The Republic of Turkey was proclaimed October 29, 1923. It had emerged from the smoke and rubble of World War 1 as the successor state to the once mighty Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman Empire had lain across three continents and spanned six centuries as one of the great empires of world history. The name derives from Osman 1 who founded the Empire in the 1300s, and of whom little is known. The Empire reached its zenith in the middle 1500s under Suleiman the Magnificent and was known for its achievements in the sciences as well as its stability, wealth and power. A long and slow decline continued into the 1800s and early 1900s. One motivation for entering World War 1 was to halt its decline and advance its standing. With the tide turning against the Central Powers in World War 1, the Ottoman Empire was defeated. Through a series of treaties associated with the Paris Peace Conference, the Ottoman territory was partitioned among the victorious powers and parceled out as independent states. During this time, a war hero rose up and rallied the nationalist cause for a new republic built upon modern principles.
World War 1, that terriblest war, that war to end war1 if only it was so, spelt the demise of the Ottoman Empire, in both senses of that word. Not only did the Ottoman Empire lie down never to arise, but it was dismembered and divided among the nations.
The Ottoman entry into World War was marked by ambition, intrigue and disunity. As Russia and Germany edged closer to war, the Ottoman Prime Minster wished for neutrality. But the ambitious Minister of War, Enver Pasha, saw in a Russian war an avenue to the realization of the cherished dream of pan-Turkism.2 War with Russia could increase the sphere of Ottoman influence, and rally the many Turkic peoples in the Russia Empire3 to the pan-Turkic banner. As Minister of War, he signed a secret mutual defense treaty with Germany on August 2, 1914, three days after Russia had begun its mobilization for war against Germany. On October 25, independent of his ministerial colleagues, Enver ordered the Ottoman fleet into the Black Sea to attack Russia. The surprise attack at the Crimean Peninsula and elsewhere sunk many Russian vessels and brought a Russian declaration of war on November 2. On November 5, Great Britain and France joined their ally Russia in declarations of war against the Ottoman Empire. Thus the Ottomans entered World War 1 on the side of Germany and the Central Powers. It would not be long before Enver Pasha’s overreach became evident to all.
By the middle of the war, in anticipation of ultimate victory, allied powers were already planning the future of Ottoman territory. By 1915, Britain had already established Egypt as protectorate; and then annexed Cyprus. The early 1915 Constantinople agreement promised Istanbul and the Dardanelles to Russia. The same agreement alotted Syria to France and a portion of Iran to Britain. The 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement expanded claims for territory by France and Britain and was assented to by Italy and Russia. The Great Arab revolt against the Ottomans began in 1916 with encouragement that Great Britain would support the independence of the Arabian peninsula from the Ottomans.
The end of the war arrived for the Ottomans on October 31, 1918 with the signing of an armistice4 aboard a British ship in the Mediterranean; but not the end of their conflicts. For the next several years, allied forces would occupy the Anatolian peninsula5 while post-war negotiations were in progress. British French and Italian troops occupied Constantinople6. Greece occupied Smyrna7 on the western sea coast. Armenia occupied the city of Kars, on the southeastern coast of the Black Sea. France occupied ports on the Black Sea as well as coal mines and railroads. Many major cities throughout the Anatolian heartland were occupied by the victors.8
It was almost two years later, in the Summer heat of August 1920, when the The Treaty of Sevres was signed by, what would prove to be the last, Ottoman Sultan.9 Four years of bitter war had been followed by two years of bitterer occupation, and then came the bitterest10, the Treaty of Sevres. Vast tracts of Ottoman territory were renounced;11 Arab Asia was renounced, North Africa was renounced; Constantinople, the glorious city, their capital city, together with the Bosporus Narrows12 was internationalized, and territories within the Anatolian peninsula, the heartland of the Turks, were given to Greeks, Kurds, British, Armenians and French and Italians. The Ottoman military was restricted and Ottoman finances were to be controlled by the victorious allies. The pan-Turkic dream was indeed gone but a Turkish nationalism had congealed, and, upon the publication of the Treaty, rebelled.
Mustafa Kemal had been in command at Gallipoli, when, in 1915, Winston Churchill, in an attempt to drive the Ottomans out of the war, tried to drive the British Navy through the Dardanelles, but instead drove his own career upon the rocks. It was one of the few Ottoman victories of that war and it earned Mustafa Kemal renown among his people, as well as the respect of Mr. Churchill.13 During the days of the occupation, following the armistice and prior to the signing of the treaty, Kemal traveled throughout Anatolia inspiring and rallying the nascent Turkish Nationalist Movement. Kemal pulled together the remnants of the army, organized them, and procured significant amounts of weapons and ammunition from the nearby Soviet Union.14 As Turkish nationalist sentiment grew, the Ottoman Parliament was pressured by their Allied overlords to suppress the movement. In response to the attempted crackdown, the nationalists convened the Grand National Assembly on April 23, 1920 in Ankara and elected Mustafa Kemal as president. Civil War soon erupted between loyalists and nationalists. But almost as soon as it started, it ceased with the publication of the terms of the Treaty of Sevres. So stunned were the people by the terms, the Ottoman Parliament lost credibility in their eyes, and the people turned and united behind the Grand National Assembly. Fighting had broken out against the occupation in the East and the South and the West; and the Turkish War of Independence was on.
In the East, the First Republic of Armenia had come into existence in 1918 through the treaties concluding World War 1. Its territory consisted largely of land that had been under the former Russian Empire but had been occupied by the Armenian peoples for centuries. The Treaty of Sevres in 1920 assigned the city Kars to the new Republic of Armenia, which had been the center of an important Armenian dynasty in the medieval ages. In the Summer and Autumn of 1920 Turkish Nationalist forces warred against the Armenians in the East retaking the city of Kars on October 30. Agreements between the emerging Soviet Union and the Turkish nationalist movement served to secure Kars in Turkish possession, secure Turkey’s eastern border, and ultimately supported the Soviet Union’s absorption of Armenia, bringing to an end the 1st Republic of Armenia. Thus the eastern front of Turkish War of Independence, also known as the Turkish-Armenian War, came to its conclusion.
In the West, Greece landed an occupying force in the coastal city of Smyrna on May 15, 1919, with permission from the Allied Supreme Council15 and unopposed by the inhabitants. Within a short time, they had proceeded inland and established themselves 100 miles from the coast. In 1920, Turkey began to engage the Greeks in battle several times, and in the Summer of the same year, Mustafa Kemal came into full command. The Battle of Sakarya,16fought from August 23 to September 13, was a turning point in the war. Here the Turks halted the Greek advance in a twenty one day battle.17
In the South, France had occupied the coal mines in the southern Anatolian peninsula following the Treaty of Mudros. They fought the Turkish Nationalist forces in support of the Armenians as well as their own interests in the Sykes-Picot agreement. Following the retaking of Kars in the East with the Armenian defeat, and the defeat of Greece at the Battle of Sakarya, France revised its policy to support the cause of a new Turkish Republic, and abandoned Anatolia. Thus the southern front of Turkish War of Independence, also known as the Franco-Turkish War, came to its conclusion.
With its eastern and southern fronts secure, the Nationalist Forces of Turkey commenced the final drive westward against the Greeks in the Summer of 1922. The Greeks were driven Smyrna18, and the Turkish Nationalist forces crossed the waters and threatened Constantinople19 where resided an allied force protecting the Ottoman government. By this time, France had pulled its forces out of the region; but Britain still remained. A military confrontation was averted when Kemal accepted a British sponsored truce between the Turkish nationalists and Greece, which included an assertion that Britain would not defend Greek forces.
The allies invited both Ottoman governments to the peace table, the Sultan’s residing in Constantinople and The Grand National Assembly residing in Ankara. The invitation was refused by Kemal who insisted that there should be only one government representing Turkey. The allies ruled that the Ottoman government had ceased to exist when the allies took over Constantinople, separated the offices of sultan and caliph, and then abolished the office of the Sultan. Mehmed VI thus became the last Sultan of the six hundred year empire and shortly thereafter departed Constantinople for exile in Malta. The subsequent Treaty of Lusanne established the borders of modern day Turkey essentially as they are today. The Republic of Turkey was declared on October 29, 1923, by the Grand National Assembly. Mustafa Kemal was named as the first president and given the honorary name “Ataturk”, Father of the Turks. Ankara was established as the capital of the new republic, and The Republic of Turkey was recognized by the League of nations as the legitimate successor state to the Ottoman Empire.
Ataturk proceeded energetically with his vision for his people. Pan-Turkism was not the goal. A modern polity as a nation state proudly ranking among the great states of the modern era was his goal.