top of page
  • Writer's pictureElliott Holley

What was the single most disastrous decision made during The Great War?

Unquestionably the decision of the Ottoman Empire to enter the war on the side of the Central Powers on 29 October 1914. The battlecruiser Yavuz Sultan Selim and supporting Ottoman ships attacked the Russian ports of Odessa and Sebastopol. The decision to attack had incalculably vast consequences, for the Ottoman Empire, for the Middle East, and for the future of the world.

The Yavuz was a battleship purchased from the German empire by the Ottomans.

The decision to attack was the scheme of Enver Pasha, one of the three powerful men ruling the Ottoman Empire at the time. There was little support in the government for entering the war, so Enver schemed with the Germans to get the Ottoman Empire into the war by deliberately provoking an incident with the Russians.

Shortly after 03:00 on 29 October, the destroyers Muavenet and Gairet entered the harbour of Odessa. From a distance of less than 70 yards (64 m), a torpedo was launched into the Russian gunboat Donetz, quickly sinking it. The two destroyers proceeded to damage merchant vessels, shore installations, five oil tanks, and a sugar refinery.

In a quaint gesture, an Ottoman and a German officer went ashore to warn the civilian population of several Russian towns to evacuate, before bombarding these locations a couple of hours later.

As soon as the news of the attack reached Istanbul, the Grand Vizier and the Cabinet forced Enver to wire a ceasefire order to the admiral (Souchon). Several officials, including the Grand Vizier, threatened to resign in protest. However, by then it was too late. Enver disrupted attempts to de-escalate the situation, and the Ottoman Empire soon found itself at war with Britain, France and Russia.

The war was a disaster for the Ottoman Empire, and for the people of the Middle East. Its consequences are still being felt today. Among these:

The destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the conquest of most of its territory by the British and French.

The creation of artificial borders imposed by the British and French colonial powers over former Ottoman territory. These include Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and, most controversially, Israel, which emerged out of the British “protectorate” in 1948.

Creation of Israel. As above, the creation of a new colonial state on Arab land has created deep and bitter divisions in the region which continue to fuel conflict and human rights abuses to the present.

The abolition of the Ottoman caliphate. The caliphate was abolished by the new revolutionary Turkish Republic which was established in 1923. This religious implications are still being felt today. There is a direct link between this event and the attempts of ISIS to establish a caliphate in more recent times. None of this would have happened without the Ottoman entry into the First World War.

The aftermath of the war led to western dominance of the region which has led to further problems. The US and its allies support Israel despite UN resolutions calling for an end to illegal settlements in the West Bank. The US also props up the house of Saud in Arabia despite the fact this regime supports radical Wahhabism. In addition, the US invasion of Iraq is a well-known tragedy, while US attempts to destabilise Syria only worsened the country's civil war. One might also add that Iran continues to suffer under sanctions due to the inability of Washington and Tehran to resolve their differences. It truly is a sad story.

None of this would have happened if Enver Pasha had not dragged the Ottoman Empire into a needless and destructive conflict in October 1914. “Disastrous” barely comes close to describing how much of a catastrophe it all was.

bottom of page