committee for Unity and Progress (CUP).

With the outbreak of Europe's Great War in August 1914, Enver saw opportunity to take back Islamic lands that had been absorbed by one of the belligerents – 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.

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 wartime passions and scapegoating led to the massacres of Armenians – despite the original respect for minorities by the Committee for Unity and Progress. During war, enemy categorizing came more easily, and for many among Turkey's Muslims the war appeared to be against 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 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. 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. Sultan Mehmed V had died in July, and on October 30th the Ottoman Empire under a new Sultan Mehmed VI and a new cabinet led by Izzet Pasha, agreed to an armistice. And this left the Allies believing they were in a position to do what they pleased with the defeated Ottoman Empire.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.