The Ambassador in Turkey (Abram I. Elkus) to the Secretary of State

PAPERS RELATING TO THE FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, THE LANSING PAPERS, 1914–1920
VOLUME I, , DOCUMENT 706

867.00/804½

Constantinople, March 2, 1917.
[Received April 7.]

Dear Mr. Secretary:

. . . . . . .

Notwithstanding the rupture with Germany, our relations with the Turkish Ministers independent of the business of the Embassy at the Sublime Porte, more especially that dealing with belligerent interests, continue to be cordial. It is reported to me from all sides that the Turks will not break off relations with the United States even if there should be war between Germany and America. As I have already telegraphed the Department, Talaat Pasha stated to me that he saw no reason why the friendly relations between Turkey and America should not continue, even if there was a rupture between America and Germany. Some days after that he told me that he had reported our conversation to the Sultan, and that His Imperial Majesty had thoroughly approved Talaat Pasha’s statements and said he deeply desired the continuation of the friendly relations between the two countries. But Djavid Bey, the new Minister of Finance, was much more outspoken than the Grand Vizier. In the course of a quiet after-dinner confidential conversation at the Embassy, he told me the other day that even if there was a war between Germany and America, Turkey would not break off relations with America. Djavid said that it was only after the war had ceased that people would realize what a calamity it had been. This country would be short of men, would be under the burden of a tremendous debt, the revenues decreased and would have to look outside of Turkey for financial assistance in order to begin the work of construction. “Turkey’s only hope is in the United States. The European countries will be unable or unwilling to help us financially.” “On the other hand,” he continued, “what can we expect to gain if we take part in a war against the United States? Absolutely nothing! I therefore guarantee 90% that if there is war between Germany and the United States, Turkey will stay out of it. At least that is our feeling and our intention to-day.” And he looks upon the above reasons put forward by him as logical and convincing. I asked him what the Turks would do in case the Germans insisted on Turkey performing her duty as an ally to declare war against America. He said Turkey would simply refuse and if Germany still insisted Turkey would ask her to send her 3 to 400,000 troops to do the fighting, as otherwise the Turks would be unable to fight alone. The cordiality now demonstrated by the Ministers may be genuine and sincere, or may be only assumed and serving for some ulterior purpose. . . . Future developments will show whether this demonstration is sincere or not. If not sincere it may serve one of the following two purposes: it may be intended to mislead us, and for the purpose of having America help Turkey now or hereafter,—a repetition under another form of the assurances given to the British Ambassador in 1914 that Turkey would remain neutral—or it may be intended for the edification of Germany, a kind of a warning, if not a threat, to the overbearing ally that she is not the only great power and that if she is not more considerate towards the weaker ally, the latter can find—had found—other friends! Some Turks, however, not friendly towards the Union and Progress Committee have quite a different interpretation for these demonstrations of cordiality. According to what they say the Union and Progress leaders are aware that they will be held responsible for dragging Turkey into this war, which has proved to be disastrous for the Empire; that they will also be held responsible for the Armenian massacres, the persecution of the other non-Turkish races and for endless other misdeeds. Therefore seeing the approach of the day of reckoning and having no confidence in the ability or the willingness of their German ally to help them in the hour of need, they desire to make friends with America now, in order to protect themselves or at least have a friend when that day of reckoning comes.

But it is curious to hear that some German officers here have stated that even if war should occur between America and Germany, Turkey should continue her diplomatic relations with America. These officers are further stated to have said it is not desirable to have a war between Germany and the United States.

It is rumored that both in Turkish and German military circles here there is an apprehension that should war ever be declared between the United States and Turkey, the former can at once send troops and ammunition from the Philippines to the Persian Gulf and thus help the British in Mesopotamia or Palestine.

It may interest the Department to know some facts demonstrative of cordiality on the part of the Ottoman Ministers and other dignitaries. First of all, in the two private audiences which I have had with the Sultan, His Majesty has put aside all formalism and court etiquette and shown a kindly, friendly attitude towards me and towards those who accompanied me. All the Court officials, Chamberlains, Secretaries, Masters of Ceremony, Aides-de-Camp, have been friendly to me and to my family, most attentive in details and tried their best to make our stay in Constantinople pleasant. They have often called at the Embassy on the days when Mrs. Elkus is at home. The same is true of the officials of the Sublime Porte in their personal relations with us. All the principal ministers—except Chukri Bey, Minister of Public Instruction, who is chiefly responsible for the sinister policy of the Turkish Government in the so-called seizure of the French, British, et cetera, institutions, have been constant callers at the Embassy, both before and after the rupture with Germany. I can state that Talaat Pasha has shown more friendship and intimacy since that rupture. Both at dinners, lunches and ordinary at home days these Ministers, Senators and other dignitaries have thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I hear that a short time ago, since the rupture with Germany, Talaat Pasha gave instructions to the Press Bureau not to allow the publication of articles hostile to America; and if articles not exactly friendly have appeared we can be almost certain that they were in papers subsidized by certain foreigners.

A few weeks ago it was suggested with very complimentary remarks to confer an Ottoman order on Mr. Schmavonian, who, it was said had often avoided misunderstandings between the Embassy and the Sublime Porte. At Mr. Schmavonian’s request I did not submit this matter to the Department, as he with very becoming modesty, said he did not think he ought to receive a decoration at a time when no other member of the Embassy staff would be authorized to receive one. It came to me as a surprise that the Grand Cordon (first class) of the Chéfékat order has just been bestowed on Mrs. Elkus. The Imperial Iradé was issued yesterday. As the law does not prevent her from accepting the order and as the wives of all my predecessors have received the same, I assume there can be no objection to her accepting this sign of courtesy and friendship on the part of His Majesty and of his Government. I could enumerate many other facts and instances showing indications on the part of the Ottoman Government of friendly and cordial conduct towards the Embassy.

Of course these things do not pass unnoticed and are variably commented upon in foreign diplomatic and Turkish circles.

I do not believe that these demonstrations of cordiality are seen with approving eyes either in Germany or in England. As much as I can judge from the Entente and German press, I think that these countries would prefer to see an enmity if not an actual break off between Turkey and the United States. Otherwise how could we interpret such unfounded statements as the following in the foreign press: that the American missionaries have been interned in Turkey, that the Scorpion has been sunk or seized, that the Department has had no news from the Embassy; or that I invited a number of diplomats to dinner to discuss political situation and all declined, et cetera? I can not say that the Germans here, more especially the military, have all been cordial to this Embassy. According to statements from Turkish sources, I am led to believe that at times they have sought to bring about friction and misunderstanding between us and the Turkish authorities.

I mentioned above the statements of Talaat Pasha concerning the continuation of friendly relations and approval of the same by His Majesty. I was told the other day by a neutral envoy here that the German admiral Souchon, who bombarded Odessa and thus brought about the war between Turkey and the Entente, stated to this diplomat that Talaat Pasha had told me in connection with the question of an eventual rupture of relations between Turkey and the United States, that Turkey would do exactly what Germany dictated. (This is at variance with what Talaat really said.)

Turks state to me that Germany does not wish to see here an Ambassador of a great power like the United States, who is too friendly with the Turks, because they wish to impress on the Turks that they are the only power that can protect Turkey, and the only friend Turkey has. I am told on the other hand that the Turks wish to emancipate themselves from this German guardianship.

The feeling in the civilian Turkish circles is far from being friendly to the Germans. In a conversation with a Turkish Minister, the latter said,

“really speaking the Germans had no friends, their manner is such that they can have no friends, that they have a wonderful military organization, of which they are proud, and through their organization they have a strong discipline in their own country holding the people under a permanent guardianship and obedience, and they imagine that they have the same power over all the world. In diplomacy they are poor and what success they have had has been through threat. They think of nothing but themselves and their own interest. They never take into consideration the feelings and interests of others. We are their allies. In this war we have rendered them signal services, and have acted towards them as gentlemen. What have we seen? What are they doing for us. Nothing. In all our dealings with them they raise difficulties. If we have negotiations concerning a loan or anything else, there is not a small point that can be raised in their favor which they would fail to raise. We went into the war without thinking of loans, expenses or other details. Had we asked the Germans at that time to take upon themselves all our war expenses, Germany would have agreed to do so, but as we did not raise that question, to-day we are borrowing money from the Germans and we are indebted to them to the amount of 100,000,000 pounds sterling just for the war expenses. As allies of the Germans, of course, we desire to see Germany win in this war, but do not want to see Germany have such a victory as to become the dictator of the whole world. That would be a misfortune for all.”

I spoke to him about the food question in Germany, and whether the scarcity was such as to force the Germans to put down their arms. The Minister stated that according to his information the German Army was well fed; as to the civilian population, he believed, that through the wonderful organization which they have in Germany, it would be possible to feed them until the new crops. But in his opinion there was another question which was more serious for the Germans than that of the food supply. How long will the material for the manufacture of ammunition last? There is scarcity of coal and scarcity of copper.

These statements did not prevent him from saying that the way the Entente Powers had published their terms of peace was a most stupid piece of business. There were thousands of people in this country, who were against the war and longed for peace, and yet the Entente Governments say that they want to give Constantinople to Russia. All these people now want the continuation of the war.

He knew that there were no diplomats in Germany, that it was only through force that the Germans wanted to deal with every nation, but he had believed that in England and in France there were good diplomats. The way the latter acted in this matter showed him that there is a penury of statesmanship even in those countries.

While speaking of the friendly relations between Turkey and America, I told him that Turkey had many friends in America, but I added in order that these friends might in some way be able to be of any service to this country, there should be put an end to all Armenian massacres as well as Arab or Syrian or other persecutions. He at once stated that he agreed with me entirely. “These things should not have happened.” He said he hoped that very soon we would see an amelioration in the condition of the Armenians, who would be allowed to travel and do business within certain zones. What happened was a most deplorable thing and he said you can be sure that it will not be repeated.

In conclusion I desire to inform you that when we first heard of Germany’s last decision in regard to submarine warfare, the German Ambassador here told me that Germany was committing a serious mistake. He is since reported to have said that this warfare has proved ineffective.

It is difficult to know how much truth there is in these different and sometimes contradictory rumors. But I thought you would be interested to hear them. . . .

With kindest regards

Abram I. Elkus

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