#11: Turkish introspection (c. 1900)

Our Turkish friends during these times were rather confused and unhappy. Business, trade, was developing. There were more travel, talk, education, and all that, but there was much perplexity and some doubt. One day as I was riding with a Turkish wagon driver he turned to me and said, "When a European king wishes to be crowned, he must first get permission from our Sultan and then he may be crowned; is not that the way?" Before I could quite frame a reply that would be neither impolite nor untrue he answered his own question, "Yes, of course that's the way. When a European king wants to be crowned, he must first get permission from our Sultan and then he may be crowned". That represents the old belief of Islam, with its Koran, tribute or sword alternative, but in these modern days there began to be doubt, and doubts are painful as well as confusing.


The Mufti and I often exchanged calls and we discussed freely any subject of common interest. One day in a burst of confidence he exclaimed, "You see how things are going in our unhappy country. There is no fear of God, no worshipper in the mosques; during Ramazan, people who fast by day eat so much by night that they are fatter at the end of the month than they were at the beginning of the fast; nothing anywhere but worldliness, self-seeking and vice. The fact is we will get no real settlement for our unsettled and unhappy condition until we bring in the English and set them up as they are in Egypt. I've been in Egypt and seen things and I know. We were on the pilgrimage to Mecca, and there was quarantine because there was an epidemic of cholera. About 20,000 of us pilgrims were put ashore, and all our baggage was piled in one great pile. It was guarded by just one British soldier, and he looked half-asleep, and there wasn't a thing stolen; but if it had been guarded by a whole regiment of our soldiers there wouldn't have been a thing left. The British don't interfere with a man's religion or his private life either and they provide work for everybody". Of course my caller might be regarded as a spy, but I knew my friend too well to harbor such suspicions of him.


There were officials and citizens of a different type, for example Hadji Hamdi Effendi of Gumush. A go-between came to him one day from the clique of his central town and seat of government and said, "They're cutting up a little melon over at headquarters, Hadji Hamdi Effendi, and they reckon your share at about $100. Come on over and get it". But the upright old man, not an official, but a highly respected and very influential citizen, indignantly poured out his wrath at being approached with any such proposition and refused to have anything with it. "What's the matter", asked the messenger; "aren't you satisfied with the amount? If not, we could probably make it more". I pitied the Turks and pitied most of all the really good men among them, and at the other extreme, I pitied the very poor who were almost crushed by taxes and exactions, while their ranks were decimated by military service.

One day Tatar Osman Pasha, a keen man with the deep, sad eyes of the Mongol, called at the College, as such officials habitually did when passing through our place. The General, who bore a great reputation for his military ability and was on his way to the European, or Balkan, wing of the Ottoman Empire to suppress some disturbance there, said that Turkey would be better off without the Balkans if they could but recognize facts. Those provinces were not the real Turkey, and the chief tribes and kindred were not kindred of the Turks, but the Turks had conquered that area and could not make up their minds to let it go.

NEXT: Armenian revolutionaries (c. 1900)