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The "Three Pashas" (Ottoman Turkish: اوچ پاشلار, Turkish: Üç Paşalar) refers to the triumvirate of senior officials who effectively ruled the Ottoman Empire during World War I: Mehmed Talaat Pasha (1874–1921), the Grand Vizier (prime minister) and Minister of the Interior; Ismail Enver Pasha (1881–1922), the Minister of War; and Ahmed Cemal Pasha (1872–1922), the Minister of the Navy.
The Three Pashas were largely responsible for the Empire's entry into World War I in 1914 and also largely responsible for the death of over one million Armenians in the Armenian genocide. The Turkish public widely criticized the Three Pashas for causing the Ottoman Empire to enter WWI. All three met violent deaths after the war - Talaat and Cemal were assassinated, while Enver died leading the Basmachi Revolt near Dushanbe, present-day Tajikistan.
Western scholars hold that after the 1913 Ottoman coup d'état, these three men became the de facto rulers of the Ottoman Empire until its dissolution following World War I. They were members of the Committee of Union and Progress, a progressive organization that they eventually came to control and transform into a primarily Pan-Turkist political party.
The Three Pashas were the principal players in the Ottoman–German Alliance and the Ottoman Empire's entry into World War I on the side of the Central Powers. One of the three, Ahmed Cemal, was opposed to an alliance with Germany, and French and Russian diplomacy attempted to keep the Ottoman Empire out of the war; but Germany was agitating for a commitment. Finally, on 29 October, the point of no return was reached when Admiral Wilhelm Souchon took SMS Goeben, SMS Breslau, and a squadron of Ottoman warships into the Black Sea (see pursuit of Goeben and Breslau) and raided the Russian ports of Odessa, Sevastopol, and Theodosia. It was claimed that Ahmed Cemal agreed in early October 1914 to authorize Admiral Souchon to launch a pre-emptive strike.
Ismail Enver had only once taken the control of any military activity (Battle of Sarıkamış), and left the Third Army in ruins. The First Suez Offensive and Arab Revolt are Ahmed Cemal's most significant failures.
While the triumvirate consisted of Talat, Enver, and Cemal, some say Halil Bey was a fourth member of this clique. Historian Hans-Lukas Kieser asserts that this state of rule by the Three Pashas triumvirate is only accurate for the year 1913–1914, and that Talat Pasha would increasingly become a more central figure within the Union and Progress party state, especially once he also became Grand Vizier in 1917. Alternatively, it would also be accurate to call the Unionist regime a clique or even an oligarchy, as many prominent Unionists held some form of de jure or de facto power. Other than the Three Pashas and Halil Bey, personalities such as Dr. Nazım, Bahaeddin Şakir, Mehmed Reşid, Ziya Gökalp, and the party's secretary general Midhat Şükrü also dominated the Central Committee without formal positions in the Ottoman government. The CUP regime was also less hierarchically totalitarian than future European dictatorships. Instead of relying on strict and rigid chains of command the regime functioned through the balancing of factions through massive corruption and kickbacks. Individual governors were allowed much autonomy, such as Cemal Pasha's governorship of Syria and Rahmi Bey's governorship of the Izmir vilayet. This lack of rule of law, lack of respect to the constitution, and extreme corruption would worsen as the regime aged.
Involvement in Armenian Genocide
As de facto rulers, the Three Pashas have been considered the masterminds behind the Armenian Genocide. After the war the three were put on trial (in their absence) and sentenced to death, although the sentences were not carried out. Talaat and Cemal were assassinated in exile in 1921 and 1922 by Armenians; Enver died in a Red Army ambush in Tajikistan in 1922 while trying to raise a Muslim anti-Russian insurrection.
Reputation in the Republic of Turkey
After World War I and the ensuing Turkish War of Independence, much of the population of the newly established Republic of Turkey as well its founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk widely criticized the Three Pashas for having caused the Ottoman Empire's entrance into World War I, and the subsequent collapse of the state. As early as 1912, Atatürk (then just Mustafa Kemal) had severed his ties to the Three Pashas' Committee of Union and Progress, dissatisfied with the direction that they had taken the party, as well as developing a rivalry with Enver Pasha. Although Enver Pasha later attempted to join the Turkish War of Independence, the Angora (Ankara) government under Atatürk blocked his return to Turkey and his efforts to join the war effort.
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