Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Part 3: The Young Turks

The rapid advances made by Europe during the Industrial Revolution had, by the late 19th century, left the Ottomans in a precarious position. They were far behind their European competitors. They were in danger of losing their empire, of being swallowed up by Europe. The Ottomans realized they needed to learn how to modernize their country from the Europeans. They sent their students to Paris to study. (Page 6 of The Young Turks in Opposition) The Ottomans wanted their students to learn how to reproduce European technologies and nothing more. But the French taught them something else. Once in Paris, some of the students formed oppositions groups dedicated to overthrowing the Ottoman government. The most prominent of these groups was the Young Turks, otherwise known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). In 1908, they managed to seize power and overthrow the Ottoman sultan.

It is ironic, and perhaps not even a coincidence, that the Young Turks executed their revolution in 1908, the same year in which Ford produced its first Model T. Perhaps Britain knew how revolutionary that car was, knew that the Middle East had an ocean of oil buried beneath it, and forced the Young Turks into action, knowing that the Young Turks would destroy what they vowed to save.

William Morton Fullerton, an American journalist in Paris who had watched the Young Turks for a decade prior to the revolution, predicted that they would “wreck their country” in three years time after assuming power. (Page 24 of Preparation for a Revolution) The Young Turks did indeed destroy their country, though it took them a bit longer than Fullerton thought.

European support

The Europeans, both the French and the British, provided shelter for the Young Turks during their time in opposition. The British allowed the Young Turks to live in London. At one point, the Young Turks had their headquarters there. (Page 146 of The Young Turks in Opposition) During this period, the British press provided them with favorable coverage. Britain also allowed the Young Turks to live in countries which they controlled, including Egypt and Cyprus. (Page 99 and 106 of The Young Turks in Opposition) In the case of Cyprus, the British even encouraged the Young Turks to become active there.

The sultan asked the British to crack down on the Young Turks in Egypt, but the British refused, arguing, apparently with a straight face, that they could not interfere in the domestic affairs of Egypt, a country which they controlled. (Page 80 of The Young Turks in Opposition)

Split personality

The Young Turks were not a monolithic movement. They had a diversity of opinion which, for the most part, was divided into two groups - those who wanted Europe to intervene in Ottoman affairs and those who did not.

The group that supported European intervention wanted Europe to help them overthrow the Ottoman sultan. The interventionists took a more accommodating view towards the ethnic minorities who inhabited the Ottoman Empire.

The interventionists often conspired with the British government to overthrow the sultan. (Page 60 of The Young Turks in Opposition) However, although the British were willing to talk to the Young Turks about staging a coup, when it came time to act, the British were never willing to follow through. (Page 125 of Preparation for a Revolution)

Privately, the British had a condescending attitude towards the Young Turks, in particular towards Murad Bey, one of the movement’s leaders.

“Mourad is an impecunious scamp,” said Lord Cromer. “I dare to say that he will do what I tell him.” (Page 80 of The Young Turks in Opposition)

For the British, the interventionists were nothing more than a tool which they used to pressure the sultan.

“Using the Young Turks as a wild card in order to obtain concessions from the sultan was a more common form of political pressure,” said M. Sukri Hanioglu. (Page 22 of Preparation for a Revolution)

Whenever the British wanted something from the sultan, they would pretend to support the interventionists and their efforts to stage a coup. The British hoped that this routine would scare the sultan into giving them whatever they wanted. But regardless of how the sultan responded, in the end, the British would never support a coup led by the interventionists. Over time, the interventionists lost credibility. The Young Turks who opposed European intervention took over the movement.

One would think that Britain would have supported the interventionists, as the interventionists admired Britain and wanted to work with them. But they didn't. Instead they allowed the anti-British faction to seize power. The British view of the Young Turks was similar to the way Colin Powell viewed invading Iraq.

When America was thinking about invading Iraq, Colin Powell recommended against it, arguing that if America broke Iraq, America would have to fix it. Britain thought the same thing about the Ottoman Empire. If Britain decided to overthrow the sultan, the world would expect Britain to fix the Ottoman Empire. But Britain did not want to fix the Ottoman Empire. Britain wanted to destroy and partition the empire, to annex the parts of the empire that contained oil. In order to do so, Britain needed Ottoman rulers who hated Britain. If the empire was ruled by people who loved Britain, they would never go to war with Britain. Then the only way to destroy the empire would be to unilaterally declare war against the Ottomans, an act which would be perceived by the rest of the world as evil and unjustified.


Though the Young Turks were foolish for going to war with Europe, their opinions about Europe, about how Europe was evil, about how Europe was trying to destroy their country, those opinions were completely justified. They accused Britain of “provoking and prodding” the Armenians, Bulgarians, and Arabs into revolting against the Ottoman government. (Page 178 of Preparation for a Revolution)

“The provinces of Salonica, Ioannina, Edirne, and Monastir have been filled with foreign schools and Catholic and Slavic churches,” said the Young Turks. “These schools are not content with teaching arts and sciences, they also teach Christian children that they should strive hard to separate themselves from the Turks, and work for the extinction of the Ottoman government.” (Page 43 of Preparation for a Revolution)

Using minority groups to destabilize other countries is the job of the British external intelligence agency. When most people think of British intelligence, they think of James Bond and the organization he belongs to, MI6. Although many people refer to the British external intelligence agency as MI6, its official name is the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS).

Until recently, I never knew that the phrase “secret intelligence” refers to a specific category of intelligence activities. I learned its definition after reading a book about an offspring of British intelligence - the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The book is called OSS in China: Prelude to Cold War.

In December 1940, fifteen months after Britain entered World War II and a year before America joined the war, the British government paid William Donovan, an American, to take a tour of the Mediterranean. Accompanying him was William Stephenson, the chief of British intelligence for the Western Hemisphere.

While on this trip, Donovan decided that America needed to centralize its intelligence operations, that America needed to create a new agency which would control the country’s intelligence apparatus. Roosevelt accepted this proposal and put Donovan in charge of the new organization. Originally the agency was called the Coordinator of Information. It was later renamed the Office of Strategic Services.

OSS was essentially an arm of British intelligence. British officials trained all the OSS agents, first at a British training camp in Ontario called Camp X, later at training camps in Virginia and Maryland. (Page 19 of OSS in China) Britain knew the identities of virtually every OSS agent. The converse was not true, however, as OSS knew little about British secret intelligence activities. A few months before the end of the war, a U.S. military officer, Colonel Richard Park Jr., wrote a blistering report about OSS. (

“O.S.S. is hopelessly compromised to foreign governments, particularly the British," said Colonel Park. “Further questioning of British intelligence authorities will evince nothing but praise because the O.S.S. is like putty in their hands and they would be reluctant to forfeit a good tool.”

Like its British counterpart, secret intelligence was one of the duties of OSS, as was special operations. While reading the book OSS in China, I kept wondering what was involved in secret intelligence and special operations. The author kept using those terms but he never defined them. I tried to find a definition for these terms on the Internet but I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer there either. I eventually found a definition for those terms in Appendix III of the Park report. That appendix contains an outline of the activities performed by OSS. Section 1 and 2 of the outline list the activities that fall under the categories of secret intelligence and secret operations. I assume secret operations is the same thing as special operations. The following is a copy of sections 1 and 2 of the outline:
  1. Secret Intelligence
    1. Liaison with undergrounds, minority groups, and subversive groups in various countries throughout the world.
    2. Espionage.
    3. Interception (radio, telegraph, telephone, etc.).
    4. Dark chamber (cryptanalysis).
  2. Secret Operations
    1. Sabotage.
    2. Subversive activities.
    3. Subversive propaganda.
  3. Research and Analysis
  4. Counterintelligence
  5. Propaganda, counterpropaganda and miscellaneous activities
After reading this outline, I came to the conclusion that I had a hard time finding a proper definition for these terms because the government does not want the public to know what these terms mean. The government, I presume, rarely if ever has defined those terms publicly. That is why it is hard to find an accurate definition for those terms on the Internet. Why the government was willing to declassify this document is something of a mystery to me.

From section 1a and section 2, we can deduce that secret intelligence and special operations involves using subversive groups, including minorities, to destabilize other governments. For the Ottoman Empire, the most infamous case of Europe using minority groups to destabilize their country involved the Armenians.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Armenians began revolting against the Ottoman government. In 1895, they escalated their attacks, hoping the violence would cause Europe to intervene. (Kindle Locations 3275-3276 from A Brief History)

Britain denounced the Ottomans for suppressing the revolts. They used the revolts as a pretext to to turn against the Ottomans.

“[British] sympathies with Turkey have completely changed and she would never again make great sacrifices for a government which she so thoroughly distrusts,” said the Marquis of Salisbury. (Kindle Locations 3278-3279 from A Brief History)

The Young Turks knew what Britain was doing and they hated them for it.

“Wherever a shameful act or outbreak of disorder occurs in the Ottoman dominions, [the European statesmen] immediately put all the blame on the Turks and their religious fanaticism, thereby intervening in our domestic affairs on the pretext of safeguarding the Christians-as if the non-Christians were not human beings!” exclaimed Ahmed Riza, a prominent Young Turk. “They bombard towns with the cry of ‘Turks are not capable of progress and reform, and the Ottoman state cannot be put into any kind of order,’ and attempt to turn European public opinion against us.” (Page 301 of Preparation for a Revolution)

In many cases, after a revolt broke out in the Ottoman Empire, the Europeans used the revolt as a pretext to intervene, ostensibly to fix the problem, in reality to destroy the Ottoman Empire.

“Whenever the Great Powers intervened in our domestic affairs they concluded their intervention by separating an element [of the empire] from us, or obtained new privileges for profiteers and missionaries; to sum up, they always diminished the strength of the Turk,” said the Young Turks. (Page 32 of Preparation for a Revolution)

This was why they opposed European intervention. Were Europe allowed to intervene again, they suspected that Europe would chop off a part of their empire.

“If Europe came to rescue us by accepting our invitation she would at first try to separate the Armenians and Macedonians from us,” they said. (Page 32 of Preparation for a Revolution)

By the way, after World War II, OSS would undergo several name changes. After the last name change, the organization became known as the Central Intelligence Agency.

Turkish Nationalism

The Young Turks were nationalists. They believed the Turkish people should enjoy a dominant, elevated position above the other ethnicities of the Ottoman Empire. (Page 171 of Preparation for a Revolution) They argued that their language, Turkish, “was the most superior and advanced Oriental language.” (Page 66 of Preparation for a Revolution) They often looked down on the other races of the empire.

“Why should we bow before these Armenians, who make us a laughingstock though we never deserve it?” said the Young Turks. “The fortunes that they have made, the arts that they have mastered all arise from the fact that they have lived at our expense.” (Page 67 of Preparation for a Revolution)

The Young Turks took a hard-line on the issue of autonomy. They argued that granting others autonomy would lead to their secession.

“To give a little bit of power and credit to the separatists encourages them to detach themselves completely,” said the Young Turks. (Page 291 of Preparation for a Revolution)

Their opposition to autonomy, their hard-line views on Turkish nationalism alienated the ethnic minorities and prevented the Young Turks from forming alliances with them. (Page 179 of Preparation for a Revolution)


The Young Turks were positivists. Positivists believe that scientific truth is the only truth, that religious beliefs are invalid. This ideology was inconsistent with the views of the Ottoman people, many of whom were Muslims. Despite their beliefs, the Young Turks often spoke in religious, Islamic terms in the hope that such rhetoric would boost their popularity. They saw Islam as a tool which they could use to unite the world’s Muslims. Such a unification would be a powerful force which they could use against Europe.

“The Europe Christian governments are very much afraid of even the term ‘Union of Muslims,’ said the Young Turks. “Our enemies’ fear is convincing proof of the necessity of a union for the Muslims.” (Page 157 of Preparation for a Revolution)

Unfortunately for them, it was not a secret that they were positivists. Their opponents labeled them as such in order to discredit them.

“This hostile propaganda was very damaging to the CUP,” said M. Sukri Hanioglu. (Page 305 of Preparation for a Revolution)

Whose ideology?

The three pillars of Young Turk ideology - nationalism, anti-imperialism, and positivism - rather than forming the foundation which allowed the Young Turks to rule the empire, formed the foundation which Europe used to destroy it. Positivism alienated the empire’s Muslims. Nationalism turned the minorities against the Young Turks. Anti-imperialism led the Young Turks to fight against the Europeans instead of trying to reach an accommodation with them.

The Young Turks got each of these pillars from Europe. Yusuf Akcura, a Turkish nationalist who was involved in the movement, was heavily influenced by Albert Sorel and Emile Boutmy, two of his professors at Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques, one of the most prestigious universities in France. (Page 293 of Preparation for a Revolution)

The Europeans taught the three pillars to the Young Turks knowing full well that such an ideology would destroy the Ottoman Empire. With such a ridiculous ideology, the Young Turks could not seize power unless they had help. The help came in the form of the humiliations imposed on the sultan by the Europeans.

“The Muslim elite, extremely disheartened by the Ottoman government’s inability to thwart foreign intervention, viewed the Young Turk movement as a last chance to save itself from Greek domination,” said M. Sukri Hanioglu. (Page 152 of Preparation for a Revolution)

By humiliating the sultan, the Europeans were paving the way for the Young Turks to seize power.


In 1903, a group of ethnic Bulgarians launched an insurrection against the Ottoman government in Macedonia. The Murzsteg program, a series of reforms concocted by Europe, was implemented in reaction to the violence, but it failed to resolve the problem. Instead the program created an enormous amount of resentment amongst the Muslim population. (Page 208 of Preparation for a Revolution) To protect themselves against the insurgents, the local Muslims formed groups of vigilantes.

In the past, when it came to Macedonia, the British had sat on the sidelines and let other countries take the lead. But all that changed at the end of 1907. (Page 231 of Preparation for a Revolution) The British declared that the situation in Macedonia was unacceptable. Things needed to change.

“The Ottoman authorities have displayed an utter incapacity to maintain public tranquility,” said Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary. (Page 231 of Preparation for a Revolution)

Britain suddenly began cooperating with Russia on this issue. (Page 232 of Preparation for a Revolution) To solve the problem, Britain put forth a proposal that they knew the Ottomans would refuse.

“If a Turkish Governor were appointed for a fixed term of years-a man whose character and capacity were accepted and recognized by the Powers-and if he had a free and willing hand and his position were secure, I believe that the whole Macedonian question might be solved,” said Grey.

Britain made this same proposal three decades ago, during the Constantinople Conference. The Ottomans refused their proposal. The failure of the conference led to the Russo-Turkish War. (Page 232 to 233 of Preparation for a Revolution) The British knew that this proposal would still be unacceptable to the Ottomans thirty years later, but they made it anyways.

“Sir Edward’s proposal was one that obviously would be found entirely unacceptable by any Ottoman government in office,” said M. Sukri Hanioglu. (Page 232 to 233 of Preparation for a Revolution)

The Young Turks proclaimed that the proposal was aimed at “the partition and extinction of the Ottoman state and expulsion of Turks from Europe.” (Page 234 of Preparation for a Revolution) This propaganda, which denounced Europe and warned of their impending intervention, struck a chord with the Ottoman soldiers in Macedonia. For unlike other areas of the empire, in Macedonia, foreign intervention was a fact of life. Due to the Murzsteg program, there were foreign officials in the area who were interacting with the local Christians, who were listening to their complaints. The Ottoman soldiers were deeply resentful of their presence. The soldiers viewed those officials as “arrogant.” Those officials were “bossing them around in their own land.” (Page 236 of Preparation for a Revolution) Angry at Europe and afraid for their future, many of the soldiers allied themselves with the Young Turks.

The Ottoman soldiers stationed in Macedonia enjoyed a freedom that their counterparts located elsewhere lacked. The chaos throughout the area meant those soldiers were free to move wherever they wanted to chase after the insurgents. This meant they could distribute Young Turk propaganda throughout the province while claiming they were trying to find the enemy. Such activities were not possible in other parts of the empire. (Page 236 of Preparation for a Revolution)

Rumors of an outrageous agreement between Russia and Britain to partition Macedonia caused the Young Turks to launch their revolution early and provided them with yet another piece of propaganda which they used to rally support to their side. (Page 235, 260, and 264 of Preparation for a Revolution)

The Young Turks had the Ottoman soldiers in Macedonia mutiny. When the sultan sent troops to Macedonia to restore order, the Young Turks had the leader of those troops assassinated. Many of the troops sent to restore order joined the rebellion, as they were secretly connected to the Young Turks to begin with. Rather than start a civil war, the sultan ceded power to the Young Turks.

Ethnic support

Since the purpose of the revolution was to thwart foreign intervention, the Young Turks had to convince the other ethnic groups that the situation would improve after they assumed power, otherwise the revolts would continue and the Europeans would still intervene. To convince the minorities to support them, the Young Turks told those minorities whatever they wanted to hear. (Page 175 of Preparation for a Revolution) Although some ethnic groups supported the Young Turks, most did not. (Page 241 of Preparation for a Revolution) Those minorities knew that, although the Young Turks were saying the right things, in their hearts, the Young Turks were nationalists who had an agenda that was the exact opposite of what those minorities wanted.

Nevertheless the leading insurgent group in Macedonia, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), halted their attacks temporarily at the request of Bulgaria. Bulgaria, in turn, made this request to show their support for the British reform proposals. (Page 243 of Preparation for a Revolution) This implies that it was Britain who wanted IMRO to temporarily halt their attacks. The ceasefire allowed the Young Turks to seize power. Once again, the British had paved the way for them.

Before the revolution, the Ottoman elites were loyal to the sultan. (Page 313 of Preparation for a Revolution) After the revolution, they were swept away and replaced by hard-line nationalists who clamored for autonomy. (Page 313 of Preparation for a Revolution) These nationalists seized control of the various ethnic groups.

Instead of trying to reach an accommodation with these nationalists, the Young Turks cancelled the privileges given to non-Turkish Muslims. Instead of granting autonomy to the various ethnic groups, the Young Turks centralized power. Instead of recognizing that minorities had their own ethnic identities, the Young Turks demanded that they view themselves as Ottomans first. (Kindle Locations 4173-4175 from A Brief History)

“Between a center predisposed to view all demands for the recognition of difference as evidence of separatism, and a periphery decreasingly inclined to compromise, all-out war was inevitable,” said M. Sukru Hanioglu. (Kindle Locations 4180-4181)

The First Balkan War began in October 1912. The Ottomans lost almost all their territory in Europe.

Enver Pasha

The Ottomans lost the rest of their empire during World War I. Most of the blame for this debacle has been directed towards one man, Enver Pasha, the Supreme Commander of the Ottoman military. His critics blame him for a litany of disasters, including the decision to attack a heavily fortified Russian position in the middle of winter. (Page 120)

The obstacles which impeded the attack were overwhelming. Between Enver and the Russians stood the Caucasus Mountains, rivers that had no bridges, land that had no railroads, and snow, lots and lots of snow. The snow prevented his artillery from ever reaching the battlefield. A sane person, realizing they had no artillery, would have called off the attack. But not Enver. He sent 100,000 soldiers to attack Russia. Eighty six thousand of them died. (Page 121) One German officer said the Ottomans had “suffered a disaster which for rapidity and completeness is without parallel in military history.”

Towards the end of the war, as Britain was attacking the Ottoman Empire, instead of defending their territory, inexplicably, the Ottomans began attacking Russia in Azerbaijan and Turkestan. (Page 313) Britain was free to seize whatever parts of the Ottoman Empire they wanted. Enver was blamed for this fiasco too.

The criticism leveled against him came not just from outsiders, but from his colleagues as well. The Grand Vizier blamed him for the war. (Page 369) The other Young Turks claim that at end of the war, only Enver knew that Germany was losing, that Enver misled them into into believing the Germans were actually winning. (Page 367)

“Enver Pasha’s greatest guilt is that he never kept his friends informed of the situation,” said the Ottoman finance minister. “If he had said five or six months ago that we were in so difficult a situation, naturally we would have…made a favourable separate peace at that time. But he concealed everything, and…he deluded himself and brought the country to this state.” (Page 368)

His decisions were so incomprehensible one wonders why the other Young Turks allowed him to remain in his position throughout the war. According to one theory, offered by the Times of London, the other Young Turks were afraid of him. The Grand Vizier “was fully alive to the precarious nature of his own position and to the fact that any real attempt on his part to run counter to the policy of Enver Pasha and the military authorities would have meant his elimination.” (The Rupture With Turkey by The Times 12/11/14)

Though there is evidence which implicates Enver for the failures of the Ottoman government, there is also evidence which distributes the blame more broadly. Perhaps other people were blaming Enver for their own lapses in judgement. Enver was an easy target. He died in August 1922, right as the war between the Turks and the Allies was drawing to a close. Blaming him was easy, as he was no longer alive to defend himself. Indeed Fromkin suggests that Enver was not solely responsible. Although most historians claim that the Ottoman Empire was run by “a dictatorial triumvirate of Enver, Talaat, and Djemal, ... in fact, as the German archives now show, power was wielded by the C.U.P.’s Central Committee of about forty members, and especially by its general directorate of about twelve members who functioned as a sort of politburo, in which personal rivalries abounded. Decisions of the Central Committee were reflected in the positions taken by party members in the Cabinet and in the Chamber of Deputies.” (Page 44)

Unfortunately, this is the only time Fromkin mentions the Central Committee. He never mentions its members, who they were or what they stood for. Instead, ironically, he focuses mostly on the actions of Enver and to a lesser extent Talaat and Djemal.

To be fair to Fromkin, the committee was very secretive, which makes it a hard target to decipher. The identity of its members were kept secret. (Kindle Locations 4013-4014 from A Brief History) Still, some of its members and activities are known.

Historians believe that Bahaeddin Sakir played a pivotal role in the emergence of the Young Turks.

“Bahaeddin Sakir was undoubtedly the individual most responsible for reshaping the coalition and transforming it into a well-organized activist committee,” said M. Sukru Hanioglu. “His foes accused him of converting the Young Turk movement into a ‘nationalist activity.’” (Page 129 of Preparation for a Revolution)

I personally believe that historians are overstating the importance of Sakir. He was a doctor. Doctors are not known for their ability to organize opposition movements, conduct assassination campaigns, and overthrow governments. Those skills fall within the domain of intelligence agencies.

The Young Turks did have a prominent intelligence official working for them. Ahmed Celaleddin Pasha, once the head of Ottoman intelligence, defected to the Young Turks in 1904. (Page 78 of Preparation for a Revolution) He was close to Bahaeddin Sakir. (Page 128 of Preparation for a Revolution) I believe he had a powerful influence on the Young Turks behind the scenes and that he hid the true extent of his involvement and responsibility.

Regardless of which official had the most power, odds are that Enver played an important role in the decision making process. He was, after all, a member of the Central Committee himself. The British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire once said that Enver Pasha “was entirely in German hands.” (The Rupture With Turkey by The Times 12/11/14) But the Germans were in the hands of the British, which meant the Ottomans too were under their control. You could see this control reflected in the decisions Enver made. His decisions were not in the best interest of the Ottoman Empire, but in the best interests of the British.

The British had the Young Turks implement a somewhat convoluted plan to cede the Ottoman Empire to them. The plan had to be convoluted. The Young Turks could not simply hand over the Ottoman Empire to the British. That would have generated an outcry from the Ottoman people. The Young Turks would have been labeled as traitors, their decisions declared invalid. They needed to fight a war against the British, a war that would give the British a pretext for stealing their land.

Europe had to work together to convince the Ottoman public to allow the Young Turks to lead them down that path. The Europeans had to bolster the Young Turks. The Germans gave them gold. They gave them the Goeben. The Europeans allowed the Young Turks to end the Capitulations, which were contracts that gave certain privileges to Europeans. The Ottomans hated the Capitulations and were overjoyed when they were terminated. The Goeben, the end of the Capitulations, and the gold gave the Young Turks a tremendous amount of political capital. The Ottoman people thought the Young Turks knew what they were doing. The Young Turks, having gained the confidence of their people, were now ready to lead their country into war against the Allies.

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