The Position of Turkey

By A. Rustem Bey
(Turkish Ambassador to the United States)

(The World’s Work, October 1914)

The Editors of the WORLD'S WORK have asked me to contribute an article dealing with Turkey as an element in the present European situation. I gladly place before the American public, whose sources of information concerning Europe and more especially its southeastern corner are generally tainted, a statement defining the conditions governing to-day or likely to govern at a later stage the attitude of the country I represent. In doing so I have been frank to the point of bluntness and express in human terms the strong emotions I could not fail to feel at this time. This may be a departure from diplomatic conventions, but I strongly believe that, in this solemn hour, when the destinies of Europe, of which the Ottoman Empire still forms part, are passing through a fiery furnace, it would be a great mistake for those holding responsible positions to maintain the cult of worn-out forms and formulae. If further complications, that is to say further horrors, are to be avoided, those representing their respective countries should not indulge in the circumlocutions and the dilution of terms which are so customary in official style, but should make bold statements forcibly reflecting the feelings of their nations.

Two weeks ago Turkey was credited with the intention of declaring war on Greece. This has not come to pass. To-day [this article was written on August 29th], she is represented as being on the point of actively joining Germany and Austria-Hungary. Should this be true it would mean that a radical change has taken place in the policy of the Sublime Porte which, as defined in several official declarations on her part, was that of neutrality up to the 15th of August. Having been cut off from code communication since then with my Government, I am not in a position to make a definite statement as to any developments in the situation. But I am loath to believe that my country will plunge into the fray. I beg and pray that the necessity for such a portentous decision may not have arisen. If, however, Turkey has really resolved to throw her weight into the Austrian-German side of the scales it will be largely due to the exasperation and despair caused throughout the length and breadth of the land by the transfer to the British flag of the two dreadnaughts which were building for her in England, the latest—I wish I could say the last—of a long series of attacks by Great Britain on Turkish interests and feelings. Whether Great Britain had or had not the right to take over these ships is immaterial. To her, who enjoys an overwhelming superiority over Germany at sea besides acting in conjunction with two other naval Powers against her, they were unnecessary. To Turkey they meant everything by reason of the independence they would have conferred upon her in regard to Greece. At the very least Great Britain should have paid for them on the spot! She has not settled the account yet, contenting herself with making liberal, very liberal promises of compensation—after the war!

That Great Britain should have adopted a course of systematic hostility to Turkey—a string of other instances of this kind is to be found in the loud and ostentatious support she gave to the Balkan Allies all through the Balkan crisis, in flagrant violation of her treaty engagements pledging her to defend the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, the while adding insult to injury—is the strongest proof among many others of the narrow-mindedness and prejudice with which her later-day statesmen, so different alas! from the Palmerstons, the Salisburys, the Disraelis, deal with vital problems. The after effects of the present struggle, whether it end in triumph or in defeat for the Triple Entente, will open their eyes to the folly of a policy aiming at the weakening of Turkey and her humiliation—that Turkey, who has tried hard to remain a friend of Great Britain despite all. But it will be too late and they will stand condemned before the British nation of the grossest misconception of its interests. At least let them refrain at this, maybe the eleventh hour, when everything is in the balance, from addressing threats to Turkey. This will be only adding one more to the long list of errors in their attitude toward that country.

In proof of the accuracy of my description of the attitude of Great Britain toward Turkey I will quote the following extracts from statements made at the Ottoman Association in London on the 11th of February last, all by Englishmen of high standing:

Sir Thomas Barclay, (who presided): "... If Turkey needed us, we, on the other hand, needed Turkey. She formed part of that neutral zone which generations of our ablest statesmen had considered necessary for the defence and consolidation of our Indian Empire. She also formed part of the line of communication to that Australasia which was destined to be another North America for the Anglo-Saxon race. We had, therefore, political interests of the greatest magnitude in the maintenance of the integrity of Turkey. We had also great economic interests which would be lost if Turkey should pass under the dominion of any other industrial state or states. The interest of this country in every respect was that we should remain the friend of Turkey and of Turkish regeneration. (Cheers) ...."

Sir John D. Rees, M.P.: "... He had the highest admiration for the Turk and was at a loss to account for the lack of sympathy exhibited of late toward him .... He hoped that with the formation of the Association a new era would be commenced and that our old traditional friend, the Turk, would once more be appreciated."

Mrs. Marmaduke Pickthall: "...Why was Turkey shut out from the decent money markets of the world? Why was the French loan still withheld? Simply because Turkey showed a fierce determination to resist the further degradation of her country. She was determined to do the work that England was by treaty bound to do for her, to maintain her integrity. We should have secured to Turkey fair financial treatment, which was all she needed to become again the strongest bulwark of our Indian Empire...."

Mrs. Harold Cox moved: "That this meeting regrets that the recent policy of Great Britain has the appearance of having been persistently directed against the Turkish Empire.... In his judgment Sir Edward's foreign policy had been marked by a long series of disastrous blunders. Take, first, what was said before the war. It was stated that war should not result in any territorial readjustments because everybody believed that Turkey was going to win. Afterward the Powers forgot their resolution and allowed the Balkan States to take the greater part of Turkey in Europe. Then when the Turks occupied Adrianople, first Sir E. Gray and then Mrs. Asquith ordered them to clear out, because they were so instructed by Russia. Turkey remained in Adrianople. So England had been dishonored by trying to deprive Turkey of winning back one of her famous cities and having failed. We now had the question of the Islands and Albania. The Aegean Islands must go to Greece because there was a considerable Greek population. Suppose there was a considerable German population in the Isle of Wight, as there was in summer, was the Isle of Wight to be handed over to the German rule? (Laughter.) These Islands were essential to the defence of the Dardanelles, yet we threatened to use force in order to compel Turkey to give them up. The whole of our foreign policy since Sir Edward Grey went to the Foreign Office had been marked by subservience to Russia; it had been to keep Turkey weak in order that she might be ready when Russia wanted to swallow her. When Turkey asked for Englishmen to help in Armenia Sir E. Grey refused because Russia wished to keep Armenia in a state of disorder. And disorder meant robbery, rape, and murder. At the present moment England, professedly a Christian Power, was conniving at those crimes in order that it might be a mouthful for the Russian Empire...."

The Hon. Walter Guiness, M. P. seconded the resolution, which was supported by Professor E. D. Browne and carried unanimously.


Yes, if Turkey breaks with the Triple Entente it will be largely through the fault of Great Britain, whose seizure of the two Turkish ships shows that the Ottoman Empire has nothing to hope and everything to fear from her. When she declared that she meant to observe a strict neutrality she was perfectly sincere. It is true that she ordered at the same time a general mobilization, but this was in the nature of a precautionary measure destined to safeguard the security of her territories. A painful experience has taught her that she is denied in practice the guarantees of international law and that she can be at any time the sudden victim of armed aggression. It is because she would not allow herself any more to be overtaken by such a contingency that she called her entire manhood to arms. It is also true that a German mission headed by General Liman von Sanders is in charge of the reorganization of her land forces, but that does not mean, as some believe, and others, less ingenuous, affect to believe, that she has abdicated into its hands. Indeed, if ever there was a soldier who was jealous of his authority and a Turk who was nothing but Turk, it is the young and famous Minister of War, Enver Pasha. To speak of him and such other members of the Turkish Cabinet as Prince Sai'd Halim Pacha Talaat Bey, Djemal Pacha, Djavid Bey—all men of strong and original minds and intense patriotism—as tools of the Kaiser and his representatives, is an absurd perversion of fact proceeding from brains obsessed with the fear of Germany.

Besides, there is also a large British naval mission in Turkey, and a considerable number of French specialists are in her employ.

No doubt, Turkey has a great regard for Germany, as it seems to me every other nation must have which is not absolutely blinded by prejudice; and may have considered at one time or another the advisability of cooperating with her; but she is not at her beck and call, and has never been. She has not been "hypnotized"—as the operation has been called—by her diplomatists and soldiers, which if it were the case would only mean that they are cleverer than their rivals. Rather have Great Britain and France, especially the latter, hypnotized themselves into the nightmare that Germany is everywhere in possession of men's minds and souls. Germany's attitude toward Turkey has not always been above reproach; but that of the other great Powers has been much less so; and when, two years ago, the whole of Europe and, I am sorry to add, America, saw in what was considered to be the agony of Turkey an opportunity for pouring contumely and obloquy upon her, for insulting and mocking her—truly, the sorriest exhibition Christianity and Occidentalism ever gave to the world—Germany, alone of the group of nations claiming to be the guides of humanity, found words of sympathy and encouragement for that distressed country. The Turks, who may serve as a model in this as in several other respects to many another nation priding itself upon the superiority of its civilization, know how to be grateful, but they cannot afford to pay their debt to Germany in this connection by drawing the sword in her behalf. Participation in a war can be determined only by the call of vital interests or loss of poise resulting from unendurable provocation. In what degree the one or the other or both have operated to bring about a departure on the part of Turkey from her original attitude in relation to the struggle between the two systems of Powers in Europe, I repeat, I have no means of ascertaining.


Another question which presents considerable interest is whether Turkey will take advantage of the splendid opportunity offered to her to recover Mytilene, Chio, and Samos, which fell into the hands of Greece during the first Balkan war with the other islands of the Aegean not occupied by Italy.

Turkey has not bowed and will not bow to the arbitrary decision of the great Powers of Europe leaving the Greeks in possession of these three islands. Their population is no doubt Greek, but they form part of the geographical system of Asia Minor, and, owing to their proximity to its coast, they would certainly be used by the chauvinistic propounders of the "Great Idea" as bases for bringing into existence the same revolutionary agitation among the Greek population fringing the mainland as was created and kept up so successfully at the expense of Turkey by Greeks, Bulgars, and Serbs in Macedonia. Greek imperialism, which is founded on the pretensions of a race numbering at the very outside 7,000,000, whose principal qualities are gesticulation and declamation, does not seriously threaten Constantinople, whose capture is also modestly included in its programme. But with Mytilene, Chio and Samos governed from Athens it could make itself dangerously felt in Anatolia. A minor, but still intolerable, inconvenience would result to Turkey from the possession of these islands by the Greeks in the irresistible inclination of the race for contraband trade. For these reasons, but more especially for the first, Turkey is absolutely bent upon reestablishing her rule in the islands in question, a rule which meant a very liberal autonomy for its inhabitants before as it will mean hereafter. To her their recovery is synonymous with her survival as an independent state. So, much for the importance they have in her eyes. That, on the other hand, the present situation is an extremely favorable one for immediate action in accomplishment of her decision will be gathered from the following facts. Lastly, Servia, Greece's only ally in the Balkan Peninsula, is busy fighting a great Power.

Besides, this alliance is founded on an even less solid basis than that which exists between Austria-Hungary and Italy. No sooner had the two countries exchanged signatures pledging one another to amity and coöperation than they started erecting fortifications against one another on their common frontier. The fact is that Servia, debarred as she is from gaining direct access to the Adriatic, has formed secret plans to wrest from Greece the narrow strip of territory which to-day separates her from Salonica, and Greece, to whom the installation of Servia in the province of Monastir became from the day of its consummation a source of national heartburning, is also thinking of the campaign that will transfer to her this territory which, ethnographically speaking, is really neither Greek nor Servian but Turkish and Bulgarian. Roumania, on the other hand, has already ceased to be a sincere supporter of the treaty signed under her dictation in her capital only a year ago, as the result of her intervention in the second Balkan war, when all the parties to it were exhausted—an achievement of opportunist diplomacy aiming at the maintenance of the balance of power in the Balkans through the legislation of Servian and Greek conquests as against Turkey and Bulgaria.

Why this rapid retraction? Because so far as Greece is concerned the massacre five months ago, in a place called Koritza, of Koutzo-Vlaks (Macedonian Roumanians) including their bishop, by local Greeks who had rebelled against Albanian rule under the leadership of officers and with the help of soldiers from the Greek army, reminded her sharply of the deep-seated antagonism existing between the two countries and, so far as Servia is concerned, because Roumania realized, on second thought, her first having been formed somewhat hastily, that an aggrandized Servia flanking her to the west when she is already flanked to the East by the gigantic patron of the smaller Slav state, was not precisely a neighbor whose fortunes called for her protection. The further prospects of expansion, which the eventual defeat of Austria-Hungary holds out to Servia, have made her improvised solicitude for the latter's interests entirely cool off. Indeed, there are indications since the outbreak of hostilities that she is drawing close to Turkey and Bulgaria. Montenegro, the Lilliputian Kingdom in the northwestern corner of the Balkan peninsula, which would not count in any case except as an instance of extraordinary blustering and theatrical posturing, is engaged in "annexing" Bosnia and Herzegovina from Austria. The only Balkan country which is free to dispose of its resources as it chooses, Bulgaria, has entirely made up her differences with Turkey. Not only is this the case but the result of the second Balkan war has brought about a close community of views between the two countries. Turkey has come to consider her continental losses as a good riddance, so that the passionate desire of Bulgaria to recover from Greece some of the territory taken from Turkey, but ceded to the former, under the compulsion of defeat in the second Balkan war, does not clash with Turkish aspirations, which are directed only toward the reoccupation of the strategically important Aegean islands. In one word the short-lived "Christian" alliance of the Balkans has no more chance of resuscitation than the dead of the second Balkan war which brought it to an end.

How could it, when the different Christian sects, meeting in Jerusalem, have repeatedly fought with one another in the very precincts of the Holy Sepulchre, and have been prevented from continuing to profane the shrine with these scenes of sanguinary violence only by the permanent presence of a squad of Turkish soldiers, who, with fixed bayonets, keep them apart?—Truly an eloquent comment, more eloquent even than the massacres committed by the Balkan States.

Thus the great Powers being engaged in war, with the exception of Italy which must give undivided attention to what is going on in central Europe, and Greece being condemned to isolation, the situation is politically very favorable to Turkish action. The Turkish army of to-day is a vastly superior instrument to that with which Turkey fought the allies and defeated Bulgaria, Yes, Turkey defeated Bulgaria at Tchataldja as a result of which Bulgaria sued for peace. But this is another story. Thanks to the transfer of the Goeben and Breslau to the Turkish flag, which gives Turkey to-day the same superiority in the Aegean which the Averoff gave to Greece during the first Balkan war, the former can attack the latter on the sea with every chance of success. This is a highly dramatic change in the relation to one another of the two rivals for naval supremacy in that part of the world, which has something almost providential in it, since it not only shows Greece deprived of all the advantages which she expected to derive from the acquisition of the Idaho and Mississippi, but compensates Turkey for the loss of the Sultan Osman and Réchadié, taken over by England just as they were going to be delivered to her. No doubt these two ships represent a fighting power which is considerably superior to that of the Goeben and her companion, but, whereas the former might not have reached Turkish waters, the latter, called by new names and flying the Star and Crescent, are safely anchored at Constantinople, This is the first smile Fortune has bestowed upon Turkey for many a year and the first frown she has cast on Greece to whom it should be an indication of the proverbial fickleness of the goddess. If Greece was victorious in 1912-13, which was largely, almost exclusively, the effect of luck, she was very thoroughly beaten by Turkey in 1897, when the Fates looked on impartially. Her intransigent policy in regard to the contested islands and the general arrogance of her attitude toward Turkey may bring upon her an even greater chastisement.

Thus the political as well as the military situation is favorable to immediate Turkish action in view of the recovery from Greece of her lost islands. And yet, I feel sure she will not move, The reason is very simple. She must husband all her resources and keep them intact so as to be in the best possible position to meet an aggression on the part of some great Power which at the end of the present struggle may feel free and disposed to attack her. And this constitutes a third contingency in the present situation. More than one European Power has still designs on Turkey. Great Britain swooped on Egypt in 1884 and has practically annexed that essentially Mussulman territory, in flagrant violation of the Treaty of Berlin, than which a more solemn international pact has never been concluded and which, drawn up largely under her dictation, pledged her, with the other great European Powers, to respect themselves and defend against others the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire. Italy proceeded in the same violently arbitrary manner in regard to Libya. What guarantee has Turkey that she is not exposed to some new act of spoliation on the part of one or the other of the great Powers of Europe, some of which are denouncing Germany very loudly for her violation of Belgian neutrality but are themselves among the greatest treaty breakers of the world?

In this connection I would add that if Turkey is again assailed by a great Power she will fight with the determination and heroism of despair, and I, for one, would strongly advise her, no matter who her adversary, to call to her assistance the whole Mussulman world. Yes, a new attack upon Turkey, proceeding as it would from the fact that she is practically outlawed because she is Mussulman, would justify in unfurling the Green Banner of the Prophet—proclaiming a Holy War. Even so she might fall, but this would be sowing the seeds of an even more extensive and desperate struggle than the one that is raging to-day.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
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