The withdrawal of the Allied fleet from the Dardanelles had consequences which the world does not yet completely understand (1918)

The withdrawal of the Allied fleet from the Dardanelles had consequences which the world does not yet completely understand. The practical effect of the event, as I have said, was to isolate the Turkish Empire from all the world excepting Germany and Austria. England, France, Russia, and Italy, which for a century had held a restraining hand over the Ottoman Empire, had finally lost all power to influence or control. The Turks now perceived that a series of dazzling events had changed them from cringing dependents of the European Powers into free agents. For the first time in two centuries they could now live their national life according to their own inclinations, and govern their peoples according to their own will. The first expression of this rejuvenated national life was an episode which, so far as I know, is the most terrible in the history of the world. New Turkey, freed from European tutelage, celebrated its national rebirth by murdering not far from a million of its own subjects.

I can hardly exaggerate the effect which the repulse of the Allied fleet produced upon the Turks. They believed that they had won the really great decisive battle of the war. For several centuries, they said, the British fleet had victoriously sailed the seas and had now met its first serious reverse at the hands of the Turks. In the first moments of their pride, the Young Turk leaders saw visions of the complete resurrection of their empire. What had for two centuries been a decaying nation had suddenly started on a new and glorious life. In their pride and arrogance the Turks began to look with disdain upon the people that had taught them what they knew of modern warfare, and nothing angered them so much as any suggestion that they owed any part of their success to their German allies.

“Why should we feel any obligation to the Germans?” Enver would say to me. “What have they done for us which compares with what we have done for them? They have lent us some money and sent us a few officers, it is true, but see what we have done! We have defeated the British fleet—something which neither the Germans nor any other nation could do. We have stationed armies on the Caucasian front, and so have kept busy large bodies of Russian troops that would have been used on the western front. Similarly we have compelled England to keep large armies in Egypt, in Mesopotamia, and in that way we have weakened the Allied armies in France. No, the Germans could never have achieved their military successes without us; the shoe of obligation is entirely on their foot.”

This conviction possessed the leaders of the Union and Progress Party and now began to have a determining effect upon Turkish national life and Turkish policy.

Ambassador Morgenthau’s story by Henry Morgenthau, New-York, 1918

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