The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, And The Making Of The Modern Middle East, 1908-1923

Paperback | October 4, 2016

bySean Mcmeekin

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An astonishing retelling of twentieth-century history from the Ottoman perspective, delivering profound new insights into World War I and the contemporary Middle East

Between 1911 and 1922, a series of wars would engulf the Ottoman Empire and its successor states, in which the central conflict, of course, is World War I—a story we think we know well. As Sean McMeekin shows us in this revelatory new history of what he calls the “wars of the Ottoman succession,” we know far less than we think. The Ottoman Endgame brings to light the entire strategic narrative that led to an unstable new order in postwar Middle East—much of which is still felt today.

The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East draws from McMeekin’s years of groundbreaking research in newly opened Ottoman and Russian archives. With great storytelling flair, McMeekin makes new the epic stories we know from the Ottoman front, from Gallipoli to the exploits of Lawrence in Arabia, and introduces a vast range of new stories to Western readers. His accounts of the lead-up to World War I and the Ottoman Empire’s central role in the war itself offers an entirely new and deeper vision of the conflict. Harnessing not only Ottoman and Russian but also British, German, French, American, and Austro-Hungarian sources, the result is a truly pioneering work of scholarship that gives full justice to a multitiered war involving many belligerents. 

McMeekin also brilliantly reconceives our inherited Anglo-French understanding of the war’s outcome and the collapse of the empire that followed. The book chronicles the emergence of modern Turkey and the carve-up of the rest of the Ottoman Empire as it has never been told before, offering a new perspective on such issues as the ethno-religious bloodletting and forced population transfers which attended the breakup of empire, the Balfour Declaration, the toppling of the caliphate, and the partition of Iraq and Syria—bringing the contemporary consequences into clear focus.

Every so often, a work of history completely reshapes our understanding of a subject of enormous historical and contemporary importance. The Ottoman Endgame is such a book, an instantly definitive and thrilling example of narrative history as high art.

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An astonishing retelling of twentieth-century history from the Ottoman perspective, delivering profound new insights into World War I and the contemporary Middle EastBetween 1911 and 1922, a series of wars would engulf the Ottoman Empire and its successor states, in which the central conflict, of course, is World War I—a story we think...

Sean McMeekin is a professor of history at Bard College. He is the author of July 1914: Countdown to War, which was reviewed on the cover of The New York Times Book Review; The Russian Origins of the First World War, which won the Norman B. Tomlinson Jr. Book Prize and was nominated for the Lionel Gelber Prize; and The Berlin to Baghda...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:576 pages, 9 × 5.9 × 1.2 inPublished:October 4, 2016Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

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ISBN - 10:0143109804

ISBN - 13:9780143109808

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A NOTE ON DATES, NAMES, TRANSLATION, AND TRANSLITERATIONUntil the Bolsheviks switched over to the Gregorian calendar in 1918, Russia followed the Julian, which was thirteen days behind by 1914. The Ottoman Empire traditionally used a modified version of the Islamic lunar calendar, with years dated from the time of Muhammad’s exodus from Mecca (hejira) in AD 622—although it switched over to the Julian version of solar calendar dates in the nineteenth century (except for Muslim religious holidays, which still, to this day, are dated by the old lunar calendar). To keep things simple, I have used Gregorian dates consistently throughout the text, with the exception of certain major pre-1918 dates in Russian history, which Russian history buffs may know by the “old” dates, in which case I have given both dates with a slash, as in March 1/14, 1917, where 1 is the Julian and 14 the Gregorian date.For Russian-language words, I have employed a simplified Library of Congress transliteration system throughout, with the exception of commonly used spellings of famous surnames (e.g., Yudenich, not Iudenich; Trotsky, not Trotskii). I have also left out “soft” and “hard” signs from the main text, so as not to burden the reader.With regard to Turkish spellings, I have generally rendered the “c” phonetically as “dj” (as in Djavid and Djemal) and used the dotless ı where appropriate (it sounds a bit like “uh”) to differentiate from the Turkish “i,” which sounds like “ee.” Likewise, I have tried to properly render ş (sh) and ç (ch) to help readers puzzle out pronunciations, even if these letters are really post-1928 concoctions of Atatürk’s language reforms. With Arabic names, I have used the most widely known Western variants (thus Hussein, not al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali al-Hashimi, and Ibn Saud, not ‘Abd al-Aziz ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Saud). It is impossible to be consistent in all these things; may common sense prevail.With apologies to any Turkish readers, I have referred to the Ottoman capital consistently as Constantinople, not Istanbul, unless referring to the present-day city, because it was so called by contemporaries, including Ottoman government officials. Likewise, I have followed the transition in nomenclature from St. Petersburg to Petrograd after Russia went to war with Germany in 1914 (luckily, we do not have to reckon with “Leningrad” in the bounds of this narrative). With “lesser” cities and other place-names, I have used the contemporary form, affixing the current equivalent in parentheses, thus “Adrianople (Edirne)” and “Üsküp (Skopje).” Antique geographic terms used by Europeans but not by the Ottomans, such as Palestine, Cilicia, and Mesopotamia, I have generally deployed in the manner they were used in diplomatic gamesmanship (which is to say without precise territorial definition, as there was not any). The maps should, in any case, help readers clear up these vexatious questions to the extent this is possible.All translations from the French, German, Russian, and Turkish, unless otherwise noted, are my own.LIST OF MAPSMap 1 The Ottoman Empire, circa 1876Map 2 The Russo-Ottoman War of 1877–78 in the BalkansMap 3 The Balkans: Primary Ethno-linguistic GroupsMap 4 Territorial Changes Resulting from the First and Second Balkan WarsMap 5 The Flight of the GoebenMap 6 The Black Sea: The Ottoman Strike, October 1914Map 7 Mesopotamia and the Gulf RegionMap 8 Sarıkamış, 1914–15Map 9 Suez and Sinai, 1915Map 10 Alexandretta and Cilicia: The British Path Not Taken in 1915Map 11 The Dardanelles CampaignMap 12 The Gallipoli CampaignMap 13 Turkish Armenia and the Caucasian Front: Key Flashpoints in 1915Map 14 The Mesopotamian CampaignMap 15 The Erzurum CampaignMap 16 The Partition of the Ottoman Empire by Sazonov, Sykes, and Picot, 1916Map 17 The Black Sea: Operations 1916–17Map 18 The Hejaz, Palestine, and SyriaMap 19 The Mesopotamian CampaignMap 20 Brest-Litovsk: The Poisoned ChaliceMap 21 Post-Ottoman Borders According to the Treaty of Sèvres of August 1920Map 22 The Greco-Turkish War, 1919–22Map 23 The Turkish National Pact of 1920 and the Lausanne Treaty of 1923INTRODUCTION: THE SYKES-PICOT MYTH AND THE MODERN MIDDLE EASTNINETY-TWO YEARS AFTER its dissolution by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Ottoman Empire is in the news again. Scarcely a day goes by without some media mention of the contested legacy of the First World War in the Middle East, with borders drawn then being redrawn now in the wake of the Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq, Syria, and the Levant (or whatever its latest territorial iteration). “Is It the End of Sykes-Picot?” asked Patrick Cockburn in the London Review of Books, assuming that his readers will have heard of the two men who (it is said) negotiated the agreement to partition the Ottoman Empire between Britain and France.1 As the war’s centennial arrived in 2014, “Sykes-Picot” moved beyond historical trivia to the realm of cliché, a shorthand explanation for the latest upheaval in the Middle East that rolls easily off every tongue.From the ubiquity of media reference to them, one might suppose that Sir Mark Sykes and Georges Picot were the only actors of consequence on the Ottoman theater in the First World War, and Britain and France the only relevant parties to the disposition of Ottoman territory, reaching agreement on the subject in (so Google or Wikipedia informs us) anno domini 1916. As glibly summarized by the Claude Rains character in David Lean’s classic film Lawrence of Arabia, the gist of the traditional story is that “Mark Sykes [was] a British civil servant. Monsieur Picot [was] a French civil servant. Mr. Sykes and Monsieur Picot met and they agreed that, after the war, France and England would share the [Ottoman] empire, including Arabia.”2The popular resonance of the Sykes-Picot legend is not difficult to understand. In our postcolonial age, imperialism and long-dead imperialists are easy targets on whom one can safely assign blame for current problems. Sykes and Picot are stand-ins for the sins of Britain and France, whose centuries-long project of colonial expansion reached its final apogee with the planting of the Union Jack and the French tricolor in the Arab Middle East, where it all (by a kind of poetic justice, some would say) began to go horribly wrong. Britain’s backing of Zionism in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was, in this dramatic tale of hubris followed by nemesis, a step too far, which awakened Arabs from a centuries-long slumber to rise up against the latter-day Crusaders—Europeans and Israelis alike—who had seized their lands. The more recent rise of pan-Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State—groups that all strive to erase artificial, European-imposed state boundaries—now appears to be putting the final nails in the coffin of Sykes-Picot.It is a seductive story, simple, compact, elegant, and easy to understand. But the Claude Rains summary of Sykes-Picot bears little resemblance to the history on which it is ostensibly based. The partition of the Ottoman Empire was not settled bilaterally by two British and French diplomats in 1916, but rather at a multinational peace conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1923, following a conflict that had lasted nearly twelve years going back to the Italian invasion of Ottoman Tripoli (Libya) in 1911 and the two Balkan Wars of 1912–13. Neither Sykes nor Picot played any role worth mentioning at Lausanne, at which the dominant figure looming over the proceedings was Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish nationalist whose armies had just defeated Greece and (by extension) Britain in yet another war lasting from 1919 through 1922. Even in 1916, the year ostensibly defined for the ages by their secret partition agreement, Sykes and Picot played second and third fiddle, respectively, to a Russian foreign minister, Sergei Sazonov, who was the real driving force behind the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire, a Russian project par excellence, and recognized as such by the British and French when they were first asked to sign off on Russian partition plans as early as March–April 1915. None of the most notorious post-Ottoman borders—those separating Palestine from (Trans) Jordan and Syria, or Syria from Iraq, or Iraq from Kuwait—were drawn by Sykes and Picot in 1916. Even the boundaries they did sketch out that year, such as those that were to separate the British, French, and Russian zones in Mesopotamia and Persia, were jettisoned after the war (Mosul in northern Iraq, most famously, was originally assigned to the French, until the British decided they wanted its oil fields). After the Russians signed a separate peace with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk in 1918, the entire zone assigned to Russia in 1916 was taken away and thereafter expunged from historical memory. To replace the departed Russians, the United States (in a long-forgotten episode of American history) was enjoined to take up the broadest Ottoman mandates, encompassing much of present-day Turkey—only for Congress to balk on ratifying the postwar treaties. With the United States and Communist Russia bowing out of the game, Italy and Greece were invited to claim their share of the Ottoman carcass, only for both to later sign away their territorial gains to Mustafa Kemal entirely without reference to the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Nor was there so much as a mention in the 1916 partition agreement of the Saudi dynasty, which, following its conquest of the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina, has ruled formerly Ottoman Arabia since 1924.The Ottoman Empire had endured for more than six centuries before it was finally broken against the anvil of the First World War. From 1517 to 1924 (but for a brief interregnum from 1802 to 1813 when Wahhabi insurgents had taken over), the sultans had ruled over the Islamic holy places of Arabia, granting them legitimacy, in the eyes of the Muslim faithful, as caliphs of Islam. The Ottoman sultans gave their millions of subjects, in turn, a common identity and pride in belonging to a great empire, pride held above all by Muslims but also shared, to some extent, by the empire’s large Jewish and Christian minorities, who depended on the sultan for protection. A great deal more was therefore at stake in the Ottoman wars of 1911–23 than the mere disposition of real estate.Journalists are not wrong to search out the roots of today’s Middle Eastern problems in early twentieth-century history. But the real historical record is richer and far more dramatic than the myth. We must move beyond the Sykes-Picot myth if we are to understand the impact of the First World War on this vast region, on which it left physical traces from Gallipoli to Erzurum to Gaza to Baghdad. The Ottoman fronts stretched across three continents and three oceans, embroiling not only Britain and France but all the other European Great Powers (and a few smaller ones)—and, of course, the Ottomans themselves.So far from a sideshow to the First World War, the Ottoman theater was central to both the outbreak of European war in 1914 and the peace settlement that truly ended it. The War of the Ottoman Succession, as we might call the broader conflict stretching from 1911 to 1923, was an epic struggle, as seen in the larger-than-life figures it made famous—Ismail Enver, Ahmed Djemal, and Mehmed Talât, the three “Young Turk” triumvirs; Kaiser Wilhelm II, Admiral Wilhelm Souchon, and Otto Liman von Sanders on the German side; Kitchener, Churchill, T. E. Lawrence, and Lloyd George in Britain; Sergei Sazonov, Grand Duke Nicholas, Nikolai Yudenich, and Alexander Kolchak in Russia; Sherif Hussein of Mecca and his sons Feisal and Abdullah, along with Ibn Saud, in Arabia; Eleftherios Venizelos and King Constantine in Greece; and not least Kâzım Karabekir, Ismet Inönü, and Mustafa Kemal as fathers of the Republic of Turkey. It was not Sykes and Picot but these far greater men who forged the modern Middle East in the crucible of war. A century later, with the opening of the last archives of the period, their story can be told in full.PROLOGUESEPTEMBER 7, 1876________FROM EVERY CORNER OF THE EMPIRE they came to witness the ceremony. The streets were aglow with the colorful costumes of the empire—red conical fezzes with black silk tassels, white turbans, Arab-style keffiyehs, alongside the elegant formal wear of European diplomats. Witnesses claimed that a hundred thousand souls lined the waterfront, craning to catch a glimpse of the sovereign-to-be as he was rowed in his white-and-gold caïque from the Bosphorus past the teeming multitudes on the Galata Bridge. After docking on the Golden Horn, the thirty-four-year-old heir mounted his white charger and rode through the Imperial Guard to Eyüp mosque, the most sacred in the empire, built by Mehmet the Conqueror after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Here, beneath the silver shrine to the Prophet’s standard bearer, who fell during the Arab siege of the city in 670, Abdul Hamid II was girded with the Sword of Osman, empowering him as the thirty-fourth sultan of the empire and (following the conquest of the holy places in 1517) twenty-sixth Ottoman caliph of the Islamic faithful.While most observers agreed that the new sultan conducted himself with great dignity during the proceedings, there were discordant notes that seemed to bode poorly for his reign. Physically, Abdul Hamid was so unprepossessing that the Sword of Osman seemed to dwarf his slight frame. The much taller Sheikh-ul-Islam who invested him with the sword had to bend over sharply in order to kiss the sultan on the left shoulder, as required by tradition. Other portentous incidents transpired elsewhere in the city, where crowding on the Galata Bridge caused it to partially collapse nearly four feet, and to very nearly sink into the Golden Horn. Just a stone’s throw away, a cable snapped in the underground funicular tram linking the quay with Pera, the European quarter up on the hill.1More ominous still was the news from Europe. The previous October, then-sultan Abdul Aziz, bankrupted by the compounding interest on his own palace extravagances, had suspended payments on Ottoman bond coupons, a default that had alienated thousands of bondholders, of whom a large and vocal number were to be found in Paris and London. When a Christian uprising spread across Ottoman-ruled territory in the Balkans, the government (generally called the Sublime Porte) thus found itself bereft of sympathy. It tried to douse the flames of Balkan unrest, sending in irregular Circassians (the Bashi-Bazouks) in part because pay to the regular army was in arrears. By summer 1876, stories of horrendous atrocities had spread across Europe. Coming out of retirement to chastise the British government of Benjamin Disraeli for its indifference, the former prime minister William Ewart Gladstone worked himself into a state of high moral dudgeon in a soon-to-be world-famous pamphlet denouncing the Bulgarian Horrors, which hit newsstands even as Abdul Hamid was being girded at Eyüp. While Disraeli, condemning both sides as “equally terrible and atrocious,” dismissed Bashi-Bazouk horror stories as “coffee-house babble,”* Gladstone saw in them proof that Turks were “the one great anti-human specimen of humanity,” who should be “clear[ed] out from the province they have desolated and profaned . . . bag and baggage.”2Gladstone said nothing that pan-Slavist propagandists, many on the tsarist Russian payroll, had not already been saying for months. But he said it with the full fury of English parliamentary eloquence, raising the frightful prospect for Abdul Hamid II that Great Britain, Turkey’s traditional protector against Russian encroachment, would do nothing to help her if the tsarist armies intervened in the Balkans, as looked increasingly likely as volunteers boarded train after train in Moscow that summer, hoping—like Tolstoy’s Vronsky in Anna Karenina—to strike a blow for Slavdom. With (unofficial) Russian encouragement, Serbia had declared war on Turkey in June, placing her army under the command of Russian general Mikhail Grigorievich Chernyaev, recent conqueror of Tashkent. Montenegro had then piled on too. Adding insult to injury, none other than Lord Stratford Canning, the now-retired longtime ambassador to the Porte who had almost single-handedly brought Britain into the Crimean War on the Ottoman side, publicly endorsed Gladstone’s anti-Turkish stance in a letter to the London Times—indeed, Gladstone had dedicated the Bulgarian Horrors to Canning. In an especially embittering touch, Canning was the first foreigner Abdul Hamid, while a sickly and lonely young child, had met, three decades ago, in a chance encounter in the Topkapı Palace gardens—in fact, Canning was the first adult of any nationality to have treated the boy with genuine kindness, such that the future sultan remembered the incident decades later. If Russia’s ambitions to partition the Ottoman Empire—first broached by Tsar Nicholas I in 1853 in conversation with the British ambassador when he called it the “Sick Man” (of Europe)—now had the tacit support of Abdul Hamid’s hero and Britain’s most notorious Turcophile, there would seem to be little hope for the empire’s survival.Still, despite the litany of disturbing news pouring into the capital, Abdul Hamid had reasons for guarded optimism as he left the Eyüp mosque. He had already achieved more than his immediate predecessor, Murad V. Although hailed by large and enthusiastic crowds as the “Great Reformer” after the violent deposition of Abdul Aziz in May, Murad had never mustered the strength to face the public in an accession ceremony. During his years in the kafes, or gilded confinement, endured by all heirs to the throne, Murad had developed a fatal taste (on a heavily chaperoned trip to Paris) for champagne laced with brandy. Already shaky, within days of his ascension Murad learned that the deposed Abdul Aziz had committed suicide, slashing both wrists with a pair of scissors (a difficult trick, leading to rumors of foul play). Learning of his predecessor’s fate, Murad fainted. When he came to, he fell into a violent fit of vomiting. As if this were not enough, on June 15, to enact vengeance for the “martyred” Abdul Aziz, a young Circassian officer, whose sister Nesrin had been the late sultan’s harem favorite, blasted his way into a cabinet meeting, murdering the conspirator who had deposed him—War Minister Hüseyin Avni, along with the foreign minister, Pasha. Small wonder Murad was a gibbering wreck (diagnosed with “monomania of the suicidal type”), unable to receive the Sword of Osman, meet ambassadors, or carry out any other duties of a sultan. Simply by making it through the girding ceremony unscathed, Abdul Hamid had done much to restore public confidence in the embattled empire.True, the young sultan was an enigma, an unknown quantity even to his advisers. Until the terrible summer of 1876—known to Turks ever after as the “year of three Sultans”—reformist politicians, led by the great constitutionalist Midhat Pasha, along with Christian minorities and scheming European statesmen, had invested their hopes in the handsome and charming Murad, believing him to be sympathetic to Western liberal values (or at least malleable enough to embrace them upon prodding). Abdul Hamid, by contrast, was painfully shy, socially awkward, and odd-looking. His hook nose was so striking that many Turks believed his mother, Pirimujgan, to be secretly Armenian or Jewish (she was in fact the usual Circassian slave dancing girl, briefly a favorite of Sultan Abdul Mecid, before she succumbed to consumption, dying at twenty-six, when her son was only seven). Abdul Hamid, raised by a foster mother and neglected by his father as unpromising, had suffered through a childhood and kafes confinement even lonelier than the norm, his only companions harem women and palace eunuchs. Not unnaturally, his relations with women were generally warmer than with men. Abdul Hamid had been taken into confidence at a young age by Pertevniyal, the Valide Sultana (harem mother) of the martyred Abdul Aziz, who, in her pre-harem days, had been a gossipy bath attendant, which kept her close to the pulse of public opinion. The future sultan had even carried on an affair with an “infidel,” Flora Cordier, a Belgian glove-seller from Pera, who acquainted him with European views of the empire. In the months before his accession, Abdul Hamid had also strolled frequently through the gardens of Therapia with a certain Mr. Thomson, a British trader friendly with Her Majesty’s ambassador Sir Henry Elliott, who acquainted the future sultan with Westminster procedure (Abdul Hamid requested that parliamentary Blue Books be translated into Ottoman for him). Although he was relatively unknown both inside the empire and abroad, few modern sultans had ascended the throne better informed about the world outside the palace than Abdul Hamid II.3This is not to say, however, that the new sultan was a westernizing liberal in the notional mold of Murad. Midhat Pasha, who had already begun drafting a historic constitution for the Ottoman Empire, had been devastated when Murad proved unable to be the vehicle for his reforms—although curiously it was Midhat who convinced the cabinet to press for Murad’s deposition, despite never having met Abdul Hamid and knowing next to nothing about him. As insurance against any revival of traditional sultanic authority, Midhat Pasha, after being deputized to sound out the young heir, had tried to tie Abdul Hamid’s hands by making his accession conditional on the continued incapacity of Murad V—offering him a regency, that is, not a full-on sultanate. Abdul Hamid, understandably reluctant to rule with a half-mad pretender hovering behind his throne, refused. Negotiations then proceeded, in the course of which Midhat Pasha extracted a promise that Abdul Hamid would promulgate a constitution “without delay.” The heir, for his part, insisted on a formal and permanent deposition of Murad V, on the grounds of confirmed insanity, documented by unimpeachable medical records. On this basis, a deal was struck—a deal that left the young sultan suspicious of Midhat Pasha and the constitutionalists, and unwilling to countenance further meddling in his prerogatives.Despite the intrigues swirling around his accession, there were sound reasons for the confident air Abdul Hamid assumed at Eyüp. Having lived through two wrenching depositions already that summer, no one in the capital wished to endure a third. In the Balkans, the worst news seemed to be over, even if Gladstone’s fiery pamphlet implied that new atrocities were around the corner. After much fanfare about how the Serbs would destroy the Ottoman army of “old, fat Abdul Kerim,” the Russian-commanded Serbian offensive against Turkey had bogged down quickly, before swinging into reverse in early August, when the Turks captured the gateway to the Morava Valley leading to the heart of Serbia. On September 1, the day after Murad’s deposition and thus the first official day of Abdul Hamid II’s reign, the Serbs and their Russian commander were decisively defeated at Deligrad. By the time the new sultan was girded at Eyüp, Serbia had asked for an armistice, and Ottoman diplomats were drawing up triumphant peace terms to be imposed on Belgrade that would include disarmament, occupation of fortresses, and an indemnity.4 The conqueror of Tashkent had been routed, Serbia humiliated, and the Turks were rolling north into Europe again.With the sultan astride his white steed, “bridled in gold,” the imperial retinue, led by the Sheikh-ul-Islam carrying the green banner of the Prophet, crossed the Golden Horn at the second bridge and rode past the ruined walls of Byzantine Blachernae, the Greek quarter of Phanar and the Orthodox patriarchate, before winding its way into the narrow streets of old Muslim Stambul. At last the procession reached the Sublime Porte, where foreign diplomats, seated upon an “estrade of honor,” paid homage to Abdul Hamid II as sovereign of the Ottoman Empire, ruler of the Black and White Seas, along with lands stretching from the Danube Principalities to the Persian Gulf, the North African Maghreb to the Transcaucasus. On the streets, the people shouted in acclamation, “ çok ! [Long live the sultan!].”PART I________THE SICK MAN OF EUROPECHAPTER 1THE SICK PATIENT________What can you expect of us, the children of slaves, brought up by eunuchs?—ABDUL HAMID II, to a British friend, prior to his accession as sultan in 1876Our state is the strongest state. For you are trying to cause its collapse from the outside, and we from the inside, but still it does not collapse.—FUAD PASHA, Ottoman grand vizier and foreign minister, to a Western ambassadorFOR A TERMINALLY ILL PATIENT, the Sick Man of Europe took a long time to die. Dating the onset of Ottoman decline is one of the great intellectual parlor games of modern history. Did it begin, as a popular Turkish explanation would have it, with the fateful decision of Suleyman the Magnificent to put his capable son and heir, Mustafa, to death in 1553, consigning the empire to an endless succession of incompetent sultans? Or could the key moment have come even earlier, with the first of the soon-to-be-notorious Capitulations signed with France in 1536, conceding to French subjects trading privileges of the kind that, by the early twentieth century, had evolved into an entire system granting Europeans extraterritorial legal status in the empire? Was it the Ottoman failure to take Vienna during the first siege, in 1529, or the second, in 1683? Was it the crushing Treaty of Karlowitz (1699), marking the first loss of Ottoman conquered territory in Europe? Or the still more devastating Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774), which heralded the Russian advance south? Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, which demonstrated the crushing superiority of European arms? The humiliating defeats against the armies of the Egyptian pretender, Mohammad Ali, which forced Turkey to turn to her archenemy Russia for protection in 1833? Or was it the Ottoman Empire’s strange victory in the Crimean War (1853–56), which turned her into a financial dependent of her powerful allies, Britain and France?The broad sweep of events used to mark the stages of degeneration suggests, at the least, that the question is not easily answered, if it is the right question to be asking. As Gibbon famously said of Rome, rather than inquiring why the Ottoman Empire was destroyed, “we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long.”1 Other empires fared far worse under the European onslaught, from the Aztecs and Incas in the Americas to the Mughal dynasty in India, the Manchus in China, the Qajar Shahs of Persia, and the entire continent of Africa. True, the Ottoman sultans, as supreme princes, or caliphs, of the entire Islamic world since the conquest of the holy places of the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia in 1517, measured themselves by a higher standard than those of regional empires like the Aztecs or Incas. Even so, Turkey’s location, straddling the Near East from the forests of European Rumeli through Asia Minor to the desert sands of Arabia and Persia, with the ancient cities of Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia in between, was if anything a greater temptation to European predators than lands farther afield. The plight of the empire’s substantial Christian minority, nearly a third of the population, was a perennial excuse for Western intervention; indeed, the Crimean War was literally fought over disputed Orthodox and Latin “protection rights” for churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. As the unification of Italy and Germany brought ethno-nationalism to the fore later in the nineteenth century, the Ottomans had to reckon further with irredentist movements from the myriad subject nations of the empire: Serbs, Romanians, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Albanians, and Greeks in Europe; Armenians, Kurds, Arabs, and yet more Greeks in Asiatic Turkey. Motivated by the sister callings of Christian Orthodoxy and pan-Slavism, the Russians alone had invaded Turkey five times in the century preceding the accession of Abdul Hamid II to the throne in 1876—and they would do so again the very next year. Considering that the empire’s tsarist Russian nemesis could field armies drawing on a rapidly growing population base already more than four times larger than the Ottoman, the real wonder is that Turkey, in 1877, was still fighting.Part of the explanation lies in geography. Not unlike her great northern antagonist, the sprawling Ottoman Empire was difficult to defend—but harder still to conquer. What “General Winter” was for Russia against would-be conquerors, mountains, deserts, and fortified waterways were for Turkey. Since the empire’s high-water mark of expansion under Suleyman, the easily traversable border areas—the Hungarian plain, the Danube Principalities (modern Romania), the Crimea, the Caucasian Black Sea littoral—had fallen, leaving behind a much more defensible frontier.* In the Crimean War, the Russians had gotten bogged down on the Danube even before the French and British had intervened (and Austria had forced them to withdraw from the Principalities, on pain of intervention). This great river was guarded by the fortresses of Silistria, Rustchuk, and Vidin, with heavily garrisoned forts at Varna, Shumla, and Plevna awaiting in the hinterland beyond it. Next came the Balkan Mountains, impassable but for the heavily fortified Shipka Pass. If an invading army forced the pass, it would still have to reduce the great fortress defenses of Adrianople (Edirne) before approaching Constantinople across the lengthy plains of Thrace. Little wonder not even the Russians had made it this far yet (except by invitation, in 1833).The empire’s prime strategic location also conferred diplomatic advantages. Each time an invading power threatened a key imperial choke point—the French in Egypt in 1798, the Egyptians at Kütahya, en route for the Bosphorus, in 1833, Russia crossing the Danube in 1853—the Ottomans were able to raise a countercoalition among powers anxious not to see an ambitious rival inherit the crown jewels of the empire. The Crimean War itself was something of a triumph of Ottoman diplomacy. The empire’s embrace of liberal reform in the Tanzimat era (inaugurated by the so-called Rescript of the Rose Bower (Hatt-ı-) in 1839, which took the first tentative steps toward granting civic equality for non-Muslims) won her such sympathy from France and Britain that they declared war against Russia on her behalf in 1854 (joined by Piedmont-Sardinia, a coming power that piggybacked on the crisis to unify Italy). However futile the war seemed in retrospect to Western (especially British) chroniclers, it won the Ottomans formal admission in the Treaty of Paris (1856) to “the advantages of the Public Law and System of Europe,” along with a tripartite guarantee from Britain, France, and Austria “guaranteeing joint and several defense of Ottoman independence and integrity.”2This diplomatic triumph, of course, came at a tremendous cost, beginning with nearly 120,000 Turkish casualties. The “advantages of the Public Law” mostly meant access to Western bond markets (first and foremost, to pay down the costs of the war), a two-edged sword that, sped along by extravagant spending on the new Dolmabahçe Palace, led directly to the Ottoman default of 1875. And the famous Hatt-ı-Hümayun, or Reform Edict, of 1856, issued even while foreign troops still blanketed Constantinople, was so obviously shaped by growing European influence that it aroused more resentment than appreciation among Ottoman Muslims, many of whom were not sure why they had fought and died in a war so as to forfeit their legal supremacy over Christians, and—in one of the most notable reforms—to allow church bells to ring in Constantinople for the first time in centuries. Especially after British opinion of the Ottomans began to sour after the war, the Ottoman “victory” in 1856 appeared increasingly hollow. One can understand the bitterness that seeps into a recent official history of the conflict prepared by the Turkish General Staff, in which the authors lament that “those who appeared to be our friends were not our friends . . . in this war Turkey lost its treasury. For the first time it became indebted to Europe.”3The increasingly perilous entanglement of finance and European diplomacy was brought home painfully in the Balkan crisis of the 1870s. The suspension of bond coupon payments in October 1875 cost the empire any lingering sympathy in France and Britain, even while the financial crunch forced Sultan Abdul Aziz to rely on the Circassian Bashi-Bazouks, instead of the regular army, to restore order. The resulting Bulgarian atrocities isolated Turkey still further, and only dramatic measures, such as the deposition of two sultans at the hands of conspiring reformers, seemed to offer a way out of the impasse. Midhat Pasha’s constitution of 1876 represented, in theory, the capstone of Tanzimat liberal reform. In foreign policy terms, the constitution was a last desperate throw of the dice to ward off an impending European partition of the empire.The diplomatic drama ratcheted up quickly following the girding of Abdul Hamid II with the Sword of Osman. In late October 1876, the Ottoman armies destroyed what remained of the Serbian army at Djunis, opening the path through the Morava Valley to Belgrade. On the strategic principle of “heads we win, tails you lose,” Russia then moved to bail out her floundering Serbian ally, issuing an ultimatum on October 31 to the effect that Turkey must agree to an armistice, on pain of Russia severing diplomatic relations with her. Two weeks later, Tsar Alexander II ordered the mobilization of six corps of the Russian Imperial Army, along with reserves—some 550,000 men in all.4 With war fever spreading through St. Petersburg and Constantinople alike, with Gladstone’s polemic pamphlet rousing public opinion against Turkey in England and (in subsidized translation) Russia, with the powers demanding to hold a conference in the Ottoman capital at the tip of the Russian bayonet to force Balkan reforms, negotiations over the first-ever constitution for the Ottoman Empire reached the critical final stage.Although the young sultan had promised to promulgate a constitution as the price of his throne, Abdul Hamid had no intention of ruling as a limited constitutional monarch, much less a figurehead beholden to a European-style parliamentary regime. The sharpening of the Balkan crisis hardened his stance still further. In mid-December, even as European diplomats were descending on Constantinople to draw up terms for a partition of Ottoman Europe, Abdul Hamid endorsed a controversial new clause granting the sultan the power to exile “dangerous” political opponents. Additionally, the sultan retained the untrammeled power to appoint, and depose, cabinet ministers, and to convoke, and prorogue, a new bicameral parliament to be elected by popular vote. While other elements of the constitution—relating to Osmanlılık, or the equality of Ottoman subjects (including non-Muslims) in civil liberties, and penal and tax law, along with the right of petition and the security of property and home against seizure—were liberal enough, ultimate sovereignty was still invested in the sultan-caliph, Abdul Hamid, who clearly did not intend to dilute his own power—certainly not in the face of outside pressure from the European powers. Nor was the sultan, or any of his advisers, willing to accept a partition of Ottoman Europe: Article 1 of the constitution expressly stated that the empire “can at no time and for no cause whatever be divided.”5As if to emphasize the point, the constitution was formally promulgated at the Sublime Porte in the afternoon of December 23, 1876, even as, in the nearby Admiralty building on the Golden Horn, European diplomats convened the first meeting of the Constantinople Conference, meant to determine the fate of the empire. One hundred and one guns boomed to announce the onset of the first Ottoman constitutional era, or , loudly enough to interrupt the conference. The Ottoman delegate, Foreign Minister Safvet Pasha, then helpfully explained (in his poor, halting French) that the constitutional salute meant the delegates could now go home. The invitation to disperse was ignored. Unimpressed by a gesture they saw as too little, too late, the powers insisted on proceeding with the program for redrawing the map of the Balkans.*While the Turks had some hopes that Disraeli’s envoy, Lord Salisbury, would summon up some of the old Tory Russophobia to damp down the tsar’s demands, these were dashed quickly. Before the conference, Salisbury had already concluded that the Crimean War had been a “deplorable mistake,” and that this time “the Turk’s teeth must be drawn even if he be allowed to live.”6 After he arrived in Constantinople in early December, Salisbury was taken in by the formidable Russian ambassador, Count Nikolai Ignatiev, and his beautiful wife. The Ignatievs manipulated him so effectively that an open breach developed between Salisbury and Britain’s ambassador, Sir Henry Elliott—who was himself closer to Disraeli’s Russophobic line (Salisbury thought that Elliott had “gone native”). Salisbury also took an immediate dislike to Midhat Pasha, now grand vizier, and Abdul Hamid, whom he dismissed as “a poor frightened man with a very long nose and a short threadpaper body.”7 With Salisbury all but endorsing Gladstone’s Russophile line at the conference, there was no one strong enough to water down the terms dictated to the Porte, which included autonomy for Bosnia-Herzegovina under outside protection, an autonomous Bulgaria in two halves occupied by an international gendarmerie, and an independent Principality of Montenegro.*To almost no one’s surprise, Abdul Hamid rejected these humiliating terms on January 20, 1877, paving the way for the tsar’s armies to achieve by force what the powers had failed to achieve by diplomacy. Making sure not to repeat the mistakes that led to Russia’s encirclement in the Crimean War, tsarist diplomats negotiated, with Otto von Bismarck’s mediation from Berlin, a pledge of neutrality from Vienna (the price was Russian support for an Austrian protectorate over Bosnia-Herzegovina), and free passage for tsarist troops across the Danube Principalities (in exchange for gold shipped to Bucharest and Russian backing for an independent Romania).8 In a sense, the Ottoman Empire had reverted back to the pre-Tanzimat isolation of the 1820s, when the European powers had come together to support the Greeks in their war of independence. Four decades of liberal reform had won the Turks little lasting sympathy in the Western capitals; even Britain’s traditional Russophobic Turcophilia had curdled into contempt. Although the sultan and his advisers retained some hope that Prime Minister Disraeli, unlike his unfriendly diplomatic envoy, might come around and dispatch the British fleet if the Russians threatened the capital, until that happened the Turks, unlike in 1853–56, would have to fight this war on their own.Despite the unpromising diplomatic circumstances, Abdul Hamid’s decision to resist was not senseless. Because the sultan had embraced the constitution, he was enjoying something of a honeymoon with his subjects. The overbearing behavior of the Europeans at the Constantinople conference had alienated nearly everyone in the capital, even the Christian minorities, who were more interested in their new rights, especially that of electing representatives to the empire’s first-ever parliament. Representation in the capital itself would be split equally between Muslims (five deputies) and non-Muslims (two Greeks, two Armenians, and a Jew). Ottoman Greeks, an influential minority in much of the Balkans, had no wish for a greater Bulgaria to emerge under Russian tutelage. Many Turkish Armenians, for their part, were frustrated by the hue and cry over Bulgarian Christians, which had drowned out sympathy in Europe for their own plight. Midhat Pasha became the first grand vizier to honor the Greek and Armenian patriarchs by calling on them: they greeted him as “the resuscitator of the Ottoman Empire.” The historic Ottoman parliamentary elections, held in February–March 1877 even as tsarist troops were gearing up to invade the empire, had the effect of uniting the country behind the sultan in war fever against the Russian bully. On March 19, 1877, all the notables of Constantinople gathered in the throne room of Dolmabahçe Palace to inaugurate the first-ever Ottoman parliament, with 115 deputies (of which 67 were Muslim, 44 Christian, and 4 Jewish), comprising some fourteen different nationalities. There was one European ambassador notable in his absence: Count Ignatiev. On April 24, 1877, Russia declared war, aiming for, in the words of General Obruchev, architect of her invasion plan, “the full, irrevocable decision of the eastern question, the unconditional destruction of Turkish rule in the Balkan peninsula.”9With six months to prepare for the onslaught, the Turks were ready. The Ottoman riverine fleet had near-total control of the Danube, and the Black Sea was almost uncontested, as the Russians had been forbidden to build ships or maintain ports on the littoral by the 1856 Treaty of Paris (although they had “cheated” by floating a small striking force in the Sea of Azov, which was then quietly expanded into the Black Sea under cover of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870–71). While the Ottoman navy was not terribly strong on the Black Sea itself, the fact that it operated freely there forced Russia to keep 73,000 troops in reserve, guarding Russia’s southern coastline. Buttressing the Danube fortresses, Bulgaria had been flooded with nearly 180,000 Turkish troops, most of them armed with the new Peabody-Martini rifles, sighted in at 1,800 paces and greatly superior to the Russians’ mixed bag of Krnkas, Berdans, and Karlés, with only the Berdan accurate as far as 1,500 paces (the Russians’ weapons were furthermore not interchangeable, meaning that ammunition for one rifle would not work for the others). In artillery, too, the Ottomans had the advantage, having equipped their Balkan armies with the latest steel breech-loaders from Krupp.10 Judging by the order of battle, there was no reason for Abdul Hamid to expect that the Russians would make it any closer to Constantinople than they had in 1854.Obruchev’s campaign was, however, audaciously conceived and, for the most part, executed. After the spring floods had subsided, Russian sappers would secure a crossing point on the Danube between Zimnitsa and Sistova (Shishtov) by mining the river on both sides, to neutralize the Ottoman river fleet. This was achieved on the night of June 27–28, 1877, at the cost of about eight hundred Russian casualties. Obruchev had then insisted that the first army, 120,000 strong, should head straight for the Shipka Pass and, once through it, Constantinople, leaving a second army behind to deal with Ottoman fortresses on its flanks and rear. But Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, a prince of the blood given the command, chose instead to split his forces into three main columns, with the stronger two sent sideways to reduce Rustchuk and Plevna, while only a small spearhead of 12,000 men, under Y. V. Gurko, raced ahead to Shipka. Although Gurko reached and held the pass, the Ottomans, under Süleyman Pasha, brought up reinforcements and placed his men under siege. Farther north, a relieving force of 36,000 men, under Osman Pasha, outraced the Russians to Plevna and entrenched themselves in the fortress city, enabling the Turks to repel bloody Russian offensives all through summer and fall. In the end the Russians won Plevna only by surrounding it (with the help of Romanian troops, keen to win their independence), cutting off Osman Pasha’s supply lines and starving him out. Winning the honorific of “Gazi,” Osman Pasha went down fighting, his horse shot out from under him. He surrendered on December 10, 1877.Thus far, the clash of arms had been fairly evenly matched. The Russians had performed better in the Caucasus, taking Ardahan in May and Kars in November. And yet everyone knew the Balkans were the main theater of the war, with Bulgaria—and possibly Constantinople itself, known to the covetous Russians as Tsargrad—its object. Even after Gazi Osman Pasha’s capitulation, the situation seemed far from dire for the Turks. The Russians, now that their troops freed up from Plevna could and did relieve Gurko at Shipka Pass, might well push on through the mountains—but in winter, through the snows and ice? Surely, with the military odds narrowing and the prospect of British naval intervention in case his armies reached the Thracian plain—Disraeli had ordered the Mediterranean fleet to Besika Bay, at the mouth of the Dardanelles, as soon as Russian troops had crossed the Danube in late June—it seemed that the tsar would prefer to negotiate some favorable peace settlement based on his great victory at Plevna instead.The Russians now surprised everyone. Even as diplomats in Vienna, Berlin, and London began gearing up for another partition conference, the generals resolved to push on. As Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, commander in chief, told Tsar Alexander II, “We must go to the centre, to Tsargrad, and there finish the holy cause you have started.”11 After breaking enemy resistance in the Shipka Pass on December 27, 1877, and taking thirty thousand Turks prisoner, Gurko doubled back west and descended the Balkan Mountains above Sofia, occupying that city on January 4, 1878. The Russians then raced ahead to Philippopolis (Plovdiv), which fell on January 17. Three days later, with the Ottoman armies disintegrating, a Russian cavalry force entered Adrianople (Edirne), encountering little resistance. By January 24, 1878, advance units had reached San Stefano (, site of today’s Istanbul Atatürk Airport), on the shores of the Sea of Marmara, just six miles from the city gates.* After centuries of trying, the Russians had at last reached Constantinople. Would they claim their prize?Not if the British had a say in the matter. Despite all the mischief wrought by Gladstone’s pamphleteering and Salisbury’s intrigues, Disraeli was still prime minister, and he was not about to miss an opportunity to stand up to the Russians—not with crowds of English patriots waving the Ottoman flag in Trafalgar Square, singing the popular new tune “We don’t want to fight, but by jingo if we do . . . The Russians shall not have Constantinople!” Buoyed by the revival of popular Russophobia, Disraeli stood down his cabinet critics, and, on January 23, 1878, ordered the fleet to proceed through the Dardanelles.* Faced with the likelihood of British intervention, on January 30, 1878, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich accepted Abdul Hamid’s request for an armistice.12By a miracle, the Sick Man of Europe had been saved on his deathbed. Except that it was not really a miracle. Like clockwork, the empire’s traditional strategic advantages had resurfaced when they were most desperately needed. The geography of the Balkans had not, quite, prevented the Russians from nearing the capital this time, but it ensured that when they did, they were too exhausted and disease-ridden to fight. By spring 1878, more than half of the troops at San Stefano had gone down with fever, even as the Turks were quietly regrouping, raising nearly 100,000 men to defend the capital if the armistice was broken. The very threat to Constantinople, meanwhile, had reawakened the ghost of British Russophobia from the dead, with public opinion rapidly veering 180 degrees from Gladstone’s anti-Turkish hysteria to jingoistic war fever against Russia.* As if to celebrate his deliverance, Abdul Hamid prorogued the parliament indefinitely on February 14, 1878, as was his constitutional right.True, the empire’s delivery owing to outside naval intervention was not what the sultan had wanted. In its own way, the British fleet anchored just south of Constantinople at Prinkipo island (Büyükada) was just as much a threat to Abdul Hamid’s throne as the Russian troops encamped outside the city.* Still, it was the Russians who drew up terms for a diktat peace at San Stefano, ratified by the sultan under duress on March 3, 1878, creating a “Big Bulgaria,” under Russian occupation, an enlarged Serbia and Montenegro, a war indemnity of 1.4 billion rubles (although only 40 million Turkish pounds, or about 400 million rubles, was to be paid in cash), huge Russian gains in Anatolia, and the right of passage for Russian warships through the Ottoman Straits.13 But, as Abdul Hamid knew, with the British fleet at Prinkipo, and the other powers anxious about Russian gains, the treaty could not endure.The resulting Congress of Berlin (June–July 1878) hosted by Bismarck was, on the surface, a humiliating affair for the Ottomans. Although the Russians’ “Big Bulgaria” was broken up, with a new province called Eastern Rumelia placed back under full Turkish control and a rump “Bulgaria” still under nominal Ottoman suzerainty, and tsarist warships denied the right of access to the Straits, Turkey still lost the provinces of Kars, Ardahan, and Batum to Russia, and any remaining claim on a Montenegro now doubled in size, or on Romania or Serbia, both now fully independent. Austria-Hungary, upon prior agreement, was also given the right to occupy and administer Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Britain gained a protectorate over Cyprus. Although the Russians’ war indemnity was reduced to manageable size (“not more than 26,750,000 francs”), and the newly independent states were enjoined to pay their share of the Ottoman debt, European financial influence would now be all but absolute, with a new Debt Commission established to oversee the collection of Turkish customs, tariffs, and tolls so as to pay the empire’s creditors. Most onerous of all, Article 61 established European oversight of Ottoman internal affairs, stipulating that the “Sublime Porte undertakes to carry out, without further delay, the ameliorations and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds. It will periodically make known the steps taken to this effect to the powers, who will superintend their application.” Capturing the spirit of the affair, at one point Bismarck remarked, upon hearing his pet canine growl at an unfortunate diplomat, “The dog has not finished his training. He does not know whom to bite. If he did know what to do, he would have bitten the Turks.”14Still, not all the news was bad for Abdul Hamid and the Ottomans. The empire had survived, and had been spared the worst. In some ways the Treaty of Berlin infuriated the Russians, deprived of what they viewed as the spoils of a hard-earned victory, more than the Turks, who could not have expected very much. Indeed Russia was nearly bankrupted by the war, having spent a billion rubles and incurred 200,000 casualties, in order to “liberate” Balkan Slavs, even while populist-nihilist-terrorist opposition to the tsarist autocracy was growing at home, culminating in the assassination of Alexander II in March 1881. Despite the territorial losses of 1878, and the creeping European control over his pocketbook confirmed by the Muharrem Agreement of 1881, which established the Ottoman Public Debt Commission (Düyün-u Umumiye Komisyonu), Abdul Hamid was himself safer than ever on his throne—not least because the financial reforms imposed by European bankers raised public revenues by over 40 percent and capped annual debt service payments at a manageable level, improving the regime’s financial position considerably. The loss of Egypt to British occupation in 1882 after the khedivial regime defaulted on its debts proved, in similar fashion, a backhanded blessing, as Cairo more reliably paid Constantinople the tribute (£665,000 annually) necessary to underwrite new loans for Abdul Hamid. Like Egypt, the other newly independent or semi-independent provinces—Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Montenegro—were forced to pay down their share of old Ottoman obligations, routed through the Debt Commission. British and French bondholders, having been burned badly in 1875, wanted to make sure the sultan could pay down his bonds—as did even the Russians, hoping to salvage scraps of their hoped-for war indemnity. In this way the European powers, in their own financial interest, began nursing the Sick Man back to health.15Taking the lead in this endeavor was Imperial Germany. Notwithstanding Bismarck’s famous disinterest—before the Reichstag in December 1876 he had declared the entirety of the Ottoman Empire “not worth the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier”—there were good reasons for Germany to assume the burden of unofficial protector-of-Turkey-against-Russian-encroachment, now that Britain was cooling on the role (especially after Gladstone returned to power in 1880). With impeccable timing, Bismarck responded to the British move into Egypt in 1882 by sending a military mission, under General-Major Otto Kaehler, to train the Ottoman army and appointing a higher-level ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Joseph Maria von Radowitz (a former state secretary who had been ambassador to Russia during the Balkan crisis). Even as Bismarck was quietly reassuring St. Petersburg, in a “very secret” protocol of the Reinsurance Treaty (ratified in 1887), that Germany would remain neutral if Russia tried to seize Constantinople and the Straits, he was authorizing German officers, working with state-of-the-art imported German artillery (Krupp, Mauser & Lowe, and Schichau), to revamp Ottoman shore defenses on the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, and on land, where a new line of fortifications at Çatalca defended the approaches from Thrace. With German instructors dominating the Harbiye War Academy, and an energetic officer-on-the-make, Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz Pasha, taking over the military mission after Kaehler’s death in 1885, the Ottoman army was fully reorganized on the Prussian/German model, divided into seven military districts, each assigned a numbered army and its own section of reserves (redif), ready to be absorbed into the active army in wartime.16 Meanwhile, German railway engineers were extending the Orient Express railway into Asia Minor, reaching Ankara in 1892, with plans to reach all the way to Baghdad.The German-Ottoman relationship, nurtured quietly by Bismarck, blossomed into public maturity under Kaiser Wilhelm II after he forced the Iron Chancellor into retirement in 1890. At the impressionable age of thirty, the kaiser had been received with elaborate ceremony at Yıldız Palace by Abdul Hamid in 1889—a trip Bismarck had opposed, for fear of alarming the Russians. When the sultan told his young fellow sovereign, with an air of conspiracy, that his “visit would make [the] powers very nervous,” it was music to Wilhelm’s ears. Years later, the kaiser could still recall every detail of the trip (not least the lubricious dancing of the sultan’s Circassian slave girls).17The burgeoning ties with Germany paid off handsomely in the next major crisis to face the Ottoman Empire. Inspired—although ultimately disappointed—by the halfhearted endorsement of their plight in the Berlin Treaty of 1878, Ottoman Armenians had begun organizing opposition groups, advocating “freedom” (the Dashnaksutiun, or Dashnaks) and “independence” (the Hunchakian Revolutionary Party, or Hunchaks). Beginning in Erzurum in 1890, violent incidents rocked eastern Turkey, as several Ottoman government officials were assassinated, leading to reprisals against Armenians. Faced with what appeared to be a rebel movement, Abdul Hamid responded the next year by organizing Hamidiye regiments of irregular Kurdish tribesmen (most of whom needed little incentive to target Armenians). The crisis made international headlines in 1894, when an Armenian uprising in Sassun, near Van, led to the massacre of hundreds (or thousands) of civilians.* The slow-burning civil war spread to Bitlis, Zeytun, Erzurum, Trabzon, and finally Constantinople, when, following the capture of the Imperial Ottoman Bank by Armenian revolutionaries, populist Muslim mobs rampaged through the streets, killing Armenians. No one knows for sure how many Armenians perished between 1894 and 1896, but it was a substantial number, and it certainly dwarfed the much smaller number of Muslim victims (around 1,000). The true number is probably in between the official Ottoman estimate of 13,432 and higher contemporary figures, whether European Commission reports (38,000 “Christian,” i.e., mostly Armenian, deaths in the provinces, then 5,000–6,000 in the capital in August 1896) or a widely cited Armenian figure of 100,000. A leading demographer recently analyzed the hopelessly clashing data sets and came to no firm conclusion whatever.18Once again, ethno-religious unrest involving a Christian minority had provoked unwanted attention from Europe. But whereas in 1877, Russia was able to count on the neutrality, at least, of the other powers, in case she intervened on behalf of the Armenians, this time Abdul Hamid had a friend and patron in tow. As the hue and cry against anti-Armenian atrocities grew to a feverous pitch in fall 1896—with Lord Salisbury, now prime minister, reprising Gladstone’s tune with only a bit less moralistic fervor—there was one European statesman conspicuously absent from the chorus. While privately, Kaiser Wilhelm II harbored doubts as to Abdul Hamid’s political future, in public he made the most dramatic gesture possible, sending his friend a signed family portrait to celebrate his birthday on September 22, 1896, even as other Europeans were denouncing the sultan as “Abdul the Damned” and “the monster of Yıldız.”19More important than this symbolic gesture was the German role in strengthening the Ottoman military. True, the Kurdish Hamidiye regiments, modeled more on the Cossacks on the Russian side of the border than the Prussian army, had not distinguished themselves fighting Armenian partisans in eastern Turkey any more than had the Circassians in Bulgaria, with “Hamidiye” now replacing “Bashi-Bazouk” as a European byword for civilian atrocities. But the German-reformed regular army was soon given a chance to prove its worth, when, in January–February 1897, an uprising of Greek Christians on the island of Crete reached crisis stage. Although rooted in the same explosive nexus of ethno-religious antagonism as the Armenian troubles, the Cretan rebels had close links, via the nationalist society Ethnike Hetairia, to mainland Greece. With some ten thousand Greek volunteers embarking at Salamis and Piraeus to fight for the Cretan cause, on February 2, 1897, a Greek colonel, Timoleon Vassos, speaking for the islanders, proclaimed Eunosis, or Cretan union with Greece. Not wishing to be outdone, in March some 2,600 Greek partisans on the mainland crossed the border into Ottoman Macedonia, hoping to spark a general Greek uprising against the sultan. On April 10, Crown Prince Constantine led a force of the regular Greek army across the Turkish border, toward Janina. Fighting was already under way in both Crete and Macedonia when, on April 17, 1897, the Ottoman Empire declared war.The Turks were ready. Under Marshal Ibrahim Ethem Pasha, the Macedonian army had carried out a methodical, German-style mobilization, with each disciplined infantry unit equipped with smokeless repeating Mauser rifles, easily superior to the Greeks’ single-shot French Gras models. After repulsing Greek attacks at Janina and the Melluna Pass, Ethem Pasha led his main force into Greek Thessaly, routing the Greeks at Tirnovo and Larissa (), before the Greeks, under Colonel Konstantinos Smolenskis, rallied some 40,000 soldiers to defend the Thessalian hub of Domokos (Dömeke) against 45,000 Ottoman troops. After heavy fighting, Smolenskis was forced to pull back again, this time for a last stand at the legendary coastal pass of Thermopylae (though with considerably more men than the three hundred Spartans who had tried to hold off Xerxes). Before it came to that, the Russians intervened to force an armistice on the Ottomans, signed on May 19, 1897. The Thirty Days’ War had been short, sharp—and a triumph for Turkey.20In a flash, Abdul Hamid had dispelled the portents of doom surrounding the Ottoman Empire. Just months previously, the powers had been gearing up for another conference, with the Armenian massacres an excuse to put the empire through another partition; now they were begging the sultan to be magnanimous in victory. Having reversed the military humiliation of 1877–78, and knowing—this time—that it was best to stop before the Russians intervened, Abdul Hamid saw no reason to push his luck. While demanding that Greece pay a war indemnity, he made no claims on Greek Thessaly, aside from “rationalizing” the border line by incorporating about twenty villages into Turkey. Crete was given autonomy akin to Bulgaria’s, under Ottoman suzerainty, and an occupation force of Russian, British, French, and Italian troops were sent to the island to keep the peace between Muslims and the Greek Christian majority.21Although the war was a failure in terms of territorial gains and losses, the Ottomans—and Abdul Hamid himself—had regained the far more precious commodity of prestige. As if to beatify the beleaguered sultan’s reputation, Wilhelm II paid him an even more grandiose state visit in October 1898, which culminated in the kaiser’s notorious tribute before the tomb of Saladin in Damascus. “May the Sultan,” Wilhelm declaimed, “and his 300 million Muslim subjects scattered around the earth, who venerate him as their caliph, be assured that the German Kaiser will be their friend for all time.”22Although the kaiser was known for this kind of bombast, his praise for Abdul Hamid was no mere rhetorical flourish. Germany’s new ambassador, Baron Adolf Marschall von Bieberstein—soon known as the Giant of the Bosphorus—threw his considerable weight behind the sultan. Although a formal German-Ottoman alliance was never signed, a series of deals was agreed on in 1898–99 that amounted to a kind of strategic partnership. In exchange for granting the Berlin-Baghdad Railway concession, the sultan demanded that Berlin share intelligence on revolutionary opponents of his regime. The Germans, for their part, were given excavation rights on lands through which the railway would pass, including historical artifacts and also copper- and coal-mining grants.23The railway concession itself, signed on December 23, 1899, represented a considerable German investment in the kaiser’s friend. While the deal was misinterpreted in most of Europe’s capitals as a kind of mortgaging of the Ottoman Empire to Berlin, the terms were actually tailor-made for the extension of sultanic authority into the more loosely controlled regions of the empire, such as the Kurdish and Armenian areas of the southeast, and the Bedouin-bandit-dominated deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia. The Germans, through the offices of Deutsche Bank, had pledged to raise all necessary capital—beginning with a deposit of 200,000 Turkish lira in the Ottoman Treasury—and to finish construction within eight years. Meanwhile, in a clause personally negotiated by Abdul Hamid, the Ottoman government, “on its side,” reserved “the power of using, whenever it may desire to do so, its right of buying up the line from Konya to Baghdad and Basra.” In supplementary negotiations, the German Baghdad Railway Company further promised to construct telegraph poles at sixty-five-meter (seventy-one-yard) intervals along the entire line, to set aside 4 million francs for building Ottoman military installations nearby, and, in case of war, to put at the sultan’s disposal the railway’s “entire rolling stock, or such as might be necessary, for the transportation of officers and men of the army, navy, police, and gendarmerie, together with any and all equipment.”24Of course, the Germans still had to actually build the railway, which turned out to be far more difficult—and expensive—than anyone expected. German banks were nowhere near as well capitalized as the French and British ones that still dominated Ottoman trade, and it was a devilish business for the Porte to pay down German railway bonds under the oversight of the French-dominated Debt Commission, which controlled most forms of public revenue in the empire. The Taurus range in southeastern Anatolia was a logistical nightmare, which would require extensive—and expensive—blasting; in the end some three dozen tunnels were needed. Progress was halting at first, and then stopped completely in 1905 when the Ottoman government ran out of money again, even before the line reached the Taurus range.Still, the German investment in Abdul Hamid and his regime was too serious to be abandoned easily. Even as the Baghdad Railway was bogged down in financial difficulty, another German-led railway project was making tremendous progress, in part because it was financed independently of the European bond market. Under head engineer Heinrich August Meissner Pasha, construction had begun in 1901 on a Hejaz railway running from Damascus to Medina. This line, designed to speed up travel for Hajj pilgrims, was paid for almost entirely by popular subscription among Muslims, to the tune of 75 million francs. By 1908, the line had reached Medina, with plans to extend it to Mecca, and thereby allow Muslim pilgrims to come in by way of Ottoman ports and avoid the British-dominated route from Egypt across the Red Sea entirely.25In a way, the Hejaz line embodied the German-Ottoman partnership even better than did the Berlin-Baghdad project. The kaiser, after all, had declared himself the “friend for all time” of the sultan-caliph and his Muslim subjects, which gave political point to the Hejaz railway. Abdul Hamid had himself begun to promote pan-Islam as a means of uniting his empire, printing thousands of copies of the Koran for free distribution to Ottoman Muslims, demanding that officials address him as “The Shelter of the Caliphate” (Hilâfetpenâh), paying for mosque restoration out of his “Privy Purse,” scrupulously observing Islamic religious festivals, and promoting more Muslim Arabs to high imperial positions than had any sultan in centuries. Yıldız Palace, which Abdul Hamid rarely left except for Friday prayers at the nearby Hamidiye Mosque, became a sort of “Muslim Vatican,” to which the global Sunni umma, or community of believers, increasingly paid homage.26Pan-Islam also made for good internal politics, at a time when the percentage of Muslims in the empire—and in Constantinople itself—was increasing steadily. As Ottoman power receded on the empire’s borders, a great demographic backwash was under way, as the tide of Islamic advance into the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the southern Russia rimlands was reversed by increasingly assertive Christian peoples. Each of the wars of the nineteenth century had provided a spur to this process. In the wake of the Crimean War, some 300,000 Muslim Crimean Tatars had fled to Anatolia, followed shortly in the 1860s by over a million Circassians and Abkhazians from the north Caucasus (this later wave also reflected the defeat, in 1859, of the Avar “Lion of Daghestan,” Imam Shamil, whose Murid warriors had fought on the Ottoman side against Russia, although many Chechens and Abkhazians carried on the resistance until 1862). The Russo-Ottoman war of 1877–78, and the subsequent partition at the Congress of Berlin, resulted in the forced migration of some 90,000 Turks and 40,000 Laz Muslims from the Caucasian territories forfeited to Russia, even while 20,000 Armenian Christians fled in the opposite direction, to Russia. Farther west, the numbers were higher still, with 150,000 Crimean Tatars leaving Russia for Turkey, 120,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) fleeing their homes, some 600,000 Turkish Muslims leaving the “Romanian” Principalities, and nearly 200,000 Bulgarian Christians leaving Ottoman territory to enter the new, quasi-independent Bulgarian statelet. Little wonder that in the first modern census conducted in the Ottoman Empire, begun in 1881 and completed in 1893, this famously multidenominational empire was beginning to show a serious list toward Islam, with 12.5 million Muslims out of an overall population of 17.4 million, or about 72 percent. The trend continued after 1900, with the Muslim proportion of the Ottoman population reaching nearly 75 percent of a population of 21 million, by 1906. Constantinople itself, after briefly seeing the emergence of a Christian majority in the heyday of the Tanzimat in midcentury, had reverted to a Muslim-majority city by 1897, as it remains, to an even greater extreme, today.27Respectable opinion in Europe, of course, looked deeply askance at the Hamidian embrace of pan-Islam—and at Kaiser Wilhelm II’s uncritical endorsement of it. And yet, the more Western liberals, and his own opponents—most now living in exile—excoriated the sultan as “Abdul the Damned,” the more plots to depose him (both real, as in 1876 and 1896, and imaginary, most of the rest of the time) were revealed by his own and German spies—and the more he began to conflate his own personal survival with the fate of the Ottoman Empire. Abdul Hamid’s paranoid fear of assassination was legendary. It was said he carried a pistol at all times and did not allow the army to train with live ammunition—this was the high era of anarchism, after all (seven heads of state, including the Russian tsar and the U.S. president, were assassinated between 1881 and 1908). By the early 1900s, Yıldız had been turned into a survivalist compound, with its own farm, stables, and workshops spread out over the sprawling grounds. The “Muslim Vatican” was surrounded by unscalable encircling walls and guarded by seven thousand Imperial Guard troops under the command of Gazi Osman Pasha, hero of Plevna.28Unattractive as Abdul Hamid’s regime was to Western sensibilities, under his rule the Ottoman Empire was arguably in a stronger strategic position than it had been in decades. Railways, telegraphs, and paved all-weather roads were beginning to unite the empire, improving communications with provincial authorities while giving a solid spur to internal trade. By the turn of the twentieth century, over 800 kilometers of new roads were being laid every year, and another 450 kilometers repaired. While the empire still ran a large trade deficit with Europe in manufactured goods, Ottoman exports of foodstuffs, cotton, silk, carpets, tiles, and glass, along with coal and certain increasingly strategic metals like chrome, borax, and manganese, were booming in turn. Despite his reputation for Islamic obscurantism, Abdul Hamid (a speaker of French and devotee of Italian opera himself) was quietly supporting the expansion of European-style education in the empire. Eighteen new professional colleges were established during his reign, teaching subjects like French, composition, geography, statistics, economics, and commercial, civil, and international law. Funded by revenues specially set aside from a new Assistance Surtax (Iane Vergisi) levied by the sultan since 1883, hundreds of new state schools were being built across the empire, along with new public libraries serving an increasingly literate urban population. The number of students attending secondary schools with a secular curriculum doubled in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, suggesting that the Hamidian era may have represented more a “culmination of the Tanzimat” than a repudiation of it.29Meanwhile, although the powers continued to pry into Ottoman minority affairs, Abdul Hamid, relying on his German patrons and his own diplomatic skills, was able to keep new partition plans at bay. The sultan was more than Machiavellian enough to play the Balkan states off one another. Autonomous Bulgaria, after its absorption of Eastern Rumelia in 1885, was emerging as a regional bully, above all in Macedonia, where the Bulgarian Macedonian-Adrianople Revolutionary Committee (BMARC), founded in 1893, pressed irredentist claims (this is the organization that would evolve into the better-known Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, or IMRO, still an essentially Bulgarian affair though the new name concealed this better). Quietly, Abdul Hamid acquiesced in Greek rebel activity in the province so as to weaken Bulgarian influence. Negotiations were under way between the Porte, Greece, Serbia, and Romania to forge a general anti-Bulgarian alliance.30Meanwhile, the very vitriol directed at the sultan by the Western press commended him all the more to the kaiser and his German advisers as an ally. After the collapse of Bismarck’s system, Germany had, since 1892, faced a Franco-Russian military alliance. Britain and France had reached an entente cordiale over African colonial questions in 1904. With French encouragement, in 1907 London and Petersburg then put Great Game tensions to bed by dividing Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet into spheres of influence in an Anglo-Russian Accord. Spurred to action by the threat of encirclement by a Triple Entente, Ambassador Marschall and Abdul Hamid renegotiated a far-reaching railway agreement in spring 1908, which provided new revenue sources to help the Germans begin blasting the Taurus Mountains. The burgeoning partnership saw its physical manifestation in Haydarpasha Station, the great German-built flagship of the Baghdad Railway, nearing completion on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.With a powerful new ally in tow, the Sick Man of Europe, given up for dead at the onset of Abdul Hamid’s reign three decades previously, now appeared to be in full-on convalescence. Outside the gated fortress walls of Yıldız, however, others, unconfident of recovery, were sharpening their scalpels. Like so many patients under the knife, the Ottoman Empire could only hope that the cure was better than the disease.CHAPTER 2RADICAL SURGERY: THE YOUNG TURKS________The memory is so intense that to this day, I cannot think of it unmoved. I think of it as a final embrace of love between the simple peoples of Turkey before they should be led to exterminate each other for the political advantage of foreign powers or their own leaders.—HALIDÉ EDIB,Memoirs1When Muslims learn that the [newly installed] Caliph is powerless, and is only the puppet of people who are more or less estranged from Islam, then a major crisis will be unavoidable.—BARON MARSCHALL, German ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, October 19092FROM THE DISTANCE OF A CENTURY, pictures capturing the euphoric crowds in Constantinople in July 1908 appear at once inspiring and profoundly depressing. Can the peoples of this simmering ethno-religious cauldron of a country—Muslims and Christians, Balkan Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and Albanians, Turks and Greeks, Circassians, Tatars, Armenians and Kurds, Arabs and Jews—really have believed that a few French words (liberté, fraternité, égalité) would submerge their differences, reverse the Ottoman Empire’s centuries-old stagnation and decline, and bring Turkey into the sunlit uplands of modern constitutional democracy?Like all revolutionaries, the men and women of 1908 were truly united only in what they opposed: the tyranny () of the “monster of Yıldız.” Armenian activists blamed Abdul Hamid for the creation of the Hamidiye regiments, the massacres of 1894–96, and much else besides. Bulgarians resented the sultan’s stubborn claim of suzerainty over their country, even if Abdul Hamid had quietly acquiesced in the absorption of Turkish “Eastern Rumelia” into Bulgaria in 1885. Many Ottoman Greeks were still smarting from the humiliation of Greece in the 1897 war. Journalists chafed under the strict censorship regime the sultan had imposed, even as dissidents and exiles despised his secret police, which (with help from German intelligence) spied on them. Educated women, like many Christians and Jews, resented the Hamidian revival of Islam, which threatened to snuff out any progress toward civic equality gained in the Tanzimat era (the sultan had, on several occasions, decreed that women not leave home unveiled, or unaccompanied by males—although these instructions were widely ignored).3 Above all, ambitious Turkish military officers and politicians blamed the sultan for eviscerating the constitution of 1876, sidelining the parliament and Sublime Porte bureaucracy, and ruling by arbitrary decrees from Yıldız.If anything, it was Abdul Hamid’s own coreligionists and blood relations who seemed to despise him the most. Few Christians could have improved on the rhetoric of Ahmed Rıza, former director of state education in Bursa, founder of the Committee of Union and Progress (Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti, or CUP), and editor (from 1895) of the bilingual French-Ottoman journal (Consultation), in which pages the sultan was variously described (as a legal complaint filed by Abdul Hamid’s lawyers later noted) as “cheat, hangman, scourge of God, bloody majesty, bloody despot, degenerate tyrant, disgrace of the Mussulmans, wolf guarding the sheepfold,” and of course, “red Sultan.” Murad Bey, a Circassian Muslim who published a rival opposition organ, Mizan (Scale), was no less colorful in his indictments of a “reigning family . . . degraded by the debauches of the Seraglio.”4 Not to be outdone, “Damad” Mahmud Pasha, the sultan’s brother-in-law, who “fled” to Paris in 1899, told a sympathetic reporter from Le Matin that “the whole Ottoman Empire is a prison. Abdul Hamid keeps us all in prison, from Sultan Murad V to the lowliest member of the ulema in Istanbul.” To a Fleet Street hack, Mahmud was more colorful still, informing readers of the London Standard that the monster of Yıldız had “annihilated thousands of human beings—Muslims and Christians.”5Of course, we should be suspicious of testimony coming from royal pretenders like Mahmud Pasha. As one of Germany’s pro-Hamidian papers, Der Bund, sarcastically observed, had the wayward prince’s hatred for his brother-in-law been genuine, he might have turned down his annual retainer of three million Swiss francs.6 Like Rıza, Murad Bey, and the other “Young Turk” exiles, Mahmud believed that, given the chance, he could rule better than their sovereign. And yet these howls of agony in the face of oppression ring somewhat hollow when we consider that all of the main opposition figures lived quite comfortably abroad. Had the sultan’s autocracy really been up to snuff, and Mizan would never have found such a wide readership, nor their editors fame and influence.Viewed objectively, the vigorous political activity of Hamidian exiles suggests that the sultan’s “tyranny” was considerably softer than they claimed. Abdul Hamid, it is true, did do away with at least one dangerous opposition figure—Midhat Pasha, the very man who had helped put him in power. Tried and convicted in 1881 (on the testimony of the sultan-mother, Pertevniyal) for the murder of Abdul Aziz in 1876, the former grand vizier was exiled to Taif, east of Mecca, and reportedly strangled to death in May 1883. But, despite uncovering a real CUP plot to depose him at the height of the Armenian crisis in September 1896—a plot involving some 350 conspirators in the Ottoman army and civil service—Abdul Hamid had not executed his opponents for treason, but simply exiled them to distant provinces (Libya for the most dangerous, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Arabia for others).* The entire phenomenon of Ottoman exile politics is inconceivable without the sultan’s surprising leniency in 1896, which created an international cadre of elite enemies.7There is an intriguing parallel here with the experience of Russian revolutionary exiles in the same era. Despite what Bolshevik propaganda would have us believe about the butchery of “bloody Nicholas,” the last of the tsars oversaw a remarkably humane sort of police state by later Soviet standards. Socialists convicted of acts of treason during the Russian Revolution of 1905, such as Leon Trotsky, were serenaded by cheering crowds tossing flowers at them as they boarded well-equipped trains—Trotsky’s carried his personal library—for Siberia (Lenin, a late arrival to the 1905 Revolution, was denied the honor of internal exile, although he left Russia again in 1907). Trotsky found Siberia mildly disagreeable enough to escape on foot, later surfacing in Europe’s capitals, where he continued his fight against “Bloody Nicholas” in comfort. Likewise, most of the Young Turk “men of 1896,” inconvenienced by internal Turkish exile, decided they preferred the salons of Paris or Geneva to the deserts of Asiatic Turkey. For neither the first nor the last time, these autocratic sovereigns helped summon a mortal enemy into being by virtue of their own clemency.There was always a flexible dynamic of give-and-take between Abdul Hamid and his opponents. Some of them, he realized, were ambitious men who really did resent exile, and could be made use of. The Circassian Murad Bey, for example, after years of intriguing against the sultan from Cairo and Geneva, was lured back to Constantinople in August 1897 to join the State Council. His journal Mizan was never the same. Two more of the original founders of the CUP, Abdullah Cevdet and Sükûti, who (unlike those exiled earlier, such as Murad and Rıza) had personally participated in the 1896 plot, sought to fill the void created by Murad’s defection by publishing a new journal in Geneva, Osmanlı—until they, too, accepted state sinecures in 1899. No one was happier than Ahmed Rıza, whose opposition journal now had no real rival in the Ottoman exile community.There is something curious, if not downright suspicious, about the enduring strength of Ahmed Rıza’s position in the Young Turk movement. This fervent Francophile, born of a Bavarian mother and an English-speaking father, had scarcely pretended to an interest in returning home since moving permanently to Geneva in 1895. Early issues of , smuggled into the empire by way of the European embassies’ post offices, carried the positivist credo of Auguste Comte on the masthead, and used the Western calendar for dating, as if Rıza, a staunch secularist, feminist, and borderline atheist, did not wish to conceal his fundamental hostility to the religion of his birth. (As a younger Rıza had written to his sister while visiting Paris, “Were I a woman, I would embrace atheism and never become a Muslim. Imagine a religion that imposes laws always beneficial to men but hazardous to women such as permitting my husband to have three additional wives and as many concubines as he wishes, houris awaiting him in heaven, while I cover my head and face as a miller’s horse . . . keep this religion far away from me.”) Rıza was so pure in his positivism that he insisted the CUP slogan should be “Order () and Progress,” not “Union and Progress.” As Arif Bey , one of Rıza’s fellow exiles in Geneva, complained in a private letter, “If Istanbul publishes this among the already uneducated public, the little sympathy which exists in our favor will be ruined.” Worse than this was Rıza’s stubborn personality and domineering attitude. As concluded his complaint, “Since we have refused to accept [Ottoman dynastic] rule, why should we conform to the will of Ahmed Rıza?” As if sensing that Rıza’s prickly personality was an asset allowing him to divide and conquer his opponents, the sultan made no offer to entice him back to Turkey, even while quietly buying off Rıza’s rivals. Abdul Hamid was usually a step ahead of his opponents.With Rıza unable to unite the factions of the CUP, for a time it looked like Damad Mahmud Pasha would himself take over the movement. And yet Mahmud’s health was slowly failing, in part because of his exhausting travel schedule. As a fugitive royal harboring clear intent to depose a sitting sovereign, he was having trouble finding a country willing to allow him to reside permanently (even Swiss patience, it turned out, had limits). Seeking to force matters while he was still capable of doing so, Mahmud issued an appeal from Cairo, inviting Ottoman exiles—including also Armenian groups such as the Dashnaks and Hunchaks, along with Greek, Albanian, Jewish, Arab, and even Albanian opponents of the sultan—to attend a Congress of Ottoman Liberals in Paris in February 1902. And yet Mahmud was too weak to lead the conference himself (he died less than a year after it met, in January 1903), so the initiative fell to his son, Prince Sabahaddin.Seizing the moment, Sabahaddin staked his own claim to leadership. A man of real, if conventional, eloquence, Sabahaddin had fully imbibed European ideas of social equality and religious tolerance, alongside a roseate view of the Ottoman past in which these values were believed to have been uniformly practiced—until mercilessly thrust aside by the tyrant of Yıldız. “From its début to its constitution,” he told the forty-seven multi-ethnic, multi-faith delegates in Paris, “the Ottoman Empire has never failed to respect the language, the customs, the religion of all the various peoples over whose destinies it presided.” Never, that is, until Abdul Hamid had come to the throne, unleashing on his people “a regime of oppression, the sole source of the misdeeds which are committed in the Empire and which inspire the indignation of the whole of humanity.” In order to restore to Ottoman subjects “the full enjoyment of their rights recognized by the Imperial Hatts [decrees] and consecrated by international treaties,” Sabahaddin proposed that the delegates unite to overthrow the sultan (presumably, although he did not specify this, so that his father, or he himself, could assume the throne).To these sentiments, few Ottoman exiles could object. And yet the means by which Prince Sabahaddin wished them to topple the tyrant of Yildiz could not have been more controversial. As if determined to forfeit his own ascendancy in the movement, Sabahaddin added an important rider to the majority resolutions, which established a “permanent committee” to lobby the European signatories of the Treaties of Paris (1856) and Berlin (1878) “in order to obtain their moral concurrence and a benevolent action on their part,” with the aim of “putting into execution of the international agreements stipulating internal order in Turkey.” The reference to the Treaty of Berlin clearly pointed to Article 61, which had established European oversight of “the ameliorations and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds.” Playing to the crowd in Paris—a crowd in which Armenians were prominent—Sabahaddin had gone on record advocating European intervention on behalf of Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire, as if wishing to reprise the Crimean War. Nothing could have been more fatal to his standing among Turks and other Ottoman Muslims.The first to realize this was, predictably, Ahmed Rıza. Despite his own reputation for Western-style secularism, Rıza was too clever a politician to endorse European meddling in Ottoman internal affairs. In a minority dissent to Sabahaddin’s resolution, Rıza pointed out that “the Powers are guided by self-interest and that this self-interest is not always in accord with that of our country.” While expressing hopes that a reformed Ottoman government could, in line with the principles “of liberty and of justice,” satisfy the “legitimate desires of the Armenians,” along with that of “all the peoples of the empire,” Rıza and his supporters “rejected entirely an action which infringes the independence of the Ottoman Empire.”8In this way a powerful cleavage was opened up in the Ottoman exile movement, just at the moment when it seemed to be coalescing into a serious force. With the death of Damad Mahmud Pasha in 1903, Sahabaddin was left as the undisputed spokesman of Ottoman “Liberals,” with the support of most of the Christian minority groups, even as Ahmed Rıza spoke for the “unionist” faction dominated by Turks and Muslims. True to his promises in Paris, Sabahaddin petitioned the powers for help in overthrowing the Hamidian regime. In ecumenical fashion, he even petitioned the Vatican in March 1906 for an audience with Pope Pius X to discuss the plight of Catholics in the Ottoman Empire. Mostly, though, Sabahaddin focused on England, hoping to summon back the old liberal Turcophilia of the Tanzimat era. “With the triumph of Liberal ideas in Turkey,” he wrote to Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey in August 1906, “the great moral influence which Constantinople possesses over Islam at large is destined to assume an intellectual character. Such an influence would then serve as a powerful agent of reconciliation between East and West.”9With his liberal rival begging for British intervention and intriguing with the pope, it was not difficult for Ahmed Rıza to pose as the authentic Ottoman voice of opposition. Positivist he may have been, but Rıza was a patriot too—patriot enough to go on the warpath against exile backsliders who advocated the dismemberment of the empire. Although he accepted an invitation from the Dashnaks to stage a reconciliation with Prince Sabahaddin at a new Paris Congress in December 1907, Rıza insisted that the delegates confirm the inviolability of the empire, including the rights of the sultanate—and the caliphate, implying that Muslims would still enjoy symbolic primacy (even if not superior legal status). While the majority resolution worked up by the Dashnaks and liberals emphasized the need for “passive resistance” against the sultan (e.g., the refusal to pay taxes), “unarmed resistance” (such as public employee strikes), and “armed resistance to acts of oppression” (vaguer but clearly implying minority sedition), Rıza insisted, in another dissent, that “we are met not to commit follies and crimes or to create a pretext for the intervention of the Powers, but to realize a noble aim . . . by revolutionary means which suit the temper of our compatriots.”10Abdul Hamid would have been pleased. Even in asserting the common goal of overthrowing his regime by force, his opponents were still parsing the fine points as to tactics. He was now in the thirty-second year of his reign, surpassing Mahmud II (1808–1839) as the longest-lasting sultan since the seventeenth century. Murad, the sultan’s half-mad half brother, had died in 1904, the year after his brother-in-law, Mahmud, succumbed: there was thus no plausible pretender to disturb his repose. True, there were periodic assassination scares: an attempted stabbing in summer 1904, a carriage dynamited while Abdul Hamid was at prayer at Hamidiye Mosque in 1905. On one occasion, an earthquake felled the gargantuan four-ton chandelier of Dolmabahçe Palace while the sultan was sitting on his throne, receiving a foreign delegation. By now used to such frights, Abdul Hamid was so unperturbed he did not even stand.11Still, the sultan was not infallible. If it was not too difficult a trick to keep exiled politicians and pretenders quarreling among themselves, the spread of dissent through his army was more serious. Abdul Hamid had always had a difficult relationship with the armed forces, in large part because of the budgetary axe. To keep European creditors at bay, beginning in the 1880s the sultan had pared down the army bureaucracy. Judging from the 1897 war with Greece, the German-inspired rationalization of the Ottoman army had been fairly successful—but it left behind a large and growing class of disgruntled graduates of the service academies, unable to receive the cushy staff commissions they believed were owed them. The Ottoman navy was even worse off, as it was last in line for expenditure. Abdul Hamid’s fear of assassination had deleterious effects on both services—just as army recruits were not allowed to train with live ammunition, Turkish naval vessels were not allowed to be armed while in port (nor did the sultan allow them to venture into the Bosphorus, lest they turn their guns on Yıldız). After the turn of the twentieth century, military pay was almost chronically in arrears, which had a catastrophic impact on morale in the officer corps.12The trouble brewing was most serious in the Third Army in Macedonia, the Ottoman region stretching from Thrace to Albania, in between the Aegean Sea to the south, the Šar Mountains to the north, and Lake Ohrid in the west, marking the boundary with Albania. Much of this territory had been assigned to the “Big Bulgaria” the Russians had tried to create in the short-lived San Stefano Treaty of 1878, before being returned to the Ottomans in the Treaty of Berlin with a kind of special autonomous status, granted under Article 23. In part to stave off a unified movement for Macedonian independence, after the turn of the century Abdul Hamid had split Macedonia into three provinces (Salonica, Monastir, and Kosovo). Macedonia was a microcosm of the Balkan ethnic cauldron, with the Bulgarians the largest group but substantial minorities of Greeks, Serbs, “Macedonians” or Macedo-Slavs (who, according to chauvinists in the previous three groups, did not really exist), Vlachs (related to Romanians and mostly Orthodox), Turkish and Albanian Muslims, Albanian Christians, and a large Jewish population centered in Salonica (Thessaloniki). With the European powers looking on with a mixture of horror and greedy encouragement, Greece, Serbia, and semi-independent Bulgaria all pressed historico-irredentist claims on Macedonia, with the Bulgarians the most forceful. The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, or IMRO (formerly BMARC), founded in Salonica by Gotse Delchev in 1893, is often described as the prototypical modern terrorist organization. Confusingly, it advocated “Macedonia for the Macedonians,” although it was mostly a Bulgarian affair. By the early 1900s, Macedonia was a byword for intrigue and political terrorism, plagued by periodic assaults on mosques and churches, politically motivated train and postal carriage holdups, and ransomed kidnappings.In 1903, tensions ratcheted up to the most dangerous level yet. In April, a group of young Bulgarian anarchist “assassins” (not, apparently, affiliated with the IMRO) launched an uprising in Salonica with the aim of soliciting European intervention, in the style of the Bosnian-Bulgarian uprisings of 1876, but in a more targeted, twentieth-century terrorist fashion, blowing up water and electricity plants, tunneling under and then dynamiting an Ottoman bank office, and attempting (although failing) to fire a post office and natural gas facility, before self-destructing in a hail of some sixty bombs tossed in a shoot-out with Ottoman police. The assassins received just the response they wanted from the sultan, who yet again dispatched Circassian irregulars (the Bashi-Bazouks) to mop up resistance in the city, leading to a more generalized wave of popular Muslim retaliation against Christians that summer, which spread to Kosovo, ensnaring the Russian consul in Üsküp (Skopje), who fell victim to a mob lynching in mid-August. In an eerie echo of the earlier Bulgarian crisis, Russia dispatched its Black Sea Fleet to the Bosphorus, pursuant to forcing through a reform program that would include an international gendarmerie to keep order in Macedonia. Acting as a battering ram for Russia and the powers, the IMRO then struck in force, mustering (the government claimed) some 26,000 heavily armed guerrillas in a coordinated attack on Ottoman army positions in Kruševo and Smilovo (both of which fell), the rail lines around Üsküp, and in Thrace, focusing on Adrianople (Edirne). The uprising was by now serious enough that the regular Ottoman army was called on to crush the rebels, and it did so with relish, recapturing Kruševo and Smilovo, securing the railways and Edirne, and mopping up the last serious IMRO resistance by the second week of September. The death toll, comprising some 5,300 Turks and 6,000 Macedonians, was not historically high by Balkan standards. But hundreds of villages were burned to the ground, leaving over 70,000 Macedonians homeless, with another 30,000 or so fleeing to Bulgaria. The casualties included Gotse Delchev, founder of the IMRO, himself.13The powers seized on the violence to force through a sweeping new reform program at Mürzteg (October 9, 1903), cosigned by Russian tsar Nicholas II and Franz Josef I of Austria-Hungary. The centerpiece was an international gendarmerie to police Macedonia, similar to the one dispatched to Crete in 1897. Once again, the powers had determined to intervene after an Ottoman victory—in part to deaden its impact. It is not hard to imagine the resentment of Turkish officers in the Third Army, who had just put down a large-scale irredentist rebellion in less than three weeks, when they learned that they must now obey the dictates of European officers sent to keep them in line. Ostensibly, the Europeans were there because the Ottomans were not strong enough to provide law and order in Macedonia—and yet what had the army just proved, if not that it was perfectly capable of doing so (if at great human cost)?What galled many of the Turks even more was that the French, British, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Italian officers with whom they now rubbed shoulders in Salonica (the Germans alone, owing to the kaiser’s cultivation of Abdul Hamid and their own role training the Ottoman army, declined to participate) were far more sharply turned out than they, not least because they could afford to be. Since Mahmud II had suppressed the Janissaries in 1826, the Ottoman army had been thoroughly westernized down to dress and drill—but Western costumes and equipment, along with the social rituals surrounding their use, were expensive. Never well paid, Turkish officers and enlisted men alike were hit hard by the pinch of another Ottoman budget crisis in 1906, which stopped construction on the Baghdad Railway cold, and left army pay months in arrears. By year’s end mutinies had broken out across the empire, for the simple reason that no one was being paid—not even the officers, who protested alongside their men. Next year, the protests became nearly universal, with something like seventeen mutinies occurring over the twelve months from July 1907 to July 1908. Most of them petered out as soon as the sultan came up with the back pay.14In Macedonia, mutinous sentiment was more serious. In the Third Army, general dissatisfaction over poor pay blended together with resentment at the lavishly outfitted European officers, and the general air of Balkan conspiracy. Gotse Delchev and the IMRO may or may not have been the “first” terrorist group—they were certainly aware of the activities of the Dashnaks in eastern Turkey in the early 1890s, and the pan-Slavist intrigues that erupted in Bulgaria in the 1870s—but their example certainly influenced other irredentist movements, most famously the Serbian network that evolved into the Black Hand. It was perhaps only natural that Turkish soldiers targeted by IMRO conspirators seeking to destroy the Ottoman Empire would borrow their techniques in order to save it.A whiff of legend still surrounds the spread of revolutionary sentiment through the Third Army in Macedonia in the years before 1908. The “Young Turk” conspiracy has variously been ascribed to the Bektashi dervish order of the now-defunct Janissaries, Freemasonry, offshoots of the Italian Carbonari, and the covert influence of the Dönme, or crypto-Jewish Muslims believed to have clung to their faith after their spiritual leader, Sabbatai Zevi, publicly converted to Islam in 1666 (Dönme were numerous in Salonica). Whatever the truth about its ultimate inspiration, there is no doubt that cloak-and-dagger-style army “cells” existed, in which each new initiate, after being conducted into a secret meeting place blindfolded, would swear a loyalty oath (on “the sword and the Koran”), vowing to obey orders from the revolutionary committee, up to and including killing or suffering death. Each new member would learn the names of no more than a handful of others, with meetings of more than five people strictly forbidden.15In practice, not everyone followed such discretion. One of Mustafa Kemal’s officer friends, Ömer Naci, like him a card-carrying member of the Ottoman Freedom Society (Osmanlı Hürriyet Cemiyeti), as the movement was called before 1907, published his revolutionary musings in a Salonica children’s journal, leading to an order for his arrest.16 Naci was alerted in time for him to flee to Paris in March 1907, where he met Ahmed Rıza (whose “unionist” program sounded far more appealing to army officers than did Sabahaddin’s encouragement of European meddling in the empire). In September, the Ottoman Freedom Society was renamed the Committee of Union and Progress (henceforth CUP), in a kind of fusion with Rıza’s exile movement. All this was supposed to be secret, but Paris meetings of disgruntled Turkish officers with famous exile politicians, not to mention the increasingly open discussions of politics in the cafés of Salonica, were hard to hide from the sultan’s spy network. As Mustafa Kemal recalled of the scene of the time, “Revolutionaries were sitting at one table . . . I noticed that they were drinking rakı and beer. Their talk was most patriotic. They spoke of making a revolution. The revolution, they said, needed great men. Everyone wanted to be a great man.”17 Little wonder that the German liaison officer in charge of training the Ottoman army, Goltz Pasha, noted a dangerous politicization of the Third Army in a report to Kaiser Wilhelm II as early as December 11, 1907.18By spring 1908, rumors of some kind of conspiracy were widespread enough that the sultan began sending accredited agents to investigate. Things were coming to a head in Macedonia, not least because of an upcoming summit between the British king Edward VII and Tsar Nicholas II on June 8–10. If the worst fears of Turkish nationalists came true, the two sovereigns, pursuant to the Anglo-Russian Accord of 1907 delimiting spheres of influence in Asia, would bury the final Great Game hatchet by agreeing to a partition of what remained of Ottoman Europe. Adding to these fears, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was conducting menacing maneuvers along Turkey’s Black Sea coast. With a sense of apocalypse in the air, on June 11, 1908, Nazım Bey, a former police chief appointed by Abdul Hamid as central commandant of Salonica, was shot by unknown assailants shortly before he was to return to Constantinople with his report, reputedly on the orders of Ismail Enver Bey, a young CUP officer. The sultan responded by sending an official commission to investigate, whereupon Enver fled into the mountains on June 25–26. He was shortly followed by a higher-ranking Albanian CUP conspirator, Adjutant Major Ahmed Niyazi Bey, accompanied by some two hundred armed soldier-followers. On July 7, General Pasha, sent in by the sultan to crush the burgeoning mutiny in the Third Army, was gunned down in broad daylight in the streets of Monastir by a CUP officer, Lieutenant Arıf. Troops sent from Anatolia to finish the job instead went over to the revolution. In the days that followed, CUP committees across Macedonia began declaring the reinstatement of the constitution, going so far as to wire this demand formally to Yıldız Palace. The Third Army was in open mutiny against the sultan.19Abdul Hamid now played a masterstroke. With the word “constitution” being invoked far and wide as a kind of talisman of revolution, the sultan simply appropriated the term himself. On the night of July 23–24, 1908, Abdul Hamid announced the recall of the parliament, in effect reinstating the constitution. Imperial decrees then followed on August 1 and 3, abolishing the secret police and its prerogatives for searches and seizures, eliminating preemptive censorship, and requiring the publication of an annual budget. The special tribunals established in Macedonia to snuff out CUP activity were dissolved; a general amnesty for political prisoners was proclaimed, and extended to nonpolitical prisoners who had served more than two-thirds of their sentence. The CUP revolution had succeeded, it seemed, without a shot being fired—its aims endorsed by none other than Abdul Hamid. The Bloody Sultan, by stealing the revolutionaries’ thunder, had saved his throne.20It is important to recall the sequence of events in summer 1908 precisely, because they were so badly misunderstood outside the country. European journalists mostly noticed the euphoric, multi-ethnic crowds chanting French revolutionary slogans—Egalité! Liberté! Justice! Fraternité! And yet these crowds did not materialize until after the sultan had announced the recall of the parliament; they cannot have played any role in driving events. Until Abdul Hamid’s preemptive move, no one in the capital, nor anywhere else in the empire outside Macedonia, had the slightest idea that any kind of revolution was afoot—nor were most people clear on what, exactly, was meant by the reinstatement of the constitution.An idea of the popular disconnect between rhetoric and reality was captured in a famous exchange between Dr. Riza Tewfik, a future CUP deputy, and a crowd of Kurdish porters. “Tell us what constitution means!” the porters shouted. Dr. Tewfik replied, “Constitution is such a great thing that those who do not know it are donkeys.” “We are donkeys!” the porters roared back. “Your fathers also did not know it. Say that you are the sons of donkeys.” “We are the sons of donkeys,” the porters shouted back, although whether with enthusiasm or bewildered sarcasm is unknown. Another aspiring politician with a long red beard, less practiced in the arts of persuasion, promised his would-be constituents that “I have a beloved wife and five children. I swear that I am ready to cut them to pieces for the sacred cause as I would have done for His Majesty.”* Listeners could only surmise which “sacred cause” it was meant to espouse: the sultan, the constitution, or the CUP and its platform.21 Judging from the best-informed observers, the most popular slogan heard on the streets in the last days of July 1908 was “Long live the sultan! [ çok !].” Many Turks were seen proudly carrying portraits of Abdul Hamid.22The confusion was not confined to the public. Before the sultan preempted their conspiracy to overthrow him, CUP leaders had not settled on a political program, beyond the goals of restoring the constitution and holding elections. Did CUP army officers want to run for office themselves? Elect puppet candidates, who would take orders from the CUP? Try to infiltrate the government, purge the palace and Sublime Porte bureaucracies of Hamidian loyalists, and rule by secret decrees? Or simply dissolve into the background now that the victory seemed to be won, and allow electoral democracy to take its course?Not surprisingly, the CUP approach mixed together a bit of everything. True to the movement’s origins in secret cells, soon after the sultan’s climbdown the CUP dispatched a Committee of Seven to Constantinople to negotiate with the palace, including three future notables: Staff Major Djemal Bey, an ambitious postal official named Talât Bey, and Mehmed Djavid Bey, an economist, former bank clerk, and newspaper editor from Salonica (Enver and Ahmed Niyazi Bey were still in hiding). Quietly, the Committee of Seven exercised pressure on Abdul Hamid to reform the government and ensure that the parliamentary elections would be freely conducted. On the surface, this peculiar arrangement functioned reasonably well, as the sultan streamlined the bureaucracy and reduced state salaries—except for the army, which was now given priority. In the parliamentary elections, it was determined, all taxpaying males twenty-five years or older could vote for deputies who themselves were required to know Turkish. True to the “unionist” position of the CUP, there would be no ethnic quotas, but no discrimination either (in practice representation ended up split more or less proportionally among the empire’s ethno-religious groups). The CUP would make no effort to stifle other parties from contesting the elections, scheduled to begin in late October—although the existence of the Committee of Seven suggested to many opponents, not least the “Liberal Union” followers of Prince Sabahaddin (whose cause was now taken up inside Constantinople by the Circassian turncoat Mizancı Murad), that they were pulling strings behind the scenes.23The period between the July revolution and the fall elections was a time of great expectations for Ottoman reformers, liberals, and minorities. Inevitably, the period acquired a rose-tinted glow in folk memory. Halidé Edib, daughter of a palace secretary who had attended the American Academy for Girls near Izmit, was spurred to a life in letters by the events of 1908, which she witnessed firsthand. Nothing inspired her more than the celebratory atmosphere of the parliamentary poll. “Masses of people,” she recalled,followed the election urns, decked in flowers and flags. In carriages sat the Moslem and Christian priests [sic], hand in hand. Christian and Moslem maidens, dressed in white, locked in childish embrace, passed on, while the crowd that followed sang enthusiastically, “O country, O mother, be thou joyful and happy to-day.” The memory is so intense that to this day I cannot think of it unmoved.24The jubilation of democracy aborning was tempered, however, by sobering news from the empire’s borderlands. Even as election fever began to spread through the capital in September and October, Turkey’s traditional enemies began maneuvering for position. Since the Crimean War, Austria-Hungary and Russia had eyed one another warily in the Balkans, with only Bismarck’s mediation preventing a major breach during the crisis of 1875–78. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s support for the Hamidian regime, by helping to throw Russia into the arms of France, had effectively ended the old Dreikaiserbund of the three Eastern emperors, but this did not mean that the other two could not team up together against the Ottomans, as the tsar and Emperor Franz Josef I had done in 1903 over Macedonia (it helped that Russia was, at the time, focused mostly on her rivalry with Japan in the Far East). With the sultan’s hold on power tottering after the July revolution, negotiations between Vienna and St. Petersburg began over yet another diplomatic move at Turkey’s expense. The idea, hashed out at the Buchlau country estate of the Habsburg foreign minister, Baron Alois Lexa von Aehrenthal, with his Russian counterpart, Alexander Izvolsky, was for Russia to go along with Austria’s formal annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in exchange for Austrian support for revising the Berlin Treaty so as to allow Russian warships access to the Ottoman Straits.The final timing of Aehrenthal’s announcement was still up in the air when another diplomatic bombshell detonated in Constantinople. In late September, Abdul Hamid’s long-serving foreign minister, Ahmet Tevfik Pasha, invited European diplomats to dinner—with the notable exception of the Bulgarian agent diplomatique, the slight signifying the sultan’s refusal to brook any notion that Bulgaria was independent of Ottoman rule. On October 5, Prince Ferdinand, hitherto merely governor of an Ottoman vilayet, or province, decided to test the mettle of a diminished Abdul Hamid by proclaiming himself tsar of an independent Bulgaria. As if offended by being thus upstaged, next day Austria announced the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Aehrenthal adding helpfully that he had received Russia’s prior endorsement of it. Not to be outdone, Crete then declared Enosis, or union, with mainland Greece.Ottoman diplomats were able, in time, to dampen these blows by negotiating financial compensation and safeguards for the rights of Muslims in lost territories. And yet there was no hiding the humiliation. Compounding the shock, Turkey’s Christian neighbors had piled on her during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, as if intentionally to enrage the Muslim faithful. In these circumstances, it is surprising that religious minorities did as well as they did in the November elections, with 23 Greek deputies, 12 Armenians, 5 Jews, 4 Bulgarians, 3 Serbs, and 1 Vlach as against 142 Turks, 60 Arabs, and 25 Albanians. If anyone could be said to have “won” the elections, it was the CUP, with 60 deputies expressing allegiance to the committee, and the only other organized party, the Liberal Union, netting barely a handful. In recognition of his role in the movement, Ahmed Rıza was elected president of the Chamber when the body convened in the parliament building next to Hagia Sofia. Abdul Hamid himself opened the first session, as if to beatify the revolutionary conspiracy meant to topple him. He had suspended the parliament, the sultan explained as if in apology, in order to complete the work of modernizing the empire. This work done, deputies could help him stand up to the powers and restore Ottoman prestige.25The CUP ascendancy was, however, more fragile than it seemed. Opposition was already growing in the capital to this shadowy movement rumored to be running the government, even if no one knew just how it was doing it (the CUP had as yet obtained no cabinet positions). Ahmed Rıza, as president of the Chamber, was in the curiously exposed position of holding no real power, but being the public face of a reputedly secularist party, and parliament, which many Muslims resented for undermining the authority of a sultan still broadly popular among the faithful. Only in February 1909 did the CUP take a direct hand in governance, engineering a no-confidence vote in the grand vizier, Mehmed Kâmil Pasha (an old Hamidian stalwart first appointed to this post in 1885), and appointing a loyal committee man, Hüseyin Hilmi, in his stead. For better or worse, the CUP—and its most famous politician, Ahmed Rıza—could now be blamed for anything that went wrong.It did not help matters for Turkish secularists that the elections seemed to bring in their wake not only the diplomatic humiliations endured during Ramadan, but the appearance of more and more assertive unveiled women, like Halidé Edib, in the streets. Ahmed Rıza, long rumored to be an atheist and a closet feminist, was hardly the man to reassure the faithful that the traditional privileges of Muslims would be observed under the new regime. The unionist Rıza, owing to his feud with Prince Sabahaddin, was a lightning rod for the liberals too. He was, in short, the worst possible choice to unite the public behind the CUP. With almost painful inevitability, Rıza emerged over the winter as the embodiment of everything ordinary Muslims detested about secularism and European-style politics more broadly. While liberals were themselves outraged by what they saw as CUP abuse of its power, soon it was the hocas and imams who were making the running, uniting behind an opposition vehicle called the Society of Islamic Unity (Ittihad-ı Muhammedi Cemiyeti), founded by a Bektashi, Hafız Vahdeti.By spring, the Society of Islamic Unity, through its main organ, the newspaper Volkan, was calling openly for the restoration of Sharia law—to turn the political clock back not only to 1907, that is, but all the way to 1838, before the reforms of the Tanzimat. A mass meeting of Muslims was held in the Hagia Sofia mosque on April 3, the birthday of the Prophet. Several days later, Hasan Fehmi, editor of the liberal paper Serbestî (Freedom), known for its vitriolic attacks on the CUP, was murdered in broad daylight on the Galata Bridge, the assailant disappearing into the crowd before his identity could be established. Ottoman liberals, including many Christians, now took to the streets to protest against the government, alongside growing numbers of Muslim theological students (softas) with whom they had little in common other than an all-pervasive resentment of the CUP. Adding a crucial armed element to the burgeoning opposition were young noncommissioned officers in the First Army (known as regimentals, or alayli), who resented the arrogance of CUP men in the army, who tended to be educated graduates of the academies (mektepli, or “schooled”). Revolutions make for strange bedfellows, and this banding together of an anti-CUP coalition of liberal secularists, Sharia-spouting softas, and disgruntled subalterns was stranger than most.26The gathering storm of opposition finally burst on the night of April 12–13, 1909.* The driving political element seems to have been the softas, although the forceful arm was provided by about three thousand alayli soldiers, including Hamidian loyalists from the Taksim barracks, who marched into the old city and surrounded the parliament. While there does not seem to have been any concerted political program behind the march, the demands of the softas and mutineers were announced in full-throated shouts: the restoration of “the sharia law of the illustrious Mohammed,” the end of CUP control of the army, the restoration of Abdul Hamid’s prerogatives as sultan, and the handing over of Ahmed Rıza—so he could be replaced by a “true Muslim” (and presumably lynched). When no answer was forthcoming from the Chamber, the armed mob invaded the parliament. Terrified deputies ran for their lives; two were killed, apparently on false recognition (one was thought to be Ahmed Rıza, the second the editor of the CUP newspaper, Tanin). The CUP grand vizier, Hüseyin Hilmi, rushed to Yıldız Palace to tender his resignation. Rıza himself somehow escaped and went into hiding, holed up under German protection in a Baghdad Railway Company building.27It was a moment of truth for Turkey—and for Abdul Hamid. While no conclusive evidence has emerged that the sultan organized or supported the mob assault on parliament, he was clearly its immediate beneficiary. Grateful for what appeared to be good fortune, Abdul Hamid accepted the resignation of Hüseyin Hilmi and the entire cabinet. Tevfik Pasha, Abdul Hamid’s loyal long-serving foreign minister, was made grand vizier. Hamidian loyalists took over the army and naval ministries, with the aim of restoring the influence of alayli officers. A non-CUP deputy, Ismail Kemal, was elected president of the Chamber, and Mizancı Murad offered the new government the full support of the Liberal Union. Buoyed by what appeared to be a genuine popular clamor for the return of traditional sultanic authority, on April 15, the restoration of Sharia law was wired to every regional governor, as if to obliterate the Tanzimat from memory. Muslim mobs began to appear in the streets of provincial towns. In Adana, the CUP’s call to restore parliamentary authority led to clashes between Armenian groups favorable to the revolution and the local, pro-Hamidian army garrison, producing the worst massacres since 1896: some twenty thousand died, the vast majority (though not all of them) Armenians.* In the capital itself, a kind of terror descended, with CUP ministers assassinated and their newspaper offices sacked. Foreign observers must have been suffering from whiplash: Turkey had gone from Hamidian despotism to constitutionalism and back again, all in less than nine months.28Retribution was not long in coming. Having survived in power for nearly thirty-three years, Abdul Hamid may have overestimated his own political acumen in reading the situation in April 1909. He may also have suffered from poor intelligence, not least because his old spy chief, Izzet Pasha, had skipped town in early August 1908, after hiding out from the then-anti-Hamidian mob in the German embassy (the Germans’ similar sheltering of the anti-Hamidian scapegoat Ahmed Rıza eight months later being a curious reflection of their enduring influence in Constantinople, whichever faction held sway).29 Whatever the reason, the sultan overplayed his hand badly. By crushing the CUP so openly, he could not but unite the powerful cells of the Third Army in Macedonia against him, along with the entire class of educated mektepli officers. Under the leadership of General Mahmud Shevket Pasha, with support from younger mektepli officers like Enver Bey and Mustafa Kemal, a new Action Army (Hareket Ordusu) was formed to march on the capital. On April 22, the commanders met with deposed parliamentary deputies and other political notables outside the city gates at —where the Russians had stopped their advance in 1878. They agreed that the sultan must be deposed, although they would not announce this until the city was secured.On April 24, the Action Army stormed into the capital. Abdul Hamid, realizing too late what he was up against, ordered his troops not to resist, but many chose to anyway. The fighting lasted on through the day, with major engagements in Taksim,* Fatih, and the old Sublime Porte in Stambul, before Guard troops made a last stand at Yıldız, fortified by the sultan into an armed compound for precisely such a contingency. But the stand did not last long. By nightfall, the overmatched Guard troops gave in. The Action Army cut off the electricity, plunging Yildiz into darkness. Servants were seen fleeing the palace, “carrying bundles of linen and jewels.” Abdul Hamid’s sons fled, seeking refuge in the palaces of their married sisters. The palace eunuchs and ladies, it was said, fell into hysterics. At last, as one of the sultan’s daughters recalled, “in the great palace there were only women.”30On April 25, General Shevket Pasha imposed martial law on Constantinople amid terrible scenes as pro-Hamidian soldiers and officials were executed in public view. Two days later the reconvened parliament decreed the deposition of Abdul Hamid II, in favor of his brother, Mehmed Reshad (who would rule as Mehmed V). As if to taunt the man they were humiliating, the CUP decided to exile Abdul Hamid to Salonica, epicenter of the political conspiracy that had destroyed his regime. This time, unlike in July 1908, there would be no backsliding, no restoration. Shevket Pasha took over command of all forces in the capital, and was appointed inspector of the First, Second, and Third Armies, just in case Hamidian sentiment reared its head again. The CUP was in power, this time in earnest.31The position of the new regime, however, remained precarious. Diplomatically speaking, the humiliations of October 1908 were compounded by a creeping estrangement from Imperial Germany, whose support had given crucial strategic ballast to the Hamidian regime. Not even Baron Marschall, the Giant of the Bosphorus, could stanch the blow to German-Turkish relations struck by Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, especially after Russia acquiesced in it in March 1909 owing to pressure from Berlin, bringing to an end this dangerous First Bosnian Crisis, as it later came to be called. The Germans, for their part, were perturbed not only by the treatment of the kaiser’s friend Abdul Hamid, but by a series of strikes that all but halted construction on the Baghdad Railway. While elements of the old strategic partnership between Berlin and Constantinople, such as the Goltz military mission, were, in time, restored, the spirit of the thing had been lost. “Hajji” Wilhelm had fallen for Abdul Hamid expressly because of the traditional Islamic prerogatives of the Ottoman sultanate (and caliphate), which seemed to offer Germany a way to undermine her colonial rivals. Now that the Young Turks had done away with both him and his pan-Islamic policies, the kaiser had no cause for pro-Ottoman enthusiasm.Domestically, the CUP position was murkier still. Martial law was hardly an encouraging slogan for a new era of popular government. In a seemingly adroit political move, Enver Bey organized a public funeral for fifty unidentified men felled in the capital on April 24. He reminded the crowds, as if to heal the gaping political wounds of the revolution, counterrevolution, and counter-counterrevolution, that here were “Moslems and Christians lying side by side.” In the new CUP era, he promised, Ottoman citizens would all be “fellow-patriots who know no distinction of race or creed.”32 Yet by emphasizing the rights of religious minorities, Enver was implicitly conceding that the CUP, just as Muslim critics had asserted, did not believe in Sharia law. After the violation of the sultan-caliph by the Action Army—which had literally invaded the sacred precinct of the Imperial Harem—it appeared to many pious Muslims that the Young Turks were not Muslims at all, but were maybe even Dönme, or crypto-Jews. As Ambassador Marschall noted in an October 1909 dispatch, “When Muslims learn that the [newly installed] Caliph is powerless, and is only the puppet of people who are more or less estranged from Islam, a major crisis will be unavoidable.” For this reason, CUP leaders needed to watch their mouths. “Since the catastrophe of 13 April,” he observed, “the [Young Turks] have become more careful. Women’s emancipation is being put to the side, and once again Sharia law is spoken of. Nevertheless, strict Muslims regard the whole [CUP] regime with deep mistrust, if not with outright hostility.”33Whether out of conviction, opportunism, or simple fear, the Young Turks gradually abandoned their positivist credos in the years after 1909 to make their peace with the majority Muslims of the land they now ruled. By the time of the CUP congress of April 1911, party leaders were speaking openly of Sharia law, and publicly denouncing members, such as the Salonica sophisticate and financier Djavid Bey, suspected of Jewish-Dönme connections. The CUP platform approved by 180 delegates on April 22, 1911, was, as Ambassador Marschall informed Berlin with a note of approval, “of a strong Islamic-reactionary character.”34 After all the Sturm und Drang of the revolution, it was as if Abdul Hamid had never left his throne.Reforms in the Ottoman army, meanwhile, after being thrown off-kilter during the upheaval of 1908–9, took on a much more serious aspect after the mektepli officers had established their ascendancy with the counter-counterrevolution of April 24, 1909. A law passed on June 26, 1909, established maximum ages for various officer grades, in order to clear out “dead wood” (meaning alayli, or less educated, officers, who also tended to be older) and open spots for the promotion of ambitious mektepli men. On August 7, 1909, the Law for the Purge of Military Ranks was passed, establishing new educational requirements for commissions, with much the same intent. Longer-term reforms, some of which had already been in the works in the late Hamidian era, were also accelerated. The most significant of these was the introduction of a proper corps structure, with each corps, comprising three infantry divisions, under the command of a lieutenant general (a rank previously unknown in the Ottoman army, as was the corps). Following the ideas of Goltz Pasha, who had devoted intense study to the lessons of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5, the Ottomans also streamlined infantry divisions on a “triangular” basis, reducing the total number of battalions in each from sixteen to nine, divided up into three infantry regiments matched by three corresponding artillery battalions, alongside a rifle battalion (each division would also have its own musical band). The idea was to make each division more flexible, allowing regiments to be rotated into and out of the front lines, and to enable much closer tactical coordination between artillery and infantry. Reserve units (the redif) were also reorganized into proper army corps, each of them given artillery components to improve their striking power.

Editorial Reviews

 “A sweeping account…The most original and passionately written parts concern the fight between Russians and Turks in eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus. Two things distinguish Mr. McMeekin from many other writers in English about this period. First, he has a deep empathy with Turkish concerns, and he hews closer to the official Turkish line than to the revisionist, self-critical approach taken by some courageous Turkish liberals. Second, he has some unusual insights into imperial Russian thinking, based on study of the tsarist archives…[Mr. McMeekin] brings some useful correctives into focus.”—The Economist “Using previously unknown sources from Ottoman and Russian archives, [McMeekin] denounces the notion that the Middle East as we know it today is a legacy of World War I and Anglo-French decisions in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. He argues that events far richer and more intricate caused the end of the empire…[A] valuable academic work.”—Library Journal “Magisterial…Giving events in the Ottoman theater the same attention to detail usually reserved for the Western front, McMeekin argues that principals on all sides were stymied by myopic preconceptions as the war gained steam, with movements on the ground easily overcoming any pretense of rational planning…McMeekin’s gripping narrative style and literary panache make this work an attractive resource for anyone looking to further understand the destruction and dislocation in Asia Minor that ushered in the modern age.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review   “Thought-provoking…McMeekin observes early on that there's much more to [the] story than the smoothly duplicitous diplomacy that makes up the last hour of Lawrence of Arabia and much more than T.E. Lawrence himself…Thriving on untold stories, McMeekin looks at the punctuated collapse of the Ottoman Empire in Eastern Europe and its momentary successes following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which had the effect of exposing rivalries between the Ottomans and their German allies that almost resulted in war on yet another front. The author also gives a lucid account of the geneses of secular governments in what became Turkey and those of more theocratically or autocratically inclined ones in the neighboring former provinces…Vigorous and accessible.” —Kirkus“A well-timed, well-researched exploration of the empire whose dissolution continues to complicate making sense of the contemporary Middle East. Herein are explanations of how modern Turkey, Iraq, and Syria came to be, as well as how the division of the rest of the region affected its future. Scholars and practitioners alike will benefit from reading it.”-Henry Kissinger    “Where conventional histories of World War One focus on the trench warfare in the West, Sean McMeekin, combining ground breaking archival research with a genius for historical narrative, tells the story of the war in the East. From the Bolshevik Revolution to the Armenian Genocide, McMeekin weaves the dramatic and world shaking events of one of history’s greatest conflicts into a compelling and original story. As characters like Leon Trotsky, Kemal Ataturk and Winston Churchill stride — or in some cases, slink — across these pages, readers will see some of history’s most important events from a fresh perspective. There are many histories of World War One; few are as important or as readable as this one.”-Walter Russell Mead   “Sean McMeekin’s The Ottoman Endgame pleases like a mouthful of Turkish delight, the flavors, scents and views of the old empire combining in a gripping new history that plunges the Turkish Empire into the Great War and locates Constantinople not at the edge of the conflict but at its very heart. McMeekin pulls all of the familiar but disconnected threads together in a stunningly original way: the Young Turks, the Balkan Wars, the German alliance, Gallipoli, Iraq, the vast, forgotten battles with the Russians in the snowy Caucasus, the Armenian genocide, the naval struggle on the Black Sea, and the frothy legend of Lawrence of Arabia. The crucial influence of these far-reaching Turkish campaigns on World War I and its aftermath emerges in McMeekin’s wry, delightful book, which fills in a neglected face of the war and traces the emergence of the modern Middle East.” -Geoffrey Wawro, author of A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire and Quicksand: America’s Pursuit of Power in the Middle East   “A real feat of historical scholarship, offering genuinely new interpretations and fresh insights into the origins of the modern Middle East.”-Roger Crowley, author of 1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West   “McMeekin synthesizes an impressive amount of fresh material from across Europe’s archives in this balanced and  perceptive analysis of the twelve-year War of Ottoman Succession, between 1911, and 1923, that ended an empire after six centuries; redrew the map and reshaped the culture of the Middle East; and almost tangentially played a crucial  role in the outbreak of World War I and the peace that—temporarily—concluded it.”-Dennis Showalter, professor of history, Colorado College    “Sean McMeekin has an infernal panorama to describe, as, over twelve years, the Ottoman Empire fell apart, giving us problems that have gone on to this day. The subject has found a writer with all the linguistic and scholarly qualifications to do it justice.”-Norman Stone, author of Turkey: A Short History    “A tour de force. Using an unprecedented array of new sources—German, Russian, Turkish, French and British—Sean McMeekin not only describes a key aspect of the First World War but also provides a key to the tragedy of the Middle East today.”-Philip Mansel, author of Levant: Splendour and Catastrophe on the MediterraneanFrom the Hardcover edition.