867.24/38

The Ambassador in Turkey (Skinner) to the Secretary of State

No. 247

Sir: I regret to report that Turkey is arming actively and heavily, having reached the conviction that she must no longer delay in taking taking such defensive measures as lie within her power. I find no one in a responsible position who doubts the pacific intentions of Turkey herself, or questions the sincerity of her conviction that there is danger ahead, but whether she is warranted in that feeling is another matter. Practically, her anxiety is with respect to Italy and it is her firm belief that the Italians have covetous feelings with respect to Asia Minor and especially the Antalya district. A meeting of the Cabinet was held on May 15th over which the Gazi presided in person—that circumstance being an indication of the seriousness with which the Government views present conditions. Fevzi Pasha, Chief Military Commander, also attended the meeting which lasted far into the night. It is supposed that the purpose of this council meeting was to speed up arrangements made under the head of national defense which, normally, were to have been spread over a number of years. In order that this might be accomplished it was decided that every Ministry should reduce its requirements to a strict minimum and that such budgetary savings as might be made should be applied to national defense, it being calculated that in the special defense budget there should be found somehow 42,500,000 Turkish pounds for the army and navy, and from 20 to 25,000,000 Turkish pounds for aviation. [Page 961]It was furthermore decided, in principle, that to secure the total amount necessary, there should be imposed additional excise taxes of one piastre per kilogram for flour, and that tobacco, cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, tea, coffee, sugar and cocoa should be subjected to an additional tax. Foreigners will be subjected to a sojourn tax. The bill will be presented very shortly to the Grand National Assembly, and when the more precise facts become available, will be reported upon.

I am informed most reliably that the Turkish Government is now in the market for trucks, aeroplanes, searchlights, radio and signal corps equipment, munitions, and five submarines. She is also understood to be negotiating with a Swedish firm for eight-inch guns. The Krupp Works have a branch or controlled establishment in Sweden and it is supposed that the order will be obtained by that establishment. It has been given out, privately, that tenders from the United States will be welcome.

Following the meeting of the Cabinet to which reference has been made, there was a meeting of the People’s Party, at which the Turkish Ambassador in Italy, called over for the purpose of consultation, was present. A few days later my Italian colleague had a long discussion by appointment with Ismet Pasha, the Prime Minister. What took place I cannot surmise.

What indications are there that the danger is felt to be real in this country, and that Italy is looked upon as the greatest present menace?

We have in the first place the well known Italian interest in Asia Minor, the number of Italian schools in Turkey, and the obvious effort to keep alive the Italian spirit among a good many thousands of individuals of Italian origin, practically all of them born in Turkey, and according to our American views, natural-born Turks.

We have Mr. Mussolini’s speech of March 18, 1934, in which he spoke of the “spiritual and material expansion” of Italy in Africa and Asia. Subsequently he gave an interview to a London newspaper along similar lines and there have been other references possibly less explicit. Mr. Mussolini’s diplomatic explanation about expansion in Asia to the effect that he had not looked upon Turkey as an Asiatic Power did not allay Turkey’s sensitiveness—far from it.

We have Mustapha Kemal’s sudden journey to Izmir immediately after the Mussolini speech, and more recently a special visit to Istanbul.

We have the visit of General Condylis from Athens and of the talk about closing and defending the Straits in certain circumstances. Also the talk with him about the purchase of the five submarines.

We have the talk about the Balkan Four Power Pact, with its implications, and the strong language of Mr. Venizelos that Greece, in no circumstances must be led into a position of making war upon Italy.

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We have the belief which prevails widely in Turkey that a general war is inevitable, perhaps not right away but looming straight ahead, and that while Turkey will keep out of it if she can, she is unable to foretell what the combination will be and she must be prepared for anything. She is certain that in the event of a European war there will be another territorial settlement when the old fashioned balance-of-power considerations will come into play, and thereupon Italy will ask for the right to expand in Asia, and only Turkish preparedness would then prevent her from doing so in Asia Minor.

The foregoing considerations are vague, but they suffice to explain, if not to justify, present Turkish nervousness and the determination of the Government to increase and modernize her equipment all along the line.

Respectfully yours,

Robert P. Skinner