ISSN: 0041-4255
e-ISSN: 2791-6472

Kemal H. Karpat

Keywords: Ottoman Empire, World War I, Turkey


This article clarifies several points related to the Ottoman entry into the First World War. First, the Young Turk leaders mistrusted deeply Great Britain which had occupied Egypt in 1882, and appeared disposed to satisfy French and Italian ambitions at the Ottoman expense. Yet, most of the Unionists, not to speak of the public and Parliament, were opposed to war. Indeed, the British and French tacitly agreed to divide the Ottoman state. For this reason, Cemal paşa, a friend of the French, even tried to conclude an alliance with Paris but was unsuccesful. Second, the decision to enter the war came as the consequence of stiff German pressure upon the Unionists leadership and became immediately a fact after the fleet under admiral Souchon's command bombarded the Russian ports. Only four Unionist leaders at most were informed about the German plans to attack Russia. Leading Ottoman officials such as Kazım Karabekir, Hafız Hakkı and many others were against early Ottoman entry into the war. Most of them wanted to wait until spring so as to have time to complete the necessary preparations for the battlefield. Probably, if the Ottoman entry into the war had been postponed for six months or so, Istanbul would have not entered the war at all since by then the hopes for a quick German victory would have vanished. Indeed, after the German offensive in France was stalled at Marne the Unionists seemed to develop second thoughts about the wisdom of fighting on Berlin's side. Consequently, the German diplomatic mission in İstanbul increased its pressures on Enver paşa, who acceded to Kaiser's war demands, still under the illusion that a German victory was imminent. In sum, the Ottoman entry into the war was not the consequence of careful preparation and long debate in the Parliament (which was recessed) and press. It was the result of a hasty decision by a handful of elitist leaders who disregarded democratic procedures and lacked long range political vision and fell easy victim to German machinations and their own utopian expectations of recovering the lost territories in the Balkans. The Ottoman entry into war prolonged it for two years and allowed the Bolshevik revolution to incubate and then explode in 1917 which in turn impacted profoundly the twentieth century world history and the Republican Turkey.