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Shakib Arslan in Exile

Shakib Arslan had no choice but to make the best of exile. In the panic- stricken final weeks of the war, Arslan hastily left Berlin to return to Istanbul. The sultan signed the armistice before he arrived, as he learned during his journey. In Ukraine, at a Black Sea port, Arslan met a group of Unionist Arabs fleeing the Ottoman capital. Association with the wartime government put one’s life in obvious danger and Arslan turned around and returned to Berlin where he was soon joined by his friend and notorious wartime governor of Syria, Cemal Pasa, and the other leading Unionist politician Talat Pasa.31 Berlin may have been safer than Istanbul for members of the wartime government wanted by the Allies. But it turned out to be dangerous nevertheless. An Armenian nationalist in Berlin assassinated Talat in early 1921, and another assassin killed Cemal in Tbilsi in 1922. Arslan’s idol, Enver Pasa, was killed leading an insurgency for an independent state in today’s Tajikistan against his former Red Army allies in 1922.

Arslan spent the next few years in homeless exile and tireless political activity. On the recommendation of his friend Talat, he was elected president of the Berlin Oriental Club in 1920. On the advice of Enver Pasa he traveled to Moscow to attempt to meet with Soviet leaders in mid 1921. Like his many attempts to gain the support of new post-war leaders, he seems to have been unsuccessful. He traveled between Berlin and Switzerland repeatedly, and organized the first meeting of the Syrian Palestinian Congress in August 1921 to correspond with the first meeting of the League of Nations Permanent mandates commission on the Syrian Mandate. In late 1922, Arslan returned to Switzerland to attend and experience at bitter first hand the Lausanne Conference. The result of his experience at Lausanne was a potentially dangerous return to Istanbul in late 1923.32

Arslan had successfully fled for his life in 1918. The sultan’s government under allied occupation sentenced Arslan and the wartime political leadership to death in absentia in July 1919. With the end of the Ottoman Empire after Lausanne, Arslan decided to risk a return in hope of convincing Mustafa Kemal to aid the cause of Syrian independence or reattachment to the Anatolian Republic. In Istanbul, Arslan learned he was yesterday’s man; there was no longer a death sentence on his head, but there were no potentially disloyal Arab provinces to worry about either, and it seems unlikely he gained any sort of audience with Kemal. He still retained his Ottoman citizenship, however, and was able to remain in Turkey. Arslan moved to Mersin on the coast near the border with the Syrian Mandate in early 1924. Here he reunited with his wife and son, who he had not seen since 1918, and received a visit from his mother. Arslan evidently found Mersin insufficiently exciting, and took long trips to Switzerland and Berlin later in the year. At the outbreak of the Syrian Revolt in August 1925, Arslan moved back to Geneva, headquarters of the League of Nations, where he stayed for the next twenty years, calling himself the “Warrior of the East in the West.”33

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