Kazım Karabekir: Primary opponent of Atatürk
- HAKAN ARSLANBENZER, ISTANBUL
- Mar 31, 2018
The War of Independence helped Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as commander in chief and a political leader, to start a small but independent state in the ruins of a great empire. But it also left a dozen problems for him to deal with in order to keep his position as the intended president of the new state. One of the major problems Atatürk confronted was the charisma of his fellow commanders. Although they had fought against the enemy altogether, they became political rivals after the war since many of them had political ambitions as their commander in chief. The 1920s can also be spotted as the era of political clashes among the victorious commanders of the War of Independence.
Constitutional monarchy was not unfamiliar to the competing commanders of the War of Independence. Besides, they had already decided to abolish monarchy and exiled the sultan and his family. So, they were totally alone to rule the country. However, they would have debates on several issues and there would be blood and suppression.
After a while, Atatürk's brothers in arms became his political opponents. They mostly supported him as a supreme leader. Yet, some of them refused to grant him unlimited authority. So the first opponent political party of the Republic era was found in 1924 in order to defend the separation of powers. Atatürk and his iron-fist rule could not put up with the Progressive Republican Party because its chairman was Kazım Karabekir Pasha, perhaps the greatest military charisma of the War of Independence after Atatürk thanks to his field successes in eastern Turkey and his diplomatic talent in avoiding a fight with the newly-found Soviet Republic of Vladimir Lenin.
Kazım Karabekir Pasha was born "Musa Kazım" on July 23, 1882 in Istanbul. His father was Mehmet Emin Bey (later Pasha, an Ottoman general). Karabekir's family ancestry originated from the Karamanids, an Anatolian dynasty ruled in central Anatolia between 1250 and 1487. The Karamanids were the primary beylik (principality) to rule in Anatolia after the fall of the Seljuks and stayed being a significant political entity until the Ottomans annihilated their sovereignty.
Karabekir was admitted to the Military Secondary School in Fatih, Istanbul. After 10 years of education at military schools, Karabekir graduated from the Higher Military School in 1902. He also graduated from the Military Academy in 1905 before he joined the army with the rank of captain.
Karabekir, like many of his peers, was a member of the revolutionist Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). He founded a branch of the CUP in Manastir, where he began working after graduation, with the famous Enver. He moved to Istanbul in 1907 to work as a military teacher at the Higher Military School.
After the 1908 Revolution, Karabekir continued to serve as an officer in the army. He was a member of the 2nd Army staff during the March 31 incident, when the CUP took control and dethroned Abdülhamid II.
Karabekir was a member of the generation including Enver and Atatürk, too, who fought forever. Their wars began before World War I and would not finish when it finished. Karabekir should be credited separately for his military service since he was on the battlefield from the beginning of the First Balkan War until the end of the War of Independence. He never took the highest position as Enver did during World War I and Atatürk did during the War of Independence, but Karabekir fought for both of them.
Karabekir was a major when he fought in the Balkan War and became a lieutenant colonel when he served on the Ottoman-Iran border. He served on the Iraq, Galicia and east Anatolia fronts during World War I. He was the chief of staff of the 18th Army Corps, which destroyed the British army in Kut Al Amara, Iraq.
Saving eastern Anatolia
Karabekir's reputation comes mostly from the fact that he saved eastern Anatolia provinces including Erzincan, Erzurum and Kars from the Russians at the end of World War I. The Russian troops were leaving eastern Anatolia after the communist revolution. However, they did not give the Ottoman troops the territories they had occupied easily. Instead, they left eastern Anatolia to the Armenian rebels, who were committing massacres against Ottoman civilians. Karabekir's duty became serious as he fought against time under heavy conditions including winter weather, troop fatigue, famine and contagious diseases among civilians and the massacres committed by the Armenian gangs.
When the 1917-1918 winter was over, and spring came, Kazım Karabekir's troops had saved most of the eastern Anatolia provinces. He is still remembered as a savior in such provinces as Erzincan, Erzurum, Kars and Ağrı.
Starting a new war
Karabekir stayed in the east in order to continue fighting against the occupation. Though the 1918 armistice ordered him to give up the weapons of his army, he hid most of his weaponry. Besides, he kept his position in the east in order to prevent any invasion by the Georgians, Armenians and of course the Russians. He also served as the highest diplomat in the east against the commissioners of the newly-found Soviet regime. He succeeded in keeping the Artvin, Kars, Ardahan, Ağrı and Van provinces within Ottoman sovereignty.
Karabekir also played a critical role in the War of Independence. He invited Atatürk to Erzurum, where the Independence Movement held a big conference. Turks tried to keep the territories with the Muslim majority within the Ottoman sovereignty, and they held several congresses and meetings all around Anatolia.
When Atatürk succeeded in uniting the National Forces movement, he assigned Karabekir as the commander in chief at the eastern front, meaning that he was responsible for sweeping the Armenian gangs and to draw a new border with the Russians.
Friends become rivals
After the Turks won the War of Independence and the regime was changed to a republic, Karabekir resigned from the People's Party and became the chairman of the opponent Progressive Republican Party in 1924, which was shut down by Atatürk in 1925.
The Kemalist regime was harsh toward its opponents. The old CUP members and the members of the Progressive Republican Party were among the top targets of the single-party rule. Many prominent politicians and ex-commanders would be charged for a controversial case on an attempted assassination against Atatürk. Unfortunately, Karabekir was among the accused leaders though he was released from all charges. However, his political career was cut after that and he was under surveillance until Atatürk's death.
Atatürk's death opened Karabekir's path to politics again, and he was elected as a member of Parliament in 1939. He was also elected as the chairman to Parliament in 1946, just two years before his death.
Karabekir died on Jan. 26, 1948. His situation during Atatürk's presidency is still matter of controversy among Kemalists and Islamists. He wrote many books on his personal and military memoirs, some of which are among the best-sellers on the history shelves.