By the end of WWI in 1918, the Ottoman Empire had collapsed. Over 4 million Ottoman Muslims and Jews, and nearly 1 million Ottoman Christians had perished or been displaced. In 1919, Britain, France, Greece, Italy and Armenia invaded Turkey to establish colonies of their own, ethnically cleansing and displacing the remaining Ottoman Muslim and Jewish populations.
On May 19, 1919, the hero of Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, landed in the Black Sea town of Samsun to rally the people to fight for a Turkish Nation. By August 30, 1922, the people of Turkey, comprising more than 30 ethnic groups, defeated the occupying forces. On October 29, 1923, the people of Anatolia declared their independence as the Turkish Republic. Ataturk concluded his State of the Union Address, expressing, “Ne mutlu Turkum diyene”, (Happy is the one who says he’s a Turk), emphasizing solidarity within diversity based on national citizenship.
The Turkish War for Independence had a broader impact on global freedom that is often lost upon many Western critics. Professor Halil Inalcik, who passed away on July 25, 2016, offered the following perspective:
“The victories of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk against colonialism unsettled the West, as it set a precedent that could undermine Western domination globally. The leaders of India and China whose countries had become the exploitable colonies of Europe, were quietly and intently following the Turkish struggle for independence against the European powers."
Having bowed out of WWI with mixed results, the people of Britain were not keen to send more soldiers to support the Greek occupation of western Anatolia, though it was Britain who had encouraged the Greeks to invade and occupy in 1919. By 1922, the Greek army was on its own to be held accountable for the devastation it had brought upon the people of western Turkey during their brutal occupation.
Britain attempted to mobilize an Indian Muslim army to help the Greeks fight the Turks, as it had done with the Australians and New Zealanders in the Battle of Gallipoli. However, India’s leaders, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi viewed the Turkish struggle as a lesson and a precursor for India’s own independence movement against Britain. Nehru and Gandhi started the “non-cooperation movement”, and successfully opposed Britain’s brutal plans.
In the end, Ataturk’s vision for the people of Turkey sent a message of empowerment, independence, and sovereignty to the people of Asia. India achieved independence from Britain. China followed, as it freed itself from capitulations and colonies.
Western media was critical of Ataturk and the new Turkish Republic, and warned that the “dictator” was encouraging similar movements in Indonesia and Central Asia, and had sparked the people’s movements of Afghanistan’s Sovereign Amanullah Han and Iran’s Shah Reza Pahlavi.” Ataturk replied simply, “Sovereignty, unconditionally, belongs to the people.”