An Empire Unredeemed: Tracing the Ottoman State’s Path towards Collapse
Abstract and Keywords
Ottoman rule ended without the consent of most Balkan, North African, Levantian, or Mesopotamian citizens. The establishment of post-Ottoman borders, states, and cultures took place in the wake of foreign conquest. The chapter explains how ending the Ottoman Empire was not necessarily a natural outcome of the First World War. Additionally, Mustafa Kemal/the National Assembly could have maintained the Ottoman mantle and preserved the notion of an empire in Anatolia. Greece’s invasion and occupation cemented the National Movement’s claim that it represented a Muslim and Turkish majority. De-Ottomanization, for the most part, was not decolonization; nationalism or popular agency had little to do with lands removed from the sultan’s domain. However, when looking specifically at the development of nationalist political cultures in the aftermath of 1918, it is clear that the violence unleashed had a profound impact upon perception of the Ottoman legacy.
When Mustafa Kemal assumed the podium in the inaugural session of his Grand National Assembly, he did so in the service of the sultan and the Ottoman state. His first speech before the body in April 1920 offered no indication of his eventual preference for republican government. The occasion instead was used to summarize the injuries and humiliations the Ottoman state and the Turkish nation had endured since the end of the First World War. Istanbul’s occupation by the war’s victors had made the sultan a prisoner in his own palace. The self-proclaimed Grand National Assembly in Ankara had been founded in response to the Allies’ decision to dissolve the imperial parliament, an act that was clearly meant ‘in principle to discard the sovereignty of the Ottoman state.’ ‘After a seven-hundred-year existence of grandeur and majesty,’ the empire now ‘stood at the edge of extinction.’ Yet he remained confident that the Almighty remained with them and that the loyal remnants of the imperial army, ‘our unfailing forces’, would win the day and liberate the sultan and his lands.1
Mustafa Kemal’s pretentions of loyalty and faith in the empire were discarded within less than three years of this speech. By the time Istanbul was freed from foreign occupation in November 1922, the Ankara government had abolished the Ottoman monarchy and compelled the sultan to seek refuge abroad. Ironically, Turkey’s future president did not immediately render any great indictment upon the empire’s fall. It instead fell to his surrogates to declare the Ottoman state officially—and deservedly—dead. On the day before the sultanate was formally abolished, the National Assembly entertained a motion condemning Istanbul’s last high officials as traitors. There was no more talk of the empire’s greatness. Supporters of the motion instead decried the Ottoman state as one defined by ‘several centuries of ignorance and debauchery.’2 Sovereignty no longer rested with the monarchy, but with the Turkish nation, a polity long suppressed by the sultan.
The National Assembly’s decision to disown the empire was not one made without some deliberation. It is likely that leaders such as Mustafa Kemal began to dismiss the Ottoman state’s survival in advance of the body’s first session in Ankara. From the vantage point of 1922, such a conclusion had not always been obvious, nor was it one reached with ease. Imagining a future without the sultan, and the empire he embodied, was the product of a number of cataclysmic events. The audacity eventually required in establishing a republic premised upon an imagined community of ‘Turkish’ citizens required changes to what many had previously thought was impossible or preferable. Wars and international treaties were certainly crucial in speeding the end of the Ottoman Empire. Yet there were still other factors that compelled many of the empire’s most loyal citizens to conceive of a future without the sultanate.
Pinpointing the moment when the Ottoman Empire ceased to be a viable state is a precarious proposition. There were clear symptoms of the empire’s disintegration as the modern age unfolded. The state’s receding frontiers provided the most obvious indication of the mortal dangers facing Ottoman rule. Defeat in war and the loss of territory compounded rampant levels of poverty and disorder in multiple corners of the empire. The government’s sovereignty appeared to grow ever weaker in the face of increased Western interest in the empire’s economy and solvency. Still others could point to the lack of public confidence in the guarantees of imperial citizenship. The means by which the government came to define ‘Ottoman-ness’ often confounded residents throughout the empire. Doubts and debates about the government’s policies or posturing at times were cause for intense intercommunal fighting.
Still, nothing about the events preceding the abolition of the sultanate necessarily made the empire’s collapse inevitable. Amid lingering uncertainties, there were stubborn numbers of Ottoman citizens willing to cast their uncertainties aside. On the contrary, the last century of Ottoman history can be justifiably described as an era of political vibrancy and exuberant reform. Due to the immense efforts expended in trying to transform the empire’s institutions and political climate, many Ottomans found reasons to look upon the beginning of the twentieth century with hope. Material and political changes taking place in the capital and in the provinces suggested that the empire was rapidly becoming more modern and more worthy of international respect and admiration. The one event that helped solidify this sense of optimism was the Young Turk Revolution of 1908. As an episode that reintroduced representative government and constitutional order to the state, the revolution seemed to promise greater democratic engagement and stability for the whole of the empire. The revolution’s main party, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), compelled large swaths of the population to believe that they, a group mostly comprising young officers and bureaucrats (collectively known as Young Turks), could effect substantive change in the capital. Even as disillusionment with the emerging Young Turk regime spread, arguably the majority of Ottoman citizens could not envision the empire’s collapse. All understood that the sultanate’s fall would represent a catastrophe of inordinately violent and destructive proportions.
Four successive wars—over Libya, the Balkan Wars, World War I, and the Turkish War of Independence—catalysed the empire’s demise. The outcomes of each of these conflicts resulted in more than just the empire’s contraction and the deaths of thousands of combatants. Fighting along the state’s periphery drained invaluable resources from the economy and heaped untold hardships upon civilians. Losing battles, and wars in turn, drained confidence from notable members of Ottoman society and led many otherwise loyal citizens to contemplate alternatives to the sultan’s rule. For many leaders of the CUP, defeat had a radicalizing effect upon how they perceived the empire and its future. In the hopes of rooting out potential sources of treason and consolidating the imperial state and nation, the Young Turk government struck out violently against large segments of the population. The results of these policies, which included the mass displacement and murder of hundreds of thousands, rendered a deep divide between citizens and the government, as well as within provincial communities. For citizens who found themselves conquered and incorporated into new states and territories after 1918, the memories of these final years of war undermined any residual desire to see imperial rule over their communities or lands restored. While the most fundamental institutions of the Ottoman Empire may have survived the end of the First World War, large numbers of the state’s remaining citizens, including many of its principal leaders, began to doubt the sultanate’s viability. Sultan Mehmet VI Vahiddedin’s tainted rule did much to condemn the royal family as a governing institution. With Woodrow Wilson’s promise of independence for dominant nations within the dying Ottoman world, many of the empire’s surviving leaders and notables, including Mustafa Kemal, found new inspiration to fight on. Though nominally committed to saving the sultan and his regime, Kemal and his followers tended to depict their ‘national struggle’ as one rooted primarily in the emancipation of ‘Muslims and Turks’. The bitter severity of the Turkish War of Independence, which was punctuated by egregious acts of state and communal violence, deepened this nationalist assertiveness while undermining the last vestiges of communal Ottoman culture. Final victory in 1922 allowed Turkey’s first president to dismiss any pretention of restoring the empire. Though they had once been the empire’s most loyal servants, Turkey’s founding leaders quickly repudiated the Ottoman past. There would be neither eulogies nor nostalgia in the decades that followed the sultanate’s collapse. For all that, the empire, as both a state and nation, formed an irredeemable legacy.
To find a singular premise explaining why the Ottoman state collapsed, it could conceivably begin with struggles over the meaning of imperial reform. Arguments that raged over how centralized the state was supposed to be helped frame many of the contentious policies and actions of the empire’s last governments. Questions over banal matters of governance (such as taxation and land rights), as well as deeper, emotive issues, such as the empire’s ‘national identity’, created deep fault lines between citizens, depending upon the belief that the central government held a unique right to determine policy or even lead the debate. Those who supported a highly centralized government—one that was entitled to define the nature and content of Ottoman citizenship—largely won out in shaping the governing philosophy. The CUP’s insistence upon a unitary vision of the state and nation deepened the political divide between the government and its opponents and led to outright acts of dissident violence and state oppression. As the threat of war and conquest loomed larger, Young Turk leaders increasingly identify ‘Muslims and Turks’ as both the foundation of the Ottoman nation and the true basis of the state’s legitimacy. This ultra-nationalist turn by the Young Turks, as well as the physical damage wrought during the wars of the early twentieth century, helped condemn the empire as a failed endeavor in the eyes of both loyalists and dissidents alike.
Prelude to Collapse: Assessing the Implications of the Long Nineteenth Century
There was a time when historians saw the Ottoman defeat before the gates of Vienna in 1683 as the beginning of the end of the empire. From that moment forward, many scholars were content to depict the Ottoman state as one locked in a death spiral that, centuries later, led to its final collapse. Contemporary scholars in the field have progressively taken issue with this notion of the long Ottoman ‘decline’. Beyond the historical determinism of the traditional argument, Istanbul, in fact, displayed a certain strength and agility in weathering various crises during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Despite severe losses on the battlefield, the sultan’s court managed to sustain large armies over very long periods of time. A great host of provincial actors, such as governors, janissaries, local patricians, tribal leaders, and even bandits, fought to maintain the imperial state as tax collectors and military recruiters. As defeats against Russia and Austria mounted in the eighteenth century, Ottoman officials adopted new strategies and technologies geared for war. It is true that many imperial officials would have agreed that the state faced great dangers by the turn of the eighteenth century, but an end to Ottoman rule was neither considered imminent nor probable.
The dawning of a new century did, however, prompt deep debate in the capital over the nature of imperial government. Like many early modern empires, the Ottoman state was a highly-syncretic political organism. A large, overlapping system of local officials and informal actors managed the promulgation of law, taxes and war throughout the empire. Bureaucracy, for lack of any better term, often comprised ad-hoc commissions or undertakings; no regular civil institution oversaw such matters as education, health or transport. The balance of power within the empire tended to favour provincial notables at the expense of the sultan and his court. The fluidity of the Ottoman government, as well as the decentralized character of political authority, regularly inhibited central policy-making by leaders in the capital. The state’s inherent weaknesses were most clearly visible when it came to mobilizing armies. In comparison to the better-equipped and better-trained forces of Russia or France, the Ottoman military of the eighteenth century still relied upon poorly led and inadequately supplied janissaries and provincial militias to defend imperial borders. Replacing such an antiquated system was fraught with danger. Adapting new systems of recruitment, training, and supply meant challenging the authority and livelihoods of powerful notables and factions in both the capital and the provinces. Sultan Selim III’s execution at the hands of rebellious janissaries and other officials in 1808 demonstrated the extent to which members of the ancien regime were willing to fight reform.
Mahmud II, Selim III’s heir, set the tone for the reformist struggle that would define the remainder of the nineteenth century. In deploying his Western-styled ‘New Force’ to massacre Istanbul’s janissary garrison in 1826, the sultan established a series of bloody precedents for how the restructuring of the Ottoman government would proceed thereafter. The imperial government in Istanbul now reserved the sole right to direct state administration. In principle, no political institution or custom would stand immune to reform. Western European models would be used to create ‘modern’ governmental bodies and administrative practices. As a matter of policy, the state would brook no compromise with those who opposed this reformation of the empire. Violence would be repeatedly used to cow individuals and communities into accepting the revolutionary changes imposed by the government.
The empire’s reordering (or Tanzimat) dramatically altered life in both the capital and provinces. The proliferation of state offices and services strengthened the capital’s ability to administer the empire at large. The establishment of state-run courts, hospitals, and public schools, as well as barracks and police stations, created a new sense of citizenship and belonging for communities living throughout the Levant, Anatolia, and the Balkans. Public services and legal reforms, as well as employment opportunities offered by the bureaucracy and military, inspired large numbers of men and women to feel more invested in both the empire and affairs in the world at large. Cultivating this new imperial identity, as a means of combating sedition and consolidating imperial rule, was among the greatest priorities for Ottoman reformers. For the Tanzimat’s chief architects, the empire’s diversity, in terms of culture and terrain, was substantially set aside in favour of a more unitary notion of belonging. Muslims, Christians, and Jews were all citizens, and all ‘were subjects of one ruler’, and therefore, ‘the children of one father.’3
Difficult, and often intractable, obstacles beset the lofty aspirations of nineteenth-century reformers from the beginning. Overthrowing the authority of long-established local patricians and notables (often referred to as ayan) did not necessarily improve the quality of Ottoman governance. Appointees from Istanbul often proved incompetent, corrupt, or incapable of effective administration. Financial resources were generally scarce, a condition worsened by foreign trade pacts and massive loans. Repeated and aggressive foreign interventions amplified these structural challenges. As the nineteenth century ended, many of the problems that had plagued the reign of Mahmud II remained unresolved; the army continued to struggle on the battlefield, the treasury remained bare, and the state still exhibited signs of weakness.
Arguably the greatest challenge confronting the reformed Ottoman state was an existential one. In proclaiming a new, highly centralized order of law and administration, officials in Istanbul explicitly revoked legal privileges and allowances previously enjoyed by tens of thousands of the sultan’s subjects. For nomads and villagers living in isolated parts of the empire, rigorous centralized government curtailed their cherished communal autonomy. More gravely, universal citizenship threatened the dual system of law pertaining to non-Muslims (the so-called millet system). Compelling Muslims, Christians, and Jews to accept one another as political and social equals destabilized traditional relations between elites and common citizens. Communal leaders regularly conflicted with imperial representatives, as well with each other, over the exact terms of equal citizenship (affecting issues such as land tenure, the authority of civil and ecclesiastical courts, and political representation). The influence of Western representatives further complicated the ways in which citizens negotiated matters of Ottoman identity and civil rights. The establishment of European and American schools, businesses, and diplomatic offices in the provinces created separate systems of education and patrimony that rivaled those of imperial government. By 1900, Ottoman reformism, as well as the increased influence of Western actors, nourished sectarian and ethnic tensions in various corners of the empire.
The reign of Abdülhamid II (1876–1909) crystalized the prospects, incongruities, and dangers that confronted the modern empire as a whole. As the state’s newly crowned sovereign, he endorsed the institution of a constitution and national assembly, two political innovations that were coveted by members of the capital’s reformist elite. Yet the outbreak of a nationalist rebellion in Bulgaria, followed by a disastrous war with Russia, soon prompted the sultan to abolish both of these constraints upon his authority. Though skewered both at home and abroad as a politically intolerant and paranoid despot, ‘the Red Sultan’ did not depart substantially from the essence of the Tanzimat reforms. In the course of his thirty-year reign, Abdülhamid II redoubled the state’s efforts to expand imperial administration in all corners of the Ottoman realm. To some extent, he embraced the pluralistic spirit of Ottoman national identity and citizenship. However, the sultan often emphasized that Muslims formed the backbone of the Ottoman nation. His insistence upon the Islamic character of the Ottoman Empire grew more heated after a government crackdown against suspected Armenian militants in the 1890s. To concede to Armenian nationalist demands, or bow to European pressure regarding international or domestic politics, represented, in his words, ‘the beginning of total annihilation’ and something to be fought ‘with all the strength we possess.’4
Abdülhamid II’s reign came to an end soon after the Young Turk Revolution of July 1908. The officers and bureaucrats most responsible for compelling him to restore the constitution and national assembly that summer drew both positive and negative lessons from his lengthy reign. On the one hand, revolutionaries saw him as the embodiment of reactionary elements buried deep within the Ottoman state and psyche. His rule exemplified what many considered the most tyrannical, archaic, and irrational qualities of the pre-Tanizmat past. On the other hand, they tended to share the sultan’s conclusions regarding nationalism and the future of the country. Separatists, as well as the Great Powers of Europe, did threaten the empire’s long-term health. Both had to be fought and bested. Defeating these threats required a renewed commitment to Ottoman nationalism and the continuation of the reformist ethos that had defined civilian leadership during the Tanzimat era. The means by which the Young Turks pursued this agenda, through rigid and often uncompromising centralization, contributed significantly to the Ottoman Empire’s fall.
The Young Turks: Setting the Tone for Collapse
During the first decades of its existence, the CUP represented a relatively open tent capable of accommodating activists and civic leaders seeking radical change in the Ottoman Empire. As a movement with a strong following among expatriates fleeing Abdülhamid II’s rule, the party initially comprised a rich array of liberals, nationalists, socialists, and conservatives drawn from a variety religious and ethnic backgrounds. Yet when the group began to attract a greater following within the Ottoman Empire, the CUP increasingly relied on a narrower social base. The Young Turks who succeeded in prosecuting the revolution of 1908 tended to be Muslim and employed by the state as either mid-level officers or officials. They were typically young and generally the beneficiaries of a public education. While they uniformly loathed the autocracy and nepotism of Abdülhamid II’s reign, most sympathized with his contention that Muslims, like themselves, formed the core of the Ottoman nation. This belief in the empire’s dominant Islamic character did not necessarily lead stalwart Young Turks to reject or belittle non-Muslims as fellow citizens. To the contrary, CUP leaders actively sought Jewish and Christian allies, including Armenian and Macedonian nationalists, in fomenting their revolution. Enabling Christian citizens to sit side by side in a restored parliament, while working together to protect their shared ‘national rights and freedoms,’ were considered ‘foundational principles’ by the CUP.5
Though the individuals and events responsible for the Young Turk Revolution were largely concentrated in the empire’s Macedonian provinces, throngs of citizens throughout the Ottoman domains rang in the restoration of the 1876 constitution. Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as nationalists of various stripes, interpreted the CUP’s victory as a chance for greater political engagement on issues vital to the state’s survival. Parliamentary elections held in the winter of 1908 were as much an affirmation of the Young Turk cause as a celebration of Ottoman national unity. Yet within a year of the revolution, popular and elite impressions of the CUP began to change. After a failed counter-coup, Young Turk advocates in the post-revolutionary government pushed for restrictions against the press and public assembly. When CUP opponents in Adana sacked the city’s Armenian quarter and left thousands dead, some party supporters charged local Armenians with nationalistically provocative behaviour. Other parochial challenges sapped enthusiasm for the new Unionist regime. In Iraq and in Palestine, CUP support for greater European intervention (be it in favour of British shippers or Zionist migrants) raised the ire of local leaders. In the Balkans, the Young Turks were compelled to mediate between competing members of the Greek and Bulgarian Orthodox Church (an effort that earned the government little praise at home or abroad). Among the most divisive issues to plague the CUP were disputes concerning the use of local language. Unionist leaders in Istanbul insisted that Turkish become the lingua franca of provincial public schools and offices (as well as ministries and universities in the capital). For advocates of ‘national revival’ among Albanians, Arabs, and Greeks, such a stance smacked of chauvinism and intolerance. From the standpoint of provincial activists, an Ottoman citizen learning and publically employing a local language was a birth right that did not conflict one’s loyalty to the empire. What the Young Turks sought, as one Albanian opponent saw it, was not a union of ‘different races under the flag of the Ottoman constitution’ but to ‘absorb the nationalities’ and render them ‘docile and common Ottomans’ with no knowledge of their national origins.6
Luminaries within the Young Turk movement of course rejected such criticisms out of hand. Their insistence upon unitary rule and the utilization of one common language stemmed from their grave assessment of the empire’s political health. While the CUP raged against Western interference in the state’s affairs, party leaders understood that the country’s economy, and the imperial treasury, required foreign investment and loans. The central government had to play a direct roll in provincial politics in order to mediate between rival communal factions. Above all, Unionists were acutely apprensive to the prospect of seditious movements taking root in the Ottoman hinterland. For many of the party’s leaders and rank-and-file who served in Macedonia—a region long troubled by sectarian and nationalist violence—consolidating state administration and a shared sense of nationhood was an imperative that required firm action. Enforcing Turkish as the language of public education and governance, many Unionists formally argued, derived less from a nationalist bias than from practical analysis. ‘To allow different languages in government,’ as one prominent CUP journalist put it, ‘would be setting up a Tower of Babel,’ an edifice destined to fall.7 Within party circles however, there were individuals who relished the prospect of an increasingly ethnicized Ottoman Empire. Some writers and activists lauded the country’s Turkic past and romanticized the empire’s place within the Islamic world. Before 1914, such predilections did not necessarily steel the CUP’s resolve about imperial policy. It was only after a profound series of crises that CUP officials drew more directly upon these nationalist tendencies in crafting more radical policy choices.
The War Years Begin: Libya and the Balkan Wars
A string of events that either occurred or culminated in 1911 catalysed the beginning of the Ottoman Empire’s fall. The year began with the state fighting two bitter insurgencies that erupted in two distant corners of the country. In the Albanian highlands rebels attacked military and civilian targets in response to Istanbul’s attempts at conscription and public disarmament. Meanwhile in Yemen, the imperial army remained bogged down in combating the last throes of an insurrection that had begun after the capital had reasserted direct rule over the province in the late nineteenth century. Some domestic opponents, as well as elements of the foreign press, interpreted the revolts as symptomatic of the CUP’s growing unpopularity and its intolerance towards provincial opposition.
Italy’s decision to invade and partition the provinces comprising Libya was initially read as further confirmation of the CUP’s declining fortunes. Many inside and outside the empire suspected that Tripolitania, a territory cut off from the Ottoman mainland, were irrevocably lost. Ranking Unionist members, however, were undaunted in their desire to hurl the invaders back. While local civilians and military forces hemmed in the Italian landing parties along the Libyan shoreline, the CUP smuggled bands of volunteers, usually party members, overland and across the sea to join the defence. Between September 1911 and October 1912 Ottoman and Italian forces remained deadlocked outside the principal beachheads of Darna, Benghazi, and Tripoli. Successes achieved by the defending forces, as well as the ingenuity and bravery soldiers demonstrated during the fight, heartened imperial popular opinion and emboldened the CUP. Despite long odds, the war in Libya initially suggested that the empire was capable of besting a European power. For devoted Unionists, the campaign boosted their confidence that the party, as the vanguard of the nation, could overcome dangerous enemies in times of crisis.
Affairs in the Balkans ultimately undermined the renewed sense of self-assurance attained as a result of the war in Libya. In the four years that followed the Young Turk Revolution, many local observers witnessed a steady deterioration of communal relations in Macedonia and the Albanian lands. The CUP’s promise to instill a new spirit of ‘brotherhood and unity’ among the region’s diverse population was increasingly belied by the uneven enforcement of regulations related to disarmament, government employment, taxation and conscription. Law and order began to erode. A resurgence of militant nationalist activity was accompanied by upheaval in numerous districts. As rebellion smouldered in predominantly Albanian regions throughout 1912, a wave of bombings targeting government offices and Muslim civilians swept over Macedonia. Fears that Bulgarian and Serb Orthodox Christian guerillas were responsible for the blasts led some in the CUP to take matters into their own hands. By the end of 1912 bands of CUP vigilantes had openly assassinated dozens of suspected militants, and the terror campaign instilled a climate of fear among Christians throughout Macedonia. The government’s failure to uphold the peace, as well as its heavy-handed tactics towards civilians and rebels alike, fed antagonism towards the CUP throughout the Balkans. Anti-Unionist sentiment in the Balkans (and elsewhere) proved so virulent that Young Turk agents resorted to trickery and voter suppression in winning the election of 1912 (ruefully remembered as the ‘election with a stick’). While these factors alone did not lead to the collapse of Ottoman rule in the region, many of the tensions that defined Balkan politics in 1912 resonated within the region (and the empire at large) for years to come.
A previously unlikely alliance of regional powers struck the final blow against the Ottoman administration of the Balkans. The First Balkan Wars did not come as a complete surprise to either the Ottoman Empire or the world at large. Newspapers had reported heated diplomatic exchanges between Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria in the lead up to the first calls for mobilization in the fall of 1912. Within six weeks of the war’s outbreak in October, the Ottoman army abandoned its forward positions and conceded huge tracts of land. Whether it was the result of poor training, leadership, or planning, the war was arguably lost long before the signing of the Treaty of London in May 1913. Civilians, far more than soldiers, bore the brunt of the empire’s rapid collapse in the Balkans. Bulgarian, Serb, and Greek troops systematically burned homes and whole villages. Muslims received the worst of this treatment, with incidents of murder, rape, theft, forced conversion, and mass expulsions reported in various districts. Rather than endure the threat of further violence, tens of thousands of Muslims fled their homes both during the war and in its aftermath. At the height of the conflict, a band of Albanian notables declared an independent Albanian state along the western periphery of the Balkans (a claim eventually backed by other European powers). Later, amidst a cataclysmic military defeat and an unprecedented refugee crisis, many Unionists interpreted Macedonia’s fall and Albania’s declaration of independence as proof of their apprehensions about provincial national movements. Even though Albanian notables joined to form a government defensively (for fear of a joint Serb/Greek conquest of their home regions) and native Orthodox Christians contributed relatively little to the defeats suffered by the Ottoman army, most CUP members interpreted the First Balkan War as a bitter lesson in treason.
During the fighting, high-ranking Young Turks took it upon themselves to eliminate the last remnants of organized political opposition in the capital. In January 1913, a group of CUP officers stormed into the central imperial offices, the Bab-ı Ali, forcing the sitting cabinet to resign at gunpoint. In the aftermath of the so-called Bab-ı Ali coup, the party saw to it that only loyal Unionists served at the highest ranks of the government. The sitting sultan, Mehmet V Reşat, stood aside as the CUP imprisoned or exiled hundreds of erstwhile opponents from the capital. The CUP grew more conspiratorial, vengeful, and dictatorial in the management of the administration as the effects of the Balkan Wars became more apparent. As hundreds of thousands of refugees made their way on foot or by sea to the Ottoman lands, Unionist rhetoric grew more exclusionary, suspicious, and militant. The party sponsored the creation of paramilitary organizations with an eye towards preparing young Muslims for future wars. It became Unionist policy to develop ‘a culture of entrepreneurism and trade’ among Muslims in order to offset the influence of foreign competitors and non-Muslim commercial interests. By 1914 government officials and party loyalists openly speculated that thousands of Orthodox Christians either supported or sympathized with the empire’s enemies during the Balkan Wars. In late 1913 Istanbul agreed to a mutual population exchange with Bulgaria, forcing up to 50,000 Ottoman Bulgarians to vacate regions of Thrace. The outbreak of the First World War pre-empted the finalization of a similar agreement with Greece in 1914. Yet, in anticipation of such an agreement, CUP agents oversaw the mass expulsion of 150,000 Ottoman Christians from throughout western Anatolia. Even though government officials denied any role in forcing native Greeks to leave their homes, it is clear that Young Turk leaders counted upon the results of this campaign. Interior Ministry officials tallied and remanded homes and business abandoned by fleeing Orthodox Christians with the deliberate intention of distributing them to Muslims (particularly those left homeless by the Balkan Wars).
Unionist efforts to consolidate power did not necessarily reflect their actual strength or confidence. As Ottoman representatives negotiated with the Balkan states over the final terms of peace in 1913, Armenian and Arab nationalist factions pressured Istanbul for greater political and cultural rights. Citing patterns of discrimination and oppression, leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) lobbied imperial and foreign officials for the creation of an internationally governed autonomous region in Anatolia. A cohort of Arab politicians based abroad followed suit and demanded greater language rights as well as recognition of the empire’s dual ‘Turkish–Arab’ character. With many in the local and international press doubting the long-term survival of the state, CUP officials formally acquiesced to many of these calls for greater decentralization. In hindsight, Unionists later looked upon these nationalist demands as early indicators of treason. Arabs and Armenians, as many in the CUP perceived it, had chosen the empire’s darkest hour to appeal to foreign powers and press the Ottoman state for autonomy. As the empire entered the First World War, this lingering sense of apprehension and betrayal fuelled a further series of oppressive domestic measures.
The Ottoman Empire in the Great War
Istanbul’s initial reaction to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand was slow and indifferent. In the six months that preceded the Archduke’s murder, the government had largely focused upon the need to reform the military in the wake of the Balkan Wars. But as the armies of Europe began to mobilize towards the end of July, CUP leaders understood that a grave conflict loomed on the state’s borders. With the empire frozen outside of Europe’s system of alliances, Ottoman officials feared that the country’s isolation would entice one or more powers to invade and seize territory. Finding an ally became an immediate priority. As the summer progressed, high-ranking CUP representatives communicated with each of the Great Powers hoping to secure defensive guarantees. Ultimately, Germany proved the only state willing to offer Istanbul unfettered diplomatic and military assurances. Unionist leaders greeted Berlin’s proposed alliance with the Ottoman Empire as a great coup for the state and the party. With the backing of Europe’s most powerful army, the government called upon the nation to mobilize on 1 August 1914. As in each of the combatant nations, Istanbul’s call to arms was embraced as evidence of the country’s youth and national unity. Men and women from throughout the empire turned out to celebrate the mustering of troops. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims, as well as people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, willingly came forth as conscripts and volunteers to aid the war effort.
Planners in Istanbul were at first unsure of what posture the empire should assume in the conflict. Some believed that the country should simply remain on the defensive and await the fighting’s outcome in Europe. A majority of CUP officials, however, believed the nation’s army should immediately move to the attack. Like other European leaders, senior Ottoman generals, including Minister of War Enver Pasha, believed that victory was best secured through offensive measures. In specifically advocating an assault on the Russian Caucasus, Enver envisioned the creation of a series of ‘buffer states’ governed by members of the region’s Muslim population. This rearrangement of territory, meant to safeguard the empire’s exposed eastern border, accorded with Germany’s desires for the empire to endorse a jihad against the Entente (a move that would hopefully trigger rebellions in Muslim-populated regions of the Russian, French, and British empires). With the war won, Unionists in the capital expected the empire to emerge politically and spiritually stronger with its sovereignty assured. The state, they hoped, would no longer be burdened by loathsome foreign agreements (such as the hated capitulations or trade concessions to Western powers) and the nation would become more unified around the power and leadership of the CUP.
It did not take long for events to expose the folly of these plans and expectations. The Ottoman Empire entered the war as the poorest and least prepared of the conflict’s combatants. As a country with a tiny industrial base and deep structural deficiencies in matters of transport, health, and agricultural self-sufficiency, officials faced critical shortages from the war’s opening stages. Enver’s disastrous decision to open the campaign with a winter assault on the Caucasus compounded these hardships. Having never commanded more than a few thousand men in battle, the thirty-three-year-old Minister of War ordered the empire’s Third Army to advance across the Russian border amid deep snow and frigid temperatures. When Tsarist forces counterattacked, the bulk of Enver’s forward divisions surrendered or succumbed to the elements or disease. It is now estimated that between 50–90% of the Third Army was killed, wounded, or captured by the conclusion of the so-called Sarıkamış campaign.8 As the empire subsequently ceded ground in Anatolia, Iraq, and the Sinai, an air of crisis settled over the capital. Noted victories achieved at Gallipoli and Kut in 1915 and 1916 provided only momentary respites from the threat of an Entente breakthrough.
In the midst of the military’s severe setbacks, Unionist ministers in Istanbul cast a suspicious eye over the Ottoman population as a whole. Despite the willful mobilization of thousands of Arabs, non-Muslims, and Balkan refugees into the army (as well as vocal assurances of loyalty by noted Armenian and Arab politicians), prewar distrust of these groups endured. The government’s anxieties intensified with early reports of Ottoman Armenians joining Russian forces and attacking Ottoman troops and instillations. By the spring of 1915, senior officials had ordered the disarmament of non-Muslim soldiers and begun internally exiling Orthodox Christians from western Anatolian for fear of local collaboration with Entente forces. An anti-conscription uprising by Armenian peasants in the central Anatolian region of Zeytun brought simmering CUP unease to the boiling point. After recommending the deportation of Zeytun’s population to the northern Syrian desert, Istanbul issued a general order to provincial operatives to search Armenian homes for weapons and other incriminating evidence. The arrest and imprisonment of over two hundred prominent Armenians in Istanbul on 24 April heralded a widening crackdown against Armenian civilians living throughout the empire. By the end of May, Interior Minister Talat Pasha directed civilian authorities to expel all Armenians living in ‘areas of warfare’ and to relocate them, en masse, to assigned districts in Anatolia and Syria. By the end of 1915, virtually every Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and forcibly driven to live in exile.
International news agencies had carried stories of attacks on Christian civilians well before the opening stages of the Armenian deportations. Yet with the arrival of the first exiled survivors in northern Syria, both domestic and international observers were shocked by the scale and brutality of the government’s treatment of its Armenian citizenry. Foreign diplomatic staff (including representatives of the Central Powers) wrote detailed reports accusing imperial officials of massacring men, raping women, and abusing people of all ages. Some provincial officials also voiced concern or criticized the CUP’s policy, with one district governor likening the deportations to actions only to ‘be seen in the Middle Ages.’9 The fragmentary nature of the Ottoman archival record offers only partial insights into the motivations behind the Armenian deportation. It is known that Talat Pasha attempted to oversee the removal of Armenians, meticulously recording the destinations and numbers of deported peoples. Especially close attention was paid to the quantity and value of abandoned property. The passage of legislation mandating the seizure of assets belonging to deportees gave legal sanction to a mass transfer of wealth into the hands of thousands of Muslim civilians and officials. As a policy geared towards strengthening the role of Muslims within the national economy, the government’s wholesale appropriation of property would suggest that Armenians were never meant to return home.
As the war progressed, CUP officials sanctioned a series of initiatives designed to reconfigure the empire’s political and demographic contours. By 1916 authorities in Istanbul had ordered untold thousands of native and immigrant Greeks, Albanians, Arabs, Jews, Kurds, Roma, and Turks to be relocated, scattered, and resettled. While the reasoning behind these measures differed with respect to each ethnic group, records from Talat Pasha’s Interior Ministry make clear that a singular goal underpinned the policy. It was hoped that ethnic groups targeted for forcible relocation would become more diluted as social or political blocks. They would perhaps abandon their native languages and elements of their culture or, more simply, cease to threaten the integrity of the state as densely settled ‘minorities’.
The desire to consolidate centralized control over the empire led Unionist officials to take a special interest in the Ottoman Levant. Within the first two years of the war, officials in the capital took steps to rescind Lebanon’s status as an autonomous province and strengthen imperial offices and communications networks in the region as a whole. The seizure of incriminating evidence from the French consulate in Beirut prompted the trial and execution of over thirty noted Arab politicians and journalists. Further aggravating the profound societal disruption in the Levant was the outbreak of famine in numerous districts along the Mediterranean coast. By war’s end, starvation claimed up to a half a million lives in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon.10
Provincial expressions of opposition or armed resistance to the CUP government were often fleeting or isolated during much of the war. Armenians in several corners of Anatolia, such as Van, Urfa, and Iskenderun (the famous Musa Dagh uprising), did rise up in 1915 in defiance of the imperial government (in the two latter cases, specifically in response to the arrest, murder, and deportation of local citizens). Arab citizens in the central Iraqi cities of Hillah, Nijaf, and Karbala also mounted insurrections in response to what many perceived as state oppression. The most noted incident of rebellion, the so-called Arab Revolt led by Faisal and Hussein of Mecca, similarly began as a localized response to Istanbul’s attempt to strengthen the government’s hold over the Arabian Peninsula. While the movement cloaked itself in the language and symbolism of Arab nationalism, there is little evidence to indicate that the Arab Revolt possessed strong popular roots. Contrary to the suspicions of many Young Turks, ethno-nationalist tendencies among leading politicians did not sway the vast majority of non-Muslims and Arab citizens to reject the Ottoman state.
By war’s end, other factors impugned the CUP, and the Ottoman state, in the minds of imperial citizens. Mass requisitioning of food, animals, and other materiel eventually created famine-like conditions throughout the empire. Religious conservatives were angered as women entered the workforce in larger numbers. The war’s death toll led to escalating numbers of orphans and widows (particularly among displaced Armenians), a situation that led to rampant levels of sexual exploitation. As these and other hardships mounted, popular enmity towards the CUP rose. Many accused leading Unionists, including notable figures in the capital, of hoarding and war profiteering. By 1917 party leaders were forced to deny these allegations directly, with one official ludicrously stating that the war had produced a ‘commercial and economic awakening in the country.’11 Despite outward demonstrations of party unity, whispers of dissent permeated Unionist circles. In 1916, a once-prominent CUP member and feared guerrilla commander was tried and executed for attempting to stage a coup in order to reach a separate peace with the Entente. Fears of internecine fighting between party officials, particularly Talat and Enver Pashas, added to elite impressions that the party and state were coming apart.
Evidence of the empire’s disintegration reached new heights as the war drew to a close. Ottoman advances in eastern Anatolia and the Caucasus following the Russian Revolution did little to compensate for the steady collapse of the Levantine and Iraqi fronts. Desertion rates skyrocketed into the summer of 1918, with perhaps more than a half a million men abandoning the front before the war was over. While bandits ravaged much of the Anatolian countryside, provincial citizens and mutinous troops, some of whom acting in concert with members of Emir Faisal’s rebel army, harried retreating troops and sacked government offices in Syria. Istanbul’s will to fight on ground to a halt after Bulgaria’s capitulation to the Entente in September 1918. With the empire’s landline to the Central Powers severed, and the prospect that other members of the alliance would similarly seek an accord, CUP leaders quietly sued for peace under the auspices of Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Point plan. Though initial Ottoman diplomatic overtures gained little traction, the American framework for peace registered a stronger impact upon imperial politics in the war’s final months. In order to preemptively comply with Wilson’s demand that all Ottoman nationalities be granted ‘an unmolested opportunity of autonomous development,’ Unionist officials signaled their willingness to decentralize the imperial administration.12
All hope that the CUP would oversee the empire in transitioning into the postwar era evaporated within a month of the signing of an armistice in late October 1918. The terms the Entente offered Istanbul were stiff and uncompromising. The nation’s army was required to pull back from Syria into the Anatolian interior and demobilize. Fearing their capture and prosecution for having committed ‘crimes against humanity’ (a term the Entente coined to describe Istanbul’s treatment of Armenians), several of the CUP’s principal leaders (including Talat and Enver) fled the country. In the wake of their flight the party formally dissolved, leaving the capital in political chaos. The collapse of the Young Turk regime paved the way for staunchly anti-Unionists to seize control over the empire’s main political institutions. Leading this change in regime was Mehmet VI Vahideddin, whose palpable loathing of the CUP was well known even before ascending the throne in the summer of 1918. Under Vahideddin’s watch, scores of Unionists were rounded up and imprisoned for acts of mass murder and theft during the war. The sultan and his new government did little to contest the Entente’s harsh terms for peace. Negotiating with the war’s victors through diplomatic means, as one loyalist official put it, was a matter of service to the country, ‘for which there was no other alternative except complete destruction ….’13
Empire’s End: Laying the Groundwork for the Sultanate’s Fall
Vahideddin and his supporters in the capital could not command the loyalties of all within the government and society. While demoralized and fragmented, the remnants the CUP remained steadfastly opposed to conceding total defeat to either the sultan or the victorious powers. After formally dissolving the party (an organization undeniably tainted by the war), many erstwhile Young Turks sought to undermine the terms of the armistice by any means possible. Two events galvanized this nascent resistance into a coherent ‘National Movement’ (one of several titles embraced by the fighters). The Greek seizure of Izmir in May 1919, which resulted in the killing of hundreds of unarmed, predominantly Muslim civilians, stoked outrage throughout Anatolia. While the sultan and his partisans did little to oppose the Greek landing, former Unionists rallied civilians and military personnel to organize an ad hoc front against the invasion. The convening of the so-called Erzurum Congress in August 1919 further solidified this resistance and brought it under the control of a single administrative body headed by Mustafa Kemal. In the three years that followed, supporters of Kemal’s Defense of Rights Association assumed de facto control over most of what remained of the imperial administration, including the army and the imperial assembly. As the fighting between so-called Nationalists and foreign forces occupying Anatolia escalated, Vahideddin’s influence withered. The sultan’s opposition to Mustafa Kemal’s forces (which he rightly characterized as a Unionist movement) ultimately provided a warrant for his overthrow and an end to his dynasty.
Unstable conditions at home and abroad forced Mustafa Kemal and his supporters to maintain a fine rhetorical line regarding the future of the state. From the outset of the National Movement in the spring of 1919, to the point of Greece’s defeat in the fall of 1922, the Defense of Rights Association did not explicitly declare its opposition to the sultan. Even though Vahideddin’s government had officially dubbed Kemal and his confederates bandits and apostates, the National Assembly in Ankara abided by the fiction that the French and British seizure of the capital had forced the sovereign’s repudiation of their movement. Maintaining strict fealty to the monarchy, however, did not mean that the National Movement refrained from challenging foundational aspects of the empire’s substructure. In adopting a postwar framework for resistance, the Defense of Rights Association adamently represented itself as an organization in tune with the national will of ‘Muslims and Turks’. In declaring Anatolia a land overwhelmingly inhabited by a Turkish-speaking Muslim majority, Kemal and his supporters substantially accepted the Entente’s wartime territorial gains and foreswore any claim to ‘Arab territory’. Christians were visibly absent from the Nationalist coalition and were singularly accused of acts of treason and violence. While the exclusivity of the Nationalist Movement was rooted in the CUP’s increasingly bigoted perceptions of the Ottoman nation, the postwar consensus about self-determination, as defined by negotiators at Versailles, had an indelible impact upon how Mustafa Kemal and others spoke about Anatolia’s political future. The socio-political integrity of Anatolia’s supposed ‘Muslim and Turkish’ majority provided the notional basis for Ankara’s struggle for Anatolia’s freedom from foreign occupation. While natives and foreigners had long used the terms ‘Ottoman’ and ‘Turkish’ synonymously, and without reference to any single ethnic or sectarian group, Nationalists in Ankara identified Turkish ethnicity as the cornerstone of citizenship and nationhood. By the end of the conflict with Greece, voices in Ankara reserved the ‘Ottoman’ moniker solely for the sultan and those who haplessly followed him. Being Turkish, by contrast, did not simply imply one was loyal to Mustafa Kemal’s government; it meant that one belonged to a distinct Turkish-speaking Muslim nation, which governed Anatolia in its entirety.
The ferocity of Ankara’s war against Greece reinforced the strict ethnic and sectarian traits Turkishness began to acquire. Nationalists treated atrocities committed by Greek troops, as well as by native non-Muslim auxiliaries, as justification for their vision of Anatolia as an exclusively Turkish Muslim homeland. It appears that few inside or outside of Ankara mourned the death of the cosmopolitan imperial cultures that had characterized urban and rural life before the war. The deliberate demolition of villages and towns in western Anatolia, particularly during the rout of Greek troops after the Nationalist offensive of September 1922, underscored the collapse of Ottoman inclusivity. Mustafa Kemal’s famous incantation after the burning of Izmir (an act most likely committed by Nationalist troops) to ‘let [the city] burn, let it crash down’ reflects the finality with which the empire, as a culture, ceased to exist.14
Ending the Ottoman Empire was not necessarily a natural outcome of the First World War. There was nothing that prevented Mustafa Kemal or the National Assembly from maintaining the Ottoman mantle and preserving the notion of an empire in Anatolia. Dethroning Mehmet VI Vahideddin and abolishing the sultanate were deliberate and definitive actions intended to banish the empire to the past. Proponents of the National Movement were drawn to this path of action by a deeply layered set of defeats and disappointments. Some elements that informed their judgment derived from recent events. The sultan had disavowed their movement, fearing that the National Movement was simply a Trojan horse for the CUP’s return to power. Vahdidden’s willingness to accept the protection of the British and French provided a license for his removal. In general, the international political environment after the First World War made the restitution of an Ottoman Empire difficult (even if the Nationalists chose to retain the royal household). The Bolshevik revolution, as well as the Wilsonian framework for peace, influenced many in Mustafa Kemal’s circle to embrace the nation-state as the model for their country’s political future. The intensely violent and overtly sectarian nature of the political climate in Anatolia reinforced this new consensus about the country’s national identity. Greece’s brutal invasion and subsequent occupation cemented the National Movement’s claim that it represented a Muslim and Turkish majority in Anatolia. The postwar Ottoman government in Istanbul meanwhile failed to oppose foreign claims on its territory in either word or deed.
There was, of course, a deeper current of disillusionment that fed into the National Movement’s eventual rejection of its Ottoman heritage. With the declaration of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal and others became more forthright in declaring the empire a failed example of modern reform and governance. Kemalist leaders also characterized the CUP as the embodiment of the old state, arguing that the wartime government’s decision to immerse the country in the Great War proved the empire’s frailties (an ironic stance since many, including Mustafa Kemal, had contributed mightily to the Unionist cause). At other times politicians in the young Turkish Republic preferred to indict the Ottoman imperial administration as a historic failure. Atatürk’s daughter and stenographer, Afet İnan, famously characterized the empire’s last century as was an era riven with ‘indecision, incompetence and depression’ (one that had barely evolved from its original ‘dishonorable medieval form’). She hardly accounted for the reforms that preceded the Great War, specifically calling the men of the Tanzimat individuals who ‘were against the notion of liberty.’15 The break up of the empire in the twentieth century was therefore justified.
İnan’s principal argument, namely, that the Ottoman government’s failures were rooted in the state’s reliance upon ‘unmodern’ elements found in Islam, misconstrues the genuine tensions and debates that preceded the empire’s collapse. For those actively engaged in imperial politics during the state’s last decades, there were other more prescient issues that fomented disagreement. The enduring disputes over how the empire should be administered, either as a highly centralized regime or a more loosely associated combination of peoples and lands, provoked profound divisions and bitterness inside and outside the capital. The implications of this debate extended beyond the issues of administrative control or representative participation; the choice between centralization and decentralization also determined the broader issues of who had the right to define what it meant to be an Ottoman, and how that identity was to be lived or experienced. The CUP’s willingness to use violence and its uncompromising stance towards state centralization propelled this internal debate to its bitter end. Many of the horrors experienced by the empire’s civilian population were direct expressions of the CUP’s political tendencies: favouring Muslims (at the expense of non-Muslims), accusing entire ethnic groups of treason, and using the state security forces to expel, kill, and appropriate property from peaceable Ottoman citizens.
Still, it would be wrong to lay the empire’s demise solely at the feet of the Young Turks. Ending Ottoman rule was a decision taken without the consent of most of the empire’s citizens. Be it in the Balkans, North Africa, the Levant or Mesopotamia, the establishment of post-Ottoman borders, states, and cultures took place in the wake of foreign conquest. De-Ottomanization, for the most part, was not tantamount to decolonization; nationalism or popular agency rarely had anything to do with the process by which a land ceased to be included within the sultan’s domain. However, when looking specifically at the development of nationalist political cultures in the aftermath of 1918, it is clear that the violence unleashed during CUP rule had a profound impact upon how many perceived the Ottoman legacy. The fierce violence of the Young Turk era came to colour the whole of the empire’s history, not just its final decades. The deportations, public executions, and famine experienced by Armenians, Syrians, and Iraqis, as well as the uprisings, massacres, and bombings experienced by Macedonians and Albanians, has continued to influence the negative terms with which many historians and politicians depict the empire (beyond just its fall). Though there is still much to be learned about how the first generation of former Ottoman citizens perceived and remembered the empire, two things may be said with some certainty. By November 1922, little public mourning accompanied the abolition of Ottoman rule. And when the Republic of Turkey officially occupied the sultanate’s place in October 1923, it is difficult to find expressions of loss or longing for the empire that was gone.
(1) TBMM, Zabıt Ceridesi, Devre: 1, Cilt: 1, April 24, 1920.
(2) TBMM, Zabıt Ceridesi, Devre: 1, Cilt: 24, October 30, 1922.
(3) Roderic Davison, Reform in the Ottoman Empire 1856–1878 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), 45.
(4) Selim Deringil, Conversion and Apostasy in the Late Ottoman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 199.
(5) Mehmet Hacısalihoğlu, Jön Türkler ve Makedonya Sorunu (Istanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 2008),448.
(6) Ismail Kemal, Memoirs (London: Constable Press, 1920), 366–368.
(7) Hasan Kayalı, Arabs and Young Turks: Ottomanism, Arabism and Islamism in the Ottoman Empire, 1908–1918 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 88.
(8) Hikmet Özdemir, The Ottoman Army 1914–1918: Disease and Death on the Battlefield (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2008), 52.
(9) M. Talha Çiçek, War and State Formation in Syria: Cemal Pasha’s Governorate during World War I, 1914–1917 (London: Routledge, 2014), 122.
(10) Schatkowski Schilcher, “The Famine of 1915–1918 in Greater Syria”, in John Spagnolo, ed., Problems of the Modern Middle East in Historical Perspective: Essays in Honor of Albert Hourani (Reading: Ithaca Press, 1992), 254.
(11) Mustafa Ragıp Esatlı, İttihat ve Terakki’nin Son Günleri: Suikastlar ve Entrikalar (Istanbul: Bengi, 2007), 88.
(12) Michael Neiburg, ed., The World War I Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 292.
(13) TNA/FO 371/5045/E-9666, August 10, 1920.
(14) Andrew Mango, Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2000), 346.
(15) Afet İnan, “Türk-Osmanlı Tarihinin Karakteristik Noktalarına bir Bakiş”, Belleten 2.5/6 (November 1937–April 1938), 131.