When the War Came Home
The Ottomans' Great War and the Devastation of an Empire
Yiğit Akın



Yaşar Kemal, a leading figure of modern Turkish literature, was a renowned bard in his native southern Anatolian Çukurova. In the late 1930s, he wandered from village to village, singing his ballads to peasants. During these visits, he also listened to villagers’ songs and collected laments and ballads from them. The laments about World War I surprised him the most: they told of conscripted boys, widowed brides, orphaned children, dissolved families, unattended fields, and destroyed lives. Taken together, they recounted the experiences of the Ottoman people who had been embroiled in a long and dreadful conflict. Kemal was astonished by both the multitude and ubiquity of these accounts. More than two decades had passed since the war’s end, yet in every village he visited he heard women’s laments about it.1

Folklorists, teachers, local intellectuals, and amateur researchers have collected similar accounts of the traumatic experiences of World War I from various communities of the former Ottoman Empire.2 These songs and laments provide an invaluable glimpse into a society at war, illuminating how the Ottomans experienced, perceived, and remembered the conflict. Most important, they offer alternative narratives to official renderings of the war, which emphasized its political, military, and religious meanings. War is described in these accounts as carnage that includes blood, tears, fear, pain, and sorrow, but not heroism and pride. One of them poignantly addresses the sultan:

Topların güllesi ne yaman geldi.
Kapandı kulaklar, hep sağır oldu.
Gövdeler yaralı, gömlek kan doldu.
Askerin kanını gör padişahım!3

How frightfully came the cannonballs.
Ears closed, all went deaf.
Bodies wounded, shirts covered in blood.
See the soldier’s blood, O my Sultan!

The war is viewed in these songs and laments through the prism of the family and the individual, rather than that of empire and religion. They condemn the war as a disaster that left behind hundreds of thousands of widows and orphans. The suffering and bereavement of families torn apart are at the forefront:

Anan duyar bacın ağlar.
Ak gelinler karalar bağlar.
Hep kapandı büyük evler
Kaldı koca karıyınan.4

Your mother listens, your sister cries.
White-clad brides don black.
All the big houses are shut.
Only old folk remain.

Inspired by the poignancy of these accounts, this book explores the wartime experiences that left such deep and painful marks on the collective memory of the Ottoman people. It offers a broad view of how the Great War affected Ottoman society, tracing the new socioeconomic and cultural realities that the war created in the form of mass conscription, a state-controlled economy, widespread shortages, population movements, ethnic cleansing, and death. It examines how the Ottomans interpreted, wrestled with, and adapted to these new wartime realities. In short, this book tells the story of a society caught up in “the seminal catastrophe of the twentieth century.”5

The Ottomans’ Great War

World War I spanned four years, from 29 October 1914 to 30 October 1918, for the Ottoman Empire. The hope of regaining the territories lost in the previous decades and achieving full economic and political independence brought the Ottomans into the war. More important, the realization by the Unionists (members of the ruling Committee of Union and Progress, CUP) that the war would eventually extend to the Ottoman Empire, and that the empire could not survive such a massive conflict on its own, drove them into a search for an alliance with one of the power blocs in Europe.6 The CUP government signed a secret alliance treaty with Germany on 2 August 1914, and that same day declared general mobilization. After three months of armed neutrality, the Ottomans entered the war on the side of the Central Powers.

Over the next four years, the Ottomans would fight a multi-front war against the Entente. They confronted the Russians in the Caucasus and eastern Anatolia; engaged with British imperial and French forces at the Dardanelles; fought the British in Mesopotamia, Palestine, and the Suez Canal zone; and conducted military operations in Persia. Ottoman troops also saw combat in the European theaters of war, supporting the empire’s wartime allies against their adversaries in Galicia, Macedonia, and Romania. To the surprise of both its allies and its enemies, the Ottoman army proved to be more resilient than many had expected. Although its size and strength diminished significantly over the four years of fighting due to both high casualty and desertion rates, the imperial army remained at war until the final month of World War I. Throughout the war, Ottoman forces tied down large enemy contingents in the Middle East, diverting them from European theaters of the conflict. The Ottomans also fought successful battles and scored remarkable victories, such as the defense of the Dardanelles in 1915 and the siege at Kut-al-Amara, south of Baghdad, and surrender of a 13,000-strong British Indian division in 1916. These victories, however, were not enough to win the war.7

World War I took a heavy toll on the Ottomans in terms of human and material losses. At the beginning of the Great War, the population of the Ottoman Empire was estimated to be around 19 million in its core provinces. Out of the 2.9 million civilians mobilized into the armed forces, the empire would suffer some 750,000 fatalities from combat and disease by the war’s end. Another 750,000 soldiers were wounded, and some 250,000 ended up in foreign captivity.8 This gigantic loss of human capital had enormous social, economic, and demographic consequences for the home front population, as well as for the states established in the region following the demise of the Ottoman Empire. Even a decade after the war had ended, in some former provinces of the empire over 30 percent of adult women were widows.9

World War I required the most comprehensive mobilization of men and resources in the long history of the empire. Mobilizing such a massive army and keeping it on the battlefields for four long years was not an easy task for the Ottomans. Fighting against militarily and economically more advanced adversaries compelled the CUP government to adopt a series of wartime policies that would lead to dramatic changes in the way the Ottoman state functioned. To enable it to fight the war effectively over such a long period of time and across such a broad geographic expanse, these policies extended the state’s capacity of intervention into the distant corners of the empire to extract men and resources to a degree never seen before.

The war thus intensified the interaction between the Ottoman state and its citizens, a process that had already been under way since at least the mid-nineteenth century due to the empire’s centralizing reforms. The war, however, created new forms of interaction, affecting an even larger swath of society. More Ottoman subjects than ever before now came into continuous contact with the government, its policies, its representatives, and its discourses. Agents of the Ottoman state made demands on its people with increasing frequency and intensity, whether in the form of a draft through a progressively tighter and ever-expanding net of conscription, the requisitioning of grain and other possessions, the impressment of farm animals into military service, the compulsory procurement of agricultural products at low prices and with paper currency, the involuntary billeting of troops at private homes, forced employment in transportation, agriculture, and construction, or deportation and forced relocation. And these encounters usually entailed coercion and outright physical violence. Few aspects of Ottoman subjects’ lives remained untouched by the war. Along with defeats on the battlefield, it was the destructiveness of these wartime policies and encounters that led to the disintegration of the empire.

War, Civilians, and the State

World War I has been called a “total” war—but this is a contentious and elusive concept for historians.10 Rather than offering an all-embracing, clear-cut definition, recent literature emphasizes several key factors that contributed to the growing “totality” of warfare between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries.11 First, due to industrial and technological advancements, the deadliness of wars increased exponentially. Second, the scope of war aims expanded. Limited goals, such as territorial gains, came to be regarded as insufficient, with the complete destruction of the enemy becoming the only acceptable outcome for the belligerents. Third, the line separating combatants from noncombatants blurred, as civilians became legitimate targets through strategic bombing campaigns, naval blockades, and other wartime measures. Simultaneously, the involvement of civilians became politically, economically, and ideologically essential for the belligerents to sustain their war efforts. Warring governments called upon the increasingly predominant sentiments of nationalism to mobilize their populations and to secure their contributions to the war effort. Fourth, wars during this period also became more global in scope, involving more belligerents who fought simultaneously in different theaters of conflict and in coalitions. Considering all these dynamics, World War I was unprecedented with respect to previous conflicts.12

As a belligerent of the Great War, the Ottoman Empire suffered from the dramatically heightened level of lethality and expanded scope of war. Fighting a multi-front war and contending with multiple enemies at once placed an enormous burden on the empire’s human and material resources. Casualty rates on the battlefields surpassed anything that had occurred before. Naval bombardments by the Entente Powers frequently targeted the empire’s coastal towns and civilian vessels, instilling continuous fear in the home-front population. Aerial strategic bombing, especially in the second half of the war, had a considerably unsettling psychological effect on the empire’s urban centers, including its capital city, Istanbul. More critical for the Ottomans, the blockade of the Straits (the Dardanelles and the Bosporus) and the empire’s coasts disrupted established patterns of economic and social life and signaled the erosion of the boundary between combatants and noncombatants. The blockade figured prominently in the wartime suffering of the empire’s people, most notably in the great famine in Syria between 1915 and 1918.13

The Unionists were not passive observers of the colossal changes taking place in the conduct of warfare. They actively sought to adapt to the new and shifting circumstances they found themselves in, striving to overcome the socioeconomic and military challenges that beset the empire. This process in turn contributed to the growing totalization of war for the Ottoman people. Four interrelated factors influenced the CUP governments’ policies and played a prominent role in shaping the wartime experience: the empire’s infrastructural deficiencies, which curtailed its ability to wage a full-scale modern war; its lack of access to global resources and the exigency of having to fight the war within its borders; its recent, disastrous war experience immediately predating World War I; and, finally, the Unionists’ perception of the war as an opportunity to redesign the empire demographically. The interweaving of these four factors rendered the Ottoman experience of World War I not only different from that of the empire’s previous wars, but also considerably distinct from the experiences of other World War I belligerents.

Totalizing tendencies in World War I and the wartime transformation and expansion of state apparatuses were not unique to the Ottoman Empire; all of the belligerents experienced them in one way or another.14 What makes the Ottoman case so interesting and important for comparison is the empire’s lack of the necessary “infrastructure” for such a wartime transformation.15 The Ottoman political and military elites tried to conduct this first truly industrial war of history without a significant industrial base, effective transportation network, sound financial structure, developed agricultural economy, or extensive demographic resources. Of all the Great War’s belligerents, the Ottoman Empire was among the least prepared to engage in such a massive conflict. The absence or inadequacy of these key components of modern warfare did not, however, mean that the war’s impact on Ottoman society would be less than totalizing.16 On the contrary, the Unionists’ determination to enhance the empire’s war-making capacity coupled with the difficulty of realizing this goal with the readily available human and material resources led to excessively coercive policies. More than in any previous Ottoman war, the success of the imperial army on the battlefields came to depend upon obtaining resources from the home front.

The Unionists’ decision to persist with fighting the war despite the empire’s infrastructural deficiencies had far-reaching consequences for its citizens, including the ones who were not directly engaged in the fighting. Measures in two particular areas, soldiering and provisioning, constituted the backbone of the CUP’s wartime policies. The Unionists correctly perceived the regulation of these two areas to be of critical importance in harnessing the empire’s resources toward the war effort and therefore to sustaining the war. As the conflict swallowed up the empire’s human, animal, and material resources, military and civilian authorities were compelled to seek new and increasingly aggressive ways of extracting those resources from Ottoman society. Serious manpower shortages led to the imposition of conscription on ever-younger and -older sections of the empire’s male population as well as on groups that had previously been exempt from service. In provisioning, policies were directed towards creating a more intrusive and centralized structure, which culminated in the army’s complete takeover of the provisioning system. Both sets of policies caused significant dislocation and proved devastating to the majority of the Ottoman population.

These policies, however, did not run a straight and unbroken course, nor did they go unchallenged. Constraints of various kinds affected their implementation and hampered their efficiency. For instance, operating under various circumstances and facing distinct challenges, different levels of the bureaucracy did not always cooperate with one another. Similarly, relations between military and civilian authorities, which were fraught with tension, often led to serious disagreements and scrambles over scarce resources. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the Unionists’ wartime policies was also limited by their inherent contradictions. Conscription, for instance, usually meant depriving the provisioning system of much-needed labor. Last but not least, these policies also met with resistance from ordinary Ottoman citizens themselves. When state officials tried to intervene in daily civilian life and implement the government’s policies, ordinary Ottomans contended with the state by playing different levels of government against one another, resisting regulations, and seeking both legal and illegal ways to evade the obligations imposed upon them.

The second factor that increased the war’s totalizing impact on the Ottomans was the empire’s inability to acquire the necessary resources to sustain the war effort from outside its borders. The Entente’s access to colonies, dominions, and overseas markets that could replenish depleted ranks and material resources gave it a significant advantage over the Central Powers.17 Anglo-French naval superiority enabled the deployment of hundreds of thousands of imperial troops from Australia, New Zealand, India, and North and West Africa in various theaters of war, including Mesopotamia, Palestine, and the Dardanelles. Hundreds of thousands of laborers from China, Vietnam, India, and African colonies were similarly employed by the British and French armies behind the lines.18 At the same time, the Entente imposed increasingly rigorous naval blockades to isolate the Central Powers from overseas trade and undermined their access to international financial markets. Both policies had a devastating impact on the Ottoman population. To be sure, the Ottomans benefited from a wartime alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, which provided financial, military, technical aid to the empire.19 For human and other material resources, however, they had to rely entirely on the people and resources of the empire itself.

The Ottomans did not benefit from the territories they occupied either. The bulk of their fighting took place within the boundaries of their own empire, with the imperial army facing multiple enemies on Ottoman lands. There were two exceptions to this. In February 1918, Ottoman forces crossed the line of the armistice signed with Russia in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution and occupied parts of Caucasia, including the important oil center of Baku.20 Similarly, at several points throughout the war, Ottoman troops conducted military operations in Persia, fighting British and Russian forces and occupying strategic territories there. Nevertheless, in both instances, the scope of the occupation was limited and the duration was short. The empire derived few economic and political benefits from its “occupation regimes,” which might have mitigated the strains on Ottoman society at the expense of those people living under occupation.21

Not only were the Unionists’ expansionist dreams never realized, but the Ottomans saw significant portions of their own lands come under enemy control. From early 1916 onwards, the Russian army occupied large swathes of eastern Anatolia. In Mesopotamia, British imperial forces advanced slowly northwards, despite several major setbacks, such as the siege of Kut-al-Amara, and managed to capture the fertile lands of lower Mesopotamia, including Baghdad, by mid-1917. In Palestine, the British advance was slower yet steady. By the end of 1917, British forces were in control of southern Palestine, including the symbolically important city of Jerusalem. Thus, during the second half of the war, the Ottomans found it increasingly difficult to extract human and material resources from the empire’s shrinking holdings.

The third factor that influenced the Ottoman experience of World War I was the profound impact the recent and tragic Balkan War experiences had on the Unionists’ psyche and policies. Throughout the Second Constitutional Period (1908–1918), the Ottoman Empire had faced constant wars and internal rebellions with only brief intervals of peace and tranquility. While provincial revolts in Albania, Syria, and the Yemen between 1910 and 1912 had sapped the empire’s military energy, its war with the Italians in 1911 resulted in the loss of the last Ottoman provinces in Africa. None of these events, however, proved to be as disastrous for the Ottomans as the Balkan Wars of 1912–13. The abrupt and humiliating defeat at the hands of four smaller Balkan states forced the Porte to relinquish most of its territories in Europe. Still, the Balkan Wars were much smaller in scope and shorter in duration than World War I, and they paled in comparison to its deadliness. Nonetheless, the loss of these provinces, which had been under Ottoman rule for centuries, had profound repercussions for Ottoman politics, society, and culture.22 The intrusiveness that characterized the Unionists’ Great War policies owed a great deal to this previous military experience.

The Balkan Wars had two major formative influences on the Unionists. First, their unexpected defeat in the First Balkan War revealed the changing nature of warfare and allowed them to draw important lessons from it. The Balkan Wars, as the historian Richard Hall has observed, “introduced an age of modern warfare, encompassing mass armies, machines, and entire civilian populations.”23 The Unionists felt the burning urgency of the need to adapt to these new circumstances. More critically, however, the Ottoman experience of the Balkan Wars showed how the need for imperial strength was defeated by the inadequacy of the means available to achieve it. This realization was the major stimulant to military reforms as well as to the reshaping of Ottoman politics and civil society, which prepared the empire to withstand the ordeal of the Great War.

Second, raising the specter of imperial collapse, the Balkan Wars led the Unionists to view the future in apocalyptic terms. More than ever, war for them became a question of life or death, as another defeat would certainly spell the end of the empire. The Unionists were thus plagued by the fear that the next war would again catch them unprepared. These concerns would guide their wartime policies over the next four years. When they declared the military mobilization in August 1914, the Unionists were determined to rally all available resources to the war effort and eliminate any threats, real or perceived, to the survival of the empire. While this determination enhanced the empire’s war-making capacity, it also contributed to the totalization of the conflict for the Ottoman people. As the setbacks over the course of the war deepened their sense of urgency, the Unionists did not hesitate to push Ottoman society beyond the “limits of the possible.” For millions of Ottomans throughout the empire, “limits of the possible” meant losing their only breadwinner in the household, their only farm animal, and their last scrap of grain. By the end of the war, virtually every family, village, and neighborhood would be touched by its terrible effects.

The fourth and final factor that enhanced the war’s totalizing impact on the Ottoman people was the Unionist policies of reshaping the empire’s social structure and economy. During World War I, the CUP government engaged in a process of demographically redesigning Ottoman society through various means, ranging from assimilation to annihilation. In addition to soldiering and provisioning, demographic engineering thus became another major set of policies that ensured thorough and frequent intrusion into people’s lives. The forced deportation and resettlement of Ottoman Armenians is the best-known of these demographic engineering policies.

Fearing that the Armenians living in Ottoman territories might collaborate with the Russian enemy and organize a rebellion that would jeopardize the Ottoman war effort, the government in 1915 decided to deport them to the provinces of Der Zor and Mosul. The deportations, which were carried out in an extremely brutal manner, swept up Armenians from all regions of the empire, even those who lived far from the war zone in eastern Anatolia, and from all walks of life. Tens of thousands of deported civilians were slaughtered on their march by tribal units, Kurdish and Turkish irregulars, and armed gangs. Under the extremely harsh weather and road conditions, many of them died from starvation and exhaustion before reaching their final destinations. The properties of deported Armenians were confiscated by the government and auctioned off, a process by which the wealth that had been accumulated by Armenians was transferred to Muslims. Without any doubt, the Armenians were subject to the utmost cruelty during the war, which led to the virtual disappearance of a population with one of the longest histories in the region and the near destruction of their tangible and intangible heritage.24

The war had provided the sociopolitical and military context in which the CUP government could execute its large-scale demographic engineering projects. This, however, does not mean that the Unionists were waiting for an opportune moment to realize their long-planned dream of creating an ethnically homogeneous Turkish nation-state out of a multi-ethnic empire, and that World War I presented them with such a historic opportunity. In the early months of the conflict, the army and the government first resorted to limited security measures to eliminate perceived threats to the empire’s war effort. In its initial phase, the Unionists’ treatment of Armenians resembled other belligerents’ treatment of their own “domestic others.” These policies, which originated from the concern that ethnic others might sympathize and collaborate with the enemy and engage in treacherous activities, reflected “the historic shift in the nature of warfare between the French Revolution and World War I from war between small professional armies to war between mobilized nations, in which some ethnic groups were defined as the nation while others were stigmatized as the ‘enemy within.’25 After a certain point, however, the Unionists’ objectives transcended the original limited goals and became more comprehensive in scope, total in intent, and future-oriented in outlook. In this regard, the destructiveness of the Unionists’ demographic engineering policies distinguished the Ottomans’ wartime experience from that of many other belligerents.26 The disaster that befell Ottoman Armenians was particularly unmatched in its extent and lethality.

Legitimacy Deficit

By the end of World War I, having lost millions of its former subjects and most of its Arab provinces, the Ottoman Empire had been reduced to Anatolia. More important, perhaps, the social capital of the region had been depleted by military casualties, ethnic cleansing, population movements, epidemics, and hunger. Defeats on the battlefield and harsh and intrusive wartime policies had completely discredited the Unionist regime in the eyes of most Ottoman subjects. For many, however, it was not only the Unionists who had lost their legitimacy. The war also delegitimized the whole idea of empire in ways that prepared various ethno-religious communities for new political projects that would aspire to be everything that the empire had not been.

From the very beginning, the Unionists had fought an uphill battle to justify the empire’s war effort to the Ottoman people. The disastrous defeat in the First Balkan War had brought about widespread war-weariness and a general decline in morale, while evoking deep concerns about the imperial army’s fighting capacity. Ottomans from all walks of life and ethno-religious backgrounds thus met the declaration of mobilization in August 1914 with a deep sense of apprehension. Unprecedented levels of conscription, which covered groups that had previously been exempt, ruthless requisitioning, and the imposition of a harsh martial law exacerbated those feelings even further. The CUP government attempted to dispel people’s anxiety and win their consent by portraying the empire as the victim of Entente aggression, casting the mobilization and war as defensive efforts. In the face of violent and unjust attacks, as the official rhetoric proclaimed, the government found itself in a position of defending the empire’s honor, borders, and official religion. All Ottoman subjects, regardless of their social class, age, and gender, were now under the obligation to share in the sacrifice and contribute to the war effort.

As the war continued, the heavy-handed execution of wartime policies, the material and emotional damages they generated, and the government’s inability to alleviate the war’s impact deepened the Unionists’ crisis of legitimacy. With battlefield casualties mounting, inflation skyrocketing, the value of Ottoman paper currency plummeting, agricultural production declining, and food shortages becoming widespread, people throughout the empire grew increasingly disillusioned and alienated from the state. Determined to continue the war, however, the government and the army persisted with their draconian policies, adopting an even more intrusive position in the face of looming defeat, a contracting pool of resources, and an increasingly uncooperative population. Although the prolongation of the conflict and persistence of the regime’s extraction policies required popular consent, the Unionists failed to secure it. The solutions they adopted fell short of persuading people to accept the material and emotional sacrifices they incurred.

This lack of popular consent is perhaps most apparent in the large number of soldiers who eventually refused to fight. Especially in the last two years of the war, desertion rates soared and the imperial army gradually melted away.27 An increasingly large number of soldiers came to interpret the war through the prism of the individual and the family rather than in terms of empire and religion. The hardships and deprivation the troops suffered and concern for family at home drained the ordinary soldier’s will and motivated him to desert, while on the home front, civilians became increasingly resistant to official wartime policies and refused to make further sacrifices. People came to see the war as an unnecessary, if not reckless, adventure launched without their consent by an irresponsible cadre of politicians. In tandem with deteriorating social conditions, the increasing encroachment of the state apparatus on people’s lives strained the legitimacy of the Ottoman state and intensified pressure on the government and military command. This loss of legitimacy presented a sharp challenge to the state’s authority and capacity to maintain social and cultural integration.

The war thus delegitimized the whole Ottoman order in the eyes of many of the empire’s subjects. In this sense, the wartime experience was the final nail in the coffin of Ottomanism, an ideological and political direction adopted by the Unionists to maintain the integrity of the empire’s various ethno-religious communities. Following an initial period of euphoria and enthusiasm in the aftermath of the Constitutional Revolution of 1908, hopes generated by the Unionists’ promises of equality, justice, and brotherhood among all ethno-religious communities were dashed after 1909.28 Initial optimism was gradually replaced by fear and distrust of the Unionists. The experiences of the Balkan Wars and the CUP’s increasingly antagonistic stance towards non-Muslim Ottomans dealt another blow to Ottomanism. Yet, despite their strained relations with the Unionists, both Muslim and non-Muslim minorities continued to imagine themselves as part of the Ottoman Empire, seeking to achieve varying degrees of autonomy within the broader Ottoman framework.

World War I marked the end of these endeavors and destroyed the foundations of intercommunal coexistence. The wartime policies adopted by the CUP government and the wartime encounters stemming from these policies irretrievably alienated the empire’s non-Muslim and non-Turkish minorities from the very idea of the empire. Their wartime experiences did not turn members of these minorities into die-hard nationalists overnight. But they made them exceedingly receptive to alternative political formulations outside of the Ottoman framework. In this sense, the war accelerated “the ongoing process of the definition of modern national identit[ies].”29 Separatist tendencies, which until the war had been embraced only by small, marginal groups within these communities, became more popular and influential. The new international context that had emerged in the war’s aftermath and greater emphasis on the right of self-determination lent strong impetus to these tendencies.30

The strains of war and the destructiveness of the Unionists’ wartime policies also challenged the Ottoman Turks’ moral and emotional bonds with the empire. Many Ottoman Turks came to see the state again through the prism of the individual and the family. It sent their sons, husbands, and fathers to fight in far-off provinces and foreign countries, requisitioned their meager harvests, and in many cases impressed their only farm animal into army service. And yet, it did not extend help when they needed it most. Although this widespread discontent did not evolve into a revolutionary movement, the situation on the ground was exceptionally fragile in the six months between the end of World War I in October 1918 and the landing of Greek forces in Smyrna/Izmir in May 1919. Only the return of surviving Armenians with the backing of the Entente Powers, the Greek occupation of western Anatolia, and the French occupation of southern Anatolia would persuade them to acquiesce to another mobilization, this time for the Turkish War of Independence.

In 1940, an elderly peasant from Sarıkamış, İhsan Dayı, made an unexpected observation in his interview with an ethnographer: despite the general increase in their wealth over the previous decades, people in his village were discontented with their lives. For those expecting him to cite a contemporary source for this discontent, the interviewee’s answer must have been quite surprising: “The Great War spoiled things for everyone. For four years, people suffered a lot of misery. Now, they cannot forget it, no matter how hard they try. Before the war, our weddings would last all week. Since the war, weddings have lost all their joy.”31 Even after more than two decades, memories of World War I still haunted people who had lived through that period. İhsan Dayı’s fellow villagers were certainly not alone in how they felt. This book is an attempt to understand the wartime experiences that left such deep and unhealed scars.


1. Yaşar Kemal, Ağıtlar, 26, 153.

2. For early examples of Turkish songs and laments, see Yalgın, “Cihan Harbi ve Halk Türküleri”; Akça, “Seferberlik Destanı.” Zürcher, “Between Death and Desertion,” 254–56, calls attention to soldiers’ songs.

3. Aslanoğlu, “Seferberlik Destanları,” 5.

4. Kabacalı, Gül Yaprağın’ Döktü Bugün, 303.

5. Kennan, Decline of Bismarck’s European Order, 3.

6. For the Ottoman Empire’s search for an alliance, see Aksakal, Ottoman Road to War.

7. For recent surveys of the Great War in the Middle East, see Rogan, Fall of the Ottomans; McMeekin, Ottoman Endgame; Gingeras, Fall of the Sultanate; and Ulrichsen, First World War. For a detailed history of the Ottoman army in the war, see Erickson, Ordered to Die.

8. Beşikçi, Ottoman Mobilization, 112–15; Erickson, Ordered to Die, 207–211; Özdemir, Ottoman Army, 52, 121, 124; Larcher, Guerre turque, 86–87. For the estimate of the number of the prisoners of war, see Yanıkdağ, Healing the Nation, 20.

9. McCarthy, Muslims and Minorities, 120. Webster, Turkey of Atatürk, 59, cites an even higher percentage of widows. For Greater Syria, see Thompson, Colonial Citizens.

10. Imlay, “Total War,” 553; Purseigle, “Home Fronts,” 257–84.

11. The literature on “total war” is voluminous. For some major reflections, see Horne, “War and Conflict”; Chickering, “Total War”; Geyer, “Militarization of Europe.”

12. Beckett, Great War, 1914–1918; Chickering and Förster, eds., Great War, Total War; Sondhaus, World War One.

13. Schilcher, “Famine of 1915–1918”; Tanielian, “War of Famine,” 19–48; Fawaz, Land of Aching Hearts, 88–110.

14. For a general discussion, see Purseigle, “Transformations of the State.” Ulrichsen observes the same phenomenon for the British campaigns in the Middle East in his Logistics and Politics.

15. Here I use the term “infrastructure” in the sense that has been developed by Michael Mann in his “Autonomous Power of the State.”

16. Strachan, “Total War and Modern War,” 351, observes that “[a] total war need not be modern: a modern war need not be total.”

17. Strachan, “First World War as a Global War”; Miller, Europe and the Maritime World, 213–44.

18. Das, ed., Race, Empire, 1–32; Rogan, Fall of the Ottomans, 60–67, 71; Fawaz, Land of Aching Hearts, 205–32.

19. Trumpener, Germany and the Ottoman Empire; Mühlmann, Deutsch-türkische Waffenbündnis.

20. For a detailed account of this last phase of the Ottoman Empire’s war, see Reynolds, Shattering Empires, 219–51; Arslan, 1918 Kafkas Harekâtı.

21. On Germany’s extraction of food and other resources from occupied Poland, in comparison, see Kauffman, Elusive Alliance.

22. For a recent work on the impact of the Balkan wars, see Ginio, Ottoman Culture of Defeat.

23. Hall, Balkan Wars, 130.

24. There is an extensive literature on the Armenian Genocide. For representative works, see Kevorkian, Armenian Genocide; Suny, They Can Live; Akçam, Young Turks’ Crime; Üngör, Making of Modern Turkey.

25. Kramer, “Combatants and Noncombatants,” 193. For a similar discussion, see Von Hagen, “Mobilization of Ethnicity.”

26. Zürcher, “What Was Different,” 9–11.

27. For the most detailed treatment of desertion during the war, see Beşikçi, Ottoman Mobilization, 247–309. See also Zürcher, “Between Death and Desertion.”

28. Der Matossian, Shattered Dreams; Campos, Ottoman Brothers.

29. Khalidi, “Arab Experience,” 643; Aksakal, “Ottoman Empire,” 462; Fawaz, Land of Aching Hearts, 238–39.

30. On the postwar international order, see Manela, Wilsonian Moment; Patrick, King-Crane Commission.

31. Kazmaz, Sarıkamış’ta Köy Gezileri, 26.