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The Splendid Blond Beast (Excerpt, pp 32–37)

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Impor­tant­ly, Britain, France, and the Unit­ed States were at that time vying with one anoth­er to divide up the vast oil and min­er­al wealth of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire. Kemal skill­ful­ly played the three pow­ers against each oth­er and insist­ed on amnesty for the Itti­hadists as part of the price for his sup­port in the divi­sion of the defunct empire.12

Though often over­looked today, the Ottoman hold­ings were of extra­or­di­nary val­ue, per­haps the rich­est impe­r­i­al trea­sure since the Euro­pean seizure of the New World four cen­turies ear­li­er. The empire had been erod­ing for decades, but by the time of the Turk­ish defeat in World War I, it still includ­ed most of what is today Turkey, Iraq, Sau­di Ara­bia, Syr­ia, Lebanon, Israel, Jor­dan, and the oil sheik­doms of the Per­sian Gulf. The Euro­pean gov­ern­ments sensed that the time had come to seize this rich prize.

The British had been the dom­i­nant for­eign pow­er in the Mid­dle East pri­or to World War I. Their Anglo-Per­sian Oil Com­pa­ny (lat­er known as British Petro­le­um, or BP) and the Turk­ish Petro­le­um Com­pa­ny effec­tive­ly con­trolled most of the oil reserves in the region. But the French acquired an impor­tant man­date in the area dur­ing the war, and by 1919 they were seek­ing sub­stan­tial con­ces­sions from the British. Both coun­tries pre­ferred to keep the U.S.-backed Stan­dard Oil Com­pa­ny of New Jer­sey (today known as Exxon) out of the area.13 The U.S. gov­ern­ment mean­while opposed many aspects of the Euro­pean colo­nial rule in the Mid­dle East, pre­fer­ring instead what it termed “open-door” policies—those that facil­i­tat­ed U.S. pen­e­tra­tion of new mar­kets and acqui­si­tion of new sources of sup­ply.

Senior offi­cials of all three West­ern pow­ers became pre­oc­cu­pied with oil pol­i­tics in the Mid­dle East. It even led to an awk­ward new term, “oleagi­nous diplo­ma­cy,” that was used for years to refer to gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives on behalf of oil com­pa­nies. “Oil,” said French Pre­mier Georges Clemenceau, “is as nec­es­sary as blood.“14

For a short time after the war, the three allies pressed the new Turk­ish gov­ern­ment on two fronts: First, they sup­port­ed tough pun­ish­ment for Itti­hadist crim­i­nals, pay­ment of dam­ages to Arme­ni­ans and Greeks for the lives and prop­er­ty lost dur­ing the mas­sacres, estab­lish­ment of an inde­pen­dent Armen­ian repub­lic in north­east­ern Turkey, and trans­fer to Greece of the port city of Smyr­na. Sec­ond, they demand­ed that the Turks sur­ren­der all claims to the resources of the for­mer Ottoman ter­ri­to­ries out­side of Turkey prop­er, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Mosul oil­fields in what is today north­ern Iraq. Although many Turks saw these terms as humil­i­at­ing­ly oner­ous, the first post­war Turk­ish gov­ern­ment agreed to them in the Treaty of Sèvres, signed in August 1920. That agree­ment was hailed at the time as the for­mal con­clu­sion of World War I.15

But the Asso­ci­at­ed Pow­ers could not agree among them­selves on the terms of the divi­sion of the Mosul oil­fields, and new fight­ing broke out between the Armen­ian nation­al­ists, who sought to estab­lish the repub­lic they believed they had been guar­an­teed at Sevres, and the Turk­ish Kemal­ists, who still regard­ed Arme­nia as a part of Turkey. Kemal’s embrace of the Itti­hadists con­tributed to an esca­lat­ing cycle of revenge killings and renewed mas­sacres in Turkey.

By the end of 1920, the Kemal­ists were clear­ly in the ascen­dance, hav­ing estab­lished a rival gov­ern­ment at Ankara, in the cen­ter of the coun­try. The increas­ing­ly shaky Turk­ish gov­ern­ment at Istan­bul, under intense Kemal­ist pres­sure to abro­gate the Treaty of Sevres, abrupt­ly shut down the crim­i­nal tri­als of Itti­hadists. The West­ern allies then stepped up their jock­ey­ing for influ­ence in the Kemal­ist camp.

The U.S. High Com­mis­sion­er to Turkey was Admi­ral Mark L. Bris­tol, a man with a rep­u­ta­tion as a big­ot and a deter­mined advo­cate of U.S. alliance with Mustafa Kemal. “The Arme­ni­ans,” Bris­tol wrote, “are a race like the Jews—they have lit­tle or no nation­al spir­it and poor moral character.“16 It was bet­ter for the Unit­ed States, he con­tend­ed, to jet­ti­son sup­port for the Armen­ian repub­lic as soon as pos­si­ble, sta­bi­lize U.S. rela­tions with the emerg­ing Turk­ish gov­ern­ment, and to enlist Kemal’s sup­port in gain­ing access to the oil­fields of the for­mer Ottoman Empire. Bris­tol’s argu­ment found a recep­tive audi­ence in the new Hard­ing admin­is­tra­tion in Wash­ing­ton, whose affin­i­ty for oil inter­ests even­tu­al­ly blos­somed into the famous Teapot Dome bribery scandal.17

As High Com­mis­sion­er to Turkey, Bris­tol had con­sid­er­ably more pow­er than might be enjoyed by any con­ven­tion­al ambas­sador. As the civ­il war unfold­ed inside Turkey, Bris­tol barred news­pa­per reporters from access to areas where renewed mas­sacres of Arme­ni­ans were tak­ing place, pur­port­ed­ly to avoid incit­ing fur­ther atroc­i­ties against civil­ians.

His cor­re­spon­dent at the State Depart­ment in Wash­ing­ton was Allen Dulles. After the Paris con­fer­ence, Dulles had served briefly as chief of staff to Bris­tol, then moved on to Wash­ing­ton to become chief of the State Depart­men­t’s Near East desk just as “oleagi­nous diplo­ma­cy” was reach­ing its hey­day.

Dulles sup­port­ed Bris­tol’s ini­tia­tives. “Con­fi­den­tial­ly the State Depart­ment is in a bind. Our task would be sim­ple if the reports of the atroc­i­ties could be declared untrue or even exag­ger­at­ed but the evi­dence, alas, is irrefutable,” Dulles wrote in reply to Bris­tol’s requests for State Depart­ment inter­ven­tion with U.S. pub­lish­ers to shift the tone of news reports still drib­bling out of Turkey and Arme­nia. “[Tlhe Sec­re­tary of State wants to avoid giv­ing the impres­sion that while the Unit­ed States is will­ing to inter­vene active­ly to pro­tect its com­mer­cial inter­ests, it is not will­ing to move on behalf of the Chris­t­ian minori­ties.” Dulles went on to com­plain about the agi­ta­tion in the U.S. on behalf of Arme­ni­ans, Greeks, and Pales­tin­ian Jews. “I’ve been kept busy try­ing to ward off con­gres­sion­al res­o­lu­tions of sym­pa­thy for these groups.“18

The change in the U.S. gov­ern­men­t’s response to the Armen­ian mas­sacres presents an acute exam­ple of the con­flicts that often shape U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy. From 1914 to 1919, the U.S. gov­ern­ment and pub­lic opin­ion sharply con­demned the Turk­ish mas­sacres. Ambas­sador Hen­ry Mor­gen­thau repeat­ed­ly inter­vened with the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment to protest the killings, raised funds for refugee relief, and mobi­lized oppo­si­tion to the geno­cide. A close review of the declas­si­fied State Depart­ment archives of the peri­od shows that much of the gov­ern­men­t’s inter­nal report­ing on Turkey was strong­ly sym­pa­thet­ic to the Arme­ni­ans through­out the war and the first months after the war.19

The West­ern press, too, was over­whelm­ing­ly favor­able to the Arme­ni­ans and hos­tile to the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment. One recent study by Mar­jorie House­pi­an Dobkin found that between April and Decem­ber of 1915, the New York Times pub­lished more than 100 arti­cles con­cern­ing the mas­sacres when the killings were at their height. All of the Times cov­er­age was sym­pa­thet­ic to the Arme­ni­ans, and most of the news sto­ries appeared on the front page or the first three pages of the news­pa­per. A rough­ly sim­i­lar pat­tern can be found in pub­li­ca­tions such as the New York Her­ald Tri­bune, Boston Her­ald, and Atlantic Month­ly and in the jour­nals of var­i­ous Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ary so~ieties.~~ The vol­ume of news cov­er­age rose and fell with events over the next five years, but on the whole it remained strong­ly sym­pa­thet­ic to the Armenians.21

Yet a remark­able shift in U.S. media con­tent and gov­ern­ment behav­ior took place as the new Hard­ing admin­is­tra­tion estab­lished itself in 1921. “Those who under­es­ti­mate the pow­er of com­merce in the his­to­ry of the Mid­dle East can­not hav
e stud­ied the post­war sit­u­a­tion in Turkey between 1918 and 1923,” Dobkin writes. “There were, of course, oth­er polit­i­cal fac­tors that proved dis­as­trous for the Arme­ni­ans . . . but the sys­tem­at­ic effort (chiefly by the Hard­ing admin­is­tra­tion) to turn U.S. pub­lic opin­ion towards Turkey was pure­ly and sim­ply moti­vat­ed by the desire to beat the [rival Asso­ci­at­ed] Pow­ers to what were thought of as the vast, untapped resources of that coun­try, and chiefly the oil.“22

“It was not pos­si­ble to bring about the desired change in pub­lic opin­ion with­out den­i­grat­ing what the Arme­ni­ans had suf­fered,” she con­tin­ues. Retired U.S. Admi­ral William Col­by Chester joined Admi­ral Mark Bris­tol as a lead­ing pub­lic spokesman for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Turkey. Chester was not a dis­in­ter­est­ed par­ty. The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment had grant­ed him an oil con­ces­sion in Iraq that was poten­tial­ly worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars. Writ­ing in the influ­en­tial jour­nal Cur­rent His­to­ry, Chester con­tend­ed that the Arme­ni­ans had been deport­ed not to deserts, but to “the most delight­ful and fer­tile parts of Syr­ia . . . at great expense of mon­ey and effortu‑a claim that went well beyond even what the Kemal gov­ern­ment was will­ing to arg~e.2~ Dobkin reports that mis­sion­ary lead­ers such as Cleve­land Dodge and George Plimp­ton, who had once been instru­men­tal in doc­u­ment­ing the geno­cide, began to lend their names to pub­lic­i­ty insist­ing that the report­ed Turk­ish excess­es had been “great­ly exaggerated.“24

By mid-1923, the com­plex and inter­lock­ing chal­lenges cre­at­ed by the demands for jus­tice in the wake of the Armen­ian Geno­cide, on the one hand, and U.S. polit­i­cal and com­mer­cial inter­ests in Turkey, on the oth­er, had been set­tled in favor of a de fac­to U.S. alliance with the new Kemal­ist gov­ern­ment. The day-to-day details of the U.S. diplo­mat­ic shift in favor of Kemal were han­dled by Ambas­sador Joseph Grew (who will reap­pear lat­er in this nar­ra­tive as act­ing sec­re­tary of state dur­ing a piv­otal moment in World War 11) and the chief of the Near East desk at State, Allen Dulles. The U.S., which had been the prin­ci­pal inter­na­tion­al sup­port­er of the nascent Armen­ian Repub­lic, with­drew its promis­es of aid and pro­tec­tion. Mustafa Kemal soon suc­ceed­ed through force of arms in sup­press­ing Arme­nia and in estab­lish­ing a new Turk­ish gov­ern­ment at Ankara. In July 1923, the Turks and the Euro­pean allies signed a new agree­ment, replac­ing the abort­ed Treaty of Shvres with the Treaty of La~sanne.25 West­ern gov­ern­ments agreed to new Turk­ish bor­ders, offi­cial­ly rec­og­nized Kemal’s gov­ern­ment, aban­doned any claim on behalf of an Armen­ian repub­lic, and specif­i­cal­ly agreed to an amnesty for all Itti­hadists who had been con­vict­ed in the ear­li­er trials.26

As things turned out, many of the top Itti­hadists who fled Turkey in 1918 were assas­si­nat­ed by Armen­ian com­man­dos. Talaat, the min­is­ter of inter­nal affairs and grand vizier of the Itti­had state, was shot in Berlin on March 15,1921. Behaed­din Sakir (Chakir), a senior mem­ber of the “Com­mis­sion of Sup­ply,” which had coor­di­nat­ed much of the exter­mi­na­tion cam­paign, and Dje­mal Army, mil­i­tary gov­er­nor dur­ing the height of the killings in Tre­bi­zond, were killed in Berlin on April 17,1922. Enver, the for­mer min­is­ter of war, is said to have been killed by the Sovi­et army in Bukhara in 1922, though many of the details of his death remain uncer­tain. Dje­mal, who with Talaat and Enver had con­sti­tut­ed the rul­ing tri­umvi­rate of the Itti­had state, was gunned down in July 1922 in Tiflis. He was on his way to a trade con­fer­ence in Berlin, where he was to buy weapons for the Afghan army.27

Arme­ni­ans lost a great deal under the terms of the Lau­sanne treaty while West­ern com­mer­cial inter­ests pros­pered. The new Turk­ish leader Kemal agreed to relin­quish all claims on the ter­ri­to­ries of the old Ottoman Empire out­side Turk­ish bor­ders, thus for­mal­ly open­ing the door to the Anglo-Amer­i­can con­trol of Mid­dle East oil that was to con­tin­ue with min­i­mal change for the next fifty years. This was not a sim­ple quid pro quo, of course. The agree­ment also involved oth­er impor­tant ele­ments, notably a set­tle­ment of most repa­ra­tion claims against Turkey and an agree­ment between Greece and Turkey to repa­tri­ate thou­sands of eth­nic Greeks and Turks to their respec­tive coun­tries of ori­gin. There were to be sev­er­al more years of squab­bles before the U.S.-European dis­putes over the Mosul oil­fields were final­ly set­tled.

The point was nonethe­less clear. West­ern gov­ern­ments had dis­card­ed wartime promis­es of action against the Itti­hadists who had mur­dered about a mil­lion peo­ple in order to help their polit­i­cal maneu­ver­ing over oil con­ces­sions in the Mid­dle East. The dom­i­nant fac­tion in Turk­ish soci­ety nev­er accept­ed Armen­ian claims as legit­i­mate, despite the strong evi­dence of geno­cide estab­lished by Turkey’s own courts. In fact, the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment even today con­tin­ues to refuse to acknowl­edge Jtti­hadist respon­si­bil­i­ty for the Armen­ian mas­sacres, and has instead in recent years financed a large and sophis­ti­cat­ed pub­lic­i­ty cam­paign aimed at rewrit­ing the his­to­ry of the war years.28

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