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Historical Observations: The Atlantis Newspaper and the U.S. Army in 1919

The publisher of the Atlantis Greek daily, D.J. Vlasto wrote a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State, Robert Lansing on October 30, 1919, seeking details of alleged activities of American army officers in Turkey. In his letter, he included an English translation of the article which appeared on the front page of the National Herald. The report emanated from the National Herald's Athens correspondent, Damverghis, who also happened to be one of the private secretaries to Greek Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos.

The article is reproduced below:

“Athens, October 30th (Special cable to National Herald)

The Eleftheros Typos (Free Press) published a most revelating correspondence from Constantinople comprising the most scandalous interference of American officials in favor of the Nationalists Turks of Moustapha Kemal.

Prominent Americans, the correspondent states, of those who reside in Constantinople, do not conceal their indignation against certain officers of the American Army who are showing extraordinary zeal in favor of the Turks. Colonel Brown, the American, was used as a courier of Moustapha Kemal, and he was the one who took over to the Sultan the threatening letter of the latter which brought about the downfall of the Damat Ferit Government.

Other American officers who were sent to Armenia for the purpose of investigating, submitted their monstrous report that the organization of an Armenian nation becomes impossible because there are no Armenians.

In Constantinople, there was held a Council of the Crown so as to reply to the new demands of the High Commissioners. Bloody encounters took place at Ikonion between the soldiers of Moustapha Kemal and the inhabitants who did not want to join in the Revolutionary movement. Many are being killed and wounded on both sides. The High Commissioners are taking steps against the movement of Kemal. Signed Damverghis.”

D.J. Vlasto pointed out that Eleftheros Typos supported Venizelos and considered it “a semi-official [organ] of the present Greek Government.” The writer thought “this matter of great importance to the public and is of greater importance in view of the present negotiations going on at the Peace Conference in Paris with reference to Turkey.”

A commentary is here offered to alert readers in 2021 of the omission of two important facts regarding Damverghis’s article. The first omission is that the Sivas Congress was covered by the American journalist of the Chicago Daily News, Louis Edgar Browne, for his newspaper. Browne was pro-Turkish nationalist and pro-American mandate in Turkey in his news reports. Only a few items will be cited from Browne’s long report. The Nationalists demanded the dismissal of the Damat Ferit government accusing it of selling out to the Allies (particularly Britain), allowing the Greek occupation of Smyrna, failing to hold parliamentary elections, dismissing Turkish army officers, and bungling Turkey’s case at the Paris Peace Conference. His actions constituted treason and he was never charged for his crimes against Turkey. The Congress demanded the Sultan dismiss the Damat Ferid government.

Moustapha Kemal telegraphed a resolution and a memorandum asking the interior minister, Adil Pasha, to pass it on to the Sultan and the Grand Vizier. Adil refused to accede to Kemal’s demands.

Moustapha Kemal used the telegraph to communicate with the towns and cities of Eastern Anatolia regarding the decisions taken at Sivas. Kemal invited Browne to the balcony and viewed the crowd below shouting, “let us execute Ferid Pacha. We want to drive the Greeks into the sea from Smyrna. If the British support the Greeks we will smash them too.”

With the non-delivery of the Sivas resolution, Moustapha Kemal severed his relations with the Constantinople government. He hoped the Sultan would have been the head of the revolutionary movement. Browne stated that British troops would no longer be permitted to advance along the Anatolian railway to Eskishehir. No foodstuffs would reach Constantinople from nationalist territory. All governors and civilian employees of the Constantinople government who refused allegiance to the nationalists would be arrested.

He mentioned that the French were willing to work with Kemal as a means of undermining Britain’s Near Eastern policy. Furthermore, it appears that the French persuaded the Sultan “to desert his British advisors and dismiss his cabinet.” However, the British High Commission still retained its influence over the Sultan’s government.

The second omission is the Harbord mission. President Woodrow Wilson authorized the General Harbord mission to travel to Anatolia and Transcaucasia to ascertain the prevailing conditions in those regions. His entire mission was to "establish facts which could be used as a basis for U.S. policy and action assigning the Eastern part of Turkey to an Armenian State as well as for deciding on American mandate."

Harbord met Moustapha Kemal at Sivas and was well received by the revolutionary committee. Harbord listened to him attentively as he stated that the purpose of the revolutionary movement was to liberate Turkey from all foreign occupiers. What hurt the Turks most of all was the Greek occupation of Smyrna. Harbord asked Kemal about the Armenian massacres during the Great War. The latter disagreed with the actions of the Committee of Union and Progress (Young Turks) against the Armenians and wanted to ensure that all non-Muslims would not be molested in his area of control.

Harbord thought that the nationalist movement was an important factor in the establishment of peace in the Near East. Kemal was considered a patriot who simply wanted his country free and independent of foreign control. American aid would be welcomed in the recovery of Turkey's war-ravaged economy. However, Kemal didn’t wish Turkey to become a vassal of any great power. Harbord submitted his official report titled Conditions in the Near East – Report of the American Military Mission to Armenia (1920) which was discussed in the U.S. Senate. 

In the last paragraph of the news article above, I couldn’t find any documentary evidence of a battle at Ikonion – which doesn’t mean, however, that there wasn’t a clash between Kemalist forces and non-Kemalists. The Allied High Commissioners including the Constantinople government were concerned at the growing influence of Mustapha Kemal's movement in Asia Minor. Some Ottoman ministers viewed him as a rebel and traitor to the Sultan. They wanted to crush his movement. However, Mustapha Kemal stood his ground but wanted a parliament in Constantinople that represented the will of the people. In September 1922, his movement triumphed in the Greek-Turkish war.

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