TURKEY AND THE ARMENIAN ATROCITIES
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Their Origin — Early History — General Characteristics — Good Qualities — Kindness-Hospitality — Temperance — Honesty — Intellectual Ability — Obedience to Rulers — Bravery — Bad Characteristics — Indifference to Suffering — Brutality — Degradation of Women — Sensuality — Official Unreliability — Fatalism — Insolence — Indolence — General Summary.
THE term Turk is a somewhat indefinite one. In general it applies to any or all of the different tribes originating east of the Caspian, and who have spread in varying degrees north, south and west. Without undertaking to give specific definition, it is sufficient to apply the name to the greater part of the Turanian race, and for present purposes to limit it to those branches that have at various times occupied what is known as the Turkish Empire.
According to a legend, the common ancestor of all was a mighty king by the name of Turk, who lived in the time of Abraham. A descendant of his, called Oghuz Khan, had six sons, whom he sent one day to the chase. Returning, they brought him a bow and arrows which they had found. The bow was given to the three eldest and the three arrows to the younger. The latter each took one, but the first three divided the bow among them, receiving thereby the name Bosuk, The Breakers. They were intrusted with the care of the right
[page 67] TOGRUL BEY.
wing of his army, while to the three youngest, called Utschok, The Three Arrows, was given the care of the left wing. These younger ones extended their rule eastward toward China and were the ancestors of the Mongols. The others roamed westward. One became the founder of the Turkomans, another of the Seljuks and the third of the Ottomans or Osmanlis. This, however, is chiefly legend. What is clearer history is the fact that varying tribes, with some evident connection with the Mongols of Eastern Asia, spread westward through Russia and Persia, and encamped upon the plains of Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. Their first incursions were about the fifth and sixth centuries, at the very time when both Caliphate and Byzantine Empire were showing the weakness of effeminacy. At first their progress was, through lack of any organization and unity, of little moment. They furnished the mercenaries for the Caliphs, and while occasionally governing one section or another, held their power in very uncertain hands.
The first chieftain to accomplish anything like permanent rule was Togrul Bey, the grandson of Seljuk, an Ameer of Turkestan, who wrested one country after another from its princes and reigned from Bokhara to Syria, from the vicinity of the Indus to the Black Sea. He bequeathed his vast empire to the famous Alp Arslan, who crossed the Euphrates, conquered Armenia and Georgia, and came up to the very borders of the already shrunken Byzantine Empire. Its emperor sought to check the advance of the chieftain, but was defeated, captured, and only received his liberty as a special favor of his conqueror. He, however, granted it not so much from any considerations of humanity, as because he realized that, brave and intrepid as his horsemen were, they
[page 68] MALEK SHAH.
were no match in the long run for the disciplined legions of what was to him a new world. As so often is the case, the adventurous rush westward left his ancestral region exposed to enemies. On his return to reinstate himself in Bokhara, Alp Arslan was killed, and his son, Malek Shah, came to the throne. His reign, 1072-1092, was the golden era of the Seljuk dynasty. His empire extended from the Caspian to the Mediterranean, from Khorassan to the Bosporus. The Fatimite Caliphs of Egypt were practically under his power, and from his capital at Konieh (Iconium) he governed the whole of his vast domains. The Seljuk ruler was not merely a conqueror. Whether under the influence of the Caliphs or not, he interested himself in education, founded schools, and it was during his region that many of the most beautiful specimens of what is mistakenly called Saracenic architecture were erected throughout Central Asia Minor. The graceful mosques and arches, sometimes highly adorned, mostly now fallen into ruin, are all that is left of a strange incursion of the wild Tartars into civilization.
Malek Shah left little or nothing of his own ability to his three sons, who disputed among themselves and divided the empire: one holding Persia and laying the foundation for the present Kajar dynasty; another occupying Northern Syria, while the third retained the ancestral capital at Konieh. This division not merely made them subject to incursions from abroad, but to revolutions from the chieftains who nominally gave them allegiance. The first to take advantage of their weakness were the Mongols, who, under Zinghis Khan, either overbore the weak Seljuks entirely or held them in subordination, though still allowing them the title of Sultan. The Mongols, however, had no staying power, and gave place in
[page 69] ERTHOGRUL.
their turn to still another incursion. A tribe of Turks swept away by the Mongol invasion had found their way from Khorassan to the region west of Ararat, where they camped about the headquarters of the Euphrates. They found this, however, not exactly to their mind, and longing for their ancient home, set out to return to it. Their chief, however, was drowned in attempting to cross the Euphrates, and the result was a division of the troops. The two oldest sons held on their way to Khorassan; the younger two, with about 400 families, wandered back and forth in true nomad style from plain to mountain. One, Erthogrul, came out upon a plain of Cappadocia and found, according to the story, two armies in conflict. True to the mountain instinct, unfortunately lost in later years, he joined the weaker company, and with his fresh warriors won for them the victory. Later consultation revealed to him the fact that his late ally was the Sultan of the Seljuks, seeking to defend his much-diminished kingdom against one of his periodical foes. The new arrivals, fresh from their mountain life, unweakened by the experiences of the plain, formed a valuable reinforcement. They joined heartily with those they had helped, recognized loyally their chief, and assisted him to regain his power over the various tribes around, and also to make some headway against the Greeks. In course of time a closer alliance was brought about and the son of Erthogrul, Ottoman, Osman, or Othman, by persistent courtship and a convenient dream, won the daughter of an Arab chief, and Malkatoun became the mother of Orchan.
Erthogrul lived to an advanced age, but little by little transferred the care of his kingdom to Othman, who, on the death of his benefactor, became the recognized head of the
[page 70] ORCHAN.
nation. This was in the latter part of the thirteenth century. His reign, and that of Orchan, were occupied chiefly in consolidating their power, developing the general character of the people, introducing the best military arrangements known at that day, and in extending their empire. One by one they drew under their leadership the various Turkish tribes, and advanced nearer and nearer to Constantinople, until they made Brusa their capital. It was here that both father and son are buried, and their tombs are objects of great reverence among the Turks to the present day.
It is probable that the influence of these two men largely controlled the development of Turkish character. That character is often greatly misunderstood. It is by no means as thoroughly barbaric as many suppose. It is impossible that a nation that could develop such power, could not merely extend its boundaries, but maintain them, subdue nation after nation, and keep them in subjection, hold its own for centuries against the hostility of Europe, and withstand the disintegrating influences that have been at work during the past century, should not have much of vitality in its nature. Whatever of weakness at the head, there must have been, and there must still be, soundness of body. That this is true is testified to, not merely by travelers, of whatever nationality, but by the very people who are quoted as saying, “ There is no good Turk but a dead Turk.” The fact is, that in order to estimate accurately the character of the Turkish native, we must go not to the official circles, but to the private houses, whether in the cities or the country, but most of all in the country.
The ordinary Turkish peasant, and many a townsman, is a man very simple in his tastes. His food is plain but wholesome, his dress is unassuming, his house most primitively fur-
[page 71 - illustration]
[page 72 - illustration]
[page 73] POLYGAMY.
nished. He is kindly in his bearing; intensely fond of his children, frequently so of his wife; a great admirer of the beauties of nature, generally contriving to have some flowers within reach. He is social, but in rather a sober way, in this respect quite different from the Armenians, who are far more buoyant, and from the Greeks, whose entertainments are frequently boisterous. He is thoroughly hospitable, entertaining with a free hand. To the unfortunate, especially the blind, the crippled, the demented, he is very kind, not only never lifting a finger against them, but helping them when he can. So also with animals, he is careful and generally considerate.
In his private life the Turkish peasant is temperate. Not as temperate as he is supposed to be, but still temperate. As a rule he is a monogamist. Polygamy is comparatively rare, chiefly because of the expense. The facility and widespread use of divorce, however, accomplishes much the same thing. Any Turk can put away his wife at any time, and take another, and in the towns this privilege is used constantly, nor is there any disgrace involved. There are, however, multitudes of instances where husband and wife are true to each other through a long life. The statement is frequently made that the social evil is unknown. This is not true. In the cities, and wherever there are garrisons, there is prostitution, though not to the same extent as in Europe. Sodomy is far more common. In the main, however, the common Turk of the provinces will compare very favorably with the peasant of other lands, and one proof is found in the unimpaired vigor of his physical constitution. He is ordinarily a robust, well-formed, powerful man.
In his relations with the subject races of the empire, the Turk never forgets that he is the lord of the land. This is intensi-
[page 74] THE FOREIGNER.
fied by the fact that he occupies himself chiefly with the care of the land, herds and flocks, which he considers the only real property. Trade he has little taste for, and as little facility in it. Banking, too, is entirely alien to his habits. These pursuits he looks upon as implying endless trickery and deception, and accordingly he looks upon them with contempt, for, except under the influence of the West, he is in general truthful, honest and reliable. This contempt is usually mingled with somewhat of dread, for he is no match for the very people he despises, whom yet he finds so essential to his comfort and general welfare. The result is, that for the most part he lives on good terms with his neighbors of whatever race or creed. In ordinary times he will be seen on friendly, even intimate, relations with them, and, although the distinction is always clear, it is yet frequently overlooked. Villages, Christian and Turkish, on the same plain, will ordinarily be at peace, and in the towns and cities there is seldom any indication of the line that separates one quarter from another. Even in the massacres of the past year, there have been many instances where they have given protection to hunted Christian refugees.
So far as the foreigner is concerned, he is to the average Turk more of a curiosity than anything else, a kind of being with whom, or with which, he has very little to do. He has a dim conception of the existence of some strange countries far remote from his own, where people dress in a most uncomfortable way, eat strange things, and altogether lead a life which has not the slightest attraction for himself. There are men, even in interior villages, who have a much more accurate idea of Europe, and who have even heard of America, but
[page 75] THE PREVAILING IDEAS.
the following incident, which is a true one, will apply to the greater part of the Turks of the provinces.
A foreigner who was traveling in Northern Syria came to a village on the Euphrates, and entered into conversation with his host, a part of which was as follows:
Host. What is the latest news ?
Foreigner. Have you heard that the Russian Emperor is dead?
Host. No ! When did he die ?
Foreigner. Two or three weeks ago.
Host. Is there a new king yet ? (Notice change in title.)
Foreigner. Why, yes, even though not formally crowned, the new Emperor became Emperor the moment his father died.
Host. Who is the new king?
Foreigner. The son of the one dead. In Europe the crown goes from father to child, not to the oldest male of the blood royal as in the Turkish Empire.
Host. Has the new king come to Constantinople yet?
Foreigner. What for ?
Host. Why, to get our Emperor’s permission to put on his crown; he cannot put it on without our Emperor’s permission.
Foreigner. I think that has not been the custom of late years.
Host. Why, certainly it has. None of the kings of Europe can be crowned without our Emperor’s permission. Is not that so? (this to a Moslem who had just come in).
Visitor. Why, yes. They are all vassals of our Emperor.
Host. I wonder if our Emperor will not insist that the new Russian king pledge himself to abstain from war two years, before letting him put on his crown ?
[page 76] INTELLECUTAL ABILITY.
Visitor. Probably he will.
The intellectual ability of the Turk is good. When it is remembered that there is almost no education of any kind throughout the country; that what little there is, is confined to the priests; that there is little reading and almost no opportunity for development, the facts apparent on every hand indicate no mean order of talent. The records of attainment in government schools and elsewhere show that Turkish young men are fully the equals of any. In many respects the conduct of the government is of a very good order, and the history of Turkish diplomacy is certainly on a par with that of any court of Europe. They have not the keenness of the Armenians or of the Greeks, but have good minds, and, where circumstances give the opportunity, they show ability to think for themselves. In the official class this is particularly noticeable, and the educated Turk of Constantinople stands fully abreast of his compeer in the cities of Europe. An American, traveling in a railroad train from Adrianople to Constantinople, got into conversation with a Turkish army officer. He found the officer well posted in many lines of investigation and even well read in the Turkish version of the Bible. It is an interesting and significant fact that large editions of that version, in the form specially adapted to Turks, have been sold throughout the empire, and that they are constantly read and studied, has been repeatedly affirmed by the Turks themselves. A nation that can produce such men as Fuad, Midhat, and Ali Pashas, and not a few of those prominent in later years, and that shows such interest in a daily press, cannot be considered of mediocre intellectual ability.
From the standpoint of a despotic government the Turk
[page 77] UNWAVERING OBEDIENCE.
makes an almost ideal subject. He is absolutely obedient to those whom he regards as constituted authorities, even where treated by them with the most outrageous oppression and injustice, as is repeatedly the case under the Sultan’s rule. He seldom if ever complains, and when he does it is with bated breath, as if there could be no criticism of his superiors. Whatever of wrong there may be, is laid at the door, not of the authorities, but of some outside and to him unknown influences which compel this action under which he suffers. Or it may be that he looks upon it as just punishment from God for some crime against his law. But of this later on. As a soldier he takes rank with the very best in the world. His naturally fine physique and strong constitution and simple manner of life give him great endurance, and his unwavering obedience, which, however, is by no means stolid, as is that of the Russian, makes him the reliance of his officers, while his education in his religion from childhood makes him reckless even to the point of despising death. The record of Turkish wars throughout the centuries has been one that any nation might well be proud of, so far as achievements of its soldiers are concerned-; and no one who watched the veterans as they returned from Plevna and from Shipka could fail to understand how it was that Russia had to buy her way into the fortifications.
There is, however, another side to Turkish character, illustrated by many facts along the lines already mentioned. The treatment of the insane whose detention becomes necessary, and who have none to provide for them, is brutal in the extreme. In times of famine or of general distress the Turk will do little or nothing to relieve even his own people, and when an animal becomes sick or helpless, it is left to a
[page 78] FRIGHTFUL CRUELTY.
miserable end. It is no uncommon sight on the caravan roads to see camels, horses or mules, that have fallen by the way left to die, while the vultures gather and commence their work even before life is extinct. The stories of the past year of torture, murder and outrage, seem to belong to a race of demons rather than of human beings. It is true that for much of this the Kurds are responsible, as in the Bulgarian massacres it was largely the Pomaks who were guilty of the worst excesses, but still it is true that the Turks themselves, soldiers and peasants, committed deeds of the most frightful enormity. The ripping up of pregnant women to decide a wager as to the sex of the unborn child, the wholesale outraging of women and girls, not to speak of the torturing of men, and even little children, in the most inhuman fashion, indicate a fiendish barbarism that seems absolutely incompatible with the kindness and hospitality to which so many bear witness. Yet it is simple truth that, were the facts to be detailed in all their horror, the chronicle would disgust the world. A portion of it has been set forth in such articles as those by E. J. Dillon, in the Contemporary Review; by Frederick D. Greene, in “The Armenian Crisis in Turkey,” and a few, comparatively very few, instances will be found in later chapters of this book. They need not be repeated here. It is sufficient to say that there is not a case given for which there is not abundant proof.
So also in private life there are aspects of even the best of the Turkish people that can call forth only condemnation. Most noticeable, perhaps, is the condition of women, which is in the main thoroughly degraded. From her birth she is looked upon as a menial and an unfortunate. This is illustrated by the great amount of infanticide, especially if the
[page 79] BRUTAL SENSUALISM.
child be a girl; by the haggard, ugly countenances of the old women, so different in that respect from the Armenians; the piercing shrillness of their voices, from which every tone of tenderness seems to have gone; the very general vulgarity of conversation and of thought, always attendant upon a condition of society where the woman must rely upon satisfying the passions rather than the heart of her husband. As already stated, there are exceptions, but in the main the condition of the Turkish women is very low. This condition reacts upon the men and makes them vulgar and sensual in the extreme. The everyday language of the average Turk would shock the lowest of the slum boys in our own cities. Under ordinary circumstances sensualism is kept measurably in check by the inevitable restraints of community life, but once let those be broken and lust reigns supreme, dominating everything. As a gentleman who knows them well and never hesitates to recognize their good qualities, has said, “In a Turk’s eye all that a woman has is sex, and for it he lusts with absolute brutality.”
Similar characteristics appear in his relations with others. While ordinarily peaceable and desirous of living on good terms with his neighbors of other creeds or races, and thus generally truthful, honest and hospitable, he will on occasion show the reverse of all these characteristics, and it is not infrequently the case that travelers find it impossible to understand how any one can possibly speak of the race with other than contempt for its utter disregard of the most ordinary amenities of life. The explanation is undoubtedly partly to be found in their religious training, but there is ingrained in the Turkish character an element of dishonesty and of disregard for truth. This uncertainty appears some-
[page 80] THE TURKISH COURT.
what in their relations to their own government. Loyal as they are, it has not infrequently been true that they, far more than the Christian subjects, furnish the most anxiety, and if now the inmost thoughts of the Sultan could be learned, it is most probable that he fears the Softas far more than the Armenians.
Next, perhaps, to the condition of woman, the weaker or the worst side of Turkish character is manifest in the official class. The Turks themselves have a proverb that “The Turk is a decent man until he becomes an official, and then he becomes a scamp,” and this is borne out in the greater part of the intercourse between that class and the rest of the world. Probably no court in history can give so marked an illustration of the decadence of all moral power as the Turkish court. There have been noble men, men of preeminent ability and sterling character, but they have been very rare, and the average official, whether in civil, military or naval service, is absolutely unreliable. He will make promises that he never intends to keep and that he knows he cannot keep. He will accept bribes unblushingly and will deal with all whom he comes in contact on the general principle that he is the smartest man who can get the most and give the least; a sycophant to his superiors, a bully to his inferiors. His whole life is a constant strife with every one with whom he has any relations whatever. The very atmosphere in which he lives seems to breathe dishonesty and fasehood, and the ability he shows is prostituted to the very basest ends. Yet here again, as in almost every other statement, exceptions must be made. No one who has had dealings with the departments of the government has failed to find many instances of courtesy and consideration. With
[page 81] TURKISH CHARACTER.
all the outrage and injustice perpetrated by the provincial governors, there have been many instances of not merely justice, but kindness, in their dealing with all classes of people. When, however, every possible exception is noted, it remains true that the official life from the highest to the lowest is thoroughly demoralized.
The one dominant element in the Turkish character, however, the one which controls and modifies all the others, is his religion. This is no place for a general description of Mohammedanism. Some reference has already been made to it in a preceding chapter. Here we have only to note its effect upon the Turkish character. That effect is both advantageous and disadvantageous. The grandeur of its monotheism fills his soul and holds him in absolute subjection to that idea. One result of this is that the natural simplicity of the race is strengthened rather than weakened. Another effect of it is seen in his general self-control and temperance. The Turk is by no means as temperate a man as many suppose him to be; yet what temperance he has is due primarily to the precepts of his religion. So also he is as a rule self-contained, not from stolidity, but from principle. He is above all things else a pure and simple fatalist, acknowledging God’s absolute control over him and claiming that whatever is, is right. It is immaterial to him what happens to him. Thus, on the field of battle he absolutely refuses to recognize danger, and in private life, when sickness overtakes him, he will frequently make no effort for recovery. The following incident illustrates, better than any lengthy description can, the power of this influence.
In the various scourges of cholera that have swept over many parts of the empire, the Turk has been the most
[page 82] INFLUENCES FOR EVIL.
difficult patient to treat. In the dread time in Constantinople in 1865, when the deaths numbered not less than a thousand a day, a gentleman on his errand of mercy and of healing met in the street a young man, who implored him to come into a room near by and save, if he could, his father. The room was entered, and there, upon a single quilt upon the floor, lay a Turk, old in years, but not in strength, of magnificent physique and apparently of perfect health until attacked by the plague. The disease had secured so thorough a hold of him that he seemed to be marked for death. As the medicine was produced he absolutely refused to take it, saying, “If it is God’s will that I should die, I shall die, and your medicine will do no good. If it is His will that I shall recover, I shall recover, and your medicine will be of no use.” Scarcely needless to say the man died. This same principle also makes him the obedient subject that he is, and keeps him content with his lot when many another race would be restless and urgent for revolution.
There are, however, other influences for evil. The very absoluteness of Islam makes him overbearing and insolent to all who are not of his own faith. Its exaltation of the sensual paradise frees him from all restraint in the gratification of his passions. If once his recognized ecclesiastical leaders, the authorized interpreters of the law, declare against the authority of the government, he becomes immediately the most dangerous revolutionist known to history; this in aggression. But in another sense the same religion develops within him an indolence. The one word that probably to many a traveler expresses Turkish character, is the word “kef.” It is an untranslatable word, and denotes a general condition of indolent and sensuous rather than sensual enjoyment of different
[page 83] TURKISH “KEF.”
pleasures. In the enjoyment of it he is careless of the future and the past, and lives only in the present. If urged to labor in the fields, he says, “ What is the use ? I have enough for the moment. Why should I look out for the future?” If appeal is made to his ambition in the line of intellectual development or wide extent of prosperity, the same indolent luxuriousness prevents his taking the slightest trouble to alter his situation. That this indolence should co-exist with the tremendous fury of the Turkish onslaughts as known in history, with the atrocious barbarity of the events of the past year, seems almost incredible, and yet it is true. This same characteristic appears in still another form. It stands in opposition to any development of the land. It is epicureanism interpreted in Tartar language, and we have the Sybarite, with the bare mud floor, a cup of coffee and a pipe, instead of the luxurious couch and deep potations of the Roman court. This latter indeed is found where wealth gives opportunity, but for the distinctive Turkish “kef,” we must look not in the palace or on the shores of the Bosporus, but in the village and on the plains of Asia Minor. An illustration is furnished in the refusal of a Turkish pasha who owned some land on the southern slopes of the Taurus. When some Europeans came to get a concession for working some coal mines on his property, he replied, “ If God Almighty had intended that coal to be used, He would put it near the surface where it could have been got at, not away below, where you have to dig for it. It is blasphemy to change His plans.” What disturbed the pasha, however, in truth, was not the blasphemy, but the interference with his “kef.”
It will be seen that the Turk, as is the case with so many other peoples, is a bundle of contradictions. With some
[page 84] ABDUL HAMID II.
noble qualities he unites some that are brutal and contemptible in the extreme. Those who see only the courteous host and the easy, suave diplomat, will defend him with all their power, while those who have felt the iron heel of his despotism, and seen the wanton outrage of his lust, find it hard to think that there can be any good in him. Probably the most typical Turk of the century is the Sultan himself. To the foreign ambassador, to the guest whom he delights to honor, he appears a man of kindly, even benign bearing, sincerely desirous of the welfare of all his people, sad at their distress, bitterly lamenting the cruel fate that has so weakened the power of his rule that he cannot do what he would, yet anxious to do all he can. To the official, however, who has displeased him, to the peasant in his village who pays him taxes, to the priest who seeks to perform the rites of his church, he appears a tyrant of the most unjust and cruel type. Which is correct ? In all probability both. When all goes well, Abdul Hamid, like any other Turk, is kindly, hospitable, even generous. When, however, adversity comes upon him, and he finds himself face to face with disaster, not merely to himself, but to his boasted title of Defender of the Faith, the old Tartar blood enkindled by the ferocity of the Moslem Arab breaks forth, and he permits, if he does not directly order, the the most atrocious series of massacres known in history. With capabilities for the best, the Turk frequently manifests the worst elements in human nature.
Table of Contents
| The Cover, Frontispiece, Title Page, Copyright
Introduction | Preface | Turkey in Asia (map) | Table of Contents (as in the book)
List of Illustrations | 1. The Turkish Empire | 2. Population and Languages | 3. Religions
4. The Turks | 5. The Kurds | 6. The Armenians | 7. The Greeks | 8. Other Oriental Churches
9. Rise and Decline of Ottoman Power | 10. Turkey and Europe | 11. Russia and Turkey
12. Mahmud II | 13. Reform and Progress | 14. Treaties of Paris and Berlin
15. Condition of the Christians | 16. The Turkish Government | 17. Protestant Missions in Turkey
18. The Armenian Question | 19. General Situation in 1894 | 20. The Sassun Massacre
21. Politics and Massacre at Constantinople | 22. Massacres at Trebizond and Erzrum
23. Massacres in Harput District | 24. Aintab, Marash and Urfa | 25. Character of the Massacres
26. Religious Persecution | 27. Relief Work | 28. Partition of Turkey | 29. America and Turkey
30. General Survey | Alphabetical Index
Bliss, Rev. Edwin Munsell . Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities.
Edgewood Publishing Company , 1896
J. Rendel Harris
& B. Helen Harris, Letters
from the Scenes of the Recent Massacres in Armenia