Istanbul under Allied Occupation, 1918-1923

Istanbul under Allied Occupation, 1918-1923

Istanbul under Allied Occupation, 1918-1923

Istanbul under Allied Occupation, 1918-1923

Excerpt

İstanbul was occupied by the Allies shortly after the signing of the Mudros Armistice between the former and the Ottoman Empire on October 30, 1918. By the end of November that year, resistance to foreign occupation and to the seemingly inevitable dismemberment of Turkey took strong roots in the city and entrenched itself into an increasingly organized and determined underground.

Between 1918 and 1923 many of the conditions that breed successful resistance movements were present in Turkey. For example, the victors underestimated the defeated; the occupiers were engrossed with bureaucratic procedures and were assailed by a variety of issues such as the influx of Russian refugees into İstanbul, Bolshevik propaganda, and the Turkish left. The British, French, and Italians, as major Allied occupation forces, were also hindered by an inability to establish a balance of strength among themselves in their haste to promote respective national interests.

Great Britain’s imperial traditions caused it to fail to recognize the difference between change and continuity in a society predicated upon a culture and history quite different from its own. The British perceived Muslim society as monolithic. They thought that Turkey’s raison d’etre was religion, and expected the Turks to be passive on the grounds that “Muslim” means “submission to the will of God.” And submission was what the Allies required of the defeated Turks. The British officially adopted a policy of support for the Sultan-Caliph and those clergymen who were to ensure Turks’ cooperation and submission. Yet the Turks, by the turn of the century, were neither traditional Muslims nor Ottomans in the old sense. The old regime’s “Sick Man of Europe” had already been buried in Turkey by the Young Turks. However, it would take a long time before the world came to terms with this fact.

Also unrealized by the Allies was the broad base of support the Nationalist underground could draw upon, i.e. many İstanbul Turks, Jews and Armenians were united by patriotism. The resistance movement also had the unconditional support of major institutions in the country, such as the military, guilds, women’s associations, and the Ottoman Red Crescent Society, which was the counterpart of the Red Cross in the West.

In the underground, commitment to the shared objective and bonds of personal loyalty were more important than potentially divi-

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