I. Characterictics of Turkish rule
3. The Turkish System of Ascendancy:
Limited Idea of the State. Race and Religion. Fanaticism. The Economic Basis
It would be a mistake to dwell too long upon the changes which a century has wrought in the fabric and conditions of the Turkish State, considerable as those changes are. The idea of the Turkish State remains what it has ever been, and the spirit of its administration has been modified
neither by its own statespen and sovereigns, nor yet by the influence and the pressure of Europe. The Turks have never lost their tradition of conquest. They are still at heart a predatory and nomadic tribe, and they have instituted a settled government only so far as that is necessary to perpetuate and secure their domination. They regard their land less as a home than as a fief from which they expect to draw a tribute. Its inhabitants are not citizens but subjects. No sense of a commonwealth has grown up in their minds to bridge this isolation, or to cement warring races in a care for their common country. And indeed the Turkish idea of the State is so empty, so negative, and so amazingly primitive that there was no room for the growth of such common interests. In the original fabric of the Turkish State as it existed before the superficial and insincere aping of Western peoples during the last generation, there was no place even for civil law, not to speak of such comparatively modern functions of the State as the care of education. Turkey was a theocratic Power with a military basis. Each Church had its own canon law by which it settled disputes within the ranks of its own members. As for the police, each village hired its own watchmen; while education was and still is the concern of the Churches. The military proper and the gendarmerie were concerned not so much with the preservation of order as with the maintenance of the system of ascendancy. If a race revolted, if a village was contumacious, if a brigand threatened to turn into a patriot, then they had a duty. But with ordinary non-political crime and violence they concerned themselves as little as with purely civil disputes. The State might interest itself in roads and railways just in so far as these possess a strategic importance. These were the limits of the old Turkish State, and in effect, despite paper innovations, they are its limits still. The taxes are a tribute, the police are a garrison, the administration exists only to maintain the authority of the ruling caste. There are no terms in our language in which this system can be adequately described; for the feeble analogies within our experience convey no idea of
anything so monstrous. The "ascendancy" built up before Catholic Emancipation
by the English "garrison" in Ireland did not approach it; for the English
minority, however intolerant and exclusive they may have been at their
worst, brought with them traditions of order and civil government. While
they refused all political and some civil rights to the conquered majority,
they did none the less maintain the State as an organisation for the protection
of the individual citizen irrespective of race or religion. With the Turks
it is simply a device to perpetuate their conquest.
Race and ReligionThis ascendancy rests, however, not upon race but on religion. Few of the members of the ruling caste are really the descendants of the conquering Osmanli Turks. They are mainly converted Slavs or Albanians, who have accepted the traditions of the conquest, lent their arms to the conquerors, and appropriated the rewards and privileges of a distant triumph. The spirit of this ascendancy shows itself most clearly in the unwritten law that no Christian may exercise direct executive command over Moslems, whether in a civil or in a military capacity. There are native Christian privates in the "reformed" Macedonian gendarmerie, but there are no native Christian officers. There are Christian Ambassadors in the Diplomatic service, who enjoy the rank of Pasha, and an Armenian is actually at the head of the Civil List department. But there are no Christian Valis or Caimakams (Governors and prefects). In one of the recent "reforms" initiated after the Armenian massacres the Sultan created a set of native Christian assistants or assessors who are supposed to rank second to the Valis, and to advise and control them. They are what the Turks call "Evvet-Effendim" — "Yes-Sirs" — whose place in life is to assent to whatever their masters may think good. I knew the astute old Levantine Catholic who filled this post in Uskub. He passed his life pleasantly enough between his home and the hotel which served as a club. I never saw him in the Konak (Government buildings); and when the Vali was absent it was not he, but a very junior Turk,
who acted as deputy-Governor. The corresponding functionary at Monastir, after some months of punctual attendance at his office, finally took to hanging up his seal in an accessible place on a nail above his office desk, while he spent his days at home — a convenient arrangement which allowed him to say "yes" by proxy as often as might be necessary, without the trouble of sitting idle in his chair. Nor is it otherwise with the Europeans in the Turkish service. Von der Goltz Pasha, the capable German who organised the modern Turkish army, never enjoyed so much as a fiction of executive command. When he quitted his post, overwhelmed with the gratitude of the Sultan, he remarked to a friend of mine, "Through all these years I never enjoyed as much power as the commonest sergeant may exercise, nor possessed so much as the right to put an insubordinate private under an hour's arrest. And yet I was a Marshal of the Empire." Against this stubborn tradition all the efforts of reforming Europe have broken in vain; and when, under the present Austro-Russian reform scheme, it was proposed to place European officers in executive control of the Macedonian gendarmerie, the idea broke down because, as our own Ambassador frankly confessed, it was impossible to put Christians in command of a force in which three-fourths of the men were Moslems. The feeling beneath this absolute rule of ascendancy is difficult to define. It is not the sense of racial superiority which we ourselves feel in India. Certainly we should never place a native Mohamedan officer over white troops. But the Turks will give a military commission to a negro without the slightest sense that white Mohamedans are thereby degraded. Their commissioned ranks are crowded with Greeks, Slavs, and Albanians, aliens by blood and language, but professing Moslems. Nor can it be exactly a religious sentiment. If anything in the Koran really forbade Moslems to obey Christians, we should not find them such trustworthy and devoted soldiers as they are in India and the Soudan. It is the tradition of conquest; the conqueror is superior to the conquered, and it is an historical accident that the line
between them is drawn by religion. The Turk feels, I think, not that the Christian is necessarily inferior, but rather that he is probably disloyal. It is a political distinction disguised as a religious difference. It was the same sentiment which in our own country dictated Test Acts and delayed Catholic Emancipation. Our own ruling classes felt that Nonconformists were potential and partial rebels, and quite logically they excluded them from power. The Turk, whose whole conception of the State is theocratic, acts more strictly and steadily upon the same principle. And indeed the Christians of Turkey really are what the Catholics in England were supposed to be. They are ultramontanes. Their ideals lie beyond the Danube and the Adriatic. They cannot be in sentiment subjects of an Asiatic despotism. They draw their culture from abroad, and fix their hopes outside the Empire. The Slav peasant in Macedonia will often feel and express the same devotion towards the Tsar as the most old-fashioned Russian villager. The Macedonian Greek is at heart a subject of King George, and a citizen of the Hellenic kingdom. He feels indeed as intensely on this subject as the Cretans do. I happened to be in a remote Cretan village when the news arrived that the Powers had conceded the autonomy of the island. I was sitting with some peasants and a country doctor, the oracle of the district, in a wayside cafe, while he expounded the glorious news. The peasants could not be induced to share his enthusiasm.
"What is this thing, autonomy?" asked an old man.
"Well," said the doctor cheerily, "it means that instead of sending our taxes to Athens we shall spend them ourselves."
The peasant reflected for a while, silent and moody. Suddenly his face
lit up with a smile and a quaint sparkle of cunning.
"Be sure," he exclaimed, "we'll find someway of sending them to Athens secretly!"
FanaticismThat feeling might easily be paralleled in Macedonia, though the Bulgarians have more wish for local independence than the Cretans had. But irrespective of race the
eyes of all Macedonians are fixed upon Europe. Every family has its own gods. On the walls of one house you will find a portrait of the Russian Tsar. Another displays the English royal family. A third honours the King of Greece or the King of Servia. A fourth puts its trust in the sovereigns of all the Great Powers, and one judges of its wealth by noting whether it has replaced President Faure and Queen Victoria by their successors. These gaudy lithographs represent nearly all that the Macedonian middle class knows of art. The moral can hardly be lost upon the Turks. They themselves are Asiatics. Their Christian subjects are Europeans. They dare not admit the intrusive West into the governing hierarchy of their State. This dread of the more powerful Christian world has nothing in reality to do with religious fanaticism. Indeed, we enormously exaggerate the part which pure fanaticism plays in the oppression of the Christian races. The Turks have never systematically tried to force the Christians of Turkey wholesale into Islam, as the Spaniards forced their own Jews and the Protestants of the Netherlands into Catholicism. By far the greater number of conversions have taken place through interest. The Christians wished to become members of the dominant caste and to enjoy its opportunities of acquiring wealth and power. The pressure of persecution and mis-government which brought these voluntary conversions about was, I imagine, rarely directly consciously to this end. Occasionally, perhaps, a village in a peculiarly important strategic position may have been systematically oppressed with this purpose. Forced conversions do no doubt still occur and were once common, but these are usually the effect rather of malice and anger than of proselytising zeal. If a village rebelled, it was often felt that nothing but a forced conversion would punish it adequately, or secure its future loyalty. Women are still captured and converted by force with a view to marriage; but there the motive is not fanaticism but lust. The explanation is usually rather political than religious — either it was necessary to strengthen the ruling caste by adding to its numbers, as, for example, by recruiting Christian boys for the Janissary
corps; or else it was desirable to weaken a group of rebels who happened
to be unbelievers. But the Turks do not, I think, convert by force as Europeans
did, ad majorem Dei gloriam, and from a sense that their duty to
the misguided individual requires them to rescue him from his theological
errors. The negative instance which proves that they are relatively tolerant
in a somewhat contemptuous way is their treatment of the Jews. The Turkish
Jews have no protector outside the Empire; they have no political ambitions,
and they are so weak and so scattered that it would be absurd to fear them.
They accordingly enjoy complete liberty for the management of their religious
and communal affairs; they live on excellent terms with the Turk, and have
no wish to exchange his rule for that of a Christian State.
The Economic BasisPolitics and religion have played their part in building up the Turkish system of ascendancy, but its basis is now economic. The doctrine that no Christian may hold an executive or administrative post is entrenched behind an impregnable barrier of vested interests. The Turks have become a parasitic race. Commerce they leave to Greeks and Jews. Manufactures are rarely attempted save in a few accessible centres, and then only by Europeans. For the sea the Turks have as little love as though they were still a nomad people of a continental steppe. In agriculture of a primitive kind they are more directly interested, but even as landowners their favourite practice is to leave the whole work of cultivation to Christian serfs and to draw a revenue in kind, where they have neither sunk capital nor applied themselves to the business of supervision. In European Turkey, at least, they are a sterile and unproductive class, which contributes nothing whatever to the work of the country, and lives entirely by the forced toil of a subject population. The methods and extent of this exploitation form a curious study, towards which some materials will be found in the next chapter. Its most serious aspect is probably to be found in the relation of peasant and landlord. It is enough to say here that this relation as it stands to-day could not survive the direct rule of Constantinople. It
depends upon the petty and diurnal violence which the retainers of the landed gentry exercise upon the villagers. A good police and accessible courts of justice would curb it at once; while any humane Government would be compelled to modify the existing system of land-tenure by drastic agrarian legislation. Not a few of these wealthy landowners are doubtless uncomfortably aware that they possess no title deeds to the lands on which they have "squatted," and that knowledge alone must make them anxious to retain an administration which connives at their usurpation. Another not inconsiderable interest which sustains the system of Turkish ascendancy is brigandage, which in the western districts of Macedonia attains the dimensions of a staple industry. Yet more important is the system of taxation, by which the collection of the tithes is farmed out to local magnates who bid at auction for the annual privilege of despoiling villages. A ruthless man with devoted retainers may grow speedily rich by this method, and it is in fact the foundation of the wealth of large numbers of the local Turkish magnates. Time after time the system has been reformed and abolished, but the vested interest is stronger than the feeble liberalism of an occasional Vizier. The Turks are shrewd enough to understand that if they abolished tithe-farming they would risk the loss of the support which they receive to-day from the local beys — the men who feel when the Bulgarian peasants rally to the bands that their wealth and position are at stake. For the bey who levies the tithes of a village at the head of his retainers is the same man who burns it in time of insurrection. In the one capacity he is called a tax-farmer, in the other a bashi-bazouk. Finally, there is the vested interest of the officials and the military officers. The army and the Civil Service are the only professions which a Turk of the upper and middle classes cares to enter. They are both a strict preserve, in all their important ranks, for Mohamedans. Reform in any shape means the end of this monopoly, and against reform there is mobilised accordingly not merely national pride but professional jealousy. If administrative and military careers were open
to Christians, and if promotion went by merit, their mental alertness
and better education would either oust the majority of the Turks or compel
them to alter their intellectual habits. It is upon this profitable ascendancy
that the Turkish bureaucracy reposes. It is a governing class which, whether
it be official or unofficial, lives on the backs of the Christian majority,
and thrives only by governing.
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