WESTERN SOURCES OF ARMENIAN PROPAGANDA
Radziwill Palace where the congress met
The Congress of Berlin was a milestone for world history. It was a meeting of the leading statesmen of the European Great Powers and the Ottoman Empire and its aim was to reorganize the countries of the Balkans. But at the same time the Congress brought a new issue to the world agenda. It was the Armenian Question which would increasingly take a place in world public opinion following the Congress. In fact it turned into an international problem. Hereafter, the Armenian Question started to become more pronounced in Western Public opinion. Actually the Western public was almost bombarded with information about the Armenians. It was at this time that the great powers, Britain, Russia, France, Germany and America became increasingly involved in this question. It is indisputable that developments related to Armenians were more closely followed. So in what ways and channels did the West get information? What were the information sources on Armenians in the West? How did the anti-Turkish image grow in Europe and America because of the Armenian activities? In this context, the press, particularly periodicals, missionary activities and the roles of great news agencies are at the front.
ARMENIAN DELEGATION IN BERLIN
Ex-patriarch Khrimian, Horen Narbey, Minas Cheraz, Stefan Papazian.
Western press interest in Armenians increased in Berlin
Historically, the attitude of the world press, particularly the European press, towards the Ottomans has been overshadowed by traditional European prejudices. Even though Turks had property and political dominance across a wide area of the European continent, they were perceived as foreigners and their presence in Europe was observed as a problem. Such recognition was reflected in press coverage about the Ottomans. In contrast to this perception, Western public opinion and especially the Western press were always sympathetic towards the Armenians who were to be claimed as one of the important parts of the “Eastern Question”. From the end of the 19th century, the press played an important part in directing public opinion and political powers. Under the circumstances, politicians were not indifferent to this effect and had become open to the orientation of the press. This situation could be seen in states like Germany and England in Europe and the USA
Samples of the British Press
The British press may be a good example for such an evaluation. During the period of the Congress of Berlin in which the Armenian Question was internationalized, the orientation of the press became apparent in England. The British press, especially The Times covered much news in favour of the Armenians. In fact The Times, one of the leading and most influential newspapers of the period, affected public opinion, politicians and governments as well as the foreign press by means of news and articles. Much of the foreign press followed The Times’ covers and communicated them to their readers for their own publication purposes. In this context, the Armenian Question always featured in the columns of The Times related to the Congress. The activities of the Armenians were also being closely followed and supported in England. The famous James Bryce in an article in The Times noted that it was the right time to bring the problems of the Armenians in front of the Congress and that the Armenians deserved much more attention it was felt in England that Europe should help the Armenians as it had helped other Christian citizens of the Sublime Porte.
The Times, 20 March, 1878, p. 12.
Along with The Times, the London Standard, Pall Mall Gazette, Morning Post and London Daily News were the leading newspapers giving such kinds of information to the public. For example, the London Standard was very interested in the Armenians during the Congress and distinctive headlines were used in its columns. Under the headline, for instance, “British Sympathy with the Armenians”, it gave comprehensive information about the Armenians and their activities and meetings in England.
London Standart, 02, July 1878, p. 6.
London’s Pall Mall Gazette lifted up the Armenians on the one hand as being one of the most promising races in Asiatic Turkey but the same gazette, on the other hand, quoting from its correspondence from Turkey on 8th January 1878 reported that fifty-five families were starving in Anatolia.
Pall Mall Gazette, 27 June 1878, p. 3
The Morning Post, another important British newspaper, used quite unique headlines supporting the Armenians during the Congress and gave full details day by day too. It delivered comprehensive news of a decision pertaining to the Armenians and the Armenian delegate sent by the patriarchate of Istanbul to Berlin. On 1st July 1878, the Morning Post stated that the Armenian delegate had officially submitted to Congress a memorandum demanding administrative autonomy.
Morning Post, 1 July 1878, p. 5.
Two days later, it stated that Lord Beaconsfield had raised the Armenian territory question. The London Daily News also followed the same way and gave the same news. On the same day, it offered comprehensive information about the Armenian delegate under the headline “The Armenian and the Berlin Congress”. It can be seen that the activities of the Armenians in London also found echo in the newspapers. An Anglo-Armenian Committee was held in Westminster to express sympathy with the Armenians. The requests of the Armenian delegates in Berlin were given in the London Daily News on 17th July 1878, reporting that they had received consideration at the hands of the Berlin Congress. They are to live a Turkish guarantee of security against the Circassians and Kurds. As can be seen from the examples, it is clear that the British newspapers were showing an interest in news about the Armenians. Such interest of the press implicitly meant that there was a rising interest of public opinion in Armenia which brought about discussions about the Armenians in all circles.
ECHO OF THE NEWSPAPER ARTICLES IN THE BRITISH PARLIAMENT
In this way it is seen that such kinds of publications in the press also found echo in the British parliament and the matter of assisting the Armenians was brought forward. The politicians who shaped British foreign policy such as Lord Salisbury stated that the status of the Armenians should be discussed in the Congress of Berlin. Like him, Lord Carnarvon expressed the belief that there was no more remarkable community than the Armenians who deserved interest. It is evident that the sympathetic attitude of the British press in this process encouraged the Armenians in England who held conferences for propaganda purposes in London and Manchester. In these meetings, administrative reforms were demanded in favour of Armenians in Turkey and they announced that they were thankful to the British government who were dealing with this issue in the Congress.
Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury
Lord Salisbury-British Foreign Secretary
He played a leading part in the Congress of Berlin
Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon
British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone
His sympathy of Armenians “To serve Armenia is to serve civilization”
His hatred of Turks “Let the Turks now carry away their abuses, in the only possible manner, namely, by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and Yuzbashis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall, I hope, clear out from the province that they have desolated and profaned”.
An example book of the press interest
“The Armenian Massacres 1894-1896 Media Testimony”, a recently published and popular book including articles from that period, reveal similar sentiments. The remarkable titles used in this book include: Armenian Massacres, Unhappy Armenia, Aid for Armenia: An Appeal for Immediate Help, Why the Sultan is responsible for the Armenian Massacres, Armenia’s Impending Doom: Our Duty. Who is responsible? A Question from Armenia. The amount of this type of news increased considerably in the 1890s when the Armenian events broke out. Among the factors affecting this situation, the newspapers published by Armenians in various cities of Europe had considerable importance from mid-1880.
Armenians are the sources of the western world
The Western public started to receive news directly from the Armenians through the publication of a newspaper named Armenia by Migirdich Portakalian Marseilles in 1885. This was followed by Armenie (later Armenia), with the first edition published on 15th November 1889 in London, managed by Minas Cheraz who was one of the members of the Armenian delegation participating in the Congress of Berlin. It can be seen that Cheraz’s Armenie and the Daily News, the mouthpiece of Gladstone and the liberals in England, had parallel publication affecting British public opinion. The same effect could be seen in France with Portakalian’s Armenia. Because of his influence, the Ottoman government was in constant contact with Marseilles asking for information about Portakalian’s activities. In terms of affecting French public opinion, the Armenian students in France also played an important role. For example, Armenian students in Paris prepared detailed news that they wanted covered in the French newspapers including their claims that the Turks and Kurds were continually carrying out massacres on Armenians. Some of their requests were picked up in various newspapers.
AMERICAN PRESS INTEREST ON ARMENIANS INCREASED, TOO.
Like Europe, the American public and press, too, dealt with the Armenian Question. American public opinion, since the beginning of the 19th century, had already approached the struggles of minorities in the Ottoman Empire with the spirit of Christianity. Actually the American people first became aware of the Armenians through the books of scholars, adventurers and missionaries. It is accepted, however, by Armenian writers that the American missionaries were the most significant group in shaping an American view of the Armenians.
ABCFM was the sources of information for newspapers.
First Board Missionary Functioning in Istanbul
The American missionaries in the Ottoman Empire were under the general direction of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), founded in 1810 with the motto of “Go in the name of the Lord and we will help”. The first two representatives of the ABCFM (Pliny Fisk and Levi Parsons) arrived in the 1820s and were soon followed by others. Working closely with English missionaries and enjoying the protection of the English government, they began spreading out across the Ottoman Empire in search of suitable locations for their schools, churches and colleges. As time went on, the missionary activities of America increased so much that when America came under discussion in the Ottoman Empire, only the missionaries came to mind. Fed by the writings of missionaries and their media outlets in America, in the news and articles related to Turkish-Armenian events, always exaggerated, there became embroidered the assertion of a Christian nation being oppressed by a Muslim empire. Taking advantage of this, the Armenians also stiffened the image of the “ugly Turk” in American public perception.
The formation of image of the “ugly Turk” in Western public opinion particularly in America had a long history. It was necessary to find interesting issues to put the press into action whereby, based on these issues, the press could release remarkable news stories for the public. The ideal theme for this was “Muslim hatred” and “massacres of the innocent Christian Armenians”. It was inconceivable that the Christian world would remain unmoved for their co-religionists if they thought that they had been killed just because of their religion. Therefore, this phenomenon was used a great deal in the news.
The formation of such a perception especially in America was because of the activities of missionaries. As mentioned above they published such kinds of news and information in their journals and books. For example, Christian Alliance and Foreign Missionary Weekly in New York quoted from a letter written by a priest, Allen, published under the title of “massacres in Anatolia” which was what he called Armenia. In the report, the events of 1894-95 in Anatolia were discussed at length and presented as Armenian massacres. The dead were presented as not Armenian but peaceful, law-abiding Christians. In the report, it was said degradingly that the last two years in Turkey had been a black page in history. Likewise, at their annual meeting, the events occurring in Anatolia were presented as Armenian massacres and reflected in a similar manner to the press stories. For instance, The American Missionary magazine recorded and released details of their annual meetings and the resolutions carried thus informing the public through publications. In a resolution, it was stated that the horrible massacres of the Armenians in Turkey called for the speedy and effective intervention of the nations of Christendom; and that a special duty rested on their governments to protect the rights of American citizens who had been endangered, or violated, and that their people and their governments were under an obligation to offer asylum to those who had escaped from the massacre with their lives. When the Armenian events were at a peak in the 1890s, similarly journals, and missionary books contributed to the negative image of the Turks. Various American clergymen wrote books on the Ottomans and tried to extend the anti-Turkish image in America. Of these, Frederick Davis Greene and Edwin Munsell Bliss were at the forefront. The former wrote “The Rule of the Turk — the Armenian Crisis” which was published in 1896 and the latter published his work entitled “Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities — A Reign of Terror: From Tartar Huts to Constantinople Palaces” in 1896. Those kinds of books were filled with anti-Turkish interpretation. In short, anti-Turkish books written by missionaries were other sources of information for the public in America.
ANONYMOUS PRIESTS’ LETTERS ARE THE SOURCES OF PRESS
One of the methods of informing the public in America was the publication of anonymous priests’ letters from Anatolia. The Board missionaries in Anatolia reported their activities in detail to the centre in Boston. In addition they sent letters to newspapers and magazines in order to establish an agenda for financial support required from American people for the maintenance of missionary activities. These letters, sent by the priests and pastors who lived in Anatolia and were portrayed as reverend, were the sources for the press of events in Anatolia. The Catholic World in 1896 issued a part of a letter sent by an anonymous priest living in Anatolia even without giving the name of the city. It was stated in the letter that almost every city in the region had been plundered, churches, schools and houses of the priests had been looted and then set on fire. It was also claimed that those who fled from the provinces had been followed and arrested and then brutally killed by “barbarian Turks” regardless of age and gender. It was usually not clear where and by whom these letters were written. Actually it was not important for the newspapers. Usually the number of these letters increased when the Armenian revolutionary movements were at their peak and in turn the implementation of measures taken by the Ottoman Empire.
The Catholic World, (1896), “An Eye-Witness to the Armenian Horrors”, vol. 63 (May 1896), p. 279.
The missionaries would send such manipulative letters, always reported in the third person and exaggerating the incidents. Moreover the newspapers did not attach any importance to evaluating the accuracy and reliability of these letters before publishing. Even the editorial writers of the newspapers gave places for such letters in their own columns. Such letters were published in various American newspapers like the Congregationalist, New York Times, Tribune, Sun, Mail and Express, Evangelist World, Missionary Herald, Evening Star, Times, Boston Journal and Christian Herald, always anonymously. The reason for the publication of letters anonymously was to combat the prosecuting and diplomatic initiatives of the Ottoman government. For this reason, the Ottoman ambassador in Washington raised claims with the American government about these “hostile” publications and tried to prove that the writers of these writings were missionaries. This kind of news reflected in the newspapers continually developed anti-Turkish and anti-Islamic sentiments among the American public. In short, the theme of such letters was usually along the following lines: thousands of Armenians in the Ottoman lands were killed, maltreated, left hungry and thirsty and missionaries were always attacked by Muslims. Predominantly the explanations were in favour of the Armenians. At the end of the letters, the amount of the donation from the Americans was given and then it was stated how much of this donation was used for the missionary work and how many Christian Armenians had been rescued. Thus it tried to keep the Armenian question alive in the public opinion.
MISSIONARY LETTERS IN THE ARMENIAN NEWSPAPERS
The missionary letters were not only published in American newspapers but also in Armenian newspapers in the areas largely inhabited by Armenians. For example, Haik, an Armenian newspaper published in New York, created a negative impact on Americans about the Ottoman image through publishing such information. On the other hand, Armenians in America also worked hard to increase anti-Turkish sentiments in the United States. They did their best to convince the American newspapers to write articles in their favour. Some of the Armenians of New York reported to the American press that 10,000 Armenians were resident in New York and they would subscribe to newspapers if they would give space to their cause. Naturally this initiative yielded results. In a news item entitled “Suffering Armenia”, the Worcester Daily Spy dated 21st March 1894, published an interview with Nishan Garabedian, the Hinchak Leader, which reported that Armenians were educated, civilized and progressive people and they were currently being persecuted by Turks in Anatolia. In short, the initiatives of the Armenians in America had an important influence on American public opinion and contributed significantly to the anti-Turkish perception by Americans.
Worcester Daily Spy, Suffering Armenia. A Huntchagist Leader Talks to a Spy Man. He Tells How His Country, Date:Wednesday, March 21, 1894, Worcester, Massachusetts
FALSE ARMENIAN NEWS IN POLITICAL JOURNALS
Political journals in America had a similar attitude towards the Armenian Question. One of the examples was The Outlookpublished in New York. In an article, it is stated that this piece was written by an Armenian (anonymous) who was a recent graduate of a leading theological seminary. The theme in the article entitled the “Evil of Turks” was that Turkey wages perpetual war against her Christian subjects. Actually the main theme of the article which begins with a couple of questions is related to the following question. “Why are the Turkish displays of barbarism allowed to go unchecked and unpunished at the close of the enlightened nineteenth century?”. Review of Reviews, a London-based magazine, also published in New York in America, discussed political events but the attitude of the magazine was the same.
In an article entitled “The Massacres in Turkey from October 1, 1895, to January 1, 1896”, it is claimed that during this period Muslim fanatics carried out horrible and dreadful massacres that were sudden and spontaneous and took place according to a deliberate and preconcerted plan. According to the statements of many people, French, English, Canadian, American, Turk, Kurd and Armenian, the outbreaks were carefully directed with regard to the place, time and nationality of the victims and the perpetrators, who were prompted by a common motive, and that their true character had been systematically concealed by Turkish official reporters. The names of the people who put forward such claims could not be given, as with the missionary example, and it was said that their names for obvious reasons could not be made public.
"The Massacres in Turkey from October 1, 1895 to January 1, 1896." Review of Reviews 13, no. 2 (Feb. 1896): 197-198.
ARMENIAN REVOLTS WERE REPORTED AS ARMENIAN MASSACRES
The Armenian events were portrayed as massacres to the Western public. While doing this, missionary magazines especially discussed the events from a religious dimension. The massacre of these people just for being Christian, particularly by “fanatic Muslims” would be enough to arouse the feelings of Westerners. Therefore, American public opinion would be stirred as the newspapers conveyed events to the public in this way and politicians would move accordingly. This was the most effective method of propaganda. Actually the propaganda of the Armenian committees in Anatolia had a great effect on both America and Europe. The system established by the Armenian committees that endeavoured to affect world public opinion by means of the press operated as follows: First of all, a forced insurrection is stirred up, this is followed by local authorities’ arrest of Armenians, the religious officials report it to patriarchate, the consul to the ambassador or the foreign minister, or the missionary reports it to his centre and the desired newspapers and embassies. From all of these it is transferred to the world press and the news cycle grows like an avalanche. Thus both the anti-Turkish image was consolidated and the Armenian Question remained vividly on the agenda.
OTHER NEWS SOURCES OF THE WEST: BLACKMAILER HAVAS (AFP)-REUTERS
News agencies/telegraph companies held an important place in the formation and development of such an anti-Turkish image both in Europe and America, In order to comprehend their role, it is necessary to look into the history of these agencies. It is generally said that international news agencies were established not so much to create an informed international citizenry as to make money, their histories are characterized by struggles to secure and expand markets for their news, with markets often delineated by the territorial limits of their home countries’ empires or spheres of influence. The world’s first international news agency was Agence France-Presse (AFP). Its origins date back to 1835 when Charles-Louis Havas, a French entrepreneur, bought Correspondence Garnier – a company that translated foreign newspapers – and started converting it into a news agency. By 1845 there was no capital or major commercial centre in central and Western Europe where a Havas reporter was not functioning.
Founder of Havas
Charles Louis Havas
In the late 1800s Havas was to encounter competition when rival international news agencies – Reuters in London and Wolff in Berlin – were set up. His rivals were the Germans Paul Julius Reuter and Bernhard Wolff, both of whom Havas had employed earlier and trained. These three agencies – Havas, Wolff and Reuters – would remain the premier news agencies of the world well into the twentieth century. But Reuters and Havas outlasted the Wolff agency in time. Havas, Reuters and Wolff established an international news cartel between them by signing the “Agency Alliance Treaty” in 1869. From then on, the Ottoman territories were closely followed, especially by Havas and Reuter.
Paul Julius Freiherr von Reuter (Baron de Reuter)
Founder of the Reuters news agency
When the Armenian Question became international following the Congress of Berlin and events were at their peak especially in the 1890s, Havas and Reuter were informing Western public opinion. As mentioned above, these two agencies, which were initially established for the purpose of transmitting important events and information to the centre, maintained all the international news transmissions. It is commonly argued that these agencies led to a sharp swing in the stock exchange with false and biased news and that by means of publications against the state, they derived improper benefits from blackmailing. There are clear examples that these news agencies were an obvious threat to the Ottoman government. Telegrams sent to the Havas agency confuting the news and events were rejected. The reason given for the rejection was that the Ottoman government did not subscribe to the agency. There were many archival documents about such kinds of example. For instance the Ottoman State endeavoured to forestall the negative news from Reuters.
With this aim it requested information from its embassies in London, Paris and Berlin about probable precautions. One particular biased news item of Reuters led the Ottoman government to threaten the agency. It had transmitted a report about Abdulhamid’s sickness directly to the Times, which was claimed to be false. Upon this, the government notified Reuters that if there was such coverage again, their agency in Constantinople would be closed. The government even thought about banning the activities of Reuters as they considered it as a centre producing false news. However, despite all their efforts it did not bring results. Finally the Ottoman government went for the idea of making an agreement with Reuters which was recognized as the source of the political speculation. Furthermore the government reckoned that this agency could benefit from confuting the “slanders” that were deliberately put forward against the Ottomans. For this purpose, financial support for Reuters was raised. So the Ottoman government subscribed to these agencies in order to avert unfavourable news about the Ottomans.
In a collective note by the Grand Vizier, the Head of the Council of State (Şura-yı Devlet Reisi) and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, presented to Abdulhamid II in November 1895, it was stated that the most effective way to eliminate the impact of adverse publication was to pay the newspapers particularly the two news agencies, Reuters and Havas. However, despite all these efforts, almost all the news conveyed to the Western public remained the same, namely against the Sultan and the Ottoman Empire. This reality remained unchanged when the Armenian events came to a peak in this process. Later Sultan Abdulhamid II also accepted that it had been an error to try to avert such kinds of publications with money.
THE RIGHT EVALUATION
The last sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet VI, made the most appropriate evolution with the following statement:
“Your newspapers and the magazines would not publish it if we sent an article written by a Turk. If it was published, your people would not read this; if they read it they would not believe it. Even if we sent an expert, who could express the Turkish opinion in your own language to America, could this person find unbiased masses of listeners?”.
Known as the “obedient millet” (community), Armenians in the Ottoman State experienced a transformation in their identity and gained a nationalistic character. Through their endeavours to establish their own independent state in the 19thcentury, with the effect of nationalism, Western public opinion began to take an interest in their cause. In this framework, the Armenian cause had a greater place on the agendas of the Western powers particularly after the Congress of Berlin. In this process, contemporary newspapers played a crucial role for the formation of Armenophiles in the Western states. Like the newspapers, religious and political journals, missionaries and news agencies were primary news sources informing Western public opinion. By means of their influence, those states which had interests in the Ottoman State oriented their policies.
Following the Congress of Berlin, such effects could be seen especially in England. During and after the Congress, the number of news stories related to the Armenians steadily increased in the British newspapers. The activities of Armenians living in England were also followed more closely, which caused the Armenian question to become a part of British policy. Similarly, the American interest in Armenians loomed large in the 1880s. As in Europe, the existing image of the “Barbarian Turk” also gained popularity in America. The American Board (ABCFM) had an important role in the formation of such a perception. As in England and France, the Armenian activists living in America caused this question to become a part of American policy. The most effective factor in the formation of such a perception in Europe and America was undoubtedly the news agencies holding the world news transmission rights. While using this issue as an argument against the Ottoman State, Havas and Reuters also achieved financial interests and determined that the Armenian question would feature in the policies of Western states.
In conclusion, in the last quarter of the 19th century the Armenian Question, as an important part of the Eastern Question, took up more space on the agenda of the great powers as a result of the above-mentioned motives. The infrastructure of the propaganda of 1915 was actually prepared during this period.