The Demise of Enver Pasha

Turkish warlord Enver Pasha (1881-1922) was not only the architect of the Armenian genocide, but also a key player in the early twentieth-century Great Game. A consummate intriguer, Enver attempted forging a Pan-Turkic empire in Central Asia, where he would meet his death at the hands of the Red Army.


The assassination of Enver Pasha cannot be called a special operation in the full sense of the word. It was sooner a special military operation carried out by the forces of the army and special services. But we can form a conception of how Soviet power was established in Central Asia, and by what methods, on its example.

The biography of Enver Pasha, an international adventurer and leader of the Basmachi, merits detailed description. He was born on November 23rd, 1881, in Istanbul in the family of Ahmed-Bey, a minor official from the Ministry of Social Work. Choosing for himself a military career, he began his service as a junior officer in a small provincial garrison in Macedonia. The situation in Turkey’s hinterlands during that period was complex. Albanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, and Macedonians no longer wished to be under Turkish power and waged guerrilla war against the Sultan’s forces. Captain Enver-Bey distinguished himself in battles against partisan units, for which he was rose early to the rank of major.

But in the summer of 1908, when Enver’s fellow officer Lieutenant Niyazi-Bey initiated a rebellion against the Sultan, Enver joined in. Consequently the Sultan capitulated, and members of the party Unity and Progress, later receiving the sobriquet of the Young Turks, came to power. Enver’s participation in the revolt changed his fate radically. After the Young Turks’ ascent to power, he was appointed the military attaché in Berlin, where he acquired wide-ranging ties in German military circles and even became a personal friend of Kaiser Wilhelm. In 1911 Enver Pasha returned to Istanbul and almost immediately left for North Africa, where the Turkish-Italian war had begun. And although Turkey suffered defeat in this war, this didn’t reflect on Enver Pasha’s career: he received the rank of general and continued to remain one of the leaders of the Young Turks.

Enver Pasha, pictured on an Ottoman postcard.
Enver Pasha, pictured on an Ottoman postcard.

Enver Pasha’s moment of glory came after Turkey’s defeat in the First Balkan War. On January 23rd, 1913, at the head of a detachment of officers, he burst in upon a session of the government and made the grand vizier request the dismissal of the entire cabinet to the Sultan. Consequently, already a year later he became the leader of the triumvirate that had seized power in the country (Enver Pasha, Talaat Pasha, and Jemal Pasha), the head of the Young Turks Party, war minister, and simultaneously chief of the general staff. It was then that Enver was able to successfully resolve personal matters, becoming husband to the Sultan’s niece. Yet his triumph was short-lived. Having drawn Turkey into the First World War on Germany’s side, the Enver and the Young Turks miscalculated. The nations of the Quadruple Alliance suffered defeat in the war, and after Turkey’s capitulation in Moudros Harbor on the island of Lemnos on October 30, 1918, Enver Pasha and the two other members of the triumvirate were forced to flee to Germany.

Turning up in a Germany seized by revolution, Enver Pasha soon understood that his old friends now had no time for him. And when a Turkish tribunal delivered a death sentence to the members of the triumvirate in absentia in June of 1919, he decided on an unexpected move – he proposed his services to Moscow. Having established contact with Karl Radek, who was in Berlin at the time, Enver expressed the wish to take part in the liberation of the peoples of the East from the colonizers’ yoke, first and foremost that of the British. The proposals made by Enver Pasha, who had great authority among Muslims of the East, evoked no small amount of interest in Moscow, and soon an agreement on cooperation was concluded. Jemal Pasha went to Soviet Russia first, while Enver Pasha, remaining in Germany, declared himself a supporter of the ideas of the Comintern and at the beginning of 1920 published a number of articles calling for struggle against the colonizers.

At that time Enver Pasha undertook several attempts to travel to Soviet Russia, but he was twice unlucky. The first time the airplane on which he was flying made a forced landing in Lithuania, and Enver, taken as a spy, ended up in a Vilnius prison, whence he was deported to Germany after two months upon the insistent requests of General Von Seeckt. The second attempt was also non-successful – he was arrested in Latvia and spent three months in jail. And only in August of 1920 did he finally reach Moscow through Belostok, where the so-called Polish Revolutionary Committee was located. That Enver Pasha’s telegrams presented enormous interest to the Bolshevik leadership is demonstrated by Dzerzhinsky’s August 11th, 1920 telegrams to Lenin and Revolutionary Military Council member for the western front I. Smiegel. Dzerzhinsky reported to Lenin the following:

Enver Pasha arrived from Turkey tonight with two Turks and a pilot, Leo, who has been here…I am directing them to Smiegel today.

Smiegel was sent a telegram of the following content:

Tonight Enver Pasha arrived from Turkey with two Turks…We are sending them to you through Grodno. Lenin has been informed.[i]

In Moscow Enver Pasha and his “staff” were provided a mansion of the Golitsyn princes for living, while his so-called “Ali-Bey Mission” received diplomatic status, though it didn’t represent any government. Moreover, he was periodically issued loans of 500 thousands marks, which were used to maintain the staff and also support the political organization “Karakol,” active in Istanbul and under Enver’s influence. At that very time, with Radek’s help, Enver Pasha established contacts with a number of individuals in the Soviet leadership and was received by Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Chicherin, Sklyansky, and Karakhan.

It must be noted that the East occupied an important place in the plans of the Bolsheviks and Comintern. They intended to unite the efforts of the proletarian communist movement in developed capitalist countries with the national liberation movements in the East. In connection with that, contacts were slated to be established with the Kemalists in Turkey and Amanullah-Khan in Afghanistan, who were in conflict with the English, for use of Kabul and Turkestan (then an autonomous republic part of the RSFSR) as a platform to advance on India.

For the execution of this design, it was first of all necessary to reorganize the Afghan army. With this objective in mind, Enver’s colleague Jemal Pasha was sent to Kabul already in 1919, and his activity received a high evaluation among the military leadership. And so, in the Turkestan Front intelligence department’s summary for 1922, it was stated that his “influence was felt in each of the organization’s measures and met hospitable ground for his work, but the basic elements of army reorganization, undertaken with regard to reforming the country’s entire political structure, have not been ultimately enacted.” Jemal Pasha was in Afghanistan right until 1922, when he traveled to Tiflis for a time. There he was killed by an Armenian nationalist.

Bukhara. Painting by Vladimir Petrov.
Bukhara. Painting by Vladimir Petrov.

Concerning Enver Pasha, in September of 1920 he went to Baku, where the First Congress of Oppressed Peoples of the East took place. At the Congress Enver spoke in the name of a certain “Union of Revolutionary Organizations of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Arabia, and Indonesia,” and in his speech he expressed sympathy with Soviet Russia, announcing his readiness to wage struggle against a common enemy – world imperialism.

After the completion of the Congress, Enver Pasha settled in Batumi, most likely intending to return to Turkey and squeeze its new leader, Kemal Ataturk, out of power. But such a development of events obviously didn’t suit Kemal, and he addressed the Soviet leadership with a demand to remove Enver from Batumi. The Kremlin, not wishing to quarrel with Kemal, applied maximum efforts to send Enver to Bukhara, where he was to render assistance to Jemal Pasha, who was temporarily in Moscow.

On October 4th, 1921, Enver Pasha arrived in Bukhara. Taking stock of the situation, he began to search out ways that would give him the possibility of standing at the apex of power. He finally decided to break with the Bolsheviks and join the Basmachi movement in Turkenstan. To that end he made contact with Turkish officers with whom he was familiar from his time as Turkey’s war minister. At the beginning of November 1921, with their help and under the cover of a hunting party, he set out for eastern Bukhara, where in January of 1921 he met with the Emir of Bukhara and concluded an agreement with him on joint action against the Bolsheviks. Initially Enver had only a small unit of about 30 men, but already after their first skirmishes with units of the Red Army, the detachment grew to 300 well-armed and trained combatants. Enver released proclamations signed, “Deputy Emir of Bukhara, Son-in-Law of the Caliph, Sayid Enver.” And when in March of 1922, by order of the Emir of Bukhara he was declared Supreme Commander of Muslim Forces and Deputy Emir, he ordered himself a seal with the title “Supreme Commander of All Armies of Islam, Son-in-Law of the Caliph and Prophet Muhammad.” Then he sent Moscow a letter demanding the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Turkestan.

Enver Pasha’s defection to the Basmachi side gave another impulse to anti-Soviet actions in Central Asia. In his report to Moscow, deputy general consul in Dushanbe Nasyrbaev wrote:

In all the areas not occupied by the Red Army the authority of the begs, the field staff has begun military training, new weapons workshops have opened, and regular communications have been reestablished with the Emir of Bukhara and Afghanistan, whence they receive material supplies and manpower. Communications have been established with the Basmachi in Ferghana. At the present moment Enver has ten thousand soldiers along with 16 machine guns. The field staff is located in the village of Kasrerun…12 miles from Baisun…With every day Enver grows stronger, and it is necessary to liquidate this adventure as quickly as possible, for in the not-far-off future it could assume an extremely serious character.[ii]

While at the end of May 1922, the Soviet Turkestan Front intelligence department reported:

The ever-growing organized character of Enver Pasha’s detachments has been noted by our agent networks. Enver Pasha is not only the factual commander of all rebel armed forces, but also the ideological leader of a pan-Islamic organization for all Turkestan. Our agent networks have noted the arrival to Enver’s group of detachments of Ferghana and Samarkand Basmachis and the maintenance of uninterrupted communications with the Emir of Bukhara. Enver receives Afghanistan’s moral and material assistance. The rebel movement goes under the slogan of liberation from the Russians.[iii]

In all, according to the information of the All-Russian Main Staff, in January of 1922, 97 bands composing 20,342 men all together were active against units of the Turkestan Front, while by May their number grew to 116, within which there were around 25,000 men.

Red Army negotiations with the Basmachi in the Ferghana Valley, 1921.
Red Army negotiations with the Basmachi in the Ferghana Valley, 1921.

Because of the escalation of the situation in Bukhara, tough measures were decided upon in Moscow. The Bukhara Group of Forces, composed of two infantry regiments, two special cavalry regiments and a cavalry brigade, was again created. At the beginning of June 1922, the Group went on the offensive and smashed Enver Pasha’s main force at Baisun. Suffering defeat, Enver Pasha withdrew into the interior of eastern Bukhara, but sometime later was overtaken near Baldzhuan, where his detachments were ultimately scattered on August 1st. How the operation to liquidate Enver Pasha was completed was described in detail by Y. Melkunov, who at that time commanded the First Turkestan Special Cavalry Brigade:

Brigade Commander (of the Eighth Turkestan Special Cavalry Brigade that defeated Enver near Baldzhuan – authors) Bogdanov sent the 16th Cavalry Brigade to Khalaving with the mission to destroy Chara-Yesaul’s band. Simultaneously there was formed a joint squadron, into which were taken the most experienced soldiers and best horses from both regiments. Bogdanov set experienced commander Ivan Savko at the head of the squadron. They were tasked with finding and killing Enver Pasha. The 15th Cavalry Regiment, drained of blood from the battle for Baldzha, as well as mountain-horse battery along with the brigade staff, stayed in Baldzhuan.

Savko’s squadron left Baldzhuan from the north, conducting thorough intelligence, and on August 3rd set up camp near a small settlement. A neighboring farmer’s family was picking apricots in their garden, and several Red Army men went to help them.

Soon one of them returned, called the squadron commander aside, and informed him that according to the farmer, Enver Pasha and Dovlyatman-Bey were in the Chagan village. Savko himself spoke with the farmer, who said that his brother had returned from Chagan and saw Enver there with his own eyes.

In the large and wealthy village of Chagan, set 25 kilometers northeast of Baldzhuan, there was a mosque visited by all the surrounding population for prayers. And Enver Pasha, staying in Chagan, still held out the hope of manipulating the religions feelings of the farmers to fill his ragged bands and again lead them in the fight against Soviet power. The village lay away from major roads, and Enver felt completely safe here.

In order not to frighten Enver off, Savko maintained camp until evening, and only with the onset of darkness did the squadron move forward. At dawn they approached Chagan. Concealing the horses in surrounding orchards, the soldiers literally crawled on their bellies to the village. The muezzin called the believers to morning prayers.

The armed dzhigit raiders from Enver’s personal bodyguard, set out on their horses by the mosque, drew into their robes from the shivering morning wind coming down from the mountains. Savko ordered for the machine guns to be trained on the square in front of the mosque, but not to open fire.

But then the morning prayers had finished, and the raiders began coming out of the mosque. Pushing aside local residents, they formed a living corridor. At the threshold of the mosque appeared Enver Pasha, accompanied by Dovlyatman-Bey and other commanders. Unhurriedly they went to their horses. And here Savko ordered his machine-gunners to open fire on this group.

Panic ensued. The cavalrymen quickly spurred their horses, and the squadron attacked. In a few minutes the square in front of the mosque had emptied. Local residents identified Enver Pasha and Dovlyatman-Bey among those killed. Both of them had been cut down by machine-gun fire.[iv]

After Enver Pasha’s death, however, anti-communist actions under the flag of Islam in Central Asia didn’t cease – only their form changed. And the reason for that was an incautious and adventurist Soviet foreign policy in the East (Enver’s invitation alone was of great cost), resulting in eastern Bukhara remaining the arena of a guerrilla war for a long time to come.


[i] Гиленсен В. Энвер Паша и его «бросок на юг» Служба безопасности. 1996, No. 1-2. С. 70.

[ii] Там же. С. 71.

[iii] Там же.

[iv] Агабеков Г. Секретный террор. М., 1996. С. 392-393.


Work Translated: Колпакиди, А. И. и Прохоров, Д.П. КГБ: Спецоперации советской разведки. М: Издательство АСТ, 2001.

Translated by Mark Hackard.

2 thoughts on “The Demise of Enver Pasha”

  1. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose… Pretty interesting article, especially in light of current developments and goings-on in Syria and neighboring regions. Kudos. I don’t know where you find the time the time to research into these topics. Much appreciated that someone can do it. Cheer, P.

    Like

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