Story - Former American Ambassador to Turkey
By Henry Morgenthau
I came to Turkey I had entertained very different ideas of this organization.
As far back as 1908 I remember reading news of Turkey that appealed strongly
to my democratic sympathies. These reports informed me that a body of young
revolutionists had swept from the mountains of Macedonia, had marched upon
Constantinople, had deposed the bloody Sultan, Abdul Hamid, and had established
a constitutional system.
these glowing newspaper stories told us, had become a democracy, with a
parliament, a responsible ministry, universal suffrage, equality of all
citizens before the law, freedom of speech and of the press, and all the
other essentials of a free, liberty-loving commonwealth. That a party of
Turks had for years been struggling for such reforms I well knew, and that
their ambitions had become realities seemed to indicate that, after all,
there was such a thing as human progress. The long welter of massacre and
disorder in the Turkish Empire had apparently ended; "the great assassin",
Abdul Hamid, had been removed to solitary confinement at Saloniki, and
his brother, the gentle Mohammed V, had ascended the throne with a progressive
democratic program. Such had been the promise.
By the time I reached Constantinople,
in 1913, many changes had taken place. Austria had annexed two Turkish
provinces, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Italy had wrenched away Tripoli; Turkey
had fought a disastrous war with the Balkan states, and had lost all her
territories in Europe except Constantinople and a small hinterland. The
aims for the regeneration of Turkey that had inspired the revolution had
evidently miscarried, and I soon discovered that four years of so-called
democratic rule had ended with the nation more degraded, more impoverished,
and more dismembered than ever before. Indeed, long before I arrived, this
attempt to establish a Turkish democracy had failed.
Their leaders, Talaat, Enver, and
Djemal, had long since abandoned any expectation of reforming their state,
but they had developed an insatiable lust for personal power. Instead of
a nation of nearly 20,000,000 developing happily along democratic lines,
enjoying suffrage, building up their industry and agriculture, laying the
foundations for universal education, sanitation, and general progress,
I saw that Turkey consisted of merely so many inarticulate, ignorant, and
poverty-ridden slaves with a small, wicked oligarchy at the top, which
was prepared to use them in the way that would best promote its private
Talaat, Enver, and Djemal were the
ostensible leaders, yet back of them was the [Union and Progress PartyJ
Committee, consisting of about forty men. Besides the forty men in Constantinople,
sub-committees were organized in all important cities of the empire. The
men whom the Committee placed in power "took orders" and made the appointments
submitted to them. No man could hold an office, high or low, who was not
indorsed by this committee. They had wrested power from the other factions
by a deed of violence. This coup d'etat had taken place on January 26,
1913, not quite a year before my arrival.
By becoming Minister of the Interior,
Talaat gained control of the police and the administration of the provinces,
or vilayets; this gave him a great amount of patronage, which he used to
strengthen the power of the Committee. Though he afterward became the man
who was chiefly responsible for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of
Armenians, at this time Talaat maintained the pretense that the Committee
stood for the unionization of all the races in the empire, and for this
reason his first cabinet contained an Arab-Christian, a Deunme (a jew by
race, but a Mohammedan by religion), a Circassian, an Armenian, and an
Early in January, 1914, Enver became
Minister of War. At that time Enver was thirty-two years old; like all
the leading Turkish politicians of the period he came of humble stock and
his popular title, "Hero of the Revolution," shows why Talaat and the Committee
had selected him as Minister of War. His nature had a remorselessness,
a lack of pity, a cold-blooded determination, of which his clean-cut handsome
face, his small but sturdy figure, and his pleasing manners gave no indication.
soon as Enver became Minister of War, Baron Von Wangenheim (German Ambassador
to Turkey) flattered and cajoled the young man, played upon his ambitions,
and probably promised him Germany's complete support in achieving them.
In his private conversation Enver made no secret of his admiration for
Germany. Thus Enver's elevation to the Ministry of War was virtually a
German victory. Wangenheim and Talaat, in the latter part of 1913, had
arranged that the Kaiser should send a military mission to reorganize the
Turkish forces. Talaat told me that, in calling in this mission, he was
using Germany, though Germany thought that it was using him.
By January, 1914, seven months before
the Great War began, Germany held this position in the Turkish army: a
German general was Chief of Staff; another was Inspector General; scores
of German officers held commands of the first importance, and the Turkish
politician who was even then an outspoken champion of Germany, Enver Pasha,
was Minister of War. And now for several months we had before our eyes
this spectacle of the Turkish army actually under the control of Germany.
German officers drilled the troops daily-all, I am now convinced, in preparation
for the approaching war.
Since Germany, however, had her own
plans for Asia Minor, inevitably the Greeks in this region formed a barrier
to Pan-German aspirations. Any one who has read even cursorily the literature
of Pan-Germania is familiar with the peculiar method which German publicists
have advocated for dealing with populations that stand in Germany's way.
That is by deportation. Accting under Germany's prompting, Turkey now began
to apply this principle of deportation to her Greek subjects in Asia Minor.
The events that followed foreshadowed the policy adopted in the Armenian
massacres. The Turkish officials pounced upon the Greeks, herded them in
groups and marched them toward the ships. They gave them no time to settle
their private affairs, and they took no pains to keep families together.
I objected vigorously to his treatment
of the Greeks; I told him that it would make the worst possible impression
abroad and that it affected American interests. Talaat explained his national
policy: these different blocs in the Turkish Empire, he said, had always
conspired against Turkey; because of the hostility of these native populations,
Turkey had lost province after provinceGreece, Serbia, Rumania, Bulgaria,
Bosnia, Herzegovina, Egypt, and Tripoli. In this way the Turkish Empire
had dwindled almost to the vanishing point. If what was left of Turkey
was to survive, added Talaat, he must get rid of these alien peoples. "Turkey
for the Turks" was now Talaat's controlling idea. Therefore he proposed
to Turkify Smyrna and the adjoining islands. Already 40,000 Greeks had
left, and he asked me again to urge American business houses to employ
The Greeks in Turkey had one great
advantage over the Armenians, for there was such a thing as a Greek government,
which naturally has a protecting interest in them. The Turks knew that
these deportations would precipitate a war with Greece; in fact, they welcomed
such a war and were preparing for it. So enthusiastic were the Turkish
people that they had raised money by popular subscription and had purchased
a Brazilian dreadnaught which was then under construction in England. The
government had ordered also a second dreadnaught in England, and several
submarines and destroyers in France. The purpose of these naval preparations
was no secret in Constantinople. As soon as they obtained these ships,
or even the one dreadnaught which was nearing completion, Turkey intended
to attack Greece and take back the islands.
The requisitioning that accompanied
the mobilization really amounted to a wholesale looting of the civilian
population. The Turks took all the horses, mules, camels, sheep, cows,
and other beasts that they could lay their hands on; Enver told me that
they had gathered in 150,000 animals. They did it most unintelligently,
making no provision for the continuance of the species; thus they would
leave only two cows or two mares in many of the villages. This system of
requisitioning had the inevitable result of destroying the nation's agriculture,
and ultimately led to the starvation of hundreds of thousands of people.
The Government showed precisely the
same shamelessness and lack of intelligence in the way that they requisitioned
materials from merchants and shopmen. Practically none of these merchants
were Moslems; most of them were Christians, though there were a few Jews;
and the Turkish officials therefore not only provided the needs of their
army and incidentally lined their own pockets, but they found a religious
joy in pillaging the infidel establishments. The prevailing system was
to take movable propertv wherever available and convert it into cash; Misery
and starvation soon began to afflict the land. Out of a 4,000,000 adult
male population more than 1,500,000 were ultimately enlisted and so about
a million families were left without breadwinners, all of them in a condition
of extreme destitution. That the Germans directed this mobilization is
not a matter of opinion but of proof.
to January l, 1915, Turkey had done nothing to justify her participation
in the war; on the contrary, she had met defeat practically everywhere.
Djemal had left Constantinople as the prospective "Conqueror of Egypt,"
but his expedition had proved to be a bloody and humiliating failure. Enver's
attempt to redeem the Caucasus from Russian rule had resulted in an even
more frightful military disaster. He had ignored the advice of the Germans,
which was to let the Russians advance to Sivas and make his stand there,
and instead he had boldly attempted to gain Russian territory in the Caucasus.
This army had been defeated at every point, but the military reverses did
not end its sufferings. The Turks had a most inadequate medical and sanitary
service; typhus and dysentery broke out in all the camps, the deaths from
these diseases reaching 100,000 men.
That England was preparing for an
invasion of Mesopotamia was well known, and no one at that time had any
reason to believe that it would not succeed. Every day the Turks expected
the news that the Bulgarians had declared war and were marching on Constantinople,
and they knew that such an attack would necessarily bring in Rumania and
Greece. It was no diplomatic secret that Italy was waiting only for the
arrival of warm weather to join the Allies. At this moment the Russian
fleet was bombarding Trebizond, on the Black Sea, and was daily expected
at the entrance to the Bosphorus.
Meanwhile, the domestic situation
was deplorable: all over Turkey thousands of the populace were daily dying
of starvation; practically all able-bodied men had been taken into the
army, so that only a few were left to till the fields; the criminal requisitions
had almost destroyed all business; the treasury was in a more exhausted
state than normally, for the closing of the Dardanelles and the blockading
of the Mediterranean ports had stopped all imports and customs dues.
And now, surrounded hv increasing
troubles on every hand, the Turks learned that this mighty armada of England
and her allies was approaching, determined to destroy the defenses and
capture the city. At that time there was no force which the Turks feared
so greatly as they feared the British fleet. All this seems a little absurd
now, for, in fact, the Allied fleets made no attack at that time. At the
very moment when the whole of Constantinople was feverishly awaiting the
British dreadnaughts, the British Cabinet in London was merely considering
the advisability of such an enterprise.
The political committee headed by
Talaat, Enver, and Djemal, controlled the Central Government, but their
authority throughout the empire was exceedingly tenuous. As a matter of
fact, the whole Ottoman state, on that eighteenth day of March, 1915, when
the Allied fleet abandoned the attack, was on the brink of dissolution.
All over Turkey ambitious chieftains had arisen, who were momentarily expecting
its fall, and who were looking for the opportunity to seize their parts
of the inheritance. In Smyrna, Rahmi Bey, the Governor-General, had often
disregarded the authorities at the capital. In Adrianople, Hadji Adil,
one of the most courageous Turks of the time, was believed to be plotting
to set up his own government.
Among the subject races the spirit
of revolt was rapidly spreading. The Greeks and the Armenians would also
have welcomed an opportunity to strengthen the hands of the Allies. The
existing financial and industrial conditions seemed to make revolution
inevitable. Many farmers went on strike; they had no seeds and would not
accept them as a free gift from the Government because, they said, as soon
as their crops should be garnered the armies would immediately requisition
them. As for Constantinople, the populacae there and the best elements
among the Turks, far from opposing the arrival of the Allied fleet, would
have welcomed it with joy. The Turks themselves were praying that the British
and French would take their city, for this would relieve them of the controlling
gang, emancipate them from the hated Germans, bring about peace, and end
The withdrawal of the Allied fleet
from the Dardanelles had consequences which the world does not yet completely
understand. The practical effect of the event was to isolate the Turkish
Empire from all the world excepting Germany and Austria. England, France
Russia, and Italy, which for a century had held a restraining hand over
the Ottoman Empire, had finally lost all power to influence or control.
For the first time in two centuries they could now live their national
life according to their own inclinations. The first expression of this
rejuvenated national life was an episode which, so far as I know, is the
most terrible in the history of the world. New Turkey, freed from European
tutelage, celebrated its national rebirth by murdering not far from a million
of its own subjects.
Essentially the Turk is a bully and
a coward, he is brave as a lion when things are going his way, but cringing,
abject, and nerveless when reverses are overwhelming him. And now that
the fortunes of war were apparently favouring the empire, I began to see
an entirely new Turk unfolding before my eyes. The hesitating and fearful
Ottoman gave place to an upstanding, almost dashing figure, proud and assertive.
The common term applied by the Turk
to the Christian is "dog, " and in his estimation this is no mere rhetorical
figure; he actuallv looks upon his European neighbours as far less worthy
of consideration than his own domestic animals. "My son," an old Turk once
said, "do you see that herd of swine? Some are white, some are black, some
are large, some are small-they differ from each other in some respects,
but they are all swine. So it is with Christians. Be not deceived, my son.
These Christians may wear fine clothes, their women may be very beautiful
to look upon; their skins are white and splendid; many of them are very
intelligent and they build wonderful cities and create what seem to be
great states. But remember that underneath all this dazzling exterior they
are all the same, they are all swine."
all foreigners, while in the presence of a Turk, are conscious of this
attitude. The Turk may be obsequiously polite, but there is invariably
an almost unconscious feeling that he is mentally shrinking from his Christian
friend as something unclean. His religion comes from the Arabs; his language
has acquired a certain literary value by borrowing certain Arabic and Persian
elements; and his writing is Arabic. Constantinople's finest architectural
monument, the Mosque of St. Sophia, was originally a Christian church,
and all socalled Turkish architecture is derived from the Byzantine.
The mechanism of business and industry
has always rested in the hands of the subject peoples, Greeks, Jews, Armenians,
and Arabs. The Turks have learned little of European art or science, they
have established very few educational institutions, and illiteracy is the
prevailing rule. The result' is that poverty has attained a degree of sordidness
and misery in the Ottoman Empire which is almost unparalleled elsewhere.
The Turkish peasant lives in a mud hut; he sleeps on a dirt floor; he has
no chairs, no tables, no eating utensils, no clothes except the few scant
garments which cover his back and which he usually wears for many years.
They could not understand that a
conquered people were anything except slaves. It became a common saying
with them that a horse or a camel was far more valuable than a man; these
animals cost money, whereas "infidel Christians" were plentiful in the
Ottoman countries and could easily be forced to labour. Foreigners in Turkey
had their own courts, prisons, post-offices, and other institutions, yet
the early sultan gave these privileges not from a spirit of tolerance,
but merely because they looked upon the Christian nations as unclean and
therefore unfit to have any contact with the Ottoman administrative and
judicial system. The sultans similarly erected the several peoples, such
as the Greeks and the Armenians, into separate "millets," or nations, not
because they desired to promote their independence and welfare, but because
they regarded them as vermin, and therefore disqualified for membership
in the Ottoman state.
The buildin s in which Christians
lived should not be conspicuous and their churches should have no belfry.
Christians could not ride a horse in the city, for that was the exclusive
right of the noble Moslem. The Turk had the right to test the sharpness
of his sword upon the neck of any Christian. They taxed them to economic
extinction, stole their most beautiful daughters and forced them into their
harems, took Christian male infants by the hundreds of thousands and brought
them up as Moslem soldiers.
They attempted to make all foreign
business houses employ only Turkish labour, insisting that they should
discharge their Greek, Armenian, and Jewish clerks, stenographers, workmen,
and other employees. They ordered all foreign houses to keep their books
in Turkish. The Ottoman Government even refused to have any dealings with
the representative of the largest Austrian munition maker unless he admitted
a Turk as a partner.