The Bryce Report: British Propaganda and the Turks
By Justin McCarthy
By the time of World War I, prejudice against Turks had already existed in Europe and America for centuries. During that war, however, anti-Turkish prejudice was deliberately fostered and enlarged by two cooperating agencies–the American missionary establishment and the propaganda office of Great Britain.
While there is no space here to consider the effect of missionary propaganda, it is important to realize that during the war missionaries had undertaken a vast effort that vilified Turks. This was partly a continuation of a long tradition of rhetoric against Muslims that had characterized the missionary effort since its inception. There was, however, another motive unique to the period of the world war: By the end of the nineteenth century, the efforts of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions had largely become a Mission to the Armenians. Even though other Christian groups took some advantage of missionary schools, most pupils in the schools and nearly all the converts to Protestant Christianity were Armenians. With the coming of international war between Ottomans and Russians and intercommunal war between Armenians and Muslims, the missionaries saw the imminent destruction of their Mission, and they felt great sympathy for Armenian losses. They organized massive relief efforts to aid Armenian and Assyrian Christians. Propaganda against Turks, much of it probably believed by the missionaries and their supporters, was a tool to increase donations. The missionary establishment hoped for an Armenian/Russian triumph in the war. They therefore made use of their considerable place in American society to influence popular and political will against the Turks.
This article considers only British propaganda, but it is important to understand that the missionaries were the willing helpers of the British propaganda effort. Missionary propaganda and British propaganda fed each other and depended on each other.
Through most of the war, British wartime propaganda was in the hands of the Foreign Office. A War Propaganda Bureau was established by the Foreign Office in 1914 at Wellington House. Its director was the Right Honourable C.F. Mastermann. When Lloyd George became Prime Minister in December of 1916 propaganda was organized under a Department of Information, headed by Col. John Buchan (February, 1917), with Mastermann as deputy, and later under a Ministry of Information, headed by Lord Beaverbrook (March, 1918). Whatever its formal structure, British Propaganda remained known as “Wellington House.” Wellington House drew on some of the best minds in the British government and academe, including the historian Arnold Toynbee.
By the standards of the time, the British propaganda effort was a major undertaking. By 1917, Wellington House had a staff of 54 and could call on help from other departments and ministries. The first report (June, 1915) of Wellington House listed distribution of approximately 2.5 million copies of books, pamphlets, and other written propaganda in 17 languages. The second report (February, 1916) listed 7 million copies circulated.
The United States was the most important focus of British propaganda. America was important as a supplier of goods, a moral force, and a potential ally against Germany. In propagandizing the United States, the British benefitted from a common language and longstanding American sympathy for Britain. Those sympathetic to Britain were cultivated. Careful lists were kept of “pro-Ally” newspapers that could be relied upon to print appropriate materials. However, even those newspapers, such as the Hearst chain, which were not friendly to the British, were ultimately forced to base their stories on British materials, because the British had destroyed German transatlantic cables, and British cables were the only way to get news to America. This meant it passed through British censors.
From the beginning, the British propaganda enterprise was completely secret, known neither to the British nor the foreign public. Propaganda materials were secretly funnelled through individuals and organizations in the United Kingdom and friends of Britain in the United States. Sir Gilbert Parker, a Canadian by birth and member of the British Parliament, was in charge of the campaign. His appointment, and that of his successor, Geoffrey Butler, were never made public. The materials he distributed were always sent as if he were a private citizen engaged in personal distribution of information. As he had 170,000 addresses on his list of Americans by 1917, it seems unlikely that all recipients were fooled, but there is no record of anyone publicly labelling him as a British propagandist. Parker also supplied 555 American newspapers with Wellington house propaganda. The American government knew of his position, but Woodrow Wilson’s government seems to have been pleased with it. Parker himself summarized the effect of his efforts:
In fact we have an organization extraordinarily widespread in the United States, but which does not know it is an organization. It is worked entirely by personal association and inspired by voluntary effort, which has grown more enthusiastic and pronounced with the passage of time. . . . Finally, it should be noticed that no attack has been made upon us in any quarter of the United States, and that in the eyes of the American people the quiet and subterranean nature of our work has the appearance of a purely private patriotism and enterprise.
Foreign Office documents record lists of propaganda material sent to the United States and distributed broadly. A British distribution list from July, 1916 indicated that their propaganda reached throughout the “opinion-makers” of American society:
Public Men generally 1847
Scientific Men 1446
Lawyers, etc. 1445
Y.M.C.A. Officials 830
College Presidents 339
Historical Societies 214
Law Schools 166
State Superintendents of
Public Instruction 35
(for distribution) 585
Others and Miscellaneous 2212
Most of those on the list received copies of all the propaganda material, and some asked for and received additional copies for distribution. Wellington House was successful in turning respected American organizations into its agents. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, for example, was cited by Parker as of particular help in distributing British materials.
While the primary focus of British propaganda was naturally the Germans, the British devoted much energy to vilifying the Turks, particularly in America. This was a part of the propaganda activity directed against all Britain’s enemies in the war, but there were specific reasons for targeting the Turks: The British had agreed with their allies, France and Russia, that the Middle East was to be divided among them after the war. Convincing the world that Ottoman rule had been a disaster and that the Turks were murderous tyrants would make European colonial rule more palatable. There was also the question of Russian persecution of the Jews, which was well publicized in America. The British feared that the actions of Russia would jeprodize friendly relations between the Allies and America. They could do nothing about Russia’s anti-semitism. Instead, they planned to create an even greater monster to take the Russians place in the news. The Ottomans were to be that monster.
The British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, personally and specifically ordered the Propaganda Office to deal with the Turks. He directed that Wellington House should stress “the futility and iniquity of the Turk” and “above all, his massacres of all the industrious population.” The Prime Minister directed that the propaganda be completely surreptitious. John Buchan, the head of the Department of Information, took the job of anti-Turkish propaganda firmly in hand. While the British had published and otherwise distributed much anti-Turkish propaganda before 1917, Lloyd George’s direct intervention seems to have given them new purpose. Buchan directed the propaganda apparatus to give particular attention to the Turks:
We must organize an elaborate campaign in Britain, in Allied countries, and to a limited extent in neutral countries on the text,, “The Turk must go.” If Turkey in its present form disappears the German drang nach osten fails, and with it the major purpose with which Germany entered the war. We may have difficulty with the Allies and neutrals on some of our peace terms, but the impossible position of Turkey is a point on which we should be able to secure general unanimity. We have got to make it a platitude among Allies and neutrals.
The points we must emphasize are:
(a) The ancient riches and the great prosperity of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia.
(b) The blighting influence of the Turk on social and Commercial progress.
(c) The incapacity of the Turk for absorbing conquered peoples or for administering equitably subject races. For this we want a historical argument and an account of the recent treatment of Jews, Armenians, Syrians and Balkan races, et cetera.
(d) The impossibility of reforming the Turkish state. The Turk is a military power and nothing else. He has never shown any capacity for civil government.
(e) The danger of allowing a reactionary and incompetent state to control the avenue between Europe and Asia. Such a state must always be a satellite of a reactionary military bureaucracy like Germany
(f) The religious element might also be pressed. Turkey at present governs a sort of museum of opposing religions, and toleration in the modern sense is alien to her theory of government.
There is no necessity to present detailed themes for the future of Turkey. All we have to do is to convince people that the present situation is impossible and must be drastically dealt with.
Stephen Gaselee, a well thought of junior in the Foreign Office, was given charge of the matter. Arnold Toynbee was asked as the resident expert to give his suggestions as to possible authors of anti-Turkish propaganda. He responded with a detailed list. It included Mark Sykes , professors who studied the Middle East, and others. Toynbee suggested that he could find an American to write on “the Work of American Missions in Turkey,”. He offered to deal with Armenia himself. Gaselee thanked Toynbee for his list and told him that Buchan would be contacting the people on the list. He added, “I send you a copy of a short memorandum drawn up by myself on the subject. It is intended for simple minds and will probably be handed to newspaper editors and others who have no particular knowledge on the subject, to serve as a guide.” The respect for the ever-useful editors was obviously not great. The memorandum was what might be expected. It stated in hostile language that the Turks had singlehandedly destroyed the Middle East through their rule. Gaselee sent the memorandum off to editors, professors, et. al., without mentioning what he thought of their simple minds.
Most specifics of the British campaign against the Turks are impossible to obtain, because the British destroyed almost all of the records of their propaganda office immediately after the war. What original documents remain are a small amount of material forwarded through the Foreign Office and retained in Foreign Office records. as well as some documents retained through bureaucratic confusion. For example, the Foreign Office kept copies of reports Parker sent through the British Embassy in Washington, so something of the extent of the propaganda effort in America is known. An important list of the books secretly written for, subsidized, or distributed at British government expense by the propaganda bureau was mistakenly retained in two places: one incomplete, handwritten list sent with other volumes to the Foreign Office Library, probably because it was bound, and looked like a book, and a complete, printed list which found its way to the Imperial War Museum.
The registers of propaganda publications, “Wellington House Publications,” were lists of publications subsidized and distributed by Wellington House. Amidst a much larger number of anti-German publications, the documents cataloged 37 books and large pamphlets dealing with the Turks. (The list did not include press releases, articles, and other materials, and was probably not even a complete record of propaganda books.) The books included works by Armenians, by members of the Wellington House staff, and even one fictitious “Bedouin Notable of Damascus” [sic]. The general themes of the propaganda were consistent from work to work: Turks were illegitimate rulers who have destroyed all lands in which they have ruled. They were Muslims who hated all other religions, particularly Christianity. They had always treated Christians badly, and now were committing inhuman atrocities against Armenians and other Christians, including mass murder and awful sexual crimes. The Germans stood behind Turkish evil deeds. The mass of the people of the Ottoman Empire, even the Muslims, looked to the British for salvation.
The Wellington House publications were most often published by Hodder and Stoughton in Britain. In America, the chosen publisher was Doran, a company that was partly owned by Hodder and Stoughton, although Hodder and Stoughton also published some volumes in New York under its own imprint. According to Wellington House, George H. Doran, head of the publishing company, was “in close cooperation with Mr. Geoffrey Butler [Parker’s successor], in New York, and has been in touch with Lord Northcliffe–the head of the American Mission.” “Messrs. Doran have produced and distributed a large number of books and pamphlets for Wellington House in the U.S.A., and, so far as these are concerned, Mr. Doran may be said to be the representative of Wellington House . . .” Doran also published a number of missionary tracts directed against the Turks, as well as other propaganda literature that was not on the Wellington House list. Because of the destruction of most Wellington House records, it cannot be known if these were also “sponsored” by British Propaganda.
It is not possible in the space available here to analyze all the Wellington House books. The most famous of the publications, the “Bryce Report” is perhaps the best example of the propaganda and its effects.
The most influential of the Wellington House documents was also the only one that admitted some association with the British government. Although the British government did not admit that the book had been written by its propaganda arm, it did publish it under its own imprimatur, as a publication presented to Parliament. It was distributed all over the United States by Parker’s organization.
Viscount Bryce was an inspired choice to author propaganda aimed at Americans. He had served as a popular British ambassador in Washington and had many friends in American political circles, among them President Woodrow Wilson. His history of the United States, The American Commonwealth, first published in 1888, had been well received by academics and the public. He had, moreover, a reputation as an honorable man and a friend of America. Reviewing propaganda printed under his name, the St. Louis Republican commented: “If there is a man in the entire British Empire whom the people of this nation are prepared to believe implicitly, it is James Bryce.”
Bryce’s views on the Turks were not temperate:
Turkish government has been the very worst which has afflicted humanity during the last fifteen centuries. The Turks have always been what a distinguished European historian of the last generation called them–“nothing better than a band of robbers encamped in territories which they had conquered and devastated. They have never become civilized, they have never imbibed or tried to apply any of the principles on which civilized government must be conducted. So far from progressing with the progress of the years, they have gone from bad to worse. Savages they were when the descended into Western Asia from the plains of Turkistan, savages they were when Edmund Burke so described them one hundred and thirty years ago, and their government still retains its savage and merciless character.
Given his views, it would not have been odd for Viscount Bryce to produce a volume such as The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire , which was avowedly his personal work. In the introductory material of the volume, he wrote that it was a personal enterprise, “I wrote to all persons I could think of likely to possess or to be able to procure trustworthy data, begging them to procure trustworthy data, begging them to favor me with such data. . . . I had the good fortune to secure the co-operation of a young historian of high academic distinction, Mr. Arnold J. Toynbee, late fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. He undertook to examine and put together the pieces of evidence collected, arranging them in order and adding such observations, historical and geographical, as seemed needed to explain them.” This was pure fabrication. Toynbee, working for and assisted by the propaganda bureau, was the actual author and Bryce the figurehead. The book as in no sense a private undertaking. It was in fact a piece of British government propaganda.
The book on Armenian Atrocities was a companion volume to the first Bryce atrocity report, also “edited” by Toynbee. That first report was on the “German atrocities in Belgium,” and has been thoroughly discredited by historians. All the techniques seen in the Armenian Report had been refined in the earlier report on alleged German atrocities in Belgium–anonymous reports collected from “unimpeachable sources,” but no physical record of what the sources really said or wrote. In both reports the few statements that were accompanied by identification or some other “proof” were much more temperate than the anonymous reports. Postwar attempts to find the sources of the Bryce report on the Germans were unsuccessful, and a Belgian postwar investigation of the atrocities failed to find evidence that most of the atrocities listed by Bryce ever occurred. In particular, the more spectacular crimes, the sort that tugged at one’s heart and turned one’s stomach, such as breasts cut off of women, bayonetting of pregnant women, and murders of priests, seem almost entirely to have been fabrications or, at best, exaggerations. In his analysis of wartime propaganda, H.C. Peterson described the Bryce report on the Germans: “His report is one of the most extreme examples of ‘assassination by word.’ It was in itself one of the worst atrocities of the war.” Interestingly, the same sorts of crimes appear with regularity in the Bryce report of Ottoman Armenians.
The two Bryce reports, along with additional books by Toynbee and others, were part of a well constructed British propaganda effort. They were successful attempts at painting Britain’s enemies black and thus affecting the outcome of the war. In the case of the Germans, they were instrumental in bringing the United States into the war against “the Hun.” In the case of the Turks, they were instrumental in creating a lasting stereotype of Turks as vicious killers. While the British propaganda against the Germans has been thoroughly studied and labelled for what it was–wartime propaganda with little veracity–the propaganda against the Turks has never been put to the same scrutiny.
The Bryce allegations against the Germans was based on depositions avowedly taken from Belgian refugees in the United Kingdom and British and Allied servicemen. No names were given, ostensibly to protect the families of the accusers, though why the Allied soldiers could not be identified was not explained. The Bryce report on the Armenians followed the same basic principles of investigation. Bryce printed reports and analyses from unidentified sources supposedly within the Ottoman Empire. Like all other British propaganda publications, the work of Bryce and Toynbee never mentioned a single dead Muslim. To them, the only dead were Armenian and Assyrian Christians. Given their aims and their sources, this was not surprising.
Who were Bryce’s sources? The names or original copies of the Belgian “sources” never have been discovered or published, giving some critics cause to wonder if at least some of the reports were pure fabrications. In a like manner, the report on the Armenians mainly listed its informants by coded letters and descriptions–“Mr. A,” “Miss B,” “A Foreign Resident,” etc. The names of the informants were not to be known, ostensibly to protect them from reprisals. However, the British did keep a record documenting the real sources; this was misplaced in Foreign Office records and thus not destroyed with other propaganda office registers. It was discovered by chance among unrelated documents.
Had the sources of the evidence been presented at the time of publication, the Bryce report would have been seen as propaganda, not the evidence of neutrals. The main sources of atrocity stories were in fact American missionaries and Armenians. 59 of the 150 accounts in Bryce’s book were written by missionaries; 52 were written by individual Armenians or were copied from Armenian newspapers. Very few of the missionaries who were the documents’ authors were identified as such in the text. Most were identified as “foreign residents” or “foreign travellers,” with no indication that they were missionaries with long ties to the Armenians An American missionary, or wife or sister of a missionary, would be described as an “American traveller” if reporting on an area away from his or her mission station. Readers would most probably have assumed the “traveller” was visiting from America, but this was not the case. Other subterfuges were used, as well. For example, a Greek professor at the Armenian missionary college at Mersovan (whose student body was almost entirely Armenian), the author of three documents, was described in two documents as a “Professor at the College of X [sic],” and in the third document only as “a traveller, not of Armenian nationality.” The natural assumption of readers would be that here were two different authors, both of them neutral, one perhaps a professor in Britain or America. In fact there was one writer, a Greek professor who might very likely share the sentiments toward Turks of many other Greeks, particularly of Greeks employed by American missionaries to teach Armenians. In his introduction, Bryce (or whoever wrote the introduction) stated categorically that his respondents did not know each other, somewhat duplicitous when in fact they were sometimes the same persons.
Readers of the Bryce Report had no way to know how closely many of the sources were tied the Armenian cause. Writings of the Armenian Patriarch, for instance, were described only as the work of an “authoritative source.” Most incredibly, 7 of the 150 documents had been forwarded by the Dashnak Party. The Dashnaks had organized revolutions against the Ottoman government for decades and were the main party of revolutionaries fighting against the Ottomans in Eastern Anatolia at the time. The Dashnak source was never identified. Others documents were taken from articles in Armenian newspapers controlled by Dashnak sympathizers. A number of other documents were forwarded by Armenian political representatives, such as Boghos Nubar, representative of an Armenian independence organization.
The level of authentication in the Bryce Report was outrageous. According to the secret document, most of the non-missionary informants were known to the British only as Armenians. The British had no other information on their bona fides or veracity. Fourteen, nearly ten per cent, of the narratives had no known authors; the British had no idea who the authors were, but included the stories. Still other reports were admitted in the secret document to be based on reports from unknown persons, not on the knowledge of the putative “author.” Because almost all other names were hidden as well, all these unknowns appeared in the Bryce Report as if their identities were known but disguised.
Although destruction of records makes it impossible to ascertain, there is a question of the accuracy of the quotations from the hidden authors in the Bryce Report on the Armenians. Were all of the quotations and reports even true reflections of what the “authors” wrote? It is impossible to verify this, but the evidence of the Bryce Report on the Germans gives reason for doubt. Like the Armenian report, the earlier report was supposedly based on first-hand evidence, but has in fact been proven many times to have been largely altered or falsified. How many of the reports on the Armenians were similarly “improved” by Wellington House copy editors? If they lied in the report on Germans, how likely is it that they did not lie in the report on the Turks?
The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire was a total propaganda victory for the British. There was no one to represent the Ottoman case, and the Bryce Report was taken as corroboration of the message that Americans were already receiving from the missionary establishment. Indeed, the use of the Bryce Report in America created an interesting relationship. The report itself was largely drawn from missionary and Armenian narratives, though it seldom identified the missionary and Armenian sources as such. The missionary establishment was also publishing reports from Armenians and missionaries. To convince American readers of the veracity of their reports, missionary organizations referred readers to the British reports. Missionary works on the Turks and Armenians often used phrases such as, “Now our old friend Ambassador Bryce has proven our contentions.” It appeared that they had found independent verification of their claims. In fact, the Bryce report was based on, and perhaps exaggerated, those same missionary and Armenian reports.
The American missionary establishment was given advance page proofs of the Bryce Report on the Armenians so that it could be used in their own propaganda. The British also distributed parts of the report in advance of publication to American newspapers. Gilbert Parker reported “The New York Times, Philadelphia Public Ledger, and the Chicago Herald . . . devoted much space to the advance sheets of ‘these Armenian horror stories.’” They did indeed devote much space. Current History a monthly magazine feature of the New York Times made the Bryce Report the centerpiece of a series on anti-Turkish articles, quoting the entire lengthy introduction of the Bryce Report and summarizing the most ghastly portions of the book. The New York Times itself devoted three pages to extracts from the Bryce Report. The New Republic praised Bryce on his selection of sources and evidence, without mentioning that most of the sources were anonymous, then went on to summarize the material and condemn the Turks. Other papers and magazines did the same, summarizing or quoting directly from the report.
Wellington House used the Bryce Report as the basis of other propaganda publications. Two examples: Armenia and the War by A.P. Hacobian featured a preface by Bryce and 12% of the book was taken up by quotes from the Bryce Report. The remainder was stated as the product of “an Armenian gentleman belonging to a family originally from Ispahan in Persia, but now settled in England. He speaks with intimate knowledge as well as patriotic feeling, . . .” Once again, the anonymous informant, and this time a member of an Armenian family from Isfahan in Iran (far from any Turkish-Armenian conflicts). Germany, Turkey, and Armenia (no author or editor was listed) took some of its material from the Bryce Report, and most of the other material was anonymous (“Fraulein O,” “a German Eye-witness,” “two Swiss ladies”). The most incredible part of the book was two short “Reports by Mohammedan Officers” (“A.B.” and “C.D.”) which described imaginary decisions which, had the actually been taken, would have been known only to the Ottoman Cabinet and General Staff. The “Mohammaden Officers” also reported entirely spurious orders to kill Armenians, one of them from the _eyhülislam!
Toynbee himself wrote, under his own name, three short books against the Turks: Armenian Atrocities: the Murder of a Nation, The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks , and Turkey: a Past and a Future, In Armenian Atrocities he summarized the charges and evidence he placed in the Bryce Report, but made a great effort to blame all on the Germans, using evidence such as “cables from Cairo” and letters in New York Armenian publications to prove his point. In Turkey: a Past and a Future, Toynbee was more temperate in laying blame, accusing the Germans only of complicity, not of ordering the deaths of Armenians. The Turks were compared to the Germans, to the benefit of neither. The quality of the scholarship is indicated by the map that accompanies the book, which indicates all Eastern Anatolia as “Armenian” in population, when more than three-quarters of the population of the region was, in fact, Muslim.
Today, reading the Bryce Report and other works of British propaganda, one naturally notices their main fault. Even if, as has so often been the case, the stories of atrocities committed by Turks are accepted at face value, the lack of any corresponding record of atrocities committed by Armenians indicates that the propaganda was at best selective and one-sided. But the audience for the propaganda was not made up of those who knew any of the realities of the Middle East in World War I. Virtually the only news read by Americans and British was the news forwarded by missionaries and British propagandists. The propaganda was read and believed.
More astonishing is the fact that British propaganda against the Turks has been ignored in scholarly publications on wartime propaganda. Every serious scholarly study of British propaganda during World War I rightly labels British propaganda against the Germans as a carefully constructed attack on the truth in the interests of victory. The same studies do not even consider British propaganda against the Turks, except when it also was an attack on the Germans. What British propagandists did to the Germans they also did to the Turks, yet no one has seemed to care. Propaganda against the Germans has been condemned while the calumnies against the Turks live on. The infamous Bryce Report on the Armenians is republished and quoted as gospel. It has acquired a patina of respectibility as an “Accepted and Reliable Source,” while the Bryce Report against the Germans properly lies unread on dusty library shelves. Annotated bibliographies on World War I or on genocide as a topic prominently feature the Report and other British propaganda publications directed against Turks, without any identification of them for what they were. The common rules of historical criticism, which include verification of sources, have not been applied. In fact, the Bryce Report on the Ottoman Armenians should be consigned to the same historical dust bin as the Bryce Report on the Germans. It is only a reliable source on the history of propaganda, not on the history of the Middle East.
British Propaganda and the Turks
(PRESENTATION MADE AT THE SCHOOL OF ORIENTAL AND AFRICAN STUDIES BY PROF.JUSTIN MCCARTHY ON 19 JANUARY 2001)
This evening I am going to consider something that I have noticed for many years. That is the basic assumption in Europe and America that the Turks must be in the wrong, whether the question is human rights, activities in Cyprus, the Armenian Question, Turkish-Greek relations, or almost any other contentious subject. Often it is assumed that the Turks are evil. If there is a question of comparative guilt, it is assumed that the Turks were most guilty. Turks have to prove themselves three times for every one assertion provided by their opponents.
All of this may surprise those of you who have known Turks well and have found that Turks are human beings like anyone else. But the unfairness with which Turks are treated does not surprise those of us who have looked into the background of the views and prejudices people have of the Turks.
I will not be speaking only of British propaganda tonight, but of the effects of what the British propaganda machine produced in World War I. That means I will also be discussing America, where that propaganda had its greatest effect.
The reasons for the ill feeling against Turks that is often seen in Western countries, as all of you know, go back to the Middle Ages. They go back to the period in which the name Muhammad was virtually synonymous with the Devil in Western culture. Europeans and Americans had a long memory of conflict between Christianity and Islam, and Turks were the political leaders of Islam.
The particular image of the Turk as the enemy developed in the nineteenth century along what can be described as racialist lines. In the United States, as well as in Britain, books were printed which portrayed the Turks as members of groups of people who were described almost uniformly as vicious. “Brutal” was the primary adjective that was used to describe them. In America, and I suspect in Britain as well, we feared something called the “Yellow Peril.” The Yellow Peril supposedly was a great danger to the “white race” (a fine example of psychological transference, since at the time Europeans were much more likely to assault Asiatics than vice versa). The Turks were portrayed as being at the forefront of the yellow peril, the leaders of the Yellow Peril. Those who had never seen a Turk found this an easy mental exercise: Turks lived in Asia. Turks were great warriors. Therefore, Turks led the Yellow Peril.
Traditional racialist and religious animosity against Turks has left a legacy of prejudice that has affected Eruopean and American feelings about Turks in our own day. But Westerners have long held religious and racial prejudices about many peoples. None of these prejudices seems to rise to the level of the feelings against the Turks. No other group is assumed to be so violent and brutal, nor is any other group so often and routinely assumed to be wrong in all its disputations with other peoples. There is more to the feelings against Turks that traditional animosities.
From my experience in many years of teaching American students and in many years of dealing with the American public, I believe the Armenian Question has been the primary agency through which against the Turks has been advanced. The conflict between Turks and Armenians during , to World War I has had a permanent affect on the beliefs and prejudices of Americans and arts. In America today, if you ask someone, “What do you know about Turks?” you will very find that the only thing they think they know about Turks is summarized in one statement: killed all those Armenians, didn’t they?” That is it, the sum of knowledge on the Turks.
Today in America, the alleged genocide of the Armenians is included in the books that teach the Holocaust to schoolchildren. Through political influence and writers’ ignorance, it has been included as ;another example of inhumanity, a false example. Through the agency of Holocaust Studies, American children are learning what is usually the only thing they ever learn about Turks, and that is the so-called Armenian Genocide. Most American school children see nothing else about Turks in their schoolbooks. They only see Turks in their study of what Turks supposedly did to .Armenians. And. I might say, it is a completely one-sided description at that. The feeling about Turks is so ingrained that it is impossible to have rational dialogue on the subject. But the question remains–where does all this come from? Why do the otherwise caring and liberal academics who write on the Holocaust feel it proper to vilify one people, the Turks, without considering any other side of a contested issue? In studying the prejudices against Turks, I have found two basic causes for the ingrained anti-Turkish feeling in western society, and especially in America. The one is the work of American missionaries and the other is British propaganda during and immediately after World War One. This evening, as the title of my talk indicates, I am going to speak on the British and about British propaganda.
During World War I there were many reasons for propaganda, but the most common was simply the desire make your enemy look bad. Any propaganda organization intends to downplay the good side and emphasize the bad side of its enemies. The most well known example of this is the anti-German propaganda of World War I–the babies on bayonets, the starving Belgians , the rape of nuns. The intention of this propaganda was to draw neutrals to the side of Britain, the primary neutral of course being the United States. But propaganda is also useful as a morale builder for one’s own side. It can make people feel they are fighting a holy crusade against evil. In some cases, especially in the second world war, this was true There was a definite evil to be opposed. In the first war it was much harder to identify one side as more evil than the other, and thus propaganda was all the more needed. In addition to the general desire to defame one’s enemies, there were very specific reasons British propaganda would come out against the Turks. One of them was the traditional British opinion of the Turks, at least among those who thought of the Turks at all. Those Britons had a very ambivalent feeling towards Turks. This had been true for some time. The best example of this is probably the period of the 1876 Bulgarian Rebellion, when Disraeli’s and Gladstone’s visions of the Turks alternated in the public mind. At first, the public image was negative; the Turks were blamed for the “Bulgarian Horrors.” But soon after the British changed their minds and the public cried out for war with Russia to defend the Ottoman Empire (and British se(f-interest). From that time until World War I, a number of travelers, diplomats, and others wrote kindly of the Turks, balancing the writings of those. especially British missionaries and other clergymen, whose opinions were not so favorable. A feeling devaloped that the Turks, while bad in some ways, still had many good qualities. They were ~t Christians, but they were honest and could be relied upon. The word of a Turk was good. -The feeling about Turks in Britain was not necessarily bad at the beginning of World War One. I his is cspecially true once Turks started actually fighting the British. Favorable reports of Turks came back to Britain, even appearing in some newspapers that were allied with the government. These reports described the Turks as men of honor. It seems to me, looking back without any good scientific evidence, that the British o~cer corps and the Turkiish officer corps had very much in common; honor was a very important thing to both of them and they both could re1y on the word and the actions of the other.
This was not the kind of thing that the British govemment wanted its people to believe about one of their arch enemies. It is very difficult to fight a war against people if you feel you must say good things about them. Something had to be done to change this image.
Another intent of British propaganda was to counter the image of Russia, especially in the Uuted States. Britain wanted the United States to take its side in the war, or at least to remain a friendly neutral. In the United States, Russia had a very bad image, a we11-deserved bad image, because it had been involved in the persecution of the Jews for some time, specifically in 1915. Then Russian soldiers had massacred large numbers of Jews during Russian campaigns against the Germans. Because of that and because reports of these atrocities reports had come back to the United States, Russia, one of Britain’s allies, had become a very negative factor in trying to draw America into the war. It was feared that the Jewish irrfluence in America was so eat that the Russian actions would harm Britain. This was ridiculous. However, throughout World War I, from the very beginning days of the war through the Balfour Declaration and beyond, there was a great belief, a prejudiced belief, in something called “The Jews” and the “Power of the Jews.” As we know, in the war the German Jews fought on the side of Germany and the English Jews fought on the side of England. But the feeling that there was some great and powerful intemational organization of Jews was strong even in the British government. People took action based on their belief in it. The British feared that the Jews were powerful in America and would favor the Central Powers.
Also, and again this is something that is hard for us to believe today, there was a great fear about India. There was fear at the time that Indian Muslims would engage in a Jihad, a holy war, against the Allies, alongside their brother Muslims in the Ottoman Empire. There was never really a chance this would happen. With hindsight, we can see that, but at the time the British Govemment feared a Muslim revolt. If you could make the Turks Iook evil, then you could teach the Indian Muslims that the Muslim Turks were really bad Muslims, not the sort of people who should be followed into war or anywhere else.
Looking back today, such things may seem hard to believe. I can only assrre you that they deLlnitely were believed at the time.
To the British, the most important of all things was to hrrr Americans against the Central Powers. Eventually, as you know, Britain was to successhilly draw America into dze war. Those who have looked over the archival record know that the Wilson adrninistration was in favor of the British and other Allied Powers long before America entered the war. They needed justifications to allow them to enter the war, to convince the American people that the Central Powers should be opposed. The Turks were a ready target, because propaganda against them was already available. One force available to the propagandists was the American Missionary. Propagandists could play upon the great respect Americans held for the missionaries who had gone to the Ottoman Empire, and who often appeared in the newspapers as national heroes for a Christian Nation. The American feeling of affection and respect for the missionaries could be mobilized as a force to oppose the natural anti-Allied feeling among many Americans, a feeling especially prominent among the Germans and the Irish. If the Turks could be portrayed as the persecutors of missionaries and murderers of Christians, the taint would also pass to the Germans. Portraying the Germans as the sort of people who would deal with those evil Turks, and indeed lead those evil Turks into battle, would show the American public how bad those Germans were. Indeed, this policy was to be greatly successful in affecting American public opinion.
The British agency entrusted with changing public opinion was at first called the War Propaganda Bureau. It was a part of the Foreign Office. In 1914 it was stationed in Wellington House. (I am sure someone here knows where Wellington House is or was, but I have never seen the place.) The Director was the Right Honorable C. F. Masterman. In December of 1916 it was made into the Department of Information under Colonel John Buchan, with Masterman as his deputy. Later, in 1918, a Ministry of Information was created, under Lord Beaverbrook.. However, to the people who were involved in British propaganda the propaganda office always was the same. It was simply called Wellington House.
The policy committee that operated Wellington House had some first class minds. In fact the committee was very heavy with historians. (You can tell a society has a very high level of culture if they recognize the worth of historians.) The committee included people such as Gooch and Toynbee, the latter of whom we will be saying much.
The Wellington House brief was simple, the same brief as that of all propagandists. They were to make the enemies look as bad as possible and make their friends, and especially the British themselves, look as good as could be. Their main focus was, naturally, Germany, but much effort was expended against the Turks. Propaganda was not considered to be a gentleman’s game. Toynbee himself remarked that he would like to get out of it for that reason. Nevertheless it was something that had to be done and British gentlemen did it. They were probably always ashamed of their work, however, as indicated by the tact that they destroyed all the records of the Propaganda Office immediately after the war.
The only Propaganda Office records that exist have often been found by chance. Some few were found when the British again took up propaganda during World War II and found they did not know what to do. They said, “You know, we obviously had a propaganda ministry. They did good work, very good work actually. How did they do it?” They searched for documents from the first war and in total found four letters, all the records that had been kept, and these were hidden away. Over the years other documents have gradually emerged. I actually have found a number of them myself as I have gone through Foreign Office documents. They were records that had been sent off to other offices. Although the originals were destroyed, some copies were kept in relevant Foreign Office departments, especially in the Foreign Office records for the United States. So we have a modest number of documents. They indicate some small part of what Wellington House did.
Table One. Wellington House Publications Distributed.
|By June, 1915||2.5 million|
|By February, 1916||7 million|
We have enough to show that they were extremely busy. We have enough to show that they were engaged in a massive undertaking. Unfortunately what we do not have are the documents that would show us the day to day workings of Wellington House. We do not know, for instance, how many American journalists they got drunk so that they would be receptive to the official tales that were told. (And getting journalists drunk was an essential part of the operation.) We do not know how many stories they planted, or who was paid what. We do not have those kinds of references. We do, however, have one specific group of Foreign Office records for propaganda that was sent from London, especially to America. These records show the numbers of publications distributed. Unfortunately we do not know exactly what those publications were. We only know that they were publications of Wellington House. As you can see from the numbers, starting out on a very small rate in 1914, the number of publications they brought out kept on going up until there were quite a sizeable number of them distributed. By June of 1915 they had distributed two and a half million publications. Not even a year later, seven million publications. Unfortunately we do not have any record that goes beyond that. We are lucky to have this at all. It can be assumed that the numbers continued to grow.
What that means in essence is that Wellington House was a massive undertaking. We do have two good sources for the kind of work that was done. The main source is a book in the Imperial War Museum that is simply identified as “Wellington House Library.” Now this would ordinarily mean the books on their shelves, but actually these are the books that Wellington House subvened or distributed–the books that they had written for them, and the books that were written by someone else which they bought and distributed because they liked them. The only reason we know that is because when they destroyed everything else Wellington House eYempted copies of bound books, which they obviously saw no reason to destroy. And so the books that W’ellington House possessed were sent off to the Foreign Office Library, eventually to the publicly-available Foreign Office library, where anyone can now read them. Studying in that library, I saw a strange notation written by hand in one of the bound book catalogues. Out of curiosity I requested the book, which I believe had not been seen since 1918. They blew the dust off and brought it over to me. It was the Wellington House record of the distribution of propaganda books. It was all hand written in ledger form, but someone had very carefully bound it. That meant it had been taken to be an ordinary bound book, and thus was not destroyed. So we have the list and know the books that were distributed by Wellington House.
Table Two. Wellington House Publications on Turhs.
E.F. Benson, Crescent and lron Cross
E.F. Benson, Deutschland iiber Allah
British Pafestine Committee, Palestine
anon., The “Clean-Fighting Turk, “ a Spurious Claim
Israel Cohen, The Turkish Persecution of the Jews
anon., The Conunercial Future ofBaghdad
Edward Cook, Britain and Turkey
Delegates of the Red Cross, Turkish Prisoners in Egypt
Leon Dominion, The Frontiers of Language and Nationality in Europe
‘ Fa’iz El-Ghusein, “Bedouin Notable of Damascus” [sic], Alarlyred Armenia
anon., General Sir Edmund Allenby’s Dispatch . . . orr the Operations in Egypt and Palestine
S. Georgevitch, Serbia and Kossovo
anon., Germany, Turkey, and Armenia: Selections of Documentary Evidence
anon., Great Britain, Palestine, and the Jews: Jewry’s Celebratior7 oflts National Charter
anon., Great Britain, Palestine, and the Jews: A Survey of Christian Opinion
A.P. Hacobian, Armenia and the War
E.W.G. Masterman, The Deliverance of Jerusalem
Basil Mathews, The Freedorn ofJerusalem
Esther Mugerditchian, From Turkish Toils
Martin Niepage, The Horrors of Aleppo
anon., The Ottoman Domination
Canon Parfit, Mesopotamia: the Key to the Future
Pavle Popovic, Serbian Macedonia
anon., Report on the Pan-Turanian Movement
R.W. Seton-Watson, Serbia, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
George Adam Smith, Syria and the Holy Land
Harry Stuermer, Two War Years in Constantinople
anon., Subject Nationalities ofthe German Alliance
anon., Syria During March 1916: Her Miseries aud Disasters
S. Tolkowsky, Jewish Colonisation in Palestine
Arnold J. Toynbee, Arrnenian Atrocities: the murder of a Nation
Arnold J. Toynbee, ed., The Treatment ofArmenians in the Ottontan Empire, 1915 -1916
Arnold J. Toynbee, Turkey’ A Past and a Future
Arnold J. Toynbee, The Murderous Tyranrry of Turks
Josiah Wedgwood, M.P., With Machine- Guns in Gallipoli
Chaim Weizmann, R. Gottheil, Whal is Zionism?
J.S. W’illmore, The Welfare of Egypt
The list of pubtications is long, but for the Middle East there are a more limited number of books. The table gives only those volumes, but it offers an idea of the breadth and the scope of the Wellington House interests. They included Palestine, Jews and Zionism, and especially the Turks, quite a bit about Ihe Turks. I have left off a number of other books that had multiple subjects, such as The Germans and the Turks, what the Germans were doing in the Middle East, or Toynbee’s work on the “subject nationalities of the German empire.” Even with those excluded, there is a large number of books, so I have selected a few as examples.
Table Three. Selected Wellington House Publications.
E. W.G. Masterman
The Deliverance of Jerusalem
Bedouin Notable of Damascus” [sic]
The “Clean-Fighting Turk, ” a Spurious Claim
Arnold J. Toynbee
Armenian Atrocities: the Murder of a Nation
Amold J. Toynbee
The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks
Amold J. Toynbee, ed.
The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916
The first one is by a man named Masterman. I do not really know if this Masterman is related to the other. Perhaps someone in the audience does know. Tlus book is an example of relatively harmless propaganda. It does little injury to anyone, because it really is a celebration of the fact that Jemsalem was now once again in the hands of the Christians, thanhs to the British, who succeeded where che Crusaders tiuled. It is primarily a positive statement about the British. Whether you feel that the British conquest of Jemsalem was a good or a bad thing depends on which side you are on, I expect. But this book does not do much damage to the Turks or anyone else. There are a number of publications like this. Their primary purpose was to extol the British.
One of my favorites is the next one. Notice this rather strange looking name, Fa’iz EI-Ghusein. The book savs this EI-Ghusein was “a Bedouin notable of Damascus.” Of course, the term Bedouin notable of Damascus is perhaps by itself an indication that something is wrong. But there is quite a bit more. Let me give you hts description from the book. It says he was the son of one of the heads, whatever that means, ofa Bedouin tribe that lived in the Hawran, an interesting statement in itself He had been educated in Istanbul and was employed as a bureaLicrat in the Ottoman government. He was put on the staff of the Vali of Damascus, then he was made Kaymakam, or the district leader, of Mamuretiilviz. He then became Member for Hawran of “the Assembly in Damascus.” Now I can see the people who are familiar the Ottoman Government saying, “W’ait a minute, there are some problems here.” Wait. He states he was arrested by Cemal Paşa, the govemor of Syria. He was imprisoned in Diyarbakir, a city in the southeastem part of Turkey, and then he was released. In Diyarbakir, according to his own story, he heard much of the massacres of Armenians. He heard what was going on and he thought he had to do something to record it. So he escaped to Basra and then to India, where he wrote his report. And it made its way to the British Foreign Office. The book does not ever say the manuscript made its way to the British Poreign Office, it just says it made its way to England, where it was published. There is no indication of its delivery to Wellington House, London.
There are a number of internal inconsistencies in this story, errors that should not have been made by a supposed Ottoman official, such as placing cities in the wrong provinces. But forgetting about those, if you read the book you will notice that he wrote about things that he never could have known, secret conversations. (In fact there was at the time almost a closet industry in making up quotes from Talat Paşa He seems to have sat in prison hearing what Talat Paşa was telling Enver Paşa in the cabinet in Istanbul, writing it down for later publication. Where he fottnd this information I am not sure. He also knew about secret activities of Armenian revolutionary leaders, news of which was also reaching him in his prison in the Diyarbakır. Obviously this is more than unlikely.
He gave great detail. He talked about what was done to Armenians, who stole their goods, which Ottoman official was here, which man was there. Some of this is hard to evaluate. If he says, “Ahmet Bey took the Armenians’ goods,” you might ask yourself which of the hundreds of Ahmet Beys he was discussing, and whether the author knew himself So you are not sure, but it does look a little strange. Outright lies are easier to spot: He states that after the Balkan wars Iarge numbers of Turks were settled in Zeytun. Of course, none were settled there as a matter of fact, but who among the readers would have known? The stories he tells about what the Turks did to the Armenians are, even tmder the category of war stories, absolutely horrible. They include Turkish soldiers copulating with Armenian corpses.
From reading the book alone one can see that it has all been made up, bur the most telling thing about Fti iz al-Ghusein comes hom an investigation of Ottoman records: There was no such person. If he indeed was employed in the govenmlent in zither Syria or Manuuetiilaziz he would have appeared in the list of government officials. Not only is thzre no Fa’iz al-Ghusein, there is no Fa’iz at all. The man simply did not exist. He was never there. Because Wellington house bumed their records, we do not know who actually did write the book, but we can trust that it wasn’t Fa’iz.
Another favorite of mine is The Clean-fighting Turk a Spurious Claim. Mark Sykes, as many of you know, was a great traveller and a very intelligent man. He was one of the two people that negotiated the Sykes-Picot Agreement that was to lead to the dividing up of the Middle East by the British and French after the war. But this story should began with Lloyd George, who did not like Turks very much and who, of course, was Prime Minister. Lloyd George was very interested in defaming the Turks and was personally interested in the propaganda bureau. He instructed that certain topics be developed by the bureau: “[The Turk’s] incapacity for good Government; his misrule, and above all, his massacres of all the industrious population.” An order from the Prime Minister. He added that the propaganda should be surreptitious: “I need hardly point out that it is very important that all this should be done gradually and that the articles should be spread over a considerable period of time, so as not to make it too obvious what we are driving at. Sir Mark Sykes’ article in the Times,’ the ‘Clean-Fighting Turk,’ is just what we want.”
The Sykes article can be considered the template for what was produced for the press. Unfortunately, we may never know what all those articles were. If you go through the American and the British press you can read articles and say to yourself, “That must be Wellington House work,” but you cannot prove it.
This one we know. The Foreign Office saw a problem, the problem mentioned before–the Turks looked too good to many people in Britain. They were especially bothered by the image of what was called the “Clean Fighting Turk”, the image drawn from the fact that the Turks did a good job as soldiers and could be relied as men of honor. Now we will not discuss the accuracy of that claim here. The important point is that it was believed. And so something had to be done about it. Someone had to negate this image, write against it. And so their Foreign Office masters directed Wellington House to do something about the image of the Clean Fighting Turk. The writing of the original message was somewhat mistaken. Wellington House received an order that said they were to propagandize and bring out the image of the Clean Fighting Turk. Wellington House wrote back and said, “Why in the world would you want us to prove that the Turks are clean fighting?” The matter was finally cleared up.
Wellington House went to Mark Sykes and asked him to write an article attacking the good image of the Turks. He agreed and wrote an article. We do not know if what he wrote was much changed by Wellington House, because the relevant records are burned, but we know he wrote the article. We do know that once Mark Sykes’ article was finally done a deal was made with the London Times to not only have it published, but also to buy a hundred thousand off-prints. The Times patriotically suggested a good price and the Foreign Office patriotically haggled with them for an even lower price. Forty pounds was paid for a hundred thousand copies.
The article, which was printed at The Times and reprinted all over the United States, used words such as “a merciless oppressor,” “a remorseless bully,” “pure barbarians,” “degenerate,” and “has strewn the earth with ruins.” It was one of the nicer propaganda works, actually. Sykes fabricated quotes nom the Ottoman government. once again. Or perhaps Talat Paşa kindly told him of his plans. If you wish, you can believe he was in contact with the Ottoman government. Among the truly amazing things he wrote are statements such as that the Turks had invaded and destroyed Baghdad. The historians in the audience are shaking their heads. It was the Mongols, of course. Sykes knew much better. Conflate the history of the Turks and the Mongols? Put all the harm caused by the Mongols on the shoulders of the Turks? Well, you can get away with these things it you know that those who will read the article have no idea about the history. But Sykes knew the truth.
Lloyd George and the Foreign Office were both very happy. Thirty two thousand copies of this publication were sent to the United States alone.
And now Amold J. Toynbee, in many ways a great historian, at least a much respected and revered historian in many quarters. In nothing Toynbee wrote on the Armenians was there ever an indication of who his employers were, which was Wellington House, the propaganda bureau. He retained the image of a scholar who was writing on his own, or perhaps in collusion, or perhaps collusion isn’t the best word, cooperation with others.
We will go over Ms first title, The Armenian Atrocities, the Murder of a Nation, only briefly. I will not say much about the book itself other than to say it was an extended catalogue of evils of the Turks. Toynbee mentioned therein that the Armenian refugees who had come to Alexandria were suffering terribly, that they were starving, that they were “dying of disease, exposure and starvation.” This, of course, caused the British in Alexandria who were taking care of these people to he a bit upset. The heads of the British agencies in Alexandria wrote back to the Foreign Office bitterly complaining, saying, “What do you mean? We are feeding these people, they are not dying of starvation and disease. Both births and deaths are both completely normal.” Toynbee apologized.
The other book, The Murderous Tyranrry of the Turks is interesting for some of its quotes and as an example of the kind of book that was created by Wellington House. I will just describe a few representative selections: Toynbee stated the Turks were engaged in the “maiming and warping of more gifted peoples.” This, he wrote, had occurred throughout Turkish history. From the beginning, Turks had maimed and warped “more gifted” peoples. The racist qualities of such a statement need no elaboration. In 1913, according to Toynbee, Turks had been engaged in exterminating the Albanians. “Absolute lies,” is all you can say. After the Balkan wars Turks “exterminated all Greeks and Slavs left in their territory.” This may surprise those Greeks who survived to fight against the Turks in their independence war–according to Toynbee they had all been killed. He related that Turks had attacked the Arabs, and that Turks were indeed planning right then to exterminate all the Arabs. Turks had no civilization: “They had nothing but the military tradition of violence and cunning.” Perhaps a bit intemperate. In fact, an incredible diatribe of a book.
But the book I want to concentrate on, because it is the one that has been most discussed lately, including in the House of Lords. is a book called The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, l915-1916. As you can see, even for a command paper this is a weighty tone. Lord Bryce, the putative author of this book, was a long standing friend of Armenians and enemy of Turks. He was the founder of an Anglo-Armenian Association in 1893. He was very important to the propaganda bureau because he was so respected. He was the President of the British Academy, a former cabinet minister and a very important figure, especially in the United States. You have surely noticed this quality among some Americans, the way they fawn on the British. It is a really strange cultural phenomenon, and a very old one. This was definitely the case with Bryce, who was loved in America, partly because as the British Ambassador he had been such a friend of the United States, partly because he had written a history of the United States, the American Commonwealth, which glossed over all of our faults and sang many high praises of our limited goods. An American would not have written in such a laudatory tone.
The official story was that Bryce, who had friends who were Armenians, had been reading notes sent by Armenians, and that he had decided he had better collect the facts and write a book about it. So he asked Toynbee, who was, I forget the words he used, “a notable young scholar and researcher,” something like that. He asked Toynbee if he would compile a book. They then presented the book to Lord Grey, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Lord Grey in turn presented it Parliament. Parliament was so impressed by it that they asked it to be published as a “command” book. In fact that is not at all what happened. What happened was the Propaganda Bureau asked Bryce for a propaganda volume, and said, “We have this man Toynbee here who is pretty good. He can put it together for yow.” And that is exactly what happened.
I want to examine the content. The book is six hundred and eighty four pages long and there are so many errors and inconsistencies that we will be here much longer than the time allotted if we consider each of them. We will just talk about the reliability of the sources and the production of the book. One source was letters by Armenians and Armenian organizations. Armenian newspapers were also a source, newspapers like Ararat and Gotchnag. But the biggest sources, the main ones, were American missionaries and missionary organizations. Now, in order to understand why this is a problem, we have to examine those missionaries as sources, something that has not been done in the recent reprint of The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916, which also incidentally does not mention that Toynbee worked for the Propaganda Bureau. A digression on Missionaries: The American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief was founded in November of 1915. There were other Armenian relief organizations before that. According to the circular that went out when the organization was founded, it was a “non-sectarian” organization. The table shows the board of directors of that organization. We do not have time to go through the whole list, but if you were to do so, you would notice that every single member of the board, except one, was part of the American protestant missionary establishment. The exception, obviously, being Rabbi Wise, who was not a Protestant Missionary. Everyone else was a missionary or a member of a missionary support group. Many of them had been through the mission field at some point or other.
The leaders of the main missionary groups–the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, and others–were all members of these organizations. “Secretary” meant the boss in these organizations. These people began their new mission to aid the Armenians with a relatively small pamphlet, in which they identified why people should help their organization. It began, of course, with atrocity propaganda. Naturally Talat Paşa was spuriously quoted once again. Talat Paşa supposedly said, “the Armenians would pray for massacre.” That is, he was going to treat the Armenians so badly that they would rather be dead. I personally find it hard to believe that he really would have said these things to missionaries.
Table Four. Board of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief
|James L. Barton||A Secretary (Head) of the ABCFM|
|Charles R. Crane||President, Board of Trustees, Constantinople College for Women (missionary college)|
|Samuel Dutton||Treasurer, Constantinople College for Women|
|Charles Dodge||Chairman, Board of Trustees, Robert College (missionary college)|
|D. Stuart Dodge||Member, Board of Trustees, American University of Beirut (missionary college)|
|Stanley White||Secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Missions.|
|William Chamberlain||Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church.|
|Samuel Harper||“Beginning a mission to Russia”.|
|Frank Mason||North Secretary of the Methodist Board of Missions|
|Thomas D. Christie||“Missionary in Anatolia”|
|William I. Haven||Secretary of the American Bible Society|
|Charles MacFarland||Secretary of the Federal Council of Churches|
|Arthur C. James||Member, Board of Trustees of A.U.B.|
|Edward L. Smith||A Secretary of ABCFM|
|Edwin Nt. Bulkley||Member of the Presbyterian Board of Missions.|
|John R. Mott||Representing the YMCA|
|Rabbi Stephen Wise||Chairman, Jewish Emergency Relief Comm.|
|George A. Plimpton||Member, Board of Trustees, Constantinople College for Women|
The introductory pamphlet spoke of rapes, enslavements, and the “murders of nearly all able-bodied Armenian men above the age of twelve.”
The Relief Organization engaged in an eight-year policy of vilifying Turks, from 1915 to 1923. It is interesting that in 1923, once the Turks had won and the Mission obviously would not survive unless they got along with the Turks, suddenly all changed. Suddenly Turks were being praised by missionaries. But until then, the Turks were evil. To build their missionary organization was one of their purposes, but their main purpose was a good one. Their main purpose was to collect money for what indeed were starving Armenian and Syrian (Assyrian) Christians, to try to make sure that these people had food and the orphans had shelter. It was a good purpose. They used a not-so-good means to get the money, which was to vilify the Turks in every way, because there is nothing that draws in funds like portraying a horrible enemy that is oppressing these people and will succeed unless you help, unless you contribute. Which is what they did.
Later on the missionary establishment attempted to get the United States government to actually take over and turn Turkey into an America mandate. They failed that because the American Congress refused, saying, basically, that it would be bad for business and would cost too much.
Studying what they preached unfortunately takes a long time. You must read much truly disgusting literature. What they wrote was not what one would expect of clergymen. Yet one reason they was so successful is exactly that people expected that clergymen would not lie.
We only have time for a few examples. One of the leaders of the missionary propagandists was a man named Rockwell, who I will describe in a moment. He wrote in one of his pamphlets, “Never since the world began has there been such a reign of torture and of butchery as that to which the Ottoman hordes have subjected this helpless and unoffending nation. It is a scheme planned by high and skilled ability [the Germans] and carried out by low brutality [the Turks].”
In all of the writings of the missionaries Turks were never victims; Armenians were always victims. Armenians never killed; Turks always killed. Turks, and I am not exaggerating in any way, Turks persecuted orphans; Turks were cannibals; Turks held auctions of Armenian women; Armenians were a majority all over the east of Anatolia; all young Armenian males had been killed by Turks; all women, every one, were raped by Turks; the Turks hated education and always persecuted the educated; no Christians had ever been part of the Ottoman government. Turks needed Christians because the Turks were racially incapable of being “doctors, dentists, tailors, carpenters, every profession or trade requiring the least skill.” And the missionaries wrote that now that the Turks had killed the Armenians, Westerners who were going to have to come in and take over Turkey, because the Turks had rid themselves of the only people with brains, the Armenians, and the Turks could not run the country themselves.
As the missionaries described them, Armenians were happier than the other inhabitants of the Near East. The Muslims had “pinched faces, pale faces, anxious faces, careworn faces, listless faces. hungry faces, sickly faces of little children, and older faces that had grown sour and sullen.” But Armenians smiled.
The main Protestant missionary propaganda was, or course, religious. James Levi Barton, the leader of the relief organization, wrote “[Armenians] are suffering for no fault of their own, but because their lot was cast in a land where no Christian power was able to protect and because, forsooth, they would not remove the Lord Jesus Christ from their altars and put Mohammed in his place.”
The fact that the Turks had been running what was called Armenia for eight hundred years and the Armenians were still there would seem to argue against that. Of course the propagandists didn’t bother with that sort of explanation. To us today these kinds of things are crude and unbelievable, and I imagine you would probably be laughing if you didn’t think this was a serious topic. But Americans especially, and many other people in the world, including most people in Britain, knew little of Turks or of Muslims in general. Such descriptions of Turks would have seemed perfectly reasonable to them.
The most important factor about the missionaries as far as I am concerned is that they did not hesitate to lie, most of these lies being lies of omission. For example, there were two major books written about the rebellion of the Armenians in the city of Van, one by a missionary named Ussher, another by a missionary named Knapp. The Knapp book was excerpted in the Bryce Report. To the missionaries, no Turks or Kurds ever died in Van, except for four sentences in the three hundred and fifty-page book written by Ussher in which he stated that Armenians sometimes took revenge against the Muslims. Ussher mitigated that by stating that these were people who deserved to die.
The fact is that Armenians had slaughtered every Muslim man, woman, and child they caught in the city of Van. They rounded up the Kurds in surrounding villages and killed them in the great natural bowl at Zeve. If the missionaries missed that, they must have been both blind and hiding in the basement. Yet you read all the missionary literature and the only people who died were Armenians. This makes one wonder what happened to all those dead Muslims. They must have committed suicide.
This campaign, the missionary campaign, was a great success. It gained a hundred and sixteen million dollars, which, if you calculate it in modem money, was the most successful private charity campaign in American history. Posters in public buildings, sermons in churches, door-to-door campaigns, pamphlets, press releases–it was the biggest such campaign ever seen in America. It has never been superseded in its scope or in the amount of money that was spent or that was taken in. Leading every one of the missionaries’ pleas to charity was an attack on Turks.
There was complete cooperation between the missionaries and the British Propaganda Bureau. They sent materials to Toynbee; in turn the missionaries distributed Wellington House propaganda material. For example, three thousand copies of Toynbee’s Armenian atrocities were distributed in America by the missionary relief organizations. The United States Government forwarded missionary materials on using government distribution systems. The government gave secret documents to the missionaries, who extracted sections from them. These eventually made their way to Toynbee with the statement, “Under no circumstances reveal source.”
The missionary establishment leaders most involved in providing propaganda to Toynbee were lames Barton and William Rockwell. Barton had been a missionary in Anatolia. He was a Congregational minister and the head of the American Board of Commissioners For Foreign Missions, the largest of the American missionary groups. He had become the head of the main relief organization, the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief. William Rockwell was also a minister, at Columbia Theological Seminary, I believe a Presbyterian. He was the Chief Propagandist of the American Committee. They were joined as Toynbee’s prime sources by a gentlemen in Switzerland, Léopold Favre, who had published the first of the World War I Armenian atrocity books, Quelcques, Documents sur le sort des Asmeniens en l915. And, of course, there was Boghos Nubar Pasha who had been the Prime Minister of Egypt and was now the head of what was called The Armenian National Delegation, of which he had named himself head. He was a well-known Armenian apologist.
Barton, Rockwell, Favre, Nubar, all these people provided materials to Toynbee, read the manuscripts, suggested emendations, and read the proofs. At one point Nubar wrote to Toynbee conceming one document, “Drop the phrases that make Turks look good.” Which Toynbee then did. The original source of nearly all the documents were the missionaries and the Armenians. And I think you can probably see that these were the two least reliable sources one can imagine.
The Blue Book, as it is called, was a collection of letters, pamphlets and articles with an introduction by Bryce. This introduction was a summary of Armenian history with a view to excoriating the Turks. In the doctunents in the Blue Book, many of the sources were not identified. This, it was alleged, was because of the need to protect them, which could indeed have been reasonable. They were called: A,B,C,X,F or words were used, such as, “a traveller” or “a foreign resident.” Place names were disguised.
Now, unless one knows who those people were, their documents do indeed make the Armenian case. When you do know their identities, the picture changes. Years ago in the Public Record Office I found a small booklet that was printed for private circulation within the Foreign Office. Others have also seen it. The booklet identifies the authors of all the contributors to the book, at least all of those who were known to Toynbee.. Also, Toynbee’s papers on the construction of the Blue Book (which I think he must have illegally taken away from Wellington House) are now available in the PRO. I have them all on microfilm from the PRO.
The booklet and Toynbee’s records show an interesting story, one that is duplicitous, to say the least. Toynbee and Wellington House may indeed have been trying to protect sources. But it also must be faced that they did not say who the sources were because the truth of their deception would have been obvious if they had. Instead, Bryce wote, “All possible somces were seen” and “The respondents do not know each other.” This was an outright lie. Some of the authors were missionaries who had compared notes before they wrote. In his letters, Toynbee remarked how similar the accounts seemed. He found that the authors had read other the pieces of others or had spoken to other authors before writing. Yet the Blue Book stated that because the accounts were completely independent the similarity of their stoties proved that they were true! The similarities avowedly proved their reliability.
Waiting that the authors did not know each other was more than disingenuous, since sometimes they were the same people entered under different names, so they must have known each other fairly well. My favorite example is one Professor Xenides. He was a professor at the American missionary college in Mersovan. Three quotes from him were used. In the first two quotes he was identified a: “a professor at the College of X.” He actually was a professor at a college in which all the student were Armenians, and he himself was a Greek. Now it mi~ t have helped readers to evaluate his writings if this had been identified, but it is easy to understand why it wasn’t. He also was the source of another completely separate statement in which he was identified as “a traveller not of Armenian nationality.” “Chat was true. He was a Greek and he was a traveller, because he was teaching some miles away from his home. He was, according to the Blue Book, two different people, perhaps with a split personality. I think it is undoubtedly true that Professor Xenides number one did indeed agree with Professor Xenides number two.
The missionaries who heard things –they almost never actually saw the things they reported–were sometimes described only as “American travellers.” Indeed, if you believe this book you will find that there were an incredible number of American travellers going through Anatolia during this period of the First World War. They were in fact all missionaries, or their wives, or their sisters. They were described as travellers. Readers reading this would have thought these were travellers from America, but indeed they were not. . A number of authors were listed only as “An Authoritative Source.” This included the Armenian Patriarch, described only as “An Authoritative Source.”
The Largest group of authors were American missionaries, fifty-nine out of a hundred and fifty. Next came individual Armenians, fifty-two. Many times only the name of these Armenian contributors was known, to Toynbee, not who they were or any information on their bona fides, only their name. Many times not even that was known, because they were identified only as “An Armenian.”
Many of the contributors reported what they heard; very few reported what they saw. Seven documents–this is really is amazing -seven documents were forwarded by the Dashnak party, the sworn enemies of the Ottomans. This was the party of revolutionaries who were most responsible for the rebellion in Van, the ones who had attempted to take that area and many other areas from the Turks and the Muslims and those who persecuted the Muslims of the East. Other articles were provided by newspapers, including Dashnak and other newspapers sympathetic to the Armenian Cause. Documents were also forwarded by Armenian political representatives. Describing all these people as X, Y, and Z hides much. Many of the authors were unknown. For many others, only the name of the one who had forwarded the quotation, such as an American Consul, were known. Toynbee did not know who had actually written it. One source, known to Toynbee only as the wife of an American missionary, was a woman who had never left her mission station. She was reported as a “refugee.” Now, where she was a refugee from I am not sure. Maybe she had left her husband once. I do not know.
Toynbee wrote to Bryce, “I do not know the real authorship of thirty-four, twenty-three percent, of the documents.” But these unknown writers appeared in the book in exactly the same way as the known. I must add that Toynbee did indeed try to find who these people were. He wrote to Barton trying to and the names of sources Barton had forwarded. Barton said he did not know. Not only did he not I have the names, he had never seen the original letters and did not know how he could get them. Where Barton did give some information it often was sketchy: “It is written by a citizen of a friendly power.” “A statement forwarded by a United States consul.” “Statement by an American official unnamed.”
Rockwell, the man who was the lead propagandist, wrote that he had himself published many of the stories he had forwarded to Toynbee. He had no idea who the authors of some of the stories were, but they seemed like good stories. Favre did the same thing. He knew some identities, not others. The Dashnak Party, when asked about the statements they had forwarded, said they did not know the identities of any of the respondents. None of them. Of course Toynbee used them all anyway. He didn’t know their identities, so he called them A,B,C, “A Traveller,” whatever, and he used them all.
This is the book that has been brought into the House of Lords as an honest representation of what happened in World War One. Now, excuse me if I become upset when I think of these things. It is astounding. The major problem is not that so much of what was written was untrue. The major problem is that the other side was never told. No Turk ever died; no Armenian ever killed. No mention of Chetté bands, of Armenian members of Ottoman Parliament joining Russians and leading armed bands against Turks, of murders of Ottoman officials, of cutting of Ottoman supply and communications lines, of attempts to capture Ottoman cities, of mass murder in Van, of the forced migration of more than a million Muslims forced to flee by the Russians and Armenians. Yet Bryce stated, “All possible sources were seen.”
As intended, the propaganda was most effective in America. The British had destroyed the cable from Germany to America, and so only very unsatisfactory radio communication, which was in its infancy at the time, could bring out the German side of the story. The British censors controlled all the news that was sent to the United States. Newspapers sympathetic to Germany were punished by not letting their reporters go to the front, by keeping news from them and giving it to their opponents. And so even the Chicago Tribune and other anti-British papers eventually came around. The German and the Ottoman side were simply never heard.
The amazing thing is there was an extensive British propaganda machine in the United States which was never known by the public during the war. Sir Gilbert Parker, a Canadian who had been an MP in England and who wrote romantic novels, was a gentleman well known in America. He had married a rich American and lived in the United States. Parker ran the British propaganda organization in the United States. It was always a secret, although it was obviously well-known to the United States government. It distributed materials all over the United States. All were forwarded as if they had been sent by private citizens, never by the British government. How many people were fooled’? We will never know, but it is definitely true that no one ever published the fact that there was a propaganda bureau in America or that Parker had anything to do with it. That information only came out long after the war was over.
Parker himself wrote to the Foreign Office: “In fact we have an organization extraordinarily widespread in the United States, but which does not know it is an organization. It is worked entirely by personal association and inspired by voluntary effort, which has grown more enthusiastic and pronounced with the passage of time. . . . Finally, it should be noticed that no attack has been made upon us in any quarter of the United States, and that in the eyes of the American people the quiet and subterranean nature of our work has the appearance of a purely private patriotism and enterprise.”
By 1917 Parker had one hundred and seventy thousand addresses in his book. A hundred and seventy thousand people to whom he was sending material. Obviously, he wasn’t sending it all himself. He was sending to people who sent to people who sent to people. The material was passed on.
Table Five. Distinguished American Recipients of Wellington on House Publications
|Distributed in the United States|
|Public Men generally||1847|
|Senators and Representatives||680|
|State Superintendents of Public Instruction||35|
|Distinguished Men (for distribution)||585|
|Others and Miscellaneous||2212|
We have, unfortunately, very little good information on his activities, but we do have some information. The table was drawn from one notice from Parker, sent to the Foreign Office in July, f 916. These were the important people to whom he sent propaganda. “Public Men Generally” probably included anyone with “The Honorable” in front of their name. Note the scientific men, lawyers, YMCA officials, senators, representatives, libraries, newspapers. Down the list you have “Distinguished Men for Distribution.” In other words, distinguished friends who would give the propaganda to other people. “Others and Miscellaneous,” twenty two hundred and twelve. This is a limited list, but it is interesting that it covers the “Who’s Who” in American society. These publications were primarily directed against Germans, but quite a few of the materials that were sent were propaganda against the Turks.
It has to be remembered that missionary propaganda was going very strong at the time. The greatest effect against the Turks undoubtedly came from missionary propaganda. But in the United States the fact that the British propaganda appeared as well was very important, because the two supported each other. Again and again, in the missionary propaganda against the Turks in the United States you see statements such as, “You can tell that what we say is true because our old friend, Ambassador Bryce, agrees with us.” The two propagandas fed on each other, when in fact they, were mainly drawn from the same sources, primarily the missionaries. Most of the records have been destroyed, but we do know that five hundred and fifty five American newspapers were sent materials from the propaganda office. We know that the missionary organizations also distributed this material. In fact, at one point the missionaries had a problem because three thousand copies of the Blue Book had been sent from Wellington House to the American missionary organization, three thousand copies, but American customs held them. Customs said the missionaries could not distribute them unless they paid duty. The American government intervened and ordered the books be let them through without payment. The missionaries distributed them. Toynbee gave a list of newspapers to the American missionary Relief Committee, a list of newspapers to which they were to send the book as if it was their own idea. Toynbee even provided press releases they could copy, reviews that they could send, pre-written, to publish in American newspapers. The Secretary of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, Charles Vickery, wrote Toynbee that he had distributed books “to 200 others that do not chance to be on your list. I am endeavoring to see that every editor and molder of public opinion in the country has a copy.”
Parker had distributed fifteen thousand copies of this book to prominent Americans. Now we do not know what the deals were made with publishers. We know the Blue Book was reprinted in America, we know that many of these books, almost all the books that are on that original list given above, were printed in both Britain and in the United States, some by an American company that was owned by the British publisher MacMillan. Wellington house articles were surely published in American newspapers. However, the records have been destroyed. We will probably never know what deals were made.
I am running out of time, but I want to be sure to tell you one thing, and that is that it is important to Note that both Toynbee and Bryce believed that what they were doing was right. I have no question but they indeed believed the Turks had slaughtered Armenians. They surely believed that what they were doing was lying and exaggerating in the general service of the ultimate truth and in the service of their country. They lied, as they admitted this themselves in their writings. But it was war. Such things were and are accepted in war.
The strange thing is that Wellington House had distributed similar, in some cases almost identical, propaganda against the Germans. As you know, not long after the war the Wellington House campaign against the Germans was studied, described, and often censured by scholars. In fact Bryce and Toynbee together had written a very similar but shorter book about so-called German Atrocities in Belgium. That book contained the same sort of thing seen in the Armenian Blue Book: “X, Y, and Z” and unknown and fraudulent sources. After the war, the Belgians investigated and found that the book was almost completely lies. The Belgians had wanted it to be true, but they reported their findings accurately. Yet no one has looked into the propaganda directed against the Turks. After all these years, no one has decried this propaganda. If one reads the basic books on the British Propaganda Ministry, and there are quite a few books on the subject, they never discuss the campaign against the Turks, only the Germans. I believe the reason that no one has researched the topic and uncovered the lies told of the Turks is that no one cared. They were just Turks.
Table Six. Books Recommended in Today’s Bibliographies.
E.F. Benson, Crescent and Iron Cross
E.F. Benson, Deutschland über Allah
Fa’iz El-Ghusein, “Bedouin Notable of Damascus” [sic],Martyred Armenia
(J. Lepsius), Germany, Turkey, and Armenia: Selections of Documentary Evidence
A.P. Hacobian, Armenia and the War
Esther Mugerditchian, From Turkish Toils
Martin Niepage, The Horrors of Aleppo
Harry Stuermer, Two War Years in Constantinople
Arnold J. Toynbee, Armenian Atrocities: the Murder of a Nation
Arnold J. Toynbee, ed., The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916
Arnold J. Toynbee, Turkey, A Past and a Future
Arnold J. Toynbee, The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks
Source: Richard G. Hovannisian, The Armenian Holocaust
Today the books that I have described to you are still recommended to American school children and university students. They are still a basic element of school histories and advocacy by Armenian scholars. The table is a list of the Wellington House books that were particularly on the Armenians. Every one of these books except one is in the standard bibliography of Armenian History published by Professor Richard Hovannisian. The only one that is not is the book by Benson, Deutschland über Allah, perhaps because of the provocative title. Every other one, including Toynbee’s books and the imaginary Ghusein, are recommended. I challenge you to read those books and not say, “My God, how could anyone write this?” Yet these are still the sources recommended to American and, I expect, British students. By no means have the products of World War I British propaganda disappeared. Indeed, the Blue Book, The Armenian Atrocities the Murder of a Nation has just been reprinted and celebrated in a book signing in the House of Lords. There is a reason this book has been reprinted and the reason is not scholarship.
World War One propaganda from Wellington House and from the missionaries is routinely reprinted and quoted. In the United States, World War I propaganda is accepted as true in Congress. It is obviously also accepted in the French Parliament. It appears in high circles of state along with along with other fabrications, such as the spurious quote from Adolf Hitler (implying that Adolf Hitler was an expert on Armenian history.) Even the Turkish Republic for many years was quiet on the Armenian Issue. It did not say a word, did not oppose these lies. The Turks were afraid, with some justification, of Turkish irredentism and of calls for revenge for what had been done to the Turks. They wished the Turks to resign themselves to living in Anatolia, forget past injuries and the lands that had been lost, and get about the business of building a new home. Only in the last twenty years has this history began to be truly studied in Turkey, and there are still very few people that are looking into it.
Very few have opposed the continued propaganda against the Turks. The lies that were told during wartime have had half a century and more to incubate. Now they are the accepted wisdom. Everyone thinks they know what the Turks did. In fact, what they know is what the British Propaganda Ministry and the missionary propagandists wanted them to believe. Those of us, whether historians or not, who care that the truth be known have a duty to try to right this historic wrong, to make sure that the propaganda of long ago finally dies in our own time.