Update 26 Oct 2010
Britains Great War on Turkey: An Irish Perspective
26 October 2010 See The Entry At The End of This Post
Our understanding of the Ottoman Empire is deeply coloured by the British Great War propaganda of Wellington House, a secret department of the British State, established to wage ideological war on the enemy—whoever that enemy might be. In November 1914 the British war took on a new enemy—the Ottoman Empire. Propaganda was necessary to cultivate hatred of the Turk to put the masses in uniform. And because the Liberal war discounted compulsion, even to save civilization, propaganda had an essential... function in volunteering.
This propaganda was designed to counter the view that “the Turk is a gentleman” —a view promoted by England when the British State wished to justify its support for the Ottoman Empire in the face of the hostility of Gladstonian Christian morality.
The Ottoman Empire was characterized in this propaganda as a decrepit and ramshackle affair—the “sick man of Europe.” The origin of this phrase is older than Wellington House, dating back to the time of the Crimean War. Czar Nicholas attempted to convince Sir Hamilton Seymour, the British Ambassador at Constantinople, that the Ottoman Empire was on the point of collapse. The Czar told the Ambassador, “we have a sick man on our hands, a man who is seriously ill; it will . . . be a great misfortune if he escapes us one of these days, especially before all the arrangements are made.” (Cited in Alan Palmer, The Banner of Battle; the Story of the Crimean War, p.56)
The “arrangements” the Czar had in mind were for the sharing out of the Ottoman Empire by the European Powers. But at this time England was most unwilling to see the Russians down at Constantinople and instead of a sharing of Ottoman spoils they went to war with Russia in the Crimea the following year to resuscitate the “sick man of Europe.”
But a half century later there was a dramatic turnabout and the Ottomans became the “sick man of Europe” —an empire of Armenian massacres, peopled by a lazy race of bloodthirsty Turks, incapable of governing themselves, let alone others, who destroyed everything they touched and retarded progress every-where they had conquered. The Turks were “a merciless oppressor,” “a remorseless bully,” “pure barbarians,” “degenerate,” and had “strewn the earth with ruins.” (These are some phrases used about Turks in The Clean-fighting Turk, a Spurious Claim by Mark Sykes. But they could have come from a hundred similar publications from the period)
The message was that the demise of the Ottoman Empire was inevitable and far too long in coming.
And yet the Ottoman Empire was an amazingly successful and durable construction. This fact was well argued by—A.S. Headingley in The British Socialist, Vol. 2., No. 5. May 15, 1913, (pp. 193-202.)
The article was published just after the conclusion of the peace in the First Balkan War.
The First and Second Balkan Wars were two wars in South-Eastern Europe during 1912-1913 in the course of which the Balkan League of Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro, encouraged by Russia, attacked and conquered the Ottoman territories of Albania, Montenegro and most of Thrace—and then fell out over the division of the spoils—leading to Turkey recovering Eastern Thrace up to Adrianople.
The Balkan Wars came about as a result of the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907. This Agreement represented a settling of accounts on England’s part with the Russians in order that the “Russian steamroller” would be enlisted for a future war on Germany. It ended the Great Game between England and Russia.
The Great Game had an Asian aspect around Afghanistan but it also had a European aspect. The European aspect involved blocking Russia in the Balkans through support of the Ottoman Empire as a bulwark against Russian expansionism. But with the 1907 Agreement, and without the restraining forces of England and France, Russia saw itself as having a free hand in the Balkans and initiated the first steps of its movement down to Constantinople.
The Balkan League was largely a creation of Izvolski, the Russian Foreign Minister, who hoped to use it as an instrument to finally drive the Austrians from the Balkans and the Turks from Europe. It was aided by certain agents of the British State who were let loose to sow the seeds of chaos in the Balkans, in the interest of destabilizing the region and making it a barrier to German links to Asia. And all restraints were removed from the various Balkan nationalisms by this activity.
In the course of writing a book about the Great War on Turkey I came across a socialist argument against the reorientation of British policy which was driving Europe to war. It is very interesting in what it says about the character of the Ottoman State, its success, Islam and the implications of British policy for the area. Below then is the socialist case for the Ottoman Empire, and its preservation, in the interests of peace and stability in the region, and the world, from A.S. Headingley in The British Socialist, Vol. 2., No. 5. May 15, 1913, (pp. 193-202.):
“In ordinary history, we read of the Oghuz Turks driven out of Central Asia in the earlier part of the thirteenth century and establishing themselves in Armenia, where, after varying fortunes, they found a great leader in the person of Othman or Osman. He invaded Byzantine territory, and after him is named the Ottoman Empire which he founded. But what we want to know is the why and wherefore. How came this Empire to spread so far over Europe, subjugating Christian countries, and why did so many Christians gladly abjure their creed to embrace the faith of Islam? Already other Mohammedans had swept Christianity clean out of Egypt and all the northern coasts of Africa. In Spain, in Italy, in the south of France, and from the East right up to the walls of Vienna, in the centre of Europe, the victorious tide of Islam rose irresistibly. Why? Historians say but little about this.
They talk of the generalship, of the warlike qualities of the Mohammedans, as if half Europe could be conquered by generalship and the discipline and training of troops. Neither Julius Caesar nor Napoleon could have invaded the greater part of Europe if they had not brought with them something the invaded countries desired. With Julius Caesar came all the advantages of a much higher civilisation, with Napoleon the aureole of the Revolution, the advent of democracy, the destruction of inherited privileges. When, however, it became evident that Napoleon was betraying the cause he had represented, Europe, instead of submitting, rose against him and he was defeated.
To-day, then, of all time, is the chosen moment for explaining why Islam triumphed in Europe, and why at present it is no longer able to hold its own. We are not going to bring about the Socialist millennium by standing in the gutter and crying out to busy men and women that they should pause and pity the sorrows of the poor working man. The workers who will forward the cause of Socialism are the historians and the scientists who can grip hold of every current event that does attract the attention of the great mass of the people and point out its economic and moral cause, its economic and ethical remedy. All great events lend themselves to such interpretations, and certainly this is the case with the Eastern question.
Why did Christian countries offer so feeble a resistance to the conquering sword of Islam, why was Christianity so easily replaced by the newer religion? Because the tiller of the soil had a better opportunity of earning his living under the laws that were based on the Koran than under the laws established by the feudal lords in Christian countries. Because Islam was comparatively and in practice far more democratic than the Christian forms of government. Under Islam all who embrace the faith are really equals, and both in Egypt and India even slaves have become Sultans. The European serfs were more cruelly downtrodden than the poorest children of Islam.
Further, and what is too readily forgotten, Christians fled from Christian countries, sought refuge under the Crescent, so as to enjoy religious freedom. Thus the Nestorians were saved from total extinction by seeking asylum in Mohammedan countries. Even to this day, thousands and thousands of pilgrims and tourists go every year to the Holy Land where they unwittingly pay homage to the tolerance showed by the Mohammedans. When the Saracens conquered Jerusalem they respected the holy places of a religion in which they did not believe. When did a victorious Crusader show any respect for a Mohammedan mosque? When did a Christian sect refrain from persecuting another Christian sect if it was strong enough to satisfy its resentment?
To-day, at Easter, at Jerusalem, it is the Turkish troops who, with fixed bayonets, prevent the rival Christian sects from tearing each other to pieces. Let those who cannot afford to travel so far and see for themselves get some photographs of the Easter festivities. Thus, from the first, Christians fled from fellow Christians to find freedom and safety among the children of Islam. Thus we get our first lesson. It should be fully elaborated with much historical evidence in support; then we would realise that the Moors, the Saracens and the Turks triumphed in Europe because they were more tolerant, because they granted more freedom, because their social institutions permitted greater social equality, and because their economic laws rendered it easier for the willing worker to earn his living.
If we Socialists are one day to rule the world we must study what were the causes that facilitated the great changes wrought in history. We cannot, of course, blindly imitate those who were successful in the past, but many of the elements that contributed to such success would still constitute a force in a modern movement. Now, above all, Islam represented the cause of Education. Christianity had obliterated the science, the philosophy, the literature, the arts of the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations, and had plunged Europe into what the Christians themselves described as the Dark Ages. The Saracens had the great works of the ancient Greeks, notably Aristotle, translated into Syriac and Arabic, they encouraged learning by every means possible. ‘Go,’ says Mohammed, ‘and ask everywhere for instruction, even, if necessary, as far as China.’ A verse in the ‘Hadice,’ or ‘Words of the Prophet,’ says, ‘He who seeks after instruction is more loved by God than he who fights in a holy war.’ While the Christians forbade all the sciences and burnt the scientists at the stake, Mohammed proclaimed, with a voice of thunder, that: - ‘It is a sacrilege to prohibit science. To ask for science is to worship God, to teach is to do an act of charity. Science is the life of Islam and the pillar of our faith.’
And finally we have this sublime sentence: - ‘He who instructs the ignorant is like the living among the dead.’
There, then, we have our moral: just as the Saracens and the Turks routed the Christians so shall the Socialists rout the Capitalists when the Socialists prove that they have attained a higher standard of living in the sciences, in the practical application of democratic principles and in the realisation of economic progress. It may be objected, however, that I am writing as if the Turks had been victorious instead of defeated in the recent war. That shows I suffer from the usual frailty of preferring the agreeable to the disagreeable, and it is more pleasing to describe how obscurantism was humiliated than to relate why those to whom we owe so much are now well-nigh driven out of Europe.
Here, again, we have an illustration of a need of a Socialist Press, instead of only a capitalist Press and a Press devoted to the religions of capitalism. This Press, nevertheless, must think we are very blind and very ignorant. It gives various reasons why the non-Moslem populations of the Balkans are now dissatisfied with Ottoman rule, but why were they not dissatisfied before? During centuries no complaints were heard. It is only within the last eighty, or at most a hundred years, that the various peoples under Ottoman rule began to agitate and to rebel. For centuries they seem to have been fairly satisfied, and the Socialist will at once note that the development of dissatisfaction coincides with the development of modern industrial-ism. It may also be observed that in England the anti-Turk feeling is strongest among the Party and section of the people who are most intimately associated with industrialism and commercialism. Thus, just as the Socialist was a pro-Boer, so is he likely to be a pro-Turk. And, just as the Boer and the Turk were not in the swim of modern cosmopolitan high finance, so are they both likely to go under—at least till the Revolution comes.
There are, of course, many factors affecting the alteration of the position; but steam power and modern machinery may be considered as having the most potential. As such facilities of international communication as railway lines and steamships increased, the Otto-man Empire was placed at a disadvantage in its relations with the rest of the world. So long as the Empire’s business could be carried on by the small handicraftsmen and by small tradesmen, the Ottoman Empire held its own. With its guilds to maintain a living wage for all the workers there was no widespread dissatisfaction. But railways brought in cheap machine-made articles that sapped the trade and labour of the handicraftsman. They and the steamships also rendered an invasion much easier; and we know that, from the time of Catherine the Great, it has been the traditional policy of Russia to endeavour to seize Constantinople. On the other hand, Austria, defeated by Prussia, has been forced to relinquish its former position as a Germanic Power, and therefore directs its ambition in the opposite direction—namely, towards what used to be the Ottoman Empire. Salonica, in the hands of Austria, would probably replace Brindisi as the nearest port to the Suez Canal for the overland route to India. Already Austria has annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, and has frequently threatened the military occupation of the Sanjak of Novi Bazar. Neither Austria nor Russia, therefore, had any desire to see the Ottoman Empire consolidate itself. The more disorder the greater the opportunities for interference and for annexations. Thus it is that agents were sent to foment discord between the rival races and creeds.
Disturbances were all the more easy to produce as the economic situation was becoming more and more unfavourable to the inhabit-ants. The Mohammedan religion forbids usury; therefore most of the banking is done by Armenians, Greeks and Jews. This did not matter so much in the handicraft days; but now that most enterprises need large capital the Turk is placed at the terrible disadvantage of having to seek the aid of those who do not belong to his race, or creed, when it is necessary to obtain a loan. It is the Armenians and other non-Moslems who have been chiefly instrumental in creating the Ottoman Debt. Now the Turk demands that the Armenian should respect his life as a citizen and not break down his guild and his living wage. When a business is sold it is the Armenian who outbids the Turk; then he undercuts the other Turks who are in the same business. The usurious Armenian contrives to inveigle the Turk into borrowing money, and makes him sign papers the meaning of which he barely understands. Patiently he waits till the Turk is away, serving his time in the army. The usurious Armenian then swoops down on the estate and takes more than his due when there are only relatives present to defend the rights of the absentee. Also it is quite probable the soldier will die while in the army, and never return to put matter to rights.
Thus the impoverished widow and orphan children grow up to hate the Armenian. Usury, so widely practised by Christians, is an abominable crime in the eyes of the simple-minded, unenlightened Mohammedan. It is the cause of many murders, particularly if the usurer is an Armenian and the borrower is a Kurd. Yet in England we have been led to believe that the massacre of Armenians was due to religious fanaticism.
A Turk explains the situation in his way:-‘ I and my son are bakers and barbers. You and your sons are lapidaries and gardeners. But if you bid one of your sons to be a barber, a second to be a baker, a third a lapidary and a fourth a gardener, all is confusion, and how can good come of it?’
‘Furthermore, he is no barber nor baker who does not belong to the Guild of Barbers and the Guild of Bakers. If your son go not to the Peshkadin and rank himself among the apprentices; next to the Tchavosh, to bid him inscribe his name on the rolls; then to the Kihaya, to pay him toll, how would he be a member of the Guild? Ask the Sheik if I have not spoken well.’
Thus the occasional massacre of Christians by Turks is no more due to religious fanaticism than the Luddites’ riots in England, or the Trade Union outrages Broadhead organised many years ago against the blacklegs in Sheffield. But it suited the politicians, who were in search of a pretext for attacking the Turk and robbing him of his possessions, to ascribe this regrettable violence to his religion. There again we need a Socialist Press to expose the economic basis of current events. The British Nonconformists have been especially eloquent in the misrepresentation of what has happened in Turkey.
Pozzo di Borgo, former Russian Ambassador, was far more frank, for he openly confessed that as the Russians were nearly beaten by the unreformed Turks, they were not going to allow them to reform. Ali Pasha and Fuad Pasha nobly strove to make the paper reforms, drawn up after the Crimean War, real and effective reforms. We know that it was the intrigues and pressure of Russia that caused the exile of Midhat Pasha and thwarted his constitutional schemes. Disorder has been systematically maintained in Turkey, and good administration rendered impossible, by foreign, especially Russian, provocating agents. Is it conceivable that Russia would allow orderly constitutional government to be established on its frontiers, either in Turkey or in Persia, while keeping the Russians themselves under the tyrannical and cruel rule of the Czar?
All this underhand, murderous, and criminal intriguing has now come to a head. The Turkish Empire has been dismembered and exists no longer as an important European Power. The natural consequence is that the thieves are quarrelling over the spoils. Already there has been a good deal of unofficial fighting between the Bulgarians, the Servians, and the Greeks as to their respective shares of the newly-acquired territories. But they are mere pawns in the game. The real contest that imperils the peace of Europe is between Austria and Russia. Bulgarians, Servians, and Montenegrins being, broadly speak-ing, of the same Slav race and the same religion, have throughout been backed by Russia, and are, in practice, mere outposts of the Russian Empire. Through them Russia hopes ultimately to become a Mediterranean Power.
On her side, Austria seeks to check this Russian expansion and prepare the way for her own growth. Therefore she has conceived the idea of creating a new Principality by giving the Albanian race a national existence of their own. For the moment, therefore, the struggle is between Russia, which endeavours to make this new Principality as small and as weak as possible, and Austria, which, on the contrary, would have Albania stand forth as a powerful buffer State. Where our interest as Socialists comes in should now be clearly defined; and here, once more, we need a wealthy Socialist Press, able to employ learned specialists, with local experience, to elucidate the problem. Is Russia to advance and advance till, as Napoleon said, Europe becomes Cossack and the Holy Orthodox Church dominates the world from Constantinople? Or is Austria to expand till she reinstalls the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church at St. Sophia’s, so that, from Constantinople, Europe may come under the heel of the Jesuit?
This is a prospect that places us between the Devil and the deep sea. But these are the practical politics of to-day, and our future depends to a large extent on the solution of these problems. As the knowledge of these dangers extends, there will be a better appreciation of the service rendered to the cause of peace by the Ottoman Empire, and greater regret that by its disappearance the dogs of war have been let loose. It is true that, for the moment, the more acute causes of quarrel have been removed, but the situation is inherently dangerous, and is likely to remain so for a long time to come. The Socialist Party has, I sincerely believe, largely helped to preserve the peace so far. It is the knowledge that there is a revolutionary party at home keenly watching for its opportunity that has so alarmed the various Governments concerned as to make them fear to embark on foreign wars. But we cannot rely on this for all time, and therefore greatly need information and guidance as to the economic bearing of all these complications, and how the difficulties the capitalist Governments have brought about should be handled by Socialists. We have to prove our superior statesmanship before we can expect communities to entrust us with the reins of government.”
Interview with Dr. Pat Walsh The Irish author of the book ‘Forgotten Aspects Of Ireland’s Great War On Turkey’
1. Brief biography.
I am a 47 year old teacher living in Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Over the last twenty years I have written a number of books on Irish history and politics, all published by Athol Books. The book on the Great War on Turkey came out of an earlier book, The Rise and Fall of Imperial Ireland, which examined how Ireland became a participant in British Imperialism as a result of trying to gain Home Rule from England by proving loyalty to the Empire, and why this failed. This book largely looked at the war on Germany but I realised in writing it that there was a complete absence of knowledge about the war on Turkey which needed to be written about. Recently I have had a pamphlet published, to mark the Irish President’s visit to Turkey, Remembering Gallipoli. It attempts to explain the context of the Gallipoli battle, which is largely unknown in Ireland today.
2. How do you interpret the Great War policies of British Empire towards İreland and Turkey for the present situation?
In Ireland over the last decade or so there has been the development of a movement to recognise and commemorate the Irishmen who fought for Britain in the Great War against Germany and Turkey. This is part of a process of trying to gain sympathy from the Protestant Unionists of Northern Ireland, who have always been pro-British and Imperialist in their outlook. It is as part of this process that the Irish President has gone to Gallipoli/Canakkale this week.
I see this as an unfortunate and dangerous development for a number of reasons. I do not believe that we should support Irish participation in Imperialist wars on other countries by commemorating them. The proper attitude was to maintain a silence about them because they were a great fraud on the men who died from Ireland and a great injustice on those that they went out to kill and conquer for the British Empire. The independent Irish Republic was formed in opposition to those who invaded at Gallipoli and came about because the Irish people decisively rejected Imperialist wars and the British Empire when Sinn Fein won the 1918 election in Ireland.
Also these commemorations create the impression that it was acceptable for Irish people to participate in today’s wars waged by the Christian West on Moslem countries, like in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ireland, since it became independent has had a long and noble tradition of neutrality and anti-imperialism which these commemorations threaten to change. We have seen, in recent years, our universities, media and history writing dominated by British-trained academics who wish to change our view of the world and replace it with a view that sees things from the British point of view. This also involves many publications that argue that our own struggle for independence was a mistake or a crime, that it was not a fight for freedom but an anti-Protestant campaign involving atrocities. In other words they are seeking to rewrite our history.
You will see the similarities between that and what Turkey has had to, and what will have to, endure (although I believe that the Turks have been much better at opposing attempts to rewrite their history than we have)
I believe that the Great War was the most important event in recent history. It is the key to understanding much of the world today, and it was largely Britain’s participation that made it the disastrous and catastrophic event it was for all affected by it.
3. What is your opinion on the coming debate of Armenian Genocide in the Parliament against Turkey on 30th April. Why you think; US Senate and several EU Parliaments agreed on the resolutions to blame Turkey to make genocide on Armenians in 1915. Blue Print; was a false document, but it is still in use to blame Turkey.
First let me say that I realise there is an awful lot written about the Armenian issue and that there is a long and vigorous debate about it which I am reluctant to comment on due to the fact that I have not studied it in depth. I believe the Armenian issue, outside of the Armenian groups, is largely used as a way of getting leverage on Turkey, in the same way that the original propaganda was designed to do. Turkey is an independent power that has, in my view, exercised, since the time of Atatürk, a skilful foreign policy. However, due to increased western interest in the region, and due to the Palestinian issue, there is probably increased interest in dusting off the Blue Book and using it again to gain influence on how Turkey acts in the world. I think that the more you pursue your ambition in gaining entry to the European Union the more this issue will be brought against you.
I recently wrote an article about it in a magazine called Irish Foreign Affairs because I believe that the context of what happened to the Armenians is left out of consideration in the discussion in the west. I believe the major responsibility for what happened lies with those powers that invaded and attempted to destroy the Ottoman State and turn it into chaos. Their objective was to use the Armenians, who had lived in the empire for hundreds of years in relative peace, prosperity and security, as a subversive force to destabilize the situation.
Russia and England used Christian Armenians as a kind of fifth-column and really made it impossible for them to continue in their traditional role as loyal and functional citizens. And they were probably happy to see them suffer to create propaganda in the United States that would bring that country into the war – a war that the Entente were in danger of losing without America’s help.
If we were to compare Turkey’s treatment of the Armenians and the British treatment of Ireland over the centuries (which did involve real campaigns of genocide) the Ottomans would always come out favourably. A decade and a half before the Turks relocated the Armenians the British relocated the Boers and Africans away from the war-zone in the Transvaal – into concentration camps. It did so in stable conditions, controlling the seas around South Africa, under no pressure of blockade, with plentiful food supplies, in a localised conflict fought in a gentlemanly way by their opponents. And yet they still managed to kill tens of thousands of Boer and African women and children in the process. It was called “methods of barbarism” at the time but I have never seen it called ‘genocide.’
4. ATATÜRK? How can you describe him, historically and today.
In writing the book about Ireland’s Great War on Turkey recently I came across a lot of little known facts about the war. One important discovery that I made was that Irish Republicans were great admirers of Atatürk. ‘The Catholic Bulletin’, a periodical that supported the Republican cause, and whose editor was close to Eamon DeValera, took a great interest in events between the end of the Great War and the successful conclusion of Turkey’s war of independence. It supported Turkey in its struggle against Britain and the other imperialist powers and also defended the Turkish position in relation to the Greeks, when most of the Western Christian press were pro-Greek.
‘The Catholic Bulletin’ publicised Atatürk’s great achievement in defeating the British Empire and saw it as an inspiration to other countries in the world resisting the great powers. It was particularly impressed with the Turkish negotiating skill at Lausanne and contrasted it to the Irish failure in negotiating with the British in the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 that left the country part of the British Empire. The Turks had successfully achieved independence and ‘The Catholic Bulletin’ described Atatürk as the ‘man of the year’ and the only cause for optimism in the world.
The Catholic Bulletin drew attention to the many parallels between the experience of Ireland and Turkey between 1919 and 1923. Turkey had agreed to an armistice (ceasefire) at Mudros in October 1918. But that armistice was turned into a surrender when British and French Imperial forces entered Constantinople and occupied it soon after. Turkey found its parliament closed down and its representatives arrested or forced ‘on the run’, at the same time as England meted out similar treatment to the Irish democracy. Then a punitive treaty (The Treaty of Sevres, August 1920) was imposed on the Turks at the point of a gun, sharing out the Ottoman possessions amongst the Entente Powers. Along with that, Turkey itself was partitioned into spheres of influence, with the Greek Army being used to enforce the settlement in Anatolia, in exchange for its irredentist desires in Asia Minor.
As far as today is concerned I believe that Atatürk’s great achievement was to make the Turkish State and its people guard its independence and history carefully. Turkey would not be content to let others rewrite its history as Ireland has and hopefully you will not give them influence over how you see the world from an independent minded view. I believe that this ability comes from the complete victory that Atatürk achieved over Imperialism, and the greatest power in the world. It gave the Turks great self-confidence and the desire to safeguard what you achieved by yourselves.
In terms of Turkish politics I would not like to interfere. But I would say that Atatürk provided the state and the independence necessary to make change possible in the way the Turkish people desire. Whatever is achieved in Turkey is done so on the shoulders of the man that won you your position and provided for the future.
5. Anything you want to say to Turkish people?
I would say that you have been a great inspiration in the world for a wide range of people who know the historical facts. You will probably continue to be the victims of propaganda aimed at influencing you, for various reasons, but if you maintain your independent view of the world and guard your history as you have done so in the past you will withstand any attempts to undo what Atatürk achieved.
Update 26 Oct 2010
Britains Great War on Turkey: An Irish Perspective
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Thank you for inviting me here today. It is a very good thing that the links between the common struggles of the Turkish and Irish peoples should be remembered, especially in the week of Republic Day.
I will structure my talk today around ten themes or questions and will stop for any questions after each. These questions are:
Why did Ireland become involved in the war on Turkey?
What was the view of Atatrk in Ireland?
Why did Britain make war on Turkey?
How did Turkey come to be involved in the war?
What were Turkeys intentions in 1914?
What were Britains objectives in relation to the Ottoman Empire?
Why did Britain produce so much propaganda against the Turk?
Who was responsible for the Armenian disaster?
How and why did the British set the Greeks against the Turks?
What was positive about the Great War on Turkey?
First I should point out that the book I have written was originally called Irelands Great War on Turkey. It was called that to raise interest in Ireland about why Ireland participated in war on Turkey and what the results of that war were. But on the suggestion of Turkish people who read the book the title was replaced by the more accurate one of Britains Great War on Turkey an Irish perspective, which reflects better what the book is actually about.
The battle for Gallipoli is virtually the only thing remembered in Ireland about the Great War on Turkey. For many years in Ireland after the independence struggle it was felt that the Great War should be forgotten as an unfortunate episode in which many Irishmen were duped into fighting, killing and dying for nothing or worse, for the Imperialist ambitions of the British Empire. Gallipoli became an isolated and disconnected event in the Irish memory as the Great War on Turkey became a forgotten event in Irish history. That is despite the fact that it was probably the most significant thing Ireland ever participated in and undoubtedly the most disastrous, in terms of its effects on both the Middle East and Europe.
In recent years in Ireland there has been a movement, in both academia and politics, which seeks to commemorate Irelands participation in the Great War and to give this event equal status with the struggle for Irish independence. Some have even gone to the lengths of trying to discredit Irelands struggle for democracy in this pursuit in order to give the Great War a higher status.
What my book seeks to do is to remember the Great War on Turkey in its full historical context and show why it should never be commemorated as something that could be admired. I believe that is very important, particularly in the light of the experience of recent Western military adventures in the region.
The book also challenges, largely through the use of British and Irish sources, the British version of the Great War that prevails in many parts of the Western world, including Irish academia today.
Why did Ireland become involved in the war on Turkey?
I suppose the best place to start in talking about the book is to outline how the Irish came to be involved in the invasion forces at Canakkale or Gallipoli that began our participation in the war against Turkey.
Essentially, what happened was that a few years before the war the Irish Party at Westminster, led by John Redmond, decided to enter into an alliance with the British Liberal Party in order to obtain a local parliament in Dublin. This was known as Irish Home Rule. It was not a demand for independence because Irish nationalists realized that the great power of Britain in those days would never allow such a development. So John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Party at Westminster, departed from the traditional Irish opposition to British imperialism in order that he could achieve this Home Rule Parliament. And in doing so, he and many of his party gradually became imperialists themselves, no longer opposing the British Empire but desiring a share in its mission and benefits.
When Britain decided to declare war on Germany John Redmond pledged his support for the British Empire and its war. This was a significant event because Irish nationalists had traditionally been against Irishmen fighting in the British Army for the British Empire. Now in Ireland, men were recruited to the British Army on the basis that they owed a debt of honour to the Empire and Germany had attacked Little Catholic Belgium and were an evil force which threatened civilization.
However, many of the Irishmen who joined the British Army to fight the Germans, after hearing this message from the recruiting platforms, ended up sailing to Gallipoli to fight the Turks, after England had declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 5th November 1914.
That was the price that was paid to gain Irish Home Rule - which, in fact, Britain refused after the war. Catholics and Protestants in Ireland (who were against Irish Home Rule) began to enter into a competition to prove how loyal they were to the British Empire so that their respective, and conflicting, causes would triumph, after the war was over. Irish nationalists thought that if they helped the Liberal Government to win a quick war against Germany they would be in a very good position to demand the full implementation of Home Rule, having proved suitably loyal to England to be seen to be fit enough to run their own Parliament in Dublin. But at the same time Protestant unionists recruited and fought for Britain for precisely the opposite reason - to prevent Ireland obtaining Home Rule.
The Turkish victory at Gallipoli greatly undermined the Irish supporters of imperialism because it led to the replacement of the Liberal Government in London with a more unionist coalition and Ireland, seeing that it was being cheated out of Home Rule, began to turn toward Republican independence itself particularly after the 1916 rising in Dublin.
In one way the great Turkish resistance at Gallipoli, which prevented a quick British victory in the Great War, had the effect of moving the Irish people more toward a demand for full freedom and independence from the British Empire.
What was the view of Atatrk in Ireland?
Most Irish politicians and newspapers had begun to hold views that were the same as the British understandings of the world. They supported the war, got their news from Britain and therefore saw things in British Imperial terms. They also tended to hold pro-Christian sympathies in favour of the Greeks and Armenians and had prejudices against Islam and the Turks which were absorbed from Gladstonian Liberalism.
There was, however, one notable exception.
One discovery that I made in writing the book was that Irish Republicans knew about and became great admirers of Atatrk. The Catholic Bulletin was a popular religious periodical that supported the Irish Republican cause. Fr. Timothy Corcoran, Professor of Education at University College, Dublin, was the driving force and main contributor to the Bulletin. He had taught and was a close friend of Eamon DeValera, the Republican leader who did most to achieve Irish independence,. The Catholic Bulletin took a great interest in events between the end of the Great War and the successful conclusion of Turkey's war of independence. It supported Turkey in its struggle against the imperialist powers and also defended the Turkish position in relation to the Greek invasion, when most of the Western Christian press were sympathetic to the Greeks. It also followed the negotiations at Lausanne keenly and published a commentary on events between 1922 and 1924.
The Catholic Bulletin wrote about Atatrks defeat of the British Empire and saw Turkeys achievement as an inspiration to Ireland. It praised Atatrks humiliation of the British at Chanak when the Turks defeated the British Empire at the height of its power, as the world was seemingly at its feet. For the Catholic Bulletin Ataturk proved that the British Empire was not invincible and gave hope to others who were determined to establish freedom. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Turkish victory at Chanak was a pivotal event in the history of the British Empire and imperialism generally although the event is mostly forgotten about today in Ireland and Britain.
The Catholic Bulletin was particularly impressed with the Turkish negotiating skill at Lausanne and contrasted it to, what it saw as, the Irish failure in negotiating with the British in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 that left the country part of the British Empire and divided the national forces against each other. The Turks had successfully beaten the Imperial power and The Catholic Bulletin described Ataturk as the man of the year in 1923 and the greatest cause for optimism in a world that was shattered by the catastrophe of war.
The Irish Republican view of Ataturk contained in the Catholic Bulletin is important because it was written to counter the British view of the Great War on Turkey - which was still being repeated in Ireland and which has today undergone something of a revival.
For instance, it is taken for granted in Ireland that Turkey was involved in the war simply because she was an ally of Germany. There is little appreciation of the fact that Britain had made war against the Ottoman Empire inevitable by entering into the 1907 alliance with Russia. And it is seldom mentioned that the British Empire had her own designs on parts of the Middle East, including Palestine and Mesopotamia that greatly influenced her decision to go to war on the Turks with Russia.
Why did Britain make war on Turkey?
This is one of the central questions of my book and it is very important to understand the British strategic imperatives so that misconceptions can be avoided.
For England the war on Turkey came from a great change of policy. Britain acted as an ally of the Ottoman Empire for most of the century before the Great War. During this period Britain was determined to preserve the Ottoman State as a giant buffer zone between its Empire and the expanding Russian Empire. It was part of what was known as the Great Game in England that the Russians should not have Constantinople and the warm water port that this would have given them. It was for this reason that England fought the Crimean War. Later on in the century the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli negotiated the Treaty of Berlin to help preserve the Ottoman Empire against another attempted Russian expansionism in the region.
However, whilst Britain was determined to preserve the Ottoman Empire and was prepared to use force to prevent the Russians having Constantinople its relations with the Sultan were very disadvantageous to the Turks. England, with the French, helped preserve the Ottoman Empire in a weak, dependent state through devices like the Capitulations so that outlying Ottoman territories could be absorbed into the British Empire in a gradual process (for example, Egypt) when a favourable opportunity arose.
At the same time, despite some writers in England calling for a liquidisation of the Ottoman territories and their sharing between the Imperialist powers, it remained British policy to preserve the Ottoman Empire so that it would not fall into the wrong hands and pose a threat to the British Empire in India. In some respects the British acquisition of the Suez Canal altered the commitment to the Ottoman State but it was not the main reason for the great policy change in Britain.
What completely changed British relations with Turkey was the emergence of Germany as a serious commercial rival around the end of the 19th century. Britain had always practiced a Balance of Power policy with regard to Europe. For centuries Britain had built its empire by keeping Europe divided and by giving military assistance to the weaker powers against any power that might be emerging on the continent. Whilst Europe was preoccupied with war England was able to get on with its business of conquering the rest of the world. It had the great advantage of being an island and therefore it could meddle with Europe and then retire from the continental battlefield and let others continue the fighting when enough had been gained.
During the 19th century Britain's traditional enemy in Europe had been France and her traditional rival in Asia was Russia. However, in the early years of the 20th century England gradually decided that Germany was the coming power to be opposed. Therefore, it was decided to overturn the foreign policy of a century and to establish alliances with its traditional enemies, France and Russia, so that Germany could be encircled and then when war came about Britain would join the conflict and destroy Germany as a commercial rival. The alliance that Britain entered into with Russia in 1907, therefore, was the single most important event that made a British war on Turkey inevitable.
The alliance with Russia was obviously the main factor that spelled trouble for the Ottoman Empire. But what was it that made this alliance so important to Britain that she overturned her traditional foreign policy of preventing Russia from having Constantinople?
As I have said, Britain was an island nation and it was primarily a sea power. It did not have a large army and it had been opposed to military conscription. Therefore it would have been impossible for Britain to have defeated Germany by itself. Therefore, it needed the large French army and the even larger Russian Army to do most of the fighting on the continent for it. The Russian Army was particularly important and it was seen to be like a steamroller that would roll all the way to Berlin, crushing German resistance by its sheer weight of numbers.
The problem for Britain was that the Russians (unlike the French who wanted to recapture Alsace/Lorraine after their loss in 1871) had no real reason to fight Germany. Therefore, something had to be promised to the Czar for his help in destroying Germany. That something was Constantinople. That fact should always be therefore borne in mind when people suggest that Turkey brought the war on itself. The fact of the matter was that in order to defeat Germany Britain had to promise Constantinople to Russia and in order for the Russians to get Constantinople there had to be a war on Turkey.
There were other issues of concern for Britain in relation to Turkey. Germany had begun to show interest in the Ottoman Empire. In 1898 the Kaiser made a celebrated visit to Istanbul to show Germany's good faith to Turkey. What worried Britain about the German involvement with the Ottoman Empire was that it was not a parasitic relationship like the other imperialist powers. The German objective seems to have been to rejuvenate and modernize the Ottoman Empire in exchange for commercial rights there. England and Russia had seen the Ottoman Empire as the sick man of Europe and they had been waiting around for his death but now they looked on as Germany threatened to revive the health of the sick man, and dash their dreams of conquest.
The centrepiece of German involvement in the Ottoman Empire was the Berlin-Baghdad Railway. This was a major cause of the war because Britain looked at it and saw the economic and strategic advantages it would provide to continental Europe and Asia. At this time the Royal Navy controlled the global market by ruling the sea. It was feared that if the Berlin to Baghdad Railway was built trade would go across land and be beyond the guns of the Royal Navy. It was also feared that the Railway would transport goods at a lower cost, giving the Germans a commercial advantage over Britain in the East. And there might even be the development of a great customs union - a kind of early European Community, with Germany at its head - that would prosper outside of the global market that Britain was establishing and which the Royal Navy policed.
One of the first things Britain determined to do about this railway was to stop it achieving a port at the Persian Gulf. It was the British policy to prevent any power establishing a trade route at this point because England was obsessed with the security of the jewel in its crown, India. For this reason, a local tribal leader was encouraged to detach his territory from the Ottoman Empire and establish his own principality called Kuwait, guaranteed by Britain, so that the Baghdad Railway could be prevented from having a terminus and a means of shipping goods further on.
When the Germans saw how important this issue was to Britain they decided to make concessions and offered Britain a stake in the Railway. However, these proved to be too late because anti-German feeling had been built up in England and the process of strategic reorientation and organizing and manoeuvring for the war had already begun.
How did Turkey come to be involved in the war?
I think historians, even those that are sympathetic to Turkey, do not attribute enough responsibility for the war on the British State and tend toward putting some blame on the Turks, and particularly Enver, which, I believe, is unfair. They tend to ignore the wider context of the war and get tied up in the diplomatic detail, which can be very confusing and intentionally so. The British State is expert at diplomacy, at covering its tracks and producing a narrative that, if it does not exonerate, sufficiently confuses people into tacit acceptance of the British position.
So why did Turkey end up in the Great War? British accounts present a number of arguments. The first one is that the Germans lured the Turks to their doom by political trickery. A second argument centres on Enver and claims that he worked with the Germans so that Ottoman power could be expanded after a successful war. In other words, like the Kaiser, Britain accused him of desiring conquest and world-domination.
As I have said, the Great War on the Ottoman Empire is usually treated as an incident in the war against Germany, with the Ottomans taken as a mere military ally of the Kaiser. But the activity and behaviour of the Turkish Government in the years preceding the Great War suggest that the Ottoman Government did everything possible to establish good relations with England and France, and the alliance with Germany was actually a defensive act of the last resort, when the Ottoman Government was left with no other option.
The Young Turks, who had overthrown the Sultan, Abdul Hamid, in 1908, were admirers of Britain and France. Many of them had been educated in London and Paris and had got their political ideas from there. They mostly wished to disentangle Ottoman Turkey from the German connection and to establish closer ties with Britain and France and even the Russians to secure the future of the Ottoman state.
Between November 1908 and June 1914 the Young Turk Government made at least six attempts to establish defensive alliances with Britain, Russia and France - but all were rejected. Some humiliating economic concessions were granted to Britain along with recognition of the British control in the Persian Gulf and Kuwait in an attempt at buying off the aggressors. England was granted a monopoly on navigation of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in Mesopotamia. And it was agreed that the Berlin/Baghdad Railway should not terminate at Basra and also have two British directors on its board.
As part of this conciliating process, and as a token of goodwill, the Young Turks entered into a naval agreement with Britain in which British dockyards took orders for Turkish battleships, under the supervision of Winston Churchill and the Admiralty, and a British naval mission was established at Constantinople. By 1914 the size of this naval mission was as large as the German military mission, and they were looked on as a counter-balance to each other by the Turks. If it was said that Turkey had a military alliance with Germany in 1914 it could be equally said that she had a naval alliance with England.
The Turkish Government offered England and France extraordinary positions of influence in the Ottoman State - positions that no other country with concern for its sovereignty would offer. They entrusted to Britain the most vital components of the defence of their capital - the reorganisation of their navy under Rear-Admiral Gamble and Admiral Limpus and a English Naval Mission, and the modernisation of the arsenal at the Golden Horn (Turkeys centre of munitions) by Armstrong and Vickers. Admiral Limpus offered advice to the Turkish Admiralty on such matters as the location of mine fields in the Straits and mine laying techniques as well as torpedo lines.
It is not surprising that the British took on this constructive work, even though their long term ambition was to destroy the Ottoman Empire. It countered German influence at Constantinople, gave the English a unique, inside knowledge of the defences of the Turkish capital and controlling influence over the Turkish Navy - and made sure that the Russians, French and Germans did not possess such influence or information themselves. And when the English naval mission left those in charge of it were the first to suggest to Winston Churchill that Constantinople should be attacked, and how it should be, with all the inside information they had obtained.
So the last thing on the minds of the Turks was to wage war on Britain - for to have had this intention and to have entrusted England with such expert knowledge of the defences of the Turkish State would have been like the proverbial Turkey voting for Christmas.
The only aspect of Ottoman reorganisation entrusted by the Young Turks to the Germans was the army. Im sure the Turkish Government saw this as a kind of insurance against being betrayed by the English and French and also as a kind of balancing act between the Powers to ensure that everyone was kept happy.
And so the Turkish alliance with Germany was an alliance of last resort forced on the Turks by the gathering of hostile aggressors around the Ottoman territories who refused to be bought off with either goodwill or bribes and determined that Turkey be not allowed to remain neutral in the war.
What were Turkeys intentions in 1914?
In July 1914 the main intention of the Ottoman State was to survive the War. It knew that Britain had its eyes on grabbing the Arab parts of the Ottoman Empire and its ally Tsarist Russia wanted Constantinople. To ensure its own survival Turkey remained neutral in the war and played for time by putting Germany off, when it became important for the Kaiser to gain allies, with a number of preconditions for a fully-fledged alliance.
It is sometimes argued by British historians that England desired Turkey to remain neutral in the war. However, there are a number of reasons to doubt this argument. Firstly, whilst Turkey had little to gain in entering the war it was necessary from Britain and Russia's position that the Ottoman Empire should be engaged in the conflict. How else was Constantinople to be got for the Russians? Secondly, Britain began to engage in highly provocative behaviour towards the Turks. A major example of this was the seizure by Winston Churchill of two Turkish battleships being built by the Royal Navy that were being paid for by popular subscription. These was seized illegally and confiscated without compensation by the British - effectively signalling that the naval alliance with Turkey was over.
It is difficult not to conclude that the manner of their seizure was designed to give the maximum provocation to the Turks and to drive the Ottoman government toward Germany.
Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, who had been making the arrangement to hand over Constantinople to the Russians, set down British intentions toward Turkey in early October in an internal memo at the Foreign Office: To delay the outbreak of war as long as we could, to gain as much time as we could, and to make it clear, when war came, that we had done everything to avoid war and that Turkey had forced it. (A.L. Macfie, The Straits Question In The First World War, Middle Eastern Studies, July 1983, p.49) So all along it was the British aim to make war on Turkey at an opportune time and blame the Ottoman Government for the breakdown in relations - while at the same time denying it all for the historic and diplomatic record.
The opportunity of finding a cause of war against Turkey developed after the Royal Navy forced two German ships trapped in the Mediterranean into neutral Constantinople in early August. The German crews faced with the prospect of destruction if they re-entered the Aegean handed the ships over to the Turks. The Turks accepted them in place of the two battleships owed to them by Britain.
Churchill laid a blockade on the Dardanelles to prevent the ships coming out. This in itself was an act of war against Turkey. Then he organised a series of meetings in the first days of September to discuss a pre-emptive strike on Constantinople - to Copenhagen the city, as Nelson had done in destroying the Danish fleet in its port in neutral Denmark in 1801 before declaration of war. On the last day of October Churchill gave the order to commence hostilities with Turkey without informing the Cabinet or formally declaring war. The Royal Navy began bombarding the Dardanelles on 3rd November even before war was declared on Turkey.
The occasion for the British declaration of war was an obscure incident in the Black Sea where the two formerly German ships engaged Russian ships that were attempting to lay mines on the approaches to Constantinople to complete the blockade which the British had instituted at the other end of the Straits. The ships then engaged Russian guns at the port of Odessa where a Russian Army was being prepared for invasion of the Ottoman Empire. The Russian operation was designed to prevent the Turks from being able to reinforce their Eastern provinces via the Black Sea - something that was indispensable to Ottoman forces due to the lack of a road network toward Eastern Anatolia.
The Black Sea incident that provided the cause for war is an unusually obscure event and I could not find a detailed account of it published in Britain. This is despite the fact that many detailed accounts exist about the events leading to the war on Germany.
The Turks themselves waited another week to declare war on Britain when they found a British army coming up from Kuwait and heading for Baghdad. Kuwait had supposedly been an independent principality in 1914 but it found itself with a sizeable British Indian army camped inside it and ready to expand the Empire into Mesopotamia.
What were Britains objectives in relation to the Ottoman Empire?
In early 1915 Britain and France began the naval assault on the Straits which was beaten off with great bravery by the Turks. And so a combined naval and military invasion was launched in which Ataturk appeared on the world stage for the first time. When the British invasion was defeated through Turkish resistance at Gallipoli the Entente withdrew their armies to Egypt and to Salonika in neutral Greece.
The armies withdrawn from Gallipoli to Egypt went on to help conquer Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq) for the British Empire. The Imperial conquest of these two parts of the Ottoman State was for strategic and economic reasons and involved the disastrous decision to establish a Zionist colony in Palestine to take care of British interests in the area.
What is clear from any reading of ambassadorial correspondence and other material is how many within British ruling circles were concerned at the so-called power of the Jew. This anti-Semitic mindset in the British ruling class was actually useful to Zionists in convincing the British government that the adoption of the Zionist objective would be indispensable to the British war effort.
This was because many in the Imperial ruling elite had formed the notion that the Jews were a dangerous element in international affairs. It was reasoned that because they had no country and no national existence they were internationalists of a disruptive kind. It was noticed that Jews were both prominent in international finance and international socialism. Many British Imperial civil servants and writers saw them as being associated with German commercial success and even as a hidden power behind the Young Turks, many of whom came from the great Jewish city of Salonika. This was a popular view within powerful circles in England even before the war but as the war became a stalemate it became worried about even more.
The solution to the Jewish problem for Britain, therefore, presented itself in the Zionist objective in which Jews could be made into a national people who no longer disrupted the international affairs of the British Empire. I call this Imperial motivation for altering the Jewish destiny the taming of the Jew because that is how it was seen by British experts in geopolitics.
It was no accident that Arthur Balfour, the Prime Minister who introduced the Aliens Act in Britain to reduce Jewish immigration to the country was also the author of the Declaration that proclaimed the Zionist objective as a British war aim.
The Zionists also proved an important ally for England in its maneuverings against the French who had been promised the territory of Palestine, as part of Syria, in the secret Sykes/Picot Treaty. However, Britain managed to detach Palestine from Syria and, as a consequence, Palestine from the French by championing the cause of Zionism whereby England took special responsibility for the future of the Jews. This had the effect of trumping the French historical claim to Syria through the English moral claim to be the guardians of the new Jewish homeland as indicated in the Balfour declaration of 1917.
In making war on the Ottoman Empire, and in pursuing the Zionist objective, the British Empire not only destroyed the prosperous and content Jewish communities across the Ottoman possessions but also sowed the seeds for generations of conflict with the local inhabitants of Palestine who would find themselves the chief victims of this great act of conquest and ethnic cleansing.
In the book I describe how Britain established the Jewish homeland in a great surge of fundamentalist Christianity brought about the catastrophic effects of the war they launched. But in doing so they underestimated the Jewish colonists they helped plant in Palestine who they thought would remain a loyal and servile part of the Empire but who developed instead into vigourous nationalists inspired by the expansionist impulses of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.
Both Jew and Arab were used by Britain in the Great War against Turkey. There was some local discontent amongst Arabs at the centralizing of the Young Turk government. However, the Arabs had never been nationalists prior to British attempts to make them rebel against the Ottoman Empire. In fact, the only Arab that can be accurately described as a nationalist, Said Talib of Basra, was actually deported by Britain to India, as a troublemaker, as soon as the British Army occupied southern Iraq.
Some British imperialists came up with the ridiculous idea of making the Sherif of Mecca, Hussein, a new Caliph in order to control the Moslem world. Hussein was flattered by the British and in 1915 the Arab Revolt began when he was promised an independent Arab state up to Syria in return for his help in destabilizing the Ottoman Empire.
The Arabs, as a consequence, found themselves the victims of a great British triple-cross. They were encouraged to rise against the Turks, by Colonel Lawrence, with the promise of a great independent Arab state after the War. And then they found this state had been secretly divided between the British and French, and Palestine declared to be a Jewish homeland all without the wishes of the actual inhabitants being taken into account.
The British conquering of Mesopotamia and establishment of Iraq was another consequence of the Great War on Turkey. In this conquest Britain put together an unstable mix of peoples from the Ottoman vilayets of Basra, Mesopotamia and Mosul in the strategic interests of the Empire, and for the oil of Mosul.
Originally the intention was to just incorporate the Basra region into British India to create a new buffer to replace the Ottoman buffer. Arnold Wilson, who was put in charge of the conquered territories, came with pre-war Imperial understandings and an expectation that British power would be fully utilized to govern Iraq in the firm manner that had been applied to the Indian Empire. When he saw that things had changed and argued against the new approach he was removed.
The system established by Britain in Iraq was the worst of all possible worlds. The old Ottoman system had the virtue of governing the intermingled peoples of Mesopotamia as the other peoples of the Empire, within a large multi-ethnic unit where local rivalries were largely kept in check. The British Indian model may have functioned in a similar fashion given strong and purposeful government. However, the system that emerged after 1918 was neither strong nor purposeful. It put three distinct groups into a pseudo-nation and created a pressure-cooker environment for them to conflict with each other for power. And it was not surprising that afterwards this system could only be made functional by ruthless strongmen.
Iraq turned out to be a much larger area than was originally intended. The Imperial forces decided to expand the Basra buffer more and more to the North and even tried to push it into northern Persia and the Caucasus, once the Czarist State began to collapse.
However, after the Great War, Britain, whilst it obtained a great amount of territory found it almost impossible to govern this territory in an effective manner. This was because of two reasons. Firstly, there was so much propaganda produced about fighting the war for small nations and democracy that the old naked imperialism was very difficult to justify in the aftermath of the war. Too many people had been affected by this propaganda and also it was impossible to quietly abandon it because by 1917 America had to be encouraged to join the war against Germany to save the Entente. America did not want to sacrifice its soldiers against Germany just so that the French and British could expand their empires in Asia.
The new state of Iraq was born in violence and deception. There the reality of conquest exposed as a fraud the war for small nations. The Iraqis who thought they were being liberated from Ottoman rule found themselves, like the Arabs, under a new Imperial rule and an insurgency began that was crushed by air power a precedent for future Western pacification of the region.
A mandate was set up, like in Palestine, which established British control indirectly under the pretense of nationhood. Sir Percy Cox came from Persia to rig an election by kidnapping the opposition candidate in order to maintain British control over a puppet imported to maintain Imperial hegemony. In doing this a precedent and template for violence and electoral manipulation in Iraqi politics was established by Britain that has persisted to the present.
Why did Britain produce so much propaganda against the Turk?
At this point I should say a bit about Wellington House and its production of propaganda against the Turks. Wellington House was a secret propaganda department set up at the start of the war under Charles Masterman. Masterman was later replaced by John Buchan, the famous author of The 39 Steps. Buchan and other notable literary figures and historians of the time were recruited to the propaganda drive through a covert meeting held just after the outbreak of the war. This was kept a close secret - even though it was the largest single gathering of writers for a state purpose in British history. The intention was to establish a propaganda drive against Germany which would use the talents of all these writers in the construction of a great output of material that would demonize the enemy from all possible angles - accusing them of terrible atrocities, having violent natures and instincts, producing aggressive and expansionist ideas etc. etc.
And when Turkey was enlisted as another enemy the focus moved from Germany to the Turks. The big problem Wellington House was confronted with in creating negative propaganda against the Turks was the notion that existed in England at the time which can be summed up in the phrase the Turk is a gentleman. This came about because the traditional view of the Turk in Britain presented him as a clean fighter and an honorable and honest opponent. The propagandists therefore attempted to overcome this view with a great output of atrocity propaganda.
A classic example was Mark Sykess famous article in The Times called The clean fighting Turk - a spuriously claim. Sykes was the man charged with secretly carving up the Middle East with the French at the same time as Britain was openly promising an Arab state on the same territory to the Arabs.
Another example, amongst dozens of others, was the book called Crescent and Iron Cross by E.F. Benson. Benson was a famous novelist and writer of ghost stories. As far as I know he had little interest in the history of the Ottoman Empire or Turkish affairs before the Great War. Suddenly he produced a book which demonized the Turks and made all sorts of allegations about the Ottomans and particularly about their treatment of the Armenians.
This book illustrates the Wellington House method very well. Information was collected by unknown propagandists and rewritten by the author as if it was his own work. And this approach was applied by numerous other publications which seemed to be written by well-regarded private individuals and published by independent publishing houses but which were really collaborations by secret propagandists who organized the production and distribution of the work on a massive scale and directed it at influential individuals. Much of the information in these publications was common and had a single original source. However, the sheer volume and range of all these publications produced the same effect as poison gas in the trenches - attacking all the senses and creating something that was very difficult to avoid penetrating the mind.
Two and a half million books and pamphlets reached an audience of at least 13,000 contacts in the United States. The United States was a particular target of the Wellington House propaganda because the Americans were very distrustful of Britain's motives in the Middle East. In order to justify the war on Turkey, which the United States never joined, and the conquest of the Middle East, Britain felt it had to project an image of the Turks as being wholly unfit to govern anybody and to be the enemies of progress everywhere. The idea was to implant in the American mind the view that once Britain had liberated the Arab areas from the Ottoman Empire they would all become Gardens of Eden and that the British Empire only had the noblest of motives and the interests of native peoples in mind in fighting and conquering in the region.
It is notable that although the US committed armies against Germany and Austria-Hungary it never declared war on Turkey. And the consequence of Americans experience in working with British Imperialists in the occupied territories ensured that the US refused to get involved in the mandates established after the war.
Who was responsible for the Armenian disaster?
Initially I tried to stay away from this area seeing it as a matter for debate between historians who have studied it more thoroughly and having greater familiarity with it. However, I found I could not ignore it due to the central role it had in Britains war on Turkey.
This is where the Armenian issue originates from - or the popularity of the idea of an Armenian genocide. The Armenians were used to cultivate and construct a case against Turkey first and foremost. That was the primary interest of Britain in them and not their well-being or that they should be governed well.
It must be remembered that Britain always sought to undermine enemies or states it saw as rivals by destabilizing them through their national minorities (whilst doing everything to repress and subdue minorities within their own Empire, of course, as in Ireland.)
The Armenians were used by England and Russia as a means of destabilizing the Ottoman Empire and disrupting the Turkish resistance to invasion behind their lines. There were, obviously, Armenian nationalists who were both willing and eager to participate in this process but its main effect was to make the ordinary Armenians position impossible within the Ottoman Empire. It was made impossible for them to remain a loyal community and a functional part of the Empire, which they had been for centuries.
There was a lot of hypocrisy about Britain's condemnation of the Turks because only a decade previously the British had repressed Boer resistance in South Africa with great ruthlessness, putting families in concentration camps, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands. Although this was British State policy it was only called methods of barbarism but never genocide. This was not even done in the conditions that confronted the Turks during the Great War - blockade, invasion on three fronts, starvation, the collapse of the infrastructure and many local people in eastern Anatolia with scores to settle with the Armenians in the hinterlands of invasion and war.
The use of the word genocide with regard to what happened to the Armenians during the Great War is an attempt to connect Turkey with Nazi Germany. However, a much better analogy would be what happened on the Eastern Front during the Second World War when different groups of people became destabilized by the Nazi invasion of Russia. Here terrible things were done as state authority began to collapse, society began to return to its elements and people struggled to survive in the circumstances.
In 1915 the Russian and British invasions of the Ottoman Empire had a similar effect. The Russians and British raised some people's expectations so that they were willing to exact retribution on people they had grievances against and in turn those people exacted revenge on them. No one quite knew under whose authority they would exist when the war was over and therefore all restraint was removed on behaviour. It was under these circumstances and in this context that the relocation of Armenians took place and the killing of both Christian and Moslem peoples.
Essentially the responsibility for what happened to the Armenians and the other minorities that existed relatively peacefully within the Ottoman Empire for centuries must be placed at the hands of those who attempted to destabilize and ultimately destroy this multinational Empire.
Nationalism was a most unsuitable thing to promote in the region covered by the Ottoman Empire where a great patch-work of peoples were inter-mingled and were inter-dependent. Its promotion in the region by the Western powers was as disastrous for the many Moslem communities of the Balkans and the Caucuses, who were driven from their homes of centuries, as it was for Christians caught up in the inevitable consequences of the simplifying process it encouraged. The same forces in Europe unleashed by the Versailles settlement did much to make the position of Jews untenable within societies that they had dwelt in for centuries.
The important point that should be borne in mind is that it was not in the Turkish interest that the Armenians should rebel and resort to war but it was very much in the Russian and British interest that they should do so.
Unfortunately for the Armenians, they, like other peoples in strategically important areas found themselves being used as pawns in a new Great Game. And after being encouraged to rise and form themselves into a national entity, that was never a practicality given their dispersion across Ottoman territories, they were quickly discarded and forgotten when their interests no longer coincided with those of their sponsors.
How and why did the British set the Greeks against the Turks?
That brings us to the issue of the Greeks. The political and military assault launched by Britain on neutral Greece and the devastating effect this ultimately had on the Greek people across the Balkans and Asia Minor is almost completely forgotten about in Western Europe. The Greek King Constantine and his government tried to remain neutral in the war but Britain was determined to enlist as many neutrals as possible in their Great War to help fight it. This was necessary for three main reasons.
Firstly, English Liberalism had to turn the war into a great moral crusade of good versus evil in order that their MPs and supporters would support it. This meant that neutrality was almost impossible as countries had to be either for or against the war for civilization against barbarism. This really was an innovation in the conduct of war and gave the Great War its catastrophic character because an accommodation or peace could hardly be made with evil, particularly for non-conformist Protestants, who made up a great deal of the Liberal rank and file. This thwarted all efforts at peace particularly those of Pope Benedict XV, who tried to put a stop to Europe destroying itself.
Secondly, English Liberalism was opposed to military conscription. That made it necessary, once the Germans had not been defeated quickly, to get others to do the fighting for Britain the fighting that the Liberal Party was reluctant to impose on its own citizens for fear of interfering in their freedoms. So it became the norm to bully and bribe other nations to fight to avoid conscription at home.
Thirdly, the Liberal Imperialists, like Churchill, favoured a policy of expansion of the war in a desperate attempt to win it. In France and Belgium the war had got bogged down into a static war of attrition where great casualties were being suffered. The thinking was that if the fringes of Europe, and even Asia, were set ablaze this would let others take the casualties and stretch the forces of the Central Powers wider and wider to weaken their lines.
So England made offers to the Greek Prime Minister, Venizlos, of territory in Anatolia which he found too hard to resist. The Greek King, however, under the constitution had the final say on matters of war and he attempted to defend his neutrality policy. King Constantine was then deposed by the actions of the British Army at Salonika, through a starvation blockade by the Royal Navy and a seizure of the harvest by Allied troops. This had the result of a widespread famine in the neutral nation that forced the abdication of Constantine.
These events led to the Greek tragedy in Anatolia because the puppet government under Venizlos, installed in Athens through Allied bayonets, was enlisted as a catspaw to bring the Turks to heal after the Armistice at Mudros. They were presented with the town of Smyrna first and then the Greeks, encouraged by Lloyd George, advanced across Anatolia toward where the Turkish democracy had re-established, at Ankara, after it had been suppressed in Constantinople. Britain was using the Greeks and their desire for a new Byzantium in Anatolia to get Atatrk and the Turkish national forces to submit to the Treaty of Svres, and the destruction of not only the Ottoman State but Turkey itself.
This was because after the war Britain was virtually bankrupt and the promise had been made by Lloyd George to demobilize the troops immediately in order to win a snap election he called just after the armistice. So the Greek Army was needed to do the imposing of the Treaty of Svres which British Imperial forces were unable to undertake.
But the Greek Army perished just short of Ankara after being skillfully maneuvered into a position by Atatrk in which their lines were stretched. And the two thousand year old Greek population of Asia Minor fled on boats from Smyrna, with the remnants of their army after Britain had withdrawn its support, because the Greek democracy had reasserted its will to have back its King.
What was positive about the Great War on Turkey?
Finally I will end with the one great positive development of the Great War on Turkey - the achievement of Atatrks in leading the Turkish nation to independence from the Imperialist Powers and the establishment of the Turkish State. This was an event that Republican Ireland could only marvel at, from the confines of the 1921 Treaty which ended the Irish Republic and created an Irish state within the British Empire again.
However, the British Empires ultimate demise was set in motion by the successful Turkish war of independence and the humiliation of Britain at Chanak. And that had important ramifications for the Irish who wished to overturn the Treaty in the event of a decline in British power.
Irish Republicans were greatly inspired by what Atatrk had achieved. Britain had closed the Turkish parliament in Constantinople as it had done the Irish parliament in Dublin; it had arrested and interned the Turkish deputies as it had the Irish members of Dil ireann. It had attempted to destroy the new Turkish national assembly in Ankara as it also attempted to prevent the Irish democracy from functioning. It had forced a treaty reluctantly on the Turks as it had done on the Irish. But then Atatrk came along. He overthrew the punitive treaty of Svres dictated by the imperialists at the point of a gun. He defeated and humiliated the most powerful empire in the world and its Army at the height of its power, along the other victors of the Great War. He then negotiated a new treaty at Lausanne which turned Turkey into an independent democracy.
What Atatrk achieved became an inspiration to the Republicans in Ireland who did not accept the restrictions of the Treaty imposed upon them by Britain. And in the coming decades they gained power under the leadership of DeValera and Fianna Fail and began to challenge and undermine the Treaty in the knowledge that Britain was no longer the power it once was since it came up against Ataturk and Turkey.
To conclude, I would say that it isnt going too far to say that Ataturk was not just the father of the Turkish State but he had also something to do with the birth of the independent Irish nation as well.
Dr. Pat Walsh
(Author of Britains Great War on Turkey - an Irish perspective)