Pera, February 24, 1913
The nationality question in the Balkans has only just been decided to Turkey's disadvantage when a new and no less grave danger to the empire's Asian property arises due to the Armenian question's becoming urgent. Although, unlike the southern Slavs and the Greeks, the Armenians cannot rely on the help of their own national, independent state for their special efforts, they have found in neighbouring Russia an ally, which is just as active and single-minded.
The motives which led to the association of two such heterogeneous elements are, of course, quite clear, at least as far as Russia is concerned. The Armenians spread out all over Asia Minor and northern Persia who, for religious and ethnographical reasons, are in a natural contrast to their Mohammedan masters, are the obvious element for building up a tightly meshed, political propaganda in the Near East. At that moment when the liquidation of the Asian part of Turkey came within reach it had to be of the greatest value to have such an instrument of agitation available for use. This is why the system of Russification, carried out since 1878, has lately no longer been followed, and the Armenian people, previously suppressed, are now being pampered.
The Russians certainly have enough organs with which to establish relations. The mere fact that the head of the Orthodox (Schismatic) Armenian Church has his seat in Etchmiadzin on Russian territory allows several threads to have been spun back and forth. But Russia also has no less than 15 consulates and consular facilities in Anatolia and north-western Persia. This means that there are just as many Russian propaganda centres from which the idea is to be suggested to the Armenians, both with money and sweet talk, that under the sceptre of the Tsar the members of their tribe would enjoy a constitutional state in which law and order prevailed and, thus, the admission of the entire Armenian nation to the Russian association of subjects was a goal worth striving for. According to information from a fairly trustworthy Armenian source, Russia has spent no less than 2½ million roubles on propaganda in East Anatolia alone. The entire Armenian population there is supposedly fitted out with modern weapons and prepared to launch an attack against the Turks at any time on a sign from Russia. If one recalls the difficulties encountered by the Turkish government in defeating the Armenian gangs who came over from Russia in the year 1904, one can appreciate the threatening danger to the empire's property here.
The Armenians know very well what motives are behind the attention shown to them by Russia. In 1903, they saw what awaits them under Russian rule when the property of the Armenian Church was confiscated and the Armenian Revolutionary Party was brought forth by Pobjedonoszev's systematic work of Russification. The Armenians want to become Russian no more than they did Byzantine, Arab, Persian or Turkish, against which they defended themselves for hundreds of years. If, despite their former bad experiences, they have followed the Russian call, then it is only because the Russian government has been the only one up to now which has shown more interest in them than giving them merely platonic advice and promises. There can be no doubt whatsoever that Armenians are not sufficiently protected against despotism and suppression in Turkish territory. Whoever offers them this protection today will be the man for them, no matter what other secondary objectives he may also be following. An Armenian compared the present situation of his people for me with that of a drowning man. He will instinctively grab the hand of anyone who comes to his aid, even if this rescuer only assists him for the purpose of taking him prisoner afterwards.
Here in Germany we have become accustomed to viewing the periodically repeated Armenian massacres as being merely a natural reaction to the Armenian businessmen's system of draining others dry. The Armenians were called the Jews of the Orient, and people forgot that in Anatolia there is also a strong tribe of Armenian farmers which has all the good characteristics of a healthy rural population and whose entire wrongdoing consists of doggedly defending its religion, its language and its property against the foreign peoples surrounding it.
The Turks' lack of organisational talent, their inability to carry out a truly radical reform in the modern sense, has become so clear over the past few months that the relationship between the Turks and the Armenians must be influenced by this. Naturally, under today's conditions the creation of a large, independent Armenia will continue to remain a dream. Almost nowhere is the Armenian element in possession of unified, self-contained language areas; rather, the majority is scattered among foreign tribes. Thus, it would be completely impossible to determine the borders for an autonomous Armenia on an ethnographical or historical basis. Even the implementation of municipal self-government in areas where the Armenian element is in the majority would meet with difficulties today. Level-headed Armenians freely admit that among their people there is a complete lack of a regular group of persons trained in administration, so that permitting the Armenians to administer themselves could only lead to an unwanted fiasco. On the other hand, it is unthinkable that in their variegated empire the Turks could continue to play the part of the nation ruling autocratically thanks to the right of the conqueror. Whatever shape the fate of Turkey may take after peace has been made, one thing is certain: the Armenian element, strong in numbers and economically efficient, will emancipate itself more and more. Anyone pursuing economic or political goals in Anatolia will not be able to avoid taking this fact into consideration.
Such considerations must lead us to change the position we have taken thus far with the Armenians. Naturally we must continue to keep at bay those radical elements which pursue utopian goals and use nihilistic means. Rather, it must be our goal to win the trust of the Armenian farmers and merchants by supporting the attainable wishes of those Armenian circles which have a peaceful attitude – and this still includes the large majority of the people. These wishes can be summarised in two points:
1) effective guarantees for the safety of life, property and religion;
2) a share in the local administration which corresponds to the number of persons and the degree of education of the Armenian element.
These are claims which Turkey will no longer be able to evade in future. This is completely clear to the government now in control. Recently, Mahmud Shefket himself turned the conversation to the Armenian question and expressed his desire to me that the German government assist him in solving the difficulties involved here. Without doubt, it is the Grand Vizier's intention to defeat the destructive Russian propaganda by achieving an alignment of the Armenians with the loyal German diplomatic missions, and thus enlisting the Armenian element in actively assisting in the reconstruction of the ruined state. In my opinion, assisting him in this matter would be a task that is both honourable and beneficial to our interests.
I suggest a practical implementation as follows:
1) Seeking our advice if necessary, the Turkish government prepares a reform project which meets the above-mentioned claims of the Armenians. In order to assure that the project gets off the ground, which so many before did not, or is even turned in the opposite direction by lower civil servants who are ill-disposed towards or do not understand it, all German diplomatic missions in Turkey will receive an order to show interest in Armenian matters; if necessary, to work towards the Turks and Armenians living together peacefully; and, if they learn of obvious infringements against the reform laws, to investigate the cases in question and to report to the embassy on their findings so that through its intervention corrective action can be taken. Naturally, this advisory action on the part of the consuls must be carried out in an extremely tactful manner and in complete agreement with the Turkish central government, but also with so much emphasis that the Armenians will come to know the German authorities as being impartial but, in case of emergency, truly effective protectors.
2) In order to carry out this plan effectively, the number of German diplomatic missions in Anatolia must be increased. Possibly, this could be achieved without increasing the number of German consulates if the peace treaty brings about the expansion of financial control, which cannot be avoided, making it possible in this way to bring several suitable German personalities into Anatolia as employees of the Turkish government. Should it not be possible to achieve this, I would like to point out the necessity of keeping a German diplomatic mission at least in Erzerum, as this town is important both as an observation post and a trading post. The nearest German consulate in Trebizond is very far from Erzerum and also, during the winter months, almost completely cut off from the Armenian plateau.
3) We are being rightly reproached for the fact that our system of education in Anatolia has in no way kept up with the development of our interests there. Furthermore, based on our scarce resources it will probably not be possible to fight against the [deleted: English and] French within their own sphere of interest. However, in future we must definitely take more decisive action in focusing on our own interest. It is a great drawback that there is still no German school in Adana. Establishing a school would serve two purposes simultaneously. On the one hand, we need German educational establishments in the region of the Baghdad Railway in order to train the native personnel for our great economic undertakings. Furthermore, as the main focus of the Armenian people today lies more in Adana than in Upper Armenia, and a German school established there can most definitely expect very good attendance from this educable element which is eager to learn, we would win influence in authoritative Armenian circles or with the majority of the merchants and businessmen there (which amounts to the same thing) by means of a German educational establishment. The costs of the school would soon be covered not only by the increase in German prestige, but also by an increase in German imports.
4) The German press would have to give up its previous negative attitude towards everything Armenian and make its interest in the wishes of the Armenians known by means of moderate and understanding comments. This would make a great impression on the numerous Armenians educated in Europe who live in France, England and America and have their own press organs there.
Today, the Armenian question is definitely at a crossroads. If, in future, the Armenians continue to be left standing on the doorstep with regard to their justified wishes, they will throw themselves willy-nilly completely into the arms of the Russians. Should that happen, there will be little hope left for a peaceful solution of the Asia Minor problem or even for a regeneration of Turkey. If, on the other hand, we win influence on the Armenian movement in the manner described above, we will have a useful instrument in our hands with which to support the Turks in their reform work and to obstruct those forces working in secret on the subversion of the Ottoman Empire while safeguarding and extending our own interests. But if it should become evident in future that the process of dissolution in Turkey can no longer be stopped, then it will be of great value for us in the assertion of our rights in Asia Minor to have the indigenous Armenian element behind us.