The Circassian: A Life of Esref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent

November 28, 2020
The Circassian: A Life of Esref Bey, Late Ottoman Insurgent and Special Agent

Esref Kusçubasi remains controversial in Turkey over fifty yearsafter his death. Elsewhere the man sometimes called the "TurkishLawrence of Arabia" is far less known but his life offersfascinating insights into the traumatic, increasingly violentstruggles that ended the Ottoman Empire and ushered in the modernMiddle East. Drawing on Esref's private papers for the first time,these pages tell the story of the making of a headstrong"self-sacrificing" officer committed to defending the empire'sshrinking borders. Esref took on a string of special assignmentsfor Enver Pasha, the rapidly rising star of the Ottoman military,first in Libya against the Italians, then in the Balkan Wars andWorld War I, before being captured by the forces of the Arab Revoltand turned over to the British and imprisoned on Malta. Released in1920, he joined the national resistance movement in Anatolia butfell out with Mustafa Kemal's leadership and switched sides,earning him banishment from the Turkish Republic at its foundingand exile until the 1950s. Never far from the action orcontroversy, Esref's dynamic story provides an importantcounterpoint to the standard narrative of the transition fromempire to nation state.