Istanbul under Allied Occupation, 1918-1923
by Nur Bilge Criss
Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1999. 184 pp. $62
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
The Young Turks who ruled the Ottoman Empire in 1914 made the monumentally wrong-headed (and completely gratuitous) error of joining the Entente in World War I, a decision that left their empire defeated and dismembered four years later. Perhaps the most painful specific consequence was the occupation of the imperial capital at Istanbul in November 1918 by British and other forces, where they remained until October 1923. Although this occupation came to a fairly quick end, at the time the combination of the loser's despondency and the victors' anger (the British high commissioner wrote of the need "to show no kind of favor whatsoever to any Turk and to hold out no hope for them") made it seem like the foreigners would remain for a very long time. It did not last for even five years due to the military force of the Turkish nationalists led by Kemal Atatürk. The reasons for the nationalists' success is the subject of Criss's thoroughly researched and elegant study.
She points to several main factors in ending the occupation: British underestimation of the Turks; the Turkish nationalists' inheriting intact institutions from the Ottomans and their ability to put together a government in Ankara; the weakness of the nationalists' domestic opponents; and the dissension that splintered the Allied forces. The first is perhaps the most interesting of these factors because it still has relevance for current politics: Westerners, both on the ground and at a distance, tended to assume that the Turks would submit to Allied domination with what one British Foreign Ministry official termed "sulky fatalism." But there was no chance of this, Criss concludes from a close scrutiny of the Turkish sources: "The war was not over as far as the leaders of the cup [i.e., the Young Turks] were concerned." Those making policy toward Iraq might bear this experience in mind.
Related Topics: History, Turkey and Turks | Daniel Pipes | December 1999 MEQ
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