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Coup in Constantinople

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The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in 2014, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 53rd installment in the series. (See all entries here.)

January 23, 1913: Coup in Constantinople, Betrayal in the Balkans, Conniving in the Caucasus

In January 1913 there was reason to hope the First Balkan War was winding down. After the Ottoman Empire suffered crushing defeats at the hands of the Balkan League—Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro—the two sides agreed to a ceasefire and entered into peace negotiations at the Conference of London beginning in December 1912.

As might be expected, these negotiations were a bit rocky: On January 1, 1913, the Turks said they were willing to give up almost all of their European territory, but not the key city of Adrianople, where the Turkish garrison was still holding out against a Bulgarian siege. The Bulgarians wouldn’t make peace if they didn’t get Adrianople. This conflict threatened to deadlock the negotiations, which were suspended on January 6.

On January 17, Europe’s Great Powers intervened by warning the Turkish representatives that if they didn’t make peace soon, the Ottoman Empire faced the loss of its Asian territories as well—a bold-faced threat. This arm-twisting paid off; on January 22, the Turkish negotiators thought better of their earlier refusal and agreed to give up Adrianople. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief.

But their relief was premature. On January 23, 1913, the Turkish “Liberal Union” government that agreed to the deal was overthrown by military officers from the rival Committee of Union and Progress, better known as the Young Turks, led by Enver Pasha, the commander of the Constantinople reserve army.

Emboldened by their defensive victory at Chataldzha and horrified by the suffering of some 400,000 Turkish refugees streaming in from the Balkans, the nationalist officers refused to give up Adrianople before it had even been lost. Instead, they deposed the Grand Vizier, Kamil Pasha, and shot the Minister of War, Nazim Pasha, as punishment for his failure in the First Balkan War. Hoping to reinvigorate the Turkish military, the officers appointed a non-political general (and recent Minister of War), Mahmud Shevket Pasha, as the new Grand Vizier. The First Balkan War would drag on.

The Balkan League Begins to Fray

The Turks had reason to be hopeful. Although the members of the Balkan League presented a united front in their peace negotiations with the Ottoman Empire, tensions were rising over the division of spoils from the First Balkan War. In June 1913 these disputes would lead to the Second Balkan War, pitting Bulgaria against its former allies Serbia and Greece (plus Turkey and Romania for good measure).

The trouble was already brewing in January 1913, as intervention by Europe’s Great Powers triggered a chain reaction of conflicting territorial demands. Fearing the growth of Serbian power, Austria-Hungary was determined to prevent the small Slavic kingdom from gaining access to the sea, raising the possibility of war with Serbia’s backer Russia. To avoid a wider European conflagration, the Great Powers moved to placate Austria-Hungary by convincing Russia to agree to the creation of a new, independent Albania, which would block Serbia from the sea.

Albanian independence was crucial to defusing broader European tensions, but it did so at the cost of local stability in the Balkans. Because Serbia was forced to give up its conquests in Albania, it became even more determined to hold on to its conquests to the east, in Macedonia – including territory also claimed by Bulgaria. On January 13, 1913, Serbia sent Bulgaria a diplomatic note formally requesting to revise their treaty of March 1912 to give Serbia a bigger chunk of Macedonia, noting that Bulgaria hadn’t committed the promised number of troops to their joint operations in Macedonia.

Of course this was bound to infuriate the Bulgarians, who felt that their focus on defeating the Turks closer to home, in Thrace, had benefited the whole Balkan League. Meanwhile Bulgaria also had a bone to pick with Greece over the city of Salonika, the southern gateway to the Balkans. To top it all off, Romania was also demanding territorial compensation from Bulgaria in return for recognizing its conquests in Thrace. A new coalition was coming into being, this time directed against Bulgaria.

Russia Uses Kurds and Armenians as Pawns

In addition to losing its Balkan territories, farther east the beleaguered Ottoman Empire faced the threat of Russian aggression in the Caucasus. Here the Russians employed a time-tested ruse, combining covert action and diplomatic pressure, as cynical as anything dreamed up by a modern intelligence agency in the 21st century.

The ruse entailed using the Armenian and Kurdish populations of the Ottoman Empire as pawns to justify Russian intervention. Essentially, the Russians secretly armed the Muslim Kurds and Christian Armenians and encouraged them to fight each other as well as the Turkish government, thus creating a pretext for the Russians to step in as the “protectors” of the Armenians, incorporating the Armenian region into the Russian Empire while they were at it.

On November 26, 1912, the Russian ambassador to Constantinople, Baron von Giers, demanded that the Turks institute “reforms” granting more autonomy to the Armenians – a preamble to Russian annexation of the region. Meanwhile on November 28, 1912, Russian foreign minister Sergei Sazonov sent a secret directive to Russian consuls in eastern Anatolia telling them to work to unite the Kurdish tribes (never an easy task), and between December 1912 and February 1913 several Kurdish chiefs secretly swore fealty to the Russians.

In short, the Russians were creating a problem so they could solve it. Of course, by setting themselves up as the Armenians’ saviors, the Russians also stoked Turkish paranoia about Armenian loyalty (or lack thereof), laying the groundwork for the horrific Armenian Genocide during the coming Great War.

The other Great Powers were aware of what was going on, at least to some degree: on January 23, 1913, the German ambassador to St. Petersburg, Count Friedrich Pourtalès, wrote a letter to the German chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, warning him that Kurdish atrocities against Armenians would create an opening for Russia to expand into eastern Anatolia. As noted previously, this was unacceptable to the Germans, who feared they would lose out if the other Great Powers started dividing up the Ottoman Empire; a Russian advance in Anatolia would also threaten the proposed “Berlin to Baghdad” railway, a key part of Germany’s push to increase its influence in the Middle East.

See all installments of the World War I Centennial series here.

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Bea Arthur: Golden Girl, U.S. Marine
Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

When Bea Arthur joined the cast of The Golden Girls in 1985, she had already established an impressive career on stage and television. But one of her most important jobs predates her acting career—for 2.5 years, Arthur served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

According to the National World War II Museum, her service came at a time when women enlisting in the military was still an anomaly. The country had recently entered the Second World War, and the Marines began recruiting women as a way to free more men to fill combat roles. The Marines opened the Women's Reserve in 1943 after every other military branch had already started accepting female members.

One of the program's first enrollees was a 20-year-old woman who was called Bernice Frankel at the time, and who's best known as Bea Arthur today. Prior to enlisting, she had attended Blackstone College in Virginia for a year, worked as a food analyst at the Phillips Packing Company, and volunteered as a civilian air-raid warden. As she later wrote in a letter, she joined the Marines on a whim: “I was supposed to start work yesterday, but heard last week that enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so [I] decided the only thing to do was to join.”

After attending the first Women Reservists school at Hunter College in New York, Arthur spent the remainder of her service at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina as a truck driver and typist. According to her Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), she exhibited “meticulous good taste” and was "argumentative," "over aggressive," and “officious—but probably a good worker if she has her own way!”

Bea Arthur entered the Marines a private and had risen to staff sergeant by the time she was discharged. Her exit paperwork shows that she expressed interest in going to drama school after the military, foreshadowing a long career ahead.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Henry Kissinger
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Keystone/Getty Images

You probably know Henry Kissinger as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Let’s take a look at five things you might not know about the German-born political scientist and diplomat.

1. MAO ZEDONG TRIED TO GIVE HIM "10 MILLION" WOMEN.

In 1973, Henry Kissinger was engaged in a discussion of trade with Mao Zedong when the chairman abruptly changed the subject by saying, “We [China] don't have much. What we have in excess is women. So if you want them we can give a few of those to you, some tens of thousands.”

Kissinger sidestepped this bizarre offer and changed the subject, but Mao later returned to the subject by jokingly asking, “Do you want our Chinese women? We can give you 10 million.”

This time Kissinger diplomatically replied, “It is such a novel proposition. We will have to study it.”

Other Chinese officials in the room pointed out that Mao’s attitudes toward women would cause quite a stir if the press got their hands on these quotes, so Mao apologized to his female interpreter and talked Kissinger into having the comments removed from the records of the meeting.

2. NO, HE'S NOT THE INSPIRATION FOR DR. STRANGELOVE.

Here’s a riddle that’s been bugging film buffs for decades: who was the basis for the title character in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove? For years many observers thought that Kissinger might have inspired Peter Sellers’s memorable performance. Blame it on the accent and the glasses. Even though Kissinger was still a relatively obscure Harvard professor when the film premiered in 1964, the rumor that Kubrick modeled the character on him just wouldn't die.

Kubrick did what he could to dispel this notion before his death, saying, “I think this is slightly unfair to Kissinger ... It was unintentional. Neither Peter nor I had ever seen Kissinger before the film was shot.” Most observers now think that Dr. Strangelove was actually a distorted version of Herman Kahn, an eccentric nuclear strategist for the RAND Corporation.

3. HE WAS QUITE THE LADIES MAN.

Even in his youth, Kissinger didn’t quite fit the bill of a matinee idol, but he has always been a hit with the ladies. A 1972 poll of Playboy bunnies selected Kissinger as the man with whom Hef’s ladies would most like to go out on a date. He also had a string of celebrity girlfriends in his younger days, including Diane Sawyer, Candice Bergen, Jill St. John, Shirley Maclaine, and Liv Ullman, who called Kissinger, “the most interesting man I have ever met.”

Kissinger’s swinging bachelor days are long gone, though. He was married to Ann Fleischer from 1949 to 1964 then married philanthropist Nancy Maginnes in 1974—a union that at one point seemed so improbable that just a year before they tied the knot, Maginnes had called speculation that she and Kissinger would marry “outrageous.”

4. PROTECTING HIM ISN'T ALWAYS EASY.

In 1985 former Secret Service agent Dennis McCarthy released the memoir Protecting the President—The Inside Story of a Secret Service Agent, in which he described being on Kissinger’s security detail as “a real pain.” McCarthy shared a funny anecdote about a 1977 trip to Acapulco with Kissinger and his wife. There were signs warning of sharks in the water, but Nancy wanted to go for a swim. Kissinger then told his security detail to get in the water to guard for sharks.

Personal protection is one thing, but McCarthy and his fellow agents drew the line at fighting off sharks. Instead, they made the reasonable point that if the Kissingers were afraid of sharks, they shouldn’t go swimming. Agent McCarthy did, however, offer a compromise; he told Kissinger, “If the sharks come up on this beach, my agents will fight them.”

5. THE STATE DEPARTMENT NIXED HIS OFFICIAL PORTRAIT.

Official portraits of government luminaries don’t usually become big news, but in 1978 the painting of Kissinger commissioned by the State Department for its gallery made headlines. Boston artist Gardner Cox had previously painted Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and Dean Rusk, so he got the $12,000 commission to paint Kissinger. The finished product didn’t earn rave reviews, though.

Some viewers at the State Department thought the painting lacked Kissinger’s dynamism and made him look “somewhat a dwarf.” Others felt the portrait was “a rogues' gallery thing." The State Department offered to let Cox fix the painting, but he said he didn’t see anything that need changing. He lost the commission but got $700 for his expenses.

Kissinger took the whole episode in stride, though. When Houston artist J. Anthony Wills painted a replacement, Kissinger declared it to be, “an excellent likeness, swelled head and all,” and called the unveiling "one of my most fulfilling moments. Until they do Mount Rushmore."

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