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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.

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

Casement’s Letters from America

On May 21st, 1916 The New York Times published an article by Poultney Bigelow, the notable American writer, containing the private letters sent to him by Roger Casement in 1914.

Poultney Bigelow is an interesting character. A New Yorker, schooled in Germany, he was a playmate of the Kaiser. His books up to 1898 are praising of the Kaiser but Germany’s attempted infringement of the Monroe Doctrine in the Spanish War seems to have taken him in an anti-German direction. He still made a point of visiting the Kaiser annually up to the 1930s after he had survived the British hangman. Bigelow later became an admirer of Hitler and Mussolini. He was the author of a number of books on German history including The Borderland (1894), History of the German Struggle for Liberty (1896), The German Emperor (1889), and Prussian Memories (1915). He wrote in praise of British colonialism in White Man’s Africa (1897) and in other publications.

At the time Bigelow penned his article for The New York Times Casement was awaiting trial for High Treason in Brixton Prison. Bigelow had known Casement for 20 years, meeting him first in Lourenco Marques,  East Africa in 1896:

“Casement was then British Consul in Delagoa Bay, enthusiastically labouring to thwart the effects of England’s enemies who were secretly using this part of East Africa in order to supply the rebellious Boers with munitions of war.” 

In 1881 the British, looking to fulfil the Cape to Cairo Imperial dream of Cecil Rhodes, had been unexpectedly defeated by the Boers at Majuba Hill. A Truce had then ensued but it was clear that the matter was not over for England. In December 1895 Dr. Jameson made his ill-fated raid/attempted coup in the Transvaal. After this humiliation it was only a matter of time for a final reckoning with the Boers to take place. The reckoning came at the turn of the century with an invasion, blockhouses, crop-burning and concentration camps.

Casement’s appointment to Delagoa Bay showed how trusted he was by the Foreign Office. With war on the Boers inevitable Lourenco Marques became a place of great significance, one of the few ports outside of British territory through which arms and ammunition could be supplied for the Boer defence. Casement’s job was to keep an eye on what was moving from whom to whom and where to where for Britain. Casement remained there until July 1898 before being transferred to West Africa, and then the Congo, where he made his fame.

Bigelow was delivering a letter from the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, to Casement.

The American notes of Casement: “his devotion to British interests was so strong that an official report was to him not complete until he had personally verified all possible details.”

Bigelow also says of Casement that he had a “hatred of injustice and fearlessness in seeking redress.”

Casement was not merely an Imperial functionary – he put his heart and soul into his work:

“For seventeen years Casement enjoyed the confidence of his country and served British interests, not merely to the extent of his salary, but with an energy and enthusiasm that would have killed an ordinary man.”

Bigelow, being a strong Anglophile, could not see the consistency in Casement’s principled behaviour that in the end forced him to take Germany’s side in Britain’s Great War.

In Die Wahlverwandtschaften/Elective Affinities Goethe described how the German landed gentry had to tend to their governmental or military duties to prevent their idleness becoming self-destructive. Goethe’s/Eduard’s mind and vital spirit becomes under-occupied leading to his infatuation with Ottilie/Minna.

The American argues that the British made the mistake of not keeping Casement’s activist spirit occupied by Imperial work. Instead, by retiring him, the Foreign Office encouraged Casement into “pacifism or Pro-Germanism.” Bigelow says that “Casement commenced his career of madness through a too strenuous study of Irish mythology masquerading under the name of history.”

The extent of Bigelow’s Anglocentrism can be gauged in the following passage:

“Casement’s latter-day dream was to… Hibernize the Emerald Isle as Prussia sought to Germanize her Polish provinces. Only a madman could go to Berlin for help in starting a republic and the fact that Casement trusted any Prussian promises in this matter is sufficient for an English court desirious of committing him to a Sanatorium rather than the scaffold.”

But the British Court that tried Casement could not convict him merely on the basis of madness. Casement had gone too far and his published writings, which had appeared across Europe and America, were obviously not those of a madman. His position was clearly reasoned and logical. Only the scaffold was appropriate for him, with the fouling of his name for good measure. The Irish supporters of the Imperial War could ponder his madness to their heart’s content. For them, as now, opposition to the British view of the world is insanity.

The letters Casement sent to Bigelow demonstrate the Irishman’s honesty and openness about what he was doing. They make it very clear why he was going to do what he was about to do. This was a man of the highest principle who concluded that it was for him not a case of “my country right or wrong” but who was right and who was wrong.

Extracts from Sir Roger Casements Letters:

“It is the Crime of all the Ages – and I blame not the Kaiser or Germany – but chiefly England who has plotted and planned it from the days of the first German battleship.” (10.8.14, New York)

“Her present campaign against Germany is hypocritical and mendacious – she aims at one thing only – to destroy German competition; to destroy German peaceful rivalry; to sweep from her path the only great commercial people in Europe whose integrity and capacity and efficiency she dreads.

“In order to achieve this she entered, (7 years ago it began) into an unholy alliance with two armed assassins. Unable herself, alone, to strike the blow at her great and tranquil adversary she bribes two braves, two military mercenaries to do the deed… Herself a non-European Power, only anxious for money & the trade of the world on her terms, she enters into a conspiracy to hand Europe over to Russian & French militarism in order that she may have all the trade dealings of the Sea outside of Europe. It is a vile deal.”

“Ireland has no sins on her conscience against weaker peoples – and when Ireland is Armed and drilled, please God we shall be masters in our own house and fight only one battle – that of self defense.

“Too long we have helped to plunder & pillage other peoples on behalf of the power that has held us in its grip and for its sole profit.

“I repeat I earnestly pray for Germany’s triumph over British greed, French revenge, Russian dominance, Servian assassination and Japanese ‘chivalry.’ England is in bed with fine bedfellows for the Land that claims its policy rests upon the Bible! Cromwell’s murders were also leaves out of that book – and I fancy it is the chief wadding for the British guns in every epoch – whether aimed at American Independence, Irish land, Hindu, Turk or Tartar – & now the Teuton.

“German Protestantism is no shield when John Bull sees a market.

“I hope he will get it in the neck & learn what it is to inflict war on others. He who not ever suffered war has been the one power to carry war abroad (as now) & to inflict its horrors on others.

“When England has experience in her own sacked & ravaged & bombarded cities, ruined industries & starving millions what it is to suffer war, we shall have peace in the world. All who desire peace should hope to see the one power always at war, at length brought to realise the meaning & horror of war.

“If the Almighty has a drop of Protestant blood in his veins he will be on the side of Germany in this war of the most peace-loving people of Europe fighting for their national life, their industry, their commerce – their existence as a great race.

“So now, my dear Bigelow, you know where I stand.” (15.8.14, New York)

“The only place I shall end in will be in jail! – a British jail for Irish “felony.” Of course, if I went out with murder in my heart against the Germans who have never wronged Ireland I’d be a splendid “patriot” but because I want my poor, brave, credulous countrymen to stay at home & if they fight at all, to fight then for Ireland, I am a traitor. Such is the irony of British “democracy”! God deliver from a democracy that feeds in peace itself & stirs up war and desolation wherever its greed, its lust, its appetite call for conflict. It fights always with other men’s lives – in other men’s lands – with ravaged & sacked cities of other countries. The day England herself suffers the horrors of invasion & feels war at home – we shall have peace abroad – but not till then. The task of civilization must be, surely will be – to destroy British immunity from invasion, so that the responsibility for her intrigues abroad & alliances with others to foment war elsewhere shall fall on the shoulders of the principal as well as of his “allies.” If London suffered what London has caused Brussels, Louvain, Liège to suffer, – there would be no war in Europe.

“It is because London & all it shelters of Imperial greed and cupidity is immune and feels it can never suffer, that England has begotten this war of horror against Germany.

“I have heard it plotted and planned for years. I saw it designed steadily in the F.O. (Foreign Office) & I have again & again warned them there of where they were driving. They meant to drive there. They knew it was a crime but – Delenda est Carthago (Carthage must be destroyed)! Germany’s crime was German higher efficiency in the walks of international commerce & in sea affairs. The day she decided that she, too, had a future on the seas, that day her doom was decreed.

“England fights for one thing only – her interest as the world Emporium. She has two ends in view – 1st to destroy Germany as a rival. 2nd to rope the U.S.A. into an alliance of world partnership in the Emporium line.

“She will fail in No. 1 ultimately even if she wins to-day. Germany is too great and has too good blood in her veins. Even if England gets her down, with the aid of Russia, France, Japan & the “Silver Bullet” – Germany will rise again.

“But England may succeed in No. 2. I see the signs of surrender here on all sides. The virus of British Imperialism is being inculcated steadily – already the press is thoroughly poisoned & most of the politicians & so-called “public men” (you have at the outside perhaps 2 men in America who could be called statesmen).

“The attractions of a World Empire, to be called a “democracy” whereby wealth can be acquired by systematic pillage called “trade” of “finance” without the need of fighting – appeals greatly to the class of people who direct things here. German methods appall them. They wouldn’t fight any more than the English. They want to dine in peace & have the fine things of life through exploitation – not through embattled strength. The English way getting what you want appeals to them – it is discreet, “respectable,” and sanctimonious. I prefer the German – the “brutality” of men not afraid to die for their country or to pour out their blood in rivers for their faith in their fatherland.

“All that I ever did was unselfish or chivalrous in public life – and I have striven to be both in all my public service – has been done with the image of Ireland before me. I worked for Ireland always – for Ireland & the ideals of my own people when I went to find Leopold on the Congo and Julio Arana on the Putumayo.

“And please God before I die I’ll do something still for Ireland!

“And so my dear old far-off friend of other days – of Laurenco Marques! ah! so far-off now – all this means that I can’t go and bathe up the Hudson or meander thro’ its woods with you & drink your good coffee. I am, please God, going back to Ireland very soon now – to stand behind the Volunteers in keeping my country’s conscience clean if that can be, in this orgie of greed and plunder masquerading under the garb of a “holy war.” If I, and those who stand with me in Ireland, can ensure it John Bull shall do his own fighting to “dismantle the German Navy” and “sweep German commerce from the Seas.” Let Lord Curzon, instead of killing the Kaiser with his mouth (the contemptible cad!) go to the front & face the Kaiser’s sons. Let Lord Crewe instead of “venturing the opinion that now that Home Rule is on the Statute Book, Irishmen will rush to enlist,” go & enlist himself, as every German prince & peer has done. Let Lloyd George; instead of forging Silver Bullets & lies of base metal go out as Volunteer to guard the fields of Belgium & the vineyards of France. No- these preux chevaliers, instead of bearing the brunt of that war they have plotted & planned for years are calling for “more expensive food & drink” in the smart London restaurants “to celebrate the German defeats” – by the French! (See New York Times London cable of Sept. 15.)

“I knew Lord Curzon – once – & I’ve met Lloyd George & all the rest of them. I’d walk out of any room they were in today & prefer the company of the waiters.

“Unless this country makes up its mind to fight, if need be, for its neutrality, Great Britain will destroy its neutrality & compel it to take sides against the “enemy of civilisation.” I see the game being steadily played here – by the Kiplings, Conan Doyles, H. G. Wells, Winston Churchills & all the rest of the Westminster troupe of artists. They are only beginning to-day. Just breaking ground – but the trenches are being dug for an assault on American neutrality all along the line – to open fire with a universal howl whenever John Bull gets a serious reverse at sea. Let the German score, by chance, any decided naval victory and we shall find a concerted yell for help sent up throughout all the “American press.” “Common ideals,” “our Anglo-Saxon heritage of culture,” “the cause of human freedom” &c &c – all these will be at stake – and a deliberate effort will be made to stampede this people into the camp of the Allies.

“I am as certain of it as I was three years ago that this war against Germany would be brought off. The plans are already drawn up & everything prepared & laid. Two elements alone in this population – perhaps three – will prevent it being carried out – or will try to prevent it. They may succeed.

“In any case the thing will be much harder to accomplish than the British Government hoped – and if it succeeds it will end this republic. It will turn this country into a vassal State to that one holding the Empire of the Seas.

“Until there is freedom at sea: equality of sea rights for all; equal opportunity; & Navalism recognised as a greater foe to Humanity than Militarism there can be no peace to mankind; no security against war – but an eternal pledge that War to break that unjust monopoly must surely come, and come again, until the mastery of the Seas is dissolved in the neutrality of the Ocean.” (30.9.14, Philadelphia)

With these words and having decided where he stood in the great contest, Casement travelled on to Christiana and Berlin to his last great adventure.

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

Casement on the Greek Tragedy

The following article was written by Roger Casement in November 1915 for The Continental Times of Berlin. It is just one of a series he composed that have lain neglected for over a century. Some of them will appear for the first time since original publication in 1915-16, in a special edition of Irish Foreign Affairs next month.

Casement’s article ‘A Pacific Blockade’ is followed with a commentary by the present writer on its main subject, the Greek tragedy of 1915-22, explaining how Britain violated Greek neutrality in order to press gang the country into its Great War and use it as its catspaw against the Ottoman Turks. 

A PACIFIC BLOCKADE.

A new disease appears to have been discovered in London. It was announced at a recent sitting of the Clerkenwell County Court when a medical certificate was handed to the presiding Judge to excuse a subject from his legal obligation on the ground that he was suffering from “War Depression”.

We should say that War Depression is a widely extended malady to-day and probably has its acutest places exhibited in localities very remote from Clerkenwell.

We have known of cases of war depression in America, for instance, and a notable example is to be found in the depression of the English sovereign on the American exchange.

If gold be the “veins of war”, then the English public shows a marked decline of vitality with the golden sovereign down from 4,90 to 4,57.

A new type international malady is chronicled in the London press of the last few days to take its place beside “war depression” first discovered in the same quarter.

This latest form of the complex ailments, from which our civilization is suffering, is termed “a pacific blockade”.

In some “Lost Words to Greece”, uttered on the 22nd November, the Liberal “Daily News” defines in the following words the scope and aim of the new disease which has so providentially been discovered just when needed to aid the cause of the allies in the Balkans.

The specific object in view of those controlling the new international malady is to “assist” the King of Greece to arrive at a “decision” in conformity with their interests.

To achieve this end the friends of Greece have devised a new weapon- we are told they have “ready to their hand a form of pacific pressure to which Greece is peculiarly susceptible.”

This latest development of a war, begun on behalf of the violated neutrality of Belgium, takes the form of a scheme of “pacific pressure” to be exercised on Greek neutrality, which we are told should “be interpreted in a broad rather than a technical sense.” In a technical sense it might be hard to defend, much less to define, but taken in a “broad” sense, its philanthropic aim is at once apparent. Greece is to adopt an attitude of neutrality based on a friendly blockade of her external trade calculated to “paralyse” the entire national life.

Her “extensive carrying trade” is to be brought to a standstill and her means of existence out off by laying her “under a constricting grip at a moment when imports by land are unattainable.”

The Euphenisms of the liberal “Daily News” are exchanged for the rattling of the bared sabre when the conservative “Daily Telegraph” takes up the case for “friendly neutrality” on the part of Greece.

The “pacific pressure” of the organ of the nonconformist Conscience becomes a very antithesis of a “peaceful blockade” in the mouth of the City money leaders. They have no hesitations of speech any more than of conscience. What the Greeks understand we are assured, and what must be applied to their case “is strengths, not too refined in character, and a downright masterfulness which is first cousin to brutality.”

Greece must be “under no illusions as to her position, if she chooses to oppose our projects and must be fully aware that a blockade would be ruinous to her trade, to her shipping and above all to her corn supplies.”

The Allies mean to have their “way”, we are told, “and will use all legitimate means to secure the objects at which they aim.”

We are left in no doubt as to what “legitimate means” involve for this unhappy neutral State, but we should welcome a definition by the “Daily Telegraph”, what illegitimate methods could be employed against a people whose sole desire is to maintain at once their neutrality and peace with their neighbours.

The “Daily Telegraph” assures its London readers that the French are popular with the Greeks “and so are the country-men of Byron”.

Byron came to aid Greece in a war of independence; “the countrymen of Byron” to-day are doing their utmost to plunge Greece in a war of unexampled peril and disaster to all her future.

If Byron could say in his day “’tis Greece but living Greece no more”, his fellow countrymen to-day are assuredly determined, that the strict fulfilment of the poet’s words shall come to pass a century later.

Not content with occupying Greek territory and marching large forces through it in defiance of the protest of the Greek Government, these friends of Greece and of the small nationalities proceed to assail the very existence of the country they have lawlessly invaded and threaten it with everything short of open acts of war, if it will not “aid their projects.”

COMMENTARY BY PAT WALSH

Roger Casement’s article, ‘A Pacific Blockade’, was found in the Clare County Library (pp/1/48(1)). It was written by Casement on 27 November 1915 and published on 13 December in The Continental Times. It is largely about the British/Allied violation of Greek neutrality during a Great War that England was originally claiming to fight because of a violation of Belgian neutrality.

As Casement noted:

“… a war, began on behalf of the violated neutrality of Belgium, takes the form of a scheme of ‘pacific pressure’ to be exercised on Greek neutrality.”

On 5 October 1915, the British 10th and French 156th Divisions landed at Salonica without the permission of the Greek government on neutral Greek territory. On 23 October additional French and British forces invaded in an effort to force Greece into the Great War on the Allied side. The original two Brigades were reinforced by larger forces until the British 22nd, 26th, 27th and 28th Divisions were occupying Greek territory.

What was the “Pacific Blockade” Casement was talking about? The following passage explains:

“Towards the end of 1902, Mr. Balfour, then Prime Minister, was interpellated in the House of Commons as to whether there could or could not be such a thing in international law as a pacific blockade. The immediate occasion for this was the joint action of Great Britain, Germany and Italy in blockading the coast of Venezuela without any formal declaration of war. According to the press dispatches from Germany, the United States had declined to submit to the position of a neutral on the ground that — the status of belligerency not existing — there could be no such thing as a pacific blockade, and Sir Charles Dilke demanded to know whether similar representations had been received at the British Foreign Office. Mr. Balfour answered: ‘I think it is very likely that the United States will think there can be no such thing as a pacific blockade and I personally take the same view. Evidently a blockade does involve a state of war.’  If the answer be somewhat vague as to the attitude of the United States, it at least pretty accurately reflects an objection once widely held by those who professed to speak with the voice of authority. ‘Could there be a greater contradiction than to speak of a pacific blockade!’ exclaimed Gessner in his Le Droit des Neutres sur Mer, published in 1865. To him, such a thing was a ‘monstrous institution.’ (Albert H Washburn, Legality  of the Pacific Blockade, p.55)

Albert Hogan in a Preface to a 1908 book, Pacific Blockade, noted that

“It is strange that although Great Britain has been, perhaps more than any other nation, responsible for the practice, there is no work in the English language dealing with it at any length.” (p.3)

The Royal Navy was undoubtedly the chief exponent of the “Pacific Blockade”. It had originated the measure against Norway (1814) during the war against France and had also used it against Portugal (1831), Holland (1832-3), Carthagena (1834), New Granada (1837), the Argentine Confederation (1845-50), Greece (1850), Brazil (1862), Greece (1886), Zanzibar (1888-9), Crete (1897) and Venezuela (1902).

In 1902 Balfour described the “Pacific Blockade” of Venezuela as an act of war. As First Lord of the Admiralty during the Great War he instructed his Navy to impose it on neutral Greece.

England violated Greek neutrality on the first day of the War on Turkey by occupying the harbours of three Greek islands in the vicinity of the Straits. In justifying this action Britain came up with a very ingenious argument. It said that since these islands had been taken by Greece from Turkey in the Balkan Wars and so they were formally still part of the Ottoman Empire. So there was no violation of neutrality, there was simply a conquest of enemy territory.

On January 24, 1915, Edward Grey formally requested that the Greeks enter Britain’s Great War, and in return, Greece would receive parts of Asia Minor.

Irene Willis is very perceptive on why Liberal England showed a great determination  to draft in neutral countries to fight its Holy War on Germany:

“As the talk about conscription grew louder, the Liberals became increasingly interested in the mobilisation of other belligerents. The Conservatives were more concerned to conscript at home than abroad. But the Liberals’ dislike of compulsion did not extend to unwillingness to see it operated in other countries. Neither did their aforetime interest in neutrality and in the attempt to localise the conflict incline them to discourage interventionist movements in Italy, Rumania and Greece. On the contrary the Liberal Press was most active in advertising war fervour in these countries and in pointing out the moral and material advantages which would accrue upon their entrance into the war.” (England’s Holy War, p.211)

English Liberalism was opposed to military conscription. A conscript army had been seen as a luxury for an island state without frontiers that only needed to dominate the seas to operate the world market. And it had become a principle of Liberalism to oppose it. That opposition in principle made it necessary, once the Germans had not been defeated quickly, to expand the War and get others to do the fighting for Britain – the fighting that the Liberal Party was reluctant to impose on its own citizens for fear of interfering in their freedoms. So began the process of intimidating and bribing other nations to fight to avoid Conscription at home.

While Liberal England hesitated to compel its own citizens to “Fight the Good Fight” it trumpeted its crusade around the world and went looking for surplus manpower to wage its Holy War. In looking for that manpower the British Government went to the neutral countries of Europe, carrying the message to their people that this was a War of Good versus Evil that it would be morally inexcusable for them to abstain from.

English Liberalism had to turn the War into a great moral crusade of Good versus Evil in order that its Gladstonian substance would support it. This meant that neutrality was almost impossible as countries had to be either ‘for’ or ‘against’ the “war for civilisation”.

This really was an innovation in the conduct of war and gave the Great War its catastrophic character because an accommodation or peace could hardly be made with Evil, particularly for non-conformist Protestants, who made up a great deal of the Liberal rank and file. This moral aspect of Britain’s Great War thwarted all efforts at peace, particularly those of Pope Benedict XV, who tried to put a stop to Europe destroying itself, but failed because the moral power of England trumped him.

The Liberal Imperialists favoured a policy of expansion of the War in a desperate attempt to win it. In France and Belgium the War had got bogged down into a static war of attrition where great casualties were being suffered. The thinking was that if the fringes of Europe, and even Asia, were set ablaze this would let others take the casualties and stretch the forces of the Central Powers wider and wider to weaken their lines. Then the breakthrough would occur on the Western Front.

Basil Thomson of the intelligence services, and later Scotland Yard, who acquired the Black Diaries which were used to blacken Casement’s name as a sexual degenerate, wrote a book called The Allied Secret Service in Greece. In the early pages he describes the political situation in Greece at the start of the European War:

“Greece was in a state of internal peace which has been rare in her history. In 1913 she had emerged victorious from two consecutive Balkan wars in which her King had led her so successfully in the field that her territory had been greatly enlarged. But her people were war-weary, and since the quarrel between Austria and Serbia seemed in no way to concern them, their feeling was for a neutrality benevolent toward England and France. Their sympathies were with the Allies, and if the vital interests of Greece required the sacrifice, the great majority of people were resolved that their country should range herself on the side of the Allies… Not a voice was raised in favour of the Central Powers. No individual Greek could have been described as pro-German, for all the Greek material interests were linked with one or other of the Allied countries.” (The Allied Secret Service in Greece, p. 37)

Britain encouraged a great internal division in Greece to manoeuvre the peaceful country into the Great War.

Right from the outbreak of the Great War the Greek Premier, Eleftherios Venizelos, argued for an unqualified and unconditional Greek entry into the War on the side of the Entente. Venizelos, who had been an insurrectionist in Crete, wanted to use the War to advance Greek interests against the Ottoman Turks and he seems to have been made aware of the British plans to extend the conflict to the Ottoman Empire, even though it was neutral at this time (Churchill was forming a plan to involve the Greek Army in a naval attack on the Dardanelles at this moment and it seems to have been communicated to Venizelos).

Venizelos argued that Greece would never again be presented with an opportunity like the European War – the chance of fighting with so many powerful allies – to gain a “Greater Greece” in Asia Minor.He had as his ultimate dream the Megali idea – a large Greek Empire across the Balkans and Asia Minor on the lines of Byzantium.

The Greek War of Independence created a Greek State with a majority of Greeks inside the territory of the new state but with a sizeable number of Greeks outside in colonies along the Black Sea and the coasts of Asia Minor. That presented the possibility of future Greek irredentist claims on Ottoman Turkey in Anatolia, where ancient Greek communities existed. The Greek contribution to the Ottoman Empire had been substantial and the Greek communities benefited in many areas of commerce, shipping and linguistics as well as enjoying privileged positions with the Porte. But the division between the free Greeks and the large communities of Greeks still inhabiting parts of the Ottoman Empire had implications for what happened to Greece between 1915 and 1922, since it inspired the dream of a “Greater Greece” taking in territories in Asia Minor at that point belonging to the Ottomans.

King Constantine of Greece who “had led her so successfully in the field that her territory had been greatly enlarged” whilst predisposed to the Allies, believed that it was in the interests of Greece that it remained neutral in the European War. He felt that the newly enlarged Greek State, which he himself had helped to enlarge, required a period of consolidation, and not war, if it was to incorporate and develop the new territories and people it had acquired in the course of the Balkan Wars in 1912-13.

The King believed that both Turkey and Bulgaria, the two countries which had issues with Greece regarding territory that the Greeks had prised off them in the wars would ultimately join the Central Powers and determined to keep Greece out of conflict with them. He also calculated that Britain would be an unreliable ally and could not be trusted to make the military commitment necessary to make any gamble worth the risk.

Owing to Greece’s geographical position her existence – and potential expansion – depended on the Powers who controlled the Mediterranean. Her large merchant marine could be destroyed, her islands captured and Athens easily shelled by anyone controlling the Sea. King Constantine, in refusing the Kaiser’s overtures for help at the start of the War told him that “The Mediterranean lies at the mercy of the combined British and French fleets. Without being of any use to the Kaiser we should be wiped off the map.” (The Allied Secret Service in Greece, p. 39)

King Constantine was well aware of the situation of the million or more Greeks inhabiting Constantinople and other parts of the Ottoman Empire, whose position would be made very difficult in the event of a full-scale conflict between Greece and Turkey.

Constantine, a trained military man, saw that such an adventure would be extremely unwise and, unlike his Prime Minister, he listened to military advice on deciding on military matters. The Chief of the General Staff, General Metaxas, who had been involved in compiling a report on taking and holding Western Asia Minor during the Balkan Wars believed that such an enterprise would be beyond the Greek Army. The General concluded that the basis of a Greek colonial venture would be the effete commercial classes of Greeks and Armenians in the vicinity of the town of Smyrna, who were surrounded by seven million hardy Turkish peasants. The long term prospects of survival of such a colony were not good. So Constantine, taking the advise of his Chief of Staff, informed the Entente that in line with his policy of “benevolent neutrality” he would not fight Turkey unless Greece itself was attacked.

As a result of his stand on neutrality King Constantine was denounced as an agent of the Kaiser by British propaganda, including in the Greek newspapers owned in England. Because he was married to the Kaiser’s sister Constantine was handily depicted as the Kaiser’s man, although “Tino” had, in fact, resisted his brother-in-laws’ efforts to court him.

Assuming the Greek Premier could deliver Greek participation in the Great War, Sir Edward Grey offered him a vague promise of “important territorial concessions in Asia Minor” in return for Greek military assistance in January 1915. Britain thus attempted to draw Greece into its Great War on irredentist grounds, as it did with Italy four months later.

The British Foreign Secretary was very careful with his offer, however. The Dardanelles expedition was being planned in England and Grey judged it imperative to promise Constantinople to the Tsar, something that was later formalised in the secret Treaty of London (Constantinople Agreement). Grey explained his actions thus, in a State Paper of November 1916:

“Russia would never have stood five months of reverses in 1915 but for the hope of Constantinople. Even now the assurance of it is absolutely essential to keep Russia up to the mark.” (G.M.Trevelyan, Grey of Fallodon, p. 282)

The Tsar had been brought into the Entente/alliance against Germany with the understanding that perhaps “the Russians shall have Constantinople” with British acquiescence. Through this indication to the Tsar England acquired the Russian Steamroller, vital to the substantial military force needed on Germany’s eastern flank that an alliance with France and Britain, a largely maritime power, could not provide. But Grey knew that the basic reason why Russia was fighting and sacrificing lives was for Constantinople and with the British forcing the Straits, cards had to be finally placed on the table.

Grey’s biographer Trevelyan notes that for this reason although Britain desired Greece’s entry into the War the Greeks had to be kept well away from the Dardanelles and Constantinople “or Russia would go out of the war” (p.282). England needed the Tsar’s massive armies much more than the small Greek army. The Russians vetoed any involvement of the Greeks at the Dardanelles, knowing that Venizelos aspired to possess the city of Constantinople for Greece. So Grey declined Venizelos’s offer in March 1915 to help Britain take Constantinople.

Venizelos’s imagination had been aroused by the offer of the British Foreign Secretary and the Greek Premier attempted to flesh out the detail for his King, arguing that Greece should cede Cavalla, in Eastern Macedonia, to the Bulgarians, to facilitate Britain’s acquisition of allies and encourage the Bulgarians to join the Allies. Venizelos was aware that the concern of the King and General Staff was that Greece could be attacked by the Bulgarians whilst her army was off fighting elsewhere.

The King was against the ceding of Cavalla to the Bulgarians. It was the richest agricultural province within the Greek State and it had been hard won in the Balkan Wars from the Turks. Venizelos suggested to the King that trading Cavalla to the Bulgarians for a hundred times that amount of territory in Asia Minor would be good business and that the Greek inhabitants of Cavalla could be used as colonists to maintain order among the Turks in the future Asia Minor colony.

Venizelos calculated that Greece would double its territory and gain another million to her population. But the General Staff still refused to have anything to do with it, seeing it as the utmost madness.

Venizelos offered three Greek Divisions to the Allies for the Dardanelles expedition, without the knowledge or authorization of the King or Cabinet. Even though the King was totally opposed to this the Premier led the British to believe that he had given his assent to it. When the Greek General Staff learnt that Venizelos had been offering their forces to England without thought of the military implications they were furious and Metaxas, the Chief of Staff, resigned in protest. He had made a systematic study of forcing the Dardanelles and had concluded that such an operation would be doomed to failure because of the strengthening of the Straits defences, the increased efficiency of the Turkish Army under German direction, and the advance warnings already given by the Royal Navy through its earlier attack on St. Patrick’s Day.

Venizelos told the Greek cabinet that the Entente would be in Constantinople in a week and it was best not to miss the bus. There was some enthusiasm within the Greek Cabinet for adopting his proposal but the King stated he would abdicate if the Cabinet agreed to participate in the venture, saying he would rather step down than sanction such a disastrous course that would ruin Greece.

King Constantine and the General Staff were proved correct by the events in the Dardanelles as the implications of the Premier‘s plans became evident. The Ottomans left their Greek citizens unmolested outside some vital strategic coastal areas, whilst the Armenians, who had mounted an Insurrection, were forced into migration from the eastern war zone.

The governor of Smyrna, Rahmi Bey, operated a remarkably tolerant administration toward the 45,000 Greek nationals in the city. Both in Smyrna and Istanbul the flags of the Allied nations were hung out and their victories celebrated openly by the Greeks and Armenians. Whilst England interned anyone suspected of being a racial German the Turks declared business as usual and only demanded that the Turkish born Greeks, many of whom spoke Turkish rather than Greek, be ready for army service. Most in Smyrna avoided it. The Armenians also remained unmolested. British Air Force bombing raids, specifically targeting the city’s Turkish quarter, which killed dozens of people in May 1916, aimed to stir up community tensions but the city governor was able to keep order. (see Giles Milton, Paradise Lost, Smyrna, 1922, pp.72-4, p.86, pp.92-4)

Venizelos finding his proposal for intervention in the War shot down resigned as Premier on 6th March 1915.

On the day of his resignation Allied representatives signed the secret Treaty in London, assigning Constantinople to Russia. The Czar placed a veto on the Greek offer of participation at Gallipoli, seeing the Greeks as a potential rival for the possession of the Byzantine capital. Because of the secret nature of this Treaty the Allied Powers did not communicate its terms to the Greeks. So they had to create a smokescreen around rejection of Venizelos’s offer of help which involved black propaganda against the King.

After the resignation of Venizelos an interim administration was formed under Gounaris which adhered to the same policy as the previous government. However, the new Government submitted proposals as a basis for discussion to the Allies concerning the conditions under which Greece might enter the War. The new Government, in conversations with the Entente, ascertained that Venizelos had exaggerated the vague territorial offer to Greece in Asia Minor made by Edward Grey finding the British Foreign Minister had only offered Smyrna and its hinterland rather than large tracts of Anatolia as he had claimed. So the new Greek administration sought clarification of the deal that might be on offer if Greece eventually decided to enter the War on a calculation of its own interests.

The Greek Government wanted the Allies to guarantee the territorial integrity of Greece after the War, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire to secure any Greek gains in Asia Minor, and exact details of war materials and finance available to the Greeks, along with the defining of the territorial gains on offer to her. If these details were provided, Gounaris offered to fully commit to the War on the Allied side.

But the Entente preferred the Venizelos offer – unlimited Greek commitment for undefined objectives, and did not take any notice of the new, more limited, Greek offer.

There was good reason to show why great care was required in dealings with Britain. Serbia, the ally, and Greece, the neutral, found out that Grey had already made formal offers of their territories to Bulgaria to encourage her into the War. In the case of “gallant Serbia” this was an outrageous stab in the back, because it was, supposedly, for her integrity that the Entente had went into the European War. And in the case of Greece the Entente was offering the territory of a neutral state, and a friendly one at that, to another state that had always been inclining toward the enemy (England had a much higher opinion of the Bulgars as fighters than the Greeks from their performances in the Balkan Wars).

The knowledge of this double and triple dealing brought the relations of the Entente Powers with the Gounares Government to an end.

However, the effect of the Venizelist offers was to create a situation whereby Venizelos began to regard himself alone as the national will of Greece personified and the Entente to regard Venizelos alone as synonymous with the national will of Greece. In countless British accounts of the time, including Churchill’s and Esher’s, Venizelos is described as “imaginative” and “far-seeing” while the King is portrayed as a short-sighted ditherer or enemy agent.

On August 3rd 1915 the Allies passed a note to the Greek Government calling them to cede Eastern Macedonia to Bulgaria on a promise of compensation in Asia Minor. This was an eleventh hour bribe to keep the Bulgarians out of the ranks of the Central Powers by offering them part of a country – Greece – the Allies had no jurisdiction over. However, in the meantime the Serbian leadership discovered the details of the secret Treaty of London whereby Italy was promised large areas on the Adriatic Coast (that the Serbs had their eye on for a Greater Serbia) in return for their entry into the War. This scotched Britain from offering any other Serbian territory to Bulgaria in order to bribe her into the War.

In September 1915 Bulgaria mobilised her army and signalled her intent to join the Central Powers. Grey offered Cyprus to Greece if she would join the War at this point, despite the Cyprus Convention. Treaties and long-standing international agreements became mere “scraps of paper” when the bit came to the bit.

The Allied Ministers let it be known that if Greece refused to hand over Cavalla to the Bulgarians pressure would be brought to bear and to demonstrate this was no idle threat the Royal Navy began to detain Greek shipping and harass its life-blood of sea-borne trade, to show what was in store for the country if it resisted the English embrace.

King Constantine held his ground, but the Greek King’s refusal to surrender territory for a Bulgarian bribe increased the Allied naval pressure on Greece.

Venizélos returned to power in August 1915 after the resignation of Gounaris. The Greek public were unaware of the manoeuvring that the ex-Premier had been doing behind the scenes with the Allies and saw him as the representative of a unified neutral Government, in unity with the King. The dispute over Greek neutrality between Venizelos and the King was seemingly patched up when Venizelos returned as Prime Minister, having accepted to serve in the Government under a policy of neutrality. The publication of the Allied demand for Eastern Macedonia had produced a wave of indignation in Greece and Venizelos would have found it very difficult to openly advocate joining the War at this point in time and remain in power. Despite advocating the very policy the Allies were now demanding of Greece he dared not endorse it publicly and it seemed as if he had bowed to the King‘s wisdom in affairs of State. Venizelos was, however, biding his time. 

After the Bulgarians had begun to mobilise Venizelos urged the King to enter the War on the side of the Entente, using his election as a sign of the popular will. The King agreed to mobilise the Greek Army in response to the Bulgarian mobilisation but refused to go any further than his stated position of armed neutrality.

At the start of the European War the question of Greece’s stance in relation to Serbia had emerged. Greece had a mutual defence Convention with Serbia, due to King Constantine’s efforts between the First and Second Balkan Wars. There were those in the Entente who hoped this Convention would bring Greek military assistance to the Serbs but it only provided for Greek assistance to Serbia, and vice-versa, in relation to a Bulgarian attack. This was tested when Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia and Greece saw itself as having no obligations to the Serbians, unless Bulgaria entered the war against Serbia as well.

King Constantine had made an offer to the Allies in late August 1914 of aiding the Serbians with 180,000 men on strict condition that this army was not used anywhere other than in the immediate theatre of war, so that, in the event of a Bulgarian attack, it could be pulled back to defend Greece. This was done outside the Convention.

Bulgaria was neutral, but one of Constantine’s concerns was that a Greek mobilisation would provoke a parallel Bulgarian mobilisation and an allying of Sofia with the Central Powers. Britain had the same concern, but had been secretly making plans for an offer of territory, at the expense of Greece and Serbia, to gain the Bulgarians as part of the Allies. So the King’s offer was turned down by Edward Grey.

According to the 1913 Convention between Greece and Serbia the Serbs were required to supply 150,000 troops in the event of a conflict with Bulgaria. Under an annex to the Treaty the two armies were to form a line facing north-east, with the Serbs taking the north flank and the Greeks the south. If one of the parties failed to take up their position the overall stipulations of the Convention were deemed to fall. But overall, the Convention was meant to defend Macedonia from Bulgarian attack and never envisaged to be applicable to deal with a conflict with the Austro-Hungarians, or a World War.

The Greek King had requested assistance from Serbia just before the Great War when he feared that the British building of two powerful battleships for the Ottomans would encourage Istanbul toward war with Greece. The Serbs told Constantine that the Convention was not applicable and Greece took it that it had been therefore abrogated – until England raised it as an issue in 1915.

Throughout late 1914/early 1915 when the Entente were trying to induce the Greeks to march to the aid of Serbia, and offering them Ottoman territory as an inducement to do so, the Greeks pointed out that they could not send their army to the north leaving Salonika open to attack from Bulgaria, and whilst they stayed put Bulgaria was unlikely to move. The Greeks urged the Serbs to abandon their line on the Danube, which was getting dangerously exposed, and to join them on a line against Bulgaria, which would activate the Treaty of 1913. This was sensible but the Serbs, encouraged by the praise heaped upon them for their effective resistance to Austria, got over-confident. Then, under pressure from the Allies, they declined to retreat.

With the Serbians fighting on the Danube line they were in no position to supply their armies. So Venizelos sought to use the Convention in another way to end Greek neutrality. Without the knowledge of the King or Cabinet he contacted the Entente in private inquiring if they were willing to make up the Serbian contribution with French or British troops. The Allies, realising the opportunity to break the Greek’s neutral status, replied immediately that they would send 150,000 soldiers. When King Constantine got wind of what was happening he warned Venizelos of the consequences of this violation of Greek neutrality, particularly since the activation of the Convention was only supposed to come into effect in the event of war with Bulgaria – and Bulgaria was still neutral. He argued that the landing of Entente troops in Greece was most likely to be the provocation that would bring the Bulgarians into the war. The Premier communicated the King’s wishes to the Entente governments and that seemed to be that.

But the Entente, seizing the opportunity, went ahead and despatched an army to Salonika – in spite of the Greek Government’s position of neutrality. Bulgaria then entered the war.

Compton Mackenzie, the famous novelist and then a British Intelligence Officer in Greece, described this duplicity as an example of Edward Grey’s “capacity for self-deception” and “an example of Whig mentality.” (Greek Memories, p.152)

As Casement pointed out the difference between Liberals and Unionists regarding Greece was one of form rather than substance. The Liberals, with their moral sensibilities and conscious of how they had been brought to support the War, talked of executing “a form of pacific pressure to which Greece is peculiarly susceptible” (Daily News, 22.11.15) and used “euphemisms” to minimise the aggression implied in such threats. The British action against neutral Greece was to merely “assist the King of Greece to arrive at a decision” – namely the right one. It was meant that the Greeks “saw sense”, which really means co-operating with the transient British interest.

English Liberalism had a soft spot for the Greeks partly due to the central part the Classics played in an Englishman’s education. Manchester Capitalism had also developed an economic alliance with Greek merchants, backing Greek nationalism with the interests of the Baltic Corn Exchange. The Gladstones of Liverpool had entered into extensive commercial connections with Greek merchants and their trading networks, for the mutual benefit.

In the early nineteenth century the Greeks had become the chief carriers of merchandise in the Mediterranean and they monopolised the lucrative Black Sea trade in corn. They were the sailors of the Ottoman Empire and owned most of the Italian merchant marine.

However, from Britain’s viewpoint their assets were also their vulnerable spot. The Royal Navy was very experienced in the seizure of maritime trade and had a speciality in starvation blockade. This is what it’s function was for more than a century when Britannia ruled the waves. On top of this Greek settlements were very exposed to the guns of British battleships due to the geography of the country.

The Tory/Unionist press was more forthright in its threats to the Greeks to do England’s bidding – or else!

The diaries of the famous Liberal journalist C.P.Scott reveal the differences of opinion within the British State over how Greek neutrality should be dealt with. The Unionists were for conducting the War thoroughly and they for no nonsense military intervention. Lord Carson wanted an attack on Vienna mounted from Salonika. The Prime Minister Asquith was for intervention in Greece if a popular movement existed that Britain could point to in order to justify intervention. Lloyd George was of the opinion that Venizelos needed British might to be applied in the general region in order that a popular movement against the King could be cultivated and to swing the Greek people behind him.

Sir Edward Grey was paralysed by his reliance on the Tsar and his Steamroller. The French were pushing for direct military action to coerce Greece but Grey was mindful “that to encourage a revolutionary movement against the King of Greece would be much resented by the Emperor of Russia and might in consequence have unfavourable influence on Franco-British relations with Russia.” (September 1, 1916, Trevelyan, p.289)

In an interview with Gilbert Murray in January 1918 Grey also conceded that he had hesitated over the deposing of King Constantine because he feared Greece could not be defended after such an event (p.302).

Britain generally took the position that Greece was made by England and so it was under a moral obligation through a debt to its creator to do England’s bidding.

England had had a long history of interference in the affairs of the Greeks and regarded this interference as a matter of routine. Arguing for further interference during 1916 Ronald Montague Burrows, Professor of Greek and Principal of King’s College, London, noted:

“As we created Greece at Navarino, so we recreated it in 1863, and the letter of the original guarantee must be construed in the spirit of the Treaty of 1863, and of the interference in the internal affairs of Greece which that Treaty crystallized.” (The New Europe, 19th October, 1916.)

Professor Burrows was adviser on Greek affairs to the British Cabinet and simultaneously to Venizelos during 1915. The Encyclopaedia Britannica has this entry for him:

“He… was principal of King’s College, London, from 1913 to 1920, the period when he devoted much time to modern Greek affairs. His plan for bringing Greece into World War I was adopted by the British Cabinet in 1915. A confidant and adviser to the Greek statesman Eleuthérios Venizélos, he was chosen to be the Greek provisional government’s semi-official representative in London (1916)”.

Greece had been part of the Ottoman Empire until the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s. Britain, with Lord Byron to the fore, had intervened in this war on the Greek’s behalf in the decisive naval engagement, destroying the Turkish fleet at Navarino, and making a Greek victory possible. A French army completed the process.

In 1832 the Greeks had wanted a Liberal Republican State but they had been straight jacketed by a monarchy complete with foreign King by the guarantors who, at that time, not long after the French Revolution, did not want to promote liberal democracies in Europe. So the Greek King, to a great extent, was the representative of the three great Powers of Europe, because his position was derived from their power over Greece, and they were always inclined to believe he should be their man (or not be king at all).

Burrows pointed out the fact that the Greek King Otho had been forced into accepting a Constitution by Britain and when he had refused to abide by it he had been deposed in 1862. In 1863 England put Prince William of Denmark (father of King Constantine) on the throne of Greece and defined the political status of the Greek State as “a monarchical, independent and constitutional state” in a Treaty with Denmark.

At the time of the Crimean War, Greece, under King Otho, was in favour of going to war with Turkey on the side of Russia. But France and England, who were in alliance with Turkey against Russia, would not allow it. King Otho was told that strict neutrality was the only policy consonant with the interests of Greece. The Allies landed troops at Athens to compel obedience to their will. The Greek sovereign was put on notice for daring to adopt an independent Greek policy.

The Royal Navy operated periodic “Pacific Blockades” against the Greeks to rein in their irredentist passions when over-enthusiasm threatened to disturb Britain’s relations with the Ottoman Empire. Greece was seen as the creature of England in the region and it is no wonder that a Greek State has found it so difficult to consolidate itself with such regular interference over more than a century (1830-1945).

King Constantine was portrayed in British propaganda as a pro-German for doing the opposite to King Otho and declaring his country neutral.

As Andre Siegfried observed:

“When circumstances alter, the British have the gift of adapting themselves very quickly to new conditions without dwelling upon what is past. Old principles, old ideas, old memories do not influence them. It is, however, very disconcerting to those of their associates who cannot change their attitude with the same facility.” (L’Angleterre d’aujourd’hui, p.19)

The difference between 1855 and 1915 was that at the former time the English and French compelled the Greeks to neutrality whilst in the latter they were attempting to compel the country to make war. But in both cases Greece was taken to have no independent existence, or an independent existence only when it suited.

Professor Burrows, who like many others regarded the Greek State as a creation of England, urged the Government he advised to keep up the tradition of interference, which, he argued, had apparently been given formal status by international Treaty. The Liberal Daily News concurred with this view declaring in its Leader of June 23rd 1916 that because England had freed the Greeks at Navarino, drafted their Constitution, and become the country’s guarantor, it was “warranted in taking any measures for the protection of their ward.”

Burrows was not an advocate of Grey’s ultimatum to Greece. He was in favour of the British Government putting its money where its mouth was, recalling the Ambassador, and declaring open support for Venizelos. This course, if Grey had been prepared to openly take it, would have logically resulted in a Venizelist coup d’etat and probably Greek civil war. But Grey, with enough Gladstonian sensibilities within him to paralyse his mind, did not feel predisposed to risking it.

Professor Burrows believed that England should have simply invaded Greece under Article VIII of the Protocol of 1830 that suggested: “No troops belonging to one of the contracting Powers shall be allowed to enter the new Greek State without the Consent of the two other Courts who signed the Treaty.” Since England, France and Russia had been the contracting Powers of Greek independence they had the right to overrule that independence indefinitely, according to the Professor.

This was casuistry called in to mask the exigencies of policy. The dethronement of the monarch was advocated not because it was lawful but because it was required as a war interest by England.

Venizélos protested in a telegram to London at how his question to the British had been turned into an invitation to invade – but he did so with a winking eye. And he proceeded to then announce to the Greek Parliament, with the knowledge that Entente forces were on their way, his belief that Greece should fight Turkey, Germany and Austro-Hungary, as well as Bulgaria, under the terms of the 1913 Treaty.

Venizelos’s statement in Parliament was entirely contrary to the Greek Constitution, which laid down that declarations of war and conclusions of peace were solely Royal prerogatives.

In Britain it was pretended that it was King Constantine, the so-called “agent of the Kaiser,” who had acted unconstitutionally in dismissing the Venizelos Government. Venizelos went along with that fiction, even though he knew better, and it is in numerous British accounts of the affair. But Article Thirty One of the Greek Constitution, that was given to Greece by Britain and France, stated: “The King appoints and dismisses his Ministers.” Article Ninety Nine stated that “No foreign army may be admitted to the Greek service without a special law, nor may it sojourn in or pass through the state.” And yet Venizelos had connived at this without any law permitting it.

It was also part of the Greek system that the King’s consent was a requirement for an amending of the Constitution and the King had the final say on external affairs. This was probably a stipulation of the creators of Greece so that only one individual needed to be influenced/pressured in the “birth place of democracy”. But now “democracy” of a compliant form was being encouraged to sweep away the Constitution that was hindering the new British interest.

A new Government was formed after the resignation of Venizelos and this pledged to continue to uphold Greek neutrality – despite the presence of Allied troops on its territory.

As Casement wrote “A Pacific Blockade” the Great War England had declared on Germany and Ottoman Turkey was going badly. In the late autumn of 1915 there was stalemate on the Western Front, the Royal Navy was making little headway in the War, Serbia was falling and neutrals were resisting enlistment, or even going over to the enemy. Worst of all the Gallipoli invasion was seen to have failed and this was a mighty blow to British prestige – the main thing that was seen as keeping the lesser peoples it ruled in check.

Lord Esher, a spider at the heart of the web of State that had planned and directed the Great War, was aware that the Germans could now link up with the Turks to break the encirclement organised by England against Berlin. He confided to his journal:

“If the Germans get to Constantinople, that is the moment when they will be at the apogee of their power. The Kaiser will select it very probably to make ostensibly reasonable peace proposals through the United States President. Wilson will be confronted in December with an awkward question, raised by the humanitarians and supported by the Germans, as to the propriety of supplying the Allies with materials which enable them to carry on the war. The political situation may tempt Wilson to put forward peace proposals, and possibly to support them. If they offer to create a new Poland, to give compensations to Russia, to give Alsace and Lorraine to France, and Trieste to Italy, restoring Belgium with the exception of Antwerp, taking the Congo instead of the German Colonies, and suggesting a treaty containing international arrangements for what they call the Freedom of the Seas, peace, and an unpleasant one for us, will be in sight. Certainly such proposals would divide public opinion, both in England and France.” (15.10.15)

This is the authentic Great War Britain was fighting and the one that Casement understood, behind all the moral platitudes of the propagandists.The World War had not been planned, declared and waged by Britain to ensure peace and stability in Europe and its hinterlands. It was being fought to assert world supremacy. And a draw was tantamount to a defeat in any bid for the highest stakes.

Lord Esher and most of his senior military contacts were opposed to the Salonika expedition as a useless and belated diversion of the British War effort. They believed that the Germans had to be ground down in a great war of attrition that, though it might cost dear, was essential to a thorough defeat of the enemy. Lord Kitchener, who was close to Esher, threatened to resign over it. Esher contended that if the Liberals wanted to embark on adventures all over the map they should be raising the armies necessary for such operations through Conscription of the population.

Lloyd George had warned for months that Serbia was likely to fall if it was not supported by its Allies. The Western Fronters had ridiculed his suggestion that the Germans/Austrians might break through when they were penned down by the war of attrition in France. But Lloyd George was proved right by the end of 1915 as Serbia collapsed. The Guardian of the Gates was gone and Lloyd George got his expedition to Salonika to reseal them.

By the end of 1915 a British (with Irish contingent) and French army composed of 13 divisions and 350,000 men had landed at Salonika, in spite of Greek neutrality – even though a similar German violation of Belgian neutrality had supposedly brought Britain to declare a Great War on Germany for the same violation of international law. It was claimed that the Allied armies in Salonika were there to fight for the Serbs. But by this time the Serbian front was collapsing. So it made little sense to move forces to the area, where they would be effectively bottled up. But there they stayed.

Churchill talks openly about the real purpose of the Salonika expedition in his World Crisis, where he states:

“As a military measure to aid Serbia directly, the landing at this juncture of allied forces at Salonika was absurd. The hostile armies concentrating on the eastern and northern frontiers of Serbia were certain to overwhelm and overrun that country before any effective aid, other than Greek aid, could possibly arrive. As a political move to encourage and determine the action of Greece, the despatch of allied troops to Salonika was justified.” (p. 585)    

The Salonika operation which was bolstered by the evacuation of the British 10th Division from Gallipoli was really about putting pressure on neutral Greece and Rumania. And the British Prime Minister, Asquith, with this threat of force in mind, warned the Greeks and Rumanians of the consequences of their continued neutrality and failure to be irredentists:

“A united Rumania, a united Greece, is possible if these nations can rise to the height of their opportunity. If Greece or Rumania consider Greece Irredenta, or Transylvania, not worth fighting for they will never receive them in the end, for a government and nation which will not risk its life for its enslaved brethren is a government and nation unfit by such cowardice to be given the privilege of ruling over them, even if liberated by other hands.” (Freeman’s Journal, 15 November 1915)

Irredentism is seen universally as a bad thing these days. But it was a positive virtue for Britain in waging its War. To fail to be an aggressive racial nationalist, wanting to conquer all the territory a nation claimed, was tantamount to cowardice. Except within Britain’s Empire, that is, where national self-determination was prone to be treated, as Casement found out, as Treason.

Despite the threats from Britain to Greek neutrality, the King stood firm. In January 1916 Constantine re-emphasized his policy of “benevolent neutrality” toward Britain and he requested the Allies to leave Greek territory – since with Serbia knocked out of the war they had no purpose in being there. He restrained his Army from defending Greek territory from the Allied occupation forces – perhaps sensibly – and simply requested the invaders to leave. All the time the Allies wished for a “provocation” from the Greeks, i.e a defence of their sovereign territory, to justify a full-blooded thrust toward Athens.

On January 21st 1916 the Liberal Daily News, which employed the German violation of Belgian neutrality to encourage its pacifist readership to become warmongers had this to say about the Allied violations of Greek neutrality:

“It is evident that the business-like measures the Allies are taking for their protection on land and sea have inspired the King with lively resentment. That is not altogether astonishing. The conditions under which the Allies are encamped, and will soon be fighting, on neutral soil are an anomaly without parallel in modern warfare, and they involve inevitably an attitude equally anomalous towards the neutrality of Greece. Apart from the occupation of the Salonika zone, her railways have been cut, her bridges blown up, certain of her islands borrowed, and Consuls accredited to her put under arrest. Such facts cannot and need not be disguised. They call for no defence from the Allies, for Greece has no one to thank for them but herself.”

That said all that was necessary to say of the moral collapse of English Liberalism as its principles were whittled away in the Great War effort.

By this time the Allies had occupied Lemnos, Imbros, Macedonia, Corfu, Salonika and the Chalkis peninsula of Greek territory and the Royal Navy lay off the coasts of the Greek mainland in force harassing Greek ships.

On 21st June 1916 the Allies issued an ultimatum to Greece. The Allied Governments stated that they were not demanding an end to Greek neutrality but put forward demands that would ensure the Greeks went along with the Allies’ project. It was demanded of the Greek Government that they immediately and totally demobilize their army, replace the present Cabinet by a new Coalition Ministry to the satisfaction of the Allies, dissolve the legislative Chamber and hold fresh elections and replace the senior police in Athens with those acceptable to Britain and France. It was also made clear that if the Greeks did not oblige Athens would be flattened by the Royal Navy and the King and his family dealt with in the same way as Louis XVI.

This ultimatum was backed up by a demonstration of force in Allied occupied Greece. The French General Sarrail, in command of forces at Salonika, had recommended that the Allies “strike at the head, attack frankly and squarely the one enemy – the King.” Britain concurred, and on St. Constantine’s Day, when Salonika was honouring the King with a Te Deum, Martial Law was proclaimed by the Allies on territory that was not theirs. Allied detachments with machine guns occupied strategic points, the Macedonian gendarmerie and police were expelled, and the press was placed under an Allied censor.

On 6th June a Royal navy blockade of the Greek coasts was established and on the 16th, to back up the ultimatum, a squadron was ordered to be ready to bombard Athens, while a brigade was embarked at Salonica for the same destination. Before the guns opened fire, it was planned that hydro-planes would drop bombs on the Royal Palace; then troops would land, occupy the town, and proceed to arrest, among others, the Royal family that the English and French had put on the Greek throne.

In the Battle of Athens of December 1916 a force of 4000 French and British troops were landed in Athens after the King had protested the positioning of 10 battalions of Allied Artillery on neutral Greek territory. When Greek soldiers and the citizens of Athens drove them off, with over a hundred fatalities to the French and British, a state of official war was only just avoided. The British regarded the effective Greek defence and defeat of the coup de main as a provocation.

To save the capital from the guns of the Royal Navy King Constantine complied with the four demands of the Allies, and a new Ministry with Ententists included was appointed to carry on the administration of the country until the election of a new Chamber. The chief of police was replaced to the Allied satisfaction and the Army began to be demobilised. The demobilisation of the Greek Army had an immediate effect as irregular bands of Bulgarians invaded Cavalla. Instead of the Allies resisting this activity the King was condemned for being unwilling to defend his country with his demobilized army, with the suggestion that the Allied Army could do this for him.

In response to the Greek acquiescence to their demands the Allies lifted the Royal Navy blockade but restricted the importing of foodstuffs into Athens – thereby keeping the people on short rations, with the understanding that they were existing in any amount of freedom only under Allied sufferance.

The General Election, which the Entente demanded through the guns of their battleships, was due to be held in September 1916 and this time the issue was clear. It would have given the Greek people an open choice between neutrality and War, under the threat levelled at them from the Royal Navy’s guns.

Perhaps it would have been like the Treaty election of 1922 in Ireland, with the Greeks bowing to the threat of force. But we will never know.

Rather than contest the election Venizelos stole out of Athens, accompanied by approximately one hundred of his supporters, in September 1916, with the help of the French Secret Service and he went to his homeland in Crete. He then took the head of a rival Greek Provisional government established by the Allies at Salonika. The Allied objective was to create a new government that would lead Greece into the War on the side of the Allies. The British and French supported the new government substantially with arms and money and its military forces.

On November 23, Venizelos’s new Government, established by the Allied armies in Thessalonica declared war against Bulgaria and Germany in order to legitimize itself.

On November 19th 1916 the British announced a new full blockade of Greece and demanded the withdrawal of Greek troops from Salonika, the handing over of road and rail networks in the area and supply bases in Greek territorial waters. The Royal Navy blockade of Greece was designed to force Greece into the War, or else bring about a regime change in Greece that saw Venizelos in charge at Athens, so that he would bring the Greeks into the War.

On 9 December 1916, two days before he left the Foreign Office, Sir Edward Grey agreed to “the decision to coerce the Greek Government”. He told General Robertson: “Diplomacy in war is futile, without military success to back it.”

Grey’s biographer concedes:

“French policy… of coercing the Greek Royalist party, eventually carried the day. British policy, for which Kitchener, Grey and the Cabinet were all responsible, had not shown clarity or strength. We had never effectively resisted the French purpose, or proposed a real alternative, yet we hampered and delayed it, and… prevented a firm hand in the Near East. The desire not to interfere with the internal affairs of Greece and not to violate her neutrality was a respectable motive, but was it a time and place to be respectable, and was our respectability saved in the end? These are difficult questions.” (G.M. Trevelyan, p.290)

The dilemmas of fighting a Great War with a good conscience!

Sir Edward Grey idea hoped to encourage the Greek people into rebellion against their King by intimidating and starving them. But the blockade failed in its objective of getting the Greeks to abandon King Constantine and force regime change to the Allied liking.

So, in May 1917 the British and French decided on a three stage programme to ensure Greek entry into the War. It was agreed that the semblance of freedom of action should be left to the Greeks so that the Allies would not be seen to be involved in a direct military coup against King Constantine. The Allies instead decided to seize the wheat crop of Thessaly, upon which the entire Greek population depended for bread; to seize the Corinth Isthmus, cutting off the Greek Army from the capital and deliver an ultimatum to Constantine demanding the immediate entry of Greece into the War. And it was decided that direct force would then be applied to the situation in Athens if Constantine refused to comply.

The Allied military occupation of Thessaly and Corinth, coupled with a Royal Navy threat to bombard Athens, finally had the desired effect and it forced Constantine to quit. The presence of the British Army at Salonika, the starvation blockade by the Royal Navy and the seizure of the harvest by Allied troops had the result of a widespread famine in the neutral nation that finally forced the surrender of Constantine.

The King decided to save his people by sacrificing his throne on 11th June 1917. There were scenes of turmoil in Athens as large crowds tried to prevent the King’s departure but Constantine was left with no alternative and he urged his people to remain calm and resolute in the face of the invasion forces.

The Allies treaded carefully due to events in Russia. They would not allow a Republic. But they would not have Constantine’s eldest son, Prince George, as replacement for his father either. So Prince Alexander, the young second son of Constantine, whom they believed to be more malleable, was given the throne. Venizelos entered Athens with the French Army and Greece formally joined the War on the Allied side.

The invasion of neutral Greece, the overthrow of its government and the occupation of its territory by Britain and France involved, according to the English biographer of Venizelos, “deciding to invoke their obligations as ‘protecting powers’ who had promised to guarantee a constitutional form of government for Greece at the time the Kingdom was created.” (H.Gibbon, Venizelos, p.299)

Venizelos had committed Treason against his King, setting up a rival government in Macedonia in collaboration with foreign powers who were violating the nation’s territory. So care had to be taken to end the civil war that was developing in Greece and smooth over the antagonisms that had developed as a result of Allied actions. The Blockade was lifted, vessels that had been seized were returned to the Greek merchants and the war that was declared by Venizelos in Macedonia was transferred with him to Athens and taken on by the Greek State.

That was only the start of the Greek tragedy.

Casement was proved more prophetic than he ever lived to see when he said that “the countrymen of Byron to-day are doing their utmost to plunge Greece in a war of unexampled peril and disaster to all her future.” 

The political and military assault launched by Britain on neutral Greece led to the subsequent Greek tragedy in Anatolia because the puppet government under Venizélos, installed in Athens through Allied bayonets, was subsequently enlisted as a catspaw to bring the Turks to heal after the Armistice at Mudros. The Greeks were presented with the town of Smyrna in May 1919 and, encouraged by Prime Minister Lloyd George, advanced across Anatolia toward where a Turkish democracy had re-established itself, at Ankara, after it had been suppressed in Istanbul by British occupation.

The Greek expansion into Asia Minor was a joint venture of Lloyd George, Venezelos and the mysterious Sir Basil Zaharoff, the “man from God know’s where”. Zaharoff, the millionaire chief agent of the British arm’s manufacturing firm Vickers had developed a financial and political relationship of mutual benefit with Lloyd George. Zaharoff had funded the Greek expansionary wars of previous decades and rose to prominence in England in supplying Lloyd George with cheap shells that helped undermine Lord Kitchener and made the Liberal’s career in the Minister of Munitions – as well as a tidy profit. When he became  Prime Minister Lloyd George made Zaharoff chief munitions agent for the Allies. Zaharoff nursed the desire to put the Greeks back into Constantinople and in control of Anatolia.

Britain was using the Greeks and their desire for a new Byzantium in Anatolia to get the Turkish national forces that had appeared to resist subjugation to submit to the punitive Treaty of Sèvres, and the destruction of not only the Ottoman State but Turkey itself.

Lloyd George was a fierce anti-Turk who believed in the crushing of the Ottomans as a greater imperative than even the crushing of Germany. After its Great War Britain was virtually bankrupt and the Prime Minister had made the promise to demobilise the army immediately in order to win a snap election he called just after the Armistices. So he employed the Greeks as an Imperial catspaw.  At the Sevres Peace Conference in August 1920 the Greeks obtained great slices of territory in Turkish Anatolia that Britain had previously promised to Italy to lure it into the War. The Greek Army was thereafter employed by Britain to do the imposing of the Treaty of Sèvres which British dictated to the Ottoman Sultan with an occupation force in Istanbul and Royal Navy guns pointed at the city. Venizelos and his government were charged to do the work that British Imperial forces were unable to undertake.

In October 1920 the British imposed puppet, King Alexander, inopporortunely died from the bite of a monkey. Venizelos returned to Athens from the head of his victorious army in Anatolia. The conquering hero of the new Byzantium decided to call an election to legitimise his rule, which had, after all, come about through an act of Treason and collaboration with foreign powers. The Greek people, however, had not forgotten. Venizelos lost his seat and the election and through a plebiscite the people invited King Constantine to return and resume his reign.

The King, surveying the Greek military position in Anatolia, which seemed to be excellent, decided to continue the military adventure begun by Venizelos. He had the choice of retreating back to the coast and defending the Greek colonies from a Turkish advance or throwing everything at the Turks to finish them off and secure a settlement from the victory. Victory would presumably mean that the British were off his back. So Constantine ordered the Greek advance toward Ankara at a cracking pace, where the Turks had regrouped for a final stand.

But the British-financed 200,000 strong Greek Army was thoroughly beaten, just short of the new Turkish capital, after being skilfully manoeuvred into a position, by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in which the Greek lines were severely stretched. The Conservative backbenchers in the Coalition Government used the event to rein in the Prime Minister’s military support of the Greeks. The Greek State had been bankrupted by the British pressure of the previous years and was totally reliant on England financially for its expansionary adventure in Asia Minor.

The Greek army, after rallying and putting up resistance for a year, went into full retreat and it employed a scorched-earth policy to Turkish villages as it fled. The Greek population, fearful of the consequences of their actions, went with them. The ancient Greek community of Asia Minor that had lived peacefully and prospered under Ottoman rule for centuries now fled on boats from a burning Smyrna, with the remnants of their army.

This was the ultimate British betrayal of the Greeks, who they had encouraged and bullied into the Great War with promises of the fulfilment of irredentist dreams, only to be left in the lurch at the vital moment because the Greek democracy had voted to return their King. England washed its hands of Greece and blamed King Constantine, who had all the time resisted their attempts to cajole the Greeks into the catastrophe.

Churchill justified the British let down of Greece thus:

“It would be absurd to ask the British or French democracy to make sacrifices or efforts for a people whose real spirit was shown by their choice of such a man… For the sake of Venizelos much had to be endured, but for Constantine less than nothing.” (World Crisis – Aftermath, p.388)

It was not Britain who betrayed Greece but apparently the ungrateful Greeks who had betrayed England! The Turks were now the substance to take account of in the region.

It was a death sentence on the Anatolian Greek community which paid the price, like many other peoples that had been similarly implicated in Britain’s Great War.

Greece itself was deluged with a million homeless and penniless refugees who had left everything in Asia Minor. During the next decade and a half no less than nineteen changes of government took place and three changes of regime. The finances of the Greek government collapsed under the double strain of the cost of settlement of the refugees and the world economic crisis resulting from the Great War. Greece became bankrupt and had to suspend the service of her foreign loans. Has it ever recovered?

With regard to affairs in relation to Greece England assigned one of its foremost historians, Arnold Toynbee, to the project of creating an account that, if not absolving England of all responsibility for what happened to Greece, at least deflected the blame onto other parties. The purpose of this was evidently to create an understanding that the whole affair had all the atmosphere of a terrible tragedy that really could never have been imagined before the event. Toynbee’s account portrays the events that led to the Greek catastrophe as having originated in the base characteristics of a foreign people who did not possess the qualities of those who interfered with them – it being a typical failing of inferior breeds that they just do not know when to stop, when the game is up, and when discretion was the better part of valour, as England does.

Toynbee wrote the following in 1922 to explain the turn of events:

“A game played with living pieces may be a cruel spectacle, and, half through her own fault, Greece has been the principle victim. The fault is only half hers, for at first she struggled hard not to be drawn into the rivalries between the Power, and the struggle cost her her internal unity. But instead of commonsense and moderation prevailing, as since the armistice they have begun to prevail in the West, they were overborne by the pressure of the Entente Powers and the imperious personality of Mr. Venizelos; and Greece, more than ever divided at home, was pushed into that foreign policy of reckless aggrandisement towards which the blind herd-instinct under the surface of her politics was all the time impelling her. At last, fatally at war within herself and at the same time fatally united for war against a neighbouring nation, she was brought to a point from which she could neither reach internal or external peace, nor retreat without loss or even disaster. The world has sympathised with the personal tragedy of Mr. Venizelos. There is a greater pathos in the national tragedy of his country…

“Mr. Venizelos… grasped at such excessive territorial prizes that he failed to secure the greater prize of peace. Being a statesman of great force and great charm of character, he has been able to give ample effect to his policy, and when it has been mistaken, his country has therefore suffered its consequences to the full…

“Neutrality, during the whole period during which we respected the King’s legitimate claim to insist upon it, was more prudent for Greece, and more dignified, than the purchase of territory by intervention; and it makes for the general betterment of international relations if small states always and everywhere keep as clear as possible of the rivalries between Great Powers. Indeed, King Constantine was not alone in his views. Possibly a majority among the politically educated people in Greece agreed with him…

“Every event… raises controversial issues. Did the elections and by-elections of 1915 prove or not that Mr. Venizelos was supported by a majority of the Greek nation? If he was, had the King a right to dismiss and exclude him from office? Did her treaty with Serbia legally and morally bind Greece to fight when Bulgaria intervened? Had the Allies received a genuine invitation from Mr. Venizelos’s Government to land at Salonika? Which side was morally the aggressor in the fight at Athens on the first of December 1916? Was the will of the Greek nation or the military power of the Entente the real cause of Mr. Venizelos’s triumph over King Constantine between his flight from and return to Athens? These controversies lie behind the horizon of this book; many of them had only an ephemeral interest; others are incapable of settlement.” (The Western Question in Greece And Turkey, pp.63-8)

English historians seem to develop, as a reflex, the ability to write history in the service of their State. That ability includes the skill of adjustment of accounts to justify policy changes in retrospect, so that understanding of the behaviour of British Statesmen is reprogrammed to the retrospective context, and the actual context of decision making is lost in the rubbish bin of history.

The British academic establishment has also put considerable resources into training historians from other countries in this skill so that England’s account of itself penetrates hold-outs of national understanding and is universal.

Arnold Toynbee adjusted from being a vigorous anti-Turk propagandist at Wellington House during the Great War to being a considered apologist for the Turks after it. When the Turks were ear-marked for destruction he vilified them as evil personified and when they re-emerged as a force to be reckoned with, after it was thought they were down and out, he understood them and what they were about. He turned his disdain on the former ally, the Greeks.

But Toynbee could not avoid England’s part in the Greek Tragedy and did concede the following, about the manipulation of the Greek catspaw in the period after the Armistice, whilst couching it in a general criticism of the West:

“… the illusions of the local nationalities have been utilised by the Western diplomatists in order to save something from the wreck of their schemes. The harder they have found it to coax supplies out of their own Parliaments, the more they have turned their attention to other ways and means; and they have found these nations much more ‘suggestible’ than the comparatively well-educated, sophisticated, and politically experienced public of Western Europe – particularly in regard to Eastern affairs… The herd instinct can be relied on, as it cannot be in the West, to override the interest and judgment of the individual; and a kind of ‘Juggernaut’ national personality can be conjured into existence and induced, by offerings attractive to its divinity, to drive over its worshippers’ bodies. On the international chess-board such pieces make excellent pawns, and the Western diplomatists – wrapped up in their tradition and instinctively using every available means to carry on their professional activities – have not neglected them… This pawn playing, however, has not been so odiously cold and disingenuous as an analysis makes it appear. The trap in which the victims have been caught in order to be exploited was not cunningly hidden. They rushed into it with their eyes open because they could not resist the bait. This second phase of Western diplomacy is rather less discreditable to its authors than the secret haggling during the War. There has been less conspiracy about it and more sport, and – most disarming defence – it has been just as stupid. The statesmen miscalculated again. Their fellow countrymen had the means to carry out their policy but not the will; their pawns had the will without the means. They were too weak to perform the role marked out for them, however great the bribe. They could not struggle on to the eighth square and turn into queens. On the contrary, they have displayed an exasperating faculty of making queens out of the opposing pawns.” (pp.61-2)

How far-seeing was Roger Casement when he wrote in 1915:

“Byron came to aid Greece in a war of independence; “the countrymen of Byron” to-day are doing their utmost to plunge Greece in a war of unexampled peril and disaster to all her future. If Byron could say in his day “’tis Greece but living Greece no more”, his fellow countrymen to-day are assuredly determined, that the strict fulfilment of the poet’s words shall come to pass a century later.”

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The Crime against Humanity

Another forgotten centenary of Britain’s Great War just passed by without comment. In August 1915 a Catholic Bishop, Edward O’Dwyer of Limerick, shattered the Redmondite propaganda about the Great War by stating that it was all about destroying Germany as a commercial rival and that anyone wishing to prolong it was guilty of a “crime against God and Humanity.” Redmond was unable to contest the statement.

There is much talk these days about “Crimes against Humanity”. It seems peculiar that the Great War is never associated with that phrase and lesser events – in terms of killing and destruction – are sought out to illustrate it.

Bishop O’Dwyer’s contest with Redmond was a significant event on the road to 1916 by all accounts. At the end of November 1915, just after a second round of the Redmond/O’Dwyer contest, the Volunteers mounted a large muster in Cork City and Terence MacSwiney noted “a big success” and the turning of the tide. The formation of the British Coalition in the Spring, the threat of Conscription and Bishop O’Dwyer’s challenge to Redmondism, on behalf of Pope Benedict’s Peace initiative, all had made their mark on the political situation in Ireland.

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

Remembering the Armenians

The Great Calamity that engulfed the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 has been narrowed down to a single question: Was the Young Turk Government in Istanbul guilty of Genocide?

But the tragedy of the deaths of great numbers of Armenians, Turks and Kurds is inexplicable if confined solely to this. And it obscures important historical questions around the issues of instigation and betrayal that should be raised around these events. An event can only be understood in relation to other events in history within the context of cause and effect. If an event is extracted from the course of history then historical understanding is impossible. So a context is required to explain what really happened to produce such a disaster in 1915. The context of the disaster is the Great War and the Armenian Insurrection within it.

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Britain's Great War Geopolitics Second World War Serbia Turkey and Ottoman Empire

The Guardians of the Gate Part II

The Second part of the Guardian of the Gate looks at British geopolitics and the way Serbia was supported in war as the gatekeeper between Europe and Asia. The maritime power, Britain, was determined to prevent a stable and prosperous Europe developing and connecting up with the Eurasian heartland. This part also describes how Britain came to betray their Serbian allies after using them as instruments against Germany in two world wars, and when their usefulness had been exhausted. It was originally published in Irish Foreign Affairs in 2011.

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Britain's Great War Geopolitics Second World War Serbia Turkey and Ottoman Empire

The Guardians of the Gate – Serbia’s place in British Geopolitics

It is now 100 years since Serbia acted as a detonator for the Great War. It was not responsible for that Great War – only the war with Austro-Hungary that the provocative assassination in Sarajevo sparked off. It is possible that this war could have been confined and become just another Balkan war. But it wasn’t and it became a European war and then a World War, when England decided to make it one by throwing its Empire into the conflict in early August 1914.

The following article, now in two parts, was originally published in Irish Foreign Affairs in 2011. It deals with Britain’s relationship with Serbia, which it took to be Germany’s gate to the East and which Britain was intent to close. It reveals that Serbia was used as an instrument of British foreign policy in its two world wars on Germany and was shamefully betrayed during its second. It also looks at the character of the Ottoman Empire that Britain set out to shut away from German investment, destroy and carve up with its Imperialist allies after victory.

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Britain's Great War Serbia Turkey and Ottoman Empire

The Balkans Detonator – The Balkan Wars as preludes to the Greater War

Britain is perhaps not always seen as a main actor in the Balkan Wars. However, there are reasons for a reassessment of this view if one takes a geopolitical view of the wars, particularly the geopolitical view that was prevalent in British Imperial circles at the time.

In Britain today the Balkan Wars are not seen as having any direct connection with the Great War that followed. They are seen as isolated and localized events and largely the internal product of a troubled region. Because history is written by the victors the standard Western view is therefore very different from the view from Turkey where continuity between these conflicts is apparent.