On March 18, 1920, the Ottoman Government addressed a note to the Allied High Commissioners through the Swedish Legation in Constantinople with a copy sent to the U.S. High Commissioner, Admiral Mark Bristol. The Ottoman note is reproduced in full below:
“With regard to this, you will allow me to remark that there was nothing in the condition of things in Constantinople which seemed to menace the security of the allies. There have been disturbances and nothing seemed to imply the eventuality of any perturbation (disruption). Besides the Allied Powers have sufficient forces at their command to avert such an eventuality. Under these circumstances, the Imperial Government cannot understand the necessity of such measures and considers it a duty to protest against the infringement of its most essential rights.
As to the disturbances in Asia Minor, Your Excellency cannot ignore the fact that the principal cause that led to these was the entirely unjustified occupation of the province of Aidin by the Hellenic troops and the atrocities and unheard of horrors committed by them and the native Greeks.
This agitation has been increased still more by the persistent rumours disseminated as to the creation of a Great Armenia and a Greek state in Pontus, as well as other rumours of alarming publications which have contributed to greatly extend the agitation in Asia Minor.
As to the doings at Marash, the cause of these disturbances has already been explained. These disturbances were due to conflict between the Moslems and a detachment of armed Armenians, the conflict brought about by the latter. The Sublime Porte regrets that these conflicts should have been represented as a massacre of the Armenians. The Porte has already requested that an inquiry should be made as to these incidents and still persists in its demands.
Your Excellency has added to the aforementioned note that if such incidents or similar violence take place the peace conditions with Turkey will be more rigorous and the concessions already granted be withdrawn.
I take pleasure in expressing the hope that such incidents that would endanger the peace and security of this country will not take place. I am convinced, on the other hand, that the Allied Powers will recognize that it would not be equitable to render the Ottoman Nation responsible for the thoughtless deeds and language of certain people and to cause its fate to depend on incidents that are entirely against its will.
I cannot doubt that the Allied Supreme Council will be inspired by high feelings and noble sentiments in its dealings and decisions regarding Turkey.”
Many key points emerge from the Ottoman note.
- The British handed over the administration of Cilicia to the French in early November 1919, which had been agreed to at Fountainbleau between the French and British governments. France would have a mandate over Cilicia which included the main towns of Marash, Ourfa, and Aintab. There was a large French garrison under General Gouraud in Syria. Tensions between the French and Turks steadily grew over the coming months with insufficient French troops to garrison Cilicia. The French recruited local Armenians who wore French uniforms along with Algerian and Senegalese colonial troops, which angered the Turks.
- The massacres of Armenians in Marash happened during January-February 1920 when Turkish nationalist forces and chettes surprisingly attacked the French garrison in a well-coordinated operation. On March 16, British troops occupied the Ottoman Ministries of War and Admiralty, the telegraph, and telephone offices in Constantinople. The British Commander, General Milne arrested the commander of the 10th division Cholak Kemal, as well as Djemal Pasha and Djevad Pasha, and individuals suspected of disturbing the peace. Some resistance ensued with British and Turkish soldiers being killed and with British warships moored at Galata and the Bosphorus ready for action. The Sultan had been warned of a possible allied military occupation of his capital in early March.
- During the time of the Marash massacres, the Allied powers were meeting in London to discuss peace terms to be offered to the Turks. They decided that the Sultan would remain in Constantinople so long as no further massacres occurred in Anatolia. Further outbreaks might result in the allies withdrawing their concession of Constantinople remaining in Turkish hands. The Sultan’s authority was confined to Constantinople and its hinterland, with Mustapha Kemal running the show in Asia Minor.
- The Ottoman note mentions the creation of a Great Armenia and a Pontian Greek State. During the London deliberations, the future boundaries of an enlarged Armenia would have included Cilicia which the Turks strongly objected to. On the other hand, the Pontian Greeks addressed a memorandum to the London Conference outlining their reasons for the creation of an independent Pontian state along the Black Sea.
- The Times (London) stated that “the actual cause of the outbreak at Marash was the hauling down of the Turkish flag over the government building by the French Military Governor of the town, Captain Andre.” However, the Rev. Buxton who visited Cilicia outlined three reasons responsible for the mess in Cilicia. Firstly, the prolongation of the armistice; secondly British troops fighting the Bolsheviks in Russia; and finally, Captain Andre for mishandling a situation which had been brewing for a few months. Buxton hoped that the United States might assume the mandate for Cilicia, which never happened.
- An American relief worker, the Rev. CHF Crathern recorded the events of Marash in his diary with excerpts published in the British and American press and a full copy available in the U.S. State documents on Turkey. The American relief workers and French troops remained in the American compound for 22 days facing a daily barrage of Turkish bullets. On January 25, the raised American flag was fired upon by Turkish snipers. Two YMCA American relief workers, James Perry and Frank S. Johnson were killed near Aintab by the Turks, who mistakenly took them for French.
- The French General Querette withdrew his troops from Marash with Armenians fleeing with them to Islayeh. Many Armenians perished along the way from the bitterly cold winter weather. This dented French prestige in the eyes of the British and emboldened Mustapha Kemal’s nationalist movement.
- An Indian Moslem delegation was in London during the time of the allied conference. They pointed out to British premier Lloyd George the importance of retaining the Sultan in Constantinople, whom they considered as their Caliph. His removal might result in problems for Britain in India.
- The Ottoman insistence on an international inquiry into the events at Marash came to nothing. The French remained in Cilicia until they finally withdrew in early 1922.