WORLD WAR I: THE HEAVY TOLL OF A DEADLY CONFLICT
The declaration of World War I, one of deadliest conflicts in history, led to major transformations in the societies of both the victors and the losers. As one of the losers, the Ottoman Empire paid an especially heavy price, as those responsible who had plunged the empire into the war fled and left the destruction behind
Marking its centennial last year, the declaration of World War I was a major turning point in the history of humanity. World War I, remembered as one of the largest political and military conflicts, reshaped the global map with fundamental social and economic changes. Since then, nothing has been the same.
Some interesting arguments claim that World War I might have been avoided if the negotiations between world leaders had not been made through telegraph, a pioneering innovation that facilitated communication on the battlefield and headquarters at that time. Telegraph quickly took the place of letters, but statesmen were not used to this faster communication tool. Due to the incessant information flow, telegraph messages were sometimes misinterpreted or overlooked.
In 1914, the final stage was set between the Entente and the Central Powers. Upon the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip, Austria issued an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia. Expecting that Russia, its powerful ally, would support the kingdom in case of a conflict, Serbia partially rejected the ultimatum. The following Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia triggered the start of the devastating war.
Full mobilization was declared on all sides, and young people were called up for military service. The British government introduced its first Military Service Act, imposing conscription for single men of military age during World War I. Attracting a great deal of opposition, the call-up regulations were extended in the following years, and animals and vehicles were seized from the public in some participating countries. Moreover, the battlefield saw military innovations including poison gas, machine guns, bomber aircraft, heavy tanks and submarines introduced on a massive scale.
In 1914, Europe marked its first global-scale war. The bloody conflict was an unprecedented catastrophe that transformed the modern world. As a consequence of World War I, empires were crushed and nation-states were born, where different societies were allowed to live as minorities. Although previously condemned, the trend of nationalism gained popularity, and centuries-old powers such as the Habsburg Monarchy, the Hohenzollern Dynasty, the House of Romanov and the Ottoman Empire fell, entirely changing political regimes. The ideology of a republic, which was once underestimated as "the rule of the mob," became the favorite system of the period.
Until World War I, parliaments had existed while exploiting the monarchies. However, it was finally time for change and technological developments required authorities to act faster and more powerfully. When World War I brought about the abolition of monarchies, parliaments took the place of kings.
When Continental Europe visibly fell behind the U.S., weak governments and coalitions emerged, leading the way for dictatorships in Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia and Turkey at that time. Moreover, World War I caused drastic social changes, such as societies becoming much poorer. The world of art, culture and aesthetics, which flourished in the hands of aristocrats, also suffered. The period "Le Belle Epoque" (Beautiful Era), characterized as a golden age of European history, came to an end with the onset of World War I.
The terrible war brought catastrophic consequences for Turkish people, too. Almost one million people lost their lives and the Ottoman Empire crumbled. A productive and educated young population died on the battlefield, and it was even hard to find bread in the aftermath of the World War I. However, war-profiteers found a place in the society through railway trading and the black-market. In the aftermath, the inhabitants of Anatolian cities were deported and thousands of people left their homes following mass migrations. The defeat of the Central Powers, including the Ottoman Empire, brought traumatic consequences as well. You might encounter similar consoling statements in Turkish history books such as, "The Ottoman Empire was defeated because its allies lost the battle."
The reason behind the Ottoman Empire's alliance with the Central Powers was to extend the group's military front and provide a safe passage to Germany. In exchange for its support, the Ottoman parliament under the dominance of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) following the Second Constitutional Era was hoping to receive help from Germany.
Another interesting irony was that the Shaykh al-Islam, the main religious authority, declared World War I a "holy war" against the Entente Powers. However, the Arabs turned their backs on the Ottomans due to incompetent management on the battlefield, which caused the Islamic brotherhood to suffer. The abolition of the caliphate resulted in a lack of authority in the Islamic world and the consequent emergence of marginal Islamic groups.
The biggest price was probably the destruction of cultural heritage dating back 1,000 years. Many political, social and religious traditions sunk into oblivion as well. The entire social regulation system put in place by the Ottomans was altered with changes that had not been properly thought out. Many families broke up, moral values degenerated and people began to struggle just to stay alive.
World War I officially ended with the Armistice of Mudros in 1918 on the Greek Island of Lemnos. Rauf Orbay, later one of the founders of the Kemalist regime, signed the agreement on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately, Anatolians were to suffer from its consequences until 1923. To prevent the CUP from getting an upper hand, peace negotiations aimed to create "a pacific Ottoman Empire" by removing soldiers from Anatolia. The Entente powers imposed several disastrous conditions on the Ottoman Empire as if to imply, "We had problems with Germany. Why did you participate to the war? You extended the front line and the duration of the battle."
Upon the Armistice of Mudros, the Ottoman Empire lost its Arab territories, and the capital, Istanbul, and Anatolian cities were occupied. The adherents of the CUP that were dreaming of recapturing the land invaded by Suleiman the Magnificent faced the harsh reality of the situation. Like someone who is forced to wash dishes if they have no money to pay at a restaurant, Turks paid the bill of the war by leaving their history behind.
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