The Ottoman Empire, driven to the brink of political, economic, and social dissolution after the Balkan War, was pushed into a very difficult period because of the Armenian problem, which was brought to the agenda again by European political groups in 1913. The sympathy felt for the Armenian society in Europe gave opportunity for a public opinion against Turks to be created in a short amount of time. The Ottoman government, in the meantime, started several attempts for the Armenian reform issue and started to have a positive approach for the participation of minority representatives in the local governments (Kurat, 1970, 206). Britain, on the other hand, asked for the reform thought to be done about the Armenian issue to be taken seriously by the Ottoman government. It was a matter of fact that the Ottoman government followed the politics of taking the support of Britain for the issue of Armenian reform and avoiding Russian intervention as much as possible. However, the developments took a different dimension when the Ottoman-Russian representatives came together and the Treaty of Yeniköy was signed between Sait Halim Pasha and the Russian ambassador in Istanbul Gulkevich on 8 February 1914. The Ottoman Empire had started the effort of implementing the Eastern Provinces Reform with the governors to be imported from Europe as a requirement of the treaty.
As the treaty with Russia requires: Norwegian Major Nicolas Hoff was appointed to the position of general inspector for the Van-Bitlis-Harput and Diyarbekir regions and Westenenk from the Dutch Eastern India colony officers was appointed to the position of general inspector for the Trabzon-Erzurum and Sivas regions (BOA, DH. KMS, Ds: 2-2/5).
The inspectors would take actions according to the “instructions about the authority and duties of general inspectors” which consisted of 23 articles and was prepared by the Ottoman government. In this instruction, the duties and authorities of the inspectors were clearly explained. Hoff used letterhead where “Inspection Generale des Vilayets de Van, Bitlis, Kharpout et Diarbekir” was written in his letters with the Ottoman government. Hoff stated that an accurate census in the region was compulsory for the elimination of land disagreements in the regions of reform and the correction of issues such as the election of general assembly members (as stated in Articles 7 and 8 of the inspection instruction) and demanded that the fund appropriated to be given to the inspectors in his company was urgently given. Hoff said in his letter that it was impossible to predict how much to be spent in the region beforehand and he asked that 10,000 liras were appropriated for the time being and the necessary payment was done by the Ottoman Bank. Also, he undertook that he would send the calculations about the expenditures to the state center every month. Hoff also doesn’t refrain from stating that the amount of money he asked wasn’t much (BOA, DH. KMS, Ds: 63/68).
Inspector Hoff stated in his letter sent to the Internal Affairs Ministry in July that he would make the Agriculture and Public Works inspectors do inspection visits as soon as they arrive in Bitlis in accordance with the 5th and 6th clauses of Article 23 of the inspection instruction. Hoff pointed out that this was compulsory for the reform in consideration to be accomplished. He also stated that they needed a topography map during the inspections for agriculture and transportation and demanded sketches and maps. He said that they would need especially a topography map and he would bring it from Norway if it wasn’t found. Hoff emphasized that it wasn’t possible and necessary for the officers to start the job in this summer as stated in the first clause of Article 23 of the instruction and he would make visits of getting familiar with the region in these first months when he would be in Anatolia. Also, he stated that he would convey the details in the face-to-face meeting with the Internal Affairs Minister (BOA, DH. KMS, Ds: 63/68).
Hoff asked in his letter sent to the Internal Affairs Ministry on 23 July 1330 / 5 August 1914 that the necessary notification was made for the inspectors to work in his company to be prepared. Hoff asked for the inspectors to work in his company to be present in Bitlis between the dates 20 August-1 September 1914 and if not to join him in Van between the dates 1-9 September 1914. Hoff also informed that he would determine the caretakers to work with him in Van and he would set off very soon (BOA, DH. KMS., Ds: 63/68). In the meantime, the inspectors wanted to also benefit from certain tax exemptions with the activities they did. They especially demanded that the material they brought from Europe would be freely passed.
Hoff stated that he would choose Van or Bitlis as the inspection center and demanded a large house for the inspection headquarters. The ministry, which took this demand of Hoff into consideration frequently, sent telegraphs to the Van governor Tahsin Bey and gave warning to solve the issue and not to fail in respect to the inspector. The governor Tahsin Bey stated in his telegraph on 21 July 1914 that the order given to him about arranging a glorious ceremony for this person coming to Van made him feel humiliated – it was quite harsh and it wasn’t possible for him to do so and he asked to be forgiven of this duty if possible (BOA, DH. KMS, Ds: 2-2/5). The Internal Affairs Ministry, who ignored all of these for that time being, wanted everything to be done as was asked.
Inspector Hoff said that he would set off for Trabzon from Istanbul through the seaway to start his duty after making necessary preparations in the capital and asked for the necessary precautions to be taken. Telegraphs were sent to the governors on the route of Hoff and necessary preparations were asked to be made and it was advised to pay attention to hold official ceremonies to receive him (BOA, DH. ŞFR, Ds: 43/81). Hoff set off for Erzurum through the land route from Trabzon and arrived in the city on 4 August 1914. While Hoff was entering Erzurum, the First World War broke out. When full mobilization was declared in the Ottoman Empire, the Internal Affairs Ministry sent a telegraphy to Hoff in Erzurum on 26 July 1330 / 7 August 1914 and asked him to either stay in Erzurum or come back to Istanbul. According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, doing reforms in this complicated period was not possible. It was similarly stated in the telegraph written to the Van province on the same day that the implementation of the reform program wasn’t possible due to the mobilization and therefore, he was called back.
Hoff ignored the call of the Ottoman government in the beginning and said that he was determined to go to Van. In the telegraph written to the Internal Affairs Ministry by the Van governor Tahsin Bey on 17 August 1914, it was written that Hoff went to Erciş from Erzurum and set off for Van from there; it was also explained that only the Agriculture inspector, the Armenian Hayıkaz Efendi, was with him, this person was continuously giving anti-government remarks to the inspector, they always stayed in Armenian villages and they were in contact with Armenians; and the attention of the government was attempted to be drawn (BOA, DH. KMS, Ds: 2-2/5, F: 87). As it is understood, the Van governor Tahsin Bey was doing everything possible not to allow the inspector to act with the directions from the Armenian officers and to make him go back to Istanbul as soon as possible. Hoff stayed in Van for a very short while. Tahsin Bey stated in a telegraph which he sent to the Internal Affairs Ministry in the evening of 24/25 August 1914 that Hoff wanted to go back to Istanbul. Hoff, who left Van with the approval of the government and the infusions of Tahsin Bey, came to Diyarbekir with his company on 13 September 1914. Not allowed to enter the city, the inspector stayed in the yards outside the city for two days and went to Urfa through Siverek on 15 September, and set off for Aleppo from there. The inspector Hoff always made meetings with non-Muslim subjects via the Armenian officers in his company during his journey. Hoff and his committee, coming to Beirut from Aleppo, took a ferry from there and came to İzmir on 30 September 1914. Hoff, who had spent all of the funds which the government had given him when he arrived in İzmir, set off for Istanbul with 50 liras which the İzmir governor, Rahmi Bey, had given to him (BOA., DH. KMS., Ds: 2-2/5, F: 94-95).
The other inspector, Vestenenk, on the other hand, asked for the Erzurum Municipality Hospital not used at the time to be given as the inspection headquarter in a telegraph he sent to the Internal Affairs Ministry when he was in Istanbul. The Internal Affairs Ministry, who took this demand into consideration, stated in a telegraph sent to the Erzurum province that the hospital would be used as the inspection headquarter and asked for the necessary preparations to be made. The Erzurum governor, Reşit Bey, paid close attention to the issue and supplied the necessary house for the inspector.
Before Westenenk set off for the inspection region yet, he received a telegraph from the Internal Affairs Ministry on 7 August 1914 that his journey was put off. It was stated in this telegraph that the issue of reforms was postponed for the time being due to the full mobilization for the First World War. Westenenk didn’t set off for Anatolian tour, unlike the other inspector, and waited in Istanbul.
The outbreak of the First World War caused Eastern Anatolia to come out of one disaster and go into another disaster. When the Ottoman Empire went to war with the Russians on the eastern battlefront, they had to give up the inspection practice. The Internal Affairs Ministry took a decision on 28 December 1914 and brought the abolishment of the inspection organization to the question. As a reason for this, the outbreak of the war was shown. No matter how the Ottoman Empire went into the First World War, they needed to pay the compensations as a requirement of the contract signed with the inspectors. With the decision of Council of Ministers, the inspection organization was abolished with the will of the Sultan on 31 December 1914 (BOA, DH., İD., Ds: 186/72; F: 4).
The practice of the Eastern Anatolia Reform inspection came into question again towards the end of the First World War. The “Productive Provinces General Inspection” including the Erzurum, Van, and Bitlis provinces and the Erzincan sandjak was founded on 23 August 1918 and Tahsin (Uzer) Bey who worked as a governor in the region for many years was appointed as the director of it. When another appointment was not done to the position of Tahsin Uzer after a short while during his service, the inspection was left to be only in the documents (Şahin, 2010, 18).
During the years of the Independence War, the Istanbul government started the practice of inspection again. The Istanbul government established the Anatolian Reform General Inspection on 9 May 1920 and appointed Müşir Zeki Pasha as the head of it. Müşir Zeki Pasha was given broad authorities; but the inspection organization was abolished before he could go for his duty. During the uprisings, which broke out in Eastern Anatolia in the Republic period, the practice of general inspection was again started and the inspections maintained their activities in the region between the years 1925-1947.
These practices carried out in Eastern Anatolian provinces in the past were attempted to be brought onto the agenda in later years as well and the Republic of Turkey was wanted to be brought into trouble from time to time. Since the period of the Republic, the Armenian problem was kept on the agenda with economic interests by countries which tried to give direction to the world politics –followed the modern colonial politics in a way- and it was always tried to be used as a card against the Republic of Turkey. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk made these statements about the Armenian problem in his speech in TBMM on 1 March 1922:
“The issue which is called Armenian problem and is actually wanted to be solved in accordance with the economic interests of the world capitalists rather than the real interests of Armenian nation found the most proper solution with the treaty of Kars.”
In a period when the Armenian problem took the most chronic state, the practice of the Eastern Anatolia Reform inspection established by the Union and Progress government is a practice which came into being in a critical period. No matter how the Ottoman government prepared the laws and regulations that the inspectors had to abide by and wanted to implement a reform under its control by giving them security, accommodation and funds, it is a matter of fact that this project was put on practice as a result of the pro-Armenian pressures of the Great Powers. In a period when the Empire had just come out of the Balkan War disaster and was in a significant chaos, the applicability of this reform project accepted with the pressures of the Great Powers is a discussable issue. The inspectors chosen knew neither the geography nor the culture in the places of reform or the social structure and economic conditions of the people. When considered from this point of view, although the opinion that the Union and Progress government went for this organization in order to decrease the pressures of the Great Powers about the Armenian Problem is dominant, it is understood that it was actually a practice which would ease the way for the eastern part of the country to go out of control, guard the Armenian interests, and increase the problems in the region even more.
According to the conclusion driven from the documents and the developments in 1914, the practice of the Eastern Anatolia Reform inspection is not the first practice of the Ottoman Empire in this regard. Since the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, this issue was often brought into question. There were especially some efforts for some reforms in the issue of the Anatolian reform during the rule of Abdulhamit II. The inspections established in the Balkans in this regard were also put into operation. The reform movement that the Ottoman Empire wanted to implement in the Balkans in a way created the ground for this geography to go out of control in a short amount of time. Therefore, the Ottoman governments didn’t have positive approaches to the reform efforts tried to be done with the pressures of the Great Powers. Before the First World War, due to the worry of finding allies on the one hand, and the thought of looking nice to the Great Powers on the other hand, the Eastern Anatolia Reform inspection practice was again brought into question. The local governors in the region reacted the most to this practice of the government. The reports of local governors and the cipher telegraphs they sent to the central government involved the messages that the region would face a consequence similar to how Macedonia and Eastern Rumelia went out of control. In this regard, the local governors always had a doubtful approach to this issue and the inspectors who were sent to the region.
Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi.
Kantarcı, Şenol (2001), “Ermeni Sorunu: ‘Ezilmiş Millet’ Kimliğiyle Meselenin Psikolojik Boyutu”, Yeni Türkiye Ermeni Meselesi Özel Sayısı I, b. 37, Ankara.
Kurat, Akdes Nimet (1970), Türkiye ve Rusya, Ankara.
Şahin, Mustafa (2010), Hasan Tahsin Uzer’in Mülki İdareciliği ve Siyasetçiliği, Atatürk University, Institute of Social Sciences, Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Erzurum.