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‘Great Britain against Russia in the Caucasus’ Preface

‘Great Britain against Russia in the Caucasus’ is about how the geopolitical relationship between Imperial Britain and Tsarist Russia had a transformative effect on the destinies of Ottoman Turks, Armenians and Azerbaijanis. From the Great War of August 1914, the course of history for these empires and peoples of Transcaucasia, was irrevocably altered and set on a new course. 

The Russian movement south across the Caucasus during the early 19th Century had a profound effect on the peoples of Transcaucasia, as well as the Ottoman Empire. The struggle between Great Britain and Russia known as “The Great Game” that then ensued, added a new geopolitical dimension to the region stretching from the European Ottoman provinces to Southern Iran. However, at the moment when this great geopolitical struggle reached its pinnacle it was then seemingly suspended, by mutual agreement of the two empires, in response to an alteration in Britain’s Balance of Power policy. And the effect was utterly cataclysmic.

It was the over-riding of “The Great Game” by the reactivation of the British Balance of Power policy, signalled in the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, that led on to the Great War on Germany and Ottoman Turkey. This catastrophic event was to have the most fundamental and transforming effect on the peoples of Transcaucasia, when the Tsarist state succumbed to Revolution in the waging of it.

After the Great War of 1914 nothing was ever the same again for Britain, Russia, Ottoman Turkey, the Armenians and the people of Azerbaijan. The miscalculated War produced Revolution in Russia, and other places, and the idealistic catch-cries of the new world provoked nation-building in the most improbable of places. Without the alteration of the British Balance of Power, the suspension of “The Great Game” and the consequent Great War, the map of the region may have remained rolled up and unaltered for generations.

At the end of 1918, as a result of its Great War victory, the British Empire had gained control of a vast land area stretching eastward from Istanbul into Anatolia, the Caucasus and Transcaspia. Behind this area a great belt of land, running east from Palestine, through Mesopotamia/Iraq and into Persia lay in England’s hands, to do what it wished with.  In front of this Britain was supplying and supporting various military forces that were disintegrating the Russian state through civil war. The Great War of 1914 had not only succeeded in destroying Germany, and the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires, but it had also seemingly won Britain the Great Game of a century of geopolitical rivalry with Russia.

Yet in the moment of triumph of Imperial Britain, and in less than two years, Russia was back in the Caucasus and Transcaspia and it was pressing down on British Persia. And Russia was no longer Tsarist Russia but Bolshevik Russia.

This extraordinary turn of events is not explained to any satisfactory degree in the history books of the Anglosphere. Consequently, accounts are bemused by England’s behaviour in 1919, which is only understandable within its geopolitical context. Why the great statesmen of England did what they did deserves more attention and explanation. The history of Ottoman Turkey and Transcaucasia is really inexplicable without trying to understand their calculations and effect on events.

Winston Churchill, who features strongly in this story, once called Russia “a riddle, inside a mystery, wrapped in an enigma.” But Russia is hardly an enigma. For the most part of two centuries it has controlled the Caucasus and unless someone prevented it from doing so, it remained in authority over the region. The peoples of the Caucasus were simply too many and too divided to resist the power of the Russian advance. Only two internal collapses of the Russian State, in 1917 and 1990, provided the space for new states to be born and to thereafter function with a degree of independence.

Britain is much more an enigma in relation to the Caucasus than Russia actually is. Of course, the Caucasus is hardly in Britain’s backyard, but neither are the great expanses of the world she conquered and controlled for centuries elsewhere. But Britain, despite its immense power, had a fundamental problem with the region. That was because British power was sea power and the Caucasus were too continental for Britain’s main weapon of war, the Royal Navy, to be employed there to any great effect. Lord Salisbury once warned the Armenians that his navy could never traverse the Taurus Mountains to assist their objectives. Neither could it climb over the mountains of the Caucasus. What was needed were soldiers and that is what Britain lacked.

During the Great War Britain had built an army larger than it had ever accumulated in its history. Soldiers were available to Britain: in Persia, Turkey and among the Moslem peoples of the Caucasus, who were opposed to Russian domination and would have willingly fought against it. And there lay the key to a successful defence of the Caucasus against the Russians if the will was there to make it a reality. In 1918-19 it seemed that the foundations of a very advantageous situation were there for Imperial Britain. There was even Russian state collapse during the previous year to assist it. And then…?

Where there is a will there is a way. But in 1919 Britain’s will failed and there was no way. Imperial Britain, seemingly at the height of her power, having won its greatest of wars, baulked at the situation that confronted it, and the Imperial retreat began, unexpectedly, in the moment of victory. The Caucasus region and its peoples, who had been encouraged to form buffer-states and given a brief taste of independent existence, fell back into Russian hands – now Bolshevik hands – for nearly three quarters of a century. And the locals were left to make the best of it.

To understand Great Britain’s failure, we need to understand the British Imperial mind and its view of the Caucasus.

Much of the world is credulous about Britain. That is hardly surprising, since Britain imposed itself upon the world in three great worldwide wars, conquered a large part of it in the course of these, established successful and powerful colonies as a result, and made the English language the default language for the writing of history, among other things. That historical process of forceful action, sustained over centuries, has produced conditioned reflexes which have inhibited thought and produced a great deal of innocent credulity.

Any attempt to write the history of this period without considering the primary role of Great Britain in shaping the destiny of the peoples of the Southern Caucasus and Anatolia, is really “Hamlet without the Prince”.  

To explain all this, it is necessary to examine the fundamentals of the mindset of Imperial Britain, which came to determine things in Anatolia and Transcaucasia during 1917-21. So, the early British interventions in Persia, the Great Game against Tsarist Russia, the importance of the Indian Empire and the Balance of Power policy are all surveyed. The consequence of this and the course of the Great War that followed was that Britain had a divided mind when it assumed the mastery of the Caucasus in 1918, which meant that it did not know what to do as clearly as the Bolsheviks did.

Lengthy quotations from significant actors and commentators are sometimes included – something that is unfamiliar in academia. This is done because the reader is required to step into another world, the world before the Great War changed the world forever, to understand why people acted as they did, and things were done as they had been done prior to the interregnum.

The thing about the period just after the Great War was that although a new world had dawned – not least of all because the New World (America) had been drawn into the War – the people who presided over this new world had minds that had been formed in the period of the old world, before the cataclysm. They could not act how they would have acted in the old world and had to adjust for a new world that was unfamiliar and which they had no experience of in practice. History, the basis of past understandings and consequent actions, could not help them. So, without bearings, they blundered.

The very act of fighting the Great War had also changed the minds that had considered issues in an entirely different light before the fighting had begun and had went on, and on, and on.

The context of the story is the geopolitics of Great Britain versus Russia. But it is also about the battleground on which the issue between them was fought. It is Ottoman Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and their peoples, who, after all, did most of the fighting and dying. So, the internal politics and struggles between the various elements present in the region are an important aspect of this history.

The sudden but temporary confluence of interests between Bolshevik Russia and the new development of Republican Turkey, brought about by Lloyd George’s disastrous policy of using the Greeks and Armenians as catspaws to impose a punitive settlement on the Turks, is crucial in understanding what then happened. And the critical role of the Armenians in acting as a source of internal destabilisation, due to their relationship with the Western Imperial Powers, as perceived patrons, is given the significance it is due.

All this determined the result of the battle for the Caucasus that Bolshevik Russia quite unexpectedly won over Imperial Britain from a dire position only a few months previous.From the early nineteenth century Russia was the great constant in the affairs of the Caucasus and Britain was the great potential variable. That is probably why Great Britain’s influence has been overlooked by historians. It is the role of variables to change things. The wider geopolitical interests of Britain were what destabilised Transcaucasia, set it on a new course, and led to the historic events which this book is about. But when the battle was over it was Russia which held the field, alongside the new Turkish state born out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

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“Fatal Philanthropy” – James Bryce and the Armenians


To understand the point of this article we need to revisit something that George Curzon (later Lord) said in the British Parliament. At the time Curzon was Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and he said it in the course of defending traditional British policy with regard to the Ottoman Empire, on behalf of Lord Salisbury’s Government:

“We were not prepared at any moment to go to war for the sake of Armenia. We were not prepared to plunge Europe into a Continental war for the sake of Armenia. We were not prepared to jeopardise the interests of this country and I will go further and say the interests of the Armenians themselves, in pursuit of… what might, in the last resort, have turned out to be a perilous, if not a fatal philanthropy. [Loud Cheers.]” [1]

James Bryce both personified what Curzon called “fatal philanthropy” and did much to realise such a thing in reality, in relation to the Armenians.

Firstly, in discussing this issue we should say something about the importance of James Bryce. Bryce was a tremendously gifted all-rounder: a Historian, jurist, and statesman. He was Regius Professor of civil law at Oxford University, 1870-1893. In his political career he was elected as a Liberal MP in 1880 and from 1885 to 1907 he was Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs; he was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1892); and President of the Board of Trade (1894–95). He became Chief Secretary for Ireland (1905-6), British Ambassador to the United States (1907–13) and the President of British Academy (1913-17) during the Great War. He was also involved in the establishment of the League of Nations, and served at the International Court at The Hague.

He was author of a large amount of publications including most ntably The Holy Roman Empire (1864), Transcaucasia and Ararat (1877), The American Commonwealth (1888), Modern Democracy (1921) and many other works, including a large output of pamphlets of a propagandist nature during the Great War.

Bryce’s background is instructive regarding the formation of his “fatal philanthropy”. Bryce was born in Belfast 1838, a city in the North East of Ireland that was strongly Unionist and pro-British. Justin McCarthy, the 19th Century Irish historian, noted the following about him in his pen-portraits of British politicians:

“I may say also that James Bryce is not first and above all other things a public man and a politician. He does not seem to have thought of a Parliamentary career until after he had won for himself a high and commanding position as a writer of history. Bryce is by birth an Irishman and belongs to that northern province of Ireland which is peopled to a large extent by Scottish immigrants… James Bryce has always been an Irish Nationalist since he came into public life, and has shown himself, whether in or out of political office, a steady and consistent supporter of the demand for Irish Home Rule. Indeed, I should be well inclined to believe that a desire to render some personal service in promoting the just claims of Ireland for a better system of government must have had much influence over Bryce’s decision to accept a seat in the House of Commons.”[2]

Bryce was from an Ulster/Scottish Protestant (Presbyterian) family. Unusually for a Protestant in Ireland, he was in favour of Irish Home Rule (autonomy). In British politics he was a Gladstonian Liberal with a strongly Christian moralistic view of world.

Bryce was also a noted mountain climber, and it is said, the first European to climb Mount Ararat in 1876. There he believed he found evidence of the remains of Noah’s Ark.

So, almost everything in his background would have endeared Bryce to the Armenian cause. He became the first president of the Anglo-Armenian society, in 1893.

Bryce’s connection with the Armenians begins with his travels to Ararat and the publication of ‘Transcaucasia and Ararat’ in 1877. In this book, written during the 1877 Russian/Ottoman war, Bryce made clear he desired the expulsion of the Ottomans from eastern Anatolia and the creation of nations from the peoples of the Ottoman territories. He described the Turks as lazy and lacking intelligence[3] and the Ottomans as a dying government.[4] Conversely, he suggested that the Armenians were the most industrious and clever race in the region[5] – the highest form of civilisation there.

However, Bryce noted a number of things that made the construction of nations out of the peoples of the Ottoman Empire problematic. Firstly: “They have no patriotism, in our sense of the word, for they have neither a historic past… nor a country they can call exclusively their own…”[6] Secondly: “Religion is everything… and… is not a fusing  but a separating, alienating, repellent force.”[7]

Bryce also admitted that the Armenians were a scattered people surrounded by a great Moslem majority within the Ottoman territories. He described them as timid and lacking in national spirit[8] with “no political aspiration.” [9]However, Bryce felt affronted as a Christian that the Armenians should be ruled by what he considered to be their inferiors within humankind. He seems, like other British Liberals, to believe that an Islamic state should not exist in the world, in principle.

Bryce made clear his desire that England should somehow take what he saw as a special people in hand and lead them to nationhood:

“England may save the Sultan from foreign invaders, she may aid him to supress internal revolts; but she will not thereby arrest that sure and steady process of decay which makes his government more and more powerless for anything but evil. She may delay, but she cannot prevent, the arrival, after another era of silent oppression, varied by insurrections and massacres, of a day when the Turkish Empire will fall to pieces, and its spoils be shared by powerful neighbours or revengeful subjects… Further delay… may wreck the chance that yet remains of relieving these unhappy peoples from their load of misery, as well as of regaining and strengthening the legitimate influence of England in the East.”[10]

This passage shows how Bryce blended the humanitarian concerns of Liberalism in with Imperialist expansionism. This was an early manifestation of an Imperial ethical foreign policy.

Despite the fact that Russia was much more likely to support the Armenians than Britain Bryce ruled out the possibility of this because he believed the Tsar would not tolerate an Armenian state and the Russians were not civilised themselves, for such a task.[11]

Bryce’s book was a best-seller and went to 4 editions. It was republished in 1896, with a new chapter. In this update Bryce argued that in the 2 decades since the first edition Russian expansion in the region, the effects of Protestant missionary activity in the Ottoman Empire and the British assertion of the right of interference had greatly encouraged the Armenians into a more nationalist spirit. [12]Although Bryce, as a good Liberal, condemned the violence of Dashnak activity in the 1890s, he went along with their political objectives and in many respects surpassed them.

Bryce suggested that the problem the Armenians faced was that international pressure had not been maintained on the Ottoman Government since the Treaty of Berlin and that the situation had stabilised, leaving the civilised Christian Armenians stuck under uncivilised Moslem rule.[13] He was loathed to criticise his own government for this inaction, although it was evident that Britain, in its traditional policy of checking Russian expansion, was the main culprit in this. British Liberals, like Bryce, took their own Empire as the highest form of civilisation and progress in the world and were loathed to criticise it.

In an article published in ‘The Century’ periodical around this time Bryce described the Turks as “worse than savages,” who would only respond to “fear”. He lamented that the “speedy extinction of the Turkish power by natural causes” was not a foreseeable prospect.[14]

In 1897 Bryce published ‘Impressions of South Africa.’ The 19th Century historian, Justin McCarthy, writing after the British conquest of South Africa, made a comment of interest on this work:

“The warning which Bryce gave, and gave in vain, to the English Government and the English majority, was a warning against the credulous acceptation of one-sided testimony, against the fond belief that the proclamation of Imperialism carried with it the right to intervene in the affairs of every foreign State, and against the theory that troops and gold mines warrant any enterprise.”[15]

And yet the very opposite position characterised Bryce’s position with regard to British intervention in the Ottoman Empire. The only logical explanation for this is that Bryce baulked at intervening against the devout fundamentalist Christian Boers while he had no such compunction about military force being applied against Muslims.

The American connection is a very important aspect of Bryce and something that really gave his “fatal philanthropy” political traction. Bryce had wrote The American Commonwealth, published in 1888, an examination of the constitutional system of the US. This became the standard text on the subject in the US. Americans loved it because here was a famed British intellectual flattering their political system. It seemed to confer an extra legitimacy upon it and the achievements of the founding fathers. It helped establish Bryce with both a high standing in the US and with a degree of leverage which did not go unnoticed in London.

Bryce’s links with academics and politicians in the US led to his appointment in 1907 as British Ambassador in Washington DC, a post he held for seven years. During his tenure he greatly improved UK-US relationships. Britain, at this point, was making provision for the development of its Anglo-Saxon offspring and the real probability that it would become the major force in the world. Britain needed, above all, influence over this coming force, if it could not prevent its emergence. Whilst as Ambassador Bryce developed a strong affinity with Woodrow Wilson, another Ulster-Scots Presbyterian, who entered the White House in 1913. These factors added to Bryce’s growing political leverage in the US.

This was a very important period in British/US relations. Britain was re-orientating its Foreign Policy, preparing and making covert plans for war on Germany and the Ottoman Empire. Bryce was sent from the British Cabinet to sweeten the US. It was a very unusual appointment in the sense that members of the British executive are never made into Ambassadors. It indicates the importance in which Britain viewed the US during this period that Bryce was removed from the British Cabinet and sent to Washington. On his return he was made a Viscount of the Empire for his services, becoming Lord Bryce.

The key to understanding Lord Bryce’s desire to provide his services to the Imperial State as a propagandist during the Great War lies in his general attitude to war. In a letter to James Ford Rhodes, on August 1st, 1914, Bryce reacted to the European war describing it as “the most tremendous and horrible calamity that has ever befallen mankind.”[16]

Bryce, as a Gladstonian Liberal, initially opposed the Great War and felt he had to justify his subsequent support for it. Liberalism suffered a great moral collapse during July/August 1914 in the face of the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey’s, revelations of the secret arrangements and contingencies he had made for war against Germany with France and Russia on the eve of the conflict. [17]The Liberal opponents of entering the war within Grey’s Party were faced with the dilemma of choosing whether to support the war in the face of the Liberal Imperialist fait accompli of waging a war, with or without their Liberal base, because the Liberal Government had already secured the support of the Opposition front benches for its war. Liberal support was secured by the Germany entry into Belgium.

To justify his support for the war Bryce, like other Liberals, had to present the Great War as being about something it was not in order to justify his own support for it. So he joined the moral campaign against England’s enemies and produced propaganda describing the war in fundamentalist Christian terms as a great struggle of good over evil in which there were no grounds for staying out of the conflict. In such a conflict propaganda was essential to fight the good fight and triumph over evil.[18]

In entering the European war the Liberals helped Britain state its aims in the grandest universalistic terms that were idealistic in the extreme. These aims were not only idealistic and unachievable but they were also quite fraudulent. The objective of the Liberal propaganda, on behalf of the British State, was to show to the world that Britain was fighting a good war against an evil that had to be vanquished. The war was proclaimed as being for “civilisation against the Barbarian”, for “democracy” against “Prussianism”. And it was also supposedly a “war for small nations” for “poor little Belgium.” However, this moral veneer disguised the real character of the war. It had been planned for nearly a decade to cut down a rising commercial competitor in the long-standing tradition of the British Balance of Power policy.

So Lord Bryce and his fellow Liberals helped promote a great moral campaign against England’s enemies. This involved utilising their own talents for moral outrage in the production of propaganda. Bryce presented the Great War as a new type of war. In the great amount of war propaganda Bryce produced in favour of it he described England’s participation in the War as self-less, wholly honourable and moral – to rid the world of the great evils of the Prussian German and then the Ottoman Turk.[19]  In such a moral conflict propaganda was essential and the Blue Book and propaganda about the Armenians should be viewed within this context.

Bryce’s general war propaganda was designed to impress neutral nations into the conflict so that the War could be extended across the earth by Britain. This was because the Triple Entente proved incapable of winning it without widening it and Liberals like Bryce were reluctant to support military Conscription in England, even for such a moral war. So they concentrated their efforts on encouraging others to do England’s fighting, and conquering for it. A particular target was America, which was seen as a great democracy, as opposed to the Tsarist autocracy which embarrassed British Liberals as an ally.[20]

Bryce’s war propaganda contains so many falsehoods and untruths that anything he wrote during the Great War must come under suspicion. Certainly there is substantial evidence of him exaggerating the enemy’s conduct of the war and minimising, or totally denying, the activities of his own government and its allies.[21]

Early in 1915, the British government, through its Attorney General, asked Bryce to oversee a Royal Commission to investigate the atrocity reports that had appeared in the British press regarding the Germans in Belgium.[22] Bryce was perfect for this role, being one of the best known historians of the time, with a background in human rights. He had collaborated with Roger Casement, to expose the exploitation of Indian peoples on the Amazon by a rubber company, establishing an international reputation as a result of his work.

The German atrocity propaganda was so successful that the secret British Department of State, Wellington House[23], commissioned Bryce to construct a similar case against the Ottomans.  Attention to the Armenians became a war issue in Britain after 6th October 1915 when Lord Bryce made his second speech in the House of Lords about the forced removals and alleged massacres in the central and eastern Anatolia.

This new publication, in 1916, was a ‘report’ issued under the title ‘The Treatment Of Armenians In The Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916’, which became known as “The Blue Book.” [24]It was a collaboration between Arnold Toynbee, a noted young historian and member of the Charles F. Masterman Propaganda Bureau and Viscount Bryce. Bryce, though probably not a member of Wellington House himself, was the important link between the Propaganda Bureau and the US.

Bryce became the organiser of, and figurehead for, the Blue Book rather than the author or writer. In contrast to his earlier anti-Turkish work on behalf of the Armenians the Blue Book was not a private enterprise on Bryce’s part but a government project. Most material used in “The Blue Book” was supplied to Lord Bryce by the U.S. Ambassador in Istanbul, Henry Morgenthau, who, not knowing Turkish, relied heavily on his Armenian secretaries.[25] Accounts were gathered mainly from Armenian sources, or people sympathetic to the Armenians, often at second or third-hand, with the help of Morgenthau, who had never left the Ottoman capital for Anatolia. The same “witnesses” appeared under multiple pseudonyms. Bryce forwarded this information to Toynbee to be included in the report. Bryce wrote the introduction to give it a high intellectual standing in the US.

The validity of the data could not be verified, even by the official authors. The Blue Book was characterised by the use of anonymous American missionary sources described as ‘American traveller’ etc. who had an interest in defaming the Muslims. There were 150 documents attributed to “impeccable sources”, 59 of Missionary origin and 52 from individual Armenians or newspapers. The identity of the sources of information was only discovered in unrelated files in the British archives. A quarter of the sources identified were unknown even to the writer, Toynbee. No physical record of the original information/writings has been found. [26]

The accuracy and reliability of the accounts were secondary considerations, however. The point of the Blue Book was the production of propaganda. The British historian Trevor Wilson notes that in compiling atrocity propaganda Bryce was confronted with a dilemma. If he was scrupulous in establishing the validity of accounts, as a historian should be, and failed, he would be conveying the impression that the allegations were unfounded. He was, therefore, forced into using information that was suspect and unproven, in order to maintain the moral war.[27]

A letter, dated 11th May 1916 and written by Arnold Toynbee to Lord Bryce gives some indication of how the propaganda was constructed to create distance between the propagandists and the British Government it was being written for:

“If you were to send these documents with an introductory note to Sir Edward Grey and say that they have been prepared under your supervision, that they are trustworthy, then your letter would be published by the Foreign Office as an official document, and the documents would constitute an appendix to your letter. The problem of publication would thus be solved. While giving the book an official character, it would free the Foreign Secretary from the obligation to take upon himself the probing of the accuracy of every matter mentioned in these documents.”[28]

The Blue Book was issued by the British Government and presented formally in Parliament by Bryce as an official publication in order to lend it more authenticity and credibility. Toynbee considered it as “the biggest asset of His Majesty’s Government to solve the Turkish problem in a radical manner, and to have it accepted by the public”[29]

The British Government chose well in the man to provide the Blue Book’s figurehead. The Washington Post said “No man in Europe commands a more sympathetic audience in America than Viscount Bryce.”[30] Herbert Asquith and Stanley Baldwin, both former Prime Ministers, in a joint memorial, presented in 1924 to the then Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, stated that “The Blue Book” was “widely used for Allied propaganda in 1916-17, and had an important influence upon American opinion and the ultimate decision of President Woodrow Wilson to enter the war”. [31]

Sir Roger Casement, Bryce’s former colleague in investigating atrocities in South America, took a different view of Bryce’s war work. He condemned Bryce for selling himself as a hireling propagandist. According to Casement, Lord Bryce, had presided over a government body “directed to one end only”:

“the blackening of the character of those with whom England was at war… given out to  the world of neutral peoples as the pronouncement of an impartial court seeking only to discover and reveal the truth.”[32]

Casement particularly criticised Bryce’s methods of reporting atrocities. He noted that in relation to the reporting of Belgian atrocities in the Congo he had investigated these reports “on the spot at some little pain and danger to myself” whilst Bryce had “inspected with a very long telescope.”[33]

Casement continued with a point that is very relevant to any estimation of the validity of the Blue Book:

“I have investigated more bona fide atrocities at close hand than possibly any other living man. But unlike Lord Bryce, I investigated them on the spot, from the lips of those who had suffered, in the very places where the very crimes were perpetuated, where the evidence could be sifted and the accusation brought by the victim could be rebutted by the accused; and in each case my finding was confirmed by the Courts of Justice of the very States whose citizens I had indicted.”[34]

Casement added: “It is only necessary to turn to James Bryce the historian to convict James Bryce the partisan…”[35]

Casement wrote the above about Bryce’s work on the German atrocities but the criticism stands equally against the companion work directed at the Ottomans. Sir Roger was incapable of commenting directly on the Blue Book since he had been hanged by the British in 1916 as a traitor, for doing in Ireland what Bryce and other British Liberals had supported the Armenian revolutionaries in doing within the Ottoman Empire. Casement had followed through on the principles of small nations on which the war was supposedly being fought by Britain and advertised by Bryce. But Casement was found to be a traitor whilst the Armenians and others who went into insurrection were lauded as patriots in England.

A comparison between Bryce’s attitude and actions with regard to Ireland and Armenia are interesting and expose the hypocrisy at the heart of British Liberalism.

With regard to Ireland: Bryce had been Chief Secretary for Ireland, championing Irish Home Rule before he was a member of the government. But when in office he failed to provide the country with even this small measure of autonomy. It took a hung parliament, when British government was paralysed and dependent on Irish MPs to stay in office, for the Liberal Government to produce a Bill for Irish Home Rule in 1912, and that was suspended and never actually implemented. The Irish had to fight for their freedom after the war, after voting overwhelmingly for it in 1918.[36]

On the island of Ireland 80% of the people wanted some form of independence from Britain. That was shown during the 1918 General Election. The Protestant Colonial element of 20% who wanted to stay part of the UK was concentrated locally in the north-east corner of the island. The Liberals failed in government to provide Ireland even with a regional parliament within the UK and Bryce defended this denial afterwards, when a clear democratic basis obviously existed for it. Such a policy could have been carried through peacefully in the bulk of the island by Britain if it had had the courage of its Liberal convictions.

However, with regard to the Armenians Bryce said that they should be a nation even though he himself admitted there was no demographic basis for such a development. In the area the Armenians sought for a state no where did they constitute a majority. They represented less than 20% of the population in the “Magna Armenia” they claimed in 1918/9 and probably much less. Still, Bryce aimed to create a nation when he knew the Armenians were a scattered people, lacking a democratic basis for nationhood. Only through war and great ethnic cleansing of the majority Muslim population, and perhaps what is now called “genocide” could an Armenian state of any size be constituted and maintained within Ottoman territory.

The fact cannot be avoided that Liberals like Bryce bear great responsibility for the catastrophe suffered by the Armenians because they encouraged dangerous notions of unrealisable nationalism among the revolutionaries. They also encouraged Armenians to believe England would assist them militarily to realise their ambitions and produced propaganda that provoked great antagonism between Muslim and Armenian.

However, Bryce and the other Liberals were merely the moralistic wing of the British Imperial State. They were not its substance. Their role within the Imperial State was to encourage others to fight in a war that was not in reality what it was pretended to be. The War was really a Balance of Power war to destroy a commercial competitor and accumulate territory for the British Empire at the expense of the Ottomans and the Muslim world. Within such a war the Armenians only mattered for England as cannon-fodder and useful propaganda material for the British.

As Sir Roger Casement wrote in November 1915:

“The English, having called up the storm for their own ends, left their victims to the deluge. And now, when the waves have subsided, again for their own ends, their paid and ennobled beach combers go out to scavenge amid the wreakage cast up on distant shores, in the hope of finding enough to soil the honour of those they ran away from… Lord Bryce’s name will be associated not with that Holy Roman Empire he sought to recall by scholarly research, but with that unholy Empire he sought to sustain in the greatest of its crimes by lending the weight of a great name, and prostituting great attainments to an official campaign of slander, defamation and calumny conducted on a scale unparalleled in any war…”[37]

The Armenians found this out at their cost after the Russian collapse and paid a terrible price for the great fraud perpetuated against them, as did others around the world, for the “fatal philanthropy” of British Liberalism.


[1] Hansard, British House of Commons, 3.3.1896

[2] British Political Leaders, p.286

[3] Transcaucasia and Ararat, p.423

[4] ibid, p.428

[5] ibid, p.430

[6], ibid, pp.414-5

[7] ibid

[8] ibid, p.482

[9] ibid, p.466

[10] ibid, pp. 441-4

[11] ibid, p.441

[12] ibid, pp. 468-9

[13] ibid, p.471

[14] The Armenian Question,” The Century, 51/1, November 1895

[15] British Political Leaders, p.291

[16] H.A.L. Fisher, James Bryce, Vol II, p.125

[17]  See Irene Willis, England’s Holy War, pp.86-90

[18]  ibid p.90

[19] See Viscount Bryce, Essays and Addresses in Wartime for a collection of his speeches of a propagandist nature. These contain many untruths. See Dr. Pat Walsh, The Armenian Insurrection and the Great War, pp. 201-4, for a discussion on this aspect.

[20] ibid

[21] ibid

[22] Gary S. Messinger, British Propaganda and the State in the First World War, p. 81.

[23] See M.L. Sanders, Historical Journal, XVIII, 1975, Wellington House and British Propaganda during the First World War. Unfortunately documents of the Office of War Propaganda remain sealed by Britain.

[24] For more on this see also Dr. Pat Walsh, Britain’s Great War on Turkey – An Irish Perspective, pp. 192-208

[25] See Heath Lowry, The Story behind Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story

[26] See Justin McCarthy, The Turk in America, pp.235-9, for a full discussion about the Bryce Report and authenticity of sources.

[27] Lord Bryce’s investigation into alleged German atrocities in Belgium, Journal of Contemporary History, July 1979, p.381

[28] FO 96/205: Toynbee Papers.

[29] Public Records Office, FO 71/3404/162647, p.2

[30] 28.1.17

[31] See Mosa Anderson, Noel Buxton: A Life, pp.81 and 110; Bodleian Library, Toynbee Papers, box on Armenian Memorial, 26.9.1924

[32] The Far Extended Baleful Power of the Lie, Continental Times, 3.11.1915

[33] ibid

[34] ibid

[35] ibid

[36]  See Viscount Bryce, The Attitude of Great Britain in the Present War, pp. 7-8, for a defence of a denial of Ireland’s right to nationhood

[37] The Far Extended Baleful Power of the Lie, Continental Times, 3.11.1915

Germany Turkey and Ottoman Empire

Muslim Lives Matter!

This is another in the TAFSO (New York based Turkish-American Security Foundation) interview series; German Political Scientist, Dr. Christian Johannes Henrich. It is of specific interest in relation to information concerning the Swiss Historian Professor Hans-Lukas Kieser whose book on Talaat Pasha I recently reviewed.

Dr. Henrich studied Political Science, Sociology and Economics in Siegen, Bonn, Innsbruck and Bursa with his dissertation being in Political Science and International Relations. His dissertation was titled: “Die türkische Außenpolitik 2002-2012 – Die Türkei zwischen regionalem Hegemonieanspruch und Nullproblempolitik am Beispiel der türkisch-armenischen Beziehungen” (En. “Turkish Foreign Policy 2002-2012 – Turkey between Claim of Regional Hegemony and Zero Problem Policy on the Example of the Turkish-Armenian Relations”). Dr. Henrich is currently The Director of the Research Center for Southeast Europe and Caucuses (SOEK), a habilitation student and lecturer at University of Vechta for Political Science, and a lecturer at FOM University of Applied Science for Business Administration, Economics and Sociology.

How did you become interested in the so-called Armenian genocide issue and begin researching on the matter?

It started with finding a topic for my master thesis. I wanted to work on something exciting that people do not know that much about in Germany. I knew the term “genocide of the Armenians” from the collective memory in Germany but had no detailed knowledge on it. I started asking my Turkish friends how they dealt with “their Holocaust”. I discovered that nobody in my circle of friends recognized it. I asked religious and more secular, left, right and apolitical, educated and uneducated Turks. No one accepted the term genocide. Compared to the perception of the Holocaust in Germany, this is a phenomenon. In Germany, only a few extremely right-wing neo-Nazis deny the genocide of Europe’s Jews. This broad social consensus in Turkey, of not accepting the term genocide, aroused my curiosity.

In your opinion, why do the Armenians allege that they have been subjected to a so-called genocide in 1915?

In my view, the allegations of genocide have been an issue in the Armenian diaspora from the very start. I lived in Turkey for three years, including a year in Istanbul in an Armenian neighborhood. Neither my Armenian neighbors nor the representative of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, nor the people in the Armenian Community in Hatay supported these allegations. The voices I heard here coincided with the attestation of the first Armenian Prime Minister Hovhannes Katchaznouni, who acquitted the Turks at a Dashnak Party Conference in 1923 and made references to Armenian massacres against the Muslim civilian population.

In my view, governments and parliaments of other countries should stay away from this topic. And Turkey and Armenia should first discuss these open questions unconditionally and openly with the support of scientists. The topic is being used by the Armenian Disapora and some western politicians to stir up resentments against Turkey. There is structural anti-Islamic racism in western countries, which is cherished and cared for by various people.

There is significant evidence in the Turkish Ottoman Archives to suggest that Armenian gangs have perpetrated unprecedented massacres and massive atrocities against the Turkish and other Muslim peoples in Turkey and in Caucuses in 1915-1923. Why, in your opinion, does the Christian World choose to ignore these atrocities perpetrated by Armenians?

As previously mentioned, the former Dashnak fighter and latter Prime Minister of Armenia (Katchaznouni) confirmed the outrages against Turks, Kurds and Arabs in Eastern Anatolia. He bases it on blind trust in Russia.          However, these parts of the story are hidden. You will hardly find a book by a western author that mentions the Muslim victims through Armenian and Russian massacres. Professor Justin McCarthy is an important exception here.

Following a lecture by the Swiss Historian Professor Hans-Lukas Kieser at the University of Bonn, I asked why he did not mention the Muslim victims of this conflict in his text. His answer was short – that it had not been the subject of his research. I find this to be grossly unscientific because I cannot research on a conflict by not examining both sides of it. I could enumerate numerous Western scientists who lack any scientific ethics on this question and conducted only targeted research.

In 2016, German Parliament moved to recognize the so-called Armenian Genocide. What are your opinions on this subject?

When the term genocide was recognized by the German Bundestag in 2016, I quit the CDU after 21 years. I had previously tried several times to visit and inform the CDU parliamentary group in Berlin. Then MP, Erika Steinbach, wrote to me that they did not have to hear my opinion and that they were already sufficiently informed. I think it is fundamentally wrong for historical issues to be decided in the Bundestag. Especially when it comes to a different country. Politicians are not scientists! Politicians do not try to find out the truth but pursue power politics.

When the German Air Force bombed Belgrade in 1999 as part of the NATO Allied Force mission and waged the first war of aggression since World War II, the Bundestag decided with the votes of the CDU / CSU, SPD, FDP and Greens that it was not an aggressive war. Nevertheless, according to most international lawyers, it was a war of aggression contrary to international law and thus a violation of our German constitution.

What value should a politically motivated parliamentary decision have in scientific questions? And if the Bundestag really wants to send a signal, then we should first recognize and deal with the genocide of Herero and Nama by the German Wehrmacht between 1904 and 1908 in what is now Namibia (formerly German South West Africa). But that is not just a German problem. Look at other countries that recognize genocide too: The Netherlands did not recognize the 1947 genocide in Rawagede in Indonesia, the Belgians in the Congo between 1888 and 1908, and the French in Algeria in 1945.


Britain's Great War Geopolitics Germany Russia Turkey and Ottoman Empire

The Tsar’s Last War on the Ottomans

MEV-10289679 - © - Mary Evans / John Massey Stewart Collection
A British cartoon satirising the role of Russia during the First World War: The steam roller is truly Russian and Crushin’. Tsar Nicholas II drives th…

A few years ago I obtained a copy of Sean McMeekin’s book ‘The Russian origins of the First World War’. It is certainly a very interesting read, particularly because it looks at something that Western histories neglect about the Great War – the role of Czarist Russia. Czarist Russia, of course, collapsed in its waging of this war. Because it does not fit the narrative constructed by the Anglo-French accounts of the war its role has been handily forgotten. But Russia was the lynch-pin of the Triple Entente’s war on Germany and the position which the Ottoman Empire found itself in during the latter part of 1914 is incomprehensible without taking account of Russia.

Tsar Nicholas II offered his country and its population up to Britain in its Great War of 1914 to destroy Germany and break up the Ottoman Empire. He did so as an autocrat within an autocratic system in which the mass of the population only demanded stability in which to live their lives, from the “Little Father”. In waging that War, in which Russia was bled to collapse in return for substantial British finance to continue fighting to the bitter end, the Tsar sealed the fate of himself, his dynasty and his State. The Tsar had been warned for a long time before about the dangerous road he was taking by his most able and impressive minister, Count Witte, who Nicholas dismissed in 1903. He received one final warning of great substance from Pyotr Durnovo, Count Witte’s old Interior Minister, who had effectively suppressed the 1905 Revolution for the Tsar. But Tsar Nicholas persisted and he took Russia to the abyss.

Of course, when autocratic Russia collapsed her place in the Great War was taken by democratic America and the Imperialist war on Germany became something else, for both the remaining parties to the Entente and their historians.  A democratic gloss could be put on the subsequent war with the Czar out of the way – although on the downside restrictions were imposed in the carving up of the spoils amongst the remaining Imperialists (Britain, France, etc.) by the great democracy (the U.S.).

Germans Guilty, Russia more Guilty!

Sean McMeekin wrote another book, a few years before his Russia book, called ‘The Berlin-Baghdad Express’. In this previous book the author put forward the view that the Great War represented an attempt by the Germans and Turks at world domination. ‘The Berlin to Baghdad Express’ represented a modern manifestation of John Buchan’s Wellington House propaganda popularised in his novel ‘Greenmantle’ (the sequel to ‘The 39 Steps’).

McMeekin certainly deserves credit for identifying the Berlin-Baghdad Railway as a major cause of the Great War. If one reads British publications of the time that impression is inescapable – although it has escaped the grasp of most academics.

However, when writing a review of the ‘The Berlin to Baghdad Express’ for Athol Books’ Church and State magazine it became apparent to me that his account of the importance of the Railway was precisely the opposite of mine. McMeekin saw the Railway as the chief instrument of the German/Islamic bid for world power that made it necessary for Britain to make war in 1914. I saw it as the thing that connected the German commercial rise to the Ottoman Empire that marked both states out for destruction in the British Imperial mind.

To hold McMeekin’s position one must accept the Anglophile view of the world – that it is perfectly natural to cut competitors down to size because they represent potential challengers to England’s world supremacy. And of course this was Britain’s view in 1914 expressed in a thousand publications by its thinking class.

However, if one sees this as an unnatural state of affairs the world then looks to be a different place entirely.

Sean McMeekin, however, has changed his view in his newer book. Having delved into the Russian State archives he makes the bold statement: “I contend in this book that the current consensus about the First World War cannot survive serious scrutiny. The war of 1914 was Russia’s war even more than it was Germany’s.” (p.5)

Presumably if the war was not Germany’s it certainly was not Turkey’s either.

McMeekin states that “the current consensus about the First World War” still blames it on the Germans. And having previously gone along with the “current consensus” McMeekin has now decided that it can no longer stand in the light of what he has discovered.

McMeekin blames the “current consensus” on Fritz Fischer who “taught several generations of historians to pay serious attention only to German war aims.” (p.3) Fischer’s book, ‘Griff nach der Weltmacht,’ was published in Germany in 1961. It was issued in Britain under the title Germany’s Aims in the First World War in 1967. Fischer argued that Germany had a set of annexationist war aims similar to those of Hitler and a policy of deliberately provoking war in July 1914.

But surely there is a similar narrative older than that of Fischer’s – the guilty German. Isn’t Fischer merely a product of the ideas and world that John Buchan et al helped create and which the German succumbed to when being pulverized by force in two world wars? (I should say that East Germany succumbed to a different narrative in 1945, with a great deal of enthusiasm, but that narrative is now dead and need not be considered).

Russian War Aims

Having broken free of Fischer’s influence, McMeekin comes across some important facts in his book. One of them is the following: “Russia’s war was fought not for Serbia, but to achieve control of Constantinople and the Straits… control of the Straits was Russia’s first strategic priority.” (p.239)

A few years ago when I was writing ‘Britain’s Great War on Turkey’ it occurred to me to ask the question: why Russia was fighting in the Great War at all. That is a question that is not asked very often in the West. McMeekin notes: “As for what Russia’s leaders hoped to accomplish by going to war in 1914, most histories of the conflict have little to say, beyond vague mutterings about Serbia and Slavic honor, treaty obligations to France, and concern for Russia’s status as a great power.” (p.2)

It is indeed taken for granted that Russia should want to fight Germany because it was part of an alliance that did its duty against her. But that explains very little.

It might be pretended that Russia had territorial desires in Eastern Europe in relation to the Austro-Hungarian State. However, McMeekin correctly points out: “Austrian Galicia clearly mattered to Russia’s leaders but nowhere near as much as the Straits. For Russia, the war of 1914 was always, ultimately, about Turkey.” (p.101)

Galicia mattered because the salient that was Russian Poland felt exposed by having East Prussia to the North and Austrian Western Galicia (Cracow etc.) to the South. It was one of those extensions of Empire that often felt vulnerable in the Imperial view unless territory around it was added to protect it. But then more territory had to be added to protect the new territorial acquisition and so on, in infinitum. That was how Empires had almost a mind of their own in their growth.

McMeekin correctly points out that although Anglo-French efforts to carve up Ottoman territory dominate accounts of the demise of the Ottoman State the role of Russia is almost forgotten – due to the collapse of the Czarist State in 1917 before a sharing out of the spoils amongst the victors could be accomplished.

He also usefully notes that the Great War is seen in very different terms in Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Syria and Egypt than it is in the West:

“From the perspective of present-day residents of these places, the First World War appears not as a kind of senseless civil war between European nations which have now long since learned to live in peace but more like a deliberate plot to disrupt and dismantle the last great Islamic power on earth, Ottoman Turkey. What were the Italian and Balkan wars fought by the Turks in 1911-1913, after all, but a kind of opening act for the world war of 1914, in which great powers threw in with the smaller ones already fighting to dismember the Ottoman Empire?” (p.4)

There is certainly a case for arguing that what began in Libya in 1911 and continued into the Balkans in 1912 had great implications for what subsequently happened from 1914 on, when the direct participation of Britain produced a qualitative escalation in throwing the region into the melting-pot of history – a melting-pot from which it still struggles to emerge.

Russia’s Strategic Imperatives

McMeekin’s chapter ‘The strategic imperative in 1914’ describes Russia’s intentions towards the Ottoman Empire.

The Balkan Wars had the effect of convincing Russia that the dismembering of Ottoman Turkey was a realistic possibility not only because of the defeats suffered by the Ottoman army at the hands of the Bulgarians, Greeks and Serbs but also because of the reluctance of Austria to intervene in the conflict. McMeekin argues that the Russians realised that the only power standing between their dream of occupying Constantinople and turning it into ‘Czargrad’ was Germany.

McMeekin comments that the two major fears of Russia at this time were the worry of a “Crimean coalition” emerging against them or another ‘Congress of Berlin’ being organised to cheat them of the spoils they might win on the battlefield, to deprive them of Constantinople when they had won it.

McMeekin, however, fails to mention the pertinent fact of the all-important 1907 agreement between the Russians and Britain. This altered everything. Firstly, it meant that there would be no “Crimean coalition” organised against Russia to frustrate their intentions in the Black Sea toward Constantinople because both the French and British were now the allies of the Czar. Also, the logic of this agreement implied Russian help against Germany in return for an ending of the Anglo-French block on a Russian move down to Istanbul.

McMeekin notes that during the First Balkans War a discussion took place in Russia about whether to wait for a general European war to take place in order to seize Constantinople or to seize an opportunity presented by the Ottoman collapse in the Balkans. Sazanov, the Czar’s Foreign Minister, argued in a memorandum, for a Russian intervention to seize Constantinople, before the Bulgarians got there. Conquering Constantinople would, he argued, give Russia a “global position which is the natural crown of her efforts and sacrifices over two centuries of our history.” He was opposed, however, by Yuri Danilov, the chief architect of Russia’s war plan 19, who suggested that “the shortest and safest operational route to Constantinople runs through Vienna… and Berlin.” (p. 26)

McMeekin explains that the Russian desire to come down to Constantinople was not just a romantic dream about worshipping again in St Sophia it also had a strong economic impulse:

“Because of the centuries-old Russian interest in ‘Tsargrad’ as the ‘Second Rome’ of Orthodox Christian dreams, the Straits obsession of Russian policymakers like Sazanov in the early 20th century has sometimes been mistakenly assumed to be romantic. In fact, Russia’s designs on the Straits, unlike her shadowy pan Slavic pretensions in the Balkans, were a matter of cold, hard national interest… In economic terms, the importance of the Straits of Russia was stark and true. Although calculations differed on the exact figure, something approaching half of Russia’s burgeoning export trade was, by 1914, routed via the Black Sea, Bosphorus, and Dardanelles to world markets. When, in summer 1912, the Porte had briefly closed the straits to shipping during the Italian Turkish war, Russia’s vulnerability had been painfully exposed: the volume of Black Sea exports dropped by one third for the calendar year 1912, and revenue likewise dipped 30%, from £77 million Sterling to 57 million. Heavy industry in the Ukraine, dependent on supplies imported directly through the Straits near the Black Sea, had nearly ground to a halt… To understand the overriding importance of the Straits question for Petersburg, however, we must go beyond numbers. Russia’s principal Black Sea export was grain. Over 20,000,000 tonnes were shipped in both 1911 and 1912, of which nearly 90% was exported through the Bosphorus to world markets: the health of her entire agricultural economy now depended on unfettered Straits access. Stimulating grain production was, moreover, the key to Stolypin’s social reforms, which envisaged the creation of a stable class of successful peasant producers who would serve as a bulwark against anarchic social revolution… “ (pp.29-30)

The Russian Predicament

Sean McMeekin makes an interesting point about the pressure that suddenly appeared on Russia in late 1913 with regard to their objective of capturing Constantinople. After the Balkans Wars the Ottomans began to strengthen the Straits defences by appointing Liman von Sanders and other German officers as advisers as well as purchasing coastal defence guns from Italy. However, most worrying of all was the naval alliance Turkey had with Britain and the two dreadnoughts that were being built by the Royal Navy, which would immediately make obsolete Russia’s entire Black Sea Fleet. This was because by the terms of the Berlin Treaty of 1878 Russia was not allowed to send warships through the Straits, even in peacetime, which meant she could not import dreadnoughts into the Black Sea. This stipulation was largely a British insistence because England did not want Russia to be able to send its fleet into the Mediterranean. However, what it meant in 1914 was that as the Turks improved their defences in the Black Sea and around Constantinople in the light of the Russian and Slavic threat the window of opportunity for  a Russian amphibious attack on the Ottoman capital was rapidly closing.

When the Russians complained to the British government that they were helping to strengthen the defences of a potential enemy against their ally, Edward Grey and Winston Churchill washed their hands of the problem claiming they were laissez-faire liberals and the British government could not legally interfere with private business contracts.

Interestingly, as McMeekin notes, when in 1908 Izvolski demanded that Britain relax its insistence against Russian naval access to the Mediterranean Edward Grey made a counter offer to Russia that the Straits be open to warships of all countries. Grey knew that this proposal was even more repugnant to the Russians than maintenance of the status quo as it would open Russia’s southern coastline to attack from any rival naval power, particularly Britain. And so the Russians declined and settled for the status quo.

The main immediate cause of the Great War (along with the French desire to have Alsace/Lorraine) was the Russian desire for the Straits. Yet, the only person blocking this was Sir Edward Grey (aside from the Ottomans). The blocking, therefore, of Grey, and its unblocking, contingent on services rendered by the Czar in relation to England’s Germany problem, was actually the pivotal factor in the Great War on Germany and Ottoman Turkey.

McMeekin reveals that things came to a head at a meeting of the Russian Council of Ministers in January 1914. Sazanov had, a week earlier, proposed to the Czar that the time was now right to provoke a European war in alliance with England and France so that Constantinople could be stormed. The idea was to use the Liman von Sanders appointment as a cause for war. McMeekin reveals that there was almost unanimous enthusiasm for provoking a European war over the Liman affair. However, whilst there was near certainty amongst the Ministers that Russia would be joined by England and France in such a war there were lingering doubts about whether London would stay out of the conflict if it was provoked at that point on such an issue. The Russian naval command warned that a unilateral amphibious assault would also be beyond them at that moment. It was determined, therefore, to resort to war only if “the active participation of both France and England in joint measures were assured.” (p.32)

The following month a joint army/navy meeting was convened that aimed to make a unilateral attack on Constantinople a possibility and a large subsidy was allocated to fund a Russian offensive against the Ottoman capital. However, there was general acceptance that such an operation could only be guaranteed success in conjunction with France and England in the context of a European war.

Although McMeekin has come across a significant fact here he does not choose to develop it.  The leverage that England had cultivated over Russia through the Entente is evident in the predicament Russia found herself in, in relation to Britain, and her heart’s desire at Constantinople.

McMeekin passes by Grey’s and Churchill’s laissez-faire dismissal of Russia’s complaints about British private companies contributing to the defence of the Straits without noting that the Royal Navy – the senior agency of the British State – was the primary contributor to the Ottoman defences.

A British double game

The obvious question – which McMeekin does not ask – is why Britain was contributing to the defences of the Straits when it understood for centuries that Constantinople was the heart’s desire of its new ally?

The reason is connected to the fact that Britain was an island nation and it was primarily a sea power. It did not have a large army and it had been traditionally opposed to military conscription. Therefore, it would have been impossible for Britain to have defeated Germany by itself. It needed the large French army and the even larger Russian Army to do most of the fighting on the continent for it. The Russian Army was particularly important and it was described in the English press as a ‘steamroller’ that would roll all the way to Berlin, crushing German resistance by its sheer weight of numbers.

The problem for Britain was that the Russians (unlike the French who wanted to recapture Alsace/Lorraine after their loss to the Germans in 1871) had no real reason to fight Germany. Therefore, something substantial had to be promised to the Czar for his help in destroying Germany. That something was his heart’s desire, Constantinople.

But at the same time leverage had to be maintained and the hand had to be kept in at the Ottoman capital. The Young Turks had entered into a naval agreement with Britain in which British dockyards took orders for Turkish battleships, under the supervision of Winston Churchill and the Admiralty, and a British naval mission was established at Constantinople. By 1914 the size of this naval mission was as large as the German military mission there, and they were looked on as a counter-balance to each other by the Turks. If it was said that Turkey had a military alliance with Germany in 1914 it could be equally said that she had a naval alliance with England.

The Turkish Government gave both England and France extraordinary positions of influence in its capital – positions that no other country with concern for its sovereignty would offer. They entrusted to Britain the most vital components of the defence of Constantinople – the re-organisation of their navy under Rear-Admiral Gamble and Admiral Limpus and an English Naval Mission, and the modernisation of the arsenal at the Golden Horn (Turkey’s centre of munitions) by Armstrong and Vickers. Admiral Limpus offered advice to the Turkish Admiralty on such matters as the location of mine fields in the Straits and mine laying techniques as well as torpedo lines.

It is not surprising that the British took on this constructive work, even though their longer term ambition was to destroy the Ottoman Empire. From the British interest it countered German influence at Constantinople, gave the English a unique, inside knowledge of the defences of the Turkish capital and controlling influence over the Turkish Navy – and made sure that the Russians, French and Germans did not possess such influence or information themselves. And when the English naval mission left those in charge of it were the first to suggest to Winston Churchill that Constantinople should be attacked, and how it should be, with all the inside information they had obtained.

But the naval mission also had a vital role to play in relation to England’s ally, Russia by keeping the Czar out of Constantinople until his steamroller was started, pointed westward and heading toward Berlin.

Enver Vindicated?

 The war against Germany got underway in August 1914 but unfortunately for Russia Turkey remained neutral.

The opportunity of finding a cause of war against Turkey developed after the Royal Navy forced two German ships (Goeben and Breslau) trapped in the Mediterranean into neutral Constantinople in early August. The German crews faced with the prospect of destruction if they re-entered the Aegean handed the ships over to the Turks. The Turks accepted them in place of the two battleships owed to them by Britain that Churchill had seized before war had even been declared on Germany.

Churchill proceeded to lay a blockade on the Dardanelles to prevent the ships coming out. This in itself was an act of war against Turkey. Then he organised a series of meetings in the first days of September to discuss a pre-emptive strike on Constantinople – to “Copenhagen” the city, as Nelson had done in destroying the Danish fleet in its port in neutral Denmark in 1801 before declaration of war. But the British Cabinet decided that diplomatic niceties had to be persevered with, particularly as things went badly in France and another enemy, at this juncture, would be better put off for the present.

McMeekin, although he doesn’t probably intend to, vindicates Enver’s policy when he sees things from the point of view of Russian aggression toward the Ottoman capital:

“Paradoxically, the arrival of the two German warships in Constantinople – at least after they had been transformed into ‘Turkish’ ships by Said Halim’s fictitious sale – likely delayed the onset of hostilities between Turkey and Russia for months. The reason should not be difficult to grasp… This made offensive operations supremely difficult, and rendered any kind of amphibious operation in the Bosphorous… well-nigh impossible. Had the Goeben not made it through the Allied Mediterranean screen against heavy odds the Russians might themselves have forced the issue.” (p.106)

This is a very good argument for what the Turks actually did in relation to the German battleships. If the Turks had refused entry to the battleships they would have been destroyed by the Royal Navy outside the Straits and this would have put an end to any hope of German protection in the event of a British war Russian attack on Istanbul. Whilst the German battleships were anchored in the Straits the Turks realised that they were open to attack by the Royal Navy. It was only through their conversion into ships of the Turkish Navy (replacing the two battleships which Churchill had earlier seized) that two birds were killed with one stone.

Firstly, the delicate problem of neutrality was solved. Secondly, the defence of Constantinople against Russian attack was secured. The combination of these two factors meant the preservation of Turkish neutrality in the Great War – at least in the short-term. This was an important achievement because in August 1914 it was not clear how long the war would last or whether the attention of the major combatants would just move elsewhere according to the passage of events in Europe. It therefore held out the possibility that the Ottoman Empire might survive the war that was meant to bring about its demise.

McMeekin argues that whilst “publicly, Girs (the Russian Ambassador at Istanbul), along with his British and French counterparts Louis Mallet and Morris Bompard, made a great show of desiring Ottoman neutrality… there is little chance the Russian diplomat was ever sincere about this.” (p.106) And McMeekin quotes a memorandum of Girs to his Foreign Office that states; “We need a strong boss ruling over Constantinople, and since we cannot let any other power assume this role, we must take her for ourselves. For us to accomplish this without waging war on Turkey would, of course, be impossible.” (p.98)

McMeekin does not say this was also the British position – through the implication that England was allied with Russia. It is unlikely that it will be found in any British archives.

But if England needed Russia against Germany and Russia had Constantinople as her price for assistance how can it be any other way than Britain required a war with Turkey. (There are other reasons why England wanted war on the Ottomans. Two of them were Mesopotamia and Palestine)

The Ottoman Cabinet, in order to preserve the Empire in the face of the war that was threatening its existence, did much ducking and diving and playing for time between September and October 1914.

On 5 August 1914 Enver made an offer to the Russians of demobilising the Turkish army in eastern Anatolia and dismissing the German military mission in Istanbul so that the Russians could reinforce their fronts against Germany and Austria. McMeekin comments,

“Here we have a precious glimpse into Russia’s real war aims. Given even the hypothetical chance of a rapprochement with Turkey, which would free up troops from the Caucasus to reinforce the European fronts, the architect of Russia’s mobilisation on those very fronts said no, absolutely not, because these fronts were no more important than the Caucasian one, even if the latter was still inactive. Sooner or later, Russia and Turkey would be at war, and the last thing Stavka (Russian command centre) wanted to do was deprive Tiflis command (Caucasus) of the troops it needed to fight.” (p.108)

The occasion for the Russian and British declarations of war was an obscure incident in the Black Sea where the two formerly German ships engaged Russian ships that were attempting to lay mines on the approaches to Constantinople to complete a blockade which the British had instituted at the other end of the Straits. The ships then engaged Russian ships at the port of Odessa where operations were taking place to prevent the Turks from being able to reinforce their Eastern provinces via the Black Sea – something that was indispensable to Ottoman forces due to the lack of a road network toward Eastern Anatolia.

The Czar’s declaration of war on Turkey explicitly mentioned the Russian objective with regard to Constantinople. The war would provide the opportunity to “open up Russia’s path towards the realisation of the historic task of her ancestors along the shores of Black Sea.” It was to be a holy war too waged for “the Christian faith” against the “Turkish hordes”. (p.114)

 Origins of the Gallipoli Assault

The problem for the Russians in relation to seizing Constantinople after the war had been declared on Turkey was that they did not have sufficient resources to accomplish this by themselves. The dreadnought-class Goeben had cancelled out any previous advantage Russia had in the Black Sea and made an amphibious assault on Istanbul very difficult. Also, Russian forces were only holding their own against the Germans and Austrians on the eastern front (Russia’s western front) and this made the diversion of Russian forces very difficult to accomplish.

The Russians, therefore, found themselves reliant on the British to realise their dream because it was only Britain which had the naval forces and sufficient military reserves to attack the Ottoman capital from the Aegean (French forces were also bottled up defending their homeland against the Germans).

When Grey met a Russian delegation in November 1914, a few days after the declarations of war on Turkey, his main fear was that Russia might divert troops into Persia. Before the war the British and Russians had divided up spheres of influence in Persia and England did not want the war to spread into the country as British troops moved into conquer Mesopotamia. Grey told the Russians that they should concentrate their efforts on the eastern front and that the question of Constantinople and that they need not worry – the Straits would be settled “in accordance with their interests”. On the same day the British Prime Minister, Asquith, made a public speech in which he stated that Turkey’s entry into the war had spelt “the death knell” for the Ottoman Empire. Less than a week later King George V told Benckendorff, the Russian Ambassador in London, that “as concerns Constantinople, it is clear that must be yours.” (p.123)

These were the first formal indications to the Russians that the British had ended their century’s long opposition to the Czar having Constantinople.

Sir Edward Grey then gave a pledge from the British Foreign Office that a settlement of the Constantinople issue “would be reached after defeat of Germany irrespective of whether Turkish rule is actually overthrown in the course of the hostilities now being conducted.” (p.124) McMeekin comments: “In effect, Britain’s Foreign Secretary had promised Russia Constantinople and the Straits, whether or not she contributed in any way to a military campaign that might conquer them.” (p.124)

McMeekin states:

We should pause for a moment here to consider the enormity of diplomatic revolution wrought by the end of November 1914. In the Crimean War, British troops had bled and died to prevent Russia from dismembering the Ottoman Empire. Following the Russo Ottoman war of 1877-78, Disraeli’s government had dispatched the British Mediterranean Fleet to deny Constantinople to the Russians… the maintenance of some kind of Ottoman buffer against the Russian threat had endured as a cardinal aim of British foreign policy right up to 1914, as illustrated by British fears of Russian incursions into Persia ostensibly justified by the Turkish threat there. And yet here were British statesmen openly advocating the total dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire so that Russia might have naval access to the Mediterranean – the urgent prevention of which had been a full-on British cassus belli as recently as 36 years ago.” (pp.124-5)

That is the background to the French and British assault on the Straits in March 1915 and the subsequent landings at Gallipoli later on. It struck me in writing ‘Britain‘s Great War on Turkey’ that there was more to it than that and McMeekin comes up with exactly the same understanding that I reached. The British and French, in attempting to capture Constantinople, were actually intending to hold it as a kind of hostage to prevent the Russians from ever making peace with Germany or Turkey. The Russian steamroller could be guaranteed against Germany by holding the Czar’s greatest prize in readiness for him in return for the continued commitment of his armies on the eastern front:

“The Dardanelles campaign represented the logical culmination of this pattern. With both Paris and London on perennial alert that Petrograd might cut a separate peace with Berlin, a Straits campaign had a compelling strategic logic for the Western allies, even if Petrograd stood to reap the principle reward. Certainly, the thinking went, the Russians would not waver in their commitment to the war while her alliance partners were endeavouring to win her Constantinople. At a minimum, such an amphibious campaign, launched to aid Russia, would improve Russian fighting morale. If it succeeded, it would open Russia’s year-round warm-water Black Sea ports for Western arms (and maybe also food) shipments.” (p.128)

Dividing the Ottoman spoils

 In March 1915 the Czar decided that the time had come to get his French and British allies to formally agree to the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. Sazanov coupled the Czar’s demands for Constantinople with a threat to the allies that if they did not agree he would resign and bring Sergei Witte (who was regarded as sympathetic to the Germans) into the government in order to cut a separate peace with Germany.

Grey used Sazanov’s threat to convince the British Cabinet to cut a deal with the Russians on Constantinople and finally give concrete form to the reversal of British foreign policy of a century. On 12 March 1915 the British Cabinet adopted the position of endorsing Russia’s Imperial claim to Constantinople and the Straits.

(For some reason or other McMeekin does not discuss or detail the secret Constantinople agreement of March 1915 that then took place between the Triple Entente. I have included this as an Appendix)

In early 1916 flesh was put on the bones of the Constantinople agreement through the Sykes-Picot agreement for the dividing up of the Ottoman spoils after the war. And McMeekin suggests that the real inspiration to this agreement from the British side was Kitchener’s fear that Russia would re-emerge as Britain’s primary antagonist after the world war was over. The idea, therefore, was to create a French buffer zone in between the old Great Game antagonists. Britain agreed to give France Syria, Lebanon, and Cilicia in exchange for French recognition of British primacy in Mesopotamia up as far as Mosul and the ports of Acre and Haifa as well as the whole of Arabia.

The final agreement that emerged gave Russia direct control over Constantinople and the area around the Straits. The Czar also received ‘Turkish Armenia,’ ‘Kurdistan’ and ‘Persian Azerbaijan’. France obtained Cilicia as far East as the Taurus Mountains and South to Beirut. The French also obtained an area of indirect control in compassing modern-day Syria and Northern Iraq. Most of the areas south of this, including the bulk of Mesopotamia became areas of direct and indirect British control.

Russia and the Armenians

McMeekin describes the relationship between the Russian State and the Armenian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire from the time of the Armenian risings of 1894-6:

“Most commentators concede that Armenian Revolutionary groups deliberately aimed to enlist outside powers in their cause by staging provocations… and that outside powers did indeed take the Armenian side in 1895-6, even if none intervened in any effective way… the essential truth about Russian imperial foreign policy should not be surprising, considering the evidence of the Russo Ottoman war of 1877-78 and the First World War. However, the same policy was consistently followed in peacetime years in between these conflicts, with predictable – and revealing – upswings in the intensity of military planning during each successive Armenian crisis. It was precisely in order to piggyback on the Armenian uprisings of 1895-6 that Russia first began serious logistical research into the possibility of staging an amphibious operation at the Bosphorus… in the wake of internal Ottoman turmoil with unruly Christian minorities, Russian operational planning for seizing Constantinople was accelerated. These plans expressly specified that ‘agents from the Christian population’ would cut off rail lines to Constantinople… whereupon native Christians would ‘burn down all the wooden bridges spanning the Golden Horn and set fire to Stamboul’. A more explicit blueprint for using Armenians (and other Ottoman Christians) as a fifth column for an invading Russian army could scarcely be imagined.” (pp.145-6)

The quotations McMeekin uses are from a Russian General Staff memorandum produced just after the Young Turk revolution of 1908. The Russians saw the democratising of the Ottoman State as a sign of weakness and as an opportunity to be exploited. McMeekin discusses this earlier in his book:

“The fall of the last true Ottoman Sultan produced a kind of manic glee in the Russian General Staff, where wargaming for the occupation of Constantinople – which had largely ceased following the sinking of the Russian Baltic and Pacific fleets in the Russo Japanese war – now resumed with a vengeance. The mood at the time was well captured in a General Staff memorandum of October 1910 that outlines plans for seizing Constantinople: first the rail and telegraph lines to Adrianople and Ankara would be cut by ‘agents from the Christian population’, whereupon Russia-friendly Christians in the city would burn down all the wooden bridges spanning the Golden Horn and set fire to Stamboul – which predominantly Muslim district was, conveniently for Russian purposes, blanketed ‘almost without interruption with wooden houses’… The Christians of Pera would then rise, in coordination with a Russian amphibious landing. Once Russia’s Black Sea Fleet had secured the Straits, it would herald the annihilation of Turkish Dominion on the Balkan Peninsula.” (p.17)

 That was a very inflammatory programme considering the vast ethnic cleansing of Moslems that was to take place in the Balkans during the following years. And one way or another it was going to result in tragedy for the communities of the Ottoman Empire when it was attempted. (The subsequent Balkan Wars of 1912-13 did not fully realise the Russian programme of inter-ethnic mayhem in the Ottoman capital because the Bulgarians were halted short of Constantinople. However, similar events as those hoped for were to occur in Eastern Anatolia from 1915.)

McMeekin describes the complicated situation that existed in eastern Anatolia in the period just prior to the Great War:

“In a real sense, the whole disputed area of eastern Anatolia… where the Ottoman and Russian empires intersected with Persia, was on a permanent war footing long before 1914. Most Kurdish tribal chiefs were exceedingly well armed and virtually sovereign in the areas they roamed. Like nearly everyone else, they bought primarily Russian weapons. Christian townsmen, too, bought arms from the Russians… the great Kurdish tribal chiefs… generally had the rule of the roost, unless they were directly confronted by Ottoman or Russian troops, in which case they would simply flee to friendlier marauding pastures. The story of eastern Anatolia in this tense and dangerous time, then, was about far more than Turks and Armenians. One could claim that Kurdish nomads were consistently hostile to the Christian population, but for other generalisations about which groups were on which ‘side’ are hazardous… At times, armed Armenian groups inside the Ottoman Empire might even join forces with Turkish troops to pursue Kurdish chieftains who would wrong their people… Complicating the regional picture immeasurably were the opportunistic Russians, willing to work with anyone who might extend their influence. In the classic divide and conquer style Chorister’s Bridge (St Petersburg) cultivated close relations with Kurdish tribal chiefs and their Christian victims alike. Both groups were often at loggerheads with the Ottoman government, Russia’s primary antagonist… By thus promoting general mayhem, Kurdish nomads were the ideal Imperial tool. And the Russians were not loath to use them, sending arms, money, and even trade missions to Ottoman and Persian Kurds. So serious was Russia’s commitment that Kurdish language institutes were founded in Petersburg… Russian diplomats had to be careful with the Kurds. Periodic tribal skirmishes with Ottoman troops were one thing: summoning armies of 50,000 men was something else entirely, not least because their first target after routing Ottoman troops would almost certainly be Armenians and other Russia friendly Christians… The ideal scenario was simply to promote enough regional chaos to give Russia a pretext for intervening, with no single ethnic or religious group emerging to dominate the others.” (pp.147-9)

 This was the complex milieu that Russian and Anglo-French invasion and blockade imposed itself upon in 1915. It was something that could be easily set ablaze but not so easily controlled or extinguished.

Russia’s great Armenian Reform Campaign of 1913 was ironically conducted, according to McMeekin, as Ottoman troops and Dashnaks (Armenian revolutionary bands) combined to see off Kurdish raiders who were attacking Armenian villages. The Reform Campaign which made some unrealistic demands on the Ottomans in relation to imposing law and order without shedding blood culminated in the threat of Russian intervention in Ottoman territory if another ‘Armenian massacre’ occurred.

In late 1913/early 1914 a Kurdish rising occurred in Bitlis led by Mullah Selim. Tens of thousands of Kurds took to the field with the object of imposing Sharia Law in the area (to ‘put it up to’ the ‘impious’ C.U.P/Young Turks). When Ottoman troops were sent to disperse the Kurds Mullah Selim was given refuge by the Russian Consulate (where he remained until Russia declared war on the Turks in November 1914).

Perhaps in recognition of the Ottomans efforts at maintaining some measure of security, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation vowed support for the Ottoman Government against the Russians at their conference in August 1914 at Erzurum and the Dashnaks even sent a delegation to discourage Armenians from enrolling in the Czarist armies. But Russia was determined to make the Armenians into their fifth column.

Despite the Dashnak proclamation of loyalty to the Ottoman State, tens of thousands of Armenians deserted the Ottoman army and went over to the Russians even before war was declared on Turkey. In August 1914 (more than two months before war was declared on Turkey) the Russian Caucasian army asked for an extra 25,000 rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition to arm the Armenian bands being organised along the Ottoman frontier and began to smuggle arms into Ottoman territories so that Armenians could fight behind Ottoman lines when the time was right:

“The Russian army, then, actively sought to arm Ottoman Armenians even before Turkey entered the war, with the full co-operation of the Dashnaks, General Andranik, and Armenian leaders in Tiflis. So, too, was the Russian Foreign Office involved, and at the very highest level… Russia’s Foreign Minister recommended that Tiflis command begin arming Ottoman ‘Armenians and Assyrian Christians’ so that they could strike a blow for Russia as soon as Turkey entered the war. Crucially, Sazanov stipulated that the Armenians were ‘not to undertake anything without our instructions’, because ‘if they launched an uprising that was not supported by us, this would inflict an irreparable blow to our prestige’. (p.156)

McMeekin also reveals that whilst the Russian army command favoured an arming of the Kurds, Sazanov saw things in religious terms and insisted that Russia act simply as a Christian power against the Moslems. McMeekin comments:

“The Armenians were to be encouraged to achieve an essential foreign policy goal for Petrograd: the overthrow of Ottoman rule in eastern Anatolia. The Russians would offer all assistance to the Armenians in this endeavour… but they would do so only so long as they… acted in full obeisance to Russia’s instructions, so that Russia could reap the strategic benefit. Considering the human consequences… Sazanov’s carelessness about ends and means is almost breathtaking.”  (p.156)

The question of ‘genocide’

McMeekin’s argument is that the Russians were always incapable of following through on their promises and this was the main reason for the disaster that befell the Armenians:

 “The root of the Armenian catastrophe is not so much in the fact of treachery and collaboration, which was rampant among other groups on both sides, but rather in the gap between Russia’s enormous Imperial ambitions and her limited means for achieving them. The reform campaign of 1913-14 had left little doubt at the Porte that Russia aimed to annex Turkey’s six eastern provinces over which she had essentially declared proprietary interest, if not yet a formal protectorate. Likewise, the Dardanelles campaign and the diplomacy surrounding it – if not also the previous 500 years of history – made perfectly clear that Russia aimed to conquer Constantinople and the Straits. Any group inside Turkey rumoured to be aiding and abetting the Russians near either of these fronts would not simply be suspected of disloyalty, but likely relocated for reasons of urgent military necessity, as were the Ottoman Greeks from the Gallipoli peninsular in April to May 1915. That Armenians were eventually targeted in the same way is not the least bit surprising, considering how much the Ottomans stood to lose from defeat to the Russians.” (p.158)

Two events precipitated and provoked the Armenian relocations: the Gallipoli landings and what happened at Van. (Earlier in his book McMeekin blames the Russians for failing to aid the British at Gallipoli and therefore contributing to the disaster there.) McMeekin describes the events at Van to illustrate how Russian ambitions and their failure to realise them in time provoked the disaster that befell Armenian and Moslem alike:

“The rebellion at Van provides a perfect illustration of the Armenian tragedy… violent clashes between the Dashnaks and government forces in Van were reported as early as September 1914. On 24 September 1914, the Ottoman Third Army reported evidence that the Russians were smuggling weapons and ammunition across the border… all winter, the frontier areas passed with activity, as Armenian deserters, fleeing Van, crossed over to the Russians… February-March 1915 saw the first reports of significant rebel activity in Van, Bitlis, and Erzurum, including the cutting of telegraph wires, the detonation of bombs, attacks on Turkish army and police barracks, and… the ‘pillaging and destroying of Moslem villages’… On or about 13th to 14th of April 1915, the Turk’s worst nightmare came to pass, when partisans expelled government forces from Van erecting barricades around the city… the fighting was merciless, with Armenians despatching Moslems caught inside the town even while the Turks and Kurds were massacring Armenian civilians outside its walls… The first advance guard of Cossacks rode into town on 18 May 1915 – almost 5 weeks after the rebellion began. By this time, the city was in ruins, with it’s Armenian quarter bombed out by Ottoman artillery and the Moslem neighbourhoods raised to the ground by Armenian partisans. Tens of thousands of Armenians, Kurds and Turks alike had perished, the vast majority of them civilians… scarcely had the town’s reconstruction under Russian occupation begun before it was retaken by the Ottoman army in August 1915… the short lived and ultimately futile Armenian rebellion at Van had set in motion that whole terrible series of events about which historians still argue today.” (pp. 169-70)

Sean McMeekin concludes:

“By 18th of May 1915, when the first advance Cossack regiments of the Caucasian army finally made it as far as Van, Ottoman Armenians had already begun dying in droves for Russia’s hollow promises – as they would in even greater numbers after her half-hearted invasion of eastern Turkey swung into reverse that summer. One can hardly blame the Dashnaks and Hunchaks for arming themselves in self defence. Their error lay in expecting the Russian cavalry to arrive in time to protect them once the inevitably brutal counter-attack against their rebellion commenced. These revolutionaries, and the Ottoman Armenian civilians they claimed to represent, fell victim to Russia’s peculiar mixture of imperial greed and impotence, as the would-be liberatees of an army unable – or rather willing – to liberate them.” (p.174)

It is certainly the case that the Czarist State proved incapable of realising its dream and collapsed in pursuing it. And it is certainly the case that in instigating the Armenians to rebellion in order to provoke the collapse of the Ottoman State Russia led them on to disaster. The Armenians were used by England in a propagandist manner and by Russia as cannon-fodder as a means of destabilizing the Ottoman Empire and disrupting Turkish resistance behind the lines. There were, obviously, Armenian revolutionaries who are willing to participate in this process but its main effect was to make the ordinary Armenians’ position impossible within the Ottoman Empire. It was made impossible for them to remain a loyal community and a functional part of the Empire, which they had been for centuries.

Justin McCarthy’s book ‘Death and Exile – the ethnic cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922’ describes the internal situation in eastern Anatolia as the Great War began.

The last decades of the Ottoman Empire had seen a significant extension of Ottoman power in Eastern Anatolia. Law and order had been established through renewed Ottoman military power in the region. However, when the Great War began these military forces withdrew and civil order began to end. Ottoman troops were withdrawn from garrisons in eastern and central Anatolia and sent to fight the Russians on the Caucasian border. Only a minimum of the gendarmerie remained to control the Kurdish tribes in the area remained. In theory, Kurdish tribesmen should have been conscripted into the Ottoman army but the Ottomans find this was more trouble than it was worth. The Ottomans would have had to employ considerable men and military forces to subdue the tribes in the middle of a war situation. The Kurdish tribesmen were not loyal or compliant citizens and they began to attack and pillage local villages, Christian and Moslem alike, when this Ottoman state apparatus was absent.

In the same areas in preparation for war Armenian revolutionaries had stored vast stockpiles of weapons, largely provided or paid for by the Russian army. When the war was declared, the Armenian revolutionaries mobilised and were joined by substantial numbers of Armenian deserters from the Ottoman army. Great internal migrations began to take place with Armenians and Moslems who lived in mixed villages migrating to purely Armenian or purely Moslem villagers and populations even began to cross Russian and Ottoman lines for safety.

Armenian revolts and attacks on Ottoman forces in various districts of the East were in full swing by May 1915. There were three sides in the battles and massacres. On one side were the settled Moslems (Turks Kurds and others) and the Ottoman military forces. On the other side were Armenians (and other native Christians) and the Russian army. On the third side were tribal Kurds, an essentially neutral force that pursued its own agenda, both attacking and cooperating with the Russian and Ottoman forces as the need arose. From the first, the war was distinguished by attacks on civilian populations from all sides. The innocent and peaceful on all sides were forced to fight in order to survive.

McCarthy details the extensive attacks that took place by Armenian bands on Moslem villagers and reproduces accounts of the killing, pillaging and rape that occurred before the relocations. He acknowledges that similar things happened to the Armenians. He stresses that the most dangerous situation for all communities occurred when state forces of either side, Ottoman or Russian, withdrew from an area and security began to break down. The Russian army tended to have a controlling influence on local Armenians but when they withdrew from an area the local Moslems became very vulnerable to massacre.

McCarthy says the following about the relocations:

The decision to force the Armenians to leave was sound in purely military terms, but it caused hardship and great mortality among them, and these were deplorable. Nevertheless, it did have the desired effect: Armenian Revolutionary attacks dwindled in areas still occupied by the Ottoman government… In the end, the Armenian deportations did reveal the Ottoman state as a failure in its ability to protect its own citizens – the most important aspect of any state. It was the weakness of the Ottoman state that forced it to choose between two groups of its citizens. The blame for the deaths of Armenians in the convoys must be shared by the Ottomans – shared with the Armenian revolutionaries and their supporters and with the Russians.” (pp.195-6)

Prof. McCarthy notes that the Ottoman relocations were the standard military response to guerrilla warfare behind the lines at the time. The British had used similar measures only a decade previously in South Africa to deal with Boer resistance. Tens of thousands of relocated civilians had died in British concentration camps. The difference between what the British did in South Africa and what the Ottomans attempted to do in eastern Anatolia in 1915 was that the Ottomans were confronted by a much stronger enemy and assault on their state. The Armenian relocations were conducted in a situation of external invasion, blockade, starvation, inter-community killing and general lawlessness of a collapsing state apparatus.

Prof. McCarthy produces figures (p.229) to show that the Moslem population of Eastern Anatolia declined by about one million people during the decade to 1922. He states that the exact number of deaths can never be accurately known (on all sides). But there is strong reason to believe that the number of Moslems (Turks and Kurds) and Armenian Christians who perished were comparable in the general mayhem that occurred.

The use of the word ‘genocide’ with regard to what happened to the Armenians during the Great War is an attempt to connect Turkey with Nazi Germany. However, a much better analogy would be that which happened on the Eastern Front during the Second World War when different groups of people became destabilized by the Nazi invasion of Russia. This is much closer to the events which McMeekin describes than what happened to the Jews between 1943 and 1945.

In the hinterland of war between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia terrible things were done as state authority began to collapse, society began to return to its raw elemental condition and ordinary people struggled to survive in the circumstances. In 1915 the Russian and British invasions of the Ottoman Empire had a similar effect on the patchwork that was Eastern Anatolia. The Russians and British raised some people’s expectations so that they were willing to exact retribution on people they had grievances against and in turn those people exacted revenge on them. No one quite knew under whose authority they would exist when the war was over and as a consequence all restraint was removed on behaviour. It was under these circumstances and in this context that the relocation of the Armenians took place.

Essentially the responsibility for what happened to the Armenians and the other minorities that existed happily and peacefully within the Ottoman Empire for centuries must be placed at the hands of those who attempted to destabilize and ultimately destroy this multinational Empire. It was not in the Turkish interest that the Armenians should rebel and resort to war but it was very much in the Russian and British interests that they should do so. That both powers were ultimately unable to complete the task they set themselves left the Armenians in a situation not unlike that of the unfortunate East Prussians in 1945 (although it is not politic to show any sympathy for them).

Whose ‘genocide’?

Michael Reynolds’s book, Shattering Empires – The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires, 1908-1918, makes some interesting points in relation to the context of the Armenian relocations:

“At the same time as the Van rebellion was unfolding, the Russians were entering from the East, the British pushing on Baghdad from the South, and, most ominously, the British and French were storming ashore at Gallipoli. The simultaneous attacks stretched the wobbling Ottoman army to breaking point. As the Unionists debated how to handle the Van uprising, an Ottoman colonel pointed to Russia’s expulsion of Moslems into Ottoman territory and urged a reciprocal expulsion of the rebels and their families either into Russian territory or into the interior of Anatolia… Small scale deportations of Armenians had begun in February, but it was the combination of the Van uprising and the landings at Gallipoli that triggered the decision to deport the Armenians en masse…

The decision to define whole populations as suspect and to uproot, expel, and relocate them was not particular to the Ottomans or Unionists. The manipulation of borderland populations was hoary imperial practice. In the 19th century, however, two things changed. The first was that, beginning in Europe, state institutions began to employ sciences such as statistics, sociology, and ethnography to vastly increase their capacity to identify, classify, and control population groups. The second was that these institutions, including armies, came to imagine ethnicity to be a key predictor of political behaviour. Armies anxiously trained ethnographers to advise on how to manage and exploit the ethnic identities of friendly or hostile populations alike. By the beginning of the 20th century, forced population exchange was emerging as an almost routine practice, one that many regarded as logical and even salutary… During World War I, Russia forcibly relocated not just Moslems from the border region in the Caucasus but also Germans and Jews by the hundreds of thousands on its Western front… Ottoman military officers referenced the Russian precedent in the Caucasus during the debate on how to respond to the uprising at Van…

 The destruction of the Armenians… must be understood as part of a nascent programme of ethnic homogenisation that involved the resettlement of a multitude of other population groups, including Moslem Kurds, Albanians, Circassians, and others in small, dispersed numbers so as to break up clan and tribal ties and facilitate assimilation… These measures were aimed at the long-term Turkification of Anatolia. This larger programme, in turn, was a direct response to the global order’s adoption of the national idea. If the legitimacy, and security, of state borders was dependent on the degree of correspondence to ethnographic lines, the Unionists would ensure that the latter conform to the former. They would reshape the square peg of Anatolia to fit the round hole the global order favoured…

 It is no coincidence that nearly half of the Unionist leadership came from the Balkan and Aegean borderlands, i.e. those territories that had witnessed repeated violent expulsions and massacres of Moslems and the establishment of nation states. Significantly, these men fostered no fantasies of irredentist in the Balkans. They nurtured no illusions about the relative power of the Ottoman state. Difficult though it must have been for them, they recognised that their homelands had been lost for good… Experience had taught them that the global community of states accorded no legitimacy to pluralistic and weak empires. As long as Anatolia remained ethnically pluralistic it would be vulnerable to subversion and partition. The homogenisation of Anatolia was the surest solution to the dilemma they faced.” (pp. 147-9)

The logical implication of this is that if what happened to the Armenians in 1915 is to be described as ‘genocide’ we must look much wider for those responsible than just the C.U.P. and Ottoman authorities directly responsible for relocating the Armenians. Firstly, there was the responsibility of the Anglo-French and Russian invasion forces whose arrival in May 1915 signaled that the destruction of the Ottoman Empire was a distinct probability. Secondly, there was the exportation from Europe of Social Darwinist ideas of race homogeneity as the ideal type for societies that undermined the old heterogeneous Ottoman attitude toward race that had promoted ‘live and let live’ in the Empire. Thirdly, there was the promotion of nationalism from Europe in order to destabilize the Ottoman State and make multi-ethnic units impossible.

I have not seen any evidence that the Ottoman State actively pursued a policy of religious homogeneity in 1915. Events from then to 1923 certainly resulted in the heterogeneous Ottoman State giving way to the largely homogeneous Turkish Republic.

In 1915 the Ottoman Empire was collapsing under the weight of problems that came to it from Europe and the C.U.P. looked for solutions to its predicament in that direction too. It had been a multi-ethnic state based on a healthy disregard for any notions of racial hierarchy. But what was being imposed upon it from the West, in the name of ‘progress’, was the requirement that society should be based on the nation state rather than a multi-ethnic/religious combination, with as much racial homogeneity as possible.

What happened to the Armenians in 1915 was qualitatively different from what had ever happened to that community before. And that can only be seen as being so because the Ottoman Empire was being assailed from without and within and being dissolved in the name of Western ‘progress’.

Sean McMeekin has an interesting section on Russian plans for the government of the Armenians. He relates that, despite the assistance given by Armenian revolutionaries to the Czarist forces, the Russians began to have doubts about how far they should trust the Armenians with any measure of autonomy:

“Armenian partisans, despite playing a certain useful role for the Russians at Van and Bitlis in 1915, had long since worn out their welcome at Tiflis’s command, which kept hearing about the atrocities they were committing against Moslems. ‘The Armenians,’ General Pechkov wrote on 29 June 1916, ‘have shown themselves to be a very cruel people. It appears they have massacred the Kurds without pity.’ The report spoke of rampant ‘lawlessness and looting’ by Armenian volunteer units, which were now disbanded by direct order of Grand Duke Nicholas himself. Another decree from Tiflis’s command imposed ‘strict censorship on Armenian publications’… In a letter dispatched from Tiflis on 27th of June 1916, Sazanov reminded Grand Duke Nicholas that Russia had pushed for greater Armenian autonomy – under Ottoman rule – during the reform campaign of 1913-14. But now the Armenians were under Russians suzerainty, things looked different… Sazanov noted that ‘the Armenians nowhere constitute a majority’ in the area he called Greater Armenia – particularly after the deportations of 1915. Armenians now comprised, even in the areas of their greatest concentration, at most 25% of the population. In view of this fact, for Russia to grant Armenian autonomy ‘would mean unjustly enslaving the majority to the minority.’ Tensions between Christians and Moslems would explode yet again, this time in Russia’s face instead of Turkey’s. An enduring peace would only be possible, Sazanov argued, if the Czarist government could rule ‘ on the basis of its own laws, its own system of justice, and with complete impartiality towards all national elements in the land’…  The only concession Russia’s Foreign Minister was willing to grant Armenians was to allow them to use their own language and to run their own churches and schools… Grand Duke Nicholas agreed to all of these stipulations.” (pp. 211-2)

I think this confirms the view that it was the attempted destruction of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire with its delicate balance of order between the patchwork of peoples that inhabited it that led to disaster for Balkan Moslems and Jews, Anatolian Greeks and Armenians and many more besides. It was possible that a Russian victory and the reincorporation of these peoples in another multi-ethnic state might have preserved the balance in a new form leading to some kind of stability. But that is the stuff of counterfactual conjecture. The Russian Revolution saved the Ottomans in the East and closed off this possibility for good.

Sean McMeekin has now written two books attributing blame for the Great War. The first argued for the guilt of the Germans and Ottomans. The second blames the Russians. Perhaps another would make him ‘third time lucky’ but it is also unlikely.


Appendix: Correspondence between the partners of the Triple Entente for the secret Constantinople Agreement of March 1915 (as later revealed by the Bolsheviks):

Aide-mémoire from Russian Foreign Minister to British and French ambassadors at Petrograd, 19 February / 4 March 1915

“The course of recent events leads His Majesty Emperor Nicholas to think that the question of Constantinople and of the Straits must be definitely solved, according to the time-honoured aspirations of Russia.

“Every solution will be inadequate and precarious if the city of Constantinople, the western bank of the Bosphorus, of the Sea of Marmara and of the Dardanelles, as well as southern Thrace to the Enez-Midye line, should henceforth not be incorporated into the Russian Empire.

“Similarly, and by strategic necessity, that part of the Asiatic shore that lies between the Bosphorus, the Sakarya River and a point to be determined on the Gulf of Izmit, and the islands of the Sea of Marmara, the Imbros Islands and the Tenedos Islands must be incorporated into the (Russian) Empire

“The special interests of France and Great Britain in the above region will be scrupulously respected.

“The Imperial Government entertains the hope that the above consideration will be sympathetically received by the two Allied Governments. The said Allied Governments are assured similar understandings on the part of the Imperial Government for the realization of plans which they may frame with reference to other regions of the Ottoman Empire or elsewhere.”

British aide-mémoire to the Russian Government, 27 February / 12 March 1915

“Subject to the war being carried on and brought to a successful conclusion, and to desiderata of Great Britain and France in the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere being realised, as indicated in the Russian communication herein referred to, His Majesty’s Government will agree to the Russian Government’s aide-mémoire relative to Constantinople and the Straits, the text of which was communicated to His Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador by his Excellency M. Sazonof on February 19 / March 4 instant.”

British Memorandum to the Russian Government, 27 February / 12 March 1915

“His Majesty’s Ambassador has been instructed to make the following observations with reference to the aide-mémoire which this Embassy had the honour of addressing to the Imperial Government on February 27 / March 12, 1915.

“The claim made by the Imperial Government in their aide-mémoire of February 19 / March 4, 1915, considerably exceeds the desiderata which were foreshadowed by M. Sazonof as probable a few weeks ago. Before His Majesty’s Government have had time to take into consideration what their own desiderata elsewhere would be in the final terms of peace, Russia is asking for a definite promise that her wishes shall be satisfied with regard to what is in fact the richest prize of the entire war. Sir Edward Grey accordingly hopes that M. Sazonov will realise that it is not in the power of His Majesty’s Government to give a greater proof of friendship than that which is afforded by the terms of the above-mentioned aide-mémoire.

“That document involves a complete reversal of the traditional policy of His Majesty’s Government, and is in direct opposition to the opinions and sentiments at one time universally held in England and which have still by no means died out. Sir Edward Grey therefore trusts that the recent general assurances given to M. Sazanov have been most loyally and amply fulfilled. In presenting the aide-mémoire now, His Majesty’s Government believe and hope that a lasting friendship between Russia and Great Britain will be assured as soon as the proposed settlement is realised.

“From the British aide-mémoire it follows that the desiderata of His Majesty’s Government, however important they may be to British interests in other parts of the world, will contain no condition which could impair Russia’s control over the territories described in the Russian aide-mémoire of February 19 / March 4, 1915.

“In a view of the fact that the Constantinople will always remain a trade entrepot for South-Eastern Europe and Asia Minor, His Majesty’s Government will ask that Russia shall, when she comes into possession of it, arrange for a free port for goods in transit to and from non-Russian territory. His Majesty’s Government will also ask that there shall be commercial freedom for merchant-ships passing through the Straits, as M. Sazanov has already promised.

“Except in so far as the naval and military operations on which His Majesty’s Government are now engaged in the Dardanelles may contribute to the common cause of the Allies, it is now clear that these operations, however successful, cannot be of any advantage to His Majesty’s Government in the final terms of peace. Russia alone will, if the war is successful, gather the direct fruits of these operations. Russia should therefore, in the opinion of His Majesty’s Government, not now put difficulties in the way of any Power which may, on reasonable terms, offer to co-operate with the Allies. The only Power likely to participate in the operations in the Straits is Greece. Admiral Carden has asked the Admiralty to send him more destroyers but they have none to spare. The assistance of a Greek flotilla, if it could have been secured, would thus have been of inestimable value to His Majesty’s Government.

“To induce the neutral Balkan States to join the Allies was one of the main objects which His Majesty’s Government had in view when they undertook the operations in the Dardanelles. His Majesty’s Government hope that Russia will spare no pains to calm apprehensions of Bulgaria and Roumania as to Russia’s possession of the Straits and Constantinople being to their disadvantage. His Majesty’s Government also hope that Russia will do everything in her power to render the co-operation of these two States an attractive prospect to them.

“Sir E. Grey points out that it will obviously be necessary to take into consideration the whole question of the future interests of France and Great Britain in what is now Asiatic Turkey; and, in formulating the desiderata of His Majesty’s Government with regard to the Ottoman Empire, he must consult the French as well as the Russian Government. As soon¸ however, as it becomes known that Russia is to have Constantinople at the conclusion of the war, Sir E. Grey will wish to state that throughout the negotiations, His Majesty’s Government have stipulated that the Mussulman Holy Places and Arabia shall under all circumstances remain under independent Mussulman dominion.

“Sir E. Grey is as yet unable to make any definite proposal on any point of the British desiderata; but one of the points of the latter will be the revision of the Persian portion of the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907 so as to recognize the present neutral sphere as a British sphere.

“Until the Allies are in a position to give to the Balkan States, and especially to Bulgaria and Roumania, some satisfactory assurance as to their prospects and general position with regard to the territories contiguous to their frontiers to the possession of which they are known to aspire; and until a more advanced stage of the agreement as to the French and British desiderata in the final peace terms is reached, Sir E. Grey points out that it is most desirable that the understanding now arrived at between the Russian, French, and British Governments should remain secret.”

French Ambassador in Petrograd to Russian Foreign Minister, 1/14 March 1915

“I should be grateful to Your Excellency for informing His Imperial Majesty that the Government of the French Republic, having studied the conditions of the peace to be imposed on Turkey, would like to annex Syria together with the region of the Gulf of Alexandretta and Cilicia up to the Taurus (mountain) range. I should be happy to inform my government, without delay¸ of the Imperial Government’s consent.”

Russian Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs to Russian Foreign Minister, 2/15 March 1915

“The French Ambassador has told me that it is his impression that Syria “includes Palestine”. I deemed it useful to remind him that there is in Jerusalem an independent governor.”

Russian Foreign Minister to Russian Ambassador in Paris, 3/16 March 1915

“After arrival at General Headquarters, the French Ambassador informed me of the contents of Declassee’s telegram which asks for consent by Russia to the annexation of Syria and Cilicia by France. Paleologue explains that in his opinion the French Government refers also to Palestine when speaking of Syria. However, since in this telegram there is no question of Palestine, it would be desirable to elucidate whether the explanation of the Ambassador really corresponds to the view of the French Government. This question appears important to us; for, if the Imperial Government should be prepared largely to satisfy France’s desires concerning Syria and Cilicia proper, it is indispensible to study the question with closer attention, if the Holy Places are involved.”

Russian Foreign Minister to Russian Ambassador in Paris, 5/18 March 1915

“On 23 February, the Ambassador of France declared to me, in the name of his Government, that France was prepared to consider in the most benevolent manner the realization of our desires relative to Constantinople and the Straits, which I explained to you in my telegram No. 937 and for which I charged you to express my gratitude to M. Delcasse. In these earlier conversations with you Delcasse had assured us several times that we could count on the sympathy of France and had simply pleaded the necessity of elucidating the attitudes of England, from whom he feared objections, before he could himself give more formal assurances in the sense already indicated.

“Now, today, the British Government has expressed to us in writing its full accord in the matter of the annexation by Russia of the Straits and Constantinople within the boundaries fixed by us; it has simply formulated one reservation concerning the safeguard of its economic interests and an equally benevolent attitude on our part toward the political aspirations of England in other areas.

“Insofar as it concerns me personally, the assurance received from Delcasse is amply sufficient, because of the complete confidence that he inspires in me; but the Imperial Government would desire the French Government to issue more precise declarations like [those of the] British Government regarding its assent to the complete realization of our desires.”

Russian Foreign Minister to Russian Ambassador in London, 7/20 March 1915

“Referring to the memorandum of the British Embassy here of 12 March¸ will you please express to Grey the profound gratitude of the Imperial Government for the complete and definitive approval of Great Britain to a solution of the question of the Straits and Constantinople that satisfies Russia’s desires. The Imperial Government appreciates fully the sentiments of the British Government and is convinced that the sincere recognition of their respective interests will guarantee in perpetuity firm friendship between Russia and Great Britain. Having already given assurances respecting the commercial regime in the Straits and Constantinople, the Imperial Government sees no objection to confirming its assent to the establishment (1) of free transit through Constantinople for all goods not deriving from or destined for Russia and (2) free passage through the Straits for merchant vessels.

“With a view to facilitating the capture of the Dardanelles undertaken by the Allies, the Imperial Government will endeavour to obtain the intervention on reasonable terms of those states whose help is considered useful by Great Britain and France.

“The Imperial Government completely shares the view of the British Government on the maintenance of the Muslim Holy Places under an independent Muslim government. It is necessary to elucidate at once whether [those places] will remain under the suzerainty of Turkey, the Sultan retaining the title of Caliph, or it is contemplated to create new independent states, in order to permit the Imperial Government to formulate its views in full knowledge of the case. For its parts the Imperial Government desires that the Caliphate should be separated from Turkey. In any case, the freedom of pilgrimage must be completely secured.

“The Imperial Government confirms its assent to the inclusion of the neutral zone of Persia in the English sphere of influence. At the same time, however, [the Imperial Government] regards it as equitable to stipulate that the districts adjoining the cities of Isfahan and Yazd, forming with them an inseparable whole, should be reserved for Russia in view of the interests that Russia possesses there; a part of the neutral zone which now forms a wedge between the Russian and Afghan frontiers and touches Russia’s frontier at Zulfiqar, must also be included in the Russian sphere of influence.

“Railway construction in the neutral zone constitutes for the Imperial Government a question of capital significance that will require further amicable discussion.

“The Imperial Government expects that in the future its full liberty of action will be recognized in the sphere of influence thus delimited and that in particular it will enjoy the right preferentially [to develop] its financial and economic policy.

“Finally, the Imperial Government considers it desirable simultaneously to solve the question of northern Afghanistan adjoining Russian in conformity with the wishes expressed on the subject by the Imperial Government in the course of negotiations last year.”

Note verbale from French Ambassador at Petrograd to Russian Foreign Minister, 28 March / 10 April 1915

“The Government of the Republic will give its agreement to the Russian aide-mémoire addressed by M. Isvolsky to M. Delcasse on 6 March last relating to Constantinople and the Straits, on condition that war shall be prosecuted until victory and that France and Great Britain realise their plans in the Orient as elsewhere, as it is stated in the Russian aide-mémoire.”









Britain's Great War Geopolitics Germany Greece Russia Turkey and Ottoman Empire Zionism

The Talaat Pasha Question


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.

Whither Fascism?

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.



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.”




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The Liberal Fear of Russia

MEV-10289679 - © - Mary Evans / John Massey Stewart Collection
A British cartoon satirising the role of Russia during the First World War: The steam roller is truly Russian and Crushin’. Tsar Nicholas II drives th…

In 1914 there was unease within British Liberalism about allying itself with Russia in pursuance of its Great War. Sure, the Russian Steamroller was the necessary instrument to occupy the Germans in a two front war while they could be worn down by a Royal Navy Blockade. But Russia was, after all, geopolitical enemy number one and “the land of pogroms, corruption, reaction, aggression and autocracy” which had “trampled over Poland”, a cause so dear to English Radicals.  If the Russian Steamroller managed to crush Germany would that mean that the real autocracy of the Tsar would take the place of the more imaginary autocracy of the Kaiser at the heart of Europe, and at Constantinople?

Under Sir Edward Grey the British Foreign Office had become obsessed with the growing power of Russia, believing that the Tsar needed to be cultivated because he had at his disposal far greater resources than any other Power in Europe. The Permanent Under-Secretary to Grey, Arthur Nicolson, had drawn attention to a dispatch of July 18, 1914, which stated that “by the end of 1916 Russia would possess an active army greater in numbers than the joint forces of the Triple Alliance Powers” and that “the Russian Navy estimates now exceed the British ones.”  (British Documents on the Origins of the War, X., pt. II, pp.787-8.) Sir Edward Grey was of the same belief, in thrall to the gigantic military resources of the Romanoffs.

Of course, if that calculation were correct, the Balance of Power dictated that it should be the Tsar’s state that be cut down to size rather than the Kaiser’s. But there was a belief in Britain that its resources would be insufficient for a victorious war on Russia, with its vast territories than required great armies, rather than small amphibious landings, to subdue the country, and the difficulties of making a naval blockade effective against her. There were also no available allies for such a task – the foundation of successful British wars in the past.

H.G. Wells addressed “The Liberal Fear of Russia” in a famous piece for The Nation on 22nd August to dispel the fears of English Liberals, which might get in the way of the waging of a successful war against the new enemy, with the former enemy as ally. It is worth quoting at length to understand how the unlikely alliance between Liberal England and Tsarist Russia was justified in Britain through a modification of the existing narrative, that had been in place for around 3 generations. The major point that Wells made about Tsarist Russia was that “unlike Prussianism, it is not a great danger to the world at large.”

H.G. Wells wrote:

“It is evident that there is a very considerable dread of the power and intentions of Russia in this country. It is well that the justification of this dread should be discussed now, for it is likely to affect the attitude of British and American Liberalism very profoundly, both towards the continuation of the war and towards the ultimate settlement.

It is, I believe, an exaggerated dread arising out of our extreme ignorance of Russian realities. English people imagine Russia to be more purposeful than she is, more concentrated, more inimical to Western civilisation. They think of Russian policy as if it were a diabolically clever spider in a dark place. They imagine that the tremendous unification of State and national pride and ambition which has made the German Empire at last insupportable, may presently be repeated upon an altogether more gigantic scale, that Pan-Slavism will take the place of Pan-Germanism, as the ruling aggression of the world.

 This is a dread due, I am convinced, to fundamental misconceptions and hasty parallelisms. Russia is not only the vastest country in the world, but the laxest; she is incapable of that tremendous unification. Not for two centuries yet, if ever, will it be necessary for a reasonably united Western Europe to trouble itself, once Prussianism has been disposed of, about the risk of definite aggression from the East. I do not think it will ever have to trouble itself.

Socially and politically, Russia is an entirely unique structure… and it is quite impossible to find in any other age a similar social organisation. In bulk, she is barbaric. Between eighty and ninety per cent, of her population is living at a level very little above the level of those agricultural Aryan races who were scattered over Europe before the beginning of written history. It is an illiterate population. It is superstitious in a primitive way, conservative and religious in a primitive way, it is incapable of protecting itself in the ordinary commerce of modern life; against the business enterprise of better educated races it has no weapon but a peasant’s poor cunning. It is, indeed, a helpless, unawakened mass. Above these peasants come a few millions of fairly well-educated and actively intelligent people. They are all that corresponds in any way to a Western community such as ours. Either they are officials, clerical or lay, in the great government machine that was consolidated chiefly by Peter the Great to control the souls and bodies of the peasant mass, or they are private persons more or less resentfully entangled in that machine. At the head of this structure, with powers of interference strictly determined by his individual capacity, is that tragic figure, the Tsar. That, briefly, is the composition of Russia, and it is unlike any other State on earth. It will follow laws of its own and have a destiny of its own.

Involved with the affairs of Russia are certain less barbaric States. There is Finland, which is by comparison highly civilised, and Poland, which is not nearly so far in advance of Russia. Both these countries are perpetually uneasy under the blundering pressure of foolish attempts to “Russianize” them. In addition, in the South and East are certain provinces thick with Jews, whom Russia can neither contrive to tolerate nor assimilate, who have no comprehensible projects for the help or reorganisation of the country, and who deafen all the rest of Europe with their bitter, unhelpful tale of grievances, so that it is difficult to realise how local and partial are their wrongs. There is a certain “Russian idea,” containing within itself all the factors of failure, inspiring the general policy of this vast amorphous State. It found its completest expression in the works of the now defunct Pobedonostsev, and it pervades the bureaucracy. It is obscurantist, denying the common people education; it is orthodox, forbidding free thought and preferring conformity to ability; it is bureaucratic and autocratic; it is Pan-Slavic, Russianizing, and aggressive. It is this “Russian idea” that Western Liberalism dreads, and, as I want to point out, dreads unreasonably. I do not want to plead that it is not a bad thing; it is a bad thing. I want to point out that, unlike Prussianism, it is not a great danger to the world at large.

So long as this Russian idea, this Russian Toryism, dominates Russian affairs, Russia can never be really formidable either to India, to China, or to the Liberal nations of Western Europe. And whenever she abandons this Toryism and becomes modern and formidable, she will cease to be aggressive. That is my case. While Russia has the will to oppress the world she will never have the power; when she has the power she will cease to have the will. Let me state my reasons for this belief as compactly as possible…

Now, first let me point out what the Boer War showed, and what this tremendous conflict in Belgium is already enforcing, that the day of the unintelligent common soldier is past; that men who are animated and individualised can, under modern conditions, fight better than men who are unintelligent and obedient. Soldiering is becoming more specialised. It is calling for the intelligent handling of weapons so elaborate and destructive that great masses of men in the field are an encumbrance rather than a power. Battles must spread out, and leading give place to individual initiative. Consequently Russia can only become powerful enough to overcome any highly civilised European country by raising its own average of education and initiative, and this it can do only by abandoning its obscurantist methods, by liberalising upon the Western European model. That is to say, it will have to teach its population to read, to multiply its schools, and increase its universities; and that will make an entirely different Russia from this one we fear. It involves a relaxation of the grip of orthodoxy, an alteration of the intellectual outlook of officialdom, an abandonment of quasi-religious autocracy—in short, the complete abandonment of the “Russian idea” as we know it. And it means also a great development of local self-consciousness. Russia seems homogeneous now, because in the mass it is so ignorant as to be unaware of its differences; but an educated Russia means a Russia in which Ruthenian and Great Russian, Lett and Tartar will be mutually critical and aware of one another. The existing Russian idea will need to give place to an entirely more democratic, tolerant, and cosmopolitan idea of Russia as a whole, if Russia is to merge from its barbarism and remain united… No one who has seen the Russians, who has had opportunities of comparing Berlin with St. Petersburg or Moscow, or who knows anything of Russian art or Russian literature, will imagine this naturally wise, humourous, and impatient people reduplicating the self-conscious, drill-dulled, soulless culture of Germany, or the political vulgarities of Potsdam. This is a terrible world, I admit, but Prussianism is the sort of thing that does not happen twice.

Russia is substantially barbaric. Who can deny it? State-stuff rather than a State. But people in Western Europe are constantly writing of Russia and the Russians as though the qualities natural to barbarism were qualities inherent in the Russian blood. Russia massacres, sometimes even with official connivance. But Russia in all its history has no massacres so abominable as we gentle English were guilty of in Ireland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Russia, too, “Russianizes,” sometimes clumsily, sometimes rather successfully… We “Anglicised” Ireland. These forcible efforts to create uniformity are natural to a phase of social and political development, from which no people on earth have yet fully emerged. And if we set ourselves now to create a reunited Poland under the Russian crown, if we bring all the great influence of the Western Powers to bear upon the side of the liberalising forces in Finland, if we do not try to thwart and stifle Russia by closing her legitimate outlet into the Mediterranean, we shall do infinitely more for human happiness than if we distrust her, check her, and force her back upon the barbarism from which, with a sort of blind pathetic wisdom, she seeks to emerge.

It is unfortunate for Russia that she has come into conspicuous conflict with the Jews. She has certainly treated them no worse than she has treated her own people, and she has treated them less atrociously than they were treated in England during the Middle Ages. The Jews by their particularism invite the resentment of all uncultivated humanity. Civilisation and not revolt emancipates them. And while Russian reverses will throw back her civilisation and intensify the sufferings of all her subject Jews, Russian success in this alliance will inevitably spell Westernisation, progress, and amelioration for them. But unhappily this does not seem to be patent to many Jewish minds. They have been embittered by their wrongs, and, in the English and still more in the American Press, a heavy weight of grievance against Russia finds voice, and distorts the issue of this… it is a huge misfortune that this racial resentment, which, great as it is, is still a little thing beside the world issues involved, should break the united front of western civilisation, and that the confidence of Russia should be threatened, as it is threatened now by doubt and disparagement in the Press. We are not so sure of victory that we can estrange an ally. We have to make up our minds to see all Poland reunited under the Russian Crown, and if the Turks choose to play a foolish part, it is not for us to quarrel now about the fate of Constantinople. The Allies are not to be tempted into a quarrel about Constantinople. The balance of power in the Balkans, that is to say, incessant intrigue between Austria and Russia, has arrested the civilisation of South-eastern Europe for a century. Let it topple. An unchallenged Russia will be a wholesome check, and no great danger for the new greater Serbia and the new greater Rumania and the enlarged and restored Bulgaria this war renders possible…

I see no danger to civilisation in Russia anywhere—at least, no danger so considerable as the Kaiser-Krupp power we fight to finish. This war, even if it brings us the utmost success, will still leave Russia face to face with a united and chastened Germany.” (The Nation, 22.8.1914. Included in H.G. Wells, The War to End War, pp.63-72.)

Russia had a population of 180 million in 1914. 9 million were drafted in the first year of the War.  At the start of the Great War the Tsarist Army invaded East Prussia with 30 Divisions and attempted to trap the German Eight Army near Konigsberg. However, the 2 Russian armies were separated between lakes and forests and they badly bungled the operation, leading to a great defeat by the Germans at Tannenberg.  The Tsarist State did not develop the scientific military method, possibly because it would have aided any military coup that was launched against the regime. Russian regiments fought well, but autonomously in an un-coordinated way in two separate armies, misdirected by Generals Samsonov and Rennenkampf, who acted more as rivals than as commanders on the same side. There was great spirit shown but it was completely negated at the level of command. (Bernard Pares, A History of Russia, p. 514. This is the subject of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s great novel August 1914.)

If the Russians continued to be sent to war under such conditions – badly fed, badly armed and badly led – a breakdown in society would ensue and a thousand year od nation would combust.

It would have made greater sense for Russia to have established defensive positions on the German front where territory was more suitable for this form of warfare. But the Tsar knew nothing except attack and had delusions of capturing Berlin within weeks. All the victories over Austria – whose army was not dissimilar in character to Russia’s, only smaller – could not compensate for the hammerings the Russian Army took from the Germans. But Russia had no good reason to fight Germany.

H.G. Wells described Russia as an “obscurantist”, “barbaric” and “aggressive” state. He was prepared to let it expand, taking Constantinople if it must, along with the creation of Greater Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, which he hoped it would check. Such ideals were hardly the traditional causes of English Liberalism, or even those of the Jingoes in the Tory Party. Professor Thomas Callander, in his excellent book, The Athenian Empire and the British, remarked that if the British Parliament had known, when Sir Edward Grey made his famous speech on 3rd August, that the Foreign Secretary was about to “sign treaties with the Tsar guaranteeing him Constantinople, the Straits and other Turkish possessions , there would have been no stampede to battle, no jubilation in the ranks of ‘the Jingo Party’”  let alone the Liberals. (Thomas Callander, The Athenian Empire and the British, pp.52-3. Professor Callander also interestingly notes that no event of such importance had been ignored by politicians and the press as the Constantinople Agreement of 1915 had been: “Suppression of vital truths is one of the greatest triumphs of mass propaganda and on the list of triumphs few can rank above this – the blackout of the betrayal of Stamboul and the Straits to the Great White Tsar.” p.53.)

Wells’ basic message to English Liberals was that a triumphant Russia was not to be feared. It did not possess the internal character to be a force in the World, that its size might have determined it should be, and if it liberalized itself in its development it would deprive itself of the very character that made it a threat in the first place, in the minds of English Liberals.

But this begs another question that was not posed: Why did Wells think that the Russian Army would perform in the field against such a superior enemy as Germany and would it be an effective ally in a Great War to destroy the Germans? He obviously didn’t. Russia was merely a useful instrument to create the second front that was necessary for Britain to win such a War against that country which had been identified as the primary threat to British World dominance at that moment in time. Wells seems to have presumed that Russia would probably do enough for Britain’s needs, but damage itself badly in the process. That would be all well and good for the future. Russia would be no threat to the British Empire in the aftermath of the War.

That seems to have been the calculation that British Liberals made when they cast aside their doubts about being an ally of autocratic Russia and abandoned their opposition to War in the days following Edward Grey’s famous speech.

It was as much a fatal calculation for English Liberalism as it proved to be for Tsarist Russia (Rather fittingly H.G. Wells’ article is included in the appropriately named collection, The War to End War. Perhaps the greatest illusion/miscalculation of all made in 1914.)

Tsarist Russia did not survive the Great War it decided to join. Britain, in cajoling it into war and pressurizing the Tsar into continuing fighting it, as the Russian State creaked and began to fall apart, conjured into existence something that was even less palatable to English Liberalism than the thing that had previously confronted it – Bolshevik totalitarianism rather than Tsarist autocracy.

But by then the great English Liberal Party had been itself broken by the Great War it had collaborated in toward its destruction.

Britain's Great War Geopolitics Germany

1919 – England’s Crisis of Democracy

Did the “Great War for Democracy”– which was nothing of the sort – result in a democracy that subverted the Peace in 1919? That is an awkward question that has been ignored by historians.

A very astute Frenchman, Andre Siegfried, wrote a number of books in the 1920s and 1930s about the character of England, in order to understand it and explain it to his countrymen, who were, at that very moment, extremely disorientated, because France, after shouldering the brunt of the Great War for 4 years against Germany, was suddenly becoming England’s Balance of Power opponent again.

In England’s Crisis Siegfried observed the ‘Transformation of the Political System’which had occurred in Britain, almost unnoticed, from 1918. Henoted that the“political stability of England has always been the admiration of the world.” However,“behind this imposing facade, England has been more contaminated than any other Western community by the exigencies of democracy.” (Andre Siegfried, England’s Crisis, p.148.)

Up until 1918, although the franchise had been gradually extended, Britain had been able to retain the same political institutions and the“direction of affairs still remained in the hands of the so-called ruling classes.” But:“By creating an entirely different set of circumstances, the War aroused a new spirit and awakened new desires among the people.” Siegfried argued that the”immense army of fighting men” conscripted by Britain to win the War had fundamentally changed the character of the State. In the past the “popular will” was“canalised or even diverted” and usually remained“docile in the hands of its leaders” However, “it is irresistible when roused.” (Andre Siegfried, England’s Crisis, pp.149-153.)

Siegfried concluded:

“From a distance everything looks the same as before – the same morning coat, the same top hat, the same spats – but the spirit has changed. England is now a democracy in the full sense of the world… often inspired by the demagogue… In conclusion, we must emphasise that among the Western democracies, which are all suffering from the same evil, namely lack of responsibility on the part of the people, England is particularly affected.”(Andre Siegfried, England’s Crisis, p.154.)

England’s industrial revolution of the 19th Century had produced a huge proletariat which was suddenly unleashed as a power in the land by the Representation of the People Act of 1918. And nothing was ever the same again in England.

A very important development occurred in February 1918, when the U.K. electorate was nearly tripled at a stroke by the Fourth Reform Act (from the 7.7 million at the time of the last election in 1910, to 21 million). The consequences of this only became apparent after the General Election in December 1918, when the Lloyd George Coalition won a landslide victory to dominate Parliament.

Before the Great War Britain was an oligarchic democracy in which the traditional elite held sway above a limited electorate which had, in 1914, reached about a third of the populace. The British system before the War was one of government by the ruling class eliciting consent of the governed masses. There was no recognition of abstract democratic right.

This is shown in a speech by F.E. Smith (Lord Birkenhead), made in July 1910 against a Bill to give some women the vote. Smith explained: “For generations it has been recognised that no man has an abstract right to vote. The theory that there is such a thing in existence as a right to a vote is as dead as Rousseau. A vote is not a right. It never was a right. It is a capacity which is given on approved public ground to such sections of public citizens as, in the opinion of the whole State, are likely to exercise that quality with benefit to the community taken as a whole.” (Lord Birkenhead, The Speeches of Lord Birkenhead, p.55)

But in 1918 the oligarchic, ruling class that planned and organised the Great War in Britain, behind the scenes, gave way to the democracy which the Great War brought forth. “The whole State” conceded to the masses.

There had not be an election for 8 years in 1918 and Britain became a majority democracy as a result of the unprecedented mass mobilisation it found necessary to invoke – in defiance of the traditional voluntary principle – in order to defeat Germany and the Ottomans. There was no need for conflict, as was usual in these great transformations, because the greatest of the Reform Acts, introduced under cover of the Great War, within the mass enthusiasm for the War, was done through an act of ruling class patronage, organised in secret conclave. Parliament was only shown the details when the deed was done.

With the sudden advent of adult majority participation in elections in Britain account had to be taken of the masses. They began to be pandered to by “the men who won the war”.

Here is a good description of it from a 1922 book by Alfred Zimmern of the Round Table/Chatham House:

“During the week after the armistice the moral thermometer of the British people went down some fifty degrees. During the subsequent month, right up to polling day in the middle of December, it continued to fall. The… sense of national and individual responsibility for the making of a better world… were dissipated in a riot of electioneering, thrown like chaff on the winds of demagogic claptrap and invective… After a few vain attempts at evasion the Premier yielded, and was then led on, floundering and uncomfortable, from one pitfall to another. Ignoring the state of Europe and the appeals which were already pressing in for the services of British troops in maintaining order… he pledged himself to rapid demobilisation… Meanwhile, what was happening in the wider world? The story of the first eight or ten weeks after the armistice can be summed up in three words – delay, confusion, and disillusionment.”(Alfred Zimmern, Europe in Convalescence, pp.106-109)

As Zimmern noted, the chief panderer to the masses was the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, the closest thing there was to “the people”.Lloyd George, coming from humble origins, had broken the unwritten rule that until then had debarred from the Premiership all but thorough gentlemen with first-class educations.

Lord Beaverbrook, the famous press baron, wrote the following about how Lloyd George secured his massive majority in the House of Commons from the new democracy:

“Lloyd George’s Government won the 1918 general election on two slogans – one, “Hang the Kaiser”; the other “Make Germany Pay”… At the December election, candidates made ample use of this vote-catching issue. Lloyd George’s huge majority was to a large extent founded on the popularity of the Hanging Craze.” (Men and Power 1917-1918, p.303)

After securing a great majority in the General Election with the “Hang the Kaiser” slogan the Prime Minister began his pandering to the masses by demobilising the massive conscript British Army that he had built up after the voluntary principle had been abandoned in 1916. It was reduced from 3.5 million at the Armistice to less than a million 9 months later and Defence/War spending was reduced from 600 to 200 million Sterling during 1920. Government spending on the military had risen from 7 per cent to account for nearly 60 per cent of GNP by the last year of the War and it was being paid for by a great increase in taxation, and loans that would be paid for by the post-War tax payers. There were no votes to be won in maintaining such spending and taxation, and far more tax-payers were present in the electorate in 1918 than there had been in 1910. (David French, The British Way in Warfare 1688-2000, p.179.)

This left much Imperial work undone and unable to be done in the areas the British Empire had won for itself. The old Imperial governing class looked on with regret when they saw the dissolution of the great forces that had been recruited, organised and trained and which could have been used to stabilise the world Britain had won through great sacrifice of blood and treasure. It was a once in history, moment. Before the Great War there had been a strong agitation from powerful sections of the ruling elite for Conscription to meet the needs of the Imperial State. It had been resisted by the Liberal Government who defended the Voluntary principle that had served the country in the past. At the moment when that principle had been breached and a massive popular army assembled for the first time in British history Lloyd George decided to throw it away, having the democracy behind him.

The great army recruited by Britain to defeat Germany had been enlisted through Millenarian propaganda before the voluntary principle finally gave way to compulsion. So, the unprecedented force assembled was not brought into existence for the purposes of Imperial work. It owed its existence to a call to defeat an unprecedented evil that had emerged in the world. That evil having been defeated it was problematic for it to continue in existence after the event. If it had done so there would have been an undermining of the narrative of the War and suspicion that everything was not what it seemed to be. However, Conscription, a real innovation in the policy of the British State, had brought on the necessity of democracy by arming the nation. In a situation where the masses had been brought into arms and politics and the Bolsheviks generated as a force in the world, and a potential influence on the masses, this was dangerous.

A functional settlement in Europe and beyond was therefore prevented in the process of this disbandment by the new British democracy and its “wheeler-dealer” Prime Minister.


Alfred Zimmern made this comment in early 1919 about the “selfishness”of the new emerging democracy, in which the new political strata might refuse to take up the necessary altruistic work of the Imperial State at a critical juncture:

“History will assess the full measure of the moral injury inflicted upon the world, and the British Empire, by Britain’s sudden swerve towards selfishness. For the moment, it would seem to mark the first step in a process of disintegration which later statesmen, even if, as they surely must, they acknowledge, and seek publicly to retrieve, the sins of their predecessors, will find it hard to arrest; for the accumulated moral capital of a wide-spreading commonwealth.” (Alfred Zimmern, Europe in Convalescence, p.122)

The British ruling class largely did what it pleased during the 18thand 19thCenturies, unhindered by those below, that served them. In the past the ruling strata in England acted effectively outside of any moral atmosphere. There had been some morality worked up during the war on Napoleon when things started to get desperate. But after the event, with Napoleon vanquished, there was no necessity to continue with it, and a functional European settlement was concluded by the statesmen at Vienna, without reference to the inconvenience of popular passions. The map of Europe could be rolled up for a generation, since it would not be needed. However, in August 1914 a strong element of morality had been introduced into the situation to unify the British nation against Germany and the democracy that came out of the conduct of the War then subverted the old and effective statesmanship.

Great passions had been worked up in Britain to wage its Great War and to win it. These popular passions ruled out the concluding of the Great War through a traditional Imperial peace, as was desired by Churchill and others. Dynastic/aristocratic war had given way to People’s/Democratic war, and not for the betterment of humanity. The appearance of a democracy at the conclusion of the War enhanced the negative aspect of this.

The combination of British democracy and “a wide-spreading commonwealth”spelt disaster for the world after Britain had gained its primacy over the earth. The map of Europe had to be unfolded again and again to facilitate the new forces that were produced by the conduct of the War, its aftermath and settlement and as a result, it is safe to say, there was another great war, of even greater devastation, within a generation.

At the same time as admitting the masses to the franchise, to mitigate the effects of the new democracy, “Lloyd George wanted the Coalition to continue in what was almost an attempt at one-party government. It was cleverly disguised dictatorship.”He “introduced methods that would have been more in keeping with a totalitarian state”(The Mask of Merlin: A Critical Study of David Lloyd George, pp.155-7)

The Prime Minister promised “to demand the whole cost of the war from Germany at once”and in 20 or more speeches he committed to “hanging the Kaiser”. With the use of issuing Coupons to reliable candidates Lloyd George achieved 526 MPs against a combined opposition of less than 90 in the House of Commons.

Lloyd George was the most powerful Prime Minister that had ever held office in the British system, because of a remarkable shift in power within the British Executive. As Andre Siegfried explained:

“It is natural for the power of a Government to increase in times of war, but it is unusual for it to shift its centre of gravity during its growth. The essentials of power were no longer vested in the Cabinet – considered as a collective body – but in the position of the Prime Minister, seconded by collaborators and technical experts. In this domain, as in every other in which he has exercised his abilities, the personality of Lloyd George acted as ferment. By the creation on his own initiative of the War Cabinet at the end of 1916, a new body, more exclusive and efficient, meeting daily and sometimes twice a day, was born in the very heart of Government… A new organisation known as the Secretariat of the Cabinet came into being as a result of… the need for centralizing the activities of the Government. Many ministers who had hitherto shared in the general direction of policy, now found their activities confined solely to the fulfilling of their departmental duties… Under the brilliant direction of Sir Maurice Hankey, the Cabinet Secretariat became, during the Premiership of Lloyd George, a vital part of the administrative machinery…

 Under Mr. Lloyd George the post of Prime Minister thus became a semi-independent institution. He organised his own technical services in order to study various questions at first hand, and often withdrew technical problems from the competence of the various ministries. Thus, for example, all matters pertaining to the League of Nations and the preparation of international conferences passed from the direction of the Foreign Office to that of the Secretariat, which grew into a veritable ministerial department controlled by the head of Government.

From what has been written, it will be seen that Mr. Lloyd George in the last years of his power no longer governed with the spirit and traditions of his predecessors. Rendered independent of his colleagues on all technical matters by the remarkable service he had to hand, he also managed to liberate himself from the restrictive influence of the House of Commons. For the existing Coalition, by uniting men of different political opinions and making them work as a single body, had developed in place of open discussions in the House the practice of those combinations in which the Premier excelled… In short, he created for himself a pre-eminent and isolated position, akin to that of the president of a democracy who addresses himself directly to the people, and obtains his mandate from them.” (Andre Siegfried, Post-War Britain, pp.198-201)

The man who was Prime Minister of Britain in 1918, Lloyd George, had made himself very powerful. But he still had to live by his wits in the company of his social superiors, within a rapidly changing situation, brought about by the sudden introduction of mass democracy, in which he had built himself his singular and predominant power base. He had to be fluid and like quicksilver. He was a man who had shown he had principles but who had largely abandoned them to rise up the greasy pole and stay at the top of it. And he had assumed the character of a weathervane, blowing one way or another, as events affected him, to stay at the top.

E.T. Raymond, wrote this informed character sketch of the Prime Minister, in 1918:

“Mr. Lloyd George belongs essentially to the empirical school of statesmanship. He does not look “before and after,” but only about him. He stands in small awe of precedent, principle, and doctrine; he is always readier to experiment than to think. Intensely interested in the things of the moment, in himself and the people he likes, in the “causes” which appeal to him in his varying moods, no man has less sense of the continuity of human things. For him the present tick of the clock has all the dignity of the eternal.”(E.T. Raymond, Uncensored Celebrities, pp.10-1)

The perfect man for the fleeting demands of holding on to power in the new democracy. However, what would be the result of such a personality on the great continuities of British Statesmanship, the Empire and geopolitics, and the world that Britain stood astride of through its Great War victory?

It was the character and power of this man, and the unprecedented situation that pertained in Britain at the end of the Great War, that needs to be understood if we are to understand what happened in relation to British policy from 1918 to 1922.

Lloyd George was a Liberal Prime Minister heading a Coalition with a largely Conservative Cabinet and Parliament. The Liberal Party had been devasted by Lloyd George’s desertion and splitting of it and a Labour opposition was just developing. It was a moment of flux in the British system whereby a new political force, Labour, was being developed as the second party to replace the Liberal Party, which had bungled the War, in the British two-party system. It was an extraordinary phase in British politics, presided over by “the government of all the talents”, the“first XI”who were about to take some of the most important decisions in the history of the World and wreck what hadn’t been wrecked by the British conduct of its Great War.

If the traditional ruling class of England who planned the Great War had been able to conduct that war in an honest way and conclude the peace, unhindered by the democracy it brought into existence, would that have resulted in a worse outcome than what happened in 1919 and subsequently?

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“The Russians Shall Have Constantinople…” (A Postscript to the Durnovo Memorandum)


The great dream of the Tsars over the centuries had been to conquer and convert the Ottoman capital of Istanbul/Constantinople into Tsargrad and free the Straits for the Russian Black Sea fleet. In 1914 Tsar Nicholas II entered into alliance with the British Empire in order to fulfil that dream as a part of the Great War on Germany and the Ottoman Empire that he was expecting. Plans had been made by the Russian army and navy in preparation for the day, the Armenian Dashnaks had been primed and all that was needed was the right event in the Balkans to act as detonator.

It was for that reason that the Great War was brought to the Ottoman Empire in 1914.

The Tsar’s former Interior Minister, Pyotr Durnovo, had warned him in a last Memorandum (Where did it all go wrong for Russia?), in the February before the War, that even if he achieved this feat and was not cheated out of his prize by the British, the British Royal Navy, with its mighty fleet of ships, naval bases and coaling stations dotted across the Mediterranean, lay in wait for the Russian Navy beyond. It was not something that was worth risking all for in a catastrophic Great War that would destroy the peace of Europe and more.

But Tsar Nicholas did not listen to Durnovo and, 3 years later, as was predicted in the Memorandum, everything lay in ruins. The British had, indeed, granted the Tsar the city of his dreams, in the secret 1915 London agreement. But the catch of the Treaty was that he should fight to the death and never make a separate peace, no matter what, if he was to finally get it. Mindful of this the Tsar’s Steamroller had no brakes. It could only roll forward to Berlin or roll back, crushing Russia as it did.

The Tsar’s army collapsed due to the blood his people were forced to shed, in return for massive British loans, and being forced to fight on to the bitter end for Constantinople. After the Revolution of February 1917 he handed over power to the Liberals and Socialists who persevered with his War, and reaffirmed its aim of taking the Ottoman capital, but who proved incapable of governing the State. And the Bolsheviks who then emerged in catastrophe, under Lenin’s direction, both governed the State and saved it, as well as wiping the Romanovs from history, along with their catastrophic War. Far from the Russian eagle flying over Tsargrad, the Ottoman army had reached Baku, in the Russian Southern Caucasus, captured its oil wells, and made it the capital of the new state of Azerbaijan.

But the Russians did actually reach Constantinople in the end…

In November 1920, the remnant of the White Russian society, who had attempted to overthrow the Bolshevik upstarts and restore something of the Old Russia, were obliged by the Red Army to evacuate the Crimea with General Wrangel’s forces, after Britain withdrew its support for the attempt to overthrow the Bolsheviks. They found themselves sailing for the Tsar’s prize, now occupied by their victorious British allies, for refuge as asylum seekers.

Over 120 boats, containing around 150,000 Russian refugees, arrived in Constantinople/Istanbul. With them the Russians brought the remnants of their society, including the precious Imperial stud. They came not, as they had once hoped, “to hang Russia’s shield on the gates of Tsargrad”  but as seekers of shelter and protection. The hungry and thirsty were known to lower their wedding rings and other jewellery down on string to gathering boatloads of Armenian and Greek shopkeepers in return for bread and water. Their Christian allies treated them with contempt and, in their hour of need, bled them dry.

The Russian Army and refugees slept in the stables of Dolmabahce Palace, in rooms vacated by prostitutes in the cheap hotels, in the streets, and in makeshift army camps outside the city. Young Tsarist officers worked as porters and butlers on the streets of Pera and slept in bunkbeds in the camp at night. They walked the Grand Rue de Pera in their Cossack uniforms, and worked as taxi drivers, or played the violin in casinos. The concierge of a hotel could be a General while a waitress at a restaurant could be a Countess. They gave to Istanbul the European-style restaurant and generated a new night life. But many just descended into ruin in the city.

The Ottoman government, which operated before it was repressed by the British occupation forces, did not spare the aid to the old enemy they could provide under very difficult circumstances. Russian lawyer and Duma member Nikolay Chebyshev wrote in his memoires, “The immigrant Russians have not felt as much in their homes as in Istanbul, even in the embracing Slavic countries.” A refugee later said, “While fleeing from Russia, we always thought that the only country that opened its doors to Jews who escaped from the Spanish Inquisition was Turkey in 1492. They would not turn us away.” (Daily Sabah, 7.7.2017)

Good relations were formed with the hospitable Moslem Turks, their enemies of centuries, whilst the Russians grew to despise the greed and dishonesty of those Christians they had once proclaimed as allies to liberate. The world had been turned upside down.

Graham Stephen, a Scotsman who had travelled as a vagabond through the Caucasus in the decade before the Great War, and who had written of the contentment he observed in the Russian countryside during the days of the great Count Witte, found himself in Istanbul in 1920-1. There he came across the broken remnants of Old Russia, which, having been promised Constantinople by Britain in return for its services in the Great War, had finally reached its heart’s desire – but not as conquering heroes establishing Tsargrad, but as abandoned refugees from the failed British interventions in Russia that the duplicitous Lloyd George had aborted.

In British-occupied Istanbul, Graham Stephen commented: “The Russians shall have Constantinople”, after all.

Everyone in England would have known what that phrase meant. It came from one of the most famous London music hall songs of the late 1870s, which made a fortune for its Irish performer – “The Jingo War Song”. It had stirred English fight against the Russian Bear and his attempt to take Constantinople in 1877/8, which Disraeli had thwarted with the threat of war and taken care of in the Treaty of Berlin. Its famous chorus, which popularised the term “Jingoism” went as follows:

“We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do

We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, and got the money too!

We’ve fought the Bear before and while we’re Britons true

The Russians shall not have Constantinople.”

That song lived in the memory for at least a generation in England and Ireland.

But that was in the days before Sir Edward Grey brought about a Revolution in British Foreign Policy and ditched Britain’s traditional allies in Istanbul to procure the services of England’s main enemy in the World, Russia, so that the Tsar’s Steamroller could be used to help destroy the German commercial threat in a Great War. The Great Game gave way to the Balance of Power and the Great War.

Graham Stephen saw the result of the British success in luring the Tsar into an unnecessary war on the streets of Istanbul in 1920:

“Constantinople has five times as many people as it can house, a city now of appalling unhappiness and misery, and of a concomitant luxury and waste. A scene at night: two children, a boy and a girl, lie huddled together on the pavement sleeping whilst the rain beats down upon them. The crowd keeps passing, keeps passing, and some step over them, many glance questioningly downward, but all pass on. No one stops. I stood at a corner and watched. Then I walked up to the children and wakened them and tried to make them speak. But they stared with their pale faces and said nothing… I stopped a Russian woman who was hesitating as she passed. “There are many,” said she. “It is quite common. You see plenty babies lying in the rain…”

The Russians have got Constantinople at last. It Is an irony of Fate. There are a hundred thousand of them there, the best blood of Russia, and the most charming and delightful people in Europe in themselves, though now almost entirely destitute of means… The refugee peasantry and working class are mostly confined in barbed-wire internment camps outside the city, and guarded by Sengalese. Twenty per cent get permission to go into the city each day. The seventy or eighty thousand indigent Russians in Constantinople belong mostly to the upper classes. Very many belong to Petrograd society, and are people who fled to the Crimea and the Caucasus, were caught up in the Deniken or Wrangel panic, and transported hither. They are well-educated people, speaking English and French, and well-read and accomplished. But how little are those modem accomplishments when it comes to the elemental realities of life…

Alas, the temptations are great. Need becomes more and more incessant. Starvation stares thousands in the face. One sees those who keep their heads up still, but we lose sight of many who are utterly cast down and lost. Many a Russian has gone down here in this great city and been lost, vanished into the hideous underworld of the Levant. They sell all their jewels and then sell the last jewel of all. In the cabarets and night-halls of low amusement there is nude dancing and drink, lascivious Greeks, drunken American sailors capable of enormities of behaviour, British Tommies with the rolling eye, “seeing the world and being paid for it” as the posters say. The public places are a scandal, and the private dens got up in all sorts of styles with rose-coloured shaded lights and divans and cushions for abandonment to drugs and sensual affections must be explored individually to be described. A part of old Russia has come to Constantinople — to die.

In charge of this imbroglio is a British General. The city Is under Allied control, and is patrolled by the troops of four nations, but the British is the main authority. G.H.Q. Constantinople occupies a large barracks which faces a parade-ground. Indian sentries march to and fro outside and enjoy thus serving their King, a picture of polish and smartness.

Facing the barracks is a smaller building called “The Jockey Club” where the Commander-in-Chief himself and many of his staff meet to lunch or dine, play billiards, or chat pleasantly over their liqueurs in English style.

“What a pleasure it is to see our fellows in the streets so clean and well-behaved, with no interest except in football, and to compare them with the loafers you see everywhere,” says General M. “One thing the British Empire can thank the Jews for,” says Capt. C, “is that they’ve ruined Russia.” “What’s the matter with the Russians,” says stout Col. C, “is that there’s no punch in them; they’re a helpless sort of people, from a general to a private soldier, it’s all the same; they cannot cross a road unless you take them by the hand and lead them across.” (Europe – Whither Bound?: Quo Vadis Europa?; Being letters of travel from the capitals of Europe in the year 1921, pp.35-40.)

It is hard to read this and not weep. And people wonder why Russia is still suspicious of Britain!

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Where did it all go wrong for Russia?

MEV-10289679 - © - Mary Evans / John Massey Stewart Collection

The short answer is: when Tsar Nicholas II offered his country and its population up to Britain in its Great War of 1914 to destroy Germany and break up the Ottoman Empire. In waging that War, in which Russia was bled to collapse in return for substantial British finance to continue fighting to the bitter end, the Tsar sealed the fate of himself, his dynasty and his State. And it has taken Russia, and the World, a century to recover from that momentous decision.

The Tsar had been warned for a long time before about the dangerous road he was taking by his most able and impressive minister, Count Witte, who Nicholas had unfortunately dismissed in 1903. But he received one final warning before he finally took Russia to the abyss.

It came from Pyotr Durnovo, Count Witte’s old Interior Minister, who had effectively suppressed the 1905 Revolution for the Tsar. Durnovo was a conservative monarchist who believed that it was not in Russia’s interest to fight a costly war with an uncertain outcome against Germany, another state of traditional character. He thought the outcome of such a destructive war would only help further the inserts of Russia’s geopolitical enemy, Britain, and that rapprochement with Germany should be taken as a more prudent course by the Tsar.

In a long memorandum to the Tsar, written in February 1914, Durnovo set out his case to his leader. He warned about the drift of Russian Foreign Policy toward war, since 1907, in alliance with England and France, over the Pan-Slavic cause in the Balkans. It is one of the most magnificently prophetic pieces of writing in World history and is, therefore, worthy of re-publication. It can be found in full below this commentary.

A copy of the Durnovo Memorandum was found among the Tsar’s most valued personal papers when he was arrested in 1917. It might have been that Nicholas had come to realise the wisdom of Durnovo’s warning and saw the document as a kind of guide to what future travails would befall his country as a result of the decision to go to war. Or it might be that the Tsar kept it to remind the doubters how wrong they had been when the Russian Steamroller rolled into Berlin and Istanbul had become Tsargrad. We will never know.

It shows an unusually perceptive understanding of the nature of the Great War that was about to fought and why it was the wrong course for Russia to take. And history verifies its almost faultless predictive accuracy.

Durnovo made no bones about describing the war he saw coming as being about the rivalry that had developed between Germany and England over recent decades. It was, really, none of Russia’s business. Durnovo told the Tsar that the British would, through necessity, expand this war into a world war, and wage it with such a formidable group of allies that success was highly probable. It would seize the small number of German colonies, stop Germany’s trade and destroy her navy. Durnovo also accurately predicted the main line ups as France, Russia, Britain, Italy, Serbia and Romania against Germany, Austro-Hungary, Ottoman Turkey and Bulgaria with the U.S. coming in later on the British side.

Durnovo saw no good in the Tsar’s 1907 agreement with England and plenty of danger for Russia in what it was now entailing. It was the pivotal event on the Russian road to destruction. After a discussion about the supposed benefits to Russia in the Far East and Persia of the Anglo-Russian Convention, Durnovo stated: “To sum up, the Anglo-Russian accord has brought us nothing of practical value up to this time, while for the future, it threatens us with an inevitable armed clash with Germany.”

Durnovo correctly foresaw that the main burden of the war would fall on Russia and her population, as the Allies’ “battering ram”. The French, with their declining population, could only possibly provide a holding operation in the West, whilst the British would use the sea to their own selfish advantage, as per usual. That was, after all, the British way in warfare and Empire building.

In conclusion, Durnovo advised the Tsar:

“A summary of all that has been stated above must lead to the conclusion that a rapprochement with England does not promise us any benefits, and that the English orientation of our diplomacy is essentially wrong. We do not travel the same road as England; she should be left to go her own way, and we must not quarrel on her account with Germany.

The Triple Entente is an artificial combination, without a basis of real interest. It has nothing to look forward to. The future belongs to a close and incomparably more vital rapprochement of Russia, Germany, France (reconciled with Germany), and Japan (allied to Russia by a strictly defensive union). A political combination like this, lacking all aggressiveness toward other States, would safeguard for many years the peace of the civilized nations, threatened, not by the militant intentions of Germany, as English diplomacy is trying to show, but solely by the perfectly natural striving of England to retain at all costs her vanishing domination of the seas. In this direction, and not in the fruitless search of a basis for an accord with England, which is in its very nature contrary to our national plans and aims, should all the efforts of our diplomacy be concentrated.

 It goes without saying that Germany, on her part, must meet our desire to restore our well-tested relations and friendly alliance with her, and to elaborate, in closest agreement with us, such terms of our neighborly existence as to afford no basis for anti-German agitation on the part of our constitutional-liberal parties, which, by their very nature, are forced to adhere, not to a Conservative German, but to a liberal English orientation.”

The Tsar could have not been presented with better analysis of the dangerous situation Russia was propelling itself toward and more astute advice about what to do instead. But evidently Durnovo’s advice was ignored by the Tsar and his war mongering ministers and they proceeded to lead their country to destruction.

Count Witte and the Russia Threat

By the last decade of the 19thCentury the Russian Empire had grown into the largest state in the world, in terms of continuous territory. It was not as large as the British Empire, but Greater Britain was an empire on many continents, held together by a navy. The Russian Empire had a population of 150 million and it had expanded at a rate of over 50 miles a day over the previous centuries.

After the Russian Revolution fatal weaknesses were found to exist within the Tsarist system, but that is not how things were seen from Britain at the turn of the century. Russia was a “Going Concern” of enormous size and considerable power. As a sure sign of its health, both capital and people migrated there in considerable amounts. And it was the state that Britain undoubtedly feared most in the World.

Tsarist Russia was not the declining decrepit state that it is often portrayed as, in histories written after 1917. But the astonishing resurrection of Russia under the Bolsheviks, from where the Tsar and the Russian Liberals had left it in 1917, also tends to disguise how low it had fell.

Russia was seen in England as the advance guard of Western Civilisation in Asia and its “civilising mission” was admired as much as the consequences of it were feared. In the decades prior to the events that led Tsar Nicholas to War, the Russian economy was in very good shape and was the fastest growing in the World. New railways were being laid at a tremendous rate. Between 1900 and 1914 , iron and coal production more than doubled and Russian grain fed much of the European continent. Russia had a vigorous intellectual life which produced Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and there was a great flowering of cultural life in the last decades of the Romanovs.

In 1902 Valentine Chirol, Director of the Foreign Department of The Times and friend of Lord Curzon, visited the Southern Caucasus and Persia to see what the Russians had achieved. After disembarking from a Caspian ferry from Baku at Enzeli he observed the new 220-mile road from Resht to Teheran, funded by Russian capital and built through Russian enterprise. For Chirol it was symbolic of the ascendency of Russia in the region and he marvelled at the enormous outlay and the difficulties that had been overcome. Chirol believed that the road would enable Russia to pour its troops quickly into Northern Persia where expansion was inevitable.

Russia’s great industrial development in the 1890s took place largely under the guidance of Count Sergei Witte. Witte was the director of Railway Affairs from 1889 to 1891 and after his success in this important role was appointed the Tsar’s Minister for Finance, a position he held until 1903. Under his direction Russia embarked upon a hugely ambitious programme of economic modernisation. Importantly, it was performed within the context of good diplomatic relations with both France and Germany. Witte was for internal development and against problems with other Powers.

Count Witte had to overcome a substantial conservative opposition which feared the growth of industrial capitalism and a proletariat in agrarian Russia. What distinguished Witte from his predecessors was his ability to produce a climate conducive to development and his ability to direct government policy, planning and resources to that end. He practiced state capitalism, which directed the flow of capital into heavy industry and infrastructure and encouraged foreign inward investment and technological development to improve efficiency in all areas of the Russian economy.

Count Witte introduced monetary reform and placed the Russian currency on the Gold Standard. His measures created the climate for foreign capital investment of a progressive type. Between 1894 and 1902 the highest proportion of government funds were assigned to industrial growth and the development of the railways and the Russian State became the prime mover in this, by supplying capital itself or making it available from other sources. The chemical, mining and steel industries were built up and a programme of training was instituted to create an industrial proletariat out of the peasants. By 1900 there were around 2.5 million factory workers in Russia.

Railroads were most important to Witte as a force capable of drawing together the Empire’s vast spaces, its people, agriculture and industry. He saw them as agents of civilisation and progress, linking Russia with Europe and, particularly Asia, where markets could be developed that would reduce the country’s dependence on Europe. Under Witte’s administration there was a doubling of the amount of railroad track and it was he who was responsible for the great Trans-Siberian line of 4,000 miles, which unified the Empire. The spread of the railways was accompanied by the expansion of heavy industry and increased outputs of iron, steel, coal, oil and machinery production to serve the expansion of trackbed. Ports like Riga and Odessa were expanded and quadrupled in size and Baku was transformed into one of the richest cities in the world during the period of Witte’s administration.

Russian growth rates, at around 8 per cent per annum, were phenomenal under Witte’s influence, with the country exceeding those of America, Germany and Britain and surpassing those of Britain’s industrial revolution at its height of progress – with far less of the brutal exploitation that had characterised Victorian England.

In 1904, the illustrious Director of the London School of Economics, Professor Halford Mackinder, eyeing the overall development of Russia with great concern, noted in a famous paper given to the Royal Geographical Society, ‘The Geographical Pivot of History’, that:

“The Russian railways have a clear run of 6000 miles… The Russian army in Manchuria is as significant evidence of mobile land-power as the British army in South Africa was of sea-power… the century will not be old before all Asia is covered with railways. The spaces within the Russian Empire and Mongolia are so vast, and their potentialities in population, wheat, cotton, fuel and metals so incalculably great, that it is inevitable that a vast economic world… will there develop inaccessible to oceanic enterprise…Is not the pivot region of the world’s politics that vast area of Euro-Asia which is inaccessible to ships, but in antiquity lay open to the horse riding nomads, and is today about to be covered with a network of railways. There have been and are here the conditions of a mobility of military and economic power of a far-reaching and yet limited character. Russia replaces the Mongol empire. Her pressure on Finland, on Scandinavia, on Poland, on Turkey, on Persia, on India, on China replaces the centrifugal raids of the steppe-men. In the world at large she occupies the central strategic position held by Germany in Europe.” (Halford J. Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality, pp.260-1)

This is Mackinder’s influential idea of the world as an island, with Russia as its “pivot state”.Whoever controlled this “heartland”would control the world, according to Mackinder. This Russian “heartland”was unfortunately beyond the control of the great Sea Power of Britain.

One can see from this analysis, by the father of geopolitics, the issue that confronted Imperial Britain at the turn of the Century. Both Germany, with its Berlin-Baghdad Railway, and Russia, with its Trans-Siberian Railway, were developing rapidly and establishing extensive inter-continental markets that were largely immune from the influence of British Sea Power. These were dangerous developments for Britain’s global dominance and threatened the development of something that was seen as intolerable – a multi-polar world.

Britain, of course, could not confront the threat of Germany and Russia together. The two had to be detached and dealt with differently. One had to be curtailed and accommodated to a degree, to facilitate a situation by which the other could be destroyed as a rival.

The Liberal Fear of Russia

After Britain had secured the Russian Steamroller in its Great War on Germany, H.G. Wells addressed “The Liberal Fear of Russia” in a famous piece for The Nation on 22ndAugust 1914. He aimed to dispel the fears of English Liberals, which might get in the way of the waging of a successful war against the new enemy, with the former enemy as ally. It is interesting in understanding how the unlikely alliance between Liberal England and Tsarist Russia was justified in Britain.

H.G. Wells described Russia as an “obscurantist”, “barbaric”and “aggressive” state. He declared himself prepared to let it expand, taking Constantinople if it must, along with the creation of Greater Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, which he hoped it would check. Such ideals were hardly the traditional causes of English Liberalism or even the Jingoes in the Tory Party.

There was little doubt that England would not have procured Russia as a force against Germany if it was not worth procuring. Wells’ basic message to English Liberals was that a triumphant Russia was not to be feared. It did not possess the internal character to be a future force in the World, that its size might have determined it should be, and if it liberalised itself in its development it would deprive itself of the very character that made it a threat in the first place, in the minds of English Liberals.

Russia was a very useful instrument to create the second front that was necessary for Britain to win such a War against that country which had been identified as the primary threat to British World dominance at that moment in time. Wells seems to have presumed that Russia would probably do enough for Britain’s needs, but damage itself badly in the process. That would be all well and good for the future. Russia would be no future threat to the British Empire in the aftermath of the War.

That seems to have been the calculation that British Liberals made when they cast aside their doubts about being an ally of autocratic Russia and abandoned their opposition to War in the days following Edward Grey’s famous speech.

It was as much a fatal calculation for English Liberalism as it proved to be for Tsarist Russia (Rather fittingly H.G. Wells’ article is included in the appropriately named collection, The War to End War. Perhaps the greatest illusion/miscalculation of all made in 1914.)

It was in the course of attempting to destroy the successful German State that Britain led Tsarist Russia to its destruction. Tsarist Russia was ready for war in 1914. It was a powerful and long-standing expansionary state with further ambitions of expansion – particularly down to the Dardanelles. It immediately went on the offensive on all fronts – European and Caucasian.

After Britain had made the European war of July 1914 into a World War by joining it and expanded its conflict zone to global proportions it supported the Tsarist War effort with nearly 600 million pounds in loans over the following few years. As in previous wars fought on the European continent, in pursuit of the Balance of Power, British finance was an important element in sustaining conflict to the required level of attrition so that the enemy could be ground down.

All that was required from Russia was blood in the short-term, until the War was won and then the loans could be repaid when things returned to normality, minus Germany and the Ottomans.

The Road to Destruction

A series of three events enabled Britain to ultimately master the perceived Russian threat to its preponderance in the World: Firstly, there was the unfortunate dismissal of Count Witte as Finance Minister by the Tsar in 1903. This was closely followed by the disastrous Russian war on Japan in the following year, facilitated by the British alliance with the Japanese of 1902. And then the 1905 Revolution.

The disastrous war that the Tsar fought with Japan over Manchuria, after the dismissal of Count Witte, was a pivotal event in the downward spiral of things that took the Romanovs and Russia to destruction in 1917. It is a war that is very much neglected in British history books despite, or maybe because of, England’s important role in provoking it and managing it.

After Japan had seized the Liaoting Peninsular, as a result of its 1894-5 war on China over the possession of Korea, Count Witte became determined to maintain the integrity of the Chinese Empire and prevent it becoming carved up by the Western Imperialists. Witte pressed the European Powers to present an ultimatum to the Japanese to evacuate Liaoting for a war indemnity. The tripartite alliance that Witte summoned up, through his good relations with France and Germany, forced the Japanese out. However, ominously, Britain, which had its eyes on an alliance with Japan, refused Witte’s invitation to join the pressure on Tokyo.

To protect the future integrity of China, Witte established a Russian/Chinese Bank and secured loans for the Chinese Government. He also signed a secret treaty promising military assistance to China if it were attacked again.

However, Count Witte then found all his good work undone by his enemies at the Tsar’s court, who persuaded Nicholas to occupy Port Arthur on the Liaoting Peninsular and undermined good Russian/Chinese relations as a consequence. This act, and other European encroachments on Chinese territory, led to the Boxer Rebellion. Russian forces were then sent into Manchuria to secure interests and the Chinese Eastern Railway. Count Witte urged the Tsar to withdraw these troops as soon as possible to avoid Russia falling into a quagmire, but Nicholas hesitated.

England concluded an alliance with Japan in February 1902, ostensibly to block Russian movement toward the Pacific coast and the attainment of a warm-water port. From the 1890s British shipyards had built a modern battlefleet for the Japanese navy, which Tokyo would require to safeguard its own designs on China and Korea. The agreement had a clause which promised British assistance if Japan got into a war with more than one Power.

This was clever because it meant that if Japan felt like taking on Russia there would be a strong deterrent effect on France, Germany, or anyone else, minded to help Russia. Secret clauses authorised the Japanese to avail of British coaling stations and docks in the region, in return for looking after British interests in the Far East. The British thus contracted out a policing role to Tokyo on behalf of the British Empire to release the Royal Navy for other pressing engagements elsewhere in the world. Large British loans were facilitated by Lord Esher, through the City of London, to build up Tokyo’s war chest.

The Anglo-Japanese treaty was something that astonished the World. It was unprecedented as a formal alliance, granted by Britain to a foreign Power, and an Asiatic one at that. It was concluded in secret by Lord Lansdowne and presented as a fait accompli to a surprised British Parliament.

The Tsar, who had initially taken Witte’s good advice and agreed to recognise Chinese sovereignty over Manchuria and promised a phased withdrawal of Russian troops, inadvisably went back on his word. This prompted Count Witte, who had warned him of the danger, to resign from the Council of Ministers. The Japanese presented Russia with an ultimatum to recognise Tokyo’s claims on Korea or face war. The Tsar refused to accept the indignity of an ultimatum from an inferior race and in February 1904 Japanese torpedo boats attacked the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, without issuing a declaration of war. The Russian garrison at Port Arthur was then put under siege by a force of up to 80,000 Japanese, blocking off all chance of relieving them by land.

This is where the Straits Convention came into play for Britain. The Russian Black Sea fleet was the closest naval force with the potential to relieve Port Arthur, but the Tsar was reminded by London, citing the Treaty of Berlin, that any attempt to sail it through the Dardanelles would mean war, and this severely handicapping the Russian war effort against the Japanese.

Because of this obstruction the Russian Baltic fleet had to be sent on an eight month voyage to relieve the Russian force at Port Arthur. Before it could reach the Cape of Good Hope the Russians were forced to surrender at Port Arthur and their army in Manchuria was destroyed by Japanese forces. Having sent his fleet out, half way across the world, the Tsar then decided, unwisely, to let it fight a face-saving battle to restore prestige. At Tsushima the Russian fleet was annihilated by the Imperial Japanese Navy, which lay in restful wait for the exhausted Russians. The Baltic fleet lost 24 ships in the battle, before surrendering the rest. This meant that the Tsar lost two of his three fleets – the Pacific and Baltic- whilst the British bottled up his remaining forces in the Black Sea.

Count Witte was summoned out of retirement by the Tsar to salvage a deal with the Japanese victors, which he did in limiting the Japanese to the southern half of the Liaoting Peninsula and avoiding a crushing war indemnity.

The Russian defeat resulted in the loss of 100,000 soldiers and sailors and the obliteration of the Tsar’s navy. The 1902 treaty with Japan had been a wonderful success for Britain. Russian prestige had been badly damaged by the Japanese, because the Orientals were not seen as a first-class race by White Europeans. The limitations of Russian land power had been demonstrated by the appliance of a sea power from the East. The importance of the Straits had been demonstrated to the Tsar and his only warm-water port was gone. And worse was to come when the disastrous and humiliating war sparked off revolution in Russia in 1905.

1905 and After

During 1905 terrorism grew to gigantic proportions in Russia with 3,600 officials killed or wounded by assorted assassins. The remains of the Tsar’s fleet mutinied in the Black Sea. Bloody Sunday occurred outside the Winter Palace and Nicholas’s uncle was assassinated. Serious inter-communal violence exploded in the Southern Caucasus destroying the important Baku oil wells and paralysing production for the Russian economy.

Count Witte advised the hesitating Tsar that he should either appoint a military dictator to crush the revolution or buy it off by embracing constitutionalism, through the convoking of a representative Duma. This would split the liberals from the revolutionaries, who could then be dealt with in an appropriate way. Witte told the Tsar that it was one course or another and half-measures would be fatal. The Tsar authorised Witte to draw up a reform plan that became the October Manifesto.

The Revolution was defeated through Witte’s programme and the main soviets in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Tiflis were crushed in the military clampdown organised by the Minister of the Interior, Durnovo. The Revolution, following the disastrous war, had shook the Romanov regime to its foundations, but Witte, before he resigned in April 1906, had bought the Tsar time to stabilise things.

Count Witte had enabled the Tsar to stabilise his State and preserve the Romanov dynasty if he took the right course of consolidation andretrenchment. Luckily for the Tsar, after Witte’s retirement, another effective statesman emerged. Peter Stolypin, who became Minister for the Interior and Chairman of the Council of Ministers, employed a combination of ruthless suppression of the revolutionaries and terrorists with popular social and land reforms, which he pushed through the Duma, to restore stability and order. He revived Witte’s state capitalism with good effect and resumed railway building to finish the Trans-Siberian line. Following Witte, Stolypin operated a paternalistic system through the Tsar and Church, counterposed to the excesses of the profiteering liberal capitalists.

But the success of the Stolypin programme, like that of Count Witte, depended on the maintenance of external peace and the avoidance of war adventurism. Stolypin, most of all, endeavoured to avoid foreign entanglements to avoid a repeat of 1905.

In that respect the 1907 convention with Britain was a dangerous initiative. It was opposed by Count Witte, in retirement, who called it “a triumph of British diplomacy” viewing it as a fatal accommodation by Russia to the British interest in the World. Witte knew that it would poison relations with Germany through the suspicions it would raise and he saw it as an unnecessary concession over Persia, whose Northern provinces Russia was destined to absorb in any case. Britain had given little and secured a great deal, locking Russia into a fatal embrace.

Sir Edward Grey’s Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, settled a number of territorial issues between the two Powers, including the Persian issue. In the Agreement Persia was partitioned into 3 zones of influence, with the Tsar taking the Northern part, the British absorbing the South East and an intermediate “neutral” zone in between.

This Agreement suspended “The Great Game”of Imperial rivalry between England and Russia in the interests of the British Balance of Power Policy in Europe and a future war on Germany.

The ground for the 1907 Agreement with Russia was prepared by Sir Edward Grey and the City of London through a 90 million pound loan made to Russia in 1906. The disastrous war with Japan had caused a financial crisis in Russia with the Tsarist State buckling under the strain of maintaining the Gold Standard, as its Bonds rapidly depreciated in value. Russia had a long-standing financial relationship with French banks, but after the 1904 Entente France and Britain began to work more closely together and the British Foreign Secretary insisted in British participation in the 1906 Bond issue. It may have seemed strange that Britain was ready and willing to bail out its chief enemy in the world, at a time of its great financial crisis, but Grey obviously saw a great opportunity to tie Russia into a relationship, when it was most vulnerable.

The British Agreement with the Tsar in 1907 had immediate effects within Russia, with Britain’s signal that they probably would no longer defend the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire. Russia’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Izvolski, began to press the Tsar for a “short, victorious war” against the Ottomans, to restore Russia’s prestige after the defeat by Japan. Izvolski argued for a war to bring about “Russia’s historical goals in the Turkish East”, and he made plans for seizing the Straits and for the partition of the Ottoman territories.

Stolypin opposed such schemes, telling the Tsar that Russian mobilisation would be madness in the situation and would kill the financial stability he had recently put in place, endangering the recovery of the State after 1905. He demanded “twenty years of peace” to ensure the stability and transformation of Russia.

Izvolski was undermined by a foolish deal he cut with the Austro-Hungarians in October 1908, designed to take advantage of the instability in the Ottoman State, as a result of the Young Turk revolution of July 1908, which nearly toppled Sultan Abdul Hamid. In exchange for Russian acquiescence in Vienna’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina the Austrians offered to revise the Treaty of Berlin to allow Russian warships through the Istanbul Straits. This was not in the gift of Vienna, coming up against not only the opposition of the Sultan but Britain too. It would have ran a coach and horses through the Public Law of Europe/International Law.

Russian opinion was outraged when Vienna announced its annexation of the Ottoman territory in Bosnia and Izvolski revealed his part in the deal. Sergei Sazonov, Stolypin’s brother-in-law, replaced Izvolski as Foreign Minister in 1910.

Stolypin continued to oppose the Liberal Pan-Slavism, which threatened to entangle Russia in the Balkan quagmire against the Ottomans. However, court politics resulted in his sudden disfavouring by the Tsar, and soon after he was shot dead by a terrorist in September 1910. With both Witte and Stolypin gone the brakes were off.

From this time on pressure began to be mounted on the Tsar to take advantage of the situation in the Ottoman Empire and to seize the Straits. The importance of the Straits had been demonstrated in 1911 when they were closed due to an Italian invasion of Ottoman Libya. Russian exports were stopped, factories ground to a halt and the balance of payments was severely affected.

The Tsar knew, however, that in relation to taking Constantinople, Russia could only act in conjunction with England, when Britain was prepared to move against Germany, and he vetoed plans for war. Instead, Russia adopted a policy of fake rapprochement with the Ottomans, under the new Foreign Minister, Sergei Sazonov, in a holding operation to maintain the integrity of the Ottoman territories until the moment for a large war was right.

The Straits agreement in the Treaty of Paris, therefore, continued to provide Britain with great leverage over Russia. The blocking of the Straits, and its unblocking, which seemed to be the Sultan’s prerogative, was actually strongly determined by British attitude and action. Russia’s ability to trade could, therefore, be contingent upon services rendered by the Tsar in relation to England’s Germany problem. And Russian internal stability was very much dependent on the value of trade.

Things came to a head at a meeting of the Russian Council of Ministers in January 1914. Sazonov had, a week earlier, proposed to the Tsar that the time was now right to provoke a European war, in alliance with England and France, so that Constantinople could be stormed and made into Tsargrad. The idea was to use the appointment of Liman von Sanders, a German, as a cause for war. Only a reality check by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers Kokovtsov, who asked: “Is the war desirable and can Russia wage it?” seems to have stayed the Russian rush to war.

There was almost unanimous enthusiasm among the Tsar’s ministers for provoking a European war over the von Sanders affair. However, whilst there was near certainty amongst the ministers that Russia would be joined by England and France in such a war there were lingering doubts about whether London would stay out of the conflict if it was provoked at that point on such an issue. Britain was a democracy of sorts and had to take care of public opinion and the Liberal Government had not be straight with its own backbenchers on what it had been doing in the background so it was vital that the war be launched on the right issue.

The Russian naval command warned that a unilateral amphibious assault would also be beyond them at that moment. It was determined, therefore, to resort to war only if “the active participation of both France and England in joint measures were assured.” Kokovtsov then convinced everyone to back down from war.

Durnovo was of the opinion that the Ottomans would be drawn into any war between the two great combinations who were shaping up for confrontation in Europe. After all, how would the Tsar get the Straits without the war being taken to Istanbul? It was self-evident.

It was at that moment, in February 1914, that the Tsar got his final warning:

The Durnovo Memorandum of February 1914

A Future Anglo-German War Will Become an Armed Conflict between Two Groups of Powers

The central factor of the period of world history through which we are now passing is the rivalry between England and Germany. This rivalry must inevitably lead to an armed struggle between them, the issue of which will, in all probability, prove fatal to the vanquished side. The interests of these two powers are far too incompatible, and their simultaneous existence as world powers will sooner or later prove impossible. On the one hand, there is an insular State, whose world importance rests upon its domination of the sea, its world trade, and its innumerable colonies. On the other, there is a powerful continental empire, whose limited territory is insufficient for an increased population. It has therefore openly and candidly declared that its future is on the seas. It has, with fabulous speed, developed an enormous world commerce, built for its protection a formidable navy, and, with its famous trademark, “Made in Germany,” created a mortal danger to the industrial and economic prosperity of its rival. Naturally, England cannot yield without a fight, and between her and Germany a struggle for life or death is inevitable.

The armed conflict impending as a result of this rivalry cannot be confined to a duel between England and Germany alone. Their resources are far too unequal, and, at the same time, they are not sufficiently vulnerable to each other. Germany could provoke rebellion in India, in South Africa, and, especially, a dangerous rebellion in Ireland, and paralyze English sea trade by means of privateering and, perhaps, submarine warfare, thereby creating for Great Britain difficulties in her food supply; but, in spite of all the daring of the German military leaders, they would scarcely risk landing in England, unless a fortunate accident helped them to destroy or appreciably to weaken the English navy. As for England, she will find Germany absolutely invulnerable. All that she may achieve is to seize the German colonies, stop German sea trade, and, in the most favourable event, annihilate the German navy, but nothing more. This, however, would not force the enemy to sue for peace. There is no doubt, therefore, that England will attempt the means she has more than once used with success, and will risk armed action only after securing participation in the war, on her own side, of powers stronger in a strategical sense. But since Germany, for her own part, will not be found isolated, the future Anglo-German war will undoubtedly be transformed into an armed conflict between two groups of powers, one with a German, the other with an English orientation.

It Is Hard to Discover Any Real Advantages to Russia in Rapprochement with England

Until the Russo-Japanese War, Russian policy has neither orientation. From the time of the reign of Emperor Alexander III, Russia had a defensive alliance with France, so firm as to assure common action by both powers in the event of attack upon either, but, at the same time, not so close as to obligate either to support unfailingly, with armed force, all political actions and claims of the ally. At the same time, the Russian Court maintained the traditional friendly relations, based upon ties of blood, with the Court of Berlin. Owing precisely to this conjuncture, peace among the great powers was not disturbed in the course of a great many years, in spite of the presence of abundant combustible material in Europe. France, by her alliance with Russia, was guaranteed against attack by Germany; the latter was safe, thanks to the tried pacifism and friendship of Russia, from revanche ambitions on the part of France; and Russia was secured, thanks to Germany’s need of maintaining amicable relations with her, against excessive intrigues by Austria-Hungary in the Balkan peninsula. Lastly, England, isolated and held in check by her rivalry with Russia in Persia, by her diplomats’ traditional fear of our advance on India, and by strained relations with France, especially notable at the time of the well-known Fashoda incident, viewed with alarm the increase of Germany’s naval power, without, however, risking an active step.

The Russo-Japanese War radically changed the relations among the great powers and brought England out of her isolation. As we know, all through the Russo-Japanese War, England and America observed benevolent neutrality toward Japan, while we enjoyed a similar benevolent neutrality from France and Germany. Here, it would seem, should have been the inception of the most natural political combination for us. But after the war, our diplomacy faced abruptly about and definitely entered upon the road toward rapprochement with England. France was drawn into the orbit of British policy; there was formed a group of powers of the Triple Entente, with England playing the dominant part; and a clash, sooner or later, with the powers grouping themselves around Germany became inevitable.

Now, what advantages did the renunciation of our traditional policy of distrust of England and the rupture of neighbourly, if not friendly, relations with Germany promise us then and at present?

Considering with any degree of care the events which have taken place since the Treaty of Portsmouth, we find it difficult to perceive any practical advantages gained by us in rapprochement with England. The only benefit-improved relations with Japan-is scarcely a result of the Russo-English rapprochement. There is no reason why Russia and Japan should not live in peace; there seems to be nothing over which they need quarrel. All Russia’s objectives in the Far East, if correctly understood, are entirely compatible with Japan’s interests. These objectives, in their essentials, are very modest. The too broad sweep of the imagination of overzealous executive officials, without basis in genuine national interests, on the one hand, and the excessive nervousness and impressionability of Japan, on the other, which erroneously regarded these dreams as a consistently executed policy – these were the things that provoked a clash which a more capable diplomacy would have managed to avoid.

Russia needs neither Korea nor even Port Arthur. An outlet to the open sea is undoubtedly useful, but the sea in itself is, after all, not a market, but merely a road to a more advantageous delivery of goods at the consuming markets. As a matter of fact, we do not possess, and shall not for a long time possess any goods in the Far East that promise any considerable profits in exportation abroad. Nor are there any markets for the export of our products. We cannot expect a great supply of our export commodities to go to industrially and agriculturally developed America, to poor, but likewise industrial, Japan, or even to the maritime sections of China and remoter markets, where our exports would inevitably meet the competition of goods from the industrially stronger rival powers. There remains the interior of China, with which our trade is carried on, chiefly overland. Consequently, an open port would aid the import of foreign merchandise more than the export of our own products.

Japan, on her part, no matter what is said, has no desire for our Far Eastern possessions. The Japanese are by nature a southern people, and the harsh environment of our Far Eastern borderland cannot attract them. We know that even within Japan itself northern Yezo is sparsely populated, while apparently Japanese colonization is making little headway even in the southern part of Sakhalin Island, ceded to Japan under the Treaty of Portsmouth. After taking possession of Korea and Formosa, Japan will hardly go farther north, and her ambitions, it may be assumed, will turn rather in the direction of the Philippine Islands, Indo-China, Java, Sumatra, and Borneo. The most she might desire would be the acquisition, for purely commercial reasons, of a few more sections of the Manchurian railway.

In a word, peaceable coexistence, nay, more, a close rapprochement, between Russia and Japan in the Far East is perfectly natural, regardless of any mediation by England. The grounds for agreement are self-evident. Japan is not a rich country, and the simultaneous upkeep of a strong army and a powerful navy is hard for her. Her insular situation drives her to strengthen her naval power, and alliance with Russia would allow her to devote all her attention to her navy, especially vital in view of her imminent rivalry with America, leaving the protection of her interests on the continent to Russia. On our part, we, having the Japanese navy to protect our Pacific coast, could give up once for all the dream, impossible to us, of creating a navy in the Far East.

Thus, so far as our relations with Japan are concerned, the rapprochement with England has yielded us no real advantage. And it has gained us nothing in the sense of strengthening our position in Manchuria, Mongolia, or even the Ulianghai territory, where the uncertainty of our position bears witness that the agreement with England has certainly not freed the hands of our diplomats. On the contrary, our attempt to establish relations with Tibet met with sharp opposition from England.

In Persia, also, our position has been no better since the conclusion of this agreement. Every one recalls our predominant influence in that country under the Shah Nasr-Eddin, that is, exactly at a time when our relations with England were most strained. From the moment of our accord with the latter, we have found ourselves drawn into a number of strange attempts to impose upon the Persian people an entirely needless constitution, with the result that we ourselves contributed to the overthrow, for the benefit of our inveterate enemies, of a monarch who was devoted to Russia. That is, not only have we gained nothing, but we have suffered a loss all along the line, ruining our prestige and wasting many millions of rubles, even the precious blood of Russian soldiers, who were treacherously slain and, to please England, not even avenged.

The worst results, however, of the accord with England–and of the consequent discord with Germany – have been felt in the Near East. As we know, it was Bismarck who coined that winged phrase about the Balkan problem not being worth to Germany the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. Later the Balkan complications began to attract much more attention from German diplomacy, which had taken the “Sick Man” under its protection, but even then Germany, for a long time, failed to show any inclination to endanger relations with Russia in the interests of Balkan affairs. The proofs are patent. During the period of the Russo-Japanese War and the ensuing turmoil in our country, it would have been very easy for Austria to realize her cherished ambitions in the Balkan peninsula. But at that time Russia had not yet linked her destinies with England, and Austria-Hungary was forced to lose an opportunity most auspicious for her purposes.

No sooner had we taken the road to closer accord with England, however, than there immediately followed the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a step which might have been taken so easily and painlessly in 1905 or 1906. Next came the Albanian question and the combination with the Prince of Wied. Russian diplomacy attempted to answer Austrian intrigue by forming a Balkan league, but this combination, as might have been expected, proved to be quite unworkable. Intended to be directed against Austria, it immediately turned on Turkey and fell apart in the process of dividing the spoils taken from the latter. The final result was merely the definite attachment of Turkey to Germany, in whom, not without good reason, she sees her sole protector. In short, the Russo-British rapprochement evidently seems to Turkey as tantamount to England’s renouncing her traditional policy of closing the Dardanelles to us, while the creation of the Balkan league, under the auspices of Russia, appeared as a direct threat to the continued existence of Turkey as a European power.

To sum up, the Anglo-Russian accord has brought us nothing of practical value up to this time, while for the future, it threatens us with an inevitable armed clash with Germany.

Fundamental Alignments in the Coming War

Under what conditions will this clash occur and what will be its probable consequences? The fundamental groupings in a future war are self-evident: Russia, France, and England, on the one side, with Germany, Austria, and Turkey, on the other. It is more than likely that other powers, too, will participate in that war, depending upon circumstances as they may exist at the war’s outbreak. But, whether the immediate cause for the war is furnished by another clash of conflicting interests in the Balkans, or by a colonial incident, such as that of Algeciras, the fundamental alignment will remain unchanged.

Italy, if she has any conception of her real interests, will not join the German side. For political as well as economic reasons, she undoubtedly hopes to expand her present territory. Such an expansion may be achieved only at the expense of Austria, on one hand, and Turkey, on the other. It is, therefore, natural for Italy not to join that party which would safeguard the territorial integrity of the countries at whose expense she hopes to realize her aspirations. Furthermore, it is not out of the question that Italy would join the anti-German coalition, if the scales of war should incline in its favour, in order to secure for herself the most favourable conditions in sharing the subsequent division of spoils.

In this respect, the position of Italy is similar to the probable position of Rumania, which, it may be assumed, will remain neutral until the scales of fortune favour one or another side. Then, animated by normal political self-interest, she will attach herself to the victors, to be rewarded at the expense of either Russia or Austria. Of the other Balkan States, Serbia and Montenegro will unquestionably join the side opposing Austria, while Bulgaria and Albania (if by that time they have not yet formed at least the embryo of a State) will take their stand against the Serbian side. Greece will in all probability remain neutral or make common cause with the side opposing Turkey, but that only after the issue has been more or less determined. The participation of other powers will be incidental, and Sweden ought to be feared, of course, in the ranks of our foes.

Under such circumstances, a struggle with Germany presents to us enormous difficulties, and will require countless sacrifices. War will not find the enemy unprepared, and the degree of his preparedness will probably exceed our most exaggerated calculations. It should not be thought that this readiness is due to Germany’s own desire for war. She needs no war, so long as she can attain her object-the end of exclusive domination of the seas. But, once this vital object is opposed by the coalition, Germany will not shrink from war, and, of course, will even try to provoke it, choosing the most auspicious moment.

The Main Burden of the War Will Fall on Russia

The main burden of the war will undoubtedly fall on us, since England is hardly capable of taking a considerable part in a continental war, while France, poor in man power, will probably adhere to strictly defensive tactics, in view of the enormous losses by which war will be attended under present conditions of military technique. The part of a battering-ram, making a breach in the very thick of the German defence, will be ours, with many factors against us to which we shall have to devote great effort and attention.

From the sum of these unfavourable factors we should deduct the Far East. Both America and Japan– the former fundamentally, and the latter by virtue of her present political orientation–are hostile to Germany, and there is no reason to expect them to act on the German side. Furthermore, the war, regardless of its issue, will weaken Russia and divert her attention to the West, a fact which, of course, serves both Japanese and American interests. Thus, our rear will be sufficiently secure in the Far East, and the most that can happen there will be the extortion from us of some concessions of an economic nature in return for benevolent neutrality. Indeed, it is possible that America or Japan may join the anti-German side, but, of course, merely as usurpers of one or the other of the unprotected German colonies.

There can be no doubt, however, as to an outburst of hatred for us in Persia, and a probable unrest among the Moslems of the Caucasus and Turkestan; it is possible that Afghanistan, as a result of that unrest, may act against us; and, finally, we must foresee very unpleasant complications in Poland and Finland. In the latter, a rebellion will undoubtedly break out if Sweden is found in the ranks of our enemies. As for Poland, it is not to be expected that we can hold her against our enemy during the war. And after she is in his power, he will undoubtedly endeavour to provoke an insurrection which, while not in reality very dangerous, must be considered, nevertheless, as one of the factors unfavourable to us, especially since the influence of our allies may induce us to take such measures in our relations with Poland as will prove more dangerous to us than any open revolt.

Are we prepared for so stubborn a war as the future war of the European nations will undoubtedly become? This question we must answer, without evasion, in the negative. That much has been done for our defence since the Japanese war, I am the last person to deny, but even so, it is quite inadequate considering the unprecedented scale on which a future war will inevitably be fought. The fault lies, in a considerable measure, in our young legislative institutions, which have taken a dilettante interest in our defences, but are far from grasping the seriousness of the political situation arising from the new orientation which, with the sympathy of the public, has been followed in recent years by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The enormous number of still unconsidered legislative bills of the war and navy departments may serve as proof of this: for example, the plan of the organization of our national defence proposed to the Duma as early as the days of Secretary of State Stolypin. It cannot be denied that, in the matter of military instruction, according to the reports of specialists, we have achieved substantial improvements, as compared with the time before the Japanese War. According to the same specialists, our field artillery leaves nothing to be desired; the gun is entirely satisfactory, and the equipment convenient and practical. Yet, it must be admitted that there are substantial shortcomings in the organization of our defences.

In this regard we must note, first of all, the insufficiency of our war supplies, which, certainly, cannot be blamed upon the war department, since the supply schedules are still far from being executed, owing to the low productivity of our factories. This insufficiency of munitions is the more significant since, in the embryonic condition of our industries, we shall, during the war, have no opportunity to make up the revealed shortage by our own efforts, and the closing of the Baltic as well as the Black Sea will prevent the importation from abroad of the defense materials which we lack.

Another circumstance unfavourable to our defense is its far too great dependence, generally speaking, upon foreign industry, a fact which, in connection with the above noted interruption of more or less convenient communications with abroad, will create a series of obstacles difficult to overcome. The quantity of our heavy artillery, the importance of which was demonstrated in the Japanese War, is far too inadequate, and there are few machine guns. The organization of our fortress defences has scarcely been started, and even the fortress of Reval, which is to defend the road to the capital, is not yet finished.

The network of strategic railways is inadequate. The railways possess a rolling stock sufficient, perhaps, for normal traffic, but not commensurate with the colossal demands which will be made upon them in the event of a European war. Lastly, it should not be forgotten that the impending war will be fought among the most civilized and technically most advanced nations. Every previous war has invariably been followed by something new in the realm of military technique, but the technical backwardness of our industries does not create favourable conditions for our adoption of the new inventions.

The Vital Interests of Germany and Russia Do Not Conflict

All these factors are hardly given proper thought by our diplomats, whose behaviour toward Germany is, in some respects, even aggressive, and may unduly hasten the moment of armed conflict, a moment which, of course, is really inevitable in view of our British orientation.

The question is whether this orientation is correct, and whether even a favourable issue of the war promises us such advantages as would compensate us for all the hardships and sacrifices which must attend a war unparalleled in its probable strain.

The vital interests of Russia and Germany do not conflict. There are fundamental grounds for a peaceable existence of these two States. Germany’s future lies on the sea, that is, in a realm where Russia, essentially the most continental of the great powers, has no interests whatever. We have no overseas colonies, and shall probably never have them, and communication between the various parts of our empire is easier overland than by water. No surplus population demanding territorial expansion is visible, but, even from the viewpoint of new conquests, what can we gain from a victory over Germany? Posen, or East Prussia? But why do we need these regions, densely populated as they are by Poles, when we find it difficult enough to manage our own Russian Poles? Why encourage centripetal tendencies, that have not ceased even to this day in the Vistula territory, by incorporating in the Russian State the restless Posnanian and East Prussian Poles, whose national demands even the German Government, which is more firm than the Russian, cannot stifle?

Exactly the same thing applies to Galicia. It is obviously disadvantageous to us to annex, in the interests of national sentimentalism, a territory that has lost every vital connection with our fatherland. For, together with a negligible handful of Galicians, Russian in spirit, how many Poles, Jews, and Ukrainian Uniates we would receive! The so-called Ukrainian, or Mazeppist, movement is not a menace to us at present, but we should not enable it to expand by increasing the number of turbulent Ukrainian elements, for in this movement there undoubtedly lies the seed of an extremely dangerous Little Russian separatism which, under favorable conditions, may assume quite unexpected proportions.

The obvious aim of our diplomacy in the rapprochement with England has been to open the Straits. But a war with Germany seems hardly necessary for the attainment of this object, for it was England, and not Germany at all, that closed our outlet from the Black Sea. Was it not because we made sure of the cooperation of the later power, that we freed ourselves in 1871 from the humiliating restrictions imposed upon us by England under the Treaty of Paris?

Also, there is reason to believe that the Germans would agree sooner than the English to let us have the Straits, in which they have only a slight interest, and at the price of which they would gladly purchase our alliance.

Moreover, we should not cherish any exaggerated hopes from our occupation of the Straits. Their acquisition would be advantageous to us only as they served to close the Black Sea to others, making it an inland sea for us, safe from enemy attack.

The Straits would not give us an outlet to the open sea, however, since on the other side of them there lies a sea consisting almost wholly of territorial waters, a sea dotted with numerous islands where the British navy, for instance, would have no trouble whatever in closing to us every inlet and outlet, irrespective of the Straits. Therefore, Russia might safely welcome an arrangement which, while not turning the Straits over to our direct control, would safeguard us against a penetration of the Black Sea by an enemy fleet. Such an arrangement, attainable under favorable circumstances without any war, has the additional advantage that it would not violate the interests of the Balkan States, which would not regard our seizure of the Straits without alarm and quite natural jealousy.

In Trans-Caucasia we could, as a result of war, expand territorially only at the expense of regions inhabited by Armenians, a move which is hardly desirable in view of the revolutionary character of present Armenian sentiment, and of its dream of a greater Armenia; and in this region, Germany, were we allied to her, would certainly place even fewer obstacles in our way than England. Those territorial and economic acquisitions which might really prove useful to us are available only in places where our ambitions may meet opposition from England, but by no means from Germany. Persia, the Pamir, Kuldja, Kashgar, Dzungaria, Mongolia, the Ulianghai territory – all these are regions where the interests of Russia and Germany do not conflict, whereas the interests of Russia and England have clashed there repeatedly.

And Germany is in exactly the same situation with respect to Russia. She could seize from us, in case of a successful war, only such territories as would be of slight value to her, and because of their population, would prove of little use for colonization; the Vistula territory, with a Polish-Lithuanian population, and the Baltic provinces, with a Lettish-Estonian population, are all equally turbulent and anti-German.

Russia’s Economic Advantages and Needs Do Not Conflict with Germany’s

It may be argued, however, that, under modern conditions in the various nations, territorial acquisitions are of secondary importance, while economic interests take first rank. But in this field, again, Russia’s advantages and needs do not conflict with Germany’s as much as is believed. It is, of course, undeniable that the existing Russo-German trade agreements are disadvantageous to our agriculture and advantageous to Germany’s, but it would be hardly fair to ascribe this circumstance to the treachery and unfriendliness of Germany.

It should not be forgotten that these agreements are in many of their sections advantageous to us. The Russian delegates who concluded these agreements were confirmed protagonists of a development of Russian industry at any cost, and they undoubtedly made a deliberate sacrifice, at least to some extent, of the interests of Russian agriculture to the interests of Russian industry. Furthermore, we ought not to forget that Germany is far from being the direct consumer of the greater share of our agricultural exports abroad. For the greater share of our agricultural produce, Germany acts merely as middleman, and so it is for us and the consuming markets to establish direct relations and thus avoid the expensive German mediation. Lastly, we should keep in mind that the commercial relations of States depend on their political understandings, for no country finds advantage in the economic weakening of an ally but, conversely, profits by the ruin of a political foe. In short, even though it be obvious that the existing Russo-German commercial treaties are not to our advantage, and that Germany, in concluding them, availed herself of a situation that happened to be in her favour – in other words, forced us to the wall-this action should have been expected from Germany and thought of. It should not, however, be looked upon as a mark of hostility toward us, but rather as an expression of healthy national self-interest, worthy of our emulation. Aside from that, we observe, in the case of Austria-Hungary, an agricultural country that is in a far greater economic dependence upon Germany than ours, but nevertheless, is not prevented from attaining an agricultural development such as we may only dream of.

In view of what has been said, it would seem that the conclusion of a commercial treaty with Germany, entirely acceptable to Russia, by no means requires that Germany first be crushed. It will be quite sufficient to maintain neighborly relations with her, to make a careful estimate of our real interests in the various branches of national economy, and to engage in long, insistent bargaining with German delegates, who may be expected to protect the interests of their own fatherland and not ours.

But I would go still further and say that the ruin of Germany, from the viewpoint of our trade with her, would be disadvantageous to us. Her defeat would unquestionably end in a peace dictated from the viewpoint of England’s economic interests. The latter will exploit to the farthest limit any success that falls to her lot, and we will only lose, in a ruined Germany without sea routes, a market which, after all, is valuable to us for our otherwise unmarketable products.

In respect to Germany’s economic future, the interests of Russia and England are diametrically opposed. For England, it is profitable to kill Germany’s maritime trade and industry, turning her into a poor and, if possible, agricultural country. For us, it is of advantage for Germany to develop her sea-going commerce and the industry which serves it, so as to supply the remotest world markets, and at the same time open her domestic market to our agricultural products, to supply her large working population.

But; aside from the commercial treaties, it has been customary to point out the oppressive character of German domination in Russian economic life, and the systematic penetration of German colonization into our country, as representing a manifest peril to the Russian State. We believe, however, that fears on these grounds are considerably exaggerated. The famous “Drang nach Osten”was in its own time natural and understandable, since Germany’s land could not accommodate her increased population, and the surplus was driven in the direction of the least resistance, i.e., into a less densely populated neighbouring country. The German Government was compelled to recognize the inevitability of this movement, but could hardly look upon it as to its own interests. For, after all, it was Germans who were being lost to the influence of the German State, thus reducing the man power of their own country. Indeed, the German Government made such strenuous efforts to preserve the connection between its emigrants and their old fatherland that it adopted even the unusual method of tolerating dual citizenship. It is certain, however, that a considerable proportion of German emigrants definitely and irrevocably settled in their new homes, and slowly broke their ties with the old country. This fact, obviously incompatible with Germany’s State interests, seems to have been one of the incentives which started her upon a colonial policy and maritime commerce, previously so alien to her. And at present, as the German colonies increase and there is an attendant growth of German industry and naval commerce, the German colonization movement decreases, in a measure, and the day is not remote when the “Drang nach Osten”will become nothing more than a subject for history.

In any case, the German colonization, which undoubtedly conflicts with our State interests, must be stopped, and here, again, friendly relations with Germany cannot harm us. To express a preference for a German orientation does not imply the advocacy of Russian vassalage to Germany, and, while maintaining friendly and neighborly intercourse with her, we must not sacrifice our State interests to this object. But Germany herself will not object to measures against the continued flow of German colonists into Russia. To her, it is of greater benefit to turn the wave of emigration toward her own colonies. Moreover, even before Germany had colonies, when her industry was not yet sufficiently developed to employ the entire population, the German Government did not feel justified in protesting against the restrictive measures that were adopted against foreign colonization during the reign of Alexander III.

As regards the German domination in the field of our economic life, this phenomenon hardly justifies the complaints usually voiced against it. Russia is far too poor, both in capital and in industrial enterprise, to get along without a large import of foreign capital. A certain amount of dependence upon some kind of foreign capital is, therefore, unavoidable, until such time as the industrial enterprise and material resources of our population develop to a point where we may entirely forego the services of foreign investors and their money. But as long as we do require them, German capital is more advantageous to us than any other.

First and foremost, this capital is cheaper than any other, being satisfied with the lowest margin of profit. This, to a large extent, explains the relative cheapness of German products, and their gradual displacement of British products in the markets of the world. The lower demands of German capital, as regards returns, have for their consequence Germany’s readiness to invest in enterprises which, because of their relatively small returns, are shunned by other foreign investor;. Also, as a result of that relative cheapness of German capital, its influx into Russia is attended by a smaller outflow of investors’ profits from Russia, as compared with French and English investments, and so a larger amount of rubles remain in Russia. Moreover, a considerable proportion of the profits made on German investments in Russian industry do not leave our country at all, but are spent in Russia.

Unlike the English or French, the German capitalists, in most cases, come to stay in Russia, themselves, with their money. It is this very German characteristic which explains in a considerable degree the amazing number of German industrialists, manufacturers, and mill owners in our midst, as compared with the British and French.

The latter live in their own countries, removing from Russia the profits produced by their enterprises, down to the last kopek. The German investors, on the contrary, live in Russia for long periods, and not infrequently settle down permanently. Whatever may be said to the contrary, the fact is that the Germans, unlike other foreigners, soon feel at home in Russia and rapidly become Russianized. Who has not seen Frenchmen and Englishmen, for example, who have spent almost their whole lives in Russia and yet do not speak a word of Russian? On the other hand, are there many Germans here who cannot make themselves understood in Russian, even though it be with a strong accent and in broken speech? Nay, more-who has not seen genuine Russians, orthodox, loyal with all their hearts dedicated to the principles of the Russian State, and yet only one or two generations removed from their German emigrant ancestry? Lastly, we must not forget that Germany herself is, to a certain extent, interested in our economic well-being. In this regard, Germany differs, to our advantage, from other countries, which are interested exclusively in obtaining the largest possible returns from capital invested in Russia, even at the cost of the economic ruin of this country. Germany, however, in her capacity of permanent-although, of course, not unselfish-middleman for our foreign trade, has an interest in preserving the productive resources of our country, as a source of profitable intermediary operations for her.

Even a Victory over Germany Promises Russia an Exceedingly Unfavourable Prospect

In any case, even if we were to admit the necessity for eradicating German domination in the field of our economic life, even at the price of a total banishment of German capital from Russian industry, appropriate measures could be taken. it would seem, without war against Germany. Such a war will demand such enormous expenditures that they will many times exceed the more than doubtful advantages to us in the abolition of the German [economic] domination. More than that, the result of such a war will be an economic situation compared with which the yoke of German capital will seem easy.

For there can be no doubt that the war will necessitate expenditures which are beyond Russia’s limited financial means. We shall have to obtain credit from allied and neutral countries, but this will not be granted gratuitously. As to what will happen if the war should end disastrously for us, I do not wish to discuss now. The financial and economic consequences of defeat can be neither calculated nor fore- seen, and will undoubtedly spell the total ruin of our entire national economy.

But even victory promises us extremely unfavourable financial prospects; a totally ruined Germany will not be in a position to compensate us for the cost involved. Dictated in the interest of England, the peace treaty will not afford Germany opportunity for sufficient economic recuperation to cover our war expenditures, even at a distant time. The little which we may perhaps succeed in extorting from her will have to be shared with our allies, and to our share there will fall but negligible crumbs, compared with the war cost. Meantime, we shall have to pay our war loans, not without pressure by the allies. For, after the destruction of German power, we shall no longer be necessary to them. Nay, more, our political might, enhanced by our victory, will induce them to weaken us, at least economically. And so it is inevitable that, even after a victorious conclusion of the war, we shall fall into the same sort of financial and economic dependence upon our creditors, compared with which our present dependence upon German capital will seem ideal.

However, no matter how sad may be the. economic prospects which face us as a result of union with England, and, by that token, of war with Germany, they are still of secondary importance when we think of the political consequences of this fundamentally unnatural alliance.

A Struggle Between Russia and Germany Is Profoundly Undesirable to Both Sides, as It Amounts to a Weakening of the Monarchist Principle

It should not be forgotten that Russia and Germany are the representatives of the conservative principle in the civilized world, as opposed to the democratic principle, incarnated in England and, to an infinitely lesser degree, in France. Strange as it may seem, England, monarchist and conservative to the marrow at home, has in her foreign relations always acted as the protector of the most demagogical tendencies, invariably encouraging all popular movements aiming at the weakening of the monarchical principle.

From this point of view, a struggle between Germany and Russia, regardless of its issue, is profoundly undesirable to both sides, as undoubtedly involving the weakening of the conservative principle in the world of which the above-named two great powers are the only reliable bulwarks. More than that, one must realize that under the exceptional conditions which exist, a general European war is mortally dangerous both for Russia and Germany, no matter who wins. It is our firm conviction, based upon a long and careful study of all contemporary subversive tendencies, that there must inevitably break out in the defeated country a social revolution which, by the very nature of things, will spread to the country of the victor.

During the many years of peaceable neighborly existence, the two countries have become united by many ties, and a social upheaval in one is bound to affect the other. That these troubles will be of a social, and not a political, nature cannot be doubted, and this will hold true, not only as regards Russia, but for Germany as well. An especially favorable soil for social upheavals is found in Russia, where the masses undoubtedly profess, unconsciously, the principles of Socialism. In spite of the spirit of antagonism to the Government in Russian society, as unconscious as the Socialism of the broad masses of the people, a political revolution is not possible in Russia, and any revolutionary movement inevitably must degenerate into a Socialist movement. The opponents of the government have no popular support. The people see no difference between a government official and an intellectual. The Russian masses, whether workmen or peasants, are not looking for political rights, which they neither want nor comprehend.

The peasant dreams of obtaining a gratuitous share of somebody else’s land; the workman, of getting hold of the entire capital and profits of the manufacturer. Beyond this, they have no aspirations. If these slogans are scattered far and wide among the populace, and the Government permits agitation along these lines, Russia will be flung into anarchy, such as she suffered in the ever-memorable period of troubles in 1905-1906. War with Germany would create exceptionally favorable conditions for such agitation. As already stated, this war is pregnant with enormous difficulties for us, and cannot turn out to be a mere triumphal march to Berlin. Both military disaster,-partial ones, let us hope-and all kinds of shortcomings in our supply are inevitable. In the excessive nervousness and spirit of opposition of our society, these events will be given an exaggerated importance, and all the blame will be laid on the Government.

It will be well if the Government does not yield, but declares directly that in time of war no criticism of the governmental authority is to be tolerated, and resolutely suppresses all opposition. In the absence of any really strong hold on the people by the opposition, this would settle the affair. The people did not heed the writers of the Wiborg Manifesto, in its time, and they will not follow them now.

But a worse thing may happen: the government authority may make concessions, may try to come to an agreement with the opposition, and thereby weaken itself just when the Socialist elements are ready for action. Even though it may sound like a paradox, the fact is that agreement with the opposition in Russia positively weakens the Government. The trouble is that our opposition refuses to reckon with the fact that it represents no real force. The Russian opposition is intellectual throughout, and this is its weakness, because between the intelligentsia and the people there is a profound gulf of mutual misunderstanding and distrust. We need an artificial election law, indeed, we require the direct influence of the governmental authority, to assure the election to the State Duma of even the most zealous champions of popular rights. Let the Government refuse to support the elections, leaving them to their natural course, and the legislative institutions would not see within their walls a single intellectual, outside of a few demagogic agitators. However insistent the members of our legislative institutions may be that the people confide in them, the peasant would rather believe the landless government official than the Octoberist landlord in the Duma, while the workingman treats the wage-earning factory inspector with more confidence than the legislating manufacturer, even though the latter professes every principle of the Cadet party.

It is more than strange, under these circumstances, that the governmental authority should be asked to reckon seriously with the opposition, that it should for this purpose renounce the role of impartial regulator of social relationships, and come out before the broad masses of the people as the obedient organ of the class aspirations of the intellectual and propertied minority of the population. The opposition demands that the Government should be responsible to it, representative of a class, and should obey the parliament which it artificially created. (Let us recall that famous expression of V. Nabokov: “Let the executive power submit to the legislative power!” In other words, the opposition demands that the Government should adopt the psychology of a savage, and worship the idol which he himself made.

Russia Will be Flung into Hopeless Anarchy, the Issue of Which Will be Hard to Foresee

 If the war ends in victory, the putting down of the Socialist movement will not offer any insurmountable obstacles. There will be agrarian troubles, as a result of agitation for compensating the soldiers with additional land allotments; there will be labour troubles during the transition from the probably increased wages of war time to normal schedules; and this, it is to be hoped, will be all, so long as the wave of the German social revolution has not reached us. But in the event of defeat, the possibility of which in a struggle with a foe like Germany cannot be overlooked, social revolution in its most extreme form is inevitable.

As has already been said, the trouble will start with the blaming of the Government for all disasters. In the legislative institutions a bitter campaign against the Government will begin, followed by revolutionary agitations throughout the country, with Socialist slogans, capable of arousing and rallying the masses, beginning with the division of the land and succeeded by a division of all valuables and property. The defeated army, having lost its most dependable men, and carried away by the tide of primitive peasant desire for land, will find itself too demoralized to serve as a bulwark of law and order. The legislative institutions and the intellectual opposition parties, lacking real authority in the eyes of the people, will be powerless to stem the popular tide, aroused by themselves, and Russia will be flung into hopeless anarchy, the issue of which cannot be foreseen.

Germany, in Case of Defeat, is Destined to Suffer Social Upheavals No Less than those of Russia

No matter how strange it may appear at first sight, considering the extraordinary poise of the German character, Germany, likewise, is destined to suffer, in case o defeat, no lesser social upheavals. The effect of a disastrous war upon the population will be too severe not to bring to the surface destructive tendencies, now deeply hidden. The peculiar social order of modern Germany rests upon the actually predominant influence of the agrarians, Prussian Junkerdom and propertied peasants.

These elements are the bulwark of the profoundly conservative German regime headed by Prussia. The vital interests of these classes demand a protective economic policy towards agriculture, import duties on grain, and consequently, high price for all farm products. But Germany, with her limited territory and increasing population, has long ago turned from an agricultural into an industrial State, so that protection of agriculture is, in effect, a matter of taxing the larger part of the population for the benefit of the smaller. To this majority, there is a compensation in the extensive development of the export of German industrial products to the most distant markets, so that the advantages derived thereby enable the industrialists and working people to pay the higher prices for the farm products consumed at home.

Defeated, Germany will lose her world markets and maritime commerce, for the aim of the war – on the part of its real instigator, England – will be the destruction of German competition. After this has been achieved, the labouring masses, deprived not only of higher but of any and all wages, having suffered greatly during the war, and being, naturally, embittered, will offer fertile soil for anti-agrarian and later anti-social propaganda by the Socialist parties.

These parties, in turn, making use of the outraged patriotic sentiment among the people, owing to the loss of the war, their exasperation at the militarists and the feudal burgher regime that betrayed them, will abandon the road of peaceable evolution which they have thus far been following so steadily, and take a purely revolutionary path. Some part will also be played, especially in the event of agrarian troubles in neighbouring Russia, by the class of landless farmhands, which is quite numerous in Germany. Apart from this, there will be a revival of the hitherto concealed separatist tendencies in southern Germany, and the hidden antagonism of Bavaria to domination by Prussia will emerge in all its intensity. In short, a situation will be created which (in gravity) will be little better than that in Russia.

Peace Among the Civilized Nations is Imperilled Chiefly by the Desire of England to Retain Her Vanishing Domination of the Seas

A summary of all that has been stated above must lead to the conclusion that a

rapprochement with England does not promise us any benefits, and that the English orientation of our diplomacy is essentially wrong. We do not travel the same road as England; she should be left to go her own way, and we must not quarrel on her account with Germany.

The Triple Entente is an artificial combination, without a basis of real interest. It has nothing to look forward to. The future belongs to a close and incomparably more vital rapprochement of Russia, Germany, France (reconciled with Germany), and Japan (allied to Russia by a strictly defensive union). A political combination like this, lacking all aggressiveness toward other States, would safeguard for many years the peace of the civilized nations, threatened, not by the militant intentions of Germany, as English diplomacy is trying to show, but solely by the perfectly natural striving of England to retain at all costs her vanishing domination of the seas. In this direction, and not in the fruitless search of a basis for an accord with England, which is in its very nature contrary to our national plans and aims, should all the efforts of our diplomacy be concentrated.

It goes without saying that Germany, on her part, must meet our desire to restore our well-tested relations and friendly alliance with her, and to elaborate, in closest agreement with us, such terms of our neighborly existence as to afford no basis for anti-German agitation on the part of our constitutional-liberal parties, which, by their very nature, are forced to adhere, not to a Conservative German, but to a liberal English orientation.

N. Durnovo,

February, 1914.

(Basil Dmytryshyn, Imperial Russia; A Source Book, 1700-1917 for full text, and Sean McMeekin, The Russian Revolution, p.55-6 and p.363 for summary.)


Azerbaijan Britain's Great War Geopolitics Germany Serbia Turkey and Ottoman Empire United States

Battle for the Caucasus: Britain vs. Russia, 1918-20 (Part Seven)

A famous example of Armenian propaganda that played to the imagination of the Western Puritan moralists

Aside from the policy of the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, there were two other factors that led to the loss of the Caucasus to the Bolsheviks. The first of these was that special and discordant element in the region, the Armenians – who immensely complicated matters. The second was Britain’s continuing and purposeless hostile relations with Ottoman Turkey. These two factors were inter-related but not always dependent upon one another. 

The thing that these two factors shared was that they made the defence of the Caucasus much more difficult and ultimately unsuccessful. Combined with the policy of the Lloyd George government they led to the victory of the Bolsheviks and finally, the fall of Daghestan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia to the Red Army.

The Armenian Complication

An Armenian state in the Caucasus was not a natural development in 1919-20. It only became possible because of three factors:

Firstly, the temporary absence of Russia: A victorious Tsarist Russia, although historically employing the Christian Armenians as a colonising element in the Russian Caucasus, and a destabilising element in the Ottoman territories, would probably never have tolerated such an Armenian state. The maximum offer made by Tsarist Russia to the Armenians—and this is even shrouded in doubt—was one of vague autonomy. Tsarist Russia was a centralised state that did not do nation-building. It had no intention of establishing an independent Armenia on its land route to Constantinople. Tsarist Russia made an offer no better than the Ottoman offer to the Dashnaks in mid-1914. And we know from a reading of Dr. Pasdermadjian and others that the Russians were trusted by the Dashnaks as little as they trusted the Ottomans. As Pasdermadjian described the Tsar’s attitude: “We need Armenia, but without the Armenians” (Why Armenia Should be Free, p.29)

Secondly, there was British Imperialism’s occupation of the Caucasus and its geopolitical desire to establish an Armenian buffer between Moslem Anatolia and Russia – Lord Curzon’s “tampon state”.

Thirdly, there was the generosity of the Azerbaijanis, themselves, who decided to allow Erivan province to become the nucleus of an Armenian state, after the Dashnaks had made a Turkish Armenia impossible. Armenians had only been recent inhabitants of the Erivan area and had become a majority there with Tsarist colonisation in the previous century. However, the Armenians still found it necessary to ethnically cleanse the Moslem population of Erivan, which amounted to hundreds of thousands, between 1918 and 1920 to build a more homogeneous entity, that they felt comfortable in.

Another fact that should be mentioned in this context is that the Armenian Erivan Republic was originally established under Ottoman protection in June 1918, resulting in its first Prime Minister, Hovhannes Katchaznouni sending a delegation to Istanbul to thank the Sultan. Unfortunately, a month after the Mudros Armistice the Armenians broke the Batum Treaty, which they had signed along with Georgia and Azerbaijan, and occupied Oltu and Kars. 

The Armenian Dashnaks, after rejecting the generous pre-Great War offer made to them by the Ottomans at Erzurum, made themselves dependent on British and French Imperialism for gaining more than the Ottoman offer. They then relied on President Wilson to carry through the schemes that the Imperialists drew up on their maps. That, of course, was a stroke of good fortune and nothing at all to do with Dashnak calculations. U.S. influence would have been an unanticipated event in 1914, when the Ottoman offer was declined.

As subsequent events revealed, both Britain and Russia were unreliable allies for the Dashnaks. Despite the existence of a strong Armenian lobby in Liberal England there was an understanding in Britain that the Armenians were always a Russian instrument in the Caucasus rather than a potential British one, and the Armenians were, therefore, part of the Great Game enemy’s armoury.

George Dobson of The Times, for example, wrote in 1890:

“… as Russia has on her side the Armenian Catholicos and thus holds the keys of the Armenian Church, she is much more powerful among the Turkish Armenians, when she chooses, than we can ever hope to be. We listen to their complaints, but get nothing done for them, in spite of our protectorate over Asia Minor. The religious element has always been Russia’s strongest lever for either aggressive or defensive purposes. Without its help, the Caucasus would hardly have been conquered so soon and so completely as it was… it would probably have made all the difference in Russia’s subsequent operations. A strict attention to this matter gave Russia her first foothold in the country.” (George Dobson, Russia’s Railway Advance into Central Asia, pp.90-1)

Of course, the 1907 agreement between Britain and Russia changed that situation as the Armenians suddenly became more than the pets of the Nonconformist moralists in England and emerged as allies of an ally waging War on Britain’s enemies. However, the British War Office was still reluctant to independently arm Armenians who volunteered for service prior to the events of 1917 in Russia, when everything changed.

The Armenians turned out to be the sole ally of the British in the Caucasus during the Great War. While the Georgians and Azerbaijanis had remained loyal to the Tsar during the War (unlike the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire) both had, later in the conflict, gone over to the enemies of England, when the Russian state collapsed. The Georgians had looked to the Germans for protection whilst the Azerbaijanis had joined with the Turks for protection against the Armenian Dashnaks, and in struggling for their freedom.

The aggressive nature of Armenian nationalism and the ethnic cleansing activities of the Dashnaks had much to do with the necessity of seeking protection from bigger Powers in both cases. The Georgians – as Christians – were concerned about the Ottoman/Islam advance into the Caucasus in mid-1918 but they quickly found that the Armenians were a much greater threat to the integrity of their state and the Ottomans became their protectors, guaranteeing the existence of a Georgian state in the Batum Treaty of 1918.

So, Britain certainly owed the Armenians. They had gone into Insurrection in 1914, despite generous offers from the Ottomans, who had tried to keep them loyal to the state they were citizens of. They joined the Tsarist armies in large numbers, taking their place among the Russian invasion forces and aiding significantly in the defeat on Enver’s army in the Caucasus at Sarakamis, the capture of Van and in the disruption of the Ottoman forces behind the lines.

When the Tsarist armies began to melt away in late 1917 only the Armenians remained to man the Caucasian front for the Allies for 7 months. Britain armed and trained the Armenian forces during early 1918 to halt the Ottoman counter-attack into the Caucasus. An Armenian force stood with Major General Dunsterville, unsuccessfully, in the defence of Baku against the Ottomans and Azerbaijani national forces in September 1918.

And, of course, the Armenians suffered terrible casualties arising from the decision of the Dashnaks to aid the destruction of the Ottoman State. Along with that their activities made the continued existence of an Armenian community among the majority communities of Turks and Kurds very problematic indeed.

Part of the Moral War

For decades before the Great War a segment of Liberal England, which supported the Armenian cause, had publicised and hugely inflated any casualties the Armenian community had suffered in risings designed to provoke foreign intervention in Ottoman territory. They created hysteria in the Anglosphere about the “Terrible Turk” and their “Armenian massacres”. When the Great War came to the Ottoman Empire dire predictions of massacres were made and the Turks duly obliged when, invaded from all sides, they had to fight for their survival as a people by taking extraordinary measures against the Armenian community.

The propaganda produced by Arnold Toynbee, James Bryce, Wellington House under Charles Masterman and John Buchan, and a host of English literati, fed into the moral case for the Great War in Britain. As well as being told they were fighting against the “Barbarian Hun” in the West the British public were whipped up by tales of the Terrible Turk “ravishing” Christian Armenia (titilating the repressed sexuality of the English Puritan middle classes).

During the Great War the British stated on occasion that the Armenians would no longer have to tolerate Ottoman rule. Lloyd George famously promised them that “Britain is resolved to liberate the Armenians from the Turkish yoke” at the Guildhall in November 1916. However, these statements were always vague and had more the appearance of moral exhortations than formal declarations. The British were careful in their words, raising Armenian expectations and encouraging them to be a destabilising element in the Ottoman State which Britain now sought to dismantle, but promising them nothing concrete. Whilst making numerous offers and promises to various states and peoples, in secret or public, there were no formal promises made of a separate, independent Armenian state.

The Mudros Armistice, concluding the British War on the Ottoman Empire, had nothing to say on ‘Armenia’. The Eastern Committee of the British War Cabinet suggested “a national home for the scattered people of the Armenian race” akin to the promise made to the Zionists. But there was no equivalent of the Balfour Declaration.

The British Foreign Minister, apparently said to the head of the Armenian national delegation, Boghos Nubar, in October 1918, that the creation of an Armenian state was one of the goals of the Entente but Balfour himself, proved more in favour of the people of the Caucasus “cutting each other’s throats” than establishing states with help from the British Empire (see FO 371/3404/16745, 12.10.1918 and Akaby Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian Question, 1915-1923, p.141).

The Armenians were not mentioned in the official announcement of the countries participating in the Peace Conference. President Wilson explained to Boghos Nubar that Armenia had not been “welcomed into the family of nations” as yet and not to take offence (The newly constructed/invented “Czechoslovakia” was invited and joined the founders of the League of Nations in 1920).

An Armenian State?

The support for a Great Armenia after 1918 had nothing to do with the events of 1915. If the casualty levels suffered by the Armenian populace of the Ottoman territories that were reported in the West were accurate Magna Armenia was an impossibility. No “Armenia” had appeared in the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 when Tsarist Russia had taken part in negotiations with the British and French over the division of Great War spoils. (Akaby Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian Question, 1915-1923, p.127)

The only conclusion that can be reached is that Great Armenia was all about what happened in Russia in 1917.

Whilst there was support for a mandate being conferred over an undefined “Armenia” there was, from the time of the Armistices, extreme reluctance for Britain to take it up itself. Arnold Toynbee, one of the strongest propagandists of Armenian massacres, argued that on no account should England take up responsibility for them, in case Russia, whatever it might become, was offended. Eyre Crowe agreed for similar reasons. The British Foreign Office suggested that the French might be persuaded to take up a mandate for Armenia, in exchange for concessions to Britain in Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia.  (CAB 27/36, EC 7.11.1918)

The Armenian issue was discussed by the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet at a number of meetings in the aftermath of the Armistice. Lord Curzon, the Chairman, declared that Britain had had a special interest in the Armenians since the 1870s and desired a self-governing Armenia at some time in the future. He then outlined the reasons for setting up an Armenian state:

“… to provide a national home for the scattered peoples of the Armenian race. As long as they are diffused in helpless and hopeless minorities… any chance of settled life or autonomous existence cannot be said to exist. Secondly, we want to set up an Armenian State as a palisade… against the pan-Turanian ambitions of the Turks, which may overflow the Caucasian regions and carry great peril to the countries of the Middle East and East. Thirdly, we want to constitute something like an effective barrier against… any foreign Powers, impelled by ambition or by other motives to press forward in that direction.” (CAB 27/24, EC. 40, 2/12/1918)

So what Curzon had in mind in theory was a colonial project that would plant a large numbers of Armenians from different regions to produce something that would either construct a majority, or close to it, within a distinct territory, to make a viable Armenian state. This state would act as a buffer against the Ottoman Turks joining up with the Azerbaijani Turks and any other Turkic people to the East of the Caucasus, as well as Russia.

Whilst outlining this strategic objective, Lord Curzon stated at a Eastern Committee meeting that the Armenian state-building project was not straightforward for Britain:

“We want the establishment of an Armenian state as a barrier against the aspirations of Turkish Panturanism. However, there are two worries ahead related to the matter. Firstly, this is about the borders of the established Armenian state. Secondly, it is about a huge mandate-power that is crucial for the establishment of this state. We are not interested in the responsibility concerning the future of Armenia. In any case, we have lots of things to do.” (CAB 27/34, 2.12.1918)

Lord Curzon tended to oppose the Foreign Office preference for a large Armenian state of 6 Ottoman vilayets, plus Cicilia, plus Erivan (Magna Armenia) which he saw as an unviable project. And the British Foreign Office proposal, suggested in a Memorandum by Sir Eyre Crow, that Magna Armenia, once established, should be placed under a French Mandate, ran into immediate opposition in the War Cabinet and its adjuncts.

Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, warned in a General Staff Memorandum that it would be “most undesirable” for such an important strategic region, that linked Southern Russia to the approaches to India, at Baku, should be handed over to Britain’s “historic world rival” – France. Chief among the fears was that France might join up with a revived Russia to threaten British interest in the geopolitical Heartland of the World.

The British General Staff also made their belief clear that if an Armenian entity came into existence Turkish Armenia must be separated from Caucasian Armenia. That was the main reason why Britain decided to jump in and solely occupy and control the Caucasus in November 1918 – to keep anyone else out. (CAB 27/36, EC 5/12/1918)

It was decided by the Eastern Committee of the War Cabinet, therefore, that France should be excluded from the area and suggested that in the absence of Britain, the United States should be invited to take up a Mandate, on Britain’s behalf. Because of issues regarding expenditure, only in the last resort should Britain take it up. (CAB 27/24, EC, 16/12/1918)

Lord Curzon wanted to include Erzurum in an Armenian state as its future capital. At San Remo, in April 1920, he explained the reasons for this which “were  essentially strategical rather than moral” (i.e. not about self-determination) and which he said had influenced the London Conference, whose decisions had informed the future Treaty of Sevres to be imposed on the region:

“He wished the Supreme Council to envisage the future possibilities in this connection. There might be a great pan-Moslem or pan-Turanian movement, and faced with this, the London Conference had felt that it was desirable… to place a wedge between the Moslems of Turkey and of the further East in the form of a Christian Community, which could be a new Armenian state… The London Conference had perceived the difficulties in the way of constituting a greater Armenia, but they felt that her case, historically, was analogous to that of the Zionists. The case for the Zionists was not based upon the numbers of this people actually inhabiting Palestine.” (DBFPC, VIII, No.11, p.108)

Curzon described Armenia as a “tampon state” in its strategic purpose for Britain.

The original Erivan Republic established under Ottoman protection in May 1918 had been 9,000 sq. kms. Britain expanded its de facto territory in November, before the final instalment of Greater Armenia, to 50,000 sq. kms, and including Kars, Ardahan, Sourmalou and Nakhchivan. Dashnak forces invaded Kars Province, an overwhelmingly Moslem area of 1.7 million people, in April 1919 with British support (After Mudros and the forced withdrawal of the Ottoman Army, small states had been established in the Caucasus for self-protection including Meshketia, the Araz-Turk Republic of Nakhchivan, the South-West Caucasus Democratic Republic and the Kars Democratic Republic.) 

The Statement of British Policy in the Middle East for Submission to the Peace Conference which emerged from all these deliberations, prepared for the British Delegation to the Peace Conference, however, decided upon the Magna Armenia option. This supported an Armenian state stretching from the Mediterranean Sea in the West up to the Black Sea in the North and right into the Caucasus, within 200 miles of the Caspian. The document stated that:

“the Armenians are at present the most progressive and prolific element in the population; there will be an immigration of Armenians from abroad and they are likely to play the leading part in the future.” (FO 608/83/7442, 18/2/1918)

It was realised that because the Armenians could not possibly constitute a majority in this gigantic ‘Armenia’ (they would have made up a very small minority) the Peace Conference could not leave the Armenians in control of “Armenia”. It would collapse in bloodshed. Control and “keeping the peace” should, therefore, be awarded as part of the Mandate to one of the Peace Conference members.

The effect of the British take over of Transcaucasia was to isolate the Armenians from their traditional sponsors and allies, the Russians. The Armenians were now wholly dependent on the British for their future. However, in early 1919, when the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Henry Wilson, approached the government to ask for support in strengthening the Batum-Baku line the British occupation had created, he found that both Lloyd George and Balfour were in favour of clearing out of the Caucasus altogether. 

The Armenians at Paris

In February 1919 the British Delegation at Paris informed the Peace Conference that it was “in favour” of a great Armenian state comprising six Ottoman vilayets plus Cicilia and “Russian Armenia”. However, it had already been decided at that point that not only was Britain not prepared to use its power to establish this state it was proposing, it also intended to evacuate its military forces from the area, and attempt to pass on responsibility for Armenia to the U.S.

Since by then the Armenians had made enemies of all their neighbours – Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Persia and Bolshevik Russia – with extravagant territorial demands and armed agressions against them – this was like a mother abandoning her child to a stranger.

Firuz Kamemzadeh, the Iranian/Russian historian, says the following about the Armenian demands at Paris: 

“The Armenian leaders were drunk with victory and power. Their demands for an Armenia on three seas and for exorbitant indemnities were bound to antagonise those whom it was their purpose to win over. Among the Armenians only a few voices were heard protesting against the dangerous course adopted by the Dashnaktsutiun… (The two Armenian delegations…) held conferences and meetings at which hundreds of journalists, writers, singers, and ex-ministers, made long speeches in support of the Armenian cause. The Armenian delegates followed Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau, reminding them every minute of the “debt they owed Armenia”. Their importunity annoyed everyone, and they began to lose friends… The excessive demands and the tone in which they were made finally drove most people to dislike them.” (The Struggle for Transcaucasia, p.257)

The Armenians sent two delegations to the Peace Conference. One was led by Boghos Nubar, an emigre who had been working for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire for many years. The other came from the Eriven Republic of Armenia. They began out-bidding each other with more and more extravagant demands on the Allied Powers.

The two delegations immediately began “auctioning” or outbidding each other in demands for territory.

Having already begun to wash their hands of “Armenia” the British and the other Imperialist powers now had the excuse to begin to abandon the Armenians as an impossible people with impossible demands.

At the Paris Conference the Armenians denied the existence of an Azerbaijani nation and deluged other delegations with anti-Moslem and anti-Georgian propaganda. Whilst the other Caucasian states went with an understanding that collaboration was necessary, the Armenians were totally orientated toward securing everything for themselves, at the expense of the other peoples of the region (Anar Isgenderli, Realities of Azerbaijan: 1917-1920, pp.189-192 and pp.206-7).

Britain, Armenia and the U.S.

Because Britain did not want the responsibility of the Armenian Mandate herself – or for France to take it – she decided to lure the United States into the region, to manage a great and unstable buffer state in the British interest. And so the Armenians were being led to believe that they would get something that just couldn’t even begin to exist.

After Armenia was recognised as a de facto state by the League of Nations Arthur Balfour wrote to his brother, Gerard:

“Great Britain has no interest whatever in Armenia except the interest of humanity which she shares to the full with the United States.” (Balfour Papers, MS 49749, ff. 186-91, 16.2.1920)

Armenia had been trumpeted as the great cause of “Humanity” and Sir Edward Grey, as Foreign Secretary, had accused the Ottomans of “Crimes Against Humanity” in killing Armenians. Why Armenian lives were seen to be of greater concern for “the interests of humanity” was never explained and it is rarely questioned. It was just taken for granted that the lives of Christian Armenians were worth more than the lives and existences of the general mass of non-Armenian humanity. And England and its Anglo-Saxon cousin (the Anglosphere) represented “the interests of humanity” being, of course, the highest form of “Humanity” that existed in the world.

Forgetting, for a moment, the racial hierarchy of the world that existed, what Balfour actually meant, when he said that Britain shared the Armenian burden in “the interests of humanity”, was that they wished to off-load the Armenian section of Humanity to the protection of the United States. Sharing was, in fact, giving.

When the issue of “Armenia” came up at the Paris Conference, Lloyd George was very happy when President Wilson stated that the U.S. would accept a mandate for “Armenia” upon the consent of the Senate. Britain was most pleased that America would take on such an unselfish and “noble mission” in “the interests of humanity”. 

A U.S. Mandate for Armenia would not only have served the cause of “Humanity” it would also have been very useful for British geopolitical purposes in the region. It would have created an American buffer against a Russian return to the region (or the Pan-Turanian fantasy). The Armenians had constituted the major Russian claim to intervention in the Eastern Provinces of the Ottoman Empire – which was the one saving grace for the Liberal Anglosphere in the despised Tsarist Autocracy. The English Liberals had a toleration of Russian expansionist autocracy if it involved dealing with the Moslem Turk on behalf of the Christian Armenian.

A U.S. Mandate, bolstering a substantial Armenia would also have immediate benefits in putting the Ottoman Turks down. It would seal the Turks up, to be dealt with by the Greeks on Britain’s behalf, cutting them off from the rest of Islam (and possibly the Bolsheviks in the eventuality of them winning the Civil War in Russia).

However, by the Summer of 1919 it was clear that despite President Wilson’s sympathy for the Armenians the American democracy was very reluctant to become entangled in foreign adventures on Britain’s behalf, as a form of scaffolding for the expanded, but creaking, British Empire. General Harbord was sent on a fact finding mission and he recommended to the Senate in April 1920, wisely, that the U.S. stay out of such an undertaking.

Others were also offered the Armenian problem. When the weakest link in the Imperialist chain, Italy, refused Britain’s poisoned chalice Lloyd George began peddling the “cause of humanity” all over Europe, offering the Armenians to everyone and anyone – Holland, Sweden, Romania, Canada, New Zealand and to the League of Nations itself. 

But there were no takers for Armenia – except of course, the Bolsheviks.

Whither Armenia?

The British estimated the Armenian Erivan Republic as having a population of around 1.3 million at the end of 1919 with around 300,000 non-Armenians. It saw little chance of Armenia ever functioning as a democracy, like Azerbaijan, with its democratic constitution and structures:

“The politics of the Erivan Republic are dominated by notorious Armenian secret society known as ‘Dashnaktsution’… Its present policy in the Caucasus is centred on 1. The acquisition of territory for the Erivan Republic. 2. The extension and equipment of the Armenian armed forces; and 3. The propagation the doctrine of the Tashnaks… It seems impossible that sound democratic government will be attained in the Erivan Republic until the activities of this society have been ended. The society by its methods of terrorism prevent the better and broader-minded elements of Armenian society from taking up official positions.” (FO S81, to Wardrof, representative in Tiflis, 24.12.1919)

As Lord Curzon had said, Britain had “lots of things to do” in the world and if it was ever serious about providing the Armenians with anything, it was now having serious doubts, with the knowledge of what a difficult task such a project would prove, about seeing an enhanced Armenian state through to fruition, given the existing character of the Erivan Republic. Or perhaps it was just looking for excuses for abandoning the Armenians and ridding itself of the problem it had brought about, to someone else. 

Straight after Curzon’s statement at San Remo likening Armenia to a second Israel the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, had made a short and deliberate interjection against his Foreign Secretary, which boded ill for the Armenians:

“Mr. Lloyd George thought that the Armenians had really no right to indulge in unjustifiable hopes.” (DBFPC, VIII, No.11, p.108)

Anyone who has studied the career of Lloyd George will know what he was signalling here.

The size and territory of an Armenian state was kept in the balance by Britain all through 1918-1920. It was actually only defined to any degree when it became impossible to establish. The effect, however, was to make collaboration impossible in the Caucasus between the Georgians, Azerbaijanis and Armenians, when the former two states were always likely to lose substantial parts of their territories to a new, territorially undisclosed Armenian state, defined by British Imperialism, or President Wilson, a man very sympathetic to Armenian claims.

Not only that. The Armenians were attempting to seize parts of Georgia between 1918 and 1919. They even claimed the Georgian capital, Tiflis. In December 1918, with the evacuation of the Ottoman army from the Caucasus, the Armenians advanced all the way to the Iori region in Georgia. This advance seriously threatened the very existence of Georgia since the Georgian capital would have been completely surrounded by newly-acquired Armenian territory. The Armenian army under General Dro advanced to the hinterland of Tiflis before the Georgians finally repelled the Armenian invasion and the British, concerned at the instability in their domain, stopped the fighting.

During 1918-20 the Dashnaks were responsible for substantial massacres and ethnic cleansing not only in Erivan province but in the Azerbaijani territories of Baku, Shamakhi, Quba, Nakhchivan, Zangezur, and Karabakh. Whenever there was an opportunity, as in the Russian collapse in 1917-18, the Ottoman evacuation at the end of 1918, or the British evacuation in mid-1919 there were attempts to expand Armenian territory into areas with predominantly Moslem populations.

Andranik – Armenian Hero, an Armenian account, is quite frank about the activities this involved after the Armistices of 1918:

“Andranik’s irregulars remained in Zangezur surrounded by Muslim villages that controlled the key routes connecting the different parts of Zangezur. According to David Bloxham, Andranik initiated the change of Zangezur into a solidly Armenian land by destroying Muslim villages and trying to homogenize key areas of the Armenian state. In late 1918 Azerbaijan accused Andranik of killing innocent Azerbaijani peasants in Zangezur and demanded that he withdraw Armenian units from the area. Antranig Chalabian wrote that, “without the presence of General Andranik and his Special Striking Division, what is now the Zangezur district of Armenia would be part of Azerbaijan today…” Andranik’s activities in Zangezur were protested by Ottoman General Halil Pasha, who threatened the Dashnak government with retaliation for Andranik’s actions. Armenia’s Prime Minister Hovhannes said he had no control over Andranik and his forces.”  

When the decision was taken by the British Cabinet to withdraw its military forces there was little interest in England about what might happen to the Georgians, Azerbaijanis or Mountaineers (Daghestanis). The voices of concern in England all said one thing: “Will the Armenians be massacred”?

It is unclear why it was thought the Armenians might be massacred by those who lived around them. In fact, there are two possible reasons that may have existed in the minds of those who warned about such an eventuality. Firstly, the one which was based on the propagandist understanding of the situation – that Turks, Kurds and Tatars (Moslems) always had a tendency to do such things when the Christian Armenians were left unprotected by the great Western Christian Powers.

Of course, the British ruling class was too worldly-wise to really believe such a thing.

Lord Esher was the most influential member of it during the Great War, without formal position. He had turned down most of the great offices of State to preserve an independence of mind useful to High Politics and Imperial Statecraft. After the publication of the Bryce Report on the “Armenian massacres” he wrote to General Macdonogh explaining why propaganda should always be kept separate from factual information by a state that wished to base its policy on what actually happened and existed in the world. When one took to believing one’s own propaganda, which was essentially “a system of falsehood” one was corrupted by lies that began to be believed and policy became dysfunctional:

“The more I hear and see of propaganda, the more chaotic it appears. I quite agree that if you could begin afresh it could be united under one supreme head in London. This is now impossible owing to the position occupied by Mr. Masterman.

“The cardinal principle that underlies the whole subject is the clear separation of propaganda and intelligence. The one is mainly a system of falsehood, while the other aims at the exact truth. It is corrupting for the furnishers of truth that they should be engaged in manufacturing lies. Both Napoleon and Bismarck understood this division of labour. They each of them had a cabinet for the Collection of Information, and another Cabinet for the Promulgation of Falsehood. Roughly, the one is eminently the function of soldiers, while the second can be left to the Foreign Office.” (Journals and Letters of Reginald Viscount Esher, Vol IV, 1915-1930, p. 58, 17.10.1916)

It is noticeable that whilst propagandists in London were infatuated with the Armenians, British soldiers and administrators on the ground in the Caucasus, who experienced the realities of the situation, had a much lower opinion of them and developed a much greater respect for the honest and straightforward “Tartars”.

For instance the British correspondent, Robert Scotland Liddell, who saw extensive service on the Russian front during the Great War and wrote three books about his experiences there wrote in The Morning Star during September 1919:

“Armenians are known as the best propagandists in the world. Their propaganda does not date back to recent years; on the contrary, it has been carried out systematically for years. You cannot find a person who can put a good word in for Armenians both in Russia and in the Caucasus. Russians, Tatars, and Georgians doubt and hate them. I cannot say whether it is right or wrong; but the fact is that Armenians deserve hatred. However, they are progagandized abroad in such a way that Europe and the whole world sides with them. Indeed, they have suffered a lot, however, thousands of Muslim men, women, and children have been oppressed by them. Armenians have, certainly, been subjected to ferocity, however, they themselves committed the same or even more enormous atrocities in the Muslim villages which Turks have never perpetrated against them. Armenians have committed violence against Tatars and they were hurt by them in due course. Tatars stood against Armenians in this respect. Generally speaking, Tatars are superior to Armenians in many respects and, indeed, more courageous than them.” (cited in Musa Gasimli, From the ‘Armenian Issue’ to the ‘Armenian Genocide’: In search of Historical Truth, pp.453-4)

The old phrase “The Turk is a gentleman” began to be uttered again in England, after it had been discarded during the War, in the interests of propaganda.

One of the main reasons for the dire warnings of “Armenian massacres” in 1919 was the cynical attempt to get the United States, which was known to have a strong and influential Protestant Missionary lobby constantly running pro-Armenian propaganda, to put pressure on Congress to secure Britain’s objective of an American mandate. 

The other reason why the Armenians might be massacred – which could not be said publicly but which accorded much more closely with the truth – was that they, in search of Magna Armenia, had done much massacring and ethnic cleansing, themselves, against all the other peoples in the Caucasus (Georgians, Kurds, Turks, Azerbaijanis, Jews etc.). They were in a small minority in the area and although the most militarised people in the region, without the support of an Imperial Power there was a strong chance of them driving themselves toward destruction when confronted by the demographic substance around them that they had antagonised greatly.

After the British Withdrawal

The withdrawal of Allied forces from the Caucasus in August 1919 led immediately to further acts of Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan. The lands claimed by the Armenians included not only Turkish territory to the West, and areas  with largely Moslem populations, but also Azerbaijani land, with long-standing settlement as well as the pasture/grazing lands of nomadic Tatars. Nakhichevan and the mountains and valleys of Karabakh soon became the object of Armenian attention, concentrated military activity and resistance to the Dashnaks. And some British forces collaborated in such activity: British General Devy attempted to assist the Armenians in conquering Kars and Nakhchivan from the local populace but his superior in Baku, General Thomson opposed such an inflammatory policy.

There is an eye-witness account from the autobiography of an American Navy Lieutenant, Robert Steed Dunn (who acted as US High Commissioner Admiral Mark Bristol’s eyes and ears in the Caucasus) of the type of activity the Dashnaks were engaged in. The information must have led to Admiral Bristol forming his negative opinion about American intervention and the U.S. having serious doubts about what the Armenian cause actually represented, along with the decision not to have anything further to do with them. 

Sometime in mid-1920 Lieutenant Dunn got the chance to observe at first hand one of General Dro’s military activities in the Nakhchivan/Karabakh regions. It should be noted that Lieutenant Dunn was scrupulously objective between the different peoples and rival territorial claims in the Caucasus and actually admired Dro’s military prowess. The Dunn account below is well worth reproducing to reveal what Greater Armenia was all about:

 “Dro was national patriot, army chief, legendary guerrilla, Assassin of Russia’s viceroy in that cockeyed 1905 revolution, by ’15 he was kissed and decorated by Grand Duke Nicholas for taking Erzurum. Today on the world-end uplands of southeast Transcaucasia, he kept Lenin’s boys out of Persia. My sixth sense said go with Dro…

At morning tea, Dro and his officers spread out a map of this whole high region called the Karabakh. Deep in tactics, they spoke Russian, but I got their contempt for Allied “neutral” zones and their distrust of promises made by tribal chiefs. A campaign shaped; note raids on Moslem villages… “Dro’s force, mainly cavalry, moves in units of about sixty.” my report to the admiral would read. Angelaoot was on a main Baku-Nakhichevan road, by which the Bolsheviks aimed their sweep into Iran. For the moment this had stalled because many Tartars still resisted. Also Nouri Pasha, brother-in-law of Turkey’s Enver, waited to see how fast Marxism would convert.

…”When we secure the frontiers,” said Dro with a a wink, “I shall make them serve in the Armenian army.” It was a lie, they said, that Trotsky had ordered Azerbaidzhan tostop attacking Armenia. Two days ago twelve of his agents had been seized near here. Lately they’d stolen cows at Kushi. Now the reprisal would be a Tartar village called Djul.

Soon we reached a town, Zangebazar of the telephone calls, larger and livelier than Angelaoot. In the main street men stacked rifles, handled machine guns… Here Armenian and Tartar had long borne with one another, but a hero had to act in character, make a demagogic appeal to race and nation like ours to “democracy.”

“My troops have freed forty-five infidel villages in Zangezour,” he said loudly, in the Russian I caught. Next he launched into Bolshevism as a “heathen curse,” while rapt faces looked into space.

“Dro, you’re up against it, bucking Red propaganda.” I told him afterwards. “They’re fanatics too.”

“Well, then, so I must be,” he said with a shrug and a grin that simplified things, Dro, yawning, dictated orders—a subaltern in the saddle all night must rope his guns up cliffs to new positions. The town called Djul was on every tongue.

“It will he three hours to take,” Dro told me. We’d close in on three sides.”

“The men on foot will not shoot, but use only the bayonets,”

Merrimanov said, jabbing a rifle in dumbshow.

‘“That is for morale,” Dro put in, “We must keep the Moslems in terror that our cruelty beats theirs.” 

“Soldiers or civilians?” I asked.

“There is no difference,” said Dro.”All are armed, in uniform or not.”

“But the women and children?”

“Will fly with the others as best they may.”

Off in the dark Dro’s voice was raised in a final harangue to the ranks — no playing up Christ now, or even patriotism, but primordial greed. He was mixing Armenian and Russian in sheer outlaw talk. The word plunder, gradesh, kept coming. “Tomorrow the road will be open —” Back of church, home, and nation, I grasped, man had exact, hard urges, more freshly. Dro was playing on these, as here an eye glittered, there lips were licked… 

The ridges circled a wide expanse, its floors still hidden. Hundreds of feet down, the fog held, solid as cotton flock. “Djul lies under that,” said Dro, pointing. “Our men also attack Muslims from the other sides.”

Then, ‘Whee-ee!’ — his whistle lined up all at the rock edge. Bayonets clicked upon carbines. Over plunged Archo, his black haunches rippling; then followed the staff, the horde — nose to tail, bellies taking the spur. Armenia in action seemed more like a pageant than war, even though I heard our Utica brass roar.

As I watched from the height, it took ages for Djul to show clear. A tsing of machine-gun fire took over from the thumping batteries; cattle lowed, dogs barked, invisible, while I ate a hunk of cheese and drank from a snow puddle. Mist at last folded upward as men shouted, at first heard faintly. Then came a shrill wailing.

Now among the cloud-streaks rose darker wisps — smoke. Red glimmered about house walls of stone or wattle, into dry weeds on roofs. A mosque stood in a clump of trees, thick and green. Through crooked alleys on fire, horsemen were galloping after figures both mounted and on foot.

“Tartarski!” shouted the Armenian gunner by me. Others pantomimed them in escape over the rocks, while one twisted a bronze shell-nose, loaded, and yanked breech-cord, firing again and again. Shots wasted, I thought, when by afternoon I looked in vain for fallen branch or body. But these shots and the white bursts of shrapnel in the gullies drowned the women’s cries.

At length all shooting petered out. I got on my horse and rode down toward Djul. It burned still but little flame showed now. The way was steep and tough, through dense scrub. Finally on flatter ground I came out suddenly, through alders, on smoldering houses. Across trampled wheat my brothers-in-arms were leading off animals, several calves and a lamb. 

Corpses came next, the first a pretty child with straight black hair, large eyes. She looked about twelve years old. She lay in some stubble where meal lay scattered from the sack she’d been toting. The bayonet had gone through her back, I judged, for blood around was scant. Between the breasts one clot, too small for a bullet wound, crusted her homespun dress.

The next was a boy of ten or less, in rawhide jacket and knee-pants. He lay face down in the path by several huts. One arm reached out to the pewter bowl he’d carried, now upset upon its dough. Steel had jabbed just below his neck, into the spine.

There were grownups, too, I saw as I led the sorrel around. Djul was empty of the living till I looked up to see beside me Dro’s German-speaking colonel. He said all Muslims who had not escaped were dead.  

“The most are inside houses. Come you and look.”

“No, dammit! My stomach isn’t—”

“One is a Turkish officer in uniform. Him you must see.”

 We were under those trees by the mosque, in an open space.

Lint and wool flakes blew about, over the reddish cobbles; they came from bedding slashed to bits for hoarded coins or women’s gewgaws, and had a smell of sweat and char.

“I don’t believe you,” I said, but followed to a nail-studded door. The man pushed it ajar, then spurred away, leaving me to check on the corpse. I thought I should, this charge was so constant, so gritted my teeth and went inside.

The place was cool but reeked of sodden ashes, and was darkat first, for its stone walls had only window slits. Rags strewed the mud floor around an iron tripod over embers that vented their smoke through roof beams black with soot. All looked bare and empty, but in an inner room flies buzzed. As the door swung shut behind me I saw they came from a man’s body lying face up, naked but for its grimy turban. He was about fifty years old by what was left of his face — a rifle butt had bashed an eye. The one left slanted, as with Tartars rather than with Turks. Any uniform once on him was gone, so I’d no proof which he was, and quickly went out, gagging at the mess of his slashed genitals. 

I spread my blanket in a lane between wheatfields. Nearby lay a young lieutenant wearing czarist chevrons, his round Russian face cheerful but unsmiling…

 “How many people lived there?”

“Oh, about eight hundred.” He yawned.

“Did you see any Turk officers?”

“No, sir. I was in at dawn. All were Tartar civilians in mufti.”

The lieutenant dozed off, then I, but in the small hours a voice woke me — Dro’s. He stood in the starlight bawling out an officer. Anyone keelhauled so long and furiously I’d never heard. Then abruptly Dro broke into laughter, quick and simple as a child’s. Both were a cover for his sense of guilt, I thought, or hoped. For somehow, despite my boast of irreligion, Christians massacring “infidels” was more horrible than the reverse would have been.

From daybreak on, Armenian villagers poured in from miles around. Men drove off cattle and sheep, some limping from the crossfire. The women plundered happily, chattering like ravens as they picked over the carcass of Djul. They hauled out every hovel’s chattels, the last scrap of food or cloth, and staggered away, packing pots, saddlebags, looms, even spinning-wheels.

“Thank you for a lot, Dro,” I said to him back in camp. “But now I must leave.”…

We shook hands, the captain said “À bientôt, mon camarade.” And for hours the old Molokan scout and I plodded north across parching plains. Like Lot’s wife I looked back once to see smoke bathing all, doubtless in a sack of other Moslem villages up to the line of snow that was Iran.” (Robert Dunn, World Alive, pp. 140-150)

When the British began to withdraw from the Caucasus the massacres and ethnic cleansing that took place were not done to the Armenians but carried out within the Armenian Erivan Republic against its remaining Moslem population. 300 Moslem villages in the Erivan, Echmiadzin, Surmali and Novobayazet districts were destroyed, tens of thousands killed and 150,000 driven out. Later in the year 62 villages were devastated by Dashnak units with large numbers dying of starvation and for want of shelter in the countryside. During January and March 1920 there were further ethnic cleansing operations conducted by Dashnak forces against Moslem villages which resulted in many deaths. (Musa Gasimli, From the ‘Armenian Issue’ to the ‘Armenian Genocide’: In search of Historical Truth, pp.465-8)

In the course of 30 months of rule the Dashnsksutyun reduced the non-Armenian population of their state by at least two-thirds and even the Armenian section by a third. (A.A. Lalaian, The Counter-Revolutionary Role of the Dashnagzoutiun Party, pp.96-7)

The Armenian writer, Anastas Mikoyan, described this behaviour as “rampant Blackhundred Dashnak chauvinism” saying

“As a result of this policy the entire Muslim population of Armenia was removed from power, terrorised by bandit gangs who were ready to reduce the foreign ethnic element in Armenia out of their love for blood and for patriotic reasons, and wipe out as many of them as possible.” (see Ilgar Niftaliyev, Genocide and Deportation of the Azerbaijanis of Erivan Province, 1918-1920, IRS, No.65, 2013) 

The first Prime Minister of the Erivan Republic, Hovhannes Katchaznouni, looking back from orderly Sovietized Armenia, admitted similarly that the Dashnaks had in their constant drive to create a homogenised nation actually destroyed their own lands rather than see an “alien” element live upon it:

“We governed our country for two and a half years… We had wars with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey… We had continual internal fights – Agapapa, Zod, Zanki-Bazar, Vedi-Bazar, the valleys of Milli, Sharour, Nakhichchevan, Zangezour… We had kept the entire country under arms, in constant fighting, we had kept all working hands on the battlefields all the time when there was the greatest demand for construction work. The Bolsheviks have freed the people from that calamity, from that heavy burden. We destroyed bread-producing lands like Sharour and Verdi, cattle lands like Agagapapa, wantonly and without benefit to us.” (Dashnagtzoutiun Has Nothing to do anymore – Report Submitted to the 1923 Conference, pp.89-90)   

During November and December of 1919 attempts were made by the Azerbaijani Government to resolve territorial disputes with the Armenians in conferences in Tiflis and Baku so that mutual co-operation could take place in the defence of the Caucasus.

The problem was that the Armenians would never agree to settle outstanding territorial issues when they were of the belief that they would get a better deal from the British. 

And at the same time as the Armenian government was negotiating with the Azerbaijanis it sent a Military Mission, headed by General Andranik, to New York, to acquire arms for use “against the Turks and Kurds and Tatars, the enemies of Christianity” (General Andranik’s Appeal to the Government of the United States in Antranig Chalabian, Dro, pp. 152-4) 

Defence Disabled

The expansionary nationalism of Armenia, therefore, disabled any prospect of a common defence of the Caucasus and meant that the Bolsheviks could pick off Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, one by one. Dashnak activity in Zangezur and Karabakh in early 1920 tied down the Azerbaijan army, away from the frontier with Daghestan, from where the Red Army was mustering in force.

The Armenia issue was discussed at the London Conference, held during February-April 1920. Its decisions formed the basis of The Treaty of Sevres of 1920, which Britain attempted to impose on the Turks using Greek and Armenian proxies, incorporating “Wilsonian Armenia” in its terms. The idealistic President Wilson was in favour of taking a Mandate for Armenia, getting his map makers to draw up a great Armenia on a map. Lloyd George made every effort to disown responsibility for any promises that might have been made to them or future disaster that would befall them.

At the end of April 1920, after San Remo, when the Armenian issue was again discussed, Lloyd George told Parliament,

“He knew that some of the Armenian… aspirations had been of a rather colossal character, beyond anything that could be realized under present conditions. They involved… an Armenian Kingdom from sea to sea, from the Mediterranean up to the Black Sea, over a gigantic tract of country where the Armenian population was, unfortunately, but a small percentage. That would be an impossible achievement. To obtain it would be simply to provoke further disaster. Armenians could only maintain that position by means of the help of a great country like the United States. With regard to the boundaries of Armenia they had left these to the arbitration of President Wilson” (The Times 28.4.1920)

Lloyd George had allowed the British delegation in Paristo support this “Greater Armenia” that “would be an impossible achievement” and which, he knew, would “provoke further disaster” for the Armenians and others. But that was fine because Britain had now succeeded in washing its hands of the problem and passed it over to President Wilson to arbitrate on to his heart’s content.

The British relationship with the Armenians had a large part to play in the fall of the Caucasus to the Bolsheviks and its occupation for 70 years by the Soviet Union. This was because for the Caucasus to be defended there had to be two essential conditions.

The first condition was the unity of the Transcaucasian Republics, and this was impossible due to the insatiable desire of the Armenians to take territory off both Azerbaijan and Georgia to create an ever larger Armenian state. As Lord Curzon at San Remo, discussing the defence of the Caucasus, on 20 April 1920 said:

“The Armenians had forces which might be estimated at 20,000 to 30,000 men. These were unfortunately being employed in fighting neighbouring states. Efforts were being made to put a stop to this…” (DBFPC, Doc.6, p.46)

It was the presence of an Armenian state in the Caucasus that poisoned relations in the region (and continue to poison relations even today with the illegal seizure of nearly 20 per cent of Azerbaijan in the early 1990s at the fall of the Soviet Union).

The second essential condition for the defence of the Caucasus was a speedy British/Ottoman Peace settlement. This, of course, was made much more difficult by the British relationship with the Armenians.