Wars and Conflicts of Turkey



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Wars and Conflicts of Modern Turkey—(1914-Present): Turkey is the only Middle Eastern nation that is also a part of Europe. Historically, the Turks (under the old Ottoman Empire) ruled a vast empire that stretched from southeastern Europe through what is now Iraq in the east, to the deserts of North Africa in the west, and to Yemen at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula to the south. By the end of World War One (1914-1918), the Ottoman Empire was gone, replaced by a new, modern Turkish Republic that was limited to the mostly Turkish-populated region known as Anatolia. Most of the non-Turkish parts of the old empire, primarily inhabited by Arabs, was now split among new nations, including Syria, Iraq, and Jordan.


While World War One marked the end of the old Ottoman Empire (named for the ruling Turkish family called Ottomans (after the founder of the empire, Osman I), it also marked the birth of a new Turkish republic that purposely shed the old monarchy and the old non-Turkish portions of the empire. This birth of a new nation was not without pains: the Turks refer to this post-World War One conflict as the Turkish War of Independence.


World War One (1914-1918)-The Ottoman Empire, which had become weaker and weaker with time, joined the other Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria in war against the Allies, which included Britain, France, Italy, Greece, and Russia. In the course of this war, the Ottoman territories were invaded by British and Russian forces from multiple sides, and suffered internal revolts by Arab populations aided by the British. When the war ended in defeat for the Central Powers, and large parts of Turkey ended up occupied by foreign armies, which led to a new conflict known as the Turkish War of Independence.


Turkish War of Independence (May 19, 1919 – October 11, 1922)-In the aftermath of World War One, and the peace treaty signed by the Ottoman government and the Allies, several Allied nations landed troops in Anatolia to begin occupation of areas referred to as “spheres of influence” in Turkey. The ultimate goal of these Allied nations (Britain, France, Italy, Greece, and the new nation of Armenia) was to carve up Turkey, controlling most of the Turkish coastal areas and leaving a rump Ottoman state in the north and central parts of Anatolia.


The Ottoman government was helpless to resist these Allied intrusions, but a new, secular Turkish National Movement, led by Ottoman General Kemal Pasha, began organizing an anti-Ottoman Turksish nationalist movement to resist both the Allies and the Ottoman government.


Thus, the Turkish War of Independence was a push to liberate Turkey not just from foreign occupation, but also from the idea of the Ottoman monarchy, which was wedded to the concept of an Islamic Caliphate, which had the Ottoman Emperor as its head. This new Turkish nationalism was centered on the idea of a secular (non-religious) government, while the Ottomans clung to the concept of a theocratic (religious-based) Caliphate led by the Ottoman ruler.


In hindsight, the Turkish War of Independence was in reality a series of semi-separate conflicts that pitted the Turkish National Movement, based in Ankara, against the Ottoman government, based in Constantinople (now called Istanbul), as well as against France, Greece, and Armenia. Italy and Britain also occupied portions of Turkey, but were not engaged militarily against the nationalist Turks, though both the British and Italians provided aid to pro-Ottoman forces.


This overall war of independence can be divided in this way:


Turkish Civil War (Ottomans vs. Nationalists)-(May 19, 1919-Nov. 1922)-Turkish Nationalists, led by Kemal Pasha (later known as Kemal Ataturk) fought for a Turkish nation free of of the Ottoman monarchy and the associated Caliphate. This inter-Turkish conflict also included several pro-Ottoman and pro-Caliphate revolts Against the Nationalists.


Greco-Turkish War (May 15, 1919-October 11, 1922)-Following World War One, Greece, along with other Allied nations, occupied parts of the Ottoman Empire. Greece saw an opportunity to re-create a Greater Greece, and fulfill the Megali (Great) Idea, a concept in Greek political thought that drove Greek foreign policy from the time of Greek independence from the Ottoman Turks in the 1820s and 1830s up to the early years of the 20th century. Greece sought to reclaim lands that contained large Greek populations, which at the time included much of western Turkey.


To this end, Greece launched a major military campaign in 1919 to take control of large parts of Turkey. The Turkish Nationalist forces of Kemal (Ataturk) Pasha defeated the Greeks and forced them out of Turkey. In the peace agreement that ended this war, both sides agreed to an exchange of populations, with all Turks and Muslims in Greece forced to move to Turkey, and all Greek Christians forced out of their ancestral lands in Turkey. Many of the Greek communities that were repatriated to Greece had been in Turkey for over 3,000 years.

Greek-Turkish War Map


Franco-Turkish War (December, 1918-October, 1921)-Including French participation in the post-World War One occupation of Istanbul, the French military seizure of Turkish ports on the Black Sea, and a French military push from French-occupied Syria, this conflict’s combat mostly centered on the northern port cities of Zonguldak and Karadeniz Eregli (both cities are near coal mines that had significant French financial investments and involvement) and in the southern region of Cilicia. The bulk of the French forces in the south were actually made up of ethnic Armenian troops commanded by French officers (The French Armenian Legion, which was an offshoot of the well-known French Foriegn Legion). Turks and Armenians had a lot of bad history (Turkish forces instituted the Armenian Genocide during World War One), and the presence of Armenian troops, even under French command, only served to mobilize the local Turkish population against the invaders.


Turkish-Armenian War (September 24-December 2, 1920)-The Armenian Republic was created following the end of World War One out of former Ottoman and Russian territory inhabited by Armenians. In late 1920, the Turkish Nationalist government and the new Bolshevik government of Russia made a deal to destroy the new Armenian nation. Turkish forces attacked (the Turks refer to this as the Eastern Front or Eastern Campaign in their war of independence), defeating the Armenians.


Koçgiri Rebellion (March 6, 1921 - June, 17, 1921)-Kurdish rebellion in eastern Turkey. The rebellion was put down by forces of Kemal Ataturk.


Beytussebab Rebellion (1924)- Kurdish rebellion resulting from Ataturk’s efforts to impose Turkish language and customs on non-Turks, such as the Kurds. The Kurds in Beytussebab also favored a return of the Caliphate from Ottoman days.


Sheikh Said Rebellion (1925)-Another Kurdish rebellion in support of restoring the Caliphate, this uprising was also partly due to Ataturk’s pan-Turkish changes. Partly as a result of the turmoil this rebellion generated, the British in Iraq took over the Kurdish areas around Mosul and Kirkuk, effectively making them part of Iraq. The borders of modern Turkey were still fluid at this time, and were settled by treaty. Also, many Kurds in southeastern Anatolia, fled the Turkish military and settled in northern Syria, then under French control.


First Ararat Rebellion /Kurdish Rebellion of 1926 (May 16-June 17, 1926)-Led by Ibrahim Heski, who also took part in the Sheikh Said Rebellion, Kurds rose up in a brief rebellion in which the Kurds initially defeated a Turkish force, before being forced to flee across the border to Iran.


Second Ararat Rebellion (1927-1931)-Kurdish rebels tried to establish the Ararat Republic, prompting the Turks to launch major military offensives against them, including significant bombing campaigns by the Turkish air force. In 1930, the Zilan Massacre took place, where Turks killed upwards of 15,000 Kurds.


Dersim Rebellion (1936-1938)-Kurdish rebellion in the Dersim region of eastern Turkey. Turkish military forces defeated the Kurds, killing thousands of Kurdish fighters and tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians. In the aftermath of the Kurdish defeat in 1938, the region was placed under martial law, which remained in place until 1950. Turkey officially began referring to the Kurds as “Mountain Turks,” in an attempt to suppress Kurdish nationalism.


World War Two-Turkey remained neutral in the Second World War until the very end of that conflict, when in February 1945, after the Allies invited Turkey to attend to the inaugural meeting of the new United Nations (along with several other nations) upon the condition of joining the Allies, Turkey declared war on the Axis nations in 1945, but no Turkish troops took part in any combat.


Turkish Straits Crisis (1946-1947)-Soviet pressure on Turkey led to a Cold War crisis that eventually led Turkey to join NATO in opposition to the Soviet Union. This crisis led, in part, to the Truman Doctrine, which set the United States to oppose Soviet expansionism around the world.


The Korean War (1950-1953)-Turkey sent an army brigade to join UN forces fighting the North Koreans and Chinese. Over the course of the war, Turkey sent a total of 14,936 troops to Korea, with about 5,400 serving at any one time. Turkish casualties in the Korean War totaled 721 killed in action, 2,111 wounded, and 168 missing. In 1952, Turkey joined NATO.


The Cold War (1950-1991)- Turkey took part in the Korean War against Communist forces in 1950, and joined NATO in 1952. This put Turkey on the frontline against the Soviet Union in both Eastern Europe and the Middle East during the Cold War.


1960 Turkish coup d'état--The Turkish Army overthrew the government of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes. He and other members of his government were put on trial, and he was hanged in 1961, along with his Foreign Minister and his Finance Minister.


Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962-As a member of NATO, Turkey accepted the placement of American nuclear-armed Jupter missiles in 1961. These missiles were pointed at the Soviet Union to Turkey’s north. Partially in response to these missiles (along with Jupiter missiles also based in Italy), the Soviets installed nearly one hundred nuclear weapons in Cuba. When the United States discovered the Soviet missiles in Cuba, the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis took place. Part of the deal between the U.S. and the Soviets was the removal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy in exchange for the Soviets removing their missiles from Cuba.


1971 Turkish coup d'état--The Turkish Army overthrew the government of the conservative prime minister, Suleyman Demirel.


Turkish Invasion of Cyprus (1974)-In response to a coup against the Cypriot government, and concerns over Greek intervention in the ongoing ethnic conflict in Cyprus (Greek Cypriot vs. Turkish Cypriot), Turkey invaded northern Cyprus and occupied the northern 37% of the country. Turkish forces fought against the Greek-Cypriot controlled National Guard, and also against about 2,000 Greek army soldiers who were stationed in Cyprus.


A Turkish Cypriot government was established to govern the Turkish-occupied portions of Cyprus. Turkish troops remain in northern Cyprus to this day.


Greek-Turkish Conflict in the Aegean (1970s- Present)-Greece controls many islands in the Aegean Sea that sit very close to Turkey’s western shores. Both nations disagree over the extent of Greek territorial waters and airspace, and frequent incidents occur that have at times almost led to war (1976, 1986, 1997) in addition to almost going to war in 1974 over the Cyprus issue. Turkish and Greek fighter planes engage in frequent mock dogfights, leading to several accidental crashes and collisions over the years, including some deaths on both sides.


1980 Turkish coup d'état--The military took power in Turkey after months of violence between leftist and rightist militants nearly brought Turkey to the point of civil war. The United States supported the Turkish military, seeking stability in the midst of the U.S.-Iran Hostage Crisis and the ongoing Soviet War in Afghanistan. Kenan Evren, the leader of the coup, took over the presidency and then rewrote the constitution to guarantee the military's political power.


Maoist Insurgency (1980-Present)-Primarily in eastern Turkey, including the Dersim region, Turkish communists from several groups, including the Liberation Army of the Workers and Peasants of Turkey (TIKKO) (the armed wing of the Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist–Leninist) and People's Liberation Army (HKO) and People's Partisan Forces (PHG), have waged a low-level guerrilla war against the Turkish government.


Kurdish-Turkish Conflict (1984-Present)-This long-lasting conflict began in 1984 with an uprising by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a Marxist Kurdish group led by Abdullah Öcalan. Kurds had long been oppressed by the Turkish government, even to the point of being declared “Mountain Turks,” instead of being called Kurds, with Kurdish language and culture considered illegal. In August, 1984, the PKK declared the start of their war of independence, with the goal of a communist-led Kurdistan. Military campaigns by the Turkish military in eastern Turkey led to many Kurdish civilian deaths. PKK forces also have waged terrorist bombing campaigns on civilian targets in Istanbul, Ankara, and other urban centers in Turkey.


The PKK established bases in the mountains of northern Iraq after the forces of Saddam Hussein were limited in their ability to enforce his rule in Iraqi Kurdistan following the first Gulf War. In response to the PKK presence in Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey has launched several operations against the PKK in Iraq, including:

Operation Northern Iraq (October 12– November 1, 1992)-Turkey’s first foray into northern Iraq following Iraq’s defeat in the Gulf War. Turkey allied with the Iraqi Kurd forces of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (the two parties that controlled Iraqi Kurdistan), and sent 20,000 troops into northern Iraq to attack the PKK.

Operation Steel (1995) -35,000 Turkish troops invade northern Iraq to attack PKK bases.

Operation Hammer (May 12-July 7, 1997) -Between 30,000 and 50,000 Turksish troops invade northern Iraq to pound PKK forces and also to aid one faction of an Iraqi Kurdish civil conflict.

Operation Dawn (Sept. 25-Oct. 15, 1997)-15,000 Turks invade northern Iraq in a follow-up to Operation Hammer.

Operation Sun (February 21, 2008 – February 29, 2008)-The first Turkish ground offensive against the PKK in Iraq since the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq. Turkey continued to hit PKK forces in Iraq with artillery and air strikes from March into early May, 2008.

Turkey-Iraq Cross-Border Air Raids (August 17–24, 2011)-Turkey launched hundreds of air raids on PKK bases in northern Iraq following a series of PKK attacks in Turkey that killed 40 Turkish troops.




The DHKP/C Insurgency (1990-Present)-The Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) is Marxist-Leninist guerrilla force that has fought an urban guerrilla/terrorist war against the Turkish government. Targets include Turkish government officials, police, military, and U.S. and NATO forces in Turkey.


NATO Intervention in the Bosnian War (1992-1995)-Turkey, as a member of NATO, provided F-16 warplanes to the NATO air forces fighting against Serb forces in Bosnia. Turkey (along with Saudi Arabia) provided covert aid to the Bosnian Muslim forces fighting against the Serbs. The Bosnian conflict was one of a series of conflicts in the Third Balkan War.



1997 Turkish coup d'état--The Turkish military forced Necmettin Erbakan's Islamist-led coalition government to resign. The secular military feared that Erbakan was trying to change the basic nature of Turkish politics and government and turn Turkey into an Islamic-led theocracy like neighboring Iran. After forcing Erbakan from power, the army turned the government over to more secular politicians. This was later called a "soft coup," as the military did not actually take over, but got what it wanted through threats.


2007-2009--The government arrested 86 people, including writers, members of civil organizations and former military officers, charging them with membership in an illegal ultranationalist organization and of plotting to overthrow the Turkish government. In January, 2009, 30 more were arrested, including three retired generals, and a former police chief.


Kosovo War (1999)-NATO forces aided Kosovo rebels in the war against Serbia/Yugoslavia. Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter planes took part in the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia.


First Libyan Civil War/Libyan War (2011)-NATO forces, including Turkish military forces, intervened in the Libyan War to support rebels in their overthrow of the Khaddafy government.


Syrian Civil War (2011-Present)-In 2011, anti-government protests against the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Assad evolved into a bloody civil war that has included intervention by numerous foreign powers, including Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey.


From the beginning of the uprising against the Assad regime, Turkey has supported Syrian rebel forces. The Turkish government's involvement evolved into military assistance for the rebel Free Syrian Army in July 2011, which led to border clashes in 2012 against Syrian government forces, and direct military interventions in 2016-17, 2018, and in 2019. The military operations have resulted in the Turkish occupation of parts of northern Syria since August 2016. Turkish military intervention is not limited to opposing the Syrian government, but also against various Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish forces in northern Syria, as well as against ISIS forces. The multi-pronged Turkish belligerance against these various groups has led to problems with both the United States (ally of various Syrian, Syrian Kurdish, and Iraqi Kurdish groups) and with Russia (who has military forces in Syria in support of the Assad regime).


Beginning in 2011 and 2012, Turkey supplied aid, training, and weapons to Syrian army defectors, and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), along with allowing the FSA to use Turkish territory as a base for operations against the Assad regime.



Turkey-Syria Border Clash (June 3-4, 2012)-Artillery from Syria causes civilian casualties in Turkey. Turkish artillery retaliated, attacking Syrian forces.


Syrian Shoot-Down of Turkish Plane (June 22, 2012)-One Turkish pilot was killed when his F-4 Phantom jet was shot down by Syrian forces.


Turkey-Syria Border Clashes (October, 2012)-A series of cross-border clashes occurred between Turkey, Turkish-supported Syrian rebels, and Syrian forces.


Turkish Shoot-Down of Syrian Plane (March 24, 2014)-Turkey shot down a Syrian warplane that Turkey claimed had crossed over into Turkish airspace.


Operation Shah Euphrates (Feb. 21-22, 2015)-Nearly 600 Turkish soldiers entered northern Syria to move the tomb of Suleyman Shah, who was the grandfather of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. The tomb, while inside Syrian territory, is, by treaty, considered Turkish property. Guarded by 40 Turkish soldiers, the tomb had become surrounded by ISIS forces, who threatened to attack and destroy the tomb. Turkey launched Operation Shah Euphrates to move the tomb to a spot nearer the Turkish border in an areas under Turkish military control. One Turkish soldier died in this operation.


Operation Martyr Yalçin (July 24-24, 2015)-Turkish airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS) positions in Syria, and against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) positions in Northern Iraq. Turkish tanks also fired rounds at Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) units in Kobani, Syria.


Turkish Shoot-Down of Russian Plane (November 24, 2015)-A Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Sukhoi-24M warplane as it crossed into Turkish airspace from Syria. One Russian pilot was killed, as was a Russian search-and-rescue crewman when his helicopter was fired on by Syrian rebels as the search for the plane’s crew was undertaken.


Direct Turkish Military Intervention in Syrian War (August 24, 2016-Present)-Turkish military forces entered northern Syria to oppose various enemies: the Assad regime and its allies, ISIS forces, as well as various Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish forces that were attempting to set up autonomous Kurdish-controlled areas.


Operation Euphrates Shield (August 24, 2016- March 29, 2017)-Turkish invasion of northern Syria to battle both ISIS and various Syrian Kurdish forces.


Idlib Operation (October 7, 2017-Present) Turkish military forces entered Syrian territory around Idlib to establish observation posts and military bases. Since 2017, Syrian military and various militant groups have fired on these Turkish positions.


Operation Olive Branch (Afrin Operation)-(January 20, 2018-August 9, 2019)-Major Turkish military operation in and around Afrin, a Syrian city controlled by Kurdish and allied forces. This operation led to serious tensions with the United States, which has supported the Syrian Kurds. Syrian government troops were also killed by Turks in this operation.


Operation Peace Spring (Oct. 9-November 25, 2019)-Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria to fight against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA). Turkey considers these groups as allies of the PKK, even though the United States sees them as allies in the war on ISIS. Syrian government troops were also killed by Turks in this operation.


Turkish-Syrian Fighting (Feb. 2020-Present)-Syrian forces launched an offensive against rebels in the Idlib-Aleppo region, bringing them into direct conflict with Turkish troops in the area, resulting in heavy fighting. On February 28, 2020, an air attack on Turkish forces by the Syrians resulted in 33 dead Turkish soldiers, and another 38 wounded. Turkish forces retaliated, withTurkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar claiming that Turkish retaliatory airstrikes destroyed five Syrian military helicopters, two air defence systems (the SA-17 and SA-22), 23 tanks and 23 howitzer artillery pieces. Akar also stated that 309 Syrian troops were killed in these strikes. This greatly increased tensions between Ankara, Damascus, and Moscow. Russia sent two warships from their Black Sea Fleet to the Syrian coast in a clear message to Turkey, while Turkey called an emergency meeting of NATO to discuss the conflict. NATO indicated support for Turkey.

On March 1, 2020, Turkey retaliated for the downing of a drone by shooting down two Syrian SU-24 warplanes. All four Syrian pilots parachuted to safety. The Al-Nayrab airport, on the outskirts of Aleppo, was hit by Turkish forces.

Further clashes resulted in heavy Syrian casualties, as Turkey unveiled a new tactic in drone warfare: drone swarms attacking ground targets in coordinated attacks. Turkey claimed over a hundred Syrian tanks and nearly 2,000 Syrian soldiers were killed in this new type of warfare. Russian-made Syrian air defenses seemed unable to stop the Turkish drone attacks.


2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt--On July 15, 2016 "factions of the military" launched a coup attempt against the government of Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Tensions in Turkey have escalated recently, as the country is embroiled again in an increasingly violent war with Kurdish insurgents in the southeast, while also engaged against the ISIS/Islamic State threat on Turkey's southern border. Turkey is part of the coalition of nations led by the United States in the war on ISIS, while also enduring terrorist attacks by the Islamic State in retaliation.

With elements of the Turkish military declaring martial law, President Erdogan, who went into hiding, used an app on his phone to call on Turkish citizens to take to the streets to protest. Erdogan later appeared at the airport in Istanbul, where he defiantly called on the people of Turkey to resist the coup. Loyal troops and air force units fought the rebels, and the coup attempt fell apart the next day. Casualties included 265 dead, and 1,440 wounded. Most of the dead were rebel and loyalist troops. Erdogan blamed an exiled Muslim cleric as the ringleader, but Fethullah Gülen denied any involvement. In the aftermath of the coup, the government arrested nearly 6,000 people suspected of plotting against the government.


Turkish Military Intervention in Second Libyan Civil War (2020-Present)-Turkey deployed troops to Libya to assist the internationally-recognized (and UN supported ) Government of National Accord (GNA), which was under siege in the capital of Tripoli by the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by rebel General Haftar. Turkish drones have become a major problem for the forces of General Haftar, as Turkey utilizes their military drones to good effect, as also seen in the Turkish-Syrian combat in the Syrian War.


See also: List of Middle Eastern Wars


Sources for the Wars of Turkey:

The Fall of the Ottomans, by Eugene Rogan

A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin

Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire, by Lord Kinross

Syria war: Alarm after 33 Turkish soldiers killed in attack in Idlib-BBC News, Feb. 28, 2020

Turkey kills over 300 Syria regime troops in retaliation to attack-Middle East Monitor, Feb. 28, 2020



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