Turkey and Germany

By H. G. Dwight

[Scribner's Magazine, March 1915]

Among the most interesting experiences of the Balkan War, for a certain sojourner in Constantinople, was a certain motor spin to the Chatalja Lines. As we skimmed along the brown uplands behind the Russian war memorial of 1878, of which the Turks have now left not one stone upon another, we saw a long gray cruiser making for the city. At that moment, on the eve of the battle of Chatalja, when the harbor was full of foreign men-of-war and suspense was at its height, the spectacle contributed very little to an exciting day. But we had occasion to remember that long gray cruiser. Even then the Goeben, as we later learned she was named, created an incident. Before she appeared on the scene, almost the last European ship to do so, the Germans refused to give out the name and rank of her commander. Not even the American ambassador was able to get the coveted information for his English colleague. When the international squadron finally constituted itself, however, it was found that the ranking officer was the French Admiral Dartige du Fournet. The admiral of the Goeben was accordingly obliged to take second place, although his ship was by far the most formidable in the Bosphorus, and Admiral Dartige du Fournet directed the subsequent operations of the international fleet.

It is a French admiral who now directs the larger operations of the Allied fleets in the Mediterranean. But the situation of 1912 has reached its logical conclusion, and the German cruiser that steamed so quietly into the Bosphorus two years ago is there to-day, the arm and the symbol of a counter supremacy. I will not venture to say that the Turks would never have entered the war without the Goeben. The escape last August into the Dardanelles, however, of that henceforth historic ship and her consort the Breslau, brought to a climax the situation which broke Turkish neutrality, and it was the Goeben that eventually forced the Turks into the war.

It is perhaps worth while, for their bearing on the larger aspects of the war, to consider the circumstances which made it possible for a single adventurous corsair to dictate the policy of an empire. It is not given the present writer to read the heart of any man, and least of all those of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his Chancellors. We all know, however, the old catchwords of the Drang nach Osten and the Place in the Sun; and the affairs of China, Morocco, and Asia Minor, to say nothing of the last four or five European wars, look very much as if the Teutons had set out to make for themselves by force and by forethought such an empire as England has gained chiefly by accident. It also looks very much as if Turkey had been expected to contribute to that empire the richest of her European and Asiatic provinces. Exactly what, in connection with the Drang nach Osten, the two branches of the Teutonic race secretly thought of each other's destiny, it is not here necessary to inquire. It must be some generations, however, since any member of the rising house of Hohenzollern has thought it likely that the house of Hapsburg would survive his own. Has not the whole trend of modern history been toward the unification of cognate peoples? And it is not too impossible to conceive that at least one Hohenzollern fancied the Drang nach Osten might one day carry him. Or some happy descendant from Berlin to Bassorah on German soil.

As for the Turks, they seem to have thought very little. They are not greatly given to thought, the Turks, being at heart honest and very simple. As a race they know little of Weltpolitik or any other kind of Politik. They blundered by chance into an empire for them the one most impossible to govern, and the attempt to govern it has brought out much of the worst in them. Nevertheless they Turkey and Germany remain at heart surprisingly simple. And used as they always have been to the clash of races, they are not the men to be unduly suspicious of any one. On the contrary, they were the men to be moved by the visit which Kaiser Wilhelm II paid to Sultan Abd-ül-Hamid II in 1890. Since Enrico Dandolo and Frederick Barbarossa no other European sovereign of the first rank had visited Constantinople. Indeed, most of the great and good friends of Abd-ül-Hamid on the thrones of Europe had shown him anything but friendliness. So it was that the Kaiser himself laid, twenty-five years ago, the bases of the present situation. Until that moment Germany had been a cipher in the Levant, whereas England, France, and Russia had been intrenched there for generations. But the Emperor's two visits—for he returned to Constantinople in 1898 and extended his journey to Syria—the coup of the Bagdad railway, which was begun as a British line, the long embassy of Baron Marschall von Bieberstein, and the military missions of Field-marshal Baron von der Goltz and General Liman von Sanders, were only the more salient features of an intelligent and patient campaign that gradually undermined the position of the present Allies.

The outbreak of the Turkish revolution in 1908 seemed for a moment to have undone the work of nearly twenty years. A less astute and tenacious ambassador than Baron Marschall von Bieberstein would have been obliged to resign his post. The Young Turks, whose blow had been struck a little prematurely by their desire to save Macedonia from further European intervention, wished to do away with the growing German hegemony in Asia Minor, as a part of the old regime. They therefore welcomed with unusual public demonstrations the new British ambassador who arrived at that psychological moment. Sir Gerard Lowther, however, was too much the British sportsman to avail himself or his country of the opportunity. Within a few days of his arrival three important members of the mysterious Committee of Union and Progress waited on him. Sir Gerard felt that he must decline to receive them, having not yet presented his credentials to the constituted authorities of the country. Baron Marschall, I fancy, would have found a solution of that delicate point without touching the sensibilities of any one concerned. But the Committee of Union and Progress, which at that moment was and which to a degree still is the paramount power in Turkey, never forgave Sir Gerard. And subsequent events only tended to widen the breach.

Baron Marschall would not have been the formidable, diplomat he was if he had missed any opening afforded by the tactics of his opponents. It was not long before he-had so consolidated the shaken position of Germany in the Near East that he could safely move to another strategic point of German diplomacy. And one cannot help wondering whether history would have taken quite the course it did if he had lived to be in London last summer. However, events continued to play into the hand of Germany. Not the least important of those events was the Balkan War. At the outset of that conflict the Powers announced that they would permit no extension of territory in consequence of the war. No one imagined for an instant that the Balkan states had a shadow of a chance against their greater neighbor. The declaration was merely a warning to Turkey that she would not be allowed to profit by the war. But the Turks did not take it in that way. They therefore were extremely bitter against Europe in general, and against the Triple Entente in particular, on account of the territorial settlements of the war. Neither did the subsequent adjudication of Chios and Mitylene to Greece do anything to alleviate their bitterness. While the various decisions were collective, they were issued in London, by Sir Edward Grey. Moreover, Germany several times allowed it to be seen, both during the earlier negotiations and those relating to the reforms, in Asia Minor, that she held out in the interest of Turkey. Whereas England and France, as the special protectors of Greece, were correspondingly felt to be the special enemies of Turkey.

Germany also knew how to profit by the growing sentiment of Pan-Islamism. Abd-ül-Hamid II was the first in his country to exploit the political possibilities of that sentiment. The successors of Abd-ül-Hamid continued even more seriously his policy of maintaining relations with the different Mussulman peoples. Their efforts would not seem to have been crowned with any great success, if we may judge by the results of the Holy War. The fact is that the Moslem world is still too ignorant and too incoherent for any effective Pan-Islamism. But the propaganda at least availed to invest Germany, who alone of the six Powers has not one Mohammedan subject, with the halo of Protector of Islam; whereas it was not difficult to excite a certain amount of animosity against England, France, and Russia, as being the arch-oppressors of Islam. In a series of events longer than I can take space to recapitulate, one of the last and one of the least was the one that came nearest the hearts of the populace. I refer to the seizure by the British Admiralty of two dreadnoughts built in England which were on the point of being delivered to Turkey. The embargo was provided for in the contract, and such embargoes are neither unjustifiable nor unknown. But the Turks, as I have said, are a very simple people. They are also a very poor people. With infinite difficulty they had scraped together, in all sorts of ways, from high and low, piaster by piaster, the money for those two dreadnoughts. Nothing else could have touched so many individuals. In those dreadnoughts they saw a promise of recompense for the disasters of the Balkan War. The dreadnoughts would have assured their preponderance in the Aegean, would have backed up their unrelinquished claim to Chios and Mitylene, might even have opened the way again to Salonica. The embargo, therefore, filled them with a very live and wide-spread bitterness against England. England already had more dreadnoughts than any one else in the world: what difference could two more or less make to her? And then, just at another psychological moment, the Goeben and the Breslau ran into the Dardanelles.

It would be interesting to know whether that coup de theatre was entirely so accidental as it looked. At all events, the entrance of Turkey into the war from that moment became inevitable. Yet the case was not quite so clear as it would have been in any other country. The Turks, as I keep repeating, are a simple people, individually of perfect manners but collectively not greatly versed in international usages. Their extraordinary conception of neutrality, therefore, as exemplified by their welcome of the German ships and their subsequent treatment of the British naval mission, could not be judged altogether as such things would be judged in any other country. But, as a matter of fact, they were no longer their own masters, Austrians and Germans had long controlled the two chief railroads of the country, the communications of the capital, the native press. With the advent of General Liman von Sanders, Germany took command of the army and the straits. And between the breaking out of the general war and the participation in it of the Turks, Germans streamed into the country by the hundred, by the thousand, both soldiers and civilians, securing their hold on all the reins of government. Everything was provided for, in the methodical German way. An acquaintance of mine in Asia Minor met in a German house an officer who made no secret of the fact that he was to be, when the moment arrived, the governor of that particular district. Silently, but in the end very swiftly, Turkey became a Prussian province, administered from Berlin. Very likely the Turks, or a good many of them, really believed themselves to have bought the Goeben and the Breslau. Having no money to pay for them, however—for England, in order to make it more difficult for Turkey to break the peace, had kept back the price of the sequestered dreadnoughts—they could make no effective protest when Admiral Suchon refused at a stormy council of war to hand the Goeben over to Turkish officers or even to allow any Turk in certain parts of the ship. So it came about that German sailors proceeded to masquerade in Turkish fezzes. And so it was that the Goeben forced Turkey into opening hostilities by the raid on Odessa.

The true story of that exploit has yet to be written. It is not for me, therefore, to say how many of the responsible heads of the government were in the secret. In Constantinople, however, the war is commonly spoken of as Enver Pasha's war. Enver Pasha, as every one knows, popularly known as the hero of the revolution, is the young Minister of War, formerly military attaché in Berlin, who organized the Turkish resistance in Tripoli and who during the Balkan War headed the coup d'etat against the cabinet of Kyamil Pasha. And it would seem that the attack on the Russians was a genuine surprise to such exalted colleagues of Enver Pasha as the Grand Vizier, who is a cadet of the Khedivial family of Egypt, and Jemal Pasha, the late Minister of Marine. Certain it is at any rate that Javid Bey, Minister of Finance, Oskan Effendi, Minister of Posts, Telegraphs, and Telephones, and Jemil Pasha, Prefect of Constantinople, with others of the most competent administrators, resigned their posts rather than be party to that rash adventure.

Previously to the fait accompli, furthermore, the Sultan, who as a rule has very little to say about public affairs, insisted that he would never sign a declaration of war; while his cousin and heir presumptive, Youssouf Izzedin Effendi, is known to be a strong partisan of the Triple Entente. Indeed, there have been rumors of a personal encounter between the latter and Enver Pasha that nearly had a fatal ending. As for the country at large, many of the better-educated people really believed that their existence had come at last to the stake. They put no faith in the assurances of the Triple Entente, after the Balkan War, and they told themselves that the victory of England, France, and Russia would inevitably mean the partition of Turkey. They therefore argued that they had nothing to lose and everything to win by casting in their lot with Germany. There is likewise a rising generation of Young Turks who have learned chauvinism with their letters, who are fervent partisans of the belated theory of Turkey for the Turks—the Turks being a minority and the latest arrived in their own land—and who are just educated enough to be caught by the plausibility of Pan-Islamism. This is the timber out of which in every country jingoes are hewn. But the mass of the people, who are very simple, very ignorant, and very fatalistic, have already accepted the consequences of the Balkan War and are by no means eager for a new one. They have borne in their own persons and property the brunt of two disastrous wars. The mobilization of last August forced them to leave the largest crop of years to rot in the fields. It is only because they can endure more than any Western race and are born to a habit of obedience that they have followed Enver Pasha into this war. For any one who was in the country at the time, however, it was easy to see that they did so without enthusiasm. On the night the British and French ambassadors left for the frontier I went, mindful of the departure of the ambassadors from Berlin, to see what might be seen at the station. I saw nothing, however, to indicate the slightest popular hostility against the two great "enemies of Islam." Nor were the demonstrations that a few days later celebrated the declaration of the Holy War a sign of any popular feeling. They were, rather, a sign of the docility of the Constantinople mob, even to the point of breaking no more than the indicated windows. And they gave rise to many amusing stories of how much certain demonstrators were paid, and what trouble the police had to round them into the procession.

There is less of comedy than of tragedy, though, in the present plight of the Turks. They have allowed themselves to be led into a dilemma of which either solution can hardly mean less than their ruin. Their own ignorance and folly are to blame. It is because they are too incapable of energy and of concerted action that a man of energy like Enver Pasha has been able to lead them where he chooses, that they were unable to disown the high hand of their too powerful protectors at Odessa. Yet even of Enver Pasha, as of his German mentors, one feels that there is something sincere and gallant in his folly. He has led his country into a hopeless adventure not merely from personal ambition but from conviction. It is more than possible, too, that he will pay for his conviction with his life. He has so many enemies that any day he may be shot. And it is entirely conceivable that Constantinople may attempt to solve the ruinous dilemma by a revolution that would open the Dardanelles to the Allied fleet.

These possibilities, and others contingent upon them, lend to life in that kaleidoscopic town a quality of uncertainty. Life is peculiarly uncertain for those who happen to be Russians, Frenchmen, or Englishmen, for the Turks and the Germans between them are doing all they can to eradicate the influence of their enemies. Even for us Americans, I fancy, conditions might be made rather difficult if the Turks were to win their war. We have a great many schools and hospitals in Turkey, perhaps the largest and most completely equipped in the empire, and Turks and Germans alike are prone to see in them the arm of a deep-laid national policy. They have already adopted toward these institutions an attitude which, if submitted to, would ultimately entail their suppression. Nevertheless, in Constantinople, as elsewhere nowadays, it is a good thing to be an American. Even if revolution were, to break out, or the war were otherwise to disorganize the country, it does not seem to me that any one who has friends there need be unduly alarmed about them. But if the war were to end in a disaster, I confess I would not care to be a German in Turkey.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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