Effort to prosecute Ottoman war criminals

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After World War I, the effort to prosecute Ottoman war criminals was taken up by the Paris Peace Conference (1919) and ultimately included in the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) with the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman government organized a series of courts martial in 1919–1920 to prosecute war criminals, but these failed on account of political pressure. The main effort by the Allied administration that occupied Constantinople fell short of establishing an international tribunal in Malta to try the so-called Malta exiles, Ottoman war criminals held as POWs by the British forces in Malta. In the end, no tribunals were held in Malta.[1]

According to European Court of Human Rights judge Giovanni Bonello the suspension of prosecutions, the repatriation and release of Turkish detainees was amongst others a result of the lack of an appropriate legal framework with supranational jurisdiction, because following World War I no international norms for regulating war crimes existed. The release of the Turkish detainees was accomplished in exchange for 22 British prisoners held by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.[1][2]

Background[edit]

Allied reactions to the massacres, 1915–1917[edit]

Following the reportage by US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, Sr., of the Armenian resistance during the Armenian Genocide at the city of Van, the Triple Entente formally warned the Ottoman Empire on 24 May 1915 that: "In the view of these ... crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization ... the Allied governments announce publicly ... that they will hold personally responsible ... all members of the Ottoman Government and those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres."[3]

Turkish courts martial, 1919–1920[edit]

The initial prosecution of war criminals was established between 1919 and 1920 by the Turkish Committee of Union and Progress which charged and tried several former leaders and officials for subversion of the constitution, wartime profiteering, and the massacres of both Greeks and Armenians.[4] At the same time the British Foreign Office conducted its own investigation into alleged war crimes, debating whether the process was adequately dealt with by Turkish courts martial.[5]

The court sat for nearly a year, from April 1919 through March 1920, although it became clear after just a few months that the tribunal was simply going through the motions. The judges had conveniently condemned the first set of defendants (Enver, et al.) when they were safely out of the country, but now, with Turkish lives genuinely on the line, the Tribunal, despite making a great show of its efforts, had no intention of returning convictions. Admiral Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe protested to the Sublime Porte, took the trials out of Turkish hands, and removed the proceedings to Malta. There an attempt was made to seat an international tribunal, but the Turks bungled the investigations and mishandled the documentary evidence so that nothing of their work could be used by the international court.[6][7]

Admiral John de Robeck replaced Admiral Gough-Calthorpe on August 5, 1919 as "Commander in Chief, Mediterranean, and High Commissioner, at Constantinople".[6] In August 1920, the proceedings were halted, and Admiral John de Robeck informed London of the futility of continuing the tribunal with the remark: "Its findings cannot be held of any account at all." [8] According to European Court of Human Rights judge Giovanni Bonello, 'quite likely the British found the continental inquisitorial system of penal procedure used in Turkey repugnant to its own paths to criminal justice and doubted the propriety of relying on it'. Or, possibly, the Turkish government never came round to hand over the incriminating documents used by the military courts. Whatever the reason, with the advent of power of Atatürk, all the documents on which the Turkish military courts had based their trials and convictions, were ‘lost’.[1][2]

Prosecution in Malta[edit]

See also: Malta exiles

Ottoman military members and high-ranking politicians convicted by the Turkish courts-martial were transferred from Constantinople prisons to the Crown Colony of Malta on board of the SS Princess Ena and the SS HMS Benbow by the British forces, starting in 1919. Admiral Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe was in charge of the operation, together with Lord Curzon; they did so owing to the lack of transparency of the Turkish courts-martial. They were held there for three years, while searches were made of archives in Constantinople, London, Paris and Washington to find a way to put them in trial.[9] However, the war criminals were eventually released without trial and returned to Constantinople in 1921, in exchange for 22 British prisoners of war held by the government in Ankara, including a relative of Lord Curzon. The government in Ankara was opposed to political power of the government in Constantinople. They are often mentioned as the Malta exiles in some sources.[1]

Legal foundation[edit]

In 1918 an American list of 11 "outlaws of civilization" was drawn up to be targeted for "condign punishment":

The list included the three leading Young Turk leaders, comprising the Ittihad triumvirate. A similar, but larger list, was prepared in 1917 in France by Tancrede Martel, an international law expert, who argued that the men he indicated deserved to be tried as common criminals by ordinary civil and criminal courts of the Allied countries because of the type and scope of the atrocities they were accused of having perpetrated. In its final report, completed on March 29, 1919, the commission on Responsibilities through Annex 1, table 2, identified thirteen Turkish categories of outrages liable to criminal prosecution".[10]

The British Foreign Office demanded 141 Turks be tried for crimes against British soldiers, and 17 for the crimes against Armenians during World War I.[11]

The Allied authority to proceed with any prosecutions was created as part of the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, with the establishment of "The Commission on Responsibilities and Sanctions", which was chaired by U.S Secretary of State Robert Lansing. The Commission's work saw several articles added to the Treaty of Sèvres to effect indictments against the acting heads of government of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Mehmed VI and Damat Adil Ferit Pasha. The Treaty of Sèvres gave recognition of the Democratic Republic of Armenia and developed a mechanism to bring to trial those accused of "barbarous and illegitimate methods of warfare... [including] offenses against the laws and customs of war and the principles of humanity".[3]

Article 230 of the Treaty of Sèvres required the Ottoman Empire:

... to hand over to the Allied Powers the persons whose surrender may be required by the latter as being responsible for the massacres committed during the continuance of the state of war on territory which formed part of the Ottoman Empire on August 1, 1914.

As a signatory to the treaty, the Ottoman Empire specifically recognized the right of the Allies to convene international tribunals to conduct war crimes trials.[12]

By 1921 the British High Commission had gathered a body of information from its Greek and Armenian sources about the Turkish prisoners held at Malta, and about 1000 others, all alleged to have been directly or indirectly guilty of participation in massacres.[13] The Allies had "a mountain of documents" related to the Armenian Genocide, but these were mostly general and did not clearly implicate specific individuals.[14]

A WikiLeaks cable classified and signed by David Arnett on July 4, 2004[15] at the Consulate General of the United States of America in Istanbul states the following:

According to Sabanci University Professor Halil Berktay, there were two serious efforts to purge the archives of any incriminating documents on the Armenian question. The first took place in 1918, presumably before the Allied forces occupied Istanbul. Berktay and others point to testimony in the 1919 Turkish Military Tribunals indicating that important documents had been "stolen" from the archives.

Suspension of prosecution[edit]

Further information: Malta exiles

According to European Court of Human Rights judge Giovanni Bonello the suspension of prosecutions, the repatriation and release of Turkish detainees was amongst others a result of the lack of an appropriate legal framework with supranational jurisdiction, because following World War I no international norms for regulating war crimes existed, due to a legal vacuum in international law; therefore contrary to Turkish sources, no trials were ever held in Malta.

On March 16, 1921, the Turkish Foreign Minister and the British Foreign Office signed an agreement in London. In exchange for the 22 British prisoners in Turkey, among them a relative of Lord Curzon and brother of Lord Rawlinson, Britain would set free 64 Turkish prisoners from Malta. These excluded those it was intended to prosecute for alleged offences in violation of the laws and customs of war or for massacres committed in any part of the Turkish Empire after war had broken out.[1][2] British Admiral Sir John Michael de Robeck, who had been second-in-command of Allied naval forces at the Dardanelles, commented: "It would be hard under these conditions to convict most of the exiles before an Allied court."[16]

In relation to prisoner exchange Article 2 under the Agreement For the Immediate Release of Prisoners reads:

"The repatriation of Turkish prisoners of war and interned civilians now in the hands of the British authorities shall commence at once, and shall continue as quickly as possible. This will not apply, however, to persons whom it is intended to try for alleged offences in violation of the laws and customs of war, or for massacres committed during the continuance of the state of war in territory which formed part of the Turkish Empire on 1st August, 1914..." [17]

British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon said the subsequent release of many of the Turkish prisoners was "a great mistake", and wrote:

The less we say about these people [the Turks detained at Malta] the better...I had to explain why we released the Turkish deportees from Malta skating over thin ice as quickly as I could. There would have been a row I think...The staunch belief among members [of Parliament is] that one British prisoner is worth a shipload of Turks, and so the exchange was excused ...".[18]

Telegraphs[edit]

On March 31, 1921, the British Foreign Secretary Lord George Curzon telegraphed British Ambassador to the US Sir Auckland Gedes, after the decision to exchange the prisoners with the government of Ankara was already made:

There are in hands of His Majesty's Government at Malta a number of Turks arrested for alleged complicity in the Armenian massacre ... There is considerable difficulty in establishing proofs of guilt ... Please ascertain if United States Government are in possession of any evidence that would be of value for purposes of prosecution.[19]

On July 13, 1921, the ambassador replied:

I have the honor to inform your Lordship that a member of my staff visited the State Department yesterday in regard to the Turks who are at the present being detained in Malta with a view to trial. He was permitted to see a selection of reports from the United States consuls on the subject of the atrocities committed on the Armenians during the recent war. These reports, judged by the State Department to be the most useful for the purpose of His Majesty’s government, being chosen from among several hundreds.

I regret to inform your Lordship that there was nothing therein which could be used as evidence against the Turks who are being detained for trial in Malta. The reports seen made mention of only two names of the Turkish officials in question—those of Sabit bey and Suleyman Faik Pasha — and even in these cases the accounts given were confined to the personal opinions of the writers; no concrete facts being given which could constitute satisfactory incriminating evidence.

Department of State expressed the wish that no information supplied by them in this connection should be employed in a court of law. Having regard to this stipulation, and the fact that the reports in the possession of the Department of State do not appear in any case to contain evidence against these Turks which would be useful even for the purpose of corroborating information already in possession of H. Majesty’s government.

I believe nothing is to be hoped from addressing any further inquiries to the Department of State in this matter.[20]
—Sir A. Gedes

Aftermath[edit]

Further information: Operation Nemesis

Separate Turkish domestic prosecutions resulted in the convictions and sentencing to death of many of the masterminds of the Armenian genocide. As many of the principal architects of the genocide had managed to escape prior to sentencing, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation decided at its 9th General Congress, which convened in Yerevan from September 27 to the end of October 1919, to pursue an assassination campaign against those it perceived to be responsible. A task force, led by Shahan Natalie, working with Grigor Merjanov, was established to assassinate Talaat Pasha, Javanshir Khan, Said Halim Pasha, Behaeddin Shakir Bey, Jemal Azmi, Jemal Pasha, Enver Pasha, and others, including several Armenians.

Some of those accused as war criminals led politically influential lives in the nascent Turkish state. Mustafa Abdülhalik Renda, for instance, who had "work[ed] with great energy for the destruction of the Armenians",[21] later became the Turkish Minister of Finance and Speaker of the Assembly and, for one day, following the death of Kemal Atatürk, President. General Vehip Pasa, and various German sources, also implicated Abdülhalik in the burning to death of thousands of people in Mus Province.[22]

Armenian historian Vahakn N. Dadrian commented that the Allied efforts at prosecution were an example of "a retributive justice [that] gave way to expedience of political accommodation".[23]

Peter Balakian — referring to the post-war Ottoman military tribunals, none of which was held in Malta — commented that "The trials represent a milestone in the history of war-crimes tribunals." Although they were truncated in the end by political pressures, and directed by Turkey's domestic laws rather than an international tribunal, the Constantinople trials (Turkish Courts-Martial of 1919-20) were an antecedent to the Nuremberg Trials following World War II.[24]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Bonello 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Turkey’s EU Minister, Judge Giovanni Bonello And the Armenian Genocide - ‘Claim about Malta Trials is nonsense’. The Malta Independent. 19 April 2012. Retrieved 10 August 2013
  3. ^ a b William S. Allen, The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town 1922–1945, Franklin Watts; Revised edition (1984). Also see: William A. Schabas, Genocide in International Law: The Crimes of Crimes, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 16–17
  4. ^ Taner Akçam, Armenien und der Völkermord: Die Istanbuler Prozesse und die Türkische Nationalbewegung (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1996), p. 185.
  5. ^ Dadrian V.N. in Genocide as a problem of national and international law, p.281–291; Dadrian V.N. (1986), "The Naim Andonian documents on the world war I destruction of Ottoman Armenians: the anatomy of a Genocide". International Journal of Middle East Studies, Cambridge, Mass., 18 (3) 338–355; Helmreich P.C. op. cit., p.236. These sources use the documents: Britain FO 371/5091, E 16080/27/44; 371/6509, E 5141 f.130; E 8562 f.13; E 10662 f.159; 371/7882, E 4425 f.182; as a source to reach their judgements
  6. ^ a b Shadow of the Sultan's Realm: The Destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, Daniel Allen Butler, Potomac Books Inc, 2011, ISBN 978-1597974967, p.211-212
  7. ^ Vahakn N. Dadrian "The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus" page 308
  8. ^ Public Record Office, Foreign Office, 371/4174/136069 in Dadrian, Vahakn (2003). The History of the Armenian Genocide. Berghahn Books. p. 342. ISBN 1-57181-666-6. 
  9. ^ Türkei By Klaus-Detlev. Grothusen.
  10. ^ Vahakn N. Dadrian "The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus" page 314
  11. ^ British foreign archive: FO 371/5091/E15109 Malta Internees, 8 November 1920
  12. ^ M. Cherif Bassiouni "Crimes Against Humanity in International Criminal Law" page 67
  13. ^ Vahakn N. Dadrian; The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus page 310.
  14. ^ Akcam, Taner. A Shameful Act. 2006, page 358.
  15. ^ https://wikileaks.org/cable/2004/07/04ISTANBUL1074.html WIKILEAKS. 04ISTANBUL1074, ARMENIAN "GENOCIDE" AND THE OTTOMAN ARCHIVES
  16. ^ from Taner Akcam "The Investigations and Prosecution of the War Crimes and Genocide" p 358 citation is provided by THOTH
  17. ^ British national Archives CAB 24/127
  18. ^ British Foreign Office Archives, FO 371/7882/E4425, folio 182
  19. ^ FO 371/6500/E.3552: Curzon to Geddes. Tel No 176 of 31.3.1921.
  20. ^ FO 371/6504/E.8515: Craigie, British Charge d' Afaires at Washington, to lord Curzon, No.722 of 13.7.1921.
  21. ^ German Consul Walter Rössler quoted by Akcam, Taner. A Shameful Act. 2006, page 362.
  22. ^ Akcam, Taner. A Shameful Act. 2006, page 363.
  23. ^ Dadrian, History of the Armenian Genocide, pp. 310—11.
  24. ^ On April 24, the world must remember victims of Armenian genocide, Times Union[dead link]

Books[edit]