«Ottoman Documents and Expulsion of Greeks from Asia Minor in 1913-1914» - Taner Akcam

The one truth that all of the available Ottoman sources point to is this: Having initially devised and implemented a plan before the war to, in their own words, ‘free [themselves] of non-Turkish elements’ in the Aegean region, the Committee of Union and Progress then, under the cover of war, expanded this plan to include all of Anatolia. The primary goal of this project, which can be described as an ‘ethno-religious homogenization’ of Anatolia, was a conscious reshaping of the region’s demographic character on the basis of its Turkish-Muslim population. The two main pillars of this policy, which can be characterized as the government’s ‘population and resettlement policy’, were as follows: the first entailed a ‘cleansing’ of Anatolia of its non-Muslim (which basically meant Christian) population, seen as a mortal threat to the continued existence of the state and even described as a ‘cancer’ in the body of the empire; the second was the assimilation (read: Turkification) of all of Anatolia’s non-Turkish Muslim communities.

As of 1913 these policies were put into place through the exercise of a ‘dual’ mechanism of parallel official and unofficial tracks. On one hand, an official policy of expulsion and on the other hand a forced emigration was followed. This policy was officially decided upon and implemented either within the ambiguous framework of ‘population exchanges’ with other countries, such as Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, or as one of unilateral expulsion and deportation, such as in the case of the Armenians. On the other hand, various covert, extra-legal but state-sponsored acts of terror were undertaken under the protective umbrella provided by the ‘official’ state policies.

The CUP created a organizational structure well-suited to this dual mechanism. In the Main Indictment against the CUP Central Committee members in their 1919 trial in Istanbul’s Court-Martial, the prosecution stated that, in line with the Unionist party’s structure and working conditions, a ‘secret network’ (şebeke-yi hafiye) had been formed in order to carry out its illegal actions. The CUP itself, the indictment said, was an organization that “possessed two contradictory natures (iki mâhiyet-i mütezâdde): the first, a visible and public [one] based on a [public] program and internal code of regulations (nizâmnâme-i dâ­­hi­lî­ye), the other based on secrecy and [operating according to unwritten] verbal instructions”.[1]

By means of the aforementioned policies, which were put into practice between the years 1913 and 1918, the ethnic character of Anatolia was thoroughly transformed. The population of Anatolia[2] was so completely disrupted over this six year period that almost a third of the total population (estimated in 1914 to be around 7.5 million souls) were either internally displaced, expelled or annihilated.

Balkan war was an important turning point. After the war there were reciprocal agreements reached with Bulgaria and Greece. Parallel to these agreements the forcible expulsion began especially after Enver Pasha became Minister of War in January 1914. The first agreement was signed by Turkey and Bulgaria in Istanbul on September 29, 1913. Coming in the wake of the Second Balkan War, the agreement determining and demarcating the two countries’ shared border and adopted the principle that the Muslim and Christian populations living within 15 kilometers from their respective borders would be exchanged.

A joint commission, called the “Mixed Commission on Population Exchange”, was established to carry out the population swap.[3] It’s members gathered in Edirne on November 15, 1913 to sign an agreement on the mutual transfer of populations and on subsequent transactions.

The joint Turkish-Bulgarian Commission would reconvene on May 23, 1914, at which time two sub-commissions were established that would continue their labors until October of that year. Although the commissions were forced to cease functioning with the outbreak of the First World War, by that time they had established the foundations for an agreement on appraisal of the lands and properties of the 9,714 Muslim families (48,570 persons) leaving Bulgaria for the Ottoman state and the 9,472 Bulgar families (46,764 persons) going in the opposite direction. Because of the war, however, the decision was never put into place.

The agreement with Bulgaria was followed shortly thereafter by similar agreements with Serbia (October 14, 1913) and Greece (November 14, 1913). The sections in these agreements dealing with the issue of exchanging populations were quite similar with those found in the Ottoman-Bulgarian understanding. According to all of these agreements anyone who wished had the right—within a specific, recognized period--to change their nationality and immigrate to the country of their fellow ethno-religious community.[4]

Over the spring and summer of 1914 new meetings were held between the various countries and several new agreements were reached with the purpose of better coordinating the reciprocal population exchanges. In May, 1914, for instance, the proposal was made by the Ottoman Ambassador in Athens, Galib Kemali Bey [Söylemezoğlu] to exchange the Greek population of the province of Aydın for the Muslim population of the Macedonia.[5] After a further series of correspondences and face-to-face meetings, an agreement was reached on July 1, 1914 “On the mutual, voluntary exchange of Turks in Macedonia for Greeks in the provinces of Eastern Thrace and Macedonia”;[6] the relevant commission was then formed to handle the movement of populations from the various regions involved. In the correspondence between the two countries (and between their respective centers and the provinces involved) discussing the formation of this commission, the understanding was clearly expressed by both sides that “the basis of the exchange of the Muslims emigrating from Macedonia and the Greek emigrants [from Aydın and Western Thrace] was voluntary emigration”.[7]

As a result of the war, however, those various commissions established in August 1914 in provinces such as Izmir and Edirne would ultimately cease their activities in December and, as a result, all of their decisions and plans thus far would never be implemented.[8]


The ‘Dual Mechanism’ as Put into Play in the Aegean Region

Parallel to these attempts to give an official and legal framework to the population exchange, the Ottoman authorities organized the forcibly removal of the Christian populations from their remaining territories, by resorting to terror tactics and even, when deemed necessary, massacres. Used for the first time against the Greek population of the empire’s Aegean region, the dual mechanism would be used again in the period of Armenian deportations and massacres. In the memoirs of Kuşçubaşı Eşref, Halil Menteşe, Celal Bayar, and others who played key roles in these events, the authors provide ample information regarding the main outlines of the covert, parallel plan for forced migration that was implemented without waiting for official agreements to be signed and implemented.[9] The primary objective of the government’s policy, particularly in the Aegean and in Eastern Thrace, was to significantly reduce the numbers of Christians who were deemed to be a threat to state security. In his recollection of the policies put in place in the Aegean region in the spring of 1914, Halil Menteşe states that “[Interior Minister] Talat Bey suggested that the country be cleansed of those elements who were seen as a capable of betraying the state”.[10]

German documents from the period show that the interior minister spoke to German diplomats with the same level of frankness: “Talat Bey...explained without hesitation that government wished to use the World War as a pretext (so as not to allow foreign countries to intervene) in order to cleanse the country of its internal enemies –meaning the Christians of all denominations”.[11] In the words of Kuşçubaşı Eşref, one of the central operatives in the ethnic cleansing operations, the non-Muslims were “internal tumors” in the body of the Ottoman state and had to be “cleaned out”; to do so, he claimed, was “a national cause”.[12]

The main objective was to persuade the Christian villagers to leave, by means of intimidation if necessary. Among the principal methods used to achieve this were “monitoring, humiliation, killings, preventing them from working their lands, oppressively heavy taxation, seizure of property...forcible conscription”,[13] and by virtue of the aforementioned dual mechanism, the Ottoman government could claim in the face of protests by the Greek government and other foreign powers that it was not involved in these events.

The forcible expulsions and migrateons from the area of Eastern Thrace began in the spring and summer of 1913. Attacks against the local Christian population continued throughout the year, but after March 1914 the forcible removals began to take on a more systematic form.

The main features of the policies implemented were: 1) attacks on Greek villages and villagers by units of the Special Organization, with the central government all the while claiming and acting as if it was not involved in the matter; 2) forcing persons/populations to abandon their homes through terror and killings; 3) the emptying out of entire villages and conscripting all of its mililtary-age men into labor brigades; 4) the seizing of Greek-owned businesses and their redistribution to Muslims.[14] In an endless stream of letters to the Porte sent over the months of March and April 1913, the Greek Patriachate in Istanbul lodged complaints over the ongoing attacks on Greek villages in the Aegean region, the looting of houses, the seizing and arresting of persons without cause and their forced expulsion.[15]

One of the richest sources of detailed information on the workings of the dual track system that the government had put into effect is the memoirs of those aforementioned Special Organization functionaries. Halil Menteşe, for instance, writes that “Provincial governors and other officials would not appear to be intervening on behalf of the government; the [Union and Progress] Committee’s organization would take care of the matter...”[16] Additionally, appointments would be arranged at the highest levels in order to ensure that the correct persons would oversee the events and ensure that they went according to plan. A great share of the responsibility for implementing the plan fell to Kuşçubaşı:

The Greeks were harassed by various means, and were forced to emigrate by means of the assaults and oppressions against them. The armed gangs under the command of Special Forces Commander Kuşçubaşı Eşref Bey... conducted raids against the Greek villages... Those Greek youth that could hold a gun were rounded up for the purpose of [placing them in] labor battalions, and they were set to work in building roads, forestry and construction”.[17]

The information that I gave until now, is well known to the scholarly world. What I discovered recently is that we can show this dual mechanism in the Prime Ministerial Archive


The ‘Dual Mechanism’ as Seen in the Prime Minister’s Archives

From the documents than I found in the Prime Minister’s Archives in Istanbul it can been seen that the government invested particular effort to leave the impression that it was not directly involved in the instances of forced expulsion. By far the most important document in this regard is the cable marked “extremely urgent and top secret” from Talat Pasha to the office of the district governor of Tekirdağ on April 14, 1914. In the cable Talat reports that Greek villagers have assembled on the coast in great number and requests that it be “ensured that they emigrate by boarding steamships but without any indication being given that [the process] is the result of a [government] directive”.[18]

It is precisely because of this dual track that it is possible to get the impression from some of the available documentation that the government was unaware of the attacks against Christian villagers and their forcible expulsion, or, alternately, that they only became aware of these occurrences as a result of the complaints of the Greek Church. For instance, in a cable sent on April 22, 1914 to the provincial governor in Edirne, the Security Directorate requests that ...in light of a cable sent from [the village of] Mürfete to the Patriarchate [in Istanbul] in which it is reported that [the village of Kostanpolis] has been besieged by the neighboring Muslim villages and the Christians have had their property and possessions looted; please provide an immediate report on what happened and the circumstances surrounding the events.[19]

Of course, it is difficult to claim with any confidence that this whole process was being conducted under any overall supervision. From some ministry telegrams it can be understood that it was the Muslim refugees from the Balkan countries who instigated this type of attack and looting on their own. In response to various complaints that arrived in the capital the interior ministry sent off cables to the provinces from which they originated, demanding that “attacks that the immigrants are alleged to have committed” be stopped.[20] One such telegram, sent to the provincial district of Çatalca in April 1914 stated that “a group of unknown persons who call themselves a gang have been attacking villages and taking the villagers’ animals” and committing “looting and theft”; it then took pains to emphasize that the government had no connection whatsoever to these gangs.

One important and most telling aspect of these messages sent by Government officials is the keen interest that the government shows in preventing the abandoned villages from being looted; this concern derived from the fact that plans were already afoot to settle Muslim immigrants there. Clear orders were given and the need to protect the empty villages was made clear, along with the warning that officials failing to do so would be punished. This can be seen in a security directorate cable sent on May 27, 1914 to the provincial governor of Edirne among others.

Regardless of the circumstances of attacks or intimidation directed against Greek villages, the guilty parties must be arrested immediately and sent here so that they may be delivered to the Court-Martial for punishment, while the villages themselves must be put under [our] protection. In the event that the[se] villages do not receive protection and that such events continue to occur or that the perpetrators are not apprehended, local village guards and gendarmes, lower level officers and enlisted men [will be punished] by being sent off to serve in Yemen, while higher ranking officers [will be] severely [punished] by being dismissed from the military.[21]

Yet there are other cables that were sent to these very same regions that contain ample evidence showing that the central government was well informed as to the terror and ‘forced removal’ operations being perpetrated against these villiages. Numerous telegraphic messages were sent out to the provinces containing directives such as that no difficulties should be put in the way of those wishing to voluntarily leave their villages, that those who did leave should be shown leniency in their tax obligations and other outstanding debts, that no exemption fee should be demanded of these persons leaving who are of conscription age, that they should be given assistance in selling any possessions with which they wished to part, that care should be taken to ensure that they came to no harm after voluntarily leaving their villages.

Suffice it to give but a few examples: 1) a cable sent to Edirne on April 1, 1914 by the Interior Ministry’s Private Secretariat mentions “that there if there is nothing to be said against those who are emigrating, then certainly it cannot be acceptable that they would be attacked on their journey”, and demands that the appropriate steps be taken to ensure that this does not happen;[22] 2) In another cable to Balıkesir the following day, the secretariat states that it has received reports “some difficulties have been placed in the way of emigrating Bulgarians that would prevent them from doing so, such as demanding a monetary exemption fee from those who are of [military] age and preventing them from selling their property and goods”. It goes on to demand that an end be put to these practices, and that those potential emigrés “should be afforded every assistance and facilitation in order to ensure their speedy departure” and adds that those creating these problems should immediately be reported to the authorities.[23]

An open admission that the forcible emptying out of Greek villages had been a central pillar of government policy up to that point would be indirectly made in November 1914 when the government officially ended the policy. On November 2, 1914 Talat Pasha sent out a general missive to the provinces in response to an understanding that he had reached with the Germans and in line with a promise he had given them. The cable instructed provincial officials that “in light of the state’s current political situation, no attacks on or oppression of Greeks shall be allowed as such acts of oppression against them would not be appropriate”.[24]

In short, by means of this dual mechanism the government could on one hand create the impression that it was not fully aware of the emptying out of Christian villages, while on the other it was constantly and systematically gathering information on these abandoned villages with the full intent of settling Muslims there in their place. One of the most important bits of evidence testifying to the government’s full knowledge of these expulsions is the close monitoring and supervision of these villages. In a steady stream of communication with the provinces the Interior Ministry would ask for information regarding the number, location, condition and habitational capacity of the villages that had been emptied out, and whether they thought Muslims could be resettled there.

For example, an April 13, 1914 cable to Balıkesir ordered that “those immigrants arriving from Salonica be settled in the homes left vacant by emigrating Greeks and Bulgarians”, and that for this purpose provincial officials should report back on “what their [housing] capacity is”.[25] Data on emigration, immigration and resettlement were not, however, limited to population count. Instead, detailed information was often requested on the social and economic character of the areas in question, such as the location and condition of abandoned lands, the trades of those leaving and arriving, and the character of their existing businesses. Many of the ultimate decisions on resettlement were in fact made on the basis of this information.

On June 30, 1915 a cable was sent to several Aegean provinces and districts, including Aydın, from which it is possible to get a more detailed picture of the nature of the information being requested:

[Please] report on how many Greeks have emigrated from [your] province up to now, from how many townships and villages, and [from] how many specific dwellings? What are the names of the villages and townships, the number of dwellings, the type and size of the fields that they have left, the [amount of] communal and private agriculture, and the type of industry and agricultural production in which they were engaged; and if [Muslim] immigrants have been partially resettled in these places following the [original owners’] emigration, how many of these will be left where they are.[26]

It must be added here also that it was actually the Ottoman government that both supplied the steamships and paid for the passage for those Greek Christians emigrating to Greece. In a cable to the provincial district of Tekirdağ on April 20, 1914 the İAMM makes the following request: “the Greek-flagged steamship Karmala, which has been hired in order to bring the Greek emigrants from there to Salonica, will depart tomorrow morning. Please have the passengers ready [to embark], since compensation will have to be paid if it remains [in dock] for more than three days”.[27] Above all, the government placed officials from the AMMU, which had the overall authority to organize all deportations, on board the ships as crew members thereby ensuring that the emigration process would remain firmly under their control. In a cable to Çanakkale from May 26, 1914 the İAMM reports that “a Greek-flagged steamship has been sent in order to pick up the Greek emigrants”, adding that “Adil Bey from the İAMM would be “on the ship posing as as one of the company’s agents”.[28] If they were seen to have the financial means available, the fare for the passage would generally be demanded and received from the departing Greek passengers, although it was understood that even those without the necessary funds would not be denied passage. A cable to the province of Trabzon, sent on April 15, 1914, reports that a “10 kurush fare” had been demanded from Greeks traveling to Salonica and asked to know “the number of persons among the passengers who were allowed to embark even if they did not have the necessary fare”. Additionally, the cable asks if the number of emigrants was large enough to merit sending another ship.[29]

As can be seen in the documents shown above, the state could, by means of this dual system, begin to empty out Greek villages in western Anatolia without waiting for international discussions and agreements to be reached, and to systematically resettle Muslim immigrants in their place. In a cable from the interior minister to the province of Aydın on May 21, 1914 Talat Pasha states that “if, on the basis of Venizelos’ proposal, the principle of the migration and exchanging ... the Muslim population of Macedonia with the Greeks of the Aydın province”, since it would take a long time to establish a commission to deal with the population exchange, “the Muslim immigrants from Macedonia who have come here by foot should be housed in the Greek villages, beginning with [those on] the coast and working inward”.[30] In another telegram to Edirne on June 30, the İAMM urgently requests information on the numbers of Bulgarians and Greeks who have recently left the area, and on the condition of the lands that were abandoned by the emigrés.[31]

What is significant here is that all of these actions were being undertaken at a time in which no official understanding whatsoever had been reached with Greece. Official talks with Greece will start first in July 1914 and a commission for managing the large movements of population was established in August 1914. But as we have also seen, the Ottoman government did not wait for international sanction to press ahead with its own resettlement policies.


Coming to the Brink of War with Greece

The Ottoman policy of forcibly emptying villages and population transfer were, however, not without their difficulties, and met with serious resistance, both at home and abroad, at one point even bringing the empire to the brink of war with Greece. Even while the Porte continued to claim that it had no connection to these events many of the European states—and Greece foremost among them--were not convinced and consistently lodged protests via their ambassadors to reports of anti-Greek violence and terror in Thrace and the Aegean regions. In generating these protests, the reports sent by the Great Powers’ regional consuls to their ambassadors played a central role. In their reports the consuls frequently stated—in contradiction to the official Ottoman position—that the attacks, murders, looting and forcible expulsions of villagers were all being done within the framework of a state–planned campaign.[32] One of the reasons for this suspicion was the fact that at least in some regions the actions were plainly being organized by the Ottoman government’s local functionaries, and that gendarmerie units took a direct role in carrying them out.[33] The Greek Embassy in particular was tireless in bringing its complaints to the Ottoman Foreign Ministry about the events in the provinces; in some cases, their reports were so specific as to mention the number of gendarmes involved in carrying out the events and their identities.

An example of the specific character of these reports is this [undated] complaint from the Greek Embassy in Istanbul:

On the twenty-fifth of the month some 29 gendarmes, accompanied by a number of irregular troops (başıbozuk), came to the town of ‘Sanduki’, which is attached to [the provincial district of] Malkara [in the Tekirdağ province], and after seizing the inhabitants’ property they beat some of them, afterward sitting on them and forcing them to sing folksongs until they wanted to go. A great many of the inhabitants were injured as a result of this treatment.... In Mürefte a 16-year-old girl by the name of 'Mitro Konstandino' was kidnapped by the head official in the county (kaymakam) for the purpose of converting her to Islam. In the town of Abidin an old man by the name of 'Yorgi Çelosi' disappeared. It is thought that he was killed.... In Urla [two] Greeks called Yani and Vangeli were killed in the middle of Anadere Square. The murders’ names are Mustafa and Hasan İsmail”.[34]

In fact, even without other countries’ complaints the Porte was well aware of what was being done in the provinces by their military and civil functionaries. A cable from the Security Directorate to the province of Edirne on October 26, 1914 gives a detailed list of the physical assaults, looting and brutalizing of Christian villagers mentioned in the Greek embassy complains above, and requests that the events be investigated.[35]

In the end, the foreign powers’ stream of angry reactions to the campaign of anti-Greek violence and intimidation left the Ottoman government—and the Foreign Ministry in particular-- in an awkward and embarrassing situation before Europe. In a letter to the Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry Advisor Reşad Hikmet, writing on behalf of his ministry, made mention of a report from the Ottoman Embassy in Paris on June 7, 1914 in which he complains that reports deriving from Greek sources about the massacres of Greek Christians in Anatolia and the looting of their settlements have been circulating widely there. Furthermore, he bemoans the fact that these reports have left the Ottoman regime in a difficult place before the court of European public opinion:

“There is no need to emphasize the [deletrious] effect that reports such as those published regarding the Christian population within the Ottoman domains will have on the more conservative sectors of European public opinion”. Additionally, the official requests that these reports, if false, should be immediately refuted, whereas if there is a measure of truth to them, then measures to prevent further instances should be taken at once.[36]

But beyond the effect that such reports had on the European public, within the empire itself the Greek community was up in arms, reacting with a series of angrily protests to these injustices. From its own churches in the areas in which the attacks were occurring the Patriarchate in Istanbul received regular reports that the campaign of violence was either being organized by the government itself or that the latter’s functionaries would observe but not intervene to prevent them. These reports would then be passed on to the government. For example, a cable sent by the Interior Ministry to the province of Çanakkala on May 31, 1914 makes mention of an earlier telegram “sent to the Patriarchate from Çanakkale, signed by the Metropolitan of Gallipoli”, which told of attacks against the villages and reported that armed gangs were “threatening those Greek peasants who are attempting to emigrate”.[37]

Throughout 1914 the Patriarchate continued sending protests, such as the ones presented above, that it had begun to submit the previous years. On February 25, 1914 it submitted a note of protest to the Porte; the following month a delegation was formed to visit members of the Ottoman government.[38] Over the course of these visits they repeatedly received the message that: 1) the government is not involved in this matter; 2) public morals have been disturbed as a result of the Balkan Wars and the Greek population is in any case voluntarily emigrating for its own reasons.[39] When these audiences produced no results in June the Patriarchate decided “to close the Greek churches and schools in mourning and as a symbol of protest. Greek village elders also ceased work and even organized a number of strikes”.[40]

In fact, there was one other reason for the Greek protests and boycotts. Ever since 1913 there had been an organized, ongoing economic boycott against Greek products and businesses. This so-called “1913-1914 Muslim Boycott” began in the wake of the Balkan Wars[41] and was organized and overseen by the ruling Union and Progress Party. Frequent cables were sent to the provinces under the aegis of the Interior Ministry calling for boycott campaigns directed exclusively at the Greek population of the empire. To give one of these communications as an example, on June 14, 1914 the ministry’s Private Secretariat sent out a cable to a number of provinces demanding that “[despite the fact that] it was announced that the boycott against the Greeks would also include the Bulgarian merchants who are few in number there, in response to the [Bulgarian] Embassy’s pressure the Grand Vizier has so ordered that the boycott not be conducted against them; please report the results [of this action]”.[42]

In addition to its formal protests to the Porte, the Greek Patriarchate also organized and sent a delegation to Europe to request of the various powers to exert pressure on the empire in this regard. The Ottoman government countered these efforts by exploiting its own diplomatic channels to persuade the foreign powers not to receive the delegation. From a communication marked ‘secret’ and sent by the Ottoman Foreign Ministry to the Interior Ministry on August 4, we can glean that, as a result of the lobbying of the Ottoman Embassy in Rome, the Italian government had promised not to receive the Patriarchate’s emissaries.[43]

Even before, as a result of internal and external pressure Talat Pasha had toured the Thrace region in April 1914 and prepared a report of his findings.[44] Later on, as the complaints mounted, the government was forced to send another delegation, again headed by Talat Pasha and accompanied by an official from each of the various embassies to the Aegean region for the purpose of investigating the reports of anti-Greek actions. In his report to the Ottoman Cabinet on July 1, 1914, Talat Pasha admits that acts of terror and violence have been carried out against the Greek population in the region: “The [departing] Greeks are leaving a great many [of their] transportable possessions behind, not just beds and such; there are instances of looting, and there have been both fights and killings”.[45] Talat’s description “some killings” is, in light of the available evidence, a bit of an understatement: according to both American and German documents, in a June 1914 massacre that took place in Foça alone some 50 persons were killed.[46] A report from the American Consulate in Salonica dated June 25 puts the number of persons killed during this period in Izmir and its environs at somewhere between 500 and 600.[47]

Talat Pasha’s effort to portray both he and the Ottoman government as having no knowledge of the forcible evictions and killings—a claim later belied in the memoirs of numerous Turks directly involved in the events—must be seen as simply another example of the ‘dual mechanism’ policies outlined above. One of the chief actors in these ‘cleaning’ actions, Kuşçubaşı Eşref relates that at the time that Talat undertook his tour of the Aegean region, he secretly met with him in Manisa and that Talat told him: “Try not to be too visible right now, at least until I return [to Istanbul]... Don’t even come to Izmir for two or three days. Avoid being observed by seditious elements in the coastal areas like such as foreign embassies and consulates—even those of our allies.[48]

The reason for these new government measures was that the massacres that were occurring, particularly in the Izmir region, had achieved such dimensions as to bring the Ottoman government and Greece to the brink of war. Thus, the real reason for Talat's visit to the area was to help ease tensions and thereby prevent such an event.[49] When meeting with the British Consul in Izmir he admitted as much: “I came here on the order of the Grand Vizier”, he said. “His Excellency the Pasha [Prince Said Halim] does not want to go to war against the Greeks. I will do everything in my power to forestall such an event and to stabilize the situation”.[50]

On the other side of the Aegean, however, Athens had long since resolved to go to war, but had been unable to garner sufficient support from Serbia or Romania for such a move.[51] In the archives of the European powers there is abundant information both on the direct involvement of the Ottoman regime in the anti-Greek campaigns of terror and violence, as well as discussion of the need to resolve the crisis and avert open hostilities between Istanbul and Athens by forming a delegation and holding direct talks.[52]


The Greek ‘Deportation’ of 1913-1914: A Trial Run for the Armenian Deportations of 1915-17

The argument that I will make here is that there is a continuity between the organized ‘cleansing operations’ against the non-Muslim populations of western Anatolia—primarily the forcible expulsion of the Greek population--that began in the spring of 1914, and the ‘cleansing’ of Anatolia of its Armenian population during the First World War. Even if we currently possess no direct proof as to whether or not these two separate ‘cleansing operations’ were the result of a single, overall plan, we can at the very least confidently point to a clear continuity between these two actions, both in regard to their general lines of organization and the personalities involved. The policies that were set in motion against the Greeks between 1913 and 1914 appear to us as a forerunner of the subsequent wartime deportations against the Armenian population.[53]

In his memoirs of the period, the American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau relates that Bedri Bey, the Police Commissioner for Istanbul told one of his secretaries that “the Turks had expelled the Greeks so successfully that they had decided to apply the same method to all the other races in the empire”.[54] He also points out a similar parallel in his embassy report of November 18, 1915 and emphasizes that the smooth deportation of 100-150,000 persons before the eyes of the great powers in May and June 1914 was a serious factor of encouragement for the subsequent wartime deportation of the Armenians.[55]

Regarding the continuity in the operational cadres between the two operations, the figure of Şükrü Kaya comes to the fore as a prime example. As we saw above, Kaya had earlier served on the commission in charge of overseeing the Turkish-Bulgarian population exchange after the Balkan Wars. Following this role, he worked on the Turkish-Greek commission that performed a similar task, and then, as director-general of the Interior Ministry’s Office of Tribal and Immigrant Settlement (İAMM) he would become one of principal organizers of the Armenian deportations. Another important personality in this affiar is the CUP Central Committee member Dr. Nâzım. As a leading member of the Special Organization (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa), Nâzım would also act as one of the central planners of the Armenian deportations and killings. Before this, however, he had also been involved in devising the blueprint for anti-Greek operations in the Izmir region in the summer of 1914. American consular reports from Izmir refer to him as one of the “agitator”s in the region.[56] Alfred van der Zee, the Danish consul in Izmir at the time reports that the actions against the “peaceful and industrious” Greeks had occurred on the orders of the government, and that the “large-scale, systematic and violently punishing” actions had been directed by Dr. Nâzım.[57]

A third point of connection between these two operations is Dr. Reşit, who served as Governor of the province of Diyarbakır at the time of the Armenian deportations. He originally came to prominence for his role in organizing the deportation/expulsion of Greeks from the Balıkesir region in the spring and summer months of 1914. After completing this task he was first appointed Governor of the Mosul province, subsequently being transferred to Diyarbakır, to which he would also bring a detatchment of Circassian gendarmes that would work closely with him during the deportations.[58]

The fourth and final person we shall give as an example is Pertev Pasha, the army commander whom Celal Bayar described as the person responsible for “the ‘cleaning’ operation in the Aegean basin” during 1913-1914. Later on the general was assigned to the Sivas region, where he would play a key role in the deportations and killings of Armenians.[59] During the October 6, 1921 session of the first parliament of the fledgling Turkish Republic, the Finance Minister at the time referred to Pertev Pasha as a “one made wealthy by the war”(savaş zengini).[60]

In both the Greek and Armenian cases, the forcible removals and deportations were ostensibly carried out under a legal umbrella put in place as part of the Ottoman regime’s overall population policy, but in parallel with this legal framework, an unofficial plan was in place—one implemented by a shadow organization that undertook various acts of violence and terror against the empire’s Christians. Among the most striking examples of parallels between these two operations is the formation of Special Operations units, the conscription of the young males into labor battalions.

These similarities did not escape the notice of either Morgenthau or Toynbee. Throughout this entire period the American ambassador drew attention in his reports to the similarity in the methods used by the Ottoman government in driving out the Greek populations in 1913-1914 with those used against the Armenians the following year:

The Turks adopted almost identically the same procedure against the Greeks as that which they had adopted agains the Armenians. They began by incorporating the Greeks into the Ottoman army and then transferring them into labour battalions, using them to build roads in the Caucasus and other scenes of action. These Greek soldiers, just like the Armenians, died by the thousands from cold, hunger, and other privations....Everywhere the Greeks were gathered in groups and, under the so-called protection of the Turkish gendarmes, they were transported, the larger part on foot, into the interior.[61]

For his part, Arnold Toynbee would make similar observations regarding the systematic and organized character of both actions: “...and so the Balkan War had two harvests of victims: first, the Rumili Turks on the one side, and...the Anatolian Greeks on the other.” He then added that:

Entire Greek communities were driven from their homes by terrorism, their houses and land and often their movable property were seized, and individuals were killed in the process....The procedure bore evidence of being systematic. The terror attacked one district after another, and was carried on by ‘chetté’ bands, enrolled from the Rumili refugees as well as from local populations and nominally attached as reinforcements to the regular Ottoman gendarmerie.... Turkish ‘political’ chettés made their début in 1914 on the Western littoral...they carried out the designs of the Union and Progress Government against the Armenians...”[62]


[1] Takvim-i Vekayi, no. 3540 (5 May 1919); The first session of the trial was held on April 27, 1919.

[2] According to the 1914 Ottoman census, the population of the empire, including the Arab provinces, was around 18.5 million. If we exclude the latter, the population of Anatolia would have been somewhere between 15 and 17.5 million. In his studies of the empire’s population Kemal Karpat estimates the Anatolian population at about 15 million.[Osmanlı Nüfusu (1830-1914), Demografik ve Sosyal Özellikleri, (İstanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yayınları, 2003), s. 226]. On the basis of several upward corrections of these figures Justin McCarthy puts the figure for Anatolia alone at 17.5 million. [Mulsim and Minorities, The Population of Ottoman Anatolia and the End of the Empire (İstanbul: İnkılap, 1998), s. 110.]

[3] Kazım Öztürk, Türk Parlamento Tarihi, TBMM – II. Dönem 1923-1927, vol. III (Ankara: TBMM Vakfı Yayınları No. 3, 1995), p. 616.

[4] Halaçoğlu, Balkan Harbı..., op. cit., pp. 23-24. For the full text of the agreement in Turkish, see: Canlı Tarihler: Galip Kemali Söylemezoğlu Hatıraları, Atina Sefareti (1913-1916), (İstanbul. Türkiye Yayınevi, 1946), pp. 56-66.

[5] In his memoirs, Galib Kemali Bey claims that the first proposal in this regard was made by him personally to the Greek Prime Minister Venizelos, and that the matter only became official upon his acceptance. Naturally, it is impossible to verify his claims, but Ottoman sources do corroborate the fact that the official proposals both for the population exchange and for the forming of a commission to handle this were first made by the Ottoman government and that the Greek government subsequently agreed to both. See, for instance the telegram from the Interior Ministry to the provincial district of Karesi, dated 28 June 1914, in which it is stated that: “Greece yesterday delivered a diplomatic not in reply to the Sublime Porte. The note is very mild [in tone] and expresses appreciation for the actions of our government... and accepts the [notion of] the population exchange on a voluntary basis....Additionally, in the cable received [the Greek side has agreed to the formation of] of a mixed commission [to be formed] in Izmir in order to oversee the details of the exchange, as per the suggestion previously made by our side”. ( BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 42/136). In his report of May 27, 1914, the British Ambassador to the Porte, Sir Louis Mallet states that Sait Halim Pasha told him that “he had proposed to Mr. Venizelos a few days previously that a mixed commission should be set up for arranging and regulating the exchange of population between Thrace and Macedonia”. Quoted in: Constantinos Emm. Fotiadis, The Genocide of the Pontus Greeks by the Turks, Volume 13, Archive Documents of the Ministeries of Foreign Affairs of Britain, France, the League of Nations and S.H.A.T., (Herodotus, 2004), p. 48.

[6] Ahmet Halaçoğlu, Balkan Harbı...op. cit., p. 27.

[7] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 42/136, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministy’s General Directorate of Security to the provincial district of Karesi, dated 28 June 1914.

[8] Yusuf Hikmet Bayur, Türk İnkılap Tarihi, vol. II, part III, (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu 1983), p. 262; for a detailed account of the works of the commission over the course of its existence on the basis of Greek documents, see: Yannis G. Mourelos, “The 1914 Persecutions and the First Attempt at an Exchange of Minorities Between Greece and Turkey”, Balkan Studies, vol 26, no. 2, (1985), pp. 389-413.

[9] For more detailed information on this topic see: Taner Akçam, A Shameful Act..., op. cit., pp. 102-108.

[10]Halil Menteşe, Osmanlı Mebusan Meclisi Reisi Halil Menteşe'nin Anıları, (İstanbul, Hürriyet Vakfı Yayınları, 1986), p. 165.

[11] PA-AA/Botschaft Konstantinopel/Bd. 169. Note added by Germany’s Consul-General in Constantinople, and expert on Armenian affairs Johannes Mordtmann to the report, dated 6 June 1915, by the Consul in Aleppo, Rößler to the German Embassy in Constantinople.

[12] From the memoirs of Kuşçubaşı Eşref, one of the key members of the ‘Special Organization’ (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) that was responsible for ‘cleansing’ Anatolia of its non-Muslim population; quoted in: Celal Bayar, Ben de Yazdım, vol. 5, (İstanbul: Baha Matbaası, 1967), p. 1578.

[13] Elisabeth Kontogiorgi, “Forced Migration, Repatriation, Exodus: the Case of Ganos-Chora and Myriophyto-Peristaris Orthodox Communities in Eastern Thrace”, Balkan Studies, vol. 35, no. 1 (1995), pp. 22-24.

[14] A detailed account of the attacks against Greek villages in the Aegean region can be found in: Archimandrite Alexander Papadopoulos, Persecution of the Greeks in Turkey before the European War (New York: Oxford University Press American Branch, 1919).

[15] ibid., pp. 27-29.

[16] Halil Menteşe, Osmanlı Mebusan Meclisi Reisi..., op. cit., p. 166.

[17] Nurdoğan Taçalan, Ege'de Kurtuluş Savaşı Başlarken (Istanbul, Milliyet Yayınları, 1970), pp. 71-3.

[18] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 40/11, Coded telegram from Interior Minister Talat to the provincial district of Tekfurdağ, dated 14 April 1915.

[19] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 40/71, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Security to the province of Edirne, dated 22 April 1914.

[20] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 40/38, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Security to the province of Edirne, dated 18 April 1914.

[21] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 41/91, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Security to the province of Edirne and the provincial districts of Çatalca and Kal’a-yi Sultaniye, dated 27 May 1914.

[22] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 39/138, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s Private Secretariat to the province of Edirne, dated 1 April 1914.

[23] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 39/152, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s Private Secretariat to the provincial district of Karesi, dated 2 April 1914.

[24] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 46/133, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Security to the provinces of Edirne, Adana, Ankara, Aydın, Haleb (Aleppo), Hüdâvendigâr (Bursa), Diyarbekir, Trabzon, Kastamonu, and Konya, and the provincial districts of İzmit, Bolu, Canik, Çatalaca, Karesi, Kudüs-i şerîf (Jerusalem), Kale-i Sultaniye, Menteşe, Antalya, and Kayseri, dated 2 November 1914

[25] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 39/222, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s Office of Tribal and Immigrant Settlement to the provincial district of Karesi, dated 13 April 1914.

[26] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 42/158, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s Office of Tribal and Immigrant Settlement to the province of Aydın and the provincial districts of Kale-yi Sultaniye and Karesi, dated 30 June 1914.

[27] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 40/58, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s Office of Tribal and Immigrant Settlement to the provincial district of Tekfurdağı, dated 20 April 1914.

[28] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 41/80, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s Office of Tribal and Immigrant Settlement to the provincial district of Kal’a [Kale-yi Sultaniye; today’s Çanakkale] 26 May 1914.

[29] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 40/13, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s Office of Tribal and Immigrant Settlement to the province of Trabzon, dated 15 April 1914.

[30] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 41/37, Coded telegram from Interior Minister Talat to the province of Aydın, dated 21 May 1914.

[31] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 42/163, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s Office of Tribal and Immigrant Settlement to the province of Edirne, dated 30 June 1914. The cable demands “the immediate providing of information and descriptions that were requested via the written correspondances of [May 19 and June 20, 1914] regarding the number of Greeks and Bulgarians who have left the province and the lands that they have left”.

[32] NA/RG59/867.700/630, The report by American Consul in Izmir, George Horton, sent on June 9, 1914 can be given as one example of this. Rouben Adalian, The Armenian Genocide in the U.S. Archives, 1915-1918 (Alexandria, Va.: Chadwyck-Healey, 1991-1994), microfiche no. 5. This source will henceforth be referred to as ‘AGUS’. For other, similar information in the American archives, see : Rouben Paul Adalian, “Comparative Policy and Differential Practice in the Treatment of Minorities in Wartime: The United States Archival Evidence on the Armenians and Greeks in the Ottoman Empire”, Journal of Genocide Research, 3 (1) (2001), pp. 31-48.

[33] In Çanakkale, for instance, in May, 1914 the clearing out of some of the towns along the coast was carried out under the direct supervision of the provincial governor. Likewise, similar attacks and village ‘emptyings’ were organized in the same month by Talat Bey, the Gendarmerie Commander of Menemen. Greek Patriarchate, Persecution of the Greeks in Turkey, 1914-1918..., op. cit., pp. 61-2; 70-71. The name of this “Talat Bey” appears in a number of the consular reports from this region. In the American reports, it is said of him that “Death and destruction follow whereever Talaat Bey goes”, see: NA/RG59/867.700/630, Report by American Consul in Izmir George Horton to the American Embassy in Constantinople, dated 15 June 1914, cited in: Adalian, AGUS..., op. cit., microfiche no. 5.

[34] BOA/DH. EUM. 3.ŞB, 2/35, Message from the Greek Embassy in Istanbul to the Interior Ministry’s Private Secretariat [not dated].

[35] BOA/DH. EUM. 3.ŞB, 2/35, Telegram from the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Security to the province of Edirne, dated 26 October 1914.

[36] BOA/DH. EUM. 3.ŞB., 2/1, Communication no. 48322/522, from the Foreign Ministry’s General Directorate of Political Affairs to the Foreign Ministry [not dated].

[37] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 41/122, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Security to the provincial district of Kal’a-yı Sultaniye, dated 31 May 1914.

[38] During this visit it the delegation asked to submit a note of protest, but when the Justice Minister refused to accept it a separate letter of complaint was subsequently delivered to the Grand Vizier. Archimandrite Alexander Papadopoulos, Persecution of the Greeks in Turkey..., op. cit., pp. 77-81.

[39] Hasan Babacan, Mehmet Talat Paşa, (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 2005), p. 92.

[40] Bayur, Türk İnkılabı Tarihi, Cilt II, Kısım III..., op. cit., p. 254.

[41] Zafer Toprak, claims that the primary reason for the boycott was the Greek destroyer Averof. During the Balkan conflict the Ottoman navy had been prevented from entering the Aegean sea because of this ship and was thus unable to come to the defense of the empire’s various island possessions or the port of Salonica. During the war Ottoman Greeks had also provided significant amounts of material support to Greece. For more information, see: Zafer Toprak, Türkiye’de Ekonomi ve Toplum (1908-1950): Milli İktisat-Milli Burjuvazi, (İstanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, 1995), pp. 107-111

[42] BOA/DH.ŞFR., nr. 42/8, Coded telegram from the Interior Ministry’s Private Secretariat to the provinces of Aydın and Hüdâvendigâr (Bursa) and the provincial districts of Çanakkale and Karesi, dated 14 June 1914. [Similar cables exist; see: BOA/DH.ŞFR, nrs. 42/7; 42/30; 42/32; 42/35]

[43] BOA/DH.EUM. 3.ŞB., 1/6, Communication from the Foreign Ministry’s Director-General of Political Affairs, Ahmed Reşid Bey, to the Interior Ministry, dated 4 August 1914.

[44] Papadopoulos, Persecution of the Greeks..., op. cit. pp. 95-98; For the report sent by Interior Minister Talat Pasha to the Grand Vizier Sait Halim Pasha, see: Canlı Tarihler, Galip Kemali Söylemezoğlu Hatıraları..., op. cit., p. 101.

[45] Yusuf Hikmet Bayur, Türk İnkılabı Tarihi, Cilt II, Kısım III..., op. cit., p. 255.

[46] NA/RG 59, 867.00/630 Report by American Ambassador Morgenthau, dated 19 June 1914. Reproduced in: Rouben Adalian, AGUS, microfiche no. 5. For information on these events from German sources, see: PA-AA /R13925, Report by German Ambassador Wangenheim, dated 30 June 1914.

[47] NA/RG 59, 867.00/632, Report from the American Consulate in Salonica, dated 25 June 1914, [cited in: Adalian, AGUS..., op. cit., microfiche no. 5].

[48] Cemal Kutay, Etniki Etarya’dan Günümüze, Ege’nin Türk Kalma Savaşı, (İstanbul: Boğaziçi Yayınları, 1980), p. 226

[49] The German and American diplomatic reports in particular devote a great deal of space and discussion to the questions of the Ottoman-Greek crisis and the danger of war. For a few examples, see: PA-AA/R7356, German Consul in Salonica, Dr. Schwörbel's reports of April 26 and May 4, 1914; PA-AA/R 7464 and R 13924, German Ambassador in Athens, A. Quadt's reports of June 11, 1914; and R 13875, of June 23, 1914. In his June 11 report Quadt states that the situation is grave indeed, and that if the deportations and massacres continue at this pace the Greeks may well take it upon themselves to occupy [Western] Anatolia.

[50] Celal Bayar, Ben de Yazdım, ...op. cit., p. 1569

[51] For Greek proposals for war against the Ottomans and the replies of the other Balkan states, see: Yannis G. Mourelos, “The 1914 Persecutions...” loc. cit., pp. 396-399.

[52] For a discussion of the manner in which the issue is taken up in the American sources, see: Rouben Paul Adalian, “Comparative Policy and Differential Practice in the Treatment of Minorities in Wartime...”, loc. cit.

[53]Here we will only make several limited observations on the subject. In fact, the degree of continuity in persons involved in the Ottoman government’s anti-Greek and -Armenian policies is an important topic that deserves its own study.

[54]Henry Morgenthau, Ambassador Morgenthau's Story, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1918), p. 323.

[55] NA/RG59/867.00/798.5, Report by Ambassador Morgenthau, dated 18 November 1915; reproduced in: Sarafyan (ed.), United States Official Record..., op. cit., p. 372.

[56] Report byAmerican Deputy Consul in Izmir W. H. Anderson, dated 18 July 1914; United States National Archives Record Group 59/867.00/636, pp. 3-4, Adalian (ed.), AGUS, microfiche no. 6.

[57] Matthias Bjørnlund, “The 1914 cleansing of Aegean Greeks as a case of violent Turkification”, Journal of Genocide Research, 1:2 (2006), p. 43

[58] “During the time that Dr. Reşid Bey was the governor of the provincial district of Karesi (Balıkesir), where he was stationed until July 23, he placed great importance on forcing the Greeks of the region to emigrate, and on public works services”, Nejdet Bilgi, Dr. Mehmed Reşid Şahingiray Hayatı ve Hatıraları, (İzmir: Akademi Kitabevi, 1997), pp. 21-22; 87-89.

[59] For more on Pertev Pasha's service and activities in the Sivas region, see: Dadrian, “Ottoman Archives and Denials...”, loc. cit., p. 309.

[60] T.B.M.M. Zabıt Cerideleri, Devre 1, İçtima 2, Cilt 13, (Ankara: T.B.M.M. Matbaası, 1958), pp. 96-7.

[61] Morgenthau, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story..., op. cit., pp.324-325. Morgenthau also noted that, unlike the Armenians, the Greeks had not been subjected to a general massacre.

[62] Toynbee, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey..., op. cit., pp. 139, 280.