Occupation of Constantinople

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Occupation of Constantinople
Part of World War I and the Turkish War of Independence
Occupation of Constantinople 2.jpg
Louis Franchet d'Espèrey marching in Beyoğlu, February 8, 1919
Date November 13, 1918 – September 23, 1923
Location Constantinople
Result Constantinople Military occupation by the United Kingdom, followed by France and Italy, then abandoned.
Britain officially dismantled the Ottoman Empire parliament on March 16, 1920 and restored it on September 9, 1922 to the Ankara Government

 United Kingdom


 Ottoman Empire
Turkish Revolutionaries
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe
United Kingdom George Milne
France Louis Franchet d'Esperey
Italy Carlo Sforza [2]

Ottoman Empire Ali Sait Pasha¹

Selâhattin Âdil Pasha²

Land forces on 13 November 1918:[3]
2,616 British, 540 French, 470 Italian (Total: 3,626 soldiers)

Land forces by 5 November 1919:[4]
United Kingdom: 27,419 soldiers (27 artillery batteries, 160 machine guns)
France: 19,069 soldiers (30 cannons, 91 machine guns)
Italy: 3,992 soldiers
State Flag of Greece (1863-1924 and 1935-1970).svg: 795 soldiers (160 machine guns)
Total: ~51,300 soldiers (411 machine guns, 57 artillery pieces)

Naval forces:
13 November 1918: 50[5]-61[6] warships

15 November 1918: 167 warships+auxiliary ships[7][8]
1: Commander of the XXV Corp and the Istanbul Guard (October 6, 1919–March 16, 1920[9])
2: Commander of the Istanbul Command (December 10, 1922–September 29, 1923[10])

The Occupation of Constantinople (Turkish: İstanbul'un İşgali) (November 13, 1918 – September 23, 1923), the occupation of Constantinople (now Istanbul) the capital of the Ottoman Empire by British, French and Italian forces, took place in accordance with the Armistice of Mudros, which ended Ottoman participation in the First World War. The first French troops entered the city on November 12, 1918, followed by British troops the next day. The Italian troops landed in Galata on February 7, 1919.[2]

Allied troops occupied zones based on the sections of Constantinople and set up an Allied military administration early in December 1918. The occupation had two stages: the initial occupation took place in accordance with the Armistice and lasted until March 16, 1920), from when a second phase made it lasting through the Treaty of Sèvres, until that was overridden by the Treaty of Lausanne, signed July 24, 1923. The last Allied troops departed from the city on two months laterand the first Turkish National Movement troops entered on October 6, 1923.

1918 saw the first time Constantinople had changed hands since the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Along with the occupation of İzmir it mobilized the establishment of the Turkish national movement and the Turkish War of Independence.[11][citation needed]


Greek aviators at the San Stefano airfield, after the Mudros armistice

The Ottomans estimated that the population of Constantinople in 1920 was between 800,000 and 1,200,000 inhabitants, having collected population statistics from the various religious bodies. The uncertainty in the figure reflects the uncounted population of war refugees and disagreements as to the boundaries of the city. Half or less were Muslim, the remainder being largely Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish; there had been a substantial Western European population before the war.[12]

Legality of the occupation

The Armistice of Mudros, which defined the end of World War I for the Ottoman Empire, mentions the occupation of Bosphorous fort and Dardanelles fort. On October 30, 1918, Somerset Gough-Calthorpe, the British signatory (British enforcer during the Turkish War of Independence) stated the Triple Entente's position that they had no intention to dismantle the government or place it under military occupation by "occupying Constantinople".[13] This verbal promise and lack of mention of the occupation of Constantinople in the armistice did not change the realities for the Ottoman Empire. Admiral Somerset Gough-Calthorpe puts the British position as "No kind of favour whatsoever to any Turk and to hold out no hope for them"[14] The Ottoman side returned to the capital with a personal letter from Calthorpe, intended for Rauf Orbay, in which he promised on behalf of the British government that only British and French troops would be used in the occupation of the Straits fortifications. A small number of Ottoman troops could be allowed to stay on in the occupied areas as a symbol of sovereignty.[15] The occupation was illegal until 16 February 1920 when the allies took steps to find a legal basis.[16][17]

The Sultan's position

According to Sir Horace Rumbold, 9th Baronet, the British ambassador to Constantinople (1920–1924), the Sultan Mehmed VI had never grasped or accepted Kemalism, the national perspective of the Turkish national movement. He never perceived the significance of the military and political events following the Armistice of Mudros, failing to realise that the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire was a reflection of his captivity. For him, it was he and his close circle who formed and represented the Turks. There was a group of real Turks who were loyal and working to save the Empire at any cost. Most probably based on their individual activities, some of the Turkish revolutionaries fell in/out of the Sultan's definition of a Turk. Also according to Rumbold, the Sultan claimed that Mustafa Kemal was a Macedonian revolutionary of an unverified origin, Bekir Sami Kunduh was an Ossetian and that other individual revolutionaries were Turkish-speaking Albanians, Circassians, etc. Moreover, Rumbold maintained that the Sultan thought that resistance against the Allies with support found in the Bolsheviks would bring Turkey the same fate as Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which had become the Azerbaijan SSR. The ideology behind the Sultan's perception of the events had taken a very different path.

In the following years, Enver Pasha went to Moscow and later to Central Asia, where his ultimate intention was to regain power (against the Allies) by using the Bolsheviks through the organization of the Union of Islamic Revolutionary Societies and an affiliated Party of People's Councils. The Turkish national movement did not give way to the Bolsheviks but instead made peace with the Allies. Enver Pasha was killed fighting the Red Army. Atatürk's Reforms abolished the Caliphate; the Khilafat Movement did not save the Ottoman Caliph, but became a nationalistic movement that improved Hindu–Muslim relations.

Military administration

The armored cruiser Averof of the Greek Navy in the Bosphorus, 1919
British occupation forces at the port of Karaköy, in front of the coastal tram line. The art nouveau style building in the background is the Turkish Maritime Lines (Türkiye Denizcilik İşletmeleri) headquarters.[18]

The Allies did not wait for a peace treaty for claiming the Ottoman territory. Just 13 days after the Armistice of Mudros, a French brigade entered Constantinople on November 12, 1918. The first British Troops entered the city on November 13, 1918. Early in December 1918, Allied troops occupied sections of Constantinople and set up an Allied military administration.

On February 7, 1919, an Italian Bataillon with 19 officers and 740 soldiers landed at the Galata pier; one day later they were joined by 283 Carabinieri, commanded by Colonel Balduino Caprini. The Carabinieri assumed Police tasks.[2]

On February 8, 1919, the French general Franchet d' Espèrey entered the city on a horse led by two of his soldiers. Reportedly this was intended to emulate Mehmed II's entrance in 1453 after the Fall of Constantinople, and signify that Ottoman sovereignty over the imperial city was over.

On February 10, 1919, the commission divided for police matter the city in 3 zones: Stambul (the old city) was assigned to the French, Pera-Galata to the British and Kadiköy and Scutari to the Italians.[2]

Somerset Calthorpe, December 1918 – August 1919

After the armistice, High Commissioner Admiral Somerset Gough-Calthorpe was assigned as the military adviser to Constantinople. His first task was to arrest between 160 and 200 persons from the Government of Tevfik Pasha in January 1919.[19] Among this group, he sent thirty to Malta (Malta exiles).

Establishing authority

The British rounded up a number of members of the old establishment and interned them in Malta, awaiting their trial for alleged crimes during World War I. Calthorpe included only Turkish members of the Government of Tevfik Pasha and the military/political personalities. He wanted to send a message that a military occupation was in effect and failure to comply would end with harsh punishment. His position was not shared with other partners. The French Government's response to those accused was "distinction to disadvantage of Muslim-Turks while Bulgarian, Austrian and German offenders were as yet neither arrested nor molested".[20] However, the government and the Sultan understood the message. In February 1919, allies were informed that the Ottoman Empire was in compliance with its full apparatus to the occupation forces. Any source of conflict (including Armenian questions) would be investigated by a commission which neutral Governments can attach two legal superintendents.[20] Calthorpe's correspondence to Foreign Office was "The action undertaken for the arrests was very satisfactory, and has, I think, intimidated the Committee of Union and Progress of Constantinople".[21]

Conflict resolution

Constantinople, May 23, 1919: Protests against the occupation

The message of Calthorpe was fully noted by the Sultan. There was an eastern tradition of presenting gifts to the authority during serious conflicts; sometimes "falling of heads". There was no higher goal than preserving the integrity of the Ottoman Institution. If the anger of Calthorpe could be calmed down by the foisting the blame on a few members of the Committee of Union and Progress, which Ottoman Empire could thereby receive more lenient treatment at the Paris peace conference.[22] The trials began in Istanbul on April 28, 1919. The prosecution presented "forty-two authenticated documents substantiating the charges therein, many bearing dates, identification of senders of the cipher telegrams and letters, and names of recipients."[23] On July 22, the court-martial found several defendants guilty of subverting constitutionalism by force and found them responsible for massacres.[24] During its whole existence from April 28, 1919 to March 29, 1920, Ottoman trials were performed very poorly and with increasing inefficiency, as presumed guilty people were already intended as a sacrifice to save the Empire. However, as an occupation authority, the historical rightfulness of the allies was at stake. Calthorpe wrote to London; "proving to be a farce and injurious to our own prestige and to that of the Turkish government.".[25] The Allies considered Ottoman trials as a travesty of justice, so Ottoman justice had to be replaced with the Western justice by moving the trials to Malta as "International" trials. The "International" trials declined to use any evidence developed by the Ottoman tribunals. When the International trials were staged, Calthorpe was replaced by John de Robeck. John de Robeck said regarding the trials; "that its findings cannot be held of any account at all.[26]" All of the Malta exiles were released.

A new movement

Allied occupation troops marching at the Istiklal Avenue.

Calthorpe was alarmed when he learned that the winner of Gallipoli had become the inspector general for Anatolia and Mustafa Kemal's behavior during this period did nothing to improve matters. Calthorpe urged that Kemal be recalled. Thanks to friends and sympathizers of Mustafa Kemal's in government circles, a 'compromise' was developed whereby the power of the inspector general was curbed, at least on paper. "Inspector General" became a title that had no power to command. On June 23, 1919, Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe began to understand Kemal and his role in the establishment of the Turkish national movement. He sent a report about Mustafa Kemal to the Foreign Office. His remarks were downplayed by George Kidson of the Eastern Department. Captain Hurst (British army) in Samsun warned Calthorpe one more time about the Turkish national movement, but his units were replaced with a Brigade of Gurkhas.

HMS M1 in Constantinople.

Arthur Gough-Calthorpe was assigned to another position on August 5, 1919 and left Constantinople.

Death of a Turkish soldier during a British raid against Mızıka watchhouse at Şehzadebaşı on March 16, 1920.

John de Robeck, August 1919–1922

In August 1919 John de Robeck replaced Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe with the title of "Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, and High Commissioner at Constantinople". He was responsible for activities regarding Russia and Turkey (Ottoman Empire-Turkish national movement).

John de Robeck was very worried by the defiant mood of the Ottoman parliament. When 1920 arrived, he was concerned by reports that substantial stocks of arms were reaching Turkish revolutionaries, some from French and Italian sources. In one of his letters to London, he asked: "Against whom would these sources be employed?"

In London, the Conference of London (February 1920) took place; it featured discussions about settling the treaty terms to be offered in San Remo. John de Robeck reminded participants that Anatolia was moving into a resistance stage. There were arguments of "National Pact" (Misak-ı Milli) circulating, and if these were solidified, it would take a longer time and more resources to handle the case (partitioning of the Ottoman Empire). He tried to persuade the leaders to take quick action and control the Sultan and pressure the rebels (from both directions). This request posed awkward problems at the highest level: promises for national sovereignty were on the table and United States was fast withdrawing into isolation.

Treaty of Sevres

The Ottoman parliament of 1920

The newly elected Ottoman parliament in Constantinople did not recognize the occupation; they developed a National Pact (Misak-ı Milli). They adapted six principles; which called for self-determination, the security of Constantinople, and the opening of the Straits, also the abolishment of the capitulations. While in Constantinople, self-determination and protection of the Ottoman Empire was voiced, the Khilafat Movement in India try to influence the British government to protect the caliphate of the Ottoman empire and although it was mainly a Muslim religious movement, the Khilafat struggle was becoming a part of the wider Indian independence movement. Both these two movements (Misak-ı Milli and Khilafat Movement) on the ideological level share a lot of notions, which during the Conference of London (February 1920) allies concentrated on these issues.

The Ottoman Empire did lose in World War I, but Misak-ı Milli in the local Khilafat Movement in a global sense was in conflict with the Allies' plans.

Solidification of the partitioning, February 1920

The plans for partitioning of the Ottoman Empire needed to be solidified. At Conference of London on March 4, 1920, the Triple Entente decided to implement its previous (secret) agreements and form what will be the Treaty of Sèvres. In doing so, all forms of resistance originating from Ottoman Empire (rebellions, Sultan, etc.) had to be dismantled. The Allies' military forces in Constantinople ordered to take the necessary actions; also political side increased the efforts to put the Treaty of Sèvres] in writing.

On the political side, negotiations for Treaty of Sèvres presumed a Greek (Christian Administration), a French-Armenian (Christian Administration), Italian occupation region (Christian Administration) and Wilsonian Armenia (Christian Administration) over what was Ottoman Empire (Muslim Administration). Muslim citizens of the Ottoman Empire perceived this plan as losing their sovereignty. British intelligence registered the Turkish national movement as a movement of the Muslim citizens of Anatolia. The Muslim unrest all around Anatolia brought two arguments to the British government regarding the new establishments: the Muslim administration (Ottoman Empire) was not safe for Christians; the Treaty of Sèvres was the only way that Christians could be safe. Enforcing the Treaty of Sèvres could not happen without repressing Mustafa Kemal's (Turkish Revolutionaries) national movement.

On the military side the British claimed that if the Allies could not control Anatolia at that time, they could at least control Constantinople. Plan was step by step beginning from İstanbul dismantle every organization and slowly move deep into the Anatolia. That meant facing with what will be called as the Turkish War of Independence. British foreign department was asked to devise a plan to ease this path. British foreign department developed the same plan that they used during the Arab revolt. This policy of breaking down authority by separating the Sultan from his government, and working different millets against each other, such as the Christian millet against the Muslim millet, was the best solution if minimal British force was to be used. For details of these covert operations in Anatolia, see Turkish war of independence.

Military occupation of Constantinople

Dissolution of the parliament, March 1920

The Telegram House was occupied on March 14. On the night of March 15 British troops began to occupy the key buildings and arrest Turkish nationalists. It was a very messy operation. The 10th division and military music school resisted the arrest. At least 10 students were killed by gunfire from British Indian troops. The total death toll is unknown. On March 18 the Ottoman parliament met and sent a protest to allies; "it was unacceptable to arrest five of its members" declared the parliament. This marked the end of the Ottoman Political system. The British move on the parliament left the Sultan as sole controller of the Empire; without parliament the Sultan stood alone with the British. Beginning with March 18, the Sultan become the puppet of the British foreign department, saying, "There would be no one left to blame for what will be coming soon"; the Sultan revealed his own version of the declaration of dissolution on April 11, after approximately 150 politicians were exiled to Malta.

The dissolution of the parliament followed by the raid and closing of the journal Yeni Gün (New Day). Yeni Gün was owned by Yunus Nadi Abalıoğlu, an influential journalist, and was the main media organ publishing the news about the resistance (Turkish War of Independence) to the outside world.

Official declaration, March 16, 1920

On March 16, 1920, third day of hostilities the allied forces declared the occupation:

In an effort to prevent the spread of Turkish nationalism, General Sir George Milne and an Allied force occupied İstanbul.

  • The Allies gave assurances that they had no intention of taking over the government.
  • The Allies sought to keep the Straits open and to protect the Armenians.
  • The Allies persuaded the Ottoman government to denounce the Turkish nationalists and sent many into exile.
  • The Sultan had established a Damad Ferid government.[27]

Forcing the peace treaty

Early pressure on insurgency, April – June 1920

The British argued that the insurgency of the Turkish revolutionaries should be suppressed by local forces in Anatolia, with the help of British training and arms. In response to a formal British request to, the Constantinople government appointed an extraordinary Anatolian general inspector Süleyman Şefik Pasha and a new Security Army, Kuva-i Inzibatiye, to enforce central government control with British support. The British also supported local guerrilla groups in the Anatolian heartland (they were officially called 'independent armies') with money and arms. Many of these groups were led by Circassian refugees from the turmoil of the Russian Civil War, notably Ahmet Anzavur, who led the Kuva-i Inzibatiye and ravaged the countryside.

Ultimately, these forces were unsuccessful in quelling the nationalist movement. A clash outside İzmit quickly escalated, with British forces opening fire on the nationalists, and bombing them from the air. Although the attack forced the nationalists to retreat, the weakness of the British position had been made apparent. The British commander, General George Milne, asked for reinforcements of at least twenty seven divisions. However, the British government was unwilling to channel these forces, as a deployment of this size could have had political consequences that were beyond the British government's capacity to handle.

The British were quick to accept the fact that the nationalistic movement, which had hardened during World War I, could not be faced without the deployment of consistent and well-trained forces. On June 25 the Kuva-i Inzibatiye was dismantled on the advice of the British, as they were becoming a liability.

Presentation of the treaty to the Sultan, June 1920

The treaty terms were presented to the Sultan in the middle of June. The treaty was harsher than anyone expected. However, because of the military pressure placed on the insurgency from April to June 1920, the Allies did not expect that there would be any serious opposition.

In the meantime, however, Mustafa Kemal had set up a rival government in Ankara, with the Grand National Assembly. On October 18, the government of Damat Ferid Pasha was replaced by a provisional ministry under Ahmed Tevfik Pasha as Grand Vizier, who announced an intention to convoke the Senate with the purpose of ratification of the Treaty, provided that national unity were achieved. This required seeking for cooperation with Mustafa Kemal. The latter expressed disdain to the Treaty and started a military assault. As a result, the Turkish Government issued a note to the Entente that the ratification of the Treaty was impossible at that time.[28]

End of the occupation

The success of the Turkish National Movement against the French, and Greeks was followed by their forces threatening the allied forces at Chanak. The British decided to resist any attempt to penetrate the neutral zone of the Straits, but the French ordered their forces. Kemal was persuaded by the French to order his forces to avoid any incident at Chanak. Nevertheless, the Chanak Crisis nearly resulted in hostilities, these being avoided on October 11, 1922, when the Armistice of Mudanya was signed, bringing to an end the Turkish War of Independence.[29][30] The handling of this crisis caused the collapse of David Lloyd George's Ministry on October 19, 1922.[31]

Turkish troops enter Constantinople (Istanbul) on October 6, 1923.

On 1 November 1922, the Grand National Assembly declared the Ankara government to be the Turkish government and abolished the sultanate. On 17 November 1922, Mehmed VI Vahideddin the last Ottoman Sultan departed from Constantinople aboard the British ship HMS Malaya.[citation needed]

Negotiations for a new peace treaty with Turkey began at the Conference of Lausanne on 20 November 1922 and reopened after a break on 23 April 1923. This led to the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923. Under the terms of the treaty, Allied forces started evacuating Constantinople on 23 August 1923 and completed the task on 23 September 1923 – British Italian, and French troops departing pari passu.[citation needed]

The first Turkish troops entered Constantinople on 6 October 1923 and on 29 October, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed, with Ankara as its capital city.

List of Allied High Commissioners



  • November 1918 – January 1919: Count Carlo Sforza
  • September 1920 – October 22, 1923: Marchese Eugenio Camillo Garroni

United Kingdom:

Kingdom of Greece:

  • 1918–1923: Efthymios Kanellopoulos


  1. "Constantinople occupied by British and Indian troops". British Pathé. October 30–31, 1918. Retrieved 25 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Missioni all'estero:1918 – 1923. In Turchia: da Costantinopoli all'Anatolia" (in Italian). Arma dei Carabinieri. Retrieved 8 November 2012.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Hülya Toker Mütareke döneminde İstanbul Rumları, Genelkurmay Basımevi, 2006, ISBN 9754093555, page 29. (Turkish)
  4. Zekeriya Türkmen, (2002), İstanbul’un işgali ve İşgal Dönemindeki Uygulamalar (13 Kasım 1918–16 Mart 1920), Atatürk Araştırma Merkezi Dergisi, XVIII (53): pages 338–339. (Turkish)
  5. Paul G. Halpern: The Mediterranean Fleet, 1919–1929, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2011, ISBN 1409427560, page 3.
  6. Metin Ataç: İstiklal Harbi'nde Bahriyemiz, Genelkurmay Başkanlığı, 2003, ISBN 9754092397, page 20. (Turkish)
  7. Mustafa Budak: İdealden gerçeğe: Misâk-ı Millî'den Lozan'a dış politika, Küre Yayınları, 2002, page 21. (Turkish)
  8. Ertan Eğribel, Ufuk Özcan: Türk sosyologları ve eserleri, Kitabevi, 2010, ISBN 6054208624, page 352. (Turkish)
  9. T.C. Genelkurmay Harp Tarihi Başkanlığı Yayınları, Türk İstiklâl Harbine Katılan Tümen ve Daha Üst Kademlerdeki Komutanların Biyografileri, Genelkurmay Basım Evi, 1972, p. 51.
  10. T.C. Genelkurmay Harp Tarihi Başkanlığı Yayınları, Türk İstiklâl Harbine Katılan Tümen ve Daha Üst Kademlerdeki Komutanların Biyografileri, Genkurmay Başkanlığı Basımevi, Ankara, 1972, p. 118. (Turkish)
  11. Mustafa Kemal Pasha's speech on his arrival in Ankara in November 1919
  12. Clarence Richard Johnson Constantinople To-day; Or, The Pathfinder Survey of Constantinople; a Study in Oriental Social Life, Clarence Johnson, ed. (New York: Macmillian, 1922) p. 164ff.
  13. Criss, Bilge, Constantinople under Allied Occupation 1918–1923, (1999) p. 1.
  14. Simsir BDOA, 1:6.
  15. Yakn Tarihimiz, Vol. 2, p. 49.
  16. Ford, Roger Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East Pegasus Books, 2010. p. 474 [1]
  17. Criss, Bilge Istanbul under allied occupation, 1918–1923 BRILL, 1999 ISBN 90-04-11259-6 p.10 [2]
  18. Turkish Maritime Lines
  19. Public Record Office, Foreign Office 371/4172/13694
  20. 20.0 20.1 Public Record Office, Foreign Office, 371/4172/28138
  21. Public Record Office, Foreign Office, 371/4172/23004
  22. Vahakn N. Dadrian, "The Documentation of the World War I Armenian Massacres in the Proceedings of the Turkish Military Tribunal", International Journal of Middle East Studies 23(1991): 554; idem, "The Turkish Military Tribunal's Prosecution of the Authors of the Armenian Genocide: Four Major Court-Martial Series", Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 11(1997): 31.
  23. Dadrian, "The Turkish Military Tribunal's Prosecution", p. 45.
  24. The verdict is reproduced in Akçam, Armenien und der Völkermord, pp. 353–64.
  25. Public Record Office, Foreign Office, 371/4174/118377
  26. Public Record Office, Foreign Office, 371/4174/136069
  27. League of Nations Archives, Palais des Nations, CH-1211, Geneva 10, Switzerland Center for the Study of Global Change,
  28. Current History, Volume 13, New York Times Co., 1921, "Dividing the Former Turkish Empire" pp. 441–444 (retrieved October 26, 2010)
  29. Harry J. Psomiades, The Eastern Question, the Last Phase: a study in Greek-Turkish diplomacy (Pella, New York 2000), 27–38.
  30. A.L. Macfie, 'The Chanak affair (September–October 1922)' Balkan Studies 20(2) (1979), 309–41.
  31. Darwin, J. G. "The Chanak Crisis and the British Cabinet", History, Feb 1980, Vol. 65 Issue 213, pp 32–48.

External links