The Second Empire of Trabzon, also known simply as the Empire of Trabzon, is an unrecognized proto-state in the Eastern Turkish Wasteland. It was established by mutinous Turkish military personnel as a result of the Soviet-Turkish border war which erupted in the Caucasus following the 1983 Doomsday catastrophe. Trabzon's sole de facto head of state and commander and chief of armed forces was General Altan Sahin, who declared himself emperor (imparator) of the region in 1985.
Sahin's regime originally claimed to be the spiritual and ideological successor to the former Empire of Trebizond, a medieval Byzantine polity, although Trabzon remains a thoroughly Turkish nation. It has been supported by a number of other regional actors, namely Georgia and Armenia as a buffer zone against the rapid military and political expansion of the post-Doomsday Turkish Sultanate.
Trabzon, historically known as Trapezus and Trebizond, formed the basis of several states after being founded by Milesian Greek settlers in the 9th Century BCE. It was a part of at least one ancient Mossynoeci confederation before being annexed by the Mithridatic Kingdom of Pontus. The Roman Empire conquered Trapezus following the Mithridatic Wars, and under Roman rule the city became one of the most strategically important naval and trade centers on the Black Sea. It declined greatly after being sacked during a Gothic invasion in 258, but regained prominence after being inherited by the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire in 395. During the Fourth Crusade, the Byzantine Empire was dismembered and independent Greek rump states emerged at Trebizond, Nicaea, and Epirus. Alexios I Megas Komnenos declared himself emperor of the region in April 1204 with backing from his brother David and their relative Queen Tamar of Georgia, an act to which historians attribute the founding of the so-called "Empire of Trebizond". Geographically the first Empire of Trebizond never included anything more than the southeastern coast of the Black Sea. Its demographic heritage, however, endured for several centuries after being permanently annexed by the Ottoman Turks in 1461, and a substantial number of Orthodox and Greek-speaking people remained there until the early 20th century.
During the 1910s and 1920s, Trabzon became the focal point for an abortive Greek secessionist campaign, prompting the Turkish government to deport most Orthodox Greeks to the Balkans or Russia. The independence of Trabzon was first proposed at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 as a Greek state known as the Republic of Pontus. As a result of Turkish purges, however, the demographics of the region shifted and Muslims, predominantly Turks, but also smaller numbers of Greek-speaking converts and Circassians, quickly formed a new majority.
According to ethnologists, an interesting trend which characterized the (post-Doomsday) Turkish population of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries has been a romanticized emphasis on the achievements of the Empire of Trebizond and ancient Trapezus as part of a fledgling Trabzon nationalism, their Greek character and previous significance to local Greek nationalists notwithstanding.
Trabzon briefly became a flashpoint for Cold War tensions in 1958, when a United States Air Force (USAF) C-130 Hercules aircraft based there was shot down after straying into Soviet airspace. The USAF maintained a reconnaissance outpost at Trabzon until 1970, after which it was transferred to the Turkish Air Force.
As with many other countries and regions around the world, Doomsday came suddenly for Trabzon. While the city itself was spared the immediate fallout from a nuclear strike, Trabzon experienced an unprecedented deluge of refugees fleeing from the south, where Erzurum and much of the surrounding countryside had been annihilated. In the wake of the resulting nuclear barrage, NATO and Turkish Air Force aircraft were scrambled from Trabzon to intercept further incursions and strike Soviet airfields in the Transcaucasian Military District.
Turkey's Third Army was largely paralyzed by Doomsday, as its commanding officer, then in Izmir, had been killed during the nuclear exchange. Additionally, its 9th Corps had ceased to exist after the strike on Erzurum. The Third Army Headquarters at Erzincan made a concerted effort to mobilize its 11th Corps, which was based in Trabzon and had thus survived relatively intact, for an anticipated Soviet ground invasion. The 11th Corps took part in a series of pitched battles near the Georgian and Armenian borders with motorized troops from the Soviet 31st Army Corps, and was initially successfully in several joint NATO and Turkish maneuvers which ended the Soviet initiative. The fighting quickly devolved into a war of attrition, with the 11th Corps, already under-equipped at Doomsday, suffered heavy casualties due to a breakdown in logistics. At one point, only one of its divisions had enough ammunition for another engagement. Desertion reached critical levels, and mutinies at the command level were also not uncommon. Perhaps the most well-known example was that of a brigadier general later identified only as Altan Sahin. Deeming the tactical situation untenable, and protesting his abrupt redeployment to an irradiated zone near Batumi, General Sahin achieved notoriety for placing a number of his superiors under arrest; according to some historians, this effectively nullified the 11th Corps as a cohesive formation.
It remains clear, however, that the collapse of the corps and the Third Army as a whole was influenced by a number of factors, namely crippling desertion and the logistical difficulties which made carrying out many directives impossible, and Sahin was not the only senior officer who unilaterally seized command. However, he and a cabal of others succeeded in taking control of the 11th Corps' surviving manpower. They cut off all contact with Erzincan and abandoned the counter-offensive against the Soviets, first brokering an unofficial truce then withdrawing towards Artvin. General Sahin and his men reached their former bases in Trabzon on November 3, 1983. The city had formerly descended into chaos as a result of the refugee crisis and inadequate supplies or housing to accommodate the new arrivals; the returning troops assisted the gendarmerie in forcibly restoring order. Nevertheless, the Turkish Air Force units stationed in Trabzon refused to accept his illegal authority and stood to arms. The standoff ended when Trabzon Air Base was surrendered to Sahin, who had threatened to fire on returning military fighters unless he was allowed to take control of the airfield.
Establishment of the Second Empire
With Sahin presiding as Trabzon's unofficial commissioner, a rigorous degree of martial law was applied to the city and all of its surrounding districts. Like most ranking members of Turkey's preexisting military establishment, Sahin was well aware of the threat posed by political violence in the country and feared that the widespread anarchy would provide a catalyst for extremist right-wing parties such as the Nationalist Movement (MHP), radical Islamist groups who believed that Doomsday was the final judgment of Allah, and Kurdish separatists to make their own bids for power. Sahin worked to undermine these elements by disarming civilians en masse. He declared Trabzon "pacified" in early 1984, although heavy-handed initiatives by his soldiers to check perceived internal threats ran their course well into 1985. Troops launched repeated month-long sweeps of the Trabzon, Akçaabat, Sürmene, and Yomra districts. Residents were frequently interrogated, asked to produce proof of identity, and declare weapons. In some cases, civilians were assaulted, and dozens were executed for failing to comply. Known sympathizers of the MHP and Kurdish refugees were Sahin's primary targets. Many were segregated from the general populace and marched into makeshift internment camps. Notably, there was little opposition to these measures; by and by the population of Trabzon accepted the imposition of martial law without protest. Historians have since compared their attitudes at the time to those during Turkey's 1980 coup d'état, which many in Trabzon had likewise welcomed as the only alternative to anarchy. Indeed, the purges Sahin ordered and general crackdown on subversive elements was carried out in an eerily similar fashion to those which had followed the coup four years earlier, including the specific attacks on right-wing extremists and abolition of all political activity. Local offices belonging to all three major legal political parties in Turkey at the time, the Motherland Party, Populist Party, and National Democratic Party, were closed and their members ordered to keep a low profile. In response to criticism from local officials General Sahin made rather vague statements about his intention to play a caretaker's role until the entire country had recovered sufficiently for civilian rule.
Communication between Trabzon and the remnants of Turkish military and civilian administrative structures was also severed throughout 1984. It was evident that Sahin and the officers who now controlled the region understood they were regarded as traitors and deserters, and they could expect little leniency from any surviving central government. Attempts by municipal officials to re-establish contact with provisional authorities in Konya were halted, and emergency broadcasts such as the Toplama Order subject to jamming. Civil servants with ties to the former government were also dismissed. This inevitably led to a deterioration of local government, especially at the policy level. Sahin set up an advisory administrative council composed of military commanders, placed military tribunals above the system of civil law, and appointed soldiers to fill all posts in local government and parastatal agencies. Trabzon was, in effect, governed directly from military installations under Sahin's control across the region, where commanders on the battalion level functioned as petty administrators. While controversial in hindsight, the remnants of Turkey's armed forces were the only force capable of filling the vacuum after the civilian government in Ankara had been destroyed, and as far as Sahin was concerned he had created the precisely the state of order he desired. Next to Konya, Patnos, and other key Turkish urban centers, Trabzon was a comparatively tranquil model of post-Doomsday stability.
According to General Sahin's critics, the period of 1984-85 foreshadowed events to come, as his rule became increasingly authoritarian and despotic, culminating in his self-coronation as İmparator (Emperor) of Trabzon. Most modern Turkish sources claim that Sahin in 1987 titled his emerging proto-state Trabzon İmparatorluğu (Empire of Trabzon) and officially renamed himself the following year Emperor Altan I. Some have cited this as demonstrative of Sahin's eccentricity, as well as a ludicrous and overly flamboyant nature. However, absolute monarchs holding executive powers and formerly obsolete titles were hardly an uncommon fixture in post-Doomsday geopolitics. Sahin's supporters have defended his decision as the spark which created modern Trabzon nationalism. They have typically cited his belief that a strong unitary state with a central government united under an absolute ruler would reduce expenses considerably and allow more resources to be directed towards the advancement of the entire country.
In December 1986, Altan Sahin gave his first personal address to Trabzon's residents at Hagia Sophia, a former Byzantine church and Ottoman mosque revered as a symbol of the city's once-proud imperial legacy. He extended martial law indefinitely and gave vent to his doubts about the survival of the Turkish republic. This was the last occasion on which the Turkish flag was hoisted in Trabzon, as on March 4, 1987 Sahin announced that after some deliberation he would take the title of emperor. Simultaneously, the administrative council decreed that it was adopting a resolution to transform the republic—or at least, the portion of the republic encompassing Trabzon—into an "empire".
1988 coup d'état attempt
Always an underdeveloped region, Trabzon was in relatively poor economic shape following Doomsday. Many rural households found themselves overtaxed attempting to support the countless refugees which crowded the countryside. Military bureaucrats who handled administrative tasks and maintained the civil infrastructure were mostly occupying ransacked offices with few chairs, desks, typewriters, or paper. They had no way of enforcing the prices General Sahin and the advisory council fixed for common goods. Due to a decline in the circulation of preexisting Turkish currency, black markets thrived and inflation skyrocketed. Meanwhile, Sahin reveled in unparalleled extravagance. The cost of his new residence, built atop the ruins of Trebizond Castle, coupled with his absurd coronation, devastated Trabzon's fragile finances. Some of Sahin's subordinates believed the resources expended on these projects greatly accounted for the further impoverishment of the citizens.
In May 1988 Colonel Bahri Yalçın, a member of the administrative council, called for a coup d'état. Yalçın had denounced Sahin as attempting to build a cult of personality, and of betraying his people by his unilateral decision to abolish the republic. He ridiculed the adoption of a new imperial flag modeled after the arms of Greek Trebizond, and insisted this showed disrespect for the Turkish nation. More importantly, Yalçın warned, he regarded these acts as an open renunciation of Kemalism and a direct challenge to the soldiers who had helped Sahin take power. Indeed, these sentiments were echoed by many in the ranks of the armed forces, which still included an avowedly Kemalist component.
Reports as to how the coup progressed are contradictory. For example, the government of Trabzon maintains that there was no coup in 1988, and released a bulletin on the anniversary of the incident in 2008 to that effect. A journalist who later defected to Konya, Fatma Karademir, wrote at length about the 1988 coup attempt in a pamphlet criticizing Sahin's regime, and it is from her account that most information concerning the event is derived. Karademir notes that Yalçın called for the seizure of Trabzon Airport and the closure of the roads. Neither happened. She claimed that "thousands" of angry civilians then marched on Trebizond Castle, accompanied by soldiers and an M48 Patton tank. Loyal soldiers fired at the crowd. Protestors broke into a police station and released detainees there. However, the remaining members of the administrative council disavowed Yalçın and addressed the public from a radio station, insisting they would not support a coup. Apparently the remaining troops continued to follow their orders. The following day the streets were deserted, Sahin's loyalists set up roadblocks, and Yalçın went into hiding in Ordu, then controlled by another military officer Karademir described as a "provincial warlord". Sahin demanded that Yalçın be returned to Trabzon. When Ordu refused, his troops attacked and plundered the city. The raid on Ordu, Karademir claimed, touched off a ripple of violence and low-intensity warfare between Trabzon and other Turkish successor states in what had become known as the Eastern Turkish Wasteland.
Despite outward appearances, the attempted coup d'état revealed serious internal divisions within the armed forces under Sahin's command. There were several bloody purges in 1988 and 1989, when various battalion or even brigade commanders were viewed as potential usurpers or became real political threats in their own right. Each purge provided new opportunities for others to advance in the ranks. For example, the commander of air defense, Osman Bahçekapılı, had been an ambulance driver in the 11th Corps; Murat Başer, chief of the armored brigade, was formerly a cook seconded to Sahin's staff during the Caucasus border war. The officers who sat on the administrative council ruled with no explicit policy except the natural goal of self-preservation. They barely exerted control over some army units in outlying areas, which functioned as semi-independent garrisons of occupation.
Sahin also established several powerful internal security forces, such as the core of handpicked soldiers known as the "Imperial Guard" and the Directorate of Counter-Intelligence, made up of the former military and gendarme intelligence agencies as well as local elements of Turkey's defunct National Intelligence Organization. Like its pre-Doomsday predecessor, the Directorate of Counter-Intelligence in theory had no police powers and depended on the Imperial Guard troops for enforcement. In fact, both freely terrorized the populace during their hunt for communists, right-wingers, Islamic radicals, and Kurdish or Armenian separatists.
Rural producers of tea and hazelnut quickly turned to smuggling, especially to the Caucasus and other Turkish communities to the west. The smuggling problem turned into a fixation with Sahin and the advisory council; in late 1989 they ordered the Imperial Guard to refocus on eliminating all smugglers. The troops shot hundreds of suspected smugglers between 1989 and 1995, but were equally interested in plundering the possessions of those they'd killed and often failed to discriminate between criminals and innocent peasant cultivators.
Pacification campaign in New Erzurum
A large swath of territory to Trabzon's immediate south remained underpopulated and generally in chaos for nearly a decade after Doomsday as a result of the Soviet nuclear strike on Erzurum, which had obliterated the city itself and triggered eastern Turkey's largest internal refugee crisis. The destruction of Erzurum crippled local infrastructure and brought all economic activity, apart from subsistence agriculture, herding, and internal trade, to a halt. Survivor communities which remained in Erzurum formed a patchwork of loosely affiliated kadiluks or kazas, vilayets, and sanjaks. There are a number of conflicting reports as to the stability of the region between 1983 and 1990; Trabzon's government claimed that competing warlords and militia groups emerged which fought for control over the larger towns and cities. Proponents of this position insisted that these disparate marauders preyed on the common people and carved up the land into personal fiefdoms. The death and destruction wrought by the fighting opened the way for a "pacification" campaign launched by General Sahin and his advisory council. Trabzon offered hope to the Turks living in the war-torn province of Erzurum, along with a reprieve from the excesses of the warlords. Sahin himself mentioned in a public address in May 1990 that he believed he was the only one capable of ridding the troubled "southern provinces" of warlords who had turned their weapons on their own people.
However, in most contemporary academic literature, Sahin's claims of disorder and internecine factional warfare south of Trabzon have been dismissed as a propaganda exercise. Turkish historians observed that Trabzon carried out trade with the independent communities in Erzurum, although during the late 1980s relations were strained, primarily because of continuing clashes along their common border. Most of these skirmishes seem to have been provoked by isolated groups of soldiers or herders, but Sahin seized on them as an opportunity to expand his political influence further southwards. He ordered his troops to invade the patchwork of autonomous vilayets—known collectively as New Erzurum—hoping to divert attention from his own internal troubles and rally the people of Trabzon against an external adversary.
Surprisingly, most of the vilayets mobilized, united, and counterattacked, joined by disgruntled exiles from Trabzon. Sahin's troops, who had expended most of their energy by looting along the way, were driven back. The unexpectedly ferocious resistance waged by New Erzurum has been credited to a number of factors, namely the fiercely independent nature of survivor communities in that region. In sharp contrast to the Trabzonians, the vilayets did not welcome the prospect of military rule. For almost eight years Erzurum's remaining population had been left to their own devices, and many of the vilayets had formed as a direct response to the threat posed by deserters from Turkey's Third Army, who had resorted to armed banditry. They possessed little faith in Sahin, who was perceived as another marauder, especially after his 1988 sacking of Ordu. Public opinion of Trabzon also declined greatly as a result of the brutal anti-smuggling operations, which had forced some farmers to flee south.
The forces General Sahin ordered into New Erzurum represented a small number of 11th Corps veterans structured and trained for full-scale conventional warfare, and thousands of recent Trabzonian recruits hastily enrolled with minimal training and little sense of discipline. These inexperienced and undisciplined units heartily plundered and murdered their way through the countryside. Civilian homesteads were looted, with doors, roofs, and even door frames being stolen by the soldiers. From the time they marched into New Erzurum around mid 1990, however, the Trabzonians were able to exert only very limited control over various parts of the region, namely the major north-south road through Erzurum Province to the city of Hopa.
New Erzurum confirmed what many observers already suspected about Trabzon's miniature defense forces—they relied more on concentrated troop formations and overwhelming firepower than on tactical flexibility and maneuver warfare. Nothing had been done to change the preexisting doctrine, training, and organization of units that were adopted for a conventional war against the Soviet Union. Certainly, the invaders were well-equipped: while all of the regime's valuable tanks and most of its heavy weapons were retained in Trabzon to reduce the potential for another attempted coup d'état, troops in New Erzurum possessed twenty-seven trucks, some towed mortars, and significant fuel and ammunition reserves. Much of this irreplaceable equipment and resources fell into the hands of the local militants as Sahin's forces began their disorderly retreat. Undeterred, Sahin embarked on a renewed conscription campaign, the first implemented anywhere in Turkey since 1983, and mobilized his more reliable Imperial Guard. Trabzon made a second attempt to invade New Erzurum between 1992 and 1996, and this time the occupation was more successful. The vilayets were for the most part subdued or destroyed over the course of the bitter four year campaign, prompting their residents to resort to guerrilla warfare. Nevertheless, they suffered severe casualties as Trabzon maintained total artillery superiority and the Imperial Guard shelled settlements without discrimination.
Trabzon did not aim to vanquish the guerrillas so much as intimidate and terrorize the local populace into abandoning areas of intense resistance and either voluntarily disarm or withdraw their support from the partisans who were still fighting. Like many post-Doomsday civil conflicts this unfortunately resorted in the deliberate destruction of villages, a scorched earth policy, and the heavy mining of the countryside and the perimeters of major urban centers. The Imperial Guard not only hit back hard against guerrilla targets but also attacked what remained of New Erzurum's priceless economic infrastructure by sabotaging utilities and burning fields. New Erzurum's resistance fighters countered this strategy of calculated annihilation with a prolonged war of attrition. The availability of vast quantities of arms in the region left over from earlier Turkish and Soviet forces, captured from Trabzon, gained on gray and black markets, or simply obtained through the illicit cross-border trade with the Caucasus, as well as the compulsory military service the pre-Doomsday Ankara government required all male citizens to undergo, facilitated an effective insurgent bloc.
On November 11, 1997, Altan Sahin declared New Erzurum "pacified". It was a hopelessly optimistic sentiment. Since Trabzon's invasion the insurgents had made the roads so impassible for supply convoys that many outposts had to be resupplied exclusively by air, a costly endeavor which exposed aircraft to risk and consumed large quantities of fuel. The majority of Trabzon's troops were concentrated in isolated bases and along their lines of communication, and the rest were overstretched and dispersed over the vast countryside, hunting guerrillas. The ill-advised pacification campaign had achieved little more than a high body count, the displacement of nearly a third of New Erzurum's inhabitants, and an utter proliferation of land mines. During the subsequent months Trabzon would even abandon the territory it held in southern New Erzurum, due to its logistics woes and the cost of maintaining a military presence there.
War with Greater Patnos
The occupation of New Erzurum was a limited one because in time Trabzon preferred to fight for limited aims: keeping its supply lines open, controlling the largest settlements and strategic bases, and holding guerrillas at bay, while the militant vilayets fought an unlimited war in which they perceived only two options: death, or the expulsion of the invaders. Due to the continued concerns over insurrection on the home front, Trabzon intentionally limited the scope of its operations and the amount of forces it committed. On the other hand, to the population of New Erzurum it was a total war for their very survival. Trabzon was not defeated militarily, but it did fail to achieve its objectives. Moreover, the war left its fledgling army exhausted, both physically and psychologically.
For all General Sahin's successes in overcoming the various armed statelets in Erzurum's north, the flames of resistance had not been extinguished in the south. The southern plains and central mountains were still held by an alliance of vilayets, and their continued existence infuriated the self-styled emperor, an affront to his claims to have pacified the region. Sahin came to consider stamping out this coalition as his chief objective. Occupying the south had already been attempted and was deemed unfeasible for several reasons, namely the difficulty in resupplying outposts, poor maps, the mountainous terrain into which the insurgents could swiftly disappear after mounting raids, and the risk of further overextending Trabzon's limited manpower. The southern vilayets had staved off Trabzonian conquest for three long years, and during that period thousands of corpses were sent back to grieving families along the Black Sea coast. Military analysts believed at this point their skilled leadership and determination would enable the south to resist Sahin indefinitely.
Even more worrying to members of Sahin's advisory council was that the war had intensified rivalries in the armed forces. Kemalist sentiments remained strong, and longstanding veterans as well as new fighters who had made their careers under Sahin since 1983 sought to weaken each other's influence, ushering in an era of violent disputes and mutinies. To defuse these tensions, and with the ultimate aim of outflanking and isolating the insurgency in southern Erzurum, Sahin sent the most problematic units to annex a 300 square-kilometer length of territory between Refahiye and Bingöl town, known as the Erzincan Strip. This marked the culmination of tensions with the neighboring Republic of Greater Patnos. With Sahin's establishment of the Second Empire of Trabzon in 1987, the traditional Kemalist antipathy for imperial monarchs reemerged and was especially pronounced in Greater Patnos; indeed, rumors abounded that Kemalist elements forced to flee Trabzon after the failed 1988 coup d'état fled south and found their way into the armed forces and civil government of the latter. When Sahin decided to mount a multi-brigade punitive expedition to capture the Erzincan Strip, the Patnosi regime viewed itself as threatened, its territory violated by Trabzon. Although the troop movements were justified as part of a greater counter-insurgency effort against New Erzurum, the new conflict between Sahin and the staunchly republican Turkish military remnants in Patnos assumed the form of a conventional war in which armor, mechanized infantry, and air power played decisive roles.
With the bulk of its troops and equipment set against Kurdistan in the east, Greater Patnos proved surprisingly vulnerable to the Trabzonian onslaught, and Erzincan itself fell to Sahin's commanders in January 1999. Trabzon's forces encountered severe logistical difficulties but survived by seizing Patnosi trucks and ammunition depots. Their rather centralized logistics system regulated supplies at the battalion level directly from Trabzon and Rize, a rather awkward arrangement given the limited transportation and communications network. The most striking feature of the Patnosi armed forces was its large mechanized and armored units, which it had inherited from various Turkish units expelled from Kurdish territory by the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). This gave the republic a tank force several times the size of Trabzon's embryonic armored corps. The Patnosi tanks were stationed further southeast near the Kurdish border, however, and it took valuable time to transport them north towards the Erzincan Strip. While Sahin repeatedly claimed that he possessed more aircraft than the Patnosi air force, most of these were based out of airfields at Trabzon itself. Due to an ongoing fuel shortage, Trabzon's distance from the Erzincan Strip severely affected the pilots' ability to time and execute their missions. Sahin may have hoped he could utilize the runway at Erzincan Airport for this purpose, but that site was found to be in ruins, choked with debris, and well within range of Patnosi artillery.
During the winter and spring months of 1999, Trabzon achieved several victories at Erzincan, Yayladere, and Kemah but also suffered significant defeats at Hozat and Tunceli. Despite their success in capturing Erzincan and several smaller settlements, several factors prevented a Trabzonian victory. Tank losses had been severe in the battles around Tunceli. Greater Patnos had also mobilized its own air force, establishing air superiority and harassing the overextended Trabzonian supply lines with impunity. In late 1999 unusual flooding also hampered reinforcements and supply convoys on the roads. Although it fought its way into the Munzur Valley and Tunceli was virtually destroyed by shelling, Trabzon lacked the manpower or supplies to capture the city. General Sahin and his staff devoted their attention towards repairing the airfield at Erzincan and regrouping for the anticipated counteroffensive.
As the new millennium dawned, Greater Patnos retook the initiative and launched a three-pronged counterattack aimed at dislodging Trabzon from the Erzincan Strip. The campaign proceeded at a dizzying pace as fresh Patnosi units, including crack special forces diverted from the Kurdish border, bolstered by tanks and heliborne infantry, overwhelmed the invaders in just two days of fighting which left over a thousand Trabzonians dead, wounded, or taken captive. Within a week, Greater Patnos had recaptured all of the major towns and villages lost during the incursion. On February 1, 2000 Altan Sahin recalled Trabzonian units from the Erzincan Strip.
It took Trabzon almost a decade to recover from its catastrophic defeat in the 1999-2000 war. The battles to capture, and subsequently defend, the Erzincan Strip cost the armed forces many veteran troops and much of its equipment. Skilled manpower, especially soldiers with technical skills unlikely to be possessed by conscripts drawn from various undeveloped regions, was difficult to replace. Shortages of hardware, inadequate maintenance, and lack of spare parts for what remained of Trabzon's ageing Turkish military equipment also limited the effectiveness of all units. For the next eight or nine years, Trabzon would seek to improve its defense capabilities by diversifying into a variety of foreign sources, including Iraqi arms dealers and the Federation of Georgia. Yet this aid was insufficient to restore the armed forces to their prewar effectiveness. For all Altan Sahin's continued espousal of jingoistic territorial ambitions and implacable hatred of Kemalism, he never again considered a southward military expansion and resigned himself to consolidating control of northern Erzurum.
The Looming Sultanate
Unrest in Trabzon arising out of economic deterioration and the stifling of all political activity contributed to a security crisis in the Sultanate of Turkey, which occupied the Paphlagonian region following the so-called Union Accords. Trabzonian refugees fleeing west towards Samsun were said to number in the tens of thousands, seeking refuge from marauding soldiers and armed raiders. Relations between Trabzon and the Sultanate were almost immediately poisoned due to General Sahin's virulent anti-Konya rhetoric—he denounced Ertuğrul II as a "puppet of illegal securocrats"—and his irredentist claims to Samsun and Sinop Province. Since 2001, over 20,000 refugees, both civilian and military, have crossed the border into Samsun. These refugees have included more than fifty former army officers who pleaded with Konya for asylum. Since General Sahin had announced his intention to try these personnel on treason charges, their flight to Samsun provoked a political row with the Sultanate. By early 2006, it was estimated that at least 13,000 of the Trabzonians were being sheltered in makeshift refugee camps along the Terme River. Some Trabzonian refugees, particularly the highly educated, found jobs with the Turkish civil administration.
Ali Kızgın, chairman of an organization which researches and compiles trade statistics of the Eastern Turkish Wasteland, issued a detailed report in 2009 claiming that opportunistic people and businesses in the Sultanate were taking advantage of goods shortages in Trabzon. According to Kızgın, these individuals smuggle consumer goods into Trabzon which either originated from industrialized parts of the Sultanate or were transshipped from Konya's trading partners elsewhere. They are frequently paid in Trabzonian hazelnuts, which are trucked back to Samsun and sold to the local government. This brisk flow of illicit exports was temporarily disrupted in 2011 when a Trabzonian patrol clashed near Ordu with unidentified soldiers and killed four of them. Trabzon insisted that this was the latest in a variety of acts of "terrorism" and "sabotage" sponsored by Konya, and the soldiers were Turkish special forces. The border was temporarily closed, while both governments issued threatening statements.
On March 6, 2013 Sahin announced he was unilaterally reopening the border. The extent of the Sultanate having overt security implications for Trabzon could not be ascertained, but many international observers believe that its intelligence community was at least in contact with Sahin's political opponents.
Government and Politics
The Second Empire of Trabzon has been described as both an absolute monarchy and an uncomplicated military dictatorship. Since proclaiming himself emperor, General Altan Sahin remains unconstrained by a written constitution, a legislative body, or elections. After 1984, most administrative policies have been proposed and implemented by a military consultative council. The latter appears to have been patterned directly after the disestablished National Security Council, which ruled Turkey from 1980 to 1983. In theory Trabzon's council is only empowered to advise the emperor on governmental affairs, with all executive and legislative authority vested in Sahin. Sahin has, however, delegated most of his important authority to the council's general secretary, a position which rotates biannually. For example, during its October 1999 session, Sahin authorized the council to name ambassadors and create the post of a foreign relations secretary to receive the credentials of foreign diplomats. This coincided with the formal establishment of relations with the Federation of Georgia and subsequently, Armenia.
In 2017 the administrative council had thirteen known members, all appointed by the emperor. Owing to apparent public confusion over the council's constitutional powers (or lack thereof), the government of Trabzon issued a statement on April 4, 2017 specifying the number and identity of members. The statement also re-clarified that council members had limited authority to question the emperor's policies and propose legislation. A spokesperson for the government quoted by a Kuitasi newspaper reiterated that the council had no actual legislative powers but was limited to an advisory body concerned with making recommendations.
As head of state and government, Sahin exercised very broad powers. Ultimate authority in every vestige of government rested with his position as emperor. All legislation was enacted either by "imperial decree" or by "council decree", which in any case had to be sanctioned by the emperor. Sahin also reserved the right to appoint cabinet ministers, other senior government officials, and local administrative heads. In his capacity as commander in chief of Trabzon's armed forces the emperor appointed all commissioned officers over the rank of colonel. He also retained the right to appoint ambassadors or foreign envoys, although this was more often exercised by the council.
While local officials were directly responsible to the emperor, there was no centralized Trabzon Ministry of Justice as of 2017, meaning Sahin had done almost nothing to regulate the autonomy of local courts. Interestingly, Trabzon did possess other ministerial posts, which were created by Sahin on an ad hoc basis and could remain vacant for years at a time. For example, a Minister of National Redevelopment, Colonel Mehmet Sarıpınar, was appointed in 1993 to coordinate construction projects and reintroduce social services throughout the country. The post has been unfilled since Sarıpınar's death in 1999, although development programs have continued unabated. In late 2015 the ministers of state included three colonels who held official positions as ministers of state without portfolio, and the heads of eight other ministries. The state ministries included agriculture and rural affairs; communications and transport; trade and industry; national defense; finance; forestry; public works and housing; and interior and public security. Each ministry had its own budget and operated with considerable independence.
Trabzon's continued lack of an effective civil service following the purge of local civilian government in 1984 has made it impossible to enforce administrative policies except through the armed forces. There is no current civil service organization which exercises formal jurisdiction over the employees of ministries, government organizations, and state-run agencies, all of which are staffed almost exclusively with military personnel. Furthermore, there was no separate supervisory board charged with regulating the grade classification, pay rates, recruitment and personnel needs, or personal evaluation of these bodies. Consequently policy implementation has hinged on the presence of the armed forces, and areas where military influence was diminished or nonexistent were excluded.
The Ministry of Interior and Public Security was said to be locked in a persistent power struggle with the Ministry of National Defense, to which it was ranked second in terms of overall political influence. Since 1989 General Cengiz Akyüz has been Minister of Interior and Public Security and commander of the Imperial Guard. By 2017 Akyüz was believed to be the third most powerful individual in Trabzonian government, after Sahin and General Ali Ulutaş, current chairman of the administrative council and Minister of National Defense. Under his direction the Ministry of Interior and Public Security has become a pervasive organization in the daily lives of local citizens, enjoying almost unlimited powers. Due to the advanced age of both Sahin and Ulutaş, it has been theorized that Akyüz is poised to become the next ruler of the Trabzonian proto-state.
Geography and External Boundaries
Trabzon is surrounded by five distinct nations and one major body of water—the Black Sea. Hemmed by sea to the north and high mountains along the eastern and southeastern frontiers, Trabzon generally has well-defined natural borders. Since 1983 the boundary with the former Soviet Union, which was defined by mutual agreement between the Soviet and Turkish governments in 1921, has formed Trabzon's borders with the post-Doomsday countries of Georgia and Armenia. Trabzon's boundaries with the Sultanate of Turkey and the Republic of Greater Patnos have never been formally delineated and remain the topic of some dispute. Although fighting has gradually ceased in New Erzurum, that territory remains one of western Asia's frozen conflict zones. All of New Erzurum is claimed by Trabzon, and the surviving vilayets in the south have harbored a lingering resentment over the loss of their northern lands and principal settlements.
The country is prone to earthquakes, as it incorporates a significant amount of territory once included in Turkey's most active seismic region, which extends to the region north of Lake Van on the Georgian and Armenian borders. Broadly speaking, the Second Empire of Trabzon can be delineated into two distinct geographical regions: the densely populated coastal strip along the Black Sea, and the interior, where the land surface is rough, broken, and mountainous. Flat or even gently sloping land is rare, especially in the southeast, which has a median elevation of about 1,500 meters.
The Black Sea coastal strip consists of a steep, rocky coastline with a few rivers that cascade through gorges further inland. Access to the interior from the coastal strip is limited to a few narrow valleys due to the presence of the Pontic Mountain Range, which varies from 1,500 to 4,000 meters in elevation and runs parallel to the Black Sea. Because of these natural conditions, the reach of the Trabzonian government and security forces is largely confined to the coast, and much of the interior outside major settlements or military installations remains isolated. The coastal strip occasionally widens into fertile deltas where cultivation is intense; Trabzon remains dependent on these areas for the production of its primary cash crops: hazelnuts and tea. The mild, damp climate is also conducive to commercial agriculture, and due to the country's severe shortage of foreign exchange no amount of coastal land is wasted; even the mountain slopes where possible have been farmed or utilized for grazing livestock. The southern slopes of the Pontic range are usually barren, but the northern slopes facing the Black Sea are much more conducive for vegetation. Timber is cut on these slopes from ancient deciduous and evergreen forests. Rainfall averages 1,500 millimeters annually and may occur during any season.
Trabzon's interior is sparsely populated and is home to a much more extreme climate and a number of recently extinct volcanoes. Some streams and rivers which empty into the Black Sea originate in the south. Much of the region is characterized by hot, dry summers and severe winters with heavy snowfalls. Smaller settlements are often isolated for protracted periods during winter storms. There are valleys at the foot of the mountains near river corridors which support diverse agriculture, although primarily for local subsistence.
Overall population density remains low; however, the Black Sea coastal strip is densely populated. Although the coast accounts for less than a quarter of Trabzon's landmass, about half the population was residing there in 2014. The Trabzonian government classifies 45% of the population as rural, meaning people who live outside a settlement or in a settlement with fewer than 800 residents. While the rural population has declined since Doomsday, there has also been a notable "reverse exodus" of some urban dwellers to the countryside. The reasons for this movement are open to various hypotheses, including a desire to escape the growing complexities of administration and various abuses committed by the security forces. There is no formal system of rural governance and many smaller communities are still administered by a local muhtar (traditional village head).
Trabzon has a relatively high population growth rate (estimated at 3%) which is unusual compared to that of the region prior to 1983. For the first fourteen years after Doomsday nothing was done to challenge the preexisting Turkish legislation, which decriminalized abortion for a broad range of medical causes. In 1997, however, the administrative council issued a new decree making abortion and the distribution of information about contraceptives illegal. This was seen as a reflection of the traditionally conservative social attitudes in Trabzon, which was often at odds with the liberalizing trend in the western parts of Turkey. Pressure from some religious leaders to extend the ban to include the practice of any form of birth control, including sterilization, was rejected. The number of illegal abortions was also said to be increasing as a result, and currently accounts for around 5% of maternal deaths.
People identified as Turks comprised just under 90% of the total population. As one of the legacies of the Ottoman millets system, all Sunni Muslim residents of Trabzon are automatically considered Turks by society and the government. Non-Sunni Muslims are not considered Turks. Trabzonian Turks include several distinct subgroups which differ from each other with slight variations in dialect and customs. Historically speaking, the eastern Black Sea coast was one of the last areas in Anatolia to be settled by Turks due to the survival of the (First) Empire of Trebizond there. The region was colonized by Chepni Turks, an Oghuz tribe, in the fifteenth century after Trebizond's annexation to the Ottoman Empire. The Chepni gradually migrated eastward into Trabzon by following the coast from Samsun, where they established several independent principalities and probably subsumed the local Christian tribe, the Chan (Tzane). During the 1480s Trabzon became the center of a settlement and development project that include the mass relocation of Anatolian Turks there by the Ottoman government. The Ottomans also granted significant amounts of land to sipahi notables from Albania. There was another wave of Turkish immigration to Trabzon in the mid 1500s from eastern Anatolia due to tribal uprisings which had destabilized that area. Thousands of Circassian Muslim immigrants from the Russian Empire gradually settled in Trabzon beginning in the late eighteenth century, and their descendants continue to make up a notable percentage of the country's farm workforce.
Due to the historical prevalence of the Greek language in Trabzon, local Turkish dialects adopted some aspects of Greek phonology and syntax. The Greek influence is especially notable in vowel harmony, pronominal syntax, the use of the -mIş suffix, and word order.
Some ethnic minorities in Trabzon disappeared as a result of voluntary migration and population exchanges throughout history. For example, the region was once home to a significant Pontic Greek and Urum population, which gradually declined due to migration to Georgia, especially during the 1828-9 Russo-Turkish War. The remaining Pontic Greeks were expelled by the Turkish government as part of a population exchange with Greece during the early twentieth century. Trabzon's small Armenian population was largely exterminated during the Armenian Genocide.
In the post-Doomsday era, Trabzon's three largest minorities are the Laz, Abkhaz, and Hemshin. The Laz, who speak a Caucasian language known as Lazi, are primarily occupied with fishing and concentrated in villages near the coastal city of Rize. The Abkhaz and smaller numbers of other Georgian ethnic groups live just east of the Çoruh River and on the Trabzonian-Georgian border, where they are employed as farmers or herdsmen. The Hemshin people are closely related to the Armenians but converted to Islam in the seventeenth century. The Laz, Abkhaz, and Hemshin are not considered unique ethnic groups by the Trabzonian government. Although legislation prohibiting the public use of specific languages does not exist, Laz citizens have complained of being arrested on charges relating to their speaking Lazi. Speaking or reading in the Lazi tongue has been denounced by the authorities as denigrating Trabzonian nationalism. Similar discrimination has been extended to Kurdish speakers, whose numbers have increased as a result of the immediate post-Doomsday refugee crisis. Kurds in Trabzon have accused the security forces of arresting their people on linguistic charges as a pretext for deporting them to Kurdistan.
The Ministry of Interior and Public Security stated around 2016 it was looking at ways to encourage the voluntary migration of Kurds to Kurdistan, including unspecified financial incentives.
The Trabzonian economy is unique in the Eastern Turkish Wasteland. While New Erzurum, Greater Patnos, and the Sultanate of Turkey all inherited large populations, considerable agricultural potential, or well-established industrial bases, Trabzon possessed none of these advantages in 1983. During the 1970s, the region had begun to experience the effects of rapid industrialization in Turkey. This had produced distortions in the labor market and had concentrated wealth largely in the west of the country. Trabzon had experienced a recent population boom, which contributed to unemployment as the size of the labor force exceeded the demand for local employment. The mechanization of commercial agriculture had also rendered the small farms upon which most rural Trabzonians depended nonviable, compelling them to migrate towards the coastal cities in droves. Urban unemployment was high as the majority of rural newcomers lacked the technical skills to compete in modern industries and could find employment only as unskilled labor. Trabzon's woes were compounded by the worst economic crisis to hit the country since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, with inflation reaching triple digit levels by 1979.
Beginning in 1980, the Turkish government instituted an economic reform program which reduced the number of parastatals, devalued the lira, imposed new monetary policies, slashed subsidies and price controls, and encouraged direct foreign investment in the private sector. There were signs that this liberalizing trend would reduce Turkey's external deficits and generate economic growth; however, its progress was interrupted by Doomsday.
At Doomsday, Trabzon's agricultural sector, including crop and livestock production, forestry, and fisheries, employed four-fifths of the workforce. In 1987 this sector still accounted for more than two-thirds of the Trabzonian gross domestic product. Historically, the fishing subsector has been by far the most significant, providing the livelihood of the large coastal population and supplementing that of those engaged in sedentary farming. Climatic factors have led the government to refocus mostly on the separate development of crop production, namely in tea and hazelnuts; settled cultivation of both has been centered in the coastal belt where higher rainfall occurs. During the 1980s and much of the 1990s, however, crop production still was largely a subsistence practice. The large rural community carried out cultivation under rainfed conditions and to a limited extent, made use of irrigation. Its adherents participated only along the edges of the monetized economy, and incentives for farmers to produce surpluses for sale were nonexistent. Most did not make any investments in their farms aside from seeds and labor, and the scarcity of consumer goods in the post-Doomsday era did nothing to encourage extra production for cash sales.
A comparatively small but important segment of the coastal farming population had produced principally for market sales. These cultivators had been responsible for a substantial degree of crop intensification prior to Doomsday, resulting from more efficient use of commercial fertilizers, fuel, and pesticides. Although some agricultural scientists have attributed the success of Trabzon's coastal and market-oriented farming enterprises to a reduction in dependence on weather due to irrigation and new high-yield seeds, their dependence on imported fertilizers, chemicals, equipment, and fuel became apparent when several collapsed due to shortages of these resources and the disruption of trade after Doomsday. A few survived by smuggling, which in turn triggered brutal military purges aimed at disrupting the smugglers' activities.
One of the Ottoman Empire's most enduring legacies in Turkey was its tradition of a strong public sector and a centrally planned economy. The Second Empire of Trabzon inherited attitudes from the Ottomans and a succession of republican governments which argued that the state had a duty to intervene in the economy, not only to strengthen the nation against foreign powers but ultimately to further the livelihoods of the people. Consequently, one of Altan Sahin's first decrees as head of state was to impose a state purchasing monopoly. Cultivators of cereal crops were the first affected, being ordered to sell 30% of their grains to the military. After 1985 Sahin gradually extended this measure to include hazelnut, cotton, silk, wool, and tobacco. He also evoked a preexisting Turkish law which stipulated that the state could be only the legal buyer of tea. The decree was enforced where possible, but a majority of peasant and commercial cultivators simply ignored it. Sahin's growing displeasure at the increased amount of smuggling in spite of his attempts to regulate the trade in agricultural exports led to the execution of almost 900 farmers between 1989 and 1995, accompanied by the displacement of another 3,000.
The military became involved in agriculture through its seizure of former state-owned agricultural enterprises, which were repurposed to provide work for unemployed youth in urban areas. According to Sahin, this program would provide Trabzonian youth with agricultural training and instill a sense of national counsiousness and work ethic. He claimed that the youth farms would eventually become self-supporting, but productivity has remained low and they operate on subsidies from the defense budget.
Trabzon's Black Sea coastline has considerable potential for fisheries. The tonnage of the fishing fleet has increased, but in the early 2000s it was still dependent on traditional boats, most of which lacked motors. The fish are also caught using rudimentary means such as double or triple-walled trammel nets (known as molozma). Although the government does not release economic statistics, potential annual catches of anchovies and other open sea fish are estimated at anywhere from 73,000 tons to 125,000 tons. The fisheries exist to meet local demand, although dolphin oil is prioritized as an export by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. At least one dolphin fishery was operating at Sürmene in late 2017.
A substantial portion of hazelnut and marine products are smuggled out of the region to fetch higher prices in sounder currency. Given the paucity of existing resources, however, the economy has performed well.
The Second Empire of Trabzon shares common borders with New Erzurum, the Sultanate of Turkey, the Republic of Greater Patnos, and the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Armenia. Its vision of regional affairs has been dominated by the dedication of the empire's political leadership to the pacification of the Eastern Turkish Wasteland. During the early years of Trabzonian independence until 2000, Trabzon was involved in almost perpetual warfare with neighboring states, leading them to regard its irredentism as the paramount cause of instability in the region.
In 1992, Trabzon occupied and subsequently annexed a 500-square kilometer area of northern Erzurum adjacent to the southern Trabzonian border. Depending on the historian, Sahin's invasion has been characterized as the product of personal and territorial ambitions, a preoccupation with restoring order to a chaotic area, or an attempt to subdue Erzurum's independent vilayets in retaliation for cross-border violence. While factional rivalries may have existed between the various communities in New Erzurum, the arrival of marauding Trabzonian troops led to their effective unification against a common enemy. By the end of 1997 New Erzurum was in effect a partitioned country. With Greater Patnosi assistance, the Coalition Sendika and its legislature controlled the southern part of New Erzurum. The area north of Pasinler district, however, was controlled by Trabzon and its local allies. Sahin had declared on several occasions his intention to withdraw his forces from New Erzurum once the region was "pacified". After 1997 however, Trabzon decided to keep its troops there, and skirmishes and fighting continued intermittently.
The stalemate in New Erzurum was impacted by the 1999-2000 war over the Erzincan Strip, when Greater Patnos inflicted a series of devastating military defeats on Trabzon. Sahin's ability to stage incursions on the south of the country was compromised by these developments, and the long term fighting against the vilayets aroused discontent in his armed forces and domestic populace as well.
Trabzon does not recognize the independence of New Erzurum or the legitimacy of the Coalition Sendika. While political tensions have remained high, New Erzurum continues to be a major conduit for Trabzonian smugglers, and a brisk informal trade is believed to be carried out on both sides of the border.
Republic of Greater Patnos
Even prior to 1999 Trabzonian relations with Greater Patnos were, on the whole, unfriendly. Although both states had been formed from remnants of the Turkish Armed Forces after Doomsday, a wide ideological gulf separated monarchist, authoritarian Trabzon from the republican, pro-Kemalist regime in Greater Patnos. Patnosi foreign policy goals have also usually been at odds with those of Trabzon. From 1985 to 1999 a well-maintained balance of power had limited the potential for conflict between the two. But the result of Trabzon's increasingly aggressive counter-insurgency campaign in New Erzurum was the complete breakdown of the regional power balance that had restrained prior tension. Sahin believed he could cut off the insurgents in New Erzurum by occupying the Erzincan Strip, which was ostensibly Patnosi territory; he also used the pretext of further military adventures as an outlet for unreliable and discontented units. The Patnosi armed forces (AFGP) were more than four times the size of Trabzon's roughly 12,000-man expeditionary forces; because of the greater potential of conflict with Kurdistan, though, none of the troops on the northern frontier were very well-equipped. By the winter of 1999, Trabzonian armored forces and motorized infantry, supported by aircraft, had thrust into the Erzincan Strip, overrunning most of the disputed territory within several weeks. The AFGP reacted by redeploying most armored and elite units north, a decision which turned the tide of the war decisively in its favor by early 2000. Trabzon lost over 1,000 men, as well as a third of its armor and a quarter of its air corps. In February 2000 Sahin announced the withdrawal of Trabzonian military personnel from the Erzincan Strip.
Since the 1999-2000 war Greater Patnos moved steadily into a position of military strength in the Eastern Turkish Wasteland. Backed by the Sultanate of Turkey and its allies in the Mediterranean Defense League, and assisted by a growing military establishment of up to 100,000 regulars, the AFGP has been able to discourage further Trabzonian incursions. Despite Sahin's insistence that a Patnosi military buildup constituted a direct threat to Trabzon itself, most international observers did not believe the AFGP would use its superior forces to subjugate Trabzon, though indeed it did nothing to assuage Trabzonian fears that it had the ability to do so.
Sultanate of Turkey
In the 2000s, Sahin came to regard the Sultanate of Turkey as the leader of pan-Turkic imperialism and a threat to Trabzonian independence. He vigorously condemned several of the Sultanate's policies - including military and economies ties to Greater Patnos and support for the autonomy of New Erzurum; resistance to the consolidation of the Eastern Turkish Wasteland under Trabzon; and blatant dismissal of Trabzonian claims to parts of Samsun and Sinop provinces, where the borders have never been formally demarcated. Turkish-Trabzonian relations have been limited to relatively modest, informal commercial and trade arrangements.
Tensions between the two states skyrocketed after a Trabzonian patrol clashed with a party of unidentified gunmen near Ordu in 2011. The attackers killed eight members of the Trabzonian security forces before withdrawing in haste, leaving three of their dead behind. Trabzon subsequently released a propaganda film on the incident simply entitled, Ordu 2011, which depicted alleged Turkish insignia and markings on the uniforms and weapons of the gunmen. According to Trabzonian sources Turkish special forces were carrying out frequent reconnaissance operations in Trabzon, taking advantage of lax security measures on the border and the underdeveloped state of the country. The Trabzonian government perceived these raids as a concerted attempt to undermine its authority by demonstrating its impotence to oppose Turkish military endeavors. Some officials also believed that the Sultanate was gathering intelligence on Trabzon for a future invasion. Sahin apparently dismissed those rumors the following year when he pointed out that an invasion by Turkish forces would be costly in military, economic, and diplomatic terms, and if successful, would yield few resources and a hostile populace. Instead, he focused on the Sultanate's support for Greater Patnos, which he claimed could be used as a proxy against Trabzon without the same political repercussions.
Konya neither acknowledged nor denied its involvement in the skirmish. The border between the two countries was closed from September 2011 to March 2013, when it was reopened.
After World War II, relations between Turkey and the Soviet Union quickly soured, and fear of Soviet expansionism was instrumental in persuading the Turkish government to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952. Turkey's pro-West alignment characterized its relationship with the Soviet Union until the 1960s, when the two countries experienced an important warming of relations due to bilateral economic cooperation agreements. Tensions were heightened again when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, highlighting Turkish fears of Moscow's ability to project its influence further abroad. Participation in NATO made Turkey a belligerent on the side of the West in the Doomsday Crisis, leading to the subsequent Transcaucasian border war.
For both countries the practical consequence of their post-Doomsday fragmentation was the replacement of two relatively large and generally predictable neighbors with six smaller near neighbors facing economic collapse, domestic instability, and a serious refugee problem. There are three Soviet successor states in the region (Georgia, Armenia, and Nakhchivan) which share land borders with Trabzon; thus, the Trabzonian regime views them as natural partners for trade and development projects.
Public opinion in Trabzon is divided on Armenia, probably due to the historical animosity which has existed in northeastern Turkey between Armenians and ethnic Turks. Nevertheless, the revival of Ottoman-era bitterness between the two communities seemed remote as long as Trabzon continued to pursue a strictly pragmatic foreign policy towards Abovyan. The outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabakh War between 1992 and 1994 passed almost unnoticed in Trabzon, which was then embroiled with its own bloody conflict in New Erzurum. Sahin did issue a decree adopting an officially neutral position on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, and Trabzonian soldiers turned back Azeri refugees attempting to enter the country at gunpoint. Trabzon also kept the transborder roads to Armenia open, allowing goods to flow into that landlocked country. Enver Çelik, a Trabzonian exile and Turkish contemporary historian, wrote at length on the topic of Trabzonian-Armenian relations during the Nagorno-Karabakh War in a series of essays published in Konya in 2015. Çelik argued that Trabzon withheld recognition of Nakhchivan and carried out routine trade with Armenia despite public sympathy with the Azeri cause in exchange for arms, which Sahin badly needed for his campaign in New Erzurum. Çelik's theory is generally accepted in international circles; however, local Trabzonian sources have disputed this claim on the basis that Armenia, being preoccupied with its own campaigns, was in no position to become a major supplier of arms to Trabzon at the time. Çelik has since conceded that this may not have constituted an official arrangement between the two governments, proposing that black market traders and corrupt army officers in Armenia may have supplied the arms of their own accord, which were sold at inflated prices to Trabzon. Trabzon's current military arsenal includes a disproportionate number of weapons of Soviet origin, although it is unclear whether these were acquired as early as the 1990s or have been supplied by Armenia, Georgia, and the Transcaucasian black market since that time.
Relations between Trabzon and the Turkic republics of Central Asia - namely Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan, have been badly strained due to the latter's political alignment with the Republic of Greater Patnos and by extension, the Sultanate of Turkey. Meanwhile, the rapid expansion of the Sultanate and a decisive Patnosi victory in the Erzincan Strip presented the Trancaucasian states with the dilemma that Trabzon's ill-advised belligerency had left it defenseless against a possible Turkish or Patnosi invasion. Lacking an indigenous arms industry, Trabzon had to rely on foreign sources for replacing the equipment lost during the war with Greater Patnos. Because of domestic economic insufficiencies, however, Sahin's government was unable to pay for significant military purchases; the erratic acquisition of arms on the regional black market at nearly unpalatable rates was pursued with little enthusiasm. This forced him into the position of having to depend on donors whose aid was linked to perceived national interest.
Diplomatic contact with Georgia was established in 1998, beginning in earnest in 2001 Sahin looked to that country as a major supplier of military materiel. At length both Georgia and Armenia agreed to furnish older or second-line arms for the Trabzonian armed forces, which they supported as a counterbalance to the expanding Sultanate of Turkey. Trabzon's demise as a buffer zone meant, in effect, a more powerful Sultanate on Georgian and Armenian borders, with the potential to lend direct support to Azerbaijan. Konya was in an alliance with Greater Patnos, which backed Nakhchivan, and had always been much more overtly sympathetic than Trabzon to the Azeri cause. From this perspective, Trabzon was by virtue of its very existence restraining the Sultanate from providing direct military assistance to Azerbaijan.
Military aid from Georgia and Armenia has assumed considerable symbolic importance to Trabzon because it was regarded as a political commitment to that country's safety and territorial integrity.
National Security and Defense
Trabzonian national security concerns are dominated by neighboring New Erzurum and by the Sultanate of Turkey with its Greater Patnosi allies, whom Sahin has accused of supplying training, military equipment, and advisers to bolster the independence of the surviving vilayets. Sahin and the administrative council maintain that Konya sponsors the insurgency against their forces in New Erzurum and has conducted air and commando raids into Trabzon.
Trabzon's military decline since the 1999-2000 conflict, universal hostility towards other Turkish regimes, and international isolation have resulted from the wanton aggression against its neighbors that has shaped its foreign policy since the early 1990s. Sahin does not recognize political boundaries drawn by Turkish successor states other than his own, and has pursued irredentist claims to Sinop Province, New Erzurum, and the Erzincan Strip.
Law and order, the control of suspected or overt opposition to the imperial regime, and the detection and control of crime were the responsibilities of the Jandarma (gendarmerie) and the Trabzon National Police. With a few exceptions, the gendarmerie has developed a solid record of early detection and elimination of political dissidence. The army and air corps, which were small but apparently well-trained and effective, were responsible for territorial defense, border control, and for support of the police and gendarmerie during internal security crises.
There were no major or rapid changes in the strength of the Turkish Third Army's 11th Corps between the ceasefire Sahin brokered with the Soviets in 1983 and the 1988 attempted coup d'état. The largest segment of the 11th Corps to survive the Transcaucasian border war which had erupted immediately in the wake of the Doomsday nuclear exchange formed the nucleus of Trabzon's embryonic armed forces. Upon its seizure of Trabzon, the 11th Corps had also taken charge of the Turkish Air Force facilities and aircraft at Trabzon Air Base. An uneventful backwater in peacetime, the airport's runway and adjacent base facilities had been appropriated for strike missions during Doomsday carried out against targets in Georgia, especially the Soviet Air Forces' strategic installation at Ponti. It was also made available as an emergency airstrip for crippled NATO tactical aircraft returning from Georgian raids. With the collapse of the Turkish government and the capitulation of the air force personnel in Trabzon, Sahin's troops inherited vast quantities of fuel, refueling equipment, air search radars, air defense weaponry, and a motley collection of transport and combat aircraft.
After the 1988 attempted coup d'état, many of the 11th Corps veterans were purged, demobilized, or assigned to a startling menagerie of newly formed battalions. The size of the armed forces had also increased from a manpower level of around 25,000 to almost 50,000, owing partly to conscription and a new influx of volunteers. As a result of combat losses in New Erzurum and maintenance difficulties caused by shortages of spare parts, Trabzon's armored and mechanized forces declined in importance. Shortages of pilots and inoperative hardware also severely affected attempts to maintain a separate air corps. Adjusting to these difficult new realities, Sahin ordered the army reorganized around light infantry rather than mechanized forces while seeking increased foreign military assistance to replace its stocks of depleted pre-Doomsday equipment.
Prior to Doomsday, the armed forces had represented Turkey's single most powerful interest group by virtue of the political influence it had enjoyed since the Young Turk Revolution. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his chief supporters were all professional career soldiers. Atatürk himself considered the military to be the intelligentsia of the Turkish republic and the guardians of its ideals. Long after Atatürk's death, the military continued to enjoy high prestige and had assumed the status of a national elite responsible for protecting Kemalist principles. Since the 1960 Turkish coup d'état, it had also participated in the national government and become a leading force for social change in Turkey. In light of the circumstances, Sahin's decision to take power and set up a military regime was reflective of a common attitude among the Turkish officer corps at the time: if the civilian government had failed the people, then it was acceptable for soldiers to intervene directly in the political process, depose the incompetent politicians if necessary, and set up a government of national salvation. The Turkish armed forces did this three times: in 1960, in 1971, and 1980, ousting civilian governments on an average of once per decade.
Public attitudes towards the interference of the military in political discourse were mixed, especially in Trabzon's case. Given the chaos which had enveloped Turkey in 1983, it was not considered unusual that General Sahin and about a dozen other officers on an executive council had imposed martial law and assumed formal responsibility for drawing up general policies. Although the council always claimed to speak unanimously, Sahin appears to have failed in instilling a spirit of unity and discipline among the military which supported him. Internal dissent always existed, and differences came into the open in 1988 because of his deviation from the principles of Turkish republicanism and Kemalism which were so pervasive to the traditional Turkish military philosophy. The coup d'état attempt allegedly led by Colonel Yalçın was more faithful to the pattern of previous coups in Turkey, which held as their primary objective the need to return the nation to the fundamental "six arrows" of Kemalism: secularism, republicanism, populism, reformism, nationalism, and etatism. Its failure sounded the death knell for Kemalism in Trabzon's military institutions: the enlisted men refrained from taking to the streets as they had during previous coups, and most remained in their barracks. The public looked to soldiers for guidance; since they did nothing the civilians did nothing to support the coup either. Sahin initially promised a return to civilian rule was his objective, and the populace had no reason to doubt him, since civilian rule had always returned to Turkey after short terms held by military governments before. However, it had become clear by 1988 that Sahin's seizure of power was resulting in a much longer transition period to civilian rule and the imposition of greater restrictions on political rights than had the earlier regimes. Military dominance of political affairs in Trabzon continues to this day, which the administrative council has justified on the grounds that by virtue of their discipline and order military officers were more competent than civilian officials. In 2017, high-ranking military officers occupied all the seats on the council and the four highest offices in government. Critics of the regime have argued that the military in Trabzon was not so much a source of political power as an instrument of Sahin and a handpicked elite who use it to exert their own personal control over political affairs. Nevertheless, in view of elaborate security measures, such as the division of armed power between the military and the security forces (including the gendarmerie), the substantial benefits afforded to the officer corps, the possibility of an insurrection by the soldiers or another coup was regarded as remote.
Equipment and Organization
Under the emperor, who is head of the administrative council and commander in chief of the armed forces, the Minister of Defense exercises operational control and supervision over the army, the air corps, and the air defense corps. The total personnel strength of the three services was estimated at no more than 60,000 regulars and reservists in 2010, rising to about 64,000 in 2017. The administrative council holds the responsibility for setting defense policies. Ultimate security-related decisions rested solely with Sahin. The army's strength of just over 62,000 was far, far greater than the other two services combined and even several times the size of the gendarmerie. The principal combat units were eight infantry brigades and one commando brigade, with individual armored or artillery contingents attached as needed. Each infantry brigade consists of four light infantry battalions and in 2017 all eight had an attached battery of artillery and a squadron of tanks or armored cars. There is a small armored corps organized into three battalions, each with a nominal strength of thirty tanks. All but two of the eight brigades are reportedly understrength, aggravated by lax oversight which permits consistent absenteeism and by the shortage of experienced technicians and noncommissioned officers in contrast to the overstaffed officer corps. Competition with a gendarmerie that recruits heavily in rural regions has also limited the pool of potential army manpower.
The cost of maintaining the military establishment and the army in particular consumes the lion's share of the national budget. Defense costs are believed to exceed the combined amounts budgeted for public health and education. Of that amount, personnel costs account for the largest segment of the total defense budget. High wages and the privileges afforded by corruption have succeeded in keeping discontent among the officer corps to a minimum, but have taken their own toll on military spending.
Conscription has more than doubled the size of the armed forces. While the army has absorbed many unemployed urban dwellers as well as farmers incapable of supporting themselves due to the changing economic circumstances, it is also dependent on a disproportionate number of Trabzon's comparatively rare educated and technically trained professionals, whose continued service is of detriment to the skilled civilian workforce. The government has sought to rectify this problem by using the army to contribute to the national economy through various civic action projects. The army is responsible for road maintenance, for example, as well as most of the new infrastructural projects undertaken in rural Trabzon since 1983.
The Second Empire of Trabzon is divided into five military districts similar in organization to pre-Doomsdy Turkish military sectors. Each district operates independently and has been organized on the basis of terrain, logistics, communications, and potential threats. The majority of Trabzon's armor and heavier weaponry is concentrated along its western and southern borders.
After 2000 the Trabzonian armed forces had to adjust to changing realities as a result of their humiliating defeat in the Erzincan Strip; organizational structures had to be altered due to heavy losses of equipment and the necessity to adapt to the corresponding ratio of troops and hardware. Shortages of equipment, inadequate maintenance, and unavailability of spare parts for what remained of pre-Doomsday Turkish tanks, artillery pieces, and aircraft considerably limited their effectiveness. Whereas the large tank force had been organized into an independent armored brigade before the war, the remaining tanks had to be integrated with lighter armored vehicles under the umbrella of a much-reduced armored corps and generally complemented the army's first line infantry brigades. During the 1980s, almost all the infantry was motorized with trucks and hundreds of armored personnel carriers; by 2002, however, most of the army manpower was relegated to light infantry brigades. Military equipment was a mixture of elderly Western-made weapons that had survived the various post-Doomsday conflicts in New Erzurum and the Erzincan Strip, or Soviet arms that had been delivered subsequently by Georgia and Armenia. Serviceability rates were low, especially for the older Turkish equipment. Major Yacin Göktaş, a defector to Konya who was interviewed by the Macedonian press in 2010, stated that as little as 10% of the supposed armored force was capable of operating at any given time and aside from the guns used for ceremonial purpose nobody could remember the last time any artillery piece had fired a round. American-built M48 Patton tanks continue to form the mainstay of the armored corps, along with an undisclosed number of Soviet T-54 and T-55 tanks, which were presumably received from Armenia or salvaged from battlefields in the border region.
The vast majority of logistics vehicles used by the armed forces were GAZ trucks of Soviet origin and had been delivered after the war with Greater Patnos by an unknown supplier. These trucks have proven especially popular as Trabzon found it simple to source their associated parts locally. Of the pre-Doomsday Turkish transport equipment, almost nothing remains. Forty German-built Unimog trucks were probably taken back to Trabzon as "spoils of war" from Greater Patnos during the initial successes in the Erzincan Strip and kept operational by parts cannibalization. Some of the army's armored personnel carriers were of American origin such as the ageing, tracked M113, and wheeled Soviet models delivered by Armenia or Georgia to replace these. Trabzon's quest to diversify its arms suppliers and obtain new weapons from other sources has become more apparent in recent years: during the 2016 centennial parades to mark the Russian withdrawal from Trabzon after World War I - an event known as "Liberation Day" - the army paraded a number of newly refurbished M113s, giving rise to rumors that they had been restored to service with Greek technical assistance. Also sighted on occasion were twenty French-built Panhard AML-90 armored cars. Major Göktaş claimed these were acquired surreptitiously through Kurdish arms dealers and had arrived with Arabic markings on their hulls, implying they were purchased from the vast stockpiles of Iraqi equipment abandoned or captured in the wake of Saddam Hussein's fall.
Although several had been destroyed during the war against Greater Patnos, and much of what survived was in poor condition, American artillery pieces inherited from the pre-Doomsday era continued to serve as the basic equipment of Trabzonian artillery units. Included were a variety of 105mm M101A1 and 155mm M114A1 howitzers. The air defense corps was equipped with 37mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns, but it was assumed that these were largely inoperative.
The Trabzonian Air Corps operated all of its aircraft from Trabzon Airport, which had the only intact runway in the country capable of handling large military transports. Its primary mission was to carry out ground attack and strike missions in support of the army, a task thwarted during the conflict in the Erzincan Strip by fuel shortages and the correspondingly limited operating range. By the early 2000s all its combat aircraft were deadlined due to lack of spares or possessed only limited operational capabilities. Several sources have reported that as of 2005 the air corps was in possession of approximately six grounded F-100D Super Sabres, two F-86D Sabres, a Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter, and a Republic F-84F Thunderstreak. It also had a transport squadron composed of three C-160 Transalls, all of which were in storage.
In 1982, Turkey created the Coast Guard Command to maintain coastal security and apprehend refugees and smugglers. The Coast Guard was disestablished in Trabzon around 1986, and its assets and personnel incorporated into an army marine patrol squadron, which essentially fulfilled the same purpose but with the added mission of supporting the army forces in maritime operations. In 2012 the unit was equipped with one SAR-33 class patrol boat. Another five vessels inherited from the Coast Guard have deteriorated beyond repair and will most likely be scuttled.
The Trabzon National Police, which numbered 1,852 personnel in 2014, served as the first line of defense and was officially the government's chief organ for maintaining order and internal security in urban areas. Its influence and usefulness has in fact declined since the 1980s, and the law enforcement role of the police was largely duplicated by the armed forces and the gendarmerie. Civilian law enforcement agencies were not popular with Sahin when he took power, and in 1986 he disbanded the Coast Guard and reorganized the National Police as a part of the armed forces. The police were made directly responsible to the emperor, who was also commander in chief of the military. It was not considered a branch of the Trabzonian army, however, and did not operate as part of the military command structure.
Broadly speaking Trabzonian police fulfill either administrative and judicial functions. "Administrative" police enforce traffic laws, fingerprint and photograph suspects, inspect motor vehicles, issue licenses, and conduct surveillance of foreigners. Film and literature censorship is another responsibility of policemen assigned to the traditional administrative role. "Judicial" police investigate crimes, issue warrants, and work closely with courts on the local level. Two other categories of police also exist in Trabzon itself: political squads, which investigate acts of subversion and political dissidence, and community watchmen. The watchmen are usually elderly, unskilled auxiliaries who are not armed and prevent local theft and sound the alarm in case of a larger emergency. Police ranks are constable, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and several grades of superintendent and police chief. The national police is divided into district commands headed by superintendents, who answer to a commissioner in the capital. Commissioners followed instructions received directly from the emperor or the administrative council. Due to the declining importance of the police in favor of the armed forces and the gendarmerie, however, local authorities have been permitted to retain de facto control over district police commands.
A police air wing, equipped with Augusta-Bell 204 helicopters, was established after Doomsday. The unit was able to provide mobility between remote police outposts and provide assistance through the airlift of supplies and transport of personnel. It is unclear what equipment, if any, the air wing was operating in 2017. Existing fire brigades, which previously existed under the authority of municipal administrations, were abolished in 1992 and superseded by a centralized fire brigade under the control of the Trabzon National Police. It operated almost exclusively in Trabzon itself, but a three-year plan was underway in 2016 to expand the brigade's services into several other cities.
The police have a policy of recruiting entrants who had at least completed junior high school, though the trend was increasingly toward making officers of policemen who earned their high school education while serving as police. All police personnel undergo a training course of six months' duration at a national police school in Trabzon originally established by the Turkish police in the pre-Doomsday era.
Individual police commands have been accused of such human rights abuses as the operation of illegal checkpoints, torture during interrogations, incommunicado detention, politically motivated disappearances, excessive use of force, and summary executions. The policemen who committed abuses enjoyed impunity due to the virtual absence of prison and military tribunals. Because up to four-fiths of all police personnel were stationed along the coast due to logistics and equipment constraints, towns further inland were the responsibility of the armed forces and gendarmerie. Frequent delays in salary payment has led to growing frustration, prompting a rise in corruption and human rights abuses. Public image of the police is decidedly poorer among Trabzonians than that of other security forces.
The Trabzonian gendarmerie, known as the Jandarma, was a large paramilitary force with strong political connections responsible for law enforcement outside the municipal boundaries of the major coastal settlements and guards the land borders against illegal entry and smuggling. It has jurisdiction over 90% of Trabzon's geographic area and the entire rural population. Most of the gendarmerie's recruits are conscripts, and its officers and noncommissioned officers are transferred from the army. The gendarmes possess staff sections for personnel, intelligence, operations, and logistics and are organized into mobile reaction forces, supplemented by commando units equipped with Cadillac Gage and Panhard armored cars. In 2012 Trabzon announced the purchase of nine wheeled armored personnel carriers, presumably from Georgia, to assist in gendarmerie operations in New Erzurum. Gendarmerie units distinguished themselves in New Erzurum and along the Patnosi frontier during the 1990s. Many of the gendarmerie's law enforcement responsibilities paralleled those of regular police. For example, it had the authority to check contacts between Trabzonians and foreigners, collect taxes, enforce hunting and fishing restrictions, fight forest fires, and exercise powers of arrest independent of the police. It also had the added duty of enforcing conscription laws and could press any able-bodied man into military service as it deemed fit. Gendarmes were much more highly visible in public life than the regular police, keeping both government officials as well as ordinary members of the public under scrutiny.
In contrast to the armed forces, the gendarmerie always possessed a somewhat mixed reputation in Turkish society. Since its founding in the mid-nineteenth century, Turkish gendarmes had cultivated a reputation for the judicious exercise of brute force, and their image among Trabzonians had further declined during the post-Doomsday era since most of the public's interactions with them were related to taxes and conscription. The conscripts are largely drawn from the ranks of the rural unemployed and poorly trained.
The incidence of crime is considered high in comparison to rates in other Turkish-speaking countries. Statistics on criminal activity are difficult to compile due to the fact that Trabzon does not make its penal registries public and much of the acts formally considered police matters are addressed by local communities without being brought to the attention of the police or the gendarmerie. Trabzon's extensive use of imprisonment to punish urban criminals and political subversives has strained the resources of a penal system that was already inadequate. The three major prisons that existed in the region before 1983 had been established by the old Turkish government. By the 2000s these facilities had deteriorated and were inadequately staffed. In 2014 the system included three facilities, the best equipped of which was the central prison in Trabzon. All three suffer from extreme overcrowding, as a result military and police facilities and even hospitals have been repurposed as makeshift jails. The size of the country's prison population has never been disclosed but is estimated to number several thousand. The dramatic increase in Trabzon's prison population after Doomsday has been accredited by some human rights activists to the rapid rise in the number of persons convicted of smuggling, domestic terrorism, and illegal political activity.