Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Fall of the Ottomans

The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan details the events on the Ottoman front during the First World War. I came to realize how complex the events were and that it would be very difficult to behave in any other way. It is a saddening and sobering read that helps in getting rid of the propagandist tales simplifying history to such a degree that the only explanations left are treason, stupidity and barbarism of the enemy.

My underlinings:
The Ottoman front was a veritable tower of Babel, an unprecedented conflict between international armies.

In the course of five years, the Ottoman empire had endured a revolution, three major wars against foreign powers, and a number of internal disorders ranging from sectarian massacres to separatist revolts— each of which threatened further foreign intervention.

That the Young Turks approached the Russians at all demonstrated the lengths to which they were willing to go in order to stay out of Europe’s war.

...it was the Ottoman offensive in Sarıkamış that first led British war planners to consider an invasion of the straits.

...by April 1915 the empire confronted the gravest combination of challenges in its history.

Between October 1914 and May 1915, as many as 150,000 soldiers and civilians in north-eastern Turkey succumbed to contagions, far exceeding the 60,000 Turkish soldiers who died in the Battle of Sarıkamış.

Faced with the sheer magnitude of the dead and dying, the living were losing their sense of compassion.

The divided loyalties of some Armenians had tarred all Armenians in the eyes of many Turks.

...the expulsion of Ottoman Greeks could be carried out with relatively low levels of killing because there was a Greek state to which they could be deported.

The Young Turks believed the Armenians posed a far greater threat to the Ottoman Empire than the Greeks because some Armenians hoped to create an independent homeland in Ottoman territory with Allied support.

Balakian was concerned to see the custom official’s observation vindicated by the Istanbul Armenians’ open display of support for Allied wartime successes.

An armed Armenian band ambushed Ottoman gendarmes near Zeytun on 9 March, killing a number of soldiers (reports vary between six and fifteen killed) and taking their weapons and money. The attack served as a pretext for the total deportation of Zeytun’s Armenian community.

With the fall of Van, the Ottomans began to implement a series of measures to eradicate the Armenian presence not just from the six provinces of eastern Anatolia but from Asiatic Turkey as a whole.

The Russian army swept through the Black Sea port of Trabzon and the market town of Erzincan later that year—defeats that could not be blamed on Armenian collaborators after the deportations.

The absence of proper latrines left soldiers who feared to expose themselves to sniper fire to relieve themselves in the same trenches where they fought, ate, and slept. Dysentery reached epidemic proportions.

These losses weighed heavily on the British, for whom Gallipoli proved a total defeat . The campaign was a drain on men and materiel while total warfare was being waged on the primary front in France. There was to be no conquest of Istanbul, no collapse of Germany’s Ottoman ally, and no Black Sea route linking Russia to her Entente allies. Rather than hastening the end of the Great War, Gallipoli actually lengthened it considerably.

...the British and Germans had themselves proven more responsive to the caliph’s call to jihad than had his Ottoman subjects or Muslims across the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.

...the Circassians were the ultimate Ottoman loyalists, and in November 1916 the head of their community, Mirza Wasfi, petitioned Istanbul for permission to form a volunteer cavalry unit “to offer their lives in sacrifice to the homeland”. The Circassian Volunteer Cavalry numbered over 150 mounted fighters and played an active role in defending the Hijaz Railway and combating the forces of the Arab Revolt.

They [Ottomans] finally took the city [Baku] on 15 September— not to add Baku to the Ottoman Empire but to ensure that the new state of Azerbaijan would become a loyal client in the post -tsarist Caucasus.

One regiment of the French detachment was made up entirely of Armenian refugees rescued by the French from the famous siege of Musa Dagh.

Stakeholders of the Husayn-McMahon Correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the Balfour Declaration jostled for pre-eminence as the campaign reached its climax at the gates of Damascus.

In order to avoid a draconian peace settlement, the new Ottoman government decided to establish military tribunals to try those accused of responsibility for the annihilation of the Armenian community. They hoped to focus international condemnation on the Young Turk leadership as the architects of the genocide rather than punishing the Turkish people as a whole.

Between January and March 1919, the Ottoman authorities ordered the arrest of three hundred Turkish officials.

...the record of these trials provides the most extensive evidence ever compiled by the Turkish authorities on the organization and the conduct of the Armenian massacres. These records, published in Ottoman Turkish, have been in the public domain since 1919 and make a mockery of any attempt to deny the Young Turk government’s role in ordering and organizing the annihilation of the Ottoman Armenian community.

Much of the Allied war effort in the Middle East was driven by what proved to be an unwarranted fear of jihad.

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