By mid-1918, the Ottoman Empire found itself utterly drained after nearly four years of combat across various fronts. From a military perspective, the situation had become untenable, especially with the rapid collapses in Syria and Macedonia. In September 1918, British forces achieved a significant breakthrough in Palestine, followed by the fall of Damascus in October. Ottoman forces were compelled to retreat northward, all the way to Aleppo in Syria. Simultaneously, Ottoman forces in Mesopotamia were in the process of withdrawing towards Mosul.
A comparable scenario unfolded on the Macedonian front, which had seen little activity since 1916. In September 1918, Allied forces launched a sudden offensive that resulted in the defeat of the Bulgarian army, leading to Bulgaria's unconditional surrender on 29 September. With Bulgaria out of the equation, the connection between Turkey and its ally Germany was severed, leaving Turkish territory vulnerable to enemy invasion. The Ottoman Army was severely depleted, facing shortages in manpower, equipment, supplies, and, most critically, morale. By October 1918, the Ottoman Army numbered only 100,000 men, which represented less than 15 percent of its peak strength reached in early 1916. No assistance could be anticipated from Germany, not only due to the severed Bulgarian alliance but primarily because Germany itself was in a precarious military and economic predicament.
In summary, the war had been lost. Public discontent was rapidly increasing, and recognizing the severity of the situation, the Young Turk government initiated efforts to bring about an end to hostilities. Grand Vizier Talat Pasha had visited both Berlin and Sofia in September 1918, only to discover that the alliance was no longer of any help. The government explored the possibility of surrendering to the United States and benefiting from President Wilson's Fourteen Points. They made an overture through the mediation of neutral Spain, but the Americans never replied. Meanwhile, Allied forces in Thrace were advancing, and it was only a matter of time before Istanbul would be in jeopardy. Faced with this dire situation, Talat Pasha's government resigned on 8 October 1918, and was succeeded by a cabinet led by Ahmet İzzet Pasha, a highly esteemed general and notably not a member of the Committee of Union and Progress. The new government, which assumed office on 14 October, clearly distanced itself from its predecessor and its wartime policies.
The new government pursued an alternative diplomatic approach to the Allies, this time through the British General Charles Townshend. He had been held as a prisoner-of-war on the island of Büyükada near Istanbul since the capture of Kut-al-Amara in 1916. Townshend was dispatched to meet with Admiral Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe, the commander-in-chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet, whose squadron was anchored at Mudros harbor on the Aegean island of Lemnos. On 23 October, Admiral Calthorpe conveyed to the new Ottoman government that he was empowered to negotiate the terms of the armistice on behalf of the Allied forces. The British would conduct the negotiations with the Turks independently, and they declined the participation of French Vice-Admiral Jean Amet, despite his expressed interest in joining.
The Istanbul government dispatched a four-man delegation to the negotiations, which took place aboard the Agamemnon, Admiral Calthorpe's flagship, at Mudros harbor. Leading the Turkish delegation was Rauf Bey, the Minister of Marine, and it also included Lt. Col. Sadullah Bey, who served as the chief-of-staff of the Eighth Army, along with Reşad Hikmet Bey, the under-secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ali Fuad Bey served as the scribe for the delegation. While the Turkish delegation was equipped with instructions from Istanbul, the fragile and seemingly hopeless conditions of the Ottoman Army at the time, coupled with the inability to establish effective cable communication between Mudros and Istanbul, meant that Rauf Bey's delegation on the Agamemnon had limited bargaining power.
Over the course of four days, both sides engaged in discussions regarding the terms of the armistice. The British, positioned at the negotiation table as the victors, maintained that they were present not to engage in negotiations but to secure the signing of the document. In essence, the Turks were presented with a take-it-or-leave-it proposition: if they sought an armistice, they had to accept the terms as presented. However, the Turkish delegation had their reservations. While they were prepared to concede the occupation of fortifications at the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, they sought guarantees that these operations would be carried out by British and French troops, rather than the Greeks or Italians. Furthermore, they required assurances that Istanbul would remain unoccupied.
Additionally, two articles within the draft of the armistice treaty raised concerns for the Turkish delegation. One article asserted that the Allies would have the right to occupy any strategic location if they perceived a situation as threatening their security. Another article stipulated that in the event of disturbances in the six Armenian provinces, the Allies would possess the authority to occupy any part of these provinces. From the Turkish perspective, these clauses not only enabled the Allies to invade any part of the Empire at their discretion and employ force as they saw fit but also paved the way for Greek and Armenian nationalists to incite Allied intervention.
In his memoirs, Rauf Bey provides a comprehensive account of the negotiations in Mudros. He describes the Turkish delegation's attempts to modify certain clauses within the draft, albeit with limited success. He conveys that he felt a profound sense of disquiet when contemplating the necessity of signing the armistice treaty as it stood. Rauf Bey also reflects on their option to decline signing the treaty:
"Of course, we could have refused. But what would have been the consequences? If we had refused to sign, the war would have persisted, and as it dragged on, our losses would have continued on all fronts, and we would have suffered immense devastation in a short span of time. Not only would regions populated by Arabs, such as Iraq and Syria, be at risk, but also the existence and future of our homeland, Anatolia, would have been in jeopardy." (Rauf Bey in his memoirs)
Ultimately, Rauf Bey's delegation opted to sign the 25-point armistice draft with minimal revisions. The sole concession they managed to secure was convincing Admiral Calthorpe to compose a personal letter. In this letter, he pledged that only British and French troops would be employed in the occupation of the Straits fortifications. He also recommended to his government that (i) a small contingent of Turkish troops would be permitted to remain in the occupied areas as a symbolic gesture of sovereignty and (ii) Greek troops would not be allowed to land on Turkish territory, and Istanbul would remain unoccupied as long as the Ottoman government could safeguard the residents of Entente countries and their assets in the city. The armistice was formally signed on 30 October 1918, and it would take effect at noon the subsequent day.
Following the armistice, the Turks were required to surrender their remaining garrisons located outside of Anatolia. Additionally, they granted the Allies the authority to occupy fortifications that controlled the Turkish Straits, as well as the right to occupy any territory in the event of a security threat. The Ottoman army underwent demobilization, and all ports, railways, and other strategically important locations came under the control of the Allies. In the Caucasus, the Turks were compelled to withdraw to their pre-war borders with Russia.
The armistice terms were undeniably stringent for the Turks; nevertheless, a sense of optimism prevailed among the government and the majority of the public. The paramount relief and hope stemmed from the fact that the war had concluded. Upon the return of his delegation to the capital, Rauf Bey contended that the armistice did not amount to a surrender, reassured that Istanbul would remain unoccupied, and affirmed that there were no attached political conditions. Ahmet İzzet Pasha expressed his contentment with the "relatively straightforward armistice" that had been reached, while the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mehmed Nabi Bey, believed that the armistice "would not encroach upon the sovereign rights of the Ottoman Empire, and the terms of the armistice were fairly benign." There was a genuine belief in the promises of a new world order based on President Wilson's principles, and, most importantly, the majority of Turks had faith in British fairness. As reflected in Rauf Bey's words upon departing Mudros, as documented in his memoirs, this mindset is apparent:
"The terms of the armistice are indeed severe. However, we are resolutely committed to fulfilling them. We have confidence that the British government and its people uphold their commitments and stand by the promises they make. This trust provides us with the encouragement to shoulder this challenging responsibility. We firmly believe that our confidence in the unwavering commitment of the great British nation and its allies to their obligations and pledges is not misplaced." (Rauf Bey in his memoirs)
Following the Mudros agreement, as the Turkish public began to engage in discussions regarding the terms of the armistice and their potential implications for the Empire's future, a series of subsequent events unsettled the political landscape in Istanbul. On 1 November 1918, the Committee of Union and Progress held its final congress and resolved to disband the organization. The evening of the subsequent day saw the departure of the three pashas comprising the Committee of Union and Progress triumvirate, namely Enver, Talat, and Cemal, who fled the country aboard a German torpedo boat.
The optimism that had surged after the Mudros agreement soon proved to be misplaced. On 12 November 1918, just under two weeks following the armistice, a squadron led by Admiral Calthorpe entered the Dardanelles and progressed toward Istanbul. This marked the commencement of an era of occupation and resistance in Turkey. The reason being that, as the Allies promptly initiated the occupation of strategic locations, the Turks came to the realization that depending on external powers for the country's future was misguided. Salvation could only be found through resistance. As Ahmet İzzet Pasha later conveyed in his memoirs, the armistice signified the commencement of the nation's self-defence.