The Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923 between the allied powers and the Turks in the aftermath of World War I, still prevails on the Turkish agenda. While on the one hand, some celebrate this treaty, arguing that it marks Turkish independence from the invading powers, others are critical about it as so much was given away, like Cyprus, the Aegean islands, Mosul, etc. Yahya Kemal Beyatli (d. 1958), a famous Turkish poet and a former ambassador, had an interesting memory from the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, in which he participated as a reporter. He recounts that while all the plenipotentiaries of the allied powers (The British Empire, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, and the Serb- Croat-Slovene State) voted in unison in opposition to Turkey, the representative from Ireland was an exception; in each vote, he raised his hand in favor of Turkey’s interests.
Beyatli noticed this unusual person, and could not help asking him the reason. “I am obliged to do it. Not only I, but are all Irish men and women,” said the Irish representative. “When we suffered from famine and disease, your Ottoman ancestors shipped loads of food and monetary donations. We have never forgotten the friendly hand extended to us in our difficult times. Your nation deserves to be supported on every occasion.” Ireland was ridden with famine and disease between 1845 and 1849. Also known as the Great Hunger, this famine had lasting effects: at least one million people died due to famine-related diseases and more than one million Irish fled, mainly to the United States1, England, Canada, and Australia. Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid sent five ships full of food supplies and funds as charity.
However, the British administration did not give permission for these ships to enter the ports of Belfast or Dublin. Taner Baytok, former Turkish ambassador to Ireland, recounts in his memoirs that these ships secretly discharged their load in Drogheda, a town approximately 70 miles north of Dublin. In May 2, 1995, commemorating this charity, the mayor of Drogheda, Alderman Frank Goddfrey, paid honor to Baytok and erected a plaque in the Westcourt Hotel, which was then the City Hall where Turkish seamen stayed.2 Baytok says he first learned of this act of charity from an article by Thomas P. O’Neill published in The Threshold magazine in 1957. The Ottoman sultan declared that he would donate 10,000, but on the orders of Queen Victoria the British Ambassador in Istanbul informed the Sultan that he shouldreduce this amount, for the Queen’s donation was only 2,000. As noted in the letter of gratitude from the “noblemen, gentlemen, and inhabitants of Ireland,” the amount donated by Sultan Abdulmecid was reduced by the Queen to one thousand pounds.
Ottoman efforts to provide food and lessen the pains of the Irish people, despite political obstacles and the long distance, certainly deserves to be appreciated.It is a case study that should be analyzed carefully, not only as historical evidence for the friendship between two nations, but also as a perfect example that differences of race, religion, or language should not prevent humanitarian aid. This generous charity from a Muslim sultan to a Christian nation is also important, particularly in our time when Muslims are often unfairly accused of human rights violations. Likewise, the appreciative plaque and overall reaction of the Irish society in return for this charity deserves to be applauded. We hope that the Turkish-Irish friendship sets a model for peace among different nations.
- Many American presidents have been of Irish descent whose ancestors immigrated to the USA for various reasons, perhaps the famine being one of them. Among the recent American presidents from Irish descent are John F. Kennedy (1961-1963), Lyndon Johnson (1963-1969), Richard Nixon (1969-1974), Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), George W. Bush (1989-1993), and Bill Clinton (1993-2001).
- Baytok, Taner, Dis Politikada Bir Nefes (A Breath in Foreign Politics), Remzi Kitabevi. See also Hurriyet, November 9, 2005, at http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/3497818. asp?m=1&gid=69; Tarih ve Dusunce (History and Thought), March 2003; Sabah, May 5, 1995.