Fall of Empire: Wars and Conflicts After World War I

Figure 1.--.

There were a series of calametous events following World War I. Many were associated with the collaose or dismanling of the great empires that had dominated European history for centuries. After the Young Turks seized powe in the Ottoman Empire, they conducting an ethnic cleansing of the Armenians, the first genocide of the 20th century. Greece and Turkey fought a war which resulted in the expulsion of the Greeks from Anatolia. The Russian Civil War also involved internation conflicts such as war with Poland. Other conflicts did not result in actual fighting, but remained largely unresolved and would be involved in future wars of the 20th century.

Armenian Genocide (1915-16)

More than a million mostly Christian Armenians were murdered by Ottoman authorities during World War I. Clara Barton led the first Red Cross relief effort conducted outside the United States. While most of the killings occurred during the War, Ottoman actions against the Armenians began in the 1890s. Western newspapers carried articles about "barbaric Mohammedans" murdering Christian martyrs during 1894-96. The killings provoked wide-spread international contamination, but no country intervened to stop the killings. Another series of pogroms occurred in 1909. The Ottomans entered World war I on the side of the Central Power (Germany and Austria-Hungary) in late 1914. The wide-spread, organized genocide against the Armenians began in 1915. Accounts on the numbers of Armenians vary. The estimate of 1.0 million is often used,but some accounts are as high as 1.5 million. [Balakian] The Ottomans used World War I as the NAZIs used World War II as a cover for the killings. The Turkish Government denied at the time and Turkish Governments even today continue to deny that the killings took place and were coordinated by Turkish authorities.

Russian Civil War (1918-22)

The abdication of the Tsar and subequent Civil War led to distructive fighting between Reds and Whites (1918-22). Foreign governments intervened to assist the whites. The Red Army fought to retain the old Rusian imperial borders, but lost Finland, the Baltics Republic and large areas of White Russia to Poland. The old Imperial Army was shatered by the Germans. Many soldiers mutinied and killed their officers. People's Commisar for War Leon Trotsky organized a new Red Army, recruiting massive numbers of peasants and workers. The Red Army without trained officers performed poorly in the early phases of the fighting. Leon Trotsky played a msajor role in fashioning the Red Army into an effective fighting force. The Bolsheviks attached political officers to all Red Army units to keep warch over the officers (many who had been in the old Imperial Army) and explain Communism to the largely illiterate peasant recruits. The Bolshevicks were especially concerned with the younger generation, untained by the Tsarist past and capitalism. The War and the Civil War affected agricultual production. Food shortsages were widespread. Large numbers of children orphaned in the fighting were psarticuilsrly at risk. As in Europe, American food again played a role in saving millions of children.

Polish-Bolshevik War (1919-21)

Poland had been destroyed as a nation by the three partitiins during the late 18th century. Poland was absorbed in the Austrian, Prussian (German), and Russian Empires. The coolapse of those empires as a result of World War I provided the opportunity for Poland to reemerge as an independent nation. President Wilson promoted the principle of national self-determmination in his 14 Points. This guaranteed that Austria and Germany would have to accept Poland as a new nation. The Bolsheviks to the east were a different matter. The Bolsheviks sought to restablish the borders of the old Russian Empire. As most of Poland had been a part of the Russian Empire, the Poles were forced to fight to secure their independence and eastern border. And the Poles wanted more than the solidly ethnic-Polsh areas. They wanted the borders od old pre-Partition Poland. The Bolsheviks fashioned the Red Army to defeat the White counter-revolutionsries and restablish the boundaries of the Russian Empire. This meant eastern Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belorussia, and the Ukraine. These areas had been lost to Germany in World War as ratified by the Treaty of Breast-Litovsk. The Allies in the Armistace ending the War (November 11, 1918) forced trhe Germans to abrogate the Treaty. This put Polan's eatern borders up for grabs. Lenin's ultimate objectives are unknown, but the limitations of the Red Army limited his ability to push beyond the boundaries of the old Russian Empire. Here he was successful, except in Finland, the Blatics ,and Poland. Jozef Pilsudski who commanded the army of the new Polish republic launched an offensive against the Bolsheviks (February 1919). Pilsudski hoped to form an alliance with nationalist forces in other regions of the Russian Empire, especially Bellorrussia and the Ukraine. Border disputes with Lithuanian complicated cooperation there. The major battle with the Bolsheviks was fought at Warsaw (August 1920). The Soiviet defeat there was followed by aPolish dreice east.

Greco-Turkish War (1919-22)

The Ottoman Empire was made up of many nationalities. Even in the central Ottomon territory of Anatolia there were other natiinalities (Armenians, Greeks, and Kurds). Greece had reluntayly joined the Allies in World War I. Like Italy, they were offerred territorial rewards in exchange for their participation. King George?? had opposed war, but with Allied assustance a new government seized power and declared war. The Allies promised Greece eastern Thrace, the islands of Imbros and Tenedos, and parts of western Anatolia around the city of Smyrna. These were all areas with sizeable Greek populations. The Treaty of Sèvres end the war between the Allies and the Ottomon Empire. Provisions of the Treaty alloted all of these territories to Greece. Greek troops had after World War I occupied Smyrna (May 1919). Following the War, Ottoman general Mustafa Kemal (Kemal Atatürk) with other Young Turks in Ankara formed a new Turkish nationalist government and repudiated the Treaty of Sèvres. Atatürk organized an army to confront the Greeks. the Greek army moved into Anatolia to engage the Turkish Army before they attaked the Greeks at Smyrna (October 1920). The Greeks had the support of British Prime Minister Lloyd George. The Greek offensive was organized by Liberal government of Eleftherios Venizelos, but the Venizelos goverment lost power. Dimitrios Gounaris organized a government more favorably disposed to the monarchy. The British distrusted the King who had opposed Greece's entry into the War. Gounaris appointed monarchist officers to important commands, primarily because of their political sympathies. Many were inexperienced. King Constantine himself took personal command of the Greek forces at Smyrna. The Greeks advanced to the River Sakarya. They were only about 100km from Ankara (June 1921). Atatürk counter-attacked and drove the Greeks back at the at the Battle of Sakarya (August 23-September 13, 1921). The Greeks retreated to Smyrna. They requested aid from the Allies. The British refused to help the Greeks. Subsequently the Allies (Britain, France and Italy) agreed that the Treaty of Sèvres could not be enforced without military intervention which they were not willing to do and expressed a willingness to revise th Treaty. The Allies attempted to negotiate a ceasfire between the Greeks and Turks (March 1922). Atatürk was unwilling, insisting that the Greeks had to withdraw from Anatolia. He planned an offendive against the Greeks. The Turks defeated the Greeks at the Battle of Dumlupinar near Afyon (August 30, 1922). This opened the way to Smyrna. The Turks destroyed the city and massacred any Greek who was not evacuated, including civilians. News of the massacre at Smyrna caused a general exodus of Greeks from Anatolia, communities that had been established in ancient times.


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Created: 1:56 AM 7/22/2004
Last updated: 2:17 AM 11/1/2015