No announcement yet.

Paris Peace Talks of 1919, The End of the Ottomans

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Paris Peace Talks of 1919, The End of the Ottomans
    March 04, 2005
    Paris Peace Talks of 1919
    Part 2 - The End of the Ottomans
    by Risto Stefov
    [email protected]
    February 2005
    Read Part I

    The following text (pages 366 to 380) was taken from the book "Paris 1919"
    by Margaret MacMillan.
    Part 2 (chapter 26 of MacMillan's book) deals with the peace talks of 1919
    with respect to the destruction of the Ottoman empire and the birth of
    modern Turkeys.
    Part 3, (the last part) will provide excerpts from the minutes of the
    committee on new states and for the protection of minorities at the Paris
    Peace Conference. Part 3 will also contain proposals that were tabled for
    the formation of a Macedonian State.
    Margaret MacMillan, the author of the book from which this article was
    taken, is the great-great granddaughter of David Lloyd George. David Lloyd
    George (1863-1945) was British Prime Minister of the Liberal party during
    the 1919 peace talks and was responsible for drafting the Treaty of
    Margaret MacMillan received her Ph.D. from Oxford University and is provost
    of Trinity College and professor of history at the University of Toronto.
    This is an important article for those who are interested in learning about
    the wheeling and dealing that went on in the1919 peace talks as well as the
    charismatic Mustafa Kemal better known as Ataturk. They say, Ataturk had
    startling blue eyes and was born in Solun. He had a peasant mother who could
    barely read and write and his father was an unsuccessful merchant. Show me a
    Turk from Solun with blue eyes and I will show you a Macedonian. Enjoy
    reading the article.
    FAR AWAY FROM PARIS, at the southeast tip of Europe, another great city had
    been lamenting the past and thinking uneasily about the future. Byzantium to
    the Greeks and Romans, Constantinople to the peacemakers, Istanbul, as it
    was to the Turks, had once been the capital of the glorious Byzantine empire
    and then, after 1453, of the victorious Ottoman Turks. Now the Ottoman
    empire in its turn was on a downward path. The city was crammed with
    refugees and soldiers from the defeated armies, short of fuel, food and
    hope. Their fate-indeed, that of the whole empire-appeared to depend on the
    Peace Conference.
    Layers of history had fallen over Constantinople, leaving churches, mosques,
    frescoes, mosaics, palaces, covered markets and fishing villages. The
    massive city walls had seen invaders from Europe and the East, Persians,
    Crusaders, Arabs and finally the Turks. The last Byzantine emperor had
    chosen death there in 1453, as the Ottoman Turks completed their conquest of
    his empire. Underneath the streets of Istanbul lay the shards of antiquity;
    walls, vaults, passageways, a great Byzantine cistern where Greek and Roman
    columns held up the roof Above, the minarets of the mosques-some of them,
    such as the massive Santa Sophia, converted from Christian churches-and the
    great tower built by the Genoese brooded over the city's hills. Across the
    deep inlet of the Golden Horn, the old city of Stamboul, with its squalor
    and its magnificence, faced the more spacious modern quarter where
    foreigners lived. It was a city with many memories and many peoples.
    All around was the water. To the northwest, the Bosphorus stretched up into
    the Black Sea toward Russia and central Asia; southwest, the Sea of Marmara
    led into the- Dardanelles and the Mediterranean. Geography had created the
    city, and geography had kept it important through the centuries. From
    antiquity, when Jason sailed through and Alexander the Great won a great
    victory over the Persians nearby, to more modern times, when Catherine the
    Great of Russia and Wilhelm II of Germany both reached out to grasp it, the
    city had always been a prize.
    Much of the diplomacy of the nineteenth century had revolved around
    controlling vital waterways such as this. Russia longed for warm-water ports
    with access to the world's seas. Britain in turn bolstered an ailing Ottoman
    empire to keep the Russians safely bottled up in the Black Sea. (Only in the
    most desperate moments of the war had the British conceded Russian control
    over the straits; fortunately, owing to the revolutions of 1917, Russia
    would not be collecting its prize.) The Ottoman Turks, who had once reached
    the gates of Vienna, had little to say. Even the Young Turk revolt just
    before the Great War did little to arrest their decline. Their empire
    shrank, in the Balkans and across North Africa.
    In 1914, the Ottoman leaders decided to confront Russia, now allied to their
    old friend Britain: the empire joined the war on the side of Germany and
    Austria-Hungary. It was a gamble that failed. The Ottoman empire fought
    astonishingly bravely, given its relative weakness. In Mesopotamia and at
    Gallipoli, Turkish soldiers humiliated the Allies, who had expected quick
    victories. But by 1918, Ottoman luck had run out. The collapse of Bulgaria
    in September opened the road to Constantinople from the west, while British
    and Indian troops pushed in from the south and east. Out on the eastern end
    of the Mediterranean, Allied warships gathered in ominous numbers. Only on
    its northeastern borders, where the old Russian empire was disintegrating,
    was there respite, but the Ottomans were too weak to benefit. Their empire
    had gone piecemeal before the war; now it melted like snow. The Arab
    territories had gone, from Mesopotamia to Palestine, from Syria down to the
    Arabian peninsula. On the eastern end of the Black Sea, subject
    peoples-Armenians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Kurds-struggled to establish new
    states in the borderlands with Russia. "General attitude among Turks,"
    reported an American diplomat, "is one of hopelessness, waiting the outcome
    of the Peace Conference." Like so many other peoples, they hoped the
    Americans would rescue them; self determination might salvage at least the
    Turkish-speaking areas in eastern Thrace and Anatolia. In Constantinople,
    intellectuals founded a "Wilsonian Principles Society."
    The men who had led the empire into the war resigned in the first week of
    October and fled on a German warship, and a caretaker government sent word
    to the British that it wanted peace. The British government agreed to open
    talks promptly at the Aegean island of Mudros, partly to keep the French on
    the sidelines. Although the British had consulted with the French on the
    armistice terms, they made the dubious argument that since the Ottoman
    empire had contacted them first, it was Britain's responsibility to handle
    negotiations. The French government and the senior French admiral at Mudros
    both protested in vain. All negotiations were handled by the British
    commander, Admiral Arthur Calthorpe.
    The Ottoman delegates were led by Hussein Rauf; a young naval hero and the
    new minister of the navy. On October 28 they arrived at Calthorpe's
    flagship, the Agamemnon. The negotiations were civil, even friendly. Rauf
    found Calthorpe honest and straightforward-and reassuring when he promised
    that Britain would treat Turkey, for that was all that remained of the
    empire, gently. Constantinople probably would not be occupied; certainly no
    Greek or Italian troops, particular bugbears of the Turks, would be allowed
    to land. When Rauf arrived home, he told a reporter. "I assure you that not
    a single enemy soldier will disembark at our Istanbul." The British had
    treated them extraordinarily well: "The armistice we have concluded is
    beyond our hopes." Even though they had accepted all the clauses put forward
    by the British, Rauf trusted Calthorpe, who promised that the armistice
    terms would not be used unfairly. The British were really only interested in
    free passage through the straits; why would they want to occupy
    Constantinople, or indeed anywhere else? Rauf told himself that, after all,
    the British had already taken the Arab territories. "I could think of no
    other area they would want from the point of view of their national
    interests and so might try to seize."
    When the two men put their signatures to the armistice on October 30, they
    cheerfully toasted each other in champagne. Rauf; the Agamemnon's captain
    wrote to his wife, "made me a very graceful little speech thanking me for my
    hospitality and consideration to him as a technical enemy." The photograph
    of the captain's young twin sons, said Rauf; had been a source of
    inspiration to him. "Wasn't that nice?"
    In London, the British cabinet received the news of the armistice with
    delight and fell to discussing how Constantinople ought to be occupied,
    given "the mentality of the East." The British and their allies had every
    intention of enforcing the armistice rigorously. All Turkish garrisons were
    to surrender; all the railways and telegraphs would be run by the Allies;
    and Turkish ports were to be available for Allied warships. But the most
    damaging clause was the seventh, which read simply "The Allies have the
    right to occupy any strategic points in the event of a situation arising
    which threatens the security of the Allies" Years later Rauf looked back.
    "There was a general conviction in our country that England and France were
    countries faithful not only to their written pacts, but also to their
    promises. And I had this conviction too. What a shame that we were mistaken
    in our beliefs and convictions!"
    >From his post far away to the south, by the Syrian border, a friend of
    Rauf's who was also a war hero wrote to his government with dismay: "It is
    my sincere and frank opinion that if we demobilize our troops and give in to
    everything the British want, without taking steps to end misunderstandings
    and false interpretations of the armistice, it will be impossible for us to
    put any sort of brake on Britain's covetous designs." Mustafa Kemal-better
    known today as Ataturk-dashed north to Constantinople and urged everyone he
    could see, from leading politicians to the sultan himself to establish a
    strong nationalist government to stand up to the foreigners. He found
    sympathy in many quarters, but the sultan, Mehmed VI, preferred to placate
    the Allies. In November 1918, Mehmed dissolved parliament and tried to
    govern through his own men.
    The great line of sultans that had produced Suleiman the Magnificent had
    dwindled to Mehmed VI. His main achievement was to have survived the rule of
    three brothers: one who was deposed when he went mad; his paranoid and cruel
    successor, so fearful of enemies that he employed a eunuch to take the first
    puff of every cigarette; and the timid old man who ruled until the summer of
    1918. Mehmed VI was sane but it was difficult to gauge whether there were
    many ideas in his bony head. He took over as sultan with deep misgivings. "I
    am at a loss," he told a religious leader. "Pray for me."
    The power of the throne, which had once made the world tremble, had slipped
    away. Orders from the government, reported the American representative,
    "often receive but scant consideration in the provinces and public safety is
    very poor throughout Asia Minor." Although Constantinople was not officially
    occupied at first, Allied soldiers and diplomats "were everywhere-advising
    and ordering and suggesting," Allied warships packed the harbor so tightly
    that they looked a solid mass. "I am ill," murmured the sultan, "I can't
    look out the window. I hate to see them." had a very different thought: "As
    they have come, so they shall go.
    Ataturk was a complicated, brave, determined and dangerous man whose
    picture, with its startling blue eyes, is still everywhere in Turkey today:
    In 1919 few foreigners had ever heard of him; four years later he had
    humbled Britain and France and brought into existence the new nation-state
    of Turkey. The tenth of November, the anniversary of his death, is a
    national day of remembrance. He could be ruthless, as both his friends and
    his enemies found; after his great victories, he tried some of his oldest
    associates, including Rauf for treason. He could also be charming, as the
    many women in his life discovered. Children loved him, and he loved them; he
    always said, however, that it was just as well he was childless since the
    sons of great men are usually degenerates. He had a rational and scientific
    mind, but in later life grew fascinated by the esoteric. He refused to allow
    Ankara radio to play traditional Turkish music; it was what he listened to
    with his friends. He wanted to emancipate Turkish women, yet when he
    divorced the only woman he ever married, he did so in the traditional Muslim
    way; He was a dictator who tried to order democracy into existence. In 1930
    he created an opposition party and chose its leaders; when it started to
    challenge him, he closed it down. He was capricious, but in his own way
    fair. His subordinates knew that any order he had given at night during one
    of his frequent drinking bouts should be ignored.
    The man who made Turkey was born on the fringes of the old Ottoman empire in
    the Macedonian seaport of Salonika. His mother was a peasant who could
    barely read and write, his father an unsuccessful merchant. Like the Ottoman
    empire itself Salonika contained many nationalities. Even the laborers on
    the docks spoke half a dozen languages. About half of Salonika's people were
    Jews; the rest ranged from Turks to Greeks, Armenians to Albanians. Western
    Europeans dominated the trade and commerce, just as European nations
    dominated the Ottoman empire.
    Early on Ataturk developed a contempt for religion that never left him.
    Islam-and its leaders and holy men-were "a poisonous dagger which is
    directed at the heart of my people." From the evening when, as a student, he
    saw sheikhs and dervishes whipping a crowd into a frenzy, he loathed what he
    saw as primitive fanaticism. "I flatly refuse to believe that today; in the
    luminous presence of science, knowledge, and civilization in all its
    aspects, there exist, in the civilized community of Turkey, men so primitive
    as to seek their material and moral well-being from the guidance of one or
    another sheikh."
    Over his mother's objections, he insisted on being educated in military
    schools. In those days these were not only training leaders of the future;
    they were centers of the growing nationalist and revolutionary sentiment.
    Ataturk's particular aptitudes were for mathematics and politics. He learned
    French so that he could read political philosophers such as Voltaire and
    Montesquieu. When he was nineteen, Ataturk won a place in the infantry
    college in Constantinople. He found a worldly, cosmopolitan capital. Less
    than half its population was Muslim. The rest were a mix of Sephardic Jews
    whose ancestors had escaped from Christian Spain centuries before, Polish
    patriots fleeing tsarist rule, and Orthodox Armenians, Rumanians, Albanians
    and Greeks. Despite four centuries of Ottoman rule, the Greeks still
    dominated commerce. (Even after the Second World War, over half the members
    of Istanbul's chamber of commerce had Greek names.) Europeans ran the most
    important industries, and Western lenders kept the government solvent and
    supervised its finances. The Ottomans were now so weak that they were forced
    to give Westerners even more of the special privileges, which first started
    in the sixteenth century capitulations, which included freedom from Turkish
    taxes and Turkish courts. As a Turkish journalist wrote sadly: "We have
    remained mere spectators while our commerce, our trades and even our
    broken-down huts have been given to the foreigners."
    The infantry college where Ataturk studied was on the north side of the
    Golden Horn, in the newer part of the city, with its wide streets, gas
    lighting, opera house, cafes, chamber of commerce, banks, shops with the
    latest European fashions, even brothels with pink satin sofas just like
    those in Paris. Ataturk explored it with enthusiasm, carousing and whoring
    and reading widely, but he always remained ambivalent about Constantinople.
    It was a place to be enjoyed but dangerous to governments. He later moved
    the capital far inland to the obscure city of Ankara.
    Like many young officers in the years before 1914, Ataturk dabbled in secret
    societies which swore to give the empire a modern constitution. He shared
    the hopes of the revolution of 1908, and the disappointments when it failed
    to make the empire stronger. In 1908 Austria annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina
    and Bulgaria declared its independence. In 1911 Italy, the weakest of the
    European powers, declared war and seized Libya. After the Balkan wars of
    1912 and 1913, Albania, Macedonia and part of Thrace, including Salonika,
    were gone. By 1914 the European part of the empire, which had once stretched
    into Hungary, was reduced to a small enclave in Thrace tucked under
    Bulgaria. In six years, 425,000 square miles had been lost.
    When the Great War started, Ataturk was enjoying life as a diplomat in
    Bulgaria. He went to his first opera in Sofia; fifteen years later, he put
    an opera house into the plans for his new capital of Ankara. He took up
    ballroom dancing; later, in his new republic, civil servants were made to
    dance at official balls because "that was how they do it in the West." At
    the beginning of 1915, he was offered command of a new division which was
    being thrown into the defense of the Gallipoli peninsula. Many Allied
    reputations were destroyed at Gallipoli; his was made. As the author of the
    official British history later wrote, "Seldom in history can the exertions
    of a single divisional commander have exercised, on three separate
    occasions, so profound an influence on the course of a battle, but perhaps
    on the fate of a campaign and even the destiny of a nation."
    The Constantinople Ataturk found at the end of the war was very different
    from the city he remembered. There was no coal and very little food. A Turk
    who was a boy at the time remembered his mother struggling to feed the
    family: "It seemed to us that we had lived forever on lentils and cabbage
    soup and the dry, black apology for bread." The government was bankrupt. On
    street corners distinguished officers sold lemons because their pensions
    were worthless. And more refugees were pouring in: Russians fleeing the
    civil war, Armenians searching desperately for safety, and Turks abandoning
    the Middle East and Europe. By the end of 1919 perhaps as many as 100,000
    were sleeping on the streets of the city. The only Turks who prospered were
    black marketeers and criminals. Crazy rumors swept through the city: one day
    crowds rushed to Santa Sophia because it was whispered that Christian bells
    were being hung again.
    Local Greeks, intoxicated by the hope of restored Hellenic rule, hung out
    the blue-and-white flag of Greece; a giant picture of Venizelos went up in
    one of the main squares. The Greek patriarch sent aggressive demands to
    Paris, denouncing the Turks and demanding that Constantinople be made Greek
    again. His office told Greek Christians to stop cooperating with the Turkish
    authorities. The Greeks were, said an English diplomat, "apt to be uppish."
    Some hotheads jostled Turks in the streets and made them take off their
    Allied officers and bureaucrats arrived in increasing numbers to supervise
    the armistice. "Life," recalled a young Englishman, "was gay and wicked and
    delightful. The cafes were full of drinking and dancing." In the nightclubs,
    White Russians sang melancholy songs and pretty young refugees sold
    themselves for the price of a meal. You could race motorboats across the Sea
    of Marmara, ride to hounds on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and pick up
    wonderful antiques for pennies. The Allies unofficially divided up
    Constantinople into spheres of influence and took over much of its
    administration; they ran the local police and set up their own courts. When
    the Turkish press was critical of their guests, the Allies took over press
    censorship as well. When Constantinople was officially occupied in March
    1920, it was hard to tell the difference.
    Outside the city, in Thrace and Asia Minor, Allied officers fanned out to
    monitor the surrender. The French occupied the important southern city of
    Alexandretta (today Iskenderun) and by early 1919 were moving inland. On the
    whole, the British were more popular; as one lady in the south commented,
    "Les anglais ont envoyes les fils de leurs 'Lords,' mais les francais ont
    envoyes leurs valets" ("The English sent the sons of their lords, but the
    French sent their valets"). The sultan's government, as weak and demoralized
    as its figurehead, did nothing, seeking only to placate the Allies. The
    Allies were not in a mood to be placated. Some, such as Curzon, who chaired
    the cabinet committee responsible for British policy in the East, thought
    the time had come to get rid of "this canker which has poisoned the life of
    Europe." Corruption, nameless vices and intrigue had spread out from
    Constantinople to infect the innocent Europeans. The Peace Conference was
    the chance to excise the source of such evil once and for all: "The presence
    of the Turks in Europe has been a source of unmitigated evil to everybody
    concerned. I am not aware of a single interest, Turkish or otherwise, that
    during nearly 500 years has benefited by that presence." Although as a
    student of history he should have known better, Curzon argued: "Indeed, the
    record is one of misrule, oppression, intrigue, and massacre, almost
    unparalleled in the history of the Eastern world." His prime minister shared
    his sentiments; like many Liberals, Lloyd George had inherited his hostility
    to the Turks from the great Gladstone.
    For Curzon the question was, What would replace the Ottoman empire? Britain
    still wanted to ensure that hostile warships did not use the straits. It
    still needed to protect the route to India through the Suez Canal. There was
    a new factor, too: the increasingly important supplies of oil from Mosul in
    the Ottoman empire and from Persia. Britain did not want to take on the
    whole responsibility itself and Greece certainly could not; on the other
    hand, it did not want another major power moving in, such as its ally
    France. After all, the two countries had fought for centuries, over Europe,
    North America, India, Africa and the Middle East. Their friendship, by
    comparison, was a recent affair. It had stood the test of the war but it was
    not clear that it would stand the test of peace. There had already been
    trouble over the Arab parts of the Ottoman empire. Did Britain really want
    French ships at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, French bases up and
    down the coast? Curzon was quite sure that it did not:
    A good deal of my public life has been spent in connection with the
    political ambitions of France, which I have come across in Tunis, in Siam,
    and in almost every distant region where the French have sway. We have been
    brought, for reasons of national safety, into an alliance with the French,
    which I hope will last, but their national character is different from ours,
    and their political interests collide with our own in many cases. I am
    seriously afraid that the great Power from whom we have most to fear is
    It would be a great mistake, he went on, to allow the French to acquire
    influence in the Middle East: "France is a highly organised State, has
    boundless intrepidity, imagination, and a certain power of dealing with
    Eastern peoples."
    The French did not trust the British any more than the British trusted them.
    And France had considerable interests in the Ottoman empire, from the
    protection of fellow Christians to the extensive French investments. For
    France, though, what happened to the Ottoman empire or in the Balkans was
    much less important than dealing with Germany. Clemenceau, whatever his
    colonial lobby thought, would compromise with Britain because he needed its
    support in Europe. While he did not want to see the Asian part of Turkey
    disappear completely, Clemenceau did not, at least initially, have strong
    views about Greek claims there. As far as Europe was concerned, he supported
    Greek claims to Thrace. If Greece blocked Italian claims, so much the better
    for France.
    During the war, Britain, France and Russia had held a number of discussions
    about the future of the Ottoman empire. In 1916, the British and French
    representatives, Sir Mark Sykes and Georges Picot, had agreed that their two
    countries would divide up the Arab-speaking areas and that, in the
    Turkish-speaking parts, France would have a zone extending north into
    Cilicia from Syria. The Russians, who had already extracted a promise that
    they would annex Constantinople and the straits, gave their approval on
    condition that they got the Turkish provinces adjacent to their borders in
    the Caucasus. The decision of the new Bolshevik government to make peace
    with the Central Powers effectively canceled that agreement. Britain and
    France were now left as the major powers in the Middle East, and as the war
    wound down, they circled suspiciously around each other.
    In the Supreme Council on October 30, Lloyd George and Clemenceau quarreled
    angrily over Britain's insistence on negotiating the Turkish truce on their
    own. "They bandied words like fish-wives," House re- ported. Lloyd George
    told Clemenceau:
    Except for Great Britain no one had contributed anything more than a handful
    of black troops to the expedition in Palestine, I was really surprised at
    the lack of generosity on the part of the French Government. The British had
    now some 500,000 men on Turkish soil. The British had captured three or four
    Turkish Armies and had incurred hundreds of thousands of casualties in the
    war with Turkey. The other Governments had only put in a few nigger
    policemen to see that we did not steal the Holy Sepulchre! When, however, it
    came to signing an armistice, all this fuss was made.
    It was an unfair argument; as Clemenceau pointed out on a later occasion,
    the British had sent correspondingly fewer troops to the Western Front.
    "My opinion was and remains that if the white troops which you sent over
    there had been thrown against the Germans, the war could have been ended
    some months earlier." The French nevertheless backed down on the armistice,
    as Pichon said, "in the spirit of conciliation which the French government
    always felt to apply in dealing with Britain." There was not to be much of
    that spirit when it came to dividing the spoils.
    The peacemakers did not get around to the Ottoman empire until January 30,
    1919, and then it was only in the course of that difficult discussion over
    mandates for the former German colonies. Lloyd George, who had spent the
    previous week bringing the Americans and his recalcitrant dominions to
    agreement, mentioned the Ottoman empire briefly as an example of where
    mandates were needed. Because the Turks had been so bad at governing their
    subject peoples, they should lose control of all their Arab
    territories-Syria, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Arabia itself. Since the Arabs
    were civilized but not yet organized, they would need outside guidance. The
    Ottomans also ought to lose territory on their northeast frontier. They had
    behaved appallingly to the Armenians, and clearly an Armenian state should
    come into existence, probably as a mandate of an outside power. There might
    have to be a Kurdistan, south of Armenia. That still left the predominantly
    Turkish-speaking territories, the slice in Europe, the straits and Anatolia
    in Asia Minor. Those, Lloyd George said airily, could be settled "on their
    merits." (He did not mention the parcels of land stretching inland from the
    coast of Asia Minor that had been promised to the French, the Italians or
    the Greeks.)
    The other important thing, Lloyd George argued, was to keep all the various
    groups within the empire from attacking each other. This was not a
    responsibility Britain wanted. As Lloyd George pointed out, the Allies had
    over a million troops scattered across the Ottoman empire and Britain was
    paying for the lot. "If they kept them there until they had made peace with
    Turkey, and until the League of Nations had been constituted and had started
    business and until it was able to dispose of this question, the expense
    would be something enormous, and they really could not face it." He had to
    answer to Parliament.
    Lloyd George hoped that Wilson would take the hint and offer the United
    States as the mandatory power at least for Armenia and the straits. Better
    still, the Americans might decide to run the whole of the Turkish areas.
    House certainly hinted at the possibility. However, the Americans had not
    really established a clear position on the Ottoman empire beyond an
    antipathy toward the Turks. American Protestant missionaries, who had been
    active in Ottoman Turkey since the 1820s, had painted a dismal picture of a
    bankrupt regime. Much of their work had been among the Armenians, so they
    had reported at first hand the massacres during the war. Back in the United
    States large sums of money had been raised for Armenian relief. House had
    cheerfully chatted with the British about ways of carving up the Ottoman
    empire, and Wilson had certainly considered its complete disappearance.
    The United States had never declared war on the Ottoman empire, which put it
    in a tricky position when it came to determining the empire's fate. The only
    one of Wilson's Fourteen Points that dealt with it was ambiguous: "The
    Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure
    sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule
    should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested
    opportunity of autonomous development." What were the Turkish portions? Who
    should have autonomous development? The Arabs? The Armenians? The Kurds? The
    scattered Greek communities?
    When the Inquiry, that collection of American experts, produced its
    memorandum in December 1918, it said both that Turkey proper (undefined)
    must be justly treated and that subject races must be freed from oppression
    and misrule, which in turn meant "autonomy" for Armenia and "protection" for
    the Arab parts. Oddly contradicting this, the official commentary on the
    Fourteen Points, which had come out in October 1918, talked about
    international control of Constantinople and the straits, perhaps a Greek
    mandate on the coast of Asia Minor, where it was incorrectly said that
    Greeks predominated, and possibly American mandates for Constantinople,
    Armenia, even Macedonia in the Balkans. Before the Peace Conference started,
    it was generally assumed that, at the very least, the United States would
    take a mandate for Armenia and the straits. Not everyone was pleased.
    British admirals, having got rid of the Russian menace, did not want to see
    a strong United States at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. The India
    Office was also concerned. Mehmed VI was not only the Ottoman sultan but
    also the caliph, the nearest thing to a spiritual leader of all Muslims.
    Turning him out of Constantinople, even putting him under the supervision of
    an outside power, might enrage Indian Muslims. Lloyd George simply ignored
    their objections.
    As so often, the Peace Conference delayed difficult decisions. At that
    January meeting, Wilson suggested that the military advisers look at how the
    burden of occupying the Turkish territories could best be shared out. "This
    would clarify the question," said Lloyd George. Of course, it did not. The
    report duly came in and was discussed briefly on February 10; it was put on
    the agenda for the following day but in the event the boundaries of Belgium
    proved to be much more interesting.
    On February 26, the appearance of an Armenian delegation before the Supreme
    Council briefly reminded the peacemakers that the Ottoman empire remained to
    be settled. Boghos Nubar Pasha was smooth, rich and cultivated; his father
    had been prime minister of Egypt. His partner, Avetis Aharonian, was a
    tough, cynical poet from the Caucasus. Boghos spoke for the Armenian
    diaspora, Aharonian for the homeland in the mountains where Russia, Persia
    and Turkey met. In what was by now a familiar pattern they appealed to
    history-the centuries that Armenians had lived there, the persistence of
    Armenian Christianity-to their services to the Allies (some Armenians had
    fought in Russia's armies) and to Allied promises. And, like other
    delegations, they staked out a claim for a huge area of land, stretching
    south and west from the Caucasus down to the Mediterranean. Less typically,
    they also asked for the protection of an outside power, a wise request for a
    country with such neighbors and such a past. They placed their hopes on the
    United States. "Scarcely a day passed," said an American expert, "that
    mournful Armenians, bearded and blackclad, did not besiege the American
    delegation or, less frequently, the President, setting forth the really
    terrible conditions in their own native land."
    The Armenians brought one of the saddest histories to the conference.
    Between 1375, when the last independent Armenian state was conquered, and
    the spring of 1918, when nationalist forces had proclaimed the republic of
    Armenia on what had been Russian territory, they had lived under alien rule.
    After the Russians had advanced down into the Caucasus at the start of the
    nineteenth century, the Armenian lands were divided up among Russia itself;
    Ottoman Turkey and Persia. The Armenians, many of them simple farmers, had
    become Russian, Turkish or Persian, but as ideas of nationalism and
    self-determination swept eastward, the vision of a reborn Armenian nation
    took shape. It was not a coherent vision- Christian, secular, conservative,
    radical, pro- Turkish or pro-Russian, there was no agreement as to what
    Armenia might be-but it was increasingly powerful. Unfortunately, however,
    Armenian nationalism was not the only nationalism growing in that part of
    the world. "Who remembers the Armenians today?" Hitler asked cynically. At
    the Paris Peace Conference, the horrors of what the Turks had done to the
    Armenians were still fresh, and the world had not yet grown used to attempts
    to exterminate peoples. The killings had started in the 1890s, when the old
    regime turned savagely on any groups that opposed it. Ottoman troops and
    local Kurds, themselves awakening as a nation, had rampaged through Armenian
    villages. The Young Turks, who took over the government in 1908, promised a
    new era with talk of a secular, multi-ethnic state, but they also dreamed of
    linking up with other Turkish peoples in central Asia. In that Pan- Turanian
    world, Armenians and other Christians had no place.
    When the Ottoman empire entered the war, Enver Pasha, one of the triumvirate
    of Young Turks who had ruled in Constantinople since 1913, sent the bulk of
    its armies eastward, against Russia. The result, in 1915, was disaster; the
    Russians destroyed a huge Ottoman force and looked set to advance into
    Anatolia just when the Allies were landing at Gallipoli in the west. The
    triumvirate gave the order to deport Armenians from eastern Anatolia on the
    grounds that they were traitors, potential or actual. Many Armenians were
    slaughtered before they could leave; others died of hunger and disease on
    the forced marches southward. Whether the Ottoman government's real goal was
    genocide is still much disputed; so is the number of dead, anywhere from
    300,000 to 1.5 million.
    Western opinion was appalled. In Britain, Armenia's cause attracted
    supporters from the duke of Argyll to the young Arnold Toynbee. British
    children were told to remember the starving Armenians when they failed to
    clean their plates. In the United States, huge sums of money were raised for
    relief. Clemenceau wrote the preface for a book detailing the atrocities:
    "Is it true that at the dawn of the twentieth century, five days from Paris,
    atrocities have been committed with impunity, covering a land with
    horror-such that one cannot imagine worse in time of the deepest barbarity?"
    The usually restrained Lansing wrote to Wilson, who was strongly
    pro-Armenian, "It is one of the blackest pages in the history of this war."
    "Say to the Armenians," exclaimed Orlando, "that I make their cause my
    cause." Lloyd George promised that Armenia would never be restored to "the
    blasting tyranny" of the Turks. "There was not a British statesman of any
    party," he wrote in his memoirs, "who did not have it in mind that if we
    succeeded in defeating this inhuman Empire, our essential condition of the
    peace we should impose was the redemption of the Armenian valleys for ever
    from the bloody misrule with which they had been stained by the infamies of
    the Turks."
    Fine sentiments-but they amounted to little in the end. At the Peace
    Conference, even heartfelt agreement on principle faltered in the face of
    other considerations. Armenia was far away; it was surrounded by enemies and
    the Allies had few forces in the area. Moving troops and aid in, at a time
    when resources were stretched thin, was a major undertaking; what railways
    there were had been badly damaged and the roads were primitive. Help was far
    away, but Armenia's enemies were close at hand. Russians, whether the armies
    of the Whites or the Bolsheviks, who were advancing southward, would not
    tolerate Armenia or any other independent state in the Caucasus. On
    Armenia's other flank, Turks deeply resented the loss of Turkish territory,
    and the further losses implied in the Armenian claims.
    In Paris, Armenia's friends were lukewarm and hesitant. The British, it is
    true, saw certain advantages for themselves in taking a mandate for Armenia:
    the protection of oil supplies coming from Baku on the Caspian to the port
    of Batum on the Black Sea, and the creation of a barrier between Bolshevism
    and the British possessions in the Middle East. (In their worst nightmares,
    the British imagined Bolshevism linking up with a resurgent Islam and
    toppling the British empire.) On the other hand, as the War Office kept
    repeating, British resources were already overstretched. The French Foreign
    Office, for its part, toyed with ideas of a huge Armenia under French
    protection which would provide a field for French investment and the spread
    of French culture. Clemenceau, however, had little enthusiasm for the
    notion. The Italians, like the French, preferred to concentrate their
    efforts on gains on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey and in Europe. That
    left the Americans.
    On March 7, House assured Lloyd George and Clemenceau that the United States
    would undoubtedly take on a mandate. Lloyd George was delighted at the
    prospect of the Americans taking on the "noble duty," and relieved that the
    French were not taking on a mandate. House, as he often did, was
    exaggerating. Wilson had warned the Supreme Council that "he could think of
    nothing the people of the United States would be less inclined to accept
    than military responsibility in Asia." It is perhaps a measure of how far
    Wilson's judgment had deteriorated that, on May 14, when Armenia came up at
    the Council of Four, he agreed to accept a mandate, subject, he added, to
    the consent of the American Senate. This ruffled the French because the
    proposed American mandate was to stretch from the Black Sea to the
    Mediterranean, taking in the zone in Cilicia promised to France under the
    Sykes-Picot Agreement. While Clemenceau, who took little interest in the
    Turkish-speaking territories, did not raise an objection, his colleagues
    were furious. From London, Paul Cambon complained: "They must be drunk the
    way they are surrendering. .. a total capitulation, a mess, an unimaginable
    shambles." Although no one suspected it at the time, no arrangement made in
    Paris was going to make the slightest difference to Armenia.
    Many other schemes for the Ottoman empire were floating around the
    conference rooms and dinner tables in Paris that spring. "Let it be a manda
    [buffalo] ," said one wit in Constantinople, "let it be an ox, let it be any
    animal whatsoever; only let it come quickly." If all the claims,
    protectorates, independent states and mandates that were discussed actually
    had come into existence, a very odd little Turkey in the interior of
    Anatolia would have been left, with no straits, no Mediterranean coast, a
    truncated Black Sea coast, and no Armenian or Kurdish territories in the
    northeast. What was left out of the calculation in Paris, among other
    things, was the inability of the powers to enforce their will. Henry Wilson,
    chief of the British Imperial General Staff: thought the politicians
    completely unrealistic: "They seem to think that their writ runs in Turkey
    in Asia. We have never, even after the armistice, attempted to get into the
    background parts." Also overlooked were the Turks themselves. Almost
    everyone in Paris assumed that they would simply do as they were told. When
    Edwin Montagu, the British secretary of state for India, cried, "Let us not
    for Heaven's sake, tell the Moslem what he ought to think, let us recognize
    what they do think, " Balfour replied with chilling detachment, "I am quite
    unable to see why Heaven or any other Power should object to our telling the
    Moslem what he ought to think." That went for the Arab subjects of the
    Ottoman empire as well.