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Important points from Turkey: A Past and a Future, Arnold Joseph Toynbee, New York 1917.

Arnold ToynbeeClick here for the full text.

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The Decline of the Ottoman Empire

The Osmanlis are passing at this moment as the Achaemenids passed then. They lost the last of Europe in the Balkan War, and with it their prestige as increasers of Islam; the growth of national consciousness among their subjects, not least among the Turks themselves, has loosened the foundations of their military empire, as of the other military empires with which they are allied. They forfeited the Caliphate when they proclaimed the Holy War against the Allied Powers–inciting Moslems to join one Christian coalition against another, not in defence of their religion, but for Ottoman political aggrandisement. They lost it morally when this incitement was left unheeded by the Moslem world; they lost it in deed when the Sherif of Mekka asserted his rights as the legitimate guardian of the Holy Cities, drove out the Ottoman garrison from Mekka, and allied himself with the other independent princes of Arabia. All the props of Ottoman dominion in Asia have fallen away, but nothing dooms it so surely as the breath of life that is stirring over the dormant lands and peoples once more. The cutting of the Suez Canal has led the highways of commerce back to the Nearer East; the democracy and nationalism of Europe have been extending their influence over Asiatic races. On whatever terms the War is concluded, one far-reaching result is certain already- there will be a political and economic revival in Western Asia, and the direction of this will not be in Ottoman hands.

Turkish Nationalism and Islam

“Because it is written in the Koran that Islam knows no nationalities, but only Believers, the “Islamjis” thought that to occupy oneself with national questions was to act against the interests and principles of Islam itself…. According to the Nationalists, the pronouncement in the Koran was directed exclusively against the very frequent dissensions of clans and parties in the various Arab races.” (A sneer which is meant to have a modern application.) “Although the Nationalists proclaim themselves the most zealous followers of Mohammed, nevertheless they do not conceal the fact that their interpretation of Islam is not the same as that of the Arabs. They maintain that the Turks cannot interpret the Koran in the same manner as the Arabs…. Their idea of God is also different.”

The Armenian Genocide

The Armenians were not massacred spontaneously by the local Moslems; the initiative came entirely from the Central Government at Constantinople, which planned the systematic extermination of the Armenian race in the Ottoman Empire, worked out a uniform method of procedure, despatched simultaneous orders to the provincial officials and gendarmerie to carry it into effect, and cashiered the few who declined to obey. The Armenians were rounded up and deported by regular troops and gendarmes; they were massacred on the road by bands of _chettis_, consisting chiefly of criminals released from prison by the Government for this work; when the Armenians were gone the Turkish populace was encouraged to plunder their goods and houses, and as the convoys of exiles passed through the villages the best-looking women and children were sold cheap or even given away for nothing to the Turkish peasantry. Naturally the Turkish people accepted the good things the Government offered them, and naturally this reconciled them momentarily to the War.

The Eastern Question

But Tekin Alp deals even less tenderly with Russia… “If,” he concludes, “the Russian despotism is, as we hope, to be destroyed by the brave German, Austrian, and Turkish Armies, thirty to forty million Turks will receive their independence. With the ten million Ottoman Turks this will form a nation of fifty million, advancing towards a great civilisation which may perhaps be compared to that of Germany, in that it will have the strength and energy to rise ever higher. In some ways it will be even superior to the degenerate French and English civilisations.”

The Baghdad Railway

And Dr. Rohrbach formulates the political goal with startling precision. After twelve pages of disquisition on recent international diplomacy he brings his thesis to this point- the Bagdad Railway links up with the railways of Syria, and

“The importance of the Syrian railway system lies in this, that, if the need arose, it would be the direct instrument for the exercise of pressure upon England … supposing that German-Austro-Turkish co-operation became necessary in the direction of Egypt.”

Written as it was in 1911, this is a remarkable anticipation of Turkish strategic railway-building since the outbreak of war; but it is infinitely remote in purpose from the economic regeneration of Western Asia, and even when the German publicists reckon in economic values they generally betray their political design.

…The track of the Bagdad Railway, for example, has not been selected in the economic interests of the lands and peoples which it ostensibly serves. Dr. Rohrbach himself admits that

“The Anatolian section of the Bagdad Railway cannot be described as properly paying its way. It is otherwise with the” (French) “line from Smyrna to Afiun Kara Hissar, which links the Anatolian Railway with the older railway system in the West…. The parts of Asia Minor which were thickly populated and prosperous in antiquity lie mostly westward of this first section of the Bagdad Railway, round the river-valleys and” (French and English) “railways leading down to the Aegean.”

“There are other once-flourishing parts of the peninsula,” he continues, “which the Bagdad Railway does not touch at all”–the Vilayet of Sivas and the other Armenian provinces. The original German plan was to carry the Railway through Armenia from Angora to Kharput, but Russia not unnaturally vetoed the construction, so near her Caucasian frontiers, of a line which, by the nature of the Turco-German understanding, must primarily serve strategic ends[31], and the track was therefore deflected to the south-east. This took it through the most barren parts of Central Anatolia, and in the next section involved the slow and costly work of tunnelling the Taurus and Amanus mountains.

“If merely economic and not political advantages were taken into account,” Dr. Rohrbach concedes, “the question might perhaps be raised whether it would not be better to leave the Anatolian section alone altogether and begin the Bagdad Railway from Seleucia” (on the Syrian coast). “The future export trade in grain, wool, and cotton will in any case do all it can to lengthen the cheap sea-passage and shorten correspondingly the section on which it must pay railway freights. The fact that the route connecting Bagdad with the Mediterranean coast in the neighbourhood of Antioch is the oldest, greatest, and still most promising trade-route of Western Asia is independent of all railway projects.”

It is worth remembering that a railway, following this route from the Syrian coast to the Persian Gulf, has more than once been projected by the British Government. As early as the thirties of last century Colonel Chesney was sent out to examine the ground, and in 1867 the proposal was considered by a Committee of the House of Commons. For the economic development of Western Asia it is clearly a better plan, but then Dr. Rohrbach bases the “necessity for the East Anatolian section of the Bagdad Railway” on wholly different grounds.

“The necessity,” he declares, “consists in Turkey’s military interests, which obviously would be very poorly served” (by German railway enterprise) “if troops could not be transported by train without a break from Bagdad and Mosul to the extremity of Anatolia, and “vice versa.”

The Bagdad Railway is thus acknowledged to be an instrument of strategy for the Germans and for the Turks of domination–for “vice versa” means that Turkish troops can be transported at a moment’s notice through the tunnels from Anatolia to enforce the Ottoman pretension over the Arab lands. Militarily, these tunnels are the most valuable section of the line; economically, they are the most costly and unremunerative. And the second (and longer) tunnel could still have been dispensed with, if, south of Taurus, the track had been led along the Syrian coast. “Economic interests and considerations of expense,” Wiedenfeld concedes[32], “argued strongly for the latter course, but–fortunately, as we must admit to-day–the military point of view prevailed.” Thus the Turco-German understanding prevented the Bagdad Railway first from beginning at a port on the Mediterranean coast, and then from touching the coast at all[33]. “The spine of Turkey,” as German writers are fond of calling it, distorts the natural articulation of Western Asia.

Zionism

Syrians and Armenians have been emigrating for the last quarter of a century, and during the same period the Jews, whose birthright in Western Asia is as ancient as theirs, have been returning to their native land–not because Ottoman dominion bore less hardly upon them than upon other gifted races, but because nothing could well be worse than the conditions they left behind. For these Jewish immigrants came almost entirely from the Russian Pale, the hearth and hell of modern Jewry. The movement really began after the assassination of Alexander II. in 1881, which threw back reform in Russia for thirty-six years. The Jews were the scapegoats of the reaction. New laws deprived them of their last civil rights, _pogroms_ of life itself; they came to Palestine as refugees, and between 1881 and 1914 their numbers there increased from 25,000 to 120,000 souls.

The most remarkable result of this movement has been the foundation of flourishing agricultural colonies. Their struggle for existence has been hard; the pioneers were students or trades-folk of the Ghetto, unused to outdoor life and ignorant of Near Eastern conditions; Baron Edmund de Rothschild financed them from 1884 to 1899 at a loss; then they were taken over by the “Palestine Colonisation Association,” which discovered the secrets of success in self-government and scientific methods.

Each colony is now governed by an elective council of inhabitants, with committees for education, police, and the arbitration of disputes, and they have organised co-operative unions which make them independent of middlemen in the disposal of their produce. Their production has rapidly risen in quantity and value, through the industry and intelligence of the average Jewish settler, assisted latterly by an Agricultural Experiment Station at Atlit, near Haifa, which improves the varieties of indigenous crops and acclimatises others[44]. There is a “Palestine Land Development Company” which buys land in big estates and resells it in
small lots to individual settlers, and an “Anglo-Palestine Bank” which makes advances to the new settlers when they take up their holdings. As a result of this enlightened policy the number of colonies has risen to about forty, with 15,000 inhabitants in all and 110,000 acres of land, and these figures do not do full justice to the importance of the colonising movement. The 15,000 Jewish agriculturists are only 12-1/2 per cent. of the Jewish population in Palestine, and 2 per cent., of the total population of the country; but they are the most active, intelligent element, and the only element which is rapidly increasing. Again, the land they own is only 2 per cent. of the total area of Palestine; but it is between 8 and 14 per cent. of the area under cultivation, and there are vast uncultivated tracts which the Jews can and will reclaim, as their numbers grow–both by further colonisation and by natural increase, for the first generation of colonists have already proved their ability to multiply in the Promised Land. Under this new Jewish husbandry Palestine has begun to recover its ancient prosperity. The Jews have sunk artesian wells, built dams for water storage, fought down malaria by drainage and eucalyptus planting, and laid out many miles of roads. In 1890 an acre of irrigable land at Petach-Tikweh, the earliest colony, was worth L3 12s., in 1914, L36, and the annual trade of Jaffa rose from L760,000 to L2,080,000 between 1904 and 1912. “The impetus to agriculture is benefiting the whole economic life of the country,” wrote the German Vice-Counsul at Jaffa in his report for 1912, and there is no fear that, as immigration increases, the Arab element will be crowded to the wall. There are still only two Jewish colonies beyond Jordan, where the Hauran–under the Roman Empire a corn-land with a dozen cities–has been opened up by the railway and is waiting again for the plough.

Germany and the Jews in World War I

But will immigration continue now that the Jew of the Pale has been turned at a stroke into the free citizen of a democratic country? Probably it will actually increase, for the Pale has been ravaged as well as liberated during the war, and the Jews of Germany have based an ingenious policy on this prospect, which is expounded thus by Dr. Davis-Trietsch of Berlin[45]-

“According to the most recent statistics about 12,900,000 out of the 14,300,000 Jews in the world speak German or Yiddish (“juedisch-deutsch”) as their mother-tongue…. But its language, cultural orientation, and business relations the Jewish element from Eastern Europe” (the Pale) “is an asset to German influence…. In a certain sense the Jews are a Near Eastern element in Germany and a German element in Turkey.”

Germany may not relish her kinship with these lost Teutonic tribes, but Dr. Davis-Trietsch makes a satirical exposure of such scruples-

“It used to be a stock argument against the Jews that ‘all nations’ regarded them with equal hostility, but the War has brought upon the Germans such a superabundance of almost universal execration that the question which is the most despised of all nations–if one goes, not by justice and equity, but by the violence and extensiveness of the prejudice–might well now be altered to the Germans’ disadvantage.

“In this unenviable competition for the prize of hate, Turkey, too, has a word to say, for the unspeakable Turk’ is a rhetorical commonplace of English politics.”

Having thus isolated the Jews from humanity and pilloried them with the German and the Turk, the writer expounds their function in the Turco-German system-

“Hitherto Germany has bothered herself very little about the Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe. People in Germany hardly realised that, through the annual exodus of about 100,000 German-speaking Jews to the United States and England, the empire of the English language and the economic system that goes with it is being enlarged, while a German asset is being proportionately depreciated….

“The War found the Jewry of Eastern Europe in process of being uprooted, and has enormously accelerated the catastrophe. Galicia and the western provinces of Russia, which between them contain many more than half the Jews in the world, have suffered more from the War than any other region. Jewish homes have been broken up by hundreds of thousands, and there is no doubt whatever that, as a result of the War, there will be an emigration of East European Jews on an unprecedented scale….

“The disposal of the East European Jews will be a problem for Germany…. It will no longer do simply to close the German frontiers to them, and in view of the difficulties which would result from a wholesale migration of Eastern Jews into Germany itself, Germans will only be too glad to find a way out in the emigration of these Jews to Turkey–a solution extraordinarily favourable to the interests of all three parties concerned….”

And from this he passes to a wider vision-

“The German-speaking Jews abroad are a kind of German-speaking province which is well worth cultivation. Nine-tenths of the Jewish world speak German, and a good part of the remainder live in the Islamic world,which is Germany’s friend, so that there are grounds for talking of a German protectorate over the whole of Jewry.”

By this exploitation of aversions, Dr. Trietsch expects to deposit the Jews of the Pale over Western Asia as “culture-manure” for a German harvest; and if the Jewish migration to Palestine had remained nothing more than a stream of refugees, he might possibly have succeeded in his purpose. But in the last twenty years this Jewish movement has become a positive thing–no longer a flight from the Pale but a remembrance of Zion–and Zionism has already challenged and defeated the policy which Dr. Trietsch represents. “The object of Zionism,” it was announced in the “Basle Programme”, drawn up by the first Zionist Congress in 1897,
“is to establish for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine.” For the Zionists Jewry is a nation, and to become like other nations it needs its Motherland. In the Jewish colonies in Palestine they see not merely a successful social enterprise but the visible symbol of a body politic. The foundation of a national university in Jerusalem is as ultimate a goal for them as the economic development of the land, and their greatest achievement has been the revival of Hebrew as the living language of the Palestinian Jews. It was this that brought them into conflict with the Germanising tendency. In 1907 a secondary school was successfully started at Jaffa, by the initiative of Jewish teachers in Palestine, with Hebrew as the language of instruction; but in 1914, when a Jewish Polytechnic was founded at Haifa, the German-Jewish “Hilfsverein”, which had taken a leading part, refused to follow this precedent, and insisted on certain subjects being taught in German, not only in the Polytechnic, but in the “Hilfsverein’s” other schools. The result was a secession of pupils and teachers. Purely Hebrew schools were opened; the Zionist organization gave official support; and the Germanising party was compelled to accept a compromise which was
in effect a victory for the Hebrew language.

Dr. Trietsch himself accepts this settlement, but does not abandon his
idea-

“It was certainly impossible to expect the Spanish and Arabic-speaking Jews[46] to submit in their own Jewish country to the hegemony of the German language…. Only Hebrew could become the common vernacular language of the scattered fragments of Jewry drifting back to Palestine from all the countries of the world. But … in addition to Hebrew, to which they are more and more inclined, the Jews must have a world-language (Weltsprache), and this can only be German.”

Anyone acquainted with the language-ordinances of Central Europe will feel that this suggestion veils a threat. What has been happening in Palestine during the War? Dr. Trietsch informs us that the Ottoman Government has been proceeding with the “naturalisation” of the Palestinian Jews, and that the “local execution of this measure has not been effected without disturbances which are beyond the province of this pamphlet.” One significant consequence was the appearance in Egypt of Palestinian refugees, who raised a Zion mule corps there and fought through the Gallipoli campaign. What is the outlook for Palestine after the War? If the Ottoman pretension survives, the menace from Turkish Nationalism[47] and German resentment[48] is grave. But if Turk and German go, there are Zionists who would like to see Palestine a British Protectorate, with the prospect of growing into a British Dominion. Certainly, if the Jewish colonies are to make progress, they must be relieved of keeping their own police, building their own roads, and the other burdens that fall on them under Ottoman government, and this can only be secured by a better public administration. As for the British side of the question, we may consult Dr. Trietsch.

“There are possibilities,” he urges, “in a German protectorate over the Jews as well as over Islam. Smaller national units than the 14 million Jews have been able to do Germany vital injury or service, and, while the Jews have no national state, their dispersion over the whole world, their high standard of culture, and their peculiar abilities lend them a weight that is worth more in the balance than many larger national masses which occupy a compact area of their own.”

The Route of the Baghdad Railway

The railway has now reached Nisibin, the Roman frontier fortress heroically defended and ceded in bitterness of heart, and runs past Dara, which the Persians never took. Westward lies Urfa–named Edessa by Alexander’s men after their Macedonian city of running waters[49]; later the seat of a Christian Syriac culture whose missionaries were heard in China and Travancore; still famous, under Arab dominion, for its Veronica and 300 churches; and restored for a moment to Christendom as the capital of a Crusader principality, till the Mongols trampled it into oblivion and the Osmanlis made it a name for butchery…

At present cultivation is confined to the Armenian foot-hills–an uncertain arc of green from Aleppo to Mosul. But the railway strikes boldly into the deserted middle of the land, giving the arc a chord, and when Turco-German strategic interests no longer debar it from being linked up, through Aleppo, with a Syrian port, it will be the really valuable section of the Bagdad system. The railway is the only capital enterprise that Northern Mesopotamia requires, for there is rain
sufficient for the crops without artificial irrigation…

Southern Mesopotamia–the Irak of the Arabs and Babylonia of the Greeks–lies desolate like the North, but is a contrast to it in every other respect. Its aspect is towards the Persian Gulf, and Rohrbach grudgingly admits that down the Tigris to Basra, and not upstream to Alexandretta, is the natural channel for its trade. It gets nothing from the Mediterranean, neither trade nor rain, and every drop of water for cultivation must be led out of the rivers; but the rivers in their
natural state are worse than the drought…

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