A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Other Armistice: Mudros

Ninety-three years ago today a small party of Britons landed in Constantinople, on November 10, 1918, to prepare the way for the British Fleet, which steamed into the Ottoman capital on November 12. You can find a short account by British observer G. Ward Price here.

November 10, you may be thinking. But didn't the war end with the Armistice we mark tomorrow, on November 11? That armistice, the one we mark with the Remembrance Day/Veterans' Day holiday (on which I will post tomorrow), ended the hostilities between Germany and the Allies.  The other Central Powers left the war earlier: Bulgaria collapsed in September and signed an armistice in Thessalonica Austria signed an armistice with Italy after the two sides had bled each other dry, on November 3.

The occupation of Constantinople followed  the signing of an Armistice between the Allies (actually the British, who tried to exclude the French) and the Ottoman Empire, signed aboard HMS Agamemnon, an old, pre-Dreadnought class battleship at Mudros on the Greek island of Lemnos, on October 30, by Admiral Sir Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe, Commander of the Mediterranean Fleet. (Even without the knighthood, could anyone named Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe be anything but British?) This is usually referred to as the Mudros Armistice.
The last weeks of the war in the Middle East moved quickly.Beginning with the Battle of Megiddo in mid-September, General Allenby's forces in Palestine and their Arab allies took Damascus at the beginning of October and by the armistice had reached Aleppo. In Iraq, British forces rushed to occupy the Velayat of Mosul, giving Britain control of the oil of Kirkuk. A curious little British expedition known as Dunsterforce rushed north from Iran to block an Ottoman conquest of Baku, and were besieged there. (What do Kirkuk and Baku have that interested the British, class? Three letters, starts with "o".) Though the Ottoman position in Palestine and Iraq had collapsed, and the collapse of Bulgaria cut off supplies from Germany via Austria, Enver Pasha decided to grab land from the weakened Russian front, with Russia in the midst of civil war; that's why Baku was threatened.) Some old clips appear in this documentary, which sees oil as a major factor:

 When the Ottomans wanted to open talks with the British, they used as an intermediary the highest-ranking Brit they had on hand, General Charles Townshend, who had surrendered a British and Indian Army at Kut in Iraq in 1916 (the largest British surrender ever, until Singapore 1942.) While the Indian enlisted men he surrendered at Kut died in large numbers in Ottoman POW camps, Townshend spent the rest of his war as a different sort of POW, in a sort of comfortable house arrest on an island off Constantinople/Istanbul. Townshend thought he could get easy terms or the Ottomans; in fact the terms were tough. You can read Townshend's memoirs of his negotiations online here, though I think he may inflate his own role a bit.

The whole drama of dismantling the Ottoman Empire, of the Treaty of Sèvres, the partition of the Empire, the rise of Republican Turkey, and the Treaty of Lausanne has been told many times and is in many ways the creation story of the modern Middle East. (There are many good sccounts, though the best title on the subject has to be David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace.) The Mudros Armistice is one of the less-remembered stages in that drama.


Redah said...

I've read Fromkin's book and found it very good, not only in its title. What other good accounts would you suggest on the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire ?

David Mack said...

Although I have not read it, A Brief History of the late Ottoman Empire by M. Sukru Hanioglu (2008) has been recommended to me. Hanioglu is Director of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton. I heard him speak last week about his new biography of Ataturk, and he is certainly a serious scholar. To see this period from the perspective of a Turkish origin American ought to be interesting.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

I should think more about the question and may post on it. Of course there is a huge literature on T.E. Lawrence and a lot of Turkish and Armenian work on either side of the Armenian issue. There's a pretty fair literature on the Paris Peace Conference. On the military side, General Wavell (a better military historian between the wars than he was a successful general in WWII) wrote a biography of Allenby as well as books on the campaign. Of course, George Antonious' The Arab Awakening" is a classic. But Fromkin may cover the whole ground best. Most other work tends to be country-specific or issue-specific.