WWI & its aftermath
The military crisis saw a triumvirate of ambitious, nationalistic and brutish CUP paşas – Enver, Talat and Cemal – stage a coup and take de facto control of the ever-shrinking empire. They managed to push back the unlikely alliance of Balkan armies and save İstanbul and Edirne, but there the good they did ended. Their next move was to choose the wrong side in the looming world war. Enver Paşa had been educated in Germany, and because of that the Ottomans had to fend off the Western powers on multiple fronts during WWI: Greece in Thrace, Russia in northeast Anatolia, Britain in Arabia (where Lawrence rose to the fore and led the Arabs to victory) and a multinational force at Gallipoli. It was during this time of confusion and turmoil that the Armenian scenario unfolded. It was only at Gallipoli that the Ottomans held their own. This was due partially to the ineptitude of the British high command but also to the brilliance of Turkish commander Mustafa Kemal. Inspiring and iron-willed, he inspired his men to hold their lines, while also inflicting shocking casualties on the invading British and Anzac forces. Unbeknown to anyone at the time, two enduring legends of nationhood were born on the blood-spattered sands of Gallipoli: Australians see that brutal nine-month campaign as the birth of their sense of nationhood, while the Turks regard the defence of their homeland as the birth of their national consciousness. The end of WWI saw the Turks largely in disarray. The French occupied southeast Anatolia; the Italians controlled the western Mediterranean; the Greeks occupied İzmir; and Armenians, with Russian support, controlled parts of northeast Anatolia. The Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 ensured the dismembering of the empire, with only a sliver of dun steppe to be left to the Turks. European haughtiness did not figure on a Turkish backlash. But backlash there was. A slowly building Turkish nationalist movement was created, motivated by the humiliation of the Treaty of Sèvres. At the head of this movement was Mustafa Kemal, the victorious leader at Gallipoli. He secured the support of the Bektaşi dervishes, began organising Turkish resistance and established a national assembly in Ankara, in the heart of Anatolia, far from opposing armies and meddling diplomats. In the meantime, a Greek expeditionary force pushed out from İzmir. The Greeks, who, since attaining independence in 1830, had dreamed of recreating the Byzantine Empire, controlling both sides of the Aegean, saw this opportunity to realise their megali idea (great idea). Capitalising on Turkish disorder, the Greeks took Bursa and Edirne and pushed towards Ankara. This was just the provocation that Mustafa Kemal needed to galvanise Turkish support. After an initial skirmish at İnönü, the Greeks pressed on for Ankara seeking to crush the Turks. But stubborn Turkish resistance stalled them at the battle of Sakarya. The two armies faced off again at Dumlupınar. Here the Turks savaged the Greeks, sending them in panicked retreat towards İzmir, where they were expelled from Anatolia amid stricken refugees, pillage and looting. Mustafa Kemal emerged as the hero of the Turkish people. Macedonian-born himself, he had realised the dream of the ‘Young Turks’ of years past: to create a modern, Turkish nation state. The treaty of Lausanne in 1923 undid the humiliations of Sèvres and saw foreign powers leave Turkey. The borders of the modern Turkish state were set and the Ottoman Empire was no more, although its legacy lives on in manifold nation states, from Albania to Yemen. Atatürk: Reform & The Republic Left to manage their own affairs, the Turks consolidated Ankara as their capital and abolished the sultanate. Mustafa Kemal assumed the newly created presidency of the secular republic at the head of the CHP (Republican People’s Party). Later he would take on the name Atatürk (literally ‘Father Turk’). Thereupon the Turks set to work. Given Turkey’s many problems, they had a job ahead of them. But Mustafa Kemal’s energy was apparently limitless; his vision was to see Turkey take its place among the modern, developed countries of Europe. At the time, the country was impoverished and devastated after years of war, so a firm hand was needed. The Atatürk era was one of enlightened despotism. Atatürk set up the institutions of democracy while never allowing any opposition sufficient oxygen to impede him. He brooked little dissent and indulged an occasional authoritarian streak, yet his ultimate motivation was the betterment of his people. One aspect of his vision, however, was to have ongoing and sorry consequences for the country: his insistence that the state be solely Turkish. To encourage national unity made sense considering the nationalist separatist movements that had bedevilled the Ottoman Empire, but in doing so he denied a cultural existence to the Kurds, many of whom had fought valiantly during the struggle for independence. Sure enough, within a few short years a Kurdish revolt erupted in southeast Anatolia, the first of several such ructions to recur throughout the 20th century. The desire to create unified nation-states on both sides of the Aegean also brought about population exchanges after the armistice between Greece and Turkey, whereby whole communities were uprooted as Greek-speaking peoples of Anatolia were shipped to Greece, while Muslim residents of Greece were transferred to Turkey. These exchanges brought great disruption and the creation of ‘ghost villages’ that were vacated but never reoccupied, such as Kayaköy. Again, this was a pragmatic move aimed at forestalling outbreaks of ethnic violence, but it became one of the more melancholy episodes of the early years of the republic and, importantly, hobbled the development of the new state. Turkey found itself without much of its Ottoman-educated classes, many of whom had not been Turkish-speakers, and in their stead Turkey accepted impoverished Muslim peasants from the Balkans. Mustafa Kemal’s zeal for modernisation was unwavering, giving the Turkish state a makeover on micro and macro levels. Everything from headgear to spoken language was scrutinised and where necessary reformed. Throughout the 1920s and ‘30s Turkey adopted the Gregorian calendar (bringing it in line with the West, rather than the Middle East), reformed its alphabet (adopting the Roman alphabet and abandoning Arabic script) and standardised the Turkish language, outlawed the fez (seen as a reminder of the Ottoman era, hence backward), instituted universal suffrage, and decreed that Turks should take surnames, something that they had previously got by without. By the time of his death in November 1938, Atatürk had, to a greater or lesser degree, lived up to that name, having been the pre-eminent figure in the creation of the nation state and having dragged it into the modern era by a combination of inspiration, ruthlessness and sheer weight of personality.