The Great War on Turkey 1914-24 (Talk in Dublin)

A version of a Talk given to The 1916-21 Club (Old Dublin Brigade, IRA) at the Pearse’s Residence, Dublin on August 15th 2015.

Britain’s Great War to destroy the Ottoman Empire became Ireland’s War courtesy of Redmondism and the Treaty of 1921. It was not “Our War” as some have recently claimed and Ireland’s involvement in it produced the Republican development that meant Britain’s wars would no longer be Ireland’s wars.

The War that was fought against Turkey by Redmondite Ireland and concluded by Treatyite Ireland in conjunction with Imperial Britain was the longest and most devastating part of the Great War whose centenary is now being commemorated. It was a Ten Year War in which whole populations disappeared and communities suffered casualties of enormous proportions. But it is the most forgotten about part of the Remembrance exercise. And this is no coincidence.

It is being said these days that Ireland has unjustly eradicated its “national memory” with regard to the Great War. I believe this to be a slight on past generations of Irish people. The older generations really did know better. They experienced the Great Fraud of 1914 that was perpetuated on Ireland by Redmond and by Britain on the wider world and they naturally recoiled from it. They did not forget. They remembered, and said no more! And they did something about it so that when Britain launched its future wars they were not part of them. And we all should be eternally grateful for them for that.

The areas of the world Britain messed up a hundred years ago the Anglosphere continues to meddle in, looking for dupes to assist them, who they inevitably betray in the end, with catastrophic consequences.

Those who wish to restore the “national memory” about the Great War do not wish to restore the “national memory” about certain issues and events in the war. Remembrance is very selective and largely confined to sentimentalism about the Western front.

On the other hand the war on Turkey is largely forgotten.

So why did Ireland fight Ottoman Turkey? Well it was all part of the Redmondite Home Rule project and the alliance they entered into with Liberal England to secure it. For about a decade prior to 1914 Britain had made plans for a Great War on Germany to be waged at a favourable opportunity. When that War became a reality Redmond pledged Ireland to it to show loyalty to Imperial Britain so that it would consent to a small measure of local government, to outflank the Ulster Unionists who were blocking the project and to become an active part of Imperial affairs rather than an object of domination.

The Great War was proclaimed as a war for small nations. It was not supposed to be Imperial war Ireland was fighting – to add territory to the Empire! The Irish people would not have supported such a thing. But Loyalty meant Ireland had to take on whoever became England’s enemy and the secondary object of the War (after the primary one of Germania est delenda) was the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. So Redmond had to take on this project to get his Home Rule. He had to collaborate in the killing of Turks, Kurds, Arabs and various other peoples who had never bothered the Irish on behalf of those who had done great harm to the Irish over centuries.

The Recruitment of Irish cannon-fodder was an imperative to show Loyalty – to keep Home Rule on the Statute Book. There was competition with Ulster Unionists to recruit. Also the Redmondites felt they needed a military expression to deal with Ulster after the War because Ulster had brought force into the situation to prevent Redmond’s objective and he felt they needed to be faced down after the War by a triumphant Liberal England and an Irish military expression in the Imperial ranks.

In 1915 there was a great Recruitment drive in Ireland due to the formation of a British Coalition with anti-Home Rulers. Redmond took the attitude that the British had to be supplied with Irish volunteers as quick as they sacrificed them in their War of attrition or they would conscript in Ireland and destroy his Party. That was what 1916 and subsequent events were largely about – a breakout from the terrible trap Redmond had led his Party and Ireland into.

At this point I need to say something about the Ottoman Empire – the so-called “sick man of Europe”. The Ottoman Empire had existed for 5 centuries as a stable political entity. It was a great Muslim state under a Sultan/Caliph. It incorporated a diverse range of elements through its functional Millet system that provided for freedom of worship and non-territorial autonomy for its communities. It had rescued Jews from persecution in Europe. It was Non-Racist and way before its time, incorporating its Christian elements into its political and economic structures to the highest levels of the Ottoman State.

It was, however, defamed by British Liberal propaganda. English Liberals were affronted that Moslems ruled Christians and they produced hysterical anti-Turk propaganda whenever the Ottomans had to deal with problems of internal security. Outrageous and exaggerated atrocity stories were invented to justify intervention and the ultimate destruction of the great Muslim state was always on the agenda of these fatal philanthropists.

By 1914 the Ottoman Empire was seriously threatened by the promotion of nationalism and “progress”. The Libyan and Balkan Wars of 1911-13 had seen great ethnic cleansings of Muslims and a shrinking of the Empire. British policy in the 19th Century had been to maintain it as a giant buffer against Tsarist expansion – “the Russians shall not have Constantinople” (the Jingo Song) whilst absorbing bits like Egypt. But the object was to prevent its collapse lest there be an Imperialist free for all with England’s competitors taking territory.

The great complicating factor was German influence from 1899. This was aimed at rejuvenating and modernizing the Ottoman Empire in exchange for commercial rights there. The Germans believed that Islam was a civilisation worth preserving. England and Russia, however, had seen the Ottoman Empire as the ‘sick man of Europe’ and had been waiting around for his death. But now they looked on as Germany threatened to revive the sick man, and dash their dreams of conquest.

There was also a great fear of the new Berlin-Baghdad Railway connection, which Britain refused a stake in. The proposed Berlin-Baghdad Railway threatened to enhance Eurasian trade beyond the guns of the Royal Navy. It was believed to be a cheaper and faster way of moving goods, giving the continent a competitive edge over the world market established and controlled by maritime Britain. The British built railways in abundance but did not like others doing so, especially those leading to ports. So Kuwait was detached from the Ottomans to prevent the Railway getting to the Persian Gulf.

The Berlin-Baghdad Railway had another important link to the Great War. This can be seen by looking at a map. It shows the importance of Serbia – called “the guardian of the gate” by British writers – in blocking it. If Serbia could be preserved against the German-Turkish railway it could prevent a linking up. That was why Serbia was so important in July 1914 to England. It was not just a mere detonator.

As I said there was a great Re-orientation of British Foreign Policy from 1904-7 to destroy Germany. Agreements were made with former enemies, France and then Russia in 1904 and 1907. In these the Tsar had to be promised Constantinople, his great dream of returning the new Byzantium to its original source, for a loan of the “Russian Steamroller” against Germany.

Britain was primarily a naval power. It needed powerful European allies to break the Germans and to encircle the country so that the Royal Navy could do its work through blockade. That was the plan anyway – the traditional British Balance of Power War.

Maurice Hankey’s spying missions for naval intelligence reveal the British object of including Ottoman Turkey in its Great War, whether the Turks wanted it or not. The Committee of Imperial Defence Plans for War on Germany included Plans made in 1907 to force the Straits. H.G. Wells famous War time novel ‘Mr. Britling Sees It Through’ shows how this was a natural characteristic of the popular imagination in England.

So the Ottoman Empire was to be liquidated: And because of this Britain wanted a new buffer of Palestine/Iraq to protect the Persian Gulf/Indian Empire. So its objectives were Imperialist and expansionary, although this time they were dressed up in moral clothes with fine phrases for purposes of disguise in the democratic era.

The Young Turks’ Revolution of 1908 in Istanbul changed relations with the Germans, and they sought a new balancing. The Young Turks negotiated a British naval alliance and extensive defence contracts with London. From August-October 1914 the Ottomans tried to remain neutral, and 6 attempts were made for alliances with the Triple Entente. All were refused. This is definite proof of the war intent of the Entente on the Turks.

Churchill’s seizure of 2 Turkish battleships built by the Royal Navy was a major provocation. It left the Turks defenceless in the Black Sea against the Russian fleet. One of these ships was re-Christened “HMS Erin” in honour of Irish loyalty. The Churchill provocation led to the mysterious Goeben and Breslau incident when 2 German ships were forced by the Royal Navy into Istanbul to complicate Turkish neutrality. This provided the excuse for a British blockade on the Ottoman capital – an act of war in itself. Then there was the Obscure Black Sea Incident when the German ships, now under Ottoman flags, engaged the Russians in the Black Sea. Russia and Britain used this incident to make Declarations of War by November 5th 1914.

In early 1915 Britain decided to force the Straits, first through a naval operation and then using landings at Gallipoli. Gallipoli proved a game changer and had an effect on 1916.

The British defeat led to the resignation of the First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher. This triggered a Unionist coup in May 1915 in which Liberal Ministers (including Churchill) were replaced by anti-Home Rule Unionists in the British Government. The Liberal Prime Minister Asquith was damaged and his days were numbered. The Home Rule Bill that had been placed on the Statute Book in August 1914, and which Redmond had treated as an Act, for the purposes of recruiting the soldiers that were to be sent to Gallipoli, was still-born. From then on a chain of events, beginning at Gallipoli, including 1916 etc. put paid to Redmondite Imperialism, the Irish Parliamentary Party and Home Rule Ireland. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that this was Ataturk’s first part in Ireland’s freedom struggle!

The Gallipoli defeat led to the British intervention in Greece at Salonika. 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. The Greek King Constantine and his government and his chief of staff, General Metaxas, tried to remain neutral in the conflict 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 if he joined the War, which he found too hard to resist.

The British believed they had made the Greek State in the 1820s and it was their political instrument to use at will. The Greek King, however, under the Greek 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 – and this under the guise of ‘the war for small nations!’

The Turks fought bravely in the War but in 1915 they were under extreme threat. The British were moving up through Mesopotamia, inciting Arab Revolts and blockading the coasts. The Russians had invaded from the East and in conjunction with a large Armenian Insurrection were moving forward. A division of Ottoman territory was made in the secret Treaty of London (Constantinople agreement) and the Sykes/Picot Treaty amongst Britain, France, Russia and Italy.

The Russian collapse in 1917 gave the Turks relief and meant they saw off the Armenian threat but by 1918 the Ottomans had to accept an Armistice that was turned into very harsh Peace Terms in the Treaty of Sevres of 1920 which divided the Ottoman territories amongst the Imperialist victors, leaving the Turks with a small section of land in the Anatolian interior. This was obviously unacceptable.

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 and Treaty. The Greeks were presented with the town of Smyrna/Ismir and then, encouraged and armed by Lloyd George, they advanced across Anatolia toward where the Turkish democracy had re-established, at Ankara by Ataturk, after it had been suppressed in Constantinople.

Britain was using the Greeks and their desire for a new Byzantium in Anatolia – the Megali idea – 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 the Turks themselves.

The Treaty of Sevres began the final chapter in the Greek Tragedy that began in 1915 when British violated the neutrality of Greece. Greece was used as a catspaw by Lloyd George to enforce Treaty of Sevres on Turks in 1919-22. However, the Greeks voted Venizelos out and invited their King back. Britain then abandoned the Greeks and their army met disaster in Anatolia from Ataturk’s forces. This led to the Smyrna catastrophe of 1922 and the end of the millenniums old Greek population in Asia Minor.

There was much hostile press coverage in Ireland concerning the Turkish defeat of the Greeks and Armenians. However, Republicans stated that the atrocity stories were British propaganda and defended the Turks as “clean fighters, and the same type of men as those who have carried through the evolution in this country.” They said: “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.”

And there is now evidence that the Sinn Fein diplomat (then representing the Free State Government), O. Grattan Esmonde, was present at Chanak in September 1922 with Ataturk’s forces to witness Britain’s defeat.

Another source of support for the Turks came from the famous (now infamous!) Catholic Bulletin. This was a popular religious periodical that supported the Irish Republican cause. It was edited by J.J. O’Kelly of Sinn Fein, who had introduced Ireland’s Address to the Free Nations of the World to the Dail. This had been delivered to Ataturk’s government in Ankara on behalf of Dail Eireann. Fr. Timothy Corcoran, Professor of Education at University College, Dublin, was the driving force behind the Bulletin. He had taught and was a close friend of DeValera. The Anti-Treaty Catholic Bulletin took 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 defended the Turkish position in relation to the Greek invasion, when most of the Western Christian press (including Ireland) were pro-Greek.

The Bulletin drew attention to the many parallels between the experience of Ireland and Turkey between 1919 and 1923. These included: 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; 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; 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. 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.

The Bulletin recognised rightly Chanak as Britain’s greatest defeat. It was the turning point in British power. Ataturk inflicted a moral defeat on the Empire at height of its power. It resulted in the fall of Lloyd George coalition, the government of all the talents, including some of the greatest statesmen England ever included in a government. It led to future British Governments of “the Second XIs” (in Churchill’s phrase) and Britain was never the same again.

This great event happened in 1922 just when Irish Treaty was being ratified by Westminster.

At Lausanne the Turkish delegation refused to be brow-beaten by Lord Curzon and his tactics, reminiscent of the Anglo-Irish Treaty 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 said “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. There was a large Turkish delegation at Lausanne but President Ataturk, like Dev, did not go. But Ismet Inonu, unlike Michael Collins, reported back before signing it.

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.

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 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 Bulletin saw Turkey’s achievement as an inspiration to Ireland. “The whole Treaty was a stupendous British Surrender” it said.

Then came a shock for the Treatyites in July 1924. They found that Ireland remained at war with Turkey in 1924, until the Free State ratified the Treaty of Lausanne and made peace with the Turks, along with the rest of the British Empire. The Free Staters had to admit a “state of war” existed between Ireland and Turkey due to the signing of the 1921 Treaty. It therefore had to be ended.

As the Dail debates show, it came as something of a surprise and embarrassment to the Free State Government that Ireland was still formally at war with Turkey in 1924. The Treatyites did not realize, when they signed the Treaty in 1921 they had inherited Redmond’s war, by remaining part of the Empire. They claimed to have been informed of some detail of the Imperial negotiations but were not consulted or allowed to be signatories. They simply had to ratify it or still be at war. More worryingly, the Lausanne Treaty committed the members of the British Empire to defend the settlement in the event of a new war, perhaps with Bolshevik Russia. The Farmers Party claimed if the Lausanne Treaty was broken Ireland was at war again with Turkey. The Free State Government, unsure of its position, denied this.

In reply to an amendment, proposed in the Senate by Colonel Moore, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said:

“War was declared on behalf of the whole British Empire on November 5th, 1914. At that time I was on one side and Colonel Moore was on another. I strongly felt at that time that Ireland should not be connected with such a war. I was belonging to the Irish Volunteers that split upon that very point. Constitutionally and internationally I think we cannot get out of the fact that in a war declared on behalf of the British Empire, internationally Ireland was recognised as part of the British Empire, and was at war with Turkey…It is the fact—Senator Moore might wish it was not—but that it is unconstitutional for a Treaty negotiated on behalf of the whole British community of nations to be ratified without the concurrence or acquiescence of all the governments or states which form the British Empire…”

To finish let us consider three further consequences of this War: Firstly, the British conquest of Mesopotamia/Iraq, in which Tom Barry played a part.

A British Indian Army invaded Shia Basra on opening day of war. The British pushed up to Baghdad and Mosul to create Iraq, taking in Sunni and Kurdish areas. Mosul was taken from the French when oil was discovered. The original intention was to simply incorporate Basra into the Indian Empire and plant Indians there. But the original policy was abandoned. Governor Arnold Wilson lost control due to the new policy of Mandates/‘client states’. A serious Iraqi insurgency was crushed by air power. Sir Percy Cox took over and rigged the first Iraqi ‘election’ by kidnapping the opposition candidate. And so this first lesson for the Iraqis in democratic politics by the British was one of force and duplicity. And it soon became evident that the State England had cobbled together out of disparate elements in the Imperial interest was only functional under a strongman.

Next to it was Syria which the French established. However, Ottoman Syria was truncated by Britain and France. England took Palestine, out of it and France removed Lebanon to create a majority Christian enclave. These actions made Syria a difficult state to govern ever since.

Finally there is Palestine. This resulted from a British Triple Cross. The British promised the Arabs a large state if they fought the Turks. But Palestine was earmarked for Britain in Sykes/Picot. Britain then promised it to the Zionists in the Balfour Declaration (1917) as a “national home”.

The British had a fear of the “power of the Jew,” who they saw as a dangerous internationalist element in affairs. Giving a country to Zionists would produce a Taming of the Jew, it was reasoned and draw them away from support of the Germans and Ottomans. So Britain used the small Zionist movement to detach Palestine from Syria (which the French claimed). The Balfour Declaration promised Zionists land in Palestine without reference to actual inhabitants. The British Idea was summed up by Governor Storrs as “a little loyal British Ulster in Palestine”.

The British believed the stability of Palestine and good relations between communities established by Ottomans would continue after Britain took it. All that needed doing was managing the conflict to justify a continued British Imperial overlordship. But the Zionists had other ideas. Do we need to say anymore?

In conclusion we should say if this were “Our War” here’s what “we” did: Killed thousands who did us no harm; destroyed the great Muslim state that brought stability in the region for 5 centuries; created the modern Middle East and its insolvable problems; helped bring about the Zionist project; undermined the Greek State and its independence; and helped produce the destruction of the ancient Christian communities of Asia Minor.

That is not something we should be claiming ownership of!

And all for Home Rule (which never actually came)! So remember to commemorate 1916 with pride. It was against all of this!


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