Enver Pasha

Iraj Bashiri

copyright (c) Bashiri 2000

Enver Pasha was born on November 22, 1881, in Divanyolu, Istanbul (Turkey), to a relatively humble family of Monastir. His father, Ahmet, during his youth, might have been either a railway official or a porter. Later on, however, his circumstances changed; he was promoted to the position of Bey and included in the retinue of Sultan Abdulhamid II. Within a short time in this position, he was promoted again to the rank of Pasha. Enver's mother, Aisha, was an ethnic Albanian well-known for holding the lowest occupation in the Empire--that of laying out the dead.

Enver, the eldest of six children, grew up in Istanbul and Monastir. He received his early education from his parents as well as from his Circassian grandmother. Upon graduation from high school in Istanbul, he joined the regular officer's training corps of the military academy and the academy's general staff.

Enver graduated from the academy in 1902 with good marks--he ranked second in a class of five--and was assigned to the Third Army in Thessaloniki as a general staff captain. While serving in Macedonia, a hotbed of revolutionary activity against Sultan Abdulhamid, he undertook several successful military operations against the guerrillas. Promoted to major in 1906, Enver was assigned to the Third Army headquarters in Monastir. At Monastir, with the assistance of Shevket Pasha, he joined the Ittihad ve Terraqqi Jemiyyeti (Committee of Union and Progress or CUP) and became an active member of the Young Turks movement. Two things fueled his interest at this time: propagation of the ideals of the CUP and recruitment of new members. In order to achieve those goals, he remained in government service.

The history of the Young Turks movement is shrouded in mystery partly because of the abundance of rival committees striving separately for the same goal and partly due to the secrecy of their masonry-type activities. Two phases, nevertheless, can be distinguished. The Young Ottomans phase which starts in the 1820s as a reaction against the technological and sociological advances of the West. And the implementation phase, concerned with the interaction of the authorities and people. This latter phase does not take place until some fifty years after the Young Ottomans phase.

Although an Islamic nation by tradition, the Ottomans sought to make their country acceptable to Europe as a major power. The result of their efforts gradually crystallized as the well-known Tanzimat, a series of reforms implemented between 1839 and 1876. The Tanzimat was set into motion by two major edicts--the Noble Edict of the Rose Chamber (1839) and the Imperial Edict of 1856. A key concept in these reforms was a reform of education whereby a change was envisaged in the course of which focus would be shifted from the mektep and hoja to the more western mode of instruction. And the range of change was substantial enough to modernize not only the k-12 but instruction in the naval, military, engineering and medical schools as well. Similar reforms in the sphere of law and commerce attracted foreign investment without committing the Empire to extraterritoriality.

These early reforms, introduced by a disgruntled Sultan, divided the nation even more. Various groups, including those led by Namik Kemal and Midhat Pasha, opposed them. The latter felt that the reforms were not only anti-Islamic but elitist. To appease the opposition, in 1876 the court granted an elected parliament and a nominal constitution written by Midhat Pasha. Legislative power and the right to dissolve the parliament, however, remained with the Sultan, a right that he exercised within the following year. The dissolution of the parliament led to the formation of new pockets of resistance and, in time, to a renewal of the struggle for democracy that had been temporarily halted due to the impending reforms.

The second phase was different from the first in that it was centered in a cosmopolitan region of the Empire and enjoyed access to western guidance and aid. Additionally, its recruits came from within the Sultan's own army, i.e., discontented and adventurous youths who served in the Third Army Corps in Monastir and Salonika. Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) and Enver Bey (later Pasha) were both recruits from the far-off regions of Macedonia.

By 1908, the CUP operations in his region were fully under the supervision of Enver Bey. Furthermore, his activities were far too widespread to be masked from the Sultan's many spies. As expected, the Sultan launched an investigation to determine the source and assess the extent of the discontent in Macedonia. Enver's only alternative for preventing damaging reports from reaching the Porte was the elimination of the royal inspector which he did. The Sultan's next move was subtle. He promoted Enver and transferred him to Istanbul. But, rather than for the capital, Enver headed for the hills. His rebellion captured the imagination of the people of the region and, soon thereafter, of the Empire. Enver's example was followed by Major Niyazi Bey who defected a few days later. He, however, took the company's ammunition, cash, and a large number of troops along with him. Niyazi's defection opened the flood gates so that exiting the Third Army became an acceptable alternative to serving under duress.

A time finally came when the Sultan forced the Prime Minister and the President of the Chamber to resign. Using this opportunity, Enver, accompanied by Mahmud Shevket Pasha, stormed Istanbul (1909) and, soon after, emerged as the foremost leader of the Young Turks Revolution. As a first step, the Young Turks reinstated Midhat Pasha's 1876 constitution and appointed Shevket the Grand Vizier.

In the new administration, Enver served as military attache in Berlin (1909-1911), where he gained fluency in German and became an advocate of the invincibility of the German might. Later on, in spite of heavy Turkish losses, he distinguished himself in the Libyan campaign. As a result of his bravery, he was promoted to lieutenant general and was assigned the governorship of Bengazi (1912).

In 1913, Enver returned from Bengazi to overthrow the Liberal Party of Kamil Pasha and reinstate the CUP. His efforts in this direction, the assassinations of the Grand Vizier and the Minister of War along with his heroic recapturing of Edirne (1913) from the Bulgarians underscored the Sultan's inability to lead the nation. Enver then suggested the creation of a triumvirate consisting of himself (Minister of War), Tal'at Pasha (Minister of the Interior) and Jamal Pasha (Minister of the Navy) to rule the Empire. The Sultan was confined to one of his former palaces while Enver Pasha initiated negotiations with Germany in support of the Alliance against Russia. At the end of the negotiations, Enver entered Turkey into the First World War (1914) by attacking Odessa with the German cruisers Goebon and Braslau.

Altogether, Turkey introduced four fronts in Europe, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and the Caucasus. As Minister of War, Enver Pasha was brilliant at times (his capture of Edirne, for instance) and extremely inept at other times, especially when it came to the administration of the war effort. For instance, he engaged the troops that were desperately needed in Azerbaijan in the European theater, totally neglected forces in Arabia, and allowed German consultants to countermand orders issued by Ottoman officers. Worse yet, he personally led the 150,000 strong Third Army against the smaller Russian Seventh Army in the Caucasus in the dead of winter (1914-1915). In Armenia, he fielded 90,000 poorly-equipped, hungry soldiers in a pincer formation that had been enlarged on the spur of the moment. Because of his sudden decision to enlarge the pincer, the original timing had necessarily been altered, forcing the attack to be made piecemeal. Defeated, near Sarakamish, one corps laid down its weapons while the rest braved the icy passes to Erzerum. Of a force of 42,000 strong only 12,000 survived the blizzards. Until the fall of the CUP, even mentioning Sarakamish, Enver's last command as the Minister of War, was forbidden.

After the battle of the Caucasus Enver Pasha's career took a downturn. The fame of his archrival and former chief of staff, Mustafa Kemal, on the other hand, rose steadily until he defeated the Allies at Gallipoli and blocked the Dardanells in 1916. Enver's fame, however, in spite of the many resounding successes that followed Sarakamish, was never restored.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Enver was tried in absentia and, along with two of his close allies, was sentenced to death. He fled to Berlin (1918) and from there to Russia (1920). In Russia, he participated in the Baku Conference, met with Vladimir Illich Lenin in Moscow, and was commissioned by the latter to travel to Central Asia (1921) and rally the Muslims of the East to the cause of the working man.

In 1921, Talat Pasha, the most prominent member of the CUP was assassinated. The event boosted Enver Pasha's career, making him the undisputed leader of the CUP in exile. From Moscow, Enver traveled to Ashgabad and Merv and from there to the sacred city of Bukhara. In Bukhara, he hoped to combine the energies of the Muslims of Central Asia, the disgruntled subjects of the defunct Ottoman Empire, and the young fighters of the Soviet Union into a major force against Mustafa Kemal's nascent administration in Turkey. But none of that was to happen. Ata Turk's victory at Sakaraya brought the young Soviet Union to the negotiation table at Kars where a treaty was signed (1921). Desperate, Enver Pasha retired to eastern Bukhara, joined the Basmachi leaders, and rose against his former supporters, the Soviets.

Two major forces were in operation in Central Asia at the time. One was Pan-Islamism that had been introduced and promoted by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. The aim of this movement was to unify all Muslims against the West and against the nascent government of the Soviets. The other force was Pan-Turkism, a movement that had been gaining strength in the Ottoman Empire itself. The aim of this movement was to unify all Turks and place them under the rule of a Turkish caliph. Enver Pasha hoped to be acceptable to the Muslims of the time as both a victorious Turk and a worthy caliph.

Enver Pasha died on August 4, 1922, near Baljuan, in present-day Republic of Tajikistan, of a wound that he sustained while leading a cavalry charge. The 41 year old soldier, statesman, and adventurer is well-known for his contributions to the Young Turks Revolution, for overthrowing the authority of the Ottoman Sultan and, for his rulership of the Ottoman Empire between 1913 and 1918 as a member of a triumvirate. His adherence to the ideals of Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism led Turkey into the first World War on the side of the Triple Alliance and, ultimately, into defeat. After 1918, Enver continued to develop his Pan-Turkist ideology among Central Asian Turks; at no time did he tire of pursuing the ever-elusive victory that would have made him the caliph of all Islamic domains.

Selected Bibliography

Caroe, Olaf. Soviet Empire: The Turks of Central Asia and Stalinism, New York: St Martin's Press, 1952, 1967.
Hostler, Charles Warren. Turkism and the Soviets, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1957.
Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, Oxford University Press, 1961.
Barber, Noble. The Sultans, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973.
Ramsauer, Ernest Edmondson. The Young Turks: Prelude to the Revolution of 1908, Beirut: Khayats, 1965.
Hopkirk, Peter. Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin's Dream of an Empire in Asia, New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1984.
Marwat, Fazal-ur-Rahirm. The Basmachi Movement in Soviet Central Asia: A Study in Political Development, Peshawar: Emjay Books International, 1985.
Vucinich, Wayne S. The Ottoman Empire: Its Record and Legacy, New Jersey: D. Van Nostrand Company, Ltd., 1965.
Yale, William. The Near East: A Modern History, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1958.

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