On the day 3 March 1924 the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished.

The Sultan along with 156 members of the Ottoman family were forced into exile. They were given just 3 days to leave. They wanted to go to Egypt and Syria which were formerly under Ottoman control but they were prevented. They settled in French-controlled Beirut and across Europe.

Let’s remember the events leading up to and including WW1, but from the perspective of the Ottoman Caliphate, which was carved into pieces, unlike any of the other losing states after the war.

I will start a little over 150 years before WW1, because understanding the events leading up to the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate allows us to understand why WW1 happened when it did.

– 1747 to 1757, the Saudi tribe rebels against the Ottoman Caliphate and annexes lands. Muhammad bin Saud takes in Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab and the Saudi-Wahhabi movement begins spreading, treating other groups as deviant and “not authentic Islam.” They attack the Ottoman Caliphate from within, taking the lands of Al-Dir’iyyah and Al-Ihsaa’. The movement goes into stagnation for 30 years for unknown reasons.

– 1787, the Wahhabi movement resumes activity once again. Muhammed ibn Saud is dead (1765), and his son Abdul-Aziz is leading the tribe. He establishes an Emirate and a hereditary rule via a ceremony led by Muhammed ibn Abdul-Wahhab.

– 1788, the Saudi Wahhabi movement sets up a large military raid against the Caliphate, seizing Kuwait. This was done as an attempt to remove the “Bid’ah” of other Madhhabs and to “purify” the Muslim lands.

– 1792, Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab dies.

– 1811 to 1818, the Ottomans send their Wali (governor) from Egypt, Muhammad Ali, to deal with the Saudi Wahhabi attacks. Muhammad Ali defeats them, and takes Madinah back under Ottoman control (the Saudi tribe remains in exile until 1902, where they finally strike at the Caliphate during its weakest days leading to the establishment of modern-day Saudi Arabia in 1932 under British approval).

– 1831, Muhammad Ali, after defeating the Saudi Wahhabi rebellion, turns around and betrays the Ottoman Caliphate, agreeing to work with France, and attacks Al-Shaam. He occupies Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, and attempts to move towards Anatolia. The Ottomans send a large force against him. He is forced back to Egypt.

– 1839, the Caliph Abdul-Mejid I, who was only 16 years old, is guided by Britain and France to introduce the Kalkhana as law, the first direct attempt to introduce man-made law into the Calipate. Muslims deem it contradictory to Islam and it is rejected entirely.

– 1842 to 1875, the Beirut Centre is established. British collaborators work with Christian locals to instil nationalist and secular tendecies within the Arab world. Most associations failed, as they only appealed to non-Muslims. Success is found through Arab-exclusive associations, which spread the idea that the Turkish Ottomans were occupiers, calling them “Turks,” and called for Arab nationalism as a new basis for unity.

– 1889 to 1907, the Istanbul Centre is established, where British and French collaborators set up the “Committee of Union and Progress,” which later became known as “The Young Turks.” This party originally started in Paris, France, where they were taught admiration and loyalty to the French revolution.

– 1902, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, leader of the Saudi tribe, returned from exile in Kuwait to resume the conflict in the region, seizing Riyadh. This is the first of a series of attacks that ultimately lead to the creation of the modern state of Saudi Arabia in 1932 under British approval.

– 1908, the Young Turks stage a coup and take control of the Ottoman Caliphate, becoming the “official party” of the state, leaving the Caliph as a figurehead similar to the Queen of England.

– 1913, the “Decentralization Committee” was formed, splitting the administration of the Arabs from the Turks within the Caliphate, establishing the first-ever official nationalistic division within the state.

– 1914, the Caliphate is being torn from within by nationalistic and secular movements. British and French influences have a strong hand in these events.

WW1 begins. The “official” cause of such a large-scale war is ambiguous.

– 1915, the British seize Gallipoli during the Dardanelles campaign, but end up at a deadlock and cannot progress further into Ottoman lands. The Battle of Galipolli is a genuine military victory of Ottomans, They attempt to incite Jamal Pasha against the Ottoman Caliphate. He agrees with some conditions, including the preservation of the unity of the Caliphate, among other conditions. The British and French refuse.

– December 15th 1915, British troops retreat from Gallipoli. Mustafa Kamal presents his report to the German general commander with a watch damaged by a bullet, and he is hailed a national hero for his defeat of the British.

– 1916, Mustafa Kamal uses his new fame to influence the Ottoman State to withdraw from the war and sign a peace treaty with the British. He fails and is banished from political discussions for a year.

– 1917, Baghdad falls to the British, and they march towards Mousul. This worries the Ottoman government. They appoint Mustafa Kamal to lead the defence force.

– 1918, Mustafa Kamal, continually attempting to convince the government to withdraw from the war and surrender, devises a plan to hand Aleppo to the British. On Sepember 19th 1918, he withdraws from the area, and retreats to the River Jordan and then continues all the way to Damascus. He recommends to the German High Commander Liman von Sanders that they should abandon the whole of Syria. Sanders replies by refusing to take responsibility for such a thing, and Mustafa Kamal agrees to take full responsibility. They retreat.

– October 1918, Al-Shaam falls under British and French control, as do many other areas. Anwar Pasha reluctantly agrees to a truce.

– October 30th 1918, the British refuse to discuss the peace treaty with Tal’at and Anwar Pasha, because they claim that these men were responsible for plunging the Ottomans into war, and demand a new government be formed. This destabilizes the government further.

November 1918, WW1 officially ends

– December 1918, the British begins to deal with the spoils of war. The Germans are dealt with according to international law. The Ottomans, on the other hand, were dealt with according to a secret plan that was formed in 1916 called the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement stated that if the Triple Entente were to defeat the Ottomans in WW1, they would divide their lands according to these lines, similar to carving a turkey at a Thanksgiving dinner. Britain proceeded to implement this agreement in violation of international law, as they took the action unilaterally, before even signing the peace treaty, and without any input from the Allies or from the regions that were being carved out.

Interesting facts regarding what took place during WW1

in 1915, the British promised the district of Antalya and the surrounding area along the Mediterranean to the Italians. One year later, in 1916, the British, the French, and the Russians agreed to the Sykes-Picot Agreement. In 1917, the British promised Herzl and his Zionist movement the land of Palestine. All this took place before the war was even close to ending.

– 1918 to 1920, after a long period of a political vacuum, Mustafa Kamal gains significant control of the now-British-influenced government, and rallied nationalistic tendencies among the people in Turkey. He attempted to form an independent government in Ankara, but the Caliphate responded with a large force that defeated him and wiped out his authority.

– 1920 to 1922, with Mustafa Kamal’s life and authority about to end, suddenly the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres, which was signed at the end of WW1 with the British, was made public and announced all over Turkey. This turned the population against the Caliphate, as they were seen as traitors. This saved Mustafa Kamal’s life, and gave him unrestricted access to every area of the government. But this treaty was never signed by Sultan Vahdettin and damat Ferit Pasha. Reza Tevfik (senator), Hadi Pasha and the Ottoman Ambassador of Bern Reshad Halis Bey signed this treaty.

– October 29th 1923, Mustafa Kamal gives a speech calling for a vote to abolish the Caliphate and turn Turkey into a republic. This vote was not expected, and only 40% of voting deputies were in attendance. The vote passed and Mustafa Kamal was elected as the first president of Turkey. This was met with a huge uproar from the absent deputies, and the Muslims of the #Ottoman #Caliphate rallied around the Caliph Abdul-Mejid. This led to Mustafa Kamal having one of the protesting deputies assassinated, and began to threaten any dissenting voices.

– March 1st 1924, Mustafa Kamal gives a speech about the necessity of destroying the Caliphate. He is met with fierce opposition and protests. He responded to the protests by saying “We must at all costs safeguard the endangered republic and make her rise upon solid scientific bases. The Caliph and the legacies of the Ottoman Family must go, the dilapidated religious courts and their laws must be replaced by modern courts and laws, and the clerics schools must concede their place to governmental secular schools.”

– March 3rd 1924, despite the protests, the Greater National Assembly approves the abolishment of the Caliphate and the separation of Islamic law from the state. The Caliph Abdul-Mejid is given notice to leave, and the Caliphate is officially dissolved.

– July 24th 1924, the Treaty of Lausanne is made effective. Britain recognises Turkey’s independence, and evacuates Istanbul and the straits.

Over a century of effort and scheming finally completed. The Khilafah is finally destroyed.

The abolishment of the Office of the Caliph on March 3rd, 1924 is marked as a turning point in history. To fully appreciate the significance of this anniversary, we must take ourselves back to Istanbul.

The year is 1924, sometime after midnight. A single light, coming from the library is on, in the Dolmabahçe palace. There, an old man sits quietly and reads the Qurʾan, pondering over the state of his Ummah (i.e. the Muslim nation). His name is Abdülmecid II and he is the 101st Caliph of Islam. Two years prior, his cousin Sultan Mehmed VI Vahdeddin had been exiled to Italy (where he later starved to death) and the Ottoman Sultanate had been abolished by the Grand National Assembly. The end of the Ottoman Empire had finally come to an end, however, the Office of the Caliph was not so easily dismantled, due to fears of a massive backlash that would ensue. A campaign of violence and intimidation began to ensure that all those who supported the Caliph were removed. Then, on the night of March 3rd, the final move was made. A young army messenger opened the door to the library of the Dolmabahçe palace. The hunched over Caliph continued to read from the Qurʾan. The messenger was initially taken aback by the sight, but he forced himself and read out the proclamation from the Grand National Assembly. The Caliph refused to leave Istanbul, but his staff were worried that they would all be killed by the army that had now surrounded the palace and had him and his family, including women and children at gunpoint. After weighing the few options he had, he reluctantly packed some of his clothes and went into exile.

Before morning prayer, the Caliph was taken to the main train station at gunpoint where he and his family were put on the Orient Express bound for Switzerland. An envelope containing £2000 was given to the man who left behind entire palaces full of diamonds, emeralds and gold. The station master quickly took the Caliph and his family into his small house adjoining the train station to shelter them from the cold on the platform while they awaited the train to start on its journey. As they drank tea, the Caliph thanked him for his hospitality. The station master, a Jewish man, began to cry. “How can you thank me?” he asked especially knowing that it was the Caliphs/Sultans of Islam who had preserved the life and dignity of the Jewish people whenever they were persecuted elsewhere in the world (e.g. Spain). Instead, he thanked the Caliph for the honour of being able to serve him even if for the briefest moment. In the morning, citizens awoke to the news that they had scarcely believed would ever happen – the Caliphate had been abolished.

There were isolated riots and uprisings in various regions, but the army quickly put them down. The last Caliph spent his days walking along the promenade in Paris, France. There, he lived a humble life until he died in 1944 during the Nazi occupation of France. As no Caliph had ever been buried in non-Muslim lands, Abdülmecid II’s body was eventually transported to, and buried in Jannat Al-Baqi cemetery in Madinah, Arabia. The major political and spiritual office of Caliph had also been buried with him as well, an office which, to this day, remains to be filled, leaving a lasting impact on present-day Muslim lands and the Middle East, and fracturing the unity and peace that Muslims once possessed in their neighbourhoods.

Sorce : Ottoman Imperial archives & Mazin AbdulAdhim (some parts were edited by the Editor)