The Nameless One by Roger Casement

Roger Casement wrote ‘The Nameless One’ at the end of November, 1898. He did so outside Lagos, onboard the Gretchen Bolen, sailing to London.  It is a poem largely about the massacre of Armenians by the forces of the Sultan of Turkey, Abdul Hamid, known widely as “Abdul the Damned” in England. It is a vicious poem, couched in biblical/classical language, but its message is clear: The Sultan and his Empire is a product of Hell and should be consigned back to its place of origin. It was written when Casement was a fervent Imperialist going to assist the destruction of the independent Boer Republics and incorporating them in the British Empire.

Here is a transcription below:


Embodied pest! – thou Pharaoh in reverse 

Who will not let the people go – nor stay; 

To whom the rod of Aaron comes as curse 

To turn to blood the waters of thy sway, 

Stupendous in the vastness of thy crime, 

Unpardoning; – and unpardoned through all time! 

Lord of the Purple East thou art indeed – 

Thy rule of thought ‘twere hardest to assign, 

Some minor Lord of Hell’s imperial seed 

Must prompt they role in this inferior line; 

For thou art  of the few among mankind 

More vile in fact than thy villain mind! 

What portion hast thou cast in the Crescent’s sheen? 

Thine Orb is Algol’s variable mood: 

A growing presage to the pale Armene 

On Candia’s shore shrinking point of blood: 

The “star of horror” tho’ it wax or wane 

Be this the emblem of thy awful reign. 

Thou murderer! with thy calling in thy face, 

The poisoner’s smile, the vulture’s drooping stare – 

Imperial ruffian in the Caesar’s place 

Of Nero’s crimes the consecrated heir – 

Be theirs thy fate – the opened vein, or cord 

Of strangler’s art made perfect on its lord! 

Yet ere thou go shall Christendom not smite 

Thy laggard steps with more than empty word? 

Hath man no monarch but must barter right 

To win thy cunning smile, anointed Kurd? 

Yea, thou shalt find thy trust in Kings decreed 

By universal scorn a broken reed. 

Yes, thou shalt find not Solyman’s eclipse 

Magnificently total as thine own – 

Lepanto’s gulf but swallowed up his ships, 

This wider gulf shall swallow up thy throne; 

And Hells’ expectant glare shall pale before 

Earth wrath that lights thee to thy native shore. 


Some translation/interpretation is necessary for the reader.

In the first stanza Casement compares the Ottoman Sultan to Pharaoh, who had at least let his people go, rather than keep them in subjugation. The rod of Aaron was the instrument that God gave to Moses’s brother which conjured up the plagues and famines that led to Pharaoh dismissing the Hebrews. It was God’s power given to man and turned into a snake in Pharaoh’s court and Egypt’s waters to blood. The Ottoman Sultan possessed similar power, which was a curse to his subjects. History would not pardon him for his deeds, according to Casement.

In the second stanza Casement makes cutting remarks on the Ottoman lineage. The Sultan is a “minor Lord of Hell’s imperial seed” – the offspring of the Devil’s domain but not having the status of the Devil himself. The “inferior line” is a notion connected to English Social Darwinism. the Ottomans were criticized by British writers for their easy-going tolerance of races which, it was suggested, was leading to the demise of their empire. The British Social Darwinists were, in fact, appalled at the way the Ottomans had incorporated other races into the governing of their empire and had blended aspects of their cultures into the Ottoman mix. 

Nationalism and War in the Near East’  by George Young, ‘A Diplomatist,’ edited by Lord Courtney of Penwith, and published by Oxford University Press in 1915 (at the time of the Armenian relocations) is a good example of this argument. The British and Ottoman Empires were seen as having entirely different notions of race and governing. It was argued that the British Empire was successful because it was founded on the principle of racial distinction and hierarchy whereas the Ottomans played fast and loose with these categories to the extent that, in the English biological view, they contravened the laws of nature, leading to an inevitable Ottoman extinction. They put this down to the Sultans having foolishly indulged in the race weakening practice of miscegenation (race mixing) by marrying (ironically) Armenians and Circassians etc. This had destroyed the racial stock and minds of the Ottoman dynasty by polluting it with lesser biological material. These notions led to a great eugenics movement being established in England presided over by Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill at its first Congress in London.

Casement’s third stanza contains the line: “Thine Orb is Algol’s variable mood: A growing presage to the pale Armene”. The orb/authority of the Ottoman Sultan is likeAlgol, the “Star of Horror” which takes its name from the Arab phrase (Ras al Ghul) for demon’s head. The Greeks knew it as the Gorgon’s head and the Hebrews as the Satan’s Head. This star is found in the brows of Gorgon in the constellation Medusa. Medusa was, for the Greeks, the Lady of the Beasts and had hair of snakes turning those who saw her instantly to stone. Algol is a variable star, waxing and waning in brightness and darkness rather like the variable moods of the Ottoman Sultan who had the arbitrary power of destruction depending on his mood at the time.

There is a connection between Medusa and Crete and in Casement’s next line he refers to “On Candia’s shore shrinking point of blood: The “star of horror” tho’ it wax or wane.” Candia is Heraklion in Crete where in 1898 local Moslems rose up after Great Power intervention in support of a Cretan Greek insurrection demanding union with Greece. The Greeks had sent troops to Crete and also, in April 1897, attempted invasions of the Ottoman Empire. They were thoroughly defeated before the Europeans intervened and began occupying Crete under an Admiral’s Council. The local Turks were against plans to take the island out of Ottoman suzerainty and in the conflict they killed the British vice consul and some occupying soldiers and sailors. The Moslem leaders were subsequently hanged on the walls of Candia after Queen Victoria called for “drastic action” and the Turkish population was ethnically cleansed from the island. Interestingly the Cretan insurrectionary Venizelos took power after the transfer of the island to Greece. When he later seized power in Greece and helped the Allies undermine Greek neutrality Casement (in his later phase) accused him of responsibility for a coming Greek tragedy. 

The next verse of “The Nameless One” refers to the caricature of Abdul Hamid often carried in Punch and other British periodicals – “the poisoner’s smile, the vulture’s drooping stare”. The “Imperial ruffian” is compared with the evil Emperor Nero who mercilessly persecuted Christians and fiddled while Rome burned, after organising its burning himself. He utilized the fire to rid himself of the Christians, whose growing power he feared. This, presumably, is meant to show that Sultan Abdul Hamid was inciting and killing the Armenians, without thought of the destruction he was bringing to his domain, to advance his own evil interests.

The next stanza reveals that Casement desired that the Great Powers should use more than words against the Ottomans and give more than empty promises of reform to the Armenians. This was a common complaint levelled at Conservative government’s in Britain by English Liberals. They were more interested in geopolitics than humanitarianism and should have an ethical foreign policy instead. Christendom, which represented morality in the world, should “smite” (strike with a very firm blow) the Moslems. The Kurds, the main enemies and killers of the Armenians in eastern Anatolia, in particular, needed to be taught manners. By breaking the Sultan the Christian Powers would teach the Kurds a lesson in misplaced loyalty, suggested Casement.

The final stanza recalls Christian Europe’s great victories over the Moslem hordes from the East at the battle of Lepanto and sieges of Vienna. At Lepanto the Pope’s fleet had sent the Ottoman navy to the bottom of the sea, ending the Moslem threat to the Western Mediterranean. This was in 1571, before the rise of British sea power. At the two sieges of Vienna, in 1529 and 1683, the Ottoman land advance had been checked by Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire confined to the Balkans. This was “Solyman’s eclipse” – the eradication of the Ottoman threat originally brought by Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-66).

But Casement hoped for a greater eclipse for the Ottomans – that they and their Sultan be swallowed up into Hell, from whence the Turk originally came, their “native shore”. 

Casement’s Motivation

At first sight Casement’s anti-Turk tirade seems to have been provoked by the “Hamidian Massacres.” But the date of the poem’s writing is important. The “Hamidian Massacres” occurred between 1894-6, around 5 years before Casement’s poetic outrage. So something else provoked the outrage, since it is inconceivable that such pent up anger was restrained over such a long period. There had to be a different trigger.

The trigger was presumably the outrageous visit of the German Emperor to the Ottoman Sultan only a month before Casement released his wrath on the “Nameless One.” This visit produced a deluge of hysteria in Europe with the “Armenian Massacres” at the forefront of the attacks on Kaiser Wilhelm.

British Foreign Policy was very much in flux in the mid-1890s. It was poised between that which upheld the peace and stability of Europe since the Vienna Congress in 1815 and the policy that led to the Great War of 1914. Up to that point Britain had upheld the Ottoman Empire as a great buffer against Russian expansion down to the Mediterranean. “The Russians shall not have Constantinople” was the popular refrain in England when Disraeli was prepared to go to war against the Tsar if he even thought about coming down to the Straits.

But when Lord Salisbury came to be British Prime Minister in 1895 he concluded that the Ottoman Empire had outlived its usefulness for Britain. It was beyond redemption, morally and physically. It could no longer do what Britain had required of it over the previous generations, and so Salisbury, acting as his own Foreign Secretary, flirted with the Tsar proposing the idea of ending the Great Game on good terms, to the mutual benefit, and carving up the Ottoman territories between them. The “Sick man of Europe” was to be put out of his misery for the benefit of all humanity, even its enemy component. All was needed was an agreement over his remains. 

But vultures are not good at negotiating over carcasses and the French vulture, which had circled over the potential carrion for longer than both the Russian and British predators, wanted a cut of the meat. It all proved too messy and complicated in the end. Salisbury failed and it was left to Sir Edward Grey, a decade later, to close the deal.

The Armenian revolutionary groups believed they had got signals that the intervention of the Great Powers would take place if they could provoke the Ottomans into a violent reaction. They attempted to do this but found that Britain had not changed its position at this point and Russia, therefore, could not act in the 1890s. The result was disaster.

A stranger had come, only newly on the scene, who, seeing the sick man prostrate before the predators, suddenly had the bright idea of helping the man to his feet. Obviously he became an enemy of the vultures from that day.

Kaiser Wilhelm blundered into this situation as a young and most unwelcome upstart. The Kaiser became an interloper through his visit to Istanbul and Palestine in 1898 and made war inevitable between Britain and Germany. The Kaiser declared his intention of preserving and consolidating some surviving states of the world against the British and French designs on them. He first enraged Britain by impudently sending a telegram of sympathy to the leader of one of the Boer Republics that Britain was intent on incorporating into its expanding empire. On the visit to the Ottoman Empire in 1898 he declared that a strong Moslem state was a necessary component of stable order in the world and signalled his intention of bolstering it through economic rejuvenation and the Berlin-Baghdad Railway.

This was the event that outraged Britain and brought the Armenian question back into play a month before Casement fulminated against “Abdul the Damned” and his problem from Hell (Wasn’t that the title of a book by the humanitarian interventionist Samantha Power that won her a prestigious prize and a career promoting the destruction of functional Moslem states. What was it said about history repeating itself as farce?).

Casement was not a particularly racist and bitter man. If he was a racist he was a racist because he was a British Imperialist. He was certainly a humanitarian. Humanitarianism and various other causes are used as weapons in the hands of Imperialist states. 

Casement’s famous work and report on Belgian atrocities in Africa was later used by the British government to ensure the Belgians did not allow a traverse of their territory by the Germans, that might break the encirclement and blockade and prevent a world war. It was Britain’s intention to prevent a quick European war occurring in 1914 and instead grind down Germany in a global war of attrition, as well as taking the parts of the Ottoman territories it desired (Palestine and Mesopotamia as well as Egypt and Cyprus). When Casement witnessed this he freed his humanitarianism from Imperialism.

Armenian Massacres and Casement (1898 and 1915)

What were the “Hamidian Massacres”? They were Ottoman counter-insurgency operations conducted against Armenian revolutionary groups in Eastern Anatolia during 1894-6. In the course of these operations a sizeable amount of Armenians were killed both by regular Ottoman forces, Kurdish groups acting in the pay of the state (Hamidiye) or in their own interests, and local Moslems who took reprisals for previous killing by Armenian bands. The main events occurred in Istanbul, Sasun, Diyarbakir, Erzurum, Zeitun, Trabzon and Van. 

The Armenian/Moslem conflicts followed much the same pattern everywhere. Armenian revolutionary groups, hoping for western intervention, engaged in provocative acts such as firing from rooftops at crowds of Moslems at Friday prayers. A really provocative act occurred in Istanbul when Pasdermadjian and his Dashnaks assaulted the Ottoman Bank, casually blowing up a large amount of civilians. These provocations drew local Moslems into attacking local Armenians and state forces were employed into the areas of the attacks with predictable consequences. So, Armenian revolutionaries killed Moslems and Moslems killed Armenians in greater number because Turks and Kurds were the majority and more powerful. The Western reports contained reports of Moslems killing Christians but no reports of Armenian revolutionaries provoking the Moslems.

The Armenian revolutionaries would have failed in their objectives without provoking these massacres. The Hunchaks and Dashnaks did not care how many ordinary Armenians died in reprisals for their provocations. The more the better to make as big an impression in the West as possible. And the numbers massacred were vastly inflated when the Ottomans failed to kill enough to disgust Christian Europe. In Sassun the British consul claimed 10,000 Armenians had been massacred. The consul later revised his figure to 900. A joint investigatory committee of British, French and Russian consuls later established the actual figure of 263 deaths (Sean McMeekin, Ottoman Endgame, p. 25). Often more Armenians died than actually existed and the actual figure is almost impossible to establish. Meanwhile the Hunchak and Dashnak revolutionaries were spirited out on western battleships and even granted pardons by the Sultan. 

The massacres were the lever needed to provoke Christian outrage in the West and hopefully produce the Bulgarian model of intervention. In Bulgaria the “Bulgarian Horrors” of 1878 had produced Bulgarian independence.

The continuation of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire did not require a genocidal policy on the part of the Ottomans but the establishment of a nationalist Armenian state in Anatolia did. This was because, unlike the Bulgarians and Greeks in the old Balkan provinces of Ottoman Europe, who possessed majorities and many of the elements of nationhood, in none of the eastern provinces did the Armenians constitute a majority of the population.

So whilst it was comparatively easy for Greeks and Bulgarians, once Western ideas of nationalism had reached them, to enlarge the Ottoman autonomy of their own community institutions into territorial independence, any attempt to transfer Armenian autonomy from a religious to a territorial basis was quite another matter. The population of the eastern provinces was such that a restoration of the old Armenian Kingdom was impossible without overcoming ten centuries of history through the construction of a homogeneous Armenian state. That would, of necessity, have involved the ethnic cleansing of large numbers of Turks and Kurds and almost certainly have required a policy of genocide against them to achieve a functional and stable Armenia. And that is why the Kurds fought for the Ottoman Sultan.

The Armenian revolutionaries hoped to repeat the Bulgarian example. They failed in 1894-6 but this not stop them playing the same game for the highest stakes in 1915. But this time Casement was no longer on their side.

The Metamorphosis of Roger Casement

As Casement metamorphosed from British Imperialist to Irish nationalist, his attitude toward Turks and Armenians changed likewise. The scales fell from his eyes and he began seeing things as a true liberal rather than a liberal Imperialist. He began to understand that what he had formerly believed to be the truth was, in fact, dangerous Imperialist propaganda that would be disastrous for the Armenians themselves.

Roger Casement wrote in The Continental Times in October 1915:

“A  fresh  ‘Armenian  Massacre’  having  been  deftly  provoked  by  a  conspiracy  engineered from the British Embassy at Constantinople, whereby English arms, money anduniforms, were to be furnished to the Armenians on condition that they rose against the Turkish Government, England now turns to the humanitarian impulse of the American people to secure a fresh sword against Turkey. America is being stirred with tales of horror against the Turks – with appeals to American manhood on behalf of a tortured and outraged people. The plan was born in the (British) Foreign Office; and the agency for carrying through the conspiracy against Turkish sovereignty in Armenia was Sir Louis Mallet, the late British Ambassador at Constantinople.” (The Continental Times, 18 October 1915)

Also writing in The Continental Times, under the pen-name “Dr. John Quincy Emerson” Casement pointed to Britain’s breaking of the Cyprus Convention of 1878, concluded between Lord Salisbury (when he was Foreign Secretary) and the Ottoman Sultan, as an example of Britain’s bad faith:

“England pledged her national word and ‘to defend the Asiatic dominions of the Sultan’ from Russian attack, and in return for this guarantee, the island of Cyprus was to be ‘occupied’ by her, Turkish sovereignty remaining legally intact, so that a point of d’appui for the defence of Asia Minor might be in the hands of the defending power.

In 1914 Russia declared war upon Turkey and the Asiatic dominions of the Sultan are invaded. England, although she was under no treaty obligation to Russia or bound by any agreement to that Power, her hands being ‘perfectly free’, as Sir Edward Grey assures Parliament repeatedly, and although she was bound to defend Turkey from this very attack , proceeds to violate her treaty with Turkey and commits a double act of national dishonour. She not only does not fulfil her promise to defend the invaded region she has taken under her protection, but she seizes the very gage entrusted to her keeping to assure the fulfilment of that promise and she co-operates with the invader by herself assailing the Asiatic dominions of the Sultan. She annexes Cyprus and joins Russia in the assault on Asia Minor. So much for the sanctity of treaties when British interests call for their violation….” (“Still Further North”, The Continental Times, 22 October 1915.)

Casement no longer wanted the Ottoman Empire to go to Hell. It was one of Ireland’s “gallant allies” in the Easter Proclamation of independence, with which Irish Republicans fought alongside to secure the freedom of their country.

When Casement left the Imperial orbit and began viewing the world in a new way the blinkers came off. He began seeing the true context of situations in the world and became a very dangerous man who had to be hung by his former employers. And his very dangerous thoughts had to be erased by a attempted fouling of his memory.

Finally, it should be noted that “The Nameless One” is not the only poem of that name attributed to Roger Casement. Mysteriously, another “The Nameless One” was “found” in 1957 by Harford Montgomery Hyde, British Intelligence and Unionist MP for North Belfast, which he, and then many others, use to promote the Black Diaries story that the British used to secure the hanging of Casement.  Unlike the poem dealt with above the provenance of this latter poem is unclear  – and provenance is crucial in all matters relating to the Black Diaries. It is also most peculiar that Casement would have written two poems of the same name on utterly different subjects. But such questions have not stopped many promoting this other “Nameless One” as something of greater importance than the real and politically authenticated “Nameless One.”  

Well, Imperialism’s work is never done, it seems.  


  1. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” – Sir Walter Scott, 1808, from his poem Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field.


  2. Wow Pat, what an amazing period in history. Thank you for explaining it so clearly. Regards.


    Sent from my iPhone



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