Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

TURKEY: Ittihat-Terakki Ve Cihan Harbi [the Committee of Union]

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

TURKEY: Ittihat-Terakki Ve Cihan Harbi [the Committee of Union]

Article excerpt


Ittihat-Terakki ve Cihan Harbi [The Committee of Union], by Zafer Toprak. Istanbul: Homer Kitabevi, 2003. 268 pages. Bibl. to p. 484. Index to p. 502. $16 paper.

The Turkish Republic was a product of a society continuously at war between 1911 and 1923. Therefore, without the knowledge and insights of the dynamics born as a result of wars, especially the First World War, it is not possible to understand several diverse phenomena in Turkey, such as the role of the army in politics, the specific style of Turkish nationalism, economic organization, as well as the relations between the state and society.

Despite the determining role that successive wars have played on the way to the establishment of the Republic, they have not received due attention in Turkish historiography. Even military history has not been well studied and is not widely read in Turkey, where there is a widespread belief that "Every Turk is, in fact, a soldier." (Perhaps, "belligerent character of the Turk" is a too much exaggerated myth). When the study of wars in terms of social, economic and cultural history is in question, Turkish historiography turns out to be strikingly poor in terms of the sufficiency of such studies both quantitatively and qualitatively. Zafer Toprak's Ittihad-Terakki ve Cihan Harbi, Savas Ekonomisi ve Turkiye'de Devletcilik, 1914-1918 (The Committee of Union and World War I -War Economy and Etatism in Turkey) should be seen as a contribution in this respect. As its name itself denotes as well, economy and the policies of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) constitute the main axis of the book.

Toprak's study consists of nine chapters including the introduction and conclusion chapters: War and Money, Capital and Accumulation, The Sublime Port (Bab-i Ali) and the Peasant, Financing and Debts, Supply and Demand, Price and Speculation, State and Economy. Apart from these chapters, the book includes some very crucial primary sources.

The most striking feature of the book is that it has been built upon very rich and diverse sources. The author makes use of several sources varying from Ottoman documents to Western sources, sources from the archives and to the journals and newspapers of the period. In this regard, the book is no doubt a masterpiece for researchers who focus on WW I. Furthermore, the author occasionally mentions experiences of other countries, a feature which gives the book a comparative character

Toprak's work embodies strikingly diverse issues which cannot be summarized and discussed in a nutshell here. Therefore, in this review I would like to underline the features which seem important to me. The first thing to be emphasized is the fact that WWI was a total war for the Ottomans as well. In other words, WWI was a tremendous war for the Ottoman Empire both at the front and behind the front-lines.

There is no doubt that the experience of the war years formed the basis of several political, economic and cultural tendencies in Turkey until the 1950s. The initiatives to create a Turkish bourgeoisie out of Turkish and Muslim artisans, for instance, were shaped by the CUP policies during war years. In Toprak's opinion, the CUP searched for a social base among artisans and in turn made them bourgeois. As a result, the CUP could not realize the policy of imposing tax on the wealthy sections of society in order to finance the ongoing war, but rather had to adopt an inflationary policy and financed the war via printing money. "The price movement which can be evaluated as the first incident of inflation, even hyper inflation in the world was observed in the Ottoman Empire. …

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