A General Overview on Turkish-Armenian Relations in Anatolia (1919-1922)
Ass. Prof. Dr. Recep Karacakaya
While studying the Turkish-Armenian relations in Anatolia between the years 1919-1922, firstly the situation of the relations between the Turkish and Armenian nations in Anatolia will be put forth and then the struggles in the Eastern and Southern Battlefronts will be mentioned.
Turkish-Armenian Relations in the Anatolian Provinces
After the Mudros Armistice, Armenians started to re-organize with the support and help of the British. The fact that the Armenians, who were subjected to dispatchment and settlement came back and continued their activities, destroyed the spring atmosphere, which lasted for a very short time, in Turkish-Armenian relations (Akşin, 1992, p. 32).
The government abolished the patriarchate regulations, which were declared in July 1916, in 1918 (Sabah, No: 10421, 21 November 1918) and the Armenian Patriarch Zaven Efendi returned to Istanbul (Sarıhan, 1993, p. 140). Zaven Efendi, who presented a complaint letter to the government after coming back to Istanbul, claimed that there was no public order in the country and Muslims were armed and they threatened Armenians (Sarıhan, 1993, p. 200).
Patriarch Zaven Efendi claimed that the situation in Anatolia was calamitous, the Christian lives were in danger, many families from Erzincan and Erzurum were coming to the Mersin and Adana regions, and Christians were warned to join National Forces, otherwise to abandon these regions.
Zaven Efendi wrote a letter to British High Commissar Robeck as well and claimed that Kemalist groups burnt Armenians alive in Bolu and asked Allied Forces to take precautions against the new murders of Mustafa Kemal. The day the government forces rescued Bolu from the rebels on 14 August, a fire broke out in the Armenian neighbourhood (Sarıhan, 1995, p. 194).
However, the information coming from Anatolia put forth that the truth was not this and Patriarch Efendi’s claims were baseless and unreal. A telegraph dated 12 October 1919 coming from the Twelfth Corps Commander informed that neither Armenians nor Greeks were exposed to any attacks, their security, lives, and properties were given close attention to and the public order was maintained. However, it was also included in the telegraph coming from the Twelfth Corps Commander that many Greeks and Armenians were getting traveling documents for almost two months and were going to the Izmir and Adana regions, that these journeys were wanted to be prevented through advice in Kayseri and Niğde and all kinds of assurance were given; the 11th Legion commander and the Kayseri Armenian metropolitan bishop met for this issue and that both the people and the metropolitan bishop said that these journeys did not require any anxiety and they were only for the purpose of trading. Also, the fact that there was no event to disturb the public order was informed in the telegraph from Ankara on 11 October 1919 (İkdam, No: 8149, 19 October 1919).
In the letters sent to the Third Corps Commander, Selahaddin Bey, with the signatures of the leaders of the non-Muslim communities in places such as Tokat, Erbaa, Kavak, Çarşamba, Merzifon, and Vezirköprü, the lies that Muslim people abused Christians were disclaimed (Ermeniler, 1994, p. 247-251).
A telegraph similar to this was sent by the Greeks and Armenians in Amasya and they informed that they heard about the rumours that Anatolian people were calamitous and Christian lives were in danger and that Christian people were warned to join National Forces, otherwise they would be forced to leave the country in a few days; however, everybody was actually living in harmony with Muslims in complete security (Gökbilgin, 1959, p. 99).
When it was claimed in an article published in the journal Alemdar in Istanbul that Ali Fuat Pasha left Ankara in blood and fire, carried out deportations, massacres and robberies, and that is why a general migration started in Ankara, the Armenian vice-Deputy Agişe, Armenian Catholic Spiritual leader Merges, county mufti Rıfat, Mayor Ali, and teacher Arif Bey in this region sent a telegraph to all newspapers saying that the claims were unrealistic, the public order was not disturbed in the region, the claims of Alemdar were false allegations, and if they want, Alemdar writers could see the reality in its own place (Vakit, No:718, 1 November 1919).
All news coming from Anatolia showed that the conditions of Armenians were good. An Armenian priest sent to Kayseri from Istanbul gave information about the Kayseri people in a letter he sent to Jamanak newspaper: “I understood from the behaviours of Armenian, Turkish, and Kurdish people who met us in Ürgüp that the public order was in a good taste. About the issue of Armenians who changed sects, the governor gave them the right to decide themselves, and they were free to remove their turbans and go to the church.”(Vakit, No: 770, 28 December 1919).
As it can be understood from these denials, the condition of Armenians in Anatolia was quite fine, on the contrary of the claims, and the claims that their lives were in danger and they would be forced to leave the country unless they join the National Forces did not have anything to do with reality. These claims were spread by central Istanbul and for the purpose of damaging the national awakening.
Armenian newspapers wrote that Turks and Armenians started to get along well in places such as Adapazarı and the fear and excitement of non-Muslims were eliminated as declarations on not abusing Christians were hung on walls (İkdam, No: 8297, 21 March 1920).
Samsun Armenians also sent a telegraph to the Great National Assembly and criticized the behaviours of Patriarch Zaven Efendi and other Armenian leaders. Samsun Armenians stated in this telegraph in brief that, “it will be much better if Patriarch Zaven Efendi and other Armenian leaders come to support Mustafa Kemal Pasha instead of going to the European door and being an instrument for the western imperialist ideas” (Vakit, No: 1234, 15 May 1921).
As it is apparent, a large majority of Armenians in Anatolia maintained their loyalty to the Turkish state and even adopted an attitude against the Patriarchate in Istanbul. Their conditions were not bad, on the contrary of the claims, and were quite good.
Similarly, some publications were being done in Europe in 1922 that Christians in Anatolia were being tortured. The source for all these news is American Major Yavel. Yavel, who was the former director of Harput branch of the Elazığ American Eastern Assistance Committee, claimed that Armenians were continuously held under oppression by the National government and they were finally exposed to massacre. As it was understood that this person was working for discord in Anatolia, he was asked to leave Anatolia by the government and Mister Yavel, who went to Aleppo by being offended by this, made nasty accusations with a friend of his. These rumours are completely baseless and false. News coming from Americans in various places of Anatolia also informed that the public order and peace were not disturbed in Anatolia and there was no worrisome condition for Christians.
The Ankara Foreign Office also strictly rejected these claims and stated that te testimony of Americans both in Harput and in various places of Anatolia could be applied to and the America Assistance Committee also informed Washington that the claims about the massacre of Christians in Harput were baseless (Vakit, No: 1598, 22 May 1922).
The Internal Office also said that there were no illegal behaviors against Armenians or Greeks and severely rejected the accusations (Vakit, No: 1600, 24 May 1922).
The British, who evaluated these accusations published in the Times newspaper on 6 May 1922 as if they were real, took action to send inquiry committees to Anatolia; for this reason, Mister Chamberlain offered to the allies of sending an inquiry committee to Anatolia in the House of Commons. He stated that Britain would offer to send commissaries to the Anatolian regions immediately and said that Britain would send commissaries if other countries don’t accept sending commissaries (Vakit, No: 1595, 19 May 1922).
Armenians and Greeks living in Anatolia gave the best responses to these baseless claims and accusations which were released in European publications and immediately adopted by Britain. The leaders of the Greek and Armenian communities strictly rejected the accusations of Major Yavel; the reputable individuals and priests of Elazığ, Malatya, Kastamonu, and Çorum Armenian and Greek communities explained the good treatment they had and protested this situation (Vakit, No: 1609, 4 June 1922).
War with Armenians in the East
When the Turkish Army had to withdraw from the places it captured during the war, according to the articles of Mudros Armistice, people in these places remained defenseless against Armenians. Armenian groups attacked Muslim people in Karaurgan, Sarıkamış, and Kars and massacred many people. When Armenians started an attack from the Bardız region on 24 September, the Turkish Army, with an operation started on 28 September under the command of Kazım Karabekir who was the Commander of Eastern Battlefront, captured the Sarıkamış region, proceeded after a month and rescued Kars and occupied Gyumri on 7 November. When Armenians asked for peace after this operation, first an armistice and then the Gyumri Peace Treaty on 2 December was signed. The Gyumri Treaty is the first international treaty of the Great National Assembly of Turkish Government with a foreign state. However, this treaty was not put into force due to the developments emerging in Caucasia and it was replaced by the Treaty of Moscow which was signed in Moscow on 16 March 1921, and which discussed the issue of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.
The French, who occupied the region right after the Mudros Armistice was signed, followed “Armenian Politics” in Cilicia, allowed Armenian military operation, and tried to Armenianize the Cilicia region in terms of administration (Akyüz, 1988:180).
Native Armenians in Adana met the French Army as a salvation army, French-Armenian troops attacked some villages and killed some people, and burnt villages. Armenians massacred some Muslim people in the villages around Haçin and abducted some women by force when they were with their husbands (Mezalim, 1995:72).
After the French occupied the Adana region, they were put in difficulty by the Turkish Forces, the pressures of the National Forces in the Taurus Mountains and Adana plain made the French suffer heavy losses, and when the French troops encircled in Pozantı had to withdraw, they were attacked and captured.
The Turkish attack which started in the early morning on 19 July 1920 to rescue Tarsus from the French developed in a few hours and resulted in a great success. The National Forces, who defeated the French in many wars in the Adana region until the beginning of 1921, rescued Feke, Kadirli, Kozan, Karaisalı, Bahçe, Pozantı, and Saimbeyli from the mutual occupation of the French and Armenians and prevented the colonialist goals of the French and Armenians’ efforts to establish a state (Çelik, 1999:399).
When the French took action to arrest the notables of the city and occupy the government buildings, Turks pushed them away by opening fire on the French. The war, which started in this way, continued on 23 January with the French shelling the city. The French allied with Armenians bombarded Muslims with machine guns and cannons from the churches, fire broke out in the city, and many Muslims died (Mezalim, 1995, p. 75). While the Turks tried to take precautions of defense, the massacres on Muslims by the French and Armenians in Maraş reached to an unbearable state.
The war in Maraş was intensified even further after the 1st of February, French troops, of around 500 soldiers who came from the Islahiyye side on 6 February and had two cannons, were stopped by the National Forces at a distance of 1.5 hours to Maraş and French troops, of around 300 soldiers, approached and bombarded the city with a mountain battery. The French could not resist anymore and escaped to Islahiyye in the nights of 11 and 12 February. The number of enemies who died or were injured in Maraş was quite high. The defeat that they sustained in Maraş deeply affected the French and their prestige and morale were disturbed.
The national forces who wanted to rescue Urfa from the occupying forces attacked Urfa on 9 February 1920. French forces in Urfa were about 500 soldiers, 12 machine guns, and a cavalry team. Also about 500 armed Armenians had joined this force. The French asked for a local armistice by sending a message to Urfa Governor Ali Rıza Bey on 8 April 1920. They informed that they would withdraw from Urfa as a result of this armistice. The demand of armistice by the French was accepted and a treaty was signed. The French evacuated Urfa in the early morning of 11 April 1920 (Ermeni Sorunu, 1983: 418).
The Turkish resistance against French forces who entered the city on 29 October 1919 started even on the first day. It came to a boil when a few Armenian youths lowered the Turkish flag at the Akyok Mosque on 5 November. The French had to send away the troops of an Armenian regiment as a response to this reaction by the Turkish society (Çay, 1988:21).
Although the Armenian regiment was removed from the city, the events continuously increased. The event starting the real resistance in Antep was that a 12 years old Turkish boy was killed by being bayoneted when he resisted the French soldier who harassed his mother on 21 January.
The first great success of militia forces took place with the Araplar Village attack on 12/13 January 1920. Almost all of the French forces of around 400 soldiers were killed. Şahin Bey took the control of Antep-Kilis road with his 100 guerrilla soldiers and made the French suffer great losses. The French started an attack on 24 March by having prepared during March and they could open the way to Kilis on 28 March.
The Turkish resistance which started on 1 April 1920 put the French in a difficult situation and they had to make an armistice with the Great National Assembly Government in Ankara to be able to rest. The French were very exhausted were trying to gain time in this while. To be able to break the resistance in Antep, they went into a big preparation. The French, who eventually started an attack on the 8th of August, succeeded in entering Antep. However, the determination of the Antep people in defending the city continued with enormous efforts until 11 August 1920. The Antep people wanted to split the French siege and leave the city on 6/7 February 1921, but they couldn’t succeed in this. The French completely captured the city on 8 February (Istiklal Harbi, 1966:230).
Following the success of the National Forces, the French government, who saw that their forces were not able to gain success in the wars in this region and understood that they could not take roots in Adana and its surroundings, realized that compromise with the Ankara Government would be in favor of its interests and wanted to start the negotiations (Çelik, 1999: 399).
Franklin Bouillon was assigned by the French Prime Minister to make an agreement with the Turks. After tough and lengthy discussions, the agreement was finally signed in Ankara on 20 October 1921.
After the Ankara Treaty was signed and the Turkish-French Joint Committee started its activities on the evacuation of the region by the French, Armenian guerrillas got flurried to rescue their lives due to their inhumane tortures and behaviors against Turkish and Muslim people during the occupation and for this reason they left the country.
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Akyüz, Yahya (1988), Türk Kurtuluş Savaşı ve Fransız Kamuoyu, Ankara.
Arşiv Belgelerine Göre Kafkaslar’da ve Anadolu’da Ermeni Mezalimi(1995),b. III, Ankara.
Belgelerle Ermeni Sorunu(1983), Ankara.
Çay, Abdulhaluk (1988), “Milli Mücadelede Gaziantep”, Şahinbey Semineri Bildiri Kitabı, Ankara.
Çelik, Kemal (1999), Milli Mücadele’de Adana ve Havalisi, Ankara.
Gökbilgin, Tayyib (1959), Milli Mücadele Başlarken, Ankara.
Osmanlı Belgelerinde Ermeniler, (1994) Ankara.
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Türk İstiklal Harbi Güney Cephesi(1966), Ankara.
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