Archive for the 'Armenian massacres' Category

Treitschke on the Turks

October 7 2014

“A near future will, it is to be hoped, blot out the scandal that such heathendom should ever have established itself on European soil. What has this Turkish Empire done in three entire centuries? It has done nothing but destroy.”


The same front matter page in the same pamphlet quotes Gladstone.

The title page has


Joint Note of the Allied Governments in answer to President Wilson.

Which the body of the text clarifies thus:

President Wilson, in his note to all the belligerent governments, called upon both parties to state in the full light of day the aims they have set themselves in prosecuting the War. The Allied Nations, in their joint response made public on January 11th, 1917, explain that they find no difficulty in meeting this request, and make good their words by stating a series of definite conditions. Among them are:

The liberation of the peoples who now lie beneath the murderous tyranny of the Turks; and

The expulsion from Europe of the Ottoman Empire, which has proved itself so radically alien to Western Civilisation.”

The plan of the Allies for the settlement of Turkey is thus communicated to the world without reserve, and it is worth examining what it involves, and why it is right.

No source is given for the Treitschke. Treitschke’s main historical work is Deutsche Geschichte im neunzehnten Jahrhundert (up to 1848), Leipzig, Hirzel, five volumes, 1879-94:

Bis zum zweiten Pariser Frieden

Bis zu den Karlsbader Beschlüssen

Bis zur Juli-Revolution

Bis zum Tode König Friedrich Wilhelms III

Bis zur März-Revolution.

The propagandist (old post).

“The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks”, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Soughton, 1917

The gigantic crime

March 6 2013

We can sum up this statistical enquiry by saying that, as far as our defective information carries us, about an equal number of Armenians in Turkey seem to have escaped, to have perished, and to have survived deportation in 1915; and we shall not be far wrong if, in round numbers, we estimate each of these categories at 600,000.

The exact quantitative scale of the crime thus remains uncertain, but there is no uncertainty as to the responsibility for its perpetration. This immense infliction of suffering and destruction of life was not the work of religious fanaticism. Fanaticism played no more part here than it has played in the fighting at Gallipoli or Kut, and the “Holy War” which the Young Turks caused to be proclaimed in October, 1914, was merely a political move to embarrass the Moslem subjects of the Entente Powers. There was no fanaticism, for instance, in the conduct of the Kurds and chettis [bandits], who committed some of the most horrible acts of all, nor can the responsibility be fixed upon them. They were simply marauders and criminals who did after their kind, and the Government, which not only condoned, but instigated, their actions, must bear the guilt. The peasantry, again (own brothers though they were to the Ottoman soldiery whose apparent humanity at Gallipoli and Kut has won their opponents’ respect), behaved with astonishing brutality to the Armenians who were delivered into their hands; yet the responsibility does not he with the Turkish peasantry. They are sluggish, docile people, unready to take violent action on their own initiative, but capable of perpetrating any enormity on the suggestion of those they are accustomed to obey. The peasantry would never have attacked the Armenians if their superiors had not given them the word. Nor are the Moslem townspeople primarily to blame; their record is not invariably black, and the evidence in this volume throws here and there a favourable light upon their character. Where Moslem and Christian lived together in the same town or village, led the same life, pursued the same vocation, there seems often to have been a strong human bond between them. The respectable Moslem townspeople seldom desired the extermination of their Armenian neighbours, sometimes openly deplored it, and in several instances even set themselves to hinder it from taking effect. We have evidence of this from various places – Adana [footnote: Doc. 128.], for instance, and AF. [footnote: Doc. 126.] in Cilicia, the villages of AJ. and AK. [footnote: Doc. 126.] in the AF. district, and the city of Angora. The authorities had indeed to decree severe penalties against any Moslem as well as any alien or Greek who might be convicted of sheltering their Armenian victims. The rabble naturally looted Armenian property when the police connived, as the rabble in European towns might do; the respectable majority of the Moslem townspeople can be accused of apathy at worst; the responsibility cannot rest with these.

The guilt must, therefore, fall upon the officials of the Ottoman Government, but it will not weigh equally upon all members of the official hierarchy. The behaviour of the gendarmerie, for example, was utterly atrocious; the subordinates were demoralised by the power for evil that was placed in their hands; they were egged on by their chiefs, who gave vent to a malevolence against the Armenians which they must have been harbouring for years; a very large proportion of the total misery inflicted was the gendarmerie’s work; and yet the gendarmerie were not, or ought not to have been, independent agents. The responsibility for their misconduct must be referred to the local civil administrators, or to the Central Government, or to both.

The local administrators of provinces and sub-districts – Valis, Mutessarifs and Kaimakams – are certainly very deeply to blame. The latitude allowed them by the Central Government was wide, as is shown by the variations they practised, in different places, upon the common scheme. In this place the Armenian men were massacred; in that they were deported unscathed; in that other they were taken out to sea and drowned. Here the women were bullied into conversion; here conversion was disallowed; here they were massacred like the men. And in many other matters, such as the disposal of Armenian property or the use of torture, remarkable differences of practice can be observed, which are all ascribable to the good or bad will of the local officials. A serious part of the responsibility falls upon them – upon fire-eaters like Djevdet Bey or cruel natures like the Governor of Ourfa [footnote: Doc. 119.]; and yet their freedom of action was comparatively restricted. Where they were evilly-intentioned towards the Armenians they were able to go beyond the Central Government’s instructions (though even in matters like the exemption of Catholics and Protestants, where their action was apparently most free, they and the Central Government were often merely in collusion) [footnote: See Doc. 87 relating to the town of X.]; but they might never mitigate their instructions by one degree. Humane and honourable governors (and there were a certain number of these) were powerless to protect the Armenians in their province. The Central Government had its agents on the spot – the chairman of the local branch of the Committee of Union and Progress [footnote: Docs. 72 and 128.], the local Chief of Gendarmerie, or even some subordinate official [footnote: Doc. 70.] on the Governor’s own administrative staff. If these merciful governors were merely remiss in executing the instructions, they were flouted and overruled; if they refused to obey them, they were dismissed and replaced by more pliant successors. In one way or another, the Central Government enforced and controlled the execution of the scheme, as it alone had originated the conception of it; and the Young Turkish Ministers and their associates at Constantinople are directly and personally responsible, from beginning to end, for the gigantic crime that devastated the Near East in 1915.

Editor, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Viscount Bryce, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Stoughton and His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1916, online here (nearly 600 pages)

Armenians and Algerians

December 22 2011

The French National Assembly, probably with the Armenian vote in mind for the presidential elections next year, has voted in favour of a bill that would make it illegal to deny that the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, mainly in Anatolia, during the First World War was genocide. The bill goes to the Senate next year. There was an earlier attempt, starting in 2006, which failed.

Countries which officially recognise the killings as genocide already include France (1998), Italy (2000) and Germany (2005), but not the UK, US or Israel. In the US, there have been resolutions in the House of Representatives and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and many at state level, but nothing signed by a president. As far as I know, no country before France has attempted to make denial a crime, unless it is a crime in Armenia.

Turkey’s reactions to all this usually have a third-world ring to them, though I avoid using the word genocide too glibly myself. Erdoğan, meanwhile, has counter-accused France of genocide in Algeria. There may well be justification for that, in relation to the settlers’ behaviour there from 1830 onwards: see this recent FT review of books on Algeria.

Toynbee was one of the people responsible for documenting the Armenian massacres in 1915 and brought them to the attention of the UK Parliament. There is a category here on them. Here is a post from last year.

Demonising Turks

March 30 2011

Or, in the nineteenth-century language of contempt, “the Turk”.

The concrete actions of Western Powers in war and diplomacy have mattered less, for good or evil, than the overwhelming though imponderable “suggestion” exercised upon the Turkish by the Western mind. We have injured the Turks most by making them hopeless and embittered. Our scepticism has been so profound and our contempt so vehement, that they have almost ceased to regard it as possible to modify them by their own action. They incline to accept these Western attitudes as fixed stars in their horoscope, with a fatalism which we incorrectly attribute to the teaching of their religion, without realising that our own conduct has been one of its potent causes. But while they are discouraged, they are not deadened to resentment. They see us in a light in which we too seldom look at ourselves, as hypocrites who make self-righteous professions a cloak for unscrupulous practice; and their master-grievance against us so fills their minds that it leaves little room for self-examination. If a charge is brought against them from a Western source, that is almost enough in itself to make them harden their hearts against it, however just it may be. They do not get so far as to consider it on its merits. They plead “not guilty,” and put themselves in a posture of defence, to meet what experience has led them to regard as one of the most effective strokes in the Western tactic of aggression. In 1921, I seldom found the Turks defend the fearful atrocities which they had committed six years previously against the Armenians, but repentance and shame for them were not uppermost in their minds – not, I believe, because they were incapable of these feelings, but because they were preoccupied by indignation at the conduct of the Allied Powers in fomenting a war-after-the-war in Anatolia. Remorse cannot easily co-exist with a grievance, and until we relieve the Turks of the one, we shall certainly fail, as we have done hitherto, to inspire them with the other.

This was not received wisdom in 1922. Much of it applies today rather obviously to Iran, which has suffered from Russian, British or American aggression for most of the past two hundred years.

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

Michael Hagopian

December 21 2010

Armenian-American film maker and survivor of the Armenian holocaust.

Background of the Balfour Declaration

November 28 2010

The propaganda wars that led up to the Balfour Declaration. An old post.

The Golden Age

May 26 2010

On a [narrow] reckoning, we might confine the Time-span of the “Golden Age” of eighteenth-century moderation between the dates A.D. 1732 and A.D. 1755, if the eviction of a Protestant minority from the Catholic ecclesiastical principality of Salzburg in A.D. 1731-2 is to be taken as the last positive act of religious persecution in Western Europe, and the eviction of a French population from Acadia in A.D. 1755 as the first positive act of persecution for Nationality’s sake in North America.

Only incidentally in North America, of course. He is defining the gap between an age of religious persecution (as distinct from discrimination and prejudice) and one of persecution for reasons of nationality, between one series of horrors and another, in the narrowest possible way. Handel’s Messiah was composed about half way through this brief “Golden Age”.

Accepting that the distinction will often be hard to draw and that the motivations were similar, is the Acadian eviction really the first modern “secular” example based on nationality alone? In order for this to make sense, shouldn’t we exclude mere acts of war and post-war reprisals and acts to suppress or prevent insurrections, and if we do, is the Acadian example the right one to give? I suppose Toynbee would say that it went beyond an act in the course of a war and beyond a reprisal and was an act of persecution.

That distinction is always being made in arguments about the massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. The majority view (deriving in part from Toynbee) is that they were an act of persecution, amounting to nothing less than a genocide. The Turks say that they were atrocities committed in the course of a war.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

The US and the Armenian genocide

March 7 2010

On March 4 the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed a resolution describing the killings of Armenians in the First World War as genocide. There had been “joint resolutions” in the House of Representatives in 1975, 1984 and 1996, which had been resisted by the White House. I’m not sure about the Senate or whether the resolutions actually became “joint”.

The same fate presumably awaits this resolution and was the fate of a similar House Committee resolution in 2007.

Obama had used the word without equivocation before he took office, but is unlikely to use it now.

There has been no official US federal recognition of an Armenian genocide.

The countries which have recognised one are listed here, a Wikipedia page which looks as if it was written by Armenians, but quotes sources. They include France, Germany and Italy, but not the UK. Here is the page on Turkish-Armenian relations.

I have avoided using the word here. While there is no doubt that hundreds of thousands of Armenians were massacred by Turks on Turkish territory, starting in 1915, the debate about how much of the killing was centrally directed may, for all I know, still be justified. Would the word be applicable if there was limited, or superfluous, central direction?


The Wikipedia page on the massacres is comprehensive, but quotes mainly from secondary sources. I omit the most of the references in the quotations below.

“While there is no consensus as to how many Armenians lost their lives during the Armenian Genocide, there is general agreement among western scholars that over 500,000 Armenians died between 1914 and 1918. Estimates vary between 300,000 (per the modern Turkish state) to 1,500,000 (per modern Armenia, Argentina, and other states). Encyclopædia Britannica references the research of Arnold J. Toynbee, an intelligence officer of the British Foreign Office, who estimated that 600,000 Armenians ‘died or were massacred during deportation’ in the years 1915-1916.


“Reacting to numerous eyewitness accounts, British politician Viscount Bryce and historian Arnold J. Toynbee compiled statements from survivors and eyewitnesses from other countries including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland, who similarly attested to the systematized massacring of innocent Armenians by Ottoman government forces. In 1916, they published The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16. Although the book has since been criticized as British wartime propaganda to build up sentiment against the Central Powers, Bryce had submitted the work to scholars for verification before its publication. University of Oxford Regius Professor Gilbert Murray stated of the tome, ‘… the evidence of these letters and reports will bear any scrutiny and overpower any scepticism. Their genuineness is established beyond question.’ Other professors, including Herbert Fisher of Sheffield University and former American Bar Association president Moorfield Storey, affirmed the same conclusion.

“Winston Churchill described the massacres as an ‘administrative holocaust’ and noted that ‘the clearance of the race from Asia Minor was about as complete as such an act, on a scale so great, could well be. […] [Wikipedia’s bracket.] There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons. The opportunity presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race opposed to all Turkish ambitions, cherishing national ambitions that could only be satisfied at the expense of Turkey, and planted geographically between Turkish and Caucasian Moslems.’


“British historian Arnold Toynbee, whose 1916 report remains a critical primary source, changed his evaluation later in life, concluding, ‘These … Armenian political aspirations had not been legitimate. … Their aspirations did not merely threaten to break up the Turkish Empire; they could not be fulfilled without doing grave injustice to the Turkish people itself.’ [Footnote: Quoted in Gunter, Pursuing the Just Cause (1986) p. 16.] [Michael M Gunter, Pursuing the Just Cause of Their People: A Study of Contemporary Armenian Terrorism, Greenwood Press, 1986. I quoted the passage about Armenian aspirations, which appears in Acquaintances (1967), here. But Toynbee does use the word “genocide” in that book.]

“For Turkish historians, supporting the national republican myth is essential to preserving Turkish national unity. The usual Turkish argument is that the deportations were necessary because the Armenians had allied themselves with Russian invaders in wartime, and ‘some 100,000 Armenians … may have died between 1915 and 1918, but this was no greater a percentage than that of the Turks and other Muslims who died as a result of the same conditions in the same places at the same time.’ ‘There was no genocide committed against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire before or during World War I.’ [Footnote: Statements by the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, 1982, quoted in Gunter (1986) p. 18.] Dissident historians in Turkey are trying to reclaim the Armenians as part of Ottoman and Turkish history and acknowledge the wrongs done to the Armenians as a condition for reconciliation with them on the basis of confidence in Turkish national unity.


“Arnold Toynbee writes that ‘the Young Turks made Pan-Islamism and Turkish Nationalism work together for their ends, but the development of their policy shows the Islamic element receding and the Nationalist gaining ground.’ [Footnote: Toynbee, Arnold Joseph, Turkey: A Past and a Future, 1917, pp. 22-3.] Toynbee and various other sources report that many Armenians were spared death by marrying into Turkish families or converting to Islam.”


Armenian refugees in Aleppo, 1915, Wikimedia Commons

The propagandist

September 4 2008

I have had certain opportunities for first-hand study of Greek and Turkish affairs. Just before the Balkan Wars, I spent nine months (November 1911 to August 1912) travelling on foot through the old territories of Greece, as well as in Krete and the Athos Peninsula, and though my main interest was the historical geography of the country, I learnt a good deal about the social and economic life of the modern population. During the European War, I edited, under the direction of Lord Bryce, [footnote: Whose death has removed one of the most experienced and distinguished Western students of Near and Middle Eastern questions, though this was only one among his manifold interests and activities.] the Blue Book published by the British Government on the “Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire: 1915” (Miscellaneous No. 31, 1916), and incidentally learnt, I believe, nearly all that there is to be learnt to the discredit of the Turkish nation and of their rule over other peoples. Afterwards I worked, always on Turkish affairs, in the Intelligence Bureau of the Department of Information (May 1917 to May 1918); in the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office (May to December 1918); and in the Foreign Office section of the British Delegation to the Peace Conference at Paris (December 1918 to April 1919). Since the beginning of the 1919-20 Session, I have had the honour to hold the Koraís Chair of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language, Literature, and History, in the University of London; and on the 20th October 1920 the Senate of the University kindly granted me leave of absence abroad for two terms, in order to enable me to pursue the studies connected with my Chair by travel in Greek lands. I arrived at Athens from England on the 15th January 1921, and left Constantinople for England on the 15th September. During the intervening time, I saw all that I could of the situation from both the Greek and the Turkish point of view, in various parts of the two countries.

Toynbee gives us this short account of his early career in the Preface to The Western Question in Greece and Turkey (1922). And see the page here called Cv.

He left Balliol, where he had been teaching Greats, in 1915 to do propaganda work at the Foreign Office, starting on May 1. He was twenty-five years old.

He doesn’t name that first (pre-1917) war job. Nor does McNeill, his biographer. It was a unit charged, according to McNeill, with publishing propaganda directed at America. Toynbee privately referred to it as the “Mendacity Bureau”. That period saw the production of most or all the wartime propaganda works, from Armenian Atrocities to Turkey, A Past and a Future, listed below.

They were written, as far as possible, with a scholar’s scruples, but must have reinforced a desire to escape from a national viewpoint in the way he would eventually write history. To his friend Rob Darbishire, September 16 1917:

There is a “Terror in France” out to complete that damned “Terror in Belgium”, but that is the last.

The last for a while. He would describe further terror when reporting on the Greco-Turkish war for The Manchester Guardian in 1921.

I’ve created three new Categories in this blog:

Armenian massacres

German terror

Greco-Turkish War

McNeill makes no distinction between the Intelligence Bureau and the Political Intelligence Department and has him starting at the latter in May 1917 (or rather “1971”). He writes: “Not surprisingly, he became responsible for political intelligence pertaining to the Ottoman Empire; but, with the collapse of Russia, his expertise was soon applied to the Moslems of Central Asia as well, and from there he went on to explore the risks of confrontation between a newly self-conscious Islamic world and a weakening British Empire – a clash which would affect India, Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Africa as well as the lands directly subject to Ottoman administration.”


Hugh Trevor-Roper on his work in the Political Intelligence Department and its sequel, in The Prophet, review of William H McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee, A Life, New York, OUP, 1989, New York Review of Books, October 12 1989:

“Lloyd George wished to award part of Asia Minor – in particular the Greek city of Smyrna – to the Greeks. Toynbee, supported by Harold Nicolson, was opposed to this. Lloyd George’s view, naturally, prevailed. Toynbee, who anyway had little love for the Greeks, now extended his antipathy to Lloyd George. He waited for an opportunity of revenge. It was not long in coming.

“In 1919, having resigned his fellowship, Toynbee was in need of paid employment. Encouraged by his father-in-law, Gilbert Murray, he applied for a newly created professorship in the University of London. This was the Koraes Chair of Greek and Byzantine Studies at King’s College. It had been endowed by a group of rich Greeks in London, headed by the former Greek minister there, the scholar and bibliophile Ioannes Gennadius, and named after Adamantios Koraes, the literary leader of the Greek revival in the nineteenth-century. The duties of the professor were to give lectures which would emphasize the continuity of Greek culture from Antiquity through Byzantium and the dark age of Turkish oppression to the present day. On the face of it, Toynbee, with his antipathy to modern Greece [developed in part during his Wanderjahr there, 1911-12], was not an obvious choice as the first occupant of the chair. Events quickly followed which nearly made him the last.

“For only a few months after taking up his duties, Toynbee saw, no doubt with some satisfaction, the Near Eastern policy of Lloyd George, which he had vainly opposed, heading for disaster. The Greek occupation of Anatolia, authorized by the Treaty of Sèvres, provoked a Turkish nationalist revolt under Mustafa Kemal, which would ultimately lead to a Greco-Turkish war. Toynbee, who had already missed one term by visiting the Near East, applied again for leave of absence in order to see ‘how Greece is handling her Muslim minority.’ He did not tell the university authorities that he had arranged to act as special correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. Already, when he left London, he was inclined, if only through hatred of Lloyd George, to favor the Turkish cause, and he may have felt guilty of overdoing anti-Turkish propaganda during the war when he had compiled a Blue Book on “The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks”. [Actually, that was the name of its pamphlet distillation.]

“At all events, what he witnessed of Greek excesses in Anatolia completely converted him. He sent strong denuciations of the Greeks to the Manchester Guardian and on his return wrote, with great speed, a book on the subject. By the time it was published, the Greeks had been defeated in war and were being driven out of Asia Minor. It was now the turn of the Turks to commit atrocities, at which they were not backward. Smyrna, the birthplace of Koraes, was burned. But Toynbee, in his despatches to the Manchester Guardian, was remarkably reticent about these Turkish excesses and even suggested that Smyrna had been burned by the Greeks. He was in fact ‘blatantly partisan’ – on the Turkish side. His biographer explains that he needed to show that he had not evaded military service in vain and to enjoy the humiliation of Lloyd George.

“Such arcane psychological extenuations would hardly satisfy the London Greeks who were paying his salary as professor.”


Here are the books that he published before (in one case in) 1934, when the Study was launched. (As in my main bibliography, I don’t promise to show the correct order of publication within a year – nor does Morton’s bibliography – and confine the list to published items or contributions of 70 pages or more.)

Nationality and the War, Dent, 1915

The first magnum opus was completed before he left Balliol, and published on April 1, one month before the start of his war work. I’ve done a post on it based on an online review and will address it at length later. It was the first evidence of the ability rapidly to synthesise diverse materials that would serve him in the Survey of International Affairs.

Armenian Atrocities, The Murder of a Nation, with a Speech Delivered by Lord Bryce in the House of Lords, Hodder & Stoughton, 1915

A little over a hundred pages. It contains a Statement by Lord Bryce, a Map, and chapters called Armenia before the Massacres; The Plan of the Massacres; The Road to Death; The Journey’s End; False Excuses; Murder Outright; The Toll of Death; and The Attitude of Germany.

The New Europe, Some Essays in Reconstruction, Dent, 1915

Essays. All but one had been printed in The Nation. A spinoff, for wider circulation, of the much longer Nationality and the War, though it does not reproduce its material directly.

Contributor, Greece, in The Balkans, A History of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Rumania, Turkey, various authors, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1915

A view of the whole of Greek history, ancient and modern.

Editor, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Viscount Bryce, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Stoughton and His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1916

The “Blue Book” on the massacres of Armenians in Turkey presented to the Foreign Secretary, and subsequently to both Houses of Parliament, in 1916, and still one of the main bodies of evidence for the alleged genocide. Toynbee worked under the direction of Bryce, whom he met first in 1915. I have mentioned Bryce several times.

The report as published contains a Map; Correspondence between Viscount Grey of Fallodon and Viscount Bryce; a Preface by Viscount Bryce; a Letter by Mr. H.A.L. Fisher, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield University, to Viscount Bryce; a Letter from Prof. Gilbert Murray, Regius Professor of Greek in the University of Oxford, to Viscount Bryce; a Letter from Mr. Moorfield Storey, ex-President of the American Bar Association, to Viscount Bryce; a Letter from Four German Missionaries to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Berlin; a Memorandum by the Editor of the Documents (Toynbee); and 149 General Descriptions, eye-witness and other documents presented in twenty sections.

After that we have A Summary of Armenian History up to and including the year 1915 in six parts by Toynbee; six Annexes prepared by Toynbee; an Index of Places referred to in the Documents; and a Message, dated 22nd July, 1916, from Mr. N., of Constantinople; communicated by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief.

I have a post called Propaganda and intelligence here, looking at how hearsay was used as intelligence during this period.

The Belgian Deportations, with a Statement by Viscount Bryce, T Fisher Unwin, 1917

The German Terror in Belgium, An Historical Record, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

The German Terror in France, An Historical Record, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

Those three titles belong together. Toynbee writes in a Preface:

The German Terror in France is a direct continuation of The German Terror in Belgium, which was published several months ago. The chapters are numbered consecutively throughout the two volumes […].

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

A study of the consequences of the Turkish revolution of 1908 and the events leading up to the Armenian massacres and deportations.

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

An important work, the second magnum opus, based on Toynbee’s second visit to Turkey, reporting on the Greco-Turkish war for The Manchester Guardian in 1921.

Introduction and translations, Greek Civilization and Character, The Self-Revelation of Ancient Greek Society, Dent, 1924

Introduction and translations, Greek Historical Thought from Homer to the Age of Heraclius, with two pieces newly translated by Gilbert Murray, Dent, 1924

Two volumes of translations which Toynbee had made before the war. (Another work, based at least on pre-war notes, which was not published until much later, was Hellenism, The History of a Civilization, OUP, Home University Library, 1959. It had been commissioned by his father-in-law Gilbert Murray in 1914. The war intervened. Hannibal’s Legacy, the magnum opus of 1964, had been been on his agenda since the same year. The Preface of Some Problems of Greek History, 1969, begins: “The problems discussed in this book have been in my mind since the years 1909-11, when I was reading for the Oxford School of Literae Humaniores.”)

Contributor, The Non-Arab Territories of the Ottoman Empire since the Armistice of the 30th October, 1918, in HWV Temperley, editor, A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, Vol 6, OUP, Issued under the auspices of the British Institute of International Affairs, 1924

The World after the Peace Conference, Being an Epilogue to the “History of the Peace Conference of Paris” and a Prologue to the “Survey of International Affairs, 1920-1923”, OUP, Issued under the auspices of the British Institute of International Affairs, 1925

This was published on its own, but GM Gathorne-Hardy, the Institute’s Honorary Secretary, writes in a Preface that it was

originally written as an introduction to the Survey of International Affairs in 1920-3, and was intended for publication as part of the same volume.

In Experiences, Toynbee calls this cross-section of the world c 1920 a “base-line” for the Survey.

With Kenneth P Kirkwood, Turkey, in The Modern World series edited by HAL Fisher, Benn, 1926

I have not consulted this.

The Conduct of British Empire Foreign Relations since the Peace Settlement, OUP, Issued under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1928

A Journey to China, or Things Which Are Seen, Constable, 1931

The book of a journey to Japan and back (via China, pace the title) in 1929-30.

Editor, British Commonwealth Relations, Proceedings of the First Unofficial Conference at Toronto, 11-21 September 1933, with a Foreword by Robert L Borden, OUP, Issued under the joint auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, 1934


One could add to this pre-Study list two short works, among many articles and other material:

The Destruction of Poland, A Study in German Efficiency, T Fisher Unwin, almost certainly 1916


“The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks”, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Soughton, 1917

A rather blatant piece of work. A pamphlet distillation of the two other Armenian works.


Let’s look again at his evolution. According to Morton, Toynbee published his first learned article while he was at Oxford in 1910: On Herodotus III. 90, and VII. 75, 76, Classical Review, Vol 24, No 8. You can find it online. Another, The Growth of Sparta, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol 33, Part 2 followed in 1913. 1914 sees two more: Greek Policy since 1882, Oxford pamphlets, Vol 9, No 39, OUP and The Slav Peoples, Political Quarterly, No 4, December 1914. In those first four pieces we see classical interests vaulting towards urgent contemporary ones.

Toynbee’s first visit to Greece and territory that was then Turkey had been made during a post-University “gap year” in 1911-12. It was a formative experience, and often alluded to, but did not produce its own book. His longest piece of published historical writing on Greece before 1934 was a contribution, Greece, in The Balkans, A History of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Rumania, Turkey, various authors, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1915.

The second visit to Greece and Turkey took up most of 1921, when CP Scott’s Manchester Guardian sent him to report on the Greco-Turkish War. He had been appointed, in 1919, to the Koraes Chair of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language, Literature, and History at King’s College, University of London, but was given leave to travel. The result was The Western Question in Greece and Turkey (1922).

This is a rugged work of reportage of a war (and to some extent a travel narrative) which shows an utterly out-of-the-ordinary grasp of history for such a piece, but does not lose touch with the subject. The language is simple, different from the sinuosities and contortions of the Study (particularly the later parts of the Study). One almost regrets that Toynbee was about to leave its sturdy realism behind and set off on his grand project.

At the same time, the other book is trying to get out. The subtitle, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, hints at what was to follow; and it was on a train, while en route back to England from this assignment, somewhere after Adrianople on September 17 1921, as he tells us in a Preface to Volume VII of the Study, that he formed thoughts which led to the drafting that evening of part of the plan for his work. Of course, the Study’s origins are more complex than that, and I will trace them in another post.

During his 1921 travels, Toynbee began to take a position more favourable to Turkey. I have done two posts which look at this change: Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 1 and Atatürk’s frown. His later reminiscences make clear that it came partly from a sense of shame at the tone of the propaganda writings. He writes in The Western Question in Greece and Turkey:

It may, I fear, be painful to Greeks and “Philhellenes” that information and reflections unfavourable to Greece should have been published by the first occupant of the Koraís Chair. I naturally regret this, but from the academic point of view it is less unfortunate than if my conclusions on the Anatolian Question had been favourable to Greece and unfavourable to Turkey. The actual circumstances, whatever personal unpleasantness they may entail for me and my Greek friends and acquaintances, at least preclude the suspicion that an endowment of learning in a British University has been used for propaganda on behalf of the country with which it is concerned. Such a contention, if it could be urged, would be serious; for academic study should have no political purpose, although, when its subject is history, its judgments upon the nature and causal connection of past events do occasionally and incidentally have some effect upon the present and the future.

But these views, published in 1922, and following an absence from duty of nearly a year, forced him out of the Greek-funded Koraes Chair in 1924, and towards Chatham House. He never held another conventional full-time academic post. Chatham House offered something mid-way between academia and public affairs.

In the post here called Atatürk’s frown Toynbee describes some of his Turkish friendships. In Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 1, he remembers

the atmosphere of animosity against Islam and against the Turks in which I had grown up.

He writes in Experiences (1969):

I originally broke my way into current affairs by following up the main line – that is, the Levantine line – of the sequel to the Graeco-Roman civilization till this mental journey brought me to the living civilizations of the Near and Middle East. Between 1911 [his first visit to the region] and 1923 [his third], I was, I think, in danger of letting myself become imprisoned in a couple of specialisms. I was then heading for becoming a combination of “Balkanist” with “ancient historian”. Fortunately I was saved from being caught in this blind alley by a personal mishap. I became personally involved in a conflict between two Near Eastern nationalisms. I had, in consequence, to resign the Koraes Chair of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies in the University of London; and, in taking another job [at Chatham House], I found that I had committed myself to expanding my study of current affairs from the Near and Middle East to the contemporary world as a whole. I had undertaken to produce a Survey of International Affairs for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and the commitment required me not to leave any region of the present-day world out of account. I must try to follow current events not only in the Near and Middle East and not only in Europe and the United States but in Latin America, the Soviet Union, and China as well.

History and current affairs were parallel seams in his career from then on. He often says that he could not have written A Study of History, which was published between 1934 and 1961, if he had not also been working, from 1924 to ’56, on the The Survey of International Affairs. The Survey, which was not propaganda, was published under Chatham House’s auspices between 1925 and 1977 and covered the years 1920 to 1962.


This post describes the pre-Study œuvre. Before 1934, “Arnold Toynbee” meant not the historian, but his uncle, the economic historian and social reformer (1852-83). The older Arnold Toynbee’s brother Paget, the Dante scholar, took Toynbee to task for using his uncle’s name on the title page of his first book. He could have added or substituted an initial.

I described the post-1933 œuvre here. I listed the main post-Study works there in order to emphasise that the Study was not the end of Toynbee any more than the beginning. It’s a sign of sanity to finish a project and move on; which, apart from the Caplan collaboration, is what he did.


The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

William H McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee, A Life, New York, OUP, 1989 (letter quotation)

The German Terror in France, An Historical Record, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

The World after the Peace Conference, Being an Epilogue to the “History of the Peace Conference of Paris” and a Prologue to the “Survey of International Affairs, 1920-1923”, OUP, Issued under the auspices of the British Institute of International Affairs, 1925

Acquaintances, OUP, 1967

Experiences, OUP, 1969

A Turkish sequence

November 2 2007


There have been many posts on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire in this blog (both have Categories), but I am giving the main group that so far refers to Toynbee’s writings on the Turkish nationalists who were in power during the First World War and on the contemporaneous massacres of Armenians a separate Category called A Turkish sequence. [NOTE, 2010: Category has been removed; the posts remain.]

The birth of Turkish nationalism 1

The birth of Turkish nationalism 2

The birth of Turkish nationalism 3

The birth of Turkish nationalism 4

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 1

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 2

Europe, 1916-17

Mount Ararat

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 3

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 4

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 5

Propaganda and intelligence

Atatürk’s frown

The first four posts quote from his book Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917. They attracted some vehement comments from Turks. One, on the first post, criticised a facile equation I seemed to be making between nationalism and secularism.

In the first of the Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia posts I link again to the evidence he compiled of the Armenian killings, working for Viscount Bryce, who is also mentioned elsewhere in the blog. His evidence (the Blue Book) was presented to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Grey, in 1915. In the second, I quote from his introduction to the Blue Book. In the first and the last three, I look more closely, from the few sources I have consulted, at what the evidence was, at the political background to the commissioning of the evidence and at Toynbee’s later misgivings about his wartime propaganda work and his feelings about Turkey.

The post called Propaganda and intelligence suggests that hearsay, critically examined, could lead to real knowledge of events. Atatürk’s frown quotes Toynbee’s account of some of his Turkish friendships.

Propaganda and intelligence

June 14 2007

Some of the documents set out in the Blue Book:

Statement made by a foreign resident at Constantinople to a Swiss gentleman at Geneva, communicated by the latter.

Van after the Turkish retreat: Letter from Herr Spörri, of the German Mission at Van, published in the German journal “Sonnenaufgang,” October, 1915.

Urmia during the Turco-Kurdish occupation: Diary of a Missionary, edited by Miss Mary Schauffier Platt, and published by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Urmia: Narrative of Dr. Jacob Sargis, recorded in a despatch, dated Petrograd, 12th February, 1916, from the correspondent at Petrograd of the American “Associated Press”.

Refugees from Hakkiari: Letter dated 26th September/9th October, 1915, from a relative of Mar Shimun, the Patriarch; communicated by the Rev. F. N. Heazell.

Refugees from Hakkiari: Letter, dated Diliman, 1st/14th April, 1916, from Surma, the sister of Mar Shimun, to Mrs. D. S. Margoliouth, of Oxford.

The Nestorians of the Bohtan District: Letter, dated Salmas, 6th March, 1916, from the Rev. E. W. McDowell, of the Urmia Mission Station, reporting information brought by a young man (with whom Mr. McDowell was previously acquainted) who had escaped the massacre; communicated by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Azerbaijan: Statement, dated Tiflis, 22nd February, 1916, by Mr. M. Philips Price, War Correspondent for various British and American newspapers on the Caucasian Front; communicated to Aneurin Williams, Esq., M.P., and published in the Armenian journal “Ararat,” of London, March, 1916.

The Flight to the Caucasus: Despatches to the Armenian journal “Horizon,” of Tiflis, from Mr. Sampson Aroutiounian, President of the Armenian National Committee of Tiflis, who went in person to meet the refugees.

Refugees in the Caucasus: Letter dated Erivan, 29th December, 1915, from the Rev. S. G. Wilson to Dr. Samuel T. Dutton, Secretary of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief.

Erzeroum: Record of an Interview between the Rev. H. J. Buxton and the Rev. Robert Stapleton, a missionary of the American Board, resident at Erzeroum from before the outbreak of war until after the capture of the city by the Russians.

Baibourt: Narrative of an Armenian lady deported in the third convoy; communicated by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief.

Erzindjan: Statement by two Red Cross Nurses of Danish Nationality, formerly in the service of the German Military Mission at Erzeroum; communicated by a Swiss gentleman of Geneva.

Mamouret-ul-Aziz: Narrative of an Armenian lady deported from C. (a place half-an-hour’s distance from H.), describing her journey from C. to Ras-ul-Ain; written after her escape from Turkey, and dated Alexandria, 2nd November, 1915; published in the Armenian journal “Gotchnag,” of New York, 8th January, 1916.

X.: Report from Mr. AL., a foreign resident at L., in Asiatic Turkey, dated 26th August, 1915; communicated by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief.

Angora: Extract from a letter dated 16th September, 1915; appended to the Memorandum (Doc. 11), dated 15/28th October, 1915, from a well-informed source at Bukarest.

Adrianople: Despatch from the correspondent of the London “Times” at Bukarest, dated 18th December and published on the 21st December, 1915.

Cilicia: Letter, dated 20th June, 1915, from Dr. L., a foreign resident in Turkey; communicated by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief.

Jibal Mousa: The defence of the mountain and the rescue of its defenders by the French Fleet; narrative of an eye-witness, the Rev. Dikran Andreasian, Pastor of the Armenian Protestant Church at Zeitoun.

Exiles on the Euphrates: Record, dated Erzeroum, June, 1915, by M. Henry Barby, of an interview with Dr. H. Toroyan, an Armenian physician formerly in the service of the Ottoman Army; published in “Le journal,” of Paris, 13th July, 1916.

To people now, used to a combination of live reporting and statistics, these sources seem like hearsay: the evidence seems quaintly anecdotal. Who are these gentlemen in Constantinople and Geneva? Is this kind of thing enough to support a case for a genocide? It sounds more like an Ashenden story.

Or does a mosaic of evidence, cross-checked and examined, get closer to truth than a camera and a live reporter?

The Blue Book is, cumulatively, as Toynbee says, “an extraordinarily vivid impression of Armenian life – the life of plain and mountain, town and village, intelligenzia (sic) and bourgeoisie and peasantry – at the moment when it was overwhelmed by the European catastrophe”.

On the other hand, it is not really news, but intelligence. It is intelligence gathered at second hand, ie not for the most part by British observers. But mainstream British intelligence was also gathered by this kind of patient accumulation of detailed anecdotal reporting. A critical and detailed awareness of what was happening on the ground was what British intelligence was based on. It is what the Americans are allegedly so bad at.

This knowledge was not in the first instance used to falsify things: it was accurate and most of it was secret. It was used to help to further British policy and war aims. Let’s look at some roughly contemporary passages from British intelligence material gathered in another part of the Ottoman empire, in the Arab world.


Arabian Personalities of the Twentieth Century, with a new Introduction by Robin Bidwell, The Oleander Press, 1986, 362 pp, is a collection of British intelligence material. It is based on a handbook published in 1917 in a limited and confidential edition.

On the cover of the 1986 edition: Biographical Profiles of the Leading Figures in Hejaz, Asir, Yemen, Aden and Hadhramaut, Oman, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm-al-Qaiwain, Ras al-Khaimah, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Najd, Jabal Shammar, Syrian Desert, Sinai, and the Bedouin and Sedentary Families of the Arabian Peninsula. Entries are not attributed, but some of the material is by figures such as TE Lawrence and Gertrude Bell.

Here, randomly, are some of the more superficial entries. I’ll choose some on individuals, not tribes. The tribal entries show an astounding grasp of topography. We can only adapt Toynbee’s phrase and call the compilation, of which this is a tiny sampling, “an extraordinarily vivid impression of Arab life”.

The order of entries here is different from in the book and the number per geographical area is not in the same proportion as in the book.

Syrian Desert and Sinai

Paramount Chief of the Beni Sakhr. Claims to be able to call out 10,000 men (?). The pan-Arab party in Damascus claims him as an adherent. The Beni Sakhr are responsible for the Hajj line from Jīzah to Kerak. Their southern pastures run down as far as the Jebel Tubeiq. They summer round Mādeba and in the Ghōr. The Chief’s father, Fāʿiz, is still alive, but plays less part than the son in desert politics. The Fāʿiz group owns about 500 tents, the whole of the B. Sakhr tribe having about 1,500. Telāl refused to provide camels for the Turkish attack on the Canal in January 1915.”

Chief of the Thulam tribe of Sinai, ranging from Gaza to the Dead Sea. An intelligent, well-mannered Arab of real influence with his tribe, and paramount over its sub-tribes, which total some 2,000 souls, with, perhaps, 2,000 camels.”

Son of the paramount chief of the Ruweilah, and governor of Jauf since it was taken from Ibn Rashīd. A man of considerable intelligence and some education; regarded by the pan-Arab party in Damascus as a staunch adherent and a valuable ally, but subsidized by the Turks (£ T. 4,000?). Sheltered refugees from Syria in the winter of 1915-16. His reputation bids fair to eclipse that of his father. In his absence, his little son, SULTĀN, received Shakespear at Jauf in 1914. (See also p. 106.)”

Hereditary Chief of the oasis of Jerūd; he has a house in Damascus where he spends the winter, and is very well known. He is of Anazah stock, a man verging on 70, fat and infirm. He breeds horses, and maintains good relations with the tribes. Has been a source of considerable trouble to the Ottoman Government, but is nevertheless useful as an intermediary with the tribes. It is owing to his position in the desert that he has enjoyed more clemency than he deserves. Wealthy and avaricious.”

Paramount Chief of the Dhafīr tribe. About 40 years of age, intelligent and reputed a good tribal administrator and politician. An old foe of Ibn Rashīd, who refused the latter’s invitation to join in a campaign during the winter 1915-16 against the rulers of Koweit and Riyādh. Recently (early 1916) he has mobilized his tribesmen together with the Bedūr (a half-settled tribe of some 30,000 souls who live between Khidhr and Sūq esh-Shuyūkh) in the desert, west of Sūq esh-Shuyūkh, to counteract any movement of Ibn Rashīd or ʿAjeimi of the Muntefiq against us in Mesopotamia. He has been attacked by the Shammar and the ‘Ajmān; but, though worsted, has been able to defeat ʿAjeimi. Ibn Sa’ūd himself recommended our enlisting him on our side. He controls about 2,500 tents. (See also p. 137.)”

Of the Terābīn tribe of N. Sinai and lives at Beersheba. Chief of the Najamāt sub-tribe of the Terābīn and also of the small Haiwāt tribe. Active in helping Turkish propaganda in autumn 1914, and claims to have been made a Pasha. He has a stone house, and is local Mayor (Raʿis el-Beledīyah), but possesses only about 20 camels; age about 70. His son, Jadira, age about 30, has no great influence outside his own tribe. Hamād’s father was killed by the Abu Sittah, another Terābīn sub-tribe, and Hamād has a blood-feud with them. His authority is not widely recognized outside his own sub-tribe, and the Haiwāt. Afraid of the Turks, and in December 1915 was said to have become disaffected towards them, and to have refused to put his men into Turkish uniform.”

Paramount Chief of the ‘Amarat. A man over 60, not very intelligent; a pan-Arabist, who hates the Turks for personal reasons, having been imprisoned by them at Mosul more than once. He owns profitable palm-gardens at Ghazāzah near Kerbela, and has planted lands on the Euphrates at Bagdad. He is much respected in the desert, but is now old and timid, pre-occupied by anxieties about his settled property, the value of which, he fears, may be diminished by the opening of the Hindīyah Escape. It is essential for him to remain on good terms with whoever controls the water of the Euphrates. Rules about 3,000 tents. (See also p. 107.)”

A family of Christians of Nazarene origin, now settled at Salt, and owning lands on the Hajj Railway north of Jīzah, at Yadūdah. There the two brothers, ABU SĀLIH FREH and ABU SAʿĪD FERHĀN, have built a substantial stone house. They are men of intelligence and great physical vigour, well known and much respected in the desert on account of the unlimited hospitality which they extend to the tribes. They are anxious to improve the cultivation of their lands, and complain bitterly of the hindrances which the Ottoman Government puts in their way, and the complete lack of protection which it affords. At Juweidah, three or four miles from Yadūdah, another of the family, SELĪM ABU JĀBIR, has a farm, while farther south, at Urum Kundum, the BISHARRA family, related by marriage to the Abu Jābir, have a large farm. A notable group of sturdy cultivators, holding their own against the tribes. One of the Bisharra sons, Hanna, was educated in Switzerland, and has taken an agricultural degree. Another Christian, Nimrūd Hasan, has a small farm at Tneib, SE. of Urum Kundum. Tneib is about the limit of possible cultivation, owing to the lack of rain farther east.”

Central Arabia

Of Boreidah. A fat and greasy Arab who once kept a shop in Cairo. Becoming bankrupt, he worked his way as a fireman to New York, and there drove a hackney. Saved about £1,000, and returned to Boreidah. Has since made more money, e.g. at Bombay in 1913, and is now rich and of much consideration.”

Daughter of Subhān, vizier to the Emir Mohammed, and of Fātimah. She was married first to the Emir Mohammed. On his death in 1897, she married the Emir ʿAbd el-ʿAzīz, to whom she bore a son, Saʿūd, the present Emir. She became the wife of Sultān er-Rashīd, who was murdered by his brother Saʿūd, and subsequently, of Zāmil es-Subhān, murdered in 1914. By the latter she had a child. She is still a beautiful and gracious woman, but she has no political influence, being completely dominated by her mother Fātimah (q.v.).”

Aden and Hadhramaut

Sultan of Izzān, part of the ʿAbd el-Wahīd Sultanate. A man of wild, ungovernable character, who is unpopular with the tribes; a robber and bad governor. Blackmailed the Austrian Expedition in 1898 and is said to have tried to raise money in the early nineties by pledging his Sultanate in Yemen to the Turks and in Jibuti to the French. Visited Aden, 1909, and is subsidized. Allied with the Kaʿaiti. Now about 46 years of age. (See also p. 247.)”

Of the Ahl Afrir. Sultan of Qishn, Socotra, and the Mahrah tribes. Unenlightened, inexperienced, and suspicious, but inclined to keep in with us. Subsidized by Aden.”

Influential merchant, and Arabic scholar of Meccan origin, resident in Aden. Author of a good book, The Overflowing River of the Science of Inheritance and the Rights of Women, very favourably received by German Oriental jurists. Shrewd, intelligent, and well versed in both native and European politics. Has been in the habit of reporting on local affairs to the Governor-General of the Sudan, and is in close touch with the native staff of the Aden Government. Speaks and writes English well.”

Cousin of the Sultan; age about 55. Hypochondriacal and partly insane. Appears to have been deprived of his estates.”


Chief Agent and Inspector of the Red Sea Lighthouse Administration; resident, with his wife, at Mocha. Of Greek race, but Ottoman nationality. Said to be willing to help us.”

Italian merchant, survivor of two brothers in business in Yemen; long the only genuine European resident in Sanʿā, and entertainer and protector of several foreign visitors (e.g. Wavell 1910, and Bury 1912). He left Sanʿā in November 1913, and has not returned. Was created cavaliere for his geographical and archaeological services, but deprived for writing a socialist article in a German paper, and speaking against the Tripoli expedition. Refused to help the Governor of Eritrea to open relations with the Imam, but mediated for ʿIzzet Pasha, and accepted the order of the Mejidieh (third class). About 55 years of age.”

Chief of the Waʿzāt (3,000 fighting men). Lives at Muʿluq, at the foot of the hills, five hours inland from Loheia. Pro-Turk and Shafei. Raided Idrīsi country, summer 1915, and was shot in the shoulder; applied to the Imam Yahya for help. Now quiescent. Made a Pasha. Took Italian subsidies during Tripolitan War. Controls the country from the Beni ʿAbs border to Wādi Maur and is the most influential man in the district after Sherif Hamūd. He wrote a letter of congratulation and submission to the Emir of Mecca in late summer, 1916. (See also p. 243.)”


Of Ibha; of the Umm Manādhir clan of Beni Mugheid. Brother-in-law of Husein Effendi Walad Muzeiqah Julas (q. v.) and assistant Sandūq Amīni. Assesses crops for ‘ushr. About 25; small, dark; well reputed and intelligent. His brother, Mansūr ibn ‘Azīz, represented Asiri grievances at Constantinople some years ago and obtained redress.”

Elder son of Saʿīd ibn Fāʿiz. Paramount chief of the Beni Shihir esh-Shām. Lives at ʿAsābili. About 38. Tall, fair (Circassian mother); M.P. Has a Circassian wife at Constantinople. Rich and to be reckoned with, but a drunkard and a libertine. Formerly Kaimmakam of Qunfndah, Muhāʿil and Hali districts and was a terror in his cups. Owns property in Constantinople and Mecca as well as in Ibha, and is much abroad. Distantly related to the Emir of Mecca – Sherif ʿAun having married a girl of his house; visits the Emir and would join him against the Turks and take his tribe, one of the strongest in Asir, with him. Speaks Turkish and French and wears Stambuli dress. Said to have entertained two German officers at ʿAsābili four years ago for many months.”

Paramount Sheikh of the Balasmar. A tall and powerfully built man of about So years of age, with a scar over the right eyebrow. Favours Idrīsi and collects taxes for him. His fortress is at Madfaʿah.”

Of Sabia; joined Mohammed ʿAli Pasha against Idrīsi in 1910. Idrīsi, accusing him of peculation, cut off both his hands. He went to Constantinople, where he had artificial hands fitted. Now lives at Hodeidah on a pension from the Turks of £ T. 50 per mensem.”


Of Jiddah. Tall and thin, with dark, pleasant face and intelligent eyes. Grain merchant. Raʿis el-Beledīyah under the Turks. Main agent in inducing the surrender of the Turks in June 1916. The Emir has reappointed him Raʿis, and in this capacity he received the Egyptian ‘Mahmal’, making a good impression on the Admiral. Honest and intelligent. Age about 40.”

“HUSEIN IBN MUBĀRAK (pronounced locally MUREIRIK).
Chief of the Zobeid section of the Masrūh Harb. One of the most powerful Harbi sheikhs; resides at Rābugh. Formerly anti-Turk, but not necessarily pro-British. ‘A man of much power, who likes to be addressed by high-sounding titles.’ Owns dhows, and has had correspondence and other communications with the Red Sea Patrol about seizures; but has not yet been visited by a political officer. To be treated with distinction and caution. In 1916, raised about 4,000 men and captured a very large sum of money on its way from Medina to Mecca for Ottoman official use. Joined the Emir’s revolt in June 1916, but half-heartedly, and opposed the landing of the Egyptian battery at Rābugh. Corresponded with the Turks and accepted their bribes. Detained and diverted the Emir’s supplies. In August he withdrew inland when the Emir occupied Rābugh in force. Later, made his way to Medina and definitely joined the Turks. Not to be trusted to serve any ambition but his own.”

Of Jiddah. Before the War, Agent of the Ottoman Steamship Company. A Bokhariote dealer in carpets. Pro-Turk, but of very little influence.”

And one of the sons of the Emir of Mecca

Aged about 20. Is quite overshadowed by the reputation of his half-brothers. His mother was Turkish and he takes after her. Is fond of riding about, and playing tricks. Has not, so far, been entrusted with any important commission, but is active. In manner a little loutish, but not a bad fellow. Humorous in outlook, and perhaps a little better balanced, because less intense, than his brothers. Shy. The least important of the four sons. Sent on a peace mission to Asir in March 1915. Met a British delegation on the Hejaz coast on June 6, 1916, immediately before the revolt broke out. Afterwards represented his father at Jiddah, and commanded reserve troops.”


Editor, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Viscount Bryce, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Stoughton and His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1916, online here

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 5

June 10 2007

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 1

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 2

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 3

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 4

In his late book Acquaintances, Toynbee tells us that the “request” of His Majesty’s Government to Lord Bryce for the Blue Book on the Armenian massacres was part of a more complicated propaganda initiative than is immediately obvious.

Lord Bryce [who had already presented evidence in speeches] had agreed on condition that H.M.G. would provide him with an amanuensis. I had been given the job.

At the time, I was unaware of the politics that lay behind this move of H.M.G.’s, and I believe Lord Bryce was as innocent as I was. Perhaps this was fortunate. For, if our eyes had been opened, I hardly think that either Lord Bryce or I would have been able to do the job that H.M.G. had assigned to us in the complete good faith in which we did, in fact, carry it out. Lord Bryce’s concern, and mine, was to establish the facts and make them public, in the hope that eventually some action might be taken in the light of them. The dead – and the deportees had been dying in their thousands – could not be brought back to life, but we hoped (vain hope) that at least something might be done to ensure, for the survivors, that there should never be a repetition of the barbarities that had been the death of so many of their kinsmen.

McNeill, Toynbee’s biographer, writes:

“British propagandists decided that efforts to publicize Armenian sufferings would help to counteract German news reports from the eastern front describing Russian atrocities against the Jews in Poland. The United States was the main target, for the British calculated that they needed to offset the widespread sympathy for Germany among American Jews, who were well aware of Russian pogroms and other manifestations of anti-Semitism. By blaming the Germans for tolerating worse atrocities in Armenia than anything happening in Poland, the Allied cause might be served, at whatever cost to the truth about German responsibility for Turkish actions.”

American Jews were appalled by the actions of the Russian army. Russia was Britain’s ally. Therefore American Jews might sympathise with Russia’s enemy Germany and influence American opinion against the Allies.

After the Blue Book had been published, I gradually became aware of the politics that had lain behind H.M.G.’s request to Lord Bryce. The date was 1915. In the spring of that year, the Germans had made that colossal breakthrough on the eastern front […]. As the Russian armies had retreated across the Jewish Pale, they had committed atrocities against the Jewish diaspora, and, when the pursuing German armies had occupied the evacuated Russian territories, they had cashed in on the Russians’ indiscretion. (The Russian barbarities were also that. From the point of view of public relations, “they were worse than a crime; they were a blunder”.) At that time, the Pale (i.e. the ex-Polono-Lithuanian dominions of the Russian Empire) was still the centre of gravity of World-Jewry. For the Jews, the Pale was then what the North-Eastern United States is now. Yet, by 1915, the naturalized ex-East-European Jewish community in the United States was already numerous and prosperous enough to be a power in American life […].

The Germans made a propaganda exercise out of Russia’s “indiscretion”.

At the very time when the Russians had been committing barbarities against their Jews, the Turks had been committing considerably worse barbarities against their Armenians. If Russian barbarities were telling against Britain and France, would not Turkish barbarities tell against Germany and Austria-Hungary? This line of reasoning in Whitehall lay behind H.M.G.’s application to Lord Bryce to produce a Blue Book on what the Turks had been doing to the Armenians.

H.M.G.’s counter-move to the German General Staff’s move indicates that, by 1915, Whitehall was just beginning to become Madison-Avenue-minded. […]

Toynbee goes on to point out the very obvious weaknesses in the counter-move. American Jews would not feel the same sympathy with Armenians that they had felt with their kinsmen of the Pale, and the Armenian diaspora was not large or influential enough to be a counter-influence.

Then he makes a connection which I assume is provable through original sources: a connection between that propaganda failure and British support of Zionism.

Disillusioned by the failure of their first [clumsy] essay in propaganda, H.M.G. thought again; and at last they took the obvious point that, in order to solve their Jewish problem, they must find a solution in Jewish, not in Armenian, terms. The negative effect on Jewish feelings of the bad thing that the Russians had done to the Jews could be counteracted, if at all, only by some positive act, on the Western Allies’ part, to the Jews’ advantage; and this good thing that the Western Allies would have to do for the Jews must be of a magnitude that would outweigh the Russian barbarities decisively. Zionism was the key. The Western powers must make themselves agents for the fulfilment of the Zionists’ aspirations. Here was something that might swing Jewish sympathies over to the Allies’ side – at any rate in the United States, and perhaps also in Central Europe, though, ironically, Zionism had little appeal for the Jews of Britain and France.

When H.M.G. noticed this trump card in their hand, they were, of course, eager to play it; but first they would have to surmount two obstacles. Palestine was not yet in their possession for them to deliver to Zionism, and there was a Russian veto on any project for making Palestine Jewish. (The Russian Imperial Government’s position was that a Jewish Palestine would no longer be a Holy Land fit for being trodden by Russian [ie Christian] pilgrims.) The first obstacle fell when Allenby entered Jerusalem; the second fell with the fall of Tsardom. The promulgation of the Balfour Declaration followed.

He uses the word promulgation deliberately. The date of the Declaration was November 2. The date of the October revolution was November 7-8 (“October” comes from the Julian calendar; Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1918). Allenby did not enter Jerusalem until December 9.

Acquaintances, OUP, 1967

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 4

June 9 2007

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 1

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 2

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 3

How did Toynbee come to be the editor of the Blue Book? What were his subsequent feelings about his wartime work?

Walker, op cit, tells us that Lord Bryce spoke first on the Armenian massacres on July 28. Bryce asked the government for confirmation of the information he had received concerning

“what is supposed to have been done in eastern Asia Minor, Armenia and elsewhere; but from what information has reached me I have little doubt that terrible massacres have been committed. This information comes partly from Tiflis, partly from Petrograd, and partly from Constantinople to Switzerland and Paris. The stories are that all through Armenia in the Taurus mountains and north-eastwards towards the Russian and Persian frontiers, and particularly in the districts of Zeitun, Moush, Diyarbekir and Bitlis, there have been extensive massacres …

“According to my information there was, at Moush in particular, a very extensive massacre; at another place all the male population that could be seized were brought out and shot, and the women and children to the number of 9,000 were taken to the banks of the Tigris and thrown into the river and drowned. Similar horrors are reported from the other places …”

Walker is quoting Hansard (which is shown here as quoted, though his proof-readers are unreliable).

The Marquis of Crewe replied for the government. Toynbee’s biographer William McNeill says that

“attention to the fate of the Armenians became a war issue in Britain after 6 October 1915 when Lord Bryce made a [second] speech in the House of Lords deploring the forced removals and attendant massacres then beginning in the central and eastern part of Anatolia. His information came mainly from American missionaries who had established a number of schools and medical centers in Turkey during the nineteenth century. Though the initial missionary goal had been to convert Moslems, in fact Armenians and other Christians were their principal clients. When the Turkish government decided, as a war measure, to uproot millions of Armenians, who were suspected (with considerable reason) of disloyalty to the Ottoman regime, the missionaries were therefore firsthand witnesses. They were completely appalled by the unofficial massacres that preceded and accompanied compulsory removal of the Armenian population to distant and inhospitable borderlands. But until 1917, when the United States became a belligerent, Turkish authorities dared not interfere with resident American missionaries, who therefore continued to favour Lord Bryce, and anyone else who was in the least sympathetic, with long and detailed reports of what was happening.”

The American missionaries told their stories. Turks have argued that too much credence was given at the time to these tales.

Bryce, October 6, according to Walker:

“The whole population of a town was cleared out, to begin with. Some of the men were thrown into prison; the rest of the men, with the women and children, were marched out of the town. When they had got some little distance they were separated, the men being taken to some place among the hills where the soldiers or the Kurds dispatched them by shooting or bayoneting. The women and children and older men were sent off under convoy of the lowest kind of soldiers – many of them drawn from gaols – to their distant destination, which was sometimes one of the unhealthy districts in the centre of Asia Minor, but more frequently the large desert east of Aleppo, in the direction of the Euphrates. They were driven by the soldiers day after day; many fell by the way and many died of hunger. No provisions were given them by the Turkish government, and they were robbed of everything they possessed, and in many cases the women were stripped naked and made to travel on in that condition. Many of the women went mad and threw away their children, being unable to carry them further. The caravan route was marked by a line of corpses, and comparatively few seem to have arrived at the destination which was stated for them. […]

“To give your lordships one instance of the way in which these massacres were carried out, it may suffice to refer to the case of Trebizond, a case vouched for by the Italian consul [Signor Gorrini (square brackets in Walker’s original)] who was present when the slaughter was carried out, his country not having then declared war against Turkey. Orders came from Constantinople that all the Armenian Christians were to be killed. Many of the Muslims tried to save their Christian neighbours and offered them shelter in their houses, but the Turkish authorities were implacable. Obeying the orders which they had received, they hunted out all the Christians, gathered them together, and drove them down the streets of Trebizond past the fortress, to the edge of the sea. There they were all put out on sailing boats, carried out some distance on the Black Sea, and there thrown overboard and drowned. The whole Armenian population of from 8,000 to 10,000 was destroyed in that way in one afternoon.”

Walker goes on: “Bryce emphasized that Islamic extremism had no part to play in the events – though leading Muslims did not intervene to prevent them. Nor had there been any anti-Turkish insurrection on the part of the Armenians. Armenian volunteers had fought in the volunteer regiments which had been formed in Transcaucasia; but the vast majority of them were Armenians from the Russian empire. The Ottoman government had no excuse for its anti-Armenian policy. It seemed to be simply carrying out the maxim of Sultan Abdul Hamid: ‘The way to get rid of the Armenian question is to get rid of the Armenians.’”

On May 1 1915 Toynbee, who had previously been teaching at Balliol and writing a large book called Nationality and the War, which was published on April 1, began working for a new Foreign Office bureau in London, unnamed by him and his biographer in the sources I have seen (except by Toynbee as the “Mendacity Bureau”), whose job was to influence American public opinion on the war.

McNeill: “In October 1915 his propaganda work took a new turn.” He quotes from a letter to Gilbert Murray of October 25:

They have turned over to me Bryce’s evidence about the Armenians, to make up into a report. It is quite beyond one’s range – the horrors of it I mean. … There can’t have been anything like it since Assyria.

Toynbee makes the same Assyrian comparison in his book about the German deportations of Belgians in 1916-17 (which also contained a statement by Bryce):

This systematic, wholesale deportation of a people has no precedent since the Assyrian deportations of the eighth century B.C. Its only parallel in contemporary history is the Turkish deportation of the Armenians in 1915 – a crime committed, with Germany’s implicit approval, by Germany’s ally.

Toynbee met Bryce at his flat at Buckingham Gate. Bryce was in his late seventies, but, by Toynbee’s and others’ accounts, a youthful figure. He had been a cabinet minister in Gladstone’s second and fourth ministries and in Rosebery’s and Campbell-Bannerman’s, each time briefly, and Britain’s Ambassador to Washington from 1907 to ’13. He had climbed Mount Ararat (then, I think, in Russian territory) in 1876. Above all, he was the author of The Holy Roman Empire (1864, many times revised), whose splendid opening paragraph I quoted, with a frivolous interpolation of my own, here.

Toynbee took his work with deep seriousness. McNeill:

“[Bryce and Toynbee] were both deeply committed to liberal values, including truthfulness, and made systematic and sustained efforts to be sure that everything they reported about events in Anatolia was indeed correct. […] Over 700 pages in length, [the Blue Book] constitutes an unusual example of war propaganda, since Toynbee was at pains to make sure that each case he recorded was in fact true. He sometimes withheld particulars about his informants, especially when they were Armenians; but he systematically tried to evaluate the reliability of any given piece of information. Consequently, the bulky tome is, in fact, a scholarly compilation, however ugly its subject matter, and the accuracy of Toynbee’s account of the destruction of the Armenians has never been questioned.”

His day to day work also seems to have succeeded. According to Wikipedia, The New York Times published 145 articles on the Armenian massacres in 1915.

At the same time, Toynbee came to regret the tone of his wartime polemical writing. His Turkey, A Past and a Future, from which I quoted in four posts recently about the “birth of Turkish nationalism”, is written in the language of its time. We read about “the Turk”, the “Ottoman pretension”, etc.

As Walker says: “The use of accounts of atrocities as propaganda does not make them ipso facto untrue.” Toynbee’s post-war writing would be different. He was conscious of having grown up in an “atmosphere of animosity against Islam and against the Turks” and that this had affected the tone of his work. The chapter from which I quoted from a much later book, Acquaintances, is, in a way, an expiation, and pays loving and detailed homage to his Turkish friends.

McNeill says of Nationality and the War (1915), the book he completed in Oxford before coming down to London to do propaganda work: “The book leaves an odd impression now, after more than seventy years, during which two world wars have come and gone and the sovereignty of Western Europe over most of the earth has disappeared. Its spirit is that of Liberal, upper class Edwardian England, combining a concern for principle with a sublime confidence that enlightened English opinion, and the benevolent interests of the British Empire, would (or at least ought to) prevail.”

McNeill analyses Toynbee’s changing political feelings during the war, and looks, sensitively, at how Toynbee’s feeling of guilt at not having fought (his medical rejection was more or less engineered) affected his life and his writings. There is a case for seeing the entire Study of History as an expiation. He was not sympathetic afterwards (or, at root, even then) with British imperial aims and would have to question for the rest of his life the basis of a society which had made the catastrophe of 1914 possible.

McNeill says (above) that the Turks had “considerable reason” to be suspicious of the Armenians. That seems to lean more towards a Turkish position than Toynbee did.

He says that “what was left out [of the Blue Book] was why the Turks distrusted and disliked Armenian and other Christian minorities so much”. But he does not say what the reasons were. Was it because they were a fifth column? He adds that Toynbee’s “sympathies [later], in fact, reversed themselves, partly, at least, because he felt he had been unjust to the Turks, and needed to make atonement. At the time, however, though the human depravity he described was deeply repugnant to him, his conscience was clear. Emphatic denunciation of Turkish barbarity seemed fully justified, based as it was on carefully evaluated evidence.”

In what way reversed themselves? In what way did that reversal determine his attitude to the events of 1918-23? I will try to answer that later.

“Vituperative denunciation of the Turks, and of their presumed German masters, formed the substance of a series of [actually, I think, two] shorter propaganda pamphlets that Toynbee prepared along the way.” The Armenian Atrocities, The Murder of a Nation (1915) appears in the Bibliography here. The other, “The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks” (with a Preface by Bryce, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917) is too short to meet the criterion I have set for inclusion. Those pamphlets, McNeill suggests, “were rather more deserving of the regret Toynbee later felt for his participation in the wartime distortion of truth”.

McNeill seems to want it both ways: there is a “wartime distortion of truth”, but the Blue Book was a “scholarly compilation”.

Virginia Woolf recorded an impression of Toynbee’s dinner-table conversation in her diary in January 1918: “Arnold outdid me in anti-nationalism, anti-patriotism, and anti-militarism […] .” (Quoted by McNeill.) Toynbee became a member of the Labour Party in 1918. I do not know how long he remained one.

On November 16 1915 the Armenian question was discussed in the House of Commons. Walker quotes from a speech by the Liberal MP for Durham North-West, Aneurin Williams, which mentions the number, still quoted today, of 800,000 killed. That, incidentally, is roughly the number of victims of the Rwandan genocide. There was no awareness of that time of genocides on this scale: the word genocide did not yet exist. But Williams said:

“The Turkish authorities within the little time of five months proceeded systematically to exterminate a whole race out of their dominions. […]

“Since [the Lords] debate took place, later details have come in from many sources, from German and Swiss missionaries, from escaped refugees, from Europeans in Asiatic Turkey, and from sources of all kinds, and all supporting one another in the most astonishing way, so that the facts all hang together and so that, while it is impossible to be certain of this or that detail, there is no doubt whatever of the broad lines of the occurrences. They are not general statements, but are statements from different quarters, describing what happened at particular places at particular times, with the names of the people who suffered and with the names of the people who inflicted those horrors.”

Williams goes on to give his own account of methods and procedure. He asks what the “destinations” were for the Armenain deportees.

“They were humorously called by the Turkish authorities agricultural colonies.They were, as a matter of fact, places in horrible swamps, or in some cases desert places where there was no water and no possibility of cultivation … They arrived in a perishing condition, and there those who are not yet dead are probably dying rapidly.”

In the same debate another speaker took issue with the idea that British agents had encouraged the Armenians to rise in revolt. I do not know whether there is any evidence for this. It would have been entirely consistent with British policy elsewhere in the near east.

A UN convention on genocide defines it as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Toynbee wrote several other pamphlets or books on atrocities: The Destruction of Poland: A Study in German Efficiency (1916), The Belgian Deportations (1917), The German Terror in Belgium (1917) and The German Terror in France (1917). The first is too short for inclusion in the Bibliography here.

Letter to Robert Darbishire, September 16 1917:

Thank heaven I have done with atrocities. There is a “Terror in France” out to complete that damned “Terror in Belgium”, but that is the last.

Four months earlier he had been assigned to a newly-established Political Intelligence Department in the Foreign Office. This later took him through to an advisory role at the Paris peace conference.

The Blue Book must have been superseded by later accounts which have had access to better material. A new edition, edited by Ara Sarafian, has been published by The Gomidas Institute, an Armenian group based (or partly based) in the UK. Here is a link to their page about it, which says:

“The original publication was full of blanks: the names of many people and places were obscured in order to safeguard sources still in the Ottoman Empire. The names remain obscured in facsimile editions that have been published over the years. Now Sarafian has restored the obscured names. […]

“Sarafian has located Toynbee’s original manuscript, Toynbee’s correspondence with his sources, and most of the original reports, which were copied and sent to London. They can still be found at the Public Record Office (Kew), Bodleian Library (Oxford), National Archives (Washington, D.C.), Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.), and the Houghton Library (Cambridge, Mass.). He has established that the compilers were meticulous in their verification of sources.” The edition is part of the Institute’s Armenian Genocide Documentation Series.

There seem to be too few popular accounts which do not serve a partisan purpose. Many of the major modern studies which refer to a genocide seem to be written by Armenians, but there is at least one popular study by a Turk, Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act. Vahakn N Dadrian’s The History of the Armenian Genocide seems to be important. So does Peter Balakian’s The Burning Tigris.

I doubt whether Toynbee had heard in 1917 of Armin Wegner (1886-1978), German expressionist writer, activist, photographer and recorder of two holocausts: and one of the principal witnesses of what happened to the Armenians when the nationalist government of Turkey had its back to the wall.

Armin Wegner

William H McNeill, Arnold Toynbee, A Life, New York, OUP, 1989

The Belgian Deportations, with a Statement by Viscount Bryce, T Fisher Unwin, 1917

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 3

June 8 2007

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 1

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 2

1915: Armenian men in Harput being marched to prison shortly before they were shot. Public domain image published soon after the event by the American Red Cross.

HH Asquith, Guildhall, November 1916:

“I remember, years ago, acclaiming with premature and, as events have proved, ill-founded satisfaction the triumph of what was called the Young Turk movement over the spy-ridden and blood-stained tyranny of Abdul Hamid. We hoped in those days for the regeneration of the Ottoman empire from within. Our hopes have been falsified and frustrated, and I believe we all now realize that the continuance of Turkish rule in Europe, where the Turk has always been a stranger and an intruder, has already come to mean, and if it is allowed to persist will increasingly mean, that the Turk is there only as a vassal and a subservient agent of German interest and ambitions.

“Allow me to give you one practical illustration, and it is a very tragic one. Among the enslaved races who have suffered most from the Ottoman domination are the Armenians, the wholesale massacre of whom during the last two years has shocked the entire civilized and Christian world. In our own country, in Russia, and I believe even more in the United States of America, the incredible sufferings of this nation have aroused profound sympathy, and all three countries have raised large sums for their relief and their repatriation in the future. I need not say that His Majesty’s Government look with profound sympathy on these efforts, and are resolved that after the war there shall be an era of liberty and redemption for this ancient people.”

We were saying that to the Arabs, too. Quoted in Christopher J Walker, Visions of Ararat, Writings on Armenia (London, 1997). His source is The Times (London), November 10 1916.

The Armenian population was divided between Turkey and Russia. The allegation is that between 1915 and 1918, but especially during 1915, between 300,000 (the number most Turks accept) and 1.5 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire, mainly in eastern Anatolia, were massacred. Armenians from every town with a significant Armenian population were either massacred or deported towards southern borderlands as far as possible from the border with Russia.

That the killings amounted to a state-directed genocide is widely accepted, but is denied by the Turkish state. The official Turkish position is that Armenians were killed, but not in the numbers claimed; that it was not a centrally-planned genocide; and that many died during the deportations from disease or malnutrition caused by the ordinary circumstances of a war. Most people agree that religious fanaticism had little or nothing to do with the killings.

Walker refers to Toynbee’s essay A Summary of Armenian History up to and including the Year 1915, which appears in the Blue Book. Three main arguments, Toynbee says, are cited by supporters of the Ottoman Turkish position. The first is that in April 1915 the Armenians revolted in Van, on the eastern shore of Lake Van, while the Russians were invading eastern Anatolia. Toynbee points out that the deportations began before the events in Van, which anyway were not a revolt, but legitimate self-defence. (Walker misquotes Toynbee: quotations are correct here, assuming the correctness of the Blue Book text which is online.)

The Turks fired the first shot at Van on the 20th April, 1915; the first Armenians were deported from Zeitoun on the 8th April, and there is a record of their arrival in Syria as early as the 19th.

Moreover, the deportation from Zeitoun must have been premeditated, since Turkish immigrants from Thrace (known as mujahirs) were ready and waiting to take over the property of the deportees once they had moved off.

The second point was that there was a general conspiracy of Armenians throughout the Ottoman empire to support an Allied attack. This, too, said Toynbee, was baseless. Revolution was alleged to have been plotted in Cilicia, but no Allied landing was made there. When a landing was made in the Dardanelles, there was no outbreak. Anyway, most Armenian able-bodied men were serving in the Ottoman army. The arms held by the Armenians were not supplies of bombs, destined for an uprising, but the “moderate number of rifles and revolvers” that they had been permitted to bear since the Young Turkish revolution of 1908.

The third was that the Armenians had enlisted in volunteer regiments in the Russian Caucasus. Toynbee points out that most of those were Armenians already from Russia, since Armenia was a country divided between two empires.

It is a misfortune for any nation to be divided between two allegiances, especially when the states to which they owe them elect to go to war; but it is at least an alleviation of the difficulty, and one that does honour to both parties concerned, when either fraction of the divided nationality finds itself in sympathy, even under the test of war, with the particular state to which its allegiance is legally due. The loyalty of the Russian Armenians to Russia casts no imputation upon the Ottoman Armenians, and was no concern of the Turks.

Toynbee then reminds his readers of the fact that the Armenian Danshak party, on the eve of war, resolved not to throw its lot in with either side in the war.

The various Turkish contentions thus fail, from first to last, to meet the point. They all attempt to trace the atrocities of 1915 to events arising out of the war; but they not only cannot justify them on this ground, they do not even suggest any adequate motive for their perpetration. It is evident that the war was merely an opportunity and not a cause – in fact, that the deportation scheme, and all that it involved, flowed inevitably from the general policy of the Young Turkish Government.

Toynbee, Walker tells us, then proceeds with an analysis of the political tenets of the Young Turkish government, “tracing the change from the cynical vacuities of Sultan Abdul Hamid to the chauvinistic excesses of Turkey’s [later] rulers”. In a series of earlier posts (“The birth of Turkish nationalism”) I quote another account by Toynbee of the evolution of the political attitudes of the Young Turks between 1908 and 1915.

Over and over again, nationalists in the twentieth century turned communities against each other which had previously lived together peacefully. Under the Ottoman millet system, the Armenians had lived as a legally protected religious minority group.

After its victory over the Ottoman Empire in the war of 1877–78, Russia took control of a large swathe of territory inhabited by Armenians, but ceded much of it after signing the Treaty of Berlin. The Russians claimed that they were the protectors of Christians within the Ottoman Empire. The decline of the Ottoman government during the following years led many Armenians to believe that they could gain independence. There were massacres of Armenians in 1894, against which Gladstone railed. At first, some Armenian political organisations supported the Young Turks, hoping for a change for the better. Some Armenians were elected to the newly restored Ottoman Parliament. Gabriel Noradoungian was elected by members of Parliament to serve briefly as the foreign minister.

But from 1910-1912 the leadership of the Young Turks split into several parts led by two main factions: one, known as the Liberal Union, remained committed to liberalising the country and establishing equal status among all minorities; the other, the Committee of Union and Progress, was more radical and racist in its views and was headed by a triumvirate: Ismail Enver, Mehmed Talat Pasha and Ahmed Djemal. The CUP rejected the Liberal Union’s ideals and assumed full leadership of the country after assassinating the Minister of War, Nazim Pasha, a Union member, in January 1913.

In November 1914, Ottoman gunboats attacked Russian naval bases and shipping in the Black Sea and the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of the Central Powers. In November 1914, Enver, now Minister of War, launched a disastrous military campaign against Russian forces in the Caucasus, described earlier, hoping to capture Baku. Nearly 90% of the Ottoman Third Army was destroyed by Russian forces in the Battle of Sarikamis and many more froze to death after Enver issued a retreat order in January 1915. Returning to Istanbul, Enver accused the Armenians living in the region of having sided with the Russians. In 1914, the Ottoman Empire’s War Office had already begun a propaganda drive to present Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire as a liability and threat to the country’s security.

We need not be surprised at what happened when we look at the Young Turkish ideology. When nationalists of the hue of that Turkish triumvirate are in power, things like this happen, though the Armenian killings are often regarded as the first modern genocide.

Even today, many Turkish historians are unable or unwilling to criticise their state, or even a nationalist regime in the state which preceded theirs.

Turks had not needed nationalism before 1910: though I suspect that Toynbee’s account in the four earlier posts leaves out some of the CUP’s antecedents and has it emerging too much out of the blue.

English liberals were not prepared, though they were hearing of the German record in Belgium and France and of Russian actions in the Pale, for news of barbarities on such a scale. They “thought that the worst rogues and rascals had died out”.

Editor, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Viscount Bryce, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Stoughton and His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1916, online here

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 2

May 31 2007

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 1

The Blue Book, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16, aka Miscellaneous No. 3 (1916), contains a section called A Summary of Armenian History up to and including the Year 1915. I will serialise it later. It begins:

The War has brought us into a new relation with Armenia and the Armenian people. We knew them before as the name of an ancient civilisation, a stubborn rearguard of Christendom in the East, a scene of mission work and massacres and international rivalry; but only a few of us – missionaries, geographers, travellers and an occasional newspaper correspondent – were personally acquainted with the country and its inhabitants. To most people they remained a name, and when we read of their sufferings or traditions or achievements they made little more impression than the doings of the Hittites and Assyrians, who moved across the same Near Eastern amphitheatre several millenniums (sic) ago. We had no living contact, no natural relation, with Armenia in our personal or even in our political life.

Such a relation has suddenly been created between us by the War, and it is one of the strangest ironies of war that it fuses together and illuminates the very fabric it destroys. The civilisation in which we lived was like a labyrinth, so huge and intricate that none of the dwellers in it could altogether grasp its structure, while most of them were barely conscious that it had any structural design at all. But now that the War has caught it and it is all aflame, the unity and symmetry of the building are revealed to the common eye. As the glare lights it up from end to end, it stands out in its glory, in matchless outline and perspective; for the first time (and possibly for the last) we see its parts simultaneously and in proper relation, and realise for one moment the marvel and mystery of this civilisation that is perishing – the subtle, immemorial, unrelaxing effort that raised it up and maintained it, and the impossibility of improvising any equivalent structure in its place. Then the fire masters its prey; the various parts of the labyrinth fall in one by one, the light goes out of them, and nothing is left but smoke and ashes. This is the catastrophe that we are witnessing now, and we do not yet know whether it will be possible to repair it. But if the future is not so dark as it appears, and what has perished can in some measure be restored, our best guide and inspiration in the task will be that momentary, tragic, unique vision snatched out of the catastrophe itself.

The Armenians are not protagonists in the War; they bear none of the guilt for its outbreak and can have little share in the responsibility of building up a better future. But they have been seared more cruelly than any of us by the flames, and, under this fiery ordeal, their individual character as a nation and their part in the community of the civilised world have been thrown into their true relief.

For the first time, England and the Armenians are genuinely in touch with one another. In this desperate struggle between freedom and reaction we are fighting on the same side, striving for the same end. Our lot in the struggle has not, indeed, been the same, for while England is able to act as well as to suffer, the Armenians have suffered with hardly the power to strike a blow. But this difference of external fortune only strengthens the inward moral bond; for we, who are strong, are fighting not merely for this or that political advantage, this or that territorial change, but for a principle. The Powers of the Entente have undertaken the championship of small nationalities that cannot champion themselves. We have solemnly acknowledged our obligation to fulfil our vow in the case of Belgium and Serbia, and now that the Armenians have been overtaken by a still worse fate than the Serbians and the Belgians, their cause, too, has been taken up into the general cause of the Allies. We cannot limit our field in doing battle for our ideal.

It is easier, of course, for the people of France, Great Britain and America to sympathise with Belgium than with a more unfamiliar nation in a distant zone of the War. It needs little imagination to realise acutely that the Belgians are “people like ourselves,” suffering all that we should suffer if the same atrocities were committed upon us; and this realisation was made doubly easy by the speedy publication of minute, abundant, first-hand testimony. The Armenians have no such immediate access to our sympathies, and the initial unfamiliarity can only be overcome by a personal effort on the part of those who give ear to their case; but the evidence on which that case rests has been steadily accumulating, until now it is scarcely less complete or less authoritative than the evidence relating to Belgium. The object of the present volume has been to present the documents to English and American readers in as accurate and orderly a form as possible.

Armenia has not been without witness in her agony. Intense suffering means intense emotional experience, and this emotion has found relief in written records of the intolerable events which obsessed the witnesses’ memories. Some of the writers are Armenians, a larger number are Americans and Europeans who were on the spot, and who were as poignantly affected as the victims themselves. There are a hundred and forty-nine of these documents, and many of them are of considerable length; but in their total effect they are something more than an exhaustive catalogue of the horrors they set out to describe. The flames of war illuminate the structure of the building as well as the destruction of it, and the testimony extorted under this fiery ordeal gives an extraordinarily vivid impression of Armenian life – the life of plain and mountain, town and village, intelligenzia (sic) and bourgeoisie and peasantry – at the moment when it was overwhelmed by the European catastrophe.

In Armenia, though not in Europe, the flames have almost burnt themselves out, and, for the moment, we can see nothing beyond smoke and ashes. Life will assuredly spring up again when the ashes are cleared away, for attempts to exterminate nations by atrocity, though certain of producing almost infinite human suffering, have seldom succeeded in their ulterior aim. But in whatever shape the new Armenia arises, it will be something utterly different from the old. The Armenians have been a very typical element in that group of humanity which Europeans call the “Near East,” but which might equally well be called the “Near West” from the Indian or the Chinese point of view. There has been something pathological about the history of this Near Eastern World. It has had an undue share of political misfortunes, and had lain for centuries in a kind of spiritual paralysis between East and West – belonging to neither, partaking paradoxically of both, and wholly unable to rally itself decidedly to one or the other, when it was involved with Europe in the European War. The shock of that crowning catastrophe seems to have brought the spiritual neutrality of the Near East to a violent end, and however dubious the future of Europe may be, it is almost certain that it will be shared henceforth by all that lies between the walls of Vienna and the walls of Aleppo and Tabriz. This final gravitation towards Europe may be a benefit to the Near East or another chapter in its misfortunes – that depends on the condition in which Europe emerges from the War; but, in either case, it will be a new departure in its history. It has been drawn at last into a stronger orbit, and will travel on its own paralytic, paradoxical course no more. This gives a historical interest to any record of Near Eastern life in the last moments of the Ancient Régime, and these Armenian documents supply a record of a very intimate and characteristic kind. The Near East has never been more true to itself than in its lurid dissolution; past and present are fused together in the flare.

Editor, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon by Viscount Bryce, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Stoughton and His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1916, online here

Toynbee, Turkey and Armenia 1

May 23 2007

The Turks who read the preceding four posts must read this one too. The last four were from a book Toynbee published in 1917 called Turkey, A Past and a Future. It refers to the Armenian massacres. But his main work on the Armenian question is in The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Viscount Bryce, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Stoughton and His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1916. Here again is a link to this.

This was a Blue Book, a kind of UK parliamentary paper, presented in this case to the Foreign Office. It was compiled in the context of a war, so of course it had the function of propaganda. It may irritate Turks that the main set of documents produced about the killings at the time was produced in this way, or perhaps it consoles them, but it could not have been otherwise.

This is from Toynbee’s Acquaintances, published in 1967, fifty years after Turkey, A Past and a Future. In it there is chapter on Lord Bryce and another called Some Turkish Friends. He reminds us that the Armenians were seen as a fifth column. From Some Turkish Friends:

[…] It will be seen that I have had many Turkish friends, and some of them close friends. How did I come to enter into these personal relations with Turks? The ultimate origin of these Turkish friendships of mine lies in the work that I did for Lord Bryce in compiling the United Kingdom Blue Book on the treatment of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. The study of genocide set me moving along a road that led to my making friends with fellow-countrymen of the criminals by whom the genocide had been committed. This may sound like a non sequitur, so I will trace the steps that carried me from the starting-point to the end of this voyage of exploration. It was a mental voyage and, as I see it now in retrospect, a spiritual one too; for, in essence, it was an inquiry into the mystery of human nature.

The collection and collation of the evidence from which the Blue Book was compiled had occupied most of my working time for a number of months; and, after the Blue Book had been published, I could not dismiss its contents from my mind. I was not only haunted by the victims’ sufferings and by the criminals’ deeds; I was exercised by the question how it could be possible for human beings to do what those perpetrators of genocide had done. There were features of the story that were enlightening. It was evident that the criminals had not been the Armenians’ local Turkish neighbours. For the most part, these had looked on passively. (Of course, that was bad enough.) In a few cases there was evidence that the local Turks had done what they could to protect and help their Armenian friends. The deportations had been carried out by orders from the Government at Istanbul, and the orders had been executed by gendarmes and soldiers who had no personal connexion with the localities. These facts suggested that human beings were not inclined to commit atrocities on fellow human beings with whom they were personally acquainted. If one is going to behave atrociously to other human beings, one’s relation with one’s victims has to be impersonal. For instance, in Britain we had had to de-humanize our mental picture of the Germans by labelling them “Huns” in order to make our minds easy about killing “Huns” en masse. In the genocide of the Armenians the criminals had been members of the Committee of Union and Progress – above all, perhaps, Tal’at, the most intelligent of the ruling triumvirs [Tal’at, Jemâl, Enver]. But how had those three men brought themselves to commit their fearful crime? Only eight years before, the Committee of Union and Progress had overthrown Sultan ’Abd-al-Hamîd II’s autocratic rule with the programme of transforming the Turkish Empire into a democratic commonwealth in which all the component religions and nationalities were henceforward to enjoy equal rights. The revolution of 1908 in Turkey had caught my attention at the time, and it had appealed to my imagination. In fact, it was the event that had led me to take an interest in current international affairs. In the course of the eight years 1908-15, the leaders of the C.U.P. had apparently degenerated from being idealists into becoming ogres. How was one to account for this sinister metamorphosis?

A pertinent point here was that the triumvirate’s motives in setting out to exterminate the Ottoman Armenians had been not only impersonal but political. Since the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8, the Armenian diaspora in the north-eastern territories of the Ottoman Empire had been nursing political ambitions. Like the Greek diaspora farther to the west in Anatolia, the Armenians had been hoping to be able, one day, to carve out a successor-state of the Ottoman Empire for themselves. These Greek and Armenian political aspirations had not been legitimate; for the diasporas were minorities scattered among a Turkish majority. Their aspirations did not merely threaten to break up the Turkish Empire; they could not be fulfilled without doing grave injustice to the Turkish people itself. For Turkey, the Armenian question had come to a head after Turkey’s intervention in the First World War, when the Russians had defeated an abortive Turkish invasion of Russian Transcaucasia and had successfully invaded North-Eastern Turkey. The Turkish authorities now found that the local Armenian diaspora might serve the Russian invaders as what we have since learnt to call a “fifth column”. They therefore decided to deport the Armenians from the war-zone, and this, in itself, might pass for a legitimate security-measure. In similar circumstances, other governments have taken similar action. The United States Government, for instance, deported the Japanese-American diaspora from the Pacific slope to the Mississippi basin after Japan had attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor; and, in that deportation too, misdemeanours were committed. The Japanese-American deportees were cheated and robbed on a large scale. In Turkey, however, in 1915, the Ottoman Armenian deportees were not only robbed; the deportations were deliberately conducted with a brutality that was calculated to take the maximum toll of lives en route. This was the C.U.P.’s crime; and my study of it left an impression on my mind that was not effaced by the still more cold-blooded genocide, on a far larger scale, that was committed during the Second World War by the Nazi.

Any great crime – private or public, personal or impersonal – raises a question that transcends national limits; the question goes to the heart of human nature itself. My study of the genocide that had been committed in Turkey in 1915 brought home to me the reality of Original Sin. Human nature has in it an inherent vein of abominable wickedness; but then it also has in it an inherent vein of lovable goodness too. Every human soul is a battlefield on which these two irreconcilable spiritual forces are perpetually contending for the mastery. The moral inconsistency of human nature is a mystery that each of us must try to probe – and this not just to satisfy an intellectual curiosity, but in order to grapple with Original Sin with intent to subdue it. One must probe human nature in oneself; one must probe it in one’s neighbours; and, among my own neighbours, I, in my case, must begin with my Turkish neighbours. The Turkish criminals – Tal’at, Jemâl, Enver, and their agents – were only a minority of the Turkish people; yet this was the people from which those criminals had sprung. I must not, however, rest content with a study of the Turkish people in the mass. I must not forget the dehumanizing effect of collective labels [my italics]. If I was to get to know human nature in Turkish embodiments of it, I must get to know live Turkish men and women individually, and I must meet each of them as one of my fellow human beings, of like passions with myself. I held on to this resolve till my release from war-work gave me time to begin putting my intention into effect.

My first step was to start to learn the Turkish language. One cannot get very far in making contact with people whose language is a different one from one’s own unless one can communicate with them, however haltingly, in at least a smattering of their mother tongue. So, as soon as I had a don’s margin of leisure once again in the Koraïs Chair at the University of London, I enrolled myself as a student of Turkish at the London School of Oriental and African Studies; and this brought me my first Turkish friend, the School’s lecturer in Turkish, ’Alî Rizâ Bey.

Long afterwards, I heard from the Director of the School, Sir Denison Ross, what ’Alî Rizâ Bey’s first reaction had been when he had found my name on the list of his next batch of students. ’Alî Rizâ had gone straight to the Director and had told him that he was unwilling to accept as a pupil a man who had been a party to producing a book that showed him to be an enemy of ’Alî Rizâ’s country. The Director’s reply had been: “If you do refuse to teach Professor Toynbee Turkish, you will be showing a lack of faith in your country. If you truly believe in your country, as I am sure you do, you will be confident that someone who seems to you to be prejudiced against your country will change his mind on better acquaintance with it. In being asked to teach Professor Toynbee Turkish, you are being offered an opportunity of helping him to change his mind. A language is the door to an understanding of the people who speak it. In seeking to learn Turkish, isn’t Professor Toynbee showing a wish to become better acquainted with the Turks?” ’Alî Rizâ had seen the force of Sir Denison Ross’s argument. He had waived his objection; and, when I turned up, he gave no sign of the hostility that he had felt towards me before meeting me. He must soon have realized that my wish to make closer acquaintance with Turks was sincere. Our work together resulted in a lasting friendship.

Sir Denison Ross’s advice to ’Alî Rizâ had obviously been wise in itself. It had also been based on a first-hand acquaintance with me. Sir Denison’s mother had lived in Upper Westbourne Terrace, only a few doors off from Uncle Harry and my parents; and, when I was a boy, I had seen something of Denison during his tours of home leave from India. (He had been appointed to the headship of a madrasa by the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, who had a high opinion of his abilities.) Denison Ross had sometimes let me help him to sort out his books and papers; and I had learnt a great deal from these, and still more from casual conversations with him. He had the gift of tongues, and he also had a lively intellectual curiosity, especially about anything to do with Asia.

My lessons in Turkish with ’Alî Rizâ were part of my preparations for my second step, which was to visit the Graeco-Turkish war-zone [in 1921] as the Manchester Guardian’s correspondent. I planned, as a matter of course, to see things in the Levant from both sides. This would be my professional duty towards the Guardian, and it would anyway have been my own impulse. I had taken to heart, long since, the precept Audi alteram partem; and I had interpreted the words alteram partem, not as meaning just “the other party’s case”, but as meaning particularly the case that, of the two, was the more in danger of not being given a fair hearing. I had already taken the measure of the propaganda advantage that is gained by a party that captures a monopoly of the telling of the tale. I had realized that we saw the Persians through the Greeks’ eyes, the Spartans and Boeotians through the Athenians’ eyes, the Philistines and Phoenicians through the Israelites’ eyes. If one was to see straight, one must also see things from the mute party’s point of view; one must not let the vocal party have the last word as well as the first. In the present conflict and controversy between Greeks and Turks, the Greeks were the vocal party once again. The Greeks had the ear of the West, and the West was in the ascendant in the world. I was familiar with the Greeks’ case; I felt that it could take care of itself; the Turks’ case was the one that I must take pains to understand. So, after I had looked at the Graeco-Turkish war from the Greek side of the front, I went to Turkey to look at it from the Turkish side in turn.

In Turkey I ran up against the barrier that I should have met with in ’Alî Rizâ if, in his case, Sir Denison Ross had not lowered the barrier for me in advance. I found that the Turks whom I now approached regarded me with hostility and suspicion. I had worked for Lord Bryce on that Blue Book, and, to Turkish minds, “Bryce” was almost as bad a name as “Gladstone” [who had denounced previous massacres of Armenians in 1896]. I was a professor of Modern Greek studies. I had just come from a visit to the Greek army that was trespassing on Turkish soil. Worst of all, I was the representative of that Gladstonian English newspaper the Manchester Guardian. I had a number of unprofitable interviews with the director of the Istanbul Red Crescent, Hâmid Bey. (This attractive but formidable man’s head was as huge and square as Namier’s and Ehrlich’s.) One day, Hâmid Bey suddenly challenged me to board, that very evening, a Red Crescent ship that was going to Yalova, on the Marmara coast of Anatolia, to evacuate Turkish refugees. Yalova was under Greek military occupation, and there had been a massacre of the local Turkish population by local Greeks and Armenians. Hâmid Bey was surprised when I jumped at this opportunity of seeing things from the Turkish side; he was more surprised when, after returning to Istanbul, I showed him the text of the telegram, reporting what I had seen, that I had sent to the Manchester Guardian; he was most surprised of all when he received a copy of the issue of the Guardian in which my dispatch was printed. I can still see the scene in the Red Crescent’s office: big Hâmid Bey with the English newspaper in his hands, and his colleagues crowding round, with radiant faces. Their case was being put in Britain at last.

I had convinced the Turks of my good faith, and I had won a number of Turkish friends in the process. In the act, I had forfeited the good opinion of the Greeks. In their eyes, I was now a traitor; and, no doubt, if some British Islamic scholar – say, Sir Thomas Arnold – had visited the Graeco-Turkish war-zone and had come to the conclusion that the Greeks were in the right, the Turks would have reacted against him as the Greeks reacted against me. To convince the Greeks of my good faith would hardly be possible. It was going to be a hard enough task, when I came home, to persuade my countrymen to give a fair hearing to my presentation of the Turkish case.

I realized this In advance, because I remembered the atmosphere of animosity against Islam and against the Turks in which I had grown up. My parents were not partial to Roman Catholicism; but, after Uncle Harry had declared, at tea-time one day, that Muhammad had not been so bad as the Pope, my parents advised me privately afterwards that the Pope was really not so bad as all that. I remembered also how one day my father had come home from his work full of an interview that he had had with an Armenian refugee. My father was an officer of the Charity Organization Society; his job was to superintend the Society’s district offices in South London; and the Armenian had applied to the C.O.S. for financial assistance. This was in 1897, and this Armenian was one of those who had escaped from the massacre of Armenians that had just been perpetrated by Sultan ’Abd-al-Hâmid II. Afterwards, I had asked my mother about those Turks who had persecuted the Armenian whom Daddy had been helping, and my inquiry had drawn from her a denunciation of the Turks that went farther than Gladstone’s denunciation of them by a whole continent. When Gladstone had called for the expulsion of the Turks from Europe, “bag and baggage” [1876, following repression of Bulgarians], he had been willing to “let them go – to Asia where they belong”. Thus Gladstone, (though I did not know this yet) had abandoned to the Turks the largest of the continents, “Bible lands” and all. But, twenty years later than the date of Gladstone’s celebrated speech, my mother told me that Asia Minor was much too good a country for the Turks to have. At that time, all that I knew about the relations between Dâr-al-Islâm and Christendom was the story of the Crusades. Unlike Monsieur Clemenceau in 1919, I did already know in 1897 that, in the Crusades, the Christians had eventually been defeated. “I suppose the Christians are not powerful enough to turn the Turks out of Asia Minor,” I said. “Yes, they are,” said my mother, “they could turn them out any day if they wanted to. What keeps the Turks where they ought not to be is the Christian countries’ selfish rivalry with each other.” This incidental censure of my mother’s was my first introduction to the cynical and senseless international power-game that was to be the death of half my school and college friends and of millions more of my contemporaries. When, in Paris in 1919 and again in 1946, I was seeing, at close quarters, how the game was played, I found that my mother’s severe words had been an inadequate description of the reality.

When, in 1921, I had returned to London from my tour in the Levant, I asked Headlam-Morley whether he could arrange for me to be invited to be the speaker at one of the autumn meetings at Chatham House, in order that I might have an opportunity of describing my experiences to the members of the Institute [then British Institute of International Affairs] and of putting before them the case for the Turks. The meeting was held on 22 November 1921; Sir Arthur Evans took the chair for me; and he asked me to have dinner with him first. This was hospitable, but I was unhappy when, over the soup, he told me what he was going to say when he was introducing me to my audience. He was going to say that we and the Modern Greeks were co-heirs of the Ancient Greek civilization, and that we Western heirs of Ancient Greece ought to support people who shared this heritage with us against people who did not. I put it to him that the right criterion for passing judgement on a dispute was not one’s respective degrees of affinity with the disputants but was the rights and wrongs of the case; but Sir Arthur had made up his mind. When he opened the meeting he said just what he had told me that he was going to say, and his thesis drew loud applause. The chairman at a meeting on a controversial subject is expected to refrain from throwing his weight into either scale; but my chairman at this meeting had given Sisyphus’s stone a kick-off that had sent it rolling down from the top of the mountain right to the bottom, and I had to start rolling my stone up again on a steep adverse gradient of hostile prejudice. This was indeed uphill work.

Sir Arthur’s thesis was vulnerable both intellectually and morally. An Islamic scholar would have reminded Sir Arthur that the Muslims, too, were heirs of the Ancient Greek civilization. Where in the world in 1921 would one have found Aristotle’s authority still unchallenged and Hippocratic medicine still being practised? Not in Modern Greece and not in the West, but in Dâr-al-Islâm. And why had Sir Arthur failed to remind my audience that the Modern Greeks and we were co-heirs of a Jewish heritage besides our Ancient Greek one, and that the Muslims were co-heirs with us of this Jewish heritage too? Western Christians, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Muslims are all worshippers of a god whom the Jews, not the Ancient Greeks, made known to them. Christians and Muslims agree with Jews in regarding the Ancient Greeks as “pagans”, however much they may admire these “pagans’”, intellectual and artistic achievements. In Modern Greek, the word for “pagan” is “Hellene” – i.e. the name by which the Ancient Greeks had called themselves. These facts are damning for Sir Arthur’s thesis intellectually; but the intellectual untenability of the thesis is a secondary consideration; its primary fault is a moral one. The contention that one should support the party with whom one considers oneself to have the greatest cultural affinity can be seen, when analysed, to be a refined version of Stephen Decatur’s doctrine “our country, right or wrong”, and, when this is translated into more emotional terms, it becomes Hitler’s doctrine of “blood and soil”. In any form, refined or crude, the sacrifice of the claims of justice to ties of kinship is immoral. Hitler’s way of putting his and Sir Arthur’s common doctrine shows the doctrine up.

However, at the Chatham House meeting in the autumn of 1921, my talk was seriously prejudiced by Sir Arthur’s prelude to it. In putting the Turkish case in Britain, I had two formidable difficulties to contend with. The first was the traditional Christian prejudice against Muslims and Turks; the second was that, for all but a very small minority of my countrymen, the Turks were anonymous ogres. Like “the Huns” and “the Boers”, the “unspeakable” Turks had a pejorative collective label but no human personal names or countenances. Few people in Britain had any Ra’ûfs or Adnans or Halidés among their friends. In my experience the solvent of traditional prejudice has been personal acquaintance. When one becomes personally acquainted with a fellow human being, of whatever religion, nationality, or race, one cannot fail to recognize that he is human like oneself; but it would take time to weave a network of Turco-British personal friendships that would knit the two peoples together.

Acquaintances, OUP, 1967

The birth of Turkish nationalism 4

May 22 2007

The first paragraph here is practically a statement of British war aims.

This Nationalism, which dominates Turkey’s present, has also decided the question of her future. If such a movement has taken possession of the Osmanlis, the Osmanlis must lose possession of their Empire. Turkish Nationalism now directs the Ottoman Government, wields its pretensions, is master within its frontiers; and how does it use its mastery? To make a hell of Armenia and Syria, and to plot out new Macedonias in Persia and the heart of Russia. Thus Turkish Nationalism shows where the Turk is intolerable and must go, but it also shows where he has some right to stay.

There are innocent and constructive elements in it, as in all movements of the kind. As in Europe, it has forced open the Dead Hand of the Church. Under its influence the Ministry of Evkaf, which holds the enormous religious endowments of Turkey in trust, has turned its funds to the founding of a national bank and library, and the subsidising of a national architecture. It has also started elementary schools, like the voluntary schools supported by the Christian nationalities, in aid of the Ministry of Education; and it has taken up the reform of the Moslem seminaries (Medressés), which have been one of the strongholds of Turkish reaction. [As they are strongholds of reaction in Pakistan.] The welfare of Turkish students is a concern of the Nationalist society called Turk Ujaghi (the Turkish Family), founded in 1912, and now possessing sixteen branches in various provincial towns of Anatolia – only Turks may be members – with affiliated societies in the Caucasus and Turkestan. The Turk Ujaghi organises lantern lectures, lectures on mediaeval Anatolian art, and even lectures by a Turkish lady on Panturanianism and woman’s rights – she is said to have had Khodjas [footnote: Moslem religieux.] in her audience, and, if so, this certainly shows an unheard-of openness to new ideas on the part of the “Islamji.” Another society, the Turk Güji (Turkish Strength), encourages physical culture like the Slavonic Sokols, and there are Izdjis, or Turkish Boy-Scouts, under Enver Bey’s patronage, who take “Turanian” scout-names, blazon the White Wolf of Turkish paganism on their flags, and cheer, it is said, not for the “Caliph” or the “Padishah,” [the Sultan] but for the “Khakan.” [Khakan is related to Khan and refers to a Mongol or Turkic military ruler. The term was used before the Mongols were converted to Islam.]

This jumble of efforts, half-admirable and half-absurd, will justify Turkish Nationalism if it brings about the regeneration of the Anatolian peasantry. The Anatolians have suffered as much from the Ottoman dominion as any of the races which have come under its yoke. They have paid for Ottoman Imperialism with their blood and physique; their villages have been ravaged by the syphilis of the garrison towns, and the wider the frontiers of the Empire the further from their homes the Anatolian soldiers have died – in the Yemen, in Albania, in Irak, on the snow-covered Armenian plateau. Two things are necessary for Anatolia’s salvation – the limitation of the Turkish State to the lands inhabited by its Turkish-speaking population, and the replacement of the mongrel Osmanli bureaucracy by a cleaner and more democratic political order. If the Allies can compass this, they may claim without hypocrisy to have liberated another nationality; for Anatolia will be reborn on the day of its escape from the Ottoman chrysalis as truly as were Serbia and Greece and Rumania and Bulgaria.

The beginnings will be difficult, as they have been in the Balkans. Whatever frontiers a Turkish National State may receive, they cannot be drawn without including non-Turkish elements – racial geography is nowhere very simple between Bagdad and Vienna – and in view of what the Turk’s racial minorities have suffered during the War and before it, those left to him hereafter must be safeguarded by stringent guarantees – far more stringent than the Capitulations, which, for that matter, protected none but the nationals of foreign Powers.

The “Capitulations” were a series of agreements, going back over several centuries, between the Ottoman court (the Porte) and European powers, especially France, governing the treatment and privileges of foreign nationals in the Ottoman dominions.

The Capitulations are a problem in themselves. They were repudiated by the Young Turkish Government at the beginning of the War, as well as the conventions regulating the customs tariff. It is difficult to see how the Peace Conference can pass over flagrant violations of international treaties, and the Nationalists’ contention that Turkish justice has been brought up to a European standard will not bear examination; on the contrary, the Young Turkish congress of 1911 passed a resolution that “the reorganisation of the administration of justice was less important than the abolition of the Capitulations.” These difficulties, however, might be settled with a new and better Anatolian government; and as for the racial question, with time and guaranteed tolerance for religion it might solve itself, for there is a rude vitality in the Turkish language, and the Greek and Armenian minorities in Central Anatolia have been gradually adopting it in place of their native speech, though this tendency is now being counteracted by the spread of national schools among the scattered outposts of the two nationalities in the interior.

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

The birth of Turkish nationalism 3

May 21 2007

Turkish nationalism led to a persecution of minorities at home (last post but one) and also to irredentism: advocacy of the annexation of foreign territories in which Turks lived.

The aims of Turkish Nationalists are not limited by the Ottoman frontiers. If they are resolved to clear their Empire of every non-Turkish element, that is only a step towards extending it over everything Turkish that lies outside. The Turks have not only aliens to get rid of, but an irredenta to win.

“The Ottoman Turks,” Tekin Alp reminds his readers, “now only represent a tenth of the whole Turkish nation. There are now sixty to seventy million Turkish subjects of various states in the world, who should succeed in giving the nation an important place among the other Powers. Unfortunately, there is no connexion between the separate groups, which are distributed over great tracts of land. Their aspirations and national institutions still divide them … . Now that the Ottoman Turks have awakened from their sleep of centuries they do not only think of themselves, but hasten to save the other parts of their race who are living in slavery or ignorance. …

“Turkish irredentism may be directed towards material or moral reforms according to circumstances. If the geographical position favours the venture, the Turks can free their brothers from foreign rule. In the other case, they can carry it on on moral or intellectual lines.

“Irredentism, which other nations may regard as a luxury – though often a very terrible and costly one – is a political and social necessity for the Turks. … If all the Turks in the world were welded into one huge community, a strong nation would be formed, worthy to take an important place among the other nations of the world.” [Footnote: Thoughts on the Nature and Plan of a Greater Turkey.]

This may be a dream, but the Young Turks have used the political and military resources of the Ottoman Empire to make it a reality. At the congress of 1911 it was resolved that “immigration from the Caucasus and Turkestan must be promoted, land found for the immigrants, and the Christians hindered from acquiring real estate.” Turkey was first to be reinforced by the Turks abroad; in the European War she was to strike out as their liberator. The day after their declaration of war the Young Turkish Government issued a proclamation in which the following sentences occur:

“Our participation in the world war represents the vindication of our national ideal. The ideal of our nation and people leads us towards the destruction of our Muscovite enemy, in order to obtain thereby a natural frontier to our empire, which should include and unite all branches of our race.”

When war broke out the “Dashnaktzagan” – the Armenian parliamentary party in the Ottoman Empire – were in congress at Erzerum. A deputation of Young Turk propagandists [footnote: Emir Hechmat, their chief, subsequently went to Hamadan in Persia and organised guerilla bands there.] presented themselves, and urged the Armenians to join them in raising a general insurrection in Caucasia. They sketched their proposed partition of Russian territory; the Tatars [footnote: i.e., the Turkish-speaking population in the Russian Caucasus.] were to have this, the Georgians that, the Armenians this other; autonomy for the new provinces under Ottoman suzerainty was to be the reward for co-operation. The Dasknaktzagan had always worked with the Young Turks in internal politics, but they refused to join them in this aggressive venture. The Ottoman Armenians, they said, would do their duty as Ottoman subjects during the war, but they advised the Government to preserve peace if that were still possible. [Footnote: Miscellaneous No. 31 (1916), p. 8o.] [Blue Book, op cit.] But the Turks were past reason, and their Army was already on the move. The main body crossed the Russian frontier; a second force invaded Northern Persia, and penetrated as far as Tabriz. Tabriz is the capital of Azerbaijan, a province where the majority of the population is Turkish by language; and beyond, across the River Aras, lies the Russian province of Baku, also containing a large Turkish-speaking population and the vital oilfields. [Tabriz is now the capital of the Iranian East Azerbaijan province; Urmia is the capital of West Azerbaijan province; Baku is the capital of independent Azerbaijan. Tabriz was the centre of Persia’s own constitutional revolution from 1905.] The Turkish plan of campaign was frustrated by the brilliant Russian victory of Sarikamysh. By the end of January, 1915, the Turkish Army was back within its own frontiers, and in this quarter it has not again advanced beyond them. But the Young Turks’ irredentist ambitions have remained in being. During their brief occupation of Northern Persia they did their best to wipe out the Syriac element in the population – the Nestorian Christians of Urmia. Their plan was to get rid of all the non-Turkish peoples which separate the Turks of Anatolia from the Turks of Baku and Azerbaijan, and this was the second motive of the Armenian deportations, which they put in hand a month or two after their military projects had failed.

The Turkish Irredentists propose, in fact, to gain their ends by bloodshed and terrorism. Tekin Alp (like most Turkish publicists and politicians since 1908) is a Macedonian, [footnote: And, like other Young Turks, a Jew (“Tekin Alp” being a nom de plume).] and is profoundly impressed by the methods which the other nationalities there employed to the discomfiture of the Turks themselves [ex-subjects of the Empire, in the Balkan Wars].

“Observers,” he writes, “who, like myself, are Macedonians, and, like myself, had ample opportunity of gaining an intimate knowledge of the irredentist propaganda of the Bulgars, Greeks, Serbs, and Vlachs, are able to judge the significance of this striving after a national ideal, and how sweet and inspiring it is to go through the greatest dangers for such a cause. This is best illustrated by a few living examples” (which he proceeds to give). …

Macedonia is soaked in blood. Atrocities were committed here the mere thought of which makes one’s hair stand on end. Nevertheless, the leaders of robber bands and members of the terrible irredentist organisations were not regarded by the public as wild robbers, but as heroes fighting for the unity of the nation. [This paragraph is without quotation marks.]

“Will the Young Turks emulate the self-sacrifice of these men?”

Russia and Persia are the fields marked out for such activity:

“In some places ordinary propaganda is sufficient, but in hotly-contested territory recourse is to be had to the more violent measures used in Macedonia. The neighbouring land of Persia is without doubt the best of all countries with Turkish population for spreading the new ideas, and it has been found that simple propaganda is amply sufficient to produce a satisfactory effect on this fruitful soil.”

In Persia, Tekin Alp reckons, one-third of the population is of Turkish blood. He passes these Turkish elements in review, and concludes that “the spirit of the administration is Turkish, and also the leading spirit of Persian civilisation, even though these be clothed in Persian guise” – for at present the tables are turned. “All those Turkish warriors and heroes, Shahs and Grand Viziers, thinkers and scholars, have lost their Turkish consciousness and have become assimilated to the Persians in writing, speech, and literature.” Even the compact two millions and a half of Turkish-speaking Azerbaijanis will write letters only in Persian, and will not read a Turkish newspaper. He omits the most important fact – that these Turks of Persia are Shias like their Persian fellow-countrymen, while the “Mohammedan institutions and traditions” for which the Ottoman Turks are pledged by the Young Turk Party to “secure respect” are those of the Sunni persuasion. But then Turkish Nationalism depends upon ignoring religion. Tekin Alp sets out confidently to give the Turks in Persia “a Turkish soul.” His model is the Rumanian propaganda among the Vlachs in Macedonia, and his expectations are great:

“There is no power in Persia to put down such a movement, because it could do no harm to anyone. The nationalisation of the Persian Turks would even be a great and unexpected help to the Persian Government. … Persia would be situated with regard to the Turkish Government as Bavaria towards Prussia.”

And this is only a stage towards a higher goal:

“The united Turks should form the centre of gravity of the world of Islam. The Arabs of Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, the Persians, Afghans, etc., must enjoy complete independence in their own affairs, but outwardly the world of Islam must present a perfectly united front.”

The Arabs of North Africa and the Shias of Iran can appraise the “independence” held out to them by the “unity” which Turkish Nationalism has been presenting already to Syria and Irak, the Yemen and the Hedjaz.

But Tekin Alp deals even less tenderly with Russia. In explaining the bond of interest between Turkish Nationalism and Germany he remarks that

“The Pan-Turkish aspirations cannot come to their full development and realisation until the Muscovite monster is crushed, because the very districts which are the object of Turkish Irredentism – Siberia, the Caucasus, the Crimea, Afghanistan, etc. – are still directly or indirectly under Russian rule.”

The “et cetera” proves to be nothing less than the province of Kazan [southern Urals; Kazan is the present Tatar capital]:

“The alluvial plains of the Volga and the Kama [its tributary], in European Russia, are inhabited by four or five million Turks … . The Northern Turks are not indeed superior to the Ottoman Turks, but must not therefore be underrated. Their progressive economic and social organisation is in every way a great help to the national movement.

“If,” he concludes, “the Russian despotism is, as we hope, to be destroyed by the brave German, Austrian, and Turkish Armies [this is still before the Revolution], thirty to forty million Turks will receive their independence. With the ten million Ottoman Turks this will form a nation of fifty million, advancing towards a great civilisation which may perhaps be compared to that of Germany, in that it will have the strength and energy to rise ever higher. In some ways it will be even superior to the degenerate French and English civilisations.”


Turkish mobilization in 1914, source unknown to me

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

The birth of Turkish nationalism 2

May 20 2007

The last post said that the ideals of the Young Turks (in power from 1908), supported by the military, evolved from a “French” cosmopolitan liberalism to Panislamism to a Turkish nationalism underpinned by Islam. Turkish nationalism and any Panislamism may have been hard to reconcile.

When a defensive nationalist Turkish state entered the War in 1914 on the side of Germany, all minorities were threatened.

Toynbee goes on in his book published in 1917 (this passage is as much about the Arabs as the Armenians):

These [nationalist] extravagances must not be taken too literally. The Young Turk politicians, though they have embarked on a Nationalist policy, are not so reckless as to break openly with Islam or to denounce the founder of their State. They see clearly enough that Turkish Nationalism carried to a logical extreme is incompatible with the Ottoman pretension, and they favour the view, so severely criticised by Tekin Alp [op cit], “that all three groups of ideas – Ottomanism, Islamism, and the Turkish Movement – should work side by side and together.” But, with this reservation, they follow the doctrinaires, who on their part are quite ready to press Islam into their service. Tekin Alp candidly admits that

“They sought after a judicious mingling of the religious and national impulses. They realised only too clearly [especially when Turkey entered the war] that the still abstract ideals of Nationalism could not be expected to attract the masses, the lower classes, composed of uneducated and illiterate people. It was found more expedient to reach these classes under the flag of religion.”

This sentence reveals in a flash one motive of the Armenian “Deportations,” which followed Turkey’s intervention in the War; and a celebrated German authority, in a memorial [footnote: Which (for obvious reasons) was printed for private circulation only.] written in 1916, gives this very explanation of their origin.

“Turkey’s entry into the War,” he writes, “was unwelcome to Turkish society in Constantinople, whose sympathies were with France, as well as to the mass of the people, but the Panislamic propaganda and the military dictatorship were able to stifle all opposition. The proclamation of the ‘Holy War’ produced a general agitation of the Mohammedan against the Christian elements in the Empire, and the Christian nationalities had soon good reason to fear that Turkish chauvinism would make use of Mohammedan fanaticism to make the War popular with the mass of the Mohammedan population.”

The evidence presented in the British Blue Book [a paper presented to Parliament] on the Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire [footnote: Miscellaneous No. 31 (1916).] shows that this explanation is correct. The Armenians were not massacred [from 1915] spontaneously by the local Moslems; the initiative came entirely from the Central Government at Constantinople, which planned the systematic extermination of the Armenian race in the Ottoman Empire, worked out a uniform method of procedure, despatched simultaneous orders to the provincial officials and gendarmerie to carry it into effect, and cashiered the few who declined to obey. The Armenians were rounded up and deported by regular troops and gendarmes; they were massacred on the road by bands of chettis, consisting chiefly of criminals released from prison by the Government for this work; when the Armenians were gone the Turkish populace was encouraged to plunder their goods and houses, and as the convoys of exiles passed through the villages the best-looking women and children were sold cheap or even given away for nothing to the Turkish peasantry. Naturally the Turkish people accepted the good things the Government offered them, and naturally this reconciled them momentarily to the War.

Thus in the Armenian atrocities the Young Turks made Panislamism and Turkish Nationalism work together for their ends, but the development of their policy shows the Islamic element receding and the Nationalist gaining ground.

“After the deposition of Abd-ul-Hamid [1908],” writes the German authority [1916] quoted above, “the Committee of Union and Progress reverted more and more to the ex-Sultan’s policy. To begin with, a rigorous party tyranny was set up. A power behind the Government got the official executive apparatus into its hand, and the elections to Parliament ceased to be free. The appointment of the highest officials in the Empire and of all the most important servants of the administration was settled by decrees of the Committee. All bills had to be debated first by the Committee and to receive its approval before they came before the Chamber. Public policy was determined by two main considerations: (1) The centralistic idea, which claimed for the Turkish race not merely preponderant but exclusive power in the Empire, was to be carried to its logical consequences; (2) The Empire was to be established on a purely Islamic foundation. Turkish Nationalism and the Panislamic Idea [though they were ultimately incompatible] precluded a priori any equality of treatment for [respectively] the various races and religions of the Empire, and any movement which looked for the salvation of the Empire in the decentralisation or autonomy of its various parts was branded as high treason. The nationalistic and centralistic tendency was directed not merely against the various non-Mohammedan nationalities – Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, and Jews – but also against the non-Turkish Mohammedan nations – Arabs, Mohammedan Syrians, Kurds, and the Shia element in the population. An idol of ‘Pan-Turkism’ was erected, and all non-Turkish elements in the population were subjected to the harshest measures. The rigorous action which this policy prescribed against the Albanians, who were mostly Mohammedans and had been thorough loyalists till then, led to the loss of almost the whole of European Turkey. [The Albanians gained their independence at the end of the Second Balkan War.] The same policy has provoked insurrections in the Arab half of the Empire, which a series of campaigns has failed to suppress. The conflict with the Arab element continues” – this was written in 1916 – “though the ‘Holy War’ has forced it to a certain extent into the background.”

“The conflict with the Arabs” – that has been the worst folly of the Young Turkish politicians, and it will perhaps be the most powerful solvent of the Empire which the Osmanlis have misgoverned so long. It is the inevitable consequence of the camarilla government and the Pan-Turkish chauvinism for which the Committee of Union and Progress has come to stand.

The Committee consists by its statutes of Turks alone, and the election even of one Arab was vetoed [footnote: Memorial (sic) of the German authority cited above.]. Tekin Alp [op cit] informs us that

“The portfolio of the Minister of Trade and Agriculture, which has been in the hands of Greeks and Armenians since the time of the Constitution, and was lately given to a Christian Arab, has at last been handed over to the Constantinople deputy Ahmed Nasimi Bey, who joined with Ziya Gök Alp in laying the foundations of the Turkish Movement immediately after the proclamation of the Constitution [in 1908]. With one exception the members of the Cabinet are all imbued with the same ideas and principles.”

The Armenian deportations gave the Committee an opportunity of tightening its hold over the provincial officials as well. Valis [provincial governors] who refused to carry out the orders were superseded if they were strong-minded enough to persist; but more often they were browbeaten by the leaders of the local Young Turk organisations, or even by their own subordinates, and let things go their way. Ways and means of packing the administration with their own henchmen had been discussed by the Committee already in their congress of October, 1911, and they had defined their policy then in the following remarkable resolutions [footnote: Quoted by the German authority cited above.]:

“The formation of new parties in the Chamber or in the country must be suppressed and the emergence of new ‘liberal ideas’ prevented. Turkey must become a really Mohammedan country, and Moslem ideas and Moslem influence must be preponderant. Every other religious propaganda must be suppressed. The existence of the Empire depends on the strength of the Young Turkish Party and the suppression of all antagonistic ideas. …

“Sooner or later the complete Ottomanisation of all Turkish subjects must be effected; it is clear, however, that this can never be attained by persuasion, but that we must resort to armed force. The character of the Empire must be Mohammedan, and respect must be secured for Mohammedan institutions and traditions. Other nationalities must be denied the right of organisation, for decentralisation and autonomy are treason to the Turkish Empire. The nationalities are a quantité négligeable. They can keep their religion but not their language. The propagation of the Turkish language is one of the sovereign means of confirming the Mohammedan supremacy and assimilating the other elements.”

The confusion of aims in these two paragraphs reveals the direction in which Young Turkish policy has been travelling. Religion is now secondary to language, and the precedence still given to the Islamic formula is only in apparent contradiction to this, for Mohammedan supremacy is equated with the Turkish National Idea. Such a version of Panislamism leaves no room for an Arab race under Ottoman rule, and the “Panturanian” address given by the Turkish Professor at the Military College in Constantinople [last post, eve of the First World War] had a sequel which showed the Arabs what they, too, had to expect from Turkey’s entrance into the War.

There were Arabs among the officers whom the Professor was addressing, and one of them ventured to protest.

“All Ottomans are not Turks,” he said, “and if the Empire were to be considered purely Turkish, then all the non-Turkish elements would be foreign to it, instead of being living members of the political body known as the Ottoman Empire, fighting the common fight for it and for Islam.”

To this the Professor is reported to have replied:

“Although you are an Arab, yet you and your race are subject to Turkey. Have not the Turks colonised your country, and have they not conquered it by the sword? The Ottoman State, which you plead, is nothing but a social trick, to which you resort in order to attain your ends. As to religion, it has no connexion with politics. We shall soon march forward in the name of Turkey and the Turkish flag, casting aside religion, as it is only a personal and secondary question. You and your nation must realise that you are Turks, and that there is no such thing as Arab nationality and an Arab fatherland.”

The ideas of the Ottoman state and the Turkish future are being separated here.

It is said that the Arab officers present handed in a joint protest to the Minister of War, asking for the Professor’s dismissal, and that Enver Bey’s answer was to have them all sent to the front-line trenches.

Certainly the Turkish Nationalists have not concealed their attitude towards the Arabs since the War began.

“The Arab lands,” writes Djelal Noury Bey in a recently-published work [not otherwise cited], “and above all Irak [footnote: The Vilayets of Basra and Bagdad.] and Yemen, must become Turkish colonies [note the term] in which we shall spread our own language, so that at the right moment we may make it the language of religion. It is a peculiarly imperious necessity [Teutonic term] of our existence for us to Turkise the Arab lands, for the particularistic idea of nationality is awaking among the younger generation of Arabs, and already threatens us with a great catastrophe. Against this we must be forearmed.”

And Ahmed Sherif Bey, again [he has not been referred to before: is this Ahmed Nasimi Bey?], has written as follows in the Tanin [a daily newspaper of Constantinople]:

“The Arabs speak their own language and are as ignorant of Turkish as if their country were not a dependency of Turkey. It is the business of the Porte to make them forget their own language and to impose upon them instead that of the nation which rules them. If the Porte loses sight of this duty it will be digging its grave with its own hands, for if the Arabs do not forget their language, their history, and their customs, they will seek to restore their ancient empire on the ruins of Ottomanism and of Turkish rule in Asia.”

A Turkish pamphleteer wrote that “the Arabs have been a misfortune to Turkey,” and that “a Turkish conqueror’s war-horse is better than the Prophet of any other nation.” This pamphlet was distributed in the Caucasus at the Ottoman Government’s expense as Turkish propaganda.

But the best proof of the Young Turks’ intentions towards the Arabs is their actual conduct in the Arab provinces of their Empire. In the spring of 1916 an Arab who had escaped from Syria published some facts in the Egyptian Press which the Turkish censorship had previously managed to conceal [footnote: See the journal Al-Mokattam of Cairo, 30th March, 31st March, 1st April, 1916 (English translation in the form of a pamphlet: “Syria during March, 1916,” printed by Sir Joseph Causton and Sons Ltd., 1916).]. Business was ruined, because the Turks had confiscated all gold and forced the people to accept depreciated paper; the population was starving, and the Turks had prohibited the American colony at Beirût from organising relief; the national susceptibilities of the inhabitants were outraged in petty ways – the railway tickets, for instance, were no longer printed in Arabic, but only in Turkish and German; and spies were active in denouncing the least manifestations of disaffection. A Turkish court-martial was sitting in the Lebanon, and at the time our informant left Syria it had 240 persons under arrest, 180 of them on political charges. These prisoners were the leading men of Syria – Christians and Moslems without distinction; for in Syria, as in Armenia, the Turks put the leaders out of the way before they attacked the nation as a whole; most of the Syrian bishops had been deported or driven into hiding; by the beginning of March, 1916, it was reckoned that 816 Arabs in Syria and 117 in Mesopotamia had already been condemned to death with the confiscation of their property. A Turkish officer, taking our informant for a Turk too, remarked to him: “Those Arabs wish to get rid of us and are secretly in sympathy with our enemies, but we mean to get rid of them ourselves before they have any chance of translating their sympathy into action.” This caps what a Turkish gendarme in Armenia said to a Danish sister serving with the German Red Cross: “First we kill the Armenians, then the Greeks, then the Kurds.” [Footnote: Miscellaneous No. 31 (1916), p. 253.] Every non-Turkish nationality in the Ottoman Empire is threatened with extermination.


Armenians, eastern Ottoman Empire, 1915, Wikipedia, public domain in US

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

The birth of Turkish nationalism 1

May 19 2007

Turkey’s mass protests in defence of its secular constitution seem a reason to air Toynbee’s account of the origins of Turkish nationalism as published in 1917. He doesn’t know how the story is going to end. His First World War writings were partly propaganda and an important part of them was concerned with the Turkish massacres of Armenians.

Turkey is in the war on the German side. In 1908 the Young Turks had deposed Abdul Hamid II, demanding reform. In 1912-13 the Empire had been shaken by defeats by its former east European subjects in the Balkan Wars. Abdul Hamid’s successor Mehmed V, the penultimate Sultan, is on the throne.

The new Turkish Nationalism is the immediate factor to be reckoned with. It is very new – newer than the Young Turks, and sharply opposed to the original Young Turkish programme – but it has established its ascendancy. It decided Turkey’s entry into the War, and is the key to the current policy of the Ottoman Government.

The Young Turks were not Nationalists from the beginning; the “Committee of Union and Progress” was founded in good faith to liberate and reconcile all the inhabitants of the Empire on the principles of the French Revolution. At the Committee’s congress in 1909 the Nationalists were shouted down with the cry: “Our goal is organisation and nothing else.” [Footnote: “The Turkish and Pan-Turkish Ideal,” by Tekin Alp.] But Young Turkish ideals rapidly narrowed. Liberalism gave way to Panislamism, Panislamism to Panturanianism, and the “Ottoman State Idea” changed from “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” to the Turkification of non-Turkish nationalities by force.

“The French Ideal,” writes the Nationalist Tekin Alp in Thoughts on the Nature and Plan of a Greater Turkey, “is in contradiction to the needs and conditions of the age.” By contrast, “the Turkish national movement does not exhibit the failings of the earlier movements. It is in every way adapted to the intellectual standard and feelings of the nation. It also keeps pace with the ideas of the age, which have for some decades centred round the principle of Nationality. In adopting Turkish Nationalism as the basis of their national policy, the Turks have only abandoned an abnormal state of affairs and thereby placed themselves on a level with modern nations.” [Footnote: “The Turkish and Pan-Turkish Ideal,” by Tekin Alp.]

The development of Nationalism among the Turks was a natural phenomenon. Starting in the West, the movement has been spreading for a century through Central Europe, Hungary, and the Balkans, till from the Turks’ former subjects it has passed to the Turks themselves. Chance played its part. Dr. Nazim Bey, for instance, the General Secretary of the “Union and Progress” Committee, is said to have been fired by a work of M. Léon Cahun’s on the early history of the Turks and Mongols, lent him by the French Consul-General at Salonika, and the movement was, and still is, confined to a small intelligentsia. But that is the case with other national movements too, and does not hinder them from being powerful forces. Turkish Nationalism was kept alive after 1909 by a small group of enthusiasts at Salonika – their leader was Ziya Bey, who had come up to the Young Turk Congress from Diarbekir, and was one of the first converts to the new idea. It gained ground suddenly during, the Balkan War. The shock of defeat produced a craving for regeneration; the final loss of Europe turned the minds of the Osmanlis to the possibilities of Asia, and they were struck by the action of several prominent Russian subjects of Turco-Tatar nationality, who, out of racial sympathy, had given their services to the Ottoman Government in this time of adversity. As Tekin Alp expresses it:

“The Turks realised that, in order to live, they must become essentially Turkish, become a nation, be themselves. … The Turkish nation turned aside its gaze from the lost territory and looked instead upon Turania, the ideal country of the future.”

Two years later this “New Orientation” had so mastered the Ottoman Government that it drew them into the European War.

There are many aims within the new Turkish horizon. Some of them are negative and non-political, some practical and extremely aggressive. Ziya Bey’s adherents first took in hand the purification of the Turkish language. A Turkish poet had endeavoured before to dispense with the 95 per cent. (?) [Toynbee’s question mark] of the vocabulary that was borrowed from Persian and Arabic, and “his poetry had to be published in small provincial papers because the important newspapers of the towns would not accept it.” [Source?] The established writers in the traditional style made a hard fight, but Tekin Alp claims that the Yeni Lisan (New Language) “is to-day in possession of an absolute and unlimited authority.” Borrowed rhythms have been banned as well as borrowed words, and there is even an agitation to replace the Arabic script by a new Turkish alphabet – an imitation of the Albanian movement which was opposed so fiercely by the Turks themselves before the Balkan War. In 1913 the Government stepped in with the foundation of a “Turkish Academy” (Turk Bilgi Derneyi), and the Ministry of Education started an “Institute of Terminology,” “Conservatoire,” and “Writing and Translation Committee.” The translation of foreign masterpieces as an incentive to a new national literature was in the programme of Ziya Bey’s society, the Yeni Hayat (New Life). Their most cherished plan was to translate the Koran and the Friday Sermon, to have the Khutba (Prayer for the Caliph) recited in Turkish, and to remove the Arabic texts from the walls of the mosques [footnote: The Near East, 30th March, 1917, p. 507; see also Tekin Alp.]; the eyes and ears of Turkish Moslems were to be saved from the contamination of an anti-national language; but the campaign against Arabic passed over into an attack upon Islam.

“The Turkish Nationalists,” Tekin Alp explains, “have made great efforts to nationalise religion itself, and to give it the impress of the Turkish national spirit. This idea was zealously supported by a fortnightly periodical, and one of the noblest tasks undertaken by it has been the translation of the Koran into Turkish. This is a reform of the greatest importance. It is well known that the translation of the Koran has hitherto been considered a sin. The Nationalists have cut themselves off from this superstitious prejudice and have had three translations made, the above-mentioned and two others.”

On this issue the Nationalists broke a lance with the Islamjis, or “clericals,” as Tekin Alp prefers to call them.

“Because it is written in the Koran that Islam knows no nationalities, but only Believers, the Islamjis thought that to occupy oneself with national questions was to act against the interests and principles of Islam itself. … According to the Nationalists, the pronouncement in the Koran was directed exclusively against the very frequent dissensions of clans and parties in the various Arab races.” (A sneer which is meant to have a modern application.) “Although the Nationalists proclaim themselves the most zealous followers of Mohammed, nevertheless they do not conceal the fact that their interpretation of Islam is not the same as that of the Arabs. They maintain that the Turks cannot interpret the Koran in the same manner as the Arabs. … Their idea of God is also different.”

This amazing Kulturkampf is quite possibly a reminiscence of Bismarckian Germany, for Turkish Nationalism is saturated with forgotten European moods, and its vein of Romanticism is as antiquated as the Kaiser’s. It has taken Attila to its heart, and rehabilitated Jenghis Khan, Timur, Oghuz, and the rest with the erudition of a Turanian Walter Scott.

“My Attila, my Jenghis,” sings Ziya Gök Alp, “these heroic figures, which stand for the proud fame of my race, appear on the dry pages of the history books as covered with shame and disgrace, while in reality they are no less than Alexander and Caesar. Still better known to my heart is Oghuz Khan. [Footnote: The legendary ancestor of the Turkish race.] In me he still lives in all his fame and greatness. Oghuz Khan delights and inspires my heart and causes me to sing psalms of gladness. The fatherland of the Turks is not Turkey or Turkestan, but the broad eternal land of Turania.” [No source given.]

The Ministry of Evkaf (Religious Endowments) recently made a grant of L50,000 (Turkish) towards the publication of works on these worthies; the students at the Military College in Constantinople are alleged to have been diverted from their studies by their devotion to such literature, and on the eve of the War the Professor of Military Education there is reported to have delivered the following address to an instruction class of reserve officers:

“We are, gentlemen, before all, Turks. I wonder why we are called Ottomans, for who is Osman after whom we are named? He is a Turk from Altai, who overran this country with his Turkish Army. Therefore it is more of an honour to us to be named after his origin than after himself. We have so far been deceived by the ignorance of our forebears, and fie on these forebears who made us forget our nationality. … Be sure that Turkish nationality is better for us than Islam, and racial pride is one of the greatest social virtues.” [Footnote: The Near East, loc. cit.]

The allegation that 95% of words in pre-Nationalist Turkish had been borrowed from Arabic or Persian comes from Tekin Alp. Toynbee has made it clear in an earlier passage that he knows it is an exaggeration. It must be a large one, but he doesn’t seem to know what the real percentage was.

1908, demonstration in Sultanahmet district of Constantinople, from HG Dwight, Constantinople Settings and Traits, London, 1926; Wikipedia, public domain

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

People of the Ottoman Empire

April 21 2007

There were less than twenty million people in Turkey before the War, and during it the Government has caused a million or so to perish by massacre, starvation, or disease. Yet, in spite of this daemoniac effort after uniformity, they are still the strangest congeries of racial and social types that has ever been placed at a single Government’s mercy. The Ottoman Empire is named after the Osmanli, but you might search long before you found one among its inhabitants. These Osmanlis are a governing class, indigenous only in Constantinople and a few neighbouring towns, but planted here and there, as officers and officials, over the Ottoman territories. They come of a clan of Turkish nomads, recruited since the thirteenth century by converts, forced or voluntary, from most of Christendom, and crossed with the blood of slave-women from all the world. They are hardly a race. Tradition fortified by inertia makes them what they are, and also their Turkish language, which serves them for business of state and for a literature, though not without an infusion of Persian and Arabic idioms said to amount to 95 per cent. of the vocabulary. [Footnote: Tekin Alp: “The Turkish and Pan-Turkish Ideal” (Weimar: Gustav Kiepenheuer, 1915). The percentage is of course an exaggeration.]

This artificial language is hardly a link between Osmanli officialdom and the Turkish peasantry of Anatolia, which speaks Turkish dialects derived from tribes that drifted in, some as late as the Osmanlis, some two centuries before. Nor has this Turkish-speaking peasantry much in common with the Turkish nomads who still wander over the central Anatolian steppe and have kept their blood pure; for the peasantry has reverted physically to the native stock, which held Anatolia from time immemorial and absorbs all newcomers that mingle with it on its soil. Thus there are three distinct “Turkish” elements in Turkey, divided by blood and vocation and social type; and even if we reckon all who speak some form of Turkish as one group, they only amount to 30 or 40 per cent. of the whole population of the Empire.

The rest are alien to the Turks and to one another. [He tells us about the Arabs, Maronite Christians and Druzes: I quoted the passage in this earlier post.] And on the opposite fringes of the Arabic-speaking area there are fragments of population whose language is Semitic but pre-Arabic [footnote: In the sense of having preceded Arabic in this region, for in itself, and in its original area, Arabic is as old a language as any other variety of Semitic.] – the Jacobite Christians of the Tor-Abdin, and the Nestorians of the Upper Zab, who once, under the Caliphs, were the industrious Christian peasantry of Mesopotamia, but now are shepherds and hillmen among the Kurds. The Kurds themselves are more scattered than any other stock in Turkey, and divided tribe against tribe, but taken together they rank third in numerical strength, after the Arabs and Turks. There are mountain Kurds and Kurds of the plain, husbandmen and herdsmen, Kurds who have kept to their original homes along the eastern frontier, and Kurds who, under Ottoman auspices, have spread themselves over the Armenian plateau, the North Mesopotamian steppes, the Taurus valleys, and the hinterland of the Black Sea.

The chief thing the Kurds have in common is the Persian dialect they speak, but it is usual to class as Kurds any and every community in the Kurdish area which is not Turkish or Arab and can by courtesy be called Moslem (the Kurds, for that matter, are only Moslems skin-deep). Such communities abound: the Dersim highlands, in particular, are an ethnographical museum; “Kizil-Bashi” is a general name for their kind; only the Yezidis, though they speak good Kurdish, are distinguished from the rest for their idiosyncrasy of worshipping Satan under the form of a peacock (Allah, they argue, is good-natured and does not need to be propitiated) and they are repudiated with one accord by Moslem and Christian.

But not all the scattered elements in Turkey are isolated or primitive. The Greeks and Armenians, for instance, are, or were, the most energetic, intellectual, liberal elements in Turkey, the natural intermediaries between the other races and western civilisation – “were” rather than “are,” because the Ottoman Government has taken ruthless steps to eliminate just these two most valuable elements among its subjects. The urban Greeks survive in centres like Smyrna and Constantinople, but the Greek peasantry of Thrace and Anatolia has mostly been driven over the frontier since the Second Balkan War. As for the Armenians, the Government has been destroying them by massacre and deportation since April, 1915 – business and professional men, peasants and shepherds, women and children – without discrimination or pity. A third of the Ottoman Armenians may still survive; a tenth of them are safe within the Russian and British lines. Fortunately half this nation, and the majority of the Greeks, live outside the Ottoman frontiers, and are beyond the Osmanli’s power.

To compensate for its depopulation of the countries under its dominion the Ottoman Government, during the last fifty years, has been settling them with Moslem immigrants from its own lost provinces or from other Moslem lands that have changed their rulers. These “Mouhadjirs” are reckoned, from first to last, at three-quarters of a million, drawn from the most diverse stocks – Bosniaks and Pomaks and Albanians, Algerines and Tripolitans, Tchetchens and Circassians. Numbers have been planted recently on the lands of dispossessed Armenians and Greeks. They add many more elements to the confusion of tongues, but they are probably destined to be absorbed or to die out. The Circassians, in particular, who are the most industrious (though most unruly) and preserve their nationality best, also succumb most easily to transplantation, through refusal to adapt their Caucasian clothes and habits to Anatolian or Mesopotamian conditions of life.

The soul of an empire

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917


December 12 2006

Toynbee was one of the first to have written about the massacres of Armenians under the direction of Turkish nationalists in 1915. The first time the phrase “crimes against humanity” was used was in a statement by the Allied Powers in relation to what is now, by many people, called the Armenian genocide.

In my opinion, genocide-denial, if that is what it is, by the successor of the state which sponsored it, would be a reason to delay Turkey’s entry into the European Union. Economic incompatibilities would be another. Religious differences are not a reason.

In the first volume of the Study, Toynbee writes about the extermination of indigenous peoples that occurred in North America at the hands of white Protestant immigrants. The word genocide did not exist in 1934. Is it appropriate here?

North Americans have come to terms with the record on slavery, and its aftermath (1865-1965), but they haven’t with the other issue.

Toynbee often contrasts the behaviour of Catholics worldwide with that of Protestants: the Protestants come off much worse. We’ve had a little from him on Mexico already (a country of whose race relations he has a rather rosy view) and on the treatment of black people by Protestants in Africa and America.

On Israel, his view was very blunt. The crime committed against the Jews in Europe did not justify the crime committed against the Palestinians in Asia. He identified Zionism with imperialism and colonialism. In fact, a possible Zion discussed between 1903 and 1905 was in Africa, in “Uganda”, land which is now actually in Kenya. He believed that it was easy to create a Jewish state at a distance, where mere Arabs were involved, not so easy to think of one closer to home. The perpetrators of the genocide of the Jews in central Europe should have given up some of their own land for this state.

It seems very doubtful that this could have been discussed in 1945. The decision as to the location of the Jewish state had been taken a generation earlier. Immigration into Palestine by Jews had started a generation before that. But Toynbee was accusing the West of two crimes: against the Jews and against the Palestinians, by sponsoring the creation of a Jewish state on Palestinian land. He was not necessarily speaking in practical political terms.

There’s a school (Melanie Phillips) which equates criticism of the Jewish state with a more general Western defeatism, of the sort of which Toynbee was often accused. But such was his view.

I suppose Toynbee’s least demanding suggestion now would be: withdrawal by Israel to secure pre-1967 borders without giving Palestinians the right to return to lands within those borders. After a certain point you cannot visit on the sons the sins of the fathers. His more challenging one would be: all peoples of all religions and races should live together in the single space of Palestine-Israel in a secular state.

Depressingly, I fear that Toynbee may be quoted in Ahmadinejad’s disgraceful conference.

Berlin to Baghdad

November 28 2006

When President Bush spoke of his war on terror a few years ago as a “Crusade”, he had to be informed that that was not the word to use when addressing the middle east. (He is unlikely to have thought of replying that Islam has held previously-Christian territory for longer periods than Christianity has ever held previously-Moslem – but that is not a road one wants to go down.)

On Armistice Day earlier this month, as far as I could see unnoticed, he did it again, at Arlington National Cemetery:

“From Valley Forge to Vietnam, from Kuwait to Kandahar, from Berlin to Baghdad, our veterans have borne the costs of America’s wars, and they have stood watch over America’s peace.”

A few in the middle east might have winced at that, because the planned “Berlin to Baghdad” railway was a famous piece of imperialistic intervention at the beginning of the twentieth century. This railway from Berlin to “Byzantium” and on to Baghdad and ultimately to Basra was a German-sponsored scheme. If you prefer to exchange consonants, it was to run from Potsdam to Persia. The plan was to link Germany with the Persian Gulf.

I suppose some or all of the lines as far as Constantinople already existed. In 1888 a syndicate headed by Deutsche Bank obtained a concession from Turkish leaders to extend the Haydarpaşa-Izmit Railway to Ankara. (Haydarpaşa is close to Kadiköy, opposite Istanbul on the Asian side.) The second stage was from Ankara to Konya. That line was completed in 1896. The Hejaz railway (these links are to an earlier post, but I am using modern place-name spellings here) was also built by German engineers.

In 1903 the Ottoman Government gave permission to an Ottoman corporation to build the railway from Konya to Baghdad. This Baghdad Railway Company was controlled by German banks – which were no doubt run by “Jews” (I am alluding to conspiracy theories of the time). There was consternation in Russia, France, and Britain as the implications of the German scheme became apparent. The railway would provide Germany with a connection to her colonies in Africa, ie German East Africa and German South-West Africa. German access to a Persian Gulf port could allow them to rival British shipping in trade with India. Even more threatening to British interests was the linkage of German industry to oil from Iraq and Persia: oil was not exploited on the Arabian side of the Gulf until the 1930s. And this German push also threatened Russia: the Anglo-Russian entente was formed in 1907. Previously Britain had been propping up Turkey to prevent Russian expansion.

The Baghdad Railway had not been completed when war broke out. By 1915 it ended some 50 miles east of Diyarbakr, the Kurdish centre of eastern Turkey. Another spur, heading east from Aleppo, ended at Nusaybin (ancient Nisibis, or Greek Antiochia Mygdonia), in south-eastern Turkey. Some further rail had been laid starting in Baghdad and reaching north to Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s home town, and south to Kut, on the way to Basra. This left a gap of some 300 miles between the lines. The breaks meant that the Ottoman government had difficulties in sending supplies and reinforcements to the Mesopotamian Front, where the British, and Indians and others, were fighting. During the war, Turkish and German workers laboured to complete the railway for military purposes, but with limited manpower. The gaps were not closed.

In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles cancelled all German rights to their Railway. The Deutsche Bank had been required to transfer its holdings to a Swiss bank. The settlement gave various interests in Turkey, Italy, France and Britain a certain degree of control. The British Army had completed the southeastern section from Baghdad to Basra, so that part was under British control. The French held negotiations to obtain some degree of control over the central portion, and Turkish interests controlled the oldest sections that had been constructed inside Turkey, but talks continued to be held. An American involvement began in 1923, when Turkey approved the Chester concession, to the consternation of France and England.

In his book on Turkey published in 1917, from which I’ve already quoted, Toynbee says much about German interests in Turkey. This book is a wonderful mixture of Toynbeean scholarship and propaganda, as are his early writings on the Armenians. He quotes a Dr Wiedenfeld:

“We are certainly interested in the economic advancement of Turkey … but in setting ourselves to make Turkey strong we have been influenced far more by our political interests as a State among States (das politische, das staatlich-mächtliche Interesse). Even our economic activity has primarily served this aim, and has in fact originated to a large extent in the purely politico-military problems (aus den unmittelbaren Machtaufgaben) which confronted the Turkish Government. Exclusively economic considerations play a very subordinate part in Turco-German relations. … Our common political aims, and Germany’s interest in keeping open the land-route to the Indian Ocean, will make it more than ever imperative for us to strengthen Turkey economically with all our might, and to put her in a position to build up, on independent economic foundations, a body politic strong enough to withstand all external assaults. The means will still be economic; the goal will be of a political order.”

Toynbee adds:

It is worth remembering that a railway, following [a] route from the Syrian coast to the Persian Gulf, has more than once been projected by the British Government. As early as the thirties of last century Colonel Chesney was sent out to examine the ground, and in 1867 the proposal was considered by a Committee of the House of Commons. For the economic development of Western Asia it is clearly a better plan, but then Dr. Rohrbach bases the “necessity for the East Anatolian section of the Bagdad Railway” on wholly different grounds.

“The necessity,” he declares, “consists in Turkey’s military interests, which obviously would be very poorly served” (by German railway enterprise) “if troops could not be transported by train without a break from Bagdad and Mosul to the extremity of Anatolia, and vice versa.”

The Bagdad Railway is thus acknowledged to be an instrument of strategy for the Germans and for the Turks of domination – for “vice versa” means that Turkish troops can be transported at a moment’s notice through the tunnels from Anatolia to enforce the Ottoman pretension over the Arab lands.

Route from Turkey through Syria into Iraq, Wikimedia Commons

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

Turkish genocide of Armenians

October 12 2006

The French vote to make it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide. I linked here to source material compiled by Toynbee.

Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire

October 6 2006

Toynbee edited The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Viscount Bryce, with a Preface by Viscount Bryce, Hodder & Stoughton and His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1916. Online in full here.

He had previously published Armenian Atrocities, The Murder of a Nation, with a Speech Delivered by Lord Bryce in the House of Lords, Hodder & Stoughton, 1915