“”Turkey’s rejection of the genocide label is only part of the problem. A bigger worry is its refusal to accept any responsibility for what happened. For successive governments, condemnation of the events of 1915, whether as genocide, a war crime or ethnic cleansing, has been out of the question... The notion that the Turkish state can do no wrong has also left a mark on the present. No major Turkish news outlet can report on the dozens of civilians killed during the country's Syrian offensive. Turks who openly oppose the invasion risk prosecution. This is largely because Mr Erdogan seeks to stifle most forms of dissent, but also because the legacy of 1915 has made some topics especially taboo. The Turkish state and army are beyond reproach; suggestions to the contrary border on treason.
|—The Economist, "How genocide denial warps Turkish politics".|
The Republic of Turkey is a country mostly located in the Anatolian Peninsula, but it also has a small portion called East Thrace located in the Balkans. Turkey has long been torn between the democratic and secular traditions of Europe and the generally opposite tendencies of its neighbors in the Middle East. Although formerly touted as an example of democracy in the Middle East, Turkey's government was never truly responsive or representative. Any pretense has been abandoned under its increasingly authoritarian president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Although officially a NATO ally, Turkey's warlike and nationalistic foreign policy has seen it break from the spirit of the alliance to align more closely with Russia and other adversaries of the West. Turkey's internal politics have increasingly swung towards wingnuttery, with thin-skinned ultranationalists seeing a great rise in popularity, Islamism and declarations of "jihad" are becoming official government policy, and hate crimes against minorities like the Kurds are growing more common.
Anatolia wasn't even originally Turkish. During ancient history, the region was inhabited by Hittites and then Greeks and Armenians. The area became the heartland of the Eastern Roman Empire, but the victory of the Seljuk Turks in the 1071 Battle of Manzikert saw the Turks gradually overtake the region. The Seljuks split into various small Turkish states called beyliks. The Ottoman state gradually united the area, became a military superpower, and formed the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans dominated the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans while enacting "Turkification" policies to solidify their culture's hold on Anatolia. The empire's constant imperialist wars gradually caused its decline, resulting in the empire becoming much more aggressive towards cultural and religious minorities within its own borders. This culminated in the conduct of various genocides during World War I, most infamously the Armenian genocide.
The empire's defeat in that war almost resulted in the partition of Turkey itself. Military superstar Mustafa Kemal Atatürk led a nationalist uprising called the Turkish War of Independence, which preserved Turkey and abolished the Ottoman Empire. Atatürk Westernized Turkey through various reforms, including secularization, and Turkey joined NATO in the Cold War due to its hostility towards the Soviet Union. Turkey soon started falling back into the old ways, with various military coups against the civilian government, constant crackdowns and war against Kurdish separatists and civilians, and a 1974 military invasion of Cyprus which turned the northern half of the country into what is effectively a Turkish colony. Anger at the USA and antisemitism towards Jews spiked in response to the 2003 Iraq War, and it got so bad that Turks put Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf on the country's bestseller list.
Turkey's problems only intensified under its current leader Erdoğan. He's effectively dismantled whatever was left of Turkish secular democracy to enthrone himself as an unassailable strongman, and he's leveraged that power into launching an invasion of northern Syria during the Syrian Civil War. Turkey's future seems grim, and the influence of populist nationalists seems stronger than ever.
The Anatolian peninsula is one of the oldest settled regions in the world. The Anatolians initially inhabited it and spoke some of the earliest recorded Indo-European languages. The world's first religious structure in southeast Turkey, a 12,000-year-old henge complex that was probably the site of pilgrimages from nomadic pastoralists. Anatolia is also home to Çatalhöyük, a major architectural complex from 9,000 years ago that was humanity's first recorded experiment in urban living.
Just south of Gallipolli, the Anatolians established, around 3000 BCE, a great city-state generally accepted as the mythologized city of Troy from the Trojan Wars. After the city was destroyed in war sometime around 1300 BCE, the site would be resettled by the Greeks.
In 1700 BCE, Anatolia saw its first empire rise to power, the Hittites. Their capital was Hattusa, which is still a significant ruin, and their constant wars against Ancient Egypt produced the world's first peace treaty. Their warrior caste were the elites, supported by the rest of the population through taxation and labor. The empire collapsed due to rebellion and external invasion, a common fate for powerful ancient states. The Hittites' downfall left Anatolia with a significant power vacuum.
Colonization and city-states
By around 1050 BCE, the Greeks established their city-states across the western Anatolian coastline. This organized effort was one of humanity's oldest colonial projects, although the Greeks were not interested in dominating other groups of people during this time. Instead, they mainly stuck to the Anatolian coastline, as their cities were intended to control maritime trade. Most city-states started as basic merchant posts before expanding due to their wealth; many of the city-states retained large elements of the local culture.
By far the most significant of these cities was Byzantium, which was established in 657 BCE. Byzantium controlled the Bosporus Strait, the sole sea passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The city was on a peninsula, meaning it was protected on three sides by water. Its strategic location for warfare and trade rapidly grew the city into a regional power.
The Achaemenid Persian Empire, one of the first truly great powers in Western history, came to dominate Greek Anatolia. Persian rule was unpopular enough to spark the Ionian Revolt sometime around 499 BCE, and the Persians used this as a pretext to invade Greece. This led to one of the most pivotal moments in the history of Ancient Greece, the Greco-Persian Wars, which ended with the empire humiliated and the Greek city-states freeing their brethren in Anatolia.
About a hundred years later, the Greeks struck even harder under the leadership of Alexander the Great, who marched through Anatolia and conquered Persia itself. After Alexander's untimely death, his holdings were partitioned among his various underlings, creating a scattering of Greek states across the ancient world. The Seleucid state initially controlled Anatolia, but it gradually lost that influence to the Greek Attalid dynasty, which was allied to the Roman Empire.
The Romans used their alliance with the Attalids to seize control of that region of Anatolia. The Romans tended to favor Greek culture, and the process of converting much of Anatolia to Greek was completed under the Roman Empire. Anatolia was loyal to the empire due to the wealth and security, and Anatolia became the springboard for further Roman imperialism directed east and south. Big chunks of Anatolia were wrecked over and over and over again during the near-constant Roman–Parthian Wars.
Under emperor Diocletian, the Roman Empire's institutions were divided between the Greek and Latin halves of the empire, which laid the foundation for future events. Anatolia naturally went with the eastern half, becoming its great heartland. In 330 CE, Diocletian's successor, Constantine, moved the Roman Empire's capital to the Greek city of Byzantium. This "New Rome" became known as "Constantinople".
Rise of early Christianity
Meanwhile, Anatolia slowly adopted this weird new cult called "Christianity" or something dumb like that when some hippie called Paul of Tarsus—history's first born-again Christian with all the zealotry that implies—started spreading the new faith across Greece, Italy, and Anatolia. Antioch, in southern Turkey, was the very first Christian community, and the relative safety it provided gave the religion something of a headquarters from which to spread. By 313 CE, Christians had become a significant force in Roman politics, and Emperor Constantine promulgated the Edict of Milan to extend legal rights and religious tolerance to the Christian population. Kids these days and their new religions. Hmph. It's probable that by the time the edict happened, most of Anatolia had already converted to Christianity. Anatolia would become a Christian stronghold for the next few centuries.
In 325 CE, the Greek Anatolian city of Nicaea became the host of a great council of Christian clergy called by Emperor Constantine. The so-called "First Council of Nicaea" set the tone for much of the succeeding Christian-oriented religions by settling disputed issues and issuing decrees outlining the proper method of consecrating bishops, a condemnation of lending money at interest by clerics, and confirming Alexandria and Jerusalem as seats of high patriarchs. Most notably, though, it declared the first official heresy by denouncing Arianism, or the idea that Jesus Christ was created by God rather than being God. This played into the promulgation of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which forms the general outline of Christianity for all major branches to this day. Since then, Christianity has held the official position that Jesus is somehow the Son of God while also being God at the same time.
In 380 CE, Emperor Theodosius I promulgated the Edict of Thessalonica, declaring Nicene Christianity as the Roman Empire's official faith. The emperor then kicked off a wave of persecution directed towards the Arians, who he viewed as intolerably heretical. Again, this wasn't over differences of religion but over simple doctrinal disputes.
The city of Constantinople was elevated to patriarchate status, making it one of the leading centers of Christianity.
Theodosius I apparently liked both of his sons, so he willed that the empire be split between them after his death in 395 CE, leading to the dissolution of the Roman Empire into the West and East. The East got the capital Constantinople in the divorce, and that city fueled its remaining greatness. Meanwhile, the Western half suffered repeated invasions from European barbarians, with Rome being sacked in 410 CE without any response from the Easterners. The Eastern Roman Empire, usually referred to by historians as the Byzantine Empire, became the torch-bearer for Western civilization. Whatever you call it, and despite its Greek culture and language, the empire considered itself fully Roman and continued most of its legal traditions.
In 532 CE, Emperor Justinian celebrated his capital by ordering the construction of the great basilica of Hagia Sophia to serve as the patriarch's seat as the focus of the Christian religion. Anatolia was the empire's heartland, providing most of its resources and manpower. Unfortunately for the Byzantines, a horrible plague broke out in the 540s, greatly reducing Anatolia's population. This destroyed the empire, not only on a population and economic level but on a societal level as well. This was a bad time for the empire to stop functioning because, in 610 CE, the Persians attacked again while the empire was still reeling. During the Persian wars, urban cities proved too easy for the Persians to sack, loot, and slaughter, so the remaining Byzantine population spread out into smaller, more fortified communities. Cosmopolitan Rome was just about finished.
By the 600s, the Byzantines and their Persian archenemies were thoroughly exhausted by decades of war. Around this time, the prophet Muhammad unified the tribes of Arabia under another weird new religion, Islam. His successors launched massive assaults against both powers in the hopes of spreading the faith, and the Byzantines were too broken by war to stop the Muslims from seizing the Levant and Egypt in just a few short years. Anatolia became the empire's frontier rather than its heartland. Constantinople came under siege on multiple occasions, although the empire bought itself a few centuries of survival by defeating the Arab attack on the city in 718 CE.
Turkish invasion and the Crusades
The critically weakened Byzantine Empire quickly found a new enemy: the Turks. The Turkic peoples were nomads from Central Asia, and they embraced Islam and began migrating south from Central Asia. Most significant was the Seljuk dynasty, which assembled a great army, seized control of much of Iraq and Persia, and used that new empire to war against the Shia Muslims who then ruled Egypt.
The Seljuks then turned against the Byzantines, as they were weak and presented a nice target for territorial expansion. The war climaxed in Armenia at the 1071 CE Battle of Manzikert, where the empire suffered a catastrophic military defeat, and the emperor himself was captured. The Roman emperor was brought to the Seljuk court and forced to kiss the boots of the Turkish sultan, who then set him free to humiliate the man even further. The empire never recovered from that battle, and within ten years, the Seljuks had established control over most of Anatolia.
The Seljuks left Anatolia alone, simply replacing Greek officials with Turkish ones and leaving the civilians unmolested so long as they paid taxes. Intermarriage became common, though, and the old strategy of religious taxation gave a significant economic incentive to convert to Islam.
The massive defeat of the Byzantines at Manzikert shocked even the Western Christians, and the Catholic Church organized the Crusades to help the empire fight back. In the First Crusade, the Greeks allied with the Crusaders and successfully retook the western third of Anatolia while the Crusaders took Jerusalem and other portions of the Levant. Despite this territorial revival, the empire failed to regain even a shadow of its former greatness.
In 1202, the final nail in the empire's coffin of doom began. The Fourth Crusade, initially meant to recapture Jerusalem, instead went to Constantinople in the hopes of earning money by acting as mercenaries in one of the empire's frequent dynastic disputes. When the empire failed to pay up, the Crusaders attacked Constantinople and destroyed it. The empire was destroyed and replaced by a short-lived Crusader state. The Greeks eventually re-established the Byzantine Empire, but it was a rump state on the verge of death.
“”The Ottoman Empire... A whole empire based on putting your feet up?
|—Jerry Seinfeld, "The Non-Fat Yogurt".|
Rise to power
Like most of Asia, the Anatolian Peninsula endured the devastating Mongol invasion. It began in 1241 and resulted in the total surrender of the Seljuk state in 1243. A big part of why the former superpower fell so easily was that the Mongols encouraged local nobles in Anatolia, called beys, to rise up against the Seljuk sultan in exchange for promises of sovereignty. Anatolia thus fractured into a large number of small Turkish states called beyliks. Most of the beylik states existed under the nominal suzerainty of the Ilkhanate, but in the 1320s, Osman I of the Ottoman state made the bold move of minting coins in his own name. This was effectively a declaration of independence, and the lack of response from the Mongols made it clear that the rest of the beyliks could follow.
A battle royale ensued among the beyliks as they all sought to unify the old Seljuk holdings. The Ottomans gradually came out on top, paradoxically, by largely ignoring the conflict and turning their attentions to the north and the west. Thus began the Ottoman conquests of Byzantine territories in Greece and Bulgaria and even further north into Serbia; these territories were largely subdued by the early 1400s. Of the once mighty Byzantine Empire, only Constantinople and its surroundings remained. Once they'd gobbled their fill of the Balkans, the Ottomans turned back around and conquered a good chunk of Anatolia.
By 1444, one last step remained before the Ottomans could truly become an empire. Mehmed II, who (spoilers) is now known as 'the Conqueror', became sultan in 1444 and immediately set his sights on claiming Constantinople. His preparations were completed in 1453, and he began a rather masterful campaign that saw him move vast numbers of ships overland to surround the city on all sides and deny it the security of owning the Bosporus. Then he brought his secret weapon: the Dardanelles gun, a massive super cannon capable of punting a two-foot stone shot across a mile-and-a-half distance. It was slow, but the shots gradually reduced the city's formidable walls. The Ottomans took the city, and Mehmed bowed to custom and allowed his soldiers three days to plunder the city and rape its women.
The seizure of Constantinople had a tremendous political impact on the Ottomans. Mehmed II immediately declared himself Kayser-i Rum, meaning "Caesar of Rome", a claim which had decent legitimacy since his predecessor Orhan I had married a Byzantine princess, and it wasn't uncommon for the Roman Empire to change hands militarily. The Ottoman Empire borrowed many Roman practices related to the tax system, architecture, bureaucracy, and administration and then accommodated themselves with the conquered Christian population, who were generally free to practice their religion. Early Ottoman sultans even dutifully set about appointing Constantinople's patriarchs in the old tradition of the Byzantine emperors.
Imperial golden age
“”On [the Turks'] side are the resources of a mighty empire, strength unimpaired, habituation to victory, endurance of toil, unity, discipline, frugality and watchfulness ... Can we doubt what the result will be? ... When the Turks have settled with Persia, they will fly at our throats supported by the might of the whole East; how unprepared we are I dare not say.
|—Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, 16th Century Austrian diplomat.|
The Ottoman Empire grew into a great power using the revenues from trade in Constantinople (now called Kostantiniyye) and taxes from the conquered population. The empire was aristocratic, and high-level nobles had very different customs and language dialects than the common Turkish people. Residing in opulent Topkapı Palace in Kostantiniyye, the sultan was an absolute ruler, issuing laws by decree, directly owning all of the empire's land, and even possessing limited religious authority. Religious minorities were recognized and had a decent amount of autonomy. They were allowed to operate schools, religious establishments, and courts based on their customary law. They were, however, subject to the devşirme, or "blood tax", which was the empire's mandatory practice of recruiting soldiers and bureaucrats from non-Muslim families.
Most of the people who got the short end of the deal tended to be close to the sultan. The sultan's concubines were sex slaves, enslaved men lived short and brutal lives filled with forced labor, and the sultan's relatives tended to be arrested, murdered, or executed to prevent dynastic disputes.
During this time, the Ottomans were almost unstoppable. Most of the states surrounding it were still in the Middle Ages, while the Ottomans enjoyed advanced military organization and tactics for the time. The empire also had a meritocratic administrative system, as the sultans never trusted their relatives enough for nepotism.
The empire expanded rapidly, first annexing all of Egypt and the Levant in one war in 1517, then biting off a big chunk of Hungary, and then seizing Iraq from the Persians. The Ottomans also repeatedly repulsed European "holy leagues" meant to contain its aggression. In 1571, Europeans won their first ever victory against the seemingly invulnerable Turks at the Battle of Lepanto, but even that only caused a stalemate rather than a Christian victory.
By the end of the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent in 1566, the Ottoman Empire was a world power, with most of the great cities of Islamic civilization—Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Damascus, Cairo, Tunis, and Baghdad—under the Ottoman banner alongside most of southern Europe and the Middle East. It was also a self-declared "caliphate", as in 1517, the empire had also taken control of Mecca which the sultan leveraged to declare himself the successor of Muhammad. Now wielding unquestionable religious authority, the Ottoman sultans' rule tended to become more authoritarian in imposing religious law on Muslims. As tends to happen in such circumstances.
The tide turns
After Süleyman the Magnificent, the empire slowly stagnated, and its long slide into irrelevance was just around the corner. Süleyman started to sow the seeds of this downfall as he became tired of the sultan's workload and retreated to the pleasures of his harem and palace. In his place, the grand vizier, a prime minister, had to assume most obligations of leading the Ottoman government. But no grand vizier was ever equal to a sultan.
After this point, the sultan's traditional absence also caused the empire's bureaucracy to grow irredeemably corrupt. The old practice of meritocracy broke down as noble families squabbled to place their relatives in positions of power. This might seem minor, but it impacted the effectiveness of every level of the Ottoman government, including the military that had been its primary source of success.
The Ottomans also started to feel the impact of European colonialism across southern Asia. For centuries, the old trade routes had run through Constantinople. European powers like Portugal and the Netherlands increasingly used their colonies and outposts to push trade networks around Africa, ensuring that those goods would end up in Western Europe. Deprived of trade revenue, the Ottoman government increasingly relied on debasing the coinage, sharply increasing taxes, and resorting to confiscations, all of which worsened the situation. Corruption got even worse because state employees got paid less and less. The resulting inflation and economic depression caused social unrest and a general collapse of Ottoman industry. As a result, the empire stagnated and lost stability.
Despite the troubles, nobody in the Ottoman regime realized that the good times were starting to end. Sultans still ordered imperialist wars of glory, the revenues from which could temporarily boost the treasury, but all of which weakened the empire in the long run. The push towards decline became a shove when the Ottoman military invaded Austria in 1664 and 1683, with both attempts failing. The 1683 war resulted in a climactic siege of Vienna itself and a final battle against a coalition of European armies, resulting in the first real Ottoman military disaster in its history. This is usually the point where you quit and restart your Europa Universalis game. The Ottomans, though, couldn't quite do that.
The broken Ottoman army had to retreat fully, and the ruinous 16-year war that followed saw the Hapsburg Austrians retake most of Hungary and Serbia. For the first time, the empire lost much land against Christian powers and had reason to doubt its military capability.
The sick man of Europe
The European powers, like vultures, circled around the dying empire, hoping to gobble up a few pieces. The empire's other enemies were also eager to see it stumble. As a result, the Ottomans spent the next century in a constant defensive war against countries like Persia, Poland, Austria, and Russia. The central government, meanwhile, had its legitimacy and prestige broken. As a result, local nobles in imperial provinces became emboldened and increasingly decided to ignore the sultan's wishes, effectively becoming independent. While Europe was slowly ending the disastrous old feudal system, the Ottomans unintentionally slipped into it.
While its foreign policy deteriorated, the Ottoman Empire became increasingly brutal to its minorities. When Armenians became restless at being forced to participate in constant wars against Persia, Sultan Hamid II had 80,000 massacred, which wasn't a nice thing to do.[citation NOT needed] The Ottomans also cracked down on the Shia population of Iraq, which caused a general increase in sectarianism and hatred there.
European intervention also hastened the empire's downfall, as Christians were increasingly protected by European powers and their consulates, meaning they ended up being almost exempt from the obligations of citizenship. The empire also ended up in steep debt, much of it owed to foreign powers.
Meanwhile, the empire lost many catastrophic wars. First came the Greek War of Independence in 1821, which saw intervention from the UK, France, and Russia and resulted in the independence of southern Greece. Then Egypt, under local ruler Muhammad Ali (not the boxer), declared independence in 1831 and managed to fight its way free by 1841. By 1853, the empire was noticeably on its way out, and Europeans started calling it the "sick man of Europe". By then, Napoleon had come and gone, so it was important for the European powers to ensure their careful "balance of power" to prevent another colossal war. This was the "Eastern Question", or how to ensure nobody gained too much from the Ottoman collapse.
This consideration resulted in Britain and France turning around to protect the Ottomans from the Russians during the Crimean War, although the war effort almost bankrupted the empire. In 1877, though, Russia showed up for more and forced the Ottoman Empire to release its European holdings, liberating Bulgaria, Bosnia, Romania, and the rest of Greece. The Russian war and the other powers' non-response to it was retaliation for another sign of elevating Ottoman brutality: the brutal suppression of a Bulgarian uprising and the slaughter of around 100,000 Bulgarian people.
With the empire's economy collapsing into further debt, the only option they had was to sell portions of it off to European investors. As a result, by the late 1800s, big chunks of the Ottoman economy were owned by foreign interests, who often levied that interest against the Ottoman government's wishes. On the international stage, the Ottomans' only real friend was the German Empire, which had recently formed and was also looking for a new pal.
The Young Turks
Amid the total failure of the sultan's regime to stop the free fall of the empire, a large group of Westernized intellectuals hoped to seize control of the Ottoman state's affairs in order to right the ship. Among them was young military officer Mustafa Kemal, who formed a nationalist group inside the military and then merged with other nationalist groups in 1907 to form the "Committee of Union and Progress" (CUP). They're more commonly known as the Young Turks (not those ones). Under their leadership, most of the Ottoman military turned against the sultan in 1908, forcing him to establish a constitution and a parliament.
This was a lot less about democracy than getting the sultan out of the way. The Young Turk party promptly seized control of parliament and turned the Ottoman Empire into a dictatorship led by a triumvirate called the "Three Pashas". They were Mehmed Talat Pasha as the grand vizier, Ismail Enver Pasha as the Minister of War, and Ahmed Cemal Pasha as Minister of the Navy. These three guys were bad hombres and were unfortunately in charge of the empire's decision-making up to the end of World War I.
Although many minorities had supported the constitutional movement, the Young Turks considered them a weakness and burden on the empire. They immediately started plotting ways to solve this perceived problem, and none of those proposed solutions were very nice. The Young Turks regime subscribed to Ziya Gökalp, an influential Turkish sociologist who argued that the Ottoman state needed to promote "Turkification" of its diverse population to make it homogeneous. They blamed the empire's decline on the presence of and alleged sabotage from the minorities, which should be setting off your alarm bells. They began by implementing various social programs designed to forcibly assimilate minorities, including renaming children and requiring instruction in schools to be conducted only in Turkish.
World War I and genocides
“”Ottoman entry into the war was not the consequence of careful preparation and long debate in the parliament... It was the result of a hasty decision by a handful of elitist leaders who disregarded democratic procedures, 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 profoundly impacted the course of world history in the 20th century.
|—Kemal Karpat, Turkish historian and professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.|
The Ottoman Empire didn't join the Great War immediately, although Enver Pasha vocally supported Germany. Enver was backed up by the military, who had been receiving training and supplies from the Germans for the last decade and were eager to test themselves by going to war to support their German friends. In the end, after some provocations by the British, the Ottomans joined the war by attacking Russia, which they hoped to humble after their previous military defeats against it. The Şeyhülislam, the foremost Ottoman Islamic scholar, declared the war a "jihad" against the Entente Powers and called for Muslims everywhere to rise against the infidels. The reaction from the Muslim world was pretty muted since the Ottomans had been quite oppressive towards Muslims and were allied with multiple Christian powers at the time.
This ended up being a bad move. On the one hand, Russia was quite ready to defend the mountainous Caucasus region, and on the other hand, the British and French were both nearby, thanks to their colonies in the Middle East and North Africa. Combined with Serbia in the Balkans and a British Commonwealth naval invasion at Gallipoli, the Ottomans faced a four-front war. Damn. Although facing long odds, the Ottomans did manage to hold off the naval threat to Gallipoli, thanks in large part to the charismatic leadership of Mustafa Kemal. The other fronts were disastrous due to the empire's unpreparedness and the Entente Powers' bold counterattacks.
Things got even worse when the Ottomans noticed that many Armenians were volunteering to join the Russian army, viewing the Russians as liberators (and you could hardly blame them considering the Young Turks' racist policies). Enver Pasha immediately accused the Armenian population of conspiring against the Ottoman state, and he began a forced relocation program targeting the entire Armenian population. Along with them, the Ottomans started attacking the empire's Greek population as well as basically all Christians in the whole empire. The Armenian genocide began in 1915 and progressed until about 1918; the Ottoman Empire committed systematic killings, deportations, and forced displacement of the Armenian population, resulting in the deaths of 1 to 1.5 million people. The Greek genocide, meanwhile, killed between 400,000 and 750,000 people, and the genocide of Assyrian Christians killed somewhere in the range of 300,000 people. Fucking hell.
Although the Ottomans regained ground after the October Revolution and Russia's dissolution into civil war, that ended up not mattering for them since their ally Bulgaria abruptly capitulated. Bulgaria's exit from the war placed the empire's capital Kostantiniyye within striking distance of the Entente armies. Forced to realize that the war was no longer winnable, the empire signed the Armistice of Mudros on 30 October 1918. Even after the armistice, the massacre of Armenians and other Christians continued.
War of Independence
“”There is no defense line, but a defense territory, and that territory is the whole of the motherland. Not even an inch of the motherland may be abandoned without being soaked in the blood of her citizens.
|—Mustafa Kemal Atatürk during the War of Independence.|
The Ottoman Empire would be one of the most harshly partitioned of the old Central Powers. These arrangements were finalized in the Treaty of Sèvres, which the Ottoman Empire signed under duress in 1920. The treaty would have seen Anatolia partitioned between the various powers, with the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits being internationalized under the League of Nations and Turkey itself left as a rump state controlling not even a third of Anatolia. It also would have seen a greatly expanded Armenia, probably to help compensate them for the horrific genocide.
While the sultan was held hostage by the Entente, Mustafa Kemal organized a new nationalist movement to oppose the unacceptable dismemberment of Turkey. Kemal became known as "Atatürk". He and the other Turks found the occupation of much of western Anatolia by the Greek military most offensive, proceeding with the Entente's permission. Although united in their desire to oppose the partition, Atatürk broke with the sultan's royalists because he didn't care about the rest of the empire and only wanted to focus on saving Turkey itself. The Entente also controlled the sultan, and under their direction, he told Atatürk to go home and disband his forces. He ignored this order, naturally, and decided that the sultan had to go. Since Kostantiniyye was occupied, Atatürk moved his supporters to Ankara, where they formed a provisional government and declared Turkey a republic.
Under the leadership of the provisional government, Turkish militias battled against the Greeks, Armenians, and a small number of other Entente troops. Initial actions were relatively inconclusive, but the first major Turkish victory came at the Battle of Sakarya in 1921, where the Turks soundly defeated the Greeks and proved to the rest of the world that their movement was viable. Funnily enough, the Bolsheviks were the first group to recognize Turkey, as the two movements signed a treaty to delineate their new border. Realizing that the partition wouldn't work, France and Italy withdrew from Anatolia by October 1921. The Armenians, still devastated by the genocide, were unable to put up much resistance, and they fled to Russia.
Last to go were the Greeks, who lasted until mid-1922. The Turks retook Smyrna, and the Greeks had to be evacuated by the Entente's ship. The Turks then turned north to threaten Kostantiniyye. This would have put the Turks into direct combat with the Entente armies that were still guarding the Straits, but luckily the British proposed an armistice that ended the war before further devastation could ensue.
The nationalist government negotiated with the Entente to create the Treaty of Lausanne, which they signed in 1923. The treaty preserved Turkey's independence and its modern borders in exchange for the Turks formally dropping any claim to the old colonial holdings of the Ottoman Empire.
Republic of Turkey
“”The religion of Islam will be elevated if it will cease to be a political instrument, as had been the case in the past.
|—Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on his secularization policies.|
By this point, it was pretty clear that Atatürk's provisional government in Ankara was going to be the new leadership of Turkey. The new parliament in Ankara formally abolished the old Ottoman sultanate, ending 623 years of monarchical Ottoman rule. It also abolished the Ottoman caliphate, declaring Turkey a secular state. It confirmed Ankara as the state's new capital.
Atatürk became the Turkish republic's first president and immediately set about radical reforms to the Turkish state. His program was called "Kemalism" and was based upon the six principles of republicanism, statism (in economic policy), populism, secularism, nationalism, and reformism. To emphasize the "nationalism" portion of the plan, the Turkish government renamed "Constantinople" to the Turkish name "Istanbul".
He and his new republic had the hardest time enacting their secularization ideas. The old religious ruling class, the ulema, naturally opposed their class's abolition, greatly influencing the people of rural Turkey. This created a partisan cleavage between the government's urban supporters and the more religious rural peoples. Atatürk was revered by the military, though, and the military would continue carrying the torch of Kemalism even against the government for many decades. In forcing through his reforms, Atatürk ultimately undermined the republic, as he gave himself increasingly broad powers to crack down on the opposition.
Still, his reforms were far-reaching and profound. He introduced a new Turkish alphabet to make the language easier to learn, modified marriage codes to make divorce easier, gave women the right to vote and hold office, and closed religious schools in favor of establishing secular public education. This was all pretty freaking radical for what had once been a conservative Islamic empire. Atatürk himself might have been unquestionable, but opposition to his ideas still bubbled beneath the surface, and no man lives forever.
Atatürk, the father of the Turkish nation, died in late 1938 amid much national mourning. A testament to the republic's durable institutions, the transition of power after him was quite smooth, as the National Assembly promptly elected his chief lieutenant, İsmet İnönü, president. Inönü had to cope with the onset of World War II. He carefully kept Turkey neutral in the conflict, having predicted from the earliest moments that the Axis had no chance at victory. Once the Allied victory became inevitable in 1945, Turkey ceremonially declared war on Nazi Germany so that it could become part of the postwar peace talks and thus become a founding member of the United Nations. Shortly after, a military threat from the Soviet Union over access to the Bosporus led Turkey to join NATO for protection against the communist superpower.
The Turkish government ended the party dictatorship after having promised in the UN and before NATO to uphold human rights. It allowed for the first multiparty elections in 1946, although Kemal's faction, the Republican People's Party (CHP), still won a vast majority. Against the CHP was the Democrat Party (DP), representing conservatives, business interests, and the rural populations. Under their rule, the conservative backlash against Atatürk's reforms began.
In 1950, the DP won a great majority in the National Assembly. They never publicly opposed Kemalism but immediately set about dismantling its legacy. Most significantly, they undid many of the old secularist reforms, allowing religious radio broadcasts, encouraging religious devotion, and reintroducing Islamic education into Turkey's schools. They more or less reversed Turkey's move towards secularism and reignited the torch of Islamism. In 1954, the DP won an even larger majority. They used the opportunity to attempt to dismantle the republic by passing laws restricting the freedom of the press and arresting "irresponsible journalists". When the Kemalists got antsy, the DP declared martial law and had cops fire on protesters. In 1955, the DP government and party organized a pogrom against Istanbul's Greek population by spreading fake news claiming that the Greek government had bombed a Turkish consulate; mob violence killed dozens.
In 1960, the military, still stuffed with Kemalist partisans, decided enough was enough. The army stormed Istanbul and Ankara and imprisoned the DP's leaders, purging DP loyalists from the government and the military officer corps. Several DP ministers were executed, including the former prime minister.
After drafting a new democratic constitution, the military relinquished power and held new elections in 1961. The Justice Party (AP), recognized as the heir to the DP's championing of conservatism and religiosity, promptly won a vast share of parliament seats and an outright majority in the 1965 elections. Although the Justice Party government increased defense spending and took a hard line on law-and-order issues, Kemalist military leaders remained suspicious of them.
Invasion of Cyprus
Although a NATO member theoretically allied with Greece, Turkey and Greece didn't get along. Alongside historical enmity, the two countries were furious with each other over the growing intercommunal violence between Greeks and Turks on Cyprus. People were so unable to get the fuck along that the Greek-ruled Cyprus government sent their National Guard into Turkish areas to stop the killing and keep the Turks in line. In 1974, other Greeks decided to coup the Greek Cypriot government. The issue was that the government of Cyprus was trying to maintain independence, while the EOKA-B militia wanted to join the Greek state.
After the coup, Turkey decided that the Turkish Cypriot population was in danger and used that as a pretext to launch an invasion of the island. Although theoretically done as a defensive measure, the Turkish invasion involved crimes against humanity. The European Commission of Human Rights found Turkey's forces guilty of torture, rape, murder, and deprivation of possessions. The Turkish forces also coerced Greek Cypriots in the occupied portions of the island to leave their homes and flee south, an act described as ethnic cleansing.
Turkey eventually accepted a cease-fire agreement that partitioned Cyprus between the Turkish occupation and the Greek Cypriot state, both sides separated by the United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus. The island has remained in this geopolitical limbo ever since. Turkey effectively turned northern Cyprus into a colony, and today roughly half of the region's population is made up of settlers who arrived from Turkey itself. Imperialist habits die hard.
Turkish relations with its NATO allies soured. The US Congress imposed an arms embargo on Turkey since US arms had been used in the illegal invasion. Greece immediately started pushing its territorial disputes with Turkey over the Aegean islands.
Due to the oil crisis caused by OPEC in the 1970s and the consequences of the Cyprus adventure, the Turkish economy went into the shitter. The government's austerity program was unpopular and hurt the economy while failing to attract foreign investment. In this atmosphere of economic downturn, political violence started to spike. The worst incidents came from the Kurds, who had long been an unhappy minority in Turkey. Up to 1980, political violence has cost around 2,000 lives.
This period also saw the rise of the National Salvation Party (NSP), which openly advocated for Turkey's transformation into an Islamic state. The NSP won a major share in the National Assembly in 1980, and the military began to politically oppose them. In response, the NSP staged a huge rally in the city of Konya, where Islamic fundamentalists demonstrated to demand the reinstatement of Islamic law in Turkey, reportedly showing disrespect for the flag and the national anthem. This open challenge to the republic's Kemalist institutions by a party in government was utterly unacceptable to the military. Look at the clock; it's time for another coup.
On 12 September 1980, the military abruptly seized control of the Turkish capital again. At the time, the coup was popular, as the civilian government had long since ground to a halt. Many Turks considered military rule superior to what they considered a state of anarchy. Unfortunately, this coup was much bloodier than the first one. Although there wasn't any organized resistance, the military junta immediately started cracking down on the Turkish people as if there had been resistance. Suspected militants of all political persuasions, trade unionists, and student activists were arrested, and party leaders were taken into custody along with many deputies. According to official figures, some 650,000 people were detained in the coup, of whom 14 died in hunger strikes, 171 died in torture sessions, and 49 were executed.
The military then abolished all political parties. Any new ones had to gain military approval for formation. Only three got it. Motherland Party (ANAP) represented conservatives and (although not openly) Islamists. The Populist Party (HP) took up the Kemalist torch, and the Nationalist Democracy Party (MDP) served as the puppet of the military junta. In the new elections in 1983, the Motherland Party promptly won most seats.
Conflict with the Kurds
While Turkey's society descended into political infighting and military rule, the longstanding angst between the Turkish majority and the Kurdish minority started to boil over. Kurdish militia groups had occasionally risen up across the Middle East in an attempt to establish an independent state, or "Kurdistan". The conflict in Turkey escalated dramatically with the founding of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The group, which has Marxist-Leninist roots, hopes to gain independence or at least autonomy. Between 5,000 and 10,000 armed fighters, the PKK directed attacks against government property, government officials, Turks living in the Kurdish regions, Kurds accused of collaborating with the government, foreigners, and Turkish diplomatic missions abroad.
Since the PKK uprising began in the early 1980s, 40,000 people have died in the ensuing conflict. The Turkish government retaliated by destroying Kurdish villages and forcing Kurds out of their homes. Based on its NATO obligations, the United States designated the PKK as a terrorist organization in 1997 and has repeatedly upheld that designation while cooperating with Turkey to combat its operations. The European Union also officially lists the PKK as terrorists.
The PKK is unique amid Middle Eastern insurgent groups in that its armed forces are around 40% female and explicitly lists feminism among its ideologies. The PKK has proven resilient thanks to the support of the Kurdish population in Syria and Iraq.
“”The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers.
|—Poem written by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 1998.|
From its founding in 1983, the pro-Islamist and conservative Welfare Party (RP) dominated the Turkish government until its ouster by Turkey's constitutional court in 1997. Although the RP ended, its electoral dominance laid the foundation for Turkey's newest dominant conservative party: the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Unlike its predecessor, the AKP never centered its image around Islamism, although it was a part of its platform; the party focused on democratization and getting the military out of politics. The party seemingly lived up to the promise by holding a referendum on some much-needed constitutional reforms in 2007, including measures like electing the president by popular vote instead of by parliament and reducing the presidential term from seven years to five.
The AKP then turned on the military. Its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, secured constitutional amendments in a 2010 referendum allowing the courts to try military members. This directly led to the convictions of the old 1980 coup leaders for crimes against the state. This effectively ended the military's ability to freely intervene in politics.
Once the military was out of the way, though, the AKP and Erdoğan started to show their true colors. The party's leaders started using their offices to suppress opposition protests and bring charges against journalists. In 2014, Erdoğan became president, and in 2017 he decided to remodel the office a bit. He proposed a constitutional referendum to limit parliament's authority and expand his own. Among the provisions were sweeping new presidential powers to appoint ministers, prepare the budget, choose the majority of senior judges and enact certain laws by decree. Parliament also lost the right to investigate or question the executive branch.
2016 coup and aftermath
Turkey's slide into authoritarianism can be traced back to the failed 2016 coup. A faction of the military decided to overthrow Erdoğan amid his increasingly Islamist tendencies. The attempt quickly devolved into violence with helicopters over Ankara and bombs exploding near the Parliament building. Hundreds of people died as the military and loyalists battled across the capital city, but Erdoğan himself escaped and took refuge in Istanbul. The coup eventually failed because public opinion was almost totally against the plotters.
Erdoğan immediately responded with a crackdown, arresting 6,000 people, including high-ranking soldiers and judges. The response quickly escalated into a full-scale purge of all opposition, with more than 130,000 people fired from public service jobs through emergency decrees, and the president's authority greatly expanded. His constitutional referendum in 2017 was likely motivated by the perceived need to expand his powers.
The AKP has also dismantled the last aspect of Turkish democracy: its elections. When the AKP lost the Istanbul municipal elections in 2019, it had the High Election Board declare the result illegitimate and call for a re-run. The Board has effectively decided that major election results are legitimate only if the AKP wins.
Aggressive foreign policy
Erdoğan's government put Turkey on a new aggressive and imperialist path, first by distancing Turkey from the European Union and then by sponsoring Muslim Brotherhood affiliates during the Arab Spring. Turkey then started deepening its diplomatic ties with Vladimir Putin's Russia, first by buying an air defense system from Russia and then by apparently using it to track Greek and American planes and possibly sharing that data with the Russians. However, the US Congress noticed this, and they've been blocking arms sales to Turkey since 2018.
The Turkish government has also shocked the world by cozying up to China. This is amazingly two-faced because China is currently oppressing its Muslim, Turkic Uyghur minority. In 2016, Turkey arrested Abdulkadir Yapcan, a prominent Uyghur political activist living in the country, and that soon escalated into the arrest of anyone who majorly speaks out against China. With Turkey losing friends among the West and even in the Middle East, Erdoğan has increasingly relied on China for economic ties.
Turkish imperialism reached a new height in 2019 when Erdoğan launched an invasion of Syria, ostensibly to fight DAESH in the Syrian Civil War. However, this was rather blatantly an attack on US-aligned Kurdish militias. Erdoğan has also intervened militarily to help Azerbaijan attack Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, and Turkey has proven to be the most enthusiastic continuer of that war. Even Putin's government called for an end to the fighting.
Government and politics
Power of the president
Since the disastrous 2017 referendum, Turkey has been a presidential republic that vests huge powers into its head of state. Turkey's parliament is the unicameral National Assembly. Today, however, it has nothing to do since the referendum stripped most of its powers.
The president of Turkey, an office currently held by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, can issue legal decrees, draft budgets, and arbitrarily declare states of emergency for up to six months without any outside approval or oversight. The president also has the power to dissolve parliament and unilaterally appoint judges. There isn't a vice president, and the president can't be removed from office unless convicted by the constitutional court. The members of that body are now appointed by the president. The good thing is that Erdoğan is limited to two terms in office. Still, such constitutional provisions didn't exactly prove to be a challenge for Vladimir Putin, which is another reason why it's troubling that Erdoğan has his claws sunk into the constitutional court.
Religion and conservatism
For the entire history of the republic, Turkish politics has been dominated by those who seek to continue the legacy of Atatürk's Westernization and secularism and those who want a more conservative and religious approach to government. With Erdoğan at the helm, the conservatives have a solid upper hand. His party still publicly respects Atatürk as a figurehead, but it argues that Kemalism is an outdated ideology that no longer suits Turkey. Some ruling party members say that Kemalism caused "moral decay" in Turkey. A few fringe cranks go even further by claiming that Atatürk was a British double agent who used secularism to undermine Turkey. With criticism and conspiracy theories from the government , Atatürk's memory is now under attack. "Father of Turks" no more.
Instead of secularism and liberalism, Erdoğan has become increasingly Islamist. He admonishes women on how many children they should have, promotes legal restrictions against alcohol, and angrily expresses moral outrage over male and female students living together in the same house or flat. The monumental Hagia Sophia, originally built by the Byzantine Empire, has also been reverted from a museum to a mosque, as it had been under the Ottomans.
He also reintroduced Islamic schooling into public institutions to create a "pious generation". As part of this initiative, the government introduced Islamic theology electives, removed the teaching of evolution, and introduced classes to teach students to memorize the Quran.
However, there has been a backlash. Seeing Islam used as a political weapon by Erdoğan has driven increasing numbers of Turks into the welcoming arms of atheism, with the share of Turks who say they adhere to Islam dropping from 55 percent to 51 percent by 2019. His AKP party is also losing hundreds of thousands of members annually amid dissatisfaction with his authoritarianism and failure to bolster the ailing Turkish economy.
“”Sadly, the Turkish Government has driven this campaign of denial, and has done so over a course of decades using a variety of means to punish Turkish citizens who dared to acknowledge the crimes committed by the Ottoman government in 1915 and thereafter. The Turkish Government has also threatened other countries to keep them from acknowledging the genocide. Ironically, it is the Turkish Government's campaign of denial that obliges other countries to recognize the genocides officially.
|—Christopher Smith, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Joint House and Senate Hearing, 114 Congress.|
Turkey's government has always denied the historical fact of the Armenian genocide, apparently to absolve itself of any responsibility for the Ottoman regime's murder of millions of people. It also seems to consider the fact of the genocide to be detrimental to Turkish national pride and fears that recognition of the genocide might legitimize Armenian demands for reparations and retrocession of their lost territories. Current Turkish leader Erdoğan has been especially strident in denying the genocide. Turkish denialism tends to come in three flavors courtesy of most of its academic and government institutions: (1) "the Armenians killed us, not the other way around", (2) "everybody killed everybody, so let's forget about it, yeah?" and (3) "yes we killed them, but they had it coming, so you better watch yourself".
Turkey has historically tried to use its resources to block recognition of the genocide abroad, especially in the United States. After he left his elected seat on Capitol Hill in 1999, Representative Robert L. Livingston was hired by Turkey to lobby against genocide recognition measures in the US Congress. Turkey also leveraged its NATO ties, and the UK and US president Donald Trump all buy the idea that Turkish ties are too important to risk for mere historical fact. That's why in 2019, Trump vetoed the bipartisan Congressional measure to recognize the genocide. France, which passed a recognition bill in 2011, saw Turkey block all diplomatic ties and even forbid French planes from landing at Turkish NATO facilities.
In 2021, Trump's successor Joe Biden fulfilled a campaign promise by finally recognizing the genocide after the US government spent decades of stalling. The White House's press release quoted President Biden's commemoration of Armenian genocide Remembrance Day:
“”Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring. Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination. We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.
Turkey has recently stepped up its efforts to combat recognition of the genocide abroad. In June 2020, Erdoğan's government renewed its pledge to fight the "Armenian lobby" and its efforts to "defame our nation", by which they mean launching a crackdown against advocacy organizations struggling for genocide recognition. That culminated in the Turkish government's establishment of an "autonomous" body with the sole purpose of denying the Armenian Genocide, which is stated to be one of Turkey's "main foreign policy issues."
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