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War Against the Turk:
Modern Ottoman Wars 1987-1913


The Greco-Turkish War (Thirty Day’s War)   1897


There had been considerable unrest on the island of Crete for some time. Between 1866 and 1868 this took on the form of an outright insurrection by the populace directed against their Ottoman overlords. At the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 the Ottomans signed the Pact of Halepa guaranteeing a certain amount of autonomy for Crete. When these promises were ignored further rebellions broke out in 1885, 1888, and again in 1889.

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As conflicts between the Christian and Muslim communities on the island continued to escalate, each side received military support and reinforcements. Greece had not fought in a war since their struggle for independence, but in January 1897 it finally decided to invaded and the nationalist resistance movement, Ethniki Etairia, declared a union between Crete and Greece. The Turks were then defeated at the Battle of Livadea. Fearing this war might spread into the Balkans, the European powers imposed a blockade upon Greece to prevent the further transport of troops and arms.

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Unable to continue the conflict in Crete, the Greeks turned their attention to the Macedonian border. Clashes erupted with Ottoman forces as the Greeks attacked Thessaly in April. The most serious fighting took place around Domokos but neither side was well prepared for this war and no strategic advantage was gained. After an armistice was signed, Greece was forced to concede a small amount of territory to the Turks. Both Greek and Turkish troops left Crete, and while the island remained within the Ottoman Empire but now as an autonomous international protectorate.

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Even though most soldiers in the Greek army wore uniforms based on French or Bavarian models, postcards tend to picture the traditional dress of the elite Evzone battalions. These mountain units evolved from earlier light light infantry battalions that in turn modeled themselves on the Klephts, who led the long insurgency against Ottoman rule. While these cards depicted real soldiers, they seem to be based more on the marketing formula of presenting ethnic types in native dress than in capturing war news.

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A fair amount of postcards representing this conflict were produced, especially in Greece. Most take on the form of propaganda cards, and they were the first of the wars against the Turks to be produced contemporaneously with events. It is however difficult to date many of these cards, and they may have been made well after the fact as general patriotic propaganda. The War’s duration was less than the time it took most printers to manufacture and distribute their cards. Greek publishers may have also referred back to this conflict during the First Balkan War in 1912 so that potential recruits might be inspired to reverse this past defeat.



The Italo-Turkish war (Libyan War)   1911-1912


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By the turn of the 20th century, Italy’s ambitions for a greater empire were growing. It had originally objected to the British occupation of Cyprus and the French occupation of Tunisia at the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 until the European powers agreed that the Ottoman territory of Tripolitania fell within Italy’s sphere of influence. Italy did not have the military resources to take advantage of this when offered in 1902, but by 1911 things had changed. The Austrians fearing that a conflict in North Africa might interfere with its own ambition in the Balkans tried to mediate a deal in which the Italians could occupy and run local affairs while foreign affairs would remain under Ottoman control as a suzerainty state (just like the British in Egypt). Growing nationalism in Italy caused many to seek out this war to show they were an equal amongst imperialist powers. Encouraged by political Catholicism that promoted a crusade against Muslim Africans, Italy rejected Austria’s arrangement and declared war at the end of September 1911 under the pretext of protecting Italian citizens from Muslim extremists.

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In early October the Italian navy bombarded Tripoli and troops were landed. Further landings were then made at Tobruk, Derna, and Khoms, which were largely unopposed. The Turks had no large standing army in the region to oppose these incursions or any reliable method of reinforcing the area. The British had closed Egypt to any major movement of troops and the Italians had control over the sea lanes. The ottomans were forced to rely on mobilizing the local population who delivered a defeat on the Italians at Benghazi.

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After the Italian army was then substantially reinforced, it began entrenching around the coastal cities they had captured where the heavy guns of their naval fleet could support them if attacked. Attacks did come as Ottoman led forces launched a number of unsuccessful assaults against Italian defenses through December. The only victory the Ottomans could claim was at the ancient city of Derna where they repulsed a new Italian offensive.

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In response to the first Italian defeat their army massacred thousands of civilians at the Mechiya Oasis. Other massacres would follow, especially in Tripoli. Besides large scale battles this conflict was marked by much irregular warfare, which resulted in many reprisals against local populations. In an effort to publicize the modern Italian army, no censorship was introduced to this conflict; and many reporters as well as professional photographers wound up covering this war. Soldiers were even encouraged to write uncensored letters home about it. While the Italian government tried to keep atrocities a secret, it was impossible to do in this open environment. News of them leaked out and was further spread along by the picturing of these events on postcards.

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By January 1912, the Italians began trying to expand their conquests once more, if only on an incremental level. A force was landed on the Libyan coast to cut the caravan routes leading to Tunisia. Local defenses were spread out but the key Turk stronghold at Sisi-Said was attacked at the end of the month and taken. The Italians managed to cut an important supply route but now their garrison at Sidi-Said would be harassed through the summer.

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Eager to seize more territory, the Italians in Ain Zara sent a undermanned column of Alpine riflemen out into the desert in January 1912 where they met the enemy at Bir Tobras. When one of there officers who had been away shopping in Tripoli returned to base he found his unit gone. Mounting a horse, he rushed off toward Bir Tobras with only a vague idea to where it was. When he arrived at the height of the battle he surprised his commander who then realized they were not surrounded as he had thought. When real gains were lacking, displays of individual acts of bravery made for a good substitute on postcards. Attilo Scrocchi of Milan was a large publisher of souvenir booklets and artist signed cards, who captured many minor incidents of the war like this one on his military cards.

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One of the reasons the Turks could not properly reinforce Libya was the superiority of Italian naval power. This was ensured by February of 1912 when the Italians attacked and destroyed the Ottoman navy in the Battle of Beirut. No longer facing any opposition, the Italian navy began seizing Ottoman held islands in the Aegean Sea. In October their torpedo boats even launched a daring night raid on the Dardanelles but it failed to achieve results.

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In February 1912 a seesaw battle raged outside of the ancient city of Derna but the Ottomans failed to take the city. By September the Italians sallied out to cut Ottoman supply lines. Counterattacks would be launched but none were successful. The postcard above was produced by the French publisher M.J.C. While the back of the card is in French, the caption is in Arabic. Perhaps it was produced for the market in French North Africa.

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In May 1912 the Italians withdrew many of their seasoned troops in Libya for an attack on the Island of Rhodes, which had fallen to the Ottomans when they expelled the Knights of Rhodes almost 400 years earlier. Though the Italian navy backed up the landing, it was unopposed. They only came to play a supporting role when the army met up with the Turkish garrison outside of the city walls at Rhodes. There the Turks were defeated and forced to flee into the mountains. By mid-month the remnants of the garrison met another defeat at the Battle of Psithos and they surrendered the island to Italy the next day giving them control of the Eastern Mediterranean.

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When a new more pressing war broke out in the Balkans the Turks had to quickly shift their focus. They entered into negotiations and the Treaty of Ouchy ending the war was signed in October. The Turks were forced to withdrew all their troops, but they were now needed to defend Thrace anyway. In exchange for returning Rhodes to Ottoman control, the provinces of Tripoli and Cyrenaica were given autonomy. The Sultan was allowed to appointed a spiritual representative to these provinces but the Italian army would stay. Despite achieving victory, it was a costly war for Italy in both men and budget. Many Italian postcards celebrated its end.

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With Ottoman forces withdrawn from Libya, and only a nominal Ottoman administrative presence left, Italy would consolidate their control over coastal territories into Italian Libya. The Italian Army used the absence of the Turks as an opportunity to invade and seize much of the interior in 1913, but this created continual conflict with the Sanusi tribesmen who lived there. These territorial issues would flare up into an all out insurrection during World War One.

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While this conflict was directed against Muslim Ottomans and satisfied the political Catholic front, it was not a war to liberate the people of North Africa but rather one to satisfy imperialist ambitions. This marked a motivational shift in the wars against the Turk that would be taken up in the Balkan wars that quickly followed. The Turk would remain the other for the purposes of propaganda but the long conflict between religious faiths had ended. No effort was made to disguise these facts despite that public opinion in Italy was divided. It would dramatically raise nationalist feelings in Italy, which helped push it into World War One in 1915. Magazines eagerly publicized the War, and countless postcards were made to satisfy the public’s curiosity. Many postcards of this conflict were published in Libya beginning early in the War so they could be sold to the occupying Italian troops.

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Although the war in Libya was primarily portrayed in military terms during its duration, its consequences were played up within a more mythical narrative afterwards. With victory at hand there was no risk in redefining it as a war against the Turk. Italy did not only seized a new colony, it marked a rising tide of good fortune at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, which was being eclipsed. The war was thus presented within the scope of a larger centuries old story from which it could gather much more significance.

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It is not always easy assigning specific postcards to this war. The main reason is that they are often difficult to distinguish from those produced only a few years later during World War One, where armies fought over the same battlefields. Adding to this confusion is the tendency by Italian publishers to produce generic cards of fighting in Africa, where there is no specific details to tie down time and place. This of course was a popular business ploy as it added greater shelf life to a card. Italian publishers also produced many regimental cards, but while there was a correlation between the regiment and the events depicted, there is no telling when the card was produced.



The First Balkan War   1912-1913


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As Ottoman power in the Balkans waned, so did their power to control unrest. This not only encouraged the growth of national movements, it also fostered conflict between ethnic groups. After the Ilinden Rebellion in Macedonia was suppressed in 1903, irregular forces from Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia regularly entered this Ottoman Province to cause instability while promoting their own self interests. By 1906 the violence in Macedonia had made it ungovernable. Even the revolutionary movement could no longer remain an effective force against all these intruders. In the following year Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, and Russia stepped in to restore some order. The potential loss of sovereignty over this region caused a political crisis in the Ottoman Empire, which led to a Revolution by the Young Turks in 1908. As this new political situation was being sorted out, the question of Macedonia’s independence was shelved.

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While the Ottomans were preoccupied with fending off the Italian invasion of Libya, the states of Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece formed the Balkan League. Their united purpose was to rid all European lands of Ottoman rule while expanding their own territories in turn. When Bosnian Muslims began to leave the Austrian Empire at the Turks encouragement, and largely resettle in the Christian areas of Macedonia, it caused a great deal of unrest. The Balkan League used this as an excuse to declare war in October 1912, and they simultaneously invaded Ottoman territory. The Bulgarians would face off against the Turks in Thrace while Greece and Serbia sent their armies into Macedonia.

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The terrain in the Balkans over which much of the War was fought was generally rugged and sometimes mountainous. This lent itself to the defense, and the Turks built fortresses atop a number of strategic peaks such as at Taraboch. Some fell quite easily since they were not fully manned, but the landscape always provided great visuals for illustrations. The drama created by moving large armies over rugged mountains had long been used in myth, and now publishers used this to make their postcards more desirable. It was also easier to portray troops on a mountain road than in a battle when few facts of it might have been known.

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Since the Balkan War was basically a conflict of imperial ambition sparked by opportunity, many of the illustrations depicting it vary little from the pictorial traditions used to describe other similar conflicts. This however was not just any war, it was a war against the Turk, and as such much meaning could be applied to it whether it was truly applicable or not. Differences in ethnicity and religion are often used to enhance patriotic feelings and hatred for the enemy; and these attitudes are then transferred to postcards. While there are cards that carry forward the centuries old desire of freeing all of Europe from Muslim control, few from this war stress religious differences.

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When the Balkan League opened its offensive in October, it was so poorly coordinated that it initially made little headway when confronted with stiff Turkish resistance. This did not stop the production of patriotic postcards. If actual victories could not be represented, then the heroics of their troops could stand in. These images were also enhanced to including allegorical symbols for victory. This would become a common formula in publishing postcards during World War One.

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While the Turks initially achieved some minor successes, their inability to easily concentrate troops here that were scattered throughout the Empire caused them to be pushed back on every front. The Greek army invading Macedonia secured victories at Elasson and Venije before moving on to Salonika. The Serb invasion of Macedonia that concentrated on pinching off Turkish forces in the Vardar Valley led to important victories at Kumanovo and Monastir. Another Serb army to the west took Kosovo, which separated Serbia from Montenegro. Despite these victories, Serb generals found they could not always exploit them as well as they would have liked due to political constraints. Not only did they have to worry about upsetting their ally Greece by moving into territory they claimed, Austria-Hungary was looking over their shoulder for an excuse to enter the War against them.

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Montenegro, whose small force was informally attached to the League, moved south into Albania where they attacked the Turks at Shkoder. Unable to take the fortress it was set under siege once Serbian reinforcements arrived. It finally surrendered seven months later, allowing the Serbs to freely advance through Albania.

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The Bulgarians who had the largest army in the Balkan League advanced into Thrace along a wide front. After wining the initial victories of Seliolu and Kirk Kilissa, they found themselves outnumbered when they met up with the Turks at the Battle of Lule Burgas. Here, in the lagest battle of the conflict, the Bulgarian army unexpectedly broke the Turkish line and managed to press forward by the end of the year to besiege the heavily fortified city of Adrianople. Its defenses were so strong that the Turks were shocked when it fell, and they had to fall all the way back to their last defensive line protecting Constantinople.

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Adrianople (now Edirne) is an ancient city in Thrace that was fought over for centuries. It fell under Ottoman control sometime in the mid-14th century, and served as their capital before they captured Constantinople in 1453. Its cultural as well as strategic importance to the Turks made it an exceptional prize in war, so its defense was carefully organized by German advisors. Its unexpected capture was widely played up on cards for propaganda purposes. Attacks on Adrianople are pictured more often on postcards from the Balkan wars than any other city or battle.

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While this was primarily a land war, naval actions also took place on the Black Sea. The most notable of these was the Battle of Kaliakra in November 1912 near the Bulgarian port at Varna. After the Ottoman defeat at Lule Burgas, it became vital for them to keep the sea lanes open so their army could be supplied and reinforced. A naval flotilla that included the cruiser Hamidiye was then dispatched to blockade the Bulgarian coast. When they demanded the surrender of Bulgaria’s principal ports, a squadron of torpedo boats set out from Varna and attacked. After the Hamidiye was seriously damaged the Turks withdrew and suspended all naval operations on the Bulgarian coast.

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While a winter armistice took hold, a peace conference was organized in London. Here the European powers tried to interject their own interests above those of the League, but their demands were ignored. Meanwhile the Young Turks who had become influential in Ottoman affairs since the Revolution of 1908 finally staged a complete coup under the nominal leadership of Enver Bay. The new government immediately resumed hostilities but the success of their counteroffensive failed to change the overall strategic situation. After the fall of Yannina, Adrianople, and Scutari, the Treaty of London was finally accepted. Turkey lost nearly all of its European holdings to the League but there was no clear agreement to how these lands were to be divided between the victorious nations. Albania, which had also been in rebellion against Ottoman Rule was granted independence.



The Second Balkan War   1913


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Bulgaria having fielded the largest army, which suffered the most casualties in the First Balkan War demanded the most territorial compensation of Ottoman spoils once the conflict was over. As their demands were being negotiated with the other members of the Balkan League, Bulgaria began shifting their troops into disputed areas of Macedonia to create a de facto occupation. Greece and Serbia put aside their own territorial disputes to form a new alliance against their former Bulgarian ally before the Treaty of London ending the first war was even signed.

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Hostilities began in June when the Bulgarians attacked the Serb and Greek forces in Macedonia without warning. This offensive towards Thessaloniki however made little headway against their opponents as they did not have the manpower to carry out their ambitious plans. The Greeks under King Constantine I then counterattacked engaging strong Bulgarian defenses at Kilkis. This turned into a major battle that quickly pushed the Bulgarians back, but while they ceded much territory, the Greek army failed to surround them. Each army inflicted much damage on the civilian population as both Bulgarian and Greek villages, towns and even cities were burnt down. The Bulgarian advance against Serbia was also repulsed with heavy casualties.

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In July the Greeks launched two successful amphibious assaults against Kavala and Dedeagac cutting Bulgarian access to the Aegean Sea. The Serbians who were now advancing against the Bulgarians in Macedonia were stopped at the Battle of Kalimanci. This prevented the Serbs from joining up with Greek forces and throwing the Bulgarians out of Macedonia. Even so the Serbs had achieved their own territorial ambitions and became reluctant to fight any further. King Constantine, unhappy with this stalemate continued his advance on Sophia but was ambushed at the Battle of Kresna Gorge. The Greek army continued to press forward with attacks and counterattacks raging for days.

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Most postcards illustrating the balkan war were either photo-based or artist renditions done in the familiar tradition of Western historical painting. A few cards can also be found holding more graphic work, which was a popular style for newspapers and magazines. Many if not most postcards from Greece follow their own stylistic rules. They tend to be presented as real photo cards, but their compositions are montaged. There is no attempt to make these images look real for their spacial relationships are usually very distorted and exaggerated, and the simplistic hand coloring that is often applied only adds to their decorative appearance. Events on them are only presented in symbolic terms, the patriotic message being paramount. Montaged cards were nothing new, and many nations would produce them during World War One; but those from Greece look exceptionally flat. Only those produced in neighboring Italy bare some resemblance. While they no doubt follow some local artistic convention to be excepted by the public, their numbers might have more to do with their ease of production than popularity. Their abstract qualities meant that those creating them had a great deal of freedom; they did not have to get an actual photo of the battlefield or artistically render it with historical accuracy. These cards were cheap to manufacture and could be put on the market while the events presented were still fresh in the public’s mind.

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The Greek army had fought itself to exhaustion but just when a Bulgarian victory seemed assured on this front, Romania declared war against them over a territorial dispute, and their army marched on Sophia. Bulgaria and Greece then signed an armistice, and Russia stopped the Romanian advance by agreeing to arbitrate the territorial issues. Taking advantage of this conflict the Turks had advanced into their recently lost territory and retook Adrianople without a fight. As they continued to advance through Thrace, the Russians threatened to attack and the war drew to a close.

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Bulgaria would be left with few gains from the First Balkan War. Tensions remained high and the Balkans were left in a very unstable state. The promotion of ethnic hatred would not end with this war, but spill over into the Great War that followed. While religious animosities against the Ottoman Empire had always been an excuse for all these wars, and genuine ethnic hatred led to atrocities that neared genocidal proportions; the Second Balkan War demonstrates how much of these conflicts were also about territorial gain, even if at the expense of fellow Christians.



Legacy


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The age of Ottomanism ended when the Young Turks took power. While all parts of the empire were never treated equally, there were at least principals in place that strove for that result. From this point on the government in Istanbul would now run a state dominated by Turks. This would bring them to form secular alliances with the West, particularly Germany, while their oppression of ethnic minorities began to stir up ethnic tensions within their Empire even further. These new conditions would all play themselves out during World War One. European powers would continue to whittle away at far flung Turkish territories but these were wars of pure imperialist ambition that did not try to hide behind age old religious differences.

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Although the Ottoman Empire ceased to exist after being carved up by the Allies at the end of World War One, the representation of the Turk as the other, which is so prevalent in Orientalism, continued to persisted in popular culture. This can be seen in cards produced by Hungarian publishers in the early 1920’s. Fearful that Hungary would be divided up by the Allies, they often stressed their long historic role in the fight against Turks and Tartars. They hoped as the savior of Europe they might be granted some leniency. Playing on such a popular myth was good strategy, but it had lost much of its resonance by the 20th century. In the end the greedy ambitions of its neighbors won out over tradition, and Hungry lost much of its territory.

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The concept of the other seems to be an archetypal reference at least as old as recorded history. We all seem to form our own identity by differentiating ourselves from others; and if we see ourselves in a positive light, then those not like us are demeaned. As we have seen, this trait can be extended to whole nations, ethnicities, or religions to the point of waging war. Since there is no way to credibly back up these feelings we set them into myth where they become more focused over time. Since attitudes toward the other were so well expressed through the myths of Orientalism, we have not been able to completely give up our hatred for the Turk despite the fall of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. These myths are strongest in nations that have an actual history of warfare with the Ottomans for certain memories die hard. This animosity is often so strong it can be expressed in generic terms that stir up ancient fears. We can now see this played out in practical terms as Muslim refugees attempt to seek refuge in Europe.

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For the most part these attitudes were expressed in a more lighthearted romantic and exotic manner when Muslims fell under European colonial rule. Such generosity can always be extended to people hat are no longer perceived of as a threat. The historic attitude toward the Turk has however been kept alive through popular culture, and has always been drawn upon when needed. We can see this today in the violence rising from the Middle-East where the West has a convenient tradition by which it can define Muslims to its own purpose while these people try to redefine themselves.

Further discussion of subsequent events related to this are presented in both the World War One section and the Wars of Ideology section of this Guide.




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