The Tottering Turk
By Fullerton L. Waldo, F. R. G. S.
(Associate Editor of the Philadelphia Public Ledger)
[The Independent; October 25, 1915]
Constantinople is now the critical point in the Great War. The issue of the conflict turns upon it, and the next few weeks may decide the question. The city is besieged by armies of Russians, English, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, French, Senegalese and Italians. Armies of Austrians and Germans are pushing down thru Serbia to reach Constantinople before it falls. British, French and Italian troops have rushed to stop their onward march. Meanwhile "the Sick, Man of the East" is in mortal danger. The Turk feels that he is losing his grip and the subject races who have suffered under his tyranny for centuries are getting restive at the thought that the day of their deliverance is at hand. He has determined that they shall be destroyed rather than be freed. The colleges which Americans have founded in Turkey are threatened with extinction. It makes an American thrill with pride to read in Mr. Waldo's article how these educational outposts of ours in the East are calmly continuing their work in the midst of war.—THE EDITOR.
When I was in Constantinople the air seemed more than ordinarily surcharged with that sense of things sinister and gruesome that somehow the city never quite shakes off even in its most lethargic moods in times of peace. The Armenians, in mid-August, had spread about, like running torches, the rumors that sealed orders were at every police station for a general slaughter on the third day of Beiram. Twenty years ago the pavements were reddened with the blood of 8000 'massacred innocents: and those who remembered thought the time ripe for a repetition of the horrors of 1895. For the Young Turks, betwixt the upper millstone of a German vassalage and the nether of the Allies battering at the Dardanelles and toiling up thru Mesopotamia, have determined on Turkey for the Turks, and Armenia without the Armenians. Betwixt devil and deep sea, the German incubus and the Aegean, Enver Pasha, Talaat Bey and Shukri Bey are playing out the lurid drama, to the end.
There are 100,000 Armenians in Constantinople. The Turks whenever they please hale them to the police stations, soak their feet in salt water, and then apply the bastinado till their victims have to walk about on their knees for many days thereafter, if they walk at all. One man I talked with, a cook in charge of a bake oven at an American institution, had recently received the full official tale of seventy strokes while the doctor held his pulse to make sure the exquisite torment did not send the victim's fluttering life quite over the brink. But a weak old man, who in the same hour was given but twenty strokes, died on the day following.
The newspapers today are filled with the execrable deeds of hireling Kurds and Bashi-Bazouks in Asia Minor. And still, Ambassador Morgenthau assured me, the half has not been told. The Black Sea and the Tigris River hold the secret of struggling thousands. ruthlessly thrown into deep water and shot from the bank. A good woman that I knew wanted to go down from Scutari to Nicomedia by rail to help the evicted there, but the Turks would not let her, for they did not wish her to see the crimes committed and apprise the world of them. From that region 30,000 at least had been thrust forth to desert wanderings, and tens of thousands more were interned in and around the station, waiting till the cattle-cars had dumped their human freight and returned for more.
Of course, the Turk, with his sluggish mentality, is jealous of the Armenian's progressive temper that outbargains, outbuilds, outparleys and in all non-military ways outgenerals him. The Turk fears the league of the Armenians and the Russians, for which the former have toiled as their one hope of political and social salvation.
In the meantime, this iman Morgenthau, his soul fired to White heat by Russia's oppression of his own people, the Jews, is determined to do his best for those whom Turkey so barbarously mishandles. On his executive capacity nine nations at least are now depending, and the embassy is the camp of refuge for black-clad weeping Armenian women with their infants in their arms, for priests and merchants and teachers with a Damocletian sword over their heads in a reign of terror: When the Turks on a drenching day of rain began to throw the French nuns and the orphans out into the street, Morgenthau rushed round to their place, and Mrs. Morgenthau went with him. While the Ambassador got a stay from the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Morgenthau procured the title deeds and the money and ran the gauntlet with them hidden in her dress and her heart fast beating. The Turks tried to kidnap Sir Edwin Pears, for two score years a highly respected advocate, whose knowledge of the Levant almost reached to the encyclopedic understanding of the late Dr. Washburn, Morgenthau heard of it and saved him, and Sir Edwin is now safe at home in England.
Then there is William Wheelock Peet, the famous missionary treasurer. He has been thirty-four years on the scene, and knows Asia Minor, Macedonia, Albania as a hadji knows the Koran. "How are you getting the money to the missionaries in these troublous times?" I asked. "I used the money-orders of the post office till the post office broke down," he said "then the tobacco monopoly distributed it for me, and now it is the Standard Oil agents. They've never been able to stump me yet!" That is the American spirit—the same spirit that keeps Gates at Robert College, Dr. Patrick at Constantinople College, Dr. Howard Bliss at the Syrian Protestant College, Beirut, determined hot to haul down the flag to Islam. I talked with an ensign from our tiny stationnaire the "Scorpion." She is a boat of 900 tons, carrying ninety men. The Turks have moved her to the far end of the Golden Horn, within the two bridges and the tangle of shipping, where in no case can her limited puissance be made available, tho her men ashore might guard the Embassy. Aside from the "Scorpion's" complement there are perhaps 150 Americans in the city.
Daily more audacious, the Turks cut mail to ribbons and deny to travelers the least written communication in their baggage. They have erased the French and English signs, and ordered these languages off the streets. They aim—successfully—to keep the foreigners in Cimmerian darkness as to all that goes on at Gallipoli. They poison the mind of the Turk against the American by telling him that American munitions feed the guns of the Allies. In spite of all, Robert College—typical of these brave American institutions—has started the year with an enrollment of nearly 400, in the teeth of a famine in oil and coal and bread and many things. There is, at any rate, no dearth of the splendid courage that holds the fort till the day break and the shadows flee away."
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald