essay by Nick
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Detainees and Other Tales
The status of the Turkish detainees in Malta after the First World
War is somewhat misunderstood and frequently misinterpreted. The initial point is that the
Turks held in Malta were never actually “acquitted” since no court was ever convened
and no charges were ever brought against them. There were accusations certainly but actual
charges were never laid against the detained Turks since the quality of evidence available
to the British was so poor. Armenians make much of the observation that geopolitical and
imperial considerations blunted the vigour with which the British pursued the prosecution
case against the detained Turks and also claim that the Turks were simply traded for
British prisoners held by the Turkish Republican forces. The former observation is
inaccurate and the latter is an oversimplification- two usual tactics of Armenian
lobbyists. The issue of commercial interests in Turkey, mainly that of oil, is also often
cited as a crucial factor in the general failure of war crimes prosecutions A simple look
at the chronology of events might serve to clarify the problem:
1918, Oct. 30. Armistice between Turkey and Britain at Mudros.
British Navy controls Turkish waters and allied troops take possession of key positions.
French General Franchet d’Esperay enters Constantinople at the head of his troops mounted
on a white horse, emulating Fatih, the Conqueror.
1918, November 1, British forces occupy the city of Mosul.
1919, Jan. 18, Peace Conference opens in Paris
1919, March 16, Allied military officially occupies Constantinople although they have
actually been in place since November 1918. British troop numbers in the region initially
exceeded one million men but by this time were about 350,000.
1919, May. 15, Greek forces land at Smyrna.
1919, May, 28, the British, unhappy with the progress of Ottoman courts martial process
removed from Turkish custody and deported to Mudros and Malta, 68 Turks accused of war time
atrocities to join others already detained.
1920, March 16, Allies officially take military control of Constantinople.
1920, May 11, Mustapha Kemal sentenced to death in
absentia by Sultan’s government.
1920, June 10, Treaty of Sevres presented to Ottoman
1920, June 22- July 9, Greek armies advance into Anatolia and capture Bursa.
1921, July 10, after initially being halted Greeks continue offensive and capture Eskishehir
1921, August 23- September 13, battle of Sakarya. Greek armies comprehensively defeated by
1921, October 20, Treaty of Angora between Nationalist government and France.
1922, August 26- September 9, Greeks mount counter offensive but are beaten and Smyrna falls
to Nationalist forces.
1922, Oct 3-11, Opening of Mudanya Conference and agreement of armistice between Allies and
Turkish Nationalists……..November 20th, Lausanne Peace Conference opens.
1923, July 24th- Lausanne Peace Conference concludes with a treaty.
1923, October 2, Allies evacuate Constantinople and Nationalist forces take possession.
1926, June 5, Agreement on Mosul between Turkey, Britain and Irak.
As one can see from this simplified chronology,
the British and their various allies (French and Greek) were in complete control of
events in Constantinople and western Anatolia for about two years and eleven months-
from the de-facto occupation of Constantinople until the Greek defeat at Sakarya. The
British in particular, due to the pro Greek/ pro Armenian and anti Turkish leanings of
Lloyd George were pursuing a vigorous policy to dismember the Turkish homeland of
Anatolia while the French were striving to carve out their own share in Cilicia. The
British were actively supporting the Greek invasion of western Anatolia and were fully
behind the dream of setting up a new Greek empire in Asia Minor because it fitted in
with their imperial world view at that time. The idea that the British were following
a separate imperial agenda, or were thinking of exchanging Turkish detainees for
British prisoners held by the Nationalists can not be a serious proposition prior to
the battle of Sakarya. Up until the Greek defeat at Sakarya the British were still
betting on their Greek clients as the best means of pursuing their strategic
It is true that the British were greatly concerned with what they perceived to have
been neglect of, or crimes against British POWs, but they were also very concerned
with prosecuting Turks for crimes against Christians. Up until this point the British,
finding it impossible to find evidence against Turkish detainees that would stand up
in court, were leaning more towards the concept of a collective punishment of all
Turks that involved the dismemberment of the whole country- something that had been on
the books since 1915 anyway. The allies, in spite of the fact that they had full
access to Ottoman archives, were in control of Ottoman provinces to which Armenians
were relocated and were in communication with the US State Department (which should
have had masses of evidence provided by the diligent work of Morgenthau and his
various employees) were unable to produce evidence that was viable in a British court.
It was not until after the Greeks were soundly beaten, in retreat and had been exposed
as mass murderers themselves that the Anatolia policy of the British government became
untenable and the prospect of prisoner exchanges became possible, indeed desirable. In
fact, the behaviour of Greek forces (supported by Armenian and Greek irregulars) was
appalling and did considerable damage to the image of Greece in Britain and undermined
British confidence in Greece’s ability to administer the territory it aspired to. In
short, British prosecutors had nearly three years to produce evidence that would stand
up in court and were unable to do so.
It was true that a legal technicality made it difficult to prosecute governments for
actions taken against their own citizens, but Britain had gone some considerable way
to circumventing this by devising the concept of a “crime against humanity” back
in 1915 when the first accusations were made against the Ottoman government of crimes
against Armenians. The legalistic framework should have been in place.
British concerns over the oil fields of Iraq (especially Mosul)
were irrelevant to the issue of British POWs and the Turks detained in Malta since they
already had possession of the oil fields having held them since the capitulation of Turkish
forces on October 30th 1918. The Turkish Nationalists had already accepted the loss of
significant territories with the publication and ratification of the National Pact. The
Nationalists were less interested in the commercial potential of regions than they were in
the idea of cultural or national integrity. One should not forget that the Mosul region was
the only part of the National Pact Ataturk was unable to secure. When the issue of Mosul was
finally settled the Turks accepted a one-off indemnity payment of a mere £500,000! It is
hard to understand just how the issue of oil concessions could be any part of American
strategic and economic thinking either- and much is made of the US unwillingness to press
the Turks and support Armenian ambitions in this respect. It seems typical of much of the
Armenian argument concerning the “genocide” and its consequences that factors relied
upon are simple incorrect or irrelevant. This is one of the factors cited by George Horton
in a book he published in 1926 with the pithy title of “The Blight of Asia”; “Mosul
and the freedom to give us a chance in the scramble for oil has been the subject of all the
negotiations (at Lausanne)….Peace and civilisation may be talked about in public, but in
private there is talk of oil, because territories where the future concessionaires will be
at pains to insure their rights, are at stake.” Now this would have been perfectly true
but the Turks would not have been involved in this aspect of discussions other than as
spectators since, as has already been pointed out, they did not hold any oil producing
assets of significance. It hard to believe that Horton would not have known this since, as
the inside cover of the book states, he was “For Thirty years Consul and Consul General of
the United States in the Near East.” Of course this book, and many others like it, is
simply a polemic that is aimed at condemning Turks and promoting “Christian” values at
the expense of fact.. In the foreword of the book the intent is made clear- “high ideals
are more than oil and railroads, and the Turks should not be accepted into the society of
decent nations until they show sincere repentance for their crimes.” The crimes of others
against Muslims are simple never acknowledged. It is from polemics and propaganda tracts
like this that the concessions for oil myth derives. That this approach continues is
regrettable and undeniable; this book, along with others of the same ilk have recently been
republished by a company specialising in “the republication of classic books” under the
editorship of (and there should be no surprises here) of an individual called Ara Sarafian.
Armenians are correct in pointing out that war time would have been the most opportune time
to exterminate a troublesome minority. The question remains that if this was the aim, why
didn’t it happen? Why are there so many Armenian survivors when famine, disease, the
elements and warfare all conspired together to kill so many Muslims? 18% of the total Muslim
population of Anatolia was dead by the end of the Turkish War of Independence, victims of
nearly a decade of conflict. In regions where conflict with Armenians was worst, there too,
Muslim mortality was worse: Van- 62%, Erzerum-31%, Bitlis-42%, Diyarbakir-26%, Konya-27%,
Sivas-15% and so on. Independent estimates of Armenian mortality for Anatolia vary from 13%
to 40%- it is hard to be precise since Armenians left the region and settled elsewhere.
Muslims remained not having anywhere else to go. In any event, these figures are fully in
accordance with losses amongst the Muslim populations which should not be surprising since
the same conditions were endured by all communities. The fact is that there is a curious
concordance here in terms of casualties suffered which should, for any reasonable person, be
a cause for thought. British (and American) representatives in the east were clear observers
of Armenian atrocities against Muslims and had remarkably little bitterness towards Turks
who held them prisoner in spite of their tribulations because they, for the most part,
understood the circumstances. The most vituperative anti Turkish reports come from the
armchair observers like Morgenthau, Lepsius, Stuermer, Horton and so on who had little to
base their “observations” on other than carefully edited and selected reports and
It is observed that authors such as Stuermer provide
considerable evidence of genocide- but this doubtful since the title of his book “Two
War Years in Constantinople” gives the game away. He spent two years in
Constantinople and did as much travelling and investigation as Morgenthau and Lepsius-
none of whom left the Constantinople area during the years in question. The assumption
that as a German (and an ally of Turkey), Stuermer would be pro Turkish is as
erroneous as the suggestion that the British did not prosecute the Malta Turks because
of the vestiges of 19th century pro-Ottoman sympathies. The simple facts are that once
the war started all bets were off and everything was up for grabs- the Germans being
as keen as anyone to make profit from the Turks. The Germans were not particularly pro
Turkish and always had their own imperial, economic and strategic interests in Asia
Minor and the Caucusus as a priority.
There is also the inevitable and predictable comparison with the Jews of Germany
observing that they were, like the Armenians of Turkey, the financial and productive
backbone of the economy- this simply isn’t true. Jews in Germany were relatively
prosperous but they certainly were not the backbone of the economy and they certainly
never enjoyed the favoured status that Armenians enjoyed in the Ottoman Empire. Unlike
the Jews of Germany, Armenian communities were in open revolt against the government
and were providing aid and support to the enemy. Unlike the Jews of Germany, the
Armenians were playing on the sympathies of outsiders to inflate their importance in
political and cultural terms to achieve goals they could not otherwise have
entertained. The Jews of Germany, for the most part, wanted to be integrated as German
citizens; the Armenians of the Ottoman empire perceived the themselves to be superior
to the Turks and deserving of special considerations……..There can be no
The constant use of republished and clearly racist and biased sources in support of
mythology has little relation to reality and is merely testament to the dishonest
basis for the genocide proposition.