At the beginning of the 20th century a large area of the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire, was ruled by theSultan of Turkey, Abdul Hamid II and his appointed Grand Vizier. However, the governors of the Empire's four provinces: Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Kurdistan and Arabia enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy.
A series of military defeats in the 19th century had compelled the Turks to grant zones of influence to European powers: Britain (Egypt), France (Syria and the Lebanon), Austria-Hungary (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Italy (Libya). Russia was interested in Armenia and Italy wanted parts of the eastern Mediterranean.
Abdul Hamid II was forced to summon a parliament in 1908 by the Young Turks movement. He attempted a counter revolution in April 1909, and when this failed he was deposed and exiled to Salonika. Enver Pasha, eventually emerged as the new leader of the country.
In 1914 the Ottoman Empire contained an estimated 25 million people. Although there were 14 million Turks, there was also large Arab, Assyrians, Armenian, Kurdish, Greek and Circassion minorities within the Empire. As a result, there existed nationalist, separatist movements in several areas of the territory under the control of the Turks.
The Turkish Army was made up of Anatolian Turks, Arabs, Armenians, Kurds and Syrians. The army performed badly during the Balkan Wars (1912-13) and it was clear that there was great need for reform. In 1913 Turkish government invited the German Liman von Sanders to help modernize its army.
Under threat from within and outside its borders, the Turkish government sought a protective agreement from one of the two European power blocs: the Triple Alliance or the Triple Entente. As Turkey was mainly concerned about Russian expansion, it decided in July 1914, to sign a defensive alliance with Germany. This remained a secret agreement and Turkey continued to have talks with other European countries.
On 29th October 1914, Turkey and Germany launched an attack on Russian Navy bases in the Black Sea. Turkey now revealled it was a member of the Central Powers and was at war with Russia, France and Britain.
On the outbreak of the First World War, 36 divisions were organism into three armies. Each division had three battalions, a machine gun detachment and 36 field guns. Although attempts were made to dramatically increase the size of the army, desertions meant that full strength was never above 43 divisions.
Enver Pasha, the War Minister, held overall control over the Turkish armed forces, but the influence of the German Army increased during the war. The army's greatest success was at Gallipoli but it was less successful fighting against the British Army on the Mespotamian Front.
The Turkish government did not keep accurate records of its wartime losses so estimates of battle deaths varies from 470,000 to 530,000. Another 770,000 were wounded and another 100,000 probably died from illness.
After the war the Allies occupied Turkey and as a result of the Treaty of Sevres the country was dramatically reduced in size. Elections in 1920 produced an overwhelming nationalist victory. Attempts at suppressing this movement ended in failure and in October 1923, Kemel Ataturk established a new Turkish republic and held power until his death in 1938. He was succeeded by Ismet Inonu.
Ismet Inonu gradually permitted greater freedom of speech and in 1945 allowed the formation of opposition parties. Free elections were held in May 1950 and they were won by Adnan Menderes and his Democratic Party. He developed links with the West and in 1952 Turkey joined NATO. Menderes held power until being overthrown in a military coup in May 1960. He was charged with breaking the constitution and was executed on 17th September 1961.
The military government allowed elections to be held in 1969 but Turkey upset fellow members of NATO when it invaded Cyprus in 1974. This resulted in a United States led trade embargo that was not lifted until 1978.