Ismet Inonu Recalls Yemen Campaign [Archives:1998/08/Reportage]

February 23 1998

Ismet Inonu, the second president of Turkey was responsible for modernizing Turkey after World War II and establishing democratic institutions there as president from 1938 to 1950 and while serving twice as Prime Minister. He went to the Ottoman Military Academy before serving in Yemen between 1910 and 1913, and it is this period this article deals with. He came to Yemen as a captain and went up through the ranks while in service here. He was known for his involvement in the liberation of Turkey in the early 1920’s. Later he became head of the military command on the western front. He became prime minister before becoming the second president of Turkey for 12 years from 1938. And he became prime minister again for two years from 1961. He died in 1973. The following details were obtained from his memoirs on the Yemen campaign.

‘Domestic Disorder and Uprisings’
Ismet had heard of an uprising in Yemen and was asked by Ahmet Pasha to join the operation there. Then Ismet was concerned of the fate of Rumelia (the Turkish region in Europe), yet by being assigned to Yemen, he thought he did not have the right to choose where he had to perform his duty.

‘From Rumelia to Yemen’
By the beginning of 1910 Ismet knew that the Hamidye cruiser would take Ahmet Izzet’s Pasha’s headquarters to Yemen.
Ismet arrived by a cruiser to the port of Hodeida as a captain of the Ottoman navy in 1910 after stopping at Jeddah. There he found that the Tihama region was still loyal to the Ottomans. But there was unrest nearby; his goal was to participate in the settling of uprisings in the Asir region north of the port, Sayid Idris wanted autonomy for the coastal region to the north. Also the region controlled by the Zaydis was under heavy siege from the north and east and the Ottoman government wanted to re-establish the administration there.
Ismet remembered that the difficulties not only included freeing the regions from Yemeni riots and sieges but also diseases like cholera and malaria which were a major threat to the soldiers. Later, during the military operation is was important to keep soldiers vaccinated against diseases like cholera. Road links from the governorate to Sanaa were controlled by military stations that had to liberated from Yemeni sieges. Since it was impossible for reserve units in Sanaa to prevent Yemeni attacks, the central government in Istanbul decided to deploy more troops. Further difficulties witnessed by the soldiers in Yemen were the poor means of transport and the fact that they could only get around by mule or camel. In the meantime new military hardware was being shipped from the motherland.

‘The Military Operation Began’
In 1911 the Ottomans had gathered sufficient men to enter the mountainous region controlled by the Zaydis. Ahmet Izzet Pasha had collected troops near the Manakha mountains, sent another branch to Taiz and then ordered an attack. In several places the Yemenis resisted but finally Sanaa was reached in eight to ten days. Still the Imam controlled certain areas like Taiz, Hacce and Hacur and had to be reckoned with. At that time a special office was opened by the Ottomans for the purpose of giving money and gifts to the sheiks of the Imam region. New Ottoman troops were surprised and dismayed to see this. Ahmet Pasha was also looking for ways to meet Imam Yahya so that reconciliation over the conflict could be obtained.
Yemeni campaigns began as riots which spread around the Ottoman military stations that were then sieged or just cut off. Food and money was an important issue because large military operations were expensive and an army had to be fed. Finally the military operations ended but the resistance by Sayed Idris in the Sabya region continued. Lack of water was the determining factor which halted the advance of the Ottomans there. So a question occurred as to how to solve the situation; chase the Imam to his last village or try to reconcile with him. Istanbul put forward the second option while at the time there had been friendly demonstrations in Yemen favoring the Ottoman army and administration. Unfortunately hopes for a peaceful settlement did not last long.

‘The Colonial Mentality did not Approve the Agreement’
While Ismet was promoted major and then Chief of Staff, he felt that many officials in Istanbul were unhappy about the reconciliation going on in Yemen. He thought that many of the Ottomans felt superior to the Yemenis while living there for many years; such was the opinion of a group of Ottomans living in Yemen whose resistance to reconciliatory efforts had to be beaten so that peace could be maintained. Another obstacle to peace was that the people sent to Yemen to keep the religious courts open there and explain the Hanafi sect to the Zaydis were against reconciliation.
Negotiations with the Imam were deadlocked as Istanbul refused to recognize the Imam’s control over the Zaydis. The root of the struggle lay in Istanbul wanting the Imam to recognize the superiority of the caliphate. Then, it was difficult to find a sound reason for any differences between the Zaydis and Hanafis. Also the Ottomans were aware of the low British profile in maintaining their superiority in the gulf region and they wanted to do be just as inconspicuous in Yemen.
In the meantime Sayed Idris allied himself with foreign support to help defeat the Ottomans and the Pasha secured an alliance with the Imam to help overthrow Sayed Idris. The Yemen campaign shifted to the Tihama and Luhiya regions and news of the Balkan war caused Ahmet Pasha to leave Yemen in secret, and he was succeeded by Ferid Said Pasha. With the break out of the 1912 Balkan war, the Ottoman government lost power and the defense minister lost his post. These events had obviously a negative influence on the presence of the Ottomans in Yemen.
After peace was agreed between Italy and the Ottoman government, the battle against Sayed Idris also ended. In Yemen though, Imam Yahya was angered by the fact he had entered a war with the Ottomans against Sayed.

‘I was Instructed to Meet Imam Yahya’
This followed a directive from Istanbul to meet the Imam in order to find a solution to the conflict. The meeting was at the Imam’s headquarters in Kafletuluzer. Security was very tight. When Ismet arrived at the Imam’s capital city, he met the Imam in his office. The Imam had heard of Ismet’s qualities and good relationship with the Ottoman headquarters and wanted to benefit from this to solve the conflict. The Imam declared Sayed to be a disbeliever because he made an alliance with a non-Muslim state against Islam. Now he wanted to take back his accusation and asked Ismet for help. Negotiations began again the next day in the Imam’s office again. Ismet asked him if he could make peace immediately and the Imam said he couldn’t. Ismet suggested that peace would keep the Imam from danger. As a solution it was agreed that the Imam would be surrounded by an Ottoman platoon, provided with weapons and that Ismet would inform Istanbul that the conflict was over.
In front of Ismet’s bastion an Ottoman soldier speaking Anatolian Turkish asked to be rescued and said that he had been working in the weaponry workshop of the Imam. So Ismet began to argue over the matter with the Imam through an interpreter. He asked for the release of the munitions man and the Imam refused; his reason was that few people were experienced in manufacturing weapons. Clearly the Imam was not cooperating on one of the basic agreements he made with Istanbul. In the meantime some other prisoners of war had been released.

‘The Enjoyable Side of our Private Lives in Yemen’
Ismet was to go to Istanbul in the beginning of 1913 after being in Yemen for almost 3 years. He recalled that despite the difficulties, he spent most of his time in headquarters. After dinner the young staff officers played bridge with the army commander while the pasha sometimes played chess. Soon Ismet discovered why the pasha wanted games to be played in the evening; so that the soldiers would avoid getting homesick. Ismet became acquainted with western classical music; he listened to some records on a gramophone that was sent to headquarters. He and his comrades listed to symphony, opera songs and serenade. If the soldiers were not tired playing bridge then they would gather around a long table, recount their past in the motherland and sing songs. They brought all kinds of food and drink they had in their baggage.

‘Explanatory Note on the Treaty of Da’an’
This treaty applied specifically to the Yemeni highlands along a line from Amran and Hajja south to and including Taiz. A free hand was given to the Imam over the northern areas under his control while the Tihama region was to remain firmly Ottoman. The Imam was empowered to appoint judges in the Zaydi areas, establish a court of appeals, direct administration in the Awkaf region and inform the Ottoman governor of abuses of authority made by Ottoman officials. This made the Imam supreme in applying canon law.

Martin Dansky / Yemen Times