“EMPIRES of the SAND:
The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East 1789-1923”
Efraim & Inari Karsh
Harvard Univ. Press, 1994
Dr. Efraim Karsh
Efraim Karsh is Professor and Head of the Mediterranean
Studies Program at King's College, University of London. He was an
intelligence officer (rank of major) in the Israeli Defense Forces, and is a
founding editor of "Israel Affairs." Karsh has been described as
"a competent Middle East scholar who wields a scalpel-like pen, which
serves him well as an engaging writer with a rather combative style."
Inari Rautsi Karsh is also a scholar; she is a frequent collaborator in works
with her husband. As with all historical works excerpted on TAT, the material
is presented for informational purposes only; accuracy of claims made is up to
the reader to determine.
Excerpted by Sukru S. Aya
P.24: In May 1828 a Russian contingent crossed the Pruth River and
began advancing southward while another force moved along the Eastern Coast of the Black
Sea defeating the Ottoman Forces in Kars in July 1828. The Ottomans fought with unexpected
tenacity, despite worsening plague and food shortage resulting from an Allied blockade,
— Of the one hundred thousand Russian soldiers who began the campaign a mere fourteen
thousand reached Adrianople. The rest were dying of various diseases — particularly
dysentery and pestilence — at such a frightful pace that they could neither advance or
P.48: On his accession Ismail (Egypt) had inherited a public debt of £ 3 million by the
mid 1870s; this had risen to £ 90-100 million at the terrifying rate of £ 7 million per
P.49: Ismail once again bowed to foreign pressure. On Aug, 30, 1878 he instructed the
Armenian Nubar Pasha to form a cabinet with the participation of European Ministers, Sir
Rivers Wilson of Britain minister of finance, and M.de Bligniers of France as the minister
of public works.
P.50: To Egyptians Christian Nubar, who had risen to extraordinary political prominence
and obtained great personal wealth under Ismail, was a humiliating reminder of their
growing subordination to the West. — Forgotten was his responsibility for both Egypt’s
massive debts and the strong foreign presence on it’s soil. P.56; As in January 1882 the
Anglo-French action backfired. — Westerners fled Egypt by the thousands.
P.62: Particularly influential was the xenophobic Sheikh Abu Al Huda al Sayyadi, an Arab
from the province of Aleppo who arrived in Istanbul to establish himself as Abdul Hamid’s
P.64 : … and Britain’s primary interests in Egypt in particular: continued
international financial control deemed essential for Egypt’s economic recovery;
exclusion of any single power and the security of the Suez Canal.
P.67: When in May 1887, after two years of arduous negotiations, an Anglo-Ottoman
convention was signed providing for British withdrawal within three years, but giving
Britain and Ottoman Empire the right to re-enter Egypt in certain circumstances, Abdul
Hamid would not ratify it. France and Russia were threatening that ratification would give
the right to occupy Ottoman provinces and leave only after the conclusion of a similar
convention; France might do so un the Levant, Russia in Armenia.
P.68: What had begun as a brief and decisive military action in 1882 had turned into a
long occupation that was to have a profound impact on the making of the modern Middle
P.71: Tsar Nicholas, in the early months of 1853, told the British ambassador G.H. Seymour
his fear that the fall of the Ottoman Empire was a foregone conclusion and that Britain
And Russia should therefore reach a general understanding about what was to be done “when
the Bear dies”. “We have in our hands a sick man — a very sick man,” Nicholas
P.73: If Britain was not willing to read the writing on the wall,
Russia would have to save the Ottomans from the French on his own. Rattling his
saber, the tsar mobilized two army corps and sent his special envoy Prince Alexander
Menshikov to Istanbul to undo the Catholic gains and better still, to extract a
formal agreement placing the Orthodox subjects of the Ottoman Empire under a Russian
protectorate. The Porte, buoyed by the British position, informed Menshikov of its
readiness to make some minor concessions as a token of goodwill, but rule out any
formal recognition of a Russian protectorate over the Ottoman Orthodox. On May 21,
1853, he left empty-handed.
P.77: When Nicholas responded by sending his troops across the Danube, Britain and
France declared war on Russia on March 28. The Crimean War had begun.
P.78: In Sept, 1854 fifty thousand British and French troops augmented by a seven
thousand-strong Ottoman force Landed on the Crimean Peninsula and advanced to siege
Sebastopol. — Suffering on both sides was tremendous. With more lives lost to
raging epidemics and biting snowstorms than to actual fighting.
P.79: From its part Russia continued to press the Ottomans from the Caucasus.
Advancing from Circassia, Russian forces managed to seize Beyazid and threaten the
key Ottoman fortress Kars. The Ottoman garrison was able to hold out for six months,
but eventually surrendered in late Nov. 1855 having been starved of food and
But at this point “General WINTER” interceded and brought Ottoman-Russian
fighting to a close.
P.85: Even France the foremost champion of nationalism, showed little sympathy for
the insurgents. Istanbul was up to its neck in debt — £ 200 million bearing an
annual interest of £ 12 million as against £ 22 million in annual revenues. On
Oct. 6, 1875 the Porte declared that it was no longer able to meet its financial
obligations. As Turkey’s primary creditor, France was far more interested in
salvaging its financial investments in the ailing empire.
P.92: The Ottomans watched with horror this wholesale partitioning of their European
empire but were powerless to arrest the avalanche. Nor could Sultan Abdul Hamid’s
choice of representatives (at Berlin conference) have been worse. True, the chief
negotiator Caratheodory Pasha (Greek) was an efficient foreign official who won the
respect of his peers, but his timidity and muddled instructions he received from
Istanbul prevented him from playing any meaningful role in the talks. The second
delegate, the minister in Berlin, Sadullah bey was a miserable alcoholic who drank
himself to death shortly after the congress. The third representative Mehmet Ali
Pasha, was a deserter from the Prussian army who had converted to Islam and had
risen to military prominence in the Sultan’s service.
P.95: “…Turkey has no alternative but defend herself”,
stating Acting Foreign Minister Gabriel Efendi Noradounghian.
P.96-97: For their part the Young Turks capitalized on great-power concerns to gain
another lease on life. As early as Oct. 10, 1912, two days after the Montenegrin
declaration of war, the Porte approached Austria-Hungary with the suggestion that
“if the Powers stop Bulgaria from going to war, the Ottoman Empire would place in
the hands of the Powers the execution of the reforms that are necessary”. By
November the Bulgarians were knocking at the gates of Istanbul. Ministers will also
remain in their departments (instead of moving to Bursa) and we have decided to die
at our posts. Yet he reiterated his warning that “Constantinople is the seat of
Caliphate and Mussulmans number 650.000 against 350.000 non-Mussulmans: we are thus
going straight towards a catastrophe.
P.100: Like Abdul Hamid, the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress)
toyed with the ideal of pan-Islam as a means to arrest fragmentation and restore past
glory; but unlike the ill-fated Sultan, they relegated religion to a secondary place,
making Turkish nationalism, Turkism, the primary vehicle for their imperial dreams.
P.101: All signs of non-Turkic national expression were regarded as treason, and the
nationalist societies as a grave threat to Ottoman unity that had to be eradicated by law
or by force. Dissident Albanian and Macedonian national groups were suppressed and
Armenians attacked. Zionist activities in Palestine were curbed, the power of Arab
chieftains curtailed and the tiny Arab political and cultural societies purged. — On
Jan. 23, 1913, some two hundred CUP members headed by Enver Pasha, the hero of Libyan war,
staged a violent coup d’etat that came to be known as the “Raid on the Sublime Porte”:
the minister of war was shot, the grand vizier and entire cabinet forced to resign.
Absolute power would rest in the hands of a radical CUP triumvirate — Enver Pasha, who
would become the minister of War” Talaat Pasha, the minister of the interior and Djemal
Pasha, the minister of navy — complemented by the grand vizier Said Halim, himself a CUP
member, The Ottoman Empire had been transformed into a military dictatorship. Its fate
P.106: The triumvirate turned to European powers for military support. In France they
placed orders for six destroyers and two submarines, as well as French naval expertise.
From Brittain the Ottomans ordered two formidable warships of the new dreadnought class
— Reshadije and Sultan Osman I, and in the summer of 1912 a British advisory mission was
deployed within the Ottoman navy, headed by Admiral A.H. Limpus a personal friend of
Winston Churchill. For the reorganization of their ground forces the Young Turks turned to
Germany. Having been profoundly humiliated during the Balkan wars, the Ottoman Empire
asked Berlin to reorganize and supervise its shattered forces. The latter complied and a
German delegation headed by Lt. Gen. Liman von Sanders, a recently ennobled fifty-eight
year old divisional commander, arrived in Istanbul in late 1913. Of the triumvirs who
dominated the Ottoman political scene, Enver has been the least studied and appreciated,
Either because of his relative youthfulness (he was nine years younger than Djemal and
seven years younger than Talaat), or, most likely because his imperialist inclinations do
not fit the conventional historical narrative blaming the European powers for drawing the
Ottoman Empire into WWI, Enver’s influence on the fateful decision that condemned the
Ottoman Empire to destruction has been largely overlooked.
P.107: The man who led his empire to destruction was
born in Istanbul on Nov.22, 1881, to a low-ranking civil servant. Having graduated from
the Military Academy, Enver was posted as staff captain to the Third Army in Macedonia, in
Sept. 1906 he was promoted to the rank of major, where he spent three years in military
operations against Macedonian guerrillas and where he was won over the Young Turks’
cause, In June 1908 he escaped with a group of followers to the Macedonian hills fomenting
the Young Turk revolution of July 23, 1908. At the age of twenty-six, Enver was already a
revered revolutionist hero. On March 24, Adrianople fell to the Bulgarians.
P.108: Enver salvaged his reputation by leading the Ottoman counteroffensive in the Second
Balkan War that turned the tables on Bulgaria and restored Adrianople to Ottoman rule in
July 1913. On Jan.4, 1914 he was promoted two ranks to major-general and appointed
minister of war in the CUP cabinet of grand vizier Said Halim Pasha, the grandson of
Muhammad Ali of Egypt. Two months later Enver married Emine Nadjiye Sultan, the niece of
the reigning monarch, Mehmed IV. The war hero had become related to the sultan-caliph.
P.109: Germany was the power on which Enver pinned his hopes for imperial
regeneration. Following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June
28, 1914, the gathering of storm over recoup its European losses, provided that it
aligned itself with the right great power.
P.111: The treaty was to be activated in the event of both Russian attack on either
Turkey, Germany or Austria-Hungary and an attack by Germany or the Triple Alliance
on Russia. Germany would leave its military mission in the Ottoman army for the
duration of the war. In return, the Ottoman Empire would place its Supreme Military
Command and the actual command of one-fourth of its army under the German mission.
Given that Germany was already in a state of war with Russia on Aug.2nd, it expected
its new ally to abide by its treaty obligations and declare war on Russia.
P.112: This was not to be. To Berlin’s deep dismay, on Aug. 3, Turkey mobilized
its forces and proclaimed an armed neutrality. Through its treaty with Germany, the
Ottoman Empire had effectively transformed itself into a belligerent in the
Continental conflict, though this was not recognized for some time because of the
secrecy of the agreement. An unexpected event provided an early boost to Enver’s
machinations; on Aug.3, the British requisitioned the two warships the Ottomans had
ordered from them and while this decision had nothing to do with anti-Ottoman
sentiments. The requisitioning fell into Enver’s lap like a ripe plum. To the
Ottomans the vessels were a source of great national pride.
P.115: On August 16, Djemal Pasha received the Goeben and the Breslau., renamed
Yavuz Sultan Selim and Midilli.
P.116: The mobilization had placed an unbearable strain on the crumbling Ottoman
economy, and on Sept.30 the Porte appealed to Germany for a loan of 5 million TL in
gold, only to be thoroughly disappointed. Berlin was willing to lend Turkey the
requested sum, undersecretary Zimmerman told the Ottoman ambassador in Berlin,
Muhktar Pasha, but only after the Ottomans entered the war; until then, Turkey would
have to content itself with an advance payment of 250.000 gold TL. — Two days
later Enver paid yet another visit to the German ambassador, this time with Talaat,
Djemal and Halil. The four reaffirmed their commitment to war and promised to allow
Souchon to attack Russian targets the moment the German government deposited 2
million gold TL in Istanbul.
P.117: On Oct. 29, Ottoman torpedo boats attacked Russian warships in Odessa, while
Goeben and Breslau attacked Sebastopol. On Oct. 30 Enver, Djemal and Talaat convened
an extraordinary session of the CUP, which came out in strong support of an
immediate entry into the war. The prevailing view within CUP was that the Ottoman
Empire’s continued adherence to neutrality would be extremely dangerous, since at
the end of the war Russia might attempt to occupy the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles.
On Nov. 4 Russia declared
war on the Ottoman Empire: Britain and France followed suit the next day. On Nov.
11, the Sultan, in his capacity as caliph, declared holy war against Russia, Britain
and France. Enver could rejoice: the Ottoman Empire had joined the Great War.
P.118: Hence; when their attempt to secure formal alliances with the Entente were
declined, they had no choice but to throw in their lot with Germany.
P.119: True, following the 1908 Young Turk Revolution Britain declined several
invitations to explore an Anglo-Ottoman alliance and Turkey’s inclusion within the
Entente (the last attempt made in June 1913). Close scrutiny of the alliance
overtures the Ottomans allegedly made prior to First World War — to Russia in May
1914 and to France two months later — would quickly dispel any notion of
rejection, The overture to Russia was made by Talaat during a courtesy visit to the
Livadia Palace in the Crimea.
P.121: As for the alleged overture to France, there is no evidence whatsoever that
it was ever made, and the only mention of its existence is in Djemal Pasha’s memoirs.
P.123: With German help Turkey and Bulgaria signed a secret alliance Treaty on
P.131: The Entente Powers were caught off guard by the Ottomans’
Sep. 9 announcement of abolition of capitulations.
P.132: As late as Oct. 9, Greay was still willing to offer a compromise to the
Ottoman Empire on custom tariffs.
P.133: A British squadron lying outside the Dardanelles since the arrival of the two
German cruisers in early August, had stopped and turned back an Ottoman destroyer
venturing out of the straits.
P.134: Talat - Enver promised that they will initiate hostilities the moment a large
consignment of German gold arrived.
P.137: On Oct. 31 Giers left Istanbul to be followed a day later by Mallet and
Bompard. On Nov. 3, on Churchill’s instructions, British warships assisted by two
French ships, bombarded the outer forts of the Dardanelles, A day later Russia
declared war on the Ottoman Empire and Britain and France soon followed suit. The
Entente Powers had been drawn into a war against their will.
P.138: Greed rather than necessity drove the Ottoman Empire into the First World
War, Its war aim was to realize the imperialist vision of the powerful minister of
war Enver Pasha, a tangled web of grievances and revanchist hopes geared toward
reassertion of the Ottoman imperial glory and unification of Ottoman imperial glory
and unification of the Turkic peoples within an expanded empire.
P.139: High military policy was decided by him and his colleagues: none of the
German officers exercised authority over Ottoman forces other than that explicitly
delegated to them by Enver; and Liman von Sanders, whom Enver held in low esteem at
best, was even informed that any supplies from Germany would be distributed by Enver
himself and no one !
P.140: At the outbreak of the war. The Ottoman armed forces consisted of some
600,000 troops, grouped in 38 divisions and three armies. The largest of these, the
250.000 strong First Army, comprising five army corps, was based in the European
parts of the Empire for the defense of Istanbul and the straits. The Second and
Third armies, each 125,000 strong were deployed respectively along Asian shore of
the Sea of Marmara and Transcaucasia along the Russian border. Yet another 100,000
troops, scattered across the Empire’s Arabic speaking provinces were incorporated
into a Fourth Army shortly after the outbreak of war and placed under the command of
Minister of Navy, Djemal Pasha. During the last months of 1914, von Sanders proposed
an invasion of the Ukraine from Odessa. This, however was not to the liking of Enver
who hoped to win a rapid victory in Transcauasia, which was defended by a mere eight
Such a venture would not only satisfy the Ottoman yearning for revenge and recovery
of lost territories, particularly the strategic fortress of Kars, but would also
open the door to Ottoman incursions in Russian Caucasus and possibly the Ukraine or
Central Asia. For a while Enver’s strategy seemed to be well conceived, as the
Third Army scored a string of successes. The elated Enver decided that it is time to
strike immediately while the Russians were still licking their wounds, and would
personally assume command. Ignoring von Sander’s warning of the merciless winter
conditions (*) in Transcaucasia, he packed and hurried to the Third Army’s
headquarters in Erzerum. The Russians had exploited the lull in the fighting to
improve their defense and reorganize their forces, while the Ottoman troops were not
ready for winter.
P.141: Fought under snowy conditions the battle of Sarikamish turned out disastrous for
the Ottomans. The Third Army lost more than 80.000 men within a matter of days: nearly 90
per cent of those participating in fighting. As the Russians crossed joint border and
began advancing on Erzerum. Enver escaped by the skin of his teeth, arriving in Istanbul
in early January 1915. Anxious to hide the magnitude of his defeat, he ordered a blackout
on news from the front and quickly blamed the debacle on the lack of German support.
Djemal, a member of the triumvirate since 1913, the minister of navy resented his transfer
from the capital in November 1914 to command the Fourth Army. Djemal saw the attack on the
Suez Canal as a potential personal coup. A golden opportunity to outshine Enver and to
regain his central place in the national leadership. On the night of Feb, 2, 1915, Djemal
at the head of a twelve thousand strong force, attacked the Suez Canal, only to suffer an
P.143: In an attempt to relieve the Ottoman pressure, on Dec, 27 the Russian commander in
chief Grand Duke Nicholas, made a direct appeal to Kitchener for an immediate action
against the Ottomans, “at their most vulnerable and sensitive point”. The Russian
withdrew their request within days, having learned Enver’s defeat at Sarikamish.
P.144: Hamilton’s plan was approved. On April 24, de Robeck’s formidable fleet set to
sea and following day landed large forces on the Gallipoli peninsula, only to run
unexpectedly tough Ottoman resistance. The Allies managed to establish precarious
bridgeheads on the peninsula. All attempts to make further advances broke against the
uncompromising Ottoman resistance, with the attacking forces suffering heavy losses: on
May 12, the British warships Goliath, Triumph and Majestic were sunk. Suvla drove the nail
into the Allies’ coffin. In five days of fierce fighting from Aug. 6 to Aug.10, the
Ottomans, under the able leadership of the young and dashing Brigadier Mustafa Kemal,
appointed field commander by von Sanders, managed to hold their ground, The Entente
sustained 18,000 casualties: another 20,000 sick and wounded had to be evacuated. On Oct.
28, Hamilton was replaced by General Sir Munro who recommended the evacuation of the
peninsula. By early 1916 the Entente forces had been withdrawn from Gallipoli.
P.145: British casualties in the campaign including 90.000 evacuated sick amounted
to 205.000, which with the addition of 47.000 French casualties brought the Allied
total to 252.000 or half of the troops sent to Gallipoli, against the officially
admitted Ottoman losses of 251.000. Yet despite their heavy casualties, the Ottomans
were elated, And while Mustafa Kemal and of course Liman von Sanders were the real
heroes of Gallipoli, much of the credit was taken by CUP leadership, first and
foremost by Enver. In Mesopotamia, in a battle near Crespion, twenty miles south of
Baghdad, on Nov, 22-23, 1915, the Sixth Anglo-Indian Division under Maj.Gen.
Townshend, a seasoned officer with distinguished record o service in India and the
Sudan, was decimated by a well-entrenched Ottoman force, After sustaining 4.600
casualties, nearly half of the division’s effective strength. By the time he had
retreated to Kut in December 3, there was little left of the Sixth Division as a
coherent fighting force.
P.147: By the time Townshend’s forces surrendered to the Ottomans on April 28,
1916, after 143 days of siege, the Mespotamian campaign had ground to a complete
halt, Townshend’s men were marched hundreds of miles to Anatolia, where most of
them would perish in Ottoman labor camps. But Enver’s imperial dream came not from
the battlefields of the Middle East but from the earthquake that convulsed Turkey’s
northern neighbor; the Russian revolutions of 1917. As early as March 1917, after
the overthrow of the tsar and formation of a revolutionary government under
Alexander Kerensky, the five hundred thousand strong Russian army in Transcaucasia
went into rapid disintegration. Seven months later, following the Bolshevik’s
seizure of power in what came to be known as the October Revolution, Russia left the
war on Dec. 15, 1917, signed an armistice with Germany in the Polish town of
Brest-Litovsk, The Ottoman Empire was a direct beneficiary of this agreement,
regaining provinces of Kars, Ardahan and Batum, lost during the Russo-Ottoman War of
1877-1978. This was nor good enough for Enver.
P.148: The Ottomans made demands that went far beyond the territorial limits of
Brest-Litvosk. They now included Alexandropol and its environs, the Trans-Georgian
Railway and free use of all Transcausian railways as long as the Ottoman Empire was
at war with the Entente. When these onerous terms were declined, the Ottomans
overran the Armenian city of Alexandropol and began advancing on the oil city of
Baku. Shortly afterward on June 4, 1918 the Treaty of Batum was concluded between
the Ottoman Empire on the one hand, and the Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis
on the other. Georgia was permitted to retain the Black Sea port of Batum, while
Armenia was to cede significant parts of it territories to the Ottoman Empire.
P.151: As a result of Russian agitation, European and American missionary work, and
not the least, the nationalist revival in the Balkans, a surge of national
consciousness within the three Armenian religious communities, Gregorian, Catholic
and Protestant, began to take root, In the 1870s Armenian secret societies sprang at
home and abroad developing gradually into militant nationalist groups such as the
Hunchakian and the Dashnaksutiun. Uprising against Ottoman rule erupted time and
again; terrorism became a common phenomenon, both against Turks and noncompliant
fellow Armenians, Nationalists pleaded with the 1878 Berlin Treaty which had obliged
the Porte to undertake “improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in
the provinces inhibited by the Armenians and to guarantee their security against the
Circassians and Kurds. By 1903 a vicious circle of escalating violence was under way
yet again and rebels engaged in dialogues with Ottoman exiles on joint measures to
overthrow the sultan, On July 21, 1905, during the Friday prayers, Abdulhamid
narrowly escaped as assassination attempt by a group of nationalists.