Archive for the 'Caucasus' Category

Lee Kuan Yew and the nation-builders

March 19 2015

Lee Kuan Yew is the last great living twentieth-century nation builder, if he is alive.

Who were the others? What defines them? They have to have created a nation where none before existed – and yet one can’t leave out Mandela.

They must have done it through a personal struggle. They must have a certain stature. Their achievement must be solid. One can’t leave out Herzl, although he died forty-four years before the birth of Israel.

At one level, Lee was a reluctant builder. He did not, at least as it appears, wish to leave the Malaysian Federation in 1965.

Norway, Finland, Iceland, the Baltic states, Poland, Belarus, Moldova, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the central Asian “stans”, Mongolia were, before the twentieth century, merged or submerged nations, but when they became independent did not have famous fathers, unless you count Piłsudski. They already, in a sense, existed, especially Poland. But, then, so did the Czech nation. (One can’t exactly call Haakon VII a nation-builder, even if he was a father-figure.)

Ukraine is a half-formed nation. Why am I implying less formed than the other Ruthenia, Belarus? At any rate, no builders.

Hungary achieved nationhood in the nineteenth century. Masaryk was a nation-builder even though the nation he founded was later divided into two.

The Philippines’ founders did their work before, not after, American colonisation. Aung San died before Burmese independence, and his legacy is unclear. So are Ho Chi Minh’s and Sihanouk’s. Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia had once contained powerful states. Burma is the most ethnically fragmented. Thailand was never colonised, so the question of nation-building does not arise.

The Republic of China was declared in 1912, but Taiwan became its last stronghold long after Sun’s death. Sun was the father of a nation that, as a geographical entity, doesn’t even recognise itself, and as a wider entity is China – not a new nation.

So I include him uneasily – or do we believe in the permanence of Taiwan? I can’t leave out Sukarno even if I want to.

Not everyone who led a colony into independence qualifies. In fact, not a single leader from the main years of decolonisation is in my list. I can’t bring myself to include Bourguiba, for example. Or, in a short list, Nkrumah or Kenyatta or Nyerere or Kaunda. Is that because black African countries are, or were, not nations, but tribal or ethnic hegemonies and coalitions? But so are others. So is Burma. So was nineteenth-century Hungary.

Mahathir is a smaller figure than Lee. He did not become prime minister until 1981.

In theory Singapore is a coalition of three ethnic groups, like its one-time role-model Switzerland.

Here is my list, in chronological order of the nation’s birth or the builder’s accession to power if later:

Sun Yat-sen 1912

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk 1918

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 1923

Ibn Saud 1932

Sukarno 1945

Mahatma Gandhi 1947

Muhammad Ali Jinnah 1947

Theodor Herzl 1948

Lee Kuan Yew 1965

Nelson Mandela 1994

Lee’s funeral or public memorial will be as big as Mandela’s and deservedly. [Postscript: I was wrong on that.] You don’t need to have loved someone to feel grief.

The Blairs will be there, collecting cards.


1946, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

Picture source: Lee Kuan Yew, Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going via

Islamic dynasties: 2, Umayyad Caliphs

July 12 2014

The Umayyad Caliphs, 661-750

Capital: Damascus

The dynasty starts with Muawiya (ruled 661-80), who had been governor of Syria. Uthman had also been an Umayyad, but is classed as one of the four Rightly-Guided caliphs. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have gone through Ali.

Muawiya had fought against Byzantium and had a well-trained army to set against the anarchic Bedouin who had followed Ali.

The Shia vilify Muawiya. They believe that his conversion to Islam was superficial, that he was motivated by lust for power and that he secured it by force. They point out that he is the only Sahaba Caliph (companion of the Prophet) who was not regarded as righteously guided by the Sunni. (He was related to the Prophet, like the others.)

His son and heir Yazid I is hated for his actions towards the house of Ali, in particular for sending forces against Ali’s son Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680.

The great administrators of the dynasty, Muawiya I, Abd al-Malik (ruled 685-705) and Hisham (ruled 724-43) took over many of the systems of the Greeks and Persians.

In 661-71 the Arabs conquered Tokharistan (Bactria), which the Persian Empire had won from the Ephthalite Hun Empire. This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.

They had completed the conquest of North Africa by 698.

In 706-15 they conquered Transoxiana and Khwarezm, which had been the Turkish steppe-dwellers’ share of the Ephthalite Empire. They consolidated their position there in subsequent decades.

In 710-12 they extinguished the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.

In 711 they conquered Sind and the southern Punjab, up to and including Multan.

On four fronts, they were defeated.

In order to conquer Asia Minor and take Constantinople, they needed naval command of the Mediterranean. In 669 Muawiya built a fleet. In 674-8 and in 717-18 the Arabs besieged Constantinople by sea and land and were defeated.

In 677 they gained a temporary foothold in the Lebanon. In 741 they were brought to a halt along the line of the Amanus range in southern Turkey. They did eventually carry their frontier beyond the Amanus to the Taurus.

In 732 they failed to conquer Carolingian France. Before reaching the Loire, they were checked at Poitiers.

In 737-38 they failed to conquer the empire of the Khazar nomads, between the Volga (which flows into the Caspian) and the Don (which flows into the Sea of Azov).

The Umayyad caliphs faced the opposition of Shiite Arab tribesmen of Iraq and that of pious elements in Medina who favoured the claims of Ali’s descendants, the Imams of the Shia (Shiʿat Ali or party of Ali).

The masses of non-Arab peoples in the conquered territories, the Mawali, began to stir and to resent their position as second-class citizens.

In 750 the Umayyads were overthrown by a revolution which began in Khurasan in eastern Persia, led by Abu Muslim Khorasani. One of the few members of the Umayyad family to survive was Hisham’s grandson, Abd al-Rahman, who escaped to North Africa and continued the Umayyad line in Spain.

See Clifford Edmund BosworthThe Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I am partly following it in this series, but leaving out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.


Umayyad Moque, Damascus, picture:

Islamic dynasties: 1, Orthodox Caliphs

July 11 2014

The Orthodox or Rightly Guided or Rashidun Caliphs, 632-61

The age of the pristine Islamic virtues.

Abu Bakr (Abdullah ibn Abi Quhafa)

Umar (Umar ibn al-Khattab)

Uthman (Uthman ibn Affan)

Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib)

Mnemonic: Arab uniters underestimate adversity

Capitals: Medina, Kufa

The leaders of the Muslim umma or community, all related to the Prophet by blood or through marriage. I won’t go into relationships. Muslim Arabs had not yet moved outside the Arabian peninsula when Muhammad died. He himself had fought in military campaigns within Arabia.

But by 641 they had conquered Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt from the East Roman Empire. The southern part of Iraq was conquered from Persia.

By 651 they had conquered Persia, as far north-eastward as Merv inclusive, extinguishing the Sasanian Persian Empire. Merv is now in Turkmenistan (one of Iran’s three eastern neighbours, along with Afghanistan in the middle, and Pakistan in the south).

In 653 the Armenians and Georgians (both ex-Roman and ex-Persian Armenian and Georgian subjects) had surrendered.

Between 647 and 698 they conquered north west Africa from the East Romans – who under Justinian had reconquered it from the barbarians.

Khalifa means “he who follows behind”. The Orthodox Caliphs ruled from Medina, the city previously called Yathrib which Muhammad had renamed.

Abu Bakr imposed the authority of Medina over outlying parts of the peninsula after the Bedouin tribes had renounced their personal allegiance to Muhammad (the Ridda Wars, ridda meaning apostasy).

Umar attacked the Byzantine territories of Syria, Palestine and Egypt and the Sasanid territories of Persia and Iraq. He adopted the title Amir al-Muʿminin, Commander of the Faithful, implying a spiritual as well as political element in his leadership.

Uthman was assassinated.

Ali moved his capital to Kufa in Iraq in order to confront Muawiya, the recalcitrant governor of Syria, in battle at Siffin on the Upper Euphrates. He was later killed, and his son, al-Hasan, was persuaded by Muawiya to renounce all rights to the Caliphate. Ali had been the son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have continued through him. The martyrdom of one of Ali’s other sons, Husayn, in 680 is taken as the beginning of the Shiite split.

See Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I will follow it in this series, but will leave out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.


Kufa Great Mosque, 1915


August 29 2013

Sergei Lyapunov (1859-1924), Hashish, Oriental Symphonic Poem, opus 53, 1913. State Academic Symphony Orchestra, Evgeny Svetlanov. Echoes of Scheherezade.

After poem by Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov, whom Mussorgsky had set in Sunless and Songs and Dances of Death, descendant of the Kutuzov of 1812. Painting by Frederick Arthur Bridgman.

The resilience of the Caliphate

June 19 2013

The main line of Sunni Caliphs – Rightly Guided, then Umayyad, then Abbasid – came to an end when the Mongols conquered Baghdad in 1258.

A surviving member of the Abbasid house was installed at Cairo under the patronage of the newly formed Mamluk Sultanate three years later.

In 1517 the Ottoman Turks took the last nominal Abbasid Caliph at Cairo into custody and transported him to Constantinople.

When he died, the Caliphate was virtually in abeyance. The first time Caliph was used as a political instead of symbolic religious title by the Ottoman Sultans was in the peace treaty with Russia at the end of the war of 1768-74, as a way of allowing the Turks to retain moral authority in territory they had ceded, notably the Crimea.

Around 1880 Sultan Abdul Hamid II reasserted the title as Russia expanded into Central Asia. His claim was fervently accepted by the Muslims of British India.

The Khilafat movement (1919-24) was a vain pan-Islamic protest campaign launched by Muslims in India to persuade the British government to protect the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate. The Ottoman Sultanate was abolished in 1922, the Caliphate in 1924.

At the time when the present chapter was being written, it looked as if this had really been the end of the Caliphate, for an immediate attempt on the part of the Hāshimī King Husayn of the Hijāz to assume the office (on the eve, as it turned out, of his own ejection from his ancestral patrimony by Ibn Saʿūd) was – in spite of the Sharīf’s unimpeachable Qurayshī lineage and his sovereignty, at the moment, over the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina – as dismal a failure as most of his other enterprises. Nor did any practical action result from a Caliphate Congress held at Cairo on the 13th-19th May, 1926.

Yet, even if this forecast were to prove correct – though, in the light of previous history, it would not be safe to sign a death certificate for so resilient an institution as the Caliphate until it had been in abeyance for at least a quarter of a millennium [footnote: Its latest interregnum had lasted from the death of the last Cairene ʿAbbasid Caliph Mutawakkil in A.D. 1543 to the drafting of the Russo-Turkish Treaty of Küchuk Qaynārja in A.D. 1774.] – the marvel would be, not that the Caliphate should have petered out at last, but that, on the strength of having been an effective sovereignty over a span of less than two hundred years, [footnote: From the death of the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632 to the death of the ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn (imperabat A.D. 809-13), in a civil war with his brother and supplanter Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33) over the heritage of their father Hārūn-ar-Rashīd (imperabat A.D. 786-809).] it should have been able within that time to acquire a prestige sufficient to keep it alive, and twice revive it, [footnote: i.e. at Cairo in A.D. 1261 and at Constantinople in A.D. 1774.] for another eleven hundred years [footnote: Reckoning from the death of the Baghdādi ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn in A.D. 813 to the deposition of the Constantinopolitan ʿOsmanli Caliph ʿAbd-al-Mejīd in A.D. 1924.] during which it never emerged from the state of political impotence into which it had begun to decline in the reign of Hārūn-ar-Rashīd’s son Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33).

The revival of the Caliphate is often predicted today, in Brummie, Indonesian and other accents.

Ma’mūn is written thus in the OUP text, not as Maʿmūn.

At times in Muslim history there have been rival caliphs, notably those of the Ismaili Shia Fatimid Caliphate in North Africa, 909-1171.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Extreme points

November 22 2012

List of lists of extreme points.

Derbent, the southernmost town in Russia, in Dagestan; Narin-kala, a Sasanian citadel, in the background

The rout of Pan-Islamism by Nationalism

November 21 2012

The apparent triumph of our Western Political Nationalism in the Islamic World since the beginning of the twentieth century of our era – and, conspicuously, since the outbreak of the general war of A.D. 1914-18 – is a remarkable testimony to the assimilative power of our Western Civilization and to the inability of the Islamic Civilization to hold its own against it. For the Pan-Islamic Movement, which was set in motion under the patronage of the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph ʿAbd-al-Hamīd (imperabat A.D. 1876-1909) as an attempt to enable the Islamic World to repel the Western offensive, was not only good strategy on its merits (on the principle that “union is strength”); it was also in the true line of the Islamic tradition; for, from the time of the Hijrah, which was the crucial event in the career of Muhammad and in the history of the institution that he founded, Islam had been a unitary society which embraced both the two Western social fields of Church and State; and, after the founder’s death, the unity of Islam in its political aspect had been incarnated in the Arab Caliphate […]. Thus the Pan-Islamic attempt to restore the political unity of Islam, under the historic aegis of a Caliphate, in face of a formidable external menace to the Islamic Society’s very existence, might have seemed a promising stroke of statesmanship; and the rapid rout of Pan-Islamism by an irresistible outbreak of Nationalism in the Muslim ranks is a surprising denouement.


A Study of HIstory, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Cultural diversity in universal states

October 20 2012

Owing to the tendency of the parochial states of a broken-down civilization in its Time of Troubles to sharpen their weapons in fratricidal conflicts with one another and to take advantage of this dearly bought increase in their military proficiency to conquer neighbouring societies with their left hands while continuing to fight one another with their right hands, most universal states have embraced not only a fringe of conquered barbarians but substantial slices of the domain of one or more alien civilizations as well. Some universal states, again, have been founded by alien empire-builders, and some have been the product of societies within whose bosoms there has already been some degree of cultural variety even on a reckoning which does not differentiate between march-men and the denizens of the interior of the same social world. […]

No other universal state known to History appears to have been as homogeneous in culture as Japan under the Tokugawa régime. In “the Middle Empire” of Egypt, in which a fringe of barbarians on the Nubian glacis of its Theban march was one element of variation from the cultural norm of the Egyptiac Society of the age, there was another and more positive feature of cultural diversity in the Empire’s culturally Sumeric provinces and client states in Palestine and Coele Syria. As for “the New Empire”, which was a deliberate revival of the original Egyptiac universal state, it accentuated the pattern of its prototype by completing the assimilation of the barbarians of Nubia and by embracing the domain of an abortive First Syriac Civilization in Syria and North-Western Mesopotamia; and this culturally tripartite structure – in which the cultural domain of the civilization through whose disintegration the universal state has been brought into existence is flanked by culturally alien territories annexed at the expense of both barbarians and neighbouring civilizations – appears to be the standard type.

For example, in the Mauryan Empire, which was the original Indic universal state, an Indic cultural core was flanked by an alien province in the Panjab, which had been at least partially Syriacized during a previous period of Achaemenian rule after having been partially barbarized by an antecedent Völkerwanderung of Eurasian Nomads, while in other quarters the Mauryan Empire’s Indic core was flanked by ex-barbarian provinces in Southern India and possibly farther afield in both Ceylon and Khotan as well. The Guptan Empire, in which the Mauryan was eventually reintegrated, possessed an ex-barbarian fringe, with an alien Hellenic tincture, in the satrapy that had been founded by Saka war-bands in Gujerat and the North-Western Deccan, and a Hellenized fringe, with a Kushan barbarian dilution, in the territories under its suzerainty in the Panjab. In a Han Empire which was the Sinic universal state, the Sinic World proper was flanked by barbarian annexes in what was eventually to become Southern China, as well as on the Eurasian Steppe, and by an alien province in the Tarim Basin, where the Indic, Syriac, and Hellenic cultures had already met and mingled before this cultural corridor and crucible was annexed to the Han Empire for the first time in the second century B.C. and for the second time in the first century of the Christian Era. In the Roman Empire, which was the Hellenic universal state, a culturally Hellenic core in Western Anatolia, Continental European Greece, Sicily, and Italy, with outlying enclaves in Cilicia, in Syria, at Alexandria, and at Marseilles, was combined with the domain of the submerged Hittite Civilization in Eastern Anatolia, with the homelands of the Syriac and Egyptiac civilizations in Syria and in the Lower Nile Valley, with the colonial [Carthaginian] domain of the Syriac Civilization in North-West Africa, and with ex-barbarian hinterlands in North-West Africa and in Western and Central Europe as far as the left bank of the Rhine and the right bank of the Danube. [Footnote: Leaving out of account the late-acquired and early-lost Transdanubian bridgehead in Dacia.]

There are other cases in which this standard cultural pattern has been enriched by some additional element.

In the Muscovite Tsardom, a Russian Orthodox Christian core was flanked by a vast ex-barbarian annex extending northwards to the Arctic Ocean and eastwards eventually to the Pacific, and by an Iranic Muslim annex consisting of the sedentary Muslim peoples of the Volga Basin, the Urals, and Western Siberia. This pattern was afterwards complicated by Peter the Great’s deliberate substitution of a Westernized for a traditional Orthodox Christian cultural framework for the Russian Orthodox Christian universal state, and by the subsequent annexation of additional alien territories – at the expense of the Islamic World on the Eurasian Steppe and in the Crimea, the Caucasus, and the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin, and at the expense of Western Christendom in the Baltic Provinces, Lithuania, Poland, and Finland.

In the Achaemenian Empire, which was the original Syriac universal state, there was an antecedent cultural diversity, within the Syriac core itself, between the Syrian creators of the Syriac Civilization and their Iranian converts, and a geographical gap between Syria and Iran that was still occupied by the dwindling domain of the gradually disappearing Babylonic culture. The Achaemenian Empire also embraced the domain of the submerged Hittite culture in Eastern Anatolia, the best part of the domain of the Egyptiac Civilization, fringes torn from the Hellenic and Indic worlds, and pockets of partially reclaimed barbarian highlanders and Eurasian Nomads. Moreover, after its life had been prematurely cut short by Alexander the Great, its work was carried on by his political successors, and especially by the Seleucidae, whom it would be more illuminating to describe as alien Hellenic successors of Cyrus and Darius. In the Arab Caliphate, in which the Achaemenian Empire was eventually reintegrated, the Syriac core – in which the earlier diversity between Syrian creators and Iranian converts had been replaced by a cleavage, along approximately the same geographical line, between ex-subjects of the Roman and ex-subjects of the Sasanian Empire – was united politically, by Arab barbarian empire-builders, with barbarian annexes – in North-West Africa, in the fastnesses of Daylam and Tabaristan between the Elburz Mountains and the Caspian Sea, and on the fringes of the Eurasian Steppe adjoining the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin – and with fragments of alien civilizations: a slice of the new-born Hindu World in Sind; the potential domain of an abortive Far Eastern Christian Civilization in the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin; an Orthodox Christian diaspora in Syria and Egypt; and a fossil of the by then elsewhere extinct Babylonic Society at Harran.

In the Mongol Empire, which was a universal state imposed by alien empire-builders on the main body of the Far Eastern Society in China, the annexes to a Chinese core were unusually extensive – including, as they did, the whole of the Eurasian Nomad World, the whole of Russian Orthodox Christendom, and the ex-Sasanian portion of a Syriac World which by that time was in extremis. The Mongols themselves were barbarians with a tincture of Far Eastern Christian culture. In the Manchu empire-builders, who subsequently repeated the Mongols’ performance on a less gigantic yet still imposing scale, there was the same tincture in a more diluted form; and the Chinese universal state in its Manchu avatar once again embraced, in addition to its Chinese core, a number of alien annexes: a “reservoir” of barbarians in the still unfelled backwoods and still virgin steppes of Manchuria, the whole of the Tantric Mahayanian Buddhist World in Tibet, Mongolia, and Zungaria, and the easternmost continental outposts of the Islamic World in the Tarim Basin, the north-western Chinese provinces of Kansu and Shansi, and the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.

In the Ottoman Empire, which provided, or saddled, the main body of Orthodox Christendom with its universal state, the alien ʿOsmanli empire-builders united an Orthodox Christian core with a fringe of Western Christian territory in Hungary, with the whole of the Arabic Muslim World except Morocco, the Sudan, and South-Eastern Arabia, and with pockets of barbarians and semi-barbarians in Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, the Mani, the Caucasus, the Crimea, and on the Arabian Steppe. In the Mughal Empire, which was the Ottoman Empire’s counterpart in the Hindu World, the pattern was simpler, since, apart from the Iranic Muslim empire-builders and their co-religionists who had been deposited in the Hindu social environment by earlier waves of invasion from the Middle East and Central Asia [since the twelfth century], the Mughals’ only [sic] non-Hindu subjects were the Pathan barbarian highlanders on the north-western fringe of their dominions. When, however, the Mughal Rāj was replaced by a British Rāj, the pattern of the Hindu universal state became more complex; for the advent of a new band of alien empire-builders, which substituted a Western element for an Islamic at the political apex of the Hindu universal state, did not expel the Indian Muslims from the stage of Hindu history, but merely depressed their status to that of a numerically still formidable alien element in the Hindu internal proletariat, so that the Hindu universal state in its second phase combined elements drawn from two alien civilizations with a Pathan barbarian fringe and a Hindu core.

There had been other universal states in which, as in the Mughal Empire, the cultural pattern had been less complex than the standard type yet not so simple as that of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The Empire of Sumer and Akkad, which was the Sumeric universal state, included no representatives of an alien civilization – unless Byblus and other Syrian coast-towns are to be counted as such in virtue of their tincture of Egyptiac culture. On the other hand, the Sumeric Civilization itself was represented in two varieties at least – a Sumero-Akkadian and an Elamite – and in no less than three if the domain of the Indus Culture should prove also to have been included in “the Empire of the Four Quarters of the World”. Moreover, the Babylonian Amorites, who eventually restored a polity that had been first constructed by the Sumerian Ur-Engur (alias Ur-Nammu) of Ur, were not merely marchmen but marchmen with a barbarian tinge. So, on a broader and a longer view, the cultural pattern of the Sumeric universal state proves to have been less homogeneous than might appear at first sight. “The thalassocracy of Minos”,  again, which was the Minoan universal state, probably included representatives of the continental Mycenaean variety of the Minoan culture as well as the creators of that culture in its Cretan homeland, even if it did not embrace any representatives of an alien civilization.

In the Central American World, two once distinct sister societies – the Yucatec Civilization and the Mexic – had not yet lost their distinctive characteristics, though they had already been brought together by force of Toltec arms, when the task, and prize, of establishing a Central American universal state was snatched, at the eleventh hour, out of the hands of barbarian Aztec empire-builders by Spanish representatives of an utterly alien Western Christendom. In the Andean World the Empire of the Incas, which was the Andean universal state, already included representatives of the Kara variety of the Andean culture […] before the indigenous Incan empire-builders were suddenly and violently replaced by Spanish conquistadores from Western Christendom who turned the Andean World upside-down, with a vigour reminiscent of Alexander the Great’s, by proceeding to convert the indigenous population to Christianity and to variegate the social map by studding it with immigrant Spanish landlords and self-governing municipalities.

The Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy, which served as a carapace for Western Christendom against the assaults of the ʿOsmanlis, and which, seen from the south-east, wore the deceptive appearance of being a full-blown Western universal state, set itself, like the Tokugawa Shogunate, to achieve domestic cultural uniformity, but lacked both the ruthlessness and the insularity which, between them, enabled the Japanese isolationists for a time to put their policy into effect. In pursuing its aim of being totally Catholic, the Hapsburg Power did succeed, more or less, in extirpating Protestantism within its frontiers; but the very success of its stand, and eventual counter-attack, against the Ottoman embodiment of an Orthodox Christian universal state broke up the Danubian Monarchy’s hardly attained Catholic homogeneity by transferring to Hapsburg from Ottoman rule a stiff-necked minority of Hungarian Protestants and a host of Orthodox Christians of divers nationalities, most of whom proved unwilling to accept the ecclesiastical supremacy of Rome, even when the yoke was proffered in the easy form of Uniatism [union with Rome and retention of local rites], while, among those who did accept this relatively light burden, the rank and file remained nearer in heart and mind to their dissident Orthodox ex-co-religionists than they ever came to be to their fellow Catholics who were of the Latin Rite.

The [post-Assyrian] Neo-Babylonian Empire [or Chaldean Empire], which was the Babylonic universal state, similarly forfeited its cultural purity – and thereby worked unwittingly for the eventual extinction of the Babylonic Civilization itself – when Nebuchadnezzar conquered and annexed the homeland of the Syriac Civilization west of the Euphrates; and the impress of the indigenous Babylonic culture became progressively fainter as the domain which Nebuchadnezzar had bequeathed to a short line of native successors was incorporated first into the barbaro-Syriac Empire of the Achaemenids and then into the Hellenic Empire of the Seleucids.

Our survey has shown that, in the cultural composition of universal states, a high degree of diversity is the rule; and, in the light of this fact, it is evident that one effect of the “conductivity” of universal states is to carry farther, by less violent and less brutal means, that process of cultural pammixia that is started, in the antecedent Times of Troubles, by the atrocities that these bring in their train. The refugees, exiles, deportees, transported slaves, and other déracinés of the more cruel preceding age are followed up, under the milder régime of a universal state, by merchants, by professional soldiers, and by philosophic and religious missionaries and pilgrims who make their transit with less tribulation in a more genial social climate.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The Silk Road

June 22 2012

Maps of the Silk Road differ and are often approximate if not inaccurate. Nor is there one Silk Road. I’ll take this one, which appears to be in the public domain, as a simple reference. It shows the main route from Chang’an, now Xi’an, in Shaanxi province, going north and south of the Taklamakan desert or Tarim Basin. The westernmost city in modern China here is Kashgar or Kashi. From there the road passes through Tajikistan (and perhaps Kyrgyzstan) into Uzbekistan – in other words, through Sogdiana – and from there into Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria.

This does not show an alternative southern route which began near Kashgar and passed through Bactria, north of the Hindu Kush, before rejoining the main route north of Merv.

Another road left China to cross the Karakoram into what is now Pakistan.

The Silk Road is not a steppe route. It runs south of the steppe. It is a mountain and desert route.

On the other hand, from Transoxiana, traders could pass north of the Aral and Caspian seas in order to reach the Black Sea ports via the steppe.

Buddhism entered China on the Silk Road via the Kushan Empire in the first century of the Christian era.

The salt lake at the eastern edge of the Taklamakan is Lop Nur.

The Dzungarian Gap is the approach, between the Altai to the north and the Tien Shan to the south, across the now-Chinese Gobi, to the Great Wall and China proper.

China’s artificial northern frontier was the Wall. Its natural northern frontier was the Gobi.

The significant experience

April 11 2012

In the encounter between the world and the West that has been going on by now for four or five hundred years, the world, not the West, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the West that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the West; and that is why, in the title of this book, the world has been put first.

The World and the West, OUP, 1953

The World and the West

March 6 2012

This is from the first of the 1952 BBC radio Reith Lectures, given under the title The World and the West. I posted the fourth, The Far East and the West, here. Background on Reith Lectures here.

In writing both the world and the west into my title, and writing the two words in that order, I was doing both things deliberately, because I wanted to make two points that seem to me essential for an understanding of our subject. The first point is that the west has never been all of the world that matters. The west has not been the only actor on the stage of modern history even at the peak of the west’s power (and this peak has perhaps now already been passed). My second point is this: in the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west, is the party that, up to now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the west that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit – and hit hard – by the west; and that is why, in my title, I have put the world first.

Let us try, for a few minutes, to slip out of our native western skins and look at this encounter between the world and the west through the eyes of the great non-western majority of mankind. Different though the non-western peoples of the world may be from one another in race, language, civilisation, and religion, if we ask them their opinion of the west, we shall hear them all giving us the same answer: Russians, Moslems, Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, and all the rest. The west, they will tell us, has been the arch-aggressor of modern times, and each will have their own experience of western aggression to bring up against us. The Russians will remind us that their country has been invaded by western armies overland in 1941, 1915, 1812, 1709, and 1610; the peoples of Africa and Asia will remind us that western missionaries, traders, and soldiers from across the sea have been pushing into their countries from the coasts since the fifteenth century. The Asians will also remind us that, within the same period, the westerners have occupied the lion’s share of the world’s last vacant lands in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South and East Africa. The Africans will remind us that they were enslaved and deported across the Atlantic in order to serve the European colonisers of the Americas as living tools to minister to their western masters’ greed for wealth. The descendants of the aboriginal population of North America will remind us that their ancestors were swept aside to make room for the west European intruders and for their African slaves.

This indictment will surprise, shock, grieve, and perhaps even outrage most of us westerners today. Dutch westerners are conscious of having evacuated Indonesia, and British westerners of having evacuated India, Pakistan, Burma, and Ceylon, since 1945.

That was all the territory Britain had lost by 1952, except for Palestine and concessions in China. We lost none, except Sudan (which was an Anglo-Egyptian “condominium”) and a military base at Suez, between Ceylon on February 4 1948 (which completed our evacuation of the subcontinent) and Ghana on March 6 1957.

1952 was also a year of direct British and American interference in the internal affairs of Iran.

British westerners have no aggressive war on their consciences since the South African war of 1899-1902, and American westerners none since the Spanish-American war of 1898. We forget all too easily that the Germans, who attacked their neighbours, including Russia, in the First World War and again in the Second World War, are westerners too, and that the Russians, Asians, and Africans do not draw fine distinctions between different hordes of “Franks” – which is the world’s common name for westerners in the mass. “When the world passes judgment, it can be sure of having the last word”, according to a well-known Latin proverb. And certainly the world’s judgment on the west does seem to be justified over a period of about four and a half centuries ending in 1945. In the world’s experience of the west during all that time, the west has been the aggressor on the whole; and, if the tables are being turned on the west by Russia and China today, this is a new chapter of the story which did not begin until after the end of the Second World War. The west’s alarm and anger at recent acts of Russian and Chinese aggression at the west’s expense are evidence that, for westerners, it is today still a strange experience to be suffering at the hands of the world what the world has been suffering at western hands for a number of centuries past.

The lectures introduced ideas which would be developed in the eighth volume of the Study.

In the encounter between the world and the west that has been going on now for 400 or 500 years, the world, not the west […], has had the significant experience

is the most striking sentence. These views were shocking, as he says, to many listeners in 1952. They seemed defeatist.

I have taken this from a transcript on the BBC website, not from the printed book: there may be differences. The transcript probably shows what was printed in The Listener. I have made the use of upper case in references to world wars consistent.

The lectures were published in book form as

The World and the West, OUP, 1953

Venetian people-traffickers

February 2 2012

The trade between the Greek settlements on the north shore of the Black Sea and the Royal Scythians had its [medieval] counterpart in a trade between Venetian and Genoese settlements on the same coast and the Golden Horde. During the Mamlūk régime in Egypt, when the Mamlūks were importing their slave-successors from the Great Western Bay of the Eurasian Steppe and not, as in the second phase, from the Caucasus, the Venetians were the principal carriers of this valuable human freight.

A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Boredom in Batum

October 11 2011

or, Why Georges Simenon’s novels seem longer than they are. I suggested that they did here.


“‘What! You’ve got some white bread!’

“The two Persians, the consul and his wife, had just come into the drawing-room, and it was the woman who was going into ecstasies before the table covered with attractively arranged sandwiches.

“It had only been a minute earlier that Adil Bey had been told:

“‘There are only three consulates in Batum: yours, the Persian consulate and ours. But the Persians are quite impossible people.’

“It was Madame Pendelli, the Italian consul’s wife, who had said this, while her husband lay sprawled in an armchair, smoking a slim cigarette with a pink tip. The two women greeted each other with smiles in the middle of the drawing-room at the very moment when some sounds which until then had been nothing but a vague noise in the sunlit town grew louder and suddenly exploded in a fanfare at the corner of the street.

“Everybody immediately went out on to the verandah to watch the procession.”


That is the opening passage of Simenon’s 1933 novel Les gens d’en face, which is set in Soviet Georgia, in Batum, now called Batumi, on the Black Sea. Trabzon, on the Turkish coast, is round the corner. Translation, as The Window over the Way, by Robert Baldick, a translator of Chateaubriand, Flaubert, the Goncourts, Verne, Barbusse, Sartre. There was an earlier one, less good and with the same title, by Geoffrey Sainsbury.

Look at the time-shifts.

“‘What! You’ve got some white bread!’ [Time 1]

“The two Persians, the consul and his wife, had just come into the drawing-room [time 2], and it was the woman who was going into ecstasies [time 1] before the table covered with attractively arranged sandwiches.

“It had only been a minute earlier [time 3] that Adil Bey had been told:

“‘There are only three consulates in Batum: yours, the Persian consulate and ours. But the Persians are quite impossible people.’

“It was Madame Pendelli, the Italian consul’s wife, who had said this, while her husband lay [change of tense within time 3] sprawled in an armchair, smoking a slim cigarette with a pink tip. The two women greeted each other [time 1] with smiles in the middle of the drawing-room at the very moment when some sounds which until then [indeterminate time 4] had been nothing but a vague noise in the sunlit town grew louder and suddenly [time 1] exploded in a fanfare at the corner of the street.

“Everybody immediately went out on to the verandah to watch the procession.”


The last sentence gets us into the story after seven time-shifts in 14 or so lines of a book, and viewpoint-shifts from Persian to Turk to narrator. Spatially, we are in the room, looking over the town with the sun, and on the verandah.

In a few lines, Simenon has suggested an exotic location, the shallowness of the Persians, the laziness and vanity of the Italians, the passivity of the Turk. Adil Bey is introduced in the passive voice. That sets the tone for him. These may be residual racial stereotypes, but Simenon’s observations are so immediate that one doesn’t think of them in that way.

The slicing up, concertina-ing in and out, of time shows the influence of modernism. He can’t stay in the same place. The time-shifts, and the non-sequitur in the statement made to Adil Bey, make the passage surreal and are the descriptive equivalent of more general dysfunctionality.

How long did it take for the two women to meet each other in the middle of the room?

Simenon starts several of his books (248 core titles under his own name on my current reckoning, which are about half his total output) with compressed overtures like this: expressionist upbeats followed by cæsuras, so that we can catch breath. We’re reminded of vignettes in The Waste Land.

Exhausted nations and their isolated envoys. Within the boredom, hysteria. The vulgarism “going into ecstasies” is well-selected by Baldick. “Attractively arranged” matches it. Almost everyone reading this book (not that many do: its last edition in English was in 1972) compares it with Graham Greene. And then privately thinks: “But better.”

The time-shifts are compressed here, but Simenon uses them often. As he moves forwards and backwards, with a short wavelength here, but a longer wavelength in other passages and novels, especially later novels, where the characters’ lives are described through excursions into their pasts, he builds up a reality through pointillism, with each point being a different time. This makes the surface of his novels surge and gleam. It makes them, in fact, harder to read than simple two-dimensional narratives: they don’t slip down all that fast.


My own visit to Batumi in 1997 was anything but dull: a story for another time. Or perhaps a novel.


I like this passage.

The hapless Adil Bey opens a door in his consulate.

“The room was invaded by people who were so shabby, stupid and wild-looking that he wondered where so many could come from every day. Even now Adil Bey would make a mistake in trying to identify their race and some of them spoke a dialect which nobody understood, so that after vain efforts to explain themselves they would go off thoroughly discouraged.”

They are Turkic refugees from Soviet communism.

“They came down the mountains, from the direction of Armenia and Persia, or else, heaven knows why, they had set off from the borders of Turkistan and even from Siberia.

“And they all told endless stories of disarming complexity.

“‘But what do you want in the end?’ Adil Bey would finally explode.

“‘I want some money for another donkey.’

“Now the donkey would be the only thing which the man had never mentioned.”


Boundary platoon, Batumi, 1927, from a page about a soldier called Feodor Makovetski; he is seated second from right; inevitable leaning pair in front


June 29 2011

A philhellene of an earlier age, and from east, not west, of the Hellenic world. More cringing than any from the west.

“Make sure the engraving is done skillfully.
The expression serious, majestic.
The diadem preferably somewhat narrow:
I don’t like that broad kind the Parthians wear.
The inscription, as usual, in Greek:
nothing excessive, nothing pompous –
we don’t want the proconsul to take it the wrong way:
he’s always nosing things out and reporting back to Rome –]
but of course giving me due honour.
Something very special on the other side:
some discus-thrower, young, good-looking.
Above all I urge you to see to it
(Sithaspis, for God’s sake don’t let them forget)
that after ‘King’ and ‘Saviour,’
they engrave ‘Philhellene’ in elegant characters.
Now don’t try to be clever
with your ‘where are the Greeks?’ and ‘what things Greek]
here behind Zagros, out beyond Phraata?’
Since so many others more barbarian than ourselves
choose to inscribe it, we will inscribe it too.
And besides, don’t forget that sometimes
sophists do come to us from Syria,
and versifiers, and other triflers of that kind.
So we are not, I think, un-Greek.”


Philhellene, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at Spelling anglicised.

We had something similar to “nothing excessive” in Julian Seeing Contempt.

Phraata had been a capital of the Median Empire. It is now in Iranian Azarbaijan. This imaginary client, somewhere between Roman and Parthian (Arsacid) territory, is “out beyond Phraata”. Zagros refers to the mountain range.

I haven’t otherwise been tracking the revisions in this 1992 edition, but in my paperback of Keeley/Sherrard, a reprinting of the original 1975 edition,

“nothing excessive, nothing pompous” is “nothing excessive or pompous”,

“he’s always nosing things out” is “he’s always smelling things out”,

“some discus-thrower” is “maybe a discus-thrower”,

“they engrave ‘Philhellene’” is “they add ‘Philhellene’”,

“what things Greek” is “what Hellenism” and

“So we are not, I think, un-Greek” is “So we’re not, I think, un-Hellenized”.

Achaei, Zygi, Heniochi

June 23 2011

Strabo, writing on the morrow of the establishment of the Augustan Peace, makes the following observation at the end of his description of the piratical raids into the domain of the Hellenic universal state which were at that time the main source of livelihood for the barbarians (Achaei, Zygi, Heniochi) inhabiting the strip of inhospitable country between the crest of the North-Western Caucasus Range and the north-eastern coast of the Black Sea: “In places under [the] autocratic rule [of princes of client states of the Roman Empire] the victims [of these piratical raids] are afforded some protection by their rulers; for the princes make frequent counter-attacks and bring the war-canoes down, crews and all. The territory under direct Roman administration receives less effective protection owing to the indifference shown by the non-permanent lieutenant-governors sent out from Rome” (Strabo: Geographica, Book XI, chap. 11, § 12 (C 496)).

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

The inheritors of the Ottoman Empire

November 24 2010

Though the discomfiture by British arms of a moribund Mughal Empire’s local viceroy in Bengal might do little to upset Islamic complacency, and might be regarded in the West mainly as an incident in a struggle over India between Great Britain and France, the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by Russia in the Great Russo-Turkish War of A.D. 1768-74 was taken everywhere as a portent; and, when in A.D. 1798 the French descended upon the Ottoman dominion of Egypt, and overcame all resistance there with ease, as a step towards reopening in India a contest with their British rivals which had been decided there against France in the Seven Years’ War, even shrewd observers took it for granted that they would live to see the Ottoman Empire partitioned between France, Russia, Great Britain, and the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy. Yet this expectation, natural though it was at the time, was not fulfilled in the event; for the only parts of the Ottoman Empire, within its frontiers of A.D. 1768, which were in the possession of any of those foreign Powers in A.D. 1952 were the territories adjoining the north and east coasts of the Black Sea, from Bessarabia to Batum inclusive, which had fallen to Russia; Cyprus, which had fallen to Great Britain; and Tunisia and Algeria, which had fallen to France. As for the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy, which had held Bosnia-Herzegovina from A.D. 1878 to A.D. 1918 and the sanjāq of Novipazār from A.D. 1879 to A.D. 1908, she had voluntarily evacuated Novipazār and had lost Bosnia-Herzegovina in the act of losing her own existence. [Footnote: The occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in and after A.D. 1878, and annexation of this occupied Ottoman territory in A.D. 1908, had, indeed, been nails driven into the Hapsburg Monarchy’s coffin by its own statesmen’s hands, since these Hapsburg acts of aggression against a moribund Ottoman Empire had had the effect of bringing the Monarchy into a head-on collision with a youthful Serb nationalism.] The lion’s share of the Ottoman Empire of A.D. 1768, from Bosnia to the Yaman and from Tripolitania [footnote: A “Libya” consisting of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fazzān, which had been conquered from the Ottoman Empire by Italy in A.D. 1911-12, and from Italy by Great Britain in the general war of A.D. 1939-45, had attained independence on the 24th December, 1951.] to Moldavia inclusive, had passed into the hands, not of alien Great Powers, but of Orthodox Christian and Muslim successor-states, of which the largest in area – apart from a mostly arid Sa‘ūdī Arabia – was a Turkish Republic stretching from Adrianople to Mount Ararat.

A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954

The 1880s and the 1980s

November 22 2010

The twentieth-century tension between the Soviet Union and the United States was not bound to result in war in the nineteen-fifties, but might alternatively relax without catastrophe, as the nineteenth-century tension between the Russian Empire and the British Empire had relaxed in the eighteen-eighties.

A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954

The last Romanov

May 28 2010

Telegraph obituary of the Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna.

The last Ottoman

Bill Browder’s story

May 25 2010

Bill Browder’s Russia experience, on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN programme. And how Putin reined in the oligarchs after Khodorkovsky’s arrest in 2003. Chilling and gripping.

After that, Saakashvili. Then a post-Browder discussion with Stephen Cohen and Brett Stephens. There’s a podcast.

Russian assassinations


May 1 2010

Wikipedia list. Covers the world, but incomplete.

In the age of water-transport, the key pieces of the land-surface of the Oikoumenê were those that offered portages from one sea or from one navigable river to another. Egypt itself was a portage area, since the Nile debouches into the Mediterranean, and, from the Nile to the Red Sea coast, there is a short portage from the easternmost arm of the Delta to Suez via the Wadi Tumilat, and another via the Wadi Hammamat from Coptos, in Upper Egypt, to El Qusayr (Leukos Limen).

These portages are the points where the Delta/Nile is closest to the Gulf of Suez/Red Sea. The second of them is a little north of Luxor. The Wadis are dry river beds that are flooded during rain.

Indeed, the portage across the Isthmus of Suez between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean is part of a wider portage area that includes Egypt to the west and Iraq to the east. In this area the Mediterranean, which is a backwater of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, which are backwaters of the Indian Ocean, are separated from each other by the narrowest extent of intervening dry land, and the passage from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea via the Nile is duplicated by the passage to the Persian Gulf via the Euphrates.

If you look at a map, it’s obvious that the key city in the Mediterranean-Euphrates portage is Aleppo.

Two other portages have been of outstanding historical importance: the portage between the rivers debouching into the Baltic and those debouching into the Caspian and the Black Sea, and the portage across the North China plain between the lower courses of the Yangtse, the Hwai, the Yellow River, and the Pei Ho – a portage that has been turned into a waterway by the digging of the Grand Canal. However, the Chinese and Russian portages are on the fringe of the Old-World Oikoumenê; they are surpassed in historical importance by the central portage between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.

In the seventh century BC, the Corinthian tyrant Periander built the Diolkos, a paved track which allowed boats to be carried across the Isthmus of Corinth between the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf.

He had thought of building a canal. So did the Diadoch Demetrius (336–283 BC). So, according to Suetonius, did Julius Caesar and Nero. Nero actually began work, breaking the ground with a pickaxe himself and removing the first basket-load of soil. Six thousand Jewish prisoners of war started digging. The work stopped when Nero died. The modern Corinth Canal was built between 1881 and ’93.

The Diolkos

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

The end of freshness

March 18 2010

“Journeys, those magic caskets full of dreamlike promises, will never again yield up their treasures untarnished. A proliferating and overexcited civilization has broken the silence of the seas once and for all. The perfumes of the tropics and the pristine freshness of human beings have been corrupted by a busyness with dubious implications, which mortifies our desires and dooms us to acquire only contaminated memories.

“Now that the Polynesian islands have been smothered in concrete and turned into aircraft carriers solidly anchored in the southern seas, when the whole of Asia is beginning to look like a dingy suburb, when shanty towns are spreading across Africa, when civil and military aircraft blight the primeval innocence of the American or Melanesian forests even before destroying their virginity, what else can the so-called escapism of travelling do than confront us with the more unfortunate aspects of our history? Our great Western civilization, which has created the marvels we now enjoy, has only succeeded in producing them at the cost of corresponding ills. The order and harmony of the Western world, its most famous achievement, and a laboratory in which structures of a complexity yet unknown are being fashioned, demand the elimination of a prodigious mass of noxious by-products which now contaminate the globe. The first thing we see as we travel round the world is our own filth, thrown in the face of mankind.”


John and Doreen Weightman, translators, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, Jonathan Cape, 1973; first French edition Librairie Plon, 1955.

Persia’s losses

March 15 2010

The most serious territorial diminution which the Persian Empire has suffered since the definitive Ottoman conquest of ‘Irāq [1533] has been the loss of the Transcaucasian territory which was conquered by Russia in the early nineteenth century and which now constitutes a Republic of Azerbaijan which is one of the constituent […] members of the U.S.S.R.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

October 25 2009

This was a Depression, not Crash, song, but it will do to mark the anniversary.

The market slid on Thursday October 24 1929, but the catastrophic collapse occurred on Monday and Tuesday, October 28 and 29.

The song was written in 1931. The lyrics were by Yip Harburg, the music by Jay Gorney.

Here sung by the little-known Charlie Palloy, with guitar and his orchestra, recorded in 1932. He gets the song’s grim tread better than its better-known exponent, Bing Crosby.

Bing Crosby. I’m not sure of the date.

Russian assassinations

July 23 2009

Natalia Estemirova, July 15. Photograph: MEMORIAL / HO/EPA, via Guardian.

Natalia Estemirova






Murdered abroad

Human rights activists (some assassinated)

Political activists (some assassinated)

Chechen activistsanti-war activists, pacifists, anti-nuclear weapons/power activists, environmentalists, feminists, others (some assassinated)

Former Soviet dissidents and victims of Soviet repressions (not necessarily murdered)

The homoeopathic treatment of nationalism

July 5 2009

Stalin has perceived in advance that one of the most formidable impediments to the triumph of the Marxian “ideology” among the peoples of the Soviet Union is likely to be the attraction of the alternative “ideology” of Nationalism – a competing Western political idea which has already captured some of the most highly cultivated peoples of the Union, such as the Ukrainians, Georgians, and Armenians, and which is likely to continue to spread until its leaven – or virus – will have infected even the most remote and backward tribes in the mountain-fastnesses of the Caucasus and Altai and in the tundras beyond the Arctic Circle. Recognizing that this unwelcome triumph of Nationalism is at least as probable as the triumph of the Communism which it is his mission to promote, Stalin has set himself to prevent the plague of Nationalism from taking a virulent form by applying the homoeopathic treatment of inoculation. He has thrown open to the peoples of the Union so wide a scope for the satisfaction of nationalist proclivities as to reduce to a minimum the danger that nationalist grievances may be used as a “red herring” to draw the peoples’ feet away from the path of Communism which Stalin wishes them to tread.

In this field, at any rate, Stalin knows what he is about; for he is himself a Georgian by birth and he has thus had a direct experience of the stimulating effect of the old Imperial Russian policy of repression upon national movements among non-Russian subjects of the Tsar. […]

Unhappily the homoeopathic treatment which the All-Union Communist Party, under Stalin’s inspiration, have applied to the problem of Nationalism within the frontiers of the Soviet Union has not been their policy in dealing with corporations and parties and sects and classes.

Communist China applied the same remedy in a smaller dose, with its “recognition” of over fifty non-Han ethnic minorities, whose songs and dances have greeted so many visiting foreign delegations. The China National Ethnic Song and Dance Ensemble was founded by Zhou Enlai in 1952.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

Wells’s Outline – A thronging, amazing Paris

March 26 2009

“In 1919, Paris was the capital of the world.” Margaret MacMillan’s Peacemakers, The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War, John Murray, 2001.

Below, HG Wells’s Outline of History on Paris in 1919.

Wells, as an older contemporary of Toynbee, wanders into this blog occasionally. But why was the Outline, large parts of which were, as he admitted, cobbled together from the Encyclopædia Britannica, taken so seriously in its time?

It was published as a serial in soft covers in 1919, with colour plates and black-and-white photographs, and drawings and maps by JF Horrabin. The first hard cover book edition appeared in two volumes in 1920, reproducing or imitating the large-page format. The book one sees more often, which endured, was a monochrome single-volume blockbuster with no photographs, but with Horrabin’s drawings and maps.

Wells revised and updated the book more than once. After his death, Raymond Postgate and HG’s son GP Wells took the story up to 1963. The last print edition was in 1971.

What value does the Outline have now? None really, though some passages, including those on Versailles, are vintage Wells (I have quoted another on Versailles here). It’s an otherwise intellectually unsatisfying work, a thousand times superseded. Some saw its limitations at the time, but nearly all agreed that it was a wonderful achievement.

Wells had prestige. There was a hunger for a “synoptic view of world affairs” after the war. But, as I have suggested, it impressed partly because the idea of a world history, strange as this now sounds, was new. There had been ancient and medieval precedents, and a few recent multi-volume syndicated encyclopædic efforts (such as The Historians’ History of the World) in a format which the original, serialised Outline itself partly followed, but nothing by a serious modern figure, pace Ranke and Burckhardt.

Soon, there were imitators. Hendrik Willem van Loon’s The Story of Mankind was particularly popular, not only with children. Spengler’s Decline of the West, very different, had appeared in Germany in 1918.

Edward Shanks’s review of the Outline in The London Mercury is reprinted in Patrick Parrinder, editor, HG Wells, The Critical Heritage, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.

Forster wrote at least three critical articles about it (they are reprinted in The Prince’s Tale and Other Uncollected Writings, André Deutsch, 1998).

Catholics objected. Chesterton wrote a book, The Everlasting Man, to refute its world view. “I do not believe that the past is most truly pictured as a thing in which humanity merely fades away into nature, or civilization merely fades away into barbarism, or religion fades away into mythology, or our own religion fades away into the religions of the world. In short, I do not believe that the best way to produce an outline of history is to rub out the lines.”

Belloc wrote A Companion to Mr Wells’s “Outline of History”. Wells replied with Mr Belloc Objects. Belloc replied with Mr Belloc Still Objects.

Toynbee referred to it in the Study.

Nehru’s Glimpses of World History (I mentioned it here) was a kind of Asian riposte to it. This is an enchanting book, even though, or because, written for a child, his daughter Indira (Gandhi). Somebody offered it in a Sunday newspaper list recently as among the unjustly forgotten books. I’ll second that. I’d rather have it on a desert island than the Wells. Its maps were done by Wells’s illustrator, JF Horrabin.

Virginia Woolf referred to the Wells in Between the Acts.

There was more.


Wells on Versailles and Paris in 1919, mainly relying on a quotation:

“As the heads of the principal Governments implicitly claimed to be the authorized spokesmen of the human race, and endowed with unlimited powers, it is worth noting that this claim was boldly challenged by the people’s organs in the Press. Nearly all the journals read by the masses objected from the first to the dictatorship of the group of Premiers, Mr. Wilson being excepted. … [Footnote: Dillon. And see his The Peace Conference, chapter iii, for instances of the amazing ignorance of various delegates.]

“The restriction upon our space in this Outline will not allow us to tell here how the Peace Conference shrank from a Council of Ten to a Council of Four (Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Orlando), and how it became a conference less and less like a frank and open discussion of the future of mankind, and more and more like some old-fashioned diplomatic conspiracy. Great and wonderful had been the hopes that had gathered to Paris. ‘The Paris of the Conference,’ says Dr. Dillon, ‘ceased to be the capital of France. It became a vast cosmopolitan caravanserai teeming with unwonted aspects of life and turmoil, filled with curious samples of the races, tribes, and tongues of four continents who came to watch and wait for the mysterious to-morrow.

‘An Arabian Nights’ touch was imparted to the dissolving panorama by strange visitants from Tartary and Kurdistan, Korea and Aderbeijan (sic), Armenia, Persia, and the Hedjaz – men with patriarchal beards and scimitar-shaped noses, and others from desert and oasis, from Samarkand and Bokhara. Turbans and fezes, sugar-loaf hats and head-gear resembling episcopal mitres, old military uniforms devised for the embryonic armies of new states on the eve of perpetual peace, snowywhite burnouses, flowing mantles, and graceful garments like the Roman toga, contributed to create an atmosphere of dreamy unreality in the city where the grimmest of realities were being faced and coped with.

‘Then came the men of wealth, of intellect, of industrial enterprise, and the seed-bearers of the ethical new ordering, members of economic committees from the United States, Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia, India, and Japan, representatives of naphtha industries and far-off coal mines, pilgrims, fanatics and charlatans from all climes, priests of all religions, preachers of every doctrine, who mingled with princes, field-marshals, statesmen, anarchists, builders-up and pullers-down. All of them burned with desire to be near to the crucible in which the political and social systems of the world were to be melted and recast. Every day, in my walks, in my apartment, or at restaurants, I met emissaries from lands and peoples whose very names had seldom been heard of before in the West. A delegation from the Pont-Euxine Greeks called on me, and discoursed of their ancient cities of Trebizond, Samsoun, Tripoli, Kerassund, in which I resided many years ago, and informed me that they, too, desired to become welded into an independent Greek Republic, and had come to have their claims allowed. The Albanians were represented by my old friend Turkhan Pasha, on the one hand, and by my friend Essad Pasha on the other – the former desirous of Italy’s protection, the latter demanding complete independence. Chinamen, Japanese, Koreans, Hindus, Kirghizes, Lesghiens, Circassians, Mingrelians, Buryats, Malays, and Negroes and Negroids from Africa and America were among the tribes and tongues foregathered in Paris to watch the rebuilding of the political world system and to see where they “came in.” …’

“To this thronging, amazing Paris, agape for a new world, came President Wilson, and found its gathering forces dominated by a personality narrower, in every way more limited and beyond comparison more forcible than himself: the French Premier, M. Clemenceau. At, the instance of President Wilson, M. Clemenceau was elected President of the Conference. ‘It was,’ said President Wilson, ‘a special tribute to the sufferings and sacrifices of France.’ And that, unhappily, sounded the keynote of the Conference, whose sole business should have been with the future of mankind.”


The “Council of Ten” contained the heads of government and foreign ministers of Britain, France, Italy, the United States and Japan.

The months of the conference were those of the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, of the foundation of the Fascist party in Italy, of the Bavarian and Hungarian Socialist Republics, of the Amritsar massacre in India, of convulsions in Ireland, Egypt, eastern Europe and Russia, Turkey, Korea and China.

Arrival of jazz in France. In painting and a vein of “classical” music, the eve of a return to form and order.

Paris would remain the centre of the Western art world for another twenty years. Then its decline would be as steep as that of Vienna’s in music.

Parisian throngs not embroiled in war or revolution: La comédie humaineLes enfants du paradisLa bohème, Act II … Louise, Act II …

Versailles 1919 (post here)


William Orpen, The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, London, Imperial War Museum

The Araxes

December 2 2008

Herodotus’s accurate knowledge of geography did not extend much farther eastwards than a line drawn from Trebizond [Trabzon] to Susa [the nearest town on the map below is Ahvāz] (i.e. a line roughly coincident with the present eastern frontiers of Turkey and ‘Irāq); and his “River Araxes” […] appears to be a conflation of the actual river, still bearing that name [or that of Aras: see the Wikipedia article for its present geopolitical course], which flows from Armenia through Azerbaijan into the Caspian, with the actual Oxus and Jaxartes, into a single mighty and fabulous stream.



A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934 (footnote)

The shot heard round the world 2

July 5 2008

The shot heard round the world 1

The latter part of Toynbee’s public lecture at the University of Pennsylvania in spring 1961.

In the first part he looked at the impact of America’s revolution in other countries. But how direct was its influence? How did it affect the French revolution, which would have happened anyway? The American revolution’s roots were equally in the Enlightenment.

It was an inspiration, an exemplar for overturning a régime, like the Dutch Revolt and the English revolution.

The Marquis de Lafayette helped the Americans in the war of 1775-83 and was in America from 1777 to ’82, with a break in France in 1779. He returned as a hero in 1824-5, visiting every state. The Declaration of Independence influenced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was adopted by the National Constituent Assembly in 1789.

In the first extract, Toynbee, who was so aware of the temptations of nationalism, fails, like many nineteenth-century liberals, to distinguish carefully between nationalist and social revolutions, as if freedom from foreign oppression were itself Liberty. He speaks like an old-fashioned man of that century.

The American revolution was social first, national second. The Americans were overthrowing an oppressor, but it was their government and society that these colonies professed to be seeking to reform. What kinds of societies would the peoples who had heard the American “shot” produce?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Once America had separated itself, it became clear that the fragment continued to oppress many of its members.

Toynbee is romantically unrealistic when he recalls the America of 1961, that “leader of a world-wide anti-revolutionary movement in defence of vested interests”, to its revolutionary traditions in its foreign policy. At one point he seems to defend revolutionary violence. He was especially provocative in implying a sympathy for Castro.

This lecture was, perhaps, a turning-point in his relationship with America, the country that had welcomed him with something like adulation in the late ’40s and the ’50s. His Study of History had seemed to have important things to say to America during its “rise to globalism”. He supported the civil rights movement, and opposed the Vietnam War in the ’60s and ’70s, and his later and bleak view of American foreign policy is reflected here in posts called Neo-colonialism: The view from 1969 and The frontier spirit.

What we are hearing now, above the echoing sound of that American shot, is the answering voice of the mass of mankind. This two-thirds – or is it three-quarters? – of the World’s population is still living only just above the starvation line and is still frequently falling below even that wretched line into death-dealing famine. Since the time when our pre-human ancestors became human, this majority of the human race has never dreamed, before today, that there would ever be any change for the better in its hard lot. Since the dawn of civilization, about 5000 years ago, the World’s peasantry has carried the load of civilization on its back without receiving any appreciable share in civilization’s benefits. These benefits have been monopolized by a tiny privileged minority, and, until yesterday, this injustice was inevitable. Till the modern industrial revolution began to get up steam, technology was not capable of producing more than a tiny surplus after meeting the requirements of bare subsistence. In our time, technology is coming within sight of being able to produce enough of civilization’s material benefits to provide for the whole human race. If technology does make it possible to get rid of the odious ancient difference in fortune between the few rich and the innumerable poor, future generations will perhaps bless the Industrial Revolution in retrospect, and will think kindly of its British, American and German pioneers.

We already have the means for making a start in improving the lot of the great depressed majority of our fellow human beings. But, in the last resort, we human beings have to do things for ourselves. The World’s peasantry cannot hope to improve its lot substantially unless it can awake from its age-old lethargy. It is being awakened at this moment by the sound of that American shot as that sound circles the globe for the third time. That sound has now been heard by the World’s whole depressed majority, and we, the affluent minority, are now hearing the majority’s reply. At last, the majority is shaking off the fatalism that has been paralysing it since the beginning of time. It is becoming alive to the truth that an improvement in its lot is now possible. More than that, it is realizing that it can do something towards this by its own efforts. Go to India; visit some of the thousands of villages there in which the Community Development Plan is already in operation; and you will see, with your own eyes, this new hope and purposefulness and energy breaking into flower. This is, to my mind, the most wonderful sight that there is to be seen in the present-day world. And this world-revolution of the peasantry is the most glorious revolution that there has been in the World’s history so far.

Well, perhaps I ought to have said “the most glorious secular revolution”; for the religious revolutions may have been more glorious; and these may also, in the long run, prove to have had still greater and more beneficent effects. By the religious revolutions I mean the advent of the World’s missionary religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and the others. The new world revolution of the peasantry perhaps cannot properly be called a religious revolution. At the same time it is unquestionably a spiritual one. It is true that the objectives that are its first aim are of a material kind. These material objectives are as elementary as they are indispensable for making a start. They are such fundamental things as a concrete lining and lip for the village well, to protect the water from being contaminated; a concrete surface for the village lanes, to redeem them from being wallows of pestilent filth; a dirt-road to link the village up with the nearest main road; and, after that, a village school. When a village reaches the stage of building a school and finding the means to provide a living for a schoolmaster, it is already beginning to raise a spiritual mansion on the preliminary material foundations. Without the foundations, the building could not go up. But the material foundations are a means to a spiritual end. And what could be more obviously spiritual than the awakening of hope and purposefulness and energy that is the driving force behind the whole of this glorious revolution? This driving force is the last and greatest of the revolutionary forces that have been released, all round the World, by the sound of a shot that was fired, on an April day, by embattled American farmers.

This exhilarating sound has not only roused the peoples of the World to action in their own homelands; it has also drawn them, like a magnet, to the land in which the shot was fired and from which the sound has gone forth. For a century, European farmers flocked to the United States in order to become American farmers, and, as the Industrial Revolution got up steam on both sides of the Atlantic, European industrial workers were soon crossing the Atlantic westward in the farmers’ wake. The tide of immigration into the United States began to flow mightily within a few years of the end of the Napoleonic Wars [when there was a severe depression in Europe]. It went on flowing till the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. And, as it flowed, it gathered volume. Before it was abruptly checked in 1914 by the action of the belligerent European governments that were concerned to conserve their cannon-fodder, the annual total of immigrants had risen to about two million in more than one year after the turn of the century.

When I think of this century of massive immigration from Europe into Europe’s American promised land, my mind focuses on my memory’s picture of an old farmer, Bavarian-born, whom I met on my first visit to this country, now nearly thirty-six years ago. His farm was in East Central Kentucky, where I was staying with a college friend of mine. At home in Bavaria, this farmer had had no farm of his own and no prospect of ever acquiring one there. It had been the hope of winning one in the New World that had lured him across the Atlantic. Though he had emigrated while he was still a young man, he had not arrived till some year in the eighteen-nineties, and by that time, of course, all the best land in the state had been taken up long ago. In Kentucky by the eighteen-nineties, settlement had been going on for more than a hundred years. All the same, this Bavarian farmer had come in time still to be a pioneer. In the western foothills of the Appalachians – “the Knobs” is their local name – he had hit upon a valley that was still unreclaimed because no predecessor of his had found it sufficiently inviting. The Bavarian had seized on that valley and had made it fruitful. To transform it had been his life-work. He had not only made it yield him enough for raising a family. By the time his sons were grown up – and there were several of them – the father had also saved enough to be able to buy for each son a better farm than the father’s own. But the old man would never buy a better farm for himself. The valley-farm had been his life-work, and, more than that, it had been his European dream translated into an American reality. As a boy in Bavaria he had dreamed of one day having a farm of his own if he could screw up his courage to pull up his roots and cross the Ocean. In this unpromising valley in Kentucky he had made his farm and his farm had made him. Nothing this side of death would part him from it.

Multiply this Bavarian-American farmer by some millions and you have a revolution inside America to match those revolutions all round the World of which I have given you a breathless catalogue. America’s revolution on her own ground and her revolutions abroad have been like each other in everything that is important in them. They have both been set going by the shot fired in April 1775; they have both been triumphs over social injustice, poverty, and hopelessness. These revolutions are true daughters of the American Revolution, and to have fathered this mighty brood is indeed an achievement to be proud of. And now come the paradox, and, I should also say, the tragedy. At the moment when the sound of that historic American shot was circling this planet for the third time, at the moment when the American revolutionary spirit had come within sight of inspiring the whole human race, America herself disowned paternity, at least for the younger and less decorous batches of her offspring.

It has been suggested recently by at least one American student of American history that America did not wait till the twentieth century to dissociate herself from the World’s response to the resounding American shot’s reverberations. The founding fathers of the United States lived to witness the French Revolution, and at least one of the most eminent of them, John Adams, put on record his repudiation and rejection of the American Revolution’s French eldest daughter after she had jilted Lafayette and had plunged into Jacobinism. I owe my knowledge of the following passage to an article by William Henry Chamberlin in The Wall Street Journal of 31 March 1961. John Adams is quoted by Mr Chamberlin as having said that “Helvetius and Rousseau preached to the French nation liberty till they made them the most mechanical slaves; equality, till they destroyed all equity; humanity, until they became weasels and African panthers; and fraternity, till they cut one another’s throats like Roman gladiators”.

This bitter verdict on the Jacobin revolution gives us some notion of how John Adams and like-minded American contemporaries of his would have reacted to the Communist revolution, if they could have lived to witness this still more violent subsequent response to the echoes of the revolution which the founding fathers themselves had launched. The founding fathers had, no doubt, carried their own revolution just as far as they had intended, and evidently some of them were unwilling to see revolution, either at home or abroad, go even one inch farther. This is indicated by the bitterness of those words of John Adams’s that I have just quoted. But his words are not only bitter; they are also ironic. They bring out the irony of the contrast between intentions and results; and this is one of the perennial ironies of human life. It is seldom indeed that the consequences of human action work out according to plan; and one might venture on the generalization that they never work out as intended when the action is of the violent kind represented by revolution and war. The more violent the initial act, the more likely it will be that its consequences will escape control. Has there ever been a revolution or a war that has produced the results, and none other than the results, that its authors intended and expected? The American revolutionaries, like their French counterparts, and unlike at least one celebrated batch of Roman gladiators [to what is he referring?], were not “too proud to fight”; and they could not fire their shot without its being heard by other ears, and without its being taken as a signal for non-American, and perhaps un-American, action. In illustrating the vanity of human wishes by the example of the Jacobins, John Adams was unconsciously passing judgement on himself as well. Fabula de te narratur is the comment that he invites in retrospect. But Adams’s anti-Jacobin invective, which thus recoils like a boomerang on Adams himself, leaves his co-founding father Jefferson unscathed. Jefferson recognized that the price of political liberty would be “turbulence”, and he was not distressed by this prospect. “I hold,” he wrote to Madison, “that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

“Too proud to fight” was a phrase used by Woodrow Wilson to defend American neutrality in the First World War. It was immediately used against him.

Thus Adams’s conservatism was not shared by all the founding fathers; and Emerson was not the first American to acclaim the World Revolution and to recognize it as being the American Revolution’s offspring. America had already given a blessing to the late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century revolutions in Europe which it would be difficult for her ever to revoke, since it has been written into the map of American place-names. The names of the Corsican, Greek, Polish, and Hungarian revolutionary leaders Paoli, Ypsilandi, Kosciusko, and Kossuth have been thus immortalized. On the other hand, no Leninburg or Trotskyville has ever jumped out of the map of the United States to catch my eye. Of course there is less room for putting new names on this map nowadays than there used to be. Yet, if tomorrow a new territory of the United States were to be staked out on the face of the Moon, I do not think that any of the mushroom cities there would be likely to be called Fidel, though Fidel is really rather a beautiful name if American lips could pronounce it dispassionately.

Today America is no longer the inspirer and leader of the World Revolution, and I have an impression that she is embarrassed and annoyed when she is reminded that this was her original mission. No one else laid this mission upon America. She chose it for herself, and for one hundred and forty-two years, reckoning from the year 1775, she pursued this revolutionary mission with an enthusiasm which has proved deservedly infectious. By contrast, America is today the leader of a world-wide anti-revolutionary movement in defence of vested interests. She now stands for what Rome stood for. Rome consistently supported the rich against the poor in all foreign communities that fell under her sway; and, since the poor, so far, have always and everywhere been far more numerous than the rich, Rome’s policy made for inequality, for injustice, and for the least happiness of the greatest number. America’s decision to adopt Rome’s role has been deliberate, if I have gauged it right. It has been deliberate, yet, in the spirit that animates this recent American movement in reverse, I miss the enthusiasm and the confidence that made the old revolutionary America irresistible. Lafayette pays a high psychological price when he transforms himself into Metternich. Playing Metternich is not a happy role. It is not a hero’s role, and not a winner’s, and the player knows it. But, in those early nineteenth-century years when the real Metternich was fighting his losing battle to shore up the rickety edifice of restored “legitimacy”, who in the World would have guessed that America, of all countries, would one day cast herself for Metternich’s dreary part?

What has happened? The simplest account of it is, I suppose, that America has joined the minority. In 1775 she was in the ranks of the majority, and this is one reason why the American Revolution has evoked a world-wide response. For the non-American majority of the majority, the American revolutionary appeal has been as attractive as it was for eighteenth-century America herself. Eighteenth-century America was still appreciably poorer than the richest of the eighteenth-century West European countries: Britain, Holland, the Austrian Netherlands, France. No doubt America was, even then, already considerably richer than Asia or Africa; yet, even measured by this standard, her wealth at that time was not enormous. What has happened? While the sound of the shot fired beside the bridge at Concord has been three times circling the globe, and has each time been inciting all people outside America to redouble their revolutionary efforts, America herself has been engaged on another job than the one that she finished on her own soil in 1783. She has been winning the West and has been mastering the technique of industrial productivity. In consequence, she has become rich beyond all precedent. And, when the American sputnik’s third round raised the temperature of the World Revolution to a height that was also unprecedented, America felt herself impelled to defend the wealth that she had now gained against the mounting revolutionary forces that she herself had first called into existence.

What was the date at which America boxed the compass in steering her political course? As I see it, this date is pin-pointed by three events: the reaction in the United States to the second Russian revolution of 1917 and the two United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924.

The American reaction to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia was not, of course, peculiar to the American people. It was the same as the reaction of the rich people in all countries. Only, in the United States, it was a nation-wide reaction, because, in the United States, the well-to-do section of the population had become, by that time, a large majority, not the small minority that the rich have been and still are in most other parts of the World so far.

Rich people, not only in the United States but everywhere, have, I think, taken Communism in a very personal way. They have seen in Communism a threat to their pocket-books. So Communism, even when it has raised its head in some far-away country, has not felt to the rich like a foreign affair; the threat has seemed close and immediate, like the threat from gangsters in the streets of one’s home town. I think this explains the fact – and I am sure this is the fact – that Russian Communist aggression has got under the skins of the well-to-do in the Western World, while German nationalist aggression has not angered them to the same degree. This relative complacency towards German aggressiveness, as contrasted with the violence of the reaction to Russian aggressiveness, has made an impression on me because, I confess, it makes me bristle. I have noticed it among the rich minority in my own country, and I have noticed it still more among a wider circle of people in the United States. It is a rather startling piece of self-exposure. It is startling because, among the various dangers with which we have been threatened in our time, the danger to our personal property is not the one that we ought really to take most tragically. As a matter of fact, the well-to-do Western middle class would have been fleeced economically by the Germans, as thoroughly as this could be done by any Communists, if Germany had happened to win either the first or the second world war – and Germany came within an ace of winning each of these wars in turn. But the tragic loss that would have been inflicted on the Western World by a German victory would have been the loss of our political and our spiritual liberty. In two fearful wars that have been brought upon us by Germany within the span of a single life-time, we have saved our liberty at an immense loss in infinitely precious human lives. We have had no war with Russia in our life-time, and the Western and the Communist camp are not doomed to go to war with each other, though at present the common threat of self-annihilation in an atomic third world war hangs over us all.

Of course someone might reply to what I have just been saying by admitting the whole of my indictment of Germany but pointing out, at the same time, that Russia, too, threatens our political and spiritual freedom, besides threatening just our pockets. This is true. Yet, if I had to make the terrible choice between being conquered by a nationalist Germany and being conquered by a Communist Russia, I myself would opt for Russian Communism as against German nationalism. I would opt for it as being the less odious of the two régimes to live under. Nationalism, German or other, has no aim beyond the narrow-hearted aim of pursuing one’s own national self-interest at the expense of the rest of the human race. By contrast, Communism has in it an element of universalism. It does stand in principle for winning social justice for that great majority of mankind that has hitherto received less than its fair share of the benefits of civilization. I know very well that, in politics, principle is never more than partially translated into practice; I know that the generous-minded vein in Communism is marred by the violent and intolerant-minded vein in it. I also recognize that Communism in both Russia and China has been partly harnessed to a Russian and a Chinese nationalism that is no more estimable than German nationalism or any other nationalism is. Yet, when all this has been said, I still find myself feeling that the reaction of rich individuals and rich nations in the West to Communism since 1917 has been an “acid test”, to use President Wilson’s memorable words [the phrase is used in his Fourteen Points]. Anyway, it is, I think, indisputable that the reaction in the United States to Communism in and since the year 1917 has been a symptom of a reversal of America’s political course. It is a sign, I think, that the American people is now feeling and acting as a champion of an affluent minority’s vested interests, in dramatic contrast to America’s historic role as the revolutionary leader of the depressed majority of mankind.

The United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924 are, I believe, pointers to the same change in the American people’s attitude during and immediately after the First World War. Naturally I realize the urgent practical considerations that moved the Administration and the Congress to enact this legislation. The First World War had just brought to light a disturbing feature in this country’s domestic life: I mean, the persistence of the hyphen. [He means in phrases such as Italian-American and Irish-American.] An appreciable number of United States citizens, and of immigrants who were on their way to becoming citizens, had proved still to have divided loyalties. The American melting-pot had not yet purged out of their hearts the last residue of their hereditary attachment to their countries of origin on the European side of the Atlantic. There was evidently a long road still to travel before the process of assimilation would be completed, and this race between assimilation and immigration might never be won for Americanism unless the annual intake of immigrants were drastically reduced. Moreover, the pre-war immigrants were under criticism not only for still being pulled two ways by divided loyalties; they were also under suspicion of perhaps not being representative samples of the best European human material. The introduction of an annual quota would enable the United States Bureau of Immigration to sift the candidates for admission and to select those who promised to make the best future American citizens, and the policy of restriction was thus recommended by a eugenic motive as well as by a political one.

These considerations, by themselves, would have made some measure of restriction and selection desirable after the First World War anyway. But the main motive for the enactment of the acts of 1921 and 1924 was, I believe, a different one. Europe had just been ravaged by a war of unprecedented magnitude and severity. European belligerent governments had stopped their subjects from emigrating in order to conserve their supplies of cannon-fodder. And, now that the war was over, it was feared in the United States that the flow of immigration would start again, and this time in an unprecedented volume. A flood of penniless Europeans might pour into the United States in quest of fortunes in the New World to compensate for ruin in the Old World, and this probable rush of millions of European paupers to win a share in America’s prosperity was felt to be a menace to the economic interests of the existing inhabitants of the United States, who had a monopoly of America’s wealth at present.

If I am right in this diagnosis of the main motive for the United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924, the American people went on the defensive at this time against the impact of European immigration for the same reason that made America react so strongly against Communism. Both these reactions were those of a rich man who is concerned to defend his private property against the importunity of a mass of poorer people who are surging all round him and are loudly demanding a share in the rich man’s wealth.

What would have been the effects on America’s economic life if immigration into the United States had been left, down to this day, as free as it was during the century ending in 1921? Presumably the present population of the United States would have been much larger than it actually is, but it does not necessarily follow that the average income per head would have been lower. Experience tells us that a country’s total annual product is not a fixed amount. It may be increased by various factors. One of these stimuli to production may be a steep rise in the volume of population through a reinforcement of the natural increase by immigration. For example, the massive and unrestricted immigration into West Germany from East Germany since the end of the Second World War has been one, at least, of the causes of West Germany’s unexpected and surprising post-war economic prosperity. On this analogy it is conceivable that the economic effects of the United States immigration restriction acts of 1921 and 1924 was contrary to the legislators’ intentions and expectations. While conserving the previous income per head of the existing population of the United States, the immigration restriction acts may have prevented the income per head from rising so fast and so high as it might have done if immigration had been left unrestricted. A continuance of unrestricted immigration might also perhaps have saved the United States from the great depression of the nineteen-thirties. These are hypothetical questions which even an economist might find it hard to answer, and I am not an economist. But I would suggest to you that, whatever the economic consequences of those immigration restriction acts may have been, these economic consequences have not been the most important. The political and psychological consequences have, I should say, counted for more, and these non-economic consequences have, I should also say, been unfortunate for America as well as for Europe.

So long as immigration into the United States from Europe was unrestricted, America’s ever open door kept America in touch with the common lot of the human race. The human race, as a whole, was poor, as it still is; and America was then still a poor man’s country. She was a poor man’s country in the stimulating sense of being the country that was the poor man’s hope. She was the country, of all countries, in which a poor immigrant could look forward to improving his economic position by his own efforts. America did not, of course, even then, offer this opportunity to immigrants from the whole of the Old World. The opportunity was always restricted to immigrants from one small corner of the Old World, namely Europe. All the same, so long as America still offered herself as even just the European poor man’s hope, she retained her footing as part of the majority of the human race. In so far as she has closed her doors since 1921, she has cut herself off from the majority. This self-insulation is the inevitable penalty of finding that one has become rich and then taking steps to protect one’s new-found well-being. The impulse to protect wealth, if one has it, is one of the natural human impulses. It is not particularly sinful, but it automatically brings a penalty with it that is out of proportion to its sinfulness. This penalty is isolation. It is a fearful thing to be isolated from the majority of one’s fellow-creatures, and this will continue to be the social and moral price of wealth so long as poverty continues to be the normal condition of the World’s ordinary men and women.

I will close this first lecture in the present series by trying to drive this point home in a piece of fantasy. Let us imagine a transmigration of souls in reverse. Let us slip our own generation’s souls into the bodies of the generation of 1775, and then set the reel of history unwinding with this change in its make-up. The result that we shall obtain by this sleight of hand will be startlingly different from the actual course of events in 1775 and thereafter. The Declaration of Independence will now be made, not in Philadelphia, but at Westminster. King George III will raise his standard, not at the Court of St. James’s, but at Independence Hall (of course that building will not bear its historic revolutionary name; it will be called “Royal Hall” or “Legitimacy Hall” or some other respectable conservative name of the kind). The other George, George Washington, will take command of his royal namesake’s army. There will be no Continental Congress here in Philadelphia for George Washington to serve. The revolutionary parliament will be on the other side of the Ocean. It will be at Westminster. And the revolutionary leader will not be a George, but a Charles, namely Charles James Fox. The bridge beside which the embattled farmers will fire their shot will not be the bridge at Concord. The flood that it spans will be the Thames. The shot will be heard round the World, but it will be an Old-World shot, not a New-World one.

This nonsense that I have just been talking will have had its use if it has illustrated my thesis. I am maintaining that, since 1917, America has reversed her role in the World. She has become the arch-conservative power instead of the arch-revolutionary one. Stranger still, she has made a present of her glorious discarded role to the country which was the arch-conservative power in the nineteenth century, the country which, since 1946, has been regarded by America as being America’s Enemy Number One. America has presented her historic revolutionary role to Russia.

Is this reversal of roles America’s irrevocable choice? Is it a choice that she can afford to make? And, if she were to change her mind once again, would it now still be possible for America to rejoin her own revolution after having parted company with it forty-four years ago? I shall be taking up these questions in the second and third lectures in this series.

The second and third lectures were called The Handicap of Affluence and Can America Re-Join Her Own Revolution? The first, of which I have quoted all but the opening in these two posts, was called The Shot Heard round the World.

For the first post, I referred to the extract in EWF Tomlin, editor, Arnold Toynbee, A Selection from His Works, with an introduction by Tomlin, OUP, 1978, posthumous.

For this post, ie the remainder of the lecture, I referred to Questia’s online version of America and the World Revolution and Other Lectures, New York, OUP, 1962, which prints three sets of lectures given in different places in the New World in 1961 and ’62. The quotation from Jefferson is garbled here. I have corrected it. I have presumptively corrected one or two other mistakes: texts on Questia are not page-images and are not reliable. The Pennsylvania lectures were printed in the UK on their own as America and the World Revolution, OUP, 1962.

America and the World Revolution and Other Lectures, New York, OUP, 1962

The shot heard round the world 1

July 4 2008

In public lectures delivered at the University of Pennsylvania in spring 1961, Toynbee reminded his audience of “the revolutionary tradition which the United States had inaugurated and which she needed to re-join if she were to continue to play a positive role in the world” (EWF Tomlin).

I am just old enough to remember the time when Britain was still rich and strong enough to be the principal target for poorer and weaker peoples’ malice. Baiting is one of mankind’s oldest games, but the victim has to be a substantial one if the game is to be fun. Twisting the lion’s tail ceases to be rewarding if the lion shrinks to the size of a cat; but if a buzzard swells to the size of an eagle, it then becomes worthwhile to pull out the bird’s tail-feathers. It is not easy to adjust oneself to a rapid decrease in one’s wealth and power, but the transition is eased by one consoling form of relief. In being relieved of power and wealth, one is automatically relieved from odium. Experto crede. I am speaking from my own country’s experience in my own lifetime. We have been released from the odium that used to hang round Britain’s neck like the Ancient Mariner’s murdered albatross. The neck that is now adorned by the corpse of that albatross is America’s. When we British look at America nowadays, our feelings are mixed. We feel consoled for the recent change in our position in the world; at the same time we sympathize with you for the change in your position. I do hope that the second of these two feelings will make itself obvious to you in this present course of lectures by a British speaker. In examining America’s situation in the World today, I can say, with my hand on my heart, that my feelings are sympathetic, not malicious. After all, mere regard for self-interest, apart from any more estimable considerations, would deter America’s allies from wishing America ill. If, absit omen, America were to be worsted by her present ordeal, this would be as great a misfortune for her friends and associates as it would be for America herself.

I suppose many of us in this room have stood, more than once in our lives, on the bridge at Concord, Massachusetts, and have then crossed the bridge to read, engraved on a bronze plaque, a poem that we already knew by heart. As far as I remember, I first got to know this poem of Emerson’s through being given it, at school, to translate into Greek verse. The school was in England, not in America. The date must have been about 1905. That would be one hundred and thirty years after the day on which the historic shot had been fired by embattled American farmers. That was time enough to have made it possible for English schoolmasters and English schoolboys to look back at what had happened in April 1775 without having our vision blurred by irrelevant national sore feelings. What thrilled us, in England in 1905, at the sound of that shot, was the point that has been put inimitably by Emerson in the eight monosyllabic words of his immortal line. We forgot that the shot had been aimed at red-coats. We remembered that it had been heard round the world. That shot now meant for us, too, what it had meant for your ancestors. I myself, for instance, made my pilgrimage to the bridge at Concord the first time I visited the United States, which was in 1925.

A poet knows how to sum up in one line what it takes an historian at least several pages to recite. Within these last one hundred and eighty-six years the sound of that American shot has been travelling round and round the globe like a Russian sputnik. It had been heard in France before the eighteenth century was over. It was heard in Spanish America and in Greece while the nineteenth century was still young. In 1848, when the nineteenth century was not yet quite half spent, the sound reverberated, like a thunderclap, over the whole of Continental Europe. It was heard in Italy, and Italy arose from the dead. The Italian Risorgimento was evoked by that American shot. The sound was heard in Paris again in 1871; this time the Commune was Paris’s response to it. Travelling on eastward, the sound touched off the Russian revolution of 1905, the Persian revolution of 1906, and the Turkish revolution of 1908. By that date it had already roused the Founding Fathers of the Indian National Congress. I believe, by the way, that the original instigator of the Indian Congress Movement was an Englishman [he is thinking of Allan Octavian Hume or William Wedderburn]. If I am right about this, that Englishman launched a far bigger movement than he can have realized at the time. The Indian Congress Movement has been the mother of all the independence movements in all the Asian and African countries that, till recently, have been under the rule of West European colonial powers. But, anyway, whoever may deserve the credit for having started the Indian Congress Movement, the inspiration of it came from the sound of that American shot as this sound travelled over the Indian sub-continent on its eastward course. By this time it had gathered a speed that must have been greater than the speed of light. By 1911, the year in which the sound was heard in China, it had already been heard on the far side of the pacific, in Mexico. It had already touched off the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

By 1910, the eastward-travelling American sputnik had come round, full circle, to re-visit the New World. But it did not stop at that point. Its momentum was still unexhausted. It sped forward for the second time over the Atlantic to re-awaken the Old World’s seven sleepers with still more thunderous reverberations than it had detonated at its first visitation. In 1917 Russia heard that American sound for the second time, and this time she heard it with a vengeance. Turkey heard it for the second time after the end of the First World War, and this time the sound touched off the radical Westernizing Turkish revolution led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Compared with this second Turkish revolution of 1919-’28, the Turkish revolution of 1908 had been half-hearted. In April 1923, just one hundred and forty-eight years after the firing of that shot, far away, at the bridge at Concord, Massachusetts, I heard the sound reach Ankara, Turkey’s new capital, where I happened, at that moment, to find myself. There and then, I was given an inkling of what it must have felt like to be in the streets of Paris in 1789 or beside the bridge at Concord in 1775.

The sound did not flag or falter. It went on making its second circuit of the globe. In China, in 1948, its second visitation produced the same enormously enhanced effects as its previous second visitations in Russia and in Turkey. Speeding across the Pacific for the second time, the indefatigable sound called the Bolivian miners to arms and roused the Guatemalan peasants to demand a re-distribution of the land. In 1960 it roused the peasants of Cuba. Fidel Castro must have been surprised and gratified by the attention that he has won for himself in the United States. He has had the advantage of standing so close to the American people’s ear that, by shouting into it, he has been able to make it tingle. He wanted to annoy America, and he succeeded. But, if he had not had the luck to be so close to you, his oratory would have been drowned; for, before the end of 1960, the sound of the embattled American farmers’ shot had crossed the Atlantic for the third time and had roused up the whole of Africa from Sharpeville to Algiers.

At this moment at which I am speaking to you here in this room, I am surprised that I have succeeded, like Fidel Castro, in making my annoying words heard above that other sound’s roar. For, by now, the sound of the embattled farmers’ shot “is gone out through all the Earth”, to quote the Psalmist’s words. The noise has become world-wide and it has become deafening. Jefferson hit the mark when he said that “the disease of liberty is catching”.

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.”

Emerson wrote Concord Hymn in 1836 for the dedication of the Obelisk, a battle monument in Concord, Massachusetts that commemorated the contributions of area citizens at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, April 19 1775, the first battle of the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4 1776. Emerson’s grandfather was at the bridge on the day of the battle; their family home, The Old Manse, was next to the bridge; and Emerson is known to have written the hymn while living there. And in 1837, the hymn was sung during Concord’s Fourth of July celebration to one of the greatest tunes ever composed: the Old Hundredth.

America and the World Revolution, OUP, 1962

Lost opportunities of the Osmanlis

February 25 2008

The ʿOsmanlis’ acquisition of Algeria in A.D. 1512-19 came just too late, and fell just too far short, to enable them to cut off, at its base, the Oceanic enterprise of the Castilians and the Portuguese. If Ottoman sea-power had been able to make itself felt at the western end of the Mediterranean some thirty years earlier, it might have come to the rescue of the last Moorish enclave in the Iberian Peninsula and have compelled the Castilians to fight for the retention of Andalusia at the moment when Ferdinand and Isabella were actually rounding off their Peninsular dominions by the conquest of Granada. In that event, the Spanish sovereigns might have lacked the leisure and the means for patronizing Christopher Columbus; and Columbus himself might have found it impossible, in A.D. 1492, to set sail across the Atlantic from Palos. (The ʿOsmanlis did take sufficient interest in the discovery of the New World to execute a careful copy of a very early map of the Americas which they found on board a Spanish prize that was captured by an Ottoman squadron in the Western Mediterranean.) [Footnote: See Kahle, P.: Die verschollene Columbus-Karte von 1498 in einer türkischen Weltkarte von 1513 (Berlin and Leipzig 1933, de Gruyter).] Again, if the ʿOsmanlis had followed up their acquisition of Algeria by making themselves also masters of Morocco, they might have brought Henry the Navigator’s work to naught by closing the Portuguese route round Africa to India and the Far East. The Portuguese circumnavigators of Africa who were scarcely hampered in their enterprise by the activities of the Moorish pirates of Salee [modern Salé, the twin city of Rabat] might have found themselves paralysed if the Atlantic coast of Morocco had given harbour to Ottoman fleets with the whole power of the Ottoman Empire behind them.

Similarly, the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in A.D. 1517 and of ʿIrāq in A.D. 1534 came just too late to forestall the arrival of the Portuguese mariners in the Indian Ocean; and although the acquisition of seaboards on the Red Sea and on the Persian Gulf, in addition to their seaboard on the Mediterranean, gave the ʿOsmanlis the great strategic advantage of holding the interior lines, this geographical asset did not make up for lost time. When an Ottoman naval squadron attacked the Portuguese at Diu in A.D. 1538, and Ottoman matchlockmen fought Portuguese matchlockmen in Abyssinia in A.D. 1542-3, these Ottoman operations were unsuccessful and they were never followed up.

Again, after the Ottoman victory over the Turkmen prince Uzun Hasan at Baiburt [north-eastern Turkey] in A.D. 1473, there was nothing at the moment to stop the expansion of the Ottoman Empire overland into the central and eastern sections of the domain of the Iranic Civilization; and the ʿOsmanlis would assuredly have been called in to the rescue by the Transoxanians and the Khurāsānīs at the beginning of the sixteenth century of the Christian Era, when the Eurasian frontier of the Iranic World was attacked by a new Nomadic invader in the shape of the Uzbegs [who pushed the Timurid prince Babur into Afghanistan, from where he invaded India to found the Mughal Empire], if this avenue for Ottoman expansion had not been closed, at that very moment, by the meteoric rise of Ismāʿīl Shāh Safawī [the founder of the Safavid dynasty of Persia, which survived into the eighteenth century].

Finally, we may note that the Grand Vizir Mehmed Sököllü’s project of cutting a canal from the Don to the Volga, and so securing for the Ottoman Empire the command of the great Eurasian network of waterways, miscarried when it was actually attempted, in A.D. 1568-70, because the Muscovites had just anticipated the ʿOsmanlis in securing command of the Volga by taking Qazan in A.D. 1552 and Astrakhan in A.D. 1554. This Ottoman project might well have succeeded if it had been put in hand in or immediately after A.D. 1475: the year in which the necessary base of operations had actually been secured by the conquest of Caffa [modern Feodosiya, Crimea] and Tana [modern Azov] and by the establishment of Ottoman suzerainty over the Crimean Tatars. In A.D. 1475 Muscovy had not yet doubled her power by the annexation of Novgorod, nor the Cossacks strengthened their hold on the Steppes by advancing from the line of the Dniepr to the lines of the Don and the Yaik [Ural].

Dniepr, Don, Volga, Ural, showing the Don-Volga canal


A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934


July 9 2007

A Scythian exhibition in Berlin.

Today’s summary of the feuilletons suggests why I recommend the Scythians, Hindu bigotry, Imre Kertesz on Europe, the Pope’s call for the reintroduction of the Latin mass.

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

Mount Ararat

June 1 2007

The symbol of Armenia is in Turkey. Seen across the border from the Armenian capital Yerevan.


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

Wilder shores

May 9 2007

I’ve never read a word of Lesley Blanch. She was a thinking person’s non-fictional Barbara Cartland, wasn’t she? Apparently not quite. A lusher Freya Stark?

She has just died, aged 102. The Sabres of Paradise, her study of Russia’s expansion into Chechnya and Daghestan in the nineteenth century, was, it seems, greatly admired by de Gaulle and helps us understand the present Chechen conflict. There is a