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While Verdun and the Somme have become bywords in the historiography of World War I, little attention has been given to the Caucasus Front, where Turks and Russians dueled over mountainous terrain. Outmaneuvered and outgunned, the Turkish army lost a series of engagements, which ultimately led to the capture of the city of Erzurum by the Russians in February 1916. Among the prisoners taken by the Russians was a young Turkish lieutenant named Mehmet Arif Olcen.

Over the course of his three-year captivity, Olcen kept a journal that not only chronicled his life as a POW but also noted the upheaval of old Russia as revolution swept the countryside. This diary was lost for nearly 70 years before being discovered by family members and translated.

After the fall of the Romanov dynasty and the rise of the Bolsheviks, Olcen, along with the other captives, was set free in February 1918 and was even asked to join a local Bolshevik soviet. Rather than stay in Russia, a mixed group of Turks and Bulgarians managed to work their way home via Minsk, Warsaw and Budapest. Once Olcen arrived in Istanbul, he had to prove that he had indeed served in the army and had been captured.

Vetluga Memoir provides valuable insight as a primary source into a little-known episode of the Great War. An excellent introduction and epilogue written by Olcen’s son, Ali Nejat Olcen, complements the diary, as does the succinct translation by historian Gary Leiser.