A slice of Turkey

The Paris Peace Conference was tasked with setting the peace terms for the Central Powers after their defeat in the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles dealt with the principal belligerent, Germany. It was, however, accompanied by four less well known treaties dealing with the other countries. The Treaty of Sèvres was drawn up to deal with the Ottoman Empire but, by the time it came to be signed, the Sick Man of Europe was dying.


Guns on front lines across Europe and around the world fell silent following the series of armistices in October and November 1918. In the Middle East, the fighting ending with the signing of the Mudros armistice by the Ottoman Empire on 30 October 1918.

Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919 (candid photo) (L - R) Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Great Britian) Premier Vittorio Orlando, Italy, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson By Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps) (U.S. Signal Corps photo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Whilst truces were agreed, the powers were many months away from deciding on the peace terms. In the meantime, other sounds would fill the silence left by the cessation of war.

Shouts rang out from the streets as cities were convulsed in strikes and protests, cracks of gunfire echoed marking the start of uprisings and revolutions. Not quite as distinct, but no less important, was the crashing sound of an old order making way for the new.

Empires were convulsed and ripped apart by nationalist movements, dynasties that had ruled for centuries were toppled and the occupants of thrones were unceremoniously and sometimes violently deposed. The imperial eagles, symbolising Hohenzollern, Habsburg and Romanov rule, fell – sometimes literally as coat of arms were wrenched from positions of authority and allowed to shatter on the ground.

The forces that were unleashed by the First World War were not restricted to the European powers. The Central Powers of Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary had been joined by the Ottoman Empire. This fateful decision had sealed the fate of one of the world’s longest lived and, in its height, most successful empires.

The Treaty of Sèvres

The negotiation of the Treaty of Sèvres epitomised the fluid situation facing the diplomats charged with forging a peace. It was finally signed on 10 August 1920 and by this date the USA had withdrawn from the process to follow an isolationist agenda, Russia had been firmly excluded from the talks and the Ottoman Empire barely remained in existence.

The four Ottoman signatories of the Treaty of Sevres

Under the terms of the treaty, the Ottoman Empire was to be cut up into a host of successor states with the rump to become Turkey. New states would be formed as Kurdistan, Armenia, Hejaz (Arabia), whilst Iraq, Palestine and Syria became mandates (Iraq and Palestine under the British Empire and Syria under the French).

Most humiliating of all, Turkish control of its Anatolian heartland would be diminished by Greek possession of the city and hinterland of Smyrna (modern day İzmir), Turkey would be stripped of the vast majority of its European territory, with East Thrace transferring to a Greece that was to assume almost Byzantine proportions and control over the Dardanelles Straits would be vested in an international commission.

Map of Turkey in Asia, Syria, Palestine, Hejaz and Arabia by Frank Moore Colby By FRANK MOORE COLBY, M.A. FRANK MOORE COLBY, M.A. NEW YORK DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY 1922 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Greece was to be the greatest beneficiary of the proposed dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, but Italy also laid claim to the the Dodecanese Islands and Rhodes.  Both France and Britain would have their empires enlarged by mandates over vast swathes of the Arabian peninsula and Britain would maintain its vital link to India.

In many ways, the treaty terms were to have been even more punitive than those imposed on Germany under the Treaty of Versailles. Although the Ottoman Empire was to be spared reparations, it was to lose sovereignty over its financial affairs, with the Allies controlling the Ottoman Bank, budget decisions and loans.

Turkish National Movement

The terms only served to increase the temperature in an already incendiary situation in the heart of the crumbling empire. The Ottoman Empire had been discredited by years of military reversals and humiliations at the hands of European powers. It had lost vast swathes of its European territory in the last 50 years as Serbia, Albania Greece and Bulgaria emerged as independent states and Austria-Hungary gobbled up much of the rest of the Balkans.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres, the Ottoman Empire would lose far more territory. Worse still, Greece would be granted rights over lands in the Turkish heartland of Anatolia. This was too much for the nationalistic group of military officers who formed the Turkish National Movement.

Led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the National Movement sparked and then won the Turkish War of Independence, abolished the Ottoman Sultanate on 1 November 1922 and proclaimed the Republic of Turkey on 29 October 1923.

In the process, the ensured that the Greek forces in Anatolia were pushed back to the sea, taking with them much of the Greek population, emptying the melting pot city that had been known as Smyrna (would henceforth assume its Turkish name of İzmir.

Prominent nationalists at the Sivas congress. Left to right: Muzaffer Kılıç, Rauf (Orbay), Bekir Sami (Kunduh), Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), Ruşen Eşref (Ünaydın), Cemil Cahit (Toydemir), Cevat Abbas (Gürer) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the National Movement’s biggest successes for the newly created Turkish state was that the Treaty of Sèvres was never put into effect. The new government instead negotiated the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 which provided recognition of Turkey’s borders.

Turkey thus avoided being completely dismembered and dominated by the Allies and would, instead, forge its own future in a modern, republican setting.

Unleashing the suffocating cloud

The Second Battle of Ypres (1915) is the conventional starting point for the terrible chemical warfare that would characterize the middle years of conflict on the Western Front. It was indeed the first battle in which poisonous gas attacks played a part in the western theatre. But it was not the first time chemical weapons were used in the war. That dubious distinction goes to the Battle of Bolomov, a skirmish between the Germans and Russians.


“I have to confess that I felt rather proud,

of the simple device of my suffocating cloud.

The Prospero of poisons, the Faustus of the front,

bringing mental magic to modern armament.”

Tony Harrison, Square Rounds (1992)


The English poet, Tony Harrison, puts these words into the mouth of the German Nobel Prize winning chemist Fritz Haber. His ‘suffocating cloud’ was indeed a ‘mental magic’, unsettling, dense billows of thick smoke spreading across First World War battlefields bringing a tortured, suffocating death to any unfortunate soldiers in its path.

British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by tear gas await treatment at an Advanced Dressing Station near Bethune during the Battle of Estaires, 10 April 1918, part of the German offensive in Flanders By Thomas Keith Aitken (Second Lieutenant) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Poisonous gas attacks became one of the infamous cruelties of the First World War. Exposure to chlorine and mustard gas caused a painful, lingering death or permanent and debilitating respiratory damage. But the escalation to poison gas attacks was gradual. Before, both French and German forces experimented with less lethal chemical attacks.

A new and terrible weapon

Today, Bolimów is a small village in the centre of Poland close to Łódz. In 1915, it was equally insignificant but represented a point at the extreme western extremity of vast Russian Empire. The First World War’s clash between Germany and Russian inevitably meant that the former’s Polish territories would bear the brunt of the fighting.

The village (its name then variously rendered as Boromov or Bolomov) and its battle would have remained as a bloody but unnoteworthy skirmish on the Eastern Front but for the introduction of a new and terrible weapon in the German arsenal.

This image shows a World War I German gas attack on the eastern front, and was photographed from the air by a Russian airman. The image was titled, "German Frightfulness from the Air" Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-F0313-0208-007 / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

The German artillery positions rained down a ferocious bombardment of eighteen thousand gas shells filled with xylyl bromide (a form of tear gas). The initial panic in the Russian lines was soon replicated on the German side as the wind changed direction and the cloud of gas blew back towards their own lines.

A deadly own goal was only averted because of another feature of the day’s weather – it was freezing cold. At such low temperatures, the gas itself failed to vaporise, becoming ineffective. Although the German attack was called off, they were at least spared the indignity of immobilising their own forces, hoisted by their own poisonous petard.

British Vickers machine gun crew wearing PH-type anti-gas helmets. Near Ovillers during the Battle of the Somme, July 1916. The gunner is wearing a padded waistcoat, enabling him to carry the machine gun barrel. See Image:Vickers machine gun crew with gas masks rear view.jpg for an alternate view of this crew British Vickers machine gun crew wearing PH-type anti-gas helmets. Near Ovillers during the Battle of the Somme, July 1916. The gunner is wearing a padded waistcoat, enabling him to carry the machine gun barrel. See Image:Vickers machine gun crew with gas masks rear view.jpg for an alternate view of this crew British Vickers machine gun crew wearing PH-type anti-gas helmets. Near Ovillers during the Battle of the Somme, July 1916. The gunner is wearing a padded waistcoat, enabling him to carry the machine gun barrel. See Image:Vickers machine gun crew with gas masks rear view.jpg for an alternate view of this crew British Vickers machine gun crew wearing PH-type anti-gas helmets. Near Ovillers during the Battle of the Somme, July 1916. The gunner is wearing a padded waistcoat, enabling him to carry the machine gun barrel. See Image:Vickers machine gun crew with gas masks rear view.jpg for an alternate view of this crew John Warwick Brooke [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A painful history

The associations between the area and the horrors of gas as a means of killing would revive in the Second World War. There is an unsettling reminder in the Bolimów’s proximity to Łódź, home of one of central Europe’s largest and most prominent Jewish communities.

Less than 30 years later, this community was confined to an urban concentration camp (the Łódź ghetto) and then destroyed in the Holocaust. German chemistry once again realised its horrific, destructive potential in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

America’s official wars

The United States of America has only officially declared war on five occasions in over two centuries of its existence. Formal declarations were made by Congress in 1812, 1846, 1898, 1917 and 1941. So does this mean the US has spent most of its history at peace? And what about the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, Iraqi and Afghanistan wars?

Under Article One of Section Eight of the Constitution of the United States, Congress is given the power to declare War. Formal declarations of war have been made in the following conflicts:

  • The War of 1812 (18 June 1812);
  • Mexican-American War (13 May 1846);
  • Spanish-American War (25 April 1898);
  • World War I (6 April 1917 (Germany) and 7 December 1917 (Austria-Hungary); and
  • World War II (8 December 1941 (Japan), 11 December 1941 (Germany and Italy) and 5 June 1945 (Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania).

Given the limited number of times formal declarations of war have been made, how was the US been engaged in so many military conflicts over the centuries? A little bit of semantics and a lot of power politics between the legislature and executive have provided room for military clashes. 

In some cases, Congress has authorised extended military combat and the deployment of the United States’ armed forces. Such authorisations have covered conflicts such as the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Gulf War and the support of South Vietnam in the Vietnam War.

Other conflicts have been authorised by a United Nations Security Council Resolutions and funded by Congress. UN-backed military engagements have included interventions in Korea, Libya and Haiti.

Finally, there are a bunch of conflicts that have not involved any Congressional oversight or sanction. Wars against native American tribes, the Philippines and the bombing of Yugoslavia have all been undertaken under presidential sanction but without the approval of Congress.

Fighting spirits (and beer, cider and wine)

During the darkest days of the First World War, the British Government feared a domestic enemy almost as much as the hated Hun. As men were slaughtered in the churning quagmires of the trenches, the demon drink stalked in the homes and factories of the home front. The restrictions and prohibitions that were put in place had a profound effect on domestic life which continues to be felt today.

It is a stark image designed to shame the indolent and contrast their easy lot with that of the trench-bound soldier. The ‘thirty-six-hours-a-week’ worker is shown leaning on a bar with a large tankard of beer. The ‘all-the-week’ worker, a soldier, rests against a trench wall taking a sip from a medicinal flask. Underneath the cartoon was an even starker editorial message:

“The drink question is becoming very serious amongst our workers at home. A minority of them are “holding up” necessary munitions or repairs by intemperate habits. Those who do this are simply fighting our brave men in the trenches as ruthlessly as the Germans are.”

Cartoon by W. K. Haselden in the Daily Mirror, 31 Mar 1915

This message echoed the official government line. In January 1915, Lloyd George told the Shipbuilding Employers Federation that Britain was: “fighting German’s, Austrians and Drink, and as far as I can see the greatest of these foes is Drink”. He hammered home the message, stating that: “drink is doing us more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together”.

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Britain’s fiercest of foes

Who was Britain’s greatest ever foe? The contest, run by the National Army Museum, lends itself to controversy and debate. And that is exactly what the museum encouraged by hosting a day long event with presentations on behlf of five leading contendors followed by questions, discussion and a secret ballot.
The list was narrowed down from a long list of twenty to the top five by a public vote on the museum’s website. The top five foes (in order of votes cast) were:
1. George Washington (30)
2. Michael Collins (14)
3. Napoleon Bonaparte (12)
4. Erwin Rommel (7)
5. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (4)
Three, perhaps four, of these names are well known. I personally would not have identified Atatürk as one of Britain’s foes and I read the case for his inclusion with interest. The reson for his inclusion was soon obvious – Atatürk masterminded the campaign against the allied forces at Gallipoli. His defence of the Dardanelles forced the disastrous evacuation and withdrawal of the allies from Turkey. This alone merits his inclusion in the list – Britain’s failure to force the Turkish front prevented the piercing of the Central Powers’ soft southern underbelly.