By Jirair Tutunjian, Guest Editorial, Toronto, 26 July 2023
Far too many Armenians feel betrayed and shocked by the West’s indifference to our just cause and Artsakh’s plight. When justice is on our side, why does the West turn its back on us we ask? The very naïve among us are also surprised fellow Christian West doesn’t support us–”the first country to become Christian.” These Armenians seem to be unaware that the West is no longer Christian and even when it was Christian religion was, for centuries, of no consequence in their foreign policy.
Rather than enumerate all the states of the West which have ignored our existential struggle and continue to do so, let’s focus just on one: England/Britain/the United Kingdom. For five centuries, that island northwest of Europe has led Europe in cynicism, in lack of principles, and in contempt of justice and fairness in foreign affairs. Re its Christian identity: the fact that early in the 17th century King James I commissioned the publishing of a glorious translation of the Bible didn’t mean he or the government he led respected the teachings of the Holy Book.
In an era when one could be jailed or worse for mispronouncing the Lord’s Prayer, Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) began building bridges with the Ottoman Turks for mercantile reasons. The “Virgin Queen” courted the Ottomans and sent presents to the sultan at a time when travelers, including English, were frequently captured by Western Mediterranean’s Barbary pirates whose lord was the Ottoman Sultan. The pirates shared the proceeds from the sale of their one million captives with the sultan. They also sent beautiful female captives to Constantinople to become the sultans’ concubines.
Although the Ottoman Turks had recently threatened to conquer Europe by land (Siege of Vienna, 1529) and by sea (Battle of Lepanto, 1571), England launched a PR campaign to polish the image of the Ottomans for commercial reasons. Ottoman tyranny, corruption, barbarism, injustice, inhumanity, and cruelty towards their Christian minorities were neither here nor there for the English and their queen: gold trumped all.
In vain Cardinal Bessarion, the unofficial leader of the Greek exiles in Italy after the fall of Constantinople, warned the Ottoman Turks were planning to invade Italy and the rest of Europe.
To gain friends and influence people in the Ottoman Empire, an Englishman wrote a ridiculous play which had Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar worship statues of Prophet Muhammad. The fact that Alexander lived 900 years before the birth of Muhammad while Julius Caesar about 700 years earlier were trifle details.
In 1656, Francis Osborne (“Political Reflections upon the Government of the Turks”) considered the Turkish ignorance of classical literature as a boon because it allowed them to focus on the business of government. Osborne contemporary Paul Rycaut, secretary to Earl Winchilsea, ambassador extraordinary to the Ottomans for King Charles II, claimed (“The Present State of the Ottoman Empire,” ) the Turkish government a model form of rule. He even argued the Turk had been sent by God as a “chastisement of the sins and vices of Christians.” He praised the Ottoman custom of selecting captured Christian youth for the imperial seraglio.
One of the English first steps to improve the image of the Ottomans was to invent a new origin for the Turks. The Turks didn’t originate in Central Asia, the English asserted. Turks were of European stock. To be more precise, the Turks descended from the ancient Trojans. The Turks, it was argued, drew their name from the son of Teucer, the son of Greek Telamon and the Trojan princess Hesione. Turkish power was effectively “Europeanized” by legitimizing their rule in Asia and Europe because they had descendants of both sides in the Trojan War. Others went further and claimed Turks were descended from Troy’s King Priam’s grandson Turcus, thus were related to Hector and his brother Paris who had led Trojan forces. After the war, Turcus headed to Central Asia and became the forefather of the Turks. It was concluded the Turks were Trojans who had converted to Islam.[Seeing how the English had been playing with history for mercantile advantage, the Italian jumped into the fantasy-history racket. One Mario Filefo wrote the four-thousand verse epic Amyris about Sultan Mehmet II where he said the sultan was of Trojan descent. He concluded the Ottoman occupation of Greece was a triumph of justice: Trojan Mehmet had avenged the Greek’s sack of Troy thousands of years earlier.]
The above nonsense continued for the next 250 years as Britain became the protector of the Ottoman Empire and then an ally of Turkey. We know how the British saved the Ottoman Empire (1832) when the Egyptian army occupied Konya and was within striking distance of Constantinople. We know how the British saved the Ottoman Empire during the Crimean War in the mid-1850s. We know how at the Congress of Berlin (1878), Britain guaranteed Ottoman survival by helping reverse articles at Treaty of San Stefano. One of Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s fans was the dowdy Queen Victoria who even visited her hero in Constantinople. After the First World War, Britain quickly forgot the “recent misunderstanding” and became friendly with Turkey mostly for commercial reasons. Since 1950, they have been NATO allies.
When considering whether to tilt Armenia’s foreign policy towards the West, let’s not forget Britain’s track record. The rest of the West shares that dishonorable record. Let’s not forget EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s despicable recent rush to Azerbaijan to sign a multi-billion energy contract and her description of vile Azerbaijan as a “crucial, reliable and trustworthy partner.”
Photo. Credit: Wellcome Collection https://wellcomecollection.org/works/bnnxa9nz/items
The Congress of Berlin: Disraeli as a tooth-drawer, assisted by Queen Victoria, operates on Sultan Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire, surrounded by political figures from France, Germany etc. Coloured lithograph by J.J. van Brederode after Jan Steen, 1878.