Arnold Joseph Toynbee.

Turkey: a Past and a Future online

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What is Turkey? It is a name which explains nothing, for no formula can
embrace the variety of the countries marked "Ottoman" on the map: the
High Yemen, with its monsoons and tropical cultivation; the tilted rim
of the Hedjaz, one desert in a desert zone that stretches from the
Sahara to Mongolia; the Mesopotamian rivers, breaking the desert with a
strip of green; the pine-covered mountain terraces of Kurdistan, which
gird in Mesopotamia as the hills of the North-West Frontier of India
gird the Plains; the Armenian highlands, bleak as the Pamirs, which feed
Mesopotamia with their snows and send it the soil they cannot keep
themselves; the Anatolian peninsula - an offshoot of Central Europe with
its rocks and fine timber and mountain streams, but nursing a steppe in
its heart more intractable than the Puszta of Hungary; the
coast-lands - Trebizond and Ismid and Smyrna clinging to the Anatolian
mainland and Syria interposing itself between the desert and the sea,
but all, with their vines and olives and sharp contours, keeping true to
the Mediterranean; and then the waterway of narrows and land-locked sea
and narrows again which links the Mediterranean with the Black Sea and
the Russian hinterland, and which has not its like in the world.

The cities of Turkey are as various as the climes, with the added
impress of many generations of men: Adrianople, set at a junction of
rivers within the circle of the Thracian downs, a fortress since its
foundation, well chosen for the tombs of the Ottoman conquerors;
Constantinople, capital of empires where races meet but never mix,
mistress of trade routes vital to the existence of vast regions beyond
her horizon - Central Europe trafficking south-eastward overland and
Russia south-westward by sea; Smyrna, the port by which men go up and
down between Anatolia and the Aegean, the foothold on the Asiatic
mainland which the Greeks have never lost; Konia, between the mountain
girdle and the central steppe, where native Anatolia has always stood at
bay, guarding her race and religion against the influences of the
coasts; Aleppo, where, if Turkey were a unity, the centre of Turkey
would be found, the city where, if anywhere, the races of the Near East
have mingled - building their courses into her fortress walls from the
polygonal work of the Hittite founders to the battlements that kept out
the Crusaders - and now the half-way point of a railway surveyed along an
immemorially ancient route, but unfinished like the history of Aleppo
herself; Van by its upland lake, overhanging the Mesopotamian lowlands
and with the writing of their culture graven on its cliffs, yet living a
life apart like some Swiss canton and half belonging to the infinite
north; Bagdad, the incarnation for the last millennium of an eternal
city that shifts its site as its rivers shift their beds - from Seleucia
to Bagdad, from Babylon to Seleucia, from Kish to Babylon - but which
always springs up again, like Delhi, within a few parasangs of its last
ruins, in an area that is an irresistible focus of population; Basra
amid its palm-groves, so far down stream that it belongs to the Indian
Ocean - the port from which Sinbad set sail for fairyland, and from which
less mythical Arab seamen spread their religion and civilisation far
over African coasts and Malayan Indies; these, and besides them almost
all the holy cities of mankind: Kerbela, between the Euphrates and the
desert, where, under Sunni rule, the Shias of Persia and India have
still visited the tombs of their saints and buried their dead;
Jerusalem, where Jew and Christian, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant,
Armenian and Abyssinian, have their common shrines and separate
quarters; Mekka and Medina in the heart of the desert, beyond which
their fame would never have passed but for a well and a mart and a
precinct of idols and the Prophet who overthrew them; and there are the
cities on the Pilgrim Road (linked now by railway with Medina, the
nearer of the _Haramein_): Beirût the port, with its electric trams and
newspapers, the Smyrna of the Arab lands; and Damascus the oasis,
looking out over the desert instead of the sea, and harbour not of ships
but of camel-caravans.

The names of these cities call up, like an incantation, the memory of
the civilisations which grew in them to greatness and sank in them to
decay: Mesopotamia, a great heart of civilisation which is cold to-day,
but which beat so strongly for five thousand years that its pulses were
felt from Siberia to the Pillars of Hercules and influenced the taste
and technique of the Scandinavian bronze age; the Assyrians, who
extended the political marches of Mesopotamia towards the north, and
turned them into a military monarchy that devastated the motherland and
all other lands and peoples from the Tigris to the sea; the Hebrews,
discovering a world-religion in their hill-country overlooking the
coast; the Sabaeans, whose queen made the first pilgrimage to Jerusalem,
coming from Yemen across the Hedjaz when Mekka and Medina were still of
no account; the Philistines and Phoenicians of the Syrian sea-board, who
were discovering the Atlantic and were too busy to listen to the Hebrew
prophets in their hinterland; the Ionians, who opened up the Black Sea
and created a poetry, philosophy, science, and architecture which are
still the life-blood of ours, before they were overwhelmed, like the
Phoenicians before them, by a continental military power; the Hittites,
who first transmitted the fruitful influences of Mesopotamia to the
Ionian coasts - a people as mysterious to their contemporaries as to
ourselves, maturing unknown in the fastnesses of Anatolia, raising up a
sudden empire that raided Mesopotamia and colonised the Syrian valleys,
and then succumbing to waves of northern invasion. All these people rose
and fell within the boundaries of Turkey, held the stage of the world
for a time, and left their mark on its history. There is a romance about
their names, a wonderful variety and intensity in their vanished life;
yet they are not more diverse than their modern successors, in whose
veins flows their blood and whose possibilities are only dwarfed by
their achievements.

There were less than twenty million people in Turkey before the War, and
during it the Government has caused a million or so to perish by
massacre, starvation, or disease. Yet, in spite of this daemoniac effort
after uniformity, they are still the strangest congeries of racial and
social types that has ever been placed at a single Government's mercy.
The Ottoman Empire is named after the Osmanli, but you might search long
before you found one among its inhabitants. These Osmanlis are a
governing class, indigenous only in Constantinople and a few
neighbouring towns, but planted here and there, as officers and
officials, over the Ottoman territories. They come of a clan of Turkish
nomads, recruited since the thirteenth century by converts, forced or
voluntary, from most of Christendom, and crossed with the blood of
slave-women from all the world. They are hardly a race. Tradition
fortified by inertia makes them what they are, and also their Turkish
language, which serves them for business of state and for a literature,
though not without an infusion of Persian and Arabic idioms said to
amount to 95 per cent. of the vocabulary[1].

This artificial language is hardly a link between Osmanli officialdom
and the Turkish peasantry of Anatolia, which speaks Turkish dialects
derived from tribes that drifted in, some as late as the Osmanlis, some
two centuries before. Nor has this Turkish-speaking peasantry much in
common with the Turkish nomads who still wander over the central
Anatolian steppe and have kept their blood pure; for the peasantry has
reverted physically to the native stock, which held Anatolia from time
immemorial and absorbs all newcomers that mingle with it on its soil.
Thus there are three distinct "Turkish" elements in Turkey, divided by
blood and vocation and social type; and even if we reckon all who speak
some form of Turkish as one group, they only amount to 30 or 40 per
cent. of the whole population of the Empire.

The rest are alien to the Turks and to one another. Those who speak
Arabic are as strong numerically as the Turks, or stronger, but they too
are divided, and their unity is a problem of the future. There are
pure-bred Arab nomads of the desert; there are Arabs who have settled in
towns or on the land, some within the last generation, like the Muntefik
in Mesopotamia, some a millennium or two ago, like the Meccan Koreish,
but who still retain their tribal consciousness of race; there are Arabs
in name who have nothing Arabic about them but their language - most of
the peasantry of Syria are such, and the inhabitants of ancient centres
of population like Damascus or Bagdad; in Syria many of these "Arabs"
are Christians, and some Christians, though they speak Arabic, have
retained their separate sense of nationality - notably the Roman Catholic
Maronites of the Lebanon - and would hardly be considered as Arabs either
by themselves or by their neighbours. The same is true of the Druses,
another remnant of an earlier stock, which has preserved its identity
under the guise of Islam so heretically conceived as to rank as an
independent religion. As for the Yemenis - they will resent the
imputation, for no Arabs count up their genealogies so zealously as
they, but there is more East African than Semitic blood in their veins.
They are men of the moist, fertile tropics, brown of skin, and working
half naked in their fields, like the peoples of Southern India and
Bengal. And on the opposite fringes of the Arabic-speaking area there
are fragments of population whose language is Semitic but
pre-Arabic[2] - the Jacobite Christians of the Tor-Abdin, and the
Nestorians of the Upper Zab, who once, under the Caliphs, were the
industrious Christian peasantry of Mesopotamia, but now are shepherds
and hillmen among the Kurds. The Kurds themselves are more scattered
than any other stock in Turkey, and divided tribe against tribe, but
taken together they rank third in numerical strength, after the Arabs
and Turks. There are mountain Kurds and Kurds of the plain, husbandmen
and herdsmen, Kurds who have kept to their original homes along the
eastern frontier, and Kurds who, under Ottoman auspices, have spread
themselves over the Armenian plateau, the North Mesopotamian steppes,
the Taurus valleys, and the hinterland of the Black Sea.

The chief thing the Kurds have in common is the Persian dialect they
speak, but it is usual to class as Kurds any and every community in the
Kurdish area which is not Turkish or Arab and can by courtesy be called
Moslem (the Kurds, for that matter, are only Moslems skin-deep). Such
communities abound: the Dersim highlands, in particular, are an
ethnographical museum; "Kizil-Bashi" is a general name for their kind;
only the Yezidis, though they speak good Kurdish, are distinguished from
the rest for their idiosyncrasy of worshipping Satan under the form of a
peacock (Allah, they argue, is good-natured and does not need to be
propitiated) and they are repudiated with one accord by Moslem and

But not all the scattered elements in Turkey are isolated or primitive.
The Greeks and Armenians, for instance, are, or were, the most
energetic, intellectual, liberal elements in Turkey, the natural
intermediaries between the other races and western civilisation - "were"
rather than "are," because the Ottoman Government has taken ruthless
steps to eliminate just these two most valuable elements among its
subjects. The urban Greeks survive in centres like Smyrna and
Constantinople, but the Greek peasantry of Thrace and Anatolia has
mostly been driven over the frontier since the Second Balkan War. As for
the Armenians, the Government has been destroying them by massacre and
deportation since April, 1915 - business and professional men, peasants
and shepherds, women and children - without discrimination or pity. A
third of the Ottoman Armenians may still survive; a tenth of them are
safe within the Russian and British lines. Fortunately half this nation,
and the majority of the Greeks, live outside the Ottoman frontiers, and
are beyond the Osmanli's power.

To compensate for its depopulation of the countries under its dominion,
the Ottoman Government, during the last fifty years, has been settling
them with Moslem immigrants from its own lost provinces or from other
Moslem lands that have changed their rulers. These "Mouhadjirs" are
reckoned, from first to last, at three-quarters of a million, drawn from
the most diverse stocks - Bosniaks and Pomaks and Albanians, Algerines
and Tripolitans, Tchetchens and Circassians. Numbers have been planted
recently on the lands of dispossessed Armenians and Greeks. They add
many more elements to the confusion of tongues, but they are probably
destined to be absorbed or to die out. The Circassians, in particular,
who are the most industrious (though most unruly) and preserve their
nationality best, also succumb most easily to transplantation, through
refusal to adapt their Caucasian clothes and habits to Anatolian or
Mesopotamian conditions of life.

All this is Turkey, and we come back to our original question: What
common factor accounts for the name? What has stained this coat of many
colours to one political hue? The answer is simple: Blood. Turkey, the
Ottoman state, is not a unity, climatic, geographical, racial, or
economic; it is a pretension, enforced by bloodshed and violence
whenever and wherever the Osmanli Government has power.

It is a complex pretension. The first impulse, and the traditional
method by which it has been given effect, came from a little tribe of
pagan, nomadic Turks who wandered into Anatolia from Central Asia in the
thirteenth century A.D. and were granted camping grounds by the reigning
Turkish Sultan of the country - for Anatolia was already Turkish two
centuries before the Osmanlis appeared on the scene. But to call them
Osmanlis is to anticipate the next stage in their history. They are
named after Osman, their first leader's son, and he after the third
successor of the Prophet - it was a good Moslem name, and he took it when
he was converted to Islam and organised his pagan tent-dwellers into a
settled Mohammedan State in the north-western hills of Anatolia, on the
borders of Christendom. A tribe had become a march, and the final stage
was from march to empire.

From this point onwards Ottoman history singularly resembles the history
of the Osmanlis' present allies. The March of Brandenburg, the March of
Austria, and the March of Osman - they were each founded as the outer
bulwarks of a civilisation, and all erected themselves into centres of
military ascendancy over their fellow-countrymen and co-religionists to
the rear as well as the strangers opposite their front. The Osmanlis may
have been more savage in their methods than the marchmen of
Germany - though hardly, perhaps, than the Teutonic Knights who prepared
the soil of Prussia for the Hohenzollerns. The Teutonic Knights
exterminated their victims; the Osmanlis drained theirs of their blood
by taking a tribute of their male children, educating them as Moslems,
and training them as recruits for an Ottoman standing army. Their first
expansion was forwards into Christian Europe; their capital shifted from
a village in the hills to the city of Brusa on the Asiatic shore of
Marmora, from Brusa across the Dardanelles to Adrianople, from
Adrianople to the imperial city on the Bosphorus; and, with the capture
of Constantinople, the Osmanli Sultans usurped the pretensions of East
Rome, as the Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns the emblems of Charlemagne and
Caesar Augustus.

Byzantium has become a very potent element in the Osmanlis' character,
more potent than the habits of the march or the instinct of the steppes.
It has dictated their system of administration, dominated their outlook
on life, penetrated their blood. But the heritage of "Rûm" is not the
final factor in the Ottoman Empire as it exists to-day; for after the
successors of Osman had founded their military monarchy with blood and
iron on the ruins of one-third of Europe, they turned eastwards, with a
genuinely Oriental gesture, and overran kingdoms and lands with the
apparently mechanical impetus of all Asiatic conquerors, from Sargon of
Akkad and Cyrus the Persian to Jenghis Khan and Timur. The stoutest
opponent of the Osmanlis in Asia was the Anatolian Sultanate of
Karaman - Moslem, Turkish, and the legitimate heir of those Seljuk
Turkish Sultans who had given Osman's father his first footing in the
land. Osmanli and Karamanli fought on equal terms, but when Karaman was
overthrown there was no power left in Asia that could stop the Osmanlis'
advance. The Egyptians and Persians had no more chance against Ottoman
discipline and artillery than the last Darius had against the
Macedonians. A campaign or two brought Sultan Selim the First from the
Taurus to Cairo; a few more campaigns at intervals during the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, when Ottoman armies could be spared from
Europe, drove the Persians successively out of Armenia and Mosul and
Bagdad. And thus, by accident, as it were, in the pursuit of more
coveted things, the Osmanlis acquired "Turkey-in-Asia," which is all
that remains to them now and all that concerns us here.

"Turkey-in-Asia" is a transitory phenomenon, a sort of chrysalis which
enshrouded the countries of Western Asia because they were exhausted and
needed torpor as a preliminary to recuperation. Many calamities had
fallen upon them during the five centuries before the chrysalis formed.
The break-up of the Arab Caliphate of Bagdad had led to an
interminable, meaningless conflict among a host of petty Moslem States;
the wearing struggle between Islam and Christendom had been intensified
by the Crusades; and waves of nomadic invaders, each more destructive
and more irresistible than the last, had swept over Moslem Asia out of
the steppes and deserts of the north-east. The most terrible were the
Mongols, who sacked Bagdad in 1258, and gave the _coup de grâce_ to the
civilisation of Mesopotamia. And then, when the native productiveness of
the Near East was ruined, the transit trade between Europe and the
Indies, which had belonged to it from the earliest times and had been
the second source of its prosperity, was taken from it by the western
seafarers who discovered the ocean routes. The pall of Ottoman dominion
only descended when life was extinct.

The Osmanlis, whose nomadic forefathers had fled before the face of the
Mongols out of Central Asia, took the heritage which had slipped from
the Mongols' grasp, and gathered all threads of authority in Western
Asia into their hands. The most valuable spoil of their Asiatic
conquests was the Caliphate. Hulaku, the sacker of Bagdad, had put the
Caliph Mustasim to death, and the remnant of the Abbasids had kept up a
shadowy succession at Cairo, under the protection of the Sultan of
Egypt. Selim the Osmanli, when he entered Cairo as a conqueror in 1517,
caused the contemporary Abbasid to cede his title, for what it was
worth, to him and his successors. It was a doubtful title, scorned by
all Shias and regarded coldly by many Sunni rulers who were unwilling to
recognise a spiritual superior in their most formidable temporal rival.
But such as it was, it strengthened the Osmanli's hold on his dominions.
Caliph of Islam, victorious guardian of the Moslem marches, and heir by
conquest of imperial Rûm, the Osmanli Sultan held his Asiatic provinces
with ease; but the best security for his tenure was the misery to which
they were reduced. Commerce and cultivation ebbed, population dwindled,
and nomads still drifted in upon what once had been settled lands. The
Ottoman Government, desiring a barrier against Persia, encouraged the
Kurds to spread themselves over Armenia; it welcomed less the Shammar
and Anazeh Arabs, who broke over the Euphrates about the year 1700 and
turned the last fields of Northern Mesopotamia to desolation; but it was
too impotent or indifferent to turn them out. Western Asia lay fallow
under the Ottoman cannon-wheels. There have been fallow periods before
in the slow rhythm of its life - under the Persians, for instance, who
overran all lands and peoples of the East in the sixth century B.C.,
overshadowed the Greeks for a moment, as the Osmanlis overshadowed
Europe, halted, too massive for offence but seemingly unassailable, and
then collapsed pitifully before the probing spears of Alexander.

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.

We are thus witnessing the foundation of a new era as momentous, if not
as dramatic, as Alexander's passage of the Dardanelles. The Ottoman
vesture has waxed old, and something can be discerned of the new forms
that are emerging from beneath it; their outstanding features are worth
our attention.


The new Turkish Nationalism is the immediate factor to be reckoned
with. It is very new - newer than the Young Turks, and sharply opposed to
the original Young Turkish programme - but it has established its
ascendancy. It decided Turkey's entry into the War, and is the key to
the current policy of the Ottoman Government.

The Young Turks were not Nationalists from the beginning; the "Committee
of Union and Progress" was founded in good faith to liberate and
reconcile all the inhabitants of the Empire on the principles of the
French Revolution. At the Committee's congress in 1909 the Nationalists
were shouted down with the cry: "Our goal is organisation and nothing
else[3]." But Young Turkish ideals rapidly narrowed. Liberalism gave way
to Panislamism, Panislamism to Panturanianism, and the "Ottoman State
Idea" changed from "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" to the
Turkification of non-Turkish nationalities by force.

"The French Ideal," writes the Nationalist Tekin Alp in _Thoughts on the
Nature and Plan of a Greater Turkey_, "is in contradiction to the needs
and conditions of the age." By contrast, "the Turkish national movement
does not exhibit the failings of the earlier movements. It is in every
way adapted to the intellectual standard and feelings of the nation. It
also keeps pace with the ideas of the age, which have for some decades
centred round the principle of Nationality. In adopting Turkish
Nationalism as the basis of their national policy, the Turks have only
abandoned an abnormal state of affairs and thereby placed themselves on
a level with modern nations[4]."

The development of Nationalism among the Turks was a natural phenomenon.
Starting in the West, the movement has been spreading for a century
through Central Europe, Hungary, and the Balkans, till from the Turks'
former subjects it has passed to the Turks themselves. Chance played its
part. Dr. Nazim Bey, for instance, the General Secretary of the "Union
and Progress" Committee, is said to have been fired by a work of M. Léon
Cahun's on the early history of the Turks and Mongols, lent him by the

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Online LibraryArnold Joseph ToynbeeTurkey: a Past and a Future → online text (page 1 of 6)