During their service in the Ottoman Empire, German soldiers typically came into close contact with their Ottoman comrades and members of the civilian population. Particularly the officers of the military mission, who themselves donned Turkish uniforms, were tightly bound to the Ottoman structures and worked daily with Turkish superiors and subordinates. The cooperation was a cultural challenge for both sides, which began at the level of understanding. Although several officers learned Turkish at the Berlin seminar for Middle Eastern languages, or had taught themselves some of the language, mostly the communication was only possible using interpreters or with the predominant foreign language in the region: French. Often these conditions led to communication problems that became fertile ground for misunderstanding and distrust. The significant cultural differences between Germans and Turks or Arabs frequently became clear in their mutual dealings. For example, while the Germans considered the Middle Eastern approach to time to be incompatible with the principles of warfare, the Germans’ impatience appeared to be crude and impolite to the Turks. This also applied to the Prussian-German language of command: the Turks interpreted the orders as insulting, while German soldiers, hearing the prolonged Middle Eastern styles of communication, often tended to assess their Turkish brothers-in-arms as being neglectful of their duties.
Respective differences in mentality and communication markedly affected the military cooperation at the base and on the front. Two oppositional basic patterns are detectable from the behavior of German officers: a group of officers rigorously attempted to apply German rules to the Turks, which typically led to significant dissatisfaction for both parties. Another group - and this was the majority of the officers who stayed longer in the Ottoman Empire - assumed throughout their dealings that the specific conditions in the Middle East were given and ineradicable. Among their comrades, these men were known as being ‘vertürkt’ (‘turkishized’). This position, so open to compromise, proved to be markedly more promising for success. Simultaneously, these officers however also ran the risk of sliding from a position of cultural competence into one of resignation.
The End in 1918 and Afterwards
Although it was the English offensive that ultimately led to the collapse of the Ottoman front, cracks in the mutual alliance surfaced even before this time: the war goals and interests of both powers had drifted further and further apart from one another. At the end of October 1918, the Ottoman government finally signed the Armistice of Mudros. From that point on, the German Supreme Army Command’s goal was to repatriate the German troops from the Ottoman Empire as quickly as possible, which at the end of the war, was about 13,500 men. In November, some of these men were evacuated in ships to Odessa, while others were interned by the British and first left Constantinople at the end of January 1919 by crossing the Mediterranean. German soldiers who ended up in English war captivity during the fighting found themselves in Egypt: in Heliopolis, nearby Cairo, was a large prisoner of war camp where one captive produced the model of the complex, seen here. Being the last German soldiers in the Middle East, these soldiers came home towards the end of 1919.
Soon after the war, German soldiers began to recollect their time in the Ottoman Empire with the brightest of colors. Many assessed the encounter with the Middle Eastern culture as an enriching cultural experience, despite all of the terrors and hardship in this theater of war. Even their judgment of their Turkish comrades became increasingly more positive. In 1919, veterans had already formed an affiliation called ‘Bund der Asienkämpfer’ (League of Asian Warriors). In the organization’s newsletter, it is particularly clear how this veteran’s league differed from others of its kind: aside from personal war memories, the critical analysis of the society, politics and culture of the Middle East adopted a central importance. However, as seen through reunions like that of the former members of the Ottoman Ordnance Department, the sense of camaraderie was also maintained among the Asienkämpfer. This also applies, to a certain extent, to the German-Turkish encounters: personal wartime connections with a ‘brother in arms’ proved to be long-lasting and even until the 1960s, German and Turkish veterans of the World War came together for group meetings in both countries.
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Stein, Oliver: German Soldiers in the Ottoman Empire, 1914-1918. Introductory Text to the Exhibition of www.mwme.eu (2015), URL: http://www.mwme.eu/essays/index.html
Translated by Westrey Page (Freie Universität Berlin)