Demobilization of the Ottoman Army, 1918-1919
This paper will examine the Ottoman military demobilization after the Moudros Armistice with its political and social aspects. Even though the demobilization was one of the most significant chapters of the Ottomans’ “Long Great War” (c. 1911-1922), the subject has been usually overlooked. Between 1914 and 1918, the Ottoman state mobilized about 3 million servicemen out of a diverse population of 22-23 million. After the appalling losses and rampant desertion, Ottoman army still had about 400,000 men at the time of the armistice. These were scattered across Transcaucasia, Northwest Iran, Yemen, Hedjaz, and even modern Libya, and were either to surrender to the Allies or withdraw completely. Subsequently, from the beginning of November 1918 to the end of March 1919, at least 337,600 men and 10,000 officers were discharged from the military.
Many Ottoman officers on the field and in the imperial headquarters, a large number of whom eventually became part of the future Ankara government’s military machinery, tried their best to stall the discharges and disarmament, while also stubbornly kept negotiating with the Entente authorities to maximize the retention of the heavier weapons, such as machine guns and artillery pieces. Lack of adequate transportation, proper accommodation, and bad logistics in general made the withdrawal and disbandment extremely difficult. Men had to march long distances back to Anatolia without sufficient supplies, and many got sick and died in the process. The pace and scope of demobilization closely impacted the immediate post-war setting in Anatolia too: the Entente scrambled to occupy certain cities and regions while the Ottoman commanders strove to retain them and prevent their entire units becoming prisoners. The correspondence and reports by the high-ranking Ottoman officers demonstrate that the actual struggle for the “nation” was far from over but just commenced. Furthermore, these texts provide fascinating clues about the ethnic and regional ambitions and objectives of the leading figures, such as Mustafa Kemal, Kazım Karabekir, and Ali İhsan (Sabis), for the post-war Asia Minor as well as the larger Middle East.
The topic that was described above did not take as much attention of the existing scholarship as the various political, military, diplomatic, social, or cultural aspects of the Ottomans’ war experience. My primary and secondary source base will include internal military communiques, orders, and memoranda, memoirs and contemporary eyewitness accounts, all of which I’ll use to create a single analytical narrative.