How did the Ottomans’ Allies react to the Armenian genocide?

How did the Ottomans’ Allies react to the Armenian genocide?
Dimitris Almyrantis, Quora, Greece, April 2024

Speaking of the Ottomans’ enemies, senior figures in the British foreign office were very contemptuous of the Armenians and other Eastern Christians. In the broad hierarchy of races in the colonial mind, the Turks—like the Anglo-Saxons and Teutons, or later the Japanese—were a “martial race”, imposing supremacy by force. For the “Tory” ruling class, the barons and military officers of England, this was a good thing. Violence was the proof of masculine racial vigour and right of conquest.

“Mixed”, talkative, clever, mercantile races—and this is what the Tory old guard thought of Christians and Jews living under Muslim rule—were destined to the dustbin of history. Keep in mind that in Britain, too, the middle class (lawyers, doctors, merchants, people working with their minds and paper) were seen as an unfortunate by-product of progress by a landed aristocracy that saw itself as deserving world mastery.

The British, however, also had a Whig or Liberal squadron generally sympathetic to Eastern Christians, and under politicians like Gladstone and David Lloyd George wanted to either dismember or at least not interfere with the Russian dismemberment of the Turkish empire. This manifested as the internal debate in Britain between the Tories, who wanted to maintain the Turkish empire in Europe and went to war with Russia in the Crimean war to save it (1853–6), and the Whigs, who although opposed to Russia on ideological grounds wanted to stand aside and let it destroy Turkish power.

As put in the mocking poem by GK Chesterton, mocking Tory MP F.E. Smith,

“In the lands where Christians were,
⁠F. E. Smith,
In the little lands laid bare,
⁠Smith, O Smith!
Where the Turkish bands are busy,
⁠And the Tory name is blessed,
Since they hailed the Cross of Dizzy [=the British flag],
⁠On the banners from the West!
Men don’t think it half so hard if
⁠Islam burns their kin and kith,
Since a curate lives in Cardiff,
⁠Saved by Smith.”

The “little countries” “laid bare” by the “Turkish bands” are the places where Christians were massacred in the 19th century, even as the “Tory name” is blessed for defending the Turks from the other Christians (i.e., the Russians). Chesterton is, of course, referring to the Crimean war and allied conflicts. He was pointing out the irony that the conservative party most keen on maintaining the privileges of the English Church and episcopacy were the ones sponsoring Muslim rule abroad. The religious dissenters in England, on the other hand—the evangelicals and Catholics—were much more likely to sympathize with Eastern Christians under Muslim rule.

This was all before the Armenian genocide, but the terms (and the ultimate fate awaiting the Armenians) were evident to many in the lead-up to the war. The Britishers who as early as the 1880s were spitting venom at the Armenians, and warning that if the “clever ones” kept insulting the quiet, moody, but stronger Turks, the Turks would “rise up against them”, knew the terms of racial conflict on which Western colonial theory was built. The strong, the “fit” exterminate the weak.

Armenians before and after the war.

^ (after the Azerbaijani atrocities last year, the remaining Armenian populations to the east are out of date in 2023)

In his travelogue through Asia, Mark Sykes gave a telling parallel about how Englishmen and Turks were similar (in his view): neither will resort to talking when he feels he has been wronged, but will get up and (honestly, honourably) hit things “with profound strength”. As far as it goes, Sykes—who spent years travelling and talking to ordinary Ottoman people—understood the popular reasoning I’ve seen repeated by Turkish Armenian genocide advocates to this day, i.e. “you don’t want to make us angry, because we’re better at violence than you.”

For a man of war like Sykes, this was good logic. The weak should submit to their betters. And (key to understanding the logic of the Middle East), when the weak are no longer meekly subservient, the folks who see themselves as better at violence are gravely, personally, even religiously offended. Armenians and other Christians saw the rise of democratic, liberal ideas in Turkey as an opportunity to escape the daily humiliation of dhimma. This put them at odds with their rural, tribal neighbours, who at any rate coveted their lands. It is ironic, but unsurprising, then, that the same “liberal Turkish reformers” of the CUP (“Union & Progress”) and the secular military, whom the Armenian progressives had looked to before the war as helping build a secular, democratic Turkey, turned on them and exterminated them.

The Three Pashas were secularists and avowed progressives in their political programme; but their aims changed once they secured power. They wanted to discard the “superstitious” trappings of Islam and make Turkey a modern Empire, based on Turanism (pan-Turkism) and liberation of Central Asia from Russia. This did not mean they would compromise with the alien parasites in the body of Turkey, any more than the Germans would with theirs. So they allied with the fanatically religious Kurdish tribes and the Turkish highlanders to finish the extermination that earlier religious regimes had only approached in fitful massacres and robberies, not with a coherent military plan. The “old school” represented by Abdulhamid II, and the Kurdish “caliphate” of the 1890’s had wanted to rob and humiliate the Armenians, take some of their lands, but did so irregularly. The Three Pashas did so systematically, because they had an eye to the future, and the backing of the militarily strongest of European empires. — Enver Pasha, the instigator of the genocide, was himself trained in Germany and a deep admirer of German culture.

I see a Turk on this thread has quoted the German commander of the Ottoman general staff, General Fritz von Schellendorf (during WWI, the Turkish military was trained and commanded by Germans at the highest level), explaining how Armenians wanted to commit atrocities against Turks at the instigation of Russia (which Armenian revolutionary groups had indeed planned out). Here I quote General Fritz from a 1919 statement explaining why the Armenians deserved it:

“Like the Jew, the Armenian outside his homeland is like a parasite, absorbing the wellbeing of the country in which he is established. This also results in hatred that has been directed against him in a medieval manner as an unwanted people, and has led to his murder.” (1)

(The irony that the Armenians being murdered were inside their historical homeland was probably lost on him). Von Schellendorf basically helped, or at the very least turned a knowing eye blind, as the Three Pashas planned and perpetrated the mass murders; he knew what he was talking about.

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