OF OUR American responsibility for the destruction of the Christians of the Near East, I write with great hesitation and sorrow and must confine myself to the statement of certain universally known facts.
The days and months leading up to the fearful events at Smyrna were noisy with the Chester concession and pro-Turk propaganda. The enthusiastic pro-Turk articles in the press of the two Chesters—father and son—are still fresh in the public memory. Other pro-Turk and anti-Christian writers were busy, some among them doubtless earning their daily bread. The Turks were in funds. They had been busy picking the bones of the Christians and had laid their hands on great sums.
The shrewd Europeanized group of Turks, who inhabit Constantinople, overdid themselves in the courtesies and hospitality, which they lavished on foreign diplomats. This sort of Oriental is the most plausible and fascinating man in the world. The educated hanum, also, is extremely charming, and has a seductive grace that is hardly granted to her alien sisters. If a few of them take off their veils and show their lovely faces in Constantinople, they have little difficulty in persuading diplomats that they are emancipated and that polygamy is a thing of the past among Mohammedans; that the Greeks burned Smyrna, that a million and a half Christians practically committed suicide and were not actually massacred, or anything else they wish.
What can one do but believe when be is taken back to the days of Haroun-al-Raschid, and floats off to a palace perfumed with roses of Cashmere on an enchanted carpet?
Our representative at Constantinople, Admiral Mark L. Bristol, is an extremely attractive personality: honest, brave, generous, with frank and winning manners. By the sheer magnetism of his genial and engaging character he gathers about himself, wherever he is, a school of admirers and disciples who ardently defend the admiral and everything that he thinks and does.
The naval officers who came to Smyrna at the Consulate’s request were typical of the American naval officer in general, high-type intelligent gentlemen, of an efficiency that may be described as well-nigh perfect. They were under certain orders at Smyrna, which it was incumbent upon them to carry out. They accomplished all their duties there thoroughly and correctly and performed prodigies after the fire in saving refugees.
I was somewhat puzzled, however, when an American lady at Smyrna informed me that one of the officers had told her that he was “pro-Turk.” Another, a commander, made the same remark at Athens, at luncheon, during one of the trips, which the destroyers were making back and forth between that city and Smyrna.
While stopping at the Army and Navy Club in Washington in 1922, I asked a naval officer of high rank if it was true that he was pro-Turk, and he replied:
“Yes, I am, because I was brought up as a boy to the belief that the Turks were always chasing Greeks and Armenians around with a knife. Well, I have been over there to Constantinople several times and I have never seen anything of the kind, so I have come to the conclusion that it is all buncombe.”
This is all right. Every man is entitled to his opinions, no matter on what evidence or process of reasoning founded. My surprise was due to the fact that I had thought that the officers who came to Smyrna were under orders to be neutral.
I was sitting in the wardroom of one of our destroyers moored in the harbor of Smyrna. At moment when the massacre bad begun to assume alarming proportions, a newspaper correspondent, a passenger on the same naval unit, entered the room, opened his typewriter and began to write. When he had finished about half a page, he read it carefully, took it out of the machine, and said:
“I can’t send this stuff. It’ll queer me at Constantinople. I must get busy on Greek atrocities.” I have often wondered what he meant. I was sitting quite close to him and heard him very distinctly.
Let us briefly review the situation which enabled the Turks in the year of our Lord, 1922, to complete the extinction of Christianity in the Near East: The Germans were, as long as they lasted, the active allies of the Turks, and during this period nearly a million Armenians and many thousands of Greeks perished; after the Armistice and during the period which led up to the destruction of Smyrna and the accompanying massacre, the French and Italians were allies of the Turk, and furnished him moral and material support; the British gave no aid to the Greeks, but contented themselves with publishing an account of the dreadful events that had been taking place in the Ottoman Empire; the Americans gained the reputation of being pro-Turk, true friends, who would ultimately, on account of this friendship, be given the permission to put through great schemes, which would result in the development of the Ottoman Empire and, incidentally, fill certain American pocketbooks. The Turks confidently believed that commercial avarice would prevent us from interfering with their savagery, or even strongly condemning it.
Never in the world had the Turk so good an opportunity to glut his lust for Christian blood without fear of interference or criticism.
The first Lausanne Conference closed, after reaching no agreement, on February 7, 1923, and the second opened on April twenty-third of the same year. On April tenth, still of the same year, the National Assembly at Angora ratified the Chester Concession. As the terms of this concession conflicted sharply with British and French interests, the date of its ratification is highly suggestive.
This concession is dead now, and there was never enough in it to cause a serious row between the United States and any European power. The State Department has denied the official support of this scheme and must be believed. This, however, has not prevented a general conviction in Turkey that it was a project under the especial protection of the American Government. Such a belief is very easy to create in Turkey, where even the Mission Schools are popularly supposed to be government institutions.
At any rate, it is not probable that great sums of American capital will flow into Turkey under present conditions. Whatever public sentiment may be, or whatever apathy may exist as to the fate of some millions of our fellow creatures, who howl annoyingly when they are massacred or if their families are torn apart, or if they are robbed of homes, capital is cautious; it does not believe in railroads built in a country of ruined cities, nor does it connect massacre with prosperity and progress.
And in all this tangle of conflicting interests, during which the Turk continued massacring, the thoughtful observer is impressed with one thing— the clearness of John Bull’s vision and the directness and tenacity of his purpose; he knew what he wanted and he took it. There are copious oil wells at Maidan i Naftun, from which the oil is piped down to Mukamra, not far from Basra, on the Persian Gulf, where the British landed early in the war. There are rich oil fields at Mousul. General Townsend was on his way there when the Turks stopped him at Kut el Mara, but that did not stop Cousin John. He is at Mousul now and the Turks would have liked to give Mousul to Admiral Chester and the others. No wonder the State Department says that it kept out of that.