- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 3 Dec 1908, p. 67-78
- Gould, Rev. Dr. Sydney H., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Interest of the British Empire in the Turkish Empire. The operative causes, both constructive and destructive, which have brought about the changes in Turkey. Constructive causes: the influence and the vitality and the power of the Reform Party—the Young Turkish Party; the educational work of Christian missions; England's work in Egypt; the building of the railways. The disruptive or destructive causes: the position of Christians before the law; the mal-administration of justice; the chronic and nascent rebellions which have distinguished the Turkish Empire throughout the past decade or two; the spies and the secret police; the system of taxation; the degradation of the authorities through the continual issuing of ultimatums by Western Powers; the neglect of the army. The situation today. The difficulties in the way of a reform party. The baneful results of the past regime, a rule by racial hatred. The ever-present military danger. The want of any moral balance. The speaker's belief that the Bulgars will give the Turk no rest until the nation stands as a united nation, as they did before the time of the Turkish conquest.
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- 3 Dec 1908
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- Full Text
- THE PRESENT CRISIS IN TURKEY.
Address by the REV. DR. SYDNEY H. GOULD, of Constantinople, before the Empire Club of Canada, on December 3rd, 1908.
MY. President and Gentlemen,
I am going to speak on the Turkish problem. There is nothing which reveals the strength and the power of our Empire today more than the fact that no problem can occur in this world in which the British Empire is not directly interested. And more particularly is it so in that old historic field of military and diplomatic conflict-the Levant, the Turkish Empire. Eleven years ago I was on my way to Palestine, and as a medical man it was necessary that I should go to Constantinople and take the diploma of the Imperial Faculty of Medicine. I saw on the walls of the streets in that city the marks of bullets where hundreds of Armenians had been driven into the Golden Horn. Within the past two or three months I have seen great crowds of Mohammedans, and Christians, and Jews, surging through the streets of the chief cities in the Turkish Empire crying out: "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity."
I left Jerusalem last March. There were two buildings in that city where during centuries for a Jew to be seen meant death. One was the great temple of Solomon. Today we find that a Jew is one of the members elected to the Turkish Parliament-a Jew, a Mohammedan, and a Christian. We have to account for that great change. Ten years ago the Armenian massacres-only last spring intense racial and religious hatred between the different stratas of population-today we see the Reform Party in power and these two elements in the population all banded together with one cry upon their lips, and that cry "Union and Progress;" union of all the various elements of which the Turkish Empire is and has been composed; and progress for that decrepit Empire which many decades ago was first described as "the sick man of Europe."
It is my privilege today to try and disentangle the operative causes which have brought about these changes. As we look at them we find they fall into two classes--on the one side, there are the constructive causes, which, operating from within or without, have tended to strengthen and reinforce and build up the influences leading toward reform. That is one of the classes. On the other side we have the contrary-the disruptive or destructive causes, and, under this head, I would include those influences which, issuing from the old regime, from the abuses of the old regime, were reflected back upon it, disintegrated it, and finally brought about its destruction. What are the constructive causes which were mainly concerned in the great revolution, the so-called bloodless revolution, in Turkey? I would beg to protest against the use of that word which we see so frequently in the newspapers' the "bloodless" revolution of Turkey. There has probably been as much bloodshed in connection with that revolution as in any revolution in the pages of history. And the first of the operative causes was undoubtedly the influence and the vitality and the power of the Reform Party-the Young Turkish Party. And the sources of this party, the origin of Turkish freedom, may be traced back to that great Britisher, Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, who at the time of the Crimean War was British Ambassador at Constantinople. I know, also, what the Young Turks have endured-imprisonment, drownings by night, exile. We are bound to ascribe to those men today a large measure and meed of admiration, not only for the fertility of their resources, but for the strength of their convictions.
I would put in the second place the educational work of Christian missions. There are few people in the West today who realize that, for the last half-century at least, practically the whole educational work in the Turkish Empire has been in the hands of Christian missionaries. We on the east side of the Jordan have a day school, and two or three years ago the Turkish Government endeavoured to interfere with it. We met them on this ground-"We were here before you were." It was established in 1855. The Turkish Government came in fifty-five years ago. In the third place, England's work in Egypt reflects the influence of that wonderful work which England has done, and is doing today. There are grievous flaws in that work, for which England will very soon have to pay the cost in the spread of a movement of unrest similar to that in India at the present moment; but we cannot, in endeavouring to sum up the position of affairs in the! Turkish Empire, do anything else but ascribe a very large share in that movement to the influence of the menthe noble men, the self-denying men who have laboured from year to year to reconstruct that ancient land of Egypt, who have turned that country into one of the most prosperous today on the shores of the Mediterranean, a country which is now the model of all the countries in the Levant.
In the fourth place, I should put the building of railways. I read an article a little while ago in the Outlook, in which the writer made this remark: "You cannot build a railroad without creating an influence," and I think that remark applies with particular force to Turkey, and with special force to two railways. The first is that great railway of Bagdad, which, crossing Asia Minor, is to descend into the Valley of Messopotamia, and reach the Persian Gulf. The strategic end of that railway is quite clear; its commercial end is also equally evident. There was along with it this creative influence of which I have spoken. It was an influence not intended by the promoters of that railway, which was originally backed by German funds; but the building of that railway has probably done more than any other one thing to overthrow German predominance in the councils at Constantinople, because the action taken in building it was the visible influence of the political power of Germany at the headquarters in Constantinople. And I may speak freely-I am speaking without any maliciousness whatsoever-when I say the influence of Germany in Constantinople has always been viewed with the greatest suspicion and with very intense hatred.
The second railway commences at Mount Carmel, and goes up to Damascus and right down east to the River Jordan. It is a wonderful railway, because it is the only railway which has no capitalized fund. It is built entirely by subscriptions of the faithful Mohammedans throughout the world. It was opened as far down as Medina, the sacred city, where Mohammed's tomb is, on the first of last September. I read an account of the speeches, published in The Times. One of them was delivered by the Nationalist leader in Egypt, who gave utterance to this remark: "I thank the Prophet that he has not permitted this railway to reach the place of his burial before the proclamation of the constitution in Constantinople." The people realized, I think, throughout the building of that railway that it was impossible further to stem the tide of Western influence, of Western liberalizing thought, of Western progress; though they recognized at the same time that many of these were in deadly opposition to the fundamentals of their own religions.
We pass from the constructive to the disruptive, those causes which, issuing from the abuses, as I have said, of the old regime, were reflected back upon it, and largely brought about its overthrow. And the first is the position of Christians before the law. The Mohammedans divide the whole world into two great houses. There is the House of Islam on the one hand, and on the other the House of War, and all Mohammedan countries are included in the House of Islam. All non-Mohammedan countries are included in the House of War. That is the fundamental thing which marks off the whole Mohammedan world today from contact with the rest of the world. There is no equality before the law between a Christian and a Moslem subject of the Turkish Empire. A year ago a man was brought into 'my hospital, a Christian, with the lower part of his leg shot to pieces. It was well known who did it-a Christian member of the same clan-but the friends of the man who had done it went to a local Mohammedan and got him to go before the judge and swear that it was not this man who did it, but the wounded man's own son, and the mere fact that he swore to that effect counted for more than all the oaths of the Christians. The consequence was that the wounded man was in my hospital with his leg shot to pieces and his own son was thrust into prison for having done the deed.
In the second place, there is the mal-administration of justice. The chief judges in the Turkish Empire of the past could only be appointed for three years. They could not be re-appointed to the same position in the Provinces; neither could they be transferred from one position to another in the Provinces. At the end of three years they were compelled to return to Constantinople and literally purchase another position; so you see they had to line their pockets pretty thoroughly during the three years. A native told me this story, and the stories of natives reflect the conditions of a country better than any other feature we can lay our hands upon. He said a man who was very well off was going down the street one day and met one of his friends, also a man in a former position of wealth. He was clothed in rags. "Hello! what has happened to you?" "Oh!" he said, "I had a suit before the judge, and I lost it." The man met another of his friends, formerly in a good position, and he said, "What is the matter with you?" for this man was almost naked. He said: "Oh! I was the other party to that suit, and I won it, and this is the result." About two years ago a man in a village in Galilee borrowed another man's horse to go on a journey, and he overrode it, or from some other cause the horse died. The owner sued the man. They went before the judge, and the outcome was this: The mare who had borrowed the horse and lost it paid the judge 15 napoleons. The man who had loaned the horse and lost it paid the judge 20 napoleons. One man sued another for some wheat that had been destroyed, saying that the goats of this man had invaded his land and eaten the wheat. The defendant in the case brought witnesses to prove that he could not possibly be the responsible party, because, he said, "I have not got any goats at the present time, and I have not possessed them for some years." The end of the case as far as that man was concerned was this-he was fined for not keeping goats. Now, gentlemen, it may seem absurd, but these are facts-simple facts-in the administration, or rather the mal-administration of justice, or the administration of injustice, in the Turkish Empire.
And then we had the chronic and nascent rebellions which have distinguished that Empire throughout the past decade or two. We have heard about Macedonia arid Armenia, but very few of us have heard about the greater troubles in a Province of Arabia. About three years ago I met a military attache from the Embassy at Constantinople, and he told me that in one rebellion there the Turkish troops had lost 80,000 men, with all their equipment, all their artillery-everything. It would be no exaggeration to say that 65,000 or 70,000 men died of starvation. Two years ago this winter, or three years ago, they started a regiment from Jerusalem, in the midst of the rains, to go down and gain the East Jordan Plateau, and march down to this district, a march of five or six hundred miles; and the only things they had in the way of commissariat consisted of a few bags of unground wheat in a waggon. And the irony of it was that that waggon could go only a distance of six hours. Beyond that there was no road. No tents, no food-nothing at all but just a few bags of unground wheat for a regiment of 1,000 men.
Then we had the spies and the secret police. It is impossible, again, for anyone in this favoured land to realize the state of affairs in this respect in the Turkish Empire. The Empire was infested from one end to the other with spies and secret police, and the merest whisper of any political intrigue or of a person possessing liberal ideas in the way of politics was sufficient to fasten the grip of these men upon a man's throat, and he simply disappeared. They could arrest any man in any place at any time, and simply put him out of sight, without any trial whatsoever. And the prisons of Turkey were simply crammed full with some of the best men, with dozens of the best men of the best families in the Turkish Empire. Acre, where I lived for five years, was one of the places of exile, and in that town there was one of those awful prisons. It was practically underground. I have gone in there to those underground places, without light, without ventilation except through an opening in the vaulted roof, and have seen the prisoners thrust in so tightly that they could only have a little narrow mattress about two feet wide and six feet long, and these mattresses were spread all over the floor as tightly as they could be placed. A room which should, perhaps, contain about twenty-five men would have thrust into it seventy-five or one hundred-the living, the dying, and almost the dead together.
After the proclamation of the amnesty I read of the return of one of the Reformers. He was a member of one of the leading families of Constantinople, and fifteen years ago he was suspected of having some political opinions. He disappeared. For fifteen years he was out of sight and ken of his friends and family. When the amnesty was proclaimed, a few months ago, that powerful Turkish family required six weeks before they could trace the whereabouts of the father of the family. They finally found him in a prison on the edge of the Syrian Desert. The vessel was on the way; it was coming up from the Sea of Marmora. They went down with bands to welcome the return of the exile. The ship came into the dock, and, to their sorrow, they beheld the emaciated wreck of a man borne off upon a stretcher. For years he had been in a prison where they were put so tightly that there was not room for all to lie down at a time. I have seen the inside of those prisons, and I know the unutterable abomination of them.
And then we had the taxes. The system of taxation was simply indescribable. The taxes, of course, were farmed out. A widow of Mount Lebanon had some olive trees. The officials came to collect the taxes. She said: "There is the tenth, the legal tax." They said: "We want taxes for the wheat." "But," she said, "I have no wheat; that is the only piece of ground that I have." They said: "If the olive trees were not growing there the wheat would, so you must pay for both." Dozens in Palestine simply cut down their olive trees as the only way of getting out of such extortion as that. Then, again, we had the degradation of the authorities through .the continual issuing of ultimatums by Western Powers. The Mohammedan has a strong military pride, and is very sensitive, and, along with this, there was a growing sense of impotency, especially along military and naval lines.
I was in Palestine when they sent a squadron to greet the German Emperor. The Emperor came and departed, and about two days after he had gone the squadron arrived. So we find all along the line, and also the insatiable appetite for more money. Always a call in the local circles for more funds. To show the methods of the Central Government I have here two coins. Some millions of these coins were minted at the value of 4o and to; their value now is 1 to 10. They put the coins into circulation and then they debased them. They did not redeem them; they simply left them in the pockets of the people. Two or three years ago we were simply swamped with counterfeit coins-quarter-dollars. The Governor was changed; and when a new Governor comes we look out for surprises, and we have had three in one year. He declared that these coins were counterfeit, as they were; but when they began to investigate they found that the previous Governor was one of the gang who had been making them, and the new man was in a quandary. He could not very well denounce his predecessor, and so they performed the same operation again. Thev said: "Yes, they are quarter-dollars; but, instead of being worth 6 piastres, we will allow them to remain at 4."
Then we had the last of the destructive causes-the neglect of the army. This is where they made their great technical error. The second in command of the 9th Corps left at Acre at the time of the troubles in Armenia received an order to go to Asia Minor and take charge of the operations there. He said: "I am so many months in arrears of my stipend, and I won't go unless you pay me." They replied: "Pay yourself from the Acre treasury." He went to the treasury and found two coins, and it takes sixteen of those coins to make 5 cents! Then the legal pay of the conscript was one Turkish dollar a month for a private. Their term of service was five years, and at the end of five years almost every one of them would be three in arrears. They would go to the headquarters, and the official would say: "This is only a Province in which you have performed your military service. I will write you out an order on the Central Government, where you will get your money." And then, perhaps, a thousand of these men would go back to the Suez Canal, to the Government at Bayreuth, and present these orders. The official there would say: "You ought to have been paid down where you did your military service; but I am a very; merciful man, and, out of compassion, I will do this for you: This is for 6o magedas; I will give you 15 for it." The man had no alternative. He took his 15, and the other rascal cashed it for 6o. Can you wonder that the army turned around and overthrew the old regime!
What are the difficulties today? I can only mention them; I cannot explain them. What are the difficulties in the way of a reform party? There is, first of all, the fundamental divergence between the Mohammedan law and the Reform programme. Take it in the way of their liberty of conscience. It is dead in the teeth of the law of Mohammed to talk of equality. I have already shown you that by the law of Mohammed there can be no equality between a Mohammedan and a non-Mohammedan; it is quite impossible. The other day I was impressed by seeing the proclamation of the Shah of Persia that he did not intend to call again the Parliament recently granted in that Empire. He said: "I do not intend to call it again, because it is incompatible. Constitutional government and Mohammedan law are mutually exclusive one of the other." He was compelled to retract that dictum by the power of the British and the Russian Ministers, but the position of the reactionaries in Persia is the one which represents the fundamental Mohammedan law.
And then we have the baneful results of the past regime-a rule by racial hatred. We have the fact that the Turkish Empire today is made up of a series of incompatibles--Mohammedan and Christian, Armenian, Turk, Bulgarian, Jew, Syrian, Arabian--races which never have coalesced, and it seems very doubtful if they ever will. And we have the paralyzing influence of Mohammedan practices and ideals. Every one of these points would almost constitute a lecture or an address in itself. The Mohammedan practises sensualism-the degradation of women and girls and children. These things obtained throughout the whole Turkish Empire, and were the real secret of why the Turk has no initiative; why he simply sits down as the sick man of the East, while other races are marching on in the path of progress and prosperity.
And then we have the ever-present military danger. If one section of the army could overthrow the old regime, another section might be able to overthrow the new just as soon as it is made worth their while; and, if they cannot overthrow it, they can induce a condition of civil war. A military attache at Constantinople told me at one time that some of the military experts of the British Army had gone up into Bulgaria, and they had come back very much impressed with the military proficiency and efficiency of that remarkable race, the only race which has ever passed through the mill of despotism for some centuries and issued with the independence of character, with the power of initiative, with executive forces increased rather than diminished as the result of their experience. He told me, also, that at the time of the last Macedonian crisis, when it was expected that war would be proclaimed between Bulgaria and Turkey, the reserves of the Bulgarian army simply turned out en masse ten days before they were expected, and as one man they appeared at their headquarters. The whole nation is bound together with a spirit of esprit du corps not equalled except in the Japanese. They are the Japanese of the nearest East. We must remember, in sizing up the prospects of the Reform Party, that the Bulgarian nation is still a divided nation. Personally; I believe that the Bulgars will give the Turk no rest until the nation stands as a united nation, as they did before the time of the Turkish conquest.
We must mention the want of any moral balance. As I said before, I am keeping away from missionary lines, but I believe the unrest in India today is due to one fact-Western education without the Western balance which comes from that hidden sphere, call it ethical, or spiritual, or moral, or whatever you may; and the same results, the same influence which has brought about those results in India are operative today in Egypt, and I believe in a very few years we shall see the same state of affairs in Egypt as we see today in India simply because the Western system of thought and of education is a destructive one when brought into contact with Eastern education and thought and morality. It is thrown in upon these people without anything to balance it; without any moral, or ethical, or spiritual foundation upon which to build such a vast and mighty structure. What shall we say, then, after this brief review of these very urgent and very critical questions, as they are at the present time? We see some grand achievements in the past; we see great possibilities in the future; but we see looming up great dangers, which threaten to abrogate the achievements of the past and to overthrow or to annul the possibilities of the future. There is one thing which I feel I must mention to this Club, and that is the re-establishment, the re-ascendancy of British diplomatic influence and power in Constantinople. I have been for some years coming into contact with the tribes of the Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula, that great sub-continent, and it has impressed me again and again-the word and the honour of England. It stands in the whole of that great sub-continent today unparalleled and unapproached by that of any other nation.
And today, wherever there is degradation in the world wherever there is oppression or extortion-the eyes of the oppressed turn to one quarter, as the magnet draws the iron, and that is always England. It is always to England that they look as the model of freedom, of equity, and of square-dealing. And today that flag which floats through the four quarters of the globe, from the rocky bastions of Gibraltar, up the Nile, along the great rocky scarps of the north-west frontiers of India, from Hong Kong, from the antipodes in the east and in the west, in the north and in the south; that flag which there is no sea so vast that it does not cross, no sea so lonely that it does not flap to the breeze; that flag today stands as the emblem to hundreds and thousands and millions of all that they aspire to in the, 'way; of progress, in the way of equity, and, as 1 have said, of square-dealing. And, to use a common phrase, it is "up to" the men of the British Empire to realize those aspirations, to stand before the nations of the world as worthy of their flag, as worthy sons of the worthy pillars of the Empire in the past.