Crescent and Iron Cross - E. F. Benson - ebook

Crescent and Iron Cross written by E. F. Benson who was an English novelist, biographer, memoirist, archaeologist and short story writer.This book was published in 1918. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.

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Crescent and Iron Cross


E. F. Benson

Table of Contents










In compiling the following pages I have had access to certain sources of official information, the nature of which I am not at liberty to specify further. I have used these freely in such chapters of this book as deal with recent and contemporary events in Turkey or in Germany in connection with Turkey: the chapter, for instance, entitled 'Deutschland über Allah,' is based very largely on such documents. I have tried to be discriminating in their use, and have not, as far as I am aware, stated anything derived from them as a fact, for which I had not found corroborative evidence. With regard to the Armenian massacres I have drawn largely on the testimony collected by Lord Bryce, on that brought forward by Mr. Arnold J. Toynbee in his pamphlet The Murder of a Nation, and The Murderous Tyranny of the Turks, and on the pamphlet by Dr. Martin Niepage, called The Horrors of Aleppo. In the first chapter I have based the short historical survey on the contribution of Mr. D.G. Hogarth to The Balkans (Clarendon Press, 1915). The chapter called 'Thy Kingdom is Divided' is in no respect at all an official utterance, and merely represents the individual opinions and surmises of the author. It has, however, the official basis that the Allies have pledged themselves to remove the power of the Turk from Constantinople, and to remove out of the power of the Turk the alien peoples who have too long already been subject to his murderous rule. I have, in fact, but attempted to conjecture in what kind of manner that promise will be fulfilled.

Fresh items of news respecting internal conditions in Turkey are continually coming in, and if one waited for them all, one would have to wait to the end of the war before beginning to write at all on this subject. But since such usefulness as this book may possibly have is involved with the necessity of its appearance before the end of the war, I set a term to the gathering of material, and, with the exception of two or three notes inserted later, ceased to collect it after June 1917. But up to then anything that should have been inserted in surveys and arguments, and is not, constitutes a culpable omission on my part.



The maker of phrases plies a dangerous trade. Very often his phrase is applicable for the moment and for the situation in view of which he coined it, but his coin has only a temporary validity: it is good for a month or for a year, or for whatever period during which the crisis lasts, and after that it lapses again into a mere token, a thing without value and without meaning. But the phrase cannot, as in the case of a monetary coinage, at once be recalled, for it has gone broadcast over the land, or, at any rate, it is not recalled, and it goes on being passed from hand to hand, its image and superscription defaced by wear, long after it has ceased to represent anything. In itself it is obsolete, but people still trade with it, and think it represents what it represented when it came hot from the Mint. And, unfortunately, it sometimes happens that it is worse than valueless; it becomes a forgery (which it may not have been when it came into circulation), and deceives those who traffic with it, flattering them with an unfounded possession.

Such a phrase, which still holds currency, was once coined by Lord Aberdeen in the period of the Crimean War. 'Turkey is a sick man,' he said, and added something which gave great offence then about the advisability of putting Turkey out of his misery. I do not pretend to quote correctly, but that was the gist of it. Nor do I challenge the truth of Lord Aberdeen's phrase at the period when he made it. It possibly contained a temporary truth, a valid point of view, which, if it had been acted on, might have saved a great deal of trouble afterwards, but it missed then, and more than misses now, the essential and salient truth about Turkey. The phrase, unfortunately, still continued to obtain credit, and nowadays it is a forgery; it rings false.

For at whatever period we regard Turkey, and try to define that monstrous phenomenon, we can make a far truer phrase than Lord Aberdeen's. For Turkey is not a sick man: Turkey is a sickness. He is not sick, nor ever has been, for he is the cancer itself, the devouring tumour that for centuries has fed on living tissue, absorbing it and killing it. It has never had life in itself, except in so far that the power of preying on and destroying life constitutes life, and such a power, after all, we are accustomed to call not life, but death. Turkey, like death, continues to exist and to dominate, through its function of killing. Life cannot kill, it is disease and death that kill, and from the moment that Turkey passed from being a nomadic tribe moving westwards from the confines of Persia, it has existed only and thrived on a process of absorption and of murder. When first the Turks came out of their Eastern fastnesses they absorbed; when they grew more or less settled, and by degrees the power of mere absorption, as by some failure of digestion, left them, they killed. They became a huge tumour, that nourished itself by killing the living tissues that came in contact with it. Now, by the amazing irony of fate, who weaves stranger dramas than could ever be set on censored stages, for they both take hundreds of years to unravel themselves, and are of the most unedifying character, Turkey, the rodent cancer, has been infected by another with greater organisation for devouring; the disease of Ottomanism is threatened by a more deadly hungerer, and Prussianism has inserted its crab-pincers into the cancer that came out of Asia. Those claws are already deeply set, and the problem for civilised nations is first to disentangle the nippers that are cancer in a cancer, and next to deprive of all power over alien peoples the domination that has already been allowed to exist too long.

The object of this book is the statement of the case on which all defenders of liberty base their prosecution against Turkey itself, and against the Power that to-day has Turkey in its grip.

Historical surveys are apt to be tedious, but in order to understand at all adequately the case against Turkey as a ruler and controller of subject peoples, it is necessary to go, though briefly, into her blood-stained genealogy. There is no need to enter into ethnological discussions as to earlier history, or define the difference between the Osmanli Turks and those who were spread over Asia Minor before the advent of the Osmanlis from the East. But it was the Osmanlis who were the cancerous and devouring nation, and it is they who to-day rule over a vast territory (subject to Germany) of peoples alien to them by religion and blood and all the instincts common to civilised folk. Until Germany, 'deep patient Germany,' suddenly hoisted her colours as a champion of murder and rapine and barbarism, she the mother of art and literature and science, there was nothing in Europe that could compare with the anachronism of Turkey being there at all. Then, in August 1914, there was hoisted the German flag, superimposed with skulls and cross-bones, and all the insignia of piracy and highway robbery on land and on sea, and Germany showed herself an anachronism worthy to impale her arms on the shield of the most execrable domination that has ever oppressed the world since the time when the Huns under Attila raged like a forest fire across the cultivated fields of European civilisation. To-day, in the name of Kultur, a similar invasion has broken on shores that seemed secure, and it is no wonder that it has found its most valuable victim and ally in the Power that adopted the same methods of absorption and extermination centuries before the Hohenzollerns ever started on their career of highway robbery. But like seeks like, and perhaps it was not wholly the fault of our astonishing diplomacy in Constantinople that Turkey, wooed like some desirable maiden, cast in her lot with the Power that by instinct and tradition most resembled her. Spiritual blood, no less than physical blood, is thicker than water, and Gott and Allah, hand-in-hand, pledged each other in the cups they had filled with the blood that poured from the wine-presses of Belgium and of Armenia.

For centuries before the Osmanli Turks made their appearance in Asia Minor, there had come from out of the misty East numerous bodies of Turks, pushing westwards, and spreading over the Euphrates valley and over Persia, in nomadic or military colonisations, and it is not until the thirteenth century that we find the Osmanli Turks, who give their name to that congregation of races known as the Ottoman Empire, established in the north-west corner of Asia Minor. Like all previous Turkish immigrations, they came not in any overwhelming horde, with sword in one hand and Koran in the other, but as a small compact body with a genius for military organisation, and the gift, which they retain to this day, of stalwart fighting. The policy to which they owed their growth was absorption, and the people whom they first began to absorb were Greeks and other Christians, and it was to a Christian girl, Nilufer, that Osman married his son Orkhan. They took Christian youths from the families of Greek dwellers, forced them to apostatise, gave them military training, and married them to Turkish girls. It was out of this blend of Greek and Turkish blood, as Mr. D.G. Hogarth points out, that they derived their national being and their national strength. This system of recruiting they steadily pursued not only among the Christian peoples with whom they came in contact, but among the settlements of Turks who had preceded them in this process of pushing westwards, and formed out of them the professional soldiery known as Janissaries. They did not fight for themselves alone, but as mercenaries lent their arms to other peoples, Moslem and Christian alike, who would hire their services. This was a policy that paid well, for, after having delivered some settlement from the depredations of an inconvenient neighbour, and with their pay in their pocket, they sometimes turned on those who had hired their arms, took their toll of youths, and finally incorporated them in their growing empire. Like an insatiable sponge, they mopped up the sprinklings of disconnected peoples over the fruitful floor of Asia Minor, and swelled and prospered. But as yet the extermination of these was not part of their programme: they absorbed the strength and manhood of their annexations into their own soldiery, and came back for more. They did not levy those taxes paid in the persons of soldiers for their armies from their co-religionists, since Islam may not fight against Islam, but by means of peaceful penetration (a policy long since abandoned) they united scattered settlements of Turks to themselves by marriages and the bond of a common tongue and religion.

Their expansion into Europe began in the middle of the fourteenth century, when, as mercenaries, they fought against the Serbs, and fifty years later they had a firm hold over Bulgaria as well. Greece was their next prey; they penetrated Bosnia and Macedonia, and in 1453 attacked and took Constantinople under Mohammed the Conqueror. Still true to the policy of incorporation they continued to mop up the remainder of the Balkan Peninsula, and at the same time consolidated themselves further in Asia Minor. By the beginning of the seventeenth century their expansion reached its utmost geographical limits, but already the Empire held within it the seeds of its own decay, and by a curious irony the force that should still keep it together was derived not from its own strength, but from the jealousies of the European Powers among themselves, who would willingly have dismembered it, but feared the quarrels that would surely result from the apportionment of its territories. The Ottoman Empire from then onwards has owed its existence to its enemies.

Its weakness lay in itself, for it was very loosely knit together, and no bond, whether of blood or religion or tongue, bound to it the assembly of Christian and Jewish and non-Moslem races of which it was so largely composed. The Empire never grew (as, for instance, the British Empire grew) by the emigration and settlement of the Osmanli stock in the territories it absorbed: it never gave, it only took. From the beginning right up to the last quarter of the nineteenth century, it has been a military despotism, imposing itself on unwilling and alien tribes whom it drained of their blood, and then left in neglect until some further levy was needed. None of its conquered peoples was ever given a share in the government; they were left unorganised and, so to speak, undigested elements under the Power which had forced them into subjection, and one by one the whole of the European peoples included in that uncemented tyranny have passed from under Turkish control. Turkey in Europe has dwindled to a strip along the Bosporus to the Sea of Marmora and the Dardanelles, Egypt has been lost, Tripoli also, and the only force that, for the last hundred years has kept alive in Europe the existence of that monstrous anachronism has been the strange political phenomenon, now happily extinct, called the Balance of Power. No one of the Great Powers, from fear of the complications that would ensue, could risk the expulsion of the Turkish Government from Constantinople, and there all through the nineteenth century it has been maintained lest the Key of the Black Sea, which unlocked the bolts that barred Russia's development into the Mediterranean, should lead to such a war as we are now passing through. That policy, for the present, has utterly defeated its own ends, for the key is in the pockets of Prussia. But all through that century, though the Powers maintained Turkey there, they helped to liberate, or saw liberate themselves, the various Christian kingdoms in Europe over which at the beginning of the eighteenth century Turkey exercised a military despotism. They weakened her in so far as they could, but they one and all refused to let her die, and above all refused to give her that stab in the heart which would have been implied in her expulsion from Constantinople.

For centuries from the first appearance of the Osmanlis in north-west Asia Minor down to the reign of Abdul Hamid, the Empire maintained itself, with alternate bouts of vigour and relapses, on the general principle of drawing its strength from its subject peoples. Internally, from whatever standpoint we view it, whether educational, economic, or industrial, it has had the worst record of any domination known to history. Rich in mineral wealth, possessed of lands that were once the granary of the world, watered by amazing rivers, and with its strategic position on the Mediterranean that holds the master-key of the Black Sea in its hands, it has remained the most barbaric and least progressive of all states. Its roads and means of communication remained up till the last quarter of the nineteenth century much as they had been in the days of Osman; except along an insignificant strip of sea-coast railways were non-existent; it was bankrupt in finance and in morals, and did not contain a single seed that might ripen into progress or civilisation. Mesopotamia was once the most fertile of all lands, capable of supporting not itself alone, but half the civilised world: nowadays, under the stewardship of the Turk, it has been suffered to become a desert for the greater part of the year and an impracticable swamp for the remainder. Where great cities flourished, where once was reared the pride of Babylon and of Nineveh, there huddle the squalid huts of fever-stricken peasants, scarce able to gain their half-starved living from the soil that once supported in luxury and pomp the grandeur of metropolitan cities. The ancient barrages, the canals, the systems of irrigation were all allowed to silt up and become useless; and at the end of the nineteenth century you would not find in all Mesopotamia an agricultural implement that was in any way superior to the ploughs and the flails of more than two thousand years ago. But so long as there was a palace-guard about the gates to secure the safety of the Sultan and his corrupt military oligarchy, so long as there were houris to divert their leisure, tribute of youths to swell their armies, and taxes wrung from starving subjects to maintain their pomp, there was not one of those who held the reins of government who cared the flick of an eyelash for the needs of the nations on whom the Empire rested, for the cultivation of its soil that would yield a hundredfold to the skilled husbandman, or for the exploitation and development of its internal wealth. While there was left in the emaciated carcase of the Turkish Empire enough live tissue for the cancerous Government to grow fat on, it gave not one thought to the welfare of all those races on whom it had fastened itself. Province after province of its European dominions might be lost to it, but the Balance of Power still kept the Sultan on his throne, and left the peoples of Asia Minor and Syria at his mercy. They were largely of alien religion and of alien tongue, and their individual weakness was his strength. Neglect, and the decay consequent on neglect, was the lot of all who languished under that abominable despotism.

With the accession in 1876 of Abdul Hamid, of cursed memory, there dawned on the doomed subject peoples of the Ottoman Empire a day of bloodier import than any yet. The year before and during that year had occurred the Bulgarian atrocities and massacres, and the word 'massacre' lingered and made music in Abdul Hamid's brain. He said it over to himself and dwelt upon it, and meditated on the nature and possibilities of massacre. The troubles which massacre had calmed had arisen before his accession out of the establishment of the Bulgarian Exarchate, which corresponded to the Greek Patriarchate, and was given power over districts and peoples whom the Greeks justly considered to belong to them by blood and religion. Greek armed bands came into collision with Bulgarian bands, and in order to calm these disturbances by thoroughly effectual means, irregular Turkish troops were sent into Bulgaria, charged with the command to 'stop the row,' but with no other instructions. Indiscriminate killing, with all the passions and horrors that bloodshed evokes in the half-civilised, followed, and there was no more trouble just then in the disturbed districts, for there was none to make trouble. In 1876 Abdul Aziz was deposed by a group of king-makers under Midhat Pasha, Murad V. reigned shadow-like for three months, and during the same year Abdul Hamid was finally selected to fill the throne, and stand forth as the Shadow of God. It was a disturbed and tottering inheritance to which he succeeded, riddled with the dry-rot of corruption, but the inheritor proved himself equal to the occasion.

For a little while he was all abroad, and at the bidding of Midhat, who had placed him on the throne, he summoned a kind of representative Turkish Parliament, by way of imbuing the Great Powers with the idea that he was an enlightened Shadow of God bent on reform. This parody of a Parliament lasted but a short time: it was no more than a faint, dissolving magic-lantern picture. In the spring of 1877 Rumania, under Russian encouragement, broke away from Turkish rule. Turkey declared war on Russia, and in 1878 found herself utterly defeated. At Adrianople was drawn up the Treaty of San Stefano, creating an independent Bulgarian state, and, in the opinion of Great Britain and Germany, giving Russia far greater influence in the Balkan Peninsula than was agreeable to that disastrous supporter of Turkey, the Balance of Power. In consequence the Treaty of San Stefano was superseded by the Treaty of Berlin.

In those arrangements Abdul Hamid had no voice, but he was well content to sit quiet, think about what was to be done with what was left him, and thank his waning crescent that once again the Balance of Power had secured Constantinople for him, leaving him free to deal with his Asiatic dominions, and such part of Europe as was left him, as he thought fit. He could safely trust that he would never be ejected from his throne by a foreign Power, and all he need do was to make himself safe against internal disturbances and revolutions which might upset him. And it was then that he begot in the womb of his cold and cunning brain a policy that was all his own, except in so far as the Bulgarian atrocities, consequent on feuds between Bulgars and Greeks, may be considered the father of that hideous birth. But it was he who suckled and nourished it, it was from his brain that it emerged, full-grown and in panoply of armour, as from the brain of Olympian Zeus came Pallas Athene. This new policy was in flat contradiction of all the previous policy, as he had received it from his predecessors, of strengthening Turkey by tributes of man-power from his subject tribes, but it would, he thought, have the same result of keeping the Turk supreme among the alien elements of the Empire. Times had changed; it behoved him to change the methods which hitherto had held together his hapless inheritance.

Now Abdul Hamid was not in any sense a wise man, and the ability which has been attributed to him, in view of the manner in which he successfully defied the civilisations of Europe, is based on premisses altogether false. He never really defied Europe at all; he always yielded, secure in his belief that Europe in the shape of the Balance of Power, was unanimous in keeping him where he was. He never even risked being turned out of Constantinople, for he knew--none better--that all Europe insisted on retaining him there. As regards wisdom, there was never a greater fool, but as regards cunning there was never a greater fox. He had a brain that was absolutely impervious to large ideas: the notion of consolidating and strengthening his Empire by ameliorating its internal conditions, by bringing it within speaking distance of the influence of civilisation and progress, by taking advantage of and developing its immense natural resources, by employing the brains and the industry of his subject races, seems never to have entered his head. He could easily have done all this: there was not a Power in Europe that would not have lent him a helping hand in development and reform, in the establishment of a solvent state, in aiding the condition of the peoples over whom he ruled. In whatever he did, provided that it furthered the welfare of his subjects, whether Turk, Armenian, or Arab, the whole Concert of Europe would have provided him with cash, with missionaries, with engineers, and all the resources of the arts and sciences of peace and of progress. But being a felon, with crime and cunning to take the place of wisdom, he preferred to develop his Empire on his own original lines. In Europe he was but suffered to exist. There remained Asia.

The policy of previous Osmanli rulers has already been roughly defined. They strengthened themselves and the military Turkish despotism round them by absorbing the manhood of the tribes over which they had obtained dominion. Abdul Hamid reversed that policy; he strengthened the Turkish supremacy, not by drawing into it the manhood of his subject peoples, but by destroying that manhood. In proportion, so his foxlike brain reasoned, as his alien subjects were weak, so were the Turks strong. A consistent weakening of alien nations would strengthen the hold of those who governed the Ottoman Empire. It was as if a man suffered from gout in his foot: he could get rid of the gout by wholesome living, the result of which would be that his foot ceased to trouble him. But the plan which he adopted was to cause his foot to mortify by process of inhuman savagery. When it was dead it would trouble him no longer.

He was well aware that the Turkish people only comprised some forty per cent, of the population of the Turkish Empire: numerically they were weaker than the alien peoples who composed the rest of it. Something had to be done to bring the governing Power up to such a proportionate strength as should secure its supremacy, and the most convenient plan was to weaken the alien elements. The scheme, though yet inchoate, had been tried with success in the case of the Bulgarians and Greeks, and to test it further he stirred up Albanians against the inhabitants of Old Servia with gratifying results. They weakened each other, and he further weakened them both by the employment of Turkish troops in Macedonia to quell the disturbances which he had himself fomented. There were massacres and atrocities, and no more trouble just then from Macedonia. Having thus tested his plan and found no flaw in it, he settled to adopt it. But European combinations did not really much interest him, for he was aware that the Great Powers, to whose sacred Balance he owed the permanence of his throne, would not tolerate interference with European peoples, and he turned his attention to Asia Minor. There were excrescences there which he could not absorb, but which might be destroyed. He could use the knife on living tissues which the impaired digestion of the Ottoman Empire could not assimilate. So he hit on this fresh scheme, which his hellish cunning devised with a matchless sense of the adaptation of the means to the end, and he created (though he did not live to perfect) a new policy that reversed the traditions of five hundred years. That is no light task to undertake, and when we consider that since his deposition, now nine years ago, that policy has reaped results undreamed of perhaps by him, we can see how far-sighted his cunning was. To-day it is being followed out by the very combination that deposed him; his aims have been fully justified, and for that precise reason we are right to classify him among the abhorred of mankind. He had an opportunity such as is given to the few, and he made the utmost of it, even as his greater successor on the throne of Turkey for the present, namely Wilhelm II. of Prussia, has done, in the service of the devil. 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant,' must surely have been his well-deserved welcome, when he left the hell he had made on earth for another.