The great war shook the world, reshaped continents and paved the way for new world order. Here's how it all began.
Looking back at World War I, one of the most tragic events of the 20th century that left a long-lasting impact on the world, who would have thought that an assassination would shake up decades of smouldering hatred in Europe and cause a full-blown war involving 30 nations?
July 28 marks the 107th anniversary of the great war that cost 17 million lives and left 21 million injured around the globe.
To understand the origins of World War I, one must examine some of the key historical events of 1879, especially the 'bilateral alliance' signed by Germany and Austria-Hungary the same year. In just three years time, this alliance was joined by another major power, Italy. Their aim was to decolonise several countries outside the ambit of Europe, a move that meant going against three major colonial powers, Britain, France and Russia.
The three powers--France, Britain and Russia--had separate alliances in the following years and by 1907 they worked together under a 'Triple Entente'.
The two rival alliances soon found themselves engaging in an intense arms race, causing serious concerns amongst the neighbouring powers like the Ottoman Empire, which shared borders with both Europe and Russia and took a neutral stance.
Then came the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, an heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne. A young Serbian nationalist called Gavrilo Principand shot the archduke and his wife Sophie dead, triggering World War I in 1914.
The consequences of the war were so harsh that it dismantled centuries-old empires like that of the Ottomans and an Austria-Hungarian one, redrawing the maps of Europe and the Middle East.
According to Dr Kadir Temiz, an assistant professor of political history at Istanbul Medeniyet University, World War I caused enormous 'ruptures' in political, economic and social conditions of much of Europe and the Middle East.
“One of the most critical ruptures in political conditions was the transformation of political systems in Anatolia. Of course, after the long and successful independent war, Anatolia was united under the flag of a new nation-state, namely the Republic of Turkey. Since then, Turkey has become a focal point for any intellectual attempt to understand the political transformation of the eastern provinces such as the current Middle Eastern geography,” Temiz told TRT World.
The war cost the lives of seven million civilians and ten million soldiers. It also created power vacuums in eastern Europe and the Middle East, where the feelings of nationalism shook the old order, giving birth to new nation-states such as Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine and the Republic of Turkey.
With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East and Arabian peninsula were divided into several nation-states that came either under French or British mandate.
The Republic of Turkey came into existence around the same time and Turkish nationalism became its main founding ideology.
“Nationalism in all aspects of life became apparent especially in the early Republican period. That was the period which has opened a way for early Republican elites to create ethnically Turkish and religiously Sunni Muslim society but with a focus on westernization,” Temiz said.
But in other regions, according to Temiz, acquiring political and economic stability became a distant dream, as Britain and France subsequently colonised places like Egypt, Iraq and Syria, plunging the Middle East into decades of turmoil and instability.
“This colonization period negatively affected their political, social and economic development. Politically, they continued to live under the old political cleavages from the Ottoman period for several decades. Almost all Middle Eastern regions gained genuine independence after WW2”.
For Temiz, World War I did come to an end by 1918 but it did not end for Turks who continued fighting in the following years until they drove allied forces out of the border of what was envisioned as the Republic of Turkey by its founding leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
According to Temiz, The Turkish War of Independence was one of the best struggles of that time as it caused the great Turkish transformation which was part of the Ottoman modernization.
“Today, Turkey as a nation-state owes its existence and modern political and economic structure to the post-war developments and reform movements in both Turkey and the world. What I mean is Turkey was part of the world in 1918 as it is today,” he said.
The Turkish academic said that Turkey's relationship with World War I brings unity and togetherness in the country as the event carries the symbol of both survival and loss.