Enver, Ismail

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Enver, Ismail

[NOVEMBER 22, 1881–AUGUST 4, 1922]

Turkish Minister of War in the Ottoman Empire during World War I; better known as Enver Pasha

Ismail Enver was born on November 22, 1881, into a well-to-do family in Istanbul. His father was a civil servant. Enver studied in Germany, where he was particularly influenced by German military theory and organization, which he tried to emulate upon his return to the Ottoman Empire. He was quickly promoted in the army, attaining the title of Pasha (Bashaw) in 1913, when he was but thirty-two years old. He married Naciye Sultana, the Sultan's daughter. He was one of the leaders of the Committee for Union and Progress, also known as Ittihadists or Young Turks, together with Talaat Pasha and Cemal Pasha. He was a vocal supporter of a pan-Turkish Empire extending deep into the Caucasus, Iran, India, and Central Asia.

A bloodless revolution in July 1908 deposed Sultan Abdul Hamit and led the Ittihadists to power. At their 1910 congress in Saloniki, the Ittihadists discussed a plan for the "complete Ottomanization of all Turkish subjects." Their aggressive nationalist policies contributed to the outbreak of the Balkan war of 1912, where ethnic cleansing was practiced on all sides. In 1912 the loss of Libya to Italy eroded the Ittihadists power and drove them into a coalition with the Liberal Union. However, on January 23, 1913, the Three Pashas putsched and established a military dictatorship. This eventually drew the Ottoman Empire into World War I on the side of the Central Powers.

Enver's Third Army suffered a disastrous defeat at Sarikamish during the December 1914 offensive against Russia, in which some 80,000 Turkish soldiers perished. This diminished Enver's prestige, but he blamed the Armenians for his defeat, unjustly accusing them of connivance with the Russians. Together with Talaat Pasha, then serving as Minister of the Interior, he conceived the plan to physically eliminate all Christian minorities—including the Armenians, Assyrians, and Orthodox Greeks—that, theoretically, might have sympathies with the enemy. The genocide against the Armenians was begun on April 24, 1915, with the arrest and murder of Armenian leaders and intellectuals in Istanbul. The Armenian civilian population in Eastern Anatolia was then subjected to massacres and deportations that cost 1 to 1.5 million lives. Within the Ministry of War, Enver gave responsibility to a Special Organization (Teshkilâti Mahsusa); one of its assignments was the liquidation of the Armenians.

Pursuant to Article 230 of the Treaty of Sèvres between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire, Turkish officers and politicians responsible for the genocide of non-Turkish populations were to be tried by an international tribunal. On November 23, 1918, an Ottoman Parliamentary Commission started an inquiry into the massacres, which led to the indictment of Enver, Talaat, and former Minister of Justice Ibrahim Bey. They were tried in absentia before a Turkish court martial in Istanbul, found guilty pursuant to Articles 45 and 170 of the Ottoman Penal Code, and sentenced to death. The sentences were not carried out, however, because the Young Turk cabinet had resigned and gone into exile shortly before capitulation.

Enver fled to Germany in October 1918 and established contacts with German communists, including Karl Radek. In 1920 he went to Moscow and eventually traveled to Asia, where he supported an anti-Bolshevik revolt. He was killed in battle on August 4, 1922, near Baldzhuan in Turkestan (present-day Tajikistan).

SEE ALSO Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and the Armenian Genocide; Atatürk, Mustafa Kemal Pasha; Talaat


Ahmad, F. (1969). The Young Turks. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dadrian, Vahakn (1999). Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.

Morgenthau, Henry (2000). Ambassador Morgenthau's Story. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Gomidas Institute.

Shaw, S. J., and E. K. Shaw (1977). History of the Ottomoan Empire and Modern Turkey. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambidge University Press.

Vardy, Steven, and Hunt Tooley, eds. (2003). Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth Century Europe. New York: Columbia University Press.

Alfred de Zayas