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Statement By Mr Chamberlain

Volume 154: debated on Monday 15 May 1922

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asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, on receipt of the confirmation of the statement that the Turks in Asia Minor had murdered 10,000 Greeks, followed by the seizure of their widows and daughters for transfer to Turkish harems and the starvation to death of their children, any representation was sent to the Kemalist authorities or those of Constantinople pointing out the inevitable effect such atrocities must have on the coming decisions of the Powers with regard to the future relations of Turkey and Greece, and especially with regard to the demand of the Kemalist for the evacuation of Asia Minor by the Greek troops; and whether, if such a remonstrance has not been already issued to the Turkish authorities, one will be immediately despatched?

As the answer to this question is a very long one, involving the reading of an interchange of telegrams, I would propose, Mr. Speaker, with your permission, to read it at the close of questions, in order not to infringe upon the time of the House now.

I think that that course will probably meet the wishes of hon. Members.

Will the right hon. Gentleman's statement contain any information with regard to the representations by the American—

At the end of Questions

I thought that this answer was too important merely to circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and, on the other hand, it is so long that I considered that it would be unfair to hon. Members to interpolate it in the middle of questions, but I will read it now.

Confirmation has been received of the statements contained in the recent report by Major Yowell, to which I presume the hon. Member refers. With the permission of the House I will read out two telegrams from His Majesty's High Commissioner at Constantinople on the subject, dated the 10th instant:

(1) "I have interviewed at great length Dr. Ward of Near Eastern Relief Commission, who had just arrived from Kharput which he left 15th March. He corroborates statements as to treatment of minorities contained in telegram from Constantinople published in 'Times' of 5th May.

"The Turks appear to be working on a deliberate plan to get rid of minorities. Their method has been to collect at Amasia, Ottoman Greeks from region between Samsoun and Trebizond. These Greeks are marched from Amasiaviâ Tokat and Sivas as far as Ceasarea, and then back again until they are Eventually sent through Khar-put to the east. In this manner a large number of deportees die on the road from hardship and exposure. The Turks can say that they did not actually kill these refugees, but a comparison may be instituted with the way in which the Turks formerly got rid of dogs at Constantinople by landing them on an island where they died of hunger and thirst.

"Large numbers of deportees who were being sent to Van and Bitlis passed through Kharput between June and December last year. Now that spring has come these deportations have begun again. Once these gangs have passed Diarbekir, which is the last American relief station, Americans lose all track of them, but Dr. Ward has little doubt that many deportees die in the mountains east of that place. Turks, in preference, choose winter weather for driving these deportees into mountains. American Near Eastern Relief was not allowed to shelter children whose parents had died on the road. These children were driven forward with other deportees. Dr. Ward, himself, last year, in December, counted 150 bodies on the road between Kharput and Malatia. A fellow worker saw and counted 1,500 bodies on the road to Kharput, 2,000 deportees died on the road east of that place. Two-thirds of Greek deportees are women and children. At present freeh deportation outrages are starting in all parts of Asia Minor from northern sea ports to south eastern district.

"Turkish official at head educational department at Kharput told Dr. Ward, as an illustration of Turkish inefficiency, that in 1915 Turks had not made a clean job of massacres. He said that next time Turks would take care to do their work thoroughly.

"Dr. Ward endorsed Signor Tuozzi's statement of January last, that deliberate policy of Turks is to exterminate minorities

"He considers that they are accelerating their activities in this respect before peace settlement, and he stated that if action is not taken soon problem will be solved by disappearance of minorities.

"I am confirmed in my belief that the Turkish protests now being received in regard to alleged Greek excesses are designed to divert attention from Turkish atrocities.

"Another American of high character and standing, who came with Dr. Ward, states that Dr. Gibbons, formerly a professor at Robert College, who has just been visiting Greek front, and went into Turkish lines, reports that Greeks have behaved well in Anon Khara-Hissar-Aidin sectors; also that Mussulman population seem quite content with Greek rule in these districts."

The second telegram is as follows:

(2) "Further reliable information received from American relief workers, dated 25th April, shows that whole Greek male population from the age of 15 upwards of Trebizond area and its hinterland is being deported apparently to labour battalions at Erzeroum, Kara, and Sari Kamish.

"Since armistice proposal there has been marked recrudescence of these deportations, which are carried out in conditions of terrible hardship and now embrace bank employés and others whose position had hitherto exempted them.

"There are numbers of Christian women and children in deplorable straits in Trebizond who have been driven out of their villages.

"I have also received other reports dating back to September, 1921, of deportations of Armenians from Zeitum."

The Turks have repeatedly been warned that these atrocities, which have now-been going on almost continuously for over seven years, would adversely affect Allied public opinion and Allied policy, and, as the hon. and gallant Member for Wandsworth Central (Sir J. Norton-Griffiths) was informed on the 4th instant, repeated protests have been addressed to them. These warnings and protests, have, however, been entirely without effect.

His Majesty's Government, who have in the proposed terms of peace assumed a serious responsibility for future protection of these minorities, cannot allow such reports to remain uninvestigated, or such incidents to continue unchecked. They have, therefore, proposed to the French, Italian and American Governments a line of common action, which I can explain in no better way than by reading out the following instructions which have been telegraphed on Friday last to His Majesty's High Commissioner at Constantinople:
"Information reported by you as received in main from American relief workers reveals such an appalling tale of barbarity and cruelty, now being practised by Angora Turks as part of a systematic policy of extermination of Christian minorities in Asia Minor, that His Majesty's Government, who have in proposed terms of peace assumed a serious responsibility for future protection of these minorities, cannot allow such reports to remain uninvestigated or such incidents to continue unchecked. I am informing French, Italian and American Ambassadors of our opinion, with a view to securing their co-operation in action which I now propose, and I am requesting them to ask their Governments to send instructions to their High Commissioners at Constantinople to act in concert with you. My proposal is"—
This, of course, is a telegram from the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—
"that each of the four Powers should at once depute a carefully-selected officer to proceed to Trebizond, or whatever Black Sea port may be most suitable for the purpose, with a view to proceeding to such places in the interior as may best enable them to conduct the necessary investigation. Permission of Angora authorities will have to be sought and facilities demanded. It will be difficult for them to refuse these, since it is their contention either that the deportations and masacres have not taken place, or that they have been provoked by conduct of the Greek and other minorities concerned. Should permission nevertheless be refused, His Majesty's Government will have to reconsider their entire attitude towards peace proposals, which obviously could not be pursued with any chance of success in such conditions as I have described. It is inconceivable that Europe should agree to hand back to Turkish rule, without the most stringent guarantees, communities who would be liable to be treated in the manner described by competent American witnesses, whose reports, moreover, are confirmed by independent information in our possession."
We thought that the House ought to have these telegrams in their possession at the earliest possible moment, and I think they will feel that in spite of their length I have done right to read them.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in the first place, whether he will consider, in order to avoid any possible delay, if he can intimate that, in the event of our Allies not being ready to join with us in this matter, we shall proceed to act by ourselves, and, in the second place, whether he will consider the desirability of forthwith sending similar officers of observation to the Smyrna districts, where it is only too probable that reprisals against the Turks may easily take place.

I would ask my Noble Friend to give me notice of both those questions.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the allegation of the Turks is that they were not heard at the investigaions which resulted in the confirmation, and that the officer chiefly concerned, Major Yowell, was deported from Anatolia for being concerned in the promotion of rebellion against the Turks by the Greeks in that area; that their submission is that information will be forthcoming to show that these massacres either did not take place or were not nearly so serious as is represented; and that they deprecate the matter being taken for granted upon what must be considered, I submit, to be a somewhatex-parte investigation?

If that be the contention of the Angora Turks, they should obviously welcome an impartial investigation by the Powers whom we have invited to act with us.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when this telegram was sent off, whether there has yet been received a reply from America, or whether there is any likelihood of a reply being received before the House rises?

The telegram was sent on Friday, but no replies have been received as yet. I have no special reason to suppose that I am likely to receive replies in the course of the day.

May I ask if the report, which appeared in the morning papers, that consultations have already taken place between the Foreign Office and the American representatives in this country is correct? The report comes from an American citizen engaged in philanthropic work trying to prevent these horrible massacres.

I think the Foreign Secretary, in the telegram I have read out, said that he was going to communicate at once with the representatives of France and America in this country, and, though he has not been able to communicate personally, I have no doubt that his instructions have been acted upon.

May I say that I ventured to ask that question because I know that there is no question upon which there is stronger feeling of sympathy with our action as foreshadowed by the Foreign Secretary among the people in the United States?

As the hon. Member knows, there is no country whose co-operation we should more gladly welcome that that of America.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that probably the initiative in America is taken as the result of a determination of the Secretary for Agriculture in New York State to spread broadcast the photographs that he himself showed me of thousands of bodies which were uncovered by the melting of the snow during their tour?

I am not personally aware of the initiative having come from the United States Government, but I hope that they will join with us.

Would the Leader of the House communicate the answers from the great Powers to the House as soon as he gets them? Supposing he receives any of them during the sitting, would he have them communicated to the House on the Adjournment this evening?

I would sooner answer a question to-morrow at Question Time, if that would be equally satisfactory to the House. I do not think that information given after II o'clock is very convenient.

May we take it that these terrible events will only hasten the efforts of His Majesty's Government to bring about peace, which will be the only means of protecting these isolated minorities in the remote districts of Asia Minor?

May I ask whether similarly strong representations will be made by His Majesty's Government to the Provisional Government of Southern Ireland with regard to the deportations from there?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also make representations to the Northern Government of Ireland with regard to the massacres there?