Topic: GW - Propaganda
Using Turkish Troops for Propaganda Purposes
Propaganda leaflet dropped by air, late 1917.
There is no doubt that some of the more unseemly practices undertaken during the Great War led to the various conventions regarding the treatment of Prisoners of War, which we as a nation, adhere to through various treaties.
It is instructive to see the origins of these conventions.
One area of Allied propaganda was to exploit Turkish Prisoners of War for propaganda purposes. This was done ruthlessly by the Allied authorities.
After prisoners were captured, a select few would be given clean Egyptian Labour Corps uniforms complete with fez. Those who received the Turkish Gallipoli medal were still allowed to wear it on their uniform. These people were then given all the various paraphernalia attached to the good life as seen by the average Mehmet in the front line. Each person in the pic would "write" a note suggesting that thing were just dandy and their comrades should join them. The statement was then signed by the prisoner or if they were illiterate, a thumb print would be used.
After the photo shoot, thousands of the propaganda leaflets would be printed in their thousands on good quality highly bleached bonded paper of about 82gsm, a rarity in the war indicating to the Turks below that the Allies had money to burn. The air crews would then be assigned a trench sector and they would litter the area with paper. There was no quantitave study regarding the effectiveness of these exercises so no evidence exists as to the consequences of the constant barrage of this style of propaganda sapping morale or other reasons.
To illustrate the style of propaganda used, here is the first sample picture.
The comments signed by the men state the following:
We don't do anything but eat, drink and lie about, I am comfortable and in good health sir.- Mehmed HaydarWe eat, drink, and lie about.
- Musa AliNot only am I comfortable, but they also look qfter me as my mother would.- Abdurrahman SuleymanI am in extraordinarily good health and comfortable, they look after me very well.- Habib RecebI eat, drink, and sit around sir.- Mehmed OsmanMy health is excellent and I not only am I comfortable, but we do not have any kind of difficulty whatsoever sir.- Iskender HabibI am quite comfortable, they look after me sir.- Salih Mustafa
The things that jump out are:
1. There are seven men in this group photograph. You will notice that each person has written his own little piece and signed it.
2. For those struggling to see this, Ottoman Script is, like all Semitic Scripts, read from right to left. You will see a sentence, then a space and then some further words. These final words are in actuality the name of the POW. Those who were illiterate used a finger print to sign their name. Of course, next to their mark is their name.
3. On the left, you will see the man sitting down with Doumbek, a very common goblet like Turkish drum.
4. The next three fellows all are wearing what appears to be their Gallipoli medal indicating that they are seasoned veterans and definitely not cowards.
5. The fellow smoking the hookah pipe is illustrating that the life for the average Mehmet is far in excess of anything he could hope to endure in the army or even at their village. The use of the hookah is a symbol of wealth and leisure. The ordinary fellow in the field could only dream of sitting around smoking a hookah and shooting the breeze. And here, in a POW camp, everyone is able to smoke the hookah.
6. The fellow sitting to the extreme right is playing a Baglama Saz, again indicating wealth and leisure that is in the grasp of the average Mehmet who surrenders to the Allies. You will notice that the fellow is smoking a tailor made cigarette, another sign of affluence as most people who did smoke used rollies as tailor made ciggies were very pricey.
7. The fellows sitting around in their knitted singlets are indicating that everyone gets issued with underwear. But not only that, there are washing facilities to keep them clean and presentable.
All in all, these 7 men were recruited to assist in undermining their comrades morale to fight. We do not know the circumstances under which these pix and stories were made but I could bet that the good fortune displayed by all these people ended when the photo shoot ended.
It is activities such as this which tended to humiliate the men involved, not only for surrendering for whatever reason but to have their face and names dropped in the Turkish trenches, thereby putting their lives at great risk should they be recaptured by the Turks.
The role of humiliating and putting the life at risk was one of the key reasons why the conventions now prohibit the showing of POWs for triumphalist purposes. As bad as Saddam was, he had a point during the Iraq invasion when the faces of the mass of troops were shown surrendering. Very quickly the faces of the POWs were obscured by the press. It is the unbridled exploitation and humiliation of these prisoners that led to the conventions. Pictures like this were at the forefront in bringing these conventions to fruition.
Citation: Using Turkish Troops for Propaganda Purposes