Primary Documents - Talaat Pasha on Turkey's Decision to Enter the War, October 1914
Reproduced below is a portion of the wartime Turkish leader Talaat Pasha's Memoirs, published in 1921. In this extract of his memoirs Talaat explained the rationale behind Turkey's decision to join the war on the side of Germany against the Entente powers.
Although he would have preferred a later declaration of war, and claimed to be placed under severe German diplomatic pressure, he candidly admitted that his preference remained in favour of a Turco-German alliance.
The Turkish Declaration
An Account by Wartime Leader Talaat Pasha
(taken from his 1921 Memoirs)
After the disasters of Turkey in 1913, she was left without a friend among the European nations.
Russia then began a series of exactions, and Britain abandoned us to Russia. In this strait Germany alone assisted us, and by her protection enabled us to escape or at least postpone the Russian demands.
This amiable attitude on the part of Germany encouraged us to suggest to the German Ambassador at the Porte that we might enter a permanent alliance with Germany. But while the ambassador seemed most favourable to this, the Berlin government was not. It answered in effect that Turkey was too weak, and that an alliance at the moment would be detrimental to both governments.
This, in fact, explains our failure to find an ally anywhere. The European powers wished only for powerful allies, who could help rather than be a burden.
In June, 1914, however, we were surprised by an approach from the German government, which suggested that the project for an alliance be again considered. As we were in the same unhappy isolation as before, there seemed no reason for refusing this proposal.
The alliance was discussed in a series of meetings with the German ambassador [Note: Wangenheim], and agreement proved easy. A preliminary document was then prepared and signed, outlining the main points of the alliance, which was to be both military and political.
Just afterward there followed the series of events which culminated in the World War. We realized that Germany's change of attitude toward us must be due to her having foreseen some such warfare; but we still thought the alliance would benefit us. No European power would have welcomed us without expecting something valuable in return.
During the opening months of the War our position was very difficult. Practically we were already allied with Germany, and every day the German and Austrian ambassadors came to me urging our immediate entrance into the War. It would have been easy to have evaded them by pointing out that Italy, though a member of their alliance, had not joined them, or by showing that in invading Belgium, Germany had ignored her own signature to an alliance.
But we were unwilling to break away completely from the partnership we had so anxiously sought and so much valued. So we told the Teutons we would gladly join them as soon as possible, but that to do so while Bulgaria remained undecided would be as dangerous for them as for us.
Constantinople was wholly unprotected against a Bulgarian army. Since the Bulgars hated the Serbs, Germany should be able to persuade Bulgaria to join our alliance. Then, but not till then, Turkey could make good her agreement to fight in aid of Germany.
This logical answer enabled us to delay entering the War. So we waited and watched the course of events. Germany next urged us to conduct our own negotiations with Bulgaria; and as we could not well refuse this, Halil Bey and I went in person to Sofia.
There, after many conferences with the Bulgarian leaders, we realized that they dared not act for fear of Rumania. If Rumania joined Russia, the combined armies could at once overwhelm Bulgaria; hence the latter could promise us nothing unless we could guarantee her against a Rumanian attack. For this reason we left Sofia and proceeded to Bucharest.
There we became convinced after many conferences that Rumania was really determined on a strict neutrality. Radoslavoff, the Bulgarian premier, asked us to get a written promise of this neutrality; but Bratianu, the Rumanian premier, refused this. He said that such a written contract would be un-neutral, but that he could assure me by word of mouth that even if Bulgaria attacked Serbia, Rumania would continue neutral.
This promise seemed to Radoslavoff valuable but insufficient. So we returned unsuccessful to Constantinople.
I am unaware how much the Entente statesmen knew of our efforts in Sofia and Bucharest; but after this expedition matters at Constantinople drifted on as vaguely as before. The Germans and Austrians continued trying to trick us into the War, and the Entente tried to avoid each quarrel.
We played only for delay, which became constantly more difficult. The German sailors in the city were very hard to control; and the number of German officials increased every day. German influence grew always stronger.
Then came the Black Sea affair. Our German admiral, Souchon, deliberately took our best Turkish ships [the Goeben and others] and bombarded the Russian fleet and some of the Russian cities. We were generally supposed to have sanctioned this; and during the War I let this impression stand, rather than quarrel with the Germans.
Now that I am no longer at the head of affairs, I want it positively known that our Ministry knew nothing of the intended attack. Neither I nor any other official authorized it. On the contrary, we were much upset by it. All the Cabinet members were very angry; we held a hurried meeting, and several of them resigned in protest. The rest of us agreed to try to smooth the matter over.
The Russian ambassador at once sent us a vigorous protest. So did the French and British representatives. The latter two, however, were still hopeful of peace, and proposed that we make our innocence clear by dismissing our German admiral and sailors, and becoming strictly neutral.
We could not prolong this absurd situation. To satisfy the Entente by a public repudiation of Admiral Souchon would have meant the loss of our German alliance forever. We held another anxious Cabinet meeting, the important one at which war was decided on.
My own position was that while much annoyed at the Black Sea affair, I nevertheless continued to believe that we should join with Germany. The Entente could give us nothing but the renewal of promises, so often broken, to preserve to us our present territory. Hence there was nothing to be gained by joining them.
Moreover, if we refused aid to our German allies now in the time of their need, they would naturally refuse to help us if they were victorious. If we stayed neutral, whichever side won would surely punish Turkey for not having joined them, and would satisfy their territorial ambitions at our expense.
As my country's leader, I surely could not lead her into such a hopeless situation. Therefore, I favoured fighting on the side of Germany. The time of our entering was a lesser matter, though I would have preferred waiting for a more propitious moment.
During our Cabinet discussion news was brought us of an increased gathering of Russian troops upon our Caucasian frontier. The antagonism between the two armies there was already serious. So I advised that we accept the Black Sea affair as our own, put as good a front upon it as we could, and declare war against the Entente.
A majority of the remaining Cabinet members supported me, and the conditions proposed by the French and British ambassadors were refused. Turkey openly joined the Teuton cause.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. III, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
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