The month of August has a special meaning for the Turkish nation. When the WW I ended with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire the Allies imposed the notorious Treaty of Sevres on the country. It was signed on August 10, 1920 by the Sultan Vahdettin’s supine Istanbul Government. This Treaty brought to the end once vast and glorious Ottoman Empire that had been in existence for 622 years. The fledgling nationalist government in Ankara under Mustafa Kemal did not recognize this cruel Treaty of Sevres, and the new Grand National Assembly in its session of August 19, 1920 proclaimed the three signatories as “traitors”. This Treaty was never ratified. It was an ominous August.
With the blessing of the British the Greek Army landed in Izmir on 15 May 1919. The country was in a hopeless state; vanquished, exhausted and prostrate. When all those ominous conditions converged at a lowest point, a God-sent savior emerged in the national scene. This hero was Mustafa Kemal. In heart and soul he was devoted to the liberation of the country. For the conventional wisdom prevailing at that time in the country the idea of liberation was “insane”, the morale was very low, the nation had already resigned to its blind fate helplessly. Indeed, the challenges that the country was facing were insurmountable. The odds were overwhelmingly against the nation; it has no army, no money, no equipment, no weapons, and no logistics. Only a miracle, a divine intervention could have saved the country. And surprisingly that miracle was personified in Mustafa Kemal. He was endowed with superb attributes. He was a military genius, a shrewd diplomat with a long vision, and an ultimate statesman imbued with selfless devotion and love for his country. He was the anointed liberator destined to overcome all the adversities.
The Greek Army penetrated deep into the Turkish heartland. It launched a major offensive on July 10, 1921, and pushed the Turkish forces to the East of the Sakarya River. It was poised to capture Ankara, the Capital of the Nationalist government. Speculations ran wild about the Turkish cause as having been lost. At that critical juncture, on August 4, 1921, The National Assembly assigned to Mustafa Kemal the post of Commander-in- chief with absolute power for a duration of only three months! He was charged to check and to defeat the Greek Army. Mustafa Kemal accepted this pivotal post as his calling. Such an absolute mandate could only be given to a noble and tested person. Mustafa Kemal had proven himself repeatedly with his brilliant track records and credentials. He was a rising star, a legendary army general with epic victories in his records. He had been a devoted servant to his Nation and a humble disciple of his country. His respect for the law and order demonstrated his unparalleled democratic spirit and civility.
This Greek aggression brought the Turkish Nationalists to a fateful August. The Turkish Army, under the command of Mustafa Kemal fought the Greek forces in a pitch-battle called “Sakarya Meydan Muharebesi” along a front of 60 miles. In a life-and-death struggle that lasted 22 days the Greek Army was routed on August 24, 1921, and forced to retreat. The Grand National Assembly, recognizing the extraordinary leadership qualities of Mustafa Kemal conferred upon him the title of Marshal and “Gazi.”
The ultimate goal of Mustafa Kemal was an unconditional liberation of the Nation. He knew that this required a decisive victory. The world public opinion, even some Turkish intellectuals in Istanbul, and some deputies in Ankara were still skeptical of such victory. They believed that the Turkish Army had only defensive capability but no offensive competency. They argued that the liberation of the country was a utopia, and could not have been won by force of arms; it must be secured by negotiation at the table, or accepting the mandate of a powerful country. Mustafa Kemal strongly felt that no favor would be granted to any nation if that nation has neither power nor the ability to take it by force. Only those nations endowed with those qualities can appeal to the standards of humanity and justice. He said, “The world is a field of trial. After endless ordeals the Turkish nation is being tested yet with another trial – the hardest ever! How can we expect an honorable treatment from the world community if we can not prove ourselves worthy of it? Therefore, we will rise to the challenges that this trial imposes upon us.” These words reflected the determinism of the great Leader for a decisive victory. At that time Mustafa Kemal was a very lonely person, a one-man minority, yet he had a strong conviction and a long vision. He decided that an ultimate reckoning with the invading Greek Army was inevitable. After the victory of Sakarya his Army had gained a considerable amount of self-confidence. On the other hand, the Greek High command had become ambivalent about this senseless Turkish campaign. Their troops had lost their enthusiasm, their logistics was poor, and this expedition in the hardscrabble Anatolian heartland seemed to be an endless adventure for them; furthermore, the Turks had proven much tougher than they had been made to believe. A temporary lull had set in the situation during which the Turkish Army prepared feverishly for the ultimate reckoning. Mustafa Kemal set the date of the final reckoning with the Greeks as August 26, 1922!
This was an auspicious August. On August 26, Saturday before dawn the Turkish Army began its offensive. The major Greek defense positions were overrun swiftly, and on August 30 the enemy was routed decisively at Dumlupinar, with half of its troops captured or slain. This decisive victory has come to be known in the Turkish history as “The Great Offensive” or “The Pitched – battle of the Commander-in-chief in Dumlupinar.” The Turkish Army engaged in a long pursuit after the defeated and crashed Greek Army until The Mediterranean.
The western front was opened by the landing of the Greek Army in Izmir on May 15, 1919. The last Greek troop left the Turkish soil on September 17, 1922. That makes 3 years, 4 months and 2 days, or 1218 days of Greek occupation of the western Anatolia. The Turks won not only a victory, they won their country and their dignity as well.
The victory of August 30th can aptly be characterized as the Rebirth of a Nation. It was a love affair between an ultimate leader who devoted himself selflessly to his country, and a grateful nation. This year the Turkish nation is celebrating the 95th anniversary of this momentous victory. We remember with gratitude, and pray for our fallen heroes who gave their lives generously and selflessly. Thanks to their altruism and heroism the future generations have lived freely, happily and prosperously on this anointed soil of the Turkish land.