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When did the First World War End for Turkey ?

Fuat Dündar
p. Vol 141, 209-206

Abstracts

This paper investigates the influence of the World War One and the Peace Conferences on the post-1918 conflicts in Anatolia. The paper argues that the “war” continued up until 1939 – albeit in different forms – for two principal reasons: the population policies pursued by the Committee of Union and Progress during the Great War and the failure of the peace conferences to implement the Wilsonian Principles.

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  • 1 Undoubtedly, all these problems didn’t suddenly arise as a result of the WWI ; most had their roots (...)

1The Armistice of 11 November 1918 is usually accepted as the end of the World War One (hereafter WWI); some historians consider the treaty of Versailles as the real end, as it enabled the ultimate demobilization of the armies. For Turkey on the other hand, some historians accept 23 August 1923 as the end date, the day when the British, French and Italian powers ended their occupation of İstanbul. However, WWI’s effects influenced Anatolia/Turkey far past the official end date. This paper aims to reconsider the two main causes of these extended effects: the demographic engineering policies of the Committee of Union and Progress (hereafter CUP) and the Wilsonian principles or, more clearly, the right of “self-determination.” The demographic engineering policies (expulsion, assimilation, forced conversion) implemented by the CUP, with the ultimate goal of Turkification, did spread their effects beyond the wartime period and became an important cause of post-1918 conflicts. Meanwhile, the Wilsonian principles, which were declared towards the end of the war, bred numerous conflicts among rival nationalisms and the peace conferences failed to find viable solutions to the demographic problems created by the CUP policies. In contrast, they fostered numerous military-diplomatic crises. A third, catalyst was the ideological, mental and physical continuity between the CUP cadres that conducted WWI and the Kemalists who conducted the Turkish National Struggle (Milli Mücadele). This paper will in the end overtake briefly the military-diplomatic crises bred by the aforementioned causes: wars with Greece and Armenia, uprisings –mostly by Kurds – in Anatolia, and the disputes with the Great Britain and France over Mosul and Alexandretta (İskenderun/Hatay) provinces.1

  • 2 For a successful analysis of the Kemalist Turkish historiography, see Behar, 1996.

2It is hard to claim that the connection between WWI, the Peace Conferences, and post-1918 conflicts have been investigated in depth by Turkish historiography. The Kemalist (secular-nationalist) discourse which dominates Turkish historiography2 connects the post-1918 crises to the Peace Conferences and ignores the effects of the Great War, describing the Turkish War of Independence and Turkish nationalism as a reaction to the Peace Conferences as well as the occupation of the motherland in 1918. Thus, the part the pre-1918 policies (especially the CUP’s demographic engineering) had played in the post-1918 developments is ignored. In other words, as Turkish historiography brings forward some parts of the story and suppresses others, it misses the complete and true process.

3The most important causes of the post-1918 conflicts are the CUP’s Turkification policies implemented during the Great War. Without these population policies, called demographic engineering, a great part of the conflicts between 1919-1939 could have been averted and most importantly, a republic with radically different frontiers and populations could have been born.

The First World War and CUP’s Population Policies

  • 3 It must be remembered that the Sykes-Picot partition treaty was signed only after the Ottoman entry (...)

4The debate still rages on about the reasons why the Ottoman government, led by the CUP, which seized power in 1913 through a military coup, entered WWI. The traditional view links the decision for war to widespread admiration of Germany among the CUP leadership (Unionists, İttihatçılar), along with the German coercion. However, new research paints a rather different picture. According to Mustafa Aksakal, the Unionists decided to throw their lot in with Germany to save the Empire from certain dismemberment. They believed that even if they had remained neutral, their Empire was bound to be dismembered and would especially be defenseless against Russia (Aksakal, 2010). However, Britain and France had promised to safeguard Ottoman independence and territorial integrity as long as the Empire remained neutral.3 That means, despite the absence of “official” territorial demands by the Entente powers, the Unionists were to enter the war in order to solve the problems of population and territory. The reason for entering the war was to become one of the main parameters that defined the CUP’s population policies.

  • 4 DH. SFR (Interior Ministry, Cypher Section, in the Ottoman Archives) 55.125. For the full text, see (...)

5The CUP government implemented population policies according to the twin principles of Islamization and Turkification. All non-Muslims, especially the Armenians along with Rums (Ottoman Greeks) and Eastern Christians; even non-Turkish Muslims, were subjected to expulsion and resettlement in order to create a new Anatolia with more homogenous and loyal communities. The coded telegram dated 21 August 1915 was a turning point in this process. With an order sent to all provinces, the then minister of the interior requested the settlement of Turks to all depopulated non-Muslim villages. In other words, this order was the start of a Turkish national struggle, a demographic struggle, still under the blanket of the empire:4

(…) by taking advantage of this suitable turn of events…all the nomadic or semi-nomadic Turkish clans are ordered to be rapidly settled into the evacuated villages; together or separately, according to the place and the requirements of the situation (…)

6The main factor that shaped the Unionist population policies was Turkist ideology, however, the effects of the war itself cannot be underestimated. The war, or to put it more boldly, the defeats in the war, had rendered the population policies vital. The disaster of cross-border operations against the Russian empire (Sarıkamış hezimeti), the Armenian uprising in Van, and the unsuccessful military operation against British army on the Suez Canal had all given a sense of urgency to the idea of homogenizing the Anatolian population and firmly establishing the dominance of Muslim Turkish element. It must also be noted that the Entente policies encouraged the Ottoman minorities to rebel against the Ottoman Empire (Russian policies towards the Armenians and Nestorians from 1914, Britain’s Arab policy from 1915) also further radicalized the CUP’s policy.

7An important part of the Rum population living on the Marmara and the Aegean shores were expulsed by the CUP into the interior with the approval of the German officers, despite they had not rebelled. As will be explained, this expulsion policy was to become one of the reasons for the occupation of Smyrna (İzmir) by the Greek forces in 1919. As to the CUP’s Armenian policy, the driving factors were the coerced reform deal for the Eastern provinces (Vilâyât-ı Şarkîyye Islahatı, February 1914), Russia’s sedition of minorities, and the general war situation, along with Turkist ideology. The rights of guarantorship granted to Russia in the 1914 Reform Agreement were universally believed to let Tsardom intrude deep into Anatolia, thus allowing the Russians to destroy the Ottoman Empire under the pretext of reforming Armenia. While the Armenians’ deportation (Tehcir Kanunu, May 1915) was going on, about one million Muslims from the Eastern provinces (Şark Mültecileri, May 1916) were resettled into Anatolia with a special attention to their ethnic origins: Kurds were placed into the Turkish speaking provinces while the Turks were parceled to the Kurdish speaking ones. On the other hand Cemal Pasha, commander of the Fourth Army in Syria, set out to exile some prominent Arabs together with their families, into Anatolia allegedly for sedition. He also had taken precautions to expulse the Jewish settlers from Palestine; most of these were old aged, formerly Russian subjects.

8The CUP’s population policies implemented during the war were also the source of the post-war peace conferences and the conflicts in Anatolia. The most important reason for the failure of the peace conferences in bringing peace to the Ottoman lands was the Wilsonian principles, or more properly, its ‘partial’ implementation.

Wilsonian Principles

9The 14 principles presented by the US President Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) in the house of Congress on 8 January 1918, defined the post-war redesign of the globe. The twelfth principle had decisive ramifications for Great Britain and France – the two Entente partners that had struck a deal to dismember the Ottoman territories – as well as the Ottoman government and the minorities themselves. The article accepted the sovereign rights of the Ottoman Empire’s Turkish parts while at the same time, to the minorities promised opportunity and help in erecting local administrations to foster their autonomous development. The expression “security of life” sets the twelfth principle apart from the others: this was a direct result of the human devastation caused by the CUP’s population policies and is the most obvious clue linking Unionist demographic engineering to the genesis of the Wilsonian principles:

  • 5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteen_Points

Art. 12: The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development [...]5

  • 6 The armistice dates of 1918 were : Bulgaria on 29 September, Ottomans on 30 October, Austria-Hungar (...)

10From the very moment of their declaration Wilsonian principles had an impact; they even contributed to the end of the war: Germany and the Ottoman Empire had surrendered on the condition of their full implementation.6 However, the victorious powers not only disregarded this condition but actually used the principles like another weapon against the vanquished and imposed draconian measures through both ceasefires and treaties. When first convened in Paris to forge the peace treaty, the “Big Four” (USA, Great Britain, France and Italy) condemned Germany for starting the war, let aside recognizing the Germans’ self-determination rights. This was an ominous sign, indicating that the “peace” process was going to be a “punitive” one rather than ensuring recognition of “rights” for everybody. Ottoman Turks were also of the opinion that the conferences were unfair, punitive and revanchist affairs; which is why they refused the decisions taken by the Peace Conferences, especially the Sevres Treaty.

  • 7 See TBMM Zabıt Ceridesi [Minutes of Turkish Parliament], d :1, i :1, i :2. 24 April 1920.
  • 8 For the Ottoman Senate’s assembly on 9 December 1918, see Meclis-i Ayan Zabıt Ceridesi [Minutes of (...)

11Indeed, Ottoman minister of war Enver Pasha had from the start stated that they had surrendered on the basis of the Wilsonian principles (Türk İstiklal Harbi, 1974: 199; Aksakal, 2010: 217). Mustafa Kemal also had pointed it out in his first speech at the national assembly (start of 1920).7 The post-CUP governments – the majority of their members were from anti-CUP circles – had also insisted for the Wilsonian principles; as they argued, no decision about the fate of the Ottoman Turks and other Ottoman Muslims (sometimes “Turks and Kurds”) could be taken at a conference to which an Ottoman representative was not invited.8 Despite this rightful appeal, the victorious powers denied the Ottoman Empire representation and dealt with its ethnic and territorial problems in such a way as to punish the Empire harshly.

The “Peace Conferences” that ended all Peace

  • 9 Fromkin had named his book as such as an allusion to a series of papers by Wells, named “The War to (...)
  • 10 The most problematic aspect of the conferences was that the minorities as well as the victorious po (...)

12The post-war peace conferences brought peace to Europe only in a limited geography for a limited amount of time; while they brought war to Anatolia and Middle East. In the words of David Fromkin, this was a “peace to end all peace.”9 The peace conferences – and in the Ottoman context, the Treaty of Sevres –which convened on the basis of the Wilsonian principles, failed due to the following reasons: the victorious powers had bent the principle of self-determination to achieve their selfish interests, the vanquished were cast out of the conferences and a hierarchy was established between the participants. But most poignantly, the conferences produced radical, unrealistic and inapplicable decisions in direct violation of the self-determination principle because their aim was to punish the vanquished rather than restoring peace.10

  • 11 The current scholarship by and large considers the Mandate system among the primary reasons of the (...)

13The principal cause of the failure was the British and French attitudes (Manela, 2007: 58). They had distorted the principle of self-determination to salvage their secret Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916 as much as they could. The Sykes-Picot imperialist partition deal (it was re-incarnated as the “mandate system”) was to be the root cause of the current conflicts in the Middle East. To the two Entente partners, the priority was to punish Germany and the Ottoman Empire rather than to implement Wilsonian principles.11

14As mentioned, the main reason of the failure to establish peace in the “East” was the exclusion of the Ottomans from the conference. Worse, only some and not all the Ottoman minorities were invited to the conference while even the invited were subjected to a hierarchy. Only the “rebel” Feisal of Hejaz and Greece under the pro-Entente putschist Venizelos were invitees to the Versailles conference. In the Sevres conference, only the Armenian delegation was accorded official participant status while other minority representatives had to accept being heard only by the sub-committees. This was in clear breach of the Wilsonian principles; because the US President had promised not only self-determination but also “equality of nations,” all nations should have a seat and a vote in the peace conferences, where the new global system was to be determined.

15Another reason was the belated declaration of the Sevres Treaty; it was not only a harsh but also a belated settlement. Because by that time the victorious powers had demobilized most of their soldiers, they lacked any coercive instrument to impose the implementation of the treaty. Linked to that, because Greece and Armenia were among its signatories, the Rums and Armenians were to become open targets.

Map board Frontier Drawing instead of Plebiscite

16Plebiscite, the ideal method to implement the self-determination principle, was decided for just a few locations and in most them was not applied (Smyrna being prime example). Pretexts such as the fear of agitating new conflicts and the difficulty of establishing security during voting, were declared for this backtracking; the real cause however, was the victors’ desire to draw the new frontiers according to their own imperial interests.

  • 12 For the nationalist memoranda and the files comprising all the dossiers titled “Future of Turkey,” (...)

17Except some small areas, the population was linguistically and religiously quite mixed. The clash of this reality and the extravagant nationalist demands had created an insoluble situation. All minorities were united in their desire to secede from Ottoman domination on the basis of the twelfth principle, however no consensus was achieved about the exact location of borders; the territorial demands were intersecting. In the West – especially in the Balkans –, Bulgarian, Greek, Serbian and Turkish claims, while in the East, Syriac, Kurdish, Armenian and Arab claims were overlapping. For example, the territory claimed by the Syriacs was right in the middle of where the Arab, Armenian and Kurdish demands crisscrossed.12

  • 13 A few reviews about the connection between nationalism and mapping-statistics are : Labbé, 2003 : 3 (...)

18The frontiers drawn in closed rooms with the help of ambiguous statistics and maps –just as happened in Sevres – bore arbitrary and unrealistic suggestions for borders, which were incompatible with the self-determination principle. Moreover, due to the lack of coercive military power to realize them, most were to remain on paper only and triggered new conflicts.13

19As expected, designing new states by denying the Ottoman government conducted the declaration of the National Pact (Misak-ı Milli). The Pact was in essence a direct response to the Wilsonian principles, even if these weren’t openly referred; it was unanimously accepted by the Imperial Assembly in İstanbul on 28 January 1920 (and right after it, by the National Assembly of Ankara). The Pact was an ethno-political program, which determined the policy against minorities (esp. Rums/Greeks and Armenians) and the Greco-Turkish and Turkish-Armenian borders. According to the Pact, a plebiscite was unnecessary in the territories held by the Ottoman armies by the time the armistice of Mudros was signed, because the population behind these borders was predominantly composed of Muslim Ottomans. On the other hand, the right for self-determination in the Arab territories beyond the armistice borders was fully recognized:

  • 14 This is the abbreviated excerpt by Zürcher, 2004 : 138. For the Turkish version of the Pact see Hab (...)

The territories inhabited by an Ottoman-Muslim majority (united in religion, race and aim) formed an indivisible whole, but the fate of the territories inhabited by an Arab majority that were under foreign occupation should be determined by plebiscite.14

The Problem of Restoration

  • 15 As Fromkin underlines, the wartime policy of eradication towards the Armenians had influenced the E (...)

20The most important problem to be solved in the peace conferences was how to rebuild the lives of those affected – especially the non-Muslims – by CUP’s population policies.15 Hundreds of thousands of non-Muslims desired to return back to their homes, to their neighborhoods, to their villages. These were the approximately 200,000 Armenian deportees (in the desert regions occupied by the British army in 1918), 300,000 Armenian refugees (escaped in 1915 to the Russian territories, which became the Armenian Republic in 1918), and some 170,000 Rums refugees (escaped in 1913-14 to the Greek Kingdom), 250,000 Rums deportees (in the inner regions of Anatolia in 1916-1917) and some 30,000 Syriac/Nestorian deportees and refugees.

21The way the victors organized the population restoration brought new conflicts. At first, Anatolian Muslims hadn’t much objected to the trickle of the returnees; however, as the returns became more and more massive and as the feeling spread that the resettlement was being conducted according to a new macro-plan of establishing Greater Armenia and Greater Greece, Muslim objection morphed into an organized armed resistance. The problem of resettlement had come to be seen as a political project on the basis of Wilsonian principles and not as a humanitarian issue. That the territorial demands of the victors and/or neighboring countries followed the returnees; and that on occasion some returnees were accompanied by the victorious armies (like the French), increased Muslim resistance.

  • 16 On the issue of orphans, see Kévorkian, 2011 : 758-61 and Bakar, 2005. According to the Armenian so (...)
  • 17 For the stance taken in by the Muslim newspapers of that period, see Kümbül, 2006.

22Another problem of the demographic restoration was the reunification of the separated families. British and French military inspectorates along with the Armenian and Rum patriarchates toiled most persistently to reclaim the forcibly converted (mostly through forced marriages) women and the “orphans” adopted by the Muslim families.16 However, Muslims interpreted these efforts as a sign that the occupation forces intended not just to take over their country but their own households as well.17 In short, along with the land ownership issue, “demographic restoration” was to become a source of conflict.

Return of the Properties and Reparations

  • 18 About the official position regarding the resettlement of expellees, see Atanur, 1994 : 121-139.

23Another reason for the failed peace in Anatolia was the question of reparations to non-Muslims and reclaiming their property, real estate and capital, which were seized on the basis of the CUP’s “abandoned property” (emval-i metruke) policy. Economic restitution was naturally a vital prerequisite for demographic restoration; the exiles at once needed to get back to their homes and regain their livelihoods to restart their lives; however these prospects generated a great fear in the Muslim population. Despite the big difficulty of the restitution of the “abandoned properties,” the victors also demanded that the Muslims to pay rents for all the intervening years since their occupation in the abandoned properties.18 Under pressure from the victorious powers, the imperial government of İstanbul issued the “compensation of losses” (zararların tazmini) decree on 12 February 1919, but this was not implemented. One of the reasons which precluded the return of the properties was an ongoing famine and the necessity to find new areas for settling down Muslim refugees.

  • 19 For an important analysis regarding the Armenian properties, see Üngör and Polatel, 2011. For a leg (...)

24Many researchers so far have pointed to the ‘Islamization’ and ‘Turkification’ of the economy as the major causes of the population policies towards non-Muslims during WWI. Thus, one of the reasons for the popular support to the Kemalist movement after 1919 was the unwillingness to hand back these seized properties.19

Moral Restitution: The Question of Justice and War Crimes

25Another ‘question of restoration’, which left the peace conference resolutions moot, was the aim to punish ‘crimes against humanity,’ because Britain and France had promised to punish ‘the crime against humanity perpetrated by the Kurds and Turks’ in May 1915. They also wanted to punish the Ottoman Empire because of its participation in the war, an event which had considerably multiplied their losses in men and material.

26While the victors concluded that Ottoman Muslims and Turks as a whole were responsible for the massacres perpetrated by their government and therefore deserved punishment according to the Memorandum of 28 June 1919 (Türkgeldi, 1948: 116-117), both the İstanbul and Ankara governments argued that the perpetrators were the members of CUP central committee and therefore punishments needed to be individual, limited to these men. This generalizing attitude of the Entente led to the rejection of the 1919-1921 İstanbul War Crimes trials and the Malta Trials (Yeghiayan, 2007; Kocahanoğlu, 1998; Akçam and Dadrian, 2009).According to some prominent genocide specialists, the resentment borne out of these trials led to the refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide (Akçam, 2006: 348).

Continuity between CUP and the Kemalist Movement

  • 20 This continuity in fact, deserves a greater number of scholarly reviews to see its effect not only (...)

27One of the most important catalysts between WWI, peace conferences and the post-1918 conflicts was the genealogical, intellectual and political continuity between CUP and the Kemalist Republican People Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Fırkası); as Erik J. Zürcher pointed out, this continuity was very obvious (Zürcher, 1984). First of all, the National Forces (Kuvva-yı Milliye) which sprang out after 1919 had their roots in the wartime preparations by the CUP for a resistance war in case Anatolia – the perceived ‘last homeland’ of the Turks – should be occupied. A considerable number of Kemalists were CUP members and had filled important offices both in the war and in the peace conferences. The number of WWI veterans among the early republican elites, civil or military, was very high. Both the two first presidents until 1950 and all chiefs of the general staff up to 1966 had seen military service in the WWI. Also, until 1972, all the prominent members and leaders of the Republican People’s Party, the political entity which founded the republic and ruled single handedly until 1946- were personalities who had experienced WWI.20

  • 21 The belief that, like all social problems identity issues also can be solved through sociology and (...)
  • 22 A large number of both Unionists and Kemalists were Balkan-born Rumeliotes and they were themselves (...)
  • 23 The Nation in Arms (Millet-i Müselleha), the famous work by the German military thinker – and advis (...)

28The political ideas shared by both CUP and Kemalists underline their continuity even stronger; these were positivism, “social-darwinism” and the concept of “nation-at-arms.”21 The transformation of Anatolia into the seat of a nation-state and to this end, condoning forced relocation and resettlement to homogenize the population behind its borders22 was the central motive, setting the tone of the post-1918 conflicts as well as the Ottoman Great War. Moreover, both factions agreed that the newly arising Turkish nation could only be forged in war and their concept of Turkish identity was highly militaristic.23 ‘Nation forging wars’ was their motivating idea both in the pre and post-1918 conflicts.

The Aftershocks of the Great War

  • 24 Underlining the WWI and peace conferences era origins of the post-1918 conflicts certainly should n (...)
  • 25 For the best investigations of this episode see Bali, 2008.

29The circles that used WWI as an opportunity to reshape Anatolia as the Turkish national homeland proceeded to conduct a National Struggle (Milli Mücadele) on the basis of the National Pact. They were accompanied by problems aggravated because of the peace conferences but managed to stay on the legal ground by accommodating the Wilsonian principles. Despite the Lausanne Peace Treaty (1923) solved the problems of population and territory on the international level; a number of diplomatic-military conflicts were not to be fully resolved until 1939.24 Except the Anti-Jewish Thrace riots25 and the Konya/Düzce/Yozgat rebellions, most conflicts were the legacy of the WW1 and the Peace conferences: such as the wars with Greece and Armenia, Mosul dispute with Britain, Alexandretta (Hatay) dispute with France and numerous internal uprisings (like the Kurdish rebellions of Shaikh Said, Koçgiri and Ararat as well as the Nestorian and Pontus rebellions).

  • 26 See “Messager d’Athènes,” année 41, n° 236, 6 Nov. 1915 ; C. P. C (1897-1918), Grèce, vol. 10. Pol. (...)
  • 27 Indeed there is a new literature on the Greco-Turkish population exchange ; nevertheless, the pione (...)

30The roots of the Greek Problem in the Ottoman Empire can be traced way back to the Greek National Uprising of 1821. However the real demise of Asia Minor Hellenism had started in the aftermath of the Second Balkan War (1913): its fate was sealed by the CUP’s demographic engineering in WWI and the peace conferences. The expulsion and dispossession policy against the Rums provided Venizelos a perfect pretext, legitimizing his Greater Greece (Megali Idea) project both in domestic and international politics.26 Riding on the wave of sympathy towards the Megali Idea in the peace conferences, Venizelos (who had dragged a divided Greece to war on the Entente side, thus earning a place among the victors) landed an expeditionary force to Smyrna. One of the declared reasons of this expedition was the repatriation of the Rums expulsed to Greece in 1913-14, and to the Anatolian interior in 1914-18 periods. During the Sevres negotiations, Greek government was to try to legitimize its territorial claims from Anatolia on the basis of the human devastation created by the CUP’s demographic engineering (Dündar, 2008). The reason for the Greek intervention into the Pontus (Black Sea) region – passed into Turkish historiography as the Pontus Rebellion –was similar. In the wake of the Russian occupation of the region, which left the local balance of power between the communities upside down, the Pontus Rums, armed with weapons left behind, had organized a defense to ease the return of their exiled kin and to implement the Wilsonian principles for themselves (Kiliç, 2011: 489; Yerasimos, 1989: 35-76). Eventually, the Turco-Greek Treaty for Population Exchange, signed in the aftermath of the 1919-23 Greco-Turkish conflict, brought a final end to Asia Minor Hellenism, including that of Pontus.27

  • 28 The sixth and the seventh articles of the Treaty of Gyumri (2 December 1920), which ended the Turco (...)

31The Armenian question likewise, despite its roots being traceable up to the Berlin Conference of 1878, had extended to the post-1918 period primarily because of the Great War and peace conferences, which created huge demographic and territorial problems. These problems became main reasons for the Turco-Armenian conflict in the Caucasus (against the Armenian Republic) and in Cilicia (against the Armenian elements in the French occupation forces).28 The repatriation of hundreds of thousands post-1915 Armenian refugees back into Anatolia was the primary cause of conflict between the İstanbul/Ankara and the Yerevan governments. Provoked by the victors during the peace conferences, the Armenian Republic launched a military campaign towards Erzurum, thus triggering a short conflict with tragic ramifications. The Turkish forces under Kazım Karabekir rapidly launched a counterattack, retaking Kars, and in the process whole region was purged of any remaining Armenians. On the international level, the conflict came to a close with the Treaties of Gyumri (with the Armenian government in 1920) and Moscow (with the USSR in 1921). However, Turkish-Armenian tension has continued ever since and 1915 casts its long shadow in the form of the genocide debates.

  • 29 To understand the low intensity proxy war dimension of the Mosul dispute, see Türkmen, 2001 : 49-80(...)
  • 30 For an investigation of the connection between the Nestorian events and the Mosul dispute, see Akgü (...)

32The Nestorian “incidents” of 1924 and the ensuing expulsion of the majority of Nestorians also had its causes within the CUP’s wartime demographic engineering policies and in the post-1919 provocation policies by Great Britain. Wishing to strengthen its hand in the Mosul dispute, London had brought forward demands for a Nestorian homeland to weaken Ankara’s persistency. This demand, which was never before voiced out, was purely utilitarian and had very heavy consequences for this small, defenseless community. As a result of the Nestorian “incidents”29 which broke out (12-28 September 1924) because of the Ankara-London conflict, about 8,000 Nestorians who lived on the Turkish side were expelled to Iraq while the Iraqi Kurdish tribes that had rebelled against the British mandate were exiled to Turkey, thus “resolving” the issue. What happened in reality was an unnamed population exchange.30

33Another issue with roots in the Great War was the Mosul dispute. Because of this, Turkey had come to the brink of war with Great Britain and had serious problems with both Iraq and the League of Nations. While Ankara claimed sovereignty over Mosul on the basis of the National Pact, Britain had argued that, according to the Wilsonian principles, Mosul belonged to Iraq because the majority of population was Kurdish. Despite coming to the brink of war, Ankara and London managed to limit their conflict to a proxy war conducted over some Kurds and Nestorians. The Mosul dispute ended when Turkey relinquished its claims with a treaty in 1926 (Minorsky, 1998; Kaymaz, 2014).

  • 31 For a dissertation which links the birth of the Kurdish nationalism to the experience of WWI and pe (...)
  • 32 Yusuf Ziya Bey, the Bitlis MP who was executed because of his involvement to the Sheikh Said uprisi (...)

34The majority of post-1918 conflicts revolved around the Kurdish question. About 30 Kurdish uprisings did happen in the 1920-38 period within a large territory and a high level of violence. Many of their structural causes stemmed from WWI and peace conferences, however the newly founded Turkish Republic’s ethno-secular policies also were important. The abolition of the Caliphate in 1924, the purge of Islam from the public sphere and Turkification of the religion (call to prayer in Turkish, ban over the mevlid in Kurdish language, translation of the Koran into Turkish) along with the demographic and linguistic policies (forced resettlement, ‘citizen, speak Turkish!’ campaigns) were among the total purification policies of this era. However, in my opinion, the political and military developments in the 1914-1920 period were more fundamental. Predominantly Kurdish territories of Anatolia were also the geography where WWI was most destructive in social, economic and demographic terms. The vacuum created in these regions by the destruction of the Armenians was the primary cause of long-term instability. The wartime CUP government’s assimilation policy (forced resettlement of the Kurdish refugees fled the Russian occupation in 1916 in the Turkish speaking territories) had traumatized Kurdish elites through. But most importantly, the Kurdish question had for the first time emerged as an international problem in the peace conferences. It was when a demand for Kurdistan was put forward, accompanied by maps and censuses, decisively molding Kurdish nationalism into its modern form.31 For example the biggest Kurdish uprising of all, the Sheikh Said rebellion, broke out both because of the abolition of the Caliphate and because Ankara relinquished Mosul to Iraq. Kurds were of the opinion that it was a betrayal of the National Pact and a deliberate measure to keep them divided.32

35Last WWI era problem to be resolved was the Alexandretta dispute. The Turco-Syrian border was drawn in the Treaty of Ankara between France and Turkey in 1921, largely conforming to the National Pact. One major exception however, was the province of Alexandretta with its predominantly Turkish population. With Ankara’s insistence, Article 7 of the Franco-Turkish treaty granted a special status to the province, the administration of which was to be favorable for the cultural development of the “Turkish race” and its official language was Turkish. When France concluded a deal (1936) to leave Syria in 5 + 5 years, Ankara government demanded self-determination for Alexandretta’s Turkish population. This community was the largest in the province (though wasn’t the absolute majority) and on the basis of the situation, Ankara’s eventual desire was reunification with the province. Some minor border incidents happened; France and Syria disputed Turkish claims in the League of Nations, but eventually a short lived republic was declared and recognized at Alexandretta in 1938. Upon an internationally recognized plebiscite which voted in favor of reunion with Turkey, the province was annexed in 1939. Local Armenian population and other opponents of the republican regime chose to flee into Syria (Pekesen, 2006: 57-66).

36The reunion of 1939 not only resolved the Alexandretta dispute but in a way, marked the real end of the Great War for Turkey. Perhaps due to the orderly resolution of its territorial issues, Turkey remained a non-belligerent state in the Second World War (Shields, 2012; Ada, 2005).

Conclusion

37The article aimed at evaluating the ramifications of the WWI in a broader perspective in order to understand the long-term consequences of the Great War and peace conferences upon the conflicts in post-1918 Anatolia. The results of WWI undeniably affected all the Middle East and the Caucasus, a geography which is much larger than current Turkey. The tensions and conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, continuing and revolving around the Kurdish question since 1919; Israel-Palestine conflict, confessional conflicts in Iraq and Syria, Turkish-Armenian tensions, Azeri-Armenian territorial disputes; all these ethnic and territorial problems have their direct roots in the Great War.

  • 33 About the 1915-1921 period publications which shaped the Turkish state ideology’s opinion about the (...)
  • 34 As I referenced in the 12th footnote, most of the nationalist memoranda presented in peace conferen (...)

38Perhaps even more important is the endurance of war’s ramifications. Even today, the events of WWI and the debates in the peace conferences are still the central material for much of the nationalist demands and rhetoric. The memoranda, territorial demands, maps and statistics presented in the peace conferences constitute the arsenal of post-war nationalisms in the region; most of these movements still speak on the basis of the publications from that era. The most important effect of these publications is perhaps the prevalent tone in them; even if they incorporate some superficially correct information, being primarily propaganda material, they describe the opposing identities as “enemy”, “traitors” or “murderers/barbarians.” This description constitutes a useful memory for current hate speech. For example, wartime publications by the İstanbul and Ankara governments colored the image of Armenian, Rum/Greek, Kurd and Arab in the current state ideology.33 Likewise, nationalist publication by the opposing groups also describe Turks and Muslims as “barbaric,” “ignorant,” “marauding” and “inhuman.”34 Nationalist historiography still adopts this wartime propaganda material and rhetoric from 1914-23 era. As long as this approach isn’t revised, effects of the Great War will continue to endure.

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Bibliography

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Notes

1 Undoubtedly, all these problems didn’t suddenly arise as a result of the WWI ; most had their roots further in the past, especially in the territorial and demographic issues created by the San Stefano and Berlin treaties of 1878. WWI however, irreparably magnified many of these problems, without any hope to rectify. For a new publication about the 1878 Treaties and their effects see Sluglett and Yavuz, 2011.

2 For a successful analysis of the Kemalist Turkish historiography, see Behar, 1996.

3 It must be remembered that the Sykes-Picot partition treaty was signed only after the Ottoman entry to the war and primarily to speed up the Arab rebellion against the Ottoman imperial government.

4 DH. SFR (Interior Ministry, Cypher Section, in the Ottoman Archives) 55.125. For the full text, see Dündar, 2008 : 465.

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteen_Points

6 The armistice dates of 1918 were : Bulgaria on 29 September, Ottomans on 30 October, Austria-Hungary on 3 November and Germany on 11 November.

7 See TBMM Zabıt Ceridesi [Minutes of Turkish Parliament], d :1, i :1, i :2. 24 April 1920.

8 For the Ottoman Senate’s assembly on 9 December 1918, see Meclis-i Ayan Zabıt Ceridesi [Minutes of Ottoman Senate, s :3, i :5, i :14, s. 159.

9 Fromkin had named his book as such as an allusion to a series of papers by Wells, named “The War to End War” (1914). Despite the title however, Fromkin examines the change in Britain’s Middle East policy instead of the peace conferences’ effects. He underlines the Anglo-French imperial intervention to the Middle East as the main cause of the instability in this region (Fromkin, 1989).

10 The most problematic aspect of the conferences was that the minorities as well as the victorious powers, also conducted their debates solely on the “homogenous state” model. Extant social, economic and military problems received little attention ; different possibilities of federal state structures or co-existence were disregarded. Even population exchanges were proposed as long as these didn’t disturb victors’ interests. Having already condoned the homogenization policies in the Balkans, in the peace conferences the Great Powers continued their normalizing attitude towards ethnic cleansing.

11 The current scholarship by and large considers the Mandate system among the primary reasons of the conflicts in Middle East. For a survey work on this topic see Price, 2003.

12 For the nationalist memoranda and the files comprising all the dossiers titled “Future of Turkey,” see Public Record Office-Foreign Office, 608 ; see also PRO.FO 608/78, 608/79, 608/95 and 608/275.

13 A few reviews about the connection between nationalism and mapping-statistics are : Labbé, 2003 : 39-60 ; Lacoste, 1976.

14 This is the abbreviated excerpt by Zürcher, 2004 : 138. For the Turkish version of the Pact see Habertürk, 23rd April, 2014.

15 As Fromkin underlines, the wartime policy of eradication towards the Armenians had influenced the Entente’s post-war conditions to negotiate with the Ottomans ; by strengthening the resolve to not let non-Muslims or even the non-Turkish Muslim minorities fall under Ottoman authority again (Fromkin, 2004 : 206).

16 On the issue of orphans, see Kévorkian, 2011 : 758-61 and Bakar, 2005. According to the Armenian sources, there were about 40-65,000 orphans in 1919 ; Talat Pasha’s papers cite the number of documented orphans as 10,314 (Dündar, 2012 : 167, footnote n° 37).

17 For the stance taken in by the Muslim newspapers of that period, see Kümbül, 2006.

18 About the official position regarding the resettlement of expellees, see Atanur, 1994 : 121-139.

19 For an important analysis regarding the Armenian properties, see Üngör and Polatel, 2011. For a legal review of the issue see Akçam and Kurt, 2015.

20 This continuity in fact, deserves a greater number of scholarly reviews to see its effect not only on the military men but on the whole governing elite. If we also include the personnel who had taken part in the WWI (like in the bureaucracy) together with those who participated to the peace conferences, it becomes apparent that the majority of the early republican governing elite was the product of the Great War.

21 The belief that, like all social problems identity issues also can be solved through sociology and statistics is easily seen in the works of Ziya Gökalp, the primary ideologue for both the CUP and Kemalists. To better understand “social-darwinism” and the mentality which is dominated by the belief that ethnic problems can be solved through coercion and believes to the ‘survival of the fittest’ see Doğan, 2006. For a better understanding of CUP members’ mentality, see Bozarslan, 1992

22 A large number of both Unionists and Kemalists were Balkan-born Rumeliotes and they were themselves refugees in Anatolia in the aftermath of the Balkan Wars (1912-13). Their status as refugees shaped both their organization and group psychology. The CUP elites were mostly Macedonian in origin and utterly traumatized as a result of the Balkan Wars ; therefore they had a group psychology inclined to expel others if necessary, in order to not be refugees again. Just as Şevket Süreyya Aydemir wrote (Tek Adam V.3, İstanbul, Remzi Kitapevi, 1966), among the Unionists there was a widespread fear for “Anatolia becoming a second Macedonia.” To what extent this fear was a determining factor in the post-1918 conflicts, is a question well worth to revisit.

23 The Nation in Arms (Millet-i Müselleha), the famous work by the German military thinker – and advisor to the Ottoman Army – Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz which underlined “the unshakable role of the war in the fate of nations,” was a holy bible for Kemalists and Unionists alike. Şükrü Hanioğlu (2013) makes a sweeping survey of Mustafa Kemal’s admiration for von der Goltz. See also Altınay, 2005.

24 Underlining the WWI and peace conferences era origins of the post-1918 conflicts certainly should not be understood as disregarding the idiosyncrasies, new problems, new actors, new conflicts and new realignments of the post-war period. This new era had its own context, power relations and even its own generation ; better educated and cautious towards the war. Nevertheless, I’m still on the opinion that these post-war factors were not as decisive as the structural problems such as the demographic and territorial issues, which were products of the wartime.

25 For the best investigations of this episode see Bali, 2008.

26 See “Messager d’Athènes,” année 41, n° 236, 6 Nov. 1915 ; C. P. C (1897-1918), Grèce, vol. 10. Pol. Etr. 1915 (1 Ekim-15 Kasım). For an excellent analysis covering the period between Balkan Wars and Lausanne Treaty see Gingeras, 2009.

27 Indeed there is a new literature on the Greco-Turkish population exchange ; nevertheless, the pioneer study by Ladas still help us see its international dimension, see Ladas, 1932.

28 The sixth and the seventh articles of the Treaty of Gyumri (2 December 1920), which ended the Turco-Armenian War, especially concerned the refugees who were displaced during the Great War. For the treaty text, see : http://www.ttk.gov.tr/index.php?Page=Sayfa&No=252.

29 To understand the low intensity proxy war dimension of the Mosul dispute, see Türkmen, 2001 : 49-80. Genelkurmay Belgelerinde Kürt isyanlari, 1992 : 37-72. For an assessment of the process by the Eastern Christians, see Malek, 1935.

30 For an investigation of the connection between the Nestorian events and the Mosul dispute, see Akgül, 2004 and Nissan, 2002.

31 For a dissertation which links the birth of the Kurdish nationalism to the experience of WWI and peace conferences, see Özoğlu, 2004.

32 Yusuf Ziya Bey, the Bitlis MP who was executed because of his involvement to the Sheikh Said uprising, was one of the most vocal Kurdish opponents to the decision of abandoning Mosul.

33 About the 1915-1921 period publications which shaped the Turkish state ideology’s opinion about the Armenians, Kurds, Greeks and Arabs, see Dündar, 2001 : 43-50, and a recent dissertation : Bozkurt, 2012.

34 As I referenced in the 12th footnote, most of the nationalist memoranda presented in peace conferences are currently in the files no 608 of the British National Archives’ Foreign Office section.

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References

Electronic reference

Fuat Dündar, « When did the First World War End for Turkey ? », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [Online], 141 | June 2017, Online since 25 October 2017, connection on 24 November 2017. URL : http://remmm.revues.org/9938

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About the author

Fuat Dündar

Université de TOBB-ETU , fdundar@etu.edu.tr

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