On this day in 1918, with Turkish forces in the final months of fighting against the Allied powers during World War I, Mohammed V, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, dies at the age of 73.
Born in 1844 in Constantinople, Mohammed ascended to the throne in 1909 after the forced abdication of his elder brother, Abdul Hamid, under pressure from the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), a rising political party known as the Young Turkey Party, or the Young Turks. Bent on modernizing the fading Ottoman Empire and stopping European powers from taking Ottoman territory, the Young Turks fomented a rebellion within the Ottoman Third Army in 1908 and forced the sultan to meet their demands and restore the Turkish constitution. The army, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (later known as Ataturk, he became the first president of Turkey) consolidated power for the CUP the following year, forcing the sultan to abdicate in favor of his brother Mohammed.
The leaders of the CUP, particularly Enver Pasha, effectively dictated the course of events over the next decade, as the new sultan, a gentle man, was little able to exert much of his own will on the throne. The results were not good for the empire: over the course of 1912-13, it lost virtually all of its remaining European territory during the two Balkan Wars and an unsuccessful war with Italy over Tripoli. In November 1914, Turkey entered the First World War on the side of the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, against Britain, France and Russia. Though he had initially opposed his country’s participation in the war, Sultan Mohammed now exhorted his army–as well as all Muslims, including those living in Allied countries–to fight exhaustively against the empire’s enemies, proclaiming that “Right and loyalty are on our side, and hatred and tyranny on the side of our enemies, and therefore there is no doubt that the Divine help and assistance of the just God and the moral support of our glorious Prophet will be on our side to encourage us. I feel convinced that from this struggle we shall emerge as an empire that has made good the losses of the past and is once more glorious and powerful.”
By the time Mohammed V died, on July 3, 1918, Turkish forces had endured nearly four exhausting years of war, including a full-scale Allied land invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula and aggressive Allied incursions into Mesopotamia, and were teetering on the brink of defeat. Within six months of the sultan’s death (he was succeeded by his brother, Mohammed VI), Constantinople itself was occupied by the Allies, and the once-great Ottoman Empire was in shambles.