- Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815–1914 by Davide Rodogno
Davide Rodogno’s Against Massacre: Humanitarian Interventions in the Ottoman Empire, 1815–1914 (a part of the Emergence of a European Concept and International Practice series) analyzes the confluence between humanitarian intervention and geopolitical rivalries in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The book explores how legal scholars, politicians, and public figures in Europe defined humanitarian intervention with respect to the Ottoman Empire—a state Europeans never considered fully civilized and whose sovereignty was always up for debate even after the Treaty of Paris (1856) briefly admitted the Muslim empire, albeit as inferior, into the Christian Family of Nations.
Against Massacre raises the following question: In what specific historical contexts and geopolitical constellations did the Great Powers decide to intervene on behalf of humanity (i.e., to stop and prevent future massacres of and atrocities against Christian [never Muslim] Ottoman subjects)? Or, alternatively, when did the powers stand on the sidelines despite evidence of gross violations against humanity? Rodogno’s cogently argued, meticulously researched, and well-written answer shows that Great Power governments assessed the severity of violence that the Ottoman state perpetrated against its rebellious Christian subjects and crafted responses according to a few major considerations: Europe’s collective security; the commercial interests of each power; shifting alliances for “balance of power” among Great Britain, France, Russia, Austria, and Germany; and the success of the broader colonial projects of each power in Asia and Africa. Meanwhile the perceived and real failures of the nineteenth-century Ottoman efforts at sweeping administrative, economic, legal, and military reforms provided the Great Powers with plenty of opportunities to exercise diplomatic pressures on Ottoman governments for betraying their pledge to enforce “good government” (p. 29). Ottoman reformers faced a real [End Page 715] challenge in this respect: how to address long-standing social problems (like the abuses of tax farming, for instance) in a new political framework, one that appeared not to value the balance, hierarchal and imperfect to be sure, among confessional groups but demanded loyalty to the integrity of a modernizing Ottoman state in exchange for individual equality. Frustration with lingering or new problems in this era of reforms often erupted in violence, which the European powers saw as proof of the inherent deficiencies of Ottoman rule. Thus European humanitarian intervention occurred at the interface between Ottoman reforms and Great Power rivalries.
Methodologically Rodogno focuses on Great Britain and France, culling diplomatic documents from the foreign office archives of the two countries and supplementing them with a rich variety of published documents as well as memories, diaries, and the writings of contemporary legal scholars. By delving into the writings of legal scholars as well as political figures in the first two chapters, Rodogno explains how the idea of modern humanitarian intervention was articulated and became so important to “balance-of-power” politics on the European continent as well as to European imperial ambitions in the long nineteenth century. In the remaining chapters of Against Massacre Rodogno deftly analyzes specific cases so as to elucidate the logics behind intervention and non-intervention on the grounds of saving strangers from massacre and atrocity.
Rodogno’s argument is especially compelling when he discusses the complex relationship between public opinion and governments’ decisions regarding humanitarian intervention in the Ottoman Empire. Publicly, intervention was usually justified with the brutalization of Christians, as was the case in the Greek Revolt (1821), or thereafter with Ottoman failed reforms resulting in massacres, as was the case in Ottoman Lebanon and Syria (1860) and Crete (1866). Each episode of bloodshed stirred especially British and French public opinion (liberal, conservative, religious), prompting the outburst of publications about Ottoman barbarity and misrule, encouraging relief efforts, and stimulating the formation of domestic and, by the end of the nineteenth century, international associations dedicated to advocating intervention against a particular massacre (Greek Christians in Crete, Slavic Christians in the Balkans, Armenian Christians in eastern Anatolia). Macedonian revolutionaries in particular...