The Tripolitanian War

May 10, 2012 0 Comments

Mustafa Kemal and Libyan bedevis

The Young Turks' transition to Turkish nationalism had only begun, however, when it was given a final thrust forward by a new wave of foreign attacks on the empire starting with that of the Italians in Tripoli and Bengazi late in 1911. The kingdom of Italy dreamed of an empire that would revive the glory of the old Roman Empire. Most of the African territories contiguous to the Mediterranean had been already taken by Britain and France, and only Tripoli seemed reasonably available. Ottoman rule there was nominal. The garrisons were weak, the government limited and inadequate, and the economic situation poor. The interior, inhabited by bedouins, had recently come under the control of a Muslim pietistic movement led by the Senusis, further undermining the sultan's suzerainty. On the other hand, Tripoli was close to Italy. Italian merchants had been active there for some time, and their complaints about mistreatment as well as the difficult conditions in the country provided a pretext for armed intervention. Nor were the Italian ambitions particularly secret. In 1900 France had agreed to allow it to take Tripoli in compensation for the expected acquisition of Morocco. Two years later Austria had followed suit in return for Italian support of its ambitions in Bosnia- Herzegovina. Britain joined the agreement as part of its effort to gain Italian participation in the emerging Triple Entente. In 1909 Russian approval was secured in return for Italian support of its ambition to force the Porte to open the Straits to its warships. Though Germany and Austria feared Italian aggression into the Ottoman Empire might cause a major new crisis, they did not wish to alienate Italy and push it even closer to Britain and France. Thus once the French position in Morocco was secured and the Italian press and public agitated for compensatory action in Tripoli, the Italian government decided to go ahead.

 

The Italian government for some time had complained about "mistreatment" of its subjects in Tripoli and Bengazi, and the Ottomans had tried to satisfy them with guarantees and other promises in order to avoid a war. The Italians, however, who had already decided to attack, rejected the Ottoman offers. On September 29, 1911, war was declared. A day later Tripoli was put under naval blockade. Britain declared its neutrality. On October 4 Tripoli was bombarded and an Italian expeditionary force landed at Tobruk. The Ottoman garrison in both provinces numbered only 15,000 men at best. Because of the situation in the Balkans the government in Istanbul decided to send only limited reinforcements, but these were put under the command of two of its brightest young officers, both CUP members, Enver Bey, recently married into the imperial family, who was made commander at Bengazi, and Mustafa Kemal Bey, placed in command at Tripoli and Derne. Even before they arrived, however, the Italians overran the entire coastal area; Kemal and Enver landed their forces and took them into the interior, where they took command of the remaining Ottoman garrison and joined the Senusi tribesmen in preparing to resist the infidel in a Holy War. On November 4 Italy officially proclaimed its annexation of both Tripoli and Bengazi, but its control remained limited to the coast while the Ottomans and Senusis began an effective guerrilla resistance from the interior. In response the Italians began to send arms and ammunition to Montenegro and Albania and encouraged new adventures against the Porte.

 

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