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Asia Minor

Volume 149: debated on Friday 16 December 1921

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asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the French have now completely evacuated Cilicia; whether it has been reoccupied by the Kemalist forces; whether the threats of the latter have produced panic among the non-Turkish inhabitants; and what is the present position of those refugees whom the British authorities caused to return there after the Armistice and of the other elements in the population who supported our cause in the War and to whom we in return promised freedom from Turkish government?

Although His Majesty's Government have no definite information on the subject, it is believed that the administration of the Turkish Nationalists has replaced French military authority in Cilicia; in any case, the French troops were, under the terms of the Agreement, to have been withdrawn by 20th December. By agreement with the Angora Government, M. Franklin Bouillon was himself to supervise the conditions of the transfer of authority, and he was to be assisted by three French representatives residing at Adana, Mersina and Aintab. His Majesty's Government are not aware of any threats emanating from the Turkish Nationalist authorities or forces against the non-Turkish inhabitants; the French Government have, indeed, informed His Majesty's Government of the adoption by the Angora Government of certain decisions favourable to the minorities and indicating, according to the French view, a disposition on the part of the Nationalist authorities loyally to fulfil the obligations assumed under the agreement; these decisions include abrogation of the law of requisition, suspension of conscription, organisation of a mixed Franco-Turkish Commission to safeguard the property of refugees and to prevent looting; assurance of freedom of person and respect of property; and an immediate and total amnesty.

The latest information about the refugees is that there are at Mersina 10,000 workless Armenians in a miserable state. I cannot, however, accept the statement that His Majesty's Government caused the refugees to return to Cilicia after the Armistice; those who returned, did so after the French had taken over from the British the duties of military occupation and the responsibilities deriving therefrom. Nor have His Majesty's Government ever promised autonomy for Cilicia.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I have in my possession a letter from the War Office stating that they have sent back refugees from Aleppo to Cilicia, and that refugees who wished to go to the South were not allowed to do so?

I am not sure that I am aware that my hon. Friend has such a letter, but, even so, I do not think that it upsets the truth of my answer.

How does the hon. Gentleman maintain his statement that these people were not sent back by the British authorities.

Were not many of these people sent back by the French authorities; and, further, may I ask if the information and experience, unfortunately, of the Armenians in Cilicia, as to the effect upon their future of Turkish control, has not already been vindicated by the plight of thousands of refugees?

I am not at all sure that the Armenians have been well advised to fly from Cilicia.

Can the hon. Gentleman say how many of these people have now left Cilicia; and has there any reply been given on their behalf, in a collective sense, to the Proclamation a few weeks ago of the French Commander-in-Chief?

I cannot say. I have no definite information as to how many Armenians have left Cilicia, but it is obviously only a small proportion of the total number.

Then has the Government no responsibility for those who have now left Cilicia?

The right hon. Gentleman appears to understand more than I do where the responsibility lies.

In the interests of minorities and for the sake of our own great interests in the East, will the Government consider the advisability of adopting an entire new policy towards Turkey?

May I enquire whether the Government do not recognise that they are bound by the strongest possible obligations to do everything they can to protect the Armenians?

I need hardly say that the Government have done everything within their power in the circumstances.

Will the hon. Gentleman say any one thing the Government have done effectively, and does he mean to say that the British Government is impotent and unable to carry out its promises?


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he can give any information regarding the military situation in Asia Minor of the Turkish and Greek forces; what steps His Majesty's Government are taking to bring about a cessation of hostilities in these regions; and whether any conversations are taking place or have recently taken place between representatives of His Majesty's Government and of the Angora Government?

There is no change in the military situation in Anatolia. Active hostilities appear to be virtually in suspense. A meeting will take place early in the New Year between the Allied Foreign Ministers to discuss methods and terms of a general settlement. No conversations are taking place, or have taken place, between representatives of His Majesty's Government and the Angora Government.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this situ- ation has existed for many months, and in the meantime British trade is adversely affected, together with our relations to our Mohammedan subjects and fellow subjects of the King in India, and cannot he do something more expeditiously than these continual conversations which lead nowhere?

I have already stated that a meeting will take place in Paris in the first week of the New Year to discuss these things.

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister if the policy of the Government to maintain the provisions of the Sèvres Treaty in relation to Greece and to the protection of the Greeks, Armenians and other Christian communities from massacre will be steadily adhered to?

The policy of this country in respect of the protection of the Christian populations of Asia Minor has not changed and has been made the subject of unremitting representations to the Governments principally concerned. As to the Treaty of Sevres, further discussions are about to take place between the Allies, and it would not be desirable to make a statement at this stage.

If this Session is not going to be ended to-day in view of the very strong feeling which exists in the country on this question, could the right hon. Gentleman manage to give us a few hours for discussion?

Parliament was summoned in this extraordinary Session solely to deal with the Article of Agreement signed by the Irish representatives and by His Majesty's Government, and I should rather deprecate the introduction of other subjects which would lead to a prolongation of the Session of quite uncertain but of considerable length.

I did not suggest that that small space of time should be given until the Irish business is disposed of. It is not for me to stand between Ireland and the Treaty. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I have not the smallest doubt that the reactionaries object to anything which will strengthen the hands of the Government.