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 jendarma 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.
Seriously disrupted by Doomsday, crippled by recurring droughts, and subject to necessary austerity measures by the imperial authorities, the Empire's economic outlook was bleak from its very onset. However, in the mid 1990s limited steps toward recovery had already been enacted: through 1994, for example, several dam (and irrigation) projects were underway, and infrastructure for greater exploitation of the region's natural resources being improved upon. In mid-1999, Trabzon, by every comparative index, still had the most promising economy in the Eastern Turkish Wasteland.
At a time when many of his development strategists advocated central planning, the emperor has distanced himself from what he described as "unrealistic" plans for state monopolies in major enterprises, and rapid post-Doomsday re-industrialization. Sahin has also scorned those who looked upon the agricultural sector only as a necessary pillar in the greater economic machine. Rather, farming and the provision of both food and water supplies have received the most attention and a lion's share of development expenditure.
Upon establishing ties with the Federation of Georgia, Sahin began permitting export-oriented estates to resume post-Doomsday operations while simultaneously coaxing subsistence cultivators in rural refugee communities and elsewhere to integrate into the market economy as small commercial holders.
In 2006 Trabzon remained heavily dependent on a few major cash crops (hazelnut, and to a much lesser extent, tobacco and tea). A substantial proportion of this production is undoubtedly smuggled out of the country to fetch a higher price in sounder currency. Given the paucity of her domestic resources, however, the state has performed well.
Ranged against the external menace posed by both Greater Patnos and the Sultanate of Turkey, not to mention threats to internal stability posed by the coalition of vilayets in New Erzurum, are security forces and reserves numbering under 60,000 men - not all of which are even considered sufficiently armed or trained to be combat effective.
The armed forces, which had changed little from the establishment pre-1983, were incorporated into a small, regular, army of around 10,000 - originally manned chiefly by troops from Trabzon's 11th Corps. In 1998 the army was backed by about 16,800 reservists, and another 500 served with the air force. By all accounts, these numbers have remained more or less stable since. In 2005, exercises conducted by the Trabzon Defence Force indicated that it was able to field for rapid reaction at least one heavy battalion of shock troops, three over-sized battalions of motorized infantry, one squadron of elite special warfare paratroops (the "Imperial Guard"), and an unknown number of artillery batteries and mechanized units. These diverse commands and others, including as many as up to 20,000 unofficial paramilitary personnel, fall under the authority of a High Command, headed directly by the emperor.
Trabzon's military equipment has been well worn and in many cases, obsolete, due to the state's longstanding inability to reproduce fresh munitions of its own. But army engineers have shown resourcefulness in modifying commercial vehicles and aircraft to meet offensive capabilities. Although its campaigns in New Erzurum and Greater Patnos were ultimate failures, the TDF has been credited with waging both conventional and counter-insurgency warfare with surprising operational competence, deftly juggling tactics and force structures to confront new contingencies.
Equipment and Organization
Shortly after its formation, the TDF opted to simplify maintenance and logistics by only issuing weapons and equipment of NATO design formerly in the pre-Doomsday Turkish military inventory. As these soon proved insufficient to supply the expanding security forces, captured Eastern Bloc varieties were brought out of storage to relieve the shortage and subsequently supplemented by deliveries of Soviet-designed equipment from Georgia or Armenia. Serious logistical difficulties inevitably resulted from using such a motley spectrum of arms, especially since weapons of Soviet style were of different gauges and calibers than the Western models in use. In the short run the TDF countered this problem by standardizing hardware within brigades, redistributing what equipment it already possessed.
By 2006 it was announced that Trabzon's minute industrial base would be diversified to produce lighter military equipment as well as ancillary supplies for the TDF "as effectively and economically as feasible". In addition, heavy armaments of ADC specifications have also been made available by Greek manufacturers.
At various times, attempts have been made to reduce the Turkish influence on TDF uniforms, insignia, and decorations, but the changes to these military symbols have only been partially successful. In 2008 the dress and service uniforms of the security forces retained a traditional semblance of Turkish pattern and standards. Old Turkish Army uniforms, however, have been gradually replaced somewhat with articles of local manufacture, and insignia is now thought to reflect a distinct national character. The former apparently suffers from poor quality; servicemen have reportedly envied other troops in their units whose issues of Turkish, Soviet, or NATO clothing and webbing are far superior.
Unit training is generally focused on the battalion and company levels; brigade-type maneuvers were not yet thought practical until the exercises conducted in 2005.
The Trabzon National Police, a centralized law enforcement agency of more than 12,000 regular members and 7,000 reservists, is the state's primary instrument for enforcing order and preserving internal security. Trained and equipped to meet paramilitary standards, the police element includes integrated constituents of the former Turkish Jendarma (Gendarmerie), National Intelligence Organization, and civil law enforcement agencies. It is widely regarded as an auxiliary of the armed services, rather than a traditional public service. Indeed, the TNP operates under the authority of the High Command, primarily functions as a TDF reserve, and, in the case of domestic unrest, provides the first line of active response.
In 2012 the national police were divided into seven special police districts supervised by special military commissioners. The districts - excluding those in New Erzurum - are, in turn, subdivided into a number of police stations, each the responsibility of a section officer. Allegations of brutality, torture or the mistreatment of suspects and imperial detainees have often been leveled at the TNP by the Turkish press, foreign media and international observers. Most of these charges were specifically made against personnel assigned to the Directorate of Counter-Intelligence, an organization outside the normal command structure responsible for civil counter-subversion activity.