2164) Allies Promise Istanbul to Russia in Early 1915

The following book excerpt is from Falsehood in War-Time, Arthur Ponsonby, M.P., .London, 1928, pp. 119-20.

Russia had already been calling Istanbul "Tsargrad" for years. They made a deal with Great Britain and France, around February-March of 1915, to claim the Ottoman capital.

Suddenly the May 24, 1915 declaration of the Allies (to punish the Ottomans after the war, for crimes against Armenians) frequently cited in Armenian propaganda as genocidal proof, rings extremely hollow.

(Not that the hollowness was not in evidence before; the Turkish monster needed emphasis to take the heat off Russian killings of Jews, so as not to discourage the USA from entering the war.)

The evasions and concealments necessiatated by the existence of the Secret Treaties cover too large a ground to be dealt with here. Evasion is a more insidious form of falsehood than the deliberate lie. One point, however, which was of considerable interest to the people of Great Britain may serve as an illustration. It concerned the fate of Constantinople.

Asked in the House of Commons on May 30, 1916, whether Professor Milinkoff's statement in the Duma was correct, that "our supreme aim in this war is to get possession of Constantinople, which must belong to Russia entirely and without reserve," Sir Edward Grey replied that "it is not necessary or desirable to make official comments on unofficial statements," and being further pressed, added, "The Honourable Member is asking for a statement which I do not think it desirable to make."

From the point of view of the Government, the Foreign Secretary was quite right to evade the question. In the first place we had not take Constantinople, and in the second place it must have appeared doubtful to the Government whether the British soldiers and sailors would be enthusiastic in sacrificing their lives in order to give Constantinople to Russia, the strains of the old jingo song of 1878 not having quite died away:

We've fought the Bear before, we can fight the Bear again,
But the Russians shall not have Constantinople.

But on March 7, 1915, a year before Sir E. Gray gave this answer in Parliament, M. Sazonov had telegraphed to the Russian Ambassador in London:

Will you please express to Grey the profound gratitude of the Imperial Government for the complete and final assent of Great Britain to the solution of the question of the Straits and Constantinople in accordance with Russian desires.

On December 2, 1916, M. Trepoff declared in the Duma:

An agreement, which we concluded in 1915 with Great Britain and France and to which Italy has adhered, established in the most definite fashion the right of Russia to the Straits and Constantinople... I repeat that absoulute agreement on this point is firmly established among the Allies.

On January 5, 1918 (National War Aims Pamphlet No. 33), the Prime Minister declared that we were not fighting "to deprive Turkey of its capital." He could say this because the Russian Revolution had taken place.

By subterfuges and evasions the British Government were anxious to screen the truth from the country, because they knew how unpopular it would be.

© Holdwater
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