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Chapter 2: The Origins of the Armenian Question Kamuran GÜRÜN*
The Armenian File
| ||.j»À ~°le="text-align: juÿÖ / Chapter 2: The Origins of the Armenian Question208Ğ font-family: Verdana;">CHAPTER TWO|
The origins of the Armenian question
1.The Armenian Church
Toynbee says: ‘a universal church is apt to come to birth during a Time of Troubles following the breakdown of a civilization, and to unfold itself within the political framework of a universal state which is the institutional manifestation of a temporary arrest in a broken-down civilization’s decline and fall’.
Our intention is not to examine theological theories. We will not analyse why and how Christianity came to be established. However, it is impossible not to agree with Toynbee that if a religion is to achieve universality, it will need the support of a universal state’s legal framework. If the Roman Empire had not officially accepted Christianity, it might not have been possible for the religion of Jesus to spread in the world. If Abu-Bakr had not organized the first campaign to Syria and Iraq to ensure internal peace and quiet, and thus started the Holy War, it might not have been possible for Islam to be a world religion.
At other times, various philosophies that did not rely upon such a framework were unable to spread, and, being in conflict with existing religions, were crushed.
In short, we can assume that all great religions, in order to be called such, must rely on the support of great states. It is also possible for a great state, or one that is potentially ready to expand, to use religion as a means of expansion. There follows an unavoidable struggle for power between church and State, as in the Middle Ages in Europe or in the world of Islam during periods when secular authority and spiritual authority were not embodied in one individual. The struggle between the Seljuk Sultans and the Abbasid Caliphs is the clearest example of this.
In the Ottoman Empire, after Sultan Selim ? had conquered Egypt, as the sovereignty and the Caliphate had become unified in the person of the Sultan, such a danger disappeared. Nevertheless, because Shiites had not recognized the Sunni Caliph, the Ottoman-Iranian wars have been considered to be religious wars instead of wars of conquest.
Whwn studying the Armenian Church it is essential to keep these points in mind.
Vazken ?, Catholicos of Etchmiadzin, wrote his encylical dated 16 August 1964: ‘The era of the national history of the Armenian people began in the Vth century with the invention of Armenian writing and the heroic battle of Avarayr.’
This is correct. The battle of Avarayr ended on 2 June 451 with rebellious Armenians being crushed. At that time, it will be recalled, Armenia was divided between Byzantium and the Sassanids. The area belonging to Byzantium had been directly linked to Istanbul, and Byzantium had been trying to enable the Greek Church to dominate in this area. After the death of Artakes in 428, the Armenian feudal lords had wanted the Sassanid area to be directly linked to the Sassanid Crown, instead of having a new governor-general appointed, and the Sassanid ruler Vahram v had accepted this request.
Imagine a country which, instead of living as a relatively autonomous community, by having a prince or a governor-general appointed, prefers to be linked to the Sassanid throne. It is impossible to talk about the existence of a national consciousness in such a country. The Armenian Church, too, opposes this relative autonomy, for if a prince is to govern the land the Catholicos will have a secondary position. If there is no prince, he is the primary figure.
Vahram v was an emperor antagonistic to Christianity. But Yazdigirt who replaced him in 438 was hostile to Christians. He wanted to dissolve the Armenian Church and spread Masdeism, the religion of the Sassanids. The Church, seeing that its foundations were being shaken, called the feudal lords to rebel. Almost all of them were killed in the fight, and the country remained under absolute Sassanid rule; but, after this date, Yazdigirt gave the Armenian Church religious freedom.
This is the main point. Essentially one should not talk about the Armenian nation, the Armenian state or Armenian history, but about the Armenian Church, the Armenian Church State. The Armenian Church, in order to preserve its existence, needed a power, a state. It was not the Armenian nation that gave rise to the idea of an Armenian state, but the Armenian Church.
If there had been no rupture between the Byzantine Church and the Armenian Church, could the thought of an Armenian state have emerged? We do not think so, for if this were the case, then the Church would have kept the Armenian community within the Byzantine Church and Byzantine culture. Were the relations between the Byzantine Church and the Armenian Church severed because of differences in theological interpretations, or because the Armenian Church and those at its head had already decided to maintain their independence instead of becoming second-class clergy, and had thus adopted this theological difference as an excuse? This is the question to be examined and it seems that the second possibility is more likely, for the rupture between the two Churches had started long before, even before the invention of the Armenian alphabet, approximately in 387 or 388, when Sahak’s consecration to the Catholicate was not performed by the Archbishop of Kayseri. We quote Boyajiyan and Sanjian:
‘Hereditary succession to the Patriarchate continued for a century or more, with an interruption of about fifty years after the death of Nerses the Great, and in the year 387 or 388 the line of St. Gregory was restored by the Ascension of Sahag to the patriarchal throne. His ordination on Armenian soil put an end to the custom of going to Caesarea for ordination as Catholicos. The autonomy of the Armenian Church was thoroughly established.’
‘These harmonious relations between the Armenian and the Byzantine churches were disrupted at the beginning of the fifth century when the newly elected Armenian Catholicos was consecrated not by the archbishop of Caesarea but by the bishops of Armenia, a fact which was viewed by the Greeks as being tantamount to a schism!’
Although the dates in these two quotations do not correspond, the date given by Boyajiyan seems to be more accurate because Sahak was Catholicos between the years 387 and 428.
The important role of the Armenian Church is acknowledged by all Armenian historians.
Pastermadjian says: ‘The Armenian Church has been the body where the soul of the Armenian people, revived by the church, lived, while waiting for the day of its resurrection.’ Nalbandian’s view is: ‘The most important role in these nationalistic efforts was played by the Armenian Church, which functioned both as a religious and as an intellectual force through certain distinguished leaders and in its major monasteries... In the absence of political independence, the Catholicos embodied the aspirations of its people and became the link between the Armenians in the Diaspora and those of the homeland.’
Boyajiyan is more explicit: ‘Any history of Armenia, no matter how comprehensive, will fail to depict the true life of the Armenians, without a comparable presentation on the Armenian Church. The Armenian Church and the Armenian nation have been so intertwined that the one could hardly have been conceived without the other.’
I believe all these statements reflect in different ways the point we have attempted to present above. For this reason, when studying the Armenian question, it is necessary to look at the Armenian Church, which is its source. Armenians, setting no limit to exaggeration in the history of their Church as well as in their own history, would affirm that they were Christians even before Jesus without the slightest effort. Indeed, Samuel of Ani writes that Sanatruk, who became an Armenian Prince in 37, had believed in Jesus through the teachings of apostle Thaddle, but after having lost his faith had him killed. The same author has recorded that apostle Batholome had died in 50 in the city of Aseban. The Armenian Church recognizes these two disciples as its founders.
As we have stated above, Christianity was officially accepted by Tridat, Prince of Armenia in 301.
According to legend, Gregory Lussarovitch, who brought Christianity to Armenia, was from Iran (Persia). Born in 257, he belonged to the Arsasid family. His father Anak had killed Tridat ilin a hunting party by order of the King of Persia. Before dying, Tridat had ordered that Anak and his whole family be killed. Before the order could be carried out, Gregory was able to flee and had come to Kayseri. He grew up there, with his sibling’s Christian nurse. He also married an Armenian princess, had two children, and, as he returned to Armenia, had begun to spread Christianity.
What follows this in the legend is even more interesting:
Tridat III, who was then Prince of Armenia, immediately reestablished the cult of the ancient gods... but when he tried to force his servant Gregory to offer sacrifices to the idols, this one refused obstinately and declared he was Christian. Tridat had him tortured for a long time; but when he learned Gregory was the son of his father’s murderer, he had him thrown into a cellar of the Vaghashabad castle where he stayed for thirteen years.... A peculiar illness took over Tridat; he imagined he had turned into a beast... a divine revelation came in a dream to his sister, saying that Gregory could find a remedy to the sufferings of Tridat.... Gregory was taken out of the prison, was given clothing, and brought to Vaghashabad where the king, as soon as he saw him, regained his reason.... Gregory baptised the king and his family, the lords, all the people of the court, and 190,000 individuals.... Thus Christianity was deffinitely and officially established in Armenia.
Gregory was placed at the head of the Armenian Church after this event, which occurred in 301, and went to Kayseri for consecration by Archbishop Leontius. It is written that Gregory, on his return, had many temples destroyed, had churches built, baptized thousands, and appointed many to the priesthood.
In the early days of Christianity, different points of view emerged in various countries, especially with regard to the dual nature of Jesus. In order to end these doctrinal differences, Constantine, Emperor of Byzantium, called all the bishops in the world to a meeting in Iznik (Nicaea) in 318. This meeting, which lasted from 20 May to 25 July 325, is known as the first General Council of the Church. The Armenian Church was represented by Gregory’s son Aristakes. Subsequent General Councils were held at Istanbul (Constantinople) in 381 and at Ephesus in 431. Although the Armenian Church did not take part in these councils, it accepted all the decisions that were taken at them.
As mentioned above, the Armenian Catholicos did not go to Kayseri (Caesarea) for his consecration. It may be that his absence from the 431 Council is related to this.
The struggle with the Sassanids is given as the reason for not going to the 451 Council at Chalcedon, but it is obvious that this rebellion, which did not last long, would not have constituted an obstacle. The Armenian Church did not accept the decisions taken at the Council of Chalcedon. Thus it broke de facto with the Christian Church, with Rome and with the Byzantine Church.
At times, the various attempts of the Byzantine Church to unify the Church seemed to achieve positive results. For example, in 633 there was an agreement between Emperor Herachius and Catholicos Ezr. But each time, as in this case, the Armenian Church did not follow the agreement and furthered the process of dividing the two Churches.
It is possible to state that this schism was beneficial to the Armenian Church and not to the Armenian nation.
Under the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, there were attempts to unify, this time with the Roman Church. Although the Armenian King was in agreement, the Church was opposed once again and unification was not achieved.
The Armenian Church was established in Etchmiadzin. However, the Church found it useful to follow the secular governments as they changed their location. For this reason it moved to Dwin in 485, to Ani in 901, and, after frequently moving from one place to another, finally came to Rumkale (Cilicia) in 1147. In the meantime, as the Catholicate which had been transferred from Rumkale to Akdamar moved from there to Argina (a city near Ani), the Patriarch of Akdamar proclaimed himself Catholicos. Although the Armenian Church did not recognize him, this Catholicate continued until 1895, when the last Catholicos, Hatchatur Shiroyan, died and was not replaced. During the First World War the Catholicate was dissolved by the Ottoman Empire.
The Catholicate remained in Rumkale until 1292. When this city fell under Mameluke rule, it was transferred to Sis. After the Kingdom of Cilicia was dissolved in 1375, the Catholicate remained at Sis. A Synod met because they realized that they were now under the influence of the Roman Church. It was decided at the Synod that they should return to Etchmiadzin. The decision was acted upon in 1441, but this time the Catholicate in Sis remained. After the First World War the Catholicate was transferred from Sis to Antilyas, near Beirut.
Aside from these three Catholicates, two Patriarchates emerged, one in Istanbul, the other in Jerusalem.
Each Catholicos has the right to select the lower-ranking clergy in his area. The Patriarchs do not have this privilege.
The Istanbul Patriarchate was the most influential spiritual leader in the Empire, owing to its position of leadership within the Armenian community, although the Catholicates of Akdamar and Sis were in a higher position in the Church hierarchy.
According to the present-day Church structure, there are two Catholicates. The Catholicos of Etchmiadzin is considered the spiritual leader of all Armenians, and so is theoretically superior to the Catholicos of Antilyas, who in fact is totally independent.
A striking feature of the history of the Armenian Church is the attempt to avoid falling under the influence of the Byzantine or the Roman Church. Because we are not writing the history of the Church we have only attempted to describe the main outlines of this attempt. In many cases it has produced results which were politically against the interests of the Armenian community. However, this policy was not abandoned, maybe because the interest of the Church was given more weight than the interest of the community. Thus only initiatives that were to give more power to the Church were followed.
Other churches that were not successful in their attempts to bring the Armenian Church under their jurisdiction now tried to convert individuals. Those who joined the Greek Church, because they were living in Byzantium, were Hellenized and thus assimilated. Those joining the Protestant and Catholic Churches became, especially in the Ottoman Empire, separate communities, and this gave rise to serious conflicts among the Armenians.
The conversion of individuals to other faiths was achieved, especially in the case of the Protestant Church, through missionaries. The role played by the missionaries in the emergence of the Armenian Question is quite close to that of the Gregorian Church. This missionary activity became apparent in the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century.
We have previously discussed Armenian history only up until the date when the land they occupied became subject to the Ottoman Empire. There is not much to discuss about Armenians in the Ottoman Empire until 1856, when the Armenian Question was to emerge, owing to the activities of the Church on the one hand, the activities of the missionaries on the other, and finally the policies of the great powers.
In order fully to understand and evaluate events, it is necessary first to establish their origins. For this reason we find it useful to examine the activities of the missionaries, the difference of religion, and the topic of propaganda separately, before looking at the life-style of Armenians from the sixteenth century on.
We shall return later to the subject of historical development.
2. The difference of religion
Their [the Armenians’] country is controlled by a rich and powerful potentate of another race, who with his court and army would be neither cruel nor revengeful except for their religion. They are Mohammedans and they have been taught for centuries that a Christian slain was the surest passport to the favor of God and the enjoyment of eternal happiness. Under the insane spell of this awful fanaticism, they have come down like wolves on the gentle Christian people under their sway, and within the last year have slaughtered men, women, and children without mercy, not for any wrong that they have done, but only because they are Christians.
This passage is taken from the preface of Bliss’s book. Bliss spent many years in Turkey, where he was a missionary.
If such a remark could be made in blind partiality in 1896 about Islam, which was established more than 1,270 years ago, and which more than 200 million people had chosen as their faith (a fact recorded by Bliss on pages 57—8 of his book), and about the 600-year-old Ottoman Empire whose religious tolerance is recognized by the entire world, then one can imagine, without reading the book, what could be said about events which had taken place a year earlier, in an area in which the world and especially Americans were almost uninterested.
It is true that the religious factor has always played an important role in relations between Turks and the Christian nations. One has always treated Turks differently, not because they were Turks, but because they were Muslims, and the Christian community has treated them as outcasts. This treatment was not restricted to Turks, but to other communities in Europe as well. Hungarians and Bulgarians were subjected to the same treatment until they accepted Christianity.
It is possible for this reason to explain the continuous antagonistic attitude of Europe towards the Ottoman Empire, solely because of the difference of religion. During the majestic period of the Empire this attitude was more reserved. As the decline of the Empire began, the hostility returned. Felix Valyi has written on this subject:
Truth to tell, European politicians have never been able to shake themselves free from theological bias, particularly in regard to Islam, and Christianity has always continued to prosecute the religious policy of preceding centuries, a policy infected with the prejudices which Byzantine chroniclers bequeathed to Western thought. These chroniclers were the great initiators of the anti-Moslim movement, and perverted European judgment regarding Oriental matters by such trumpery assertions as defeated nations usually make in order to wreak their vengeance upon their conquerors, and to comfort themselves in their humiliation. For a long while Byzantine sources of information constituted the basis of aft European prejudices regarding the Near East, and the politicians of the Christian Powers readily turned them to account, as long as Christianity was exposed to the Turkish danger. One of the Popes, Pius II, the great humanist, known by the name of Aeneas Sylvius, before organizing his crusade against the Turks, thought of an exceedingly simple way of solving the Ottoman problem. In a personal letter he invited Mohammed the Conqueror to become converted to Christianity, together with all his people, and promised to reward him by hailing him as the Supreme Head of Christianity and the protector of European order. This letter is but the symbol of the real charge that Europe brings against Turkey. Europe would have been prepared to forgive her all her conquests, which were no worse than those of any other conqueror, if only she had chosen to enter the Christian family.
But the Turks, just as they did not consider conversion, did not abandon religious tolerance either, as E. A. Powell noted:
The Turks are not, like their coreligionists, the Arabs, by nature a fanatical people. As a matter of fact, the history of the Ottoman Empire is less marred by religious intolerance and by massacres due to religious hatreds than the history of European states from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries. It is well to remember that when the Crusaders were butchering their Moslem prisoners in Palestine, when the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition were in full swing, when Cromwell’s troopers were massacring the Catholics of Ireland, when Protestants in France were being exterminated by order of the French king, when Jews were being subjected to countless persecutions and barbarities in every European country, Moslems, Christians and Jews were dwelling side by side, in perfect amity, in Asia Minor.
Ernest Jackh wrote:
Who but the infidel Turk opened up a Turkish haven, in the Middle Ages, to the Jewish refugees of Christian Spain and Italy? Ottoman sultans, Selim and Suleiman, early in the sixteenth century, invited them to Constantinople and to Salonika. They offered the Jews the first Zionist colonization in Palestine, around Lake Tiberias, and on Cyprus.
An important testimony to the toleration of Moslem rule is the fact that persecuted Christian and other sects took refuge in Mohammedan lands, to enjoy there the undisturbed exercise of their several cults. Persecuted Spanish Jews at the end of the fifteenth century took refuge in Turkey in great numbers. The Calvinists of Hungary and Transylvania and the Unitarians of the latter country long preferred to submit to the Turks rather than to fall into the hands of the fanatical House of Habsburg. The Protestants of Silesia in the seventeenth century looked with longing eyes towards Turkey, and would gladly have purchased religious freedom at the price of submission to Moslem rule. The Cossacks, who belonged to the ‘Old Believers’ and were persecuted by the Russian State Church in 1736, found in Turkey the toleration which their Christian brethren denied them.
Even Pastermadjian was not able to hide the tolerance and protection that the Ottoman Empire offered its non-Muslim subjects.
During the rule of the great Sultans, the limited rights of the Christian subjects were somewhat respected, and justice was quite impartially administered by the courts. Armenians often found an effective protection with them. Jorga states that Sultan Murad III energetically intervened in favor of Armenians from Walachia, who were persecuted for religious reasons by the orthodox, who wanted to convert them. It is likely that under the reign of Suleiman II, the condition of Christian peasants in the Ottoman Empire was not much worse than that of the serfs in Europe in the same period.
It is of great significance that even Pastermadjian, whose book is filled with slanders against Turks, and whose father, a member of the Ottoman Assembly, had crossed over to Russia at the outbreak of the war to fight against the Ottomans under the nickname of Arman Garo, could not but accept this.
It is not possible to affirm that this religious tolerance has operated in favour of the Ottoman Empire. For one thing, this attitude was never appreciated. Some writers even go as far as to state that non-Muslims were regarded as a separate community, so that they could be charged more taxes. No book mentions the fact that the sum paid for exemption from military service, which lasted at times ten to twelve years, was also paid by Muslims, if they wished to be exempt. With regard to other taxes, whether a difference existed between Muslims and non-Muslims is never dwelled upon.
The important point, however, is not the fact that this practice was not appreciated, but the fact that it had a negative effect, as Talcott Williams noted:
The Christian races of Asiatic Turkey are the condemning indictment of Ottoman rule, both past and present. Their presence is a proof that the sultans of Turkey and the Moslems they ruled were not wise enough to see that, in the early stages of the development of a people, unity of faith must be secured or all union will be lost. The European races have understood this perfectly and acted upon it. Down to a time within the memory of men now living, nearly all European lands have placed heavy disabilities on any departure from the established religion.... Ottoman legislation and administration is legally more tolerant of the education and the religious association of alien creeds and hostile faiths than is Gaftic liberty today in dealing with a creed and faith dominant in France for a thousand years.
The Ottoman gave extensive cultural and legal rights, along with religious privileges, to the Orthodox Greeks and Gregorian Armenians. These rights, which almost amounted to their forming a state within a state, became a factor which was made use of by various powers during the decline of the Empire. While Russia claimed to be the protector of the Orthodox, and France of Catholics, the interest of the American public turned towards Turkey. This was due to the conversion of Armenians to Protestantism by American missionaries. This change of interest carried with it a negative attitude. Powell wrote:
The extent of American missionary effort in the old Ottoman Empire is quite generally known, but its eLect on American public opinion is not, perhaps, so widely recognized. Very early in their work the American missionaries discovered that Moslems do not change their faith, so, debarred from proselytism among the Turks, they devoted their energies to religious, educational, and medical work among the Christian minorities, particularly the Armenians. For half a century or more, these missionaries provided our chief sources of information on conditions in the Near and Middle East, and by them public opinion in the United States on these subjects was largely molded. Having been rebuffed by the Moslem Turks and welcomed with open arms by the Christian Armenians, it is scarcely surprising that they espoused the cause of the latter and that the reports which they sent home and the addresses which they delivered, when in America on leave of absence, were filed with pleas for the oppressed Christians and with denunciations of their Turkish oppressors. The congregations which supported the missionaries accepted this point of view without question, and there was thus gradually developed, under the aegis of our churches, a powerful anti-Turkish opinion.
On the missionaries, Clair Price recorded:
That the Armenians were grossly maladministered by the modern Sultans in Constantinople, there can be no manner of doubt. And so were their Turkish neighbours. It was in this very maladministration that the problem of the modern Ottoman Empire lay, and that problem was a Turkish problem as well as an Armenian problem....
American missionaries established contact with the Armenian minorities nearly a century ago.... It was inevitable that the very real and undoubted wrongs which the Armenians were suffering under Hamidian administration should become known in the United States. This was in itself an entirely healthy process, but its tragedy lay in the fact that because the missionaries either could not or would not make it plain in the United States that the Hamidian regime in Constantinople was the oppressor and that Turks and Armenians alike were its victims, the result of American missionary endeavour was to focus American concern on the Armenians’ sufferings alone.
Just as Russia, France and the United States were interested in Turkey for religious reasons, Britain acted no differently, as Valyi explained:
After the Congress of Paris (1856) Russia invented a system which simply meant the suicide, limb by limb, of Turkey. The plan of fostering antagonism between Christianity and Islam, and of preventing by subterranean methods, the application of the principles of conciliation, professedly supported before public opinion in Europe, was an adroit policy all the more certain of success as the theocratic elements in Turkey were for a long time opposed to progress. If the Tanzimat, the first great attempt at reform in Turkey, ultimately failed, this was largely due to muddled foreign interference. To accustom the Christians of the Near East to constant interference from abroad and to a system of incessant meddling, amounting to a regular tutelage over Islam, was to give them carte blanche against the Turks. Beaconsfeld thought the Musulmans as worthy of participating in the work of modern civilization as they had participated in the powerful civilizations that had preceded our own. He wished this country to preside in brotherly collaboration over the economical education of the Moslim peoples, and over the vast movements which have been agitating the minds of Musulmans for the last hundred years. Unfortunately England, which was soon to be absorbed in domestic troubles in which Gladstone was to play a high-handed part, did not understand Lord Beaconsfield. Hatred of Islam was, as everybody knows, one of the strongest actuating motives of Gladstone, deeply impregnated as he was by Christian theology. Under his ill-omened influence, the Eastern policy of Great Britain changed completely and she became, in fact, the unconscious ally of Tsarism against Islam.
It forms part of the programme of the Anglican Church to become unifled sooner or later with Greek Orthodoxy, with whom she has been flirting for over thirty years; indeed, theological disputations worthy of the Middle Ages were arranged between the two Communions, the first of which took place in the episcopal palace of Archbishop Eulogus of Russia before the War, with the object of trying to reconcile the dogmas of the two Churches. Although the grand design of ecclesiastical union was not fulfilled, as neither of the two disputants would consent to sacrifice one iota of their dogmas, a tactical alliance, at least, was achieved in the shape of a common programme of religious policy uncompromisingly directed against Islam. To seize Constantinople and make it the seat of that future union of the two Churches which had always been flashed in the eyes of the English Episcopacy by the clever diplomatists of Greek Orthodoxy — such was the immediate political object of this interesting intercommunion. That is why Lord Robert Cecil and his brother, the militant protectors of this Orthodox-Anglican programme, were always to be found in the van of those who wished to exterminate the Turks. That is why the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Manchester, and their brethren were always ready to preach a crusade against Turkey and Islam. And that is why Mr. Lloyd George and his Nonconformist brethren persisted in their efforts to kill the Turkish nation.
This factor, the difference of religion, which functioned generally against Islam and also against the Turks because they were Muslims, played the largest role in the emergence of an Armenian question in the Ottoman Empire. There is no other explanation for the humane concern shown by the United States for the non-Muslims in Turkey, when they are not interested
in the fate of Polish Christians suffering under Russian oppression. Naturally the Armenian Church took advantage of this religious factor. The Armenian Church had been persuaded with the promise of an independent, or at least autonomous, Armenia. The fulfilment of such a promise would mean the development of the power and authority of the Church. It is for this reason that the Church became a tool for schemes aimed at the Ottoman Empire.
3. The activities of missionaries
The first Protestant missionaries to come to Turkey were members of the British and Foreign Bible Society, which, soon after its foundation in 1804, started to send distributors of Bibles inland from Izmir (Smyrna).
American missionaries started to arrive from 1819. In 1832 the station of Istanbul (Constantinople) was founded. At first, the activities of the missionaries were directed towards Muslims and the Oriental Churches. Work among the Jews was carried out chiefly by Scottish Presbyterians and members of the Church of England, but did not prove very successful.
After having realized that there was little opportunity of successful work among Muslims, the missionaries turned their attention towards the Oriental Churches, which included the Armenian, the Greek, the Bulgarian, the Jacobite, the Nestorian, the Chaldean, and the Maronite Churches.
Bliss explained the situation that the first missionaries encountered:
The first missionaries entered upon their work with no thought whatever of proselytising. They recognized the essential Christian character of the churches, and their object was to set before them not a new creed, or a different form of church government, but simply a higher conception of what constituted Christian life. They found almost absolute ignorance of the Bible; complete domination by an ignorant and superstitious hierarchy; and a general feeling that their church life was so thoroughly identifled with national life that to leave the church was to leave the nation, and that every heretic was also a traitor. [p. 303]
An Armenian or a Greek who incurred the hostility of a Bishop and was placed under the ban had no rights that any one was bound to respect. He could neither be baptized nor be buried; he could neither marry nor purchase; no baker would furnish him with bread and no butcher with meat; no one would employ him and no court recognized his defence so as to give him the most ordinary protection. [p. 304]
It is apparent that in this situation, the missionaries won the Armenians over to the Protestant Church. As for the Greeks, Bliss wrote: ‘There were missionaries who sought to reach the Greeks, but their efforts met with very little success. Their national and ecclesiastical pride was too strong, and their nearer relation to Western life made the new teaching appear less attractive than to those to whom it was in great degree a revelation. [p. 309]’
Naturally a question comes to mind. Since the situation of the Greeks was the same as that of the Armenians, and the reason why the Greeks were not interested in the new teaching was their close links with the Western world, then the Western world must have objected to the spreading of Protestantism. Indeed, Bliss writes (p. 312) that such an objection came not only from the Armenian and Greek Patriarchates, but from the Papal representative, as well as from the French and the Russian ambassadors.
These objections are more clearly expressed by Cyrus Hamlin: ‘This democratic spirit of freedom was extravagantly attributed to the influence of the missionaries, who had nothing directly to do with it. But, above all, Russia pressed the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin to stop the progress of this heresy, and clear the empire of it. The decisive influence came from St. Petersburg through Etchmiadzin.’
The decisive influence mentioned by Hamlin, who himself was a Protestant missionary who founded the Robert College in Istanbul, refers to the excommunication of those who had established contact with the Protestant Church.
In spite of this, the Ottoman administration officially gave permission to the Protestant Church, through the intervention of England, and thus a Protestant Armenian community was born.
In 1896, missionaries from seven separate churches from the United States and four churches from England were present in the Ottoman Empire. There were as many as 176 Americans and 869 local helpers who worked with them (Bliss p. 313). The main Anatolian cities where a mission was established were: Bursa, Izmir, Merzifon, Kayseri, Sivas, Trabzon, Erzurum, Harput, Bitlis, Van, Mardin, Antep, Maras, Adana, Hacin, Ankara, Yozgat, Arapkir, Malatya, Palu, Diyarbekir, Urfa, Birecik, Elbistan, and Tarsus.
Bliss wrote as follows about the activities of the missionaries:
The question is frequently asked, What are the relations between the missionaries and the Turkish government? Repeatedly the statement is made by that government that the influence of the missionaries is antagonistic, disturbing, and that they are the enemies of the present rule. This is in no sense true. American missionaries have invariably ranked themselves on the side of the law. They have taken the position that the Turkish Government is the government of the land and its law must be obeyed. If those laws are oppressive they will do their best to secure a change, but so long as the law is law it must be obeyed. In all the various attempts to stir up revolutionary feeling among the people, they have opposed such movements with all their influence. It is undoubtedly the fact that the general result of their instruction by stirring intellectual development, has been to make men restive under oppression. Undoubtedly their preaching has created an intense desire for true religious liberty. Undoubtedly they have brought light into the empire, and light is always a disturbing element where there is corruption; it creates fermentation, and such fermentation as is not pleasant to oppressors. [p. 321]
It is not easy to say whether this statement praises the missionaries or condemns them. It is clear from Bliss’s statement that the Ottoman government was not pleased with the activities of the missionaries, and saw them as enemies of the regime. If a government accuses a foreigner in this manner, it may be expected to expel him from the country. Because the missionaries remained in the country, it is apparent that the government was not able to expel them. Bliss says that the missionaries will do whatever they can to change repressive laws, but will also respect the law. Is it the people who decide whether the law is repressive, or the missionaries? Bliss states that people, as their intellectual level rises, become dissatisfied with repression. One is then led to assume that missionaries gave rise to dissatisfaction which did not previously exist, and were the ones who decided that the laws were repressive. Moreover, what is understood by ‘true religious liberty’ is not clear. The Ottoman Government not being interested in the religion of non-Muslims, and having allowed the establishment of the Protestant Church, who will then be blamed for the lack of religious freedom? Bliss asserts that missionaries oppose revolutionary movements, yet he accepts that as a result of the missionaries’ activities a revolutionary climate was born, and that the missionaries took it upon themselves to extinguish it. If they had reported this climate to the government forces, then they could indeed have prevented the rebellions.
For all these reasons it is difficult to understand whether the statements made by Bliss are apologetic or accusatory. Other writers have expressed their ideas more clearly. We quote from Clair Price, Elie Kedourie and Sydney Whitman:
Moslems are usually hospitable to all foreigners and they frequently respect missionaries personally. They use mission hospitals and occasionally they avail themselves of the advantage of foreign schools. But for missionaries as Christians, engaged in spreading a gospel of peace while their contemporaries at home invent poison gas, Moslems have neither understanding nor respect. In their Christian capacities. missionaries are tolerated as long as they do not offend.
The older missionaries know these things. They know that in their effort to spread Christianity, their greatest enemies have been the Christians, and most of their work in the Ottoman Empire has been an effort to convert Eastern Christians to a Western interpretation of Christianity. But this their supporters in the United States have to this day never realized. Americans at home have assumed that the word Christian is an all-sufflcing label, that the communicants of the Orthodox and Gregorian Churches in the East are Christians as Western Protestants understand the term, that Eastern Moslems are heathen in the Western meaning of the word; and on this assumption they have built up out of the mutual tragedies of racial and religious disentenglement in the Ottoman Empire, their Christian martyr-legend and the sorry butcher-legend which they have attached to the Turks.
The missionaries’ supporters at home are firm believers in prohibition, but the missionaries themselves know that the liquor traffic in the Ottoman Empire has been in the hands of native and Western Christians, protected under the Capitulations by Christian Governments. Yet so habitual has the Christian attitude of superiority become, that American churchmen have actually gone to Constantinople within these last four years and have come away unhumbled.
The religion of Armenians was their distinctive badge in an Ottoman society regulated and governed according to denominational distinctions. This religion was not only a matter for the individual conscience, for personal and private devotions: it was a rule of life regulating all social activities and all relations with the suzerain power, itself suzerain by virtue of professing the dominant religion. And the internal government of the community was similarly the prerogative of the religious hierarchy, which drew its civil power from the fact of its ecclesiastical authority.
Into these long standing and well understood arrangements the West, round about 1830, suddenly intruded. It came in the shape of American Protestant missionaries. They arrived with arguments and contracts and funds. Their purpose, they said, was to infuse vitality and spirit into the unprogressive and dormant eastern Christian communities. The established hierarchy resisted these encroachments. It exiled and imprisoned Armenian converts to Protestantism. It approached the Ottoman government with a request to forbid the activities of these missionaries.
What actually were the doctrines that the missionaries, arousing so much opposition and anger from so many different quarters, were teaching? Dwight deffines them for us: ‘The standard doctrine of the Reformation — salvation by grace alone, without the deeds of the law — was usually the great central truth, first apprehended by their awakened and inquiring minds, and made the ground of satisfactory repose.’
The introduction of these ideas, then, could not fail to affect the internal affairs of the Armenian community, as well as its relations with the Ottoman Power. To start with, a schism, encouraged by the missionaries, took place between the Orthodox majority and the converts to Protestantism, and a new Protestant Armenian community was formed. Then, within the Orthodox community itself, parties of ‘Enlightened’ and ‘Reactionaries’ were formed. After a while, the ‘Enlightened’, as is proper, won and reorganised the government of the Armenian community. Extensive powers were taken away from the ecclesiastical hierarchy and vested in a new elective Communal Council of Deputies.
This is a large Moslem country. It is ruled by a sovereign whom International Law recognizes as the Sultan of Turkey. This country belonged to the Turks even before the discovery of America. Today it is honeycombed with Christian, and mostly Protestant missionary schools, the avowed object of which is to educate a small Christian minority — be it admitted the most thrifty, shrewd, pushing, and intriguing of all Eastern races — in the Christian religion and at the same time in modern European ideas, and to bid them look to the Western world outside Turkey as their natural protector. This was bound to make these Asiatics discontented with their Asiatic status....
I willingly believe that they never really intended to provoke disturbances or encourage rebellion against the Turkish authorities. Still there cannot be any doubt that their teaching — not their doctines, perhaps — had the result, probably never intended, and one it has taken a couple of generations to attain—of fostering the Armenian revolutionary movement throughout Asiatic Turkey.
Henry Tozer, who was himself a Church member, wrote about his conversation with M. Wheeler, the President of the American College in Harput:
Thus the missionaries, though they abstain on principle from taking any part in politics, exercise indirectly something of the influence of a European consul. Mr. Wheeler told me that he was frequently in communication with Sir Henry Layard (the British ambassador to Istanbul), who requested him to supply him with information about what was passing. In consequence of this, some time ago, a pasha, who openly manifested his ill-will towards them, received a sharp reprimand from Constantinople.
These quotations show that the activities of missionaries, even if they did not buttress the Armenian rebellions, played an active part in laying the foundation of the rebellions.
The activities of the missionaries were covered extensively before and after the rebellions in reports coming from the provinces. We will return to this subject in Chapter 4.
We can easily state that propaganda is one of the weakest points of Turks. This was so in the Ottoman Empire, as well as in the Turkish republic. The propaganda activity of Turks has been restricted to refuting articles and erroneous assertions; thus it has been nothing more than a passive effort to defend the Turkish position. This attitude enabled the opposite side to act freely in portraying Turks continuously as being guilty.
Anti-Turkish propaganda was most extensive in 1923, especially in the US. Powell wrote: ‘The deap-seated hostility which exists in America against the Turk is traceable to several causes: chiefly, no doubt, to the atrocious treatment which he has accorded in the past to the Christian minorities, particularly the Armenians; secondly, to religious prejudice and political propaganda, of which it is difficult to say where one ends and the other begins; thirdly, to our disappointment and chagrin at the come-back of a supposedly vanquished and dismembered nation; and lastly to the Turk’s persistent refusal to defend himself.’
Powell mentions this last reason on page 32 of his book, and reports the following statement made by Sultan Vahdettin (Mohammed VI), during a conversation they had in the summer of 1922 in the Imperial Palace of Yildiz: ‘If we sent one, your newspapers and periodicals would not publish an article written by a Turk, if they published it, your people would not read it, if they read it, they would not believe it. Even if we sent a qualifled person to America, to convey to you in your language, the Turkish point of view, would he flnd an impartial audience?’
What the Sultan said may be accurate. Indeed, on page 10 of his book Powell reports that an esteemed clergyman from New England stated: ‘I don’t want to hear the truth about the Turks, I have developed my opinion about them a long time ago.’ The reason why things have come to this point is that Turks have remained silent, and that false propaganda spread by their opponents, with the addition of religious factors and political considerations, became established in people’s minds. Consequently, the pessimistic ‘it won’t be published anyway, if it is published, it won’t be read, if it is read, it won’t be understood’ mentality contributed to the development of an entirely hostile climate, and helped antagonistic propaganda to have a quick result.
Generally, in almost every country, there is a tendency to believe that a newspaper article or a piece of news is naturally accurate.
We have stated above that the religious factor and political considerations have helped to establish an anti-Turkish climate. When conscious propaganda is added to this, then not only do we have biased news, but inaccurate news as well.
The following statements (by Powell and Whitman) confirming this assertion are worth reading:
Atrocity stories have been vastly overdone; some of the more recent massacres have been wholly nonexistent. One of the local (Constantinople) members of the press end of a relief organization told some friends openly that he could only send anti-Turkish despatches to America because that is what gets the money!
Shortly after the news had spread to Europe of the attack on the Ottoman Bank and the subsequent massacre of Armenians, a number of artists of illustrated newspapers arrived in Constantinople, commissioned to supply the demand for atrocities of the Million-headed Tyrant. Among these was the late Mr. Melton Prior, the renowned war correspondent. He was a man of a strenuous and determined temperament, one not accustomed to be the sport of circumstances, but to rise superior to them. Whether he was called upon to take part in a forced march or to face a mad Mullah, he invariably held his own and came off victorious.
But in this particular case, as he confided to me, he was in an awkward predicament. The public at home had heard of nameless atrocities, and was anxious to receive pictorial representations of these. The difflculty was how to supply them with what they wanted, as the dead Armenians had been buried and no women or children had suffered hurt, and no Armenian Church had been desecrated. As an old admirer of the Turks and as an honest man, he declined to invent what he had not witnessed. But others were not equally scrupulous. I subsequently saw an Italian illustrated newspaper containing harrowing pictures of women and children being massacred in a church.
Among the men who were credited with a large share in the cruel measures of repression said to have been carried out by different Turkish high officials against the Armenians, the name of Marshal Chakir Pasha, Imperial Commissioner for the introduction of reform in Anatolia, stood foremost. The story that the Marshal, who was at Erzeroum in the month of October 1895, at the time of the Armenian rising, had, like a human bloodhound, stood, watch in hand, when asked for orders, and decided that the work of knocking the Armenians on the head was to continue for another hour and a half — some versions say two hours —went almost round the world... With the object of our journey in view we called successively upon Mr. Graves, the British Consul; Mohammed Sherif Raouf Pasha, the Governor-General (Vali); M. Roqueferrier, the French Consul; and M. V. Maximov, the Russian Consul-General. To each of these gentlemen we put the question whether he believed in the truth of the tale about Chakir Pasha, and the watch-in-hand episode. M. Roqueferrier ridiculed the story. ‘These are stories that have been invented ad lib’, he said, and added a few words of high personal appreciation of Chakir Pasha.
The Russian Consul-General, M. Maximov, said: ‘It is not my business to deny the truth of such tales. All I can tell you is, that Chakir Pasha is a worthy man — a very good natured man. I have known him for years, he is a friend of mine.’ Mr. Graves, the British consul, said: ‘I was not here at the time, nor have I spoken to Chakir Pasha about the matter, but the Vali assured me that it wasn’t true, and that is quite sufficient for me, as! should believe implicitly any personal statement of Raouf Pasha.’
‘Do you believe that any massacres would have taken place if no Armenian revolutionaries had come into the country and incited the Armenian population to rebellion?’ I asked Mr. Graves.
‘Certainly not,’ he replied. ‘I do not believe that a single Armenian would have been killed.’
These reports, however, have never been echoed in the Western press. The following report by Clair Price is another example:
By the end of October, the late Miss Annie T. Allen and Miss Florence Billings, the Near East Relief’s representative in Ankara (Angora), compiled a report on the state of the Turkish villages which the Greeks had burned during their retreat and forwarded it to the Near East Relief’s headquarters in Constantinople. But the Near East Relief has never published that report, just as Mr. Lloyd George never published the Bristol report on Greek misdeeds at Izmir (Smyrna).
Indeed, Lloyd George had not allowed publication of the Bristol report, as Toynbee noted:
Their unwillingness to publish the report is not incomprehensible, and besides, Mr. Venizalos threw all his personal influence into the scale. He objected to the publication of evidence which had been taken by the Commission without the presence of a Greek assessor, and in which the names of the witnesses were withheld. There was, of course, a good reason for this, which reflected on the local Greek authorities and not on the Western Commissioners. The individuals giving damaging evidence against the Greeks were living under a Greek military occupation and could not safely be exposed to reprisals. There were the same legal flaws in the Bryce Report on Alleged German Atrocities in Belgium and on The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. But the Allied governments did not hesitate to publish these documents on that account.
The Bryce Report mentioned by Toynbee is the Blue Book of the British, of which Toynbee was the editor. We shall return to this topic.
At times completely opposite situations could also arise.
In 1918 the British had been forced to set Baku free. Newspapers, while reporting this, had also mentioned the treachery of the Armenians. The British propaganda services were then alarmed, and they wanted to erase any effect such news would have. The following lines are taken from a memorandum prepared to that effect:
To lessen the credit of Armenians is to weaken the anti-Turkish action. It was difficult to eradicate the conviction that the Turk is a noble being always in trouble. This situation will revive this conviction and will harm the prestige not only of Armenians, but of Zionists and Arabs as well.
The treatment of Armenians by the Turks is the biggest asset of his Majesty’s Government, to solve the Turkish problem in a radical manner, and to have it accepted by the public.
The author of these sentences, A. J. Toynbee, was working for the British propaganda agency when he wrote this memorandum on 26 September 1919.
To understand the importance of propaganda, it is useful to take a look at Lucy Masterman’s account of the agency founded for this purpose.
The earliest news that I personally had of a propaganda department was a conversation after a Sunday luncheon at Walton Golf Club during August 1914, when Mr. T. P. O’Connor pressed on Mr. Lloyd George the necessity for countering the propaganda already begun by the Germans in the United States in the form of leaflets given away in the streets, and thrust into the hands of passengers arriving by steamer. Mr Lloyd George used the phrase: ‘Wili you look into it, Charlie, and see what can be done.’ Masterman agreed.
Mr Masterman, a member of Parliament, was a former member of the cabinet.
It is known that, after this date, Mr Masterman founded a bureau of propaganda, and directed it. The existence of the bureau was kept secret. Mr Masterman having resigned from his office in the National Health Commission, ‘Wellington House’, where the Commission operated, was converted into the headquarters of the bureau, and the name of the bureau was entered in the registers as ‘Wellington House’.
The object of Wellington House is stated in the following quotation: ‘...the dissemination of facts on “the Allied Cause, the British effort, the work of the Navy, the Army, the Mercantile marine and the munition factories, the economic and military resources of the Empire, the causes and aims of the war, the crimes and atrocities of Germany and her allies, the cause of Belgium, the submarine outrages”. It is noticeable that “crimes and atrocities” come a long way down the list. The means used were “Books, pamphlets, periodicals, diagrams, maps. posters, postcards, drawings, photographs and exhibitions” .‘
It is reported that the bureau issued 17,000,000 copies of various publications in England alone, including fifeen daily illustrated magazines.
The British, instead of distributing these publications in the streets, as the Germans were doing, chose to find individuals and organizations which could influence public opinion, and distribute the publications through them. Moreover, by getting in touch with circles and publishing houses in neutral countries, they were able to issue their publications while remaining in the background.
The main goal of the bureau was to ensure, by making public the atrocious and inhuman actions of Germany and her allies, that neutral countries, and especially the United States, would enter the conflict on their side.
I remember at the end of the war I met Mr. Henry White, formerly American Ambassador in England and in Germany at the outbreak of the war. On hearing who I was he countered the observation of Lord Bryce, who was of the party, stating that nothing had been done in propaganda, by saying: “I beg your pardon, it was the best thing done in the war. If it was your husband (turning to me) that did it, please give him my compliments. The Germans bothered and harassed us. You nursed us along till you got us just where you wanted us, and we never knew we were being brought there. We thought we were coming there of ourselves.”
I now refer to the third report concerning the activities of the Masterman bureau. At the end of the 118-page report is a list of the books and pamphlets which were published. At the end of the first half of 1916, 182 had been published. Among the authors were Max Aitken, William Archer, Balfour, James Bryce, E. T. Cook, Conan Doyle, Alexander Gray, Archibald Hurd, Rudyard Kipling, A. Lowenstein, C. F. G. Masterman, A. J. Toynbee and H. G. Wells. One of the books written by Toynbee was entitled Armenian Atrocities, The murder of a nation.
Although we shall deal later with the topic of propaganda against the Ottoman Empire throughout the war, we find it useful to include here a few passages from the report:
Within this development policy framework, we have ensured the possibility of publishing most of our publications in neutral or allied countries. Wellington House publications (in addition to those published in London), are at present being published and distributed in Paris, Madrid, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, and Russia. Many countries, especially small countries having a common border with Germany, are very sensitive to organized propaganda carried out by foreign states, and in some of them, especially in Sweden and Switzerland our publications have been censored, and have had difficulties in the customs. For this reason, the sale and the free distribution of our publications, their publication by the local publishing houses, without any apparent relationship to the British government’s propaganda has been very useful. [p. 4]
One has witnessed the development of illustrated newspapers in this period. At the present time, 6 such newspapers are being published and distributed by Wellington House. [p. 5]. [One of these illustrated newspapers was Al-Haki kat (The Truth), published twice a month in Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Urdu.]
A former Turkish Consul distributes Al-Haki kat to local Moslems in Argentina. [p.7]
Wellington House was an organization formed by eight different propaganda divisions: America, France, Spain and Portugal, Scandinavia, Italy and Switzerland, Greece and Rumania, Eastern, and Islamic countries. In addition there were the divisions of painting, photography and film, and the intelligence and distribution divisions. Although it had such a wide area of activity, only 74 people worked for the organization, including the president and the secretary. The organization worked in cooperation with the publishing houses.
Naturally there is no information as to how the propaganda material was gathered.
Lucy Masterman, who wrote her husband’s biography, undoubtedly did not include anything that might be used against her husband. We even come across the following statement: ‘What he objected to was the demand that his department should lose all integrity or sense as a condition of the work they were doing’ (p. 275). This statement, however, does not tell us whether the bureau of propaganda conveyed only news that was accurate. Lucy Masterman states that her husband had nothing to do with the unfounded news that appeared from time to time in certain newspapers.
Nevertheless, to show how propaganda was gathered, we may consider the preparations of the blue book on the Armenians published in 1916.
Apparently the first text of the blue book was the pamphlet entitled Armenian Atrocities, The murder of a nation by Toynbee, published, as mentioned above, by the Masterman bureau. We do not have this first text as a Wellington House publication. However, the book was reprinted in 1975 by an Armenian publishing house in the United States. It is impossible for us to know whether Toynbee, the author of The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, would have permitted this new edition of his book, if he had been alive in 1975.
The references given in this book are the Armenian newspapers Horizon published in Tiflis, the Ararat in London, the Gotchnag in New York, and the Armenian Atrocities Committee in the United States, which reported the information it had been given by the missionaries. What will be written in a book which relies on these sources is obvious. It may be mentioned that while the Armenians of Istanbul and Izmir were not deported, a map in the book indicates that they were. In the third report of the Masterman bureau it was stated that Toynbee’s book aroused much interest.
The British documents describe the following situation (the numbers in brackets are those of the documents).
The British Consul in Batum, Stevens, writes in a telegram (F.O. 371/2488/140259) to his Ministry on 10 September 1915 that he had his information from the Armenian newspapers in Tiflis, that Ottomans had destroyed Sasun and killed many people, that 10—15,000 refugees per day were coming to the region of Erivan, and that so far 160,000 refugees had come.
Lord Cromer writes in a memo dated 2 October 1915 that it is useful to publicize what the Turks have done, and thus prevent educated Muslims in India from associating the Islamic cause with the Turks. It is stated in subsequent memos that no other information was available, except that from newspapers.
These news items were made public in American newspapers on 4 October.
On 6 October, a question on this matter was directed to the Government in the House of Commons. (Records of Parliament, 6 October 1915, pp. 994—1004.) Spokesman for the government Lord Cromer states that they have heard of the massacre of 80,000, and repeats his opinion as stated in the memo.
Toynbee’s book was published after this. We see that Toynbee, from February 1916 on, stating that he is acting on behalf of Lord Bryce, asks for information against Turkey from various countries and individuals, as well as from Armenian Committees (F.O. 96/205). These items of information were sent to Toynbee without details of their sources. All these writings are present in the above-mentioned dossier; among them was the following letter sent by Toynbee on 11 May 1916 to Lord Bryce:
Mr. Gowers from our office discussed with Montgomery from the Foreign Office how to publish the Armenian documents. They [the Foreign Office] claim that if you were to send these documents with an introductory note to Sir Edward Grey [Foreign Secretary] and state that they have been prepared under your supervision, that they are trustworthy, then your letter would be published by the Foreign Office as an official document, and the documents would constitute an appendix to your letter. The problem of publication would thus be solved. While giving the book an official character, it would free the Foreign Secretary from the obligation to take upon himself the proving of the accuracy of every matter mentioned in these documents.
Thus, the blue book was prepared by the Masterman bureau — by putting together documents without having checked their accuracy, documents exclusively collected from Armenian sources or from people sympathetic to Armenians from second or third hand — and was published with official status.
We would like to quote now from two authors who have studied how propaganda material was gathered.
The first is Arthur Ponsonby and the title of his book is Falsehood in War-Time. Ponsonby was a member of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons from 1910 to 1918. He then transferred to the Labour Party and was opposed to war. He published his book in 1928. We quote hereunder some particularly interesting passages concerning the propaganda-gathering process.
A circular was issued by the War Office inviting reports on war incidents from officers with regard to the enemy and stating that strict accuracy was not essential so long as there was inherent probability [p. 20]
Atrocity lies were the most popular of all, especially in this country and America; no war can be without them. Slander of the enemy is esteemed a patriotic duty. [p. 22]
Even in inconsequential events the testimony of individuals is never absolutely convincing. But when prejudices, emotions, passions and nationalism are present, an individual’s statement becomes worthless. It is impossible to describe all the types of atrocity stories. They were repeated for days in brochures, posters, letters and speeches. Renowned persons, who otherwise would be hesitant to condemn even their mortal enemies for lack of evidence, did not hesitate to accuse an entire nation of having committed every imaginable savagery and inhuman action. [p. 129]
For those who are unaccustomed, a photograph creates an inherent element of trust. For them there can be nothing more authentic than a snapshot. No one thinks of questioning the veracity of a photograph. For this reason even if they are subsequently shown to be fakes, the damage has already been done. During the war the faking of photographs became an industry. Every state engaged in this activity, but the French were the real experts. [p. 135]
During the massacres of 1905 many photographs were taken. One of these, a group of people surrounding a row of corpses, appeared on June 14, 1915 in ‘le Miroir’ with the headline: ‘The Murders of the German Gangs in Poland.’ Many other similar examples appeared in other newspapers. [p. 136]
The photograph of a German soldier leaning over his dead comrade was published on April 17, 1915 in ‘War Illustrated’ (published by the Masterman Bureau), as deffinite proof that the Huns were violating war regulations, ‘a German savage robbing a dead Russian’. [p. 137]
The second author is Cate Haste and the title of her book is: Keep the Home Fires Burning. A speech of US President Coolidge to the Association of Newspaper Editors is cited on the first page of the book: "Propaganda seeks to present part of the facts, to distort their relations, and to force conclusions which could not be drawn from a complete and candid survey of all the facts.’
We quote some passages from the book:
The essence of propaganda is simplification. Through the methods adopted by the media and the organizations engaged in propaganda, a fabric of images about war was gradually built up, by endless repetition over a long period, to provide indisputable justification for the fighting. Propagandists create images with simple human content which are believable because they chime with what people have already been taught to believe. As Goebbels put it in a later war, the task is “to provide the naively credulous with the arguments for what they think and wish, but which they are unable to formulate and verify themselves. [p. 3]
In wartime, this means firstly building up an image of ‘the enemy’ which accords with preconceived ideas of the behaviour which can be expected of “enemies’. It entails constantly denigrating the enemy in such a way as to inspire hatred of him, and excluding information which is sympathetic to his cause. [p. 3]
Atrocity stories have appeared in all wars, before and since. The intention is to create an image which acts as a repository for all the hatred and fear inspired by war. [p. 3]
The war is justified in the name of simple and universal ideals which everyone has learnt and with which nobody can be expected to disagree. Ideals like Freedom, Justice, Democracy and Christianity, which are the embodiment of prevailing national virtues. [pp. 3—4]
The characteristic atrocity story came from ‘a correspondent’ some distance behind the scene of operations. It was invariably a supposedly verbatim account by an unidentified Belgian or French refugee.... Even these accounts were usually second-hand. [p. 84]
On page 87 an example of how a piece of news is transformed is given:
‘When the fall of Antwerp got known the church bells were rung.’ — Kölnische Zeitung.
“According to the Kölnische Zeitung, the clergy of Antwerp were compelled to ring the church bells when the fortress was taken.’ — Le Matin (Paris).
‘According to what The Times has learned from Cologne via Paris, the unfortunate Belgian priests who refused to ring the church bells when Antwerp was taken have been sentenced to hard labour.’ — Corriere della Sera (Milan).
‘According to information in the Corriere della Sera, from Cologne via London, it is confirmed that the barbaric conquerors of Antwerp punished the unfortunate Belgian priests for their heroic refusal to ring the church bells by hanging them as living clappers to the bells with their heads down.’ — Le Matin (Paris).
The sixth chapter of this book reports the hostility shown by the people towards persons of German origin living in England, and their being gathered and sent to specific camps. We shall not dwell on this subject, for it has little to do with propaganda per se. We shall only cite the following sentence from p.121: ‘Louis, Prince of Battenberg, son of Prince Alexander who has a high-ranking position in the Austrian army, has been forced to resign from his post as First Lord of the Admiralty.’
Propaganda during war was effective to this extent. But in the case of the Ottoman Empire, the propaganda had started long before the war, and continued, was even itensifed, after the truce.
We shall conclude this subject by quoting C. F. Dixon-Johnson:
We have no hesitation in repeating that these stories of wholesale massacre have been circulated with the distinct object of influencing, detrimentally to Turkey, the future policy of the British Government when the time of settlement shall arrive. No apology, therefore, is needed for honestly endeavouring to show how a nation with whom we were closely allied for many years and which possesses the same faith as millions of our fellow-subjects, has been condemned for perpetrating horrible excesses against humanity on ‘evidence’ which, when not absolutely false, is grossly and shamefully exaggerated.
- The Armenian File
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