Turkish Armistice A Fiasco Foundation Of The Nationalist Party
( Originally Published 1923 )
Arrangements for evacuation of Turkish armament Rumours of Erzeroum Conference Turks refuse consent Proceed to Erzeroum Cable Commander-in-Chief, Constant Cable Tiflis re Armenian atrocities on Moslems Meet Commission appointed to investigate Taken prisoner by Kurds The armament is stolen Commander-in-Chief's cable order to evacuate my men from Turkey Proceed to Erzeroum Interview with Kiazim and Mustapha Kemal Result of Conference The Nationalist Pact Halt at Sarikamish Ordered to Constant Tiflis and Batoum An American destroyer Report to Commander-in-Chief Orders for home Dinner at Therapia The Turkish train Roumania and Bucarest Journey to Trieste, Paris, and London
WE reached our camp at Zivin in the evening of July 24th, and next morning the railway officers whom I had left to superintend the reconstruction of the railway on each side of the frontier came in to report.
On the Armenian side, trains had been brought down to the frontier, and were only waiting for Turkish authorization to cross to receive the armament. This would have to be carried to them from the Turkish trains, which had already reached our railway camp on the southern side of the main fall of rock which blocked the line. I therefore telegraphed to Kiazim Pasha at Erzeroum, requesting that the transfer of the armament over the frontier should be authorized, and military working parties supplied for the purpose. I was very confident that this move would bring matters to a head, by forcing the Turks definitely to declare their attitude with respect to the fulfilment of the Armistice conditions, on their compliance with which it was my duty to insist.
In the meanwhile rumours were rife amongst the Turks as to the progress of the Conference then proceeding at Erzeroum, where had assembled representatives of the Young Turkish Party from all the Eastern vilayets (provinces), who were, it was said, organizing a revolution with the eventual object of establishing a Turkish Republic on the ruins of the old Ottoman Empire.
Under these circumstances I was by no means surprised to receive, in the late evening of the 25th, a telegram from Kiazim Pasha. This was very carefully and ambiguously worded in Turkish, but the effect of it was to state that he was not authorized to permit the munitions to cross the frontier, and was therefore not in a position to comply with my request. Here, then, at last, was a definite refusal on a vital point, and I therefore replied at once that his action was 'directly contrary to the terms of the Armistice granted to the Turkish Government at their own request, and, if persisted in, must bring the Armistice to an end'. I concluded this very definite announcement by stating that I was leaving at once for Erzeroum, and would call upon him on my arrival. Our camp was therefore at once struck, and we reached Erzeroum in the evening of the 26th.
The next morning I had my interview with Kiazim. He was, as usual, very polite, but assured me he was not in a position to comply with my request, and, amongst other excuses, said that the Conference was now sitting and the whole country in a very disturbed state, so much so that he doubted if the population would allow the armament to cross the frontier into the Armenian country, even if he had been in a position to give the necessary orders. I thanked him, also politely, and intimated that it would be necessary for me to forward by cable an official dispatch to my Government, at the same time asking if he would have it sent for me over the Turkish wires. To this request he at once acceded, and I returned to my quarters and drafted a cipher dispatch direct to Commander-in-Chief, Constantinople, its special urgency being emphasized by the magic words 'Clear the line'. This formula is very rarely resorted to, and then only in instances of extreme importance, for the effect is to give the message so headed precedence over all other telegrams of every description.
My message was to the effect that at the last moment I had met with a definite refusal to allow the armament to leave the country, and that I had in consequence declared that such action must automatically bring the Armistice to an end, and concluded by asking for instructions. Having handed this, in cipher, to Kiazim personally and obtained his receipt, I asked and obtained permission to telephone orders over the Turkish military line to my officers still on the frontier to rejoin my headquarters at once.
As soon as I got into communication with my officer on the frontier, I very carefully spelt out my cipher dispatch to him over the phone, and instructed him to get it sent to our Army Headquarters at Tiflis by the Armenians, to be forwarded from there to Constantinople via Batoum, and afterwards to return to Tiflis himself. The next day I had a long and most interesting interview with Mustapha Kemal with respect to the Conference then proceeding, and he undertook to furnish me with any formal decision which might eventually be arrived at. This was quite satisfactory as far as it went, and left me free to return to the frontier, where events were now moving apace.
Before leaving Zivin on receipt of Kiazim's telegram re armament, I had received further very definite information of horrors that had been committed by the Armenian soldiery in Kars Plain, and as I had been able to judge of their want of discipline by their treatment of my own detached parties, I had wired to Tiflis from Zivin that 'in the interests of humanity the Armenians should not be left in independent command of the Moslem population, as, their troops being without discipline and not under effective control, atrocities were constantly being committed, for which we should with justice eventually be held to be morally responsible'.
The result of this report was that on the 28th I received a wire from Tiflis, to the effect that a commission under a Lieut.-Colonel with a small body of British troops was being sent from Tiflis to inspect the district, and to gather evidence of the conditions obtaining there, at the same time instructing me to meet the commission at Sarikamish, the terminus of the Tiflis railway in the mountains, for the purpose of furnishing them with information. On the 29th, therefore, I once more returned to the frontier hills, and, having met the commission at Sarikamish, gave them all information as to where to seek for evidence of atrocities, which, I subsequently learned, they were only too successful in obtaining.
Before returning to Erzeroum, it seemed advisable to see how the fight had progressed in the mountains since our hurried departure from Eyeeb's camp. Instead, therefore, of returning directly through the pass, we struck out to the north by an old ox-cart track which followed the main line of the hills high up on their now grassy slopes, and, passing through the Armenian lines, camped for the night on a high yaila between the Armenian and Kurdish lines.
Next day we proceeded to enter Eyeeb's country from the south, and were at once surrounded and taken prisoner by the front line of the Kurds who were commanded by a German officer. On communicating with Eyeeb, we were at once released and got out of the zone of active operations as soon as possible, returning across country direct to our camp at Zivin, which we reached the same night to find most unpleasant news. It appeared that, soon after our departure, the armament train, in charge of our railway officer and two men, had been surrounded by what he described as 'brigands', and he and his men had been placed under guard in a railway-carriage, whilst these apparent brigands produced a caravan of general service wagons drawn by mules, and carted all the armament off into the mountains; after which he and his men were released and told to get over the frontier out of the country as quickly as they could. This they had ex-pressed themselves very ready to do, and had come at once to report to me.
I also received a message from Kiazim to the effect that this incident had already been reported to him, and that he believed that the population had now taken the matter into their own hands and had made off with the armament, sooner than allow it to cross the frontier. This was, no doubt, very plausible and difficult to disprove. I had been long enough in the country, however, to know that there were no general service wagons to be found in it, other than those attached to the army, and no mules at all except amongst the army transport. I therefore kept my .own counsel and accepted his expressions of regret, as I saw no object to be gained by making accusations which I was not in a position to prove.
On August 5th arrived the long-expected answer from the Commander-in-Chief at Constant; this arrived in cipher via Tiflis, and was brought by an Armenian officer as far as the frontier post. It was in answer to my telephone dispatch, which had gone safely through via Tiflis, no news at all having been received through the Turks. It gave me definite orders to get all my men out of the country at once, and subsequently to watch the situation from Kars District. I therefore rang up Erzeroum on the military telephone, and ordered my headquarters to move at once to Sarikamish, as many as possible by train, and the horses by road, with just sufficient guard for their safety. I also sent a message to Kiazim, asking him to afford us the necessary facilities for the move by rail, and advising him that I would come to Erzeroum myself, the next day, to take leave of him.
On the morning of the 6th our camp at Zivin was finally struck, and the party proceeded over the frontier and up the pass for the last time, with orders to camp in the Sarikamish Valley along. side the Armenian headquarters, whilst I proceeded, with one car and driver only, to make what was to be my last entry into Erzeroum. from the east. The ground now being dry, we travelled fast, and had done the seventy-five miles by 2 p.m., and I had my interview with Kiazim Pasha, the Turkish Army Commander, at 3.30. This passed off civilly and quietly, and we parted good friends. From him I learned that the Conference was to conclude that night, and that it would rise at 5 p.m.
On leaving him, therefore, I obtained an interview with Mustapha Kemal, on the rising of the Conference. This was of extreme interest, and lasted three hours and a half. It took place in his private house, Rιouf Bey, the late Minister of Marine, who was then living in the same house with Mustapha Kemal, being present part of the time. We discussed all the possibilities of the future, and the eventual aspirations of the new Nationalist Party. Kemal told me of the National 'Pact', which had been adopted that day. This 'Pact' had been then put forward for the first time, and it has ever since formed the main object of the Nationalists, and the end to which all their efforts and diplomacy have been, and are still, directed. He promised me that he would have the final text telegraphed for me to the frontier next day, which under-taking was scrupulously carried out. We then parted, with every civility, both appreciating the gravity of the developments which the future certainly held in store.
On the morning of the 7th, having seen the party in charge of the horses all ready to start on their four days' march by road, the remainder having left by rail on the previous day, I got away myself with my single car soon after 8 a.m., and reached Sarikamish, over ninety miles distant, before 3 p.m., where I found the party from Zivin quartered in a very fair Russian barrack building allotted to them by the Armenian Commander. The next day was spent in inspecting Sarikamish, which had been the great central camp of the Imperial Russian frontier forces in this district, where the country much resembles some parts of Switzerland, the mountains being heavily wooded and the valleys green and fertile.
The Sarikamish Valley itself, when the Russians first made a camp of it, some forty years ago, was a bad swamp, and one of the most fever-stricken spots in those mountains; but thanks to their excellent system of drainage it is all now dry and firm, and has become about the healthiest place in the whole province. The buildings also are excellent, and although almost entirely constructed of timber, they are well designed and both original and picturesque, so that we looked forward at last to both comfortable and healthy quarters.
However, at about 6.30 p.m. on the 8th, having been there one night only, these fine dreams were all knocked on the head, for I received a wire from Constant, via Tiflis, instructing me to come there at once to report. This meant, pretty certainly, that I should be for London direct, and within ten minutes I had obtained a train from the Armenian Commander, and an hour after was in it, saying good-bye to my invaluable men, whom it was sad indeed to leave behind, but whom I was able to assure that they would now soon follow me.
My train, consisting only of an engine and one cattle-truck, travelled fast, and we reached Tiflis about i p.m. next day. On arrival I reported to General Beach, and having written a rapid report on the whole situation for local information, and also translated Mustapha Kemal's copy of the National Pact, which was afterwards to become so famous, I caught the night train from Tiflis, and reached Batoum once more early on August 12th, having been absent about four months.
At Batoum, I was fortunate enough to get a passage on an American destroyer which was proceeding to Constant. Leaving at midday on the 12th, the entrance to the Bosphorus was in sight soon after daylight on the 14th, and anything more beautiful than our run up that unique waterway to Constant in the early hours of an August morning it would be impossible to imagine.
After a long and most interesting conversation with the Commander-in-Chief, in the course of which he told me that he had received a cable from the War Office to the effect that my brother, who was then acting as Commander-in-Chief in charge of the evacuation of our troops from Archangel, had applied for me to be attached to his expedition, and that I was to be sent there if and when convenient. This subject was then put aside for the moment, and I proceeded to make a full report of the state of affairs in the Eastern vilayets and the frontier generally. I produced the text I had obtained from Mustapha Kemal of the Nationalist 'Pact', which he had explained to me would form the platform of their party, and would be presented to, and certainly confirmed by, conferences to be subsequently held in other parts of the country, the first of which was fixed to take place during the month of September at Sivas, a large city about 300 miles west of Erzeroum, on the road to Angora.
I was, of course, unable to vouch for the accuracy of Mustapha's record of the actual decisions arrived at, nor as to their being the only ones settled or discussed at the Erzeroum Conference. The only real fact which I was able to emphasize and guarantee was that here, at first hand, was the text of the 'Pact' in the form in which Mustapha, as President of the Conference, desired me to transmit it to my Government. This, of course, was much, and the Chief at once decided that I should proceed home immediately by the quickest route, and report to the War Office, and probably to the Foreign Office also.
He gave me a much-appreciated invitation to dine with him at his country quarters at Therapia the same night, and also told me he was very well satisfied with the work done, and had recommended me for a suitable recognition of service. This, of course, was good hearing for me, as I had been very anxious lest I might not have been able to give him satisfaction, in the face of the unexpectedly difficult political situation with which I had found myself confronted. The remainder of the day was spent in seeing my friends, and in ascertaining which was the quickest method of reaching London, the first step being- to ascertain whether any ship, naval or otherwise, was sailing in the next few days, as the railway was not yet open through Serbia, and a trans-continental trip would therefore mean a circuitous journey of uncertain duration.
During my absence in the Caucasus and Anatolia the old Salonika Expeditionary Force had blossomed out into the Army of the Black Sea, and was in process of rapid reduction in strength by demobilization, so that I found many of my friends had left, and only one officer of the intelligence mess who had been there when I left still remained on my return. However, I was accommodated with a good room at the old 'I' mess, and was provided with a car to take me to dinner with the Chief at Therapia in the evening.
The drive from Constant to Therapia is about twelve miles, and is by no means beautiful at most times of the year, as the road runs high up amongst rounded hills of no particular interest, the magnificent waters of the Bosphorus remaining entirely hid-den from view in the winding valley through which they flow. On this lovely August evening, however, all seemed wonderful, and when, after descending the steep and narrow valley through which the road finally reaches the Bosphorus at Therapia, more green trees and fields, and eventually the blue water itself, came into sight, the scene formed indeed a striking contrast to the bleak mountains to which I had lately become so accustomed.
The Commander-in-Chief occupied a fine and spacious house, standing on a terrace actually overlooking the water. This house is much like a really good English country-house, with a large galleried hall in the centre. It was built as his summer residence by the representative in Turkey of Messrs. Krupp, the great German manufacturing firm, who had provided the Turkish Army with its armaments, and is fitted in the same way as any first-class residence in Europe would be whose owner enjoyed the same practically unlimited financial resources to draw upon.
We sat, before dinner, upon the terrace overlooking the Bosphorus, which on this peaceful summer evening was looking its very best. The water was quite calm and of the deepest blue, and the hills on both sides were clothed with shrubs and trees in full flower and leaf, all blending most harmoniously together in the twilight glow as the sun sank behind the hills, the whole scene producing a most striking impression of restful peace and exceptional beauty.
At dinner I reported to the Chief that I had ascertained that a King's Messenger would be leaving within two days, travelling overland, and that if he saw no objection I proposed to go with him. To this he agreed at once, saying he would give instructions for the necessary letters to be prepared for me to take to the War Office.
Next day I obtained my letters for the War Office, the necessary passes and passports, and also full information as to the route to be followed, from which I learned that, the bridges not yet having been repaired, the direct railway route, via Sophia and Belgrade, to Trieste was not yet open, and it would be necessasry to take a line branching from the main line north of Adrianople, and reaching the Danube at Rustchuk. Here the river would be crossed by boat, and a motor car from Bucharest would meet us on landing and convey us to that city, whence we could take a train running north through the Roumanian oil district and crossing the Transylvanian Alps, afterwards traversing the great plain of Hungary via Zegedin. Recrosing the Danube, we could then proceed via Agram and so reach Trieste, from whence the Simplon Express would take us to Paris.
This was estimated to take eight days, though this estimate was admitted to be rather optimistic. The journey, in fact, took ten, but, though rough, it was full of interest, for the conditions existing in most of the countries traversed were at that time somewhat 'unsettled', and considerable uncertainty existed as to our rate of progress, and also even as to our eventful safe arrival.
I joined the King's Messenger, who was to be my companion on the journey, next morning at the station. He had lately been a Lieut.-Colonel in the army, and, though only temporarily acting as King's Messenger, had already done the overland journey several times under similar conditions. He confided to me at the station that he had come provided with certain special and indispensable supplies, the necessity of which he had learned by experience, and we then together examined the compartment reserved for us in the little train which was to take us to the Danube.
The carriage and compartment appeared to me to be most luxurious, after the cattle-trucks in which I had long been accustomed to travel, the upholstery being of a soft material having the appearance of tapestry, and the seats provided with spring cushions covered with the same material. On entering, he produced, before sitting down, a bag containing a quantity of tins of Mr. Keating's invaluable preparation of powder, and with these he commenced thoroughly to dress the walls, seats, and carpets, using many tins, and telling me that, though he had purchased the entire supply available, yet he much doubted whether it would prove sufficient, as this carriage was in a very bad state. This he demonstrated by holding up one of the cushions, of which I had so much admired the luxurious appearance, at arm's length for my inspection, when I realized at once that it was literally 'moving' with vermin.
After this gratifying demonstration, I should vastly have preferred travelling in a bare cattle-truck, which one could at least have washed out with some buckets of water in the usual manner, but, as no other accommodation was available, we had to make the best we could of this already thickly populated compartment.
The first step was to purchase a quantity of newspapers, which we spread everywhere, and upon which we took our seats, hoping that 'Mr. Keating' was carrying out his good work successfully underneath, as if he should succeed in gaining for us the immunity he claimed to ensure from the attentions of our noxious fellow-passengers, the unpleasant smell of his preparation would be an insignificant price to pay for his services.
We then started, at 8 a.m., and spent a very dreary and tedious forty-three hours in that carriage, although our defensive measures proved entirely successful, and Mr. Keating entirely justified his wide reputation for efficiency.
We reached the town of Rustchuk between 3 and 4 a.m. on the third day, and after a few hours' rest boarded the steamer which was to take us across the great river. The Danube here is three or four times the width of the Euphrates at Bussrah, and as our landing-place was some miles farther down the stream, our passage took us forty-five minutes at least, for the current, in view of the width of the river, ran with surprising strength. Arrived on the northern bank, we found, to my surprise, the Roumanian town where we had landed had been much knocked about by artillery-fire during Mackensen' s successful Roumanian campaign.
An open motor car was awaiting us on the quay, and we quickly started on our drive of something under too miles to Bucharest, across the richest agricultural district of Roumania.
My first impression of Bucharest was one of surprise to find such a handsomely-built and prosperous town, very much more attractive than anything I had previously heard of it had led me to expect. Fine streets were everywhere and handsome buildings, more in the French style than in any other; imposing open spaces and gardens, and many shops in the more fashionable thorough-fares, which would have been worthy of any capital city. The streets were busy and full of well-dressed and apparently prosperous people, and many carriages and motors were to be seen, which would in no way have been out of place in Hyde Park during the London season.
The female portion of the population, however, commanded my most cordial and spontaneous admiration, for, possibly as a result of my long residence in strictly Mohammedan districts where no woman is ever seen except as a spectre shrouded from head to foot in veils, the ladies of Bucharest seemed to me to be remarkably well turned out as well as of naturally handsome and attractive appearance.
In the evening I took a drive in the park on the outskirts of the fashionable quarter of the city, and found much to admire there, as it closely resembles the Bois de Boulogne of Paris, the principal difference being that in Bucharest the trees are much older and therefore larger and finer than in Paris, where they were all cut down during the German siege in 1872.
In this wooded park were several excellent restaurants where one could dine under the trees and enjoy first-class music, and as the weather was very hot I reserved a table at the very best of these for dinner, my fellow-traveller, the King's Messenger, having promised to be my guest that night. There in the cool of the evening we enjoyed a first-class repast and listened to beautiful music, whilst watching some most graceful and interesting dancing on the part of the ιlite of Bucharest society.
Next morning we caught our train at 8 a.m., and found it so packed that, but for the fact of a compartment having been officially reserved for the King's Messenger, there would have been no chance of our travelling .by that train at all. The Express consisted of international 'wagon-lits', with a restaurant-car attached, and we were told it would take us right through to Trieste in three days time.
We recrossed the Danube by a magnificent bridge, for the river there is still a great one, though very considerably smaller than at Rustchuk, where we had crossed it for the first time. From there we ran on to Agram, and over the lovely Istrian Alps to Trieste, where we arrived in the early afternoon of the seventh day after leaving Constant, and were fortunate in finding a compartment reserved for us in the Simplon Express leaving next day. We stayed the night at an excellent hotel on the sea-front at Trieste, and left next morning via Venice, Milan, and the Simplon Tunnel, and I reached London on the evening of the tenth day after leaving Constant, having been absent from England this time for about seven months.
Adventures In The Near East:
The Russo-turkish Frontier-trouble Brewing
The Russo-turkish Frontier - Kurds And Armenians
Turkish Armistice A Fiasco Foundation Of The Nationalist Party
In Kemalist Turkey (november, 1919, To November, 1921)
London And Constantinople
Anatolia In Winter
Erzeroum In 1920
Exchange And Home
Read More Articles About: Adventures In The Near East