When the Erzerum Congress was over
When the Erzerum Congress was over, an order arrived at the headquarters of the XV th Army Corps, dated the 30 th July, signed by a certain man called Nasim Pasha, who, from what we had heard, had only recently joined the War Ministry. It ran as follows:
“As the Sublime Porte has decided to arrest Mustapha Kemal Pasha and Refet Bey immediately, on the charge that they are dis obeying the orders issued by the Government, and send them both to Constantinople; and as the necessary orders have already been given to the local authorities, your Army Corps is commanded to execute this order without delay and to report that this has been done/
The officer commanding the Army Corps sent an appropriate reply. I sent a copy of this telegram to all the commanders, directing their attention to it.
The Manifesto issued by the congress was circulated throughout the country, as well as being communicated to the representatives of foreign countries in a different manner. The Regulations had also been telegraphed in cipher, and some of them to the commanding officers and other trustworthy authorities. A great number of copies were printed in different localities for easy distribution.
Naturally, all this occupied several days. On this occasion Selah- eddin, commanding the III rd Army Corps at Sivas, informed me in a telegram, dated the 22 nd August, that “in his opinion the publication of Arts. 2 and 4 of the Regulations would be received with some hesitation/ and he advised me to have them revised. (Document 42.)
Art. 2 provides for the principle of united defence and resistance, which was unanimously agreed to.
Art. 4 provides for the formation of a provisional Government.
While we were trying to find a way at Erzerum to make the mean ing of the decisions that were passed by the congress intelligible to everybody and secure their unanimous acceptance, we received the news that certain circulars, called the “Regulations of the Organisation of the Karakol Society” and “Instructions concerning the General Authority of the Karakol Society/ had been distributed among the soldiers and officers. In fact, they were circulated everywhere.
All who read them even the commanding officers who were closely associated with me were perplexed, because they thought that I was the author of them. On the one hand, they thought that all through the congress I had displayed open and systematic endeavours in a national sense; but, on the other, that I was trying to form a committee of some mysterious and formidable character.
In reality, this propaganda emanated from certain men in Con stantinople who, apparently, were acting in my name.
According to the regulations of this “Karakol Society/ the names of the members of the committee, their number, the place and manner of their meeting, as well as their election and their objects, were kept absolutely secret. 6 4
Moreover, the circulation, even in part, of anything concerning it or any intimation that it was in any way dangerous or was consid ered to be so was punishable with instant death.
In the instructions relating to its general powers a “National Army” is mentioned, and it is clearly expressed that the “Commander- in-Chief” of this Army, the officers on his Staff, the officers command ing the troops, the Army Corps and the Divisions, with their Staff officers, had been selected and appointed. Their names were not divulged. In the same way, their duties were carried out secretly.
I enlightened the commanding officers immediately by instructing them that they were on no account to obey such orders and instruc tions. I added that an inquiry had been instituted for the purpose of discovering the origin of this enterprise.
After I had arrived at Sivas I learned from Kara Vassif , who had come there, that he and his companions were the authors of these circulars.
In any case, they had been acting without authority. It was a dangerous thing to try to make people obey the orders of an anony mous committee, with an unknown chief in command and a host of unknown commanding officers, by threatening them with the penalty of death of they dared to disobey. Signs of mutual distrust and fear began, indeed, to make their appearance among the military forces. For instance, it was not improbable that the commanders of some of the Army Corps might ask with perfect right, “Who is in command of my Army Corps? When and how will he take over the command? What will my position be then?”
When I asked Kara Vassif who constituted the committee and who were the superior officers and anonymous high persons on the General Staff, he replied:
“You and your comrades, of course!”
His answer took me completely by surprise. It had neither reason nor logic in it, because I had never been spoken to about such an enterprise or such an organisation, nor had I given my assent to it in any form.
When we know that this Society tried subsequently to carry on its work, particularly in Constantinople, without altering its name, surely we cannot be favourably impressed with its honesty.
The main thing was to induce the Government in Constantinople not to offer further resistance to the national movement, because such an alteration in its attitude would strengthen and facilitate the suc cess of the cause. With this idea, I took advantage of the fact that Fend Pasha, who had returned to Constantinople, had completely failed and had almost been subjected to humiliation, and decided to send him a telegram in cipher on the i6 th August, 1919, from which I give you some important extracts:
“Having just heard of the detailed reply which M. Clemenceau has addressed to Your Highness, I am fully conscious of the great weight of sorrow and bitterness that must weigh upon you now on your return to Constantinople . . . .”
“I cannot think that there is any sensitive person who would not be stirred to the depths by the irrevocable decision arrived at to divide and annihilate the Empire in such a glaring and humiliating manner. Thank God, our nation is endowed with such fortitude of mind and intrepidity of spirit that it will never sacrifice its life and its historic traditions from a feeling of discouragement, or allow itself to submit to such a sentence of execution.”
“I am firmly convinced that Your Highness can no longer look upon the general situation and the real interests of the Empire and the nation with the same eyes that you regarded them with three months ago.”
“It is, indeed, very unfortunate from the point of view of the dig nity of the nation to be compelled to admit that the different Cabinets that have succeeded one another during the last nine months have all shown gradually increasing weakness, until, unhappily, they have at last exhibited complete incompetence. It is imperative, if we are to appeal with authority to the country itself and foreign nations on matters connected with the fate of the country and expect them to give us a fair hearing, that we shall have their unqualified support.”
“As an answer to the candour and seriousness which characterise the ideals of the nation in their struggle for life and independence, the Government prefer to maintain a passive attitude. This is most deplorable, and is liable to drive the people to take regrettable action against the Government.
“Permit me to insist in all sincerity that the nation is capable of enforcing its will in every way. No power can hold it back. Every negative act on the part of the Government is foredoomed to complete failure. The nation, following out the programme that has been de cided upon, is marching forward to its goal with rapid and resolute steps.
“Your Highness has already personally taken account of the actual state of affairs and is aware that the counter-measures adopted by the Government will not be crowned with success.
Kemal Pasha 5 “It is equally against common sense to look for a way out of our difficulties as suggested by the English. Sooner or later, that would be certain to end in failure.
“Moreover, the English themselves are already convinced that the real power lies in the hands of the nation, and at last have arrived at the conclusion that it is totally impossible to have dealings with a Government that is not supported by the people and that is not in the position to accept obligations in the name of the nation and, if they venture to do so, to whom the nation would not render allegiance . . .”
“All that the nation desires can be condensed into this: If the Government will abandon its resistance to the national movement, which is quite legitimate, and leans for support on the nation and is in full accord with everything that has been done to fulfil the aspir ations of the nation, it must guarantee as quickly as possible that it will convene a Parliament that shall represent the well-being of the nation and carry out its will/
Meanwhile, everything was being done at Amasia to hasten on the election of delegates to the congress we were trying to assemble at Sivas, and we were doing all we could to make sure of the safe arrival of the delegates. All the military commanders and a great number of patriots showed extraordinary enthusiasm. But, at the same time, we were hampered by the reactionary propaganda that was spread in all directions by our enemies, and chiefly by the counter-measures adopted by the Government, which also made our work very difficult. Some districts not only declined to elect delegates but replied to us in a manner that had a very damaging influence upon the people and nearly drove them to desperation. Thus, for instance, the telegram in cipher sent by Omer Haliss Bey, an officer on the Staff, on the 9^ August, in the name of the officer commanding the XX th Army Corps, contained among other news from Constantinople the following, which is worth noticing:
1. Constantinople is not sending any delegates. Although it ap proves of what has been done in Anatolia, it does not wish to do anything rashly or without full consideration.
2. It is impossible for us to send delegates from Constantinople. The persons we have spoken to about it, uncertain whether they will be able to work successfully in Anatolia, do not see their way to go there or risk the trouble and expense involved in a fruitless journey. (You are aware that we had specially invited certain men by letter.)
While we were struggling to overcome obstacles that stood in our way, so that we would be able to rely on the election of delegates in 6 7
every part of the country, unrest began to show itself in Sivas, the very town we had chosen for the congress to be held in because we believed it to be the safest place.
I ought to mention that, although I regarded Sivas as a perfectly safe place from every point of view, I had thought it prudent all the same during my stay at Amasia to take every necessary military precaution and disposition along all the roads leading to Sivas from places in the vicinity, as well as from those situated at a distance.
This is how the news of the unrest that had broken out at Sivas reached me.
At noon on the 2O th August I was asked to come to the telegraph office by Reshid Pasha; he was just going to send off a long telegram. It ran as follows :
To His Excellency Mustapha Kemal Pasha, Erzerum.
Pardon me for troubling you. First of all, let me ask how you are. This is what I want to tell you.
Yesterday morning I returned the visit of some French officers who had arrived at Sivas the day before yesterday from Constantinople and who had called on me in the vilayet.
These officers were accompanied by some Jesuits, who had come ostensibly to take over some French institutions, but in reality to see what was happening in this district. Before I left, Major Brunot, the Inspector of the Gendarmerie, who was present, said he would like to speak to me privately, and took me into another room. This is, word for word, what he said:
“I have heard it rumoured that Mustapha Kemal Pasha and the delegates are coming here to hold a congress. I have heard this from some French officers who came from Constantinople. What astounds me is that, in spite of our being in such close touch with one another and the high esteem I have for you, you have told me nothing about this.”
I tried to molify him by saying something that I thought would ease his mind, but at last he said: CC I know for certain that we have definitely decided that if Mustapha Kemal Pasha comes to Sivas and attempts to hold a congress here, this territory will be occupied within five, or at the utmost ten days. I am only telling you this because I have so much respect for you. If you do not want to believe me now you will have to do so when what I am saying is an accomplished fact. You will be one of those who will be guilty of the misfortunes of your country/ The telegram in cipher that came yesterday from the Minister of the Interior seems to give the same impression, although it was dif ferently worded. One of the French officers who arrived recently had a long talk yesterday to the officer commanding the Corps, and tried to draw out from him what he knew about the congress.
This morning Major Brunot came to tell me that the question of the congress would be discussed at three o clock in the presence of the French officers but that, on account of our friendly relations with one another, he was particularly anxious to speak privately to me about it beforehand.
After we had been talking for a little while, he said :
“I have been thinking a great deal about this matter since yester day and I have finally decided that if Mustapha Kemal Pasha and the members of the congress do not make speeches or do anything else in a hostile spirit against the Entente Powers, there will be no objection to the congress being held here. I am going to write personally to General Franchet d Esperey to ask him to cancel the order for Mu stapha Kemal Pasha s arrest. I have also asked him to induce the Minister of the Interior to request you not to interfere with the con gress, but only on condition that you will not withhold anything from me. Our sincere friendship obliges me to speak quite openly to you.” He told me that it is important to know when the congress is going to meet.
I replied that I did not know anything about it, but that if I should hear anything I would let him know, and that on account of our friendship I would not hide anything from him.
I feel it my duty to trust to your keen judgment to discover what could have led the major to be in this lenient mood to-day after the emphatic remarks he made yesterday about occuping the country.
It is unnecessary for me to say anything more about it.
It seems that their intention is to let you come here with all the other members of the congress, under the impression that they have taken up a benevolent attitude towards this meeting, and then turn round suddenly and arrest you and all your friends together. Then they would probably carry out their threat of occupation.
A telegram in cipher which I received yesterday from the Minister of the Interior was somewhat to the same effect, but couched in dif ferent terms. I am giving you the facts exactly as they are and beg you to keep them secret. It is now my duty to advise Your Excellency in view of the net of intrigues and dangers that surround you, as I might say, practically under my eyes. I cannot abstain from sending you this information, and I urgently suggest that you abandon the idea of holding the congress at Sivas. I implore Your Excellency and our other honourable comrades to give up the idea of holding this second congress, unless you consider it to be absolutely necessary.
If you cannot abandon it, I beg you, for the country s sake, to hold it at Erzerum instead, for that is a place that is not likely to be oc cupied; or, if you prefer, at Erzingan. In any case, I urge you to give up the idea of Sivas, which is so much exposed from every side. Selah- eddin Bey Effendi, commanding the Corps, will also send you his views through his Excellency Kiasim Pasha. Rassim Bey, the former deputy for Sivas, who is here with me now, will telegraph himself to Hodsha Raif Effendi, the former deputy for Erzerum, and give him his news and views about this.
They will forward his telegram to Hodsha Raif Effendi on his return from Ilidsha naturally after you have read it.
This is the exact state of affairs, Your Excellency. Trusting to your widely-known patriotism, I will not venture to press you further, and meanwhile I am awaiting your orders. Reshid.
Then he quoted Rassim Bey s telegram.
This is the answer I sent to this telegram. On the following day we tried to keep Reshid Pasha quiet by sending him a telegram to the same effect in the name of the Representative Committee. (Document 43.)
Another telegram was sent indirectly to Cadi Hasbi Effendi. (Document 44.)
We also sent a message to the officer commanding the Army Corps. (Document 45.)
I wrote personally to Rassim Bey to calm him. (Document 46.)
2O th August, 1919. i.o p.m. To His Excellency Reshid Pasha, Vali of Sivas. I am very much obliged to Your Excellency for the information you have sent me and for your remarks upon it. I consider the threaten ing behaviour of Major Brunot and his colleagues to be mere bluff. The convening of the Congress at Sivas is not a new question. Every body has known all about it for months past. But it is surprising that the authorised political representative of France in Constantinople should imply that they consider the national movement is justified and legitimate and that they are now ready to assure me in writing that they feel they ought to take into account the claims of the nation and support them, if they are laid clearly before them.
It is quite possible that the change in his tone and the moderate language Major Brunot has employed in his second interview with you are intended to convert me to his way of thinking. The occupation of Sivas by the French within five or ten days is not quite such an easy thing as Major Brunot seems to imagine. ^
Your Excellency will undoubtedly remember that the English went stiU farther in their threats, and decided to land their troops in Batum at Samsoon. They did, in fact, land a battalion there to threaten me; but when they realised that the nation was firm in its resolution to reply to such an attempt by firing on them, they discreetly arrived at the conclusion that it would be wiser to think twice about it, and withdrew, not only the troops that they had landed at Samsoon but the battalion that was already there.
The questions we shall discuss are made clearly evident in a mani festo issued by the Erzerum Congress. Therefore, it can easily be seen that there is no idea of the new congress attacking the Entente Powers. Besides, I may say that I am not one of those who would humiliate themselves so far as to agree to a French protectorate or that of any other foreign Power. For my part, it is upon the nation alone that I rely and from which I derive all my strength. The questions as to the opportunity, the time for, and the place of the meeting of the congress, depend entirely on the will of the nation, whose decision is far above any personal opinion of mine. The idea of the French pretending that they will allow the congress to be held at Sivas and then find some excuse for laying their hands on its members, as you seem to anticipate, is in my opinion greatly exaggerated. I have no objection to your telling Major Brunot and his colleagues, word for word, what I am saying to you. Major Brunot and those with him will thus have an opportunity of knowing that it is altogether out of the question that the nation will hesitate for a moment or for any reason whatever to carry out the deliberate decisions that have been taken to safeguard their rights and defend their independence, as we have repeatedly informed their political representatives in Constanti nople, and not them alone but the whole world.
Major Brunot must be well aware that if the French were to decide to occupy Sivas, they would have to face a new and very ex pensive war, which would entail the necessity of their bringing up fresh troops and incurring very considerable expense.
Even if Major Brunot, the honourable Inspector of the Gendarm- erie, and his colleagues really contemplate doing anything of this sort, it is most improbable that the French nation would approve of it.
I have read the telegram from Rassim Bey addressed to Raif Bey. I request you to tell him that there is no cause at all for anxiety.
I shall place the information and your observations which you have sent me, as well as Rassim Bey s telegram, before the Representative Committee.
A final decision about the Congress at Sivas will only be arrived at after the Representative Committee has gone into the question. Whatever they decide will naturally be communicated to you. Mean while, I must request Your Excellency to take every care that Major Brunot s threats will not become known, because if they are it will excite the people. I beg you, my highly esteemed Pasha, to be assured of my special regards. Please convey my greetings to Selaheddin Bey
and Refet Bey. …. __
A second telegram from Reshid Pasha, which came after I had replied to the first, read thus:
It is my duty to inform Your Excellency what I have been able to ascertain.
I must ask you to pardon me if I have not clearly understood the views expressed by the French representatives in Constantinople and have misjudged the action I thought they might take against you.
Considering your well-known patriotism and the fact that the salvation of the country is at stake, it is for you and the honourable members of the congress to decide what will be the best thing to do after you have thought the matter over carefully.
I shall implicitly obey your orders.
With the expression of my high esteem. Reshid
To make the matter fully understood in the districts of Diarbekr and Bitlis, I wrote privately to the chiefs of several tribes, some of whom I had met when I was in command of the Army there.
I had already got into touch with some of the chiefs in the Dis tricts of Van and Bayazid. (Documents 47 53.)
At last, in August, we heard that the delegates had started from all the districts and were on their way to Sivas. Some of them were already beginning to arrive there. These latter were asking me when I thought I would be able to come to Sivas.
This made it necessary for me to leave Erzerum. But as can rea dily be seen from what I have told you, the Congress of Sivas wanted to link up all the vilayets in the east and the west, as well as those in Thrace in fact, the whole of the country.
The eastern vilayets had, therefore, to send delegates to the congress, but it was impracticable to elect delegates in these provinces.
It was also discovered that it was impossible to arrange for those delegates who had met at the Erzerum Congress to come to Sivas.
Besides, these delegates had received from their districts only a limited mandate in the name of the Committee of the “Defence of the Rights of the Eastern Provinces,” and did not consider that they were authorised to extend that mandate generally. In the same way, it was evident that the Erzerum Congress had no authority to send a delegation to the Sivas Congress in the name of the Eastern Provinces.
It was just as impracticable to go to the trouble of electing new delegates, who would find themselves unnecessarily lost in a labyrinth of theories.
The simplest and most practical thing to do was to bring the Representative Committee of the “Union for the Defence of the Rights of the Eastern Provinces” to Sivas.
I knew that the thought of coming down from his mountains would inspire the chief of the Mutki tribe with dread.
Sadullai. Bey, the deputy for Seerd, was nowhere to be found.
Servet Bey and Izzet Bey, making some excuse or other, had gone to Trebizond when the congress was over.
Rauf Bey and Rail Bey were at Erzerum. Raif Bey also made excuses. We thought that, perhaps, on the way we might meet Sheikh Fewsi Effendi.
I tried to persuade Servet Bey and Izzet Bey, but they did not come. Raif Bey agreed to come with us. Altogether we numbered five members of the Representative Committee; three from Erzerum, one from Erzingan, and Bekir Sami Bey, whom we found at Sivas. Now as we thought that we ought to examine the powers of the delegates who had come to the Congress at Sivas, I drew up a document and sealed it with the seal of the Representative Committee. It ran as follows ; From the Representative Committee:
Mustapha Kemal Pasha, Rauf Bey, Raif Effendi, Sheikh Fewsi Effendi, Bekir Sami Bey.
The persons whose names appear above have been elected by the Erzerum Congress to take part in the Congress at Sivas as represen tatives of the Eastern Provinces. (Official seal).
We left Erzerum on the 29 th August
We left Erzerum on the 29 th August.
You will remember an incident that occurred when we were travel ling from Amasia to Erzerum, and about which we have spoken al ready.
Strangely enough, we found ourselves in a similar position when we were going from Erzerum to Sivas.
On the morning of our departure for the west from Erzingan, when we had reached the Pass of Erzingan, our motor-cars were stopped by some gendarmes and officers, who were in a great state of excitement.
Gendarmes and officers informed “The Kurds of Dersim have occupied the pass”
“The Kurds of Dersim have occupied the pass. It is very danger ous for you to go on,” they told us.
Some of the officers offered to send a message to the chief town in the district asking for reinforcements to be sent, and when they arrived they would attack the brigands, drive them back, and clear the road . . .
Very good; but how strong are these brigands? Where do they carry on their depredations? How strong are the reinforcements likely to be when they do come?
Before these questions could be answered, I would have had to go back to Erzerum and lose, who knows how many days? But we were in a great hurry. If I failed to arrive at Sivas on the appointed day by covering the distance lying between Erzerum and Sivas in the ordinary time, and if it became rumoured in Sivas and elsewhere that I had altered my mind and for some reason or other was coining by a dif ferent route, there would surely have been panic amongst the people, and this would have wrecked all our plans.
In this emergency what ought I to have done?
In this emergency what ought I to have done? Go on and risk the danger? That was the only thing that could be done. But I thought it just as well to take some precautions.
Therefore, we sent another motor-car in advance, equipped with some light machine-guns, and put some of our loyal comrades in it with Osman Bey, known as Tufan Bey (now commanding a regiment), in charge of the party. Without taking any notice of shots that might come from the right or left, the party was ordered to push forward as fast as possible.
If any chanced to be killed or wounded, they were to be left behind. If the bandits should hold them up, either on the road itself or in the immediate vicinity of it, they were to get down quickly from the car, attack them and force their way through. The survivors were im mediately to get in again and drive on as fast as possible. These were the orders I gave.
Many people will probably think that it was not a very prudent or safe thing to do. But we happened to know that just at that very time Ali Galib Bey, Vali of El Aziz, was ranging through the district of Dersim and that he was doing all sorts of things there, but I cannot say that I really believed that the pass was actually occupied.
This was all part of a plan invented by certain persons
From the beginning I thought that this was all part of a plan invented by certain persons who were kindly disposed towards the Government and who wanted to delay me on my journey. Moreover, even if the Kurds would have blocked the pass it is most unlikely that they would have done more than fire a few shots onto the road from a hill some way off.