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


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.


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.

ISBN: 9781780766331

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