Note: Pasha is a high-ranking Ottoman military title. Last names in the western manner were not practised. 

Ismail Enver Pasha’s violent (and some would say heroic) demise would go down in legend in the Muslim regions of the Caucasus. Born on November 23rd 1881 to Ahmed-Bey, a minor official, Enver dreamed of glory and went into the army. He started out as an officer in Macedonia during the period of the heavy guerrilla warfare being waged by the Bulgarians, Serbs, Macedonians & others against the Ottomans, incited by powers like Britain and imperial Russia.

Enver seems to have impressed his superiors and was promoted, becoming a major. His superiors seemingly assumed that his skill at hunting down and eliminating small, lightly-armed bands of men would also translate into competence in handling a fight against large opposing armies. As WWI would show, they were painfully wrong.

By 1908, Enver was actively involved in the Young Turk movement, officially known as the Committee of Unity and Progress. The Young Turks were an ardently liberal movement. Heavily influenced by the Dönmeh sect, they sought to eliminate Islam as a communal faith in the Ottoman Empire & turn it into a secular state in the manner of France or Britain, based on pan-Turkism – the idea that a Turkish identity, not Islam, should be paramount. Enver took part in the successful 1908 effort to unseat Sultan Abdul-Hamid, the long-time Sultan who was in the process of guiding the empire back towards an Islamic path after the disastrous tanzimat reforms of the 19th century.[1] He was unseated after he famously rebuffed the offer of Jewish millionaire Theodor Herzl to give Palestine to the Jews in exchange for millions of pounds (billions in today’s cash). Many of the Young Turks, themselves Dönmeh, were eager to help Herzl push the Sultan aside.

Enver was eventually appointed to be military attaché in Berlin, making many influential contacts in the German army. By 1911, he was in Libya (alongside Atatürk, the future ruler of a secular Turkey) fighting against the Italian attempt to conquer the land. Enver was withdrawn prior to the Ottoman defeat to take part in military campaigns in the Balkans. He was eventually promoted to the rank of mirliva (major-general).

Enver Pasha, pictured on an Ottoman postcard.
Enver was very fond of medals and portraits. Many were commissioned of him, such as the image shown on this postcard.

After the Libya campaign, the CUP fell out of favour with the people at large and was forced out of office – but Enver wasn’t out of the spotlight. In January 1913, he dramatically led a squad of officers that noisily forced their way into a government meeting and demanded the Sultan return the CUP to power. This was achieved with ease and Enver became the leader of the Young Turk triumvirate of “the Three Pashas” (Enver, Djemal and Talaat Pasha) that had de facto control of the whole Ottoman Empire, the new Sultan, Mehmed V being little more than a puppet. He was also War Minister as well as army Chief of Staff and CUP leader.

During 1913, the key Ottoman city strongholds of Edirne and Yannina had fallen to the Bulgarians and the Greeks. This stoked Enver’s ambitions to regain the initiative and gain personal glory. He managed to reconquer the former in 1913, to great acclaim that probably stoked his ambitions. He even married the Sultan’s niece, Princess Emine Naciye Sultan.

When WWI broke out, he schemed with the Germans to pull the Ottoman Empire into the war without the consent of the Sultan. Enver blindly trusted the Germans to the extent that he allowed Admiral Souchon, a German fleet commander, to become Commander-in-Chief of the Ottoman navy. Without the consent of the Ottoman cabinet, Souchon (with Enver’s permission) took the German ships Goeben & Breslau (as well as an assortment of Ottoman vessels) into the Black Sea and attacked Russian ports – so determined had Enver’s scheming been, that the Germans were even dressed in Ottoman uniforms. The war was on.

Enver called on a mobilisation of Ottoman men for jihad, falsely presenting a war for ethno-nationalist interests as a sacred duty upon them. So many turned up, and so slow was the response of Enver’s recruiting offices, that the harvest was ruined. It was a terrible start to what was to become a horrific debacle.[2]

In an attempt to gain back lands taken by Russia in the previous Russo-Turkish war, Enver sent his troops on the offensive around Sarikamish. They were utterly routed. Enver had barely equipped them with winter clothing; tens of thousands died during the retreat and the force was nearly wiped out. Enver’s response was to blame Armenian soldiers due to anti-Ottoman agitation by some Armenians, past and present – even though an Armenian soldier had saved his life.[3] This was an important stepping stone towards the Armenian genocide, which Enver was fully complicit in.

Enver talks to the British British attaché and the press in Constantinople (now Istanbul) after the 1913 coup.

Enver planned for his armies to retake Baghdad, but Ottoman troops deserted en masse – the Turkish nationalism promoted by the Young Turks did little to endear them to their Arab soldiers. In June 1917 soldiers had to be kept away from Enver’s visit to Beirut in case he was shot.[4] In 1918 he created the Army of Islam – a force German officers. With Russia out of the war, he decided to stage an attack into Azerbaijan & take over much of southern Russia (and the oil reserves of the Caucasus) before the Germans did. That’s right – just when the war was being badly lost, he planned to dash across southern Russia to beat Germany – his supposed ally. Genius! Any gains were swiftly abandoned on 30 October after the armistice, making the offensive meaningless.

On 4 October 1918 Enver was sacked and Talaat’s government resigned on 14 October. On 30 October the empire surrendered and all 3 Pashas fled. Enver fled to Germany and tried to build relations with the communists during the street fighting and chaos there (the Bolsheviks were trying to gain power). Meanwhile, Enver was tried in absentia and expelled from the army, charged with “plunging the country into war without a legitimate reason, forced deportation of Armenians and leaving the country without permission” and sentenced to death.

In April 1919 he had another genius move – defect to the Russian side! He contacted communist Karl Radek and offered his services in the fight in the East against the British. Lenin was interested and agreed –  Djemal went to the USSR, while Enver remained in Germany and agitated on behalf of Communist Russia against the imperial powers. After several abortive attempts to travel to Russia (which included time in a Lithuanian prison, deportation to Germany and three months in a Latvian jail) he finally got there.

Enver in full military regalia.

Enver was treated with deference and often given up to 500,000 in German marks to fund his schemes, even getting to meet Lenin himself on at least one occasion. Djemal Pasha went to Afghanistan in 1919 to assist in Enver’s scheming, eventually travelling to Georgia in 1922 and being shot by a vengeful Armenian nationalist who had lost his family in the Armenian genocide. Talaat had died in the same manner in the year prior. After fleeing Turkey, Enver told Djemal Pasha the following:

We were foolish, when we revolted against the Sultan. We were exactly like puppets in the hands of Zionism.

Enver carried on agitating for the Soviets in Baku, spending much time planning in Batumi. He offered his services to Atatürk, who was currently fighting the Entente forces during the Turkish war of independence. Atatürk, who strongly disliked Enver, turned him down. Eager to avoid any unpleasantness with the Turkish government, Lenin decided to shuttle Enver off to Bukhara (Uzbekistan) to organise the Muslims there and help quash Muslim resistance to the communists – the brutal communist effort to subjugate the Muslims of Central Asia had met with furious resistance.[5]

At this stage, Enver seems to have had some sort of epiphany. In January 1921 he defected – to the side of the Muslim rebels. Just prior to this, he had chaired a conference in Batum to plan a coup against Atatürk. Had he suddenly come back to Islam? Was this mere opportunism, and was he still a a secularist at heart? Who knows. Atatürk raged about the conference and the Soviet’s prevented Enver by force from returning to Turkey.

Enver is said to have sworn revenge on the communists. He told them he wanted to go to Transcaspia to meet Djemal, then go hunting in Bukhara—for what he did not say. In the city of Bukhara. Then suddenly, he vanished and reappeared as leader of the Muslim rebels.[6]

Enver trained and drilled a unit of hundreds of Muslim insurgents. Enver released proclamations signed, “Deputy Emir of Bukhara, Son-in-Law of the Caliph, Sayid Enver.” In 1922, he pompously sent Lenin a letter demanding the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Turkestan. He seemingly planned to form a grand new pan-Turkic empire.

The Soviets were horried. In a report to Moscow, deputy general consul in Dushanbe Nasyrbaev stated:

In all the areas not occupied by the Red Army the authority of the begs, the field staff has begun military training, new weapons workshops have opened, and regular communications have been reestablished with the Emir of Bukhara and Afghanistan, whence they receive material supplies and manpower. Communications have been established with the Basmachi in Ferghana. At the present moment Enver has ten thousand soldiers along with 16 machine guns. The field staff is located in the village of Kasrerun…12 miles from Baisun…With every day Enver grows stronger, and it is necessary to liquidate this adventure as quickly as possible, for in the not-far-off future it could assume an extremely serious character.[7]

In May 1922, the Red Army’s Turkistan intelligence department stated that:

The ever-growing organized character of Enver Pasha’s detachments has been noted by our agent networks. Enver Pasha is not only the factual commander of all rebel armed forces, but also the ideological leader of a pan-Islamic organization for all Turkestan. Our agent networks have noted the arrival to Enver’s group of detachments of Ferghana and Samarkand Basmachis and the maintenance of uninterrupted communications with the Emir of Bukhara. Enver receives Afghanistan’s moral and material assistance. The rebel movement goes under the slogan of liberation from the Russians.[8]

In January of 1922 Soviet intelligence concluded that there were 97 Muslim guerrilla groups of some 20,000 men. So hated were the Bolsheviks for their anti-Islam campaign that by May there were 116 guerrilla groups uniting a total of over 25,000 troops of various qualities.

Enver had maybe changed his tune – indeed, he may have even come back to Islam and abandoned secularism altogether. In March 1922 the Emir of Bukhara made him Supreme Commander of Muslim Forces and Deputy Emir. Enver then started to sign documents with a seal, declaring himself: “Commander-in-Chief of all the Armies of Islam, Son-in-Law of the Caliph and Representative of the Prophet.”[9] Hardly the secular rhetoric you would hear from someone who still retained an inferiority complex towards the west. Or was this just all talk? He  still a secularist when he formed the “Army of Islam”, after all.

What didn’t change, however, was his vanity.  Described by David Fromkin as a “vain, strutting man who loved uniforms, medals and titles”, he upset his good relationship with the Emir of Bukhara by describing himself as the Emir of Turkistan – while suppposedly serving the Emir of Bukhara! The latter apparently broke off relations with him, cutting off a key source of support. The Emir of Afghanistan, also probably sick of him, didn’t march to help him either.[10]

Moscow, however, was still concerned and a group of forces was dispatched specifically to counter Enver. The group fought Enver’s men in June 1922 and defeated a large group of his forces. Enver and his men retreated deeper into the rural regions and Enver was ultimately ambushed and killed – although where is still an issue of dispute.

Yakov Melkumov (AKA Hakob Melkumian, an Armenian) who commanded the Soviet army’s First Turkestan Special Cavalry Brigade, left a partial account of Enver’s demise, claiming that Enver escaped a battle near his headquarters near Ab-i-Derya village, hid for four days in Chagan, and was then killed in an ambush outside a masjid (mosque) – by Melkumov himself.[11] Yet even this account is questionable, and possibly embellished in order to impress his superiors:

…the morning prayers had finished, and the raiders began coming out of the mosque. Pushing aside local residents, they formed a living corridor. At the threshold of the mosque appeared Enver Pasha, accompanied by Dovlyatman-Bey and other commanders. Unhurriedly they went to their horses. And here Savko ordered his machine-gunners to open fire on this group.

Panic ensued. The cavalrymen quickly spurred their horses, and the squadron attacked. In a few minutes the square in front of the mosque had emptied. Local residents identified Enver Pasha and Dovlyatman-Bey among those killed. Both of them had been cut down by machine-gun fire.[12]

There are very conflicting accounts of Enver’s demise. Some say that Enver was ambushed at Ab-i-Derya, yet he and his men got onto their horses and bravely charged the enemy, only to be killed by the machine gun fire. This is the story narrated by Enver Pasha’s aide Yaver Suphi Bey.[13] Another account states that Enver and his commanders were holding a meeting happened upon by the Soviets. The Basmachi and the Soviet cavalry clashed in an epic battle of whirling swords in the manner of some sort of Medieval frenzy, every man for himself. The stories goes that the Basmachi were finally defeated and Enver’s headless body was found on the battlefield, identified by a ring, some letters and his grandiose clothing.

Louis Fischer, writing in Spring 1930, authored the latter account. He claims it was discovered afterwards by the Soviets that it had been a meeting of important Basmachi khans and sheikhs. At the meeting, Enver had decided to give up the Basmachi struggle, pass on his command to his chiefs, and retire to Afghanistan – to potentially return to politics and war at a later date. The meeting was supposed to have taken place at Bald-jhan, some eighty kilometres from the Afghan border.[14]


What are we to make of the last days of Ismail Enver Pasha’s life? While it’s clear that in his earlier life he was anything but a Muslim for much of his younger years (owing to his opposition to key parts of Islam and admiration of secularist governance) by the end of his life the image was clouded as to make a final picture difficult.

He was the commander who betrayed his ruler, yet regretted it. The man who pledged allegiance to the Germans, then got rejected by them. The commander who swore fealty to the Bolsheviks, then broke with them to lead a band of Muslim rebels. The almost life-long liberal secularist who was, at the end of his life, signing his documents with a grandiose seal in the manner of the Ottoman Caliphs of old. He was the leader who claimed to fight for Islam, yet very possibly clung onto pan-Turkic ideals until the end. He was the general who deserted his land and his armies to save his skin, yet was apparently willing to charge into battle heroically more than once.

Did Enver come back to Islam and his senses? It’s possible. I find it hard to draw a full picture of this eccentric, enigmatic man with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Armenians on his hands. Did he change his ways, or did secular opportunism motivate him to the end? God knows best.

Either way, his foolishness destroyed what was left of one of the greatest empires known to mankind. His legacy serves as a reminder to Muslims of how not to run your affairs – a reminder that many of us seem to have left unheeded.

There are still, unbelievably, some who blame the Armenian genocide and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire on Islam – despite the fact that the Young Turks were secularists who sought to eliminate Islam from public life and turn the empire into a secular state in the manner of France and Britain.

There had never been genocidal issues of this sort before – until liberalism reared its head in the Ottoman Empire. Having studied aspects of the history and sociology of genocide, it seems to me that genocide is the logical conclusion of a system that professes tolerance, yet can seemingly tolerate nothing but itself.


[1] Silahdar (2018). After Jerusalem, Israel Eyes Mecca & Medina.

[2] Fromkin, David (2001). A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. New York: H. Holt. p. 119.

[3] Derogy, Jacques. Resistance and Revenge, p. 12 Published 1986, Transaction Publishers.

[4] Woodward 1998, pp. 160–1.

[5] Hackard, Mark (2005). The Demise of Enver Pasha.

[6] Fischer, Louis (1930). The End of Enver Pasha. VQR, Vol. 6/2, Spring 1930.

[7] Hackard, Mark (2005). The Demise of Enver Pasha.

[8] Hackard, Mark (2005). The Demise of Enver Pasha.

[9] David Fromkin 1997, pp.487.

[10] David Fromkin 1997, pp.487.

[11] Melkumov, Ya. A. (1960), Туркестанцы (Memoirs), Moscow.

[12] Hackard, Mark (2005). The Demise of Enver Pasha.

[13] Suphi Bey, Yaver (2007), Enver Paşa’nın Son Günleri, Çatı Kitapları, p. 239.

[14] Fischer, Louis (1930). The End of Enver Pasha. VQR, Vol. 6/2, Spring 1930.

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