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Source: DK/RA-UM/Gruppeordnede sager 1909-1945. 139. D. 1, ”Tyrkiet - Indre Forhold”. Pakke 2, fra Jan. 1917 – 1. Jan. 1919
Edition: Danish diplomatic sources
Departure of telegram: 02/16/1917
Arrival of telegram: 03/02/1917
Embassy/consular serial number: No. 35
Translated by: Matthias Bjørnlund
Last updated: 04/01/2012

The minister in Constantinople (Carl Ellis Wandel) to the Foreign Minister (Erik Scavenius)


No. 35
Constantinople, 16 February 1917.

Mr. Foreign Minister,

In ”Berlingske Tidende” [leading Danish conservative daily newspaper] of January 30th there is an interview with the Turkish governor-general Mazhar Bey from Syria, who counters some of the points raised in the account by the returned missionary H. J. Mygind on the conditions in Asia Minor and Syria, and in said paper’s edition of February 1st, the Rev. Mygind retorts against the statements given in the interview.

The Rev. Mygind denies the right of Mazhar Bey to call himself ”governor-general.” This is, however, the official French translation of ”Vali,” whereas ”governor” denotes a ”Mutessarif.”

But the core of the discussion is whether or not it can be said that there is a famine in Turkey. Mazhar Bey uses the normal procedure in Turkish politics, namely to emphasize the surface in order to deceive people who are not familiar with the state of things in Turkey.

He says that that the government, by implementing ”Vecikas,” distributes bread at the price of only 2 Piastres pr. Ok, and this is seemingly the case, since the government in fact distributes bread at the price of 2 Piastres pr. kilo (not pr. Ok), but, it must be added, only in a quantity of 167 grammes a day pr. person, and in a very poor quality. The soldiers, however, receive 1 kilo bread a day pr. person, and this must be considered the normal quantity since the vast majority of the population, considering the high prices of the other foodstuffs, almost exclusively have to live off dry bread. They therefore have to acquire 5/6 of the bread in another way (without Vecika), but in this case the price is at the moment 15 Piastre pr. kilo in Constantinople, while it cost 1 Piaster before the war; and the white, nutritious bread costs 30 Piastres at the moment. But since Constantinople has always been favoured by the governments, and the price of bread here has gone up at least 2000%, this increase has for sure been far larger in the provinces and strongly indicates that the poor population is famine-stricken, and in this connection I can draw the attention to what I had the honor to mention in my report No. XXIII [23] of the 30th of last month: that the Grand Rabbi [Haim Nahum Effendi] has stated to me that no less than approximately 50 persons die of famine and the effects of famine each day in this city.

The other food article mentioned by Mazhar Bey is meat. It does not cost, as he says, 15-17 Piastres, but 28-30 Piastres, while it cost 10-12 Piastres before the war; but this is the only article where the increase in price has been comparatively small.

Mazhar Bey then denies that these increases in price have been created artificially. Turkey is, though, primarily an agrarian country and would probably be self-supporting regarding foodstuffs had the authorities not monopolized transportation to the large centres. Travellers from central parts of the Empire do in fact confirm that large quantities of olives lie around rotting at various places, while the price of this commodity has increased four fold in Constantinople, where it is very important for the poor. Many similar examples could be mentioned.

But there is yet another political measure which has contributed a lot, and will eventually contribute even more, to the rising prices of foodstuffs.

The revolutions in Turkey have always been organized by the army, since only the officers have been able to institute coups d’etat; and the Young Turk government knows very well that its position would become precarious if the officers became dissatisfied. Therefore it does everything in its power to make sure that the officers feel the unpleasenties of war – outside the scene of war – as little as possible. For them there is a special rate with prices that are even lower than before the war; every second lieutenant, for instance, receives 2 kilos of bread a day to a price of 2 Piastres per kilo, 15 kilos of meat per month for 4 Piastres per kilo, 8 kilos of rice per month for 3 ½ Piastres per kilo – this last item normally costs 35 Piastres per kilo – and so on; and these rations (at the same prices) increases with the rank of the officer in question, and it makes no difference whether the officer is married or unmarried. That this is inexpedient, due to the fact that many officers are capable of and in fact do trade their rations, is not being taken into consideration by the government as long as it reaches it goal, to satisfy the officers.

At the same time the civilian population has to pay up to 20 times the usual price, and the longer the war lasts, the worse it will naturally become.

Mazhar Bey has also mentioned the Armenian question and explained it as a necessary precaution, but to this the Rev. Mygind aptly remarks:

”But w h e r e are the Armenians?”

With the highest esteem I remain, Mr. Minister, yours faithfully


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