Marmaduke Pickthall wrote a number of letters on the Armenian issue to The New Age in the year between May 1919 and April 1920. They contained a vigorous defence of the Ottoman Turks and a very forthright and plain-speaking criticism of the Armenians. However, Pickthall found an adversary in Dikran Kouyoumdjian (Michael Arlen), another writer for The New Age, who also, like Pickthall, became a famous novelist.
The historical context of these letters and debate is important. It was four years after the Ottoman Government had forcibly relocated the Armenians at the height of the Great War in Anatolia. There had been a civil war across Eastern Anatolia involving Turks, Kurds, Armenians and other groups accompanying the Russian invasion and an Armenian Insurrection. By the beginning of 1918 the Armenians had occupied a a large part of Ottoman territory running from the Black Sea, West of Trabzon to Erzican, Mus and South to Lake Van. Then, as the Armenians’ Tsarist allies melted away after the Bolshevik take-over, the Ottoman Army recaptured all this territory during 1918 pushing as far as Baku. And they found scenes of massacres and devastation and few Moslems alive.
The Turks had won the war against the Armenians but then they lost the Great War to the Allies. The Ottomans agreed to an Armistice with the Allies and the Imperialists used the ambiguities in it to occupy key points of the Ottoman Empire.
The Armenians, despite having lost the war on the ground to the Turks, now expected their reward as loyal allies of the Imperialist Powers who had won the War. In defeat they expected ultimate victory to be handed to them over the “Turkish Empire” in the shape of a “Magna Armenian”.
Marmaduke Pickthall’s letters contain a very blunt estimation of the Armenians and strong advice that any thought of an Imperialist imposition of an Armenian state would be a disaster if attempted – and particularly for the Armenians themselves.
When I first came across an extract from one, in a biography of Pickthall by Peter Clark, quoted as a single sentence in isolation from the rest of the article, I was shocked. Pickthall was emphasising that after the events of 1914-18 the view of those who vastly outnumbered the Armenians within the territory they were claiming as a state, and who the Armenians sought to place under a government of Armenians, was so hostile that war to the death would undoubtedly ensue. To attempt to construct an Armenian state would be terminal for the Armenians themselves and they should not be supported in such a suicidal venture. Either way there would be great ethnic cleansing and what is now called “Genocide” taking place because either the Armenians would have to indulge in this themselves to make their state work or the majority would have to rid themselves of the Armenians to prevent it.
Events in Anatolia and the Caucasus – in present day Armenia and Azerbaijan – proved Pickthall to be sound in his judgement.
The Armenian Insurrection totally relied upon the Tsarist armies to capture the territory they desired for a state. If the Russians had won there probably still would not have been an Armenian state since the Tsar had only one use for the Armenians – as expanders of his territory. When the Tsarist State collapsed there was no chance of constructing this. It was only the Allies who had the power. Or had they?
Britain was the main hope of the Armenians. It was the greatest Power in the world and was seemingly at its height. But it was fundamentally a Sea Power so there was a big question whether it had the forces to impose its will in eastern Anatolia. The French were unlikely to have the will, and this was soon apparent in Cilicia when their attempt to use Armenians to impose themselves led to a Turkish rising and their defeat at Maresh in March 1920. The Americans were an unknown quantity, having not declared war on Turkey. But President Wilson was known to desire an Armenian state. Could he get Congress to agree to enforcing it with U.S. arms?
Pickthall found an adversary in Dikran Kouyoumdjian (Michael Arlen), another writer for The New Age. Dikran was the son of Sarkis Kouyoumdjian the wealthy Manchester based Armenian merchant/importer. Dikran had got the best English education at Malvern and Edinburgh University and was highly cultured. He Anglicized himself in 1922 becoming Michael Arlen, the name he used for his novels. But he replied to Pickthall using both names in 1920 and Pickthall played along.
Dikran Kouyoumdjian does not seem to have wanted to be a “typical” Armenian, so to speak. In 1917 he penned the piece ‘On The Art of Being Oppressed’ for The New Age:
“It was only when once someone, in a moment of irritation and for lack of a weightier reproach, called me “a typical product of an oppressed race,” that I thought to look around me and into myself to find out what exactly were these presupposed “typical” qualities (or faults) in these people who are, presumably, unfortunate in their country’s oppression, or in their lack of any country at all. The special trait in the individual seems to be a sort of aggressive independence, a repressed but ever-present pugnaciousness, an ever-alert suspicion of being ‘put-upon,’ as the saying is, in word or deed: mainly, of any encroachment on one’s honour or independence, a suspicion which makes one “ready-to-fight” (thank Heavens, it takes me that way only mentally) on the most absurd and flimsy grounds. I have felt all that, the inner bristling, and, I daresay, have shown the outward surliness: for, lacking a more convenient standard, I am now judging other people by myself. But besides that I know of no other very marked characteristic of the oppressed.They seem, on the whole, to be quite presentable sort of people, with a quite decent instinct for sociable company: Myself am not averse to talking to people, and have managed to acquire enough good manners to complain of a headache and go away when I feel more than usually like hitting anyone. And, though I am an Armenian, I am not rich.
” Taking the oppressed more generally, there is, of course, that very commonplace trait in them, seen perhaps most often in Irishmen and Poles (both surely, and without offence, parvenus in the art of being oppressed, a type of nouveaux miserables compared to we hardened Easterners), of extolling, naively or unconsciously, their own spiritual superiority, because they cannot claim a material one, over their neighbours; the oppressed generally seem to take it for granted that because they are unfortunate in the present they must have, “as a matter of fact,” deserved a better fortune in the past. This last is at least a happy illusion (though not harmless, since when it is actively asserted it is called “rebellion”)… But these purely general traits of the oppressed have their rise from the, so to speak, expectation of their presence on the part of the people fortunate in the possession of a free country. The extravagant hatreds, the thundering at the gates of the oppressor, the wailing and gnashing of teeth – they are the privileges of the unfortunate in exchange for their lost countries. A person who cannot make an appreciably loud noise, whether arrogant or whining, about his oppressed country, is as useless as a monkey who cannot do tricks. And who will smile at a monkey without tricks ?” (NA 28.6.1917)
Dikran Kouyoumdjian/Michael Arlen was indeed not the usual Armenian Pickthall would have encountered on his travels in Anatolia or in England. For one thing he had little time for Lord Bryce’s atrocity tales. For another, he had a refreshing honesty about him with regard to what the Armenians were trying to accomplish through money in Britain and America. He made no bones about it and offered no apologies. He was less naïve than Pickthall about Armenian/Turkish relations and he seems to have been realistic about the position the Armenians found themselves in. He does not blame the Russians as Pickthall attempts to do – being an Englishman with the traditional Foreign Policy. Kouyoumdjian sees the Ottoman Empire as the problem for the Armenians and the Russians as oppressors of the same type.
The Armenian is also unusually perceptive when he concedes that “England…has never “befriended” a small nation more dangerously than she has Armenia.”
Kouyoumdjian admits honestly that the Armenians threw the dice for a final time in 1914 to overcome their historical predicament. He believed it was worth it. In 1919 he believed they may have won, having survived the Ottoman Empire and been still there to see it begin to fall to the Imperialists. But a year later the bitter realisation sinks in with him that the Armenians had lost, and lost almost everything.
We begin with Marmaduke Pickthall’s first letter:
ASIA AND THE ARMENIANS (NA XXV, 15.5. 1919)
Sir,-I have been looking over the articles which I contributed to THE NEW AGE during the first two years of the war, and am surprised to find how well, upon the whole, they stand the test of subsequent events… But what has chiefly struck me in reviewing those past efforts is a strange omission in what is otherwise a pretty comprehensive raid upon the Eastern question: I have never written plainly what I think about Armenia.
Everybody seems to take it for granted that a lover of the Turks must be a hater of Armenians; and if to ridicule the claim of an Armenian minority to rule over a Muslim majority in Asia minor is to hate Armenians, the charge is true in my case; but not otherwise. I have no ill-will against Armenians as an element in the population of the Turkish Empire; nor had the Turks so long as the Armenians were content with the position in that Empire to which their numbers and intelligence entitled them. The other Christian nationalities, whose hatred of Armenians was intense,used always to accuse the Turks of petting them.
It is only since the Armenian revolutionary movement (which had its origin beyond the frontier) was inaugurated, aiming at the establishment of an Armenian empire over countries in which Muslims were in an overwhelming majority, that the Turks have been unfavourable to Armenian aspirations. We hear how often the Armenians have been massacred, but not how often they have been protected by the Turkish Power from the mad rage and indignation of their Muslim neighbours in the provinces. Until the latest massacres – of which we have no certain information – it was really only when the local Kurds, enraged by the behaviour of Armenian revolutionaries, got out of hand, that the innocent Armenians suffered with the guilty. And it seems to me a fact of some significance that in a quarter of a century’s experience of the nations of the Near East the only people except sentimental English and Americans whom I have heard speak favourably of the Armenians – absolutely the only people whom I have heard speak of them with feelings of affection – have been Osmanli Turks.
The Armenians have been very useful to the Turks. They supplement each other’s qualities, and work well together. And the Armenians were the favourites of Turkish rule so long as they deserved the title which the Turks bestowed upon them of ‘‘the loyal nationality.” One after another of the subject nationalities was seduced from its allegiance by the Czarist propaganda, but the Armenians remained staunch. At last a few of them, however, seeing that Christian nations could obtain dominion by rebelling, bethought them that, they, too, were Christians, and began to agitate, adopting the same methods of terrorism towards their own folk and atrocities against the Muslim population which had profited the Serbs and Greeks and Bulgars.
In order justly to appreciate the feelings of the Muslim population towards seditious movements of their Christian neighbours, it must be remembered that every Christian rising has been marked by horrid butchery of the Muslim population. But for a long time the Armenian revolutionaries were considered, rightly, by the Turkish Government as quite apart from the Armenian nation and hostile to it. They were indeed its deadly enemies.
Anyone who pushes forward the Armenians beyond their just position among the peoples of the empire is a deadly and cruel enemy of the Armenians. For they are Asiatics, and they have to live in Asia in the position of a minority. They represent an ancient Asiatic race renowned in history; yet they cringe and whine and lie to Europe to obtain unfair advantage over their Asiatic neighbours. American missionaries have educated them free of charge in Western style; Czarist agents have beguiled them with the promise of an empire reaching from the Mediterranean to the Caucasus. They give themselves the airs of Europeans. They, Asiatics, served as an outpost of Europe against Asia. They betrayed the Turks with the design to let in Europe. They, a minority, wished to enslave the Muslim majority, and did their best to reduce it, when they had the power, with Russian help. A race of traitors, spies, blacklegs, perjurers, lick-spittles, liars, utterly devoid of shame or honour, That is the Armenian nation in the eyes of Asia at this moment. To kill them is as good a deed as to kill scorpions. They defile the globe; It is not a pleasant thing to write, but it is true. The loathing of them is so great that I should not be surprised to read tomorrow morning in my newspaper that they were being massacred in every Eastern land. And the indignation is increased by the prevailing notion that England favours their pretensions, and will impose their yoke upon the necks of a great Muslim majority.
Is it the desire of England that these unhappy and deluded people – for that is how I regard the Armenians, victims as the Turks were victims of the cold designs of Europe – does England wish to see them utterly wiped out? To all Asia the events in Turkey since the Revolution have been stages in a tragedy as great and epoch-making as the Crucifixion, and the Armenian nation did its very best to play the part of Judas in that tragedy. If they are pushed forward as the result of those events, if they are given rule over their Muslim neighbours, nothing in the end can save them from the wrath of Asia.
In the interests of the Armenians themselves, we should be careful to do nothing to increase the force of public indignation they have raised against them.
It would be even politic to stop the trial which, I understand, is going on at present in Constantinople, because the hanging of officials who may or may not have been to blame to some extent for the ill-treatment of Armenians, will have the very opposite of the effect intended. For example, the news of one such execution at Constantinople caused several murders of Armenians in the streets of Cairo. The trial, by reviving the excitement of Armenians and of Muslims both, is bound to have an ill effect, particularly when there is still talk of an Armenian State in Asia Minor. Things done in hot blood cannot be fairly judged in cold blood. The Oriental way is to regard such dreadful struggles as that which took place in Eastern Anatolia in the early part of the war, a struggle of men panic-stricken, both sides fighting for their lives and to save the honour or avenge the murder .of their wives and children – the Oriental way is to regard it, not as so many individual crimes, but as an awful tragedy, and ask God’s mercy for all concerned. If only our short-sighted, fussy mandarins would so regard it, and enforce their view!
If I were Grand Vizier, I know what I should do. I should go in state to the Armenian patriarchate and invite His Beatitude and the notables of the Armenian community to meet me and the Turkish notables in solemn council before judges chosen by both sides. In that council we should reckon up the damage done to each side by the other, the judges should assess that damage, and the balance should be paid by him on whom it fell. And then an act should be drawn up between the parties, declaring all ill-feeling at an end, and setting forth the grounds of future amity. There should be public rejoicings; every town should be illuminated; the Armenians and the Muslims would embrace each other; and the most hideous ghost of modern times would be effectually laid. That is the Asiatic way of making peace. What is to prevent our adopting it in this entirely Asiatic case? Only our scheme for the aggrandisement of the Armenians at the expense of their Mohammedan neighbours. Let the Armenians understand once for all that they have no earthly right to the position which their extremists claim in Asia Minor, and that Europe will not help them in injustice, and I verily believe you save their lives.
If Europe’s way of exalting them because they are Christians is pursued, the triumph of the Armenians will be short-lived. If an independent Armenian State must be set up, for God’s sake let it be set up in Russian territory, and let all Armenians whose desire is independence go and stop there.
PICKTHALL AND ARMENIA (NA XXV, 22.5.1919)
Sir,-Something or other has suddenly made Mr. Pickthall more than usually angry with everyone concerned in the downfall of the rotten Turkish Empire; and, having exhausted most possibilities of invective against England, France, America, Italy, and Russia, he looked around him, seeking new pasture-ground ‘‘Egad!” says he, “all these years I’ve been writing stuff about the East, and never said a word about those disembowelled Armenians.”
For long Mr. Pickthall has cherished a theory, which he is never tired of explaining, that Turks and Armenians were living together quite comfortably, until European intrigue and especially Czarist intrigue stepped in and bribed a few wild and woolly Armenian revolutionaries to upset the cordial relations between these two pacific peoples. The last part is truer than the first; for it is obvious that, given a few specialised revolutionaries with the latest pattern in bombs up their sleeves, same bombs to be used exclusively for joining Turks to celestial houris, the relations between Turks and Armenians will at once become noticeably strained…
And that about Czarist intrigue holds some grain of truth, too, though Mr.Pickthall wantonly exaggerates that little to suit his own ends. Czarist intrigue! Why, it has been everywhere in its time! Mischevious it surely was, but not very, because most people took it as rather a joke; even the British Labour Party took it as rather a joke. And as for Armenians being seriously elated by Russian promises, they had only to look over the bolder to see what a Viceroy Galitzin would give them- Cossack lust, confiscation of Church and school property, and uniform education of Armenian children with Russian children.
Last, as to the “amicable” relations which he so often asserts once existed between the Turk and Armenian. I hate to say it, but it’s a lie – a lie cloaked in plausibility – a lie backed by Mr. Pickthall’s literary reputation and by the sympathy which his often chivalrous defence of the Turk has found for him in some quarters.
And therefore a very mischievous lie… There is truth in it only in that Turk and Armenian have not always been killing each other at the last three years’ average rate of a million a year. Of course, there was always a bit of casual murdering here and there, but that did not disturb the Westerner’s idea that there was at last peace in Anatolia, that Armenia was at long last contented. But that Westerner was not there to see for the matter of that, neither was I, nor was Mr. Pickthall; but I have an Armenian grandmother, and he has only Turkish sympathies; my evidence wins on points, I think, and so could not know that Armenia had become sullen and indifferent, and was quickly becoming the servile thing that the hybrid Syrian (the “other Christians” of Mr.Pickthall’s diatribe) had long since become. Armenia, after centuries of fighting and losing battle, lay quiet and dulled, and began to lose that national essence which had kept her a nation for so long, her self-respect – until, in the last century, by wildly pricking Kurdish blood from the fastnesses of Zeytoun and Sassoon, she regained it doubly, and with it strength to fight again over her own dead body. She fought, was massacred, and did indeed massacre. Thus are holocausts made.
Until now, in A.D. 1919, when the once fertile plain of Hayastan, of thirty million souls, is a desert in which a remnant of a hundred thousand is praying to God for peace, for Peace. But, says Mr. Pickthall righteously, how could the Armenians be so disloyal when they were rising to posts of the greatest eminence in the Empire? Even in a cesspool a flower sometimes rises to the surface; and it must be admitted that the Armenian’s is no mean intelligence, and that even in international finance, to which he had been debased by the money-grubbing facilities of England and America, he has, as Ruskin would say, “A degree of eminence in the abyss.’’
There runs through Mr. Pickthall’s diatribes an undercurrent of indignation at Armenia’s attacking Turkey in the back. But where else was Armenia to attack her? Discretion being the better part of an insurrection, of course she attacked the colossus in the back, and the colossus, turning round, rent her severely, with a punishment which brought her villages into the dust and her men into an agony of fear – of fear, for men do not meet butchery with fortitude.
Mr. Pickthall knows the sort of Armenian that I am, and cannot well bring his usual accusation of sloppy sentimentality against me, He knows I am not of the spirit of a Bryce or Buxton, to hold up a crucifix and avow that Armenia has been martyred thereon. He knows that if there is any blackguarding of Armenians to be done, I can do it much more thoroughly than he can. Time over again I have said that Armenia’s punishment has not been entirely undeserved (from the Turkish point of view), that she has asked for trouble and got it. But, putting aside the charge of wanton blood-letting, I have this capital charge against the Turkish Empire – that she has been the first and main cause of the degradation of her subject peoples; through her dominion they have come to such a moral depth that I, an Armenian, am not always over-proud of being one. For the measure of a subject’s degradation is the measure of his master’s turpitude. In tolerant England can rise a Disraeli, a Reading, a Mond (peace to him !), but in Russia there was the Ghetto, to burst in the end into a befouled Braunstein-Trotsky. The subject reflects the master. English colonies are better than German colonies… And to that charge against Turkey I join my charge against Mr. Pickthall, for he has wantonly countenanced her degrading tyranny. I do not say the Turk is evil.
She has been in at the death of every empire which had the impertinence to conquer her. I see through the ages her children throwing faggots on the funeral-pyres of the great predatory cities, from Carchemish to eternal Rome, archenemy of Tigranes – until now, when Armenia has still life enough to fete the overthrow of the last Osmanli Empire, and to cry that she too has helped to avenge the blood-stained purple of Constantine Palaelogos ! For though Armenians are Asiatics, they are Asiatics of the West, not of the East. And in their vengeance they avenge also Europe, of which they are a part, by qualities of mind – good or bad does not here matter. They have always been the West in the East; in Asia Minor the doctors, lawyers, usurers, and scientific banditti have been mostly of Armenian birth. They are not, as Mr. Pickthall knows, of the same breed as the Syrian Christians and the Levantine Greeks.
I say the Turk Is a fool.
Armenia has outlived all her overlords.
ASIA AND THE ARMENIANS (NA XXV 29.5.1919)
Sir,-Mr. Kouyoumdjian seems to have missed the point of my letter, which was that “in the interests of the Armenians themselves we should be careful to do nothing to increase the force of public indignation they have raised against them.” I am in a better position than most Englishmen to estimate that force, and I confess that it alarms me. I believe that in a few years’ time the Pan-Asiatic movement will have come to power sufficient to end the period of European ascendency. That movement will be animated by revenge towards Europe if we persist in the impolicy of treating Asiatic Powers as if they had no rights. The case of Turkey – I can say it of my personal knowledge – is being treated as a test case by the principal Asiatic races outside China. It is our last chance of propitiating Asiatic sentiment.
If we affront that sentiment by means of the Armenians, the Armenians themselves will be the first to suffer, since they live in Asia. Is that clear enough? I point out the only way of reconciliation which appears to me, and Mr. Kouyoumdjian accuses me of frantic rage with the Armenians and treats me as an enemy of that unlucky race! He accuses me of downright lying in my efforts after peace:
“Last, as to the amicable relations which he so often asserts once existed between the Turk and the Armenian, I hate to say it, but it’s a lie – a lie cloaked in plausibility – a lie backed by Mr. Pickthall’s literary reputation and by the sympathy which his often chivalrous defence of the Turks has found for him in some quarters. And therefore a very mischievous lie.”
The Armenians have at last an advocate who writes good English. Here is what I wrote: “Everybody seems to take it for granted that a lover of the Turks must be a hater of Armenians; and if to ridicule the claim of an Armenian minority to rule over a Muslim majority in Asia Minor is to hate Armenians, the charge is true in my case; but not otherwise. I have no ill-will against Armenians as an element in the population of the Turkish Empire; nor had the Turks so long as the Armenians were content with the position in that Empire to which their numbers and intelligence entitled them. The other Christian nationalities” – by which I meant the Greeks and Serbs and Bulgars, not the minor Christian elements in Eastern Anatolia as Mr. Kouyoumdjian chooses to assume – “whose hatred of Armenians was intense, used always to accuse the Turks of petting them. It is only since the Armenian revolutionary movement (which had its origin beyond the frontier) was inaugurated, aiming at the establishment of an Armenian empire over countries in which Muslims were in an overwhelming majority, that the Turks have been unfavourable to Armenian aspirations. We hear how often the Armenians have beer massacred, but not how often they have been protected by the Turkish power from the mad rage and indignation of their neighbours in the Provinces. Until the latest massacres – of which we have no certain information – it was really only when the local Kurds got out of hand that the innocent Armenians suffered with the guilty. And it seems to me a fact of some significance that in a quarter of a century’s experience of the nations of the Near East” – this, at any rate, is not a lie, it is a fact- “the only people except sentimental English and Americans whom I have heard speak favourably of the Armenians – absolultely the only people whom I have heard speak of them with feelings of affection – have been Osmanli Turks. The Armenians have been very useful to the Turks. They supplement each other’s qualities, and work well together. And the Armenians were the favourites of Turkish rule so long as they deserved the title which the Turks bestowed upon them. of ‘the loyal nationality.’ One after another of the subject nationalities was seduced from its allegiance by the Czarist propaganda, but the Armenians remained staunch. At last a few of them, however, seeing that Christian nations could obtain dominion by rebelling, bethought them that they, too, were Christians, and began to agitate, adopting the same methods of terrorism towards their own folk and atrocities against the Muslim population which had profited the Serbs and Greeks and Bulgars.”
All that is perfectly true so far as I know. It was also the accepted view of most of the Armenians whom one met in Turkey previous to the European war. If they have changed their view through their misfortunes, it seems a little hard that they should call me liar for reasserting facts of history which have not changed. When speaking of “the Turks” in this connection I meant the Turkish power expressed in government; but Mr. Kouyoumdjian makes the term include the Kurds and other Muslim neighbours of the Armenians in the provinces – people whose attitude has always been distinct from that of the Imperial Government, and generally opposed to it. The state of the Kurd-Armenian provinces may be compared to that of Scotland in the seventeenth century. The peace and welfare of those provinces depended on the presence of a Turkish force sufficient to prevent disorders. When the Turkish hand was strong, the country prospered; when weak, it fell into a state of anarchy.
When Mr. Kouyoumdjian accuses me of exaggerating the part played by Czarist intrigue in the Armenian troubles of the last six years, I can but laugh. Czarist intrigue kept Eastern Anatolia in a turmoil all through the years 1913-14. It deliberately ordered and preparecl extensive massacres, which the Turkish Government had much difficulty to prevent. On one memorable occasion full reports were published in the Tiflis papers of a massacre which had been fixed for a certain day, and which the writers did not know had been frustrated. Mahmud Shevket Pasha, having collected most amazing evidence of Russia’s guilt, was going to make a great appeal to Europe when he was assassinated. It was Czarist intrigue which prevented England from providing those inspectors for Armenia which we had as good as promised to the Turkish Government. If Mr. Kouyoumdjian desires further light upon this subject he will find it in a document of unimpeachable authority, a brochure published by the Czarist Government itself to prove to the Armenians the great interest it took in them. It is entitled “The Reforms in Armenia, 12th November, 1912-10th May, 1914,” and was translated into Armenian by one Setrak Avakian (Tiflis, 1915). Czarist intrigue in Anatolia was not diplomatic. It was murderous and utterly cynical. It egged on the two sections of the population to destroy each other, caring not a jot for either. Its weapons were the bomb, the rifle, and the machine-gun supplied in secret to the very firebrands whom the Turks, desiring to restore good older, had disarmed. I never yet knew anyone who took it as a joke, nor do I think that anyone could really do so.
Mr. Kouyoumdjian’s “capital charge against the Turkish Empire – that she has been the first and main cause of the degradation of her subject peoples” is strange, since the Turkish Empire left its subject peoples alone so long as they did not fall foul of the autonomy of other peoples in an empire which was the very mother of autonomies. If he had ascribed the degradation of the subject Christians to the fact that their autonomous institutions were for long in the unsupervised control of their respectire Churches, and had blamed the Turks of old for trusting too much to ecclesiastics, I could have agreed. But the Armenians have had secular self-government for half a century, with educational advantages much greater than have ever come within the reach of other nations in the Turkish Empire which are not degraded. I think that Mr. Kouyoumdjian exaggerates the degradation. I myself had never noticed it. It is natural that with his English public school education and his hyper-cultivated Western mind he should feel occasional contempt for the mentality of Asia Minor.
IMPERIAL SUICIDE (NA XXVI, 25.3.1920)
Sir,-… Reports with regard to events in the vilayet of Adana (at present isolated), emanating from Beyrout or Constantinople, are declared to be “authoritative,” while telegrams from Armenians in Marash itself, who say that they are in security, are regarded as fictitious. Lies which every Englishman who knows the East detects immediately – lies with regard to population, customs, character – are circulated by extremely costly Press advertisement, while letters of protest and correction go unpublished. No impartial international inquiry into the whole question of Armenian massacres has been instituted in the ample time which has elapsed since the conclusion of the Armistice with Turkey; the Turkish Government has asked for such inquiry, but the Armenian organisations and Armenian partisans refuse to hear of such a thing, declaring that the Bryce and Lepsins reports are quite sufficient to condemn the Turks – in other words, that judgment should be given on the case for the prosecution alone. The inter-Allied Commission which investigated the unfortunate events in Smyrna last year made a report unfavourable to Greek claims. Therefore that report has not been published here in England, though in other countries it has long been public property…
This conjunction of dense ignorance and cunning falsehood is fraught with instant danger to the British realm. Enormous sums of money are being spent daily on utterly misleading propaganda, a propaganda of which the methods are so far from English as to suggest the presence here in England of the very scum of the Levant. Everything that apparently boundless wealth can do is being done to persuade the man in the street that Oriental sentiment is negligible, and that, far from being dangerous to England, the policy of supporting Eastern Christians, right or wrong, against non-Christians is the only way of future peace for humankind. This at the very moment when the new ‘‘Green Army” (the Moslem army of the Soviets) is fully mobilised, when war already rages in the Caucasus, Asia Minor, and Syria, and when our Indian Empire, not to speak of Egypt, feels estranged from us !
You have allowed me for so many years to make my protests in your columns against the ignorance, duplicity, and general claptrap tending to obscure the issues in our Eastern policy that I dare to hope that you will publish my sincere opinion at this moment, which is that we are on the brink of an immense disaster, for which we have ourselves alone to blame. A Government and people which prefers propaganda to fact as the ground of policy – and foreign propaganda at that! – is self-condemned.
ARMENIAN AMENITIES (NA XXVI, 15.4.1920)
Sir,–Your correspondent, Mr. Michael Arlen, writes :“ It seems to be my fate that I must answer Mr. Pickthal.”As far as I know, Mr. Michael Arlen has never answered me before. He says that his “reply is dictated not so much by the fire of an Armenian refutation” (whatever that may mean) “as by the various discourtesies, of manner rather than of words, of which Mr. Pickthall has been guilty in his last essay in defence of a noisome empire.”
Referring to that essay – i.e., my letter in THE NEW AGE (March 25) – I find the following references to the Armenian propaganda :-
“ Reports with regard to events in the vilayet of Adana (at present isolated), emanating from Beyrout or Constantinople, are declared to be ‘authoritative,’ while telegrams from Armenians in Marash itself, who say that they are in security, are regarded as fictitious. Lies which every Englishman who knows the East detects – immediately – lies with regard to population, customs, character – are circulated by extremely costly Press advertisement, while letters of protest and correction go unpublished. No impartial international inquiry into the whole question of Armenian massacres has been instituted in the ample time which has elapsed since the conclusion of the Armistice with Turkey; the Turkish Government has asked for such inquiry, but the Armenian organisations and Armenian partisans refuse to hear of such a thing, declaring that the Bryce and Lepsius Reports are quite sufficient to condemn the Turks-in other words, that judgment should be given on the case for the prosecution alone. . . . The Armenian Patriarch and the Nestorian representative . . . are received with every honour and display of sympathy; while a delegation from the non united people of what was once called ‘British’ India, charged with the most serious warning that can be sent from one nation to another, is insulted daily in the Press and treated as of slight importance by the Government of England.’’
All quite true. I then quoted the “Times” as saying that Indian Mahomedans had no right to dictate the foreign policy of the British Empire, myself adding,“Yet alien Greeks and Armenians, by weight of money, may dictate that policy!” which, I contend, is quite fair comment in the circumstances. I also wrote :-
“This conjunction of dense ignorance and cunning falsehood is fraught with instant danger to the British realm ”-as I believe it is. “ Enormous sums of money are being spent daily on an utterly misleading propaganda, a propaganda of which the methods are so far from English as to suggest the presence here in England of the very scum of the Levant.”
“Scum of the Levant,” as a designation, might be called discourteous, if addressed to men of honour, I admit. But the men responsible for the production of a film of faked atrocities acted by hired performers in America, which, as first shown here, was banned by Scotland Yard for its indecency; the men responsible for a certain poster which appeared the other day in the poorer quarters of London till removed by the police; the persons who delight in propagating downright falsehoods, have forfeited all claim to be considered men of honour, or so it seems to me and many other Englishmen. But what has Mr. Arlen got to do with it? Is he in truth the man responsible for all the shady side of the Armenian propaganda and of the Greek propaganda as well? If he is not, why should he receive a public protest against those indecencies from the point of view of Englishmen and of the British Empire – a protest which contained no personality – as a personal affront? What exactly he complains of is not clear. Indeed, his letter, headed “The Decline of Mr. Pickthall,” is nothing but a personal attack, which mine was not.
The last Armenian who attacked me in your columns called me liar; now Mr. Arlen tells me I am not a gentleman; both insults being in “reply” to reasoned, general statements which I made without attack on individuals.
I am growing used to this “Armenian fire of refutation” !
If so, we ought to call up Scotland Yard.
ARMENIA (NA XXVI, 22.4.1920)
Sir,-Mr. Pickthall complains that the only other Armenian (Mr. Arlen rather vaguely implies that he is one) who has replied to him in the past called him a liar. I have seen no reason since then to withdraw that charge. What, after all, can one do with a man who states that “Reports . . . from Beyrout and Constantinople are declared to be authoritative, while telegrams from Armenians in Marash itself, who say that they are in security, are regarded as fictitious?” Mr. Pickthall cannot, seemingly, go to the length of denying that there has been murder in Marash, but he goes as far as he can. He is like most propagandists, and the more dangerous because he is also an artist. He makes an arabesque of his beliefs, principles, and prejudices, and that which does not fit into his scheme, shapely only to his eye, he rigorously excludes. And in this case he wantonly and cruelly excludes those other telegrams from ‘‘Marash itself” which tell a different tale, of wholesale loot and blood-letting. . . . But I am a little resigned about penetrating so biased a mind; for I am very certain that Mr. Pickthall, when he wrote that perversion about Marash, knew as well as I do that more corpses have lately been made in that district than he or I could well count through an hour of a sleepless night! And I think your readers by now know that I, as an Armenian, do not generally give too generous a credence to Bryce reports of massacre.
Mr. Pickthall says, again, that alien Greeks and Armenians, by weight of money, are trying to dictate the policy of England. . . . Surely, he can know nothing of human nature, of the kind that lives and dies for absurdities! Does he seriously think that the Armenians (we will ignore the “alien” Greeks) ever hope to reinstate their country in the proud position which only legend can claim for them? Does he really think that they, a people cursed with sophistication, are lured on by any hope of a quiet and peaceful Hayastan, free of the cruelty of oppression and of the indignity of Europeanc harity? I regret that they are made of more cynical stuff. And the keynote of their resistance and propaganda, despite all the sentimentalists who have besmeared her, is – well, Mr. Pickthall, it’s just revenge! didn’t you know? . . . And that is why I quite agree with him – that money may be being spent furiously to prejudice the Turk in this country. More power to the Armenian elbow, say I ! Had I money, I couldn’t spend it more enjoyably. Sympathy must be seduced, if it can be got by no other means. The Armenians have paid with their lives, they will now pay with their treasure, to enshroud more quickly with weeds that growth of anarchy and misgovernment which was once called the Turkish Empire.
But I cannot see why Mr. Pickthall so consistently keeps his grievances against the Christian peoples of Asia Minor. They are really lost, finished, beaten, friendless. This war was the Armenians’ last throw of the dice, their last furious gamble. And, as for 5,000 years, so now – they have lost! The war has left them worse off than ever before. So badly off, indeed, that, after fighting for England and themselves, after having stormed Erivan and Erzeroum, after having held and only lost Baku because of the idiocy of a British general who thought that 1,500 men were enough to relieve them – after all this, the Prime Minister of England can say of them that, if they relied more on themselves, the Armenians would become a ‘‘more manly and virile people” !
Since England was taught Imperialism by that brilliant and bedizened Jew, she has never “befriended” a small nation more dangerously than she has Armenia. If England can but continue to “befriend” her, there will very soon be no subject left for discussion between Mr. Pickthall and myself. For I am sure we could not disagree so heartily upon any other but that which he is pleased to call, incorrectly, “the scum of the Levant.”
THE ARMENIANS (NA XXVI, 29.4.20)
Sir, – Mr. Kouyoumdjian admits so much that is denied by the Armenian propagandists that I can quite understand his objecting to an impartial inquiry into events in Cilicia and elsewhere. He admits that the Armenians – a scattered minority of Asiatics living in Asia – tried to dominate a Mussulman majority by what would naturally appear to their neighbours foul means – by stabbing Turkey in the back at the behest of Czarist Russia, whose aim was to enslave the country. And because England, the Ally of Czarist Russia, has not quite fulfilled all the ambitions and the hopes they had conceived when doing Russia’s work, the Armenians feel revengeful and do not care how much they spend in the attempt to harm their Asiatic neighbours and to work confusion in the British Empire.
If Mr. Kouyoumdjian will but deign to remember, I have always stated that England, more than Turkey, was to blame for the Armenians sufferings. But it was “that brilliant and bedizened Jew,” a Turcophil, who inserted in the Cyprus Convention a clause making England responsible for the good government of the Armenians, and it was the Gladstonian so-called friends of the Armenians – Russophils – who refused to execute that clause when asked to do soby the Turkish Government. That is one case where England was undoubtedly to blame from the accepted point of view of Englishmen andfrom the point of viewof moderate Armenians – the majority; though not, of course, of the Armenian revolutionaries in the pay of Russia, whose aim was to produce a state of anarchy. As an Englishman, I quite admit that England is to blame; but as an Englishman I cannot look on with approval at a campaign of propaganda, false in itself and detrimental to the British Empire – a campaign which, as Mr. Kouyoumdjian himself says, has no better object than revenge. Mr. Kouyoumdjian seems to expect me to find it not only admirable but amusing; and because I find it neither, he suspects my bona-fides.
The real problem before the Armenian race is not one of revenge but of existence. And there I think that I could help a little if they would allow me, or, at any rate, could show that I had no ill-will against them as a race. How are they going to live among the peoples they have wronged and angered by their reckless “gamble”? If all the races who inhabit Western Asia were as revengeful as Mr. Kouyoumdjian declares the Armenians to be, it would be impossible; nay, the Armenians would have been exterminated long ago. But, as things are, it is still possible. The Armenians have had their lesson with regard to Europe. Every race in the Near East has had a lesson more or less analogous, and all now known the worth of European promises. There is a bond of union to begin with. With the exception of a few individuals like Mr. Kouyoumdjian the Armenians have much more in common with their Asiatic neighbours than they have with us. It is their cringing to America and Europe, with absurd pretensions far more than their national characteristics, which has made them so exceedingly disliked by all their Eastern neighbours.