[ocr errors]

youth had accompanied the Turkish armies during the wars against Mehemet Ali, had brought back with him the conviction that the Turkish Empire was doomed to perish, and that Germany-meaning at that time Austria as the premier State of the old Germanic Confederacyought to be in at the death. It was essential for her to hold the mouths of the Danube, for down the valley of that great German river lay the road to Constantinople and Western Asia. The revolutionary movement which swept over Germany in 1848 produced a curious wave of sentimental Pan-Germanism; and, even earlier, democratic writers of many different schools, Friedrich List and Lassalle, Ritter and Oppert, dreamed of German homesteads repeopling and cultivating the ancient kingdoms of Nineveh and Babylon.

This, however, was only the 'false dawn' of modern and militant Pan-Germanism. It was not till the paramount position which the new German Empire had acquired on the European continent ceased to satisfy the growing appetite of a later generation, that the Germans began to 'hear the East a'calling. The Professors as usual led the way. Dr Sprenger, a distinguished Orientalist, sang the praises of Mesopotamia as the richest land of ancient times and a field for German colonisation and culture second to none in the world. Dr Kärger laid hands metaphorically on the whole of Asiatic Turkey; and, as soon as the Sultan conceded to the Germans the construction of the first • Anatolian' railway, the cry was raised that Germany must of course obtain grants of land for colonising purposes, so that 100,000 German settlers, armed and drilled with true German thoroughness, should be there to defend the fruits of German culture against foreign greed. The economists expatiated on the vast natural resources of Asiatic Turkey, waiting only to be developed for the benefit of German commerce and industry-corn and wine; great mineral deposits; vast oil-fields to be tapped, right down to the Persian Gulf ; fertile plains which would yield all the cotton required for the German market. Anglophobe politicians talked of a new India' for Germany, which would give the deathblow to British India, already tottering to its fall. Military fire-eaters were assured by Prof. Sachau that it was the dream of every Turk to see the Ottoman

[ocr errors]

armies led by German officers, schooled to victory, against the hereditary Russian foe. A fair-sized bookstand would not hold the literature which has sprung up to show the boundless possibilities that lay before Germany if she would only stretch forth her hand to grasp the prize.

William II's imagination had not, perhaps, travelled quite so far when he came to the throne, but, even as Prince William, he had keenly studied the reports which reached Berlin from the energetic head of the German Military Mission, General von der Goltz, who was one of the earliest advocates of a forward German policy in Turkey—the same General von der Goltz who as Field Marshal has now returned to Constantinople to represent the German Emperor with his latest ally, Sultan Mahomet V.

Within a year of his accession, William II decided, against Bismarck's advice, to pay a State visit to Constantinople. It was a remarkable and a fateful visit, for it gave rise to one of the first serious differences of opinion between the old Chancellor and his young sovereign, and it brought him into immediate contact with an Oriental ruler whose singular personality exerted a lasting influence upon him. We are apt to remember only Abdul Hamid's inglorious downfall and to forget the remarkable part he played during a reign of over thirty-two years. Yet his sinister shadow is still projected on to the world's stage to-day.

Raised to the throne in 1876 by one of many palace conspiracies, Abdul Hamid found the Ottoman Empire reduced to absolute bankruptcy by the wild extravagance of his predecessors, and threatened both by internal turmoil and by foreign aggression. The insurrection in Bosnia and Herzegovina had led to a war with Serbia, itself merely the precursor of a much more formidable and disastrous war with Russia. Without any education in the European sense of the term and with no experience of public affairs, Abdul Hamid found himself confronted with a situation which might well have staggered a veteran statesman. His immediate predecessors had allowed all real power to pass out of their hands, so long as the Pashas who ruled the Empire from the Sublime Porte were willing to minister freely to the Imperial pleasures and caprices. But he believed in his own star

-he called his favourite palace Yeldiz Kiosk, i.e. the Palace of the Star; and he had some of the greatest qualities of an Oriental despot as well as many of the worst.

From his childhood he had become an adept in all those arts of flattery and duplicity which are bred in the atmosphere of the harem, whilst the memories of palace conspiracies amidst which he had grown up made him a constant prey to suspicion and fear. As a Turk of the old school once told me, his power was rooted in corruption and delation. But on the other hand his natural gifts were undeniable. He had a retentive memory; he was quick of apprehension; he knew how to read

2 human nature, especially its worst sides ; and he played on its weaknesses with consummate skill. He had remarkable powers of fascination when he chose to exercise them, and like some medieval Italians, whom he in many ways resembled, he was capable of genuine and almost tender kindliness as well as of extreme cruelty and treachery. Unlike most Ottoman rulers, he was a very hard worker, and had an extremely shrewd notion of the value of money. He was, perhaps, more cautious than bold, but with indomitable tenacity of purpose he combined an alertness of mind and a versatility of resource which enabled him to adapt his methods to the exigencies of the hour without ever losing sight of the end he had in view. Above all things he was determined to be master in his own house, and to be Sultan in deed as well as in name; and, if he could not hope to retrieve altogether the fortunes of the Sultanate as a temporal power, he conceived the idea of seeking ample compensation in the revival of the spiritual power of the Khalifate.

It was in itself no mean or hopeless ambition, for, though the Mahomedan nations, too fatalistic to change their ways and too proud to yield, were gradually crumbling away under the impact of modern civilisation, Islam was still a great vital force which lacked concentration rather than energy. When Abdul Hamid was a child, a pious Fakir greeted him, it is said, as 'Amir-elMouminin' (Prince of the Faithful) who would one day not only reign as Sultan, but also resuscitate as Khalif the ancient power and glory of Islam. Ever


since the conquest of Egypt by Sultan Selim I, to whom the last puny descendant of the Abbaside Khalifs surrendered the symbols of his spiritual sovereignty, the Sultans of Turkey have borne the title of Khalif and Protector of the Holy Places of Islam. Not all Mahomedans recognise the validity of the Turkish claim to the Khalifate, for many hold that the Khalif or Vicegerent of the Prophet should be of the same blood as Mahomet. Abdul Hamid's predecessors had ceased to lay much stress on their spiritual authority; and, when Turkey was formally admitted into the concert of European nations, they had even adopted in their intercourse with the Western Powers the title of Emperor of the Ottomans in preference to that of Sultan.

The Fakir's prophecy, however, had sunk deep into Abdul Hamid's soul. In the early years of his reign, when, to the disgust of all his Turkish Pashas, he entrusted the Grand Vizierate to a Tunisian, he intimated that in the world of Islam there were no nationalities, and that the Sultan, as Khalif, was entitled to call into his service the best Mahomedans, wherever they could be found. It was as Khalif not less than as Sultan that he protested vigorously in 1881 against the French occupation of Tunis ; and it was as Khalif quite as much as in virtue of his titular rights over Egypt that he sought to intervene in 1882, first between Arabi and the Khedive and then between the Khedive and England, before and after the British occupation of Egypt. In both cases his intervention was ineffective, but the mere attempt gave him prestige. More spade work was required, and to this he applied himself with his wonted pertinacity and resourcefulness.

Yeldiz Kiosk became the centre of a widespread PanIslamic propaganda. Agents were sent out to preach in all Mabomedan countries the greatness and glory of the Ottoman Khalif; and Mahomedans from all parts of the world were encouraged to come and lay their grievances at the foot of his throne. Amongst more remote countries, India was one of the first to which Abdul Hamid devoted his attention after the change of British policy towards Turkey. A newspaper—the 'Peik Islam '-was actually

— printed in Yeldiz Kiosk for the diffusion of Pan-Islamic ideas amongst Indian Mahomedans; and, if its success

was at first slender, it did not fall on altogether barren ground. Nor did he disdain to cultivate closer relations on the basis of common Islamic interests even with Mahomedan rulers who were by no means prepared to recognise the Khalifate of Constantinople. The Amir of Afghanistan, for instance, calls himself par excellence King of Islam. The Sultans of Morocco have always claimed complete independence, spiritual as well as political, from Constantinople. The Shahs of Persia are Shiites, and therefore detestable heretics in the eyes of the Turks, who are Sunnis almost to a man. Nevertheless, as against Christendom, Islam constituted a common bond between them, which Abdul Hamid knew how to strengthen to his own greater glory.

Still less did he neglect to raise the Horn of Islam within his own dominions. The revolt of the Christian nationalities, which had already led to the dismember. ment of European Turkey, had taught him to distrust the old policy of tolerant indifference which, under the early Ottoman Sultans, had allowed the subject races to retain, with a large measure of ecclesiastical autonomy, their ancient traditions of national independence. The reforms which the Concert of Europe was constantly prescribing were, he conceived, bound to quicken in the remaining portions of the Turkish Empire the same forces of disintegration which had already resulted in the liberation of Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria. While opposing from the very first a stubborn vis inertice to the execution of all reforms, Abdul Hamid laid himself out systematically to strengthen his hold on the heterogeneous Mahomedan races of his Empire; and he showered his favours upon Arabs, Kurds, Albanians, Circassians, etc., preferring them even before the pure Turk, whose loyalty he could take for granted, and recruiting from amongst them his most trusted advisers, and the mixed Prætorian guard to which he entrusted the safety of Yeldiz Kiosk and of his own sacred person.

When William II paid his first visit to Constantinople, Abdul Hamid had already achieved a considerable measure of success along lines not uncongenial to the young Emperor's masterful temperament. He had revived the Khalifate, and he had made the Sultanate once more a reality within his own dominions. The

« VorigeDoorgaan »