Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Three Pashas of the Ottoman Empire

On January 23, 1913, Lieutenant Colonel Enver Bey (who later became famous as Enver Pasha), marched into Constantinople’s Sublime Porte along with ten of his armed supporters, belonging to the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). The Grand Vizier’s guards opened fire to stop the intruders, and Enver and his supporters fired back. In the exchange of gunfire, four people, including Nazim Pasha, Minister of War in the Ottoman government, were killed. Some accounts suggest that Nazim Pasha was killed by intention, though the CUP termed Nazim Pasha’s death a "regrettable accident.” 

Enver and his men stormed into the cabinet meeting where Grand Vizier Kâmil Pasha was holding a cabinet meeting. Enver pressed his pistol at Kâmil Pasha’s head and asked him to resign. Kâmil Pasha complied immediately. “It was over in a quarter of an hour,” said Enver later. With the Grand Vizier’s resignation in his pocket, Enver marched to the palace of Sultan Mehmed V. The Sultan accepted the resignation and nominated a new Grand Vizier, Mahmud Sevket Pasha. But the real power went into the hands of CUP—their three members, Enver Pasha, Cemal Pasha, and Talaat Pasha, would now rule as a triumvirate which would be known in the Ottoman Empire and Europe as the “Three Pashas.” Their policies would determine the fate of the Ottoman Empire. 

With the coup of 1913, the chance of constitutional reform in the Ottoman Empire was finished. The Three Pashas were hardliners. The notion of negotiating with the great European powers was an anathema to them. They would fight for every inch of land belonging to the Ottoman Empire. The entry of the Ottoman Empire into the First World War was now inevitable. From 1911 to 1922, the Ottoman Empire was almost continuously at war, so their period of war was almost twice as long as the duration of the First World War. Enver, as Minister of War, and Talaat, as Minister of Finance, became the architects of the fatal German-Ottoman alliance which would lead to the destruction of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. 

Enver was an admirer of Napoleon. He thought of himself as the Napoleon of the Ottoman Empire. However, he was a poor political strategist. He took his country to a point of no return. He got tricked by the Germans into prematurely rushing into the First World War when the Ottoman army was not fully armed and mobilized, and was ill prepared to fight a modern, total war, against two great powers, the British and the Russians. But he was an inspiring wartime leader—his order to his army was “war till the final victory.” 

In 1914, the Ottoman army had 250,000 soldiers, which is a fairly high number considering the fact that the population of the Empire was 23 million. During the course of the war, around 2.8 million men served under arms—more than 10 percent of the population—but the number of soldiers did not exceed 800,000 at any one time. They fought with great ferocity because they realized that they were engaged in a life and death struggle. The Ottoman government and their soldiers had gambled everything that they had into winning the war. The fighting in the Caucasus was brutal with massive genocides occurring alongside the war against the Russians. When the war ended, the Ottomans had lost about 325,000 men and 400,000 were injured. 202,000 men were taken prisoner, mostly by the British and the Russians.

The Three Pashas died before the Ottoman Empire died. Enver Pasha was killed by Red Army troops in 1922. Talaat Pasha was assassinated in 1921. Cemal Pasha was assassinated in 1922. Along with Talaat and Cemal, Enver is one of the accused in the Ottoman genocides whose death toll is conservatively estimated to be two million.

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