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The Talaat Pasha Question


A recent book by Professor Hans Lukas Keiser ‘Talaat Pasha: Father of Modern Turkey, Architect of Genocide’ has the objective of establishing Talaat as the chief orchestrator of the event the author calls the “Armenian Genocide” and to establish him alongside Ataturk as “The Father of Modern Turkey. Prof Keiser makes the case that the charming Talaat Bey was the individual most responsible for the destruction of the Armenian community in the Ottoman territories during 1915. Talaat Pasha, of course, was Interior Minister in the pre-War C.U.P. Government and the last powerful Grand Vizier of the Ottoman era, during the Great War of 1914. He was one of the Triumvirate of Young Turk leaders, with Enver and Cemal Pasha, which largely presided over the affairs of state. Prof. Keiser makes a strong case for Talaat being the dominant one in that Triumvirate, and the driving force in the direction of Ottoman policy, particularly from 1913 onwards.

This is actually an interesting book for a number of reasons. It is certainly well-researched and has a lot of thought provoking information and argument. It is not the usual exercise in attempting to cobble together every conceivable hostile statement to damn the Ottomans. There is an attempt to clear the garbage from the house. If people read the book and listen to interviews with the author they will find that his information actually undermines other recent publications promoted by the Armenian Genocide lobby and advances an alternative view of the course of events that provokes thinking about the nature of what happened.

One further interesting aspect of Prof. Keiser’s book are the Armenian reviews of it. They obviously are a little deflated at Keiser’s failure to uncover anything new they can use as ammunition against the Turks and his failure to land a knock-out blow on their behalf. For them he is a boxer who had great billing and demonstrated some fancy ring craft, but who never really landed a serious blow on their opponent. In fact, the Armenian lobby, who, after all, only seek mud to sling, struggle to understand the Professor’s book because it is obviously at an intellectual level that far exceeds theirs. Maybe a better way of putting it would be that it has significantly broader horizons than the reductive simplifying world of the Armenian Genocide promoters. They are content with its provocative title which Prof. Keiser concedes was not his but the publishers, Princeton University Press. Which raises the question why are all these prestigious US universities issuing propagandist material lately on behalf of the Armenian lobby (Stanford being another example)?

For the purposes of this review I will quote from presentations and interviews Prof. Keiser gave in promoting his book. There are a number of these on YouTube and are easily found. They give a more focused view of what the book is about rather than the book itself.

Whither Fascism?

Prof. Keiser stated in one of his presentations (in Jerusalem) that he is making “a bold claim” in “revising the idea of fascism” and its origins in his book on Talaat Pasha.

He said he was arguing that “the Young Turks’ single party regime opened the greater European era of the extremes, dictatorships, extensive ethnic cleansing and genocides.” He notes that this “era of extreme violence is usually traced back to the Russian Revolution or the Nazis” but Keiser sees it as originating “in 1913 with Talaat and the Young Turks”. Talaat’s rule was “proto-fascism” according to Keiser. It was the shape of things to come in Russia, Germany and other places in what Keiser calls “greater Europe”.

In many ways, Talaat was not only father of Turkish nationalism but of Europe too!

I would say that Keiser has not got a historical grasp here but a political science or sociological notion of Fascism. Fascism, if it has any meaning at all, beyond a term of abuse, is historically related to the defence of Western capitalism/democracy/civilization against Bolshevism after the Great War cataclysm.

Bolshevism was the virus and Fascism was the antidote. That was the view of Winston Churchill, and I can see no reason to dispute it. In all cases where there was Fascism there were similar features – the fracturing of societies socially, economically and politically as a result of the Great War of 1914 that left them open to the possibility of Bolshevik style movements taking power. Fascism was how democracy defended itself against Bolshevism where such was necessary. And Fascism, like a vaccine, provided elements of the “Bolshevik poison”, as Churchill called it, to the population in order to ward off the full dose of the virus. That, after all, was why there was a National Socialist Party in Germany which captured much of the left wing as the political ground shifted.

How does Talaat and the C.U.P. fit into this historical understanding of Fascism? They don’t. For one thing, they predate the Great War, the midwife to Fascism. For another, they also predate the Bolshevik coming to power in Russia in late 1917. So how can they be Fascist, except in an unhistorical social science way? The Ottoman government would have been admired by Thomas Hobbes – it was a Hobbesian form of power, not a Fascist one.

It is, of course, possible that “proto-fascist” elements existed before Fascism took the political stage. But these – extreme nationalism, race pride and racialism, imperialism, elite government, social-Darwinist ideology, etc. were all present in the Mother of Democracy herself, Imperial Britain. While Talaat was governing in Istanbul the inaugural world conference of Eugenics was being presided over by Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill in London, with a delegation from the Institute of Racial Hygiene coming from Germany attending. Ottoman society was wholly out of sync with this form of “progress” that England was championing in the world. A number of Imperialist publications condemned in Britain for its lack of Social Darwinist presumptions, which were all the rage at the time, and for its race-mixing and the foolish allowing of inferior elements (Jews, Gypsies, Armenians etc.) into the corridors of power in Istanbul – something the British Empire, built on strict racial foundations, took great care of guarding against.

Prof. Keiser admits that the Young Turk revolution produced an “Ottoman Spring” after Sultan Abdul Hamid’s rule, but he argues that Talaat “abandoned constitutional democracy” at the end of 1912 and “embraced war politics”, leading an “Ottoman mobilization for war” in the Balkans through propaganda and mass rallies in Istanbul. Keiser depicts the C.U.P. as being ready to meet the challenge of the Balkan Christians, who themselves were mobilizing for war, rather than being victims of an aggression. The recovery of Edirne, according to Keiser was a crucial event in a kind of national rejuvenation for Ottoman Turkey after the disastrous defeat in the Balkans. Talaat then “assisted Enver Pasha in the putsch of January 1913 that established single-party repressive rule from 1913 to 1918”.

There is little here about the vast ethnic cleansing of Moslem populations that took place in the Ottoman heartland of the Balkans when the Christian states engaged in nation-building through the killing and removal of millions in the decade prior to 1914.

Prof. Kaiser believes it is more significant that the C.U.P. Government was “the first single-party regime at the head of an Empire” – a model for things to come in what he calls “greater Europe”. However, since most multi-party states are the result of a civil war, the only thing that the Young Turks were guilty of was not having been formed out of one. It was unlikely that there would have been civil war in the Ottoman State when it was under such threat by enemies intent on dismantling it.

Prof, Keiser sees late 1912/early 1913 as the watershed moment in Talaat’s descent into evil.

Keiser contends that “Constitutional Rule was never a priority for the C.U.P.” Instead it “developed a new Islamic pan-Turkism inspired by Talaat’s friend and Central Committee member Zia Gokalp”, who Keiser describes as “his Prophet”. Keiser sees Gokalp as “the spiritual father of Turkish nationalism” – for both Talaat and for Mustapha Kemal. Although Ataturk, while acknowledging his inspiration, repressed political Islam, President Erdogan and the AK Party have revived his project, according to Prof. Keiser, delving into current affairs. Prof. Keiser asserts that Gokalp framed Turkish nationalist ideology through his poetry and afterwards went on to Ankara to preserve continuity between the Ottoman C.U.P. and the new Kemalist Turkey. His influence on the Young Turks and the Turkish masses made the Shaykh al Islam very jealous, according to Keiser.

Ideology, of course, is recognized as an essential ingredient in mass murder, these days. So the Ottomans need to be connected up with extreme nationalism, pan-Turkism, and pan-Islamism, among other things. But the sheer fact that such a variety of “ideologies” needs to be accumulated against the Ottomans tends to suggest we are not dealing with a totalitarian system here but rather a conglomeration of things thrown together to bolster the security and cohesion of the Ottoman State in a shifting environment. Again, it is a case of the antidote warding off the virus by the taking on of features from it.

Prof Keiser, therefore, argues that Talaat’s “ideological personality” was Gokalpian and Golkalp’s ideas were executed through the chief executive, Talaat, in a kind of synergy. From 1913 Talaat developed from primus inter pares within the C.U.P. Central Committee and Triumvirate to effective dictator, according to Prof. Keiser. Enver Pasha was the figurehead that many liked to pretend was the leader of the C.U.P. for various reasons.

Keiser strangely depicts Talaat as being “far right” in politics and says this is “a core element” in his argument and “a crucial part of his book”. He also describes Talaat as a “conservative revolutionary” – part of the movement later seen in Germany that wanted modernization within tradition. That is a peculiar notion. I would have thought that the idea of left and right was a completely alien notion in Ottoman politics. Although the Young Turks were inspired by the French Revolution if its divisions were somehow transplanted to Istanbul the C.U.P. would have been the left to the Sultan’s supporters on the Right. But I must admit to finding this baffling and perhaps an attempt on Keiser’s part to associate Talaat with the German conservative revolutionaries who are often bracketed with the National Socialists, but actually shouldn’t be. It is a construct rather than reality.

Genocide as a product of the Great War

Keiser significantly does not see Talaat’s behavior in the context of a “30 year Genocide” of Armenians and offers good explanations why this latest manifestation of the Armenian lobby is deeply flawed (See Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924, Stanford University).

He notes that the Young Turks had good relations with the Armenian revolutionaries in the decade before the war and mentions the fact that Garegin Pasdermadjian (“Armen Garo”) helped hide and shelter Talaat from the Sultan’s forces surely proving that even the Dashnaks did not see the Young Turks as genocidal. Some of the Dashnak deputies turned down offers of positions within the Ottoman administration in Istanbul where they would have joined Armenian ministers. With his C.U.P. colleagues and Dashnaks present at his side, Talaat appeared at commemorative events marking the Hamidian “1896 pogroms” against Armenians. Certainly, there was no pre-War plan for any punitive measures against the Armenian community, let alone genocide, and Prof. Keiser acknowledges this, implicitly and explicitly. The C.U.P. and Armenian Dashnaks were political allies, if anything.

The Armenian position in the Ottoman Empire was entirely different to the Jewish position in Nazi Germany. Count von Moltke rather accurately described the Armenians as “Christian Turks.” The Armenians served in significant positions within the Ottoman State throughout much of its later history. Sultans took Armenian women as wives and the Ottoman line became mixed with Armenian blood – something the English saw as “race suicide”. At least 12 Ottoman ministers between 1867 and 1913 were Armenian. They also served as Ambassadors, Bankers, translators, consuls and deputies in the Ottoman Parliament – 14 in 1908. The Ottoman Foreign Minister in the year before the Great War was an Armenian. It is extraordinary that the belief exists about Ottoman desire to destroy the Armenians when they were such an important pillar of the Empire and its functioning. Can it be imagined that Hitler had a Jew as his Foreign Minister in 1938?

So here we see immediate problems with the comparisons made between the Ottomans and Hitler and his Nazis. But whilst dismissing the substance of such a view about pre-War Ottoman society, Prof. Keiser cannot resist pursuing it in later events.

This is surprising because Prof. Keiser sees “a totally different outcome” as having been possible for Turks and Armenians if it had not been for the July crisis and Great War of 1914. He argues that the failure of the 1913 Eastern Reform process in “Turkish Armenia” was a “turning point” after which Talaat was re-born as a “war-monger.” Things therefore “could have evolved differently” according to Prof. Keiser – presumably on the basis of “no war/no genocide”. Prof Keiser argues that if it had not been for the outbreak of War in Europe, Talaat would have operated the Reform programme for the Eastern Provinces, perhaps obstructing it on occasion in the Ottoman interest, but he was “pragmatic and a man of reality” and would have undoubtedly seen it through, according to Prof. Keiser. He “did not have a fixed personality” and he “would not have become genocidal” if it were not for the circumstances of the Great War.

This is very interesting because in arguing this point – which is undoubtedly correct – he is focusing the case for Genocide almost exclusively on the event of War. Of course, the Prof. would point to the ideological basis of Turkish nationalism underpinning the clearing of non-Turkish minorities from the former inclusive Ottoman State – but this is a different argument. After all, it is not a requirement that such a process would emerge from any ideological inspiration and if the Reform process had taken root undoubtedly it wouldn’t. And we know that Talaat even suggested to the British that Lord Milner oversee the administration of “Turkish Armenia”. That would have involved a drastic loss in Ottoman sovereignty.

So the crux of the matter is the catastrophe of the Great War of 1914.

Keiser knows that there is a weakness in the historical case for Genocide if the issue is the Great War. This is because the issue of war responsibility then becomes important. So Prof. Keiser is forced to argue the point of Talaat’s responsibility for the conflict, bringing it to the Ottoman Empire, and using it as a state building exercise in a form of salvation for the Turkish nation.

It is usually argued that Enver Pasha’s maneuvering with the Germans brought war on for a reluctant Ottoman government. Prof. Keiser, however, claims that Talaat himself instigated war in Europe by pressurizing Austria to be tough on Serbia after the assassination of the Arch Duke and intimidating the Germans into war by threatening an alliance with Russia, unless they supported the Germans against the Tsar. Keiser claims that the Great War was seen “a war of restoration and expansion” by enthusiastic C.U.P. This is what he means when he calls Talaat “a war-monger” after 1913.

It seems very much that Prof. Keiser has to compensate through these claims for the weakness of an argument, that his demolition of the “30 year genocide” case entails. In Prof. Keiser’s view “Total War was an opportunity for Genocide”. In the course of this “the Expansionist war was lost but the domestic war war that created the Turkish Republic was won through Genocide”

Prof. Keiser is emphatic: “There was no blueprint for genocide, it was something that was evolving from early Spring 1915”.

Keiser claims that what happened to the Armenians “was not a collateral occurrence in a different much bigger event called World War” but was in fact “the central element, the main exploit and legacy of Talaat’s war policy”. He says that “Talaat was never so busy, excited and focused than when he was removing the Armenians from Asia Minor from April to September 1915”.

But nobody has ever claimed the Ottomans were instrumental in the outbreak of the European war and this seems like turning the world upside down to advance a new theory. Neither were the Ottomans responsible for Britain’s decision to join this European war and turn it into a much more catastrophic and wide-reaching world war. This was the decisive decision in bringing catastrophe to the Ottoman Empire because it placed its territory in a vice between the British and Russian Empires for the first time. It put its capital under direct threat in a way that it never had been before, because the British had always warned the Tsar away from it on the threat of war.

The Ottomans, far from being instigators of war, were victims of the great geopolitical shift in the world that occurred between 1906 and 1914 under Sir Edward Grey. They struggled. like all others, to take account of this and respond to it. They were actors within a much wider and bigger drama that came upon them in 1913-14 and who tried to avert to by offering alliances with all and sundry. Only the Germans were serious about responding to the Ottomans, because they were the only state without an interest in the destruction of the Ottoman State. If Talaat and Enver were the ones who acknowledged this, rather than the other more Anglophile Young Turks, that only confirms Prof. Keiser’s view that they were the realists.

It is noticeable that Britain does not figure to any great degree in Prof. Keiser’s work and that is entirely understandable. It is a result of history itself that such an important influence on events should be an absent blank in things. But how are the decisions that the Ottomans took conceivable without taking into account the great geopolitical shift that Britain brought about and its determination to wage war with its new Tsarist ally upon Germany? (This geopolitical aspect is something that has been largely ignored in the Armenian issue and I intend to address this in a substantial way soon).

We know that there was a substantial attempt made by the Ottomans to dissuade the Dashnaks from supporting a Russian invasion and an assault on the state which was made at the Dashnak world conference held in Erzurum at the start of the European War in late Summer 1914. The Dashnaks seem to have been divided about whether to take up the Ottoman offer of autonomy, which suggests they took it seriously. Those who wished to prevent a catastrophe were overridden by the hardliners who had already made plans and preparations for the greatest of opportunities that would be presented to them. Pasdermadjian stated in a later publication, issued at the time of the Paris Peace Conference, that the Dashnaks were fully aware of the casualties the Armenian community would take if there were an armed insurrection organised as part of the Allied war on the Ottoman State and it had been worth the sacrifice!

Prof. Keiser notes that “the Prophet” Gokalp wrote a poem in September 1915 describing Talaat as “the Noah of Turkey,” and praising him as the father of the Turkish nation. I don’t understand how the Noah story is supposed to count against Talaat. After all, Noah, after being confronted with a coming deluge, attempts to save as much of the old world as he can. It is a very good analogy for what the Ottoman leadership attempted to do when confronted with the impending catastrophe.

Keiser sees Talaat as using the War as an opportunity for cleansing the Turkish nation of Armenians, Pontic Greeks and Assyrians. He shows pictures of trains “bringing the Armenians to the Syrian death camps” to create “a Turkish homeland in Asia Minor.” He points out that Talaat kept detailed information and maps detailing the demographic effects of the relocation in his Black Book (which have been published). It is obvious that this is all meant to demonstrate sinister connections to other times.

Trains, of course, would have been a much better means of moving the Armenians than marching them in columns, if the Ottomans had had a good railway system. Many more Armenians would have survived the relocations if they had been conducted with trains. Perhaps Keiser forgets that the railways didn’t kill the Jews and, if anything, lured them into a false sense of security, prior to their final destinations. The Ottomans didn’t have many train tracks toward the east and it was Britain and Russia who did everything to prevent them and the Germans from building these railways. If the Armenians died on marches during the relocation, rather than surviving on trains, it was Britain and Russia who were responsible for the difference this would have made.

Keiser also looks for an equivalent of the SS or einsatzgruppen to further damn the Ottomans. He finds it in the Special Organisation, formed in November 1913. But this had no role in the Armenian locations, and was used largely for special military operations in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt. The 1919 court-martials in Istanbul indicted the organisation but failed to provide any evidence for anything but special operations behind Russian lines.

There is no evidence that the Ottomans had any intention or plan to wipe out the Armenians. Relying on the U.S. Ambassador, Henry Morgenthau’s diary, with its second and third hand hearsay and rumours, constructed by two Armenians hostile to the Ottomans, is not evidence. The fact that Morgenthau was on a mission to convince President Wilson to join the war and used his correspondence to him about the Armenians to achieve this objective further takes away any validity from such “information”. Ambassador Morganthau frankly stated he had given his diary to his Armenian assistant, Andonian, to “elaborate” upon freely and was, therefore, relieved of taking any responsibility for any error himself. How can such a process of fabrication be relied upon as evidence?

Keiser’s other secondary literature is highly selective and constructed by officials of enemy governments to form a diplomatic record – in other words, a case for themselves and their actions, which aimed at producing a case for relieving the Ottomans of their territory.

There was a complete absence of any ideal in Ottoman literature of annihilation and the appliance of the basic historical principle of cause and effect suggests that the relocations were a practical response to an emergency situation, however badly they might have arguably been handled.

The clearance of Armenians from Eastern Anatolia should have been seen, from the British perspective, as a ‘progressive’ development, since it was the culmination of the general process that England began to encourage with regard to the Ottoman territories and elsewhere in the world. The responsibility for what happened to the Armenians and the other minorities that existed relatively peacefully within the Ottoman Empire for centuries must be placed, therefore, primarily at the hands of those who attempted to destabilize and ultimately destroy the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. The provoking of nationalism in the Ottoman Empire for the purposes of weakening it and gaining leverage for the Great Powers is very much at the root of what happened to the Armenians.

Prof. Keiser’s attempt to shift the responsibility for the War onto the Ottomans is really a weak affair. The most that can be said is that the Ottomans failed to join the right side in a moral war – but it was the right side who rejected them, or never gave them enough assurance to keep them neutral.

The Real Battleground of the Issue

So what is left is the argument that Talaat availed of the catastrophe of the Great War to solve the Armenian issue, which had been causing problems for the Ottomans ever since the Dashnaks had begun to apply the Bulgarian model to their situation – insurrection, repression, foreign intervention. This is the real battleground of the Armenian issue.

In one of his presentations Prof. Keiser presents an entry from the diary of Mehmud Cavid Bey from 14 September 1915. It is damning of Talaat’s forced migration policy, which Cavid believed, from the reports he had read whilst away from Istanbul, had been done in a most inhumane way:

“Ottoman history has never known before such monstrous murder and enormous brutality even in its most sinister periods… One would hope these stories and reports are lies, or at least exaggerated. I am of the opinion that Talaat was involved in this with full conviction having embraced the underlying ideology together with a few deranged idiots in the Central Committee. The course started in the Armenian provinces and extended to the nearest provinces. Perhaps nearest provinces witnessed the most disastrous scenes.

One day, we were both together and Talaat said, ‘Sad thing, it comes into my dreams, but it was absolutely necessary for the country. What will we tell Paris?’

If you want to approach the Armenian issue by bloody politics, then scatter the people in the Armenian provinces, but scatter them in a humane manner. Hang the traitors, even if there are thousands of them. Who would like to keep among us Russians and supporters of Russians? But stop right there.

You dared to destroy not only the political existence but the life itself of a whole people. You are not only guilty, but also incapable. Of what quality is your conscience, when you accept that women, children, and elderly people, ousted from towns, are murdered at lakes and on mountains?…

In immense indignation, Talaat rails against this. He will establish an inspection committee. He will punish the culpable. But will the act be undone by this? They act like this to do away with the Armenians… A thoughtless and blindfold nationalist current has taken the place of common Ottoman bounds. What became of the beautiful humanity in the hands of foolish butchers? … By these acts we have condemned everything. We have put an inextinguishable stain on the present administration.”

I removed quite a few inserted words by Prof. Keiser from this passage – which were not in the original Turkish. These additions steered the meaning of Cavid’s words away from a condemnation of the forced migration policy and the way it was carried out, to imply disgust at an attempted annihilation/genocide policy, which is not what Cavid was saying, This is concerning because it indicates that Prof. Keiser was attempting to fit the diary entry into a pre-conceived narrative that twists its meaning to justify his argument.

Cavid Bey was an old Ottoman disgusted at the reports he had heard of the results of the relocations. He received letters when he was in Berlin and confronted Talaat when he returned to Istanbul about what he had heard. Cavid was on the liberal wing of the C.U.P. and had been the victim of a notorious attempt in 1911 by the British Embassy in Istanbul to whip up anti-semitism in the Young Turks. Ambassador Lowther and his dragoman Fitzmaurice had an obsession with the power of the “crypto-Jews” or Salonika donmes of which Djavid was the most prominent. Prof. Keiser chose not to mention this in his presentation in Jerusalem. Is this because the British attempted to damn Cavid as a Zionist? Cavid resigned from the government when the Ottomans joined the War in November 1914. He was later executed for an assassination attempt on Mustapha Kemal.

Cavid Pasha changed his views about the relocations when he later discovered the large scale killings that the Moslems of Eastern Anatolia suffered. Anyone who asked him after 1918 about whether he thought the relocations were right was met by a statement that 400,000 Moslems had been killed so what else was there to do? He seems to have abandoned the view that hanging a few thousand Dashnaks would have been an adequate response in the circumstances.

The Cavid diary entry was powerful enough without the leading additions. I am surprised I do not see the Cavid quote more often in Armenian accounts. It has been available for about 5 years now after the Turkish Historical Society got permission from the family to release it and it is certainly quite thought-provoking. Perhaps it is a question that Armenian writers would not dare answer: Could the Ottomans have dealt with the situation and saved the state without a relocation policy through a pin-point targeting of Dashnak activists? They do not do so because they support the attempt to destroy the Ottoman State, whilst pretending that there were no implications for the Armenians in doing so. They want it both ways, of course.

The removal of the Armenians from the 6 eastern vilayets constituted a counter-insurgency campaign in the minds of the Ottoman leadership. It was far from systematic in its execution: In some areas nearly all Armenians were killed and in others nearly all survived. The big variable was local circumstance. The Ottoman State took active measures in the summer of 1915 to halt the relocations and stop the killings, holding to account some of those who were responsible for them. Many Ottoman officials, like Cemal Pasha, protected Armenians effectively, enabling a high proportion to survive the relocations. Around 350,000 Armenians remained in their localities in the western parts of Asia Minor. Armenians moved back and forth with the progress of the Russian Imperial armies in the east. Approximately 300,000 fled to Transcaucasia during the first 6 months of the war and others followed with the collapse of the Russian lines in late 1917, as a result of internal collapse of the Russian State and its forces.

Talaat himself, “the Architect of the Genocide”, instituted the prosecutions against those who had mishandled the relocations or used them as an excuse for killing and robbery. He set up commissions to investigate what happened late in 1915. Hundreds of Ottoman officials were tried by military courts, including commanders and soldiers from the ranks. Dozens were executed, like the commander in Sivas, who had failed to protect Armenians. Although this period saw the greatest numbers of mass locations (Cuba, South Africa, Balkan Wars) such punishment for acts committed within them was unknown.

This is the territory of discussion that the Armenian issue should really centre on if this were a truly historical debate and not a battle over a slogan or a label.

The Talaat/Ataturk Continuum

The other main objective of Keiser’s book is to associate modern Turkey with the “Armenian Genocide” through Talaat. The title of Prof. Keiser’s publication describes Talaat Pasha as the “Father of Modern Turkey” – a position usually reserved for Mustapha Kemal (Ataturk, father of the Turk). Whilst Keiser is not challenging the role of Ataturk in creating the Turkish State, what he does do is suggest that he was “standing on the shoulders” of Talaat in doing so. Keiser claims Ataturk used this phrase himself.

Prof Keiser argues that Ataturk accomplished what he calls Talaat’s “minimalist goals” in the creation of the Turkish Republic. Keiser does not actually make clear what these maximalist goals of Talaat actually were, but says that Talaat decided to limit himself to his “minimalist goals” around 1913 – presumably after the heart of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans was lost.

Did Talaat support the drive toward Baku in 1918? I always thought that was Enver’s project. I may have missed that in Keiser’s book.

After the War Talaat had to leave Istanbul for Germany. While the British occupied Istanbul they decided to squeeze the Germans through the Royal Navy Blockade, which was operated until July 1919. The Germans remained undefeated on the battlefield after an orderly retreat. Prof. Keiser says that Talaat’s “agitation in exile contributed to the winning of the war against the West” through the “Bolshevik/Kemalist alliance” that Mustapha Kemal organised from Eastern Anatolia. It was through this alliance that Talaat’s goals were accomplished by Ataturk, says Prof. Kaiser.

While Prof. Keiser maintains that he is a historian who takes into account that “events could have evolved differently” he does not seem to apply that principle to the biggest variable of all – Britain. The Turkish alliance with the Bolsheviks was entirely a consequence of Lloyd George’s policy of imposing a punitive treaty on the Ottomans and using the Greeks, and to a much lesser extent the Armenians, to carry it through to fruition. Lloyd George’s War Minister, Churchill was against this policy, seeing the danger from Bolshevism, and wanted to enlist the Ottomans as a bulwark against Russia – as in the days before Sir Edward Grey upset everything in his 1907 Convention with the Tsar.

If Lloyd George had not followed his policy of using the Greeks as a cats paw to strangle and partition the Ottoman territories, and had concluded an honourable peace what would the effect of this have been on the resistance movement in Ankara?

Talaat’s support for Mustapha Kemal was a consequence of Britain’s attitude to the Ottomans. He makes that clear in his last interview and no one can doubt it. The Turkish Republic was not a plan of Talaat’s (his “minimalist policy”) it was a consequence of what Britain did from October 1918. It was, of course, brought about by Mustapha Kemal, in an extraordinary feat of military and political agility. But nothing was certain, and when Talaat gave his final interview things were really on a knife-edge to the west of Ankara.

Talaat was right in his warnings to Audrey Herbert and some say that is why the British had him assassinated through an Armenian gunman. I have no way of knowing if that were true or not. But we know that Basil Thomson was involved and it was Thomson who made sure Sir Roger Casement was hung.

The Turkish Republic was one of the consequences of Britain’s Great War of 1914. No Ottoman had such a state in mind as an objective prior to 1914. If anything it could be said to have been a British objective of the War to reduce the Turks to a territory of their own, and take the parts of the Ottoman territory that were of strategic value for itself (e.g. the Arab parts of Palestine and Mesopotamia). The survival of the Empire in some shape or form was the objective of the Ottoman leadership in 1914, and probably the only objective.

Before the Great War the C.U.P. had struggled with a formula to rejuvenate the Empire. They had been told they had a “Sick Man” on their hands and they certainly believed it. The era of nationalism, which had descended upon the Empire in its heartland, the Ottoman Balkans, and uprooted its Moslem community, seemed to be the requirement of the future and progress. But at the same time, the British, French and Russians maintained their empires and expanded them. Mixed messages were everywhere. It seemed to be one law for some and one law for others. But who were the some and who were the others? The winners and the losers, perhaps?

So what was there to do? Various blends of Ottoman nationalism, Islamism or Turkification were all advocated at one time or another and a mash up sought that would rejuvenate the Empire. But the intention was never a Turkish national state and a process of simplification. That was actually the Armenian aim.

An answer to the problem was never found by the Young Turks and it had to be solved as a consequence of the War by Mustapha Kemal in war, politics and at the conference table.

If someone attempts to maintain the structure of a building facing collapse during an earthquake, by taking extraordinary measures to keep it standing, can we really correctly call them an architect?

Britain won the Great War of 1914 against the Ottomans and destroyed their state, placing a Turkish state of some kind as the only item on the agenda. Lloyd George lost the war he subsequently waged to reduce the Turks to an Anatolian fragment and in the end the Turkish Republic conceded by the British at Lausanne reflected quite well the territory where Turks were in the majority (Mosul was debatable). All were relatively content with the result – except Greeks and Armenians who proved to be pawns in a losing game.

Between 1919 and 1921, as resistance was put up to Lloyd Georges scheme (whatever it actually was), the existence of any form of Turkish political entity was in the balance. Seeing Ataturk’s achievement from this position as the culmination of Talaat’s plan is simply bizarre.

In conclusion, the problem with Prof. Keiser’s book is that he has determined on a fixed position with regard to the Armenian issue and has then applied all the information he can gather to support that position, ignoring everything that undermines his arguments. However, what he offers as evidence is very insubstantial and is outweighed considerably by the evidence that opposes his view. Prof Keiser’s zeal in spreading the word is almost religious and has resulted in the type of closed mind that is consequent from such a disposition. At one point, toward the end of the book he expresses pleasure that he has played a part in consigning Talaat Pasha to Hell! Such moral animosity to historical figures is curious, to say the least, in a scholar.

That lethal combination turns history into propaganda – as Bryce and Toynbee demonstrated a century ago. Therefore, although Prof. Keiser presents enough evidence to falsify other accounts that are being used by the Armenian lobby, in the end he joins them all in their declarations of the one true faith, in which all dissent is damned as “denialism”. That is not historical inquiry, it is religion.



a. The Last Interview

Let us now look at Talaat Pasha’s own account and explanation of what happened to the Armenians, and why he did what he did.

The last interview with Talaat Pasha was conducted by Aubrey Herbert in March 1921, a week before he was assassinated by an Armenian in Berlin. Talaat’s assassin, Tehlirian Soghomon had earlier killed Haroutounian Mkrtchian, in Istanbul in 1920. Haroutounian was accused of being the head of the Ottoman secret police who began the round-ups of Dashnaks in April 1915, the event that is marked as the beginning of the ‘Armenian Genocide”. The Head of the Ottoman Secret Police who began the “Armenian Genocide” was an Armenian!

Herbert had met Talaat back in 1908 when the Young Turks had come to power in Istanbul. After the armistices Talaat wrote a letter to the Englishman declaring he was not responsible for the Armenian massacres during the War and saying he could prove it. Herbert took the letter to “a distinguished man who is famous for his spotless integrity.” The dignitary persuaded him to refuse a meeting as “it was illegal to correspond with the enemy.”

However, in February 1921 Sir Basil Thomson of British Intelligence invited Herbert to see him at Scotland Yard and told him to go out immediately to Germany to speak to Talaat. Herbert asked for a letter to make his dealings official, which Thomson provided. Thomson presumably wanted information about the dangerous things that were emerging in the Near East out of Lloyd George’s policy – the developing Turkish/Bolshevik alliance that had been cemented by the carving up of the Southern Caucasus, the Bolshevik propaganda aimed at setting the Moslem world ablaze against the British Empire. He wanted to know what Talaat’s role was in all this and perhaps the German’s role too.

The interview is included in Herbert’s book ‘Ben Kendim: A Record of Easter Travels’. The reader needs to be a little bit careful with the interview since it is Aubrey Herbert who is reporting Talaat’s account. But the gist of it is certainly Talaat’s story.

Herbert first asked Talaat about “the attempted extermination of the Armenians”. Talaat replied that such a thing would be “impossible, and a country that adopted such methods” would “cut itself off from civilization.” He had, “twice protested against” the relocation policy “and had been overruled by the Germans.”

Talaat Pasha continued:

“In England you hear only one side of the case,” he  said. “Now, I don’t know what is happening in Ireland, and I don’t believe all I hear, but you are certainly doing some very stiff things to the Sinn Feiners; and, after all, what is your Irish problem to ours of Armenia? Can any nation go through a war and acquiesce when it is stabbed in the back? What would you have done if you had had Sinn Fein enclaves all over England, fighting you during the war?” He said that he was in favour of granting autonomy to minorities in the most extended form, and would gladly consider any proposition that was made to him.

“You remember,” he said, “years ago, I asked you to go to Lord Milner and beg him to become Governor-General of Armenia. I knew that we had either to reform ourselves or to perish, and I knew that we were incapable of reforming ourselves when every man’s hand was against us, and all the world was waiting to exploit our country. But your Government, rightly or wrongly, had decided upon a Russian policy, and would lend no official support to Englishmen entering Turkish service, or, indeed, do anything that was disliked by St. Petersburg. You English cannot divest yourselves of responsibility in this matter. We Young Turks practically offered Turkey to you, and you refused us. One undoubted consequence has been the ruin of the Christian minorities, whom your Prime Minister has insisted on treating as your allies. If the Greeks and the Armenians are your allies when we are at war with you, you cannot expect our Turkish Government to treat them as friends.”

“Rightly or wrongly,” said Talaat Pasha, ”you made friends with Russia; that was your policy at home, and that was your policy at the Embassy in Constantinople. I liked Sir Gerard Lowther; he was an English gentleman, and I suppose he carried out his orders; but never, I think, in the history of the world, did one Power have such a commanding position and so obsess about as did Great Britain Turkey when we made our revolution. For if the leaders liked you, the people adored you; they took the horses out of your Ambassador’s carriage and they pulled it up to the Embassy. That was a very little thing, a small symbol; they would have let it go over their bodies if he had wished it. There was nothing in those days which we would not have given if you had asked it of us. But you wanted nothing of us, and gratitude cannot live on air. The Ambassador was cold; Fitzmaurice was hostile; we had to find means to live. But even after our estrangement, we still tried to regain your friendship. We accepted Kiamil, our determined opponent, as Grand Vizier, to please you. It did not please you — nothing that we could do pleased you. You drove us into the arms of Germany. We had no alternative: anything else was political death and partition.”

I asked him at what point friendly relations between ourselves and Turkey became impossible. He said, at the time when Mr. Asquith made his speech on the question of Adrianople. Sir Edward Grey saw Tewfik Pasha; he and Mr. Asquith both said the same thing, publicly and privately. “If the Turks go to Adrianople, they must take the consequences.”

Talaat continued: “I went to the Turkish Cabinet, and said: ‘ This is bluff; neither Russia, France nor England is prepared to do anything. I resign now. You can continue, but I shall go down to the Chamber and will tell them why I have resigned, and you will fall.’ Meanwhile troops marched on Adrianople, and British prestige received a great blow, as no penalty followed.”

He then talked about the war, and his own experiences in it. He said that in his opinion soldiers were the salt of the earth, but that they were often stupid people. He himself had been present when the Brest-Litovsk Treaty had been signed. Czernin was also there, but they had been beaten by Ludendorf and Hoffmann. Ludendorff counted for everything, the Kaiser for very little. Talaat Pasha said that once Count Czernin had shouted in a burst of passion: “By God, if I ever have a reincarnation I shall be born a British subject, even if I have to be born black.” “Ah,” said Talaat, “I do not know if he would say that now. It is sad for you; you have lost a great deal of your prestige.”…

I asked him what had been their relations with the Germans during the war. He laughed and said, “Detestable.” He said that what the Turks had wished for was not a war that should end war, but a war without a decisive victory on either side. If we won, as we had won, it meant the partition of Turkey. If, on the other hand, Germany won, it meant the enslavement of Turkey. On one occasion a Q.M.G. arrangement had been come to between the Turks and the Germans without his knowledge. He found himself completely handcuffed by the Germans, and said to the Council of Ministers, “I often wondered why the English wanted to fight the Germans, but now I know.”

He talked at length of the end of the war. He had been on a mission in Europe, where he had seen the kings, the military leaders and the politicians. His account was dramatic. He had seen the Emperor Charles, who was, he said, “bon enfant ” in Austria. The Emperor, he said, wanted peace, in order to enjoy his Empire, and for his Empire’s sake; the continuation of war would be the end of Austria. He saw was peace over-ripe. He talked with the Kaiser. “Quand le Kaiser m’a vu, il a crie, ‘Eh bien, Talaat, si c’est la trahison de vouloir la paix, moi aussi je suis traitre. Je veux la paix.’ ” He returned to Turkey with Tewfik Pasha, whose son was Talaat’s military secretary. On the way they received a telegram inviting them to the palace at Sofia for an audience with the Tsar Ferdinand. Then came another telegram cancelling the first, and saying that there would be a reception at the station for them. Tewfik Pasha was inclined to be affronted, but Talaat told him that the Tsar Ferdinand was  “un homme tres ruse,” and would not have changed the programme without a very good reason.

There were enormous crowds at the station at Sofia. “Moi j’ai apercu tout de suite que quelque chose s’etait passe.” Malinoff came up to Talaat and said, “It is finished. The 11th Division have broken ; Bulgaria is done, and we have sued for an armistice.” Talaat replied, “You are wrong to have done this; we should all have asked for an armistice together. What terms shall we be given now?”

He went to see King Ferdinand. That monarch talked to him only of the character of the new Sultan, and Turkish politics. He avoided immediate political issues. Talaat grew restive, and interrupted: “Your Majesty, I have had an hour’s talk with Malinoff, and I know what has happened. What are you going to do now?” King Ferdinand, he said, threw out his arms in a gesture of despair.

Prince Boris, said Talaat, had great charm, but he did not believe that he took the defeat very much to heart. He showed no sorrow, and in the ex-Grand-Vizier’s opinion he was as much in favour of peace as was the Emperor Charles, though possibly for different reasons.

Tewfik and Talaat pursued their journey to Constantinople, where Talaat Pasha laid his resignation before the Sultan, who refused to accept it. Talaat said to the Sultan: “It is essential for your Government to have someone else to talk to the victors. They do not like me: my personality is disagreeable to them. Choose Rahmy; they will be glad to have discussions with him.” Talaat’s advice was not taken, but he was allowed to resign.

He spoke with angry indignation of the imprisonment of Eyub Sabri, his friend, and of Rahmy Pasha and other Turks who were our prisoners in Malta. By what right, he asked, were these men — many of whom had been against the war, and were pro-British — seized during the Armistice and imprisoned for two years without a trial? No other country had been treated like that. “It is only to us poor Turks, to whom you are always preaching principles, that you behave like that,” said Talaat Pasha.

Khairy Effendi, formerly Sheikh-ul-Islam, had been in the Government that had declared war upon us. He was liberated, while others, who had opposed the war, were held prisoners. It was possible that Rahmy Pasha had been imprisoned in Malta because of the expulsion of the Greeks, but as a matter of fact Rahmy had vehemently opposed this measure. He knew that the littoral Greeks (Greeks on the coast) would give the Allies what assistance they could, but he thought their help would be insignificant; and he believed that if they were expelled, it might very easily bring King Constantine and the Greeks into the war against Turkey. But the Germans had insisted, and neither Talaat nor Rahmy felt that they could be “plus royaliste que le roi.”

Rahmy had treated the English throughout the war with a friendship that was more than consideration. He asked me if Rahmy had not been officially thanked by our Minister in Athens, Sir Francis Elliot, for his kindness to our people. I answered that all he said was true and made Englishmen like myself very heartily ashamed. Our Government was sent to us as an affliction from God.

The ex-Grand Vizier talked much about himself. He said that he was born a rebel, and that when he was young he had read much French literature, which added an extra varnish to his mutinous soul. The condition of Turkey was enough to make anyone, with a spark of manhood in him, fierce. Talaat came across the infamous Fehim, Chief Constable of Constantinople, whose amiable habit it was to seize any woman who caught his fancy, forcing her husband to play some version of the part of Uriah.

I asked him if he thought the spies of Abdul Hamid very efficient. “No, not very,” said he. “Mine were fairly good, I think; but then, I had much to appeal to with my people, and also I used your English system.” “What?” said I. “Well,” he said, “we were told that the noble youths of England offered their service gratis to the secret police. Was not that true? ”…

I… asked him if assassination was often in his mind. He said that he never thought of it. Why should anyone dislike him? I said that Armenians might very well desire vengeance, after all that had been written about him in the papers. He brushed this aside.

He made a number of inquiries about old friends, and asked warmly after Louis Mallet. Speaking of Enver, I said I liked him, and thought him modest, but not at all clever. “No,” he said, “you could not call him clever, though he is a brave man and patriotic.”

He spoke of his own family ; he was living with his wife in Berlin, he said, and, like most people, he had been selling all that was available; but he looked forward to a swift ending of these troubles. England and Turkey would soon be on terms of friendship.

Next morning, he told me that good news had come from England. Bekir Sami Bey had been invited to tea with the Prime Minister. They had, he believed, agreed upon the autonomy of Armenia, where the majorities were recognized, and to an inquiry in Thrace and Smyrna.

“Now,” said the ex-Grand Vizier, “let me make a summary of my proposals to you, which amount to an Anglo-Turkish alliance. Though I am not in power at the present moment, you will find that these proposals are acceptable to those who are, and their acceptance will bring peace to you as well as to us.

“Let us realise the present complicated position,” said he.” My thesis is, that there is only one civilisation in the world, and that if Turkey is to be saved she must be joined to civilisation. Before the war, I was anxious that England should be her teacher; you will remember that, and my proposals about Lord Milner. Well, England refused, and the war came; then, quite frankly, I looked to Germany in victory to do what we had once hoped for from England. For I believed that Germany would win the war. In that belief we signed a treaty with Germany one month before war was declared. Germany has not won; we have all been defeated.

“The house that we had has been burnt to the ground, but that house was badly built; it was full of Naughts, and it was not sanitary. We still possess the site upon which it stood. Our geography is a fortress to us — a. very strong fortress. Our mountains are the strongest of our forces. You cannot pursue us into the mountains of Asia; and stretching back into Central Asia are six republics, composed of men of our blood, cousins, if not brothers, and limited now by the bond of misfortune. I will speak of that later.

Then, too, the war forced us to cut our losses, and that is an advantage. We shall be no more troubled by the rebellions of the Albanians, the Macedonians and the Arabs,” said the ex-Grand Vizier.

He elaborated the situation. The urgent need of Turkey was to be helped, and for this help he and his friends looked eagerly to Great Britain. But the Turks would not accept help at the price of financial or military servitude. Mr. Lloyd George, in his opinion, had believed that Turkey could be destroyed, and had been persuaded that this was the case by his Greek friends, Venizelos and Sir Basil Zaharoff. Mr. Lloyd George was wrong. Talaat did not wish to exaggerate the strength of Turkey, but he thought that England ought not to underrate it. If there was not a unity of ideas between Angora and Constantinople, there was, at any rate, unity of ideals.

‘‘Now,” he said, when again speaking of the six Red republics, “they are red, but not deep red. They are Moslem populations, and are naturally influenced by all that Turkey does, and they are affected by all that Turkey suffers. Bokhara is a potential force; there are latent possibilities to be developed there for good or for evil. At the present moment” Talaat Pasha continued, “Turkey is at war with England, and we are engaged in propaganda throughout the East, and inciting India, though not very effectually. Turkey is, in fact, pursuing a policy of enlisting as many people as she can against Great Britain, and undertaking all possible reprisals open to her.”

It was, he admitted, an ineffective reply to the French policy of conscription of native races in Africa, and it was a pity that this policy of Turkish propaganda had not been begun earlier, and had not been better organised.

“It is not a grand policy,” he said. “No grander than yours has been. Yours was a violation of the Armistice, and ours was the best that we could do.” He said it was a “jeu de gamin,” and compared it to cutting telegraph wires. That might do very little damage, but, on the other hand, it might do a great deal of harm.

“Turkey,” he said, “is a Power, and, do what you will, she will remain a Power. There is, at the present moment, only a political hatred of Great Britain in Turkey.” He would go so far as to say that there was more hostility to us amongst the Arabs and the Hindus than amongst the Turks. The Crimea, although it happened long ago, was not forgotten; the Dardanelles would not weigh in the balance against it. England had often intervened on behalf of the Turks, and they were a grateful people. He could not pretend to know the Indian question, but he did not believe that there was any real hatred of us in India.

He discussed Bolshevism with acute dislike. He said it might suit Russia; it could not suit the rest of the world. The human race could not change, or, at any rate, not to that extent, outside Russia. It could not accept such a lunatic system. “But,” he continued, “as the Russians chose to go in for Bolshevism, that is their business. There is no danger to Turkey in it now; nor do I consider that it is a peril to England, as long as it remains in its own borders, and with propaganda for its only weapon.”

There were many of his countrymen who hoped that Bolshevism would boil over the Russian border, and go foaming into Europe, foreseeing salvation to Asia in a general European catastrophe. He was not one of those. He did not want a safety that came from ruins. He preferred to see an ordered Europe, and a peaceful Turkey helped by Great Britain. But he would refuse to join an anti-Bolshevist alliance at the present moment, when his country was at war.

Men, said the ex-Grand Vizier, were Bolshevik by conviction, by policy, or by interest. He might be the last; he was certainly not the first. An alliance with the Bolshevists was purely a matter of expediency. You might say it was a double-edged sword, but its edge, as far as the enemies of Turkey were concerned, was sharp, and its dangerous edge to Turkey was very blunt. The Turk and the Bolshevik had nothing in common but a temporary alliance, a convenience from the point of view of Russia that answered a need from the point of view of Turkey.

He had not been to Moscow recently, nor had he seen Lenin, but he had seen Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk, and had a poor opinion of him. Trotsky, he thought, like the majority of the Russian Jews, was a degenerate.

He told me that Enver was at the moment in Moscow, for the same reason that he, Talaat, might have been there, not through any liking of Bolshevism. Enver, he said, was colourless, as far as policy was concerned. He was doing the best in his power for his country.

Halil Pasha (whom I had last seen between Sanayat and Kut on the day that Townshend surrendered) was also in Moscow. He was an exception, and had a penchant towards communism. Djemal Pasha was engaged in propaganda against Great Britain in Turkestan.

He spoke of the natural antagonism between the principles of Bolshevism and Islam: fire and water were not more different. I asked him what part pan-Islam was likely to play in the future, and he expressed the Nationalist, or the Young Turks’ point of view. Islam, he said, in itself is a grand religion, and though it was preached in the desert, it is still compatible with civilisation, and can be adapted to modern needs. But, in common with all other religions, it can swiftly become intolerant in the hearts of fanatics. By their actions the Young Turks had shown that they did not mean to use pan-Islam as a weapon. That had been the policy of Abdul Hamid, but it was a short-sighted policy, because in the end it could not succeed, and meant war between Islam and the rest of the world, and that could have no other result for Islam as a creed than fanaticism and barbarism.

The deeds of the Young Turks were a proof that they did not favour pan-Islam. Had they not incurred the greatest unpopularity by putting the rayah (native Christian) on a level with the Moslem? There were other features of their policy that gave offence — amongst them their intention to abolish polygamy. His party had deliberately adopted the milder and less fanatical creed which was useless as a fiery torch.

He spoke of the Caliphate question, using the usual arguments, and again wondered what demon of madness had taken possession of the British Government. If the question of the Caliphate was satisfactorily settled, a big step would be taken to restore our popularity among the Indians. I said it was always more easy to raise a storm than to allay it; and I asked him if there was any Turk with sufficient prestige to calm the Indian agitation, if such a course was ever desired by Great Britain. He said that the trouble in India would cease automatically when we entered into friendly relations with Turkey. We could send any Turk to India whom we pleased. He laughed, and added, “It is very unlikely that your Government would trust me. But if they did, I would guarantee to do my best.”

I asked him if he thought it likely that the pan-Turanian movement would develop. He answered that the events of the last years had given all those who were related a closer sense of kinship. Often men only remembered a poor brother when they themselves became poor, but he saw no future in our lives for Turanianism, though Asiatics were drawing closer to each other.

He said that he had written a memorandum on the Armenian massacres which he was very anxious that British statesmen should read. Early in the war, in 1915, the Armenians had organised an army, and had attacked the Turks, who were then fighting the Russians. Three Armenian deputies had taken an active part; the alleged massacres of Moslems had taken place, accompanied by atrocities on women and children. He had twice opposed enforced migration, and he had been the author of an inquiry which resulted in the execution of a number of guilty Kurds and Turks.

He and his friends were willing to consider sympathetically any proposition for Armenian autonomy. But facts must be faced. Even if all the Armenians who had been driven into the Caucasus were to return, they would represent only a small fraction of the population, who are mainly non-Armenian. He himself favoured the rights of minorities in its most extended form. After President Wilson’s speeches, and in the present state of the world, opposition to this principle was folly. If Great Britain came to an amicable agreement with Turkey, she would be in the position to do what she liked with regard to Armenia. The first, and most practical, step would be the organisation of an efficient gendarmerie to pacify and create order in that country…

Talaat Pasha spoke with more emphasis and fire of Greece than of any other question. Greece had no title to Smyrna, To give Smyrna to Greece was in contradiction to all that we had promised, and was a reward to her for the massacres that had taken place there. Smyrna was Turkish, and must remain Turkish. He rejected a compromise which I suggested, but without violence. “No, no,” he said; ”you must give us back Smyrna, and peace will be restored, and when peace is restored all the resources of Asia Minor will be at the disposal of Great Britain. Asia Minor is a rich land, crying aloud for development, and the only serious condition that we will ask you, excluding your friendship, is recognition of our independence.

The other details can easily be arranged. There is, of course, the question of the islands. If we are ever going to have peace, steps must be taken to see that the islands immediately adjacent to the mainland are not made a sanctuary for Greek comitadjis.” I asked him if a compromise could not be arrived at with regard to Thrace, and he answered that no compromise was possible with regard to Eastern Thrace, for Constantinople could never rest in security under the guns of her enemies.

He was, however, quite ready to agree to the internationalisation or to the neutralisation of the Straits. He looked upon the occupation of the Dardanelles by the Greeks as provocative, and wished to bring it to an end. When Russia was out of action, he said, the question of the Dardanelles had almost ceased to exist. He had lately been approached by a Greek official, whose name he gave me, on the question of coming to an understanding. But the time was not ripe. The Greeks said that Mustapha Kemal was bluffing. Very well; let them prove that by the force of arms…

The ex-Grand Vizier then talked of Europe generally, but asked me to respect certain confidences of his. It was evident from his conversation that he and the Turks of Angora were in close touch with the big forces of the moment, and with all the chief European Governments, except that of Great Britain. He said he thought the Irish situation had been badly handled. It was the first time in our own days that we had had to deal with a question of that kind, and we had made crude mistakes. He had seen some of the Sinn Feiners in Germany, but had a poor opinion of them. He thought that the position in Germany itself was dangerous, and he believed that the French were determined to go into Germany, though he did not think that such an action would bring them any nearer to getting their money. A French invasion of Germany would drive the Germans to join hands with the Bolshevists. Relief might then come to Turkey through European chaos, but, as he had said before, he hoped for relief through other channels.

I asked Talaat Pasha if his views were Right or Left, and he answered that he was Liberal, but would not admit to any political colour, saying that politics changed, and that patriotism was constant.

“Now,” said Talaat Pasha, “I have put all my cards on the table, and I hope you will be able to persuade your Government of these facts, which, after all, can easily be proved. We are ready to make great concessions to achieve our object, which is peace and friendship with England, I do not want power nor office; I speak for myself, but I am in the centre of things. Mustapha Kemal in Angora will not be in disagreement with me; and Bekir Sami Bey is saying in London to-day what I am saying in Dusseldorf to you. His propositions have been favourably considered ; the Allied Governments propose to have an inquiry into the question of Smyrna and of Thrace. The Armenian question is on the way to being settled. Bekir Sami has had friendly discussions with Mr. Lloyd George at Downing Street, and now I have said all I have to say. If the British Government desire it, peace can be obtained immediately, and with it the development of Asia Minor. You can never achieve the partition of Turkey. England and Turkey are not industrial rivals, but customers, who depend upon each other, and surely it is better for customers to be friends.”

I said good-bye to Talaat Pasha, and we went our different ways. I returned to London, where I saw Bekir Sami Bey several times. He was a straight man and a gentleman, who was ready to go to the limit of concession to obtain peace and British friendship. His proposals, which did not materially differ from those of Talaat Pasha, like many other things of that time, were discreetly broadcasted, it was said, from Downing Street, and became known to the Bolshevists, who demanded Bekir Sami Bey’s head upon a charger, and duly received it.

The Greeks advanced triumphantly during the Eastern Armistice. Negotiations broke down, and war raged again in Asia Minor, and so things continued for a year. The Foreign Office was ignored, and the Eastern policy of No. 10 Downing Street remained a mixture of frivolity and fanaticism, until Mr. Lloyd George effectively combined them in his speech of August 4, 1922. That fervent oration was sent out as an Army Order to the unhappy Greek troops, whom it hurried to their doom. For the sake of the Greeks and Turks, and, indeed, our own reputation, it is a pity that Talaat Pasha was not able to have his way and to achieve peace. But if the revolver of the murderer had spared him, it is not likely that he, or indeed any other man, would have been able to convince Mr. Lloyd George of the truth of facts. They might as easily have persuaded Sir Basil Zaharoff.

Talaat returned to Berlin, where he was immediately murdered by a Persian Armenian. He died hated, indeed execrated, as few men have been in their generation. He may have been all that he was painted — I cannot say. I know that he had rare power and attraction. I do not know whether he was responsible or not for the Armenian massacres. All I know is that he was fearless; and anyone who, like myself, only knew him superficially, found him to be kindly and with a singular charm.

So died Talaat Pasha, the Young Turk, and, I incline to think, the genius of that movement. But, Young Turk leader though he was, he still had much of the old Turk in him. He was not envenomed against England by the protracted persecution of Mr. Lloyd George. Is what Talaat Pasha proposed to me, what Bekir Sami Bey suggested in London, and the peace terms that Ali Fethi Bey brought fruitlessly to deaf ears in London in 1922, still open to us to-day, or is the chasm that separates us from Turkey and from Islam unbridgeable? I think not. Our interests lie together, and whatever the reason may be, it is a fact that the Turk and the Englishman, in nine cases out of ten, get on with each other and like each other. We have been left the heirs of the incompetency of Mr. Lloyd George and his Government, and the Turks have inherited the legacy of hatred that recent years have bequeathed to them.

But the Turks have a proverb, which those Englishmen who were sent out between the lines on the various occasions when an armistice was proclaimed during the war often heard. It became familiar to them between mounds of Turkish and British dead — “Eski dost Dushman olmaz ” (an old friend cannot be an enemy). If we can convince the Turks that we have a similar sentiment here, the memory of recent quarrels may be forgotten in the recollection of a more ancient understanding.

b. Talaat’s Memoirs

Talaat’s Memoirs, which he referred to in his final interview, came to light not long after his murder in Berlin and were published posthumously in New York. (Note: English translations of Talaat’s memorandum use the word “deportation” for the word “tehcir.” The word “deportation” is incorrect, because Armenians were moved within the country, and not out of the country. They were also allowed to return their homes after September 1915. This meaning is not conveyed by the word deportation – either relocation or forced migration is more accurate.)

Here are the parts of Talaat’s memoirs to do with what happened to the Armenians:

“The relocation of the Armenians, in some localities of the Greeks, and in Syria of some of the Arabs, was used inside and outside the empire as a source of attack on the Turkish Government. First of all, I wish to inform the public that the rumors of relocation and assassination were exceedingly exaggerated. The Greeks and the Armenians, taking advantage of the ignorance of the American and European public of the Near Eastern situation and of the character of the Turks, used the relocations as a means for propaganda, and painted it as best suited their aim. In saying this, I do not mean to deny the facts. I desire only to eliminate the exaggerations and to relate the facts as they occurred.

I admit that we relocated many Armenians from our eastern provinces, but we never acted in this matter upon a previously prepared scheme. The responsibility for these acts falls first of all upon the relocated people themselves. Russia, in order to lay hand on our eastern provinces, had armed and equipped the Armenian inhabitants of this district, and had organized strong Armenian bandit forces in the said area. When we entered the great war, these bandits began their destructive activities in the rear of the Turkish Army on the Caucasus front, blowing up the bridges, setting fire to the Turkish towns and villages and killing the innocent Mohammedan inhabitants, regardless of age and sex. They spread death and terror all over the eastern provinces, and endangered the Turkish Army’s line of retreat. All these Armenian bandits were helped by the native Armenians. When they were pursued by the Turkish gendarmes, the Armenian villages were a refuge for them. When they needed help, the Armenian peasants around them, taking their arms hidden in their churches, ran to their aid. Every Armenian church, it was later discovered, was a depot of ammunition. In this disloyal way they killed more than 300,000 Mohammedans, and destroyed the communication of the Turkish Army with its bases. The information that we were receiving from the administrators of these provinces and from the commander of the Caucasian Army gave us details of the most revolting and barbarous activities of the Armenian bandits. It was impossible to shut our eyes to the treacherous acts of the Armenians, at a time when we were engaged in a war which would determine the fate of our country. Even if these atrocities had occurred in a time of peace, our Government would have been obliged to quell such outbreaks. The Porte, acting under the same obligation, and wishing to secure the safety of its army and its citizens, took energetic measures to check these uprisings. The relocation of the Armenians was one of these preventive measures.

I admit also that the relocation was not carried out lawfully everywhere. In some places unlawful acts were committed. The already existing hatred among the Armenians and Mohammedans, intensified by the barbarous activities of the former, had created many tragic consequences. Some of the officials abused their authority, and in many places people took preventive measures into their own hands and innocent people were molested. I confess it. I confess, also, that the duty of the Government was to prevent these abuses and atrocities. or at least to hunt down and punish their perpetrators severely. In many places, where the property and goods of the relocated people were looted, and the Armenians molested, we did arrest those who were responsible and punished them according to the law. I confess, however, that we ought to have acted more sternly, opened up a general investigation for the purpose of finding out all the promoters and looters and punished them severely.

But we could not do that. Although we punished many of the guilty, most of them were untouched. These people, whom we might call outlaws, because of their unlawful attitude in disregarding the order of the Central Government, were divided into two classes. Some of them were acting under personal hatred, or for individual profit. Those who looted the goods of the deported Armenians were easily punishable, and we punished them. But there was another group, who sincerely believed that the general interest of the community necessitated the punishment alike of those Armenians who massacred the guiltless Mohammedans and those who helped the Armenian bandits to endanger our national life. The Turkish elements here referred to were short-sighted, fanatic, and yet sincere in their belief. The public encouraged them, and they had the general approval behind them. They were numerous and strong. Their open and immediate punishment would have aroused great discontent among the people, who favored their acts. An endeavor to arrest and to punish all these promoters would have created anarchy in Anatolia at a time when we greatly needed unity. It would have been dangerous to divide the nation into two camps, when we needed strength to fight outside enemies. We did all that we could, but we preferred to postpone the solution “of our internal difficulties until after the defeat of our external enemies.

As to the relocation of the Greeks and the Arabs, this charge is based more on propaganda than on real fact. The truth is that the Greeks living on the coast of the Sea of Marmora supplied food and petrol to the enemy submarines, which, passing through the strait, entered the Marmora and threatened our communication by sea. In order to prevent the Greeks from aiding the enemy, we relocated those who were guilty to Anatolia? But their relocation was carried out in a very regular way. They suffered neither loss of life nor of goods. As to the Arabs of Syria, we confined ourselves to the application of martial law, and punished only those who promoted a revolution to overthrow the Turkish authority in Syria.

These preventive measures were taken in every country during the war, but, while the regrettable results were passed over in silence in the other countries, the echo of our acts was heard the world over, because everybody’s eyes were upon us.”




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

Battle for the Caucasus: Britain versus Russia 1918-20 (Final Part)

The British Great War on Ottoman Turkey had nothing at all to do with the establishment of an Armenian state. However, the making of a functional Peace Settlement with Turkey was made problematic because of what the Great War produced and the fact that the Armenian cause had been made into such a celebrated and vital moral plank of the most moral war in history by the Anglosphere.

The Young Turk government in Istanbul (aside from Enver Pasha anyway), the Sultan/Caliph, and even the leader of the Turkish resurgence in Eastern Anatolia, Mustapha Kemal, were all favourably disposed to Britain and the West. The Turkish leadership would have been very open to a reasonable and honourable peace settlement with the Allies, either negotiated in early 1918 or imposed in 1919, it it had been made. The Grand National Assembly that had been established in Ankara was a thoroughly Western institution, neither Ottoman, nor Soviet in character. In fact, as the subsequent history of the Turkish Republic showed, from the time when a Peace Treaty was actually made, Turkey was a natural partner of the West and a strong barrier to the eastward spread of Bolshevism.

One can only conclude in the light of subsequent events that the British and other Imperialist occupations of Turkey, and the continued hostilities, were a great waste of blood and treasure. Of course, the blood spilt was very largely other peoples – Greeks, Armenians, Turks, Kurds – rather than English.

It was, however, not the British failure to win that condemns British policy in the light of history. If Britain had won things would have undoubtedly been worse, even from the perspective of the Anglosphere.

If the British Prime Minister had succeeded in his policy of dismembering Turkey in the Treaty of Sevres, through his Greek and Armenian proxies, it is very likely that Bolshevism would have spread across the region, westward, in a situation of great discontent and instability.

The thoughtful part of the British State must have understood this in 1922 and disposed of Lloyd George before he did any more damage to the world.

The Bolshevik/Turkish Conjunction

Republican Turkey and Bolshevik Russia combined to defeat the British Empire and see off Lloyd George. But they were hardly natural allies. It was Britain and the Armenians that forced them into a rather unnatural alliance of convenience in 1919-22 that had revolutionary consequences for the world. Both forces combined temporarily in the interests of common survival and broke the British Empire’s power from the Bosphorus to Transcaspia.

The British War Minister, Winston Churchill, in his Sunderland speech, made during the first few days of 1920, had noticed that something was stirring in Eastern Anatolia that boded ill for the British Empire. According to Churchill that something should not have existed but for the hesitancy of the “great nations” at Paris (or “masters of the world” as Alimardan Topchubashov, leader of the Azerbaijani delegation accurately called them)  in following through on what British military force had achieved in 1918:

“Turkey fell prostrate before the armies of General Milne and Marshal Allenby. She looked up to her conquerors, and saw with intense relief that they were British. She asked for our orders and appealed for our guidance… The great nations gathered together were for more than a year unable to agree to a plan and in the meantime the Turkish Army has largely passed from our control. A new force of turbulent, warlike character has come into being in the highlands of Asia Minor, who reach out with one hand to the advancing Bolshevist armies from the north… A conjunction of forces between Russian Bolshevism and Turkish Mahommedanism would be an event full of danger to many States but to no state in the world it be more full of danger than to the British Empire, the greatest of all Mahommedan states. Up to the present time the armies of Denikin and Koltchak have absorbed the whole of the strength of Bolshevist military power, and have protected British interests… But the armies of Koltchak are almost gone, and those of Denikin are in serious danger, and if they were to disappear, as they may, a series of evil consequences, incalcuble in their scope, would be immediately set in motion, and from those consequences, we of all countries, would be the most affected.” (The Times 5.1.1920)

Whatever about the beneficial aspects of the pleasure of being conquered by the British, the facts of the matter were that the British might have been the conquerors, but the conquest was now being sub-contracted by the British Government to the Greeks and Armenians. And the Greeks and Armenians certainly weren’t the British, either in military power, interest or intention.

It was probably better, as Churchill noted, to be conquered by the relatively disinterested British Imperialism, than by the Greeks and Armenians, who each had a very fundamentalist agenda for the Turkish people that was far from benevolent. But could the Greeks and Armenians, as Lloyd George hoped, really make the conquest for Britain, even with substantial assistance from His Majesty’s Government?

Churchill was prophetically right, of course. The situation created by the Russian policy of the British Government from 1918-20 set off a chain of events which generated the most effective anti-Imperialist struggle in history, in terms of its impact on the world: The Bolsheviks were about to clear British Imperialism out of the Caucasus; Mustapha Kemal was about to clear Britain out of Turkey; the clearing would lead to the great British defeat at Chanak and the fall of the Lloyd George Coalition (and Churchill himself); this event was to inspire subjugated peoples across the world to smash the imposed treaties of the “masters of the world”; it was to generate resistance movements all over the Moslem world and elsewhere; and the Soviet State was going to emerge, triumphant, as a beacon against Western Imperialism for oppressed peoples, as well as a threat to Western Capitalism, that led to great concessions to the working classes across Western Europe.

And the world was radically changed for the best part of a century.

As has been noted, a vital condition necessary for the defence of the Caucasus against Bolshevism was an honourable and speedy British accommodation with Ottoman Turkey after Mudros in October 1918. The Turks were the only force on the ground who could have resisted the Bolsheviks, in the absence of a British will to intervene directly. However, Lloyd George pursued a policy of slowly throttling the Turks, using Greek and Armenian catspaws, before and after the punitive Treaty of Sevres was finally revealed in all its glory, to be imposed on Turkey.

Lloyd George seems to have despised the Turks as an inferior people unfit for governing and he had a corresponding delusional faith in the quality of the Greeks, as a great people, from his Classical education.

Of course, the Prime Minister was a Nonconformist Liberal, a group known for their hostility toward the Moslem Turk over the decades. Lord Riddell, a close friend, revealed that Lloyd George was also prejudiced against the Turks as “a decadent people” who had “nearly brought about our defeat in the War.” And he had a belief in the Greeks as “a rising people” that he could make great again. The British Prime Minister complained about the British military’s high regard for the Turks, which he put down to them being Tories. (Lord Riddell’s Intimate Diary of the Peace Conference and After: 1918-1923, p.208)

If the Prime Minister believed the Greeks to be “a rising people” he soon put a stop to this when he used them as instruments of his policy in Anatolia.

The moment of Churchill’s speech was really the final chance for a reappraisal of British policy toward the Turks. The Winter of 1919 had suspended most of the fighting, the Parliament in Istanbul had returned a Nationalist majority to signify Turkish resistance, President Wilson was an invalid, the Senate was refusing to ratify the Peace of Paris, and, as Churchill had described at Sunderland, trouble was stirring in Eastern Anatolia.

In fact, Winston Churchill had, with great foresight, already pointed all this out to the Prime Minister, back in October 1919, in a Memorandum, suggesting a clean settlement with the Ottomans. In this Churchill suggested to Lloyd George that the Allies should “renounce all separate interests in the Turkish Empire other than those which existed before the war” including the conquests of Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia.


“Instead of dividing up the (Ottoman) Empire into separate territorial spheres of exploitation, we should combine to preserve the integrity of the Turkish Empire as it existed before the war but should subject that Empire to a strict form of international control, treating it as a whole and directing it from Constantinople.”

Churchill impressed on the Prime Minister the fact that Britain already possessed “far more territory… than we shall be able to develop for many generations” and “we ought to… concentrate our resources on developing our existing Empire instead of dissipating them in new entanglements.” (25.10.1919, cited in Sean McMeekin, Ottoman Endgame, p.435)

But the British Prime Minister did not listen to such statesmanship from the aristocratic Churchill. He blew this way and that as the winds from the British Democracy took him. He put his faith in the army of a lost civilization and gambled for the final time.

Turkish Resurgence

In early April 1920 the Treaty that Britain was wishing to impose on the Turks was at least 12 months overdue when an Allied Conference was held at San Remo to discuss the situation. The Conference consisted of the Prime Ministers of Britain, France and Italy and also Venizelos, the Greek Prime Minister who wished to create a Greater Greece in Ottoman Anatolia and return Istanbul to Constantinople and establish a new Byzantium.

Sir Henry Wilson recorded this entry in his Diary on 19 March of a meeting he and Churchill had with the Greek Premier in which they warned him not to put his faith, and the future of his people, in Lloyd George’s schemes:

“Winston and I had an hour with Venizelos this afternoon. We made it clear to him that neither in men nor in money, neither in Thrace nor in Smyrna, would we help the Greeks, as we had already taken on more than our small army could do. I told him that he was going to ruin his country, that he would be at war with Turkey and Bulgaria, and that the drain in men and money would be too much for Greece. He said that he did not agree with a word I said.” (Major-General Sir C.E. Callwell, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, His Life and Diaries, Vol. 2, p.230)

The present writer is not particularly disposed to either Winston Churchill or Sir Henry Wilson. But in studying British policy in the Caucasus, 1918-20, both men have gone up greatly in my estimation.

At the moment of the San Remo Conference the Red Army was massing on the border of Azerbaijan, having conquered the Mountain Republic of Daghestan, and was waiting to knock down the first of the 3 Transcaucasian states that Britain and the League of Nations had recently established.

Sir Henry Wilson recorded in his diary another meeting he had in San Remo, with the Prime Minister, which vividly reveals the hole Lloyd George had dug for himself in relation to Turkey, Armenia and the Caucasus. After discussing the French occupation of the Ruhr in Germany with Lloyd George:

“Then we discussed Turkey. I told him that I… agreed with (Marshal) Foch and worked out 25-30 divisions to enforce the Treaty, of which we had 15-20 there already… At 4 o’clock we had a meeting of the full Conference. I think this was the most incompetent, impotent, cynical meeting of all the hundreds I have been present at. Subject – Turkey. Nitti (Italian Prime Minister) opened, and then Lloyd George that it had been decided that morning that none of the three Powers would send a single battalion to Armenia; that they had decided to arm the Armenians, and to let them fight it out with the Turks; if their cause was just, and if they were strong enough they would win, and if not then they were not worth saving. (Note – Not much mention here of protection of minorities, of Small States, of self-determination, of the brutality of the Turk, of poor Christians massacred by Mahammedans, etc.) This absolutely cynical avowal was concurred in by Millerand… Then Venizelos said he had lots of troops and could work up to 12-13 divisions. He said it would be time to look after the minorities after he had established himself firmly in Thrace and Smyrna. The others agreed. Anything more cynical I have not heard.

Curzon spoke good sense when he asked how the boundary between Turkey and Armenia could be traced if, for example, Erzurum, now occupied by the Turks, was given to Armenians who were totally unable to take it away from the Turks, or if Armenia were given access to the sea and could not get there. I asked, ‘How do you expect Armenia to hold her own against a fully armed Turkey and a rearmed Azerbaijan?… These sort of questions proving too much for the Frocks (Frock-coated Politicians). Nitti closed the Conference! Foch and I walked down the hill arm in arm, and we agreed that this was the most pitiable of any meeting we had been present at. ‘La politique a deus sous’ as the old Marshal said. It was a shocking exhibition.” (Major-General Sir C.E. Callwell, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, His Life and Diaries, Vol. 2, pp.233-4)

The first thing that is noteworthy about this is how the need for particular forces to impose the Peace Treaty on Turkey made a defence of the Caucasus impossible. Secondly, in the absence of forces, the Imperialists were entrusting the future of the Armenians to the fate of the Greek Army and its invasion of Anatolia. Thirdly, what is striking is how irrelevant the defence of Azerbaijan was to the Western Imperialists, although it was strategically, as the gateway to the Caucasus, the vital defence line that needed to be held.

We shall find out the probable reason for this last fact later.

In May 1919 the Greeks had been landed at Smyrna/Izmir by Allied shipping to begin the conquest of Anatolia on behalf of the British Empire. This was a momentous decision, sparking off the beginnings of Turkish resistance to the British occupation, which was now rightly seen as a colonising/extermination project against the Turkish people.

The Armenians had also been transported into Cilicia, on the Mediterranean, to bolster the French occupation and begin the dismemberment of the Ottoman State in the South, in preparation for the imposition of the punitive treaty. But when an Armenian Legion, employed by the French Imperialists, began to flex its muscles in Cilicia, with the intention of establishing a part of Magna Armenia there, popular resistance, which had not made an appearance under the earlier British occupation, was generated.

In July 1919 in Erzurum, in eastern Anatolia, the Turkish resurgence had began with the issuing of the National Pact. The Congress held at Sivas in September then signalled the development of an independent source of political power and influence in Turkey. In January 1920 a Parliament was returned with a Nationalist majority in Istanbul which ratified the National Pact, frustrating the British occupations scheme of creating a client regime that would do its bidding in Turkey. 

The stirrings of Turkish resistance to the Imperialist occupation motivated Lloyd George to order the military repression of the Ottoman Parliament in March 1920 (as he had attempted in Ireland the year before), the declaration of Martial Law, the imposition of strict military censorship, and the establishment of a puppet government, placed under close supervision. The Sultan/Caliph was then advised that if he was incapable of pursuing the British interest, 100,000 Greek soldiers would be dispatched to the capital to assist him. There were curfews instituted and massive heavy-handed arms searches and sweeps organised across Istanbul. A Royal Navy Blockade of the Bosphorus was instituted on 15 March, British soldiers killed a number of people and began seizing others for deportation to Malta. Show trials were organised for potential opponents of British authority with the Law bent to facilitate “justice” (see Ferudun Ata, The Relocation Trials in Occupied Istanbul).

These measures, known as “The Second Occupation”, in which the British threw down the gauntlet to the Turks, really began the struggle for power between Britain and the new Turkey that was to have a direct bearing on the situation in the Caucasus. Lloyd George ignored all good advice to start the war he desired in Anatolia to see his Treaty through to success (see Sean McMeekin, Ottoman Endgame, pp.436-7).

However, straight after the British repression in Istanbul, Mustafa Kemal began to reorganise a Turkish state in central Anatolia – at Ankara – far beyond the range of the Royal Navy’s guns. A National Convention was established at the end of April 1920 as an alternative source of power to Istanbul, which reassembled the repressed representatives of the Turkish democracy from Istanbul, in Angora/Ankara.

The Ottoman Sultan/Caliph, whose Palaces lay within the gun-sights of British battleships, attempted to suppress the alternative source of power in Ankara, with some initial success. Detachments of his “Army of the Caliphate” formed in April captured towns close to the rebel capital, there were a number of risings against the “excommunicates” and a division of the new Republican army was annihilated by the Sultan’s forces.

But the Sultan’s efforts were destroyed when the British announced the terms of the Treaty of Sevres at the end of May 1920 – which declared the destruction of the Ottoman State and the confinement of the Turks to a small inland territory in about a third of Anatolia, where they could be whittled away like the natives on the American prairies or Australian outback. Istanbul and the Straits was to be put under international control with the rest of the country balkanised and placed under spheres of influence of the various Imperialist Powers, Greeks and Armenians.

This was completely against the Wilsonian principle of self-determination and statements made by Sir Edward Grey and Lloyd George during the War. The Treaty’s Article 89 left to the judgement of the President of the United States the boundaries of an Armenian state. (see Jorge Blanco Villalta, Ataturk, pp 251-2)

With the publication of this extremely punitive Treaty the whole basis of the Sultan’s war on Ankara collapsed, since no one would fight for such a miserable future. And so the British had a lot less success in promoting Civil War in Turkey than they did in Russia (and later in Ireland) and the risings soon petered out, with the Caliph’s Army either melting away or fleeing behind British protection.

One of Mustapha Kemal’s first acts in response to this existential threat was to make contact with the Bolsheviks. A Turkish Commission was sent to Moscow in May 1920 to parley with Lenin. Soviet Russia was the only country from which necessary help could be obtained. In the conditions of mid-1920 a Turkish/Bolshevik alliance against the Imperialist Powers was essential both to the survival of Turkey and the geopolitical recovery of Russia in the region. Kemal and Lenin were acutely aware of the geopolitical situation in the Caucasus and the Bolshevik leadership recognised a true anti-Imperialist in the Turkish leader. 

The British “Guarantee” 

The Russian Soviet State had refused to recognise the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, established in January 1920, as it had refused to acknowledge previous Azerbaijani governments from May 1918. It maintained both political and military pressure on Azerbaijan from the moment the British evacuated in August 1919. However, Lenin made two offers of recognition – to the Bullitt Mission in March and to Captain Malone in November 1919 – in return for an end to the British proxy-war on Russia. Lloyd George ignored both offers for reasons undisclosed, so they remain in the sphere of historical “what might have beens”.

In January 1920 Russian Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Chicherin, issued the first of his Notes to the Government of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic demanding an alliance against the White counter-revolutionaries in Southern Russia. In reply the Azerbaijanis asked for official recognition of the ADR before negotiations on any issue would ensue and that the Soviets uphold the principles of national self-determination they had proclaimed, and extended to Finland and Estonia.

With Daghestan cleared of Denikin’s forces in March 1920 the Azerbaijanis, alarmed at the concentration of Soviet forces on their Northern border, telegraphed Chicherin, declaring their wish to live in tranquility and establish good-neighbourly relations with the Soviet State. This was the final act of Azerbaijani diplomacy as the Soviet State moved to reclaim the country for Russia. (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, p.278-82)

There were a number of economic, political and strategic reasons why the Soviets wanted to take possession (or repossession from the Russian viewpoint) of the area that had become Azerbaijan. First, of course was the natural resources, and in particular the oil fields of Baku, which composed 75% of the Soviet supply and which was vital for industrialisation and the survival of the Communist State. Second, the conquest of Azerbaijan, the gateway to the Southern Caucasus, opened the way to Armenia and Georgia as well as to Persia for Bolshevism. Thirdly, it facilitated the export of communist propaganda in all directions from this strategic hub. And lastly it blocked the influence of the Imperialists, particularly Britain, from the region.

Despite the fact that the will had been lost in Britain to fight the Bolsheviks, and a speedy British withdrawal of remaining forces had been already undertaken, to the defence of a new line to the South, encouragement continued to be given to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan to resist the Bolsheviks in any invasion of their territories

The Caucasus states had, of course, been recognised by the League of Nations and Bonar Law, stated the Allied Governments’ position clearly in the House of Commons, on 24 February 1920:

“If the communities which border on the frontiers of Soviet Russia, and whose independence or de facto autonomy they have recognised, were to approach them and to ask for advice as to what attitude they should take with regard to Soviet Russia, the Allied Governments would reply that they cannot accept the responsibility of advising them to continue a war which may be injurious to their own interests. Still less would they advise them to adopt a policy of aggression towards Russia. If, however, Soviet Russia attacks them inside their own legitimate frontiers, the Allies will give them every possible support.”

This was understandably taken as a British guarantee to provide all support necessary in the event of a Soviet invason. However, in late April, when the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan called the British Foreign Office, expressing his fear of an imminent Bolshevik attack, Lord Curzon cabled the British High Commissioner in the Caucasus, Oliver Wardrop, with the following advice:

“There is no question of our giving Georgia and Azerbaijan active military support in case of an attack on them by Soviet forces, and you should be careful not to put any such interpretation on Mr. Bonar Law’s statement of February 24th.” (DBFP, Vol XII, 27/4/1920)

On March 20 1920 a report with the headline ‘Turkish Intrigues in the Caucasus. Azerbaijan Enmeshed. Pan-Turanian Danger.’ appeared in The Times. Presumably this was a signalling of a washing of the British hands of Azerbaijan, as the Red Army massed on its borders:

“In consequence of information received from Transcaucasia there is reason to believe that the Turkish Government have concluded an alliance with the Republic of Azerbaijan… The Tartar Republic has, from its inception, been looked upon as a protege by the Young Turks and Pan-Turanian extremists who saw in it a means of establishing communication with Turkestan and getting a foothold on the Caspian. The immense value of the petroleum fields in the Apsheron Peninsula round Baku made the political control of this State additionally desirable.”

The Times alleged that an “offensive and defensive alliance” between Turkey and Azerbaijan

“appears to have been the result of meetings between representatives of the Turkish Government acting in the interests and under the instructions of the Nationalist leader, Mustapha Kemal Pasha, and a Tartar delegate, General Kerimoff. It was signed in October of last year in Constantinople. It’s most important provisions are those which bind the two States to grant reciprocal assistance in case of foreign aggression against the territorial integrity of either, as that may be established by the forthcoming Treaty of Peace yet to be signed, or in case any Foreign Power should attempt to establish a political, administrative, or economic protectorate over either.”

The document which detailed military arrangements between the Azerbaijan Republic and the Turks was signed by Jevad Pasha, Chief of the Ottoman General Staff, according to The Times.

The Times editorial, commenting on the revelation, stated that “The issue presented is one of considerable gravity, because the British Government recognised the Republic on January 15, when they were presumably unaware that the Azerbaijan had entered into formal relations with an enemy Power.”

It continued that the Turks

“conceived that it might be used as a half-way house for the development of the Pan-Turanian movement in Central Asia. Though it is apparantly not signed by any Turkish Minister, it must have been made with the cognisance and approval of the Turkish Government. As well as of Mustapha Kemal Pasha, the leader of the Turkish Nationalist forces in Asia Minor. The latter probably arranged its terms. Further light on this matter is thrown by letters from Constantinople published this week in Near East. These letters state that Enver Pasha and his brother Nuri have made Baku their headquarters for a wide-flung net of Pan-Islamic intrigue in the Middle East”.

The letters, according to The Times show that the Azerbaijan Republic “sought Turkish support… because they were afraid that they might be brought under the influence either of the Bolshevists or of General Denikin.”

Noting that an Azerbaijani delegation was in London at that very moment The Times suggested that “the only course now open to Great Britain is to inquire whether the Azerbaijani Government admit the existence of the Convention, whether if so, they are prepared to denounce it, and whether in any case they will undertake to cease harbouring Enver or his criminal associates.”

A month later the Times revealed that the Government had taken its advice and interrogated the Azerbaijani delegation on this military convention involving the training and arming of the Tartar army:

“It’s existence was denied by the Tartar Delegation in London, but recent events show that it is possible that the Delegation may not have been in possession of full information on the subject.” (28.4.1920)

The Azerbaijani delegation was in London requesting urgent assistance against Bolshevik invasion on the basis of the British guarantee made by Bonar Law a couple of months previously.

But, at the same time, Georgia and Azerbaijan had already become resigned to their abandonment by Britain through the non-appearance of the arms they had been promised as part of the “every possible support.” The British War Office obstructed their delivery, believing they would ultimately end up in the hands of the Bolsheviks. So Georgian and Azerbaijani delegations met Lloyd George on 11 March and appealed to him to use the leverage of his trade negotiations with Lenin to enable them to secure agreements with the Soviets (FO 371/4932).

The Fall of Baku

The Azerbaijani Government were actually the least anti-Bolshevik government in all the states of the former Russian Empire. They had observed a strict neutrality in the Russian Civil War and had opposed British efforts to support Denikin from it. The ADR only wished to pursue an independent course. But in the Spring of 1920 the Azerbaijani leaders, with the failure of Britain to make good its promises, knew that the survival of their Republic depended entirely on the good will of Soviet Russia.

With over 70,000 Soviet troops of the 11th Army massed on Azerbaijan’s Northern border and its army diverted to Karabakh to resist an Armenian insurrection the Azerbaijani parliament voted to hand over power to the Azerbaijani Communist Party, to avoid bloodshed. Good terms were offered by the Soviets including “the protection of the territory of Azerbaijan” from “any kind of aggression and annexations”, the retention of the Azerbaijani army, the continuance of the right of political parties to “enjoy freedom of activity”, the right to “freely determine the form of government”. (Anar Isgenderli, Realities of Azerbaijan: 1917-1920, p.202)

Needless to say, the Bolsheviks reneged on most of these offers after occupying the country. The Bolshevik slogan of “self-determination” had become “Self-determination of the toiling classes of each nationality.” The Bolsheviks themselves defined what the attitude of “the toiling classes of each nationality” was, they being the Dictatorship of the ProletariatSo self-determination became a matter of political expediency and this was demonstrated by the recovery of the Caucasus and other Tsarist territories for the new Russia. With the exception of Finland, whose independence was recognised back in the early days, in 1917, Lenin’s policy of “self-determination” had be reined in to become, in practice, a fiction. (Robert Vincent Davies, The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia, pp.96-7)

Norman Narimanov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan, wrote a number of letters to Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and Radek, protesting the loss of Azerbaijani independence and some territory, but to no avail (Khagani Ismail, The Armenian Question and Turkic-Muslim Genocide, pp.377-380)

On 28 April the Red Army entered Baku and the Soviet administration, directed by the Georgian, Sergio Ordhonikidze, a close fried of Stalin, declared all relationship with the Entente to be over. There was some solid resistance in the countryside to the Soviet invasion, particularly around Ganje, but the Red Army quickly established its authority over the country.

Bolshevik/Turkish Collaboration

The Turkish/Russian alliance was fatal to the Caucasian Republics and there was an understandable feeling among some Azerbaijanis that the Turks had let them down in forming an alliance with the Bolsheviks that had put paid to their short lived freedom.

The present writer can understand why this is a difficult issue for both Turks and Azerbaijanis and it is perhaps only an outsider who can give an objective estimation of it.

It was Ankara that facilitated the relatively bloodless Soviet coup in Azerbaijan by working through Turkish and Azerbaijani Communists, to secure the “rapid overthrow of the present, pro-British government of Azerbaijan and its replacement by a government that is able to co-operate with the Bolsheviks.”

It was insisted in a Resolution by Halil Pasha and Fuat Sabit, of the Turkish Communist Party in Baku, presented to Kazim Karabekir, Commander of Turkish forces in Eastern Anatolia, that “the occupation of Baku by the Red Army” only take place at the request of the Azerbaijani Communist Party and “the conquest of Azerbaijan must be avoided.” (see Sahib Jamal, Last Spring of the First Republic, IRS, Spring 2016, p.42)

The Bolsheviks in Baku had been greatly discredited after their alliance, under Stephan Shaumyan, with the Dashnaks, which resulted in the massacre in the city of 12,000 in March 1918. After that Azerbaijani Communists had worked through the Hemmat, the oldest political party in the country. After the Bolsheviks in Hemmat forced a split in the party and the exit of the Menshevik element they turned the Hemmat into the Azerbaijani Communist Party.

When in September 1919 a delegation of Turkish nationalists arrived in Baku to enlist the support of the Azerbaijani Government they were refused support by the Musavat government, fearing British retaliation. The Communist Party of Azerbaijan took up the offer and “played the role of a bridge between the proletarian revolutionary Moscow and the revolutionary movement in Turkey.” (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, p.232)

The Azerbaijani Communist Party engaged in intense propaganda which accused the Musavat government in Baku of being too close to British Imperialism and it proclaimed the message that only the Sovietisation of Azerbaijan would really free the peasantry and workers and secure genuine independence for the country. Within the Musavat Party itself there were also pro-Bolsheviks who preferred the idea of Soviet hegemony to British Imperialism. (Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderline in Transition, p.172)

Kazim Karabekir’s recommendations formed the basis of a letter from Mustapha Kemal to Lenin on 24 April 1920. The day before the National Assembly in Ankara demanded that Azerbaijan allow “Soviet troops to move to the borders of Turkey to defend them from British attack”. Halil Pasha attempted to mollify the government of the ADR by claiming that the Red Army “would only pass through the territory of Azerbaijan on their way to Anatolia, where they would join the Turkish war of liberation.” (ibid, p.43)

On 26 April Mustapha Kemal promised the Bolsheviks that in return for Russian finance of 5 million gold rubles, medical supplies, food and the war materiel necessary to defeat British Imperialism “the Turkish government commits itself to take military operations against the imperialist Armenian government and secure the inclusion of Azerbaijan in the group of Soviet states.” (Baskin Oran, Turkish Foreign Policy, 1919-2006, p.94). 

Former Ottoman officers smoothed the Red Army’s way through Daghestan by urging the Mountaineers not to resist (Bulent Gokay, A Clash of Empires: Turkey between Russian Bolshevism and British Imperialism, p.75)

Later, the Turkish leader, Mustapha Kemal, explained to a meeting on 14 August 1920, how “with our influential help and assistance” the 10th and 11th Red Armies “easily passed through the North Caucasus and entered Azerbaijan. Azerbaijanis met the troops who arrived with complete peace of mind. The Soviet armies took the necessary military and strategic measures on the borders of Armenia and Georgia and began to establish direct communication with us.” (ibid, p.44).

What we can conclude, therefore, is that geopolitical realities made the Turkish nationalist/Bolshevik alliance an imperative for mutual survival and it was Britain and its relationship with the Armenians that was responsible for it. It was essential that the “Caucasus Wall” be surmounted to secure the flow of material Westwards from the Bolsheviks to Ankara. The Azerbaijani policy of neutrality prevented this. So Azerbaijan, which was opened as a corridor by an alliance between Mustapha Kemal and Lenin for the transmission of Soviet aid to the Turkish independence forces, and which assisted the successful Turkish War of Independence became, as a consequence, part of the Soviet State for 70 years.

Mustapha Kemal did not abandon the Azerbaijanis – because the British position made resistance to the Bolsheviks impossible for them. Only with Turkish backing could the Azerbaijan Republic resist and Turkey was, at that moment, engaged in a life or death struggle for existence.

What Mustapha Kemal secured was a relatively bloodless takeover of Azerbaijan by the Red Army. Only a pragmatic British alliance with Turkey in the period after the Mudros Armistice, on the lines Churchill suggested to the Prime Minister in October 1919, would have made a defence of the Caucasus possible, since the British Government showed itself unwilling to conduct one themselves. The British War on Turkey condemned Azerbaijan to Soviet conquest.

For Azerbaijan to survive Turkey, first, had to live. And Turkey would have found it much harder to continue in existence, let alone revive itself, with a hostile Russia and Armenia on her Eastern flank.

Azerbaijan: Unwanted by Britain; Wanted by the Bolsheviks

The fall of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic went almost unnoticed in the West and there was little lamentation for it. Firuz Kamemzadeh noted:

“The Great Powers hardly noticed the disappearance of Azerbaijan from the national scene. In a note to the Italian Ambassador in Paris the United States Secretary of State wrote that this country would like to see the restoration of a unified Russia with the possible exception of Finland, Poland and Armenia. Azerbaijan was not even mentioned. The delegation of the now defunct State sent a note of protest to the Ambassador of the United States… The delegation expressed its hope that the Peace Conference would help Azerbaijan to regain its independence and appealed to the democratic sentiment of the American people. Dozens of such appeals… were sent to various governments. They had no effect. The case of Azerbaijan was closed, its delegates in Paris joining the ranks of the numerous Russian emigres.” (The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921, p.285)

On 28 April 1920 The Times announced the “Bolshevist coup at Baku. Alliance with Soviet Russia.” The underlying message from London was good-riddance to the Tartar state, given recognition by Britain, only a few months earlier. Under the dismissive headline “Azerbaijan’s Dubious Career. In League With the Turk.” the Azerbaijan Republic was given a short orbituary.

The Times noted, after a short history of events earlier in 1918 that had led to the Ottoman capture of Baku, that

“The Turkish occupation and influence came to an end soon after the Armistice of October 31, 1918, and since then the Azerbaijan Government has pursued a somewhat devious policy. The Tartar administration, although its formation had been greatly assisted by the Turks, professed friendship for the Allies, on the one hand, while with the other welcome and protection were extended to refugees from Turkey whose names were on the Allied list of war criminals… In spite of the suspected pro-Turkish proclivities of the Azerbaijan Republic, the Allies agreed to recognise it as a de facto Government.”

Under the heading “A Revolution in Azerbaijan” The Times’ editorial on the same day commented:

The Times continued:

“The Republic of Azerbaijan has for a long time been in an extremely equivocal position…is there a chain of intrigue stretching from the Turkish military conspirators recently in Constantinople through Mustapha Kemal Pasha in Asia Minor to Enver Pasha in the Caucasus, and so byway of the Azerbaijan revolutionaries to the Bolshevist leaders? It certainly looks as though, throughout this long line, there have been intimate links, but on the other hand the Government now overthrown leaned strongly in the direction of the Turks, and were reputed to regard the advance of the Bolshevists with alarm. The chief motive of the Bolshevists is believed to be an ardent craving for the oil of Baku…”

“Although Baku has for years been famous for its oil resources… It is probable that its importance in this connexation is on the wane. It’s production has for some years been falling in quantity, and the political eruptions, which have become endemic in that part of the world, cause grievous dislocation of its once profitable industry.”

In contrast to the British dismissal of Azerbaijan Stalin was quite open about the reasons why the Soviets decided to recaptur Azerbaijan for the Russian State. In The Policy of the Soviet Government on the National Question in Russia, written a couple of months after the fall of Baku, Stalin explained:

Three years of revolution and civil war in Russia have shown that unless central Russia and her border regions support each other the victory of the revolution and the liberation of Russia from the clutches of imperialism will be impossible. Central Russia, that hearth of world revolution, cannot hold out long without the assistance of the border regions, which abound in raw materials, fuel and foodstuffs. The border regions of Russia in their turn would be inevitably doomed to imperialist bondage without the political, military and organizational support of more developed central Russia. If it is true to say that the more developed proletarian West cannot finish off the world bourgeoisie without the support of the peasant East, which is less developed but which abounds in raw materials and fuel, it is equally true to say that more developed central Russia cannot carry the revolution through to the end without the support of the border regions of Russia, which are less developed but which abound in essential resources.The Entente undoubtedly took this circumstance into account from the very first days of the existence of the Soviet Government, when it (the Entente) pursued the plan of the economic encirclement of central Russia by cutting off the most important of her border regions. And the plan of the economic encirclement of Russia has remained the unchanging basis of all the Entente’s campaigns against Russia, from 1918 to 1920, not excluding its present machinations in the Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Turkestan. All the more important is it, therefore, to achieve a firm union between the centre and the border regions of Russia. Hence the need to establish definite relations, definite ties between the centre and the border regions of Russia ensuring an intimate and indestructible union between them…

The demand for the secession of the border regions from Russia as the form of the relations between the centre and the border regions must be rejected… Apart from the fact that the secession of the border regions would undermine the revolutionary might of central Russia, which is stimulating the movement for emancipation in the West and the East, the seceded border regions themselves would inevitably fall into the bondage of international imperialism. One has only to glance at Georgia, Armenia, Poland, Finland, etc., which have seceded from Russia but which have retained only the semblance of independence, having in reality been converted into unconditional vassals of the Entente; one has only, lastly, to recall the recent case of the Ukraine and Azerbaijan, of which the former was plundered by German capital and the latter by the Entente, to realize the utterly counter-revolutionary nature of the demand for the secession of the border regions under present international conditions.

When a life-and-death struggle is developing between proletarian Russia and the imperialist Entente, there are only two possible outcomes for the border regions: Either they go along with Russia, and then the toiling masses of the border regions will be freed from imperialist oppression;Or they go along with the Entente, and then the yoke of imperialism will be inevitable.There is no third course.The so-called independence of so-called independent Georgia, Armenia, Poland, Finland, etc., is only an illusion, and conceals the utter dependence of these apologies for states on one or another group of imperialists…

Soviet Russia is performing an experiment without parallel hitherto in the world in organizing the cooperation of a number of nations and races within a single proletarian state on a basis of mutual confidence, of voluntary and fraternal agreement… In that lies the guarantee of the consolidation of the revolutionary union between central Russia and the border regions of Russia, against which all the machinations of the Entente will be shattered.” (Pravda, No. 226, October 10, 1920. J.V. Stalin, Collected Works, Vol. 4, November, 1917 – 1920)

The Soviets had, unlike the British, no doubt about the value of the oil of Baku and its other attractions. They also provided the stability and order in the region for its continued extraction in great quantities, to serve the economic needs of the Union.

Whilst Britain at the height of its power, failed in its attempts to occupy and stabilise the region, and abandoned it in only the space of a year, the Soviet State took it in hand, imposed a territorial settlement that lasted for 70 years and quelled “the political eruptions” which made the British despair of it. And when the Soviet Union crumbled in 1990 the disputed territories again were subject to “the political eruptions” that led to a re-run of 1918-20 and the loss of Karabakh to the Armenians.

On September 1 1920 the Bolsheviks convened the famous Congress of the Peoples of the East at Baku, broadcasting the message that the Soviet State stood with the world’s oppressed against Western Imperialism.

Just after the fall of Azerbaijan a Soviet trade delegation arrived in England at the invitation of the British Prime Minister, whom it met on 31 March. 

Armenia’s Final Gamble

The Red Army would probably have rolled into Armenia and Georgia straight after the fall of Azerbaijan, if it hadn’t been for the Polish Army reaching the gates of Kiev in May. This forced the Bolsheviks to abandon the conquest of the Caucasus temporarily and conclude treaties recognising Armenia and Georgia. Communist parties were established in both countries through these treaties in preparation of a resumption of the conquest, which was put on hold whilst the Red Army was otherwise engaged. 

The U.S Senate, who well understood Britain’s game in the Caucasus, on 24th May 1920 passed a resolution declining Wilson’s acceptance of a US Mandate over Armenia, taking America was out of the game.

In the weeks following the publication of the Treaty of Sevres the Greek Army swept forward from Smyrna into the Anatolian interior. The new Turkish Army was only finding its feet and was outnumbered by the Greek forces. The line of the Turkish sans culottes broke under pressure and there was some panic in the National Assembly in Ankara, with a number of deputies demanding French Revolutionary justice to be applied to those who had led them into this position. There was despondency and even a desire to yield to the Imperialists and accept their terms, rather than face destruction (see Jorge Blanco Villalta, Ataturk, pp 249-252).

And then, at that critical moment, the Armenians presented Mustapha Kemal with the chance to raise morale and restore confidence in the new Turkey.

Under the protection of England the Armenian Erivan Republic had been formed with Kars as its de facto capital. This, of course, was seen as merely the nucleus of the Great Armenia that was to come and which, under the provisions of Sevres, was to extend over the whole of Eastern Turkey in a broad belt from Batum and Trebizond on the Black Sea through Kars and Erzurum to the Persian frontier.

In attempting to help impose the Treaty of Sevres of August 1920 on the Turks the Erivan Republic took advantage of the Greek offensive in Western Anatolia and attacked Moslem settlements in the Anatolian/Caucasus borderlands. This was in the area known as the Three Sanjaks which Russia had gained by the Treaty of Berlin in 1877, had lost to the Ottomans under Brest-Litovsk in early 1918, and which the Turks had evacuated under the terms of the Mudros Armistice in late 1918. These areas had been a source of dispute and the place of skirmishes between the Armenians on the one side and the Turks and Kurds on the other. Now the Dashnaks entered the Kars Sanjak and began massacring the Moslem population. 

This attempt to grab territory from the Turks fatally isolated the Armenians. They were now surrounded by enemies – Nationalist Turkey, Bolshevik Russia, Menshevik Georgia, and Soviet Azerbaijan – and almost completely reliant on Britain to pull them out of the dire situation they had got themselves into. The Erivan Republic was without oil or electricity because its aggressive actions against Azerbaijan, which had led to its sole supply of oil, from Baku, being cut off.

The first Armenian Prime Minister, Hovhannes Katchaznouni, later conceded:

“It is an irrefutable fact… that we have not done everything that we should have done – it was our duty to do – in order to avoid war. And we have not done everything for the simple but unpardonable reason that we were ignorant of the real strength of the Turks, and too sure of our own strength. Therein lies our fundamental mistake. We were not afraid of war, because we were sure of being victorious. With carelessness of inexperienced and ignorant men, we remained unaware of the forces that the Turks had organised on our borders, and so we were not cautious. On the contrary, the hasty occupation of Olti was the gauntlet which we threw down, as if intentionally; as though we ourselves were desirious of war and sought it.” (Hovhannes Katchaznouni, Dashnagzoutiun has Nothing to do Anymore, p.41)

The Turks did not want war with the Armenians. They were under great pressure from the Greek advance and even from their Soviet allies, who were trying to make a deal with the Armenians in order to Bolshevize Turkish territory at Kars. 

Turkish national forces bided their time, whilst the Greeks advanced, and then moved against the Armenians, driving them out of Kars, in October 1920. General Kazim Karabekir’s army reached the gates of Erivan and occupied 80 per cent of Armenian territory.

The Turks then imposed the Treaty of Gumru on the Armenians, in which the Erivan Republic gave up its claims in the Sevres Treaty and submitted itself to Turkish supervision. This finally confined Armenian territory to the Caucasus and effectively blew away the castle of cards dreamt up by President Wilson, arbiter of the territories of the Armenian state. It was agreed by the Erivan Republic that Nakhichevan and Zangezur would remain as Azerbaijani territories.

The original Erivan Republic, established under Ottoman protection in May 1918, had been 9,000 sq. kms. Britain had then expanded its de facto territory, in November 1918 to 50,000 sq. kms. Under the Treaty of Gumru, with the Turks, it was reduced to a territory of 27,000 sq. kms.

Britain lost its Eastern ally with the Armenian renunciation of the Treaty of Sevres and was from then on heavily dependent on the Greeks.

Russia and Turkey – A Revolutionary Marriage

Dagobert von Mikusch noted the effect of Mustapha Kemal’s victory over the Erivan Republic:

“This successful Armenian campaign, promoted by Mustapha Kemal at the right moment, had three very important results – it revived the spirits of the despondent and renewed their decision to continue the resistance; it freed the Ankara Government from any attack from the rear, and, in the third place, it established immediately contact between Russia and revolutionary Turkey.

These two outlaws, excluded from the European family of nations, were thrown into each other’s arms. As long as England occupied the Dardanelles and thus commanded the Black Sea, the existence of the infant Soviet State was continually menaced. Accordingly the statesmen in Moscow were convinced that they were defending their own interests in supporting the Angora Government, since the National Pact of the Kemalists had as one of its principal demands the unconditional possession of Constantinople and the Straits. On the other hand Russia was of incalculable value to Turkey as a source of material help and moral support. Without the friendship of Moscow Mustapha Kemal would scarcely have succeeded in reaching his goal…

After the settlement of the dispute about the boundary, an offensive and defensive Alliance was concluded between Angora and Moscow – a revolutionary marriage, so to speak, between Nationalism and Communism, in which both parties made their own mental reservations.”  (Dagobert von Mikusch, Mustapha Kemal, Between Europe and Asia, p. 260).

Von Mikusch mentions “the dispute about the boundary” as an obstacle to a Turkish-Bolshevik alliance. This was about the area around Kars and Ardahan on the Trans-Caucasian frontier, which the Armenians claimed as part of Magna Armenia. The Bolsheviks were using the Armenians as bargaining chips against the Turks, while in the process of aiding Ankara against the common enemy of Western Imperialists. The Turks refused to cede the Kars/Ardahan area to the Armenians/Bolsheviks for Sovietisation and a stand-off developed.

In 1683 a Polish army had saved Vienna from the Ottoman advance into Central Europe. In late September 1920 Mustapha Kemal availed of Marshal Pilsudski’s stylish victory over Lenin’s Red Army outside Warsaw to capture Ardahan and Kars from the Armenians, which the Bolsheviks had earmarked for Sovietisation, and the issue was finally settled. The Bolsheviks, being pragmatists, recognised the territory as Turkish and not Armenian, and contented themselves with mopping up the lands that the Erivan Republic still possessed, before it collapsed.

In return the Turks gave up any claim they had to the important strategic port of Batum on the Mediteranean, which the British had occupied and which the Soviets wanted.

The chief logistical benefit for Ankara in the alliance with the Bolsheviks was in the supply of war materiel. Turkish forces, which had only a rudimentary system of arms production in Anatolia, inferior to the British-supplied Greeks, were supplied with Bolshevik arms and munitions from the East, including 40,000 rifles, 63 million bullets and 15,000 shells. Lenin also transferred substantial finance in money and gold to the Turkish anti-Imperialists. This was a major contribution, considering the need for the same in Russia itself. (Baskin Oran, Turkish Foreign Policy, 1919-2006, p.91)

The driving force behind the Turkish/Soviet alliance against British Imperialism was undoubtedly Josef Stalin. Stalin overcame stiff resistance within the Bolshevik state to the accommodation with Turkish nationalism to seal the deal (see Salahi Sonyel, Turkish Diplomacy, 1918-1923, pp.62-5).

Stalin viewed the opportunity of dealing a significant blow to British Imperialism as much more important than any adherence to doctrinaire Marxism. He was proved correct in the effect the policy had on the Moslem world and particularly in relation to Iran, where the British hegemony began to unravel as British will and power was revealed to be much more insubstantial than it appeared at the time of the Armistices.  

Of course, the Bolsheviks had another agenda in this giving of aid in gold rubles to the Ankara treasury and Bolshevik propaganda:

“The Bolsheviks supported the Turks, but, at the same time they put temptation in their path. The alliance with the Nationalists was not a question simply of self-protection for the Soviet; it was meant, by driving a new trench westwards, to further the advance of a world-revolution. With matchless political jugglery Mustapha Kemal was able to make use of Moscow, never altogether dashing its hopes of converting him, and yet at the same time reducing its communistic missionary activity ineffective.”  (Dagobert von Mikusch, Mustapha Kemal, Between Europe and Asia, pp 259-60).

With great political skill Mustapha Kemal accepted the Bolshevik aid, negated Communist influence in Turkey and made the Bolshevik/Turkish co-operation a major source of concern to Britain. By doing this he smoothed the way for a British facilitation of a strong and independent Turkish State when he had won the military contest in Anatolia against the Greeks and the Western Imperialist Powers.

Britain and Armenia – The Final, Fatal Embrace

Even after the fall of the gateway to the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, the British still encouraged Armenia and Georgia to hold out against the Bolsheviks. But little support was provided beyond moral and political statements and some obsolete Ross rifles. Britain withdrew its last remaining forces from Batum at the end of June 1920. The port of Batum was strategically important as a barrier between resurgent Kemalist Turkey and a Bolshevik takeover of Georgia and it was on the main the supply route to Armenia.

The British wanted the Armenians to hold out against the Soviets as the Erivan Republic was the sole barrier to a land route between Russia and Turkey through which the Turkish nationalist forces could be supplied with munitions against the Greek Army, which was doing Lloyd George’s work from the West.

The Armenians had facilitated the Bolshevik advance into Azerbaijan by occupying the main bulk of the Azerbaijani army in defending Karabagh from a Dashnak insurgency. Now the Bolsheviks and Soviet Azerbaijan demanded the withdrawal of all Armenian nationalist forces from Azerbaijani territory, including Karabakh, Nakhichevan and Zangezur. Armenia rejected the Soviet ultimatum and, after relying on Britain to the death, instead of coming to terms with the Bolsheviks, was defeated in a series of encounters. The Erivan Republic was forced to sign a peace with the Soviets at Tiflis in August 1920 conceding the Azerbaijani territory to Soviet Azerbaijan.

Armenia rejected further Soviet offers based on the proviso that she sever all ties with the Entente. Armenia continued to place all her trust in England.

Armenia got no credit for relying on British moral support and it was now damned for having conceded so quickly to the Red Army. The British acting-High Commissioner in the Caucasus, Commander Luke, after finding out about an Armenian side-deal that sought to allow the Bolsheviks to occupy Azerbaijani Nakhchivan, told the Armenian government in Erivan that they had been guilty of “a betrayal of trust” and that they had “committed an act of treachery against Great Britain” which was “deplorable”, especially after having recently received “a large consignment of British munitions” (FO 371/4959/E10726, 11/081920).

The Armenians assured the British that they had only yielded temporarily to the Bolsheviks and would now form an anti-Bolshevik bloc with the Georgians (FO 371/4959/E10733, 12.08.1920). This was, of course, impossible because the Georgians could never trust the Armenians. The British, themselves, did little more to help the Armenians but urge their other catspaw, the Greek army in Anatolia, on to save them.

The Allied High Commissioner for Relief in Armenia, William Haskell, chose this moment to leave Erivan and tell the British Foreign Office what it wanted to hear, in order to abandon the Armenians to their self-deserved fate:

“The country is a desert and the people nothing but professional beggars… There is no administrative or political capacity in the country, no money, and no resources to develop. Foreign Armenians who have amassed fortunes… will neither contribute nor return to the national home.” (FO 371/4960/E12174, 20.09.1920)

Unlike the Zionist project in Palestine the Armenian colonial project had utterly failed for Britain and it was now time to abandon it to the Bolsheviks to pick up the pieces. Britain and France closed the doors of the League of Nations to Armenian appeals and refused it entry to its ranks to save it.

This was one of the first examples of the League of Nations showing that it would not become what it was supposed to be. It was not going to defend its own decisions, taken by the Peace Conference which established it, to defend the Caucasian Republics it had set up. Furthermore, the League was going to be used by Britain, the sole World Power, in its own interests, when it suited it, and ignored when it did not.

At the end of 1920 Lord Curzon initialed the following Foreign Office Memo:

“whatever may have been expected of us originally we intend to do as little as we can for Armenia either in money or men.” (FO 371/4963/E14026, 9.11.1920)

The Armenian surrender to the Treaty of Gumru provoked the Bolshevik takeover in Erivan. The Red Army, which was then invited in by a section of Armenians who desired to be saved from oblivion, Bolshevized what was left of Armenia – although a better term might be rescued.

When Armenia requested a loan of 1 million Sterling to pay for their continued defence Curzon refused them as they had no Sterling credit. Both H.M. Treasury and the War Office were insisting on the repayment of previous loans to the Armenians with interest. A year earlier Curzon had promised his spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury that: “You may rely on me to spare no effort for the safety of these unhappy people.” (Akaby Nassibian, Britain and the Armenian Question, p.178 and p.193)

At this point of time the Armenians, having earlier abandoned Denikin and the Whites, sounded out the Bolsheviks as possible instruments for what was left of the Greater Armenia policy (see Sean McMeekin, Ottoman Endgame, pp.442-3). However, the Soviets had their own agenda and Stalin’s nationalities policy did not correspond with the Dashnak one. Armenia’s main attraction for the Soviets was that it drove a wedge between the two Turkic nations – Turkey and Azerbaijan. Not bottling up Turkey would link it to Moslem Transcaucasia, Transcaspia and beyond.

Afterwards the Armenians regretted not surrendering to the Soviets earlier, since it might have been advantageous for a land-grab against Turkey and Azerbaijan. As the last Prime Minister of the Erivan Republic, Simon Vratsian, later wrote:

This idea, undoubtedly, has long occupied and continues to occupy Armenian politicians. I confess it has not let me rest either, and continuously torments me. Did we not perhaps commit a fatal mistake? Should we not have Sovietized Armenia right along with Azerbaijan, or soon after, in the months of July and August? Should we not have spat on Europe, the Sevres Treaty and Wilson and tied our hope with Moscow?…

“There are those who say that if the government of Armenia had been able to find common ground with Soviet Moscow at that time, further disasters could have been avoided and Armenia, albeit Soviet, could have had more expansive borders, encompassing even territories from Turkish Armenia.

Of course, it was exceedingly difficult in those days to have dared to take such a step. Who would have dared to even think that Sevres would be voided… and Europe’s and America’s promises and committments would not be worth an eggshell.” (Along Life’s Pathways, Vol. 5, p. 167)

Everything beyond the desire for a great Armenian state was secondary to the Armenians. Any political force, of whatever character was acceptable to them if it facilitated the expansion of Armenian territory and the cleansing of alien populations from it to create a great homogenous Armenian state.

In 1921 General Drastamat Kanayan (Dro), the Dashnak leader, proclaimed himself Military Dictator and suddenly metamorphosed into a Bolshevik and Supreme Leader of Armenia’a Bolshevik Revcom, declaring Armenia a Soviet state, awaiting the embrace of the Red Army. 

That might have been understandable in terms of expediency. But Dro did not last long in his new guise and was invited to Moscow and placed under Cheka surveillance, before he made his escape, to Paris. A couple of decades later he was leading Hitler’s Armenian Legion in the invasion of Soviet Russia. Dro had a lot of the characteristics of the National Socialists, and he put the skills he had developed in ethnic cleansing operations in the Caucasus at the disposal of the Nazis for use against the Jews in the Crimea. However, one constant remained: What he did in his career with the Nazis was always done for what he saw as the interests of Armenia, first and foremost. (see Antranig Chalabian, Dro – Armenia’s First Defense Minister of the Modern Era, pp.241-8 for ‘Dro’s Collaboration with Nazism’)

In February 1921, with the Red Army engaged in its conquest of Georgia, there was an attempted Dashnak rising against the Communist government. The Soviet Union was unable to suppress the insurrection and had to temporarily abandon Armenia. The Armenians appealed to the West for assistance.

The leader of the revolt, Vratsian, seeing no help forthcoming, even appealed to the Turks to save Armenia from the Bolsheviks, invoking the Treaty of Gumru/Alexandropol, in which Ankara had promised to assist Armenia if she was attacked. However, the government of Armenia had already repudiated the Treaty on 10 December 1920 and had requested that the Turks declare it null and void, to establish friendly relations with Soviet Armenia. (Firuz Kazemzadeh, The Struggle for Transcaucasia, 1917-1921, p292 and pp.322-3)

There was, then, no Turkish rescue of the Armenians from the Bolsheviks.

When the Red Army refocussed its attention on Armenia, it was soon subdued in April. The last remaining Dashnak resistance retreated from Zangezur into Persia.


The Allied Supreme Council recognised the de jure independence of Georgia in January 1921. However, by then the British had made up their minds to not defend the state which the League of Nations established. After some resistance Georgia fell to the Soviets in February/March. Lenin provided generous terms to the Georgian Mensheviks to ensure an easy transition to Bolshevism. Having signed the deal with Lenin the Menshevik government, however, decided to leave for exile.

The Bolsheviks concluded a Treaty of Friendship and Fraternity with the Turkish National forces in Moscow on 1 March 1921 settling border disputes and other outstanding matters that impeded co-operation. The Treaty of Kars of 13 October 1921 brought Soviet Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan into the terms of the Moscow Treaty.

With the fall of Georgia and the crushing of Armenian resistance Russia was Master of the Caucasus again. And there was worse to follow for Britain. The good understanding between resurgent Turkey and Russia destroyed the British plans to dominate the Caucasus and Iran:

“The fall of Tsarism augmented British responsibilities and with them British opportunities. By the end of 1918 the exigencies of war had drawn British forces into an occupation of all Persia. They had found their way beyond Persia’s northern boundaries into central Asia and introduced British sea-power to the Caspian… There was no serious intention to extend the British Empire to the Caucasus and the Caspian, much less to the Sea of Aral. But it could not be expected that Britain would renounce all the savoury prospects that the simultaneous ruin of the Ottoman and Tsarist Empires offered her. The Cabinet accepted Curzon’s project of a semi-independent Persia under British tutelage, and an Anglo-Persian treaty embodying his ideas was signed in the summer of 1919 by a subservient Persian government.

In a few months, however, the situation had entirely altered. Curzon’s self-congratulations over his diplomatic masterpiece were premature. The Treaty had not yet been ratified. While it was being concluded, Denikin was advancing on Moscow, the Bolsheviks were in extremities and British troops in Transcaucasia still guarded the northern frontier of Persia. Protests by Persian nationalists were overborne. But by the following spring Denikin had been put to flight, the Red Army in pursuit entered Baku, which British troops had just left, crossed the Caspian, landed on Persian territory and pushed the scanty British force into the interior.

The combination of Communist propaganda and pressure by the Red Army was irresistible. Persian nationalists, listening to Soviet manifestoes and deciding that Russian imperialism constituted a lesser threat to their aims than British, gradually obtained the upper hand at Teheran and prevented ratification of the Anglo- Persian treaty. Ultimately the treaty was repudiated, in terms that added insult to injury, and a Persian-Soviet treaty substituted for it. Curzon’s discomfiture was complete and his exasperation at the Bolsheviks, for their share in the slaughter of his favourite offspring, bitter.” (K.W.B. Middleton, Britain and Persia, pp.125-6)

Lord Curzon’s desire for “a Moslem nexus of states” as a buffer against Russia began to unravel in 1920. In May the Bolsheviks attacked the strategic port of Enzeli on the Iranian Caspian forcing the surrender of the British garrison and fleet. The British failure to defend Persia shattered Curzon’s Anglo-Persian Treaty, which remained unratified as the Persians faith/fear in Britain began to dissolve. In February 1921 General Ironside, who had been brought in to restore order in the country organised the Reza Khan military coup to put in place a strongman administration, which he felt could be trusted to keep out the Bolsheviks, when Britain departed. But the new government repudiated the Agreement and turned to Bolshevik protection against British Imperialism in place of British “protection” against Russia.

Not only was Russia master of the Caucasus again, it had rolled back British Imperialism in Persia. And worse was to come a year later when Britain met a resurgent Turkey at Chanak and had to abandon the Treaty it had sought to impose on the Turks and conclude a new one at the conference table at Lausanne.

In November 1920 Stalin stated:

“The importance of the Caucasus for the Revolution is determined not only by the fact that it is a source of raw materials, fuel, and food supplies, but also by its position between Europe and Asia, between Russia and Turkey in particular: and also by the presence of most important economic and strategic roads (Batum-Baku, Batum-Tabriz, Batum-Tabriz-Erzurum). All of this is taken into account by the Entente, which, possessing at present Constantinople, that key to the Black Sea, would like to keep a direct road to the Orient through Transcaucasia. 

Who shall finally establish himself in the Caucasus? Who shall use the oil, the most important roads leading into the depth of Asia, the Revolution or the Entente? – that is the whole question.” (J.V. Stalin, Sochineniia, Vol. IV, p.408)

The answer was the Revolution. Britain had lost the Caucasus to Bolshevik Russia.

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

V. Centenary of the Balfour Declaration 1917

Britain, through the Balfour Declaration of 1917, was entirely responsible for the success of the Zionist movement in establishing itself to the great detriment of the native inhabitants of Palestine. A generation ago this was freely admitted in England.  For instance a popular book by James Williamson, that went to 6 editions, A Short History of British Expansion (1967) states:

“The British connection with Palestine arose out of the defeat of the Turks in the First World War… The Arab peoples in general… assisted the British to overthrow Turkish rule, and had a claim to British gratitude. In 1917, however, before the victorious campaign had taken place, the British Government had made a promise to assist the setting up a Jewish national home in Palestine, although without prejudice to the Arab population. This pledge, known as the Balfour Declaration, was ill-judged and disastrous, and has cursed Palestine with a generation of strife.” (p.318)

Despite a further “generation of strife” that sort of thing is no longer said in Britain. Now the British Prime Minister sees the Balfour Declaration as a cause for celebration with the Zionists who have taken control of and expanded the territory handed to them through conquest and have invited the Israeli Prime Minister to the party.

It is undoubtedly the case that without Britain’s Great War on Germany and the Ottoman Turks there would have been no Zion in Palestine. Just as in the Second World War of the 20th Century when millions of Jews were exterminated it required a global catastrophe to bring about such a dramatic event. That global catastrophe came about as a result of Britain’s Great War on Germany and the Ottoman State. Without the Balfour Declaration and Britain’s promise of a homeland in Palestine for the Jews the Zionist movement would have remained a thing of sentiment.

The Round Table, a Liberal Imperialist periodical of the Lord Milner Kindergarten/Chatham House/Royal Institute of International Affairs, movers and shakers of the Empire, explained the background to the British adoption of the Zionist project in its edition of March 1918 and how it was facilitated:

There was… a Zionist movement that… had the… objective of establishing a national state. But the Jewish nationalists did not have the power to realise it themselves in the region. Though… the British Government… had made the Zionist Movement an offer (which proved abortive) of a territory in East Africa as the home of a Jewish settlement with some measure of autonomy, Zionism was not, and had no apparent prospect of becoming, a factor to be reckoned with in international politics.

“Now, almost suddenly, all that is changed. Thanks to the breadth and sincerity of British statesmanship, to the inherent justice of its own aims, and to the ability with which those aims have been presented, Zionism has received the official approval of the British Government an approval which, in the circumstances in which it was given, makes the realisation of the objects of Zionism one of the avowed war-aims of the Allied Powers. The way in which the Governments declaration of support has been received shows that substantially it speaks the mind of the whole British nation, and indeed of the whole Commonwealth…

The potential value of the Jewish colonisation of Palestineits value as an indication of what the Jews, and they alone, can make of Palestineis enhanced by the fact that it has been carried out hitherto in spite of difficulties created not only by the absence of any State organisation behind it, but by the shortcomings of Turkish government. It must indeed be said, in fairness to the Turk, that from the Jewish national point of view his rule has had its good as well as its bad side. Talaat Pasha, in a recent interview, made much of the fact that anti-Semitism was unknown in Turkey, and that the Jewish colonies in Palestine had been allowed freedom in local administration and in the use of the Hebrew language for educational and general purposes. He had a right to take credit for this tolerance, which, if it resulted rather from passivity than from active goodwill on the side of the rulers, was none the less of great value to the ruled. It may well be that if during the last thirty years Palestine had been in the hands of an efficient and centralised government, Jewish colonisation might have progressed more rapidly on the material side, though the settlers might have been much less easily able to learn the rudiments of self-government and to retain and strengthen their specific national consciousness. But there is a heavy account on the debit side. Not only has Jewish colonisation been hampered by burdensome taxes, restric­tions on the sale of land, and the neglect of the Government to provide those material facilities without which a country cannot be developed on modern lines; but the absence of security has kept out of the country much Jewish energy and capital which would otherwise have flowed into it, to the benefit both of the Jewish national movement, of Pales­tine, and of Turkey as the overlord of Palestine…  It is clear, therefore, that Zionism imperatively needs a substantial changewhether or not accompanied by a formal changein the political position of Palestine if the work of a generation is not to be practically wasted, and if the Jewish people is not to be doomed once more to fall back on hopes and prayers.

The Balfour Declaration proclaimed to the world that British authority would bring great improvements to the territory on behalf of its existing inhabitants as well as the new colonists. Let history judge that.

The Balfour Declaration was what The Irish News called “an immense and revolutionary experiment in Palestine” (7.9.21). Britain was inaugurating an unprecedented innovation in the region that would alter its fundamental social character.

The Ottomans had for centuries provided stable and functional political structures for the Jews which enabled them to live in relative peace and security with their Arab neighbours, sharing the territory. But the Balfour Declaration brought progress to the region in an unprecedented and great revolutionary act of the rulers of the world.

Two things are necessary for a state – a territory and a population. Zionism had neither of these things needed to produce a Jewish state in Palestine. The Jews constituted less than 10 per cent of the population of Palestine (60,000 of 700,000 inhabitants) in 1917. Only a minority of these Jews were Zionists. Only British power could provide the territory.

Zionism could not have achieved its objective without British political and military sponsorship. Zionism was a minority political movement within Jewry and many powerful Jews were thoroughly opposed to it on the basis that it went hand in hand with Anti-Semitism. It was believed that it helped foster Anti-Semitism by encouraging the view that the real home of the Jews was elsewhere. And it was noticed that many Anti-Semites were supportive of Zionist objectives and Zionists were willing to work with these people to gain their objective. Assimilationist Jews, particularly in England, who were the majority interest in Jewry, were startled by the implications of the Zionist movement.

In Palestine itself a Jewish state was highly improbable outside of a cataclysm. The Jews numbered only about 10 per cent of the populace in the Ottoman province of Palestine. They occupied a minuscule amount of land. There was less basis for a Zion in Palestine than there was for an Armenian state. And a National Home the size of Wales was never going to absorb the 12 million Jews worldwide without ethnically cleansing the native population or expanding its borders.

The Jews were an important community of the Ottoman State, along with the Greeks and Armenians. They lived in many urban areas like Istanbul  and Baghdad and constituted not only a bourgeoisie for the Empire but a proletariat in some places. The great Jewish city of the Ottoman Empire had been Salonika. Despite being free to settle in Palestine over the centuries, the Jews had avoided it as a wilderness.

The Zionist objective seemed a pipe dream before 1917 and the Balfour Declaration. But then Zionism was employed by Britain to win its Great War.


“The Central Powers, with startling rapidity, had crushed and overrun Belgium, Serbia, and Roumania, and a large slice of France was in the grip of the invader. It was a case of stalemate with Italy, while Russia, the Colossus with the feet of clay, was in the throes of a Revolution and lost to the Allies.

“Turkey, the so-called “ sick man of Europe,” was found not only able to ” sit up and take nourishment,” but strong enough to administer some nasty knocks to the surgeon, as we discovered to our cost in Gallipoli, and other places in the Near East.

“The Great Republic of the West did indeed throw-in her lot with us in April, 1917, but many perilous months would have to elapse before she could pull her full weight, or even make her enormous power felt to any appreciable extent on the battlefields of Europe.

“At such a moment as this it was of the very greatest importance that the world should be carefully scanned and every available ideal and policy made use which could be of advantage to our righteous cause.

“The happy inspiration hereupon seized upon our Ministers to win over to the side of the Allies the teeming millions of the Children of Israel scattered through-out the world.” (Lieut. Col. J. H. Patterson, D.S.O. With The Judeans In The Palestine Campaign, pp.4-5)

Despite mobilising all the resources of Empire and making alliances with France and Russia Britain failed to defeat Germany in a couple of years of war. It needed the US as an ally to finish what it had started. However, the US had substantial groups which blocked American involvement.

The Jews had little sympathy for Russia after the Black Hundreds, Pogroms and ghettos. At the same time Germany, Austria and Ottoman Turkey had offered them refuge. As a Chatham House publication later put it: “In particular, in 1917, it was desirable to check the pro-German activities of the Russian Jews, who were already believed to have done so much to bring about the disintegration of Tsarist power.” (G.M. Gathorne-Hardy, A Short History of International Affairs, p.120)

Britain issued the Balfour Declaration as a means of winning its Great War. The long-term effect of it on the region and the world was a very secondary consideration.

The Balfour Declaration promised a people a homeland in a territory Britain had no historic right to, did not occupy and which it had already promised to others, at least by strong implication, to lure into war.

Zionists switched sides and Zionism received a massive boost by becoming a client of the most powerful state in the world. In England it was believed that the support of Jewry tipped the scales for Britain in America and the US participation in the War tipped the military scales in Europe against Germany.

Britain stoked up Arab nationalism to gain an insurrection/Jihad against the Ottomans on the basis of a promise that the provinces of Syria/Palestine and Mesopotamia would form an independent Arab state in the post-War settlement.

In late 1916/early 1917 the outlook for the Allied Powers was particularly bleak. England, the mainstay in the great struggle, was in deadly peril, for, just about this time, the submarine campaign was at its height and Britain’s shipping losses were appalling.

The character of the new War Cabinet in Britain headed by Lloyd George was an important factor in the making of the Balfour Declaration. In late 1916 an internal Liberal coup helped replace the Coalition that itself had replaced the Liberal Government that declared the War on Germany and the Ottomans. What was established was a dictatorship geared to winning the War that Britain and her allies was failing to win. Maurice Hankey, the Cabinet Secretary, called it a “civil dictatorship” in distinguishing it from a purely military dictatorship. It was much smaller than the normal British Cabinet with only 5 members and could make decisions with little scrutiny of its doings. Parliament had ceased to hold the Government to account and the media which had become the only scrutineer of government supported the new development wholeheartedly. Real revolutionary work in the world became a possibility.

The new Cabinet contained strong Zionists. Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, had a close relationship with Chaim Weizmann, who had supplied him with expertise in explosive manufacture. Lloyd George had made this aspect a popular issue in manoeuvring against Asquith with the Unionists he needed the support of to attain the position of Prime Minister. So Lloyd George was in debt to the Zionists and the Zionists needed Lloyd George.

The new Prime Minister, although a ruthless opportunist, had a sentimentality toward the Jews from his Bible School days. However, Asquith recorded in his Memoirs that Lloyd George “did not give a damn about the past of the Jews, or their future.” He was known to hold Anti-Semitic views and incessently worried about “the power of the Jew” to influence the course of the War that his career depended upon to win. He was also determined to prevent the French getting Palestine and win the Peace so he saw their great use in this pursuit.

There was also Lord Milner who had little time for democracy and wanted to do what was necessary to win the War. Milner, a vigorous expansionist Imperialist, was interested in employing a Jewish colony to expand the British Empire in the area.

Arthur Balfour, a Zionist of long standing, was moved from the Admiralty to the Foreign Office, replacing Edward Grey. His assistant was Lord Robert Cecil, Balfour’s cousin and another ardent Zionist.

At the first meeting of the new War Cabinet in March 1917 Balfour suddenly exclaimed: “I am a Zionist, but I do not know whether anybody else is.” Milner answered: “It is impossible to go into that now.” From that point on work went on behind closed doors with regard to reconciling British Imperial aims with Zionism. It proceeded with winks and nods.

To support it the War Cabinet had a strong Secretariat headed by Maurice Hankey. His assistant secretaries were Mark Sykes and Leopold Amery. All these men were supporters of a Jewish Palestine project. Edwin Montague, the strongly anti-Zionist Jew, was supposed to have had Sykes’s position but he was vetoed, presumably through a word in Lloyd George’s ear.

Samuel Landman, an English Zionist, later published an intimate and knowing account of how the Balfour Declaration was accomplished behind the scenes, away from the gaze of the democracy, by two small and unrepresentative groups of people – the British Zionists and the Lloyd George War Cabinet. “Those who assisted at the birth of the Balfour Declaration were few in number” records the participant in this world-historic affair. His account is worth drawing attention to:

“As the Balfour Declaration originated in the War Office, was consummated in the Foreign Office and is being implemented in the Colonial Office, and as some of those responsible for it have passed away or have retired since its migrations from Department to Department, there is necessarily some confusion or misunderstanding as to its raison d’étre and importance to the parties primarily concerned. It would, therefore, seem opportune to recapitulate briefly the circumstances, the inner history and incidents that eventually led to the British Mandate for Palestine.

“Those who assisted at the birth of the Balfour Declaration were few in number. This makes it important to bring into proper relief the services of one who, owing above all to his modesty, has hitherto remained in the background. His services however should take their proper place in the front rank alongside of those Englishmen of vision whose services are more widely known, including the late Sir Mark Sykes, the Rt. Hon. W. Ormsby Gore, the Rt. Hon. Sir Ronald Graham, General Sir George Macdonagh and Mr. G. H. Fitzmaurice.

“In the early years of the War great efforts were made by the Zionist Leaders, Dr. Weizmann and Mr. Sokolow, chiefly through the late Mr. C. P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian, and Sir Herbert Samuel, to induce the Cabinet to espouse the cause of Zionism.

“These efforts were, however, without avail. In fact, Sir Herbert Samuel has publicly stated that he had no share in the initiation of the negotiations which led to the Balfour Declaration. (England and Palestine, a lecture delivered by Sir Herbert Samuel and published by the Jewish Historical Society, February 1936.) The actual initiator was Mr. James A. Malcolm and the following is a brief account of the circumstances in which the negotiations took place.

“During the critical days of 1916 and of the impending defection of Russia, Jewry, as a whole, was against the Czarist regime and had hopes that Germany, if victorious, would in certain circumstances give them Palestine. Several attempts to bring America into the War on the side of the Allies by influencing influential Jewish opinion were made and had failed. Mr. James A. Malcolm, who was already aware of German pre-war efforts to secure a foothold in Palestine through the Zionist Jews and of the abortive Anglo-French démarches at Washington and New York; and knew that Mr. Woodrow Wilson, for good and sufficient reasons, always attached the greatest possible importance to the advice of a very prominent Zionist (Mr. Justice Brandeis, of the US Supreme Court); and was in close touch with Mr. Greenberg, Editor of the Jewish Chronicle (London); and knew that several important Zionist Jewish leaders had already gravitated to London from the Continent on the qui vive awaiting events; and appreciated and realized the depth and strength of Jewish national aspirations; spontaneously took the initiative, to convince first of all Sir Mark Sykes, Under-Secretary to the War Cabinet, and afterwards M. Georges Picot, of the French Embassy in London, and M. Goût of the Quai d’Orsay (Eastern Section), that the best and perhaps the only way (which proved so to be) to induce the American President to come into the War was to secure the co-operation of Zionist Jews by promising them Palestine, and thus enlist and mobilize the hitherto unsuspectedly powerful forces of Zionist Jews in America and elsewhere in favour of the Allies on a quid pro quo contract basis. Thus, as will be seen, the Zionists, having carried out their part, and greatly helped to bring America in, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was but the public confirmation of the necessarily secret ‘gentleman’s’ agreement of 1916 made with the previous knowledge, acquiescence and/or approval of the Arabs and of the British, American, French and other Allied Governments, and not merely a voluntary altruistic and romantic gesture on the part of Great Britain as certain people either through pardonable ignorance assume or unpardonable ill-will would represent or misrepresent.

“Sir Mark Sykes was Under-Secretary to the War Cabinet specially concerned with Near Eastern affairs, and, although at the time scarcely acquainted with the Zionist movement, and unaware of the existence of its leaders, he had the flair to respond to the arguments advanced by Mr. Malcolm as to the strength and importance of this movement in Jewry, in spite of the fact that many wealthy and prominent international or semi-assimilated Jews in Europe and America were openly or tacitly opposed to it (Zionist movement) or timidly indifferent. MM. Picot and Goût were likewise receptive.

“An interesting account of the negotiations carried on in London and Paris, and subsequent developments, has already appeared in the Jewish press and need not be repeated here in detail, except to recall that immediately after the ‘gentleman’s’ agreement between Sir Mark Sykes, authorized by the War Cabinet, and the Zionist leaders, cable facilities through the War Office, the Foreign Office and British Embassies, Legations, etc., were given to the latter to communicate the glad tidings to their friends and organizations in America and elsewhere, and the change in official and public opinion as reflected in the American press in favour of joining the Allies in the War, was as gratifying as it was surprisingly rapid.

“The Balfour Declaration, in the words of Prof. H. M. V. Temperley, was a “definite contract between the British Government and Jewry” (History of the Peace Conference in Paris, vol. 6, p. 173). The main consideration given by the Jewish people (represented at the time by the leaders of the Zionist Organization) was their help in bringing President Wilson to the aid of the Allies. Moreover, officially interpreted at the time by Lord Robert Cecil as ‘Judea for the Jews’ in the same sense as ‘Arabia for the Arabs,’ the Declaration sent a thrill throughout the world. The prior Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916, according to which Northern Palestine was to be politically detached and included in Syria (French sphere), was subsequently, at the instance of the Zionist leaders, amended (by the Franco-British Convention of December 1920, Cmd. 1195) so that the Jewish National Home should comprise the whole of Palestine in accordance with the promise previously made to them for their services by the British, Allied and American Governments, and to give full effect to the Balfour Declaration, the terms of which had been settled and known to all Allied and associated belligerents, including Arabs, before they were made public.

“In Germany, the value of the bargain to the Allies, apparently, was duly and carefully noted. In his Through Thirty Years Mr. Wickham Steed, in a chapter appreciative of the value of Zionist support in America and elsewhere to the Allied cause, says General Ludendorff is alleged to have said after the War that: “The Balfour Declaration was the cleverest thing done by the Allies in the way of propaganda, and that he wished Germany had thought of it first” (vol. 2, p. 392). As a matter of fact, this was said by Ludendorff to Sir Alfred Mond (afterwards Lord Melchett), soon after the War. The fact that it was Jewish help that brought the USA into the War on the side of the Allies has rankled ever since in German – especially Nazi – minds, and has contributed in no small measure to the prominence which anti-Semitism occupies in the Nazi programme.” (Samuel Landman, Great Britain, The Jews and Palestine, pp. 3-6)

Only a Zionist could get away with saying that the Balfour Declaration had something to do with the rise of the Nazis in Germany!

“The defeat of Germany was not by the arms of the Allies. It was not owing to those who conducted the War, but to the actions and intrigue of International Jews and German revolutionaries, incited and aided by outside influences and propaganda born in the United States and in England, which were brought to bear on the German Nation… and… bent on destroying the house of Hohenzollern, ultimately succeeded in stabbing their Nation’s national honour, in the back.”

Standard “stab in the back” Nazi propaganda? Actually no. This is from a British source from 1924 (E.J. Jellicoe, Playing the Game, The Origin of the Great War Unmasked, pp. 270-71). It seems there was also a parallel British understanding of events similar to Hitler’s.

Just before the Declaration Montague issued a Memorandum to the Cabinet called ‘The Anti-Semitism of the Present Government’ which argued that establishing a place for the Jews in Palestine would greatly increase hostility to them in England and elsewhere. It was fundamentally an Anti-Semitic programme. He wrote in his diary a week after the issuing of the Declaration that “The Government… have endeavoured to set up a people which does not exist; they have alarmed unnessisarily the Mohammedan world…” (11.11.17)

In May 1917 the Foreign Secretary, Balfour, met with Supreme Court Justice Brandeis in America. His meetings were aimed at securing US support for a British annexation of Palestine. President Wilson had proclaimed himself against all annexations and secret treaties, so the Zionist project proved a handy device to make a special case for British expansion in the area. Just as Zionism was used to cheat the French of Palestine it was employed to sweeten the Americans with regard to British Imperial expansion and colonialism.

At this point the Zionists, as well as wishing to secure a public commitment from the British Government for the Zionist project, had two other aims. Firstly, they wished to prevent a separate peace being made with Turkey in 1917 that might leave the Ottoman Empire largely intact. Secondly, they wished to prevent the French from having any authority in Palestine. This was because the Zionists believed that France would not be thoroughgoing in the full implementation of Zion. As James de Rothschild remarked: “She carried her civilisation everywhere and would make the development of a Jewish type impossible.” (C.P.Scott diaries 27 January 1917)

It was Britain and British Imperial power which Zionism banked on to provide a blank slate for a year zero in Palestine. The Anglo-Saxon was “the great extirpating race” of the world (in Charles Dilke’s phrase) and was needed specifically for the long-term success of the Zionist entity in clearing out the actual inhabitants of the territory it had been gifted.

This is the document that started the process:


“2nd November, 1917.


“I have much pleasure in conveying to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations, which has been submitted to and approved by the Cabinet:

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

“Yours sincerely,



In 1919 Balfour told his successor as Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, that he regarded a Jewish Government in Palestine as “inadmissible” under the Declaration. Curzon told Balfour:

“I feel sure that while Weizmann may say one thing to you, or while you may mean one thing by a national home, he is out for something different. He contemplates a Jewish state, a Jewish nation, a subordinate population of Arabs etc. ruled by Jews, the Jews in possession of the fat of the land… He is trying to effect this behind the screen and under the shelter of British trusteeship.” (26.1.19 PRO FO 800/215)

Curzon saw a Zionist conspiracy to piggy-back on the British Mandate to establish a Jewish State and do down the Arabs, Britain’s allies in the War. But Lord Curzon was wrong. There was, in fact, a British/Zionist conspiracy to do the same under the Balfour Declaration. Balfour had told a Zionist in 1918 that he hoped for a Jewish state and at a meeting with Winston Churchill in 1922 he and Lloyd George stated to Weizmann that the Balfour Declaration “had always meant a Jewish State.” Meinertzhagen, Middle East Diary, p.9 and Martin Gilbert, Churchill Vol. 3, p.621)

In March 1937 Churchill gave evidence to the Peel Commission, a British Government investigation into the deteriorating situation in Palestine and what was to be done by the Imperial Power with the developing problem there. A fundamental question that arose in relation to the future of the Mandated territory was what did the Balfour Declaration actually mean?

When asked about the future of the Arab population in relation to the Balfour Declaration’s original intentions, Churchill compared the Palestinians to the “dog in the manger”:

“I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, even though he may have lain there for a long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to those people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, or, at any rate, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place. I do not admit it… They had not the right, nor had they the power.”

It was Britain which provided the right and power for the Zionists to cleanse Zion of its low-grade inhabitants beginning with the Balfour Declaration.



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

IV. Balfour Declaration – Taming the Jew

Britain did not have a Jewish problem to the extent of other European countries but in the course of its Great War it began to see itself as having an international Jewish problem that obstructed the winning of its War over Germany and the Ottoman Turks. That is the fundamental reason for the Balfour Declaration aside from strategic considerations.

The Balfour Declaration came about through the existence of some of the most powerful beliefs of Anti-Semitism in high places in England. These were that Jewry in Russia, Germany and the United States had secret and powerful international links in finance and government tantamount to a conspiracy. The implication of such an understanding was that the War could be decided by Jewish influence. So Jewish influence needed to be turned through bribery.

Any reading of Imperial writings of a century ago will uncover a sensitive and unmentionable aspect of the Balfour Declaration – the British desire to restrict, or utilise, what it believed to be the global political, economic and social influence of international Jewry. This aspect of the Balfour Declaration can only properly be termed Britain’s ‘Taming of the Jew.’

There is a memorandum to Lord Peel and the other members of the Royal Commission on Palestine in 1936 marked “Private & Confidential,” written by James Malcolm, which sets out the reasons behind the Balfour Declaration:

“I have always been convinced that until the Jewish question was more or less satisfactorily settled there could be no real or permanent peace in the world, and that the solution lay in Palestine. This was one of the two main considerations which impelled me, in the autumn of 1916, to initiate the negotiations which led eventually to the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate for Palestine. The other, of course, was to bring America into the War.

For generations Jews and Gentiles alike have assumed in error that the cause of Anti-Semitism was in the main religious. Indeed, the Jews in the hope of obtaining relief from intolerance, engaged in the intensive and subversive propagation of materialistic doctrines productive of  ‘Liberalism,’ Socialism, and Irreligion, resulting in de-Christianisation. On the other hand, the more materialistic the Gentiles became, the more aware they were subconsciously made of the cause of Anti-Semitism, which at bottom was, and remains to this day, primarily an economic one. A French writer – Vicomte de Poncins – has remarked that in some respects Anti-Semitism is largely a form of self-defence against Jewish economic aggression. In my opinion, however, neither the Jews nor the Gentiles bear the sole responsibility for this.

As I have already said, I had a part in initiating the negotiations in the early autumn of 1916 between the British and French Governments and the Zionist leaders, which led to the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate for Palestine.

The first object, of course, was to enlist the very considerable and necessary influence of the Jews, and especially of the Zionist or Nationalist Jews. to help us bring America into the War at the most critical period of the hostilities. This was publicly acknowledged by Mr. Lloyd George during a recent debate in the House of Commons.

Our second object was to enable and induce Jews all the world over to envisage constructive work as their proper field, and to take their minds off destructive and subversive schemes which, owing to their general sense of insecurity and homelessness, even in the periods preceding the French Revolution, had provoked so much trouble and unrest in various countries, until their ever-increasing violence culminated in the Third International and the Russian Communist Revolution. But to achieve this end it was necessary to promise them Palestine in consideration of their help, as already explained, and not as a mere humanitarian experiment or enterprise, as represented in certain quarters.” (Robert John, Behind The Balfour Declaration: The Hidden Origins Of Today’s Mideast Crisis, p.84)

This makes it clear that the Balfour Declaration was a response to a perceived global problem and the Taming of the Jew through relocation to Palestine was taken to be the final solution to the Jewish Question: to take their minds off destructive and subversive schemes… owing to their general sense of insecurity and homelessness.”

Malcolm’s was just one of the voices encouraging the establishment of a Jewish Nation in Palestine as a solution to the Jewish problem. Halford Mackinder, the famous Geopolitics Professor at the London School of Economics, and advisor to the British Delegation at Versailles, pointed to this aspect in his influential book, Democratic Ideals and Reality, written a year after the capture of Jerusalem in 1917:

The Jewish national seat in Palestine will be one of the most important outcomes of the war. That is a subject on which we can now afford to speak the truth. The Jew, for many centuries shut up in a ghetto, and shut out of most honourable positions in society, developed in an unbalanced manner and became hateful to the average Christian by reason of his excellent, no less than his deficient qualities. German penetration has been conducted in the great commercial centres of the world in no small measure by Jewish agency, just as German domination in southeastern Europe was achieved through Magyar and Turk, with Jewish assistance. Jews are among the chief of the Bolsheviks of Russia. The homeless, brainful Jew lent himself to such internationalist work, and Christendom has no right to be surprised by the fact. But you will have no room for these activities in your League of independent, friendly nations. Therefore a national home, at the physical and historical centre of the world, should make the Jew range himself. Standards of judgement, brought to bear on Jews by Jews, should result, even among those large Jewish communities which will remain as Going Concerns outside Palestine. This, however, will imply the frank acceptance of the position of a nationality, which some Jews seek to forget. There are those who try to distinguish between the Jewish religion and the Hebrew race, but surely the popular view of their broad identity is not far wrong. (pp.173-4)

The Jews were viewed within the British Foreign Office and other Imperial Departments of State as a unitary collective entity rather than a diverse collection of individual communities across the world. They were seen as powerful and they were seen as pro-German and pro-Ottoman and disruptive of British interests. And no distinguishing was made between one Jew and another until a distinction was made between Zionist and other Jews.

Two Irishmen, Gerald Fitzmaurice and Hugh O’Beirne, both products of Beaumont public school, and contemporaries of Mark Sykes (a Catholic convert) were particularly obsessed with the power of the Jew over the Young Turks. O‘Beirne, a Foreign Office official from Drumsna, County Leitrim, suggested in a memo that: “If we could offer the Jews an arrangement as to Palestine which would strongly appeal to them we might conceivably be able to strike a bargain with them as to withdrawing their support from the Young Turk government which would then automatically collapse.” (David Fromkin, Peace To End All Peace, p.198.)

In February and March 1916, O’Beirne wrote two memoranda in favour of the idea of a declaration for a Jewish homeland. Although O’Beirne died before the Balfour Declaration was issued, his influence is described in detail in various Zionist books on the evolution of the document. O’Beirne and Lord Crewe (who was married to a Rothschild, a woman who boasted that all in her house were ‘Weizmannites’) devised a formula for a Jewish state that was, in fact, much more Zionist than the eventual declaration.

O’Beirne drowned with Kitchener in June 1916 when their ship was struck by a mine while en route to Archangel.

Sir Gerald Lowther, British Ambassador in Constantinople before the War, sent a 5,000 word report to Edward Grey on 10th May 1910 which contains the flavour of understanding of the Young Turk revolution, as a ‘Judea-Masonic conspiracy’ inspired by French Revolutionary ideals. It noted how the great Ottoman Jewish city of Salonica produced the Young Turks (Committee of Unity and Progress):

“Jews of all colours, native and foreign, were enthusiastic supporters of the new dispensation… every Hebrew seemed to become a potential spy of the occult Committee, and people began to remark that the movement was rather a Jewish rather than a Turkish revolution… Talaat Bey, the Minister of the Interior, who is of Gipsy descent… and Djavid Bey, the Minister of Finance, who is a Crypto-Jew, are the official manifestations of the occult power of the Committee. They are the only members of the Cabinet who really count, and are also the apex of Freemasonry in Turkey… The invisible government of Turkey is thus the Grand Orient with Talaat Bey as Grand Master… The Jew… seems to have entangled the pre-economic-minded Turk in his toils, and as Turkey contains the places sacred to Israel, it is but natural that the Jew should strive to maintain a position of exclusive influence and utilize it for the furtherance of his ideals, viz. the ultimate creation of an autonomous Jewish state in Palestine or Babylonia… It is obvious that the Jew, who is so vitally interested in maintaining his sole predominance in the councils of the Young Turkey is equally interested in keeping alive the flames of discord between the Turk and his (the Jew‘s) possible rivals, i.e. Armenians, Greek etc… The Jew hates Russia and its Government, and the fact that England is now friendly to Russia has the effect, to a certain effect, of making the Jew anti-British in Turkey and Persia – a consideration to which the Germans, I think, are alive. The Jew can help the Young Turk with brains, business enterprise, his enormous influence in the press of Europe, and money in return for advantages and the eventual realization of the ideals of Israel… The Jew has supplied funds to the Young Turks and has thus acquired a hold on them… Secrecy and elusive methods are essential to both. The Oriental Jew is an adept at manipulating occult forces, and political Freemasonry of the continental type has been chosen as the most effective bond and cloak to conceal the inner workings of the movement…(cited in Elie Kedourie, Young Turks, Freemasons and Jews, Middle Eastern Studies, January 1971, pp.95-102)   

The British Ambassador’s Report goes on, for page after page, about Jewish influence here, there and everywhere with the Ottomans.

These views were widespread across British officials and their departments and persisted through the War. In the opening months of the War The Times accused the Jews of attempting to keep Britain neutral on Germany’s behalf (in its Washington Despatch of 23rd November and the Correspondence Column of 26th November).

During the War itself Britain’s Ambassadors bombarded London with dispatches about the sinister power of the Jews being exercised on the German behalf. George Buchanan, Ambassador in Petrograd complained of the “large number of Jews in German pay acting as spies during the campaign in Poland” against the Russian Ally. In the correspondence of the British Ambassador at Washington, Cecil Spring Rice, between 1914 and 1917 there are continual references to the Jews as German agents ( e.g. “the pro-German Jewish bankers toiling for our destruction.” See Mark Levene, The Balfour Declaration: A Case Of Mistaken Identity, English Historical Review, January, 1992) and the character of the views expressed can only be described as Anti-Semitic.

The Anti-Semites worked hand in glove with the Zionists to secure the transference of the Jews to Palestine. The English Zionist Samuel Landman, in his Secret History of the Balfour Declaration pamphlet, describes how this happened behind the scenes as Lloyd George took power at the end of 1916:

“Through General McDonogh, Director of Military Operations, who was won over by
Fitzmaurice (formerly Dragoman of the British Embassy in Constantinople and a friend of James Malcolm), Dr. Weizmann was able, about this time, to secure from the Government the services of half a dozen younger Zionists for active work on behalf of Zionism. At the time, conscription was in force, and only those who were engaged on work of national importance could be released from active service at the Front. I remember Dr. Weizmann writing a letter to General McDonogh and invoking his assistance in obtaining the exemption from active service of Leon Simon, (who later rose to high rank in the Civil Service as Sir Leon Simon, C.B.), Harry Sacher, (on the editorial staff of the Manchester Guardian), Simon Marks, [J] Yamson Tolkowsky and myself. At Dr. Weizmann’s request I was transferred from the War Office (M.I.9), where I was then working, to the Ministry of Propaganda, which was under Lord Northcliffe, and later to the Zionist office, where I commenced work about December 1916. Simon Marks actually arrived at the Office in khaki, and immediately set about the task of organizing the office which, as will be easily understood, had to maintain constant communications with Zionists in most countries.

From that time onwards for several years, Zionism was considered an ally of the British Government, and every help and assistance was forthcoming from each government department. Passport or travel difficulties did not exist when a man was recommended by our office. For instance, a certificate signed by me was accepted by the Home Office at that time as evidence that an Ottoman Jew was to be treated as a friendly alien and not as an enemy, which was the case with the Turkish subjects.”

A number of influential British writers noted in their writings that the Jews were a significant element in the vigour and success of German commerce prior to the War and it was a priority that they should be removed from this function in German life. It was also said that the Young Turks had been founded by Jews and contained mostly crypto-Jews (Eamon DeValera, another dangerous man for Britain, was later portrayed in England as “the Spanish Jew”.)

The famous writer, John Buchan, had popularised the German/Jewish/Ottoman conspiracy idea in his Thirty Nine Steps/Greenmantle/Richard Hannay series of bestsellers. He was quickly appointed by Lloyd George as Director of Propaganda and put in command of the secret engine of information at Wellington House.

Lord Robert Cecil, deputy to Grey and then Balfour at the Foreign Office said in 1916: “I do not think that it is easy to exaggerate the international power of the Jews.” (FO 372/2817)

The British offer of a Homeland to the Jews in Palestine presented a means of taming and ‘turning’ the Jew from his German, internationalist/socialist proclivities in the world, to being harnessed to more progressive, nationalist and British Imperial, purposes. As Halford Mackinder put it a national home, at the physical and historical centre of the world, should make the Jew range himself.

There was always a fundamental anti-Semitic strain in English culture but the flamboyant anti-Semitism exhibited in other European countries was frowned upon in polite Society. When the Balfour Declaration was published and England announced her intention of repatriating the Jews of the world to where they belonged there was a natural tendency for the anti-Semite to become a Zionist. Anti-Semitism and Zionism were no strangers to themselves.

Al Carthill’s The Lost Dominion from 1923 reveals some interesting assumptions held about Jews in Imperial circles. It was written after the fall in the Coalition that had won the Great War for Britain, an event that became attributed to Jews in high places (something also mentioned by the French writer on English affairs, Andre Siegfried). “Al Carthill” was a senior judge in the Indian Empire:

Many subversives have been Jews. But there is no evidence that the forces of anarchy were directed by any purely Jewish corporation. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, though possibly published in good faith, were based on older tendencious forgeries or mystifications. A priori, it is extremely unlikely that the Jewish race, which has profited so much in the last century by Western civilisation, should wish to destroy it.

 That many subversives should be Jews is not a matter of surprise It may perhaps be admitted that the Jew, while using our civilisation, has a poor opinion of it. This is not unnatural. He has seen so many civilisations pass. He has used them all. The more degenerate they became, the greater the influence, and thus the greater the profit of the Jew He was generally able to exercise great influence over the Government, and always found aiders and favourers among the powerful

The heathen imagines a vain thing, and their devices come to nought, but the Kingdom of Zion is an enduring Kingdom

The Jew, then, may be perfectly loyal to the ideas of the society in which he lives. Yet his belief in them is not of the degree that is requisite of martyrdom. Just as the most valiant and loyal mercenaries will break and fly after suffering losses which a national and volunteer army would bear without wincing, so the Jew is rarely prepared to stake all on the maintenance of a social state in the absolute value of which he has no belief

It is but recently that the influence of the Jew in politics, and particularly in foreign and imperial politics, has awakened uneasiness in England In a country like England, where the small share of power which is not monopolised by wealth was wielded by intelligence, there was thus every probability of the Jew becoming one of the dominant castes. Jews were welcomed as intimates, advisers, and sons-in-law by leaders of both the great parties. Jews provided the empire with statesmen, lawyers, men of the pen, and men of science For many years they have abstained from an active share in politics

This latter policy has been abandoned in recent years, to the regret of the old-fashioned pious Jew. And here, I think, the Fromme Jude was right. No one can be blind to the beginning of a reaction against Jewish control The alleged monopolisation by the foreign Jew of certain reprehensible traffics has revolted the pious. There is therefore a vague anti-Jewish feeling floating about in solution in England which needs but a shock to crystallise it. The fall of the Coalition is principally to be ascribed to an uneasy and probably erroneous idea that the Jew exercised too much power in the counsels of that remarkable body, and that that influence was being applied to unpatriotic ends. Erroneously, no doubt, it was supposed that the last rags of honour of the British people, the last pieces of gold in an exhausted treasury, the last drops of the blood in the lacerated body of the republic, were about to be jeopardised, in order to decide which of certain Jewish financial houses were to have the profitable business of liquidating the Turkish Empire. The mere absurdity of the supposition is convincing proof of the reality of the general uneasiness.

And as usual the uneasiness of the people, though in itself apparently baseless, was not actually without a rational basis. To return to first principles, it is inexpedient, in a world where rightly or wrongly the idea of nationalism has such power, that the affairs of the nation should be conducted by men who, in so far as they are not citizens of a foreign nation, are cosmopolitans by birth, training and inclination

For the last three generations organised labour must be counted among the subversive forces. In the propagation of Socialistic doctrine individual Jews have taken a considerable part. But to suppose that the diffusion of Socialism among the labouring classes is due to the efforts of a small subversive secret society is ludicrous. All attempts to make Socialism an international church directed by an extra-nationalist directorate have hitherto failed. (pp.109-116)   

Anti-Semitism became a weapon to be wielded against anyone who dared to criticise the expansionist Zionism of the Jewish nationalist state – even against those who had suffered directly at its hands. But it was clear that it was a fundamental ingredient in  Britain’s Taming of the Jew and was one of the main driving forces behind the Balfour Declaration.

To be published in The Irish Political Review October 2017

Britain's Great War Geopolitics Germany Iraq Russia Turkey and Ottoman Empire United States Zionism

III. Strategic Aspects of the Balfour Declaration

In March 1915 Britain reversed its Foreign Policy of nearly a century and consented to Russia’s possession of Constantinople/Istanbul after the War. This was done to secure the continued services of the Russian Steamroller in the field and dissuade the Tsar of any thoughts he might have of making peace with the Kaiser.

To secure the agreement of France to this, Edward Grey agreed to accept French designs on Syria. Taken with Britain’s own designs on Mesopotamia this amounted to a break-up of the Ottoman Empire. At a meeting of the War Council, in the same month, Asquith stated: “If for one reason or another… we were to leave the other nations to scramble for Turkey without taking anything ourselves, we should not be doing our duty.” (Cited in Aaron S. Klieman, Britain’s War Aims In The Middle East In 1915, Journal Of Contemporary History, July 1968, p.242) 

In April 1915 Asquith appointed a Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Maurice de Bunsen to consider “British Desiderata In Turkey-in-Asia.”  The Report concluded that it was always an Imperial objective “to strengthen ragged edges” of the Empire so “we have to take advantage of the present opportunity, and to assert our claim in settling the destiny of Asiatic Turkey.” 

Strengthening ragged edges was Liberal talk for Imperial expansion. Because of the Indian Empire the main area of importance for Britain in the Middle East was the Persian Gulf. Because Basra was essential to the control of the Gulf it was invaded and occupied a few days after War was declared on the Ottomans. The Indian army had left for the conquest a month before Britain had found its excuse for War.

Since Baghdad was important in relation to Basra it became a further necessary acquisition. And Mosul had to be taken to protect the area north of Baghdad. Then Persia had to be controlled to guard the Eastern flank. And at the Western gate the acquisition of Palestine was essential to protect Mesopotamia, and Egypt, and the Suez Canal, and on and on…

That was what strengthening the ragged edges of Empire meant.

The Report of the Committee showed Britain desired a belt of territory between Arabia and the concession to the French in Syria and it would not permit a Foreign Power occupying the area next to Egypt and the Suez Canal.  It recommended support for a devolutionary scheme preserving the Ottoman Empire in five regions, Anatolia, Armenia, Syria, Palestine and Jazirah-Iraq, with the latter four being capable of being detached in the future.

However, the Report’s recommendations were shelved and the Asquith Government took up one of its rejected policy options instead – the partition of the Ottoman Empire between the Imperialist Powers. This option was described by the Committee as having the advantages of: providing Britain with freedom of commerce, a granary and oil reserves in Mesopotamia in which an British Indian colony could be established; and the chance of detaching the Southern part of Syria (Palestine) from Turkey (and France) to construct a buffer zone linking up the Indian Empire to Egypt.

The process of implementing this policy began with the Sykes/Picot Agreement of May 1916.

Therefore, at the same time as the British agreement with Shereef Hussein promising him an Arab state in return for military services, England began making a secret treaty with the French and Russians (The Sykes/Picot Agreement of May 1916) which sought to divide up the Middle East amongst the Western Christian Powers after the War.

Under this Agreement Russia was to have the Dardanelles, Constantinople and a large area around Erzurum and Trebizond. France was to get Cilicia and Lebanon, above Acre, whilst  the vilayet of Mosul, north of Mesopotamia, the areas of Syria were to be included in a large “Arab State A,” under French control. England was to have the vilayets of Basra and Baghdad, and a large tract of land stretching from Kirkuk in the north down past Mesopotamia to the Persian Gulf and west to the Jordan, called “Arab State B.” Under Sykes/Picot Palestine was to become a condominium of England, France and Russia.

Hussein knew nothing of this Agreement that aimed to balkanise the region so that the Arabs could not establish a state as promised. The Turks warned him of British duplicity but he chose to have faith in the promises made.

This plan of balkanisation was a most unsuitable way to administer the region because divisions within the Arab world were not national in any way. They were religious and cultural. But the different religions and cultures were spread right across the region and could not be delineated by national boundaries or through nation states drawn in the sand. That was why the Ottoman vilayet structures worked – because they enabled different religious groups and clans with different cultures, ways of life and allegiances to live next to each other, and move freely, with no lines in the sand to bother them or be fought over.

When the lines in the sand were imposed on the Arabs they were forced to see themselves as nationalities, (with no historical meaning) and to see others (who had the same history, religion or culture as themselves) as alien, because they were on the other sides of the newly imposed lines in the sand.

It should be understood that Britain coveted Palestine long before it discovered the Zionists. It was not Zionism that drew England to Palestine, or the Zionists who brought the issue of Palestine up within the British corridors of power. England had its eye on the territory long before the Balfour Declaration or the negotiations that brought it about (which were instigated by Britain and not the Zionists).

For the first two years of the War England showed little interest in Zionism and pursued its objective of getting hold of Palestine without reference to it. Zionism didn’t interest the de Bunsen Commission, Britain negotiated the Sykes/Picot Agreement and the deal with Hussein of Mecca without reference to it and basically took the future of Palestine to be decided without taking into account the views of either ordinary Jews or Zionists. What Britain was mainly concerned about was whether it could wrest the area from France at the hour of victory.

Palestine had not been explicitly mentioned in any of the agreements concluded between Britain and Hussein. The Arabs naturally took this to mean that it was simply included within the area of an Arab State, because it had not been specifically excluded, as other areas west of Damascus had been. However, England carefully avoided mention of the area because it had other ideas for Palestine after the War, and it had other deals to do with other people. Britain is very skilled at this sort of thing, relying on the good nature of others whilst shafting them, good and proper.

Under the Sykes/Picot Agreement the status of Palestine had been left unclear. England, France and Russia all had an interest in administering it, but Britain, despite having the least claim to it, had its heart set on acquiring it for its expanding Empire. The problem, from Britain’s standpoint, was how to devise a scenario whereby the Empire could get control of Palestine. And that is where the Jews came in and Zionism became a significant element in Imperial affairs.

It was certainly the case that the French had much greater historical ties to Palestine than the English (from the time of the Crusades) and if any of the Imperial Powers had a right to supervise the region it was the French.

As far back as the 1840s Lord Palmerston recognized the potential value of utilizing the Jews in relation to gaining influence within the Ottoman Empire. Palmerston noticed that both of England’s rivals, France and Russia, had achieved leverage over the Sultan by adopting a religious minority in Jerusalem for “protection”. But Reformationist England had no such influence due to the lack of Protestants there. So, to achieve influence in the region another religious group would have to be adopted and the obvious candidates, given England’s Old Testament orientation, were the Jews. In the 1880s Laurence Oliphant contacted Lord Salisbury with a scheme for Jewish colonization in the Holy Land.

The first argument used by England to counter the French claim to Palestine was that the existence of the Holy Places in and around Jerusalem called for a special régime. But when this did not convince the French they produced the Jews from their hat.

With regard to Britain’s manoeuvrings against France, Lady Hamilton explains the use that England had for the Jews:

Imperially minded Britons knew that ever since Napoleons massive fleet had landed in Alexandria in 1798 the French had wanted to hold the Holy Land. French missionaries were active throughout Syria and Palestine, and their schools had transformed thousands of intelligent but illiterate Arabs into well-informed intellectuals, writers and poets. A Jewish homeland would provide a rational reason to block the French from taking too much territory in the Levant, and create a reliable and strong client population. Their presence would guarantee Britain a hold on this strategic area. If the Allies won the war, France would take the place of Germany and would be the most powerful nation on the continent. Frances power would need to be checked. Britain did not want France also to be the dominant power in the Middle East. (God, Guns and Israel, p.136)

This was the Balance of Power policy and it remained an Imperial constant after temporary enemies e.g. Germany and the Ottomans were seen off.

Britain calculated that a proposed Jewish Homeland in Palestine would tip the balance in moral claims to the territory in England‘s favour. Since it was England who would give the Jews a solemn undertaking of a National Home in Palestine it was only fitting that Britain should govern the territory to see that this promise was fulfilled. So England would get Palestine for the Jews and the Zionists would get Palestine for Britain.

It could be said that England cheated the Arabs of Palestine by saying it had been promised to the French and then cheated the French of it by promising it to the Jews. And all the time the objective was to keep it for the British Empire.

The strategic reason for the alliance between British Imperialism and the Zionist Movement was the British desire to enlist the support of International Jewry in the War effort against Germany, and then to manoeuvre itself into control of Palestine, through the use of the advocation of the moral right of the Jews to settle there.

Britain is used to setting the moral standard for the world and the Balfour Declaration was a new standard for it to live by.

By 1916 it was becoming to be understood in Britain that the French, Russian and Italian Allies it had procured to destroy Germany and the Ottomans were not up to the job. The United States was needed not only to finish the War but to save it from being lost or drawn – which was seen as a loss. And this introduced another factor favourable to a Anglo-Zionist alliance.

James Malcolm was an Oxford educated Armenian who acted as an adviser to the British Government on Eastern affairs. He was a personal friend of Mark Sykes and upon hearing Sykes’s concern that Britain was having no success in persuading Jews to support an American entry into the War Malcolm advised him that he was approaching the wrong Jews. It was the Zionists who were the key to the problem, he suggested.

Sykes had a problem with this solution because he knew the terms of the secret Agreement he had concluded with the French and Russians. Although he told Malcolm that to offer to secure Palestine for the Jews was impossible Malcolm insisted that there was no other way and he urged Sykes to take the suggestion to the Cabinet. The matter was taken up by Lord Milner who asked for further information.

Malcolm pointed out the influence of Judge Brandeis of the American Supreme Court on President Wilson and the fact that the President himself held strong Zionist sympathies. Sykes and Malcolm were then authorized to engage in a series of meetings at Chaim Weizmann’s London house, with the knowledge and approval of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Maurice Hankey.

A Programme for a New Administration of Palestine in Accordance with the Aspirations of the Zionist Movement was issued by the English Political Committee of the Zionist Organization in October 1916, and submitted to the British Foreign Office as a basis for discussion and in order to give an official character to the informal discussions. It contained the main Zionist demands for an International recognition of Jewish rights to Palestine, nationhood for the Jewish community in Palestine and the creation and recognition of a Jewish chartered company in Palestine with rights to acquire land.

But it did not reach the Cabinet because it was known that Asquith was unsympathetic to the Zionist ideal. With Lloyd George replacing Asquith as Prime Minister (and Balfour replacing Edward Grey as Foreign Secretary) from December 1916, Zionist relations with the British Government gathered momentum. The Balfour Declaration was now a possibility.

Chaim Weizmann and the Zionists were presented with something of a problem when the Tsarist State began to collapse during early 1917. The Zionists had argued that Tsarist oppression made a sanctuary for the Russian Jews necessary and that this was estranging the US from the Triple Entente. So the Tsarist collapse threatened to remove some of the rationale behind providing a Home for the Jews and the antagonism they had for the Entente, which Zionists promised they could counter if they were given a Declaration. Weizmann overcame the fall-out from this event by utilising it to the advantage of Zionism by planting the idea in the new Prime Minister’s head that Russian Zionists could affect the course of the Russian Revolution and undermine the defeatist policy of the emerging Bolsheviks, saving Russia for the Allies.

The Balfour Declaration appeared for the first time in public view in The Times on 9th November 1917 – a month after the Bolshevik takeover and a month before the British capture of Jerusalem. The momentous announcement was produced from behind closed doors and was never debated in Parliament.

Its timing was important. To have made it earlier would have had a disorganising effect on the Arabs who were doing the fighting for Britain against the Turks.

Published in The Irish Political Review September 2017

Britain's Great War Geopolitics Turkey and Ottoman Empire Zionism

II. Further Aspects of the Balfour Declaration

In November 1914, four days after England had declared War on the Ottomans, Prime Minister Asquith announced at the Guildhall in London that it was Britain’s intention to dismantle the Ottoman Empire, not only in Europe but in Asia. This was a fundamental departure in British Policy and it interested The Jewish Chronicle. It noted in its editorial of 13 November that the Gladstonian “bag and baggage” policy had been extended into Asia Minor to the benefit of Zionism.

Baron Rotschild, the leader of English Jewry, had collaborated in Balfour’s Alien’s Act by joining the Parliamentary Commission set up to organise the control of Jewish emigration to England. He did this to counter Theodor Herzl’s Zionism, which he took to be working hand in glove with Anti-Semitism against the Jewish community’s interests. However, Britain’s War on the Ottomans and Asquith’s Declaration of Intent against the Ottomans changed everything and Rothschild found himself the focus of the thing he had previously seen as a great threat to his community.

In November 1914 Albert Hyamson, a Jewish Civil Servant, penned an important article for The New Statesman entitled The Future of Palestine. It noted that Palestine was now in the melting pot as a result of Britain’s intention to liquidate the Ottoman Empire. He reasoned that the Jews were one of “the small nationalities” for which the War was being fought. However, any project of building a Jewish entity in Palestine required a protecting Power while it grew into a nation. The Jews under the Ottomans were a secure and stable community, but if England was going to undermine this security and stability it was its duty to use its great power to organise the effective transition to a Jewish nation built in Palestine. He also observed: “Christendom owes a debt to Jewry for the persecutions of the past nine hundred years. It would seem that she now has the opportunity of commencing to pay for it.” (21.11.14)

Hyamson neglected to mention the inhabitants of Palestine, who were overwhelmingly Arab rather than Jew. It was supposed they did not matter in the Anglo-Zionist power alliance that would do what it wished to the world. But what if Britain were to incite the Arabs on the same basis as the Jews, in waging its War on the Ottomans? What then?

In fact, that was just what Britain was about to do.

At the beginning of the Great War on the Ottomans Britain had no time for notions of self-determination being applied to the Arab world. In 1911, through Captain Shakespeare, Britain had tentavely sought to raise a revolt against the Ottomans using the Wahhabis in Arabia. There was some local discontent amongst Arabs at the centralizing of the Young Turk government in the region. However, the Arabs had never been real nationalists prior to British attempts to make them rebel against the Ottoman Empire. In fact, the only Arab that can be accurately described as a nationalist, Said Talib of Basra, who offered his services to England, was immediately deported by Britain to India as a troublemaker by Sir Percy Cox upon the British invasion of Mesopotamia.

At this point the British viewed alliances with nationalist groups as unnecessary and a complicating factor in any conquests that were going to be made in the region. From October 1914 to July 1915 there were no significant moves on Britain’s part to create an alliance with anyone. England hoped that the Gallipoli expedition would drive on to Constantinople, Mesopotamia would be taken by the British Indian Army, and that would be that. But by mid 1915 the Gallipoli force had been confined to the beachhead and Britain began to seek out the Arabs.

Sir Henry McMahon, Britain’s High Commissioner in Egypt later stated that the Arab Revolt was originally intended to draw Arab support away from the Ottoman Empire in order to create a new destructive nationalism in the region. Far from utilizing a nationalism that existed in any substantial form against a supposed oppressor the Arab Revolt was worked up to divert the active support that ordinary Arabs were providing the Ottoman State in resisting Imperialist aggression

Some British imperialists began to entertain and encourage the ridiculous idea of making the Sherif of Mecca, Hussein, a new Caliph in order to control the Moslem world. Hussein, in return for his services, asked the British for an Arab State which would be independent and would comprise all the Arab-speaking areas south-west of Asia, except Aden. He was initially fended off but by October 1915, when it had become clear that the Gallipoli expedition had failed McMahon contacted the Sharif  to give him the news that his demands for an independent Arab State had been accepted, save for Syria, West of Damascus. This encouraged the Arabs into the belief that when the Ottoman Empire was destroyed, through the joint efforts of England and an Arab revolt, Britain would recognise the Middle East as a great Arab State. Hussein was flattered by the British and in 1915 the Arab Revolt began when he was promised an independent Arab state right up to and including Syria in return for his help in destabilizing the Ottoman Empire.

So what was promised to the Jews in 1917 had been already promised to the Arabs two years earlier in return for an Arab revolt against the Ottomans. The Jews, however, did not have to go into insurrection against the Ottomans – and did not – to get what they got. Aaron Aaronsohn and a small group of Zionists assisted British Intelligence from Palestine and there was the Zionist Mule Corp. But the Arabs did the fighting for the British, not the Zionists.

The Ottoman Empire had been very good to the Jews and very good for the Jews. The 5th Herbert Samuel Lecture noted how “the expelled Sephardim of Spain… went to the hospitable, tolerant Turkish empire, that land of promise as it seemed in the sixteenth century, it is odd how few of them went to Palestine, which was after all an easily accessible and under-populated part of that empire.”

The Jews, fleeing Christian intolerance and taken in by the great Islamic empire and its peoples went to Istanbul, Baghdad or Salonika instead. They chose not to settle in “the silent wilderness of Palestine” – their historic homeland. They had centuries of free movement to do so. Only around 1900 when Zionism threatened a Jewish colony that would disturb the peace did the Ottomans restrict Jewish migration to the territory.

The Jews of the Ottoman Empire sent out declarations to the persecuted Jews of Europe praising the Islamic Ottomans for what they had provided to them – a state in which they practiced their religion unmolested and thrived and prospered socially and commercially among Moslems and Christian minorities. When Salonika fell to the Christians during the Balkan Wars it was seen as a great disaster for the Jews and many evacuated the great Jewish city. Around 100,000 left with the Moslems as the Christian armies advanced in the Balkans. There were 80,000 Jews living in Baghdad in 1917 at the time of the Balfour Declaration and they reacted with incredulity at the announcement that Jews were going to colonise Palestine, a poor place without opportunity.

Palestine had lived for centuries in relative peace and stability under the Ottomans before Britain decided to put the region into the melting pot to win its Great War and expand the Empire.

The Ottomans had been very good for the Jews. The Turks had resisted the Zionist pressures that threatened a destabilisation of the territory through a colonising project that would produce an ethnic cleansing. The Ottomans kept the balance in population that matched Arab numbers with Jewish assertiveness. They had ruled a vast area of mixed nationalities and ethnicities for over 4 centuries and knew that any alteration in the balance spelt big trouble in the region.

In making war on the Ottoman Empire, and in pursuing the Zionist objective, the British Empire not only destroyed the prosperous and content Jewish communities across the Ottoman possessions but also sowed the seeds for generations of conflict with the local inhabitants of Palestine who would find themselves the chief victims of the great act of conquest and ethnic cleansing that came from the Balfour Declaration.

The Arabs found themselves the victims of a great British triple-cross. They were encouraged to rise against the Turks, by Colonel Lawrence, with the promise of a great independent Arab state after the War. And then they found this state had been secretly divided between the British and French, and Palestine declared to be a Jewish homeland, irrespective of the wishes of the actual inhabitants, in the War fought on the principle of “self-determination”.


Britain's Great War Geopolitics Iraq Turkey and Ottoman Empire United States Zionism

On Democratic War

Editorial from Church & State An Irish History Magazine Third Quarter 2017:

The Irish Government facilitated the destruction of the liberal, secular State of Iraq by American and British military action. It refuelled American war-planes at Shannon. Government spokesman, Martin Mansergh, explained that its policy was determined by a judicious combination of practicality and idealism. The practical consideration was that Irish interests would possibly have suffered slightly from American displeasure if it had not agreed to the use of Shannon in the War. But there was also the idealistic consideration on the American side that a dictator was being overthrown.

The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, called a Middle East expert to Downing Street to discuss Iraq. The expert must have done a fairly good job of explaining the intricate make-up of the Iraqi State because Blair ended the discussion by saying “But Saddam is an Evil Tyrant, isn’t he?”

This journal has never pretended to know what “Evil” is. It seems to be a mind-stopping notion, of theological origin that remains usable in State propaganda, even though religion has been discarded from State affairs—except for special occasions.

The great Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, William King—by far the greatest there has ever been—gave Evil a secular meaning even though he was writing during the high tide of Protestant Ascendancy. He said that Evil was what obstructs the will—what obstructs the will is Evil.

God is wilful. His will knows no superior authority. What he wills is good, and whatever obstructs it is evil. And, since man is made in the image of God, the same is the case with him. Man is a little God. He is intolerant of anything that obstructs his will, and he calls it Evil.

We can understand that. It is perfectly clear. And it is entirely in accordance with the conduct of the interest served by Archbishop King—the interest of the British State which he played an active part in constructing.

The difficulty arises about why Saddam Hussein should have been seen as Evil from the viewpoint of the British State. In what way was the liberal secularisation of Iraq in the British mode obstructive of the British will in the Middle East?

Baathist Iraq was a multi-cultural State. The three major religions, Sunni, Shia and Christian, were drawn into its functioning. The Christian community was flourishing and its representative, Tariq Azziz, was Prime Minister. The mass support of the State was Sunni, but the Shia population was so far from being in latent rebellion (as the Catholic community in Northern Ireland always was) that it took part in the war against the Shia revolutionary State in Iran—a war that was encouraged by the West.

Iraq, hastily thrown together by Britain for divide-and-rule purposes during its war of conquest in Mesopotamia, for use against the general Arab nationalism to which Britain had made promises, was well on the way to becoming a coherent nation-state when Britain decided to destroy it.

Fourteen years later Tony Blair, who had become a billionaire out of it, is still thrashing around in search of a credible statesmanlike reason for why he did it.

Ireland has forgotten it. And it is hoped that, with the destruction of Mosul, Islamic State will be reduced from the status of an actual territorial State to a movement that can be described as terrorist.

The destruction of the Baath State of Iraq by the application of overwhelming military force, combined with the appeal of the invading forces to the elements of Iraqi life that were being curbed by the development of the Baath State, to come out and give popular support to the invasion, led so directly and predictably to the formation of Islamic State, that a strong case can be made that the purpose of the invasion was the replacement of the liberal secular State by a revolutionary Islamist State.

An argument that the invasion had come for an entirely different purpose can only be made on the basis of assumptions that are grossly unrealistic.

If liberal democracy operating in a secular, or non-religious, medium is the necessary ideal of the West (with Britain and the USA at its core), and if the West is compelled to apply itself to realising this ideal in actual government throughout the world, then it is to the point to remind it how its ideal was realised within itself.

The starting point is a secure national state. The sequence of development is nationality, liberalism, and democracy. The British state gained national stability in Britain during the generation after 1688. It was in the first instance assertively Protestant, in Anglican form. It might be said to have become liberal in 1829 with the repeal of the Test Act, which disfranchised the members of all other religions. The process of democratisation began in 1832 with limited middle class enfranchisement and it was not until 1918, three-quarters of a century later, that the electorate became a majority of the adult population. (The state remained nationalist—chauvinist— throughout, though heavily camouflaged.)

Liberal-democratic development of the regime of State that was stabilised in 1715 took over two centuries. And there can be little doubt that this development was assisted by the fact that the State became the controlling force in a world Empire from which it drew great resources with which it alleviated internal conflict.

When the possibility of democratisation began to be discussed as a practical proposition in governing circles in the late 19th century, it was frankly said that it was the Empire that made it practicable.

Is a State—or a country—that is not Imperialist, but is subject to Imperialist economic exploitation, and which is subject to the vagaries of Imperialist policy, even after the formal Empires have been dismantled, likely to take more or less time to reproduce the development that took two centuries, under very favourable conditions, in Britain?

Can a liberal democracy, that took two hundred years to develop, and which, with its Imperial reach, imposes on another country the obligation to undergo liberal-democratic development—can it allow that other country to develop at the snail’s pace that it did itself? The evidence suggests that it cannot.

The question then is whether a powerful democratic State can have a democratic foreign policy? And even: What is a democratic foreign policy?

Is a democratic foreign policy just the foreign policy of a democratic State? Or is it a policy that cultivates democracy in other countries.

Suppose a powerful State with an Empire, which it exploited profusely in the interest of its domestic population, and suppose the domestic development of democracy in that state—in other words, look at Britain. Is it reasonable to expect that democratised Britain, whose relationship with the world remains what it was made by the Empire, will conduct a foreign policy which undermines its economic interest?

It was the first democratic British Government that overruled the will of the democracy in Ireland in 1918, and put in the Black and Tans to help it to change its mind.

But that wasn’t a real democracy? Well, if real democracy is to be invoked against actual democracy all the time, then democracy becomes a will-o-the-wisp.

British democracy had its first Socialist Government in 1945. It was elected in the wave of euphoria generated by victory the in Anti-Fascist War. One of the first things it did was make war on the Malayan Independence movement, which was led by the Malayan Anti-Fascists who had made war on Japan.

The war was fought by methods that might reasonably be described as Fascist. Racism was fostered in Malaya to assist the War. And the War was not called a war but an Emergency so that it would not be subject to International Law on war that, supposedly, had just been established by the Nuremberg Trials of the Germans. And the reason for this, which almost everyone agreed with, was that Britain just had to have Malayan tin and rubber.

And as the post-War world began in the late forties, so it has continued.

Meyrick Booth, who was probably the writer of the Meyrick Cramb articles in Connolly’s Workers’ Republic, suggested in the 1930s that the idea of democratic foreign policy should be discarded. We gave some extracts from his argument some years ago as being worthy of consideration. And it must be said that the course of events in the last few years has not refuted them.

The Great Powers of the democratic world obliterated a viable liberal-secular State in Iraq fourteen years ago. They did the same in Libya six years ago. They are currently trying to do the same in Syria.

Islamic State, with Sharia Law and the Caliphate, emerged as the viable alternative to the Baath State which the leading democracies destroyed. Those democracies now seem to be on the brink of destroying Islamic State as a territorial entity. They are using a concocted Iraqi Government as a facade. But does anybody doubt that, if the conflict was left to work itself out between what calls itself the Iraqi Government and Islamic State, the territory of Iraq would become the base area for for Islamic State in a restoration of the Caliphate.

These events naturally have repercussions in the Muslim population of Britain, which has greatly increased because of them. Melanie Phillips,a Zionist who says her primary allegiance is to Israel, propagated the idea of Londonistan a few years ago, when the Muslim population was smaller and less provoked than it is now, demands that Islam must undergo a Reformation. She says that General Sissi, who runs his own special brand of democracy in Egypt, agrees with her.

An Islamic Reformation! Perish the thought! What did the Reformation of Christianity lead to? A fanatical Puritanism with a zeal to remake the world in its image.

But, unfortunately, the Islamic Reformation has already happened

Islam, more capable than Christianity of being easy-going and tolerant, maintained for centuries what now seems an idyllic era of peace and harmony in the Middle East under Ottoman rule, was thoroughly radicalised and fundamentalised and financed by he United States in Northern Pakistan for the purpose of making war on the regime in Kabul that was doing in Afghanistan, with Russian support, what Saddam did in Iraq chiefly through internal development.

When America invaded Afghanistan to suppress the forces which it had cultivated as jihadis against Communists, Richard Pearl was asked if it hadn’t made a mistake in radicalising and militarising Islam. Wasn’t it now making war on its own creature? Pearl brushed that criticism aside, and said that the US would in every particular situation do whatever served its purpose of the movement there.

The leading democracy of the world gave Islam its Reformation. And it has taken root.

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

Aspects of The Balfour Declaration 1917

One hundred years ago the British Government did an extraordinary thing. Arthur Balfour, former British Prime Minister and at that time Foreign Secretary, wrote to Lord Rothschild, as representative of English Jewry, informing him that His Majesty’s Government was in favour of establishing a national home for the Jews in Palestine. This was the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and its message to the world was that Britain’s power and authority was to be used in an unprecedented manner in world history, to return a disparate and widely scattered people to a territory 2000 years after they had left it.

Britain was, to all intents and purposes, colonising a territory and imposing a foreign element in an area totally against the wishes of the natives. Palestine had been Arab since the 7th Century and the Jews had not lived there in significant numbers for two millenia. There were less than 100,000 Jews in Palestine in 1917 (about twice the number that lived in the East End of London) and over 700,000 Arabs. The Jews that were to be interposed there were European and Russian.

The Balfour Declaration was put together between July and October before being issued on November 2, 1917. It went through several drafts before being delivered: Zionist Draft (July); Balfour Draft (August); Lord Milner Draft (3 September); Lord Milner Draft (4 October); Balfour Final Text (31 October).

It was no historical accident that England should be the sponsor of and power behind the Zionist project. There had developed in Reformationist England a belief that the Jews should return to the Holy Land. The famous historian, J.R.Green in his History of the English People, had described how England had become in Elizabeth’s reign the people of the Book – meaning the people of the Bible. It was the Old Testament and the Wars of the Lord in which the Chosen People would “smite the Philistines and Amalekites” that primarily interested the developing English Puritan middle class. Among other things the Old Testament Bible was a programme for ethnic cleansing and genocide, projects intrinsic to the fundamentalist view of God that had taken root in Reformationist England and the destiny of the island empire.

The idea that had its origin in Reformation England was revived in 19th Century. This was that one of the Chosen Peoples were going to return another to the Holy Land as a matter of historic destiny and precursor to the Millenium. This idea became particularly influential in the 1840s as the Famine was let rip in Ireland.

Arthur Balfour converted to Zionism around 1906 after he met Chaim Weizmann, the leading Zionist in England. The previous year, as Prime Minister, he had presided over the Alien’s Bill which was primarily aimed at ending Jewish immigration to Britain. The Parliamentary committees established to examine the Bill reveal that England had become uneasy at the success of Jews, their developing influence in British society and the ways Jewish wealth was displayed in London. The Jews remained a distinctive community despite the efforts of individual Jews to assimilate.

Private correspondence shows that Balfour saw the Jews as a developing problem for England. He held the opinion that this problem would grow if the Jews remained a distinct community. Balfour therefore reasoned that the Jews should not maintain their separateness by continuing to oppose inter-marrying. He suspected them of not having a total loyalty to their country, making them unreliable and untrustworthy.

Balfour was a prominent Eugenicist and he had come into contact at the 1912 inaugural Eugenics World Conference (which he presided over) with the idea that the “Jewish Race” was the greatest success story in eugenics. The Jews, it was said, had maintained themselves as a separate entity by controlled and restricted breeding. They were the model of Eugenics the world should follow, suggested the Zionists, to keep out racial impurities in the mixing of races. At that time it was accepted that miscegenation was a bad thing for superior races like the Anglo-Saxons to engage in. If they did they would end up like the inferior Latins who had did this sort of thing in South America to their cost or the Ottomans who had no concept of racialism and had thrown away their Empire through the lack of a Social Darwinist philosophy, like that of the English.

Balfour, the philosopher Prime Minister, had the habit of seeing things with ruthless logic. This sometimes led him to dither when he understood the enmity of an issue and wondered how it could be overcome. But his thought was razor sharp. He did not approve of the Jewish pure breeding in England. Presumably he found it insulting that Jews would not inter-breed with the Anglo-Saxon master race. By maintaining racial purity the Jews were making themselves a problem for England when they could be an asset if they thoroughly inter-bred and assimilated, as some did. Balfour reasoned that they had to make up their mind about what they were or there would be trouble ahead. He came to the conclusion that the Jews should assimilate or be kept out. Hence the Aliens Act.

On the basis of this logic Balfour reasoned that the Zionist cause was good for the Jews and their host countries in forcing them to be loyal to either their state of residence or a Zion. If they could not assimilate they should go. Unlike others who began to see the Zionists as a potentially useful instrument for British expansion in the Middle East Balfour saw Zionism as being separate to the geopolitical interest of Britain – as a good thing in itself. He saw the Jews as unique in the world – a Special People:

“… the critics of this (Zionist) movement shelter themselves behind the principle of self-determination, and say that, if you apply that principle logically and honestly, it is to the majority of the existing population of Palestine that the future destinies of Palestine should be committed. There is a technical ingenuity in that plea, and on technical grounds I neither can nor desire to provide the answer; but, looking back upon the history of the world, upon the history more particularly of all the most civilised portions of the world, I say that the case of Jewry in all countries is absolutely exceptional, falls outside all the ordinary rules and maxims, cannot be contained in a formula or explained in a sentence. The deep underlying principle of self-determination really points to a Zionist policy, however little in its strict technical interpretation it may seem to favour it. I am convinced that none but pedants, or people who are prejudiced by religious or racial bigotry would deny for one instant that the case of the Jews is absolutely exceptional, and must be treated by exceptional methods.” (Speech by Balfour at the Albert Hall at a Demonstration organised by the English Zionist Federation, to thank the British Government for the decision to incorporate the Balfour Declaration for a Jewish National Home in the Treaty of Peace with Turkey. July 12th, 1920.)

Balfour told Harold Nicolson that Zionism would remove the dangerous acquisitive intelligence of the Jews that stimulated their defects. Zion was required to solve England’s Jewish problem.

However, Balfour’s interest in Zionism remained an idealist flirtation for nearly a decade and he did not meet Weizmann for another 8 years after 1906. Balfour got back to more important and pressing matters in the world, helping to plan for a War on Germany through the Committee of Imperial Defence he had set up.

Herbert Samuel was an Anglicised Jew and member of the British Liberal Government that declared the War on Germany Balfour had helped plan. Just after the British Declaration of War on the Ottomans in November 1914 he disclosed to the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, that he was a Zionist. Up until that point Samuel had sympathised with Zionism but had written it off as impractical. But with Britain’s War on the Ottoman Empire signalling a consequent carve up the Ottoman territories Samuel began to see the Zionist ideal as a practical possibility for the first time.

Samuel discovered that Edward Grey himself was sympathetic to Zionism, as was Lloyd George and Lord Haldane. Samuel produced a memorandum for the Cabinet in January 1915 advocating the conquest of Palestine and the use of Zionism in its annexation. At that time Britain was refusing to display any interest in Palestine lest anyone think it was not fighting its War for the highest of motives. But the implication of destroying the Ottoman Empire was surely that Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia etc. were going to end up in other hands. It would be most unlike Britain to allow such strategic areas to go to others after scotching such a thing for a century.

The Samuel Memorandum advocating the planting of 4 million Jews in Palestine astonished the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. Samuel persisted, however, advocating a British Protectorate over Palestine that would make a Jewish State functional.

Before returning to Balfour Weizmann found a Zionist sympathiser in C.P. Scott the famous editor of the Manchester Guardian. Scott had initially opposed the War but, being a Liberal with a bad conscience, having collaborated in something no Liberal should do, he liked the Zionist cause as something that Britain could wage its War for on an idealitic, altruistic basis. It made the mass killing and destruction a bit more palatable for a sentimental lover of the Bible.

Samuel was opposed by another Jew in the Cabinet, Edwin Montagu. Montagu held the traditional view of anti-semitism that saw it and Zionism as two sides of the same coin. He denied that there was such a thing as a Jewish race or Jewish nation except in the minds of anti-semites. Montagu saw the establishment of a Jewish state as potentially disastrous for the Jews left behind, outside the new nationalist construction.

Samuel was supported in his opposition to Zionism by the Jewish establishment in England. They had acquired prosperity, position and security in the country and saw themselves as loyal and great contributors to British life. They were strongly Anti-Zionist and saw nothing existing that could be called a Jewish Race or Jewish Nation. These were concepts employed by Anti-Semites to endanger the position of Jews and prevent their successful assimilation. Zionism raised the question of divided loyalties as a consequence of supporting a scheme that was just the pipe-dream of malcontents. It would undermine the toleration and inclusivity that was slowly being achieved by the Jews in Europe and bring to the fore ideas that were most unwelcome for the future of Jewish communities.

Chaim Weizmann wrote off these assimilationist Jewish elements and decided that in the interests of Zionism the important Gentiles who had anti-semitic attitudes were more useful and important allies to the cause.

Weizmann reconnected with Balfour through Samuel Alexander, Professor of Philosophy at Manchester. They met in December 1914 just after War had been Declared by Britain on the Ottomans. Balfour told Weizmann that the Jewish question in England would only be sorted out by complete assimilation through inter-marriage or by the establishment of a nationalist Jewish entity in Palestine. Those who stayed in England could assimilate while Jews who wanted a separate existence could go.

Balfour told Weizmann that he had had a conversation with the widow of Richard Wagner in Bayreuth in 1912, around the time of the Eugenics Conference in London he had presided over.

Richard Wagner, as well as being a highly cultured man and great composer, had participated enthusiastically in the 1848 Revolution. He was in no sense a reactionary. But he believed that the Jews were a danger to Germany because they would remain impervious to the German national spirit. And because Germany needed a national spirit for its development as a nation and security the Jews, as a distinctive element, were problematic.

Anti-Semitism in its modern – rather than Medieval – form was closely related to nationalism. Nationalism was the way through which Europe developed in the 19th Century. In the nationalising process the Jews were seen as forming a distinctive element which could not be readily digested by the nation. Nationalist development encouraged Anti-Semitism and this began to encourage a Zionist movement, even among assimilationist Jews like Theodor Herzl. Zionism was Jewish nationalism in response to European nationalism.

It was European nationalism rather than English nationalism that produced Zionism. However, it was British nationalism/Imperialism which made Zionism into an oppressive force through giving it a territory occupied by another people. That is what was problematic about Zionism rather than its actual existence.

Balfour told Weizmann he shared the Wagners’ anti-semitic views. Weizmann told Balfour that he too knew Frau Wagner’s views. They were that the Jews had contributed so much to German culture and materialism that they owned it to a great degree – a thing Frau Wagner resented. Weizmann saw the problem from the opposite point of view. The Jews had made and enriched German culture when they should have used their talents and energies in constructing their own nationalist culture in a Zionist project.

Balfour was in full agreement with Frau Wagner’s view of the Jews and Weizmann understood that this gave Zionism leverage over him. Weizmann assured Balfour that whilst Zionism could solve England’s problem with its unassimilatable Jews Russia was a different prospect. There were so many Jews in Russia that a Zion in Palestine could not take them, so Russia’s Jews would continue to disrupt Russia to England’s advantage in the long term. This must have been music to Balfour’s ears.

When Weizmann met Baron Rothschild in Paris to tell him of his meeting with Balfour and the potential acquiring of British Imperialism as an ally Rothschild pointed out the main impediments to the success of any Zionist project. These were, according to Rothschild, the English Jewish establishment centred around Claude Montefiore, President of the Anglo-Jewish Association, and Catholic Europe.

The Jews who opposed anti-semitism/Zionism needed to be sidelined as did England’s allies in Catholic Europe. The definition of anti-semitism was rewritten by the anti-semites to implicate those who opposed the Zionist project.

To be continued…

Published in The Irish Political Review July 2017