The Ottoman Culture of Defeat

Book Review

Richard Brown, last updated: 22nd February 2017

The Balkan Wars and their Aftermath

The Ottoman Culture of Defeat: The Balkan Wars and their Aftermath by Eyal Ginio (Hurst and Company London), 2016 376pp., £50 hard, ISBN 978-1-84904-541-4

When the first Balkan War broke out in October 1912, few Ottomans anticipated that it would prove to be a climactic turning point for the Empire and end in ignominy, national catastrophe and the loss of its remaining provinces in the Balkans. Defeat at the hands of an alliance of Balkan powers--Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro—provided the contest for the Balkan Crisis of 1914 and served as a prelude to World War I. It was also a moment of deep national trauma and led to bitter soul-searching, giving rise to a so-called ‘Culture of Defeat’ in which condemnation and criticism flourished in a way seemingly at odds with the reformist debate that followed the Young Turk Revolution of 1908. Eyal Ginio’s meticulously researched book uncovers the different visual and written products of the defeat, published in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic and Ladino, with the aim of understanding how the experience of defeat was perceived, analysed and commemorated by different sectors in Ottoman society showing that it is key to understanding the actions of the Ottoman political elite during the subsequent World War and the early decades of the Turkish Republic