author: Geoff Berridge
Just a Diplomat
Zeki Kuneralp was twice Turkish Ambassador in London and, in between, secretary-general of the foreign ministry in Ankara. He finished his career, which was marked not only by great achievements but by great personal tragedy, as ambassador at Madrid. His Just a Diplomat is the memoir of this career, prefixed by a short account of his early life. The book has now been out for many years (it appeared in Turkish in 1981), and a full and sensitive obituary of the author, who died in 1998, is available here.
I notice it so belatedly simply because it came into my hands only recently and struck me as the work of a quintessential diplomat. In its preface, Andrew Mango writes: “Wherever he went Zeki Kuneralp made friends for his country, because his own fair-minded friendship was never in doubt”. What better epitaph could any diplomat receive? It is also important, I think, for English-speaking students of diplomacy to take every chance they have to see the world through other eyes. By translating this memoir into English, Geoffrey Lewis has given us a valuable insight into the mind of Turkish foreign policy and diplomacy over the three and a half decades after 1940. It is still in print.
Theophilus Prousis, who is Distinguished Professor of History at the University of North Florida, has also provided us with a valuable primary resource. His book contains a selection of the reports and letters, to various addressees, written by a number of British consuls in the Levant in the early nineteenth century, chiefly against the backdrop of the Greek war of liberation from Ottoman rule. His choice falls on William Meyer (Prevesa), John Cartwright (Constantinople), Francis and Nathaniel Werry (Smyrna), and Henry Salt and John Barker (Cairo, Alexandria, and Aleppo). Consuls were expected to report – to the ambassador in Constantinople and, in emergencies, directly to the Foreign Office in London – on everything of political as well as commercial significance that occurred in their districts. Though the abilities of these men varied as much as the time they devoted to their official duties (many had to engage in trade to make ends meet), some of them provided highly revealing reports. In this collection, those of John Cartwright, the long-serving consul-general at Constantinople, are of particular interest to students of consular history. This is because it was during his time that the Levant Company was dissolved, and the British government looked to him, as the senior officer in the consular network that the company had hitherto financed and operated, for a detailed report on its staff. Prousis rightly includes this important document, dated 10 October 1825, in his selection. His book is ably introduced, each section provides background on the consuls whose reports follow, there is a very good bibliography, and a reasonable index. Prousis’s own sentences have a tendency to turn into lists, and I was puzzled as to why his section introductions should have contained such long quotations from the reports that he reproduces in full only a few pages later, but these are small niggles. Consular history deserves and badly needs more attention, and this is a very useful contribution to it.
Finally, I come to the two large volumes in French of the official and private papers (largely correspondence but including diary entries in Volume II) of the nineteenth century Ottoman diplomat, Yanko Aristarchi Bey. I have as yet only had time to read the separate introductions to each of these volumes (I do not read French quickly) but, written by Sinan Kuneralp himself, these are very interesting. Aristarchi was a member of a wealthy and well connected Greek family of Istanbul and began his diplomatic career in 1842 when he joined the Bureau of Translators of the Ottoman foreign ministry. From 1846 until 1852 he was director of political affairs of the vilayet of Bagdad, and in 1854 was appointed secretary and counsellor of legation at Berlin. Except for a short interruption in 1857, he remained in the Prussian capital until 1876, rising to charg d’affaires en titre, then minister, and finally ambassador in 1874; he was recalled in 1876. His papers published here were among those which were deposited on his death in 1897 in the Library of the Greek Literary Society of Constantinople, and eventually found their way – minus some losses suffered en route – to the Society of Turkish History in Ankara.
Among the tasks with which Aristarchi was charged in Bagdad, where he arrived barely 25 years old, were preserving harmony between the French and British consuls, in which he demonstrated dexterity; seeking to ensure that they did not abuse their rights under the capitulations, in which he was zealous; and reporting on the internal affairs of the distant province to the foreign ministry in Istanbul, in which he was so candid as to suggest, believes Kuneralp, that he enjoyed a degree of high-level protection. Bagdad was regarded by the Ottomans as an important observation post from which to keep an eye on Persia, and in 1851 Aristarchi was sent there on a special mission in order to probe the Shah’s intentions. His reports during this mission make up a sizeable part of Volume I of this book.
In Berlin, where he was head of the Ottoman mission for 18 years, Aristarchi was the observer of Prussia’s successful wars against Austria and France and the creation of the German Empire. He may have been a Greek and a Christian, like many Ottoman diplomats, but he remained an Ottoman – protesting if his title of ‘Bey’ was omitted in official communications from the Prussian government and insisting that all members of his mission should wear the fez. He was also a cultivated man with wide interests and perfect German, with a strong touch of the exotic provided by the Bedouin Arab servant whom he had brought from Bagdad. He entertained lavishly, and was altogether a tremendous success in Berlin society. In 1858 he married one of the daughters of General Eduard von Bonin, the Minister of War, which was a considerable diplomatic coup because it gave him privileged access to the court. On the other hand, his relations with Bismarck were not good, the outspokenness of his despatches found less favour with a new regime in the foreign ministry at home in the early 1870s, and in 1876 he was recalled. Though still only 54, he was never employed again.
The very large number of documents contained in these two volumes, each separately indexed, cover years of immense interest from an unusual perspective. The Isis Press is to be warmly congratulated for making them accessible. I am confident that they will be of great value to students of late Ottoman diplomacy, though it will be for students of nineteenth century diplomatic history to judge their importance in that field. I am looking forward to having the time to study them.