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If the Eastern Front is the neglected theater of the First World War, the war in the Caucasus is the neglected theater of the Eastern Front.1 Its significance , both for the Russian war effort and particularly for the subsequent history of the region, was enormous. Russia’s most important war aims involved control over the Turkish straits, and the war with the Ottoman Turks in the Caucasus belongs as part of the story of Russia in the First World War. Neither the Russians nor the Ottomans were eager for war with one another in 1914, though over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Russia had fought the Ottoman Empire repeatedly for control of the Black Sea, for territory in the Caucasus, and for suzerainty over the Orthodox Christians of the Balkans. The long series of Ottoman defeats at Russian hands enabled the growth and ambition of the small states of the Balkans. The Ottoman government thus had a long series of accounts to settle with Russia when war exploded in 1914, but also abundant reason for caution. The military disasters of the Balkan Wars (1912–1913) forced the Ottomans to be cautious about whether to enter the First World War, and under what circumstances. It would mean fighting the Russians in the Caucasus, as well as the British in the Middle East. Such a step could only be taken with deep trepidation. For Russia, the most important territorial and political goals—domination of the Balkans and control over the Turkish straits— required a prostrate and defeated Ottoman Empire. Russia additionally saw eastern Anatolia and northwestern Iran as natural spheres of influence. Those ambitions were temporarily set aside, however, once war began in 8 The Caucasus Campaign, 1914–1917 178 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 178 summer 1914. The Russians had all they could handle in dealing with the Austrians and Germans, and no need to see the Ottomans join the war. For the Russians, at least, victory could solve all problems. If Germany and Austria were defeated, Russia’s foreign policy goals with regard to the Ottomans could be dealt with easily; the only complication would be making sure Russia’s allies would accept a major advance in Russian power. It took several months before the Ottomans finally joined the Central Powers. When they did, they found they had substantially overestimated their ability to take advantage of the weakness of a distracted Russian army.2 THE OTTOMAN ROAD TO WAR By 1914, the Ottoman political system was in the midst of profound change. On 23 July 1908, a heterogeneous group of liberal reformers, mostly nationalist students and military officers from the Ottoman Balkans, carried out a coup. These Young Turks (more formally the Committee of Union and Progress) ushered in a brief period of enthusiasm for reform on the part of the Ottoman Empire’s multiethnic and multireligious political class, eventually deposing Sultan Abdülhamid II and replacing him with the figurehead Mehmed V. Their power was opposed by conservative forces, including the Muslim ulema and the empire’s military and political elite. Only when the Committee of Union and Progress consolidated its control over the Ottoman army in early 1913 could it be reasonably confident of maintaining itself in power. At least some in Russia, most notably Foreign Minister Izvol’skii, saw the political chaos in the Ottoman Empire as a chance for Russia to initiate a short, victorious war, but cooler heads in St. Petersburg prevailed and maintained peace.3 Other European powers were not so restrained. In September 1911, Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire to seize the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica in North Africa (modern Libya). An October 1912 peace cost the Ottomans Tripoli. This material evidence of Ottoman military weakness signaled the empire’s vulnerability to further military aggression. The result was the Balkan Wars (1912–1913). In the First Balkan War, a coalition of Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece invaded the remaining Ottoman possessions in Europe in October 1912, just as the ItaloTurkish War was ending. Faced with overwhelming odds, and attacked THE CAUCASUS CAMPAIGN, 1914–1917 179 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 179 from all directions, the Ottoman position in Thrace and Macedonia was hopeless. Ottoman territory in the Balkans was swiftly overrun, though a tenacious defensive stand by Ottoman troops just outside Constantinople and at isolated fortresses maintained a foothold for...


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