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  • The Ottoman Road to War in 1914: The Ottoman Empire and the First World War
  • M. Erdem Kabadayi
The Ottoman Road to War in 1914: The Ottoman Empire and the First World War. By Mustafa Aksakal . New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 232 pp. $109.00 (cloth); $34.99 (paper); $79.00 (e-book).

Aksakal's book has been published in the series Cambridge Military Histories and suits very well the given purpose of the series to examine warfare from a broad perspective, including political and economic aspects. The book covers a short but decisive time span at the very end of the long-lived Ottoman Empire. It is the result of well-designed research and carefully executed study of the Ottoman Empire's entry into World War I and offers the reader a detailed almost day-to-day analysis of the crucial period of 1913-1914.

The book ends with the Ottoman entry into World War. Its focus is not on the actual events of the war, but the diplomatic and political maneuvers that preceded it. Four states, the Ottoman Empire, Germany, Russia, and Great Britain and their diplomatic and military representatives, are the major actors of the study. The Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Italy, and the Balkan states of the time are the other leading political actors. Aksakal's narrative follows a chronological order, which makes it an easy read, and at the same time he provides the reader with synchronal developments and interactions of the period. This is one of the major assets of the book.

Geographically the study focuses on the developments in the Balkans [End Page 642] prior to the war, which is another right choice. Ottoman territorial losses in the Balkans had a substantial impact both on the minds of its ruling elite as well as on its geostrategic decision making. The Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), whose leaders controlled and formed the government during the period from 1913 to 1918, also had Balkan roots and consolidated its power toward an authoritarian regime during the Balkan Wars. Aksakal correctly underlines the role desire for revenge of the defeats of the Balkan Wars had in constituting the identity of the Ottoman ruling elite. Especially the fact that a former Ottoman capital city, Edirne, was recaptured by military force toward the end of the Balkan Wars was an important opinion setter. More importantly the CUP leadership was convinced that their agenda of modernization and mobilization of the public could be best achieved under conditions of war (p. 14).

In this framework of analysis, Aksakal's book recasts the role of Enver Pasha, the Ottoman war minister from 1914 to 1918. In the national historiography Enver has been depicted as a war-hungry hawk who drew the Ottoman empire into World War I almost single-handedly. In this regard Aksakal distances himself successfully from the national historiography and masterfully situates Enver and his decisions within the CUP leadership not as a maverick but an essential and very important member of the CUP decision makers.

Regarding the source material of the study, Aksakal heavily depends on German, Ottoman, and Russian diplomatic correspondence. He skillfully interweaves valuable information from these contemporary sources to build his narrative. In his selection of sources he almost completely excludes memoirs of the decision makers and members of the CUP for good reasons. Due to the fact that the majority of these works had been penned during the early years of the nascent Turkish Republic, the ways and means by which those authors perceived their recent Ottoman past and their attempts to distance themselves from it weaken if not discredit them as reliable sources. Aksakal does not make extensive use of another category of documentation, the Ottoman press of the time. He clearly states this decision yet surprisingly does not provide an explanation for it (p. 20). The "public opinion"—in quotation marks, as Aksakal puts it—is an important aspect of the study. As he himself points out, it is problematic to envisage an Ottoman public opinion in the modern sense, yet both the public opinion in its existed form and the intellectual climate of the time in Istanbul are...