This post is in partnership with History Today. The article below was originally published at History Today.

In the twilight of the Ottoman Empire, 100 years ago, a restless Turkish prisoner of war languished in Malta, then a British possession. With copious leisure time forced upon him, Eşref Bey began to write his adventures as an officer in the Ottoman army. His biography has not survived, yet, from the archival material that has, we can imagine what it might have included: a string of increasingly momentous assignments for the Committee of Union and Progress (Ottoman patriots opposed to the policies of the sultan) and for Enver Pasha, hero of the 1908 “Young Turk” revolution and the pre-eminent military figure of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

Eşref’s story is not well known outside Turkey, where it has attained legendary status. He was born in the imperial capital, Istanbul, in 1873, where his father had risen to the post of chief falconer. He attended some of the empire’s top military schools. Yet Eşref was not Turkish. He was from Circassia, a region in the north Caucasus along the east shore of the Black Sea, and he had a propensity for conflict. His career was destined to veer between insider and outsider.

During the First World War, Enver Pasha became the effective commander-in-chief of the Ottoman Empire (a title technically held by the sultan) and attempted to keep the empire intact in the face of increasingly long odds. Eşref was one of the “self-sacrificing officers” who coalesced around Pasha, taking a role in his Special Organization, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa, which handled sensitive issues such as intelligence gathering and covert operations. By the end of the war, Eşref had become a notorious figure. Yet his rise to prominence was far from straightforward. His career took him across the length and breadth of the sprawling Ottoman Empire and beyond during its final decades, frequently crossing the line between loyal imperial servant and outlaw.

As a young student, his propensity for violence saw him expelled from an academy in Istanbul. He was sent to another in the city of Edirne (Adrianople), in what proved to be the first of many stints in exile. His misdemeanors saw him transferred from prison to prison, but eventually he escaped and lived among the tribes of the Najd desert, in central Arabia, where he mastered Arabic as well …read more

Source:: Time – Science

How an Outlaw Became the ‘Turkish Lawrence of Arabia’

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