The Turkish War of Independence (19 May 1919 – 24 July 1923) was a series of military campaigns waged by the Turkish National Movement, after parts of the Ottoman Empire were occupied and partitioned following its defeat in World War I. Turkish territory was occupied by the imperialist forces and their collaborators led by British Empire (the Greeks in the western part, the Armenians in the eastern part, France and Italy in the southern part, and the British in Istanbul and around).
The Victory Day, also the Turkish Armed Forces Day dates the decisive victory in the Battle of Dumlupınar, on 30 August 1922. On this date, under the leadership of the Commander-in-Chief Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Turkish army launched a major counter-offensive to defeat the occupying enemy forces. This offensive is called “The Great Offensive”, also referred to as the “Field Battle of the Commander-in-Chief”, referring to the Atatürk’s being the commander in the war.
The war took place between British backed Greek army and the Turkish army. After the victory, Türkiye was liberated from enemy occupation on September 9, 1922.
We interviewed İhsan Sefa, Retired Air Staff Colonel, and historian and political scientist Mehmet Perinçek about the military and political aspects of August 30th and the lessons to be learned from it for today.
August 30th is commemorated as a very important date in the success of the War of Independence and is celebrated every year. Why is August 30th so important? Could you explain from a military, political and psychological point of view?
The victory of all oppressed nations
August 30th is the victory not only of the Turkish nation, but also of all oppressed nations. Mahadma Gandhi said: “We thought the British were invincible until Atatürk defeated them” – a quote that shows the importance of August 30th. The success of the Turks in the anti-imperialist war was the impetus for the struggle for independence in India and certainly in other countries as well.
The military aspect of August 30th
If we evaluate August 30th from a military point of view: the Greek army had 15 thousand soldiers, 1100 machine guns, 200 heavy machine guns, 15 cannons, 3000 motor vehicles, 40 airplanes more than the Turkish army. The numerical superiority was clearly on the Greek side. So how did the Turks win the war despite this? With the determination and will of the Turkish nation, its ability to fight, its belief in defending its homeland and of course the leadership of a genius like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
How the great offensive was conducted
In 1968, Fahrettin Altay, one of the leading commanders of the War of Independence and the commander of the corps who marched into Izmir at the end of the August 30 Offensive, was invited to the anniversary ceremony of August 26, the day the Great Offensive began.
He was very old, and two colonels took him by the arm and helped him up to the pulpit where he was to make a speech. Fahrettin Altay had been asked to talk about the War of Independence.
He told the following: At 05:00 in the morning of August 26, we started with artillery fire. We fired artillery for 20 minutes, which was a strategic raid, because the Greek army was not expecting such a thing. Atatürk had kept the offensive a secret and even misled the Greek army by announcing to the public that he would give a reception in Konya (a city near to the region where the war took place) on the same date.
Atatürk as a military genius
The Greek positions were shattered by this artillery barrage and they began to retreat. Seeing this, the commanders wanted Atatürk to order a decisive and total attack. They thought of defeating the Greek army before it had a chance to take up a new position. Fevzi Çakmak Pasha said, “Come on Kemal, give the order now, they are fleeing, we must catch them.” But Atatürk said, “We will wait”. There was an argument between the commanders for 20 minutes. Then big explosions were heard from the area where the Greeks had fled. The Greek army had placed time bombs in the area where they were fleeing from; they were planning to push the Turkish army in that direction.
But they were caught in their own bombs. These were all within Ataturk’s plan. In addition to his political skills, Atatürk was a military genius.
August 30th and the Turkish revolution
From the political point of view, August 30th Victory paved the way for the new Turkish state. With the Treaty of Lausanne, this state was recognised by the world. The Republic of Türkiye set a model for other nations in many ways, especially in terms of republic and democracy. August 30th opened the way for the Turkish nation to become a modern state. The Turkish nation made a revolution. Medieval bigotry was abolished and laicism was institutionalized.
The rights granted to women
Atatürk was a leader who had some ‘world firsts’. Türkiye was the first country to grant women the right to vote and be elected. Moreover, Türkiye was heavily inspired by European law when creating its own, and no other European country had this right for women at that time. This action of Türkiye echoed around the world.
The decades-long retreat of the Ottoman Empire
What do you think about the view that the Turks have been in a constant state of defense and retreat since approximately the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, and that August 30th was a battle in which the Turkish army was on the offensive after decades?
I do not fully agree. For example, the Turkish army also launched offensives in the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli. As a matter of fact, the famous words of Atatürk, one of the commanders of this war, “I do not order you to attack, I order you to die” were uttered in this context.
But this view is correct in the following way: If we look at the history of the Ottoman Empire from the times of Küçük Kaynarca to August 30th, the Empire suffered huge defeats and territorial losses. August 30th can be considered as a turning point in this respect.
One must not forget this, though: There are also offensives during a defence. In a defensive war, you can also conduct offensive operations from time to time to strengthen your defence positions. There are many examples of this in history. Of course, August 30th was an offensive war on its own.
Beyond August 30th being a historical achievement for Turks, does August 30th have a special aspect or aspects to today? Do you think it offers lessons for today?
Yes, it does. A general lesson is this: August 30th is a proof of what faith and decisive leadership can achieve against superior forces.
‘The spirit of August 30th exists in the nation, but lacks in the leadership’
More particularly for Türkiye, we should take the following lesson: The spirit of August 30th lives on in the Turkish nation, but we lack the political will to put this spirit into practice. If this political will had existed, Greece would not be harassing Turkish planes today. Since January, Greece has violated Turkish airspace 260 times and radar locked our planes 150 times. In the latest locks, Greece used the S-300, which is the previous step before firing missiles. Greece is threatening Türkiye.
The impact of imperialism and NATO
The spirit of August 30th exists in the Turkish nation, but over time, under the pressure of imperialism and Türkiye’s joining NATO, the leaders of the country moved away from reflecting this spirit. This is what Türkiye lacks today. If Türkiye were to respond harshly to Greece’s threats today, maybe there would be some minor objections from some opposition parties, but the entire Turkish nation, including the grassroots of those opposition parties, would be united together behind the President. This is in the genetic and historical background of the Turkish nation.
What if Ataturk had faced such threats
If Atatürk had faced such threats, he would immediately give a firm response. Let me give an example from history. In 1933, Turks in Bulgaria were being oppressed. Bulgarian gangs were harassing Turkish villages. Atatürk ordered the Turkish army to cross the border into Bulgaria. The Turkish army marched 60 kilometres into Bulgaria in a single night. Bulgarians wake up in the morning in shock. The Bulgarian king calls Atatürk: Have you declared war on us? Atatürk replies: No. The king asks: But your troops have entered our borders. Atatürk replies: That was an accident. After this incident, the Bulgarian government put pressure on the Bulgarian gangs to prevent the oppression of the Turks.
Shortly after this incident, İsmet İnönü, then Prime Minister of the Republic of Türkiye, made a visit to Bulgaria. Bulgarian gangs surrounded the embassy where İnönü was staying. İnönü could not leave the embassy and return to Türkiye. The Bulgarian government was also not being solid on the issue, but was being loose. Atatürk gave the order to the battleship Yavuz: Go to the Bulgarian harbour early in the morning and fire 21 cannon shots. 21 cannon fire means welcoming ceremony in international terminology. This time the Bulgarians wake up to 21 cannon fire in the morning. The windows in the harbour were broken by cannon fire. When the Bulgarians asked the Turkish crew the reason, they received the following answer: We came to bring our Prime Minister to Türkiye. The Bulgarians immediately took security measures and brought Prime Minister İsmet İnönü to the harbour. The commander of the battleship Yavuz paid the mayor of the region the cost of damage caused to the buildings by the cannon fire. The battleship Yavuz returned to Türkiye with Prime Minister Inönü.
The 1974 Cyprus peace operation
The 1974 Cyprus Peace Operation is another example of the spirit of August 30th. Despite the US’s arms embargo and its support to Greece and the Greeks in Cyprus, Türkiye defended the rights of the Turks in Cyprus.
I told all this for this reason: This is what I mean when I say that “the spirit of August 30th in the nation existing also in the administration”. In these examples, there is no attempt to attack the rights and sovereignty of any nation, but there is a determination to defend Türkiye’s independence to the end.
For decades, Türkiye’s own interests were put aside due to US influence. However, Türkiye has recently adopted a different attitude. Türkiye is now taking a clearer stance against the US. We can say this: After Atatürk, the spirit of August 30th was not realized at the administrative level, but recently there has been an awakening in this regard.
Millennium Challenge 2002: The biggest military drill of the US history
The US has not and will never be able to achieve its objective of defeating the Turkish army. In 2002, the US military organised the Millennium Challenge drill. They held the drill in the Nevada Desert. 70 million dollars were spent and 16 thousand soldiers participated. It was the biggest drill in US history. They drew the following conclusion from this drill: We cannot defeat the Turkish army. That is why they are using proxy forces such as Greece, PKK/YPG and FETÖ against Türkiye.
We asked also United World International expert and historian Mehmet Perinçek about the aspect of August 30th that is relevant today.
Beyond August 30th being a historical achievement for Turks, does August 30th have a special aspect or aspects that speak to today? Do you think it offers lessons for today?
August 30th is not just a historical victory, it is also important for Türkiye today. The strategy pursued in the August 30th victory is a light of beacon for Türkiye to solve the problems it is currently facing.
One of the most important lessons is this: War is always won by force. It is won by creating the force to counterbalance the enemy.
The home front and international alliances
Said force has two aspects: First, the home front and second the international one.
Regarding the home front, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his comrades achieved the following: They united the nation for a common goal. They integrated the nation and the army. They provided the financial means necessary for the war. They took all precautions to keep the army strong.
Regarding the international aspect, cooperation was established with countries suffering from the same problem: the Western imperialism led by the British. The cooperation with Soviet Russia, both in the military and economic fields, provided great strength for the August 30th victory. Atatürk and the leadership of the war of independence fully comprehended the necessity of an international alliance to counterbalance British imperialism. In other words, they did not fall into the unrealistic “policy of neutrality”.
In addition, they took actions to weaken the opposing imperialist front. They took advantage of the contradictions between the imperialists. This was an effective factor in undermining the occupation forces.
These policies, which I describe as keeping the home front intact and forming a set of alliances internationally, are still necessary today to ensure Türkiye’s security and to overcome the economic depression the country is going through, and to build a prosperous society through a production revolution. These are the most important lessons to be drawn from August 30th.