The Yozgat Deportation Case and Kemal Bey

The first case held for Armenian deportation during the armistice period is the Yozgat deportation case. Therefore, the first administrator who was tried was Mehmet Kemal Bey who was the governor of Boğazlıyan during the deportation and was also the lieutenant governor by proxy. Kemal Bey had to quell the riots while administrating the deportations. The simultaneous occurrence of the riots and deportations caused the activities of Kemal Bey to be misunderstood and led to the rumors of a massacre. The events taking place due to the escape of Armenians on the way of deportation and the misconduct of some officers reinforced the rumors. Also, there were rumors being spread that some Armenian properties were sacked (Ikdam, 27 February 1919).

The first complaint about the Yozgat deportation and Kemal Bey appeared during the deportation. The Internal Affairs Ministry asked the claim of 3,160 Armenians being killed in the Boğazlıyan region to be investigated with a written instruction sent to the Ankara Governorship on 9 August 1915 (BOA, DH: ŞFR, 54-A/326). Yet, what was done about the issue is still not determined. However, the fact that Kemal Bey continued to hold his position for another 8.5 months after this date suggests that the investigation came to a conclusion in favor of him; because, for the similar complaints in these dates, the judgment mechanism was operated and various penalties including the death penalty were given to the guilty officers or governors (Sarınay, 2006: 187-189).

About a year later, after Kemal Bey left Boğazlıyan, the Ankara Province Administrative Council on 8 January 1917 and the Council of State on 12 April 1917 decided on the arrest of Kemal Bey, due to the corruption claims about Armenian properties (Çankaya, III, 1968-69: 1157). Kemal Bey and seven officers were accused of indulging with abandoned properties, not preventing the people to bring some of these properties to their homes, borrowing money from those doing this, and trying to hide the looters in this way (BOA, ŞD, 1373/20). Kemal Bey was sentenced to three months of imprisonment and four months of banishment from the civil service on 7 October 1917 on the grounds that he bought objects with the title of officer from the abandoned properties. He applied to appeal this decision and he was released by the decision of the Konya Court of Appeal on 25 July 1918 (Bilgi, 1999, p. 86).

At the beginning of the Mudros Armistice, the Kemal Bey Case was handled once again. Kemal Bey was arrested in the middle of December due to a complaint about the deportations and murders of Armenians (Ikdam, 16 Kanun-i evvel 1918).

To be tried with Kemal Bey for the Yozgat Armenian events, the Yozgat Director of Foundations Feyyaz Ali Bey was arrested on 31 December 1918 (Çoker, III, 1995, p. 971-72), and the Yozgat Gendarme Commander during the deportation was also arrested on 7 January 1919 (Ikdam, 7 Kanun-i sani 1919; Sabah, 8 Kanun-i sani 1919). Kemal Bey, in the meantime, was kept imprisoned at the Police Directorate (Sansaryan Han) and was questioned. He was also questioned on 7 January by the Military Commission Board of Questioning and was sent to Prison (Bekirağa Company) (Alemdar, 10 Kanun-i sani 1919). The court heard some witnesses during the questioning and asked the Yozgat Attorney of Appeal to hear some other witnesses in Yozgat and send the statements to the court. Also, those kept in prison in Yozgat with the claim that they joined in the crime were asked to be sent to Istanbul (Bilgi, 1999: p. 96).

The Yozgat deportation case, which started on 5 February 1919 under the chairmanship of Mahmud Hayret Pasha in the Military Commission, was completed in 18 trials of two phases. The first phase ended on 6 March 1919 in the 12th trial.

The defence of Kemal Bey and his friends was done by seven lawyers. Armenians who were claimed to be killed and whose properties were claimed to be looted were represented in the court by proxy. These people called as joint attorneys accused the suspects and were able to influence the court committee. The lawyers of the suspects objected that these people who did not have any document of being the representatives or heirs of Armenians claimed to be killed could attend the court only as audience. The court committee decided that the joint attorneys could attend the court as a “complainant” to be able to enlighten the claims of the attorney, due to the exceptionality of the trial (Bilgi, 1999: 101-103).

The attitude of the Military Commission about the witnesses during the process of trial is also very interesting. Apart from those making accusation with the title of joint attorneys, 25 people are mentioned with the title of witness during the trial in the court. 22 of these were witnesses of the Armenians, present in the court as complainants. Only three of them were the witnesses of the suspects. All three of the defending witnesses were the people the third suspect, who was not punished at the end of the trial, asked to be heard. That is to say, even one of the witnesses that the suspects demanded to be heard was not listened to in the court. Out of 22 witnesses in opposition 14 were Armenians, 1 was Greek, and 1 was British. It is understood that 16 of these 22 witnesses were in Yozgat or Boğazlıyan. Seven of these said that they witnessed the events of murder. 15 of these stated what they heard or expressed them as if they saw them happening. Also, one of them clearly states that he was lying (Bilgi, 2007: 346).

The reason why only 3 witnesses were among these 25 witnesses as defending witnesses is the attitude of the court on this issue. Although all other witnesses were brought from the provinces they were in and their traveling expenses were paid, the same way was not applied to the defending witnesses. It was decided that only those living in Istanbul from the witnesses that Kemal Bey and his friends asked to be heard could be listened to in the court. Even though the defending lawyers objected that justice was depending on money, as it was known that their clients could not afford these expenses, it was not accepted. Even their demands for the witnesses to be heard in the courts of their provinces were not considered (Bilgi, 1999: 103-4).

In the first trial, first the investigation decree and then the criminal charge were read by the Attorney General, Sami Bey. The attorney primarily mentioned the political significance of the case. He pointed out that the purpose was to clear the blooded stain on the innocence of the nation and perform justice by proving that these people sacrificed the interests of the country for their own interests. He emphasized on the foreign influence on non-Muslims under Ottoman rule. He said that Armenian organizations tried to gain independence in some parts of the country, they broke out in uprisings during the war and that the army prevented these activities. He claimed that the decision of deportation was a severe decision; it was implemented cruelly and brought about disastrous results because of those abusing their duties. He emphasized that properties and money of Armenians forced to migrate were seized, the deportations were not done regularly, some of them were raped, and some officers remained insensitive to all these (Bilgi, 1999: 109): He stated that the government of the time sent inspectors and made examinations and those related to corruption apart from the murder cases were tried in martial courts.

It is stated in the criminal charge that it was attempted to try other people who were responsible for the Yozgat deportations and killings; then the three suspects were accused of killing Armenians, seizing their properties, raping their honor, and demanded to be tried (Bilgi, 2006: 80-84).

The Court chair, Mahmud Hayret Pasha, asked Kemak Bey to explain the Yozgat deportation after the attorney read the criminal charges. Kemal Bey firstly stated that the court was not authorized to try him and he asked therefore to be submitted to Yozgat to be tried. When the lawyers asked for interval to discuss the matter, the court committee objected to this and discussed the matter in a moot-hall and decided that they were authorized for the judgement (Zaman, 6 February 1919).

The court, in the following 11 trials after this, handled the claims about Armenians being deported from the Yozgat region, listened to the suspects and witnesses, questioned and confronted them. This situation satisfied those who wanted the Union and Progress leaders and those in charge of the obligatory migration to be punished. The Allied Forces, on the other hand, were planning not to let anybody who can resist the peace conditions that they were going to enforce remain, in this way (Bayar, V, 1967: 1511).

The fact that the exceptional court was not able to complete the Yozgat case in a short amount of time led to criticisms. Even though Prime Minister Tevfik Pasha applied to the Sultan to expand the authorities of the court, this was not accepted (Türkgeldi, 1987: 193). Tevfik Pasha resigned and the new government was founded on 4 March 1919 by Damad Ferid Pasha who was anti-Unionist and followed a politics of making up to the Allied Forces (Akşin, 1983: 195).

Ferid Pasha wanted to speed up the trials and reach a conclusion. In a short amount of time, he presented the demand for change in the Military Commission to the Sultan and his demand was accepted (Türkgeldi, 1987: 198-199). With the decree published on 11 March 1919 and put into force, the trials ceased for a while. The new court committee to judge the Unionists and deportation criminals was not taken positively in the public opinion and changes happened quite often in its staff (Bilgi, 1999: 127-130).

With the decree, Ali Fevzi Pasha was brought to the chair of the court firstly, but Mustafa Nazım Pasha was brought to the duty when the Pasha resigned after a short while.

The second phase of the Yozgat case, starting on 24 March, lasted shorter than the first. The second phase starting with the 13th trial was completed with the last and 18th trial held on 7 April 1919. The court committee decided that Feyyaz Ali Bey would be tried separately in the second to last trial. Again in this trial, vice-attorney Haralambos claimed that Kemal Bey and Tevfik Bey were the perpetrators of the events which took place in Yozgat and demanded the death penalty for them. The trial was paused for two days for the suspects to prepare their defences (Bilgi, 1999: 142).

The last trials of Kemal Bey and Tevfik Bey were done on 7 April 1919 without the public opinion being informed because of the sickness of Kemal Bey (Bilgi, 1999: 144).

The defence of Kemal Bey was done by his lawyer Selahaddin Bey. Selahaddin Bey firstly explained the short history of the Armenian problem and argued that the deportation was done with a special law, there were some attacks during the deportations but this did not have any relation to Kemal Bey. He stated that Article 56 of the Penalty Law, which was shown as a base for the punishment of Kemal Bey, included murder by arming the parties but there was nothing of this sort in the deportation. He pointed out that the same article similarly included breaking out deliberate mischief and causing mutual slaughtering; however, the deportation was done with law and command, and implementing the law was an obligation (Bilgi, 1999: 145).

Selahaddin Bey said that everybody accepted the existence of riots and slaughters before the deportation and the attorney also expressed this in the criminal charge and that the Armenian lawyers were trying to show these massacres as activities done against the deportation. He stated that Kemal Bey did not have any relation to the crimes mentioned in Article 56, and only Article 45 clause 3 could be applied to his client (Memleket, 8 April 1919).

Lawyer Hami Bey did the defending of Tevfik Bey. Hami Bey, who stated that the Armenians rebelled against the state and massacred Turkish people, said that the events taking place during deportation never had the purpose of extermination. He said that his client did his duty by banishing rebelling Armenians and these guerrilla groups were still in the region and asked for the release of his client (Hadisat, 8 April 1919).

Mustafa Nazım Pasha invited Kemal Bey for defence after the lawyers. Kemal Bey who started his words with the importance of the case said that Armenians lived under the Ottoman Empire’s protection for centuries with an increasing prosperity and they were ruled with justice, but they engaged in the independence cause in recent years and drove the country into disorder. He emphasized that while all nations were supposed to live side-by-side as a requirement of legal equality which came with the constitutional monarchy, Armenians did not find this sufficient and attempted in activities which would put the defence of the country in difficulty with the provocations of the foreign forces by taking advantage of the war that the state was struggling with. He said that the government of the time passed the law of dispatchment and settlement to be able to provide security and protect the country and that the significance of this court increased as it tries those committing the crimes during the deportation.

He stated that the events which are the subject of this case should be handled not only with the place and the style they happened in but also with their reasons and he explained the cruel attitude of Armenians against the nation and the state during the World War. Kemal Bey pointed out that Turks were never “responsible and cruel” but Armenians massacred a hundred thousand innocent Turks to be able to gain independence and this provoked the Muslim people.

He said that some Armenian corteges deported from Yozgat were exposed to the attacks of draft-dodgers and he emphasized that it is wrong to give sacrifices for stopping the negative atmosphere the defeat caused.

Kemal Bey, who said that he never diverged from truth in his life and never stained his conscience with blood, stated that he gave those attempting to rape Armenians to the military courts and the demand that Article 56 is applied for him did not have an explanation. He said that the first clause of this article mentioned arming the people against each other and directing them to mutual slaughtering, but nothing like this happened and such a situation never existed. He also stated that the second clause of the same article included ideas such as seizing, looting, destruction, and attempt to murder and this could not be applied to him. He emphasized that he already sent such people to the court and that there was no witness claiming the opposite.

Kemal Bey commented on Article 56 and argued that its relation to other articles of the Penalty Law should also be considered. He said that the crime must have been committed against the state with deliberation of mischief to punish a perpetrator with the penalty that the mentioned article requires, and his position was the exact opposite of this. He stated that the implementation of Article 56 to him, therefore, was completely against the legal system and the purpose of the law, and he completed his defence by asking for justice from the court.

Tevfik Bey made his defence after Kemal Bey. Tevfik Bey said that he served the state during his duty and explained with examples that he never went out of his duty and said that he did not have any guilt.

After Tevfik Bey, the court chair, Mustafa Nazım Pasha, addressing Kemal Bey and Tevfik Bey, said that the court would decide with a complete conscientious verdict without depending on any outside affect or feelings of others and that they could be sure of this. Therefore, the trial lasting two months ended when it was stated that the decision would be declared later (Bilgi, 2006: 331-348).

The court gave the decision about Kemal Bey and Tevfik Bey on 8 April 1919. After the claims, statements and defences were examined, the demand of release by the suspects and attorneys was rejected and Kemal Bey was sentenced with the death penalty and Tevfik Bey was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor (Bilgi, 2006: 359-362).

In the justification of the decision, it was claimed that Kemal Bey and Tevfik Bey, instead of legally protecting the rights of Armenians who were subject elements of the Ottoman Empire, deported Armenian women and children without considering the exceptions in the official ordinance, separated them from their money and properties, -with the suggestions of some mean people- deliberately didn’t take necessary precautions for them to reach their places safely, caused the determined disasters by tying their hands to leave them defenceless and even did not inform these events to their superiors. The defences of the suspects were considered baseless. Moreover, they were found responsible for Armenians being killed on their way in a planned way.

The court did not favor the demand of the attorney general for implementing Article 56 and decided for them to be punished separately and according to their guiltiness in pursuance of Article 45. Therefore, Kemal Bey was decided to be the real guilty party as he arranged the events of looting and murdering and appointed the irresponsible people as chief of those deporting the cortege, since he was the biggest administrative chief in the Yozgat Province and Tevfik Bey was decided to have taken part in the crime.

Before the decision of the court was informed to the parties, it was presented for the approval of the Sultan but the Sultan asked for a fatwa from Sheikh ul-Islam, despite the pressures by Damad Ferid Pasha, by not finding the decision of the court sufficient. Sheikh ul-Islam Mustafa Sabri Efendi gave a fatwa that the decision would be appropriate with sharia if it was appropriate with justice. The Sultan found this insufficient and asked Sheikh ul-Islam to give a new fatwa, which had a definitive judgment. However, before the fatwa came, the Sultan accepted the decision on 10 April due to the pressures of the government. The decision was informed to Kemal Bey and Tevfik Bey on the same day (10 April 1919) (Türkgeldi, 1987: 202-206).

As it can be understood, nobody wanted to take part in the political decision taken by the military commission at the end of an unjust trial. A different result from the court which was expected to solve the issues related to the Armenian deportations as judgmental for months was impossible. The Sultan also did not have any other option than approving the decision due to the political atmosphere of the age and the pressures by the Allied Forces.

After the disclosure of the decision, Kemal Bey who was examined by the doctor, was taken to Bayezid Square which was the place of execution after he had wudu and prayed. Kemal Bey, who was taken to the place of execution around 19:00 o’clock, quietly listened to his death warrant read in front of the crowd (Ileri, 12 April 1919). When his last word was duly asked, he preferred to address the people. He emphasized that he implemented the order he got as a Turkish officer and he was conscientiously relieved and innocent and he shouted as “They are hanging me to make up to the foreign countries. If they call this justice, curse upon such a justice!” and he ended his words by saying “Long live the nation.” Kemal Bey said that he entrusted his children to the people and he gave his will to the officers (Tasvir-I Efkar, 11 April 1919).

The last words of Kemal Bey and his execution led to the sadness of the Turks and the happiness of the Armenians in the square. The execution of Kemal Bey led to a sentiment like the punishment of Turkish nation and he was qualified as a national hero. For this reason, not only his family, but the whole Turkish people, embraced his body. His body firstly was taken to Kadıköy. The following day, his body was wrapped in the Turkish flag and his funeral was held with a crowded mass of people among which there were soldiers and university students (Bilgi, 1999: 164-168).

In the funeral led by the Sheikh of Mecidiye Dervish Lodge, Münib Efendi, fervent speeches were given by medical students and the fate deemed worthy for Kemal Bey was condemned. The body was buried in the Mahmud Baba Tomb in Kuşdili Çayırı of Kadıköy with the company of a fervent crowd (Tasvir-i Efkar, 11 April 1919).

The trial of Kemal Bey for the events claimed to take place in the period of his service as a governor is an ordinary situation. However, the unrest during the process of trials and the political dimension of the issue make the decision and the execution a product of “victim politics” of the government.

Bibliography

Akşin, Sina (1983), İstanbul Hükümetleri ve Milli Mücadele, Istanbul.

Alemdar, 10 Kânun-ı sâni; 24 March 1919.

Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, Dahiliye Nezareti Şifre Kalemi (BOA, DH. ŞFR), 54-A/326.

Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, Şura-yı Devlet (BOA, ŞD), 1373/20.

Bayar, Celal (1967), Ben de Yazdım Milli Mücadeleye Giriş, V, Istanbul.

Bilgi, Nejdet (1999), Ermeni Tehciri ve Boğazlıyan Kaymakamı Mehmed Kemal Bey’in Yargılanması, Ankara.

Bilgi, Nejdet (2006), Yozgat Ermeni Tehciri Davası, Istanbul.

Bilgi, Nejdet (2000), “Tehcir Davalarında Şahitlik -Yozgat Davası-”, Tarihi Gerçekler ve Bilimin Işığında Ermeni Sorunu, Ed. Bülent Bakar vd., Istanbul.

Bilgi, Nejdet (1997), Dr. Mehmed Reşid Şahingiray’ın Hayatı ve Hatıraları, Izmir.

Çankaya, Ali (1969), Yeni Mülkiye Tarihi ve Mülkiyeler, III, Ankara.

Çoker, Fahri (1995), Türk Parlamento Tarihi Milli Mücadele ve T.B.M.M. I. Dönem 1919-1923, III, Ankara.

Hâdisât, 8 April 1919.

İkdam, 16 Kânun-ı evvel 1918; 7 Kânun-ı sâni; 19,27 February; 16 March 1919.

İleri, 12 April 1919.

Memleket, 12, 16 February;8March; 1,8 April 1919.

Sabah, 8 Kânun-ı sâni; 9 February; 11 April 1919.

Sarınay, Yusuf (2006), “Ermeni Tehciri ve Yargılamalar (1915-1916)”, Ermeni Soykırımı İddiaları, Comp. Mustafa Çalık, Ankara.

Takvim-i Vekayi, 23 March 1919.

Tasvir-i Efkâr, 11 April 1919.

Türkgeldi, Ali Fuad (1987), Görüp İşittiklerim, Ankara.

Vakit, 6, 11 February 1919.

Zaman, 6 February 1919.

© 2022 - Marmara University