by Ara Papyan
Dec 6 2010

on the occasion of the ninetieth anniversary of the signing of the
Treaty of Alexandropol

On the 24th of November, 1920, the delegation of the Republic of
Armenia arrived at Alexandropol. Peace negotiations between the
Kemalist and Armenian delegations officially commenced the following
day. The head of the Armenian delegation was the former premier,
Alexander Khatisian. Authorised members of the delegation also included
former finance minister Abraham Gyulkhandanian, and the former governor
of the Kars region, Stepan Ghorghanian. The delegation consisted of
sixteen people in all.

I have already written about the extent of authorisation of the
delegation of the Republic of Armenia - or rather, the lack thereof -
at the moment of the signing of the Treaty of Alexandropol (on the
3rd of December, 1920). It is necessary now to turn to the status
of those claiming to act on behalf of Turkey and to see whether or
not that delegation had any authority to carry out negotiations or
to sign any documents as per international law and the constitution
of the Turkish state.

One clarification before discussing the so-called Turkish delegation.

It is necessary to emphasise that the word "Turkish" here is used
solely as an ethnic indicator, and not with any political meaning,
because even the very members of that delegation did not consider
themselves representatives of the state, Turkey, and rightfully so. In
the preamble to the document, the delegation in question is not called
"the Ottoman Empire" or "Turkey" or a delegation from the government
of either, but simply "the Government of the Grand National Assembly
of Turkey" ("Turkiye Buyuk Millet Meclisi Hukumeti" in Turkish,
"Le Gouvernement de la Grande Assemblee Nationale de Turquie", as in
the French version of the document).

This was a group created in Ankara on the 23rd of April, 1920 by
joining together "Karakol", a group created by the Turkish military
command (headed in 1912-1914 by KÔz?m Karabekir), along with the
various groups under "Mudafaa-i Milliye" ("National Defence Group"),
also formed with the encouragement and support of the same group.

Naturally, the activities of Karakol and other such groups cannot be
considered legal as, in accordance with international law, upon the
signing of the armistice, any acts aimed at violating the terms of the
armistice - namely, peace - is illegal and condemned. The activities
of the Kemalists were also in utter violation of the constitution of
Turkey, and thus the legitimate authorities of Turkey had declared
death penalties on certain Kemalists as early as April-May, 1920.

So, for example, on the 11th of April, 1920, the highest clergyman of
the empire, the Sheikh-ul-Islam, had outlawed the rebels by a fatwa and
declared divine approval to the act of killing them. The ringleader
of the rebels, Mustafa Kemal, was stripped of all his titles and
offices on the 11th of July, 1919, and, on the 11th of May, 1920,
in addition to the religious ruling, the Turkish military court had
passed the death penalty on him as well. That sentence was confirmed
by the Sultan on the 24th of May, 1920.

Thus, the delegation which had arrived in November-December, 1920
to Alexandropol was not representing Turkey, the state, but it was a
group of criminals on the run, including some sentenced to death for
war crimes. As almost all the so-called Kemalists (including Mustafa
Kemal) were former Young Turks - members of the Committee of Union and
Progress party, bearing the same extreme nationalist ideology - the
British rightfully considered them one and the same. Yes, the Kemalist
groups were militarily powerful, as they possessed the fifteenth army
of the Ottoman Empire (around 30,000 people) alongside other forces
(of the second, sixth and ninth armies), being additionally boosted
by Bolshevik support.

Regardless, however, none of that changed their legal status. It is
not the number of soldiers which has a bearing on the legality of
documents, but the legality of the authority of the delegations.

International law makes clear demands on the legality of any
international document. Those demands may be partly defined by a
triad of criteria, that any treaty may be considered legal if it is
signed by the authorised representative(s) of the legal authorities
of a recognised state.

It is evident that that the Kemalist delegation was not authorised and
was not representing the legal authorities of the recognised state
in question. Their authorities derived from the group known as the
"Grand National Assembly" ("Buyuk Millet Meclisi") alone. What was
this group and what legal status did it have in 1920-21? This is an
important question for the validity of the treaties of Moscow (of the
16th of March, 1921) and Kars (of the 13th of October, 1921) as well,
as those two so-called treaties were signed by the representatives
from the same group as well.

Despite the widespread misunderstanding, the "Grand National Assembly"
was not, in fact, the parliament of Turkey from 1920 to 1923. It was
not and could not have been so from the point of view of international
law, as well as in accordance with the constitution current in the
country at the time. A country's legislative and executive bodies
do not function upon capitulation and during the course of military
occupation. Supreme authority is handed over to the victorious powers
and that legal condition is preserved until a peace treaty is signed
and comes into force.

Such a state of affairs and conditions are indisputably codified in
international law, consolidated with numerous examples. In Turkey's
case, from the 30th of October, 1918 (when the Armistice of Moudros
was signed) up to at least the 24th of July, 1923 (when the Treaty
of Lausanne of signed), authority belonged to the victorious Supreme
Council of the Allied Powers in Turkey, according to international law.

That council, which consisted of the highest officials of Britain,
France, Italy and the United States, carried out its authority in
Turkey first by simple representatives (November, 1918 to March,
1919), and then through High Commissioners (March, 1919 to September,
1923). The body which united the latter, which carried out supreme
authority in the territory of the former Ottoman Empire, was called
the "Inter-Allied Commissions of Control and Organisation", with a
number of sub-commissions.

The Treaty of Lausanne confirms the aforementioned. The careful reader
of that treaty will note that it does not lay out those territories to
be separated from Turkey, but mentions those territories of the former
Ottoman Empire over which Turkish sovereignty would be re-instated.

The first session of the group known as the "Grand National Assembly"
took place on the 23rd of April, 1920. It had 327 participants,
of which at most 92 (less than a third) were former members of the
former Ottoman parliament. They were "doubly former" since the last
legal elections for the parliament took place in 1912, and the term
of those elected that year had come to an end 1916, in accordance
with Article 70 of the then-current constitution.

The so-called elections in the final months of 1919, mentioned
in historical accounts, and the sessions held in their wake from
January to April, 1920 cannot be considered elections and viewed as
parliamentary sessions, even with great wishful thinking, as all of
them took place in the absence of Turkish sovereignty, being carried
out in violation of the constitution and laws of the country.

In particular, articles 7, 17, 41, 42, 43, 45, 46, 60, 72, 77, and
120 were violated, all non-Turks were illegally denied their right
to vote. Consequently, the only recognised authority of Turkey at
the time, the Sultan, had dissolved the functioning of that illegal
gathering on the 12th of April, 1920 as per his own constitutional
right (Article 7). This is what was meant by "members of the former
parliament". Even if the aforementioned 92 were to be considered
legally-authorised, which, as was shown, is highly questionable,
it would make no difference, as that figure would be insufficient to
call quorum.

The remaining 232 were representatives of branches of the so-called
rights' defence groups, functioning illegally in the country. After the
defeat of the Ottoman Empire, from December, 1918 until October, 1920,
28 branches of such rights' defence groups were formed, in which the
majority of the representatives were from the local party membership
of the criminal and outlawed Union and Progress, along with muftis
(Muslim clerics), Muslim landlords and non-Christian merchants.

The branches met in Karin (Erzurum, 23 July to 17 August, 1919), where
a united leadership group was formed, the "Representative Committee"
("Heyet-i Temsiliye"), headed by Mustafa Kemal. A second gathering
took place in Sebastia, from 4 to 11 September, 1919. Although only
31 provincial representatives took part, the gathering gave itself
an impressive name - "Association for the Defence of the Rights of
Anatolia and Rumelia" ("Anadolu ve Rumeli Mudafaa-i Hukuk-? Milliye

This group moved to Ankara on the 27th of December, 1919 where,
in April 1920, admitting to its ranks former parliamentarians and
officials on the run from the law, it gave itself an even more
impressive name. It was renamed the "Grand National Assembly of
Turkey", with the executive group, the "Representative Committee",
henceforth the "Government of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey".

That is to say, the group formed in September, 1919 and its executive
was formed again and renamed, but its legal status did not change as
a result.

And so, it was on behalf of the executive of this group, the
"government", that the Turkish delegation was negotiating at
Alexandropol. Naturally, it is not the name of the group which decides
its authority, but the legal and legislative basis upon which a given
body is formed and within the framework of which it is established. A
group's name per se does not define its jurisdiction, much less act
as a basis for the authorised signing of international legal documents.

(to be continued)

From: A. Papazian