The Turkish Myth

The Turkish Myth

Everybody is familiar with the wave of misinformation, misinterpretation, and actual falsification which swept the Allied countries during the recent World War.


Everybody is familiar with the wave of misinformation, misinterpretation, and actual falsification which swept the Allied countries during the recent World War. Now the pendulum has begun to swing and soon we may expect a settling back to normal, with a calm consideration of enemy countries as a mixture of good and bad elements like the rest of the world. But the consistent misinformaion of the Western world with regard to Turkey has been of such long standing as to take its place among the inherent traditions and almost ineradicable beliefs of whole nations.

The few Westerners of importance who have tried to give faithful pictures of life in the Near East have been outnumbered to the extent of being smothered. Major General Harbord, sent officially to investigate conditions; H. G. Dwight, a former United States consular official and author of “Constantinople” and “Stamboul Nights”; Pierre Loti, the romantic lover of Turkish civilization; Anatole France, whose keen mind usually penetrates popular illusions; and H. G. Wells, in “The Outline of History,” are members of the small group of Westerners who have defended Moslem civilization. When Lothrop Stoddard says: “Fourteen hundred years ago Islam rose and flooded the civilized world,” he obviously regards the Mohammedan advance as a wave of barbarism sweeping to destruction the elements of a lofty Western civilization. A pretty theory upon which H. G. Wells has made the following comment: “If the reader entertains any delusions about a fine civilization, either Persian, Roman, Hellenic, or Egyptian, being submerged by this flood (the advance of Islam), the sooner he dismisses such ideas the better. Islam prevailed because it was the best social and political order the times could offer.” Anatole France goes him one better by declaring that “the most tragic day in history is that of the battle of Poitiers when in 732 the science, the art, and the civilization of Arabia fell back before the barbarism of the Frank.”

The age-old charge against the Turks is of course the Armenian massacres. A journalist not long since tabulated the reports of these massacres in recent years and showed that they totaled thirty-five million slain. As the whole Armenian population is known never to have exceeded three million, there is obviously a case of falsification somewhere. The Bryce reports have been proved to be without tangible evidence and to have been based entirely on hearsay. It has been remarked that investigation in the villages where Turks were in the minority would have revealed just as many instances of Greeks and Bulgars massacring Turks. Indeed it is notable that the Greeks and Bulgars accuse each other of such atrocities much more than they accuse the Turks. The situation is of course the result of an agelong conflict between different peoples who have become almost inextricably mixed politically. Those massacres which occur among the Armenians are most often the work of the Kurds, who are roving bands about as lawless as the mobs in parts of the American South, and about as out-of-hand politically as the banditti who infest parts of Italy and Spain.

Finally, there could be no more complete refutation of the long-perpetuated charges against Turkey than the behavior of the Turkish army during the recent offensive in Smyrna. All the events of this advance have been reported by British and American papers whose policy has been consistently anti-Turkish. When the victorious army entered the region, the Christian population, remembering the precedent of 1919 when the Greeks slaughtered 4,000 Moslems, began sending out panic-stricken appeals for protection, anticipating retaliation on the part of the Turks. And the Council of the League of Nations at Geneva sent to Angora a mild request that no reprisals be made for the Greek atrocities. A strange turn of phraseology: the League of Nations admitting Greek atrocities! Gradually it dawned upon the Christians in Smyrna and upon the Christian nations of Europe that no reprisals were to be made. But the retreating Greeks in complete demoralization behaved so badly that even the efficient British censorship could not stop the leaking of news. The pillaging and burning by the defeated Greek army grew to such proportions that it was difficult for Izmet Pasha to restrain his troops from retaliation. But restrain them he did, and his men behaved with such dignity and orderliness as to profoundly impress Western observers. (How different from the actions of our own marines in Haiti!) The first Turk troops to enter Smyrna were military police who prevented looting and did their best to still the panic among the hysterical Greek civilians. The correspondents of the Chicago Tribune, the London Daily Mail, and Reuter’s stated emphatically that the unfortunate burning of the city was not in any way traceable to the Turks. In spite of these reports by correspondents who were on the spot and who have no reason to favor the Turkish cause, we still hear that the Turks burned Smyrna.

During the retreat, Reuter’s correspondent was warned by Greek officers to leave Ouchak as that town was to be burned. I quote his dispatch from Smyrna: “The demoralization of the Greek troops was complete and the behavior of most of the Greek officers disgusting. On the retreat to Smyrna many Greek officers personally led the looting and pillaging.”

But it remains for an American official, a man sent by a great relief organization to help succor the downtrodden Greeks and Armenians, to knock the last props from under the stupid edifice of lies and anti-Turk propaganda. Colonel Haskell of the American Red Cross has just returned from a tour of investigation in the Near East. Speaking officially he said: “America should feed the half million Turks whose hinterland was wilfully demolished by the retreating Greeks, instead of aiding the Greeks and Armenians who are sitting around waiting for America to give them their next meal. The stories of Turk atrocities circulated among American churches are a mess of lies. I believe that the Greeks and not the Turks are barbarians.”

It has been pointed out that the past wars of Islam have been waged with the hope of plunder. How many nations have entered war without some such hope? And in Angora the desire was not for conquest but simply to regain Constantinople, a city that has been Turkish for 500 years and has at present a population which is predominantly Turkish. If wars of conquest are to be deprecated, what could have been a plainer scheme of aggrandizement than the last Greek expedition, materially fortified by the imperialistic policy of Lloyd George? The Greeks were deluded by a dream of regained Alexandrian Empire. It is as though Italy should suddenly demand the restitution of all the Roman provinces on the strength of her glorious past. Charles Saglio in l’OEuvre, Paris, commenting upon the statement of the British Government that the Turkish victory complicated matters in the Near East, said Mustapha Kemal had really rendered a great service to the Allies in driving the Greeks out of Smyrna, which was the most Turkish of all Turkish territory, and had thus largely cleared up the situation instead of confusing it.

In Turkey, all three main religions–Mohammedanism, Judaism, and Christianity–are on an equal footing; the numerically dominant one is completely divorced from the state. This will not mean any falling off in the followers of Mohammed, but merely that other religions are to have equal rights. A Catholic cannot go as far politically in secular America as a Christian can go in so-called theocratic Turkey. Turkey is no more Islam than Italy is Catholicism. There are rumors of a religious war. If it ever comes, it will not come from Turkey as a center but from the outside pressure of Arab tribes. Even under less enlightened rulers than the present government the Turks have been extraordinarily tolerant to other religions. During the 500 years of Turkish occupation of Jerusalem no religious shrine belonging to another people was molested. All sacred spots were open to visitors of the different faiths. And it may be noted in this connection that the inauguration of Allied control precipitated an immediate squabble of nations and sects concerning the guardianship of the holy places. It is not likely, either, that any Western nation would have allowed to Mohammedan missionaries extraterritorial rights such as have been enjoyed by the American College in Constantinople.

Turkey’s greatest crime in modern times seems to have been her entrance into the war on the losing side. Most of our war records tell of the villainy of Enver Bey, but how many refer to Mahmoud Shevket Pasha, the Minister of War whom the Germanophiles of Turkey assassinated because he was doing his best to keep Turkey out of the conflict?

But whatever may be the merits of this case, the Treaty of Sevres, August, 1920, was the last and greatest effort of the Christian Powers to divide Turkey as they have divided Austria, leaving the latter state to the mercies of international charity. In Turkey there was not the excuse of a heterogeneous population as in Austro-Hungary, the population of Turkey being 70 per cent Ottoman Turk and 85 per cent Moslem. The Treaty of Sevres was an AngloFrench grab-scheme; its successor which is to be evolved from the proposals and counter-proposals initiated at Lausanne is likely to be little more.

It is almost impossible to grasp the revolutionary achievements of Mustapha Kemal Pasha, head of the Angora Government. Here is a man of forty, who in the course of a few years has accomplished what would have been considered a task for 500 years, leaping from entirely unrepresentative governmental methods to really democratic ones. Many of the petty rulers of Turkey before the war were lazy rather than vicious. Turkey was a despairing country, sure of being attacked by European Powers whatever its policy. No one wanted to be really responsible for anything. Kemal has made sweeping changes in this respect. Suffrage is absolutely universal with no discrimination for race, color, creed, or sex. The harem system has long been outworn and economically impractical, and there is now an active Turkish Women’s Party with at least as much influence as the National Woman’s Party in America. (Kemal has recently been married to Latifeh Hanoum, one of the leaders of this party.)

The present Government is based on the village system. Each village elects representatives to a body which in turn elects district representatives. These form a council which votes for president. Mustapha Kemal is responsible to this council and trusts himself to a general election at least once a year; he has held office ever since the formation of the Angora Government. It is new for Turkey to have a ruler animated by statesmanlike intelligence and backed by popular support. Angora has recognized the independence of Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Hejas, and Irak. These countries are more grateful to Angora for such recognition than they are to the Allied congress which made them independent states. Because of Mustapha Kemal’s genius and honesty of purpose, and the ability and liberalism of the men associated with him in the new Turkish Government, the Moslem world presents an almost united front under the leadership of Turkey.

The Western world has just begun to realize the great difference between Old Turks and Young Turks. Mustapha Kemal’s Government is endeavoring to prove by its every political move that the appropriate term of the hour is neither of these, but New Turks.


SIR: It is always disappointing when so admirable a journal as yours gives place and apparent weight to arguments in support of indubitable tyranny, but it is especially so when such arguments are palpably irrelevant and illogical. The article on The Turkish Myth, sponsored by Arthur Moss and Florence Gilliam, is the case in point.

Conceive of attempting to speak upon so grave a matter without even the most elementary knowledge of the historic background! Islamic civilization and the Turk! Is it possible that anyone who has given thought to this question at all does not know that this great civilization was Arabic or Saracenic; and that on the historic day of Poitiers, 732, to which allusion is made, when “the science, the art, and the civilization of Arabia fell back before the barbarism of the Franks,” the Turks were still, as they were for some five or more centuries to come, in the heart of Tartary or Turkestan; and that when they arrived it was not to save or to add to but first to destroy and then to imitate such remnant of this civilization as was left? An impartial and a thorough reading of Mr. Wells, to whom these writers allude, would at least have made this fact clear. For on this point he is specific. And even of the Arabs themselves he says (page 636, Vol. II) “the mind of the Arabs blazed out like a star for half a dozen generations after the appearance of Islam, having never achieved anything of importance before or since.” And with respect to the Turk versus the Greek (Col. Haskell’s barbarians, according to the article), quoting with approval Sir Mark Sykes, Mr. Wells apparently believes (page 124, Vol. II) that

Constantinople had been the tutor and polisher of the Turks. So long as the Ottomans could draw science, learning, philosophy, art, and tolerance from a living fountain of civilization in the heart of their dominions, so long had the Ottomans not only brute force but intellectual power. So long as the Ottoman Empire had in Constantinople a free port, a market, a center of world finance, a pool of gold, an exchange, so long did the Ottomans never lack financial support Muhammad was a great statesman; the moment he entered Constantinople he endeavored to stay the damage his ambition had done: he conciliated the Greeks, he did all he could to continue Constantinople the city of the Emperors but the fatal step had been taken; Constantinople, as the city of the Sultans, was Constantinople no more; the markets died away, the culture and civilization fled, the complex finance faded from sight; and the Turks had lost their governors and support.

In the face of this and of the vast bulk of other historic evidence, is it not really overbold on the part of these apologists to attempt to intrigue your readers into an exactly opposite view? Pierre Loti, H. G. Dwight, and Major General Harbord may indeed, in some respects, share their point of view. But I feel that long-time and distinguished friend of Armenia, Anatole France, does not.

And when they come down to modern times and to that real and perennial skeleton in the closet, the desperate struggle of the Armenians for emancipation, and the wholesale massacre of them by their “tolerant” masters, your writers do not appear to be on any firmer ground. Ignoring the legion of eyewitnesses of every class and nationality, they fall back upon a journalist’s mocking tabulation to the effect that if reports were credible then of a total population of 3,000,000 people 35,000,000 would already have been slain. I wonder if this journalist, and the writers, would be willing to accept a reduction of 34,000,000? This would bring the number of slain down to only one million, the number generally estimated, and still leave the Armenians with a heavy enough loss and the Turks with a sufficiently ghastly responsibility.

In the last paragraph but one, one comes upon the interesting news that Angora has “recognized” Armenia (Russian Armenia) and that the Armenians are more grateful to Angora for having done this than to the Allied Congress which made them independent. Ye gods! And did the Allied Congress make these Armenians independent? We who have been following the case closely have always supposed that Armenia had won her own independence and had kept it by Russian sanction and that she felt not the least gratitude either to Turkey or to the Allies.



SIR: We beg leave to reply to Miss Papazian’s letter of June 12, wherein she objected to certain statements made in our article The Turkish Myth. The venerable Arslanian, present Patriarch of Christian Armenia and certainly more qualified to speak for his people than are absentee patriots, stated to the Chicago Tribune representative in Constantinople on April 30: There is no truth in the story that my people have appealed to Sir Horace Rumbold to raise any Armenian question at Lausanne. We formally disapprove of propaganda conducted by Armenians abroad. This only arouses animosity and accomplishes nothing. It makes the Armenian people a mere cloak for the selfish policies of the Great Powers. We Armenians are participating wholeheartedly in the elections as our duty. We are resolved to work hand in hand with Turkey in the interests of the nation.

The Patriarch was not under Turk coercion or influence, being at the time under the protection of Allied guns. Miss Papazian says that the recent independence of Armenia was achieved by the Armenians. True, but by Armenians at home, working hand in hand with members of the new government of Turkey. We did not, as Miss Papazian suggests, ignore testimony of eyewitnesses as to alleged massacres. One of the writers, Mr. Moss, has spent considerable time in the Near East and has first-hand knowledge of atrocities perpetrated by Kurdish bands (as was admitted in our article), and also knows of many atrocities committed by Armenian, Greek, Bulgar, and Serb comitadje.


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