August 10, 2015
by Stanley A. Weiss
LONDON–Exactly 95 years ago, the Ottoman Empire came to an end. On August 10, 1920, the Ottomans and the Allied powers signed the Treaty of Sѐvres, partitioning the Middle East between European nations. Palestine and Iraq went to the British, who also maintained influence in the kingdom that would become Saudi Arabia. The French were granted Lebanon and Syria. Italy claimed large swaths of Turkey. In a nod to President Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination, the Kurds–largely Sunni Muslims but an ethnically distinct minority–were set to receive their long dreamed-of homeland, an independent Kurdistan.
Ironically, as many historians have noted, the treaty was signed in Sѐvres’ famed porcelain factory–a remarkably poor symbol for an unbreakable agreement. Indeed, the ink on the treaty was barely dry before an ambitious young Turkish soldier named Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) launched a war of independence and built the modern state of Turkey on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, swallowing up the Kurds’ promised land in the process.
June 13, 2013
by Stanley A. Weiss
LONDON–It was the first time young Turks would march on the streets of Istanbul, when it was still known as Constantinople. On a hot spring night 105 years ago, a movement of student activists, nationalists and secularists rose up against the autocratic rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II, who was the 99th caliph (or, religious leader) of Islam and 34th sultan of the 600 year-old Ottoman Empire. Their demand was simple: restore the short-lived constitution that the sultan had suspended in 1878, which granted greater freedom to Turkish citizens. Cowed, Abdulhamid quickly capitulated, reconvening Parliament and initiating what came to be known as the Second Constitutional Era in Turkey.
It was too much for the Islamic traditionalists in the Turkish military, who overtook their officers in March of 1909 and marched through the streets demanding restoration of Islamic sharia law. As the Young Turks fled, one writer feared that “Turkey seemed poised to go down an Islamist path.” But it was not to be. Within ten days, democratic reformists had recaptured Constantinople. The Islamic rebels made their last stand at Taksim military barracks on the city’s European side before surrendering to reform-minded troops, including a young officer named Mustafa Kemal. For Kemal–later known as Atatürk, founder of modern, secular, democratic Turkey–the Taksim barracks would serve as a reminder of the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism.