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The Research of Arnold Toynbee on Turks and The Birth of Armenian Propaganda

Prof. Dr. Hasan KÖNİ*
Armenian Studies, Issue 2, June-July-August 2001

 .iÇà`="justify">We considered it as interesting to investigate on the article ‘Turkish Mentality’, published in the ‘Atlantic Magazine’ in 1925, which was written by the famous English historian, Arnold Toynbee, who has visited Turkey in April 1923 when the Lausanne Conference was interrupted.

The personality of Toynbee that I will elaborate in this paper, will explain the importance of his articles. In this article Toynbee, compares the Turkish revolution to other revolutions. By going down to the pre-Ottoman Turkish history era, he explains the Turkish state logic, mentality and the state of mind. Toynbee draws an interesting picture, regarding Anatolia’s minorities, especially the Greeks (which was the most supported nation by the British) and the reasons for their behaviour. The significance of Toynbee’s remarks on the Greeks stems from the fact that he was the head of the Greek History Chair at the Oxford University and that he had prepared numerous projects and researches on ancient Greek history. Toynbee also examines Ottoman minorities and makes some generalizations on this issue. Despite his neutrality, this article, of 1925, shows marks of his days in the British Secret Service. When discussing the borders of the new Turkish state, before the Mosul problem arised, Toynbee argues that enlarging the boundaries, determined in Lausanne, would create problems for the new state.  This article looks like a warning for the Turkish State to act carefully in the Mosul Issue.


We will not look at Toynbee’s personality in the classic biographic method by examining his childhood, marriage and the incidents in his life, but in the field of our interest, which is more about Toynbee’s political views and his thoughts and actions on Greece and on the War of Independence of the Turks and the Greeks.

Toynbee is a well known scholar who has given lectures at Britain’s Balliol College,

Oxford University, on Greek Language, Ancient Greek History and the Anatolian Civilizations, which were also the fields that the British intellectuals praised.

Toynbee commenced working at the British Foreign Ministry’s Propaganda Office in 1915 and afterwards continued his work at the ‘Political Secret Service Department’. (This department was later transferred to the Foreign Ministry) We are trying to explain Toynbee’s intelligence work at the secret service by using various sources.

The task that he had undertaken there, was to influence the American public opinion. He used to write daily reports for the English government after reading daily articles of the American media. The English propaganda changed its direction in October 1915: ‘The Turkish massacre against the Armenians’. This issue had gained importance after the speech of the president of British-Armenian Friendship Association, Lord Bryce in 6 October 1915. Bryce obtained his information from the American missioners who had founded schools and health centres in Anatolia. Turkey did not intervene in any of these schools and medical centres until the war with the US in 1917.

The aim of the Protestant American missioners was to convert the Muslims living in Anatolia to Christianity. As they did not succeed they tried to convert Orthodox Christians to Protestantism. The clients of the Protestant schools were Anatolian Greeks and Armenians. Despite the fact that the Armenians did not have the right to claim their independence, they went into collaboration with the Russians and fought against the Ottoman armies. Their losses were presented in an exaggerated way to the American missionaries, who transmitted these false information to the American ambassador MORGENTHAU and to the intelligence staff at the Robert College. This lead to the fact that finally the British held enough genocide propaganda material in their hands.

Although ambassador MORGENTHAU had to be neutral during his visits to the Dardanelles up to 1917, he transmitted information on the condition of the Ottoman army to the British army.

The most significant mistake that Morgenthau undertook was to transfer information about the Southeastern war fields, which were told him by his Armenian secretary in form of genocide stories, as if he has seen the conditions there, although he has never been there.

There were  various reasons for the British to start with the Armenian propaganda after the speech of Lord Bryce in 1915 in the British parliament. Firstly to convince their own nation that they are waging a fair war, so that they could justify the expenses of warfare and to be able to attract more people to the army. The second reason is the German counter propaganda about the massacres of the Jews by the Russians with the pretext that they did not fought well on the Galica front and the sympathy of the American Jews for the Germans. Such propaganda was needed to influence the American Jews and get them involved into the war. On the other hand the British were committing massacres to the Irish who had joint the Sinn Fein Organization and did not want to enter the war on the British side. The Germans were supporting the Irish. The British needed a new counter propaganda in order to cover the Irish incidents. From this point onwards the British propaganda gained intensity. In that propaganda, it was claimed that the Germans were responsible for the Turkish actions against the Armenians.  When Lord Bryce wanted the massacres towards the Armenians to be recorded systematically, Toynbee who was the most brilliant writer of the intelligence, was appointed as assistant to Lord Bryce. In fact neither Toynbee nor Bryce were aware of the real intention of the British government, which was to get America involved in the war.

Toynbee, depending on liberal values, put together the news he received from the American missioners in a 700-page book. The name of the book was ‘The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire: 1915 - 1916’. According to an English author, this book is the first extraordinary example of war propaganda. The book tires the readers with bloody scenes and brutality. The fact that it does not explain the reasons of the conflict between Turks and Armenians, upset Toynbee because he was used as a tool in hiding the historical truth.

After realizing that short texts were easier to read by the people, the British Foreign Ministry published the ‘Blue Books’. Even though Toynbee wrote these books, Lord Bryce’s name was written on them. The first brochure was named ‘Armenian Genocides: A Death of a Nation’. The second brochure ‘The Deadly Pressure of The Turks’ has Toynbee’s signature and Lord Bryce’s introduction. Thousands of these brochures were published and distributed all over the British Empire, where the sun never sets, and America. Armenian genocide was not to be talked about after the entrance of America into the war. Toynbee’s new job was to write about the German massacres.

During the years 1916-1917 Toynbee published brochures like, ‘German Brutality: The Collapse of Poland’, ‘German Terror in Belgium’ and ‘German Terror in France’. When he finished these articles he said to a friend: ‘Thanks god I am through with the massacre stories’. Beginning from 1917, Toynbee worked on the intelligence reports received from the Ottoman Empire. Continuing in 1918 with intelligence reports coming from Central Asia. The outcome of this work was turned into a research book called ‘The Memorandum on the Muslim Nation Administrating Themselves’. In this study Toynbee claimed that the support the Germans gave to the Turks and the British gave to the Arabs, helped these nations to form their own states.

He further claims that the British drew back in spite of the developments in the Islamic world, and that only Armenians, Georgians, Kazakhs and Ukrainians remained as friends, the latter being in a doubtful situation. He also argues that Muslims and Bolsheviks were getting closer to each other.

Toynbee thought in 1918, when the peace process was developing, that Britain would play an important role in the peace with Turkey. However he is to hate Llyod George when he realises that he does not care about his ideas. In his newspaper articles between 1919-1924, he criticized Lloyd George’s wrong policies. At the Paris Conference of 1919, to which Toynbee went as the reporter of Manchester Guardian, he had meetings with the representatives of Armenians, Greece, Arab, Jew and Kurds, whom were claiming land from the Ottoman Empire. Toynbee thought that ?zmir would be the capital city of the new Turkish state, but he would not be able to explain his ideas to Lloyd George. In a letter he stated that the English and the Americans were supporting the idea that ?zmir should be left to the Turks but their representatives to the conference thought differently. Toynbee did not consider the Sévres Agreement as realistic. In order to correct the mistakes of the conference, Toynbee and his friend Harold Nicolson (who would become an important diplomat later on) prepared some proposals stating that the European coasts of the Trace and Istanbul should be given to Greece and Turkey should stand on the Asian side. Toynbee was offered a Koreas professor’s grade with the purpose to teach ancient greek history literature at King College within the University of London. King College was financially supported by rich Greeks living in London. During his professorship at the King College in London, his articles were mainly on the Turkish Greek war from 1920 to 1922, in which he started to become more sympathic towards the Turkish side.

In 1921 Toynbee was to ask for permission from his university to visit Anatolia and Greece. He was to attend these visits as the reporter of Manchester Guardian. On the 7th of January Toynbee arrives in Greece and turns back to London on the 21st of September. After visiting Greece Toynbee went to ?zmir, where he, with the assistance of the director of the American College, Alexander MacLachlan, meets some Turkish businessmen. These Businessmen seem to support the Greek view. Toynbee wants to see the truth, so he, together with K?z?lay visits the war places, where he recognizes that the Greek, by withdrawing from the war places, killed Turkish civilians. When Toynbee visited Yalova, he recognized that only 1500 of 7000 were still alive. From this time onwards he started writing about the brutality that the Turks were facing. He kept reporting his observations on the barbarity of the Greeks, and the Manchester Guardian published all these reports without changing a single word. ?n a letter he states that he himself rescued 700 persons from the Greek barbary. These reports convinced the owner of the newspaper, C.P Scott and Toynbee that the Sevres Agreement was unfair and unrealistic and could not be implemented. Llyod George’s politics of the Near East which intended to keep up the British interests in the region and which ended up in a desaster, shall be given up. After all his observations Toynbee realised that he was only aware of half of the truth, while writing his articles in 1915. Just after he returned from Istanbul, he published his next book ‘The West Problem in Greece and Observation of the Turkish Civilizations’. In Toynbee’s view, both Greek civilisation and Turkish civilisation which is closed to Islam, were affected by the existence of the Western civilization in the area, but could not really adopt themselves easily to the Western Civilization. The developments in this area started with the presence and the superiority of the West. The Eastern problem about which the West is concerned, is basically a Western problem. At the point where these 3 civilizations meet, the two weaker ones collapsed.

Toynbee went on with writing articles in the following years. However we will focus on his articles until his second visit to Turkey in 1923. It is quite obvious that there is a lack of information. Firstly he did not have the possibility to read Ottoman documents. His knowledge on the Turkish revolution based on British intelligence reports and on books written by Western authors. With his experience during his journalism years, he did not have the ability to analyse Turkish history. Still his British point of view is quite significant because Great Britain was the mightiest state during the period of the Turkish revolution.  


In his article ‘The Turkish Mentality’, Toynbee claimed that this mentality is revolutionary. Ankara is in a state of defence formation and re-formation of the state. This atmosphere is comparable to all revolutions from 1793 onwards. Even though the Turkish Revolution was inspired by the French Revolution, it seems to have a different dimension. According to Toynbee, the previous revolutions were superficial. A great explosion cuts of the past in these revolutions. The developments that lead to this explosion start years before and after the explosion the same development continues in a straight line. Along with being influenced by French Revolution, the Turkish Revolution was a real one.


According to Toynbee the Great War against the Ottoman Empire was beneficial for the Turkish nation. With this war the Turks had the chance to get rid of the old institutions; on the other hand the hostile Tsar Empire had collapsed, which left its place to a strange and new power, seeking Turkish friendship. The Germans, whose friendship constituted nothing but danger for the Turks, had left Turkey. The victors of the war with their obvious incapacity are exhausted. Their view is concentrated on their real enemy Germany. Turkey at this point is at second row. Greece that was forced to war with weak Turkey, proved that it had limited sources and was in danger of splitting up itself, which made it unreliable. The non-Turkish provinces of the Ottoman Empire, after being a big problem for years, and after the Turks having spend all of their energy for these foreign territories, broke off finally. After seing that the land they lived in was in danger, the Turks ceased from controlling the other nations and turned to rescuing themselves, considers Toynbee.

The new Turkish national movement has gained power after the invasion of ?zmir by the Greeks. The Turkish National Pact (Misak-? Milli), acoording to the above mentioned frame of logic, left the Arab provinces and formed a construction of which the borders are drawn according to the living space of the Turks. The energy of the Turks was focused on defending their own territories; unlike the Union of Progress, the new nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal had learnt a lesson not to join the pan-Islamism and the pan-Turanism movement, which is a doctrine of a Western historian Leon Cahun. By having rescued from megalomania, they have found an opportunity to be in a real war of independence. Mustafa Kemal and his friends were aware of the fact that pan-Turanist would damage the relations with Russia and would not lead to peace with Great Britain and France, who provided shelter for millions of Muslims themselves. Some Turkish leaders to which Toynbee talked, stated that Turkey has fought for Islam for many years and put aside their national progress and that the Turks later said ‘Why should we go on sacrifying ourselves. We gained our independence after having paid big prices for it during the war of 1919-1922. We reached a peace agreement, which nobody would reach easily. We won’t do anything for the Arabs from now onwards’.

Toynbee believed that this new Turkish mentality was important and courageous. It was showing that Turkey was going to live as a successful member of the international community. Toynbee further argued that the Turks went unnecessarily into a battle with the British in Musul, after being separated from the Arab territories. It should be also stopped trying to assimilate the Kurds, for a rising Kurdish nationalist movement would be unfortunately for the Turks. The problem of Musul had become a problem of boundaries and could be solved by the National Society Council.

Toynbee believes that the Turks, under their new leader, have a more moderate attitude, that a progress took place at the first meeting with the West, that later a recession took place but that he learned that it should not be under British occupation, and that Turks have the mentality to be a full member of the Western Community?.

According to Toynbee, being a special people, the Jews, have chosen the same way, not to be a colony and turned towards becoming a Western society.

From Toynbee’s point of view, Turks needed to get rid of the capitulations in order to get back to normal (Western norms). He states that capitulations were creating burdens in the economy and the second problem that was overcomed by the Turks was the matter of minorities. Toynbee believes that Ottoman toleration, by only taking taxes from the minorities, allowed the practice of religion and language with large autonomy. This practice of the 16th century beared problems in the 19th century. The attempt for seperation of the minorities, which wanted to create their own states, increased with the support of the Western powers. The Minorities were engaged in commerce and industry in the Empire, which is the core reason for them to form a powerful class. The dangers of this progress were felt during the Greek invasion, where the Anatolian Greeks took place besides the invaders. Turkey, with the National Pact, gave the minorities the rights of the West, which was a decrease of the exaggerated minority rights of the Ottoman Empire. On the other side, the fact that the Greeks of Thrace and Anatolia emigrated to Greece and the Turks of Western Thrace immigrated to Turkey made solved the problem of minorities to a great extent.

Whereas ?n the summer of 1922 western Turkey and northern Greece had a complex national structure, today it is of a homogenous structure like in Italy, France and Germany.

According to Toynbee, the most radical and interesting changes were achieved under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, in the fields of political, economic and social life reforms. One of the most important changes has been the dismissal of the Sultanate and the emergence of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, as a legitimate power. Toynbee mentions that the sultanate was in power to represent its own family and not the Turkish nation and he further points out that Vahdettin Efendi has worked against the benefits of the Turks in the years of invasion. A more radical movement was the abrogation of the caliphate. Toynbee believes that the caliphe was the worldly leader of the Muslims not a spiritual leader like the one in the Roman Empire. There was a strong worldly administration during the powerful periods of the Ottoman Empire, and thus there was not a need for the caliphate. He puts on his argumentaion by stating that, only after the Ottoman Empire saw its muslim territories in danger by being conquered by Christian powers, enlightened Turks realized (understood) the difference between a worldly and a spiritual leader.

In this case the Caliphate had been defined incorrect: just like the Pope, who was presented as the spirtual leader of the ancient populations of the lost territories, the Caliphe had been presented as the spiritual leader of the muslims of India and China. This construction occurred as Abdülhamit’s policy and continued under the Union and Progress party. The Pope is in a strange structure within an independent nation-state. Turkey saw the Caliphe on a comparable level as the Pope, but left this system, after a year of experience. Finally, according to Toynbee, the third permanent impact has been realized on 3 areas; the movement of freeing women, the modernization of agriculture and the entrance of Turks individually in the areas of trade and industry. Toynbee considers these 3 developments as the most significant ones, according to the future of Turkey.


As it is mentioned above, Tonybee did not, apart from the British intelligence sources and his personal visits, observe the Ottoman documents until this article. Out of this reason he made some incorrect decisions on the areas of the new state that Atatürk was trying to create, Ottoman manner towards the minorities and even on the politics of his own country.

Although he soon understood, after his several visits to Turkey, that the propaganda articles he wrote between 1915 – 1917 were wrong; these articles are up to now still used against Turkey by Armenians and Greek Cypriots. He would have corrected the mistakes in his following articles. For example, it is a correct finding that Turks created the Ottoman Empire on the synthesis of Central Asian culture rather than on Byzantium and Roman culture. However the argument that they left their own culture and took over the Western culture is incorrect. Turks created a synthesis by adopting suitable sides of different cultures. This is the main reason for Turks for not loosing their identity all around the world today. It is possible to see the situation after the observations of Ottoman documents in Halil ?nalc?k’s examinations. The settlement of Turks in the Balkans, and the administration system they adopted, prevented feudal disputes and bloody strifes between the clans, which had a big impact on the socio-economic improvement of the Balkans.

The crashing effects of the crusaders were cleared by the presence of the Ottoman Empire in this region. The inclusion of the Arab lands to the Empire in 1517 lead to the Ottomans gaining the Caliphate. The empire used the title Caliphate together with the titel Sultanate in order to gain sovereignty among the Arabs. On the other hand Caliphate is an institution that has both, spiritual and worldly features. Toynbee’s mistake at this point is that he could not understand the point that this institution was removed because it did not have any functionality within the new Turkish State. It is interesting that none of the Arab states, although the British wanted to give them the Caliphate in order to prevent the holy war (cihat)  did not want to take over the Caliphate, which has its roots in the Kureyshi tribe.

In terms of the minority problems, it is a fact that the West provoked the happy minority groups within the Ottoman Empire in order to gain partners and to pull them to their side. Ilber Ortayl? puts forward, that with the trade agreements signed in 1711’s the West gained trade partners in the Empire, finally made the colony agreement in 1838. With the reforms of 1856, the partners of the Western companies were the Ottoman Christians and Jews. The reason that fastened the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, as Toynbee also confesses, is the game that the West played with the Christian and Muslim groups within the Empire. First of all the West supported the Greeks, which was followed by other Chrisitian minorities. Especially Great Britain, which improved several games on the muslim minorities is responsible for the appearance of the Arab and Kurdish problems. Toynbee, who accepts the fact that the Turks created a correct map for themselves, by sticking to the territories inhabited by Turks, seems to forget about the Turkish population in Musul. Great Britain, who did everything for the Kurds to revolt, thought that Kurdish nationalism would not affect the Arabs but it would only harm the Turks. Toynbee doesn’t seem to be aware of the games his country played for oil. Toynbee who declares that his country, France and Italy have a homogenous structure, ignores that between 1915 - 1921 during the Irish revolts many people were executed and an important portion of the remainders migrated to U.S.; he further ignores that the Scottish are a different nation, that Basques, Bretons, Korsikians and Alsasians live in France. He completely ignores that, because there was no help from the outside like in the Ottoman empire, the revolts ended up unsuccessfully.

Toynbee’s declarations on the untrustworthiness of the Greeks were correct. The Greeks who entered the Anatolian adventure only for their own primitive benefits, did not abstain from violating their own population. It is clear that, as much as the Turkish War of Independence was affected by the Greek occupation, the occupation of south Anatolia by Armenian armies affected the Turks as the Greek Cypriote occupation.

Toynbee’s works, which shall be read in the light of the newly found concepts/inventions, is reflecting probably the inability of a scientist to make distinction between propaganda and real history.

* Ankara University -
- Armenian Studies, Issue 2, June-July-August 2001
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