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HomeHeadlineFrom Ruse to Kabul: Fahreddin Pasha, the Defender of Medina

From Ruse to Kabul: Fahreddin Pasha, the Defender of Medina

Fahreddin Pasha was born in Ruse, served in various places during his military career, and became famous as the “Defender of Medina” for his long-lasting defense of Medina under challenging conditions during the First World War.

After surrendering Medina and being exiled to Malta, Pasha returned to Turkey and was appointed as the ambassador to Afghanistan by the Grand National Assembly. Not returning to military service, he passed away on November 22, 1948.


Despite his fame, Fahrettin Pasha is one of the commanders about whom little research has been conducted on his life. In 1990, Süleyman Yatak produced a doctoral thesis primarily focusing on the defense of Medina, and later, it was published as a book.

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Omer Faruk Şerifoğlu, who utilized Pasha’s notebooks, correspondence, and a photo archive obtained from his sons, conducted different studies. These works were compiled into a book and published in 2023 by a municipality.

Generally, information about Pasha is based on memories. However, Fahrettin Pasha’s personal documents, correspondence, and photographs related to his duty locations are available in the Taksim Atatürk Library and are digitally accessible. A comprehensive biography of Pasha based on these data and the ATASE Archives is of great importance.

Born in Ruse in 1868 as the son of Mehmet Nahit Bey from Istanbul-Cihangir, Pasha’s original name was “Ömer Fahreddin,” and he adopted the surname “Türkkan” through the surname law. His mother was Fatma Adile Hanım, a descendant of the renowned akıncı (light cavalry) Bali Bey. The family moved to Istanbul during the 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian War after abandoning Ruse.

According to the Military Records Table, Fahreddin, who completed the military high school in Damascus due to his father’s assignment, graduated first from the Military Academy in 1888 as a cavalry lieutenant and then in 1891 as a captain from the War Academy. During his service in the Fourth Army, he married Ayşe Sıdıka Hanım, the niece of Marshal Zeki Pasha.

Fahreddin Bey, who initially served in the General Staff (Erkan-ı Harbiye), participated as the regiment commander attached to Hursit Pasha’s 10th Corps in the Balkan War. He played a significant role in the recapture of Edirne under the command of Enver Bey.

In 1914, assigned to the 12th Corps of the Fourth Army, Fahreddin Bey was promoted to brigadier general after being a colonel. From then on, he was referred to as “Honorary Pasha” in correspondence.

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Later, Honorary Pasha was appointed as the acting commander of the Fourth Army, led by Cemal Pasha. During this duty, he not only fought against Armenians in Urfa, Zeytun, Haçin, and Musadağı but also managed the resettlement process of deported Armenians. His operations against Armenians would later lead to his inclusion among the “criminals of the Armenian deportation.”

In May 1916, Fahri Pasha began the defense of the Hijaz, which would last until January 1919. Following Sharif Hussein’s uprising in June, capturing Jeddah, Mecca, and Taif, Fahri Pasha took over the command of the Hijaz Expeditionary Force. The primary goal was to prevent the loss of at least Medina.

To achieve this, it was essential to keep the Hijaz railway open for the city’s safety and sustenance. However, he faced the forces of Sharif Hussein, supported by British gold. In 1917, Fahri Pasha also took on the role of Acting Guardian of Medina. He worked under extremely difficult conditions, as the government aimed to evacuate Medina, but this was feared to lead to negative propaganda and the expansion of the Arab rebellion.

The approach of the Unionists (Ittihatçı) was twofold: on one hand, the government wanted to evacuate Medina, but on the other, they were concerned that Fahri Pasha did not comprehend the general situation of the war and attached excessive importance to the Hijaz. Therefore, replacing Pasha with Mustafa Kemal Pasha and İsmet Bey (Pasha-Inönü) was even considered. Later, a withdrawal program was implemented to retain Palestine. The other goal was to leave a sufficient number of soldiers to defend Medina and the railway to solve the supply problem.

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During this time, Pasha’s wife, Ayşe Sıdıka Hanım, actively served in various relief organizations and assisted the army. Hence, she was awarded the “second-degree compassion medal.” Meanwhile, fearing that sacred relics might fall into the hands of the British, she arranged for them to be sent to Istanbul. These relics are currently exhibited in the Sacred Relics Section of Topkapi Palace.

Naci Kâşif Kıcıman, who served in Medina at the time, mentioned that Pasha, during the Medina defense, explained the “virtues of locusts” in a daily order due to food shortages. In this order, Pasha described the characteristics of locusts, emphasizing that locusts were the main food source for urban (Bedouin) people, beneficial for certain ailments, and even considered eating locusts as a religious tradition, and he explained which locust dishes were “permissible to eat.”

Despite summarizing the “locust directive” and the difficulties faced, there is no record of soldiers being so hungry that they had to eat locusts. The British interpreted this situation as Fahri Pasha buying supplies from nearby tribes. Feridun Kandemir, a Red Crescent official at the time, mentioned that spinach and bulgur pilaf were consumed in the headquarters, and the daily bread ration for soldiers had decreased to seventy-five grams, but he did not mention eating locusts.

Fahri Pasha continued the defense of Medina for more than two years, despite envoys sent from Istanbul for surrender following the Armistice of Mudros. In January 1919, Fahri Pasha, who surrendered, was first taken to Egypt and then to Malta. The exile number given to Pasha by the British, starting on August 5, 1919, was 2752.


Although Fahri Pasha’s exile to Malta is often cited as “non-compliance with the armistice provisions” in many sources, according to Bilal N. Şimşir’s work “Malta Exiles,” the real reason was his intervention in the Armenian incidents in 1915, resulting in the “Armenian genocide.” Indeed, Lawrence referred to him as “Fahri Pasha, the ‘butcher’ who bloodily cleansed the Armenians.”

Pasha, during the period of the Armistice in Istanbul, was tried in absentia and sentenced to death for his role in the Armenian events at the court known as the Divan-ı Harb-i Örfi (Customary Court of War) implemented by Damat Ferit Pasha. Later, with a group of 21 exiles, he was brought to Italy by ship from Malta after “two years and two hundred twenty-one days” of captivity. Afterward, he returned to Turkey via Germany and Russia.

Despite being unknown as an Ittihatçı (Unionist), Fahri Pasha met with Enver Pasha in Moscow and even participated in the Congress of Islamic Revolutionary Societies. Enver Pasha described Fahri Pasha to his wife Naciye Sultan in a letter as “slow to grasp but honest, kind-hearted, and dutiful.”

Arriving in Ankara shortly after the Sakarya Victory on September 24, 1921, Fahri Pasha could only reunite with his wife and children in İnebolu years later. His new duty in Anatolia was the embassy of Afghanistan in Ankara, decided by the decision of the Executive Council on October 27, 1921. Choosing to accept the Kabul embassy meant bidding farewell to the military profession. This development can be seen as part of the purge of commanders who might clash with the new regime in Ankara.

Pasha served as the Kabul ambassador for four years. Although he returned to Turkey in 1926, he could not return to his profession. Consequently, Fahri Pasha, who had to make a living with half a salary, experienced economic difficulties. In those days, he would say to A. Fuat Pasha (Erden), “A soldier should die before becoming a civilian.”

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Initiated in 1929 by Fevzi Çakmak, he was appointed to the Military Court of Cassation, and in 1932, he was promoted to the position of deputy president. Although he did not directly practice his profession, he became a member of the military community. However, due to some developments he did not approve of, he retired voluntarily with the rank of lieutenant general in 1936.

Afterward, Pasha spent his time until his death collecting notes about his life and engaging in his greatest hobby, photography. In 1948, while on a train bound for Ankara, he suffered a heart attack near Eskişehir and passed away. After the funeral prayer at Teşvikiye Mosque, he was laid to rest in Aşiyan Cemetery in Rumelihisarı.

Fahreddin Pasha is known as a commander greatly loved by the military. Described during the defense of Medina as “lying in bed on a date palm frond, eating what the soldiers ate,” Pasha stood out with his fatherly personality. The British referred to him as the “soldier to the ribs.”

Despite being relatively unknown, Pasha left a significant mark on history. He named his daughters “Fatma” and his sons “Mehmet.” One of his daughters, Fatma Nilüfer, passed away fifty days after birth. The other daughter is named Fatma Subhiye, and his sons are Mehmet Selim, Mehmet Orhan, and Mehmet Ayhan. Mehmet Selim and Mehmet Orhan, like their father, became officers and were removed from the army with the purge of the May 27 coup plotters when they were generals.

Mehmet Orhan Türkkan later became one of the founders of the Justice Party and served as a Member of Parliament from Kırklareli (1965-1969) from the same party. The youngest son, Mehmet Ayhan, died of tuberculosis at a young age while serving in the military.

Except for the first daughter of the Fahreddin Türkkan Pasha family who died in Erzincan, all other family members’ graves are in Aşiyan Cemetery, waiting for visitors.

Sources: Sonyel, S. R. (1972), “Fahreddin Pasha According to British Documents,” Belleten, No. 143, pp. 333-375; Yatak, S. (1990), Fahreddin Pasha and the Defense of Medina, Marmara University SBE Doctoral Thesis, Istanbul; Koçu, R. E. (1971), “Defender of Medina Fahreddin Pasha,” Hayat Tarih, No. 11, pp. 9-15; Şerifoğlu, Ö. F. (2023), Fahreddin Pasha, Istanbul, Zeytinburnu Municipality; Şimşir, B. N. (1985), Malta Exiles, Istanbul, Bilgi; Lawrence, T. E. (1991), Istanbul, Rey Publications; Nizamoğlu, Y. (2015), “Hijaz Front in the First World War,” Ottoman Empire in the First World War, Istanbul, Kitabevi.”

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Dr. Yüksel Nizamoğlu is an Historian focuses on Ottoman Balkans, Middle East Studies, and Military History. PhD. 2010. Istanbul University.

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