TWO WAR YEARS IN CONSTANTINOPLE
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In Constantinople—Pro-Turkish considerations—The dilemma of a Gallipoli correspondent—Under German military control.
A few days after the fall of Przemysl I set out for Constantinople. I left Germany with a good deal of friendly feeling towards the Turk. I was even quite well disposed towards the Young Turks, although I knew and appreciated the harm caused by their régime and the reproaches levelled against it since 1909. At any rate, when I landed on Turkish soil I was certainly not lacking in goodwill towards the Government of Enver and Talaat, and nothing was further from my thoughts than to prejudice myself against my new sphere of work by any preconceived criticism. In comparison with Abdul-Hamid I regarded the régime of the Young Turks, in spite of all, as a big step in advance and a necessary one, and the parting words of one
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of our old editors, a thorough connoisseur of Turkey, lingered in my ears without very much effect. He said: "You are going to Constantinople. You will soon be able to see for yourself the moral bankruptcy of the Young Turks, and you will find that Turkey is nothing but a dead body galvanised into action, that will only last as long as the war lasts and we Germans supply the galvanising power." I would not believe it, and went to Turkey with an absolutely open mind to form my own opinion.
It must also be remembered that all the pro-Turkish utterances of Eastern experts of all shades and nationalities who emphasised the fact that the Turks were the most respectable nation of the East, were not without their effect upon me; also I had read Pierre Loti. I was determined to extend to the Turkish Government the strong sympathy I already felt for the Turkish people—and, let me here emphasise it, still feel. To undermine that sympathy, to make me lose my confidence in this race, things would have to go badly indeed. They went worse than I ever thought was possible.
I went first of all to the new Turkish front
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in the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli Peninsula, where everything was ruled by militarism and there was but little opportunity to worry about politics. The combined attack by sea and land had just begun, and I passed the next few weeks on the Ariburnu front. I found myself in the entirely new position of war-correspondent. I had now to write professionally about this war, which I detested with all my heart and soul.
Well, I simply had to make the back fit the burden. Whatever I did or did not do, I have certainly the clear satisfaction of knowing that I never wrote a single word in praise of war. One will understand that, in spite of my inward conviction that Germany by unloosing the war on Europe had committed a terrible crime against humanity, in spite of my consciousness of acting in a wrong cause, in spite of my deep disgust of much that I had already seen, I was still interested in Turkey's fight for existence, but from quite another standpoint.
As an objective onlooker I did not have to be an absolute hypocrite to do justice to my journalistic duties to my paper. I got to
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know the Turkish soldier with his stoical heroism in defence, and the brilliant attacking powers and courage of the Anatolians with their blind belief in their Padishah, as they were rushed to the defence of Stamboul and hurled themselves in a bayonet charge against the British machine-guns under a hail of shells from the sea. I gained a high opinion of Turkish valour and powers of resistance. I had no reason to stint my praise or withhold my judgment. In mess-tents and at various observation-posts I made the personal acquaintance of crowds of thoroughly sympathetic and likeable Turkish officers. Let me mention but one—Essad Pasha, the defender of Jannina.
I found quite enough material on my two visits to Gallipoli during various phases of the fighting to write a series of feuilletons without any glorification of militarism and political aims. I confined myself to what was of general human interest, to what was picturesque, what was dramatic in the struggle going on in this unique theatre of war.
But even then I was beginning to have my own opinion about much that I saw; I was already torn by conflicting doubts. Already I
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was beginning to ask myself whether my sympathies would not gradually turn more and more definitely to those who were vainly storming these strong Turkish forts from the sea, under a deadly machine-gun fire, for the cause of true civilisation, the cause of liberty, was manifestly on their side.
I had opportunity, too, of making comparisons from the dead and wounded and the few prisoners there were between the value of the human material sacrificed on either side—on the one, brave but stupid Anatolians, accustomed to dirt and misery; on the other cultured and highly civilised men, sportsmen from the colonies who had hurried from the farthest corners of the earth to fight not only for the British cause, but for the cause of civilisation. But at that time I was not yet ripe for the decision forced upon me later by other things that I saw with my own eyes; I had not yet reached that deep inward conviction that I should have to make a break with Germany. The only thing I could do and felt compelled to do then was to pay my homage not only to Turkish patriotism and Turkish bravery, but to the wonderful courage and fearlessness of
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death shown by those whom at that time I had, as a German, to regard as my enemies; this I did over and over again in my articles.
I saw, too, the first indications of other things. Traces of the most outspoken jingoism among Turkish officers became gradually apparent, and more than one Turkish commander pointed out to me with ironical emphasis that things went just as smoothly and promptly in his sector, where there was no German officer in charge, as anywhere else.
On my second visit to the Dardanelles, in summer, I heard of considerable quarrels over questions of rank, and there was more than one outbreak of jingoistic arrogance on the part of both Turkish and German subalterns, leading in some cases even to blows and consequent severe punishment for insubordination. The climax was reached in the scandal of supplanting General Weber, commanding the "Southern Group" (Sedd-ul-Bahr) by Vehib Pasha, a grim and fanatical Turk. In this case the Turkish point of view prevailed, for General Liman von Sanders, Commander-in-Chief of the Gallipoli Army, was determined
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not to lose his post, and agreed slavishly with all that Enver Pasha ordained.
From other fronts, such as the Irak and the "Caucasus" (which was becoming more and more a purely Armenian theatre of war, without losing that chimerical designation in the official reports!), there came even more significant tales; there German and Turkish officers seemed to live still more of a cat-and-dog life than in the Dardanelles. Of course under the iron discipline of both Turks and Germans, these unpleasant occurrences were never allowed to come to such a pass that they would interfere in any way with military operations, but they were of significance as symptoms of a deep distrust of the Germans even in Turkish military circles.
Stuermer, Harry. Two War Years in Constantinople. USA: George H. Doran