In the year 1299 AD, Osman Gazi, leader of the Ottoman Turks, founded what would become the Ottoman Empire. Though it was a small nation-state during Osman’s lifetime, it would go onto become a world power, at its height extending into Africa and Eastern Europe.
By the 20th century, the Empire had begun to decline. In 1908, a revolution known as the Young Turks Movement, restored multiparty politics back to the Empire after a long period of despotism. In 1911, the Empire engaged in a brief war with Italy, which resulted in the loss of its final African territories.
In August 1914, war erupted in Europe, dragging most of the Continent’s major powers into a bloody and devastating conflict that was known at the time as “The Great War.”
On the outside, the Ottoman Empire strove for neutrality. Behind the scenes, however, it had signed a pact with Germany and the Central Powers in August. On October 29, it launched a surprise naval attack on Russia’s Black Sea coastline. Russia, Britain, and France declared war on the Ottomans on November 1. No one quite knows what led the Sultan to throw his lot in with Germany. The Ottoman Empire was largely built on agriculture. There was some industry, of course, but not enough to sustain a costly, mechanized war. The Empire’s economy was still in shambles after The Balkin Wars of 1912 and 1913.
Owing to the Empire’s size and the poor condition of its rails and roads, reaching the front sometimes took soldiers in excess of a month. It is said that troops could get to parts of the Empire from London quicker than Ottomans themselves.
Not that many of them were trying too hard. Distrust of the heavy handed Germans swept the country, leading to bombings against German officers and ruling Ottoman figures, protests, and an effort on the part of various “committees” to rid the country of Germans and those who sympathized with them.
Many farmers were conscripted into the army, which led to land not being farmed...and to famine striking parts of the Empire, especially Syria in 1916. Despite all of the obstacles standing in their way, the Ottoman Army won several stunning victories over the allies, including the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli. Though it fought the Western powers on occasion, however, most of the Ottoman Empire’s energy was spent fighting the Russians in the Caucus Mountains. Later in the war, the Arab Revolt swept through the Middle East, loosening the Ottoman grip on that region. The economy was in shambles, people were starving, and by 1917, the army was losing ground (and men). In early October 1918, the Ottomans sued for peace.
Negotiations between a British envoy and a delegation from Constantinople began at 9:30 on the morning of October 30, 1918, aboard the Agamemnon. A treaty was signed later that day: The Ottomans were compelled to free all POWs, open its straits to allied ships (and its military forts to occupation) and to demobilize its army. The Empire officially broke apart in 1922. In its place today is the Middle East as we know it. A widely unpredictable place.