William Pember Reeves: A Man of Vision

By Stavros T. Stavridis


On February 1, 1919 the Christian Science Monitor published an article titled “Turkish Rule Over Christian People." William Pember Reeves would put an end to this by segregating Turks in Asia Minor. This story quoted a statement made by William Pember Reeves, the Chairman of the Anglo-Hellenic League in London, regarding the termination of Turkish rule over the Christian populations of Asia Minor. He believed that this could be accomplished by separating the Turks from the Christians. It should be noted that Reeves’ statement is best placed within the context on the eve of Eleftherios Venizelos’ presentation of the Greek territorial claims on February 3-4 at Paris Peace Conference. This article will be divided into three parts. Firstly a short of biography of Reeves; second a reproduction of his statement in full below; and finally some brief comments.

1. A short biography of William Pember Reeves

He was born in Lyttleton, New Zealand in 1857 and studied at the Presbyterian High School and Christ’s College and gained an entrance scholarship for the University of New Zealand to study the classics, English, French, German and history. He went to study law at Oxford in 1874 but ill-health forced him to return back to New Zealand from England. He became a law clerk and was admitted as a lawyer to the New Zealand bar in 1880. He left the legal profession and worked as a journalist/editor for the Canterbury Times and Lyttleton Times in 1885 and 1889. These two newspapers were owned by Reeves’ father. He entered politics in 1887 as a Liberal candidate and won his seat in the New Zealand parliament. In1891 he became the Minister for Education and achieved improvements in the structure and teaching in primary education. During 1894, as Minister for Labor, he instituted a number of reforms that improved the conditions for workers.

His hard work as a parliamentarian was rewarded with his appointment as New Zealand’s agent-general in London in 1896. In 1905 he achieved his most important political appointment by becoming his country’s first High Commissioner in London. He resigned his diplomatic position and took up an appointment as the Director of London of School of Economics in 1908. Reeves became very active with the Anglo-Hellenic League and became a strong supporter of Greek PM Eleftherios Venizelos. He was a Director of Bank of New Zealand from 1908 and held the position of Chairman of Board from 1917 to 1931. Reeves died in 1932.

2. His statement reported in the Christian Science Monitor is reproduced in full below:

“The Christian populations of Turkey have suffered terribly during the war. Probably more than 400,000 Greeks and perhaps twice as many Armenians have been killed and hundreds of thousands more ill-treated driven from home and either wholly or partly ruined.

It may be said that such things happen in war in many countries and that with the return of peace, better condition, it is hoped for the Christian populations, if they continue under Turkish rule. But anyone who has studied Turkish history knows that while at certain times the position of Christians- better or other worse- it is never safe and never really tolerable.

The Turks are not a nation but a ruling military and religious caste of mixed origin united by an intolerant creed and selfish class interests. They are largely Greek, Armenian and even Slav in blood but that does not in the least … their view of the treatment they ought to give to Christians who dwell in their land.

The Turk professes obedience in a civil law which in turn promises justice to the Christian; but the Turk also owes obedience to his religious law and tradition which deny anything like equality to Christians, and the one object of which is keep Moslems and Christians utterly apart. That has been its character for six centuries and it has always succeeded.

In the eyes of the Turk, the Christian is an inferior being whose existence may be tolerated as a useful laborer and taxpayer, but whose business is primarily to provide food and revenue for the Moslem Community.

The Christian must be disarmed slave and the Moslem an armed Master. A system of this sort can only be worked when the master is fairly efficient, politically successful and comfortable, and when the slave is satisfied to be utterly submissive.

But for the last 150 years at least, since the Turkish Government system became rotten, the Turk has not been successful or comfortable and the Christian has not been always submissive. The Turks have grown poorer. The Christians, in time of peace, at any rate have managed despite an outrageously bad government to make progress and to become wealthier.

Moreover the Christians have become politically dangerous, owing to their relations with their enfranchised brethren, now separated from the Turkish Empire or with sympathizers among other nations.

The result has been to breed feelings of alarm and jealousy in the minds of the Turks which in later years have driven them to desperation.

They believe they cannot compete with their Christian subjects in the arts of peace and that the Christians the Greeks especially are too industrious and too well educated as rivals.

Therefore from time to time they have striven to try and redress the balance by expulsion and massacre. That has been the position generations past in Turkey and will be the position again if the Great powers are callous and unwise enough to attempt to perpetuate Turkish misrule over Christians.

The Turk in Turkey is not a possible fellow-subject for Christians. He is simply an incapable master who has no notion of being anything else but a master. There is, therefore, but one solution, and that is to segregate the Turks in those parts of Central and eastern Asia Minor, such as Kurdistan and Northern Mesopotamia where the Christian element is small and where the Turks either independently or under supervision of a League of Nations may lead a peaceful existence having for company only Muhammadans of other races.”

“Asked what exactly this scheme of segregation would involve, Mr. Pember Reeves explained he did not contemplate forcible transportation of the Turk from Anatolia or elsewhere. The proposal is merely that he should be provided with a state much on the lines of the proposed Jewish State in which the Turkish race will be the ruling race and around which Turks everywhere can rally if they choose in this way the Turks would be left with a state of their own, but with one in which Christians would no longer have to suffer at their hands.”

3. Some brief observations

There are 3 brief comments that will be made regarding Reeves’ statement above.

. Reeves believed that the victorious Allied powers at the Paris Peace Conference had a wonderful opportunity to end Turkish misrule of Christian populations in Asia Minor and to create a Turkish State in Central and Eastern Anatolia. The examples of the Armenian and Hellenic genocides in 1914-18 would have still been vivid in his mind. One should not also ignore the Armenian massacres of the 1890’s under Sultan Abdul Hamid in Eastern Turkey. The British would not want a Turkish State established in Northern Mesopotamia. They regarded this area as British occupied territory and viewed it as a future mandate that Britain would administer under the aegis of the League of Nations. There was also the issue of the potential rich oil fields in Northern Mesopotamia.

. Whilst no name of cities in Asia Minor is mentioned. The Greeks of Smyrna, Constantinople, Trebizond and Samsoun were successful merchants, bankers and manufacturers and had established schools where Greek children could receive a good education. It should be noted too that American missionaries established educational institutions such as Robert College in Constantinople.

. Reeves stated that the “Turkish Government system became rotten” over the past 150 years. It safely can be assumed that corruption was rife at all levels in the Ottoman Government. No wonder why the Ottoman Empire was known as the “Sick man of Europe.” However the major European powers kept propping up the Ottoman corpse because they had major economic and financial interests in the Ottoman Empire.

Stavros T.Stavridis, Historian/Researcher, National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia

(Posted originally October 2005; reformatted March 2007

About the Author

Stavros Terry Stavridis was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1949 of Greek parents. He migrated to Australia with his parents in September 1952. Stavros has a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in Political Science/Economic History and B.A (Hons) in European History from Deakin University and M.A in Greek/Australian History from RMIT University. His MA thesis is titled "The Greek-Turkish War 1919-23: an Australian Press Perspective."

Stavros has nearly 20 years of teaching experience, lecturing at University and TAFE (Technical and Further Education, the equivalent of Community College in the US) levels. He has presented papers at international conferences in Australia and USA and has also given public lectures both in Australia and on the West Coast of the US. Many of his articles have appeared in the Greek-American press. He currently works as a historical researcher at the National Center for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.

Stavros' research interests are the Asia Minor campaign and disaster, Middle Eastern history, the Assyrian and Armenian genocides, Greece in the Balkan Wars 1912-13 and the First World War and history in general.

Readers interested in the works of Stavridies may read more of his fine articles posted on HCS at the URL http://www.helleniccomserve.com/stavridisone.html.

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