« PreviousContinue »
THE PROBLEM OF ASIATIC TURKEY 1
The problem of Constantinople has perplexed and distressed the world during many centuries. Numerous wars have been waged, and innumerable lives have been sacrificed by the nations desiring to possess or control that glorious city and the wonderful Narrows which separate Europe from Asia and which connect the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the East and the West, the Slavonic and the Latin-Germanic world. Hitherto it was generally believed that an attempt to settle the question of Constantinople would inevitably lead to a world war among the claimant States, that their agreement was impossible. Hence diplomats thought with dread of the question of Constantinople, which seemed insoluble. The Great War bas broadened men's minds, and has bridged many historic differences. It has created new enemies, but it has also created new friends, and it appears that the problem of Constantinople will peacefully and permanently be settled when the Entente Powers have achieved their final victory. However, while we may rejoice that the ever-threatening problem of Constantinople has at last been eliminated, it seems possible that another, a far greater and a far more dangerous one, may almost immediately arise in its place. The question of Asiatic Turkey is forcing itself to the front, and it may convulse the world in a series of devastating
i The Nineteenth Century and After, June 1916.
wars unless it be solved together with the other great questions which will come up for settlement at the Peace Congress.
Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. Not only the map of Europe, but that of the world, will have to be re-drawn. The coming settlement will be greater, and may be far more difficult, than that made at Vienna a hundred years ago. It would therefore not be surprising if those of the assembled statesmen who are not sufficiently acquainted with the significance, the importance, and the danger of the problem of Asiatic Turkey should say, “We have our hands full. Let us not touch the question of Asiatic Turkey. That is a matter for another generation.' That attitude is understandable, but it should not deter those statesmen who realise the portent and the peril of the Turco-Asiatic problem, and the danger of leaving it in abeyance, from impressing upon their less well-informed colleagues the necessity of a settlement.
The question of Asiatic Turkey is undoubtedly a far more difficult question than that of Constantinople. Constantinople and the Straits are, as I have shown, not the key to the Dominion of the World, as Napoleon the First asserted, but merely the key to the Black Sea. Former generations, uncritically repeating Napoleon's celebrated dictum, have greatly overrated the strategical importance of that wonderful site. The importance and value of Asiatic Turkey on the other hand can scarcely be exaggerated, for it occupies undoubtedly the most important strategical position in the world. It forms the nucleus and centre of the Old World. It separates, and at the same time connects, Europe, Asia, and Africa, three continents which are inhabited by approximately nine-tenths of the human race.
If we wish clearly to understand the iniportance of Asiatic Turkey, we must study its position not only from the strategical point of view, but also from the religiopolitical and from the economic points of view.
Asiatic Turkey occupies a most commanding position, both for war and for trade. A glance at a map shows that Asiatic Turkey is the link and the bridge which connects Africa with Asia and both with Europe. It occupies a position whence three continents may easily be threatened and attacked. The strategical importance of a site depends obviously not only on its geographical position, but also on its military value, on the facilities which it offers both for defence and for attack. Looked at from the defensive point of view, Asiatic Turkey forms an enormous natural fortress of the greatest strength. The waters of the Black Sea, of the Mediterranean, of the Red Sea, and of the Persian Gulf efficiently shelter the larger part of its borders, while its land frontiers are equally powerfully protected by gigantic waterless deserts and lofty mountain ranges. Range after range of mountains protect Asiatic Turkey towards Russia and Persia. The non-Turkish part of Arabia is a torrid desert, and one of the least-known and least-explored countries in the world. In the south-west Asiatic Turkey is protected by the barren waste of the Sinai Peninsula, the Suez Canal, and the Sahara. Thus, Asiatic Turkey enjoys virtually all the advantages of an island, being surrounded on all sides by the sea and sandy and mountainous wastes.
Asia Minor is the nucleus, the territorial base, and the citadel of Asiatic Turkey. High mountain walls rise on its Black Sea and Mediterranean shores, and it is sheltered towards the south by the mighty Taurus chain of mountains which stretches from the Gulf of Alexandretta, opposite Cyprus, to the Persian frontier. Thus the Taurus forms a wall of defence from 7,000 to 10,000 feet high against an enemy advancing upon Asia Minor from the east or from the south, from the Red Sea and Syria, or from the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia.
The best defence is the attack. The importance of a fortress lies not so much in its strength for purely passive defence as in its usefulness as a base for an attack. An impregnable fortress which cannot serve as a base of attack because it lies on an inaccessible mountain or on an outof-the-way island can safely be disregarded by an enemy, and is therefore militarily worthless. Asiatic Turkey is a natural fortress which possesses vast possibilities for attack, for it borders upon some of the most valuable and most vulnerable positions in the world, and it is able to dominate them and to seize them by a surprise attack. In the north it can threaten the rich Caucasian Provinces of Russia and their oil-fields with Tiflis, Batum, Baku. From its 600 miles of Black Sea coast it can attack the rich Russian Black Sea provinces with the Crimea, Odessa, Nikolaeff, and Kherson. It can easily strike across the narrow Bosphorus at Constantinople. Towards the west of Asia Minor, and in easy reach of it, lie the beautiful Greek and Italian islands in the Ægean, which until recently belonged to Turkey, and lies Greece itself, which for centuries was a Turkish possession. West of Turkish Syria lie the Suez Canal, Egypt, Erythrea, and the Italian and French Colonies of North Africa.
A powerful Asiatic Turkey can obviously dominate not only the Bosphorus, the Dardanelles, and the Suez Canal, but the very narrow entrance of the Red Sea near Aden, and that of the Persian Gulf near Muscat as well. It must also not be forgotten that only a comparatively short distance, a stretch of country under the nominal rule of weak and decadent Persia, separates Asiatic Turkey from the Indian frontier. It is clear that Asiatic Turkey, lying in the centre of the Old World, is at the same time a natural fortress of the greatest defensive strength and an ideal base for a surprise attack upon Southern Russia, Constantinople, the Ægean Islands, Greece, the Suez Canal, Egypt, Persia, Afghanistan, and India.
Time is money. From year to year international traffic tends more and more toward the shortest and the most direct, the best strategical, routes. Asia Minor lies across one of the greatest lines of world traffic. It lies
across the direct line which connects London, Paris, and Berlin with Karachi, Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Canton, and Shanghai. The enormous mountains of Afghanistan and of Tibet and the great Russian inland seas compel the main railway lines connecting Europe and Asia which undoubtedly will be built in the future to be led via Constantinople and Asia Minor, and not via Russia and Southern Siberia. Year by year the importance of the land route to India and China by way of Asia Minor will therefore grow. Year by year the strategical value of the railways running through Asia Minor from Constantinople towards Mosul and Baghdad will increase. Asiatic Turkey commands by its position the shortest, and therefore the best, land route to India and China, the route of the future. By commanding the Suez Canal and the Narrow Straits which lead from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and to the Persian Gulf, that country is able to threaten with a flank attack the sea route to India and China not merely in one but in three places. As the opening of the Persian Gulf lies not far from the Indian coast, it is obvious that a strong Power holding Asiatic Turkey would be able to threaten with its navy not only the Mediterranean route to India and the Far East, but the Cape route as well.
The strategical position of Asiatic Turkey curiously resembles that of Switzerland. Being surrounded by lofty mountains, vast deserts, and the sea, Nature has made Asiatic Turkey an impregnable fortress, another Switzerland. However, while little Switzerland dominates by its natural strength and strategical position merely three European States—Germany, France, and ItalyAsiatic Turkey dominates the three most populous, and therefore the three most important, continents of the world.
Asiatic Turkey looks small on the ordinary maps ; but it is, as the table on page 60 shows, a very large and extremely sparsely populated country.
Asiatic Turkey is three and a half times as large as Germany, and nearly six times as large as the United