Benny Morris: Armenia and the Turks in the Time of Lawrence

Roundup: Talking About History

[Benny Morris is a professor of history in the Middle East Studies Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.]

While Colonel T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") sympathized with Armenian aspirations for sovereignty and, indeed, in a map he drew up after the Great War of a desirable Middle Eastern share-out of the Ottoman Empire he provided for an independent Armenia (in Cilicia), he was also party to the prevalent anti-Armenian prejudices of his day.

Lawrence was a member of the British delegation to the 1919 postwar Paris peace conference. On November 3 he told Frank Polk, the American "Commissioner" in Paris, that the Armenians were prone to lend "money at exorbitant rates of interest" and took "the Turks' land or horses in security for payment," and this at least in part explained the Turkish atrocities against them during World War I.

But there was another factor. "Armenians," he told Polk, as related in Polk's report on their conversation, "have a passion for martyrdom, which they find they can best satisfy by quarrelling with their neighbors . . . They can be relied upon to provoke trouble for themselves in the near future."..

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