Turkish peasant-conscripts

August 26 2013

Supposing that, through the triumph of the Central European powers, the Porte were to recover all the territories it held in Europe before the Autumn of 1912 [Western Thrace, Macedonia, Epirus, Albania], this success would bring the Turkish peasant nothing but added misery. For him it would be a shouldering of cast-off burdens: he would once more spend years of his life garrisoning Macedonia far away from his family and his Anatolian farm, to perish at last most probably in some futile summer campaign to “Ottomanise” the untamable Albanians. The Turkish peasant is dumb [mute]: he has no education or cohesion, and therefore no public opinion: but if he could give expression to his will in a plebiscite, he would vote for being left in peace, and ask for some government which would not herd his folk out of their villages in thousands, and send them without commissariat, munitions of war, or medical succour, to perish in the deserts of Tripoli or on the stricken field of Lule Burgas. Since he is too inarticulate to express this, it is surely the mission of Panislamism, which has the ear of the civilised world and knows how to address itself to it, to speak for him and save him from his own government, instead of encouraging that government to exploit him to the detriment of his neighbours, and the danger of the general peace.

[…] [Let others imagine themselves] in the place of the unhappy Turkish conscript, transported from his temperate upland home in Anatolia to the military posts along that tropical volcanic plateau of “Stony Arabia” over which the Hejaz railway runs from Damascus to Medina, or worse still, dispatched by troop-ship down the Red Sea to the terrible, interminable Yemen campaign from which no soldier ever returns; or let [them] think of the Yemeni Arab himself. Heir to an archaic civilisation, isolated to an unparalleled degree by the deserts, he is not normally affected for good or evil by the rise and fall of world-empires; but now he is desperately at bay against the brutal, meaningless aggression of Turkish Imperialism, which has no better gift for him than for the Armenian or the Greek.

He shows some sympathy for Panislamism in this first book, completed early in 1915, but a Panislamism subject to the principle of Nationality, not an ideology for oppressive Young Turks exploiting their ownership of a Caliphate-Sultanate. Panislamism and nationalism are ultimately incompatible, so what does he mean?

The “New Arabia” [Arab territories east of Egypt] will not be the spiritual centre of the Arab race alone. By taking over from the Ottoman Empire the guardianship of the Holy Cities, it will inherit from it the primacy of the whole Moslem world. The sovereign of the new state will become the official head of Islam, and Arabia would do well to elect as its first constitutional sultan some prince of the reigning Ottoman house, who would inherit by birth the personal claim to the Caliphate won by his ancestor Selim, and transmit it to his heirs. This junior branch of the Ottoman line would soon eclipse its cousins who continued to rule over Anatolia, and the Arab would oust the Turk again from the dominant place among Mohammedan nations.

He deals with several practical questions, including some minorities – but not with the Jewish question. He was later strongly anti-Zionist, but the book says nothing about Palestine.

Old posts:

The birth of Turkish nationalism 1

The birth of Turkish nationalism 2

and the next two in that sequence (click forward).

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

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