"It is far from my thought to cast a veil over these misdeeds, which are such as to make the conscience of mankind shudder with horror for ever; still less will I endeavour to minimise the degree of guilt of the actors in the great drama. The aim which I have set myself is that of showing to the world with proofs in my hand, who are the truly responsible authors of these terrible crimes." Damad Ferid Pasha (Ottoman Grand Vizier)
"...that the war, begun without excuse, and conducted without mercy, was accompanied by massacres whose calculated atrocity equals or exceeds anything in recorded history..."
--Arthur James Balfour (British Foreign Secretary)
In the province of Armenia, Abdul Hamid and the Young Turks had deliberately set themselves to the simplification of the Armenian difficulty by exterminating and deporting the whole race, whom they regarded as infidels and traitors. In this savage task they had largely succeeded. In the plains the Armenians had been wiped out. The survivors were to be found in the inaccessible mountains which gave a bleak and precarious shelter to the hunted refugees of Ottoman barbarity. Many also had escaped to Syria. Although they were still under Turkish rule, and were devout Mohammedans, the Syrian Arabs were not murderers and they refused to connive at the massacre of the helpless infidels who had trusted to the humanity taught by the Prophet.
Should anyone unacquainted with the facts about the atrocities of Turkish misgovernment be inclined to regard my summary of the appalling results as exaggerated, I would invite their attention to a written statement put in by the Turkish Government on their first appearance at the Peace Congress in June, 1919. The candour of its admissions is startling. Here is the considered document prepared by Turkish Ministers and read out by the Grand Vizer, His Highness Damad Ferid Pasha, to the representatives of America, Britain, France and Italy at the Quai d'Orsay:
I apologise in advance for the development which I must give to my statement, for I am in point of fact defending to-day before the public opinion of the whole world and before history a most complicated and ill-understood cause.
In the course of the war nearly the whole civilised world was shocked by the recital of the crimes alleged to have been committed by the Turks. It is far from my thought to cast a veil over these misdeeds, which are such as to make the conscience of mankind shudder with horror for ever; still less will I endeavour to minimise the degree of guilt of the actors in the great drama. The aim which I have set myself is that of showing to the world with proofs in my hand, who are the truly responsible authors of these terrible crimes.
We are under no illusions in regard to the extent of the dissatisfaction which surrounds us; we are absolutely convinced that a mass of unfortunate events has made Turkey appear in an unfavorable light. However, when the truth has once been revealed, it will warn civilised nations and posterity against passing an unjust judgment on us. The responsibility for the war in the East — assumed, without the knowledge of the sovereign or of the people, in the Black Sea, by a German ship commanded by a German Admiral — rests entirely with the signatories of the secret Treaties, which were unknown alike to the Ottoman people and to the European Chancelleries. These agreements were concluded between the Government of the Kaiser and the heads of the revolutionary Committee, who, at the beginning of 1913, had placed themselves in power by means of a coup d'etat. I call to witness the official despatches exchanged between the representatives of France and Great Britain and their respective Governments during the three months which preceded the outbreak of hostilities between Turkey and the Empire of the Tsars. When war had once been declared, the eternal covetousness of Russia as regards Constantinople was skillfully represented to the people as an imminent danger, and anxiety for the preservation of national existence thereupon rendered the struggle a desperate one. Our archives are, moreover, thrown entirely open to an enquiry which would enable the statements which I have the honour to make to this high Assembly to be amply confirmed.
In regard to the other tragic events, I beg leave to repeat here the declarations which I have repeatedly made to the Ottoman Senate. Turkey deplores the murder of a great number of her Christian co-nationals, as much as she does that of Moslems, properly speaking. In point of fact, the Committee of Union and Progress, not content with the crimes perpetrated against Christians, condemned to death by every means 3,000,000 Moslems. Several hundreds of thousands of these unfortunate beings, hunted from their homes, are still wandering about to-day in the middle of Asia Minor without shelter and without any relief for their very existence; and even if they returned to their provinces they would find themselves just as destitute, for a large number of towns and villages, both Moslem and Christian, have been completely destroyed. Asia Minor is to-day nothing but a vast heap of ruins. The new Government, notwithstanding its vigilant care, has been as yet unable to mitigate the disastrous effects of the cataclysm. It will always be easily possible to confirm my assertions by an enquiry undertaken on the spot. It is necessary, however, to dismiss any theory of racial conflict or of an explosion of religious fanaticism. Moreover, the Turkish people, at a time when violence could strive successfully against right, showed itself able to respect the lives, the honour and the sacred feelings of the Christian nations subject to its laws. It would be fairer to judge the Ottoman nation by its long history as a whole rather than a single period which shows it in the most disadvantageous light.
To this remarkable statement Mr. Balfour wrote a reply which is one of the most arresting and incisive documents that ever emanated from his pen:
In your recital of the political intrigues which accompanied Turkey's entry into the War, and of the tragedies which followed it, Your Excellency makes no attempt to excuse or qualify the crimes of which the Turkish Government was then guilty.
It is admitted directly, or by implication, that Turkey had no cause of quarrel with the Entente Powers; that she acted as the subservient tool of Germany; that the war, begun without excuse, and conducted without mercy, was accompanied by massacres whose calculated atrocity equals or exceeds anything in record[ed] history. But it is argued that these crimes were committed by a Turkish Government for whose misdeeds the Turkish people are not responsible; that there was in them no element of religious fanaticism; that Moslems suffered from them not less than Christians; that they were entirely out of harmony with the Turkish tradition, as historically exhibited in the treatment by Turkey of subject races; that the maintenance of the Turkish Empire is necessary for the religious equilibrium of the world; so that policy, not less than justice, requires that its territories should be restored undiminished as they existed before the war broke out.
The Council can neither accept this conclusion nor the arguments by which it is supported. They do not indeed doubt that the present Government of Turkey profoundly disapproves of the policy pursued by the predecessors.
Even if considerations of morality did not weigh with it (as doubtless they do), considerations of expediency would be conclusive. As individuals its members have every motive as well as every right to repudiated the actions which have proved so disastrous to their country.
But, speaking generally, every nation must be judged by the Government which rules it, which directs its foreign policy, which controls sequences of this doctrine merely because her affairs at a most critical moment in history had fallen into the hands of men who, utterly devoid of principle or pity, could not even command success.
The obvious conclusion from these facts would seem to be that, since Turkey has, without the least excuse or provocation, deliberately attacked the Entente Powers and been defeated, she has thrown upon the victors the heavy duty of determining the destiny of the various populations in her heterogeneous Empire. This duty the Council of Principal Allied and Associated Powers desire to carry out as far as may be in accordance with their wishes and permanent interests.
But the Council observe with regret that the Memorandum introduces in this connection a wholly different order of considerations based on supposed religious rivalries.
The Turkish Empire is, it seems, to be preserved unchanged, not so much because this would be to the advantage either of the Moslems or of the Christians within its borders, but because its maintenance is demanded by the religious sentiment of men who never felt he Ottoman yoke, or have forgotten how heavily it weighs on those who are compelled to bear it.
But surely there never was a sentiment less justified by facts. The whole course of the War exposes its hollowness.
What religious issue can be raised by a war in which Protestant Germany, Roman Catholic Austria, Orthodox Bulgaria and Moslem Turkey, banded themselves together to plunder their neighbours?
The only flavour of deliberate fanaticism perceptible in these transactions was the massacre of Christian Armenians by order of the Turkish Government.
David Lloyd George, Memoirs of the Peace Conference (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1939), vol. 2, pp. 650-656.