Primary Documents - The Fall of Liege - Belgian Ambassador on the Run-up to War in Turkey, 7 September 1914

Enver Pasha Reproduced below is the text of the Belgian ambassador to Turkey's official report, dated 7 September 1914.

In the report Baron Guillaume - the Belgian ambassador - noted that while Turkey had thus far avoided coming into the war against the Entente powers it was clear that German influence in Constantinople was notable and that war could not be excluded as a possibility in the coming weeks.  In this he clearly saw the hand of Enver Pasha, who appeared keen to spark war against the Entente powers.

In the event Turkey entered the war - as expected, on the side of the Central Powers - at the end of October 1914.

Official Report to the Belgian Government

by the Belgian Minister of Turkey, Baron Guillaume
Constantinople, 7 September 1914

Since I had the honour of announcing to you my return to Constantinople on August 16th, I have addressed to you no political dispatch, finding myself without any means of transmitting one to you.

I entrust the present letter to a special messenger of the French Embassy, in the hope that it will reach you.

On my return here, I found the situation very strained.  The incident of the Goeben had just taken place.

The German Ambassador, all-powerful here, to the extent that the Ottoman ministers fairly frequently hold their Council meetings at his house, used all his efforts to push the Turks into an imprudent step, which might provoke war with the powers of the Triple Entente.

At this moment, Talaat Bey and Halil Bey, President of the Chamber, had just left for Sofia and Bucharest with the object, they said, of settling the question of the islands with Greece.  But the real aim of their journey was to feel the ground with a view to constituting a compact group, which might engage in war against Russia.

They were soon able to assure themselves that this attempt had no chance of success, and it was at that moment that I had the honour of telegraphing to you that the Ambassadors of the Triple Entente were beginning to hope that the complication of a war with Turkey would not supervene.

Since then the situation has gone through different phases and more than once has looked dangerous.

Baron de Wangenheim, and especially General Liman von Sanders, are doing all they can to incite the Turks to war, and they have succeeded in creating here an absolutely German atmosphere in Ottoman circles.

A week ago a rupture appeared probable.  The Government not only did not send back the German crews of the Goeben and the Breslau, but hundreds of sailors and artillerymen were seen arriving from Germany, to serve both in the naval forces and in the batteries guarding the Straits.

The moment therefore appeared near, when the sense of national dignity would oblige the three Allied Powers to put a limit to the provocations of Turkey.  Their Ambassadors then began to prepare for departure and I had the honour of informing you of this by telegraph, adding that in the event of my receiving my passports myself, I proposed to entrust the protection of the Belgians residing in Turkey to the Ambassador of the United States.

But in consequence of energetic representations made on August 30th to the Grand Vizier, the situation has seemed to clear up somewhat.  His Highness is personally in favour of peace.  The same may be said of several members of the Cabinet, amongst others Djavid Bey, who sees the abyss into which the finances of the State will be hurled.

Unhappily the power of Enver Pasha is still very great and he would like to launch the country into the maddest adventures at any cost.

The mobilization which has taken place under his orders far surpassed in rigour that which took place during the Balkan War.  This time, nobody is excepted between the ages of 20 and 45.  Requisitions have assumed a character of a veritable spoliation.

The military authorities not only require the provisions to be delivered to them which are found in the shops of private owners or at the Customs House, but also goods of every kind, from motor-cars to ladies' toilet articles.

Numerous boats coming from the Black Sea and going past on their way to the Mediterranean, have been stopped at the passage and unloaded by force.

These proceedings, which the Minister of a foreign Power has not hesitated to term piracy, in a note which he addressed to the Porte, have, as their result, made trading ships desert the Bosphorus.

I learn that the receipts of the customs at Constantinople have diminished by more than 75 per cent.  As to tithes, they will amount to practically nothing, according to what I was told by a member of the Council of Debt.

On the one hand, the harvest has been gathered in under adverse conditions, in consequence of lack of labour; on the other hand, the military authorities have seized a mass of agricultural produce, before there was opportunity for the tithe to be levied.

It will be possible for the September coupons of the Public Unified Debt to be paid, but that will probably not be the case with the following coupon, and, for the first time since the Decree of Muharram, a suspension of the service of the Public Debt will be seen, whilst the deficit, according to the British Delegate on the Council of the Debt, will reach the figure of 16,500,000.

It is not surprising that under these conditions Djavid Bey, as Minister of Finance, is exerting himself to stop the Government on the fatal incline, down which German influence and the chauvinism of Enver Pasha wish to drag them.

For the moment, it is especially war against Greece which is contemplated.  As I was told yesterday by an Ambassador, the Hellenic Government are well aware that they can no longer hold without question all that was assigned to them by the Treaty of London.  The European situation has changed and they will have to make some concessions.

Athens would be willing to make concessions with regard to the government in Chios and Mytilene; for instance, it would be prepared to recognize the suzerainty of the Sultan over these islands.  But the Turks, in accordance with their system of bargaining, are now formulating on this head such demands that it seems difficult for an understanding to be reached.

There are, nevertheless, various reasons which lead one to believe at present that Turkey will not decide to open hostilities against Greece.

Turkey could not attack Greece by sea, since England has given it to be understood that if the Goeben or the Breslau comes out of the Dardanelles, the British squadron has orders to sink them.

As to a campaign on land, that would need the consent of Bulgaria, and certain signs seem to indicate that there is little disposition at Sofia to yield an assistance which might involve the country in grave complications.

All the Ambassadors at Constantinople are, in fact, convinced that a rupture between Turkey and Greece will inevitably lead to a war with the three great allied Powers.

To sum up, the danger has diminished, but it is far from having disappeared.  The Powers of the Triple Entente are doing their best to remove it, but German influence may bring things to such a pass that the dignity of the three allied countries will be compromised.

Finally, if war breaks out, this will mean political, as well as economic, ruin for Turkey, since the persons most competent to speak are of the opinion that the Turkish army is incapable of taking the field.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. II, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

"Eggs-a-cook" were boiled eggs sold by Arab street vendors. It was later used by Anzac soldiers when going over the top.

- Did you know?

Primary Docs