From the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic

[Excerpted from w, Helen Chapin Metz, ed. (Washington, D. C.: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1995)]


The Young Turks

The repressive policies of Abdül Hamid II fostered disaffection, especially among those educated in Europe or in Westernized schools. Young officers and students who conspired against the sultan's regime coalesced into small groups, largely outside Istanbul. One young officer, Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk), organized a secret society among fellow officers in Damascus and, later, in Thessaloniki (Salonika) in present-day Greece. Atatürk's group merged with other nationalist reform organizations in 1907 to form the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). Also known as the Young Turks, this group sought to restore the 1876 constitution and unify the diverse elements of the empire into a homogeneous nation through greater government centralization under a parliamentary regime.

In July 1908, army units in Macedonia revolted and demanded a return to constitutional government. Appearing to yield, Abdül Hamid II approved parliamentary elections in November in which the CUP won all but one of the Turkish seats under a system that allowed proportional representation of all millets . The Young Turk government was weakened by splits between nationalist and liberal reformers, however, and was threatened by traditionalist Muslims and by demands from non-Turkish communities for greater autonomy. Abdül Hamid II was forced to abdicate and was succeeded by his brother, Mehmet V, in 1909. Foreign powers took advantage of the political instability in Istanbul to seize portions of the empire. Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina immediately after the 1908 revolution, and Bulgaria proclaimed its complete independence. Italy declared war in 1911 and seized Libya. Having earlier formed a secret alliance, Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria invaded Ottoman-held Macedonia and Thrace in October 1912. Ottoman forces were defeated, and the empire lost all of its European holdings except part of eastern Thrace.

The disasters befalling the empire led to internal political change. The liberal government in power since July 1912 was overthrown in January 1913 in a coup engineered by Enver Pasha, and the most authoritarian elements of the Young Turk movement gained full control. A second Balkan war broke out in June 1913, when the Balkan allies began fighting among themselves over the division of the spoils from the first war. Taking advantage of the situation, Ottoman forces turned on Bulgaria, regaining Edirne and establishing the western boundary of the empire at the Maritsa River.

After a brief period of constitutional rule, the leadership of the CUP emerged as a military dictatorship with power concentrated in the hands of a triumvirate consisting of Mehmet Talat Pasha, Ahmet Cemal Pasha, and Enver, who, as minister of war, was its acknowledged leader in the war.

World War I

As the two European alliance systems drew closer to war in 1914, Enver's pronounced pro-German sympathies, shared by many in the military and bureaucracy, prevailed over the pragmatic neutrality proposed by Talat and Cemal. Germany had been pro-Ottoman during the Balkan wars, but the Porte had no outstanding differences with either Britain or France in the summer of 1914. In guiding his government toward alignment with Germany, Enver was able to play on fear of the traditional Ottoman enemy, Russia, the ally of Britain and France in the war.

On August 2, 1914, Enver concluded a secret treaty of alliance with Germany. General mobilization was ordered the next day, and in the following weeks concessions granted to foreign powers under the capitulations were canceled. It remained for Germany, however, to provide the casus belli. Two German military vessels--the battleship Gben and the heavy cruiser Breslau --that had been caught in a neutral Ottoman port when war broke out in Europe were turned over to the Ottoman navy. In October they put to sea with German officers and crews and shelled Odessa and other Russian ports while flying the Ottoman flag. Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire on November 5, followed the next day by Britain and France. Within six months, the Ottoman army of about 800,000 men was engaged in a four-front war that became part of the greater conflict of World War I.

Enver launched an ill-prepared offensive in the winter of 1914-15 against the Russians in the Caucasus, vainly hoping that an impressive demonstration of Ottoman strength there would incite an insurrection among the tsar's Turkish-speaking subjects. Instead, a Russian counteroffensive inflicted staggering losses on Ottoman forces, driving them back to Lake Van. During the campaign in eastern Anatolia, assistance was given to the Russians by some Armenians, who saw them as liberators rather than invaders. Armenian units were also part of the Russian army. Enver claimed that an Armenian conspiracy existed and that a generalized revolt by the Armenians was imminent. During the winter months of 1915, as the shattered Ottoman army retreated toward Lake Van, a massive deportation of as many as 2 million Armenians was undertaken in the war zone. It shortly degenerated into a massacre, as ethnic Turks and Kurds descended on Armenian villages or slaughtered refugees along the road. The most conservative estimates put the number of dead at 600,000, but other sources cite figures of more than 1 million. The situation of those Armenians who survived the march out of Anatolia was scarcely improved under the military government in Syria. Others managed to escape behind Russian lines. The episode occasioned a revulsion in Western Europe that had its effect in the harsh terms meted out by the Allies in the postwar settlement.

In the spring of 1915, the Allies undertook naval and land operations in the Dardanelles that were intended to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war with one blow and to open the straits for the passage of supplies to Russia. Amphibious landings were carried out at Gallipoli, but British forces, vigorously opposed by forces commanded by Atatürk, were unable to expand their beachheads. The last units of the expeditionary force were evacuated by February 1916.

In Mesopotamia the Ottoman army defeated a British expeditionary force that had marched on Baghdad from a base established at Basra in 1915. The British mounted a new offensive in 1917, taking Baghdad and driving Ottoman forces out of Mesopotamia. In eastern Anatolia, Russian armies won a series of battles that carried their control west to Erzincan by July 1916, although Atatürk, who was then given command of the eastern front, led a counteroffensive that checked the Russian advance. Russia left the war after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The new Russian government concluded the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers in March 1918, under which the Ottoman Empire regained its eastern provinces.

Sharif Husayn ibn Ali, the sultan's regent in Mecca and the Hijaz region of western Arabia, launched the Arab Revolt in 1916. The British provided advisers, of whom T.E. Lawrence was to become the best known, as well as supplies. In October 1917, British forces in Egypt opened an offensive into Palestine; they took Jerusalem by December. After hard fighting, British and Arab forces entered Damascus in October 1918. Late in the campaign, Atatürk succeeded to command of Turkish forces in Syria and withdrew many units intact into Anatolia.

Ottoman resistance was exhausted. Early in October, the war government resigned, and the Young Turk triumvirate--Enver, Talat, and Cemal--fled to exile in Germany. Mehmet VI (r. 1918-22), who had succeeded to the rule upon his brother's death in July, sued for peace through a government headed by liberal ministers that signed an armistice at Mudros on October 30, 1918, that had been dictated by the Allies. Allied warships steamed through the Dardanelles and anchored off Istanbul on November 12, the day after the end of the war in Europe. In four years of war, the Ottoman Empire had mobilized about 2.8 million men, of whom about 325,000 were killed in battle. In addition, more than 2 million civilians, including both Turks and Armenians, are believed to have died of war-related causes. Talat and Cemal, who were held responsible for the deportation of Armenians and the mistreatment of refugees, were assassinated by Armenian nationalists in 1921. The following year, Enver was killed while fighting the Bolsheviks in Central Asia.

Atatürk and the Turkish Nation

Atatürk returned to Istanbul at the end of the war, his military reputation untarnished by the defeat of the empire that he had served. Revered by his troops as well as the Turkish masses, Atatürk soon emerged as the standard-bearer of the Turkish nationalist movement.

Born in Thessaloniki in 1881, Atatürk was the son of a minor government official in a city where Turks outnumbered Greeks. His ardent Turkish nationalism dated from his early days as a cadet in the military school at Monastir (in the present-day Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) during a time of constant conflict between Ottoman troops and Macedonian guerrillas, who attacked the Turkish population in the region. Following graduation from the military academy in Istanbul, Atatürk held various staff positions and served in garrisons at Damascus and Thessaloniki, where he became involved in nationalist activities. He took part in the coup that forced Abdül Hamid II's abdication in 1909. Atatürk organized irregular forces in Libya during the war with Italy in 1911 and subsequently held field commands in the two Balkan wars (1912-13). Assigned to a post in the Ministry of War after the armistice, Atatürk quickly recognized the extent of Allied intentions toward the Ottoman Empire.

Plans for Partitioning Turkey

Allied troops--British, French, and Italian, as well as a contingent of Greeks--occupied Istanbul and were permitted under the conditions of the armistice to intervene in areas where they considered their interests to be imperiled. During the war, the Allies had negotiated a series of agreements that outlined not only the definitive dismantling of the Ottoman Empire but also the partitioning among them of what Turkish nationalists had come to regard as the Turkish homeland. According to these agreements, Russia was at last to be rewarded with possession of Istanbul and the straits, as well as eastern Anatolia as far south as Bitlis below Lake Van. France and Italy were conceded portions of Anatolia, and Britain had promised Izmir to Greece--although it had also been promised to Italy--to encourage Greek entry into the war in 1917.

The Bolshevik government had renounced tsarist claims when it made its separate peace at Brest-Litovsk, but Britain, France, Italy, and Greece all pressed their respective claims at the Paris peace talks in 1919. All agreed with the provisions of President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points calling for an independent Armenia and an autonomous Kurdistan. How the Allies would implement the clause providing that the Turkish-speaking nation "should be assured of a secure sovereignty" was not clear.

The terms of a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire were presented by the Allies in April 1920 at San Remo, Italy, and were embodied in the Treaty of SËvres, which was concluded the following August. The treaty was shaped by the wartime agreements made by the Allies. In addition, France received a mandate over Lebanon and Syria (including what is now Hatay Province in Turkey), and Britain's mandate covered Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine. Eastern Thrace up to a line from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara as well as Izmir and its hinterland were to be occupied by Greece, with the final disposition of the territory to be decided in a plebiscite. The Treaty of SËvres was never enforced as such, as events in Turkey soon rendered it irrelevant.

Nationalist Movement

The sultan was kept in the custody of the Allies to ensure the cooperation of an Ottoman administration, which had effective jurisdiction only in Istanbul and part of northern Anatolia, while they disposed of the rest of his empire. At the same time, a Turkish nationalist movement was organized under Atatürk's leadership to resist the dismemberment of Turkish-speaking areas. Atatürk had been sent to eastern Anatolia as inspector general, ostensibly to supervise the demobilization of Ottoman forces and the disposition of supplies, but more particularly to remove him from the capital after he had expressed opposition to the Allied occupation there. Upon his arrival at Samsun in May 1919, Atatürk proceeded to rally support for the nationalist cause and to recruit a nationalist army. Guerrilla warfare against the government gradually grew to full-fledged campaigns against the Greek army that threatened to involve the other Allied occupation forces.

In July 1919, a nationalist congress met at Erzurum with Atatürk presiding to endorse a protocol calling for an independent Turkish state. In September the congress reconvened at Sivas. Although the delegates voiced their loyalty to the sultan-caliph, they also pledged to maintain the integrity of the Turkish nation. The congress adopted the National Pact, which defined objectives of the nationalist movement that were not open to compromise. Among its provisions were the renunciation of claims to the Arab provinces, the principle of the absolute integrity of all remaining Ottoman territory inhabited by a Turkish Muslim majority, a guarantee of minority rights, the retention of Istanbul and the straits, and rejection of any restriction on the political, judicial, and financial rights of the nation.

Negotiations continued between the nationalist congress and the Ottoman government, but to no avail. Atatürk resigned from the army when relieved of his duties. The naming of a chief minister in Istanbul considered sympathetic to the nationalist cause brought a brief improvement in relations, however, and the Ottoman parliament, which met in January 1920, approved the National Pact. In reaction to these developments, Allied occupation forces seized public buildings and reinforced their positions in the capital, arrested and deported numerous nationalist leaders, and had parliament dismissed.

Allied actions brought a quick response from the nationalists. In April they convened the Grand National Assembly in Ankara, in defiance of the Ottoman regime, and elected Atatürk its president. The Law of Fundamental Organization (also known as the Organic Law) was adopted in January 1921. With this legislation, the nationalists proclaimed that sovereignty belonged to the nation and was exercised on its behalf by the Grand National Assembly.

War of Independence

During the summer and fall of 1919, with authorization from the Supreme Allied War Council, the Greeks occupied Edirne, Bursa, and Izmir. A landing was effected at the latter port under the protection of an Allied flotilla that included United States warships. The Greeks soon moved as far as Usak, 175 kilometers inland from Izmir. Military action between Turks and Greeks in Anatolia in 1920 was inconclusive, but the nationalist cause was strengthened the next year by a series of important victories. In January and again in April, Ismet Pasha defeated the Greek army at Inönü, blocking its advance into the interior of Anatolia. In July, in the face of a third offensive, the Turkish forces fell back in good order to the Sakarya River, eighty kilometers from Ankara, where Atatürk took personal command and decisively defeated the Greeks in a twenty-day battle.

An improvement in Turkey's diplomatic situation accompanied its military success. Impressed by the viability of the nationalist forces, both France and Italy withdrew from Anatolia by October 1921. Treaties were signed that year with Soviet Russia, the first European power to recognize the nationalists, establishing the boundary between the two countries. As early as 1919, the Turkish nationalists had cooperated with the Bolshevik government in attacking the newly proclaimed Armenian republic. Armenian resistance was broken by the summer of 1921, and the Kars region was occupied by the Turks. In 1922 the nationalists recognized the Soviet absorption of what remained of the Armenian state.

The final drive against the Greeks began in August 1922. In September the Turks moved into Izmir, where thousands were killed during the ensuing fighting and in the disorder that followed the city's capture. Greek soldiers and refugees, who had crowded into Izmir, were rescued by Allied ships.

The nationalist army then concentrated on driving remaining Greek forces out of eastern Thrace, but the new campaign threatened to put the Turks in direct confrontation with Allied contingents defending access to the straits and holding Istanbul, where they were protecting the Ottoman government. A crisis was averted when Atatürk accepted a British-proposed truce that brought an end to the fighting and also signaled that the Allies were unwilling to intervene on behalf of the Greeks. In compliance with the Armistice of Mundanya, concluded in October, Greek troops withdrew beyond the Maritsa River, allowing the Turkish nationalists to occupy territory up to that boundary. The agreement entailed acceptance of a continued Allied presence in the straits and in Istanbul until a comprehensive settlement could be reached.

At the end of October 1922, the Allies invited the nationalist and Ottoman governments to a conference at Lausanne, Switzerland, but Atatürk was determined that the nationalist government should be Turkey's sole representative. In November 1922, the Grand National Assembly separated the offices of sultan and caliph and abolished the former. The assembly further stated that the Ottoman regime had ceased to be the government of Turkey when the Allies seized the capital in 1920, in effect abolishing the Ottoman Empire. Mehmet VI went into exile on Malta, and his cousin, Abdülmecid, was named caliph.

Turkey was the only power defeated in World War I to negotiate with the Allies as an equal and to influence the provisions of the resultant treaty. Ismet Pasha was the chief Turkish negotiator at the Lausanne Conference, which opened in November 1922. The National Pact of 1919 was the basis of the Turkish negotiating position, and its provisions were incorporated in the Treaty of Lausanne, concluded in July 1923. With this treaty, the Allies recognized the present-day territory of Turkey and denied Turkey's claim to the Mosul area in the east (in present-day Iraq) and Hatay, which included the Mediterranean port of Alexandretta (Iskenderun). The boundary with the newly created state of Iraq was settled by a League of Nations initiative in 1926, and Iskenderun was ceded in 1939 by France during its rule as mandatory power for Syria.

Detailed provisions of the treaty regulated use of the straits. General supervisory powers were given to a straits commission under the League of Nations, and the straits area was to be demilitarized after completion of the Allied withdrawal. Turkey was to hold the presidency of the commission, which included the Soviet Union among its members. The capitulations and foreign administration of the Ottoman public debt, which infringed on the sovereignty of Turkey, were abolished. Turkey, however, assumed 40 percent of the Ottoman debt, the remainder being apportioned among other former Ottoman territories. Turkey was also required to maintain low tariffs on imports from signatory powers until 1929. The Treaty of Lausanne reaffirmed the equality of Muslim and non-Muslim Turkish nationals. Turkey and Greece arranged a mandatory exchange of their respective ethnic Greek and Turkish minorities, with the exception of some Greeks in Istanbul and Turks in western Thrace and the Dodecanese Islands.

On October 29, 1923, the Grand National Assembly proclaimed the Republic of Turkey. Atatürk was named its president and Ankara its capital, and the modern state of Turkey was born.

Atatürk's Reforms

On assuming office, Atatürk initiated a series of radical reforms of the country's political, social, and economic life that were aimed at rapidly transforming Turkey into a modern state (see table A). A secular legal code, modeled along European lines, was introduced that completely altered laws affecting women, marriage, and family relations.

Atatürk also urged his fellow citizens to look and act like Europeans. Turks were encouraged to wear European-style clothing. Surnames were adopted: Mustafa Kemal, for example, became Kemal Atatürk, and Ismet Pasha took Inönü as his surname to commemorate his victories there. Likewise, Atatürk insisted on cutting links with the past that he considered anachronistic. Titles of honor were abolished. The wearing of the fez, which had been introduced a century earlier as a modernizing reform to replace the turban, was outlawed because it had become for the nationalists a symbol of the reactionary Ottoman regime.

The ideological foundation of Atatürk's reform program became known as Kemalism. Its main points were enumerated in the "Six Arrows" of Kemalism: republicanism, nationalism, populism, reformism, etatism (statism), and secularism. These were regarded as "fundamental and unchanging principles" guiding the republic, and were written into its constitution. The principle of republicanism was contained in the constitutional declaration that "sovereignty is vested in the nation" and not in a single ruler. Displaying considerable ingenuity, Atatürk set about reinventing the Turkish language and recasting Turkish history in a nationalist mold. The president himself went out into the park in Ankara on Sunday, the newly established day of rest, to teach the Latin alphabet adapted to Turkish as part of the language reform. Populism encompassed not only the notion that all Turkish citizens were equal but that all of them were Turks. What remained of the millet system that had provided communal autonomy to other ethnic groups was abolished. Reformism legitimized the radical means by which changes in Turkish political and social life were implemented. Etatism emphasized the central role reserved to the state in directing the nation's economic activities. This concept was cited particularly to justify state planning of Turkey's mixed economy and large-scale investment in state-owned enterprises. An important aim of Atatürk's economic policies was to prevent foreign interests from exercising undue influence on the Turkish economy.

Of all the Kemalist reforms, the exclusion of Islam from an official role in the life of the nation shocked Atatürk's contemporaries most profoundly. The abolition of the caliphate ended any connection between the state and religion. The Islamic religious orders were suppressed, religious schools were closed, public education was secularized, and the seriat was revoked. These changes required readjustment of the entire social framework of the Turkish people. Despite subsequent protests, Atatürk conceded nothing to the traditionalists.

In 1924 the Grand National Assembly adopted a new constitution to replace the 1876 document that had continued to serve as the legal framework of the republican government. The 1924 constitution vested sovereign power in the Grand National Assembly as representative of the people, to whom it also guaranteed basic civil rights. Under the new document, the assembly would be a unicameral body elected to a four-year term by universal suffrage. Its legislative authority would include responsibility for approving the budget, ratifying treaties, and declaring war. The president of the republic would be elected to a four-year term by the assembly, and he in turn would appoint the prime minister, who was expected to enjoy the confidence of the assembly (see table 3, Appendix A).

Throughout his presidency, repeatedly extended by the assembly, Atatürk governed Turkey essentially by personal rule in a one-party state. He founded the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi--CHP) in 1923 to represent the nationalist movement in elections and to serve as a vanguard party in support of the Kemalist reform program. Atatürk's Six Arrows were an integral part of the CHP's political platform. By controlling the CHP, Atatürk also controlled the assembly and assured support there for the government he had appointed. Atatürk regarded a stage of personal authoritarian rule as necessary to secure his reforms before he entrusted the government of the country to the democratic process.

Foreign Policy

Atatürk's foreign policy, which had as its main object the preservation of the independence and integrity of the new republic, was careful, conservative, and successful. The president enunciated the principle of "peace at home and peace abroad." This guideline, whose observance was necessary to the task of internal nation building, became the cornerstone of Turkey's foreign relations.

By the end of 1925, friendship treaties had been negotiated with fifteen states. These included a twenty-year treaty of friendship and neutrality signed that year with the Soviet Union that remained in effect until unilaterally abrogated by the Soviet Union in 1945. Turkey subsequently joined Greece, Romania, and Yugoslavia in the Balkan Pact to counter the increasingly aggressive foreign policy of fascist Italy and the effect of a potential Bulgarian alignment with Nazi Germany. Turkey also entered into a nonaggression treaty with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran in 1937.

Atatürk attained his greatest diplomatic success in 1936, when Turkey persuaded the signatory powers of the Treaty of Lausanne to allow Turkish control and remilitarization of the straits as part of the Montreux Convention. Under its terms, merchant vessels were to continue to have freedom of navigation of the straits, but Turkey took over the functions of the international commission for registry, sanitary inspection, and the levying of tolls. Turkey was permitted to refortify the straits area and, if at war or under imminent threat of war, to close them to warships.

Chronology of Major Kemalist Reforms

Year Reform
1922 Sultanate abolished (November 1).
1923 Treaty of Lausanne secured (July 24).
Republic of Turkey with capital at Ankara proclaimed (October 29).
1924 Caliphate abolished (March 3).
Traditional religious schools closed, seriat abolished. Constitution adopted (April 20).
1925 Dervish brotherhoods abolished.
Fez outlawed by the Hat Law (November 25). Veiling of women discouraged; Western clothing for men and women encouraged.
Western (Gregorian) calendar adopted.
1926 New civil, commercial, and penal codes based on European models adopted. New civil code ended Islamic polygamy and divorce by renunciation and introduced civil marriage.
Millet system ended.
1927 First systematic census.
1928 New Turkish alphabet (modified Latin form) adopted. State declared secular (April 10); constitutional provision establishing Islam as official religion deleted.
1933 Islamic call to worship and public readings of the Kuran (Quran) required to be in Turkish rather than Arabic.
1934 Women given the vote and the right to hold office.
Law of Surnames adopted--Mustafa Kemal given the name Kemal Atatürk (Father Turk) by the Grand National Assembly; Ismet Pasha took surname of Inönü.
1935 Sunday adopted as legal weekly holiday.
State role in managing economy written into the constitution.