The Last Ottoman Generation by Michael Provence is a beautiful book, focused on the military and civilian Ottoman elite who were born in the late 19th century, fought in World War I and then went on to deal with the aftermath of defeat as European colonialism took grip. Their dislocation and different ways of dealing with the new power balance makes for remarkable reading.
They shared common origins and training, mainly in the Military Staff Colleges of Istanbul, as well as its Mulkiye system, but were scattered by war and the dissolution of the empire.
Those who feature strongly in the book are figures of extraordinary importance to the making of the modern Middle East, such as Mustafa Kemal, the founder of the modern republic of Turkey.
The core themes of this book are the anxieties and loss that came with the fall of a modernising empire for an elite who had been trained and conditioned to defend it. What do they do next? In particular, the Arab-Ottomans in that cohort faced the most difficult choices in how to deal with that new reality, amid their weakness, British-French cooperation/rivalry and the rise of the Zionist project.
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