This one I also read as research for my post on Robert W. Chambers’ The Dark Star. I wanted to learn more about the Ottoman Empire in World War One, and, having been very impressed with McMeekin’s The Russian Origins of the First World War, this seemed a logical choice.
Review: The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923, Sean McMeekin, 2015.
McMeekin has argued elsewhere that World War One could rightly be thought of as the War of the Ottoman Succession, a war that lasted from 1909 to 1923. You could even argue, as McMeekin does in his concluding chapter on the pros and cons of Ottoman administration and what happened when it ended, that that war is still going on in the Middle East.
Of all the nations that inherited the remains of the Ottoman Empire, it was Turkey, in the heartland of the empire, that has had the most stable borders since 1923.
Edward Gibbon famously noted that we shouldn’t wonder that the Roman Empire it fell but that it lasted as long as it did. The same could be said of the Ottoman Empire. Some have put the date the irresistible rot set in as far back as 1529 when the empire failed to take Vienna. The famous remark about the empire being a “sick man” was uttered by Tsar Alexander Nicholas I to a British ambassador in 1853.
But, the sick man’s greatest defense was, paradoxically, the number of his enemies. They wanted Ottoman lands and to deny them to other great powers. The two most important of those powers were Russia and England.
McMeekin’s 593-page history (with additional notes, bibliography, photos, and several very useful maps) shows how that theme played out again and again from the Turco-Russian War of 1877-1878 to Italy’s invasion of Tripoli in 1911 (a forgotten war that saw the first use of many military technologies) to Soviet Russia arming the Ottoman Empire against a Greek invasion in 1921, an invasion supported by Britain.
This history covers both combat on the battlefield (one source is, surprisingly, a Venezuelan mercenary with the Ottomans) and political intrigues. McMeekin covers the grand sweep of things with the occasional illuminating detail about personalities and small incidents. He also covers relevant events outside the empire like the intrigues of the British cabinet and Russian revolutionaries. And, of course, the turmoil of Ottoman politics – the coups, countercoups, and counter-counter coups between 1908 and 1909 – are covered.
McMeekin mentions several seldom-discussed events.Continue reading