Tag Archives: First World War

The February Revolution: The End of the Russian Monarchy

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 19 December 2021

Skobelev Square during the February Revolution, painting by Aleksandr Gerasimov, 1917

The “February Revolution” is so-called because Russia at the time was on the Julian (Old Style (O.S.)) calendar. By the Gregorian (New Style (N.S.)) calendar, which Russia adopted in February 1918, these events take place in March 1917. And momentous events they were, leading to the abdication of the last Tsar, the end of a monarchy and an entire system of power and authority that dated back more than 350 years. For eight months in 1917, Russia struggled to extend the constitutionalist reforms that had begun under the Tsardom within a more liberal framework. The liberals never did gain the upper hand over the radicals, not even after the September 1917 de facto return to autocracy. In November 1917, a coup by the most extreme Leftist faction, the Bolsheviks, terminated the experiment, burying for seven decades even the aspirations in Russia for liberalism and democracy. Continue reading

Rasputin and the Empress

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 13 December 2021

Grigori Rasputin

Grigori Rasputin, a Siberian peasant holy man, was a presence at the Russian Court between 1908 and his murder in 1916. Even so, Rasputin would only have been one figure among many and not be so notable in history, except for the fact that he gained significant political influence in his last couple of years due to his friendship with the Tsar’s wife. The degree of influence Rasputin exerted and the stories of his debauched behaviour have often been wildly exaggerated—at the time and since. But the stories did have a basis in fact—the Tsarina had fused together her personal forays in mysticism with her political role—and the stories themselves, lurid and defamatory as many of them were, had a concrete effect in damaging the monarchy as Revolution loomed. Continue reading

Russian Influence on the Nazis

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 10 December 2021

Michael Kellogg’s 2005 book, The Russian Roots of Nazism, argues that Russian “White émigrés” exerted financial, political-military, and ideological influences that “contributed extensively to the making of German National Socialism”. As such, argues Kellogg, Nazism “did not develop merely as a peculiarly German phenomenon”, but within an “international radical right milieu”. The book is interesting but deeply flawed, overstating its case by failing to set the facts it gathers in a proper context and for similar reasons misunderstanding where some of the Russian elements under discussion fit within the politics of the revolutionary upheaval after 1917, both within the borders of Russia and in exile in Europe. Continue reading

Unravelling the “Kornilov Affair”: The Last Stop Before the Bolshevik Takeover of Russia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 8 December 2021

General Lavr Kornilov, 27 August 1917

The final key event on the road to the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in November 1917 was the “Kornilov Affair” that took place about two months earlier. Alexander Kerensky had become Prime Minister of the Provisional Government in July 1917 and around the same time General Lavr Kornilov had become Commander-in-Chief. A lot of accounts portray the “Kornilov Affair” as a “reactionary” coup attempt by Kornilov against Kerensky. The reality is very nearly the exact opposite. As historian Robert Pipes summarises: “All the available evidence, rather, points to a ‘Kerensky plot’ engineered to discredit the general as the ringleader of an imaginary but widely anticipated counterrevolution, the suppression of which would elevate the Prime Minister to a position of unrivaled popularity and power, enabling him to meet the growing threat from the Bolsheviks.”[1] Continue reading

The History of “Central Europe”

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 7 June 2021

The Idea of Central Europe: Geopolitics, Culture and Regional Identity (2018), by Otilia Dhand, is an engaging and rather ambitious book, a work of intellectual history. Dhand’s core argument is that from the introduction of the term “Central Europe” in the nineteenth century, it did not describe a set geographical zone and the definition was always contested since the term was an attempt to construct local identities, a self separate from some other, as an instrument in the pursuit of geopolitical interests, always revisionist: these were attempts to will something into existence by influencing political behaviour. Continue reading

Book Review: A Shameful Act (2006) by Taner Akcam

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on June 9, 20151

This is the complete review. It has previously been posted in three parts: Part 1 on the question of whether the 1915-17 massacres constitute genocide; Part 2 on the post-war trials and the Nationalist Movement; and Part 3 gives some conclusions on what went wrong in the Allied efforts to prosecute the war criminals and the implications for the present time, with Turkey’s ongoing denial of the genocide and the exodus of Christians from the Middle East.

A Question of Genocide

The controversy over the 1915-17 massacres of Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Empire is whether these acts constitute genocide. Those who say they don’t are not the equivalent of Holocaust-deniers in that while some minimize the figures of the slain, they do not deny that the massacres happened; what they deny is that the massacres reach the legal definition of genocide. Their case is based on three interlinked arguments:

  • Unlike the Nazi Holocaust when a defenceless population was murdered only for its identity, the Armenians were engaged in a massive armed revolt, and this is why the Ottoman government decided to deport them.
  • The intent of the Ottomans was not massacre but the removal of the Armenians, who had sided with one foreign invading power (Russia) and who were showing signs of collaborating with another (Britain), from the militarily sensitive areas as Turkey suffered a two-front invasion in early 1915.
  • While terrible massacres, plus starvation and the cold, took maybe a million lives during the deportations, when the Armenians reached their destinations in Syria and Iraq, which were also part of the Ottoman Empire, they were well-treated and allowed to rebuild their lives, which would not have been the case had the Ottomans intended their destruction.

Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility presents evidence to undermine every one of these arguments. Continue reading

Book Review: A Shameful Act (2006) by Taner Akcam, Part 2

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on June 4, 20151

The First Phase of the Trials

On October 30, 1918, the Ottoman Empire signed its final treaty of defeat. The Ottomans’ long decline began in 1683, and by the 1830s the Empire was referred to as the “sick man of Europe”. The armistice was a near-total surrender, allowing the occupation of any area the Allies deemed necessary for their security. Unfortunately, it was neither the end of the war nor the end of the massacres against the Armenians.

The Allies—Britain, France, and Russia—issued a declaration on May 24, 1915, saying:

In light of the crimes against humanity and civilisation committed by Turkey, the allied powers warn the Sublime Porte that members of the Ottoman government involved in the mass murder will be held personally responsible for these crimes.

Not coincidentally, within days of this an official deportation law was passed through the Ottoman Parliament and would thereafter be issued by the Interior Ministry as legal cover for the CUP’s actions. This was a first introduction of the concept of crimes against humanity, and of individual responsibility that extended to senior Generals and Heads of State. The Russians fell to the Communists and for reasons of realpolitik the French and Italians soon dropped their demands for punishing the Turkish war criminals, but the British were relentless. Continue reading

Book Review: A Shameful Act (2006) by Taner Akcam, Part 1

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on June 1, 20151

A Question of Genocide

The controversy over the 1915-17 massacres of Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Empire is whether these acts constitute genocide. Those who say they don’t are not the equivalent of Holocaust-deniers in that while some minimize the figures of the slain, they do not deny that the massacres happened; what they deny is that the massacres reach the legal definition of genocide. Their case is based on three interlinked arguments:

  • Unlike the Nazi Holocaust when a defenceless population was murdered only for its identity, the Armenians were engaged in a massive armed revolt, and this is why the Ottoman government decided to deport them.
  • The intent of the Ottomans was not massacre but the removal of the Armenians, who had sided with one foreign invading power (Russia) and who were showing signs of collaborating with another (Britain), from the militarily sensitive areas as Turkey suffered a two-front invasion in early 1915.
  • While terrible massacres, plus starvation and the cold, took maybe a million lives during the deportations, when the Armenians reached their destinations in Syria and Iraq, which were also part of the Ottoman Empire, they were well-treated and allowed to rebuild their lives, which would not have been the case had the Ottomans intended their destruction.

Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility presents evidence to undermine every one of these arguments. Continue reading