The German style of war business
In recent decades, a new generation of historians has begun to revise the traditional accounts of Ottoman history and offer new perspectives. Naci Yorulmaz’s newly published study of personal diplomacy during the German-Ottoman arms trade (1876-1914) offers a fresh perspective on late Ottoman history. By analyzing a chain of interactions, Yorulmaz focuses on how political, economic and military actors shaped the flow of arms and, consequently, how that trade influenced diplomatic relations and shaped foreign policy. “Arming the Sultan: German Arms Trade and Personal Diplomacy in the Ottoman Empire Before World War I” takes us into the network comprised of armament firms, banks, military diplomats, advisers and bureaucrats. As a reflection of this agency-centered approach, the book covers the personal interventions of several actors, including German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Sultan Abdülhamit II and military adviser Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz Pasha.
Isolated by other European governments, the Ottomans considered friendly relations with Germany crucial. For its part, Germany, without colonial ambitions over the Ottoman territories, appeared as a potential ally for the Ottoman state under intense external aggression. At one end of this mutually beneficial bilateral relationship is the late Ottoman Empire, which lost twofifths of its territories and one-fifth of its population after the RussoTurkish War in 1877-1878. Germany, at the opposite end, was focused on acquiring new markets and raw materials to promote industrial development and its drive to become a world power ( Weltmacht). In order to encourage arms sales, Bismarck used Germany’s military reputation gained during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). For both sides, then, this arms trade appeared as a political bonanza.
At this historical juncture, Yorulmaz argues, the German government’s attitude contrasted with the aggressive colonial attitude of other European countries and instead employed a language of cooperation and soft power in its diplomatic relations. Instead of direct colonization via imperialist military power, Bismarck preferred the penetration of overseas countries by exporting German products and dispatching civil and military advisers who could provide reliable information to their government (26). The book coins the term the “German style of war business,” which refers to the “distinctive importance of personal diplomacy applied to arms sales negotiations through the creation of […] influence networks based on close personal relationships” (2). Yorulmaz underlines here the undeniable role of non-commercial actors in the arms trade, led by armament firms like Krupp and Mauser, and calls them “businessmen in uniform” (68). They employed a variety of tactics, from forging intimate friendships with palace officials to offering
baksheesh [“bribes”], to facilitate their operations (127).
It was Bismarck who first laid down this peaceful penetration strategy. Although he dismissed Bismarck from his post in 1890, Kaiser Wilhelm, the first European
A CRUCIAL INSIGHT OFFERED BY YORULMAZ REVEALS HOW GERMAN MILITARY ADVISERS TRIED TO MANIPULATE OTTOMAN DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY
monarch ever to visit the Ottoman capital, accelerated this project and broadened the German sphere of influence in the Ottoman Empire (44). “Arming the Sultan” interrogates the German arms trade in three subsequent waves: The first wave (1881-1898) begins with Bismarck’s meeting with the Ottoman delegation in Berlin and covers the dispatch of German military advisers to the Ottoman Empire upon the request of Abdülhamit. With an increase in the arms trade and bilateral relations, the second wave (1898-1909) refers to the period between Kaiser Wilhelm’s second visit to the Ottoman Empire in 1898, known as the Orientreise, and the Young Turk Revolution in 1908 and Abdülhamit’s dethronement in 1909. The last wave (1909-1914) continues from that moment to the Ottoman Empire’s participation in World War I on the German side, ultimately leading to the demise of the empire.
These three periods are examined and narrated through an extensive analysis of archival documents, data and anecdotes. Bismarck’s advice in December 1881 to the Ottoman delegation, which was dispatched to Berlin by Abdülhamit, is especially noteworthy. On the question of Christian subjects, for instance, Bismarck suggests the use of coercive measures, with the metaphor “the lion’s claw covered by a silken glove,” and even assimilation: “…if one acts cautiously in this way, in a short time the influence and significance of the Christian subjects, namely the subjects other than Turks, would diminish [ zail] or possibly they might even entirely merge [ mezc] with Turks and shortly afterwards be transformed [ qalb] in the Turks” (22). Bismarck seems to have been quite positive about Abdülhamit’s dissolution of the Ottoman parliament in 1878: “You acted very well with the dissolution of the parliament. Because, it would do more harm than good to a state, unless it does not consist of a single nation [ millet-i vahide]” (23).
We also learn that the military advisers Bismarck sent to İstanbul became an indispensible part of the German arms trade and a reliable source of information for both the German government and armament firms. Yorulmaz describes them as a “Trojan horse for the German arms industry” (74). No doubt Goltz Pasha, a source of inspiration for many Unionists, was the most impressive among them. Having built an information network in the palace and close relations with the inner circle of the sultan, Goltz Pasha had a drastic impact on German-Ottoman relations by aiding with the fortification of the Turkish Straits with Krupp guns in 1885-1886, the 1886 Recruiting Law extending obligatory military service to all Muslim males aged 20 and over and the contracts signed with the Mauser Company in 1886-1887 (95).
A crucial insight offered by Yorulmaz reveals how German military advisers tried to manipulate Ottoman defense and foreign policy in accord with the German arms trade. For the fortification of the Turkish Straits with Krupp guns, Goltz Pasha tried to persuade the Ottoman palace of the risk of a probable Russian attack and “continued to elaborate on the concept of German-Austrian friendship and the Russian threat on many occasions” (103).
Yorulmaz’s study deserves much praise; first, for relying on multi-national archival research -something rare in Ottoman and Turkish studies. Benefiting from his competence in German, English and Ottoman Turkish, the author skillfully manages with abundant archival documents and narrates the topic in accessible language. Second, the book is a welcome contribution as it offers an agency-centered and interest-based realist approach to a period in Ottoman history subject to ideological disparities in previous academic literature. Third, Yorulmaz succeeds when indicating the relation between arms trade and foreign policy, or more generally, how economic and political concerns are bound together in the late Ottoman period. Finally, these archival analyses are quite telling in the light of consequent developments in the region. The undeniable role of the arms trade in the ceaseless turmoil in the Middle East can be scrutinized more deeply in this respect.
THE AUTHOR SKILLFULLY MANAGES ABUNDANT ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTS AND NARRATES THE TOPIC IN ACCESSIBLE LANGUAGE
Naci Yorulmaz, “Arming the Sultan: German Arms Trade and Personal Diplomacy in the Ottoman Empire
Before World War I,” (London, New York: I. B. Tauris, 2014), 256 pp.