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The Long World War I of the Eastern Mediterranean: 1910-1923

Session X-10, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
The Long World War I of the Eastern Mediterranean: 1910-1923 A flurry of publications accompanied the centennial of World War I and despite the broader scope of research, the paradigm of a war fought for the political goals of the European powers remains the accepted approach to the study of this conflict. This is implicit in the continued periodization of the war from 1914-1918; however, this periodization does not fit the reality of the years of war that preceded and followed the war in Western Europe. This panel examines the war in the eastern Mediterranean as a longer and, in many ways, more transformational conflict that ultimately reshaped the political geography of the Middle East and North Africa. This periodization resituates the Italo-Ottoman War of 1911-1912 as the opening battle of over a decade of incessant conflict in the Ottoman world. The war played out on diverse fronts from the Balkans and Anatolia to the Arabian Peninsula and Iran for more than a decade as the struggle for national and political belonging continued to drive women and men to enter the fray. This long war was marked not by an epic clash of industrial economies on a static, positional front but by insurgent and irregular forces coordinating with the vast human resources the Ottoman Army mustered. Anti-Western and anticolonial ideologies merged with Muslim political activism and provided a common political framework to bolster the Ottoman war effort and to perpetuate the fight to preserve the empire even after its agreed-upon dismemberment at the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres. The papers of this panel combine to challenge both the typical periodization and the prevailing conception of a moribund Islamic empire swiftly wiped from the map by emergent nationalisms. As a whole, this panel highlights the divergent and differing concerns of imperial, regional, and local actors as they took up the banner of the Ottoman Empire. It will highlight and discuss the historiographical implications of the conceptualization of the Long World War I of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle, but it will also provide detailed studies of Libya, Pontus, and Cilicia during the period in question.
  • This study argues that beginning with large-scale mobilization in 1910 and ending with the formal dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 a period of continuous warfare occurred. This Long World War I of the Ottoman Empire will henceforth be labeled as the Transformational War. This work does seek to show continuities between the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish Republic, but it is not merely a teleology describing the transition from empire to republic. It will highlight the twists and turns; the paths not taken; and the cul-de-sacs of the Ottoman domains’ long and grinding war. Moreover, it will delve into the many lives and identities Ottoman officers and officials experienced in the 1910-1923 period-with Mustafa Fevzi Çakmak being highlighted. It will also delve into the pruning processes and negotiation as these individuals sought to find a sanctuary as the only world, they had ever known fell in around them. Thus, while describing the Ottoman domains’ transformation it will also highlight this individual’s transformation because of protracted warfare and tragedy. Therefore, Çakmak and other Ottoman officers were transformers and transformed. This confounds an older, but still popular Kemalist narrative of Tek Adam, a solitary man, Atatürk as the savior and architect of a new state. He too was transformed, and his ideology is an amalgamation of ideas gained through years of conflict and loss. He went through a process in which he had to react to situations rather than layout a well-thought-out plan. Mustafa Fevzi Çakmak fought in the Albanian Rebellions of 1910-1911, the Balkan Wars 1912-1913, in 1914-1918 he fought in Gallipoli, the Caucasus, and Palestine. He later became involved in the Turkish nationalist movement and was instrumental in the Turkish War of Independence and the early republican government. But he became a different person as he progressed through this brutal trial, his arrival at his position in the early 1920’s not out of desire, but out of acquiescence.
  • Recent renewed interest in the First World War has encouraged innovative research on the global proportions of this devastating conflict; however, the Italo-Ottoman War—a conflict over the territory that is now Libya—remains an obscure footnote even in studies of the war in the Middle East. Yet, the war for Libya became a global cause célèbre attracting support and aid for the embattled Ottoman regime from diverse locations. This paper resituates the Italo-Ottoman War as the opening conflict and an enduring struggle in a decade of incessant warfare in the eastern Mediterranean (1911-1923) that ultimately reshaped the region. The effective coordination between Ottoman forces and their local allies in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, most especially with the Sanūsiyya order, and the initial global subvention of the Ottoman war effort by Islamic aid organizations, such as the Ottoman and British Red Crescent societies, convinced the Ottoman government of the vitality of Pan-Islamism (İttihad-ı İslâm) in the defense of its lands from European encroachment. Further, it committed the Unionist government to an asymmetric strategy of warfare that relied upon nontraditional forces. Libya remained a site of conflict despite the Italo-Ottoman Peace of Ouchy in 1912, and the Ottoman government and military continued their surreptitious support of local volunteers to challenge Italian claims to the land. While Italy’s coffers nearly ran dry fighting their war for colonial expansion, the defense of Libya cost the Ottoman treasury very little and bolstered the position of war hawks in Istanbul. By 1915, the Ottoman volunteer forces in Libya played a pivotal role in Enver’s failed Sinai campaign. Early successes with irregular forces in Libya became a model for continued Ottoman expansion despite devastating losses on other fronts. My paper, through an examination of Ottoman military and humanitarian correspondence with commanders of local insurgent forces during the campaign, illustrates how the war in North Africa forged ties between Ottoman officers and local, Arab volunteers in the region and accelerated the assembly of global networks of Islamic aid that played an important role in the events of the First World War and the Ottoman strategy of resistance after 1918. Such an approach underscores the significance of Rome, Istanbul, Tripoli, and Benghazi in charting the trajectory of the First World War in the Mediterranean.
  • During the Long World War I, Pontus, or else, the South Black Sea region became a contested ground for multiple local, national and international actors, who envisioned different futures about both the region and its people. The latter were of various ethnic, linguistic and confessional backgrounds, like Greek-, Turkish-, Armenian-, Georgian- and Kurdish-speaking Orthodox, Armenian or Protestant Christians or Sunni or Alevi Muslims. During this period, Pontus witnessed Young Turks’ centralization, war and genocidal policies, the Russian occupation of Eastern Pontus, its populations’ disillusionment, mobilizations, refugeedom, ethnic cleansing, exile and grassroot resistance, several Pontic Greeks’ efforts for its liberation and unification with Greece or, at least, for the establishment of an independent Pontic Republic, the Great Powers and Athens’ designs for a Pontic-Armenian state, Soviet assistance and communist infiltration, and Muslim and Turkish nationalists’ final dominance, which allowed the region's demographic reconstruction through the annihilation or deportation of the Orthodox Christians. Drawing from grassroots sources such as diaries, memoirs, letters, songs, besides newspapers and state and military archives from Greece and Turkey this paper studies the impact of the continuous and ceaseless mobilizations in both the region of Pontus and its Christian and Muslim population from 1912 to 1923. It analyzes the transformation of this borderland into a conflict zone and the emergence of a new mobile human landscape of soldiers, deserters, exiles and paramilitaries. As the general mobilization meant an unprecedented intervention by the state, many locals responded by resisting the war, evading the draft and deserting the army. However, the state had linked active and passive resistance, or suspicion of resistance, to nationalism and loyalty, the state’s security and survival, and the idea that only the state and its agents could monopolize violence. Thus, it responded by initiating the homogenization of the region by executing minority elites and populations, exiling whole communities and allying with paramilitaries and Muslim refugees. This also signified the mobilization of local communities for the destruction or protection of their neighbors and the construction of new alliances and trust networks, either mono-religious or even cross-religious, where the remaining Ottoman pluralists could find refuge. Thus, the paper examines the trisection of Pontus into Western, Eastern and South, the different experiences of the population in each section and the various forms of intra-community solidarity, fighting and violence. At the end, the nationalist army and their paramilitary and local allies managed to secure and homogenize the region.