Our Gallant Allies?

The Easter Proclamation which Padraig Pearse read from the steps of the GPO at Easter 1916 is the founding document of the Irish Republic. It makes specific reference to “our gallant allies in Europe.” Who else could these “gallant allies” be but the Germans and Turks?

The founding fathers of what was to become the independent Irish State quite deliberately chose to mention “our gallant allies” even in the teeth of British propaganda about the behaviour of these allies. All during 1915 and early 1916 Ireland had been bombarded with this propaganda about the “evil Hun” and “merciless Turk” and yet Pearse chose to associate the emerging Irish Nation with its “gallant allies” in Germany and the Ottoman Empire. It was a quite deliberate decision, presumably in order to prevent the volunteering of Irish cannon-fodder, procured through the British propaganda used by the Redmondite recruiting sergeants.

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Casement wrote the above about Bryce’s work on the German atrocities but the criticism stands equally against his companion work directed at the Ottomans. Sir Roger was incapable of commenting directly on the Blue Book since he had been hanged by the British in 1916 as a traitor, for doing in Ireland what Bryce and other British Liberals had supported the Armenian revolutionaries in doing within the Ottoman Empire. Casement had followed through on the principles of small nations on which the war was supposedly being fought by Britain and advertised by Lord Bryce. But Casement was found to be a traitor whilst the Armenians and others who went into insurrection were lauded as patriots in Liberal England. T.P. O’Connor, the Redmondite MP, for instance, appeared on a platform in Westminster during June 1919 with General Andranik , the butcher of thousands of Kurds in eastern Anatolia. (Andranik had led the Armenian forces around Erzerum with General Dro, who later fought for Hitler with a Nazi Armenian Legion)

The present writer made it his business to read a lot of Irish newspapers produced between 1900 and 1924 in order to understand the development of Redmondism and the Republican counter-attack against it. What was found was much anti-Turkish propaganda produced by Redmondism and much pro-Turkish sentiment generated in opposition by Irish Republicans. In the book Britain’s Great War on Turkey – an Irish perspective what was found was republished in extensive extracts to demonstrate that Irish Republicans, and particularly Anti-Treaty ones, were fully behind Mustapha Kemal Ataturk and his war of liberation against the British, French, and Italian Imperialists and their Greek and Armenian catspaws.

In the Redmondite hold-out of West Belfast there was continued credence given to British war-propaganda about the massacres of Armenians and Greeks. The Irish News and other Devlinite publications continued to keep the Imperial faith to get Irishmen into British uniform as the rest of Ireland sloughed it off and broke free of the British sphere of influence. But then, even the Irish News, under pressure of what was done to the Northern Catholics who had kept the faith with Joe Devlin and Britain until the end, began to have second thoughts, when they were awarded ‘Northern Ireland’ as their reward for loyalty.

In October 1922 the Irish Independent published a British account of alleged Turkish atrocities in Smyrna (now Ismir). It was immediately attacked by Sinn Fein.

The context of the Sinn Fein counter-attack (reproduced below) on behalf of the Turks was the Greek evacuation of Anatolia after the defeat of their invading army, which had been encouraged by Lloyd George to enforce the Treaty of Sevres on the Turks. Smyrna was burnt and many died.

The reply to the British allegations comes from O. Grattan Esmonde, Sinn Fein’s most famous diplomat who had held the record for being expelled from more countries in the world than any one else (by the British, who held these countries at the time.) Esmonde was the son of Sir Thomas Esmonde who had briefly left the Irish Party in 1906 to stand for Griiffith’s Sinn Fein. The son went with the Treatyites in the Treaty split and was later elected in 1923 as a Cumann na nGaedheal TD for Wexford and was returned in the 1927 election. He was re-elected at the 1932 and 1933 elections.

In the statement he dismisses allegations that the Turks had massacred Greeks and Armenians as British propaganda and puts the Irish Republican forces and Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) forces together as brothers in arms, fighting British Imperialism:

I cannot refrain from expressing my astonishment at your leading-article of to-day, and the prominence you are giving to virulent English propaganda directed against the Turkish army, who are on the point of freeing their native land from the invader… We, who have suffered more than any other nation in the world from English propaganda, have no right to accept it when directed against another nation which for four years has been fighting for its life, and whose leaders have in public and in private expressed their sympathy and admiration for Ireland. I notice to-day that the Armenian Archbishop, who was massacred last week, has turned up safely in Greece. The same fate awaits at least ninety-per cent of the 120,000 Christians, slaughtered by Reuters news-agency this morning! It is more than probable that at least three zeros have been added inadvertently to the correct number of the victims… The new Turkish army and the Turkish National leaders are clean fighters, and the same type of men as those who have carried through the evolution in this country.” (O. Grattan Esmonde, Sinn Fein diplomat writing to the Irish Independent, from the Catholic Bulletin October 1922)

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 these days. The Greek King Constantine and his government tried to remain neutral in the World War but Britain was determined to enlist as many neutrals as possible in their Great War. So they made offers to the Greek Prime Minister, Venizélos, of territory in Anatolia which he found to 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 against the British. 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 – and this under the guise of ‘the war for small nations!’

With the Royal Navy’s guns trained on Athens the King was forced to abdicate with a gun to his head.

These events led to the Greek tragedy in Anatolia because the puppet government under Venizélos, installed in Athens through Allied bayonets, was enlisted as a catspaw to bring the Turks to heal after the Armistice at Mudros. This was because Lloyd George had demobilised his army before he could impose the punitive Treaty of Sevres on the Turks. Britain was also highly in debt to the U.S. after its Great War on Germany and the Ottomans had proved so costly. So others were needed to enforce the partition of Turkey whilst England concentrated on absorbing Palestine and Mesopotamia/Iraq into the Empire.

The Greeks were presented with the town of Smyrna first and then, encouraged by Lloyd George, advanced across Anatolia toward where the Turkish democracy had re-established itself, at Ankara, after it had been suppressed in Constantinople. Ataturk had seen that Constantinople was open to the guns of the Royal Navy, as Athens was and he established a new capital inland in a small town.

Britain was using the Greeks and their desire for a new Byzantium (the Megali or Big Idea) in Anatolia to get Ataturk and the Turkish national forces to submit to the Treaty of Sèvres, and the destruction of not only the Ottoman State but Turkey itself.

But the Greek Army perished on the burning sands of Anatolia after being skillfully maneuvered into a position by Ataturk in which their lines were stretched. And the two or three 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.

Esmonde’s statement on behalf of Sinn Fein is interesting in referring to the links between the Irish Independence movement and its gallant ally, Turkey.

There was an early contact between the independent Irish Parliament (the Dáil) and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, established by Mustafa Kemal at Ankara. This contact was made through the Dáil’s ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’ delivered to the revolutionary Grand National Assembly at Ankara, on a date following 10 August 1921. The Dáil, in its first act of foreign affairs, sent out this message to the other free nations of the world (including Turkey) declaring the existence of an independent Irish Government. It was read out, in Irish, to the Dáil by J.J.O’Kelly, the editor of The Catholic Bulletin in January 1919.

The Catholic Bulletin which published Esmonde’s letter and which was run by De Valera’s teacher and friend, Fr. Timothy Corcoran, 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 claims in Asia Minor.

The Turks, under the skillful leadership of Mustapha Kemal (Ataturk), decided not to lie down and resisted the imposed Treaty of Sevres. The Greek catspaw was pushed out of Turkey and their Imperialist sponsors forced back to the conference table at Lausanne, after the British humiliation at Chanak.

In February 1923, at the conference in Lausanne, the Turkish delegation refused to be brow-beaten by Lord Curzon and his tactics, reminiscent of the Anglo-Irish negotiations, when the Irish plenipotentiaries were strong-armed into signing a dictat under the threat of “immediate and terrible war.” The Turks stonewalled. When Curzon told the Turks that “the train was waiting at the station,” and it was a case of take it or leave it, the Turks left the offer and Curzon left on his train, never to return. Terms much more advantageous to the Turks were signed by Sir Horace Rumbold six months later, and the Turkish Republic came into being – a free and independent state.

At the Lausanne negotiations the Turks, when confronted with the accusation that they had massacred Christians, replied “what about the Irish, you British hypocrites!” The British from there found their moral card was trumped and discarded it, getting down to the real business. They had no care for the destruction of the centuries old Christian communities that their War on the Ottoman Empire had produced. They saw that Turkey had emerged under a strong leader and they were prepared to do business, as England always was.

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 had left the country part of the British Empire. The Turks had successfully achieved independence and ‘The Catholic Bulletin’ described Ataturk as the ‘man of the year’ and one of the few causes for optimism in the world.

Sinn Fein in 1920 were in no doubt that what is now called “the Armenian Genocide” by new Sinn Fein was a construction of British propaganda. Esmonde’s statement was issued a number of years after the Bryce Report of 1916 which was the centrepiece of this. But new Sinn Fein seems to have departed the traditional Republican position. An article in An Phoblacht in April 2015 calling for the “Armenian Genocide” to be recognised did not even mention Britain! That really must be a first for Sinn Fein – not blaming Britain!

There are, in fact no judicial or historical grounds for what is termed the “Armenian Genocide”. It is merely an emotional assertion. No International Court has ever found for such a thing and historians are extremely divided over the issue. It is mindlessly repeated that “most historians” agree on the “Genocide” label being applied. But when has this assertion ever been quantified? And if such an exercise is ever completed how meaningless it will be. This “majority” is, if it actually exists, made up of those from the Anglosphere, predominantly from the Armenian diaspora, and some career-minded Westerners, with a few guilty Turks thrown in (the Roy Fosters and Trinity College Workshops of Turkey, like Taner Aksam). The vast majority of historians are actually “denialists” (on the terms of the lobby) because they do not use the word.

The campaign for recognition of an “Armenian Genocide” is, in fact, a political one, begun quite lately. It is an attempt to muster legislators together to pronounce on a historical and legal issue when they have no competence to do so.

If “Genocide” is just a question of the deaths of a large numbers of people then it is hard to explain why new Sinn Fein is not pursuing the Irish Famine (for which the Ottoman Sultan provided the only international assistance) as an international case against the British Government, or indeed the Cromwellian settlement? One of the leading judicial advocates of an “Armenian Genocide” the famous Mr. Geoffrey Robertson QC has written a book on his great hero, John Cooke – who was he may not realise, Cromwell’s judicial legitimiser of what he did in Ireland!

A new Sinn Fein spokesman says: “If we do not accept what happened in the past we cannot learn from the mistakes and move on. Collectively we must ensure that we oppose the manipulation of history…”

What manipulation of history, one might ask? Surely that is what is being suggested in demanding that a word that didn’t exist in legal form at the time of an event be applied retrospectively to events within a complex historical context by people who do not have competence to make such judgments.

Sinn Fein in 1920 knew that the Turks were no dupes of Imperialism. The Turks know the danger of pleading guilty to such a charge with regard to their self-respect and standing in the world. They are battle-hardened, having engaged in a monumental fight for survival between 1914 and 1922 that not only created their nation, but also ensured its very existence. They were invaded by all the Imperialist powers, with only the Bolsheviks as allies, and with Greek and Armenian armies massacring within their territory.

The new Sinn Fein has done a marvellous job of resurgence on behalf of the Northern Catholics, improving the community’s standing and self-respect to a position nobody would have thought possible in 1969. The present writer will always recognise the achievement of that transformation, having lived through it.

But West Belfast was the storm-centre of Redmondite Hibernianism in the days of Joe Devlin, the most Imperial part of Ireland by a long chalk. And it was saturated with British War propaganda. When a famous pamphlet was produced to highlight the plight of Belfast Catholics in the new construction of ‘Northern Ireland’ Fr. Hassan of St. Mary’s compared the Unionists to Turks and the Catholics to Armenians.

Sinn Fein participation in Great War Remembrance can be justified as part of the necessary reconciliation of the Unionist community that the Peace strategy involves. But perhaps it has been forgotten what the bits of the “Foggy Dew” about “Suvla Side and Sud-el-bar” were supposed to teach about being an Irish Republican!

The new Sinn Fein has been a product, to a very great extent, of the unusual events of half a century ago in the Six Counties. 1969 was Year Zero. That, and the subsequent war and its transition to a peace settlement against substantial and multi-layered opposition, has given it a tremendous ability within the confines of the political situation it operates. It achieved out of brilliant improvisation, drawing from its experience of life in the Six Counties as its stock of knowledge. And it really had to imagine it was something it really wasn’t to carry through its war to a functional peace settlement. And in such a situation too much thinking about its past may have actually proved detrimental to the carving out of a different future.

But that is no longer enough, if greater things are to be done.

Sinn Fein has now made itself a competitor for state power in the 26 Counties. That brings upon it different responsibilities. If it attains that power will it be able to exercise it with reference to the traditional Republican position? Will it be able to exercise the responsibility that this entails, which goes far beyond sloganeering and politicking?

If Sinn Fein persists with its belief in an “Armenian Genocide” surely it should delete the offending phrase in the Proclamation of 1916, or perhaps change it from “our gallant allies” to “our genocidal allies”. That would be logical. But it would be very problematic for next years centenary commemoration.

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