The Ottoman Empire came to a definitive end in two stages in July and October 1923. An international treaty defined the boundaries of a new country called Turkey, which in turn declared itself a republic. But five years earlier, everyone in the Ottoman capital, Istanbul, knew that the old regime was already done for. In November 1918, a combined Allied fleet steamed up the Bosphorus and anchored just off the sultan’s palaces at Topkapı and Dolmabahçe.
An armistice had been signed on 30 October, and the Allied troops now began a pre-emptive deployment throughout the capital city. It would become a formal occupation a little over a year later, in March 1920. Local Greeks unfurled their blue-and-white flags in their neighbourhoods. Armenians, some in hiding since the brutal attacks on their community in 1915, walked proudly along the Grande Rue de Péra, the main thoroughfare on the heights above the Golden Horn.
Ottoman Muslims, once the dominant religious and political community in the empire, could only look on in dazed despair. ‘Have they not occupied Constantinople for the purpose of maintaining law and order? Is Constantinople now more lawful than before?’ a friend asked Ziya Bey Muftizade, a Muslim businessman, with exasperation.