German-Ottoman Relations In The Late 19th – Early 20th Centuries

“Let His Majesty the Sultan and the Mohammedans scattered across the land who consider him their caliph know that the German Kaiser will be their friend at all times,” the German emperor and King of Prussia Wilhelm II gave such a toast during his visit to Damascus in 1898.

Relations between the two countries would deepen so much that they would lead to a German-Turkish alliance during WWI. What did the two seemingly different states find in common?

The thing is that the policy of Great Britain and France at that time was considered as expansionist by the Ottoman Empire. This mattered especially because the Ottoman Empire was highly dependent on European, mainly English capital.

At the beginning of the 19th century, financial devastation, arbitrariness, and bribery were widespread in the country due to inadequate management. This led to a budget deficit. The government began to issue paper money, but it would quickly lose its value.

The consequences were a decrease in tax revenues and state revenues. In order to stop the deficit, the Ottomans signed an agreement with the bankers Alleon and Baltazzi in 1845. According to this agreement, bankers fixed the exchange rate between the Ottoman Kurush and the British pound.

With an annual government subsidy of 20 thousand liras, the Ottomans made transfers to London at the rate of 110 kurush per pound. The exchange rate stabilized thanks to this.

However, a single bank was not enough to stabilize the economy. Moreover, it would soon shut down, while the Crimean War weakened the finances of the Ottomans even more. The budget deficit amounted to 80 million francs. Because of this, the country needed even more foreign loans.

Thanks to the Europeans, banking appeared in the Ottoman Empire – more importantly, the Imperial Ottoman Bank and the Ottoman Public Debt Administration. The European capital began to flow into the Empire.

Not everything was smooth and, naturally, the Ottoman Empire was used by the British to expand its market. The Ottomans who had invited them themselves soon began to fear their expansion. In addition, they were worried that banks would stop issuing loans if Abdul-Hamid II did not stop the massacres of the Armenian population and did not modernize the country.

And then came Germany.

Germany did not have a broad colonial policy, but it also needed to expand its market in the East. The Ottomans saw in the Germans their allies against the Anglo-French bloc, and the Germans saw the Ottomans as a means of expanding their trade influence.

By the end of the 19th century, the German capital had begun to advance into the Ottoman market. The Ottoman Empire would soon become the center of German Middle Eastern trade.

During World War I, the attitude towards the Ottomans and Muslims in Germany were revised. Many Muslims were captured by the Germans from different countries of the Entente. The Germans developed a plan for their use under the supervision of diplomat Max von Oppenheim.

In 1914, von Oppenheim prepared a memorandum in which the course of action was as follows.

First, Germany was to announce jihad among Muslims and Turks with the assistance of the Ottoman Empire. Prisoners of war were to join the holy war, after which they were to be transferred back to their countries (Great Britain, France, or Russia). There, they were to agitate other Muslims and launch a rebellion against the oppressors – that is, the authorities.

To this end, good conditions were established in the camps for Muslim POWs. They were provided with access to mosques and periodicals.

Islam was used by the Germans as a weapon against the countries of the Entente. In 1915, the first mosque appeared in Germany. Muslim religious celebrations would even be attended by some German officials. The propaganda newspaper El Jihad was established along with the East Information Service.

However, the reliance on a universal Muslim unity wouldn’t be fruitful. The plan to destroy the Entente countries from within was unsuccessful – nobody went to the holy war. But the Germans allowed one thing – they untied the hands of the Turks, so the Turks would still make use of the holy war.

The whole policy of Germany allowed the Turks to start the Armenian Genocide without any worries. The Germans did not care, and they even received certain dividends since the Armenians were more positively inclined towards the Entente.

The German-Turkish cooperation and plans for the use of Islam were not successful for Germany but became useful for Turkey. Under the preoccupation with the war against the Entente and the silently approving gaze of the Germans, the Turks were able to successfully get rid of the Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians.

The cynical von Wangenheim was more useful to the Turks than the emotional Gladstone or Lloyd George. And Germany was at fault for the Genocide by the very fact that it did not stop the Turks and even encouraged their actions due to the nature of their strategic task.

Fortunately, modern Germany realizes this and even apologized for it. Does this help anyone though?

On the other hand, while the Germans indirectly guilty of the Genocide do admit their fault, the very perpetrators of the Genocide, apparently, still believe that their actions will again be covered up by a major political player. Which player it will be is a rhetorical question. Or maybe not at all rhetorical.

Arthur Hakobyan – Antitopor

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