Turkish Courts-Martial of 1919–20

Turkish Courts-Martial of 1919–20 were courts-martial of the Ottoman Empire after the armistice of Mudros during the aftermath of World War I, at which the leadership of the Committee of Union and Progress and selected former officials were court-martialled with/including the charges of subversion of the constitution, wartime profiteering, and the massacres of both Armenians and Greeks.[1] The court reached a verdict which sentenced the organizers of the massacres, Talat, Enver, Cemal and others to death.[2][3]

Most of the Turkish courts-martial were dismissed and the serious ones were relocated to the "International Court-Martial in Malta" rather than being held in a Turkish court whose "findings cannot be held of any account at all." (John de Robeck[4]) The courts-martial were labelled "Turkish" because of their selective accusation of only the Turkish subjects of the Ottoman Empire. They became a stage for political battles. The trials helped the Liberal Union party root out the Committee of Union and Progress from the political arena.[5] During the second stage the international trials, Ottoman politicians, generals, and intellectuals were relocated from Constantinople jails to the British colony of Malta, called the Malta exiles, where they were held for some three years while searches were made in the archives of Constantinople, London, Paris and Washington to find proof of their guilt.[5] The trials formed a key argument in the Treaty of Sèvres, which resulted in the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire.


World War I

Beginning of World War I, regarding the news coming from Anatolia and the Siege of Van on 24 May 1915 the Triple Entente warned the Ottoman Empire:

In view of these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied Governments announce publicly to the Sublime Porte that they will hold personally responsible for these crimes all members of the Ottoman Government, as well as those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres".[6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

Occupation of Constantinople, November 1918

The Allies did not wait for a peace treaty after the Armistice of Mudros 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. High Commissioner Admiral Somerset Arthur 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 on January 1919.[13] Among this group, he send thirty to Malta (Malta exiles). 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. French Government's response on these presumed guilty people was "distinction to disadvantage of Muslim-Turks while Bulgarian, Austrian and German offenders were as yet not arrested.[14] On February 1919, the 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.[14] Calthorpe's correspondence to the British 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".[15]

Court martial

Establishment, April 28, 1919

The message of Calthorpe on Military administration fully noted by the Sultan. There was an eastern tradition of presenting gifts to the authority during the 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;[16][17] that could be achieved. The local court-martial were establishing while the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 with "The Commission on Responsibilities and Sanctions" added several articles to the treaty demanding the acting government of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Mehmed VI and Damat Ferid Pasha, should be summoned to trial.


After the people summoned to trial in an inquiry commission, invested with extraordinary powers of subpoena, arrest, et cetera, which the Ottoman's called the "Mazhar Inquiry Commission" was established. This organization secured Ottoman documents from many provinces of Ottoman Empire.

Legal Issues

The tribunals were held under occupation, thus the judges were under the scrutiny of the occupying forces. Due process did not exist, and there were gross absences of legal rights; defenders and lawyers feared for their life. The Ottoman penal code did not acknowledge the right of cross-examination. Some Western authors claimed that these were matters of local jurisprudence and the verdicts had to be trusted. However, the validity of the evidence presented in these testimonials has been questioned owing to a lack of defendant rights. Historians familiar with Ottoman jurisprudence do not hold the process of these trials in a positive light.[18] The decision was taken by evidence submitted during the preparatory phase, the trial, and how the defender present his defense. During the trials, none of the presented evidence was verified. The validity of the evidences presented, such as letters and orders have been in study. Some of them had proven to be forgeries.[19] In some cases hearsay was an issue as direct evidence has never been presented (one direct evidence regarding Talat Pasha was claimed to be a forgery (the signature, the code/number of the document, and the missing stamp). During the trials, testimonies were not subjected to cross-examination, or some of the materials were presented as "anonymous court material" (i.e., not sponsored by a witness, who has sworn or solemnly affirmed to tell the truth).[20]

When the international trials were staged, the High Commissioner at Constantinople, Calthorpe, was replaced by John de Robeck, the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, who said "that its findings cannot be held of any account at all.[4]"


The article which were proposed to be added at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 under "The Commission on Responsibilities and Sanctions" demanding the acting government of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Mehmed VI and Damat Ferid Pasha, should be summoned to trial, was not included in the Treaty of Sèvres. Interestingly, Damat Ferid Pasha was one of the four signatories. Malta Tribunals are the much publicized otherwise planned but not executed "international" trials of the Malta exiles. Under the pretext of "international trials" administrators and intellectuals of the Ottoman Empire were sent into exile on Malta after the armistice of Mudros during the Occupation of İstanbul by the Allied forces. All the Turkish officials held in a prison in Malta were acquitted by a British court and released.

The Ottoman military tribunal and subsequent international trials, which the British dismissed, exonerated those the Armenian Revolutionary Federation perceived as the masterminds behind the Great Calamity. At the Armenian Revolutionary Federation's 9th General Congress, which convened in Yerevan from September 27 to the end of October 1919, the issue of retribution against those responsible was on the agenda. A task force, led by Shahan Natalie, working with Grigor Merjanov, was established to assassinate Talaat Pasha, Pipit Jivanshir Khan, Said Halim Pasha, Behaeddin Shakir Bey, Jemal Azmi, Cemal Pasha, Enver Pasha, as well as several Armenians, called "traitors", in an operation with the code name "Operation Nemesis".

There is a controversy about the translations into Western language (mostly English and German) of the verdicts and accounts published in newspapers. Gilles Veinstein, professor of Ottoman and Turkish history at Collège de France estimates that the translation made by former Armenian documentalist Haigazn Kazarian is "highly tendentious, in several locations".[21] Turkish historians Erman Sahin and Ferudun Ata accuse Taner Akçam of mistranslations and inaccurate summarizes, including the rewriting of important sentences and the addition of things not included in the original version.[22][23][24] Taner Akçam did not respond.


Further reading

  • William A. Schabas, Genocide in International Law: The Crimes of Crimes, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

External links

  • Verdict of the Courts-Martial (In Ottoman Turkish)
  • Names of those condemned (In Ottoman Turkish)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.