Caucasus Campaign

During the First World War, there were a series of armed conflicts between the Ottoman Empire and Imperial Russia. The Caucasus Campaign took place in Eastern Anatolia, Black Sea region and the Caucasus. Although the campaign between the Ottoman Empire and Russia with the Brest-Litovsk peace ended on March 3, 1918, the armed conflicts continued. On June 4, 1918, the Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of Batumi with Armenia and the conflict with the Central Caspian Dictatorship, the Republic of Mountainous Armenia and Dunsterforce of the British Empire lasted until the Armistice of Mudros on October 30, 1918.

1914: Ottoman defeat

A major goal for the Ottoman government under the three Pashas was to conquer their former territories in Eastern Anatolia, which the Turks had lost following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/78. Enver Pasha launched an attack in this area a month after the declaration of war. Enver Pasha took command of the 3rd Army with an estimated 100,000 to 190,000 men.

The Russian army of about 100,000 men was commanded by Caucasus Governor General Illarion Vorontshov-Dashkov. Chief of Staff Nikolai Yoedenitsh, considered the best general of Russia during World War I, was the actual commander. However, due to defeats at the Prussian Front, only 60,000 men remained to face the Ottoman army.

In connection with the advance of the Turkish 3rd army, Vorontsov wanted to withdraw his troops closer to Kars. Yoedenich ignored this and continued to defend Sarikamish. During the Battle of Sarikamish, the Turks suffered a major defeat between December 29, 1914 and January 4, 1915. The Turkish army withdrew completely, losing between 60,000 and 175,000 men. While Enver Pasha marched his army towards Kars, a small Ottoman army moved from Van towards Iran. These troops encountered little resistance and briefly occupied the city of Tabriz. The Turks also withdrew here, because both the Russians and the British sent units to Northern Persia.

1915: Back and forth

Nikolai Yoedenich was promoted to commander of all Russian forces in the Caucasus. He immediately launched an offensive in Turkish territory, advancing towards Vanmeer. This was an area with a large (Christian) Armenian minority and the Russians therefore hoped for local help for their army. As the Russian troops entered the area, a rebellion in Van against the Turks arose on April 20, 1915. The Armenians in Van stood for a month against the Ottoman troops, after which the Russians conquered the city in May 1915.

General Yudenich expected weak Ottoman troops with three to four divisions at most. In reality, the Ottoman army under Commander Abdul Kerim Pasha consisted of eight divisions, with a large amount of reinforcement in hand. Abdul Kerim Pasha counter-attacked the Van Lake area in July and defeated the Russians at the Battle of Malazgirt. These retreated to the east of Kara Kilise under General Oganovski. General Yoedenitsh quickly assembled a mobile force of about 22,000 under General Baratov. This small army attacked the Ottoman army at various points during the Battle of Kara Kilise in early August. The Turks retreated south, leaving about 6,000 Russian prisoners of war in addition to a large amount of supplies.

Meanwhile, during the Battle of Van, the Armenian rebels were defeated, but due to the defeat at Kara Kilise, Van was captured for the second time by the Russians. In the same period, the Ottoman Interior Minister Talaat Pasha demanded relocation of the local Armenians. While this was being carried out, this ground remained quiet from October to the end of 1915.

Kurdish cavalry in Ottoman service (January 24, 1915)

1916: Russian victory

The extreme cold in the winter and the bad roads played an important role in the destruction of the Turkish 3rd army in the previous year. However, General Yoedenich saw it as an opportunity to launch a surprise attack on the Turks. In early January, his army secretly left the winter quarters and marched towards the Ottoman fortress near Erzurum. The Russians manage to destroy an Ottoman division at the Battle of Köprüköy from 16 to 19 January through this surprise attack. As the Russian army advanced further with its heavy guns to Erzurum, a second Ottoman division was destroyed by another Russian force near the city of Tafta on February 14 by an unexpected attack from the north. The Russians marched without obstruction towards Erzurum on February 16.

General Yudenich’s Caucasus Army marched in two directions from Erzurum; part moved north and captured the old port city of Trabzon in April, another part south and captured the cities of Muş and Bitlis. The Ottoman army led by Vehip Pasha marched in June to Trabzon to recapture the city. However, this advance was considerably delayed by bombing the Russian Black Sea Fleet. A Russian counterattack from Erzincan by General Yudnich captured the city on July 2. The Turks along the coast withdrew to stabilize their front lines. Turkish successes included the capture of Mus and Bitlis by Mustafa Kemal Pasha in August 1916, which was short-lived, by the way. At the end of autumn, however, his armies were driven back by the Russians. On the east side of the Van lake there was fighting all summer, but without result for both parties.

1917: Silence at the frontline

Renewed attacks on the Ottoman positions were planned by the Russians. However, the Russian Revolution caused a stop on all Russian operations. General Yoedenich was transferred to a position in Central Asia by the Provisional Government, after which he resigned from the army. The Turks were forced by British pressure in Mesopotamia and Palestine to withdraw most of their troops to the south. The Russian army slowly disintegrated until there was no real effective military power left.

1918: Ottoman victory

In 1918, apart from a few thousand volunteers and about 200 officers, little remained of the Russian army. A year earlier, 500,000 soldiers were ready to launch an offensive. After a year of inactivity, the Turks saw their chance and launched an offensive, after which a campaign was launched at the end of January. The only opposition that the Turks encountered came from the semi-organized Armenian rebels. Without much effort, the Ottoman army captured Trabzon, Erzurum, Kars, Van and Batumi from February to March. In the midst of this offensive, the new Bolshevik government of the RSFSR signed the Peace of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918, with the communists on the initiative of Talaat Pasha renouncing all the land conquered in the Russian-Turkish War of 1877 / 78.

Although the conflict with the Russians had ended, the Turks got involved in another conflict on the Caucasus Front. The Russian revolution has allowed some states in the Caucasus to declare their independence. This was accompanied by conflicts over territory. Because Armenian rebels were well organized, the Turkish Azerbaijani people were driven out by the Armenians. Enver Pasha then ordered that a new army be established, consisting only of Muslims. This Muslim army called Army of Islam consisted largely of Turkish-speaking soldiers and had a troop strength of 14.00 to 25,000 men. This army entered the newly declared democratic Republic of Armenia into what is known as the Turkish-Armenian War (1918).

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