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The Balkan Wars

The history of Europe in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth is a sordid history of land grabbing and conflict among European states. The Ottoman Empire, nearing its death, was dragged into these conflicts.

In 1911, Italy and France were in competition over Libya. Fearful that France might attack the Ottoman Empire and seize Libya, the Italians attacked first. They defeated the Ottomans and, through a peace treaty, obtained the Dodacanese Islands and Libya from the Ottomans.

Seeing this as a good idea, the states of Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro attacked the Ottomans, hoping to gain all of the Ottoman provinces in the north of Greece, Thrace, and the southern European coast of the Black Sea. They easily defeated the Ottomans and drove them back, almost to the very edge of Europe. The Second Balkan War erupted just two years later (1913), when Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro disapproved of the amount of territory that Bulgaria had annexed. Joined by the Ottomans, these three powers managed to roll back Bulgarian territorial gains. This was the last military victory in Ottoman history. It is a strange note in history that this last defeat and triumph for the Ottomans would precipitate a situation that would snowball into the First World War. Although this is a story for another day, the Ottoman territories that fell into European hands precipitated a crisis among European powers that would eventually lead directly World War I.

As a result of this conflict and the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the Ottomans lost all their territory in Syria, Palestine, Arabia, and Mesopotamia. The European powers fought each other in Africa and the Middle East by encouraging revolution among the people there. The British, for instance, promised Arabs independent states if they revolted against the Ottomans and aided the British. By 1919, the Ottoman Empire was reduced to Turkey only, which extended from the southern European shores of the Black Sea, to Asia Minor in the west, to Iran in the east, and Syria and Iraq, newly created states in 1919, in the south. Ottoman power had effectively come to an end. The Russians, torn apart by a revolution in 1917, could not annex any Ottoman land. After a brief period of constitutional rule, the leadership of the CUP emerged as a military dictatorship with power concentrated in the hands of a triumvirate consisting of Mehmet Talat Pasha, Ahmet Cemal Pasha, and Enver, who, as minister of war, was its acknowledged leader in the war.

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