- The Ottoman Road to War in 1914: The Ottoman Empire and the First World War
In this short, well researched volume, Mustafa Aksakal, assistant professor at the American University, explores why the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War in 1914. Aksakal asserts that literature dealing with the Ottoman participation in the Great War exclusively blames the Ottoman war minister, Ismail Enver Pasha, depicting him as the hawkish omnipotent leader who single-hand-edly [End Page 1355] guided the empire into the war. Other historians claim that the Young Turk leadership was seduced by German overtures to join the war. Aksakal, however, takes a new perspective by attributing the misfortune of the Ottoman commitment towards belligerence to the political and military environment surrounding the Ottoman Empire.
Aksakal’s book is divided into six chapters with an introduction and conclusion. Each chapter focuses on the period between 1913 and 1914 and the events that led the Ottoman leadership to seek to revive the “Sick Man of Europe.” Aksakal explains that this was a period when the Ottomans found themselves politically isolated and increasingly under European financial and economic domination. This pressure persuaded the Ottoman leadership under the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) that the only way to save the empire was to align it with one of the Great Powers. The general consensus among the Turkish elite also focused on the notion that war was the only option to forge a new global order in which the empire would achieve economic and political independence (p. 191).
Aksakal challenges the notion that Enver sought a Great Power alliance in order to expand the empire to include the Turks of Central Asia. He argues that Enver and the other leaders of the CUP viewed war not as a way to build a new empire, but as a “war of independence” from European domination (p. 17). This attitude among the CUP leadership stemmed from a series of incidents that plagued the empire from 1878 to 1914. Aksakal’s narrative of the Ottoman crisis begins in 1913 after the First Balkan War when the empire found itself succumbing to British, French, and Russian demands. Aksakal contends that the emotional drain of the Balkan Wars on the Ottomans and the fear of losing territory in eastern Anatolia to the Russians forced the CUP leadership to seek German aid in 1914 in order to save the empire. Aksakal observes that when Germany, in anticipation of the Ottomans joining the war effort, agreed to give them aid, the CUP leadership, guided by Enver, hesitated and attempted to delay the Ottoman pledge towards war by citing a Bulgarian-Ottoman alliance as a condition to war. It was not until Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II refused to allow any more assistance to reach Istanbul and the “alliance became strained to the point of rupture” that the CUP leadership, facing the prospect of being politically isolated once again, reluctantly agreed to German demands (p. 154).
This well organized and well written volume is extensively researched with a wide variety of primary sources that include those of the Turkish General Staff, the Ottoman Archives of the Prime Minister, and the German Foreign Office as well as the German Federal Military Archives. The book’s strongest asset is the scope of the second half of the volume, which deals with the Ottoman attempts to avoid war. Aksakal’s argument that Enver Pasha was not the all-powerful tyrant who drove the empire to its demise is solidly based in primary sources. [End Page 1356]