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.
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 —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 Christian.
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 “Rum” 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.