The Fall Of The Ottomans: The Great War In The Middle East, by Euguene Rogan
What this book does in a very crowded market of books that deal with World War I is to examine the war from the point of view of the Ottoman Empire and to look at the behaviors of its leaders and people that made its own war experience to distinctive and so enduringly troublesome. To be sure, this book does not neglect the point of view of Arabs, Armenians, or the behavior of the British and French, but its focus is on the internal struggles faced by the Ottoman Empire and the way it managed to withstand the attacks it faced from Britain and Russia on several fronts, to say nothing of its own internal troubles, for far longer than it was expected to manage, even if the end of World War I meant the end of the Ottoman Empire for reasons that are not entirely straightforward. Ironically enough, though the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I, it was overthrown by Kemal because of the Sultan’s unwillingness to oppose the draconian peace that would have divided Turkey up between the victorious Allies, and so an independent Turkish Republic was established to follow the failed Ottoman state.
This particular book is about 400 pages long and is divided into thirteen chapters. The book begins with a list of maps, a note on the book’s somewhat inconsistent nomenclature, as well as a preface about the worth of looking at World War I with a knowledge of the Ottoman perspective. After this there is a discussion of the three wars and Young Turk revolution that led to an understanding of Ottoman weakness and a willingness by its neighbors to attack it (1) as well as what was done by the empire during the peace that preceded the Great War (2). After that the author discusses the global call to arms (3) and the opening salvos of World War I in the Middle East at Aden, Basra, Egypt, and the Eastern Mediterranean (4). The author discusses the launch of jihad by the Ottomans (5) as well as the initial assault on the Dardanelles (6). After that the author deals with the Armenian genocide (7) as well as the failure at Gallipoli (8) and the failed initial invasion of Mesopotamia (9) that led to the siege of Kut (10). Finally, the author discusses the dramatic turn in World War I that began with the Arab revolt (11) and that included the Ottoman Empire losing ground on all fronts (12) before it moved from armistice to armistice (13) and became a Turkish rump state after the fall of the Ottomans. The book then ends with an acknowledgments, notes, bibliography, photo credits, and an index.
Why did the Ottomans fall? Internally, their politics became so sclerotic that sultans became the puppets of Young Turk radicals who sought to harness Turkish strength while simultaneously appealing to and crushing various minority groups, ultimately alienating Arabs, Armenians, and others. Britain and Russia (along with France) opportunistically thought that the Ottomans would be easy to defeat but found it more difficult than they thought, difficult enough that it required them to appeal to internal millets within the Ottoman state that had aspirations for independence that ran counter to the imperial interests of the various Entente powers. The author details the unproductive reply of the Ottomans to their own restive peoples, namely their acts of repression and their stirring up of Turkish nationalism, which only further weakened themselves internally. The author details the collapse of the Ottoman military and the way that Kemal managed to stir up enough Turkish military power to keep an independent Turkish state, albeit one that has a lot of unfinished business due to the war crimes committed by the Ottomans in World War I. This book, by focusing on the Ottomans, shines a light on some of the darker aspects of World War I in the Middle East.