Tall Armenian Tale


The Other Side of the Falsified Genocide


  THE TURK: Lustful and Terrible  
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Major Players
Links & Misc.


Mahmut Ozan
Edward Tashji
Sam Weems

The following excerpts are from Andrew Wheatcroft's excellent THE OTTOMANS, Viking, 1993


The Two Stereotypes by the West


Specifically, I suggest that by the late nineteenth century, after seventy-five years of ever-closer contact, the Ottomans were stereotyped by the West under two attitudes. The first is as ‘the Lustful Turk’, which is the title of a widely circulated pornographic novel first published in 1828 and which remained popular throughout the nineteenth century. It stands for the prurient imagination which invested the Ottomans with such vices as enabled Westerners to dismiss them as worthless. The second stereotype is of ‘the Terrible Turk’ — a story of perverted valour, or how, in an evil society, even virtuous qualities are demeaned. Thus, the Turk can be courageous and honourable, but at heart he is a beast, which outweighs all else. The linkage between sex and brutality, the open ‘floodgates of lust’ and the dire ‘refinements of cruelty’, was made explicit by Gladstone.5

These attributes can be found in almost all the Western texts and images concerned with the Ottomans, and might simply condemn these sources as worthless. I suggest that it is possible to sift the texts, and to remove the grosser distortions, leaving (no doubt) subtle and invisible corruption but not so much as to negate the value of their testimony.


  Western Observations on the Turks (p. 25)

 From the moment when Constantinople fell, Europeans regarded the Turks with a mixture of horror and fascination. They were outside the bounds of society, and almost beyond the realm of humanity. John Lyly, writing in Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit (1578), described the Turk as ‘vile and brutish’.4 Other authors made much of the Turks’ supposed addiction to unnatural vice: ‘The Bassas [pashas] of the Court, great in dignities . . . plunge themselves in all sorts of voluptuousnesse, and their spirits mollified in the myre of filthy pleasures, they seek them in a contrary course and demand of nature which she hath not.’5 Only a few writers and travellers regarded the Ottomans as neither superhuman nor subhuman. A young Venetian called Giacomo de’ Languschi met Mehmed only days after the conquest of Constantinople: he presented an alternative image of the ‘Terrible Turk’, who ate children alive — a stereotype rapidly becoming universal in the West, and one which mothers found useful for terrifying naughty children.

4. London 1868 edn), p. 42

5. See Seigneur Michael de Baudier de Languedoc, The History of the Serrail and the Court of the Grand Seigneur (London, 1635)


"The Ottomans" offers excellent cartoons of the period to illustrate attitudes

Sultan Abdul Hamid with Emperor Franz Joseph and Tsar Nicholas I (Punch, 1903]

Pages 242—4 The Indolent Ottoman

Here in two separate images (Punch, 1903, with Emperor Franz Joseph and Tsar Nicholas I) and Judy, 1903 (with John Bull), Abdul Hamid is depicted in almost identical form: cross-legged on his divan, faced by the straight-backed, manly Europeans, his self-indulgent pipe close at hand.

Sultan Abdul Hamid with John Bull (Judy, 1903]

Motive of the Foreign Powers

P. 164:

Haul Halit, an educated and liberal man, made the direct connection between the restiveness of non-Muslim minorities and European commercial domination of the empire:

Foreign Powers ... take up, some of them, the cause of those eastern Christians who are under Ottoman rule, alleging they are acting in the name of ‘humanity’. Their real motive, however, is that they may use them as a point d’appui for their political schemes and designs. . . each native Christian community entertains, nowadays more or less without disguise, sentiments of animosity towards the Osmanlis, and even sympathizes with the enemies of the Turkish empire in times of international trouble or war.39 [Halit, Mehmet Beyri, Istanbul (Istanbul, 1953)]

He continued to suggest that the attacks on Christian minorities, ‘which would be represented in Europe as an outburst of Musselman fanaticism’, were an understandable response to provocation: ‘The Turk’s patience is almost inexhaustible, but when you attack his women and children, his anger is roused, and nothing on earth can control it.’

The Turks were portrayed as savages and barbarians in the West; they saw themselves as slow to anger but implacable once roused. Europeans looked down on the Turks with disdain, and the Turks returned the compliment. Educated Ottomans accused Westerners of ignorance and insensitivity.


The ... increasingly intrusive... element in the equation was the interest of the Western countries. Every nation wanted to influence the Ottoman government in the direction that best suited that nation’s strategic and political purposes. Each European power had its own specific agenda, but its concern invariably found expression as a defence of the. Christian minorities. The concentration on the plight of the Christians simply ignored the way in which Muslims and Jews were treated in similar circumstances. Sometimes it was Christians who were the agents of oppression.

Mary Eliza Rogers remarked how ‘A gentle-looking little girl, of about six years of age, whose father was a much respected European, and mother an Arab, surprised me very much one day, by saying in Arabic, without any provocation, and with a gesture of scorn, to a Jewish workman “Go thou Jew, and be crucified.” When she was told what the words meant, she ‘by her own impulse, and to his great wonder, kissed his hands, while tears stood in her eyes’.25 Whether her guileless words were heard from her Christian father or her Arab mother cannot be known, but the incident suggests a gloss on the simplistic presentation of Christian-as-victim which dominates most European accounts of the empire. Even in the Balkans, where Europeans were committed to the idea of genocide by the Ottomans, the atavistic hatreds of village life could often be more significant than a straightforward division between Christian and Muslim. However, this was not the simple message of Turkish ‘barbarity’ that the West required.


"Arrangements" for the Sick Man of Europe

He was ‘the sick man of Europe’. The origin of this phrase is well known. In January 1853, Tsar Nicholas I, ‘sweating violently’ from a high fever and in agony from gout, had risen from his sickbed to meet Sir Hamilton Seymour, the British minister in St Petersburg. Their conversa­tions turned inevitably to the Tsar’s main preoccupation. Nicholas was convinced that the Ottoman empire was on the point of imminent collapse. He told Seymour, ‘we have a sick man on our hands, a man who is seriously ill; it will . . . be a great misfortune if he escapes us one of these days, especially before all the arrangements are made’.56 The ‘arrangements’ he had in mind were for the dismemberment of the Ottoman empire by the European powers.

56. Seymour’s diary ciyted in Alan Palmer, The Banner of Battle; the Story of the Crimean War (London, 1987) 

See: Secret Treaties to Dismember the Ottoman Empire

One Reason for the Empire's Decline (p. 70)

  But the antipathy to innovation — and the Ottoman Turkish word for this, bida, carried the sense of ‘an event to be avoided if at all possible’, akin to heresy — was markedly different to the attitudes prevailing in the West. There was a saying attributed to the Prophet that ‘the worst things are those that are novelties, every novelty is an innovation, every innovation is an error, and every error leads to Hell Fire.”3 The quality of timelessness which Western commentators attributed to the Ottomans, with nothing seeming to alter over decades or even centuries, was exaggerated, but it came close to the truth.


  The Lustful Turk

...The West remained preoccupied with the entrenched images from the past. ‘Civilization’ did not bring acceptance, merely a greater fear of the alien qualities of the Turk. Most Westerners could not understand the transformations that were so clear to all Turks, whether Ottomans from the days of the empire or nationalists in the new republic after 1923. They fixed instead on the superficial, the exotic and mysterious images from the distant past.2

These attitudes had deep roots in the earliest days of Christian—Muslim contact, but from the early eighteenth century there had been a shift in emphasis from fear and hostility to patronage and admiration. It has been pointed out that this was the point at which the Ottomans ceased to be a military threat, but that is post hoc propter hoc, too simple a conclusion. The nature of the contact certainly changed, for, instead of the West seeing the Turks only on the battlefield or as captives, they began to appear as emissaries in the courts of the West.

This new vision of the Ottoman was fanned into fire as a fashionable ‘Turcomania’ which swept through all the countries of western Europe in the first half of the eighteenth century. The preoccupation with all things Turkish began with the embassy of Mehmed Efendi to France in 1720-1. The French ... shifted from seeing the Turks predominantly as figures of terror to seeing them as a focus of exotic pleasure, lust and duplicity. And where France led, Europe followed.3

Soon mendacity, dissimulation and rapacity were also being presented as characteristically Ottoman vices. Add to these the all-too-easily imagined scarlet lusts and violent passions of the harem, and the old stereotypes of the Lusty Moor and the Ensanguined Turks were reinforced, not displaced, by the contact with reality. As the Ottomans ceased to be feared for their warlike and manly virtues, they were half-envied, half-despised for their assumed athleticism and subtle cruelties in the bedchamber. Depravities inflamed the imaginations of European men when they conjectured about the East. How appropriate that in the apartments where de Sade’s The One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom was enacted ‘splendid Turkish beds canopied in three-coloured damask with matching furniture adorned these suites whose boudoirs offered everything and more for most sensual that lubricity might fancy’.4 Or that some of the victims were described as ‘sultanas’ or ‘bardashes’ — catamites.
The misapprehensions were not only from the Western direction: Ottomans coming to the West suffered a profound shock and conjured up their own fantasies. Sheikh Rifaa noted of the French: ‘Men among them are the slaves of women whether they be beautiful or not. One of them said ... women among the people of the East are like household possessions while among the Franks they are like spoiled children.’5 A Moroccan ambassador, visiting Spain in 1766, was shocked by the way in which

The women are very much addicted to conversation and conviviality with men other than their husbands, in company or in private. . . It often happens that a Christian returns home and finds his wife or his daughter or his sister in the company of another Christian, a stranger, drinking together and leaning against one another. He is delighted with this . . . and esteems it as favour from the Christian who is in company of his wife or whichever other women of his household it may be.6

The horrified reaction of the ambassador, al-Ghazal, probably echoed that of many Muslims of his day: ‘we returned to our lodgings and we prayed to God to save us from the wretched state of these infidels.’ Yet this mutual incomprehension, cloaked in a sense of self-satisfaction, blinded both parties to the realities of their own societies. Men from Britain and France despised the closeting of women in the Ottoman lands, and congratulated themselves on the open freedom enjoyed by women in the West. The enforced silence of women in their own nations passed without remark.

Magazine version of a 1968 softcore sex farce. Apparently, the
only Turks in the film are pirates, who rape and sell a chaste
Englishwoman to Arab sheiks.

Before the eighteenth century, admission to the Ottoman empire was a rare privilege, and very few Ottomans made the reverse journey. From the beginning of the eighteenth century, the pattern of mutual exchange grew year by year. Constantinople became a port of call on the grand tour, and an increasing number of Ottomans came to the West. A number of parallel attitudes emerged, from both sides of the exchange. First, and the fewest in number, were the enthusiasts, who found fulfilment in the contact. At the other extreme were those who abominated every aspect of the alien world — a large assembly. Both these groups, passionate in their advocacy for or against, were not so much experiencing the alien — the ‘other’ — as finding reinforcement for their own hopes and fears. Much the largest group were simply inquisitive, and in their often naïve and ill-informed curiosity lie the unconscious attitudes with which their own cultures had infused them. Finally there was the largest category of all:
those who passed judgement on the Ottomans without the benefit of seeing for themselves. Indeed, as the means of printed communication improved, and most substantially with the growth of the illustrated press in the nineteenth century,7 the ‘matter of the East’ became the property of anyone who could read a newspaper or a pamphlet, or who listened to opinions expressed in the alehouse or at the dinner table. At certain points, after the ‘Bulgarian atrocities’ of the 1870s or the ‘Armenian massacres’ of the 1890s, the issue of the Ottomans was at the heart of politics, most dramatically in Britain, but throughout Europe and the United States. In Britain, certainly, the distinction between those who had been east and those who had not was often marked. Benjamin Disraeli, entranced by the romance of the Orient, had spent many months in Greece, Constantinople and Egypt, living ‘indolently a Ia Turque’. For Disraeli, ‘the meanest merchant in the Bazaar looks like a Sultan in an Eastern fairy tale,’8 and the East was to be enjoyed and understood. For William Ewart Gladstone, who had been no further east than Italy and treasured Western Christian civilization, the Turk was to be abominated.


 The atavistic preoccupation of the West with the Ottomans falls under three broad headings: lust, cruelty and filth. The last overarches the first two. Virtually every traveller felt compelled to comment on some or all of them; in none of very many texts that I have read have the topics been ignored entirely. For most, the experience of the East brought an inner personal struggle to a head; and for women travellers the issues were more complex and subtle than they appeared to men.’ Because they could, if they were persistent, be admitted to the harem world, about which men could only mutter and conjecture, women confronted a particular conflict between the stereotype and the perceived reality. They were also aware of constraints they suffered in their own societies: for every Madame de Sévigné, honoured and applauded as a savante, there were many more women of spirit and accomplishment who were stifled by their lack of fulfilment. And for even a woman of accepted quality and intellectual stature, there was a division of spheres. As Pope put it, in his Epistle to a Lady:

But grant, in Public Men sometimes are shown,
As Woman’s seen in Private life alone:
Our bolder Talents in full light display’d,
Your Virtues open fairest in the shade.’°10

Alain Corbin has pointed out the connection of darkness and disease: cut off from the light and the open air, it was thought, women deteriorated physically and psychologically.11 The harem, with its blank windowless walls, remote from the outside world, seemed to men an inevitable breeding-ground for vice and moral decay. Yet were not European women cast by men into ‘the shade’, and suffering from being cloistered? Did they not feel a kinship with those secluded behind the walls of the harem? The first European woman to visit the inner world was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and it need not be added that Lady Mary was one of a most privileged elite, with an independence far beyond that of most women. But Pope’s cruel lines could have been addressed to her predicament: a clever woman chained to a dull man. She was transformed by her experience of the Ottoman world, and began her life anew.

During the first days of 1717 she travelled to Constantinople with her husband, the new English ambassador to the court of Ahmed III. She took with her all the prejudices of her class and race, topped up with a surfeit of literary imaginings about the mysterious East. Her mind was open, however, and contact produced profound changes in her attitudes from the first days of her entry into the Ottoman-occupied Balkans.

She noted of her host at the town of Peterwaradin:

Achmet-Beg ... has had the good sense to prefer an easy, quiet, secure life to all the dangerous Honnours of the Port[e]. He sups with us every night and drinks wine very freely. You cannot imagine how much he is delighted with the Liberty of converseing with me ... I have frequent disputes with him concerning the difference of our Customs, particularly the confinements of Women.

He assures me there is nothing at all in it; only, says he, we [that is the Turks] have the advantage that when our Wives cheat us, no body knows it.12

Featured in this letter to Alexander Pope (whose appetite for the bizarre and the grotesque she knew well) are three stereotypes of the Ottomans, bundled together: dissimulation (the wine), lust (intimate proximity to a European woman) and cruelty (the confinement of women). Yet Achmet-Beg’s behaviour and responses undermined each of the prejudices in turn. Hospitality demanded that he entertain his guests, and, anyway, the prohibition against wine was observed only by the pious. Drunkenness, on the other hand, was to be shunned. And, plainly, it was the conversation not the unveiled face of Lady Mary that roused him. Indeed, her fine, bright eyes could only have been diminished by the sadly pockmarked face below. And his remark about cheating wives had perhaps a particular resonance for her, who had married her husband after clandestine meetings and endless intrigue, because her father was negotiating to sell her more advantageously to a vapid but rich young Irish peer. Her alternative had been not the violent death that disobedient daughters were (wrongly) believed to suffer in the Ottoman lands, but a prolonged social death. Indeed, said her father, she could refuse to marry Viscount Massarene, but on condition that she never married anyone else, with the consequent effective exile from society into country living. And she would be allowed only £4oo a year for the rest of her life to cover all her needs. His implication was clear: she could choose freely, but only between his choice for her husband and the end of the life she desired.

For Lady Mary, therefore, the Ottomans were alien but not unappealing. Add to that the bitter fact that her husband, Edward Wortley Montagu, with whom she had eloped to escape the viscount or a life of maidenly penury, turned out to be a dullard, immune to romance, and her sense of identity with Ottoman women grew ever stronger. When she first went to the baths, in Adrianapole, she was ‘in my travelling Habit, which is a rideing dress, and certainly appear’d very extraordinary to them, yet there was not one of ‘em that showed the least surprize or impertinent Curiosity, but receiv’d me with all the obliging civility possible.’13 Nor did she ignore their common fate as victims of male proclivities:

The Lady that seem’d the most considerable amongst them entreated me to sit by her and would fain have undress’d me for the bath. I excus’d my selfe with some difficulty, they being all so earnest in perswading me. I was at last forc’d to open my skirt and shew them my stays, which satisfy’d ‘em very well, for I saw they beleiv’d I was so lock’d up in that machine that it was not in my power to open it, which contrivance they attributed to my Husband.

She concluded the thought with an aside: ‘I was charm’d with their Civility and Beauty and should have been very glad to pass more time with them, but Mr. W[ortley] resolving to pursue his Journey the next morning early, I was in haste to see the ruins of Justinian’s Church . . .‘ No doubt the female friend to whom she addressed the letter would have recognized the implicit complaint.
One of her first acts on arriving in the Ottoman domains was to equip herself with a full set of clothes suitable for an Ottoman lady of quality, which she described to her sister as ‘admirably becoming’. Once within the enveloping muslins and silks, she discovered the benefits of invisibility, for no Ottoman would dare to intrude upon a woman’s inviolability. Like the blank external walls of the harem, the utter anonymity of the Ottoman dress repelled intruders more than it restrained the woman within. Indeed, abandoning the armour of her stays, Lady Mary found other elements to the liberation within the veil: ‘Now I am a little acquainted with their ways, I cannot forbear admiring either the exemplary discretion or extreme Stupidity of all the writers that have given accounts of ‘em.’14 The (male) gender of the writers was unspecified. The truth, as she had discovered, was:

‘Tis very easy to see they have more Liberty than we have, no Woman of what rank so ever being permitted to go in the streets without 2. muslins, one that covers her face all but her Eyes and another that hides the whole dress of her head and hangs halfe way down her back; and their Shapes are wholly conceal’d by a thing they call a Ferigée [ferace], which no Woman of any sort appears without . . . You may guess how effectually this disguises them, that there is no distinguishing the great Lady from her Slave, and ‘tis impossible for the most jealous Husband to know his Wife when he meets her, and no Man dares either touch or follow a Woman in the Street.

This, then, was the meaning of Achmet-Beg’s amused aside over dinner, as he thought of how ‘This perpetual Masquerade gives them entire Liberty of following their Inclinations without danger of Discovery.”5 But presumably, if he was aware, then so too were other Ottoman men; yet the traditions that permitted women to leave the walls of the harem, accompanied by eunuchs and dressed in the prescribed clothing, could not be undermined. The only constraints were the savage penalties if caught in flagrante. Much of Pierre Loti’s 1879 novel Aziyadé, in which effective liberty was balanced by death or worse if discovered with a lover, was dominated by this theme. But Lady Mary, remembering those fearful and uncomfortable assignations with Wortley, in terror of being seen by her father’s spies, must have understood better than most the benefits of the Ottoman way.

Other advantages for a woman soon became clear to her. She found that married women could inherit property, and control their estate, regardless of their husband’s wishes. And while the life of an Ottoman official could hang by a hair, she noted that women were

the only free people in the Empire. The very Divan pays a respect to ‘em and the Grand Signor himselfe, when a Bassa [pasha] is executed, never violates the priveleges of the Haram (or Women’s apartment) which remains unsearch’d entire to the Widow. They are Queens of their slaves, which the Husband has no permission so much as to look upon.. . except that his Lady chuses.1’

As time went on, however, she discovered that the practice did not quite match the theory, and that women were forced into marriage, cheated or dispossessed just as they were in England.
These views from within the hidden world of women deserve discussion at some length because they not only allow a unique insight across the gender barrier which kept out all men, they also obliquely allow a clearer vision of the male Ottoman world. The latter is possible because of Lady Mary’s extravagant sympathy for all things Turkish, which extended even to the point of absurdity. The English criminal code was harsh and often unjust, but to suggest that Turkish law was ‘better designed and better executed than ours’17 seemed to suggest that she thought the executions enacted on the shores of the Golden Horn were less barbaric than civilized English justice. Yet perhaps she did, for, barely two years before she left on her voyage to the East, the leaders of the failed Jacobite rebellion suffered the disgusting rending and dismembering rituals of the English law of treason, while their followers were sold into slavery. One who could easily have met his end on the scaffold at Tower Hill was her own brother-in-law, the earl of Mar, who had escaped to exile in Paris. Or perhaps she had in mind French justice, where criminals were ‘broken on the wheel’ before expiring. A woman of learning, sharp sensibility and acute powers of observation, her letters bear the marks of careful thought and should not be lightly dismissed.

Her narratives18 go to the heart of Ottoman ambiguities. The letters to male correspondents, to Pope and the Abbé Conti, differ in tone from those to her female acquaintances, who were able to decipher her half-hidden meaning. And so too were her female readers, when these ‘letters’ were published. She wrote to her sister in exile with her husband in Paris, ‘I went to see the Sultana Hafife [Hafise], favourite of the last Emperour Mustapha, who ... was deposed ... This Lady was immediately after his death saluted with an Absolute order to leave the Seraglio and chuse her selfe a Husband from the great Men at the Port[e].”9 This was only partly true, for the custom was for former wives to be required to live in the Eski Saray built by Mehmed the Conqueror and colloquially known as ‘the house of sorrows’. So the sultana ‘threw her selfe at the Sultan’s feet and begg’d him to poniard her rather than use his brother’s Widow with that contempt.’

The sultana demanded an independent life, but the suspicious Ahmed was not willing to go so far. He was well aware of the power of women in the Ottoman court. But since it was a free choice of a husband:

She chose Bekir Effendi, then Secretary of State, and above fourscore years old, to convince the World that she firmly intended to keep the vow she had made of never suffering a znd Husband to approach her bed, and since she must honnour some subject so far as to be call’d his Wife she would chuse him as a mark of her Gratitude, since it was he that had presented her at the Age of 10 year old to her lost Lord.2°

For someone who since childhood had known only the life of the imperial harem, she had a strong political sense and, plainly, a will of steel.

Sultana Hafise married as required, but

she has never permitted him to pay her one visit, thô it is now 15 year she has been in his house, where she passes her time in unintterupted Mourning with a constancy very little known in Christendom, especially in a widow of 21, for she is now but 36 [a very few years older, indeed, than Lady Mary and her sister]. She has no black Eunuchs for her Guard [and thus provided no means for her husband to exercise any control over her], her Husband being oblig’d to respect her as a Queen and not enquire at all into what is done in her apartment.21

Lady Mary, locked into a sour marriage, and her sister, carried by her husband’s failure into a half-life of exile, might have envied Hafise’s independence. Perhaps there is some clue to the deeper meaning of her letter when it concludes, ‘It may be, our Proverb that knowledge is no burden, may be true to one’s selfe, but knowing too much is very apt to make us troublesome to other people.’22
The Ottomans whom Lady Mary met represented a society already changing, and one about to undergo even greater transformations. She largely ignored the manifest cruelties and injustice implicit in the system, but, as a corrective to the highly coloured or ill-willed imaginings of most male commentators, her testimony is unequalled. She wrote as the narrow opening-up to the Western world was beginning under Ahmed III — a policy which continued under his successors. Many of her observations were coloured by her own needs and interests, as were those of male travellers to the empire, but there is a strength of analysis in the women writers, like Lady Hester Stanhope, that is more evidently lacking in the men.
Many male visitors were preoccupied with the rampant sexuality of the Ottoman empire which they were so certain they would find. They echoed the attitudes towards Islam that had their origin in the medieval writers surveyed by Norman Daniel. He writes that ‘The special lubricity of Muslims was everywhere believed to be a fact and this, of course came from the teaching and example of the Prophet, which the Qur’án preserved.’23 It was asserted that Muslims were given to sodomy, and introduced foul vices into ‘the garden of nature’. Daniel describes the ‘fascinated horror’ with which Christendom devoured stories of Muslim carnality: ‘The Christian criticism and exaggeration of the licence attributed to Muslims was often excessive; there was great unanimity’ (my emphasis).24 Thus, William of Adam, titular bishop of Sultaniyah, was certain that ‘In the Muslim sect any sexual act at all is not only not forbidden but allowed and praised.’25 Centuries later these same canards were presented as fact to Halet Efendi in Paris, and he responded angrily, and with some justice. ‘They say: know that as a general rule . . . the Muslims are homosexuals ... listening, one would think that all of us are of that persuasion, as if we had no other concerns.’26 He also pointed out:

In Paris there is a kind of market place called Palais Royal where there are shops of various kinds of goods on all four sides, and above them rooms containing 1500 women and 1500 boys exclusively occupied in sodomy. To go to that place by night is shameful, but since there is no harm in going there by day, I went to see this special spectacle. As one enters, from all sides males and females hand out printed cards to anyone who comes, inscribed: ‘I have so many women, my room is in such and such place, the price is so much’ or ‘I have so many boys, their ages are such and such, the official price is so much’ all on specially printed cards ... the women and boys surround a man on every side, parade around and ask, ‘Which of us do you like?’ What is more great people here ask proudly, ‘Have you visited our Palais Royal. And did you like the women and the boys?’

He concluded piously, thanking God that ‘in the lands of Islam there are not many boys and catamites.’ What impressed him most was the vast scale of the enterprise, and the use of printed cards. No doubt, also, the ‘great people’ thought that these were the aspects of the city most interesting to an Ottoman, given Ottomans’ well-known proclivities.

The expectations of Lord Charlemont, a young Irish peer on the grand tour in Constantinople, were not very different from the Parisians’. He too was convinced ‘that there is too much reason to believe that the Turks are greatly addicted to that detestable vice which nature starts at and which if there were not too certain proof that such crimes have been perpetrated, no innocent man could suppose possible.’27 He saw no ‘certain proof’, of course: he only listened to a great deal of hearsay and inflamed chatter. The best he could observe was a group of boys on board a ship whom he was told were the captain’s catamites; Ottomans similarly assumed that the midshipmen on British naval vessels were their captain’s playthings. However, like Halet Efendi, he also visited a brothel in the interests of research. He noted that:

It may seem unnecessary to observe that in these houses Turkish women are never met with. The ladies here to be obtained are Greeks, Jewesses or Armenian Christians, many of whom are extremely beautiful and are well skilled in the necessary arts and allurements of their calling. As it is the duty of travellers to leave nothing unseen, our curiosity, and perhaps something more, has sometimes enticed Burton [his travelling companion] and me to these hospitable receptacles.28

However, these ‘receptacles’, as he described them, brought him no closer to the mysteries of the harem, since none of them were Muslim, although he had heard tell that many young Muslim men (rather like young Christian Irish noblemen) were wont to visit them.
The longest section of Charlemont’s notes, bound in two large folio volumes, concerns ‘Turkish women and marriage’, two subjects about which he had virtually no direct knowledge at all. Nevertheless, he had no trouble in compiling a list of activities that went on behind the closed doors. He managed neatly to connect the supposed addiction to ‘unnatural vice’ with the overheated heterosexual atmosphere of the harem:

The variety in which the Turks indulge themselves forcibly [my emphasis] inclines them to transgress the bounds of nature in sensual pleasure . . . Refinement of manners, however extraordinary and paradoxical it may seem, has generally been productive of unnatural vices. Refinement leads to luxury, one principle of which is an unrestrained intercourse with women, and this naturally brings satiety and a consequent desire to search after noveky.29

To the modern reader, this sounds more like an autobiography of Lord Charlemont than an analysis of the Ottomans; but it illustrates the dilemma faced by an honest inquirer. He came East with expectations and found no answers. He liked the people he met, saying ‘The Turks in general and indeed all Orientals, seem to possess a graceful Action which remark may be extended to the lower classes of the people. Grace indeed, as far as I could observe, seems to be a native of the East and to degenerate as she travels westward.’3° He had been treated with ‘such amazing and much more than Christian politeness among a people whom I had been taught to believe as little less than barbarous.’31 His inner conflict became almost painful, and is honestly — if confusingly — rendered in his journal. Eventually he gave up trying to rationalize the irreconcilable and simply recorded disparity. So he noted that:

Our consuless at Cairo — for I am obliged to bring together all the little knowledge I have been able to collect upon this mysterious subject [the harem] was known to many Turkish women and often visited them. When …she told them of Christian liberty and of the freedom indulged to women in our countries, they seemed rather to look upon such customs with disgust and horror than with any degree of envious desire. They exclaimed against our ladies as unnaturally licentious and treated those liberties which we account innocent as criminal to the last degree. In a word, they cried out against our customs as our women do at the naked simplicity of the Indians or at the liberty of love which Otaheite [Tahiti] has lately disclosed to us.32

Contact did little to modify the stereotypes so deeply rooted in Western culture. The new fashion for the East, stimulated by the rediscovery of Egypt after Napoleon’s invasion in 1798, simply reinforced the old impressions with the new. The Byronic mixture of lust and cruelty, the paintings of Delacroix and Géricault, set the tone for the post-i8z~ view of the Ottomans, setting aside the more rational tone of many of the eighteenth-century travellers. Charlemont did not find ‘any tortures or cruel punishments of any kind are common among the Turks. Impalement, that shocking cruelty, which we are taught is daily practice, I never so much heard of. During the whole month that I was at Constantinople, I heard of but one execution.’33 In fact, impalement was still practised, as Mayer’s drawing eloquently demonstrates (plate 25), but not in the streets of the capital. But Charlemont’s surprise that what he saw was not what he had been led to expect is significant. There was, of course, cruelty and brutality, but not on the scale that the West believed. But from the early years of the nineteenth century — especially after the horrors of the Greek War of Independence, in which only the suffering of the Christians was called into the account (see page 165) — the image of the Terrible and Lustful Turk was omnipresent.

the "Lustful Turk"

Here is the "Lustful Turk" 

Screenshots from the trailer of the 1968 softcore film: THE LUSTFUL TURK

Screenshots from the trailer of the 1968 softcore film










"You'll recoil in horror when you witness the barbaric Turks... unrestrained,
uncivilized... disrobe their..." Well, why not listen to the rest? CLICK HERE
or on the picture.


 ‘The Lustful Turk’ was a quite common phrase used to describe the Ottomans, but it was also the title of a salacious novella, which was apparently first published in 1828. 34 It is an advance on many of the French volumes of the seventeenth century, still popular in the eighteenth.35 The cruelties of the Turks are now more subtle than mere brutality; the equation between lust and violence, which was common in the writers of the Middle Ages, has been reinforced, but also transformed.36 There is much violent taking of maidenheads, some chastisement, and endless copulations — inevitable in male-directed pornography — but the situations portrayed are more than merely conventional Oriental lust. Nor is the violence all one way. The Dey (Ruler) of Algiers, the Byronic anti-hero of the piece, has been engaged with a number of women including the English narrator, Emily Barlow. She describes how:

In the tradition of Lawrence of Arabia!
CLICK HERE for sound.

In this way we were frequently (all three of us) dissolved at the same time in a flood of bliss.
This continued for several months, when an awful catastrophe put an end to our enjoyments. The Dey had received a Greek girl from one of his captains. She passively submitted to his embraces and uttered no complaint until he commenced the attack on her second maidenhead: then did she seem inspired with a strength of Hercules. She suddenly grasped a knife, which she had concealed under a cushion, grasped his pinnacle of strength, and in less than thought drew a knife across it and severed it from his body — then plunged it into her own heart and expired immediately. [Aid was immediately summoned to stop him bleeding to death, and] with the fortitude that characterised greatness, he ordered his physician to remove him of those now useless appendages [earlier described as ‘his pendant jewels’], his receptacles of the soul-stirring juice, remarking at the same time that life would be very hell if he retained the power after the desire was dead.37

After he had recovered, he sent for his companions in pleasure and ‘disclosed to our view the lost members in spirits of wine in glass vases’. He then arranged for the women to return to their native countries, and showered them with gifts before their departure. Emily Barlow left him ‘with a heavy heart’.
The Dey is part Shakespeare’s Noble Moor, unmanned, part Byron’s heroic Ottoman from The Giaour:

- With sabre shivr’d to the hilt,
Yet dripping with the blood he spilt;
Yet strained within the sever’d hand
Which quivers round that faithless brand;
His turban far behind him roll’d,
And cleft in twain its firmest fold;
His flowing robe by faichion torn,
And crimson as those clouds of morn
That, streak’d with dusky red, portend
The day shall have a stormy end;
A stain on every bush that bore
A fragment of his palampore,
His breast with wounds unnumber’d riven~
His back to earth, his face to heaven,
Fall’n Hassan lies — his unclos’d eye
Yet lowering on his enemy,
As if the hour that seal’d his fate
Surviving left his quenchless hate;
And o’er him bends that foe with brow
As dark as his that bled below.38

"You'll wince with pain when you behold savage, heathen tortures inflicted on the unsullied white bodies of the innocents who vainly seek to preserve their virtue." From the trailer of THE LUSTFUL TURK, 1968

" You'll wince with pain when you behold
savage, heathen tortures inflicted on the
unsullied white bodies of the innocents
who vainly seek to preserve their virtue."

In the movie trailer, a woman also takes
revenge... Lorena Bobbit style. Unlike the
novel's Greek girl, she doesn't cut herself.  

The piece, in passing, also reverses the usual European stereotype of the eunuch. But it has a deeper meaning, constructed by the political situation of the day. The Greek girl takes revenge upon the body of her oppressor, for her country as well as herself. The Greek nation, like her, had lain supine beneath the Ottoman; but at last, after centuries, Greece had risen in an act of superhuman and savage revenge. Better to die triumphant than live abused. Emily Barlow’s sympathies are plainly mixed. She does not appear to have a ‘heavy heart’ for the Greek girl, who, after all, was merely expected to perform in the same way as the other members of the harem, who had sacrificed their ‘virgin sanctuary’: she describes but does not sympathize with her desperate act. Nor would philhellenism have been universal among the readers of this tale.
In The Lustful Turk the old equation of Islam and sodomy is again played out, in graphic detail. By the 187os the situation could also be reversed, so to speak. In The Pearl, supposedly ‘A Journal of Facetiae and Voluptuous Reading’, published monthly, the Turk now features as a victim, for ‘an anonymous correspondent on board Admiral Seymour’s ship at Ragusa has favoured the Editor with the following:’

Who’ll bugger the Turk?
‘I’ said Gladstone, ‘as Chief of the Nation,
And Premier of England, to gain reputation.
I’ll bugger the Turk
And ne’er let him shirk,
My p****”s Grand Demonstration3’

This is a coarsely and graphically expressed metaphor for Gladstone’s evident desire as to how the Turks should be treated. His hugely successful pamphlet on the ‘Bulgarian atrocities’, which sold 40,000 copies within a few days of its first publication in 1876, explicitly made the connection between Turkish lust and Turkish violence.

From the 1870s, whether as victim or ravisher, the Turk is always viewed in traditional terms. In The Sultan’s Reverie: an Extract from the Pleasures of Cruelty4° all the well-worn elements are there. It describes ‘a sultan who, being middle-aged and worn out with the amorous exertions in the well-filled seraglio determines to seek some fresh excitement, everything seems so insipid and blasé to him’. He decides to take his pleasure from the previous sultan’s mother, described as one ‘who in the lifetime of his predecessor had intrigued in every possible manner to set aside his successor in favour of her own son contrary to the usual Osmanif custom’. The new sultan was told by his chief eunuch that ‘she was suspected of indulging in every degree of voluptuousness with the ladies of her suite in private’. He decided to lie in wait for her the following morning, when:

Seating himself on the grass behind an Oleander thicket, he gave himself up to a private reverie of his chibouque [pipe]. ‘Ah, to think I never thought of that before, the haughty beauty. Oh, Allah what a fine revenge for all she did against me. What a delicious time of day .. . I have indulged in too much Frankish brandy overnight... Ah Allah, why did the prophet forbid us the glorious wine? Spirits were not known then or he would have put a veto in to that also. Women, women, nothing but women for good believers ... Of course I am a true Musselman but it takes a big faith to believe all that, or about Isa either. Religion is a manufactured article in all countries, a monopoly not to be interfered with lightly, but no one will know the mystery until after death.

What is this long philosophical digression doing in a tale of unbridled lust? It is to set the tone, the Ottoman context, and it is accurate in most particulars41 — at least to the travellers’ tales of the day. Thereafter the sultan behaves in approved style, exactly as Charlemont outlined more than a century before. Only in this case a birching scene is added, and finally ‘gathering several tufts of grass with the earth clinging to the roots [he] then proceeds to pelt her c***y with them until one fairly sticks to the entrance.’ No reason is offered for this bizarre final humiliation, which caused no particular pain. Could it not be an attempt to associate the sultan’s rape of his victim with dirt and filth — qualities which had come to be associated implicitly with the Ottomans in the later nineteenth century?
Earlier travellers had been impressed by the cleanliness of Ottoman cities, but from early in the nineteenth century — Walsh was perhaps the first — there is a growing preoccupation with the filthiness of Ottoman life. An American writer, William Elroy Curtis, author of The True Thomas Jefferson and The Yankees of the East, expressed the new sense of revulsion: ‘Their houses are positively filthy; too filthy as a rule for human beings to occupy; and the streets of Constantinople and every other Turkish town are indescribable in their nastiness. Their clothing is as dirty as their bodies are clean [a reference to the religious ablutions] and their food is often unfit for sanitary reasons.42
The public standards of the West had changed, largely with the discovery that dirt could be equated with disease and the pestilence associated with squalor (cholera, typhoid) could afflict the middle and upper classes as much as it did the poor. But the standards of many quarters of the great European cities were no better than those of Constantinople, and there was nothing to choose between the rural filth of Andalusia, the Mezzogiorno or central Anatolia. Even Curtis’s own nation had its ‘hells’ kitchens’ recorded by photographers like Edward Stieglitz. The assertion of Ottoman filth had a moral as much as a sanitary connotation. Curtis went on to damn all things Turkish: ‘The idea of wearing the veil is to make women as hideous as possible, and the Turk succeeds in that purpose, if in no other. Women who do not wear veils ... are not Mohammadans and may be treated with ordinary courtesy.’43 In its context this may mean no more than the fact that he cannot raise his hat to a Turkish lady, but taken as a whole with the rest of his long book it is completely Turcophobic in tone. Curtis, like Gladstone, rejects the Ottomans as an ‘antihuman species’. In this context their bestial behaviour, as in The Sultan’s Reverie, is but a logical if distasteful consequence.
Even more opprobrium was piled on the Ottomans. In The Lustful Turk there is a long section that deals with the evil lusts of monks and nuns — part of the stock in trade of both pornographers and extreme Protestants alike. Steven Marcus finds it an odd digression, but it seems to me to fit neatly with the all-embracing condemnations of the Turk current at the time. Luther had first linked the two together (‘Turk and Pope do not differ or vary in form of religion or ceremonies . . . An alliance of the papists and the Turk ... is the malice of Satan’44) and the fiery anti-papist Archibald Mason, ‘minister of the Gospel’ at Wishawtown, preached a sermon in 182.7 that brought Luther up to date:

The fall of the Turkish kingdom will remove a principal defence from the Anti-Christian Kingdom of Rome ... The European Peninsula, consisting of Spain and Portugal, is Antichrist’s western high tower, and the empire of Turkey its Eastern bulwark ... The heads and supporters, both of Islamism and Popery, are set in opposition to the civil and religious privileges of mankind ... the Turkish firman and the Popish bull …breathe the same spirit and speak the same language.45

The political opposition to the Ottomans was strong in Protestant circles, and it was largely the Protestant missionaries who provided the material which supported the wilder accusations against the Ottomans. Frequently the accusations degenerated into the realm of the absurd, based on the same kind of hearsay that had coloured the image of the Lustful Turk.
The roots of prejudice are hard to trace, but it seems clear that the Ottomans became a focus of fear and hatred, breaking out in many forms, but with a remarkable consistency over time. The myths often had nothing to do with the reality. Eyewitnesses frequently claim to have seen events — like the slave market in Constantinople in the 187os46 — that were impossible. That they saw something is not in dispute, and that they either misunderstood or were misinformed by others about an alien culture is the most likely explanation. But their confident assertions added to the historic burden of myth, so heavy that no Ottoman could hope to overcome it.
Of Ottoman misapprehensions of the West it is more difficult to comment. The attitudes of those who feared the West remained consistent, but Ottomans who looked to the West to transform the empire had their expectations dashed. They were mocked for aping Western manners, never wholly trusted or accepted, always seen as capable of regression, as either the Lustful Turk in their private relations or the Terrible Turk in their public life. They existed in a limbo between two worlds. As T. E. Lawrence wrote himself, ‘Easily was a man made an infidel but hardly might he be converted to another faith …madness would be near the man who sees things through the veils at once of two customs, two educations, two environments.’47




1 See Lord Kinross, Atatürk: the Rebirth of a Nation (London, 1964).
2 After the freeing of women, there was less said about the life of the harem.
3 For the link between lust and tyranny, see Alain Grosnichard, Structure du sérail, Ia fiction du despotisme asiatique dans l’Occident classique (Paris, 1979).
4 Marquis de Sade, The One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom (London, 1989), p. 238.
5 Cited in Bernard Lewis, The Muslim Discovery of Europe (New York, 1982), p. 291.
6 Ibid., p. z88.
7 See Patricia Anderson, The Printed Image and the Transformation of Popular Culture, 1790—1860 (Oxford,
8 W. F. Moneypenny and G. H. Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield (London, 6 vols., 1910—20), vol I, p. 175.
9 See Billie Melman, Women’s Orients: English Women and the Middle East (Basingstoke, 1992), for the travellers in the nineteenth century.
10 Alexander Pope, Moral Essays: Epistle to a Lady, lines
199—203, in The Poems of Alexander Pope (London, 1963),
p. 567.
11 See Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination (Cambridge, Mass., 1986),
p. 154.
I2 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, The Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: vol. I, 1708—1720, ed. Robert Halsband (Oxford, 1965), pp. 307—8.
13 Ibid., pp. 313—15.
14 Ibid., pp. 327—8.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid., p. 329.
17 Ibid.
18 The fifty-two ‘letters’ are a literary device, based on a journal which she kept and which was afterwards destroyed by her daughter. But they were also based on actual letters sent at the time, and the differences in tone based on the gender of her correspondents are evident in the one actual letter and the various drafts or rough copies that survive. Plainly the actual letters were as sharp and vivid as their simulacra. Conti handed her letters to friends in Paris, and was said to opine that he had ‘never seen such precision with so much liveliness’ from any other correspondent. See Montagu, Letters, pp. xiv-xvii.
19 Montagu, Letters, pp 380
2.0 Ibid., pp. 380—I.
21 Ibid., p. 381.
22 Ibid.
23 See Norman Daniel, Islam and the West: the Making of an Image (Edinburgh, 1980), pp. 145 and 135—61 passim.
24 Ibid., p. 143.
25 Ibid.
26 Cited in Lewis, Discovery, pp. 290—I.
2.7 Lord Charlemont, The Travels of Lord Charlemont in Greece and Turkey, 1749, ed. W. R. Stanford and E. J. Finopoulos (London, 1984), p. 202. These remained as an unpublished MS until this first printing.
z8 Ibid., p. zo6.
29 Ibid.,p.202.
30 Ibid , p i68
31 Ibid , pp 170—I
32 Ibid., p. 203.
33 Ibid., p. 214.
34 For the history of The Lustful Turk, see Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians: a Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England (London, 1964), pp. 197—216. The text I have used is a reissue dated 1985.
35 See Clarence Dana Rouillard, The Turk in French History, Thought and Literature, 1520—1660 (Paris, 1941).
36 Daniel, Islam and the West: ‘Sexuality and violence were the characteristic marks of Islam: fornicationes et furta and terror mundanus et voluptis carnalis.’ pp. r45ff.
37 Anon, The Lustful Turk, or Scenes in the Harem of an Eastern Potentate, Faithfully and Vividly Depicted in a series of letters from a young and beautiful English lady to her Cousin in England — The full particulars of her ravishment and of her complete abandonment to all the salacious Tastes of the Turks described with the zest and simplicity which always gives guarantee for its authenticity, (i8z8, repr. London, 1985), p. 140. On the ‘semantic derogation’ of women, see Muriel R. Schulz, ‘The semantic derogation of women’, in B. Thorne and N. Henley, eds., Language and Sex: Difference and Dominance (Rowley, Mass., 1975), reprinted in Deborah Cameron, ed., The Feminist Critique of Language: a Reader (London and New York, 1990). The other material in both Cameron and Thorne and Henley is also relevant.
38 Lord Byron, The Giaour, lines 65 5—74, in Lord Byron:
The Complete Poetical Works, ed. Jerome J. McGann (Oxford, 7 vols., 1980—93), vol. 3, p. 6o. See also the contemporary book illustration to these lines from the first edition, reprinted on the facing page. Byron’s own ambivalent attitude to the Ottomans was summed up in his ‘Advertisement’ to The Giaour, where he remarked on the desolation of the Morea, ‘during which the cruelty exercised on all sides was unparalleled even in the annals of the faithful [that is, the Turks]’ (ibid., p. 40). Malcolm Kelsall’s remark, ‘We know that things “Turkish” were a common enlightenment signifier for all types of tyranny and superstition’ details the context of Byron’s approach. See pp. 317—18 of Malcolm Kelsall, ‘The slave woman in the harem’, Studies in Romanticism, 31:3 (fall 1992), 315-31.
39 ‘A Propos of the Naval Demonstration’, The Pearl, 13 (1878), 463.
40 The Pearl, 18 (1878), 617—25.
41 This accuracy in detail can be found in other pornographic accounts. Rose d’Amour (n.d., repr. New York, 1985), a similar anonymous American pornographic novelette of the time, has as its centrepiece a visit to Constantinople, where the protagonist staffs his harem. Unlike many visitors to the city who claimed to have seen the slave market, which was in fact closed under Abdul Mecid, he accurately describes the process of private treaty by which Circassian slaves could still be acquired:

I then engaged an interpreter and paying a visit to one of the slave merchants, engaged him as an agent to find out and procure me a lot of the handsomest females to be found in the market. And knowing that the poor class of the inhabitants were in the daily habit of selling their daughters, such as were handsome enough to grace the harems of rich and lustful Turks I directed him to... search out all the families among the poor quarters who had beautiful girls and who would be apt to exchange them for gold.

42. William Elroy Curtis, The Turk and his Lost Provinces (Chicago, 1903), p. 45.
43 Ibid, p. 109.
44 Daniel, Islam and the West, pp. 285 and 383.
45 Archibald Mason, Remarks on the Sixth Vial and the Fall of the Turkish Empire (Glasgow, 1827), p. 9.
46 See note 41.
47 T. E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: a Triumph (London, 1935), p. 32.

The Terrible Turk'


in the sixteenth centur) Francis Bacon described the Turks as ‘a Cruell People’:1

Without morality, without letters, arts or sciences; a people that can scarce measure an acre of land or an hour of the day; base and sluttish in building, diet and the like; and in a word, a very reproach to human society... it is truly said concerning the Turk, where the Ottoman’s horse sets his foot, people come up very thin.2

These assertions of ‘cruelty’ from Bacon and his contemporaries are special pleading: there was little to choose in terms of horror between an English execution for treason under Queen Elizabeth and King James and the most savage Turkish punishments, such as ‘execution on the hooks’ or ‘impalement’, so carefully recorded (and drawn) by European visitors to the Ottoman empire. Europeans suggested that the cruelty lay not so much in the punishment inflicted as in its arbitrariness. Adolphus Slade described the seemingly casual killing of ‘Hamid’:

His accusation was read to him enumerating with other charges, the unjust one of grinding the poor. So false an accusation, without the power of refuting it, must have added a pang to the bitterness of death; that is, if any, for he betrayed no fear, neither probably, with true Ottoman stoicism, would he have said one word, had not the captain pasha, at that moment come out of his cabin to look at his old friend, who, one little spark yet burning among the embers of hope, cried once ‘Aman’. He might have spared his breath. The pasha answered by a slight wave of the hand, the usual signal in such cases ... the guards led him below to the prison where two slaves attended ... The bowstring soon did its task, and in a few minutes the receipt, the head of Hamid (the countenance as calm as sleep), was brought up to be shown to the pasha, before being transmitted to the seraglio. It is startling to see a human head carried on a platter up a ladder, down which you have seen it descend, just before, sentient and well posed on a pair of shoulders.3

To Slade the most remarkable aspect of the incident was the offhand manner of the execution; for Hamid’s former fellows, the other naval officers on the captain pasha’s ship, who ‘gave an involuntary shudder, as well they might: the reign of terror was begun’, it was the uncertainty of where the bowstring would strike next.

Although the Ottoman reformers promised that arbitrary power would be abolished, and that all criminals would have the right of appeal (although poor Hamid does not appear to have benefited from Mahmud II’s edict of redress), arbitrary power continued to lie at the heart of the Ottoman system. Those who were well inclined to the Ottomans, such as Robert Curzon, suggested that injustices stemmed from inferior officers of the government who were oppressors without the knowledge or acquiescence of their superiors. He also pointed out that arbitrary power was not exclusive to the Ottoman empire, that the USA was ‘a land of liberty, where every free and independent citizen had the right to beat his own nigger’.4 In many cases it was maladministration, not bad faith, that produced injustice; but underlying the Ottoman practice of government was a culture of fear. Abdul Hamid once confided that he often punished good and honest officials while favouring those who were corrupt and incompetent. He liked to cut down the tall poppies, as he did with Midhat Pasha, but in countless other smaller and less fatal ways he terrorized the whole body of the ruling class. They lived in fear, and they passed it on to those beneath them. The Ottoman cold-bloodedness to which Slade alluded was a calm induced by terror.
Fear, carefully and precisely applied, was the normal condition of the Hamidian state, and it was not very different under his predecessors. But it was a clinically imposed atmosphere of terror, that gained its effect not from the cruelty of punishments but from their random application. Lord Charlemont observed that the bowstring and sword, used in private, were much more humane than the English scaffold, where the objective was the degradation of the criminals, leading them if possible to repentance. An Ottoman hanging was a much more casual affair than its English equivalent, while Ottomans thought the guillotine both extraordinary and barbarous. But the West regarded Ottomans as vicious brutes, and the occasions of public violence were ascribed to some deep and pernicious moral failing. The connection between the Ottomans’ carnal lusts and their yearning for violence was made explicit. History was dragged into service: the cruelties on the battlefields of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the obsolete practice of killing the brothers and male cousins of a new sultan (abandoned by the Ottomans within a few generations of its enactment as unnecessary and cruel), ancient and long-disused punishments — all were considered part of the Ottoman present, rather than the distant past. On three occasions in the nineteenth century the West was roused against the Turks for their atrocious violence towards Christians: first, for the many deaths in the Greek War of Independence; second, for the slaughter in Bulgaria and Bosnia in 1875-7; and, third, for the merciless campaign against the Armenians lasting from the 1890s into the First World War. Each of them roused a near identical pattern of public fury in the Western nations.
In each case, it appeared that the Terrible Turk was behaving true to type. The ‘unspeakable Turk’ (Thomas Carlyle’s phrase) savaged women and children and raped, murdered and pillaged, sparing neither young nor old. Nor was it, as the Ottomans claimed, a fratricidal strife, Muslims against Christians, or hereditary enemies settling ancient scores: this must be an act of state, carried out deliberately by the Ottoman government. The naïve folk-drawings from the Greek war show Egyptian soldiers and janissaries killing (presumably) Greek women, while the Greeks (in their white kilts) are only shown attacking enemy soldiers. Yet we know that many thousands of Turkish women and children were killed, often with appalling savagery, in the Morea. In Western cartoons of the ‘Bulgarian atrocities’, the killings are often shown being carried out by Ottoman regular soldiers, (notably in a Punch cartoon — see page 241 [below]). In the case of the Armenian killings, Ottoman claims of long-standing hatreds between Kurds and Armenians were simply dismissed out of hand. In each case the ethnic murders were, it was asserted, uniquely and solely at the behest of the Ottoman government — part of some age-old attempt to trample on Christians in the East.
Why would the Ottomans do it? Because they were bloodthirsty savages. Gladstone’s pamphlet on The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East is one of the great denunciations in the history of rhetoric. His polemic, measured in its tone, denounced not only the atrocities themselves but the whole Turkish nation. He sketches
in the rudest outline, . . . what the Turkish race was, and what it is. It is not a question of Mahometism simply, but of Mahometism compounded with the peculiar character of a race . . . They were, from the first black day they entered Europe, the one great anti-human specimen of humanity. Wherever they went, a broad line of blood marked the track behind them, and as far as their dominion reached, civilisation vanished from view.5

Pg. 241 — The Dominant Western View of the Ottomans
In this famous cartoon (Punch, ~ August 1876),
Britannia exhorts the torpid British prime minister,
Disraeli, to action. Meanwhile, in the background,
Ottoman regular soldiers (not wild bashi-bazouks)
burn, stab and skewer heads on their bayonets. Maidens
are ravaged, and babies dashed to the ground

Three centuries before, Bacon was saying much the same thing.
Gladstone cites an American source, a Mr Schuyler, who says, ‘No Turkish women or children were killed in cold blood. No Musselman women were violated. No purely Turkish village was attacked or burned. No Musselman house was pillaged. No mosque was desecrated or destroyed.” This, in Gladstone’s view is the ‘report that turns the scale’7 and justifies his declaration concerning the ‘elaborate and refined cruelty — the only refinement of which Turkey boasts! — the utter disregard of sex and age — the abominable and bestial lust — and the utter and violent lawlessness which still stalks over the land’.8 Whether the Turkish government itself created the ‘abominable and bestial lust’ etc. or whether it was the product of the ‘utter and violent lawlessness which still stalks over the land’ was not clearly stated. In essence, it was Turks, by their very nature, who were responsible; it was a blood guilt that tainted the whole Turkish race. Similarly, he asserts that the killings come from the ‘agents’, ‘at once violent and corrupt, of a distant central Power ... which always has physical force at its command to back outrage with the sanction of authority, but has no moral force whatever, no power either of checking evil or of doing good [my emphasis]’.9 The Ottomans are damned for being anti-human, damned for allowing abominable lusts, and damned for having no power to do anything to prevent murder on a huge scale. His famous fulmination ‘Let the Turks now carry their abuses away’ rises sonorously in tone, heaping denunciation upon denunciation. And, he warns, unless the Ottomans are removed, bag and baggage, ‘all the foul and all the fierce passions ... may spring up again, in another murderous harvest, from the soil soaked and reeking with blood, and in the air tainted with every imaginable deed or crime’.’0
The events in Bulgaria and Bosnia were horrific, but they were not without parallel in British experience. Twenty years before, Britain had been the ‘distant central Power’ suppressing a mutiny in India. In putting down the Indian Mutiny in 1857-8, a Colonel Neill and other British officers initiated a campaign of racial terror, hanging almost any Indians on whom they could lay their hands in an orgy of vengeance. (Worse still were the parties of civilian irregulars.) When the British reached Cawnpore and saw the results of the atrocities committed there, they became frenzied. Neill devised special forms of execution which, depending on whether he was a Hindu or a Muslim, would damn the victim eternally. He forced prisoners to lick up the dried blood from the floor of one small house where women and children had been killed. Stories were invented that women had been raped and mutilated, their white womanhood ravaged by ‘black-faced curs’, and children deliberately and slowly tortured. 11 The British instituted a policy of terror, aided by those, who, like the Sikhs, hated both the Hindus and the Muslims. One officer came across a party of Sikhs roasting a sepoy over a slow fire; he made no attempt to stop them. It was not an isolated incident. There was an official campaign to restore death by torture, hanging being too swift for those who had committed ‘vile acts’. The most ceremonious form of dispatching mutineers was to strap them to the front of cannon, and then blow them in half, often so that their scattered remains would splatter the faces of their former comrades, lined up to observe the execution. This was British justice in the face of colonial mutiny. Other Western nations committed similar atrocities in their colonial possessions, if not on the same scale. Thus Gladstone’s denunciation was not delivered to a nation with entirely clean hands.
What made the Ottomans seem so abominable in Bulgaria? Their peculiar crime lay in the combination of lust and violence. The British in India were led by officers, like General Henry Havelock, who claimed that they wrought a pure and divine vengeance on the mutineers. Justice, not pleasure, drove them forward. The British believed that the Turks, with their foul lusts, enjoyed killing, and enjoyed rape and torture even more. Sadism was believed to be a dominant Ottoman quality. In his famous account of being beaten and sexually abused by the Turks at Deraa, T. E. Lawrence subtly suggests physical unhealthiness, corpulence, slovenliness, dirt and sloth, as well as the grossly perverted desires which were, as suggested in Chapter 7, considered the regular practice of the Ottoman. The factual truth of Lawrence’s experiences has been questioned, 12 but what is significant here is that his popular audience in 1935 would have accepted his assertion concerning the Turks without question: after all, everyone knew that that was what Ottomans ‘did’. I have emphasized a number of key usages in the following passage, in which Lawrence is passing as a Circassian.

We passed to a mud room, outside which was an earth platform whereupon sat a fleshy Turkish officer, one leg tucked underneath him …He turned to me and said very slowly, ‘You are a liar…

do what is necessary until the Bey sends for him…’ [The ordinary soldiers, Syrians, treat Lawrence well and seek to reassure him. Then he is summoned by the Bey.] They took me upstairs to the Bey’s room; to his bedroom rather. He was another bulky man…

and sat on to bed in a night gown, trembling and sweating as though with fever... he flung himself back on the bed and dragged me down with him in his arms. When I saw what he wanted I twisted round and up again, glad to find myself equal to him, at any rate in wrestling.

He began to fawn on me saying how white and fresh I was, how fine my hands and feet .…..how he would even pay me …if I would love him. I was obdurate, so he changed his tone and sharply ordered me to take off my drawers. When I hesitated, he snatched at me and I pushed him back. He clapped his hands for the sentry who hurried in and pinioned me. The Bey cursed me... and made the man holding me tear away my clothes bit by bit ..finally he lumbered to his feet, with a glitter in his look and began to paw me over. I bore it for a little, till he got too beastly; and then jerked my knee into him . . . [Then the Bey hit him in the face with his slipper, and then] leaned forward and fixed his teeth in my neck and bit till the blood came. Then he kissed me. Afterwards he drew one of the men’s bayonets. I thought he was going to kill me, and was sorry: but he only pulled up a fold of flesh over my ribs, worked the point through, after considerable trouble, and gave the blade a half turn. This hurt, and I winced, while the blood wavered down my side and dribbled to the front of my side … He looked pleased and dabbled it over my stomach with his finger tips.13

The other stages of Lawrence’s symbolic Crucifixion followed. Several pages of an epic scourging are described in detail, and finally he escapes, through an unlocked door. This did not represent the reality of what actually happened to Lawrence:
it is an allegory of the Lustful Turk toying with his victim. It builds its effects slowly and carefully, and for the reader, by this point in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom accustomed to the clean lithe limbs of Lawrence’s Arabs, pure as the desert sands, the Turkish Bey is utterly repellent. Lawrence’s passing as a Circassian is odd as well, for the Bey was, Lawrence thought, a Circassian himself: surely he would have noticed Lawrence’s unlikely accent. However, Lawrence tells us that he was never suspected. The incident raises many questions, but, reduced to its essentials, Lawrence’s ‘experience’ at Deraa provides that conjuncture of sex and violence considered the unique hallmark of the Ottoman.
Every age has its ogres — the alien ‘other’ — and the Ottomans filled the part for Christian Europe long after the military threat that gave the role some meaning had vanished: they simply became a threat of a different sort. There is a parallel case that highlights the unique role ascribed to the Ottomans by Western society. In the nineteenth century the Japanese followed the same trajectory: from being mysterious and dangerous outsiders, through a process of modernization, to become in the twentieth century once again ‘savage and barbarous’ and at the same time a butt for cruel humour. John Dover 14 tells how British officers in the 1920s assured their government that Japanese officers and their ‘little yellow men’ would never be able to fight because their eyesight was so poor. He charts the many obsessions which the West developed about the Japanese. They were looked down upon as animals, as figures of fun, as primitive savages or as vermin, but they were rarely thought of as sexually threatening: there was virtually no popular pornographic literature in the West about the Lusty Samurai. This is paradoxical, because the tradition of the ‘pillow book’ makes the Japanese much more apt than the Ottoman for such a stereotypical role. Of course, for Europe, Japan is far away and Turkey close at hand (although for the western United States the position is reversed).
Modern Turkey is encumbered with its origins, but in the West it still carries an additional burden of terror and loathing whose origins vanish into the far distant past. The image of the Turk, dissolving and constantly reforming, will never be free from its deep roots: in European fears of sex and violence looming out of the East. —



1 Francis Bacon, ‘Of Goodnesse and Goodnesse of Nature’, in The Essays or Counsels, Civill and Morall, ed. Michael Kiernan (Oxford, 1985), p. 39.
2 Francis Bacon, ‘An Advertisment touching an Holy Warre written in the year 1622’, in The Works of Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, Viscount St Albans and Lord High Chancellor of England, coll. and ed. James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis and Douglas Denon Heath (London, i6 vols., 1861), vol. 7, p. 22.
3 See Adolphus Slade, Record of Travels in Turkey, Greece, etc. and of a Cruise in the Black Sea with the Captain
Pasha in the Years 1828, 1829, 1830, 1831 (Philadelphia, 2 vols., 1833), vol. I, p. 265.
4 Robert Curzon, Armenia: a Year at Erzeroom and on the Frontiers of Russia, Turkey and Persia (London, 1854),
p. 93.
5 W. E. Gladstone, The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East (London, 1876), pp. 11—13.
6 Ibid.,p.z8.
7 Ibid., p. 33.
8 Ibid.,
9 Ibid., p. 6i.
10 Ibid., p. 6z. On the positive/negative connotations of language use, see Robert Hodge and Gunther Kress, Language as Ideology (London and New York, znd edn, 1993), especially pp. 77—82 and 193—201.
ii Christopher Hibbert, The Great Mutiny (London, 1978), pp. 201—14.

iz See Lawrence James, The Golden Warrior: the Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia (London, 1990), pp. zo9—zi.
13 T. E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: a Triumph (London, 1935), pp. 442—7.

14 See John Dover, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York, 1986).


 Outside reading:

How 18th century author Penelope Aubin depicts Turkish lust and violence in The Strange Adventures of the Count de Vinevil and his Family (1721), at wcupa.edu




"West" Accounts


Armenian Views
Geno. Scholars


Turks in Movies
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...Is to expose the mythological “Armenian genocide,” from the years 1915-16. A wartime tragedy involving the losses of so many has been turned into a politicized story of “exclusive victimhood,” and because of the prevailing prejudice against Turks, along with Turkish indifference, those in the world, particularly in the West, have been quick to accept these terribly defamatory claims involving the worst crime against humanity. Few stop to investigate below the surface that those regarded as the innocent victims, the Armenians, while seeking to establish an independent state, have been the ones to commit systematic ethnic cleansing against those who did not fit into their racial/religious ideal: Muslims, Jews, and even fellow Armenians who had converted to Islam. Criminals as Dro, Antranik, Keri, Armen Garo and Soghoman Tehlirian (the assassin of Talat Pasha, one of the three Young Turk leaders, along with Enver and Jemal) contributed toward the deaths (via massacres, atrocities, and forced deportation) of countless innocents, numbering over half a million. What determines genocide is not the number of casualties or the cruelty of the persecutions, but the intent to destroy a group, the members of which are guilty of nothing beyond being members of that group. The Armenians suffered their fate of resettlement not for their ethnicity, having co-existed and prospered in the Ottoman Empire for centuries, but because they rebelled against their dying Ottoman nation during WWI (World War I); a rebellion that even their leaders of the period, such as Boghos Nubar and Hovhannes Katchaznouni, have admitted. Yet the hypocritical world rarely bothers to look beneath the surface, not only because of anti-Turkish prejudice, but because of Armenian wealth and intimidation tactics. As a result, these libelous lies, sometimes belonging in the category of “genocide studies,” have become part of the school curricula of many regions. Armenian scholars such as Vahakn Dadrian, Peter Balakian, Richard Hovannisian, Dennis Papazian and Levon Marashlian have been known to dishonestly present only one side of their story, as long as their genocide becomes affirmed. They have enlisted the help of "genocide scholars," such as Roger Smith, Robert Melson, Samantha Power, and Israel Charny… and particularly  those of Turkish extraction, such as Taner Akcam and Fatma Muge Gocek, who justify their alliance with those who actively work to harm the interests of their native country, with the claim that such efforts will help make Turkey more" democratic." On the other side of this coin are genuine scholars who consider all the relevant data, as true scholars have a duty to do, such as Justin McCarthy, Bernard Lewis, Heath Lowry, Erich Feigl and Guenter Lewy. The unscrupulous genocide industry, not having the facts on its side, makes a practice of attacking the messenger instead of the message, vilifying these professors as “deniers” and "agents of the Turkish government." The truth means so little to the pro-genocide believers, some even resort to the forgeries of the Naim-Andonian telegrams or sources  based on false evidence, as Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Naturally, there is no end to the hearsay "evidence" of the prejudiced pro-Christian people from the period, including missionaries and Near East Relief representatives, Arnold Toynbee, Lord Bryce, Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and so many others. When the rare Westerner opted to look at the issues objectively, such as Admirals Mark Bristol and Colby Chester, they were quick to be branded as “Turcophiles” by the propagandists. The sad thing is, even those who don’t consider themselves as bigots are quick to accept the deceptive claims of Armenian propaganda, because deep down people feel the Turks are natural killers and during times when Turks were victims, they do not rate as equal and deserving human beings. This is the main reason why the myth of this genocide has become the common wisdom.