Turkey, 95 years ago today
Ninety-five years ago today a group of young officers of the defeated Ottoman army set out for the Black Sea port of Samsun, in a three-day voyage from Istanbul under the intimidation of British, French and Greek warships.
Their team leader was Army Inspector Mustafa Kemal Pasha (equivalent to Lieutenant General at the time). His mission was to inspect whether the army was abiding by the conditions of the Mudros Armstice of 1918, marking the defeat of the six-century old Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.
The Greek minority in the eastern Black Sea rose up and took up arms for the revival of the historic Pontus Kingdom, complaining that Turkish groups and parts of the Turkish military were still resisting and trying to stop them. Vahidettin, the Sultan, sent Mustafa Kemal, his former chief-of-cabinet to take the rebel Turkish groups and obey the Sultan’s orders, not to be troublemakers despite the victorious armies invading national territory.
Kemal and friends had other plans. A day before they moved from the Sublime Porte, the Greek armies had landed in İzmir, Turkey’s Aegean Port, which had been considered a major humiliation.
The moment that Kemal and friends arrived at Samsun, they started to organize a resistance of their own; a much more organized one than the individual efforts of small groups across the country. When Kazım (Karabekir) Paşa, the commander of the East Army, joined Kemal, it was possible to have a base for resistance. The conventions in the eastern cities of Erzurum and Sivas paved the way to set up a Parliament in Ankara on April 23, 1920, right after the Parliament in the (then) capital of Istanbul was dissolved by the invading British and French armies on March 16. It was then that Defense Minister of Sultan Fevzi (Çakmak) Pasha and his Chief of Staff İsmet (İnönü) Pasha joined in Ankara for the War of Liberation.
The Russian Armies withdrew after the Soviet Revolution in 1917 and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, but invading Armenian and Georgian forces were still in Eastern Anatolia. Greeks were invading the Aegean region and Thrace (with the help of native Greek groups), Italians in the western Mediterranean, the French in southern Turkey (with the help of native Armenian groups), and the British had captured (apart from Istanbul), the oil-rich upper Mesopotamia; roughly the federative Kurdistan area of today’s Iraq.
The fight went on for three difficult years. But the really difficult part of the War of Liberation, which actually evolved into a War for Independence, was the civil-war nature of it, which Turkish historians do not like to talk about. The effort that Kemalist armies expended against the (mostly religiously motivated) rebellions against them, on behalf of the sultan, still being the Caliph of Islam and the invading - ironically Christian – armies was much greater than the effort in stopping the advancing invaders.
For the sultan, an objection to his unquestionable, divine authority was much worse than the disarmament of his armies, the occupation of the country, the seizing of all natural resources, and the dissolving of the Parliament. For the Sultan to keep the title of the Caliphate and stay safe in his palace were the things that mattered, not the people and their future.
So the independence armies actually fought a double war: One against the actual invaders and another against the forces loyal to the sultan, or the caliph who was playing the religion card.
Perhaps that’s why Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his fellows (not all of them, though) found it inevitable to give all the authorities of the caliph to Parliament in 1924, right after the regime change from Sultanate to Republic in order for a new Turkey to be born again from its own ashes in 1923.
Turkey became the first Muslim populated country to go secular, adopting democratic rule in time – with a lot of ups and downs - adopted the market economy, and made it into the top 20 economies despite its lack of energy resources. Yes, it is still an example to Muslim peoples in that sense…
That’s why it is important to keep Turkey’s secular and democratic system and enrich it with full implementation of the rule of law, not the opposite, as the Turkish Republic heads to its 100th anniversary in 2023.