A recent book by Professor Hans Lukas Keiser ‘Talaat Pasha: Father of Modern Turkey, Architect of Genocide’ has the objective of establishing Talaat as the chief orchestrator of the event the author calls the “Armenian Genocide” and to establish him alongside Ataturk as “The Father of Modern Turkey. Prof Keiser makes the case that the charming Talaat Bey was the individual most responsible for the destruction of the Armenian community in the Ottoman territories during 1915. Talaat Pasha, of course, was Interior Minister in the pre-War C.U.P. Government and the last powerful Grand Vizier of the Ottoman era, during the Great War of 1914. He was one of the Triumvirate of Young Turk leaders, with Enver and Cemal Pasha, which largely presided over the affairs of state. Prof. Keiser makes a strong case for Talaat being the dominant one in that Triumvirate, and the driving force in the direction of Ottoman policy, particularly from 1913 onwards.
This is actually an interesting book for a number of reasons. It is certainly well-researched and has a lot of thought provoking information and argument. It is not the usual exercise in attempting to cobble together every conceivable hostile statement to damn the Ottomans. There is an attempt to clear the garbage from the house. If people read the book and listen to interviews with the author they will find that his information actually undermines other recent publications promoted by the Armenian Genocide lobby and advances an alternative view of the course of events that provokes thinking about the nature of what happened.
One further interesting aspect of Prof. Keiser’s book are the Armenian reviews of it. They obviously are a little deflated at Keiser’s failure to uncover anything new they can use as ammunition against the Turks and his failure to land a knock-out blow on their behalf. For them he is a boxer who had great billing and demonstrated some fancy ring craft, but who never really landed a serious blow on their opponent. In fact, the Armenian lobby, who, after all, only seek mud to sling, struggle to understand the Professor’s book because it is obviously at an intellectual level that far exceeds theirs. Maybe a better way of putting it would be that it has significantly broader horizons than the reductive simplifying world of the Armenian Genocide promoters. They are content with its provocative title which Prof. Keiser concedes was not his but the publishers, Princeton University Press. Which raises the question why are all these prestigious US universities issuing propagandist material lately on behalf of the Armenian lobby (Stanford being another example)?
For the purposes of this review I will quote from presentations and interviews Prof. Keiser gave in promoting his book. There are a number of these on YouTube and are easily found. They give a more focused view of what the book is about rather than the book itself.
Prof. Keiser stated in one of his presentations (in Jerusalem) that he is making “a bold claim” in “revising the idea of fascism” and its origins in his book on Talaat Pasha.
He said he was arguing that “the Young Turks’ single party regime opened the greater European era of the extremes, dictatorships, extensive ethnic cleansing and genocides.” He notes that this “era of extreme violence is usually traced back to the Russian Revolution or the Nazis” but Keiser sees it as originating “in 1913 with Talaat and the Young Turks”. Talaat’s rule was “proto-fascism” according to Keiser. It was the shape of things to come in Russia, Germany and other places in what Keiser calls “greater Europe”.
In many ways, Talaat was not only father of Turkish nationalism but of Europe too!
I would say that Keiser has not got a historical grasp here but a political science or sociological notion of Fascism. Fascism, if it has any meaning at all, beyond a term of abuse, is historically related to the defence of Western capitalism/democracy/civilization against Bolshevism after the Great War cataclysm.
Bolshevism was the virus and Fascism was the antidote. That was the view of Winston Churchill, and I can see no reason to dispute it. In all cases where there was Fascism there were similar features – the fracturing of societies socially, economically and politically as a result of the Great War of 1914 that left them open to the possibility of Bolshevik style movements taking power. Fascism was how democracy defended itself against Bolshevism where such was necessary. And Fascism, like a vaccine, provided elements of the “Bolshevik poison”, as Churchill called it, to the population in order to ward off the full dose of the virus. That, after all, was why there was a National Socialist Party in Germany which captured much of the left wing as the political ground shifted.
How does Talaat and the C.U.P. fit into this historical understanding of Fascism? They don’t. For one thing, they predate the Great War, the midwife to Fascism. For another, they also predate the Bolshevik coming to power in Russia in late 1917. So how can they be Fascist, except in an unhistorical social science way? The Ottoman government would have been admired by Thomas Hobbes – it was a Hobbesian form of power, not a Fascist one.
It is, of course, possible that “proto-fascist” elements existed before Fascism took the political stage. But these – extreme nationalism, race pride and racialism, imperialism, elite government, social-Darwinist ideology, etc. were all present in the Mother of Democracy herself, Imperial Britain. While Talaat was governing in Istanbul the inaugural world conference of Eugenics was being presided over by Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill in London, with a delegation from the Institute of Racial Hygiene coming from Germany attending. Ottoman society was wholly out of sync with this form of “progress” that England was championing in the world. A number of Imperialist publications condemned in Britain for its lack of Social Darwinist presumptions, which were all the rage at the time, and for its race-mixing and the foolish allowing of inferior elements (Jews, Gypsies, Armenians etc.) into the corridors of power in Istanbul – something the British Empire, built on strict racial foundations, took great care of guarding against.
Prof. Keiser admits that the Young Turk revolution produced an “Ottoman Spring” after Sultan Abdul Hamid’s rule, but he argues that Talaat “abandoned constitutional democracy” at the end of 1912 and “embraced war politics”, leading an “Ottoman mobilization for war” in the Balkans through propaganda and mass rallies in Istanbul. Keiser depicts the C.U.P. as being ready to meet the challenge of the Balkan Christians, who themselves were mobilizing for war, rather than being victims of an aggression. The recovery of Edirne, according to Keiser was a crucial event in a kind of national rejuvenation for Ottoman Turkey after the disastrous defeat in the Balkans. Talaat then “assisted Enver Pasha in the putsch of January 1913 that established single-party repressive rule from 1913 to 1918”.
There is little here about the vast ethnic cleansing of Moslem populations that took place in the Ottoman heartland of the Balkans when the Christian states engaged in nation-building through the killing and removal of millions in the decade prior to 1914.
Prof. Kaiser believes it is more significant that the C.U.P. Government was “the first single-party regime at the head of an Empire” – a model for things to come in what he calls “greater Europe”. However, since most multi-party states are the result of a civil war, the only thing that the Young Turks were guilty of was not having been formed out of one. It was unlikely that there would have been civil war in the Ottoman State when it was under such threat by enemies intent on dismantling it.
Prof, Keiser sees late 1912/early 1913 as the watershed moment in Talaat’s descent into evil.
Keiser contends that “Constitutional Rule was never a priority for the C.U.P.” Instead it “developed a new Islamic pan-Turkism inspired by Talaat’s friend and Central Committee member Zia Gokalp”, who Keiser describes as “his Prophet”. Keiser sees Gokalp as “the spiritual father of Turkish nationalism” – for both Talaat and for Mustapha Kemal. Although Ataturk, while acknowledging his inspiration, repressed political Islam, President Erdogan and the AK Party have revived his project, according to Prof. Keiser, delving into current affairs. Prof. Keiser asserts that Gokalp framed Turkish nationalist ideology through his poetry and afterwards went on to Ankara to preserve continuity between the Ottoman C.U.P. and the new Kemalist Turkey. His influence on the Young Turks and the Turkish masses made the Shaykh al Islam very jealous, according to Keiser.
Ideology, of course, is recognized as an essential ingredient in mass murder, these days. So the Ottomans need to be connected up with extreme nationalism, pan-Turkism, and pan-Islamism, among other things. But the sheer fact that such a variety of “ideologies” needs to be accumulated against the Ottomans tends to suggest we are not dealing with a totalitarian system here but rather a conglomeration of things thrown together to bolster the security and cohesion of the Ottoman State in a shifting environment. Again, it is a case of the antidote warding off the virus by the taking on of features from it.
Prof Keiser, therefore, argues that Talaat’s “ideological personality” was Gokalpian and Golkalp’s ideas were executed through the chief executive, Talaat, in a kind of synergy. From 1913 Talaat developed from primus inter pares within the C.U.P. Central Committee and Triumvirate to effective dictator, according to Prof. Keiser. Enver Pasha was the figurehead that many liked to pretend was the leader of the C.U.P. for various reasons.
Keiser strangely depicts Talaat as being “far right” in politics and says this is “a core element” in his argument and “a crucial part of his book”. He also describes Talaat as a “conservative revolutionary” – part of the movement later seen in Germany that wanted modernization within tradition. That is a peculiar notion. I would have thought that the idea of left and right was a completely alien notion in Ottoman politics. Although the Young Turks were inspired by the French Revolution if its divisions were somehow transplanted to Istanbul the C.U.P. would have been the left to the Sultan’s supporters on the Right. But I must admit to finding this baffling and perhaps an attempt on Keiser’s part to associate Talaat with the German conservative revolutionaries who are often bracketed with the National Socialists, but actually shouldn’t be. It is a construct rather than reality.
Genocide as a product of the Great War
Keiser significantly does not see Talaat’s behavior in the context of a “30 year Genocide” of Armenians and offers good explanations why this latest manifestation of the Armenian lobby is deeply flawed (See Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924, Stanford University).
He notes that the Young Turks had good relations with the Armenian revolutionaries in the decade before the war and mentions the fact that Garegin Pasdermadjian (“Armen Garo”) helped hide and shelter Talaat from the Sultan’s forces surely proving that even the Dashnaks did not see the Young Turks as genocidal. Some of the Dashnak deputies turned down offers of positions within the Ottoman administration in Istanbul where they would have joined Armenian ministers. With his C.U.P. colleagues and Dashnaks present at his side, Talaat appeared at commemorative events marking the Hamidian “1896 pogroms” against Armenians. Certainly, there was no pre-War plan for any punitive measures against the Armenian community, let alone genocide, and Prof. Keiser acknowledges this, implicitly and explicitly. The C.U.P. and Armenian Dashnaks were political allies, if anything.
The Armenian position in the Ottoman Empire was entirely different to the Jewish position in Nazi Germany. Count von Moltke rather accurately described the Armenians as “Christian Turks.” The Armenians served in significant positions within the Ottoman State throughout much of its later history. Sultans took Armenian women as wives and the Ottoman line became mixed with Armenian blood – something the English saw as “race suicide”. At least 12 Ottoman ministers between 1867 and 1913 were Armenian. They also served as Ambassadors, Bankers, translators, consuls and deputies in the Ottoman Parliament – 14 in 1908. The Ottoman Foreign Minister in the year before the Great War was an Armenian. It is extraordinary that the belief exists about Ottoman desire to destroy the Armenians when they were such an important pillar of the Empire and its functioning. Can it be imagined that Hitler had a Jew as his Foreign Minister in 1938?
So here we see immediate problems with the comparisons made between the Ottomans and Hitler and his Nazis. But whilst dismissing the substance of such a view about pre-War Ottoman society, Prof. Keiser cannot resist pursuing it in later events.
This is surprising because Prof. Keiser sees “a totally different outcome” as having been possible for Turks and Armenians if it had not been for the July crisis and Great War of 1914. He argues that the failure of the 1913 Eastern Reform process in “Turkish Armenia” was a “turning point” after which Talaat was re-born as a “war-monger.” Things therefore “could have evolved differently” according to Prof. Keiser – presumably on the basis of “no war/no genocide”. Prof Keiser argues that if it had not been for the outbreak of War in Europe, Talaat would have operated the Reform programme for the Eastern Provinces, perhaps obstructing it on occasion in the Ottoman interest, but he was “pragmatic and a man of reality” and would have undoubtedly seen it through, according to Prof. Keiser. He “did not have a fixed personality” and he “would not have become genocidal” if it were not for the circumstances of the Great War.
This is very interesting because in arguing this point – which is undoubtedly correct – he is focusing the case for Genocide almost exclusively on the event of War. Of course, the Prof. would point to the ideological basis of Turkish nationalism underpinning the clearing of non-Turkish minorities from the former inclusive Ottoman State – but this is a different argument. After all, it is not a requirement that such a process would emerge from any ideological inspiration and if the Reform process had taken root undoubtedly it wouldn’t. And we know that Talaat even suggested to the British that Lord Milner oversee the administration of “Turkish Armenia”. That would have involved a drastic loss in Ottoman sovereignty.
So the crux of the matter is the catastrophe of the Great War of 1914.
Keiser knows that there is a weakness in the historical case for Genocide if the issue is the Great War. This is because the issue of war responsibility then becomes important. So Prof. Keiser is forced to argue the point of Talaat’s responsibility for the conflict, bringing it to the Ottoman Empire, and using it as a state building exercise in a form of salvation for the Turkish nation.
It is usually argued that Enver Pasha’s maneuvering with the Germans brought war on for a reluctant Ottoman government. Prof. Keiser, however, claims that Talaat himself instigated war in Europe by pressurizing Austria to be tough on Serbia after the assassination of the Arch Duke and intimidating the Germans into war by threatening an alliance with Russia, unless they supported the Germans against the Tsar. Keiser claims that the Great War was seen “a war of restoration and expansion” by enthusiastic C.U.P. This is what he means when he calls Talaat “a war-monger” after 1913.
It seems very much that Prof. Keiser has to compensate through these claims for the weakness of an argument, that his demolition of the “30 year genocide” case entails. In Prof. Keiser’s view “Total War was an opportunity for Genocide”. In the course of this “the Expansionist war was lost but the domestic war war that created the Turkish Republic was won through Genocide”
Prof. Keiser is emphatic: “There was no blueprint for genocide, it was something that was evolving from early Spring 1915”.
Keiser claims that what happened to the Armenians “was not a collateral occurrence in a different much bigger event called World War” but was in fact “the central element, the main exploit and legacy of Talaat’s war policy”. He says that “Talaat was never so busy, excited and focused than when he was removing the Armenians from Asia Minor from April to September 1915”.
But nobody has ever claimed the Ottomans were instrumental in the outbreak of the European war and this seems like turning the world upside down to advance a new theory. Neither were the Ottomans responsible for Britain’s decision to join this European war and turn it into a much more catastrophic and wide-reaching world war. This was the decisive decision in bringing catastrophe to the Ottoman Empire because it placed its territory in a vice between the British and Russian Empires for the first time. It put its capital under direct threat in a way that it never had been before, because the British had always warned the Tsar away from it on the threat of war.
The Ottomans, far from being instigators of war, were victims of the great geopolitical shift in the world that occurred between 1906 and 1914 under Sir Edward Grey. They struggled. like all others, to take account of this and respond to it. They were actors within a much wider and bigger drama that came upon them in 1913-14 and who tried to avert to by offering alliances with all and sundry. Only the Germans were serious about responding to the Ottomans, because they were the only state without an interest in the destruction of the Ottoman State. If Talaat and Enver were the ones who acknowledged this, rather than the other more Anglophile Young Turks, that only confirms Prof. Keiser’s view that they were the realists.
It is noticeable that Britain does not figure to any great degree in Prof. Keiser’s work and that is entirely understandable. It is a result of history itself that such an important influence on events should be an absent blank in things. But how are the decisions that the Ottomans took conceivable without taking into account the great geopolitical shift that Britain brought about and its determination to wage war with its new Tsarist ally upon Germany? (This geopolitical aspect is something that has been largely ignored in the Armenian issue and I intend to address this in a substantial way soon).
We know that there was a substantial attempt made by the Ottomans to dissuade the Dashnaks from supporting a Russian invasion and an assault on the state which was made at the Dashnak world conference held in Erzurum at the start of the European War in late Summer 1914. The Dashnaks seem to have been divided about whether to take up the Ottoman offer of autonomy, which suggests they took it seriously. Those who wished to prevent a catastrophe were overridden by the hardliners who had already made plans and preparations for the greatest of opportunities that would be presented to them. Pasdermadjian stated in a later publication, issued at the time of the Paris Peace Conference, that the Dashnaks were fully aware of the casualties the Armenian community would take if there were an armed insurrection organised as part of the Allied war on the Ottoman State and it had been worth the sacrifice!
Prof. Keiser notes that “the Prophet” Gokalp wrote a poem in September 1915 describing Talaat as “the Noah of Turkey,” and praising him as the father of the Turkish nation. I don’t understand how the Noah story is supposed to count against Talaat. After all, Noah, after being confronted with a coming deluge, attempts to save as much of the old world as he can. It is a very good analogy for what the Ottoman leadership attempted to do when confronted with the impending catastrophe.
Keiser sees Talaat as using the War as an opportunity for cleansing the Turkish nation of Armenians, Pontic Greeks and Assyrians. He shows pictures of trains “bringing the Armenians to the Syrian death camps” to create “a Turkish homeland in Asia Minor.” He points out that Talaat kept detailed information and maps detailing the demographic effects of the relocation in his Black Book (which have been published). It is obvious that this is all meant to demonstrate sinister connections to other times.
Trains, of course, would have been a much better means of moving the Armenians than marching them in columns, if the Ottomans had had a good railway system. Many more Armenians would have survived the relocations if they had been conducted with trains. Perhaps Keiser forgets that the railways didn’t kill the Jews and, if anything, lured them into a false sense of security, prior to their final destinations. The Ottomans didn’t have many train tracks toward the east and it was Britain and Russia who did everything to prevent them and the Germans from building these railways. If the Armenians died on marches during the relocation, rather than surviving on trains, it was Britain and Russia who were responsible for the difference this would have made.
Keiser also looks for an equivalent of the SS or einsatzgruppen to further damn the Ottomans. He finds it in the Special Organisation, formed in November 1913. But this had no role in the Armenian locations, and was used largely for special military operations in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt. The 1919 court-martials in Istanbul indicted the organisation but failed to provide any evidence for anything but special operations behind Russian lines.
There is no evidence that the Ottomans had any intention or plan to wipe out the Armenians. Relying on the U.S. Ambassador, Henry Morgenthau’s diary, with its second and third hand hearsay and rumours, constructed by two Armenians hostile to the Ottomans, is not evidence. The fact that Morgenthau was on a mission to convince President Wilson to join the war and used his correspondence to him about the Armenians to achieve this objective further takes away any validity from such “information”. Ambassador Morganthau frankly stated he had given his diary to his Armenian assistant, Andonian, to “elaborate” upon freely and was, therefore, relieved of taking any responsibility for any error himself. How can such a process of fabrication be relied upon as evidence?
Keiser’s other secondary literature is highly selective and constructed by officials of enemy governments to form a diplomatic record – in other words, a case for themselves and their actions, which aimed at producing a case for relieving the Ottomans of their territory.
There was a complete absence of any ideal in Ottoman literature of annihilation and the appliance of the basic historical principle of cause and effect suggests that the relocations were a practical response to an emergency situation, however badly they might have arguably been handled.
The clearance of Armenians from Eastern Anatolia should have been seen, from the British perspective, as a ‘progressive’ development, since it was the culmination of the general process that England began to encourage with regard to the Ottoman territories and elsewhere in the world. The responsibility for what happened to the Armenians and the other minorities that existed relatively peacefully within the Ottoman Empire for centuries must be placed, therefore, primarily at the hands of those who attempted to destabilize and ultimately destroy the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. The provoking of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire for the purposes of weakening it and gaining leverage for the Great Powers is very much at the root of what happened to the Armenians.
Prof. Keiser’s attempt to shift the responsibility for the War onto the Ottomans is really a weak affair. The most that can be said is that the Ottomans failed to join the right side in a moral war – but it was the right side who rejected them, or never gave them enough assurance to keep them neutral.
The Real Battleground of the Issue
So what is left is the argument that Talaat availed of the catastrophe of the Great War to solve the Armenian issue, which had been causing problems for the Ottomans ever since the Dashnaks had begun to apply the Bulgarian model to their situation – insurrection, repression, foreign intervention. This is the real battleground of the Armenian issue.
In one of his presentations Prof. Keiser presents an entry from the diary of Mehmud Cavid Bey from 14 September 1915. It is damning of Talaat’s forced migration policy, which Cavid believed, from the reports he had read whilst away from Istanbul, had been done in a most inhumane way:
“Ottoman history has never known before such monstrous murder and enormous brutality even in its most sinister periods… One would hope these stories and reports are lies, or at least exaggerated. I am of the opinion that Talaat was involved in this with full conviction having embraced the underlying ideology together with a few deranged idiots in the Central Committee. The course started in the Armenian provinces and extended to the nearest provinces. Perhaps nearest provinces witnessed the most disastrous scenes.
One day, we were both together and Talaat said, ‘Sad thing, it comes into my dreams, but it was absolutely necessary for the country. What will we tell Paris?’
If you want to approach the Armenian issue by bloody politics, then scatter the people in the Armenian provinces, but scatter them in a humane manner. Hang the traitors, even if there are thousands of them. Who would like to keep among us Russians and supporters of Russians? But stop right there.
You dared to destroy not only the political existence but the life itself of a whole people. You are not only guilty, but also incapable. Of what quality is your conscience, when you accept that women, children, and elderly people, ousted from towns, are murdered at lakes and on mountains?…
In immense indignation, Talaat rails against this. He will establish an inspection committee. He will punish the culpable. But will the act be undone by this? They act like this to do away with the Armenians… A thoughtless and blindfold nationalist current has taken the place of common Ottoman bounds. What became of the beautiful humanity in the hands of foolish butchers? … By these acts we have condemned everything. We have put an inextinguishable stain on the present administration.”
I removed quite a few inserted words by Prof. Keiser from this passage – which were not in the original Turkish. These additions steered the meaning of Cavid’s words away from a condemnation of the forced migration policy and the way it was carried out, to imply disgust at an attempted annihilation/genocide policy, which is not what Cavid was saying, This is concerning because it indicates that Prof. Keiser was attempting to fit the diary entry into a pre-conceived narrative that twists its meaning to justify his argument.
Cavid Bey was an old Ottoman disgusted at the reports he had heard of the results of the relocations. He received letters when he was in Berlin and confronted Talaat when he returned to Istanbul about what he had heard. Cavid was on the liberal wing of the C.U.P. and had been the victim of a notorious attempt in 1911 by the British Embassy in Istanbul to whip up anti-semitism in the Young Turks. Ambassador Lowther and his dragoman Fitzmaurice had an obsession with the power of the “crypto-Jews” or Salonika donmes of which Djavid was the most prominent. Prof. Keiser chose not to mention this in his presentation in Jerusalem. Is this because the British attempted to damn Cavid as a Zionist? Cavid resigned from the government when the Ottomans joined the War in November 1914. He was later executed for an assassination attempt on Mustapha Kemal.
Cavid Pasha changed his views about the relocations when he later discovered the large scale killings that the Moslems of Eastern Anatolia suffered. Anyone who asked him after 1918 about whether he thought the relocations were right was met by a statement that 400,000 Moslems had been killed so what else was there to do? He seems to have abandoned the view that hanging a few thousand Dashnaks would have been an adequate response in the circumstances.
The Cavid diary entry was powerful enough without the leading additions. I am surprised I do not see the Cavid quote more often in Armenian accounts. It has been available for about 5 years now after the Turkish Historical Society got permission from the family to release it and it is certainly quite thought-provoking. Perhaps it is a question that Armenian writers would not dare answer: Could the Ottomans have dealt with the situation and saved the state without a relocation policy through a pin-point targeting of Dashnak activists? They do not do so because they support the attempt to destroy the Ottoman State, whilst pretending that there were no implications for the Armenians in doing so. They want it both ways, of course.
The removal of the Armenians from the 6 eastern vilayets constituted a counter-insurgency campaign in the minds of the Ottoman leadership. It was far from systematic in its execution: In some areas nearly all Armenians were killed and in others nearly all survived. The big variable was local circumstance. The Ottoman State took active measures in the summer of 1915 to halt the relocations and stop the killings, holding to account some of those who were responsible for them. Many Ottoman officials, like Cemal Pasha, protected Armenians effectively, enabling a high proportion to survive the relocations. Around 350,000 Armenians remained in their localities in the western parts of Asia Minor. Armenians moved back and forth with the progress of the Russian Imperial armies in the east. Approximately 300,000 fled to Transcaucasia during the first 6 months of the war and others followed with the collapse of the Russian lines in late 1917, as a result of internal collapse of the Russian State and its forces.
Talaat himself, “the Architect of the Genocide”, instituted the prosecutions against those who had mishandled the relocations or used them as an excuse for killing and robbery. He set up commissions to investigate what happened late in 1915. Hundreds of Ottoman officials were tried by military courts, including commanders and soldiers from the ranks. Dozens were executed, like the commander in Sivas, who had failed to protect Armenians. Although this period saw the greatest numbers of mass locations (Cuba, South Africa, Balkan Wars) such punishment for acts committed within them was unknown.
This is the territory of discussion that the Armenian issue should really centre on if this were a truly historical debate and not a battle over a slogan or a label.
The Talaat/Ataturk Continuum
The other main objective of Keiser’s book is to associate modern Turkey with the “Armenian Genocide” through Talaat. The title of Prof. Keiser’s publication describes Talaat Pasha as the “Father of Modern Turkey” – a position usually reserved for Mustapha Kemal (Ataturk, father of the Turk). Whilst Keiser is not challenging the role of Ataturk in creating the Turkish State, what he does do is suggest that he was “standing on the shoulders” of Talaat in doing so. Keiser claims Ataturk used this phrase himself.
Prof Keiser argues that Ataturk accomplished what he calls Talaat’s “minimalist goals” in the creation of the Turkish Republic. Keiser does not actually make clear what these maximalist goals of Talaat actually were, but says that Talaat decided to limit himself to his “minimalist goals” around 1913 – presumably after the heart of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans was lost.
Did Talaat support the drive toward Baku in 1918? I always thought that was Enver’s project. I may have missed that in Keiser’s book.
After the War Talaat had to leave Istanbul for Germany. While the British occupied Istanbul they decided to squeeze the Germans through the Royal Navy Blockade, which was operated until July 1919. The Germans remained undefeated on the battlefield after an orderly retreat. Prof. Keiser says that Talaat’s “agitation in exile contributed to the winning of the war against the West” through the “Bolshevik/Kemalist alliance” that Mustapha Kemal organised from Eastern Anatolia. It was through this alliance that Talaat’s goals were accomplished by Ataturk, says Prof. Kaiser.
While Prof. Keiser maintains that he is a historian who takes into account that “events could have evolved differently” he does not seem to apply that principle to the biggest variable of all – Britain. The Turkish alliance with the Bolsheviks was entirely a consequence of Lloyd George’s policy of imposing a punitive treaty on the Ottomans and using the Greeks, and to a much lesser extent the Armenians, to carry it through to fruition. Lloyd George’s War Minister, Churchill was against this policy, seeing the danger from Bolshevism, and wanted to enlist the Ottomans as a bulwark against Russia – as in the days before Sir Edward Grey upset everything in his 1907 Convention with the Tsar.
If Lloyd George had not followed his policy of using the Greeks as a cats paw to strangle and partition the Ottoman territories, and had concluded an honourable peace what would the effect of this have been on the resistance movement in Ankara?
Talaat’s support for Mustapha Kemal was a consequence of Britain’s attitude to the Ottomans. He makes that clear in his last interview and no one can doubt it. The Turkish Republic was not a plan of Talaat’s (his “minimalist policy”) it was a consequence of what Britain did from October 1918. It was, of course, brought about by Mustapha Kemal, in an extraordinary feat of military and political agility. But nothing was certain, and when Talaat gave his final interview things were really on a knife-edge to the west of Ankara.
Talaat was right in his warnings to Audrey Herbert and some say that is why the British had him assassinated through an Armenian gunman. I have no way of knowing if that were true or not. But we know that Basil Thomson was involved and it was Thomson who made sure Sir Roger Casement was hung.
The Turkish Republic was one of the consequences of Britain’s Great War of 1914. No Ottoman had such a state in mind as an objective prior to 1914. If anything it could be said to have been a British objective of the War to reduce the Turks to a territory of their own, and take the parts of the Ottoman territory that were of strategic value for itself (e.g. the Arab parts of Palestine and Mesopotamia). The survival of the Empire in some shape or form was the objective of the Ottoman leadership in 1914, and probably the only objective.
Before the Great War the C.U.P. had struggled with a formula to rejuvenate the Empire. They had been told they had a “Sick Man” on their hands and they certainly believed it. The era of nationalism, which had descended upon the Empire in its heartland, the Ottoman Balkans, and uprooted its Moslem community, seemed to be the requirement of the future and progress. But at the same time, the British, French and Russians maintained their empires and expanded them. Mixed messages were everywhere. It seemed to be one law for some and one law for others. But who were the some and who were the others? The winners and the losers, perhaps?
So what was there to do? Various blends of Ottoman nationalism, Islamism or Turkification were all advocated at one time or another and a mash up sought that would rejuvenate the Empire. But the intention was never a Turkish national state and a process of simplification. That was actually the Armenian aim.
An answer to the problem was never found by the Young Turks and it had to be solved as a consequence of the War by Mustapha Kemal in war, politics and at the conference table.
If someone attempts to maintain the structure of a building facing collapse during an earthquake, by taking extraordinary measures to keep it standing, can we really correctly call them an architect?
Britain won the Great War of 1914 against the Ottomans and destroyed their state, placing a Turkish state of some kind as the only item on the agenda. Lloyd George lost the war he subsequently waged to reduce the Turks to an Anatolian fragment and in the end the Turkish Republic conceded by the British at Lausanne reflected quite well the territory where Turks were in the majority (Mosul was debatable). All were relatively content with the result – except Greeks and Armenians who proved to be pawns in a losing game.
Between 1919 and 1921, as resistance was put up to Lloyd Georges scheme (whatever it actually was), the existence of any form of Turkish political entity was in the balance. Seeing Ataturk’s achievement from this position as the culmination of Talaat’s plan is simply bizarre.
In conclusion, the problem with Prof. Keiser’s book is that he has determined on a fixed position with regard to the Armenian issue and has then applied all the information he can gather to support that position, ignoring everything that undermines his arguments. However, what he offers as evidence is very insubstantial and is outweighed considerably by the evidence that opposes his view. Prof Keiser’s zeal in spreading the word is almost religious and has resulted in the type of closed mind that is consequent from such a disposition. At one point, toward the end of the book he expresses pleasure that he has played a part in consigning Talaat Pasha to Hell! Such moral animosity to historical figures is curious, to say the least, in a scholar.
That lethal combination turns history into propaganda – as Bryce and Toynbee demonstrated a century ago. Therefore, although Prof. Keiser presents enough evidence to falsify other accounts that are being used by the Armenian lobby, in the end he joins them all in their declarations of the one true faith, in which all dissent is damned as “denialism”. That is not historical inquiry, it is religion.
2. TALAAT PASHA’S ACCOUNTS
a. The Last Interview
Let us now look at Talaat Pasha’s own account and explanation of what happened to the Armenians, and why he did what he did.
The last interview with Talaat Pasha was conducted by Aubrey Herbert in March 1921, a week before he was assassinated by an Armenian in Berlin. Talaat’s assassin, Tehlirian Soghomon had earlier killed Haroutounian Mkrtchian, in Istanbul in 1920. Haroutounian was accused of being the head of the Ottoman secret police who began the round-ups of Dashnaks in April 1915, the event that is marked as the beginning of the ‘Armenian Genocide”. The Head of the Ottoman Secret Police who began the “Armenian Genocide” was an Armenian!
Herbert had met Talaat back in 1908 when the Young Turks had come to power in Istanbul. After the armistices Talaat wrote a letter to the Englishman declaring he was not responsible for the Armenian massacres during the War and saying he could prove it. Herbert took the letter to “a distinguished man who is famous for his spotless integrity.” The dignitary persuaded him to refuse a meeting as “it was illegal to correspond with the enemy.”
However, in February 1921 Sir Basil Thomson of British Intelligence invited Herbert to see him at Scotland Yard and told him to go out immediately to Germany to speak to Talaat. Herbert asked for a letter to make his dealings official, which Thomson provided. Thomson presumably wanted information about the dangerous things that were emerging in the Near East out of Lloyd George’s policy – the developing Turkish/Bolshevik alliance that had been cemented by the carving up of the Southern Caucasus, the Bolshevik propaganda aimed at setting the Moslem world ablaze against the British Empire. He wanted to know what Talaat’s role was in all this and perhaps the German’s role too.
The interview is included in Herbert’s book ‘Ben Kendim: A Record of Easter Travels’. The reader needs to be a little bit careful with the interview since it is Aubrey Herbert who is reporting Talaat’s account. But the gist of it is certainly Talaat’s story.
Herbert first asked Talaat about “the attempted extermination of the Armenians”. Talaat replied that such a thing would be “impossible, and a country that adopted such methods” would “cut itself off from civilization.” He had, “twice protested against” the relocation policy “and had been overruled by the Germans.”
Talaat Pasha continued:
“In England you hear only one side of the case,” he said. “Now, I don’t know what is happening in Ireland, and I don’t believe all I hear, but you are certainly doing some very stiff things to the Sinn Feiners; and, after all, what is your Irish problem to ours of Armenia? Can any nation go through a war and acquiesce when it is stabbed in the back? What would you have done if you had had Sinn Fein enclaves all over England, fighting you during the war?” He said that he was in favour of granting autonomy to minorities in the most extended form, and would gladly consider any proposition that was made to him.
“You remember,” he said, “years ago, I asked you to go to Lord Milner and beg him to become Governor-General of Armenia. I knew that we had either to reform ourselves or to perish, and I knew that we were incapable of reforming ourselves when every man’s hand was against us, and all the world was waiting to exploit our country. But your Government, rightly or wrongly, had decided upon a Russian policy, and would lend no official support to Englishmen entering Turkish service, or, indeed, do anything that was disliked by St. Petersburg. You English cannot divest yourselves of responsibility in this matter. We Young Turks practically offered Turkey to you, and you refused us. One undoubted consequence has been the ruin of the Christian minorities, whom your Prime Minister has insisted on treating as your allies. If the Greeks and the Armenians are your allies when we are at war with you, you cannot expect our Turkish Government to treat them as friends.”
“Rightly or wrongly,” said Talaat Pasha, ”you made friends with Russia; that was your policy at home, and that was your policy at the Embassy in Constantinople. I liked Sir Gerard Lowther; he was an English gentleman, and I suppose he carried out his orders; but never, I think, in the history of the world, did one Power have such a commanding position and so obsess about as did Great Britain Turkey when we made our revolution. For if the leaders liked you, the people adored you; they took the horses out of your Ambassador’s carriage and they pulled it up to the Embassy. That was a very little thing, a small symbol; they would have let it go over their bodies if he had wished it. There was nothing in those days which we would not have given if you had asked it of us. But you wanted nothing of us, and gratitude cannot live on air. The Ambassador was cold; Fitzmaurice was hostile; we had to find means to live. But even after our estrangement, we still tried to regain your friendship. We accepted Kiamil, our determined opponent, as Grand Vizier, to please you. It did not please you — nothing that we could do pleased you. You drove us into the arms of Germany. We had no alternative: anything else was political death and partition.”
I asked him at what point friendly relations between ourselves and Turkey became impossible. He said, at the time when Mr. Asquith made his speech on the question of Adrianople. Sir Edward Grey saw Tewfik Pasha; he and Mr. Asquith both said the same thing, publicly and privately. “If the Turks go to Adrianople, they must take the consequences.”
Talaat continued: “I went to the Turkish Cabinet, and said: ‘ This is bluff; neither Russia, France nor England is prepared to do anything. I resign now. You can continue, but I shall go down to the Chamber and will tell them why I have resigned, and you will fall.’ Meanwhile troops marched on Adrianople, and British prestige received a great blow, as no penalty followed.”
He then talked about the war, and his own experiences in it. He said that in his opinion soldiers were the salt of the earth, but that they were often stupid people. He himself had been present when the Brest-Litovsk Treaty had been signed. Czernin was also there, but they had been beaten by Ludendorf and Hoffmann. Ludendorff counted for everything, the Kaiser for very little. Talaat Pasha said that once Count Czernin had shouted in a burst of passion: “By God, if I ever have a reincarnation I shall be born a British subject, even if I have to be born black.” “Ah,” said Talaat, “I do not know if he would say that now. It is sad for you; you have lost a great deal of your prestige.”…
I asked him what had been their relations with the Germans during the war. He laughed and said, “Detestable.” He said that what the Turks had wished for was not a war that should end war, but a war without a decisive victory on either side. If we won, as we had won, it meant the partition of Turkey. If, on the other hand, Germany won, it meant the enslavement of Turkey. On one occasion a Q.M.G. arrangement had been come to between the Turks and the Germans without his knowledge. He found himself completely handcuffed by the Germans, and said to the Council of Ministers, “I often wondered why the English wanted to fight the Germans, but now I know.”
He talked at length of the end of the war. He had been on a mission in Europe, where he had seen the kings, the military leaders and the politicians. His account was dramatic. He had seen the Emperor Charles, who was, he said, “bon enfant ” in Austria. The Emperor, he said, wanted peace, in order to enjoy his Empire, and for his Empire’s sake; the continuation of war would be the end of Austria. He saw was peace over-ripe. He talked with the Kaiser. “Quand le Kaiser m’a vu, il a crie, ‘Eh bien, Talaat, si c’est la trahison de vouloir la paix, moi aussi je suis traitre. Je veux la paix.’ ” He returned to Turkey with Tewfik Pasha, whose son was Talaat’s military secretary. On the way they received a telegram inviting them to the palace at Sofia for an audience with the Tsar Ferdinand. Then came another telegram cancelling the first, and saying that there would be a reception at the station for them. Tewfik Pasha was inclined to be affronted, but Talaat told him that the Tsar Ferdinand was “un homme tres ruse,” and would not have changed the programme without a very good reason.
There were enormous crowds at the station at Sofia. “Moi j’ai apercu tout de suite que quelque chose s’etait passe.” Malinoff came up to Talaat and said, “It is finished. The 11th Division have broken ; Bulgaria is done, and we have sued for an armistice.” Talaat replied, “You are wrong to have done this; we should all have asked for an armistice together. What terms shall we be given now?”
He went to see King Ferdinand. That monarch talked to him only of the character of the new Sultan, and Turkish politics. He avoided immediate political issues. Talaat grew restive, and interrupted: “Your Majesty, I have had an hour’s talk with Malinoff, and I know what has happened. What are you going to do now?” King Ferdinand, he said, threw out his arms in a gesture of despair.
Prince Boris, said Talaat, had great charm, but he did not believe that he took the defeat very much to heart. He showed no sorrow, and in the ex-Grand-Vizier’s opinion he was as much in favour of peace as was the Emperor Charles, though possibly for different reasons.
Tewfik and Talaat pursued their journey to Constantinople, where Talaat Pasha laid his resignation before the Sultan, who refused to accept it. Talaat said to the Sultan: “It is essential for your Government to have someone else to talk to the victors. They do not like me: my personality is disagreeable to them. Choose Rahmy; they will be glad to have discussions with him.” Talaat’s advice was not taken, but he was allowed to resign.
He spoke with angry indignation of the imprisonment of Eyub Sabri, his friend, and of Rahmy Pasha and other Turks who were our prisoners in Malta. By what right, he asked, were these men — many of whom had been against the war, and were pro-British — seized during the Armistice and imprisoned for two years without a trial? No other country had been treated like that. “It is only to us poor Turks, to whom you are always preaching principles, that you behave like that,” said Talaat Pasha.
Khairy Effendi, formerly Sheikh-ul-Islam, had been in the Government that had declared war upon us. He was liberated, while others, who had opposed the war, were held prisoners. It was possible that Rahmy Pasha had been imprisoned in Malta because of the expulsion of the Greeks, but as a matter of fact Rahmy had vehemently opposed this measure. He knew that the littoral Greeks (Greeks on the coast) would give the Allies what assistance they could, but he thought their help would be insignificant; and he believed that if they were expelled, it might very easily bring King Constantine and the Greeks into the war against Turkey. But the Germans had insisted, and neither Talaat nor Rahmy felt that they could be “plus royaliste que le roi.”
Rahmy had treated the English throughout the war with a friendship that was more than consideration. He asked me if Rahmy had not been officially thanked by our Minister in Athens, Sir Francis Elliot, for his kindness to our people. I answered that all he said was true and made Englishmen like myself very heartily ashamed. Our Government was sent to us as an affliction from God.
The ex-Grand Vizier talked much about himself. He said that he was born a rebel, and that when he was young he had read much French literature, which added an extra varnish to his mutinous soul. The condition of Turkey was enough to make anyone, with a spark of manhood in him, fierce. Talaat came across the infamous Fehim, Chief Constable of Constantinople, whose amiable habit it was to seize any woman who caught his fancy, forcing her husband to play some version of the part of Uriah.
I asked him if he thought the spies of Abdul Hamid very efficient. “No, not very,” said he. “Mine were fairly good, I think; but then, I had much to appeal to with my people, and also I used your English system.” “What?” said I. “Well,” he said, “we were told that the noble youths of England offered their service gratis to the secret police. Was not that true? ”…
I… asked him if assassination was often in his mind. He said that he never thought of it. Why should anyone dislike him? I said that Armenians might very well desire vengeance, after all that had been written about him in the papers. He brushed this aside.
He made a number of inquiries about old friends, and asked warmly after Louis Mallet. Speaking of Enver, I said I liked him, and thought him modest, but not at all clever. “No,” he said, “you could not call him clever, though he is a brave man and patriotic.”
He spoke of his own family ; he was living with his wife in Berlin, he said, and, like most people, he had been selling all that was available; but he looked forward to a swift ending of these troubles. England and Turkey would soon be on terms of friendship.
Next morning, he told me that good news had come from England. Bekir Sami Bey had been invited to tea with the Prime Minister. They had, he believed, agreed upon the autonomy of Armenia, where the majorities were recognized, and to an inquiry in Thrace and Smyrna.
“Now,” said the ex-Grand Vizier, “let me make a summary of my proposals to you, which amount to an Anglo-Turkish alliance. Though I am not in power at the present moment, you will find that these proposals are acceptable to those who are, and their acceptance will bring peace to you as well as to us.
“Let us realise the present complicated position,” said he.” My thesis is, that there is only one civilisation in the world, and that if Turkey is to be saved she must be joined to civilisation. Before the war, I was anxious that England should be her teacher; you will remember that, and my proposals about Lord Milner. Well, England refused, and the war came; then, quite frankly, I looked to Germany in victory to do what we had once hoped for from England. For I believed that Germany would win the war. In that belief we signed a treaty with Germany one month before war was declared. Germany has not won; we have all been defeated.
“The house that we had has been burnt to the ground, but that house was badly built; it was full of Naughts, and it was not sanitary. We still possess the site upon which it stood. Our geography is a fortress to us — a. very strong fortress. Our mountains are the strongest of our forces. You cannot pursue us into the mountains of Asia; and stretching back into Central Asia are six republics, composed of men of our blood, cousins, if not brothers, and limited now by the bond of misfortune. I will speak of that later.
Then, too, the war forced us to cut our losses, and that is an advantage. We shall be no more troubled by the rebellions of the Albanians, the Macedonians and the Arabs,” said the ex-Grand Vizier.
He elaborated the situation. The urgent need of Turkey was to be helped, and for this help he and his friends looked eagerly to Great Britain. But the Turks would not accept help at the price of financial or military servitude. Mr. Lloyd George, in his opinion, had believed that Turkey could be destroyed, and had been persuaded that this was the case by his Greek friends, Venizelos and Sir Basil Zaharoff. Mr. Lloyd George was wrong. Talaat did not wish to exaggerate the strength of Turkey, but he thought that England ought not to underrate it. If there was not a unity of ideas between Angora and Constantinople, there was, at any rate, unity of ideals.
‘‘Now,” he said, when again speaking of the six Red republics, “they are red, but not deep red. They are Moslem populations, and are naturally influenced by all that Turkey does, and they are affected by all that Turkey suffers. Bokhara is a potential force; there are latent possibilities to be developed there for good or for evil. At the present moment” Talaat Pasha continued, “Turkey is at war with England, and we are engaged in propaganda throughout the East, and inciting India, though not very effectually. Turkey is, in fact, pursuing a policy of enlisting as many people as she can against Great Britain, and undertaking all possible reprisals open to her.”
It was, he admitted, an ineffective reply to the French policy of conscription of native races in Africa, and it was a pity that this policy of Turkish propaganda had not been begun earlier, and had not been better organised.
“It is not a grand policy,” he said. “No grander than yours has been. Yours was a violation of the Armistice, and ours was the best that we could do.” He said it was a “jeu de gamin,” and compared it to cutting telegraph wires. That might do very little damage, but, on the other hand, it might do a great deal of harm.
“Turkey,” he said, “is a Power, and, do what you will, she will remain a Power. There is, at the present moment, only a political hatred of Great Britain in Turkey.” He would go so far as to say that there was more hostility to us amongst the Arabs and the Hindus than amongst the Turks. The Crimea, although it happened long ago, was not forgotten; the Dardanelles would not weigh in the balance against it. England had often intervened on behalf of the Turks, and they were a grateful people. He could not pretend to know the Indian question, but he did not believe that there was any real hatred of us in India.
He discussed Bolshevism with acute dislike. He said it might suit Russia; it could not suit the rest of the world. The human race could not change, or, at any rate, not to that extent, outside Russia. It could not accept such a lunatic system. “But,” he continued, “as the Russians chose to go in for Bolshevism, that is their business. There is no danger to Turkey in it now; nor do I consider that it is a peril to England, as long as it remains in its own borders, and with propaganda for its only weapon.”
There were many of his countrymen who hoped that Bolshevism would boil over the Russian border, and go foaming into Europe, foreseeing salvation to Asia in a general European catastrophe. He was not one of those. He did not want a safety that came from ruins. He preferred to see an ordered Europe, and a peaceful Turkey helped by Great Britain. But he would refuse to join an anti-Bolshevist alliance at the present moment, when his country was at war.
Men, said the ex-Grand Vizier, were Bolshevik by conviction, by policy, or by interest. He might be the last; he was certainly not the first. An alliance with the Bolshevists was purely a matter of expediency. You might say it was a double-edged sword, but its edge, as far as the enemies of Turkey were concerned, was sharp, and its dangerous edge to Turkey was very blunt. The Turk and the Bolshevik had nothing in common but a temporary alliance, a convenience from the point of view of Russia that answered a need from the point of view of Turkey.
He had not been to Moscow recently, nor had he seen Lenin, but he had seen Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk, and had a poor opinion of him. Trotsky, he thought, like the majority of the Russian Jews, was a degenerate.
He told me that Enver was at the moment in Moscow, for the same reason that he, Talaat, might have been there, not through any liking of Bolshevism. Enver, he said, was colourless, as far as policy was concerned. He was doing the best in his power for his country.
Halil Pasha (whom I had last seen between Sanayat and Kut on the day that Townshend surrendered) was also in Moscow. He was an exception, and had a penchant towards communism. Djemal Pasha was engaged in propaganda against Great Britain in Turkestan.
He spoke of the natural antagonism between the principles of Bolshevism and Islam: fire and water were not more different. I asked him what part pan-Islam was likely to play in the future, and he expressed the Nationalist, or the Young Turks’ point of view. Islam, he said, in itself is a grand religion, and though it was preached in the desert, it is still compatible with civilisation, and can be adapted to modern needs. But, in common with all other religions, it can swiftly become intolerant in the hearts of fanatics. By their actions the Young Turks had shown that they did not mean to use pan-Islam as a weapon. That had been the policy of Abdul Hamid, but it was a short-sighted policy, because in the end it could not succeed, and meant war between Islam and the rest of the world, and that could have no other result for Islam as a creed than fanaticism and barbarism.
The deeds of the Young Turks were a proof that they did not favour pan-Islam. Had they not incurred the greatest unpopularity by putting the rayah (native Christian) on a level with the Moslem? There were other features of their policy that gave offence — amongst them their intention to abolish polygamy. His party had deliberately adopted the milder and less fanatical creed which was useless as a fiery torch.
He spoke of the Caliphate question, using the usual arguments, and again wondered what demon of madness had taken possession of the British Government. If the question of the Caliphate was satisfactorily settled, a big step would be taken to restore our popularity among the Indians. I said it was always more easy to raise a storm than to allay it; and I asked him if there was any Turk with sufficient prestige to calm the Indian agitation, if such a course was ever desired by Great Britain. He said that the trouble in India would cease automatically when we entered into friendly relations with Turkey. We could send any Turk to India whom we pleased. He laughed, and added, “It is very unlikely that your Government would trust me. But if they did, I would guarantee to do my best.”
I asked him if he thought it likely that the pan-Turanian movement would develop. He answered that the events of the last years had given all those who were related a closer sense of kinship. Often men only remembered a poor brother when they themselves became poor, but he saw no future in our lives for Turanianism, though Asiatics were drawing closer to each other.
He said that he had written a memorandum on the Armenian massacres which he was very anxious that British statesmen should read. Early in the war, in 1915, the Armenians had organised an army, and had attacked the Turks, who were then fighting the Russians. Three Armenian deputies had taken an active part; the alleged massacres of Moslems had taken place, accompanied by atrocities on women and children. He had twice opposed enforced migration, and he had been the author of an inquiry which resulted in the execution of a number of guilty Kurds and Turks.
He and his friends were willing to consider sympathetically any proposition for Armenian autonomy. But facts must be faced. Even if all the Armenians who had been driven into the Caucasus were to return, they would represent only a small fraction of the population, who are mainly non-Armenian. He himself favoured the rights of minorities in its most extended form. After President Wilson’s speeches, and in the present state of the world, opposition to this principle was folly. If Great Britain came to an amicable agreement with Turkey, she would be in the position to do what she liked with regard to Armenia. The first, and most practical, step would be the organisation of an efficient gendarmerie to pacify and create order in that country…
Talaat Pasha spoke with more emphasis and fire of Greece than of any other question. Greece had no title to Smyrna, To give Smyrna to Greece was in contradiction to all that we had promised, and was a reward to her for the massacres that had taken place there. Smyrna was Turkish, and must remain Turkish. He rejected a compromise which I suggested, but without violence. “No, no,” he said; ”you must give us back Smyrna, and peace will be restored, and when peace is restored all the resources of Asia Minor will be at the disposal of Great Britain. Asia Minor is a rich land, crying aloud for development, and the only serious condition that we will ask you, excluding your friendship, is recognition of our independence.
The other details can easily be arranged. There is, of course, the question of the islands. If we are ever going to have peace, steps must be taken to see that the islands immediately adjacent to the mainland are not made a sanctuary for Greek comitadjis.” I asked him if a compromise could not be arrived at with regard to Thrace, and he answered that no compromise was possible with regard to Eastern Thrace, for Constantinople could never rest in security under the guns of her enemies.
He was, however, quite ready to agree to the internationalisation or to the neutralisation of the Straits. He looked upon the occupation of the Dardanelles by the Greeks as provocative, and wished to bring it to an end. When Russia was out of action, he said, the question of the Dardanelles had almost ceased to exist. He had lately been approached by a Greek official, whose name he gave me, on the question of coming to an understanding. But the time was not ripe. The Greeks said that Mustapha Kemal was bluffing. Very well; let them prove that by the force of arms…
The ex-Grand Vizier then talked of Europe generally, but asked me to respect certain confidences of his. It was evident from his conversation that he and the Turks of Angora were in close touch with the big forces of the moment, and with all the chief European Governments, except that of Great Britain. He said he thought the Irish situation had been badly handled. It was the first time in our own days that we had had to deal with a question of that kind, and we had made crude mistakes. He had seen some of the Sinn Feiners in Germany, but had a poor opinion of them. He thought that the position in Germany itself was dangerous, and he believed that the French were determined to go into Germany, though he did not think that such an action would bring them any nearer to getting their money. A French invasion of Germany would drive the Germans to join hands with the Bolshevists. Relief might then come to Turkey through European chaos, but, as he had said before, he hoped for relief through other channels.
I asked Talaat Pasha if his views were Right or Left, and he answered that he was Liberal, but would not admit to any political colour, saying that politics changed, and that patriotism was constant.
“Now,” said Talaat Pasha, “I have put all my cards on the table, and I hope you will be able to persuade your Government of these facts, which, after all, can easily be proved. We are ready to make great concessions to achieve our object, which is peace and friendship with England, I do not want power nor office; I speak for myself, but I am in the centre of things. Mustapha Kemal in Angora will not be in disagreement with me; and Bekir Sami Bey is saying in London to-day what I am saying in Dusseldorf to you. His propositions have been favourably considered ; the Allied Governments propose to have an inquiry into the question of Smyrna and of Thrace. The Armenian question is on the way to being settled. Bekir Sami has had friendly discussions with Mr. Lloyd George at Downing Street, and now I have said all I have to say. If the British Government desire it, peace can be obtained immediately, and with it the development of Asia Minor. You can never achieve the partition of Turkey. England and Turkey are not industrial rivals, but customers, who depend upon each other, and surely it is better for customers to be friends.”
I said good-bye to Talaat Pasha, and we went our different ways. I returned to London, where I saw Bekir Sami Bey several times. He was a straight man and a gentleman, who was ready to go to the limit of concession to obtain peace and British friendship. His proposals, which did not materially differ from those of Talaat Pasha, like many other things of that time, were discreetly broadcasted, it was said, from Downing Street, and became known to the Bolshevists, who demanded Bekir Sami Bey’s head upon a charger, and duly received it.
The Greeks advanced triumphantly during the Eastern Armistice. Negotiations broke down, and war raged again in Asia Minor, and so things continued for a year. The Foreign Office was ignored, and the Eastern policy of No. 10 Downing Street remained a mixture of frivolity and fanaticism, until Mr. Lloyd George effectively combined them in his speech of August 4, 1922. That fervent oration was sent out as an Army Order to the unhappy Greek troops, whom it hurried to their doom. For the sake of the Greeks and Turks, and, indeed, our own reputation, it is a pity that Talaat Pasha was not able to have his way and to achieve peace. But if the revolver of the murderer had spared him, it is not likely that he, or indeed any other man, would have been able to convince Mr. Lloyd George of the truth of facts. They might as easily have persuaded Sir Basil Zaharoff.
Talaat returned to Berlin, where he was immediately murdered by a Persian Armenian. He died hated, indeed execrated, as few men have been in their generation. He may have been all that he was painted — I cannot say. I know that he had rare power and attraction. I do not know whether he was responsible or not for the Armenian massacres. All I know is that he was fearless; and anyone who, like myself, only knew him superficially, found him to be kindly and with a singular charm.
So died Talaat Pasha, the Young Turk, and, I incline to think, the genius of that movement. But, Young Turk leader though he was, he still had much of the old Turk in him. He was not envenomed against England by the protracted persecution of Mr. Lloyd George. Is what Talaat Pasha proposed to me, what Bekir Sami Bey suggested in London, and the peace terms that Ali Fethi Bey brought fruitlessly to deaf ears in London in 1922, still open to us to-day, or is the chasm that separates us from Turkey and from Islam unbridgeable? I think not. Our interests lie together, and whatever the reason may be, it is a fact that the Turk and the Englishman, in nine cases out of ten, get on with each other and like each other. We have been left the heirs of the incompetency of Mr. Lloyd George and his Government, and the Turks have inherited the legacy of hatred that recent years have bequeathed to them.
But the Turks have a proverb, which those Englishmen who were sent out between the lines on the various occasions when an armistice was proclaimed during the war often heard. It became familiar to them between mounds of Turkish and British dead — “Eski dost Dushman olmaz ” (an old friend cannot be an enemy). If we can convince the Turks that we have a similar sentiment here, the memory of recent quarrels may be forgotten in the recollection of a more ancient understanding.
b. Talaat’s Memoirs
Talaat’s Memoirs, which he referred to in his final interview, came to light not long after his murder in Berlin and were published posthumously in New York. (Note: English translations of Talaat’s memorandum use the word “deportation” for the word “tehcir.” The word “deportation” is incorrect, because Armenians were moved within the country, and not out of the country. They were also allowed to return their homes after September 1915. This meaning is not conveyed by the word deportation – either relocation or forced migration is more accurate.)
Here are the parts of Talaat’s memoirs to do with what happened to the Armenians:
“The relocation of the Armenians, in some localities of the Greeks, and in Syria of some of the Arabs, was used inside and outside the empire as a source of attack on the Turkish Government. First of all, I wish to inform the public that the rumors of relocation and assassination were exceedingly exaggerated. The Greeks and the Armenians, taking advantage of the ignorance of the American and European public of the Near Eastern situation and of the character of the Turks, used the relocations as a means for propaganda, and painted it as best suited their aim. In saying this, I do not mean to deny the facts. I desire only to eliminate the exaggerations and to relate the facts as they occurred.
I admit that we relocated many Armenians from our eastern provinces, but we never acted in this matter upon a previously prepared scheme. The responsibility for these acts falls first of all upon the relocated people themselves. Russia, in order to lay hand on our eastern provinces, had armed and equipped the Armenian inhabitants of this district, and had organized strong Armenian bandit forces in the said area. When we entered the great war, these bandits began their destructive activities in the rear of the Turkish Army on the Caucasus front, blowing up the bridges, setting fire to the Turkish towns and villages and killing the innocent Mohammedan inhabitants, regardless of age and sex. They spread death and terror all over the eastern provinces, and endangered the Turkish Army’s line of retreat. All these Armenian bandits were helped by the native Armenians. When they were pursued by the Turkish gendarmes, the Armenian villages were a refuge for them. When they needed help, the Armenian peasants around them, taking their arms hidden in their churches, ran to their aid. Every Armenian church, it was later discovered, was a depot of ammunition. In this disloyal way they killed more than 300,000 Mohammedans, and destroyed the communication of the Turkish Army with its bases. The information that we were receiving from the administrators of these provinces and from the commander of the Caucasian Army gave us details of the most revolting and barbarous activities of the Armenian bandits. It was impossible to shut our eyes to the treacherous acts of the Armenians, at a time when we were engaged in a war which would determine the fate of our country. Even if these atrocities had occurred in a time of peace, our Government would have been obliged to quell such outbreaks. The Porte, acting under the same obligation, and wishing to secure the safety of its army and its citizens, took energetic measures to check these uprisings. The relocation of the Armenians was one of these preventive measures.
I admit also that the relocation was not carried out lawfully everywhere. In some places unlawful acts were committed. The already existing hatred among the Armenians and Mohammedans, intensified by the barbarous activities of the former, had created many tragic consequences. Some of the officials abused their authority, and in many places people took preventive measures into their own hands and innocent people were molested. I confess it. I confess, also, that the duty of the Government was to prevent these abuses and atrocities. or at least to hunt down and punish their perpetrators severely. In many places, where the property and goods of the relocated people were looted, and the Armenians molested, we did arrest those who were responsible and punished them according to the law. I confess, however, that we ought to have acted more sternly, opened up a general investigation for the purpose of finding out all the promoters and looters and punished them severely.
But we could not do that. Although we punished many of the guilty, most of them were untouched. These people, whom we might call outlaws, because of their unlawful attitude in disregarding the order of the Central Government, were divided into two classes. Some of them were acting under personal hatred, or for individual profit. Those who looted the goods of the deported Armenians were easily punishable, and we punished them. But there was another group, who sincerely believed that the general interest of the community necessitated the punishment alike of those Armenians who massacred the guiltless Mohammedans and those who helped the Armenian bandits to endanger our national life. The Turkish elements here referred to were short-sighted, fanatic, and yet sincere in their belief. The public encouraged them, and they had the general approval behind them. They were numerous and strong. Their open and immediate punishment would have aroused great discontent among the people, who favored their acts. An endeavor to arrest and to punish all these promoters would have created anarchy in Anatolia at a time when we greatly needed unity. It would have been dangerous to divide the nation into two camps, when we needed strength to fight outside enemies. We did all that we could, but we preferred to postpone the solution “of our internal difficulties until after the defeat of our external enemies.
As to the relocation of the Greeks and the Arabs, this charge is based more on propaganda than on real fact. The truth is that the Greeks living on the coast of the Sea of Marmora supplied food and petrol to the enemy submarines, which, passing through the strait, entered the Marmora and threatened our communication by sea. In order to prevent the Greeks from aiding the enemy, we relocated those who were guilty to Anatolia? But their relocation was carried out in a very regular way. They suffered neither loss of life nor of goods. As to the Arabs of Syria, we confined ourselves to the application of martial law, and punished only those who promoted a revolution to overthrow the Turkish authority in Syria.
These preventive measures were taken in every country during the war, but, while the regrettable results were passed over in silence in the other countries, the echo of our acts was heard the world over, because everybody’s eyes were upon us.”