Fall of the Sultanate: The Great War and the End of the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1922

Fall of the Sultanate: The Great War and the End of the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1922

Fall of the Sultanate: The Great War and the End of the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1922

Fall of the Sultanate: The Great War and the End of the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1922


The collapse of the Ottoman Empire was by no means a singular event. After six hundred years of ruling over the peoples of North Africa, the Balkans and Middle East, the death throes of sultanate encompassed a series of wars, insurrections, and revolutions spanning the early twentieth century. This volume encompasses a full accounting of the political, economic, social, and international forces that brought about the passing of the Ottoman state. In surveying the many tragedies that transpired in the years between 1908 and 1922, Fall of the Sultanate explores the causes that eventually led so many to view the legacy of the Ottomans with loathing and resentment.

The volume provides a retelling of this critical history as seen through the eyes of those who lived through the Ottoman collapse. Drawing upon a large gamut of sources in multiple languages, Ryan Gingeras strikes a critical balance in presenting and interpreting the most impactful experiences that shaped the lives of the empire's last generation. The story presented here takes into account the perspectives of the empire's diverse population as well as the leaders who piloted the state to its end. In surveying the personal, communal, and national struggles that defined Italy's invasion of Libya, the Balkan War, the Great War, and the Turkish War of Independence, Fall of the Sultanate presents readers with a fresh and comprehensive exposition of how and why Ottoman imperial rule ended in bloodshed and disillusionment.


Mehmet VI Vahideddin had pondered fleeing his palace for days, if not weeks, in advance of taking final leave of his capital. News from the country’s interior, as well as deteriorating conditions within the walls of his own home, had prompted him to consider such a disgrace. Rumors had begun to swirl that his assassination or overthrow was imminent. By that point in his reign, very few of his subjects outside the capital obeyed his authority or bowed to his moral weight. A sizable British and French garrison occupying his city, rather than his noble rites, assured Vahideddin’s hold upon power. His political isolation and apparent collaboration with foreign powers had led most members of the nation’s army, bureaucracy, and elected assembly to ignore his dictates. By early November 1922, a grand coalition of rebellious Ottoman officers, officials, soldiers, and private citizens had seized control of the bulk of the empire’s declining territory. From their capital in Ankara, on November 1, a national assembly of rebels, including many former Ottoman parliamentarians and prominent generals, declared their intention to formally abolish the sultan’s office altogether. The effect of the assembly’s decision sent shockwaves through the capital. When British officials arrived at the Yılıdız Palace for their last royal audience, they found the sultan in the company of only a few companions. Several of his attendants, including his master of ceremonies and his private doctor, had already deserted him, fearing the worst.

Vahideddin had submitted a letter to British officials requesting sanctuary on the day of his final meeting with Sir Horace Rumbold, Britain’s seasoned High Commissioner to the Ottoman Empire. The sultan, according to Rumbold’s translator, was “singularly composed and dignified” despite the gravity of events. All agreed that the palace would give no public indications of the sultan’s intentions. Accordingly, the sultan publically attended Friday prayers, as was his custom, the day before his departure. As a dense rain fell on the city on the morning of November 17, two large automobiles, both military ambulances, pulled up before the Yılıdız Palace. The two cars carried the sultan, his son, a handful of porters and a large store of luggage down to the quay where a British motorboat was held in waiting. No pomp or ceremony accompanied Mehmet VI as he boarded the boat. When the sultan and his luggage arrived aboard the H.M.S. Malaya, it appeared that no one had formally contemplated the royal party’s ultimate destination. It was upon the suggestion of Rumbold’s counselor, Neville Henderson, that the sultan accepted to take up temporary residence upon the island of Malta.

Andrew Ryan, The Last Dragoman (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1951), 169.

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