Pragmatism and expediency: Ottoman calculations and the establishment of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic

In: Caucasus Survey
Stefano Taglia Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czechia

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This article interrogates Ottoman sources from the period leading up to and following the creation, in 1918, of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (TDFR) to shed light on the reasons behind Istanbul’s initial backing for this Caucasian state. Despite the suggestion that Ottoman Unionist policies were informed by pan-Turkist ideals, it emerges that Istanbul considered, first and foremost, the geopolitical interests of the Empire. Whether this entailed using foreign Muslims to control a strategic area or favouring the creation of a political entity that was not considered fully feasible, Ottoman self-interest was paramount. Controlling the Caucasus, limiting German, British and Russian influence, and re-gaining lost territory were the only considerations that guided Ottoman policies. This explains Ottoman ambivalence in supporting the emergence of the TDFR, as well as Ottoman willingness to pursue further territorial claims which undermined the very existence of the TDFR itself. The conclusions reached in this article have significance for the larger understanding of Ottoman policy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as too often pan-Turkism and pan-Islamism are used to explain the policies of Istanbul, while the Ottoman political elite was more usually guided by pragmatic considerations.

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