The concluding article, printed below, gives Dr. Lepsius’s views as to the effects of the persecutions on Turkey’s economic status.
By Eugene S. Bagger
“Turkey must be an essentially Moslem country. Moslem ideas and Moslem influence must predominate. All other religious propaganda must be suppressed. The existence of the Empire depends on the strength of the Young Turk party and on the suppression of all antagonistic ideas.”
The above passage is quoted by Dr. Lepsius from a resolution adopted in 1911 by the convention of the Young Turk party at Salonica. It contains, according to the German writer, the ideological background of the policy which culminated in the extermination of the Armenian people.
“The programme of the (Young Turk) government was determined by two leading considerations,” Dr. Lepsius says in another place. “First, the centralistic idea, which postulated for the Turkish race not merely hegemony (Vorherrschaft) but exclusive mastery (Alleinherrschaft) in the Empire, was to be executed in all its implications. Second, the Empire was to be built upon purely Islamistic basis. Turkish nationalism and the Pan-Islamistic idea excluded in advance the enfranchisement of the different nationalities and denominations of the Empire.”
“A Turkish Cabinet minister is reported to have said in the course of the war: ‘By the end of the war there will be no Christians left in Constantinople.’ ... An under-secretary of the Department of Justice said to an Armenian: ‘There is no room both for you and for ourselves in the empire, and a failure on our part to take advantage of the present situation and get rid of you would be irresponsible levity.’ Members of the Young Turk committees said quite openly that all ‘strangers had to vanish from the empire - first the Armenians, then the Greeks, then the Jews and finally the Europeans.’
“A Turkish Cabinet minister boasted that he could accomplish in three weeks that which Abdul Hamid had been unable to get across in thirty years,” to wit the extermination of the Armenians. “The argument that with the few guilty ones an immense number of innocent were to suffer was met by a Turkish army officer with the following remark: ‘The same question was put by some one to our Prophet Mahomet - God’s peace be with him - and he answered: “If a flea bites you would you not kill all fleas”? ’ ”
The author does not hesitate to proclaim his conviction that by uprooting the most progressive and best gifted element of the population the Turkish government pushed the empire to the verge of economic ruin. He says:
“The annihilation of the Armenian people means not merely the extinction of 10 to 25 per cent of the population in Anatolia, but, what weighs more heavily, the elimination of the culturally most valuable and economically most developed element of the population.”
Dr. Lepsius defends the Armenians against certain slanderous allegations as to their honesty and trustworthiness which were circulated in the German Press by way of expiating the Turkish attitude.
“As the entire export and import trade is divided between Greeks, Armenians and Jews, and as the Turk himself never rises above the stage of retail trade and remains, on the whole and apart from the bureaucratic caste, in the peasant class, the aversion of Turks to Armenians, Greeks and Jews, inasmuch as not of a religious character, must be considered as the outcome of a natural antagonism between natural and money economy, between primitive agrarian culture and incipient industrialization. ...
“Those German correspondents who constantly refer to the Armenians as crooks and exploiters (these are the same gentlemen whose vocabulary for describing Serbians was limited to the epithet ‘cattle thieves’) evince thereby only their own ignorance and lack of culture. Eighty per cent of the Armenian population of Turkey consisted of peasants; the number of city dwellers was about equally divided between commerce on the one hand and the liberal professions and various handicrafts on the other. ...
“Neither is religion an adequate explanation of Turkish inferiority in the mercantile field. In competition with Armenians and Greeks, Persians and Arabs (Moslems themselves) always hold their own, inasmuch as they are not handicapped by ignorance of language.” ...
German’s trade relations with the Armenian, Greek and Jewish firms in the Turkish empire were based on a system of long-term credits, Dr. Lepsius explains. This is in contrast to the English custom of granting credits for very short term only. “In spite of the fact”, he writes, “that these Armenian, Greek and Jewish firms have to sell on the basis of six or nine months’ credit and are seldom if ever able to collect within a year, with insignificant exceptions they have always lived up to their obligations to German creditors. The credit system underlying this import trade results in the fact that all the time the Turkish retailer and consumer owe considerable sums to the importers, so that the Armenians, Greeks and Jews are always creditors and the Turks always debtors. This inevitable relationship is felt by the Turk (who is apt to forget that he has received goods for the money he owes) as a state of dependence, and leads him to the notion that the annihilation of the Christian and Jewish commerce would rid him of his indebtedness and leave him better off financially.
“However, it is not only the Armenian merchant, who simply disappears from the scene, that is hit by the consequences of a policy which encourages this delusion, but also the German and Austrian exporters and the banks interested in export trade. I have before me the customers’ list of a single importer in Constantinopel who gets his supplies principally from Germany and Austria. The outstanding claims of the firm amount at present at 13922 Turkish pounds (about $ 56000), owed by 378 clients in forty-two cities of the interior. These claims are now, owing to the deportation of Armenians, uncollectible. The 378 customers, plus their employes, stores and property, have simply disappeared off the face of the world. Those who survive are at present beggars somewhere on the edge of the Arabian desert.”
According to Dr. Lepsius, it is chiefly the import trade of Turkey that is concentrated in the hands of Armenians, while the exports are mainly controlled by Greeks. He estimated that at least 60 per cent of the entire import trade, 40 per cent of the exports and at least 80 per cent of the trade in the interior was held by Armenians.
The significance of the Armenian importing firms becomes evident only if we consider that before the war Turkey had practically not a single manufacturing establishment, and every description of goods and articles of consumption had to be imported from Europe. “Look her,” a Turk said to Dr. Lepsius, “every thing I wear except my beard comes from Frenghistan (Europe). But for these Frenghi (Europeans) we should be obliged to go about naked like our ancestors Adam and Eve.
“From the entire Armenian commerce of Turkey all that survived is a few firms in Constantinople and Smyrna, as these cities have, on the whole, been spared from deportations. All the trade in the interior, with its stocks of wares and accumulated values and, what is worse, with all the values of creative energy, has been annihilated.
“It is a doubtful gain if the entire property of the Armenian populace in the interior (houses, real estate, stocks of wares, furnishings, foodstuffs down to clothing and shoes, all except the belongings of Armenians forcibly converted to Islam) is expropriated by the Turkish government and distributed at low prices or free of charge among the Turkish and Kurdish population. No blessing can attach to this mass plunder which is without a parallel in history and which was thinkable only under a Turkish régime.
“A person does not become a business man by slaying one. Nobody learns a trade by destroying its tools. A thinly populated country will not be rendered more productive by the extermination of its most industrious habitants ...”
“The economic damage, which is by no means limited to the immediate losses, huge as they are, but which will be revealed to its full extent only later, will have to be borne by Germany and Austria in the first place.”
And here, inadvertently, it would seem, Dr. Lepsius makes an important admission. The world had occasion to listen to tales of the enthusiasm with which the entire Turkish people went into the “holy war” against the infidels. The war, it was said, was hailed by the Turkish masses as the greatest opportunity of Moslem revival, as the new dawn of Ottoman strength and grandeur. In a word, the Turkish, or rather the German, press represented the war, from the Turkish point of view, as the Osmanli equivalent of “Der Tag.”
Maybe this was the view taken of the struggle by the Young Turk intellectuals of Constantinopel. It was not the view taken by the Turkish masses, if Dr. Lepsius is right. Note his version:
“Perhaps the popularity of an unpopular war was enhanced in the eyes of the Turkish mob by the chance to rob and annihilate the non-Mahometan populace, first of all the Armenians, then Syrians, Greeks, Maronites and Jews. Thoughtful Mahometans, however, will, in view of the losses suffered by this country, most sincerely deplore the economic ruin of Turkey and will reach the verdict that the Turkish government has lost immensely more through the domestic warfare than it could ever hope to gain by a victory abroad.”
In regard to the question of enlightening the German public about the Armenian horrors, Dr. Lepsius does not attempt to conceal the fact that the German press hoodwinked its own readers by limiting itself to the publication of mendacious Turkish official bulletins. On the other hand, he points out that this was due mainly to the rigid censorship exercised by the German government. By defending the German newspaper press Dr. Lepsius thus indicts the German government. The following passage is highly illuminating:
“In Germany, also, when the unjustified excitement over the American reports had calmed down - these reports were, in the meantime, fully confirmed through German sources - the facts began to be circulated in secret. The better class press, which even during the war remained conscious of its responsibility toward its public, preferred, with few exceptions, to keep silent altogether on the Armenian question, as the censorship could not permit, out of regard for Turkey, the public discussion of the situation.”
However, Dr. Lepsius is unable to deny that the Turkish presentation of the events found ready credence in the German press: “Naturally, the German press was glad to take cognizance of these assurances of an allied government and treated them with due (!) confidence.”
The result was, according to the German writer, that when the first American reports were published, in August and September, 1915, the German newspapers refused to credit them and charged American bluff. Some even insisted on branding the American reports as “products of the English lie factory.” Dr. Lepsius remarks: “Had the reports been known in full, such accusations would have been omitted. The English reports confined themselves exclusively to the reproduction of American sources.” He continues: “The American reports were published by a committee composed of men who inspired the greatest confidence even in Germany. The reports contain nothing but communications from eyewitnesses, chiefly consuls and missionaries, and are limited to statements of fact, without going into a discussion of the political side of the matter.”