STRAITS British Policy towards the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign © 1997-2005 Geoffrey Miller





STRAITS : British policy towards the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign © Geoffrey Miller



Map of Turkey
STRAITS British Policy towards the Ottoman Empire and the Origins of the Dardanelles Campaign © 1997-2005 Geoffrey Miller



Chapter 1




Abdul the Damned





On 31 August 1876, not yet three months after the death of his uncle, Sultan Abdul Aziz, whose place he took, the Sultan of Turkey, Murad V, pleading insanity, was deposed and succeeded by Abdul Hamid II. The unstable Murad was sane enough not to fancy going the way of his uncle who had allegedly committed suicide by the novel means of a frenzied attack upon his own body with a small pair of barber’s scissors.[1] It was an inauspicious moment for the new ruler to assume the throne: in the summer of the previous year rebellion against Turkish rule had broken out in Bosnia and Herzegovina, while, in a foretaste of the economic problems that would plague his own reign, his predecessor Abdul Aziz had suspended first one half, then the other half, of the payment of interest on the Ottoman debt. The country’s standing fell even lower when, during the week of 9-16 March 1876, Turkish irregular troops perpetrated an appalling massacre against the Bulgarians, the news of which would (when it eventually appeared in the Western press in late June) create widespread revulsion and destroy the last vestiges of hope that the reforms promised as long ago as 1856 would ever be carried through.[2] And, to complete a desolate picture, by 2 July 1876 both Serbia and Montenegro had declared war on Turkey; although, as it turned out, the war provided some scant relief as, not for the last time, but to general surprise, the Turkish military performed well, winning success on the battlefield.

                In the event, the succession of Abdul Hamid II (later to become universally known as Abdul the Damned) was greeted initially with some enthusiasm amongst those usually associated as being friends of Turkey, Disraeli foremost. The Prime Minister’s last speech in the Commons took place during the debate on the massacre allegations, in which he justifiably sought to portray the reports as exaggerated, but which would call for action if proven. In seeking to defend, however minutely, the indefensible Disraeli’s motives stemmed not so much from his supposed Turcophile sentiments as from a misreading of the threat posed to the route to India by a Russian presence in Constantinople if, as seemed likely, Russia entered the war. Disraeli’s opinion that, in the event of their participation, the Russian army could sweep through Syria to the Nile (thus negating any possible advantage stemming from the annexation of Egypt) was an uncharacteristic lapse of judgment by the statesman who, only a year earlier, had pulled off the inspired purchase of the Khedive’s share of the Suez Canal company. Nevertheless Disraeli maintained that ‘Our strength is on the sea. Constantinople is the Key of India, and not Egypt and the Suez Canal.’[3]

                Any hope that his last Commons’ performance might have quelled the agitation being fomented at home was soon destroyed by the publication, in early September, of Gladstone’s famous pamphlet The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East which advocated the removal of the Turks from Europe ‘bag and baggage’. Gladstone’s plea came five days after the Turks had defeated the Serbs at Alexinatz, and a day after the Foreign Secretary, Lord Derby, had warned the rampaging Turks not to expect British support in the event of a Russian declaration of war. On 31 October 1876 the Russians demanded that the Turks agree to a six week armistice in their struggle in the Balkans; it was a demand Abdul Hamid could hardly refuse, but which gave Derby a chance to propose a conference of Great Powers at Constantinople as, meanwhile, the War Office worked out plans to occupy the Dardanelles. Yet, no sooner had the delegates arrived for what many viewed as a wearisome task than the liberal Grand Vizier,[4] Midhat Pasha, unveiled a new constitution which he at least believed was a sincere attempt to rekindle internal reform, even if he was also aware that the delegates would inevitably see it as a diversion.[5] The Conference achieved more or less what was expected of it – nothing – and broke up on 20 January 1877 amidst recrimination and the withdrawal of the ambassadors of the Powers. Midhat Pasha did not last much longer; his liberal views threatened the Sultan and he was dismissed on 5 February, with his place being taken by the hard-line Edem Pasha. The Turkish army however, revivified by the enforced armistice and fortified by recent victories, actually began to fancy its chances against the Russians; they would not have long to wait.

                The first Ottoman parliament met in the shadow of the Aya Sophia on 19 March 1877,[6] the day after Russia had secured a promise of neutrality from Austria-Hungary which made war with Turkey almost inevitable; assuredly so after the Sultan refused the final, watered down, demand for reforms. On 24 April Russia declared war on Turkey. Turkish opinion as to their prospects against such a formidable enemy soon proved hopelessly optimistic. Despite some Russian reverses the situation had become so serious that, on 21 July, the Cabinet in London decided to declare war on Russia if she occupied Constantinople, even temporarily. Naturally unaware of this, the Russians surged on; the destruction of Turkey-in-Europe appeared certain until Russian forces ran into the fortress of Plevna and its heroic defender, Osman Pasha, who would hold off the invaders until 10 December.[7] A Turkish plea, two days after the fall of Plevna, for the powers to step in and mediate went unheeded and, by 9 January 1878, following a further capitulation at Shipka Pass, the Turks unsuccessfully appealed directly to Russia for an armistice; eleven days later the key strategic city of Adrianople fell. Public opinion in Britain, particularly in the south of the country, now switched: the Turkish massacres momentarily forgotten, a wave of anti-Russian feeling (which was not quite the same thing as pro-Turkish) swept through London and landed on the head of Gladstone, who was now vilified. With the Russians almost before the very walls of Constantinople the order was given for the British Mediterranean Fleet to enter the Dardanelles and proceed to the beleaguered capital.[8]

                Off the Straits, Admiral Sir Geoffrey Phipps Hornby, in the aptly named HMS Sultan, informed the Governor-General of the Dardanelles on 25 January 1878 that he was proceeding ‘immediately with the squadron under my command to Constantinople’ following a request from the Sultan ‘that these ships might be ready to enter the Dardanelles at once should the Russians advance towards Gallipoli.’[9]

Later that day, having proceeded as far as Chanak and having received the permission of the Commandant of the military forces to pass the forts, Phipps Hornby was suddenly ordered by the British Government to reverse course, anchor in Besika Bay and await further orders.[10] This move reflected not so much caution on the side of the British but rather the well-merited fear of the Turks that the action might provoke the Russians to break off the armistice negotiations. In the event, with both armies now exhausted, an armistice was signed on 31 January[11] though eight days later, after the Grand Duke Nicholas moved his headquarters forward to Tchatalja, the last defensive bastion before Constantinople, orders were reissued (against the wishes of Abdul Hamid who was being pressured by the Russians) to Phipps Hornby to proceed into the Sea of Marmora.

                In an attempt to legitimize the British move, Abdul Hamid cynically convoked parliament to seek the approval of the deputies for an invitation to be issued to the fleet which, it appeared, he would obtain; until, that is, a humble baker rose to rebuke the Sultan: ‘You have asked for our opinions too late…The Chamber declines all responsibility for a situation for which it had nothing to do.’[12] The continuing Russian pressure was not eased until the signing of the preliminary treat of San Stefano on 3 March 1878, which would have created an enlarged Bulgaria — an unalluring prospect which displeased many, including elements within the Russian Foreign Ministry itself. The fallout was not long in coming. Austria-Hungary was not happy and repudiated the treaty on 25 March. Britain also was not happy and, two days after the snub delivered in Vienna, fearing renewed Russian aggression and failing to receive a satisfactory reply that the terms of the treaty should be open for discussion at the proposed Congress of Berlin, the reserves were called up and Indian troops dispatched to Malta. After this show of aggression, the crisis claimed a prominent victim when Derby resigned, prompted finally by the suggestion to send British troops to Cyprus and Alexandretta to prop up Turkey in Asia;[13] Salisbury succeeded him as Foreign Secretary.

                The Russians, exhausted by the unexpectedly protracted war, could not risk hostilities against Great Britain – a fear Salisbury was able to exploit successfully – with the result that a secret Anglo-Russian agreement to cut down the size of Bulgaria was concluded on 30 May, a fortnight before the first session of the Congress of Berlin. Salisbury then went further and imposed upon the Turks a Defensive Alliance with respect to the Asiatic Provinces, signed by the British Ambassador, Layard, in Constantinople on 4 June. For the protection thus offered against further Russian encroachment Britain demanded in return a promise by the Sultan to introduce meaningful reforms covering the Government and to safeguard Christian and other subjects in Asia while, in a less than subtle hint that Salisbury meant business, the Convention stipulated that ‘in order to enable England to make the necessary provision for executing her engagements, His Imperial Majesty the Sultan further consents to assize the Island of Cyprus to be occupied and administered by England.’[14]

                Despite the secret agreements preceding it (or, perhaps, because of them) the Congress of Berlin did not go smoothly. For the Russians the Congress represented a diplomatic defeat, the recognition of which brought on a display of obstreperous behaviour and the near collapse of the talks. Salisbury also was looking for more than could be delivered by seeking to redress the balance in the Black Sea where it was feared the Russians would convert newly acquired Batum into a fortified base. As the Congress wound down in July Salisbury sought, on the 11th, to have a declaration inserted in the Protocol that the obligations of Britain ‘relating to the closing of the Straits do not go further than an engagement with the Sultan to respect in this matter His Majesty’s independent determinations in conformity with the spirit of existing Treaties.’ The Russian delegates, ‘without being able exactly to appreciate the meaning of the proposition’, demanded on the following (penultimate) day of the Congress that the Treaty obligations regarding the Straits should be binding on all Powers, rather than, as Salisbury desired, a bilateral agreement with the Sultan.[15] Despite this, the British remained confirmed in their belief that the strength of their Mediterranean Fleet (as evidenced by Phipps Hornby’s entrance into the Sea of Marmora) was sufficient to allow them to override the wishes of the Sultan by reasoning that, if assent was not forthcoming, His Majesty was obviously not independent. Nevertheless, the obligations of Britain were to the Sultan, not the other Powers.


                At the conclusion of the Congress Disraeli (now the Earl of Beaconsfield) returned in triumph to London; no less deserving was Salisbury, whose co-operation with Austria-Hungary would augur well for the future and would culminate in the Mediterranean Agreement of March 1887 between Britain, Austria and Italy which preserved the status quo. Bulgaria, now reduced in size, would not become the expected Russian satellite; a large portion of Turkey-in-Europe remained, but with no guarantee of reforms; and Abdul Hamid continued in power in Constantinople. He had survived the crises — but for how long? Salisbury’s opinion was typical: ‘We shall set up a rickety sort of Turkish rule again south of the Balkans. But it is a mere respite. There is no vitality left in them.’[16] This reckoned without the Sultan who, having obtained the armistice with Russia and secured British backing, had already suspended the constitution of Midhat on 14 February 1878 and dissolved parliament after the baker’s rebuke, yet, as a cruel taunt, kept the chamber in good order for the day it might reconvene. The empty chamber stood as a tangible if illusory promise. The ostensible liberal leanings of Abdul Hamid were soon exposed as he then proceeded instead on a reign of personal despotism and tyranny that would last a generation leaving Salisbury to complain in 1897 that, in the policy of supporting Turkey, Britain had backed ‘the wrong horse’. The unfortunate Midhat, having been sent into exile in 1878 along with his constitution, was lured back to Constantinople where he was tried and convicted in 1881 for the ‘murder’ of Abdul Aziz and was imprisoned in the Yemen where he too would die at the hands of an assassin three years later.[17]

                Yet the easy judgment on the negative aspects of the Sultan’s reign was too simplistic as progress could be found if one looked in the right places: a small railway system of 1,780 kilometres in 1888 would expand threefold within 20 years; the road network demonstrated a similar improvement; the postal service enlarged considerably, indicative of the progress being made in elementary education and vocational colleges, which additionally showed up in increased book production and newspaper circulation; administrative reforms were put in place and the system of justice overhauled. Little information of these advances filtered back to Britain but, even if it had, ‘they could never have counterbalanced the abrogation of parliamentary rights, the suppression of personal freedoms, or the lurid image of the royal spider trapping hapless opponents in a web of espionage and intrigue.’[18] Further, Salisbury’s remark was perhaps more suggestive of his annoyance over continued Turkish atrocities – this time the Armenian massacres – than an admission that he would have preferred any other power at Constantinople. Even so, the omens were not propitious for the Sultan as, by this time and notwithstanding Disraeli’s dictum, the British grip on Egypt had secured the route to India, and Salisbury could look with greater equanimity at the possibility of the partition of Turkey.


Indeed, a Russian plan to seize the upper Bosphorus – the Nelidov project – had been approved on 5 December 1896, only to be then vetoed by the French who, despite the 1893 Franco-Russian alliance would not assist the Russians militarily for fear of a general war; desperate for French finance, the Russians dropped their plans for the Straits and looked elsewhere for their adventures, their acquisitive gaze turning to the Far East. In the meantime Salisbury had been approached by the Austrian Ambassador with a proposal for joint action against the Russians; Salisbury was not interested. He informed his Ambassador in Vienna that disgust at the Sultan had turned public opinion Turcophobe, that Abdul Hamid had run down the fortifications guarding the Straits but that, paradoxically, according to Salisbury’s naval advisers the prospect of forcing the Straits was now a much more difficult operation.[19] In part this was due to apprehension over the power of the forts – however run down they may have been – but, more particularly, as a result of the Franco-Russian alliance, a British Fleet trying to attempt the feat could find itself sandwiched between the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the French Mediterranean Fleet.[20]

                Thus spurned, the Austrians turned to the Russians instead and concluded, in May 1897, an agreement which stated in part that ‘It was equally recognised that the question of Constantinople and of the adjacent territory as well as that of the Straits (Dardanelles and Bosphorus), having an eminently European character, is not of a nature to be made the object of a separate understanding between Austria-Hungary and Russia.’ The Russian Foreign Minister ‘did not hesitate to declare in this connection that, far from striving for any modification of the present state of things, sanctioned by the Treaty of Paris and the Convention of London the Imperial Government held, on the contrary, to the complete maintenance of the provision relative thereto, which gave full and entire satisfaction to Russia in prohibiting, by the closing of the Straits, access to the Black Sea to foreign war vessels.’[21] Although the reciprocal maintenance of the status quo thus pledged provided a breathing space for Britain, amongst others, this would prove to be only a temporary lull in Britain’s troubled relations in the littoral and interior of the eastern basin of the Mediterranean before the confrontation with France following the Fashoda incident of 1898.


                With the other Powers engaged elsewhere, or content to leave the Sultan to his own devices, Germany stepped in to fill the vacuum. Not that German interest in the Ottoman Empire was something new:[22] studies had been made in the 1880s regarding the feasibility of exploiting its resources and, as early as 1888, a concession had been obtained for the first stage of the Baghdad railway;[23] the following year the new Kaiser, Wilhelm II, paid his first visit to Constantinople. Nevertheless, by the time of his second visit late in 1898, despite a rise in both imports and exports between the two countries, there was still little tangible evidence of German economic penetration: even the Kaiser’s travel arrangements were handled by Thomas Cook.[24] For the Sultan the prospect of Germany occupying the place of Britain as ersatz protector of his Empire was irresistible and the Kaiser was fêted wherever he ventured in Abdul Hamid’s domain while exasperated court officials complained that the expenses of the various receptions exceeded T£1 million at a time when ‘civil and military officers are literally starving.’[25] At the time, the Sultan ‘was under the odium and cloud of the Armenian massacres’ and had been forced to suffer the displeasure of the Powers, who had interfered in the recent war against Greece ‘to prevent Turkey reaping the benefits of her military successes and Greece from suffering the punishment of her aggressive policy’. Although Wilhelm ostensibly concurred in these measures he nevertheless ‘came to Constantinople with the Empress, spent a week at Yildiz, showed himself as the personal friend of the Sultan, and, as far as lay in his power, whitewashed the Sultan before Europe. If the policy of Germany was neither humane nor creditable, it was at all events positive and material. It secured them the concession of the Baghdad Railway, the monopoly of all orders for military munitions for the Turkish Army, and a privileged position for all industrial and commercial Concessions which it was in the power of the Sultan to bestow upon his friend and patron.’[26] By granting these concessions Abdul Hamid thereby hoped to give Germany an economic stake in the country which might oblige her ‘to intervene on the Porte’s behalf in both political crises and war.’[27]

                The month after Wilhelm’s visit the Deutsche Bank obtained a preliminary concession for the extension of the Baghdad railway to the Persian Gulf.[28] The Baghdad Railway scheme, in itself, was not new and had originated with a young British army officer, F. R. Chesney, in the 1830s — before the advent of the Suez Canal, Chesney developed the idea of a railway from a Mediterranean port to the head of the Euphrates and, from there, by river transport to Basra, as an ideal route to India; eventually, the railway itself could be extended to cover the whole route. Chesney’s lobbying ultimately succeeded in forcing the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate the scheme; subsequently, two expeditions were dispatched (the first led by Chesney himself) which proved that the Euphrates was navigable. But there the matter lapsed and when the scheme resurfaced in 1856 it was dropped after French opposition. In 1871 the Turkish Ambassador in London wrote that he would like to see a line constructed from Constantinople to Basra but he doubted, although the Imperial Government would look favourably upon it, whether it could be accomplished at that time. The lingering doubt that the line, which would be undeniably expensive, might not be a commercial success also weighed against it. Finally, it was the Suez Canal which killed off British interest — yet even de Lesseps, the Canal’s builder, had been in favour of the ‘Euphrates Valley railway’ as a ‘benefaction to countries now disinherited’ by the Canal.[29]

                At first the British were not hostile to the idea of the German built railway; besides, the preliminary concession only covered the exploration of the ground and it would be some years before construction of the actual line started if, indeed, the Germans were capable of raising the finance. By 1901 the position had changed. The previous year Russia had secured a monopoly of railway building in the Turkish provinces bordering Russia and the Black Sea;[30] while, in 1898, the British had been seriously alarmed at rumours that the Russians had obtained a concession for a railway from Tripoli (in Syria) to Koweit. The desire of Salisbury not to exacerbate further the already tense state of Anglo-Russian relations did not sit happily with the prospect of Russian railway interests spreading like a stain through eastern Turkey and, especially, the Persian Gulf; indeed, some voices in London were prepared to argue that a German presence in the Gulf would be the best method of limiting Russian expansion. For the moment, all that Britain had to fall back on was the tenuous position of Koweiti sovereignty. Although recognizing that the Turks had ‘some vague form of sovereignty over this territory’, Britain was still disposed, in 1898, ‘to accept the Sheikh’s invitation to declare a British protectorate.’ However, fearing that ‘very serious diplomatic complications might ensue’ as a result, the British Ambassador to the Porte recommended instead that a secret understanding should be concluded. And so, on 23 January 1899, an agreement was signed by which, for payment of 15,000 rupees, the Sheikh could not dispose of any part of his territory – by sale or lease – without British consent. As part of the agreement the Indian Government was authorized ‘to prevent by force any attempt on the part of the Turks to attack Koweit.’[31] By March 1902 the Foreign Secretary, Lansdowne, had been converted to the idea that, if the railway was going to be built (and construction had to begin in 1903 under the terms of the definitive concession), then the best solution would be British participation in the scheme upon equitable terms.[32]


                It thus began to appear that the British wish for an interest in the line would mesh perfectly with the German need for additional capital to the benefit of both countries (the French were also interested in investing). Furthermore, the Turks had agreed to a subsidy for the railway per kilometre of track built – with the result that the route became somewhat circuitous[33] – however to do this required an increase in custom dues, the principal source of revenue for the Turkish state, but which would itself necessitate the consent of the Powers who had been placed in charge of Turkish finances following earlier defaults.[34] Clearly some form of British and French participation would go a long way towards removing these obstacles from Germany’s path. Lansdowne reiterated his belief, early in February 1903, that Britain should be involved and that ‘the line should, as far as possible, be placed upon an international basis, so that no part of it would be controlled or guarded by a single Power.’[35] It seemed, then, that there simply remained the technical question of the terms of participation to be settled; by April, however, the British Government found itself under attack both from within and without.

                The National Review began, in that month, what subsequently became a co-ordinated press campaign against any form of Anglo-German co-operation, which was sufficient enough to convert some backbenchers against the railway scheme but which, possibly, the Government could have weathered. What finally settled the fate of the railway, however, was the determined and opportunistic opposition of the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain.[36] The proposal placed before the British Syndicate meant that, although putting up an equal share of the capital, Britain could hope for no more than seven directors to match ten French and thirteen German, a difficulty quickly latched on to by Chamberlain who noted the inequality of the arrangement which would leave the British group in ‘a permanent minority.’[37] As a consequence, further negotiations were called for but the Germans were disinclined to budge. This intransigence, in the belief that the terms offered were perfectly adequate, convinced the Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, Lord Sanderson, that the chances were ‘decidedly in favour of the line being constructed ultimately without us unless we consent to join. Even so however I would still run the risk unless we can get our terms.’[38]

                The British position was intrinsically weak, as Sanderson had belatedly come to realize. This weakness could be disguised by a calculated bluff; what could not be disguised was the fact that Chamberlain remained the real stumbling block.[39] Arthur Balfour, the Conservative Prime Minister, while supporting his Foreign Secretary, nevertheless viewed the issue of the Baghdad Railway as a minor one.[40] The pre-eminent threat, as far as Balfour was concerned, remained Russia. The Prime Minister’s new Defence Committee (shortly to be renamed the Committee of Imperial Defence) had had its second meeting on 11 February 1903. In anticipation, the War Office circulated for discussion a paper on the military position in India on the outbreak of war between Britain and the Franco-Russian alliance while, for the Admiralty, the Director of Naval Intelligence (D.N.I.), Battenberg, prepared a paper on the effect of Britain’s naval position in the Mediterranean of ‘1. Freedom of ingress and egress in respect of the Dardanelles for the Russians, 2. the occupation of Constantinople by the Russians.’ It transpired that, at this meeting, only Battenberg’s paper was debated: the D.N.I. reasoned that there was no naval advantage to be had by merely occupying Constantinople and, therefore, it would have to be taken for granted that the Dardanelles would be seized at the same time. Russian naval bases then in the Black Sea were some 800 miles from the line of communication to India via Suez but a Russian fleet at the Dardanelles would shorten this distance by 440 miles. Nevertheless, it remained ‘inconceivable’ that Russia would pit her Black Sea fleet against the British Mediterranean Fleet unless she counted on French assistance and, as the French Fleet remained the primary objective of the British, the Russians might, initially, have a free hand. If the Russian position were firmly established, Battenberg postulated, would she ‘extend her power along the shores of Macedonia in one direction, and of Asia Minor in the other? The former must bring her into conflict, sooner or later, with Austria, whilst the latter might embroil her with Germany over the Baghdad Railway, and certainly with France as Syria was approached.’ Battenberg therefore sanguinely concluded that a Russian occupation of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles ‘such as her dominating influence can extract from Turkey at her pleasure, would not make any marked difference in our strategic dispositions as compared with present conditions.’[41]


                If the D.N.I. could conceive of no useful purpose for the Baghdad Railway other than acting as a check on a possible, though unlikely, Russian incursion in that direction why should Balfour be particularly alarmed? Besides, it is clear from the discussions in the Defence Committee throughout the rest of the year that the dominant concern was the threat posed by Russia to India, not Turkey.[42] For the meantime, Chamberlain carried the day: the Germans could begin to build their railway while the Government could always reconsider the question of British involvement at a later stage.[43] This lukewarm attitude of the British to the problem of Turkey was typified when, during 1903, Sanderson at the Foreign Office was apparently approached by the representative of a Paris-based group of Ottoman refugees plotting the overthrow of Abdul Hamid. Despite the obvious attractions Lansdowne gave the plotters limited support only which, in any event, proved superfluous as the conspiracy miscarried.[44] Balfour’s own position was later made clear to Lansdowne: exasperated by the Turks, Balfour favoured the Bulgarians, who ‘would be much more efficient guardians of the Straits than Turkey ever seems likely to be’.[45]


By the end of 1905 the strategic situation had turned around once more: the First Moroccan crisis and the forthcoming conference at Algeciras would result in a closer Anglo-French alignment against Germany, cementing the 1904 Entente, while Russia had been defeated by Japan in the Far East. Then the incoming Liberal Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, pragmatically continued Lansdowne’s efforts to negotiate an Anglo-Russian Entente to resolve outstanding colonial differences. ‘I want to get on with Russia, but it is not easy’, Grey had written in April 1906. ‘First of all there can be no real business done, till the King can visit the Tsar and I cannot urge that yet. Things are too unsettled in Russia…If I could only be sure of a calm interval in Russian internal affairs I would do what I could to urge a visit on the King; but one cannot with good hope or even decency advise the King yet to fix a date for it’. Grey was also ‘trying to reopen the Baghdad Railway question, so as to get the Russians to come in’.[46] This was a far cry from 1903 when it was hoped the paramount German interest in the railway would halt the creeping advance of Russian influence in Turkey. Instead, Germany apparently now held sway at the Porte: German exports to Turkey had risen six fold (admittedly from a very small base) since 1888;[47] the Germans did not, seemingly, meddle in Turkish internal affairs; the German military were universally admired; and the civilians even bothered to learn Turkish.[48] As always, the reality was different from the perception: although Britain’s overall share of the Turkish market was in decline, by 1908, over a third of Turkish exports still went to Britain who in turn supplied 32% of her imports. For Germany the figures were 4% and 6% respectively.[49] The myth of German economic penetration was nevertheless a useful ploy in attempting to wrest ever more concessions from the Sultan.

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[1]    Abdul Aziz had himself been deposed in a bloodless coup on 30 May 1876, organized by Midhat Pasha and the Minister of War Hussein Avni. The alleged ‘suicide’ occurred five days later and was followed in turn by the assassination of the War Minister and Foreign Minister at the hands of the enraged brother of the Sultan’s favourite Circassian slave, who suspected foul play. According to a later recollection of Abdul Hamid, Abdul Aziz had been trimming his beard with a pair of pointed Persian scissors when three men broke in, seized him, and, using a penknife, severed the arteries in both arms at the bend of the elbow ‘just where the big artery comes close to the skin.’ The scissors were then left by his side to suggest suicide but, Abdul Hamid mused, ‘no-one has ever been able to explain how he could have cut the artery of his right arm if he had already severed that of his left.’ Nevertheless, the eighteen doctors who attended the deposed Sultan signed a certificate of suicide. F Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, p. 15; S. J. and E. K. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, (2 vols., Cambridge, 1977), vol. II, p. 164; Mansel, Constantinople, p. 302. See also, Barber, Lords of the Golden Horn, pp. 158-161; Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries, pp. 514-5.

[2]    The Daily News published a sensational article on 23 June 1876 reporting the slaughter of 25,000 Bulgarians — an exaggerated figure. As Philip Mansel points out, many of the Bulgarians assumed to have been massacred had simply left their villages looking for work. Mansell, Constantinople, pp. 473-4; Robert Blake, Disraeli, (London, 1969), pp. 592-5; Allan Cunningham, The Wrong Horse? — A Study of Anglo-Turkish Relations before the First World War, St Antony’s Papers, no. 17, (1965), p. 58; Richard Millman, Britain and the Eastern Question, pp. 153-4.

[3]    Disraeli, obviously, would have been anxious not to see his investment taken over by the Russians. Blake, Disraeli, p. 577.

[4]    For an overview of the machinery of the Turkish Government, see appendix ix.

[5]    Cunningham, The Wrong Horse, p. 58.

[6]    The deputies comprised 67 Muslims and 48 non-Muslims. Mansel, Constantinople, p. 304.

[7]    A J P Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, p. 245; Barber, Lords of the Golden Horn, chapter 10 passim.

[8]    Philip Magnus, Gladstone, p. 249.

[9]    ‘I presume’, Phipps Hornby added, ‘your Excellency will have received orders to permit them to pass your forts. As time presses I shall not be able to anchor at Chanak, but I shall have the honour of saluting your flag as I pass the fort.’ Phipps Hornby to His Excellency Hussein Pasha, 25 January 1878, PRO Adm 1/6445. The captain of one of the ships in the British Squadron was none other than John Arbuthnot Fisher. Fisher had just come from Fiume, where he had inspected the latest Whitehead torpedoes; see, Admiral Sir Edward Rice to his wife, 5 December 1876, quoted in, Margaret Hammond, “The Mediterranean Fleet in the Eastern Crisis of 1876-8”, The Mariner’s Mirror, vol. 77, no. 1, February 1991, p. 74.

[10]  Phipps Hornby to the Colonel Commandant of the Military Forces, 25 January 1878, PRO Adm 1/6445.

[11]  The Convention of Adrianople, in Hurst (ed.), Key Treaties for the Great Powers, vol. II, pp. 523 ff.; see also, Phillipson and Buxton, The Question of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, (London, 1917), pp. 136-45.

[12]  Shaw and Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire, vol. II, p. 187.

[13]  P. J. V. Rolo, “Derby”, in, Keith Wilson (ed.), British Foreign Secretaries and Foreign Policy, (London, 1987), p. 116.

[14]  Convention of Defensive Alliance between Great Britain and Turkey, 4 June 1878, in Hurst (ed.), Key Treaties for the Great Powers, vol. II, pp. 546-8. The rationale behind this annexation – the provision of a British naval base – was subsequently removed by the occupation of Alexandria in 1882.

[15]  Declarations made by the British and Russian Plenipotentiaries at the Congress of Berlin, respecting the Straits of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, 11/12 July 1878, in Hurst (ed.), Key Treaties for the Great Powers, vol. II, pp. 549-50; Alan Bodger, “Russia and the End of the Ottoman Empire”, in Kent (ed.), The Great Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire, p. 78.

[16]  Minute by Salisbury, 29 December 1878, quoted in, A J P Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, p. 253.

[17]  Shaw and Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire, vol. II, p. 216; Barber, Lords of the Golden Horn, pp. 196-8. It was later rumoured that Midhat’s head had been removed and dispatched to Abdul Hamid in a box labelled “Japanese ivories. With care.” F Yeats-Brown, Golden Horn, p. 15.

[18]  Cunningham, The Wrong Horse?, pp. 56-8. See also, Shaw and Shaw, vol. II, pp. 221-53.

[19]  This was despite the fact that the Ottoman Navy had suffered at the Sultan’s hands as well — as he suspected it of supporting the liberal Midhat Pasha.

[20]  Salisbury to Rumbold, 20 January 1897, quoted in Marder, Anatomy, pp. 272-3. See also, Keith Wilson, “Drawing the Line at Constantinople”, in Wilson (ed.), British Foreign Secretaries and Foreign Policy, pp. 198-213. Russia had been banned after the Crimean War from maintaining either a Black Sea Fleet or shore fortresses, and did not regain this right until 1871. The slow reconstruction of her Black Sea Fleet only began after 1883. Alan Bodger, “Russia and the End of the Ottoman Empire”, in Kent (ed.), The Great Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire, p. 78.

[21]  “Agreement between Austria-Hungary and Russia on the Affairs of the Balkans”, 8 May 1897, in Hurst (ed.), Key Treaties for the Great Powers, vol. II, pp. 683-7.

[22]  See Appendix x for Adam Block’s memorandum on Franco-German economic penetration in the Ottoman Empire up to 1906; also, Ulrich Trumpener, “Germany and the End of the Ottoman Empire”, in Kent (ed.), The Great Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire, p. 112.

[23]  See Appendix x.

[24]  Cunningham, The Wrong Horse?, p. 63; Emin Ahmed, Turkey in the World War, (New Haven, 1930), pp. 38-40; Evans Lewin, The German Road to the East, (London, 1916), pp. 30-46. Ironically, in 1992, Thomas Cook was purchased by a German company.

[25]  Arminius Vambery to Sir Thomas Sanderson, 28 November 1898, Vambery mss., PRO FO 800/33.

[26]  Annual Report for Turkey for 1907, BD, V, p. 43.

[27]  There was also the ancillary benefit of being able to move his troops more easily within the Empire. Feroz Ahmad, “The Late Ottoman Empire”, in Kent (ed.), The Great Powers and the End of the Ottoman Empire, p. 11.

[28]  Secured on 27 November 1898.

[29]  Evans Lewin, The German Road to the East, pp. 55-7.

[30]  The Black Sea Basin Agreement, see, Marian Kent, “Constantinople and Asiatic Turkey, 1905-1914”, in F H Hinsley (ed.), British Foreign Policy Under Sir Edward Grey, p. 150.

[31]  Memorandum by J. A. C. Tilley, “Koweit”, Foreign Office, 5 January 1905, BD, I, p. 333; see also, Marian Kent, “Constantinople and Asiatic Turkey, 1905-1914”, in F. H. Hinsley (ed.), British Foreign Policy Under Sir Edward Grey, p. 152; H. V. F. Winstone, The Illicit Adventure, (London, 1982), p. 13.

[32]  Richard Francis, “The British Withdrawal from the Bagdad Railway Project in April 1903”, in the Historical Journal, XVI, 1 (1973), p. 169; Paul M Kennedy, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, (London, 1980), p. 260.

[33]  By 1905 the total kilometric guarantee totalled £T.691,000. See, Annual Report for Turkey for 1907, BD, V, p. 45.

[34]  A. J. P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, p. 410, note 2.

[35]  Lansdowne to Cassel, 4 February 1903, quoted in, Francis, “British Withdrawal from Bagdad Railway”, op. cit., p. 171.

[36]  See, Valentine Chirol to St Loe Strachey, 12 October 1903, quoted, ibid., p. 177 and Kennedy, Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, p. 261.  Chamberlain was about to launch his campaign for tariff reform and was not averse to cashing in on the wave of Germanophobia which had been set off by the press campaign.

[37]  By providing 25% of the capital Britain was allocated eight of the thirty-two directorships on the board (although one of whom would be nominated by the French-controlled Imperial Ottoman Bank). A tenth of the capital was to be provided by the Anatolian Railway, to be represented by three directors, while 15% would be forthcoming from interests controlled by the Ottoman and Deutsche Banks with one and two directors respectively. The French allocation was also 25% but its complement of eight directors would be boosted by two: those nominated by the Ottoman Bank. The Germans, for their 25% stake, would also have eight directors, plus the two nominated by the Deutsche Bank and the three from the Anatolian Railway, of which the Germans refused to relinquish control. Francis, op. cit., pp. 171, 173.

[38]  Quoted, ibid., pp. 175-6.

[39]  As an exasperated Lansdowne indicated to Balfour on 12 April: ‘But for Joe’s bile the opposition would not be serious…’ Then, five days later, after further attacks on the policy in the Spectator (edited by St Loe Strachey) and National Review (Leo Maxse), Lansdowne wrote again to Balfour: ‘I am very anxious to take stake with you of the situation as to the Baghdad Railway. Strachey and Maxse have proclaimed both in London and Paris that they mean to stop the whole thing, and they assert freely that they have “nobbled” Joe.’ However Chamberlain was more than happy to play the press at its own game; the wishful thinking of the editors could not compete with, but only complement, the hard political fact of Joe’s opposition. Mackay, Balfour, p. 141.

[40]  Ibid., p. 142.

[41]  The effect on naval strategic position in the Mediterranean of a Russian occupation of Constantinople, 7 February 1903, PRO Cab 38/2/1.

[42]  See, generally, PRO Cab 38/2.

[43]  Francis, British Withdrawal from the Bagdad Railway, pp. 173-4.

[44]  Cunningham, The Wrong Horse?, pp. 65-6.

[45]  Balfour to Lansdowne, 22 February 1904, quoted in, Adelson, London and the Invention of the Middle East, p. 38

[46]  Grey to Cecil Spring Rice, 16 April 1906, Spring Rice mss., PRO FO 800/241. Grey had advocated a closer Anglo-Russian understanding since the turn of the century. Wilson, Policy of the Entente, p. 74.

[47]  Emin Ahmed, Turkey in the World War, p. 39.

[48]  Cunningham, The Wrong Horse?, p. 62.

[49]  Adelson, London and the Invention of the Middle East, p. 74, citing Near East magazine.




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