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A German Belligerant! The Ottoman Empire

turkey-ww1In November 1914, The Illustrated London News reported that Turkey had declared a “holy war” against the Allies and entered the First World War on the side of Germany and the Central Powers. Turkey was steadily becoming a third-rate power and her government believed that an alliance with Germany against the Allies could facilitate the restoration of the Ottoman Empire to its former glory.

At the height of its power in the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire extended all the way from the Persian Gulf to Poland and from Cairo to Central Europe. However, by the beginning of the 20th century much of the Empire’s vast territory had been whittled away. Most of her European territories had been lost as Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro had gained their independence in the First Balkan War.

Much like its ally, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire was becoming increasingly unstable due to internal conflicts. Their population was a conglomeration of many nationalities, including Turks, Greeks, Slavs and Arabs, most of which were deeply separated on cultural and religious lines. Furthermore, the major European powers were continually demanding concessions from the Ottoman Empire in “areas of interest”. It seemed that pressure from Europe combined with the force of growing nationalism would make the Empire’s dismemberment inevitable. For Enver Pasha, the leader of the “Young Turks” movement who had been in power since 1908, an alliance with Germany would be the best way of serving the interests of the Ottoman Empire.


Germans & Turks at a new munitions factory.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Germany was Turkey’s only true ally amongst the European great powers. Britain had professed its friendship to Turkey but it was Germany that seemed most willing to assist them.

Over the years the German Empire had provided Turkey with sound military advice, commercial investment and had even sold them battleships shortly after the Great War began. Consequently, a secret treaty was signed that pledged Turkish support, should Germany enter a war against Russia in support of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Turkey’s entry into the First World War was primarily portrayed by the Great Eight magazines as a result of German indoctrination. The Illustrated London News stated that Turkey had become a “Germanised Belligerent” who had been “lured into war by Germany”. A few months earlier, The Bystander had published a cartoon of Turkey’s Sultan, Abdul Hamid, praising Kaiser Wilhelm II who had just slaughtered scores of civilians, brandishing a sword covered in blood [pictured top].

Turkey’s decision to enter the First World War was a major gamble. The country was near bankrupt and the possibility of a newly restored Ottoman Empire tempting, but if the war were lost it would undoubtedly mean the final dissolution of the Empire. As we now know, though Turkey was victorious in a few campaigns, that was indeed the case.