Early 1920s WikiLeaks Continued

More dispatches from Angora. Hangings, mosquitoes and perambulations. What else could a diplomat ask for?

Following the success of diplomat G. Howland Shaw's "Notes" from Angora (Ankara) of March 1925 (my last post excerpted from them), the American Delegate sent a follow-up from that hardship post, equally well received in Foggy Bottom.

But this time – "Summer at Angora", September 1925 – things were a tad grimmer. He closed his report with a description of "the handiwork" of the Turkish Government's "Tribunal of Independence," which had first attempted "to transfer itself to Constantinople on the theory that it could do more good at the source of all evil in Turkey" but then "settled down to a laborious and by no means unproductive summer's work in the capital."

"A bit before sunrise eleven men were hung [sic – should be hanged] along the three sides of the principal square of Angora. They were left hanging until 11 o'clock when they were put in a cart and carried off. The Bulgarian Minister, M. Radoff, saw the actual hanging from the window of his room at the Angora Hotel. He said it was a rather horrible sight lighted up by the first signs of dawn and by torches, some of the victims hung and others about to be hung, cries and protestations of innocence, soldiers running about and officers shouting orders. I came upon the scene about 8 o'clock. Each man was hung from a tripod and had on a sort of white smock with a placard pinned to him on which was scrawled his name and some account of his crime. There were groups of spectators in front of each tripod and others, intent I suppose upon a more careful inspection, were seated on the steps of nearby houses. Children were scurrying about and nobody seemed particularly concerned. It simply means that in Turkey very little value is ascribed to human life. Death in any form is taken in a perfectly stolid and perfunctory sort of way. Incidentally, the Tribunal of Independence has outgrown its former quarters and has temporarily been convening in the hall of the Turk Odjak where the concerts of Turkish music used to be held last winter. The Turk Odjak is the organisation which is most actively engaged in creating and spreading Turkish culture." Shaw did not tell his readers what were the victims' alleged offences.

But generally, summer in Angora was rather dull, though "enlivened [somewhat by] the divorce of the President of the Republic [Ataturk]." So Shaw scouted about for amusements. "From a medical point of view," he wrote, "Angora is at all times interesting, but never more so than in summer."

"I have been told that before entering medical school a student … must have an elementary knowledge of zoology. There is much to be said for the view that for regular residents Angora can be considered as a sort of medical school and, if so, the practical character of the pre-medical course in zoology which is given during a single journey in the wagon-lits from or to Angora leaves little to be desired. On my last journey I took a post-graduate course in parasitology."

In short, Shaw, looking up, discovered around his compartment's light bulb "mosquitos … twenty, thirty or more. I was instantly on my feet and examining the mosquitos attentively recalling to my mind … the chapter on mosquitos in Manson's 'Tropical Diseases', and especialy the excellent plates and drawings … I seemed to find at least three anopheles. Accordingly, when I went to bed I put up my mosquito net, took 5 grains of quinine and covered my face and hands with some kind of lotion … Parenthetically I may remark that the putting up of a mosquito net over a lower bunk in a small wagon-lits compartment filled with baggage is a feat which calls for skill and patience. I slept fitfully and awoke at dawn to discover numerous black specks on the upper part of the net. My first thought was of coal dust from the locomotive. Then one of the specks moved and the possibility of some eye trouble resulting from too much quinine flashed through my mind only to be rudely dispelled by closer examination of the moving objects." They, too, Shaw discovered, were mosquitos.

In Angora, which had a large swamp nearby, Shaw was told by the Minister of Public Health that "there had not been a single new case of malaria this season. He added, however, that there had been a great deal of sand-fly or papatacoi fever. This is attributed … to the fact that with the decrease in malaria the sand-fly fever had become more noticeable … [But] I am not as optimistic as the authorities … My servant had malaria in July and he vows that he has never had it before and … the horrid suspicion has come to me that the very opposite of what the Minister … tells me is, in reality, the truth; namely, that some of the cases of sand-fly fever are new cases of malaria. A friend of mine who has tuberculosis of the peritoneum was treated with quinine for over a month by an Angora physician for malaria and this is not the only case of faulty diagnosis of which I have known at Angora. And when the Minister … went on to assure me that there had been no dysentry whatsover in Angora during the previous summer and only one case of typhoid I became even more incredulous …"

Shaw added: "Coming nearer home, it is encouraging to report that there has so far this summer been no serious casualty at the American Delegation. One of the Delegates has had an acute attack of poisoning, the servant has had malaria, the cavass [guard] has had what seemed to be a slight enteritis and the interpreter has resigned because of a recurrence of malaria complicated by neurasthenia. This good record however does not mean that vigilance can be relaxed."