HL Deb 04 May 1922 vol 50 cc275-8

VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS had on the Paper the following Questions—

To ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any definite information as to the number of Turkish villages burned in the zone of the Smyrna-Aidin Railway, and also in the zone of the Smyrna-Cassaba Railway since the Greek occupation; and also as to loss of life.

To ask His Majesty's Government whether they have received any information as to the alleged burning by Greek soldiers on the night of 14th or 15th February of a mosque at a Turkish village some distance from Keushk, containing crowds of Turkish men, women and children.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I have two Questions on the Paper, and I should like to combine upon one of them the very few remarks I have to make. Such information as I have on this matter comes to me in this way. For two years I have been President of the Smyrna-Aidin Railway, and although I have not been there, I am in the way of meeting many people coming from Smyrna. I get a great deal of information from that district, some of which I am able to verify pretty accurately, while some is only hearsay information. As regards the zone of the Smyrna-Aidin Railway, my information is pretty accurate. In that zone since the Greek Army went into occupation, I am informed that they have burnt at least fifty or sixty villages occupied by Turks. There has been loss of life. It is quite impossible to say how much, but whether the people were killed or driven away, at any rate the Turkish population has to a very great extent disappeared from those villages.

As regards the zone occupied by the French Railway, the Smyrna-Cassaba Railway, my information is more in the nature of hearsay, but I believe it is in the main accurate, or I should not repeat it. I am told that the number of Trukish villages burned by the Greeks is something like three or four hundred. I made these statements in the city the other day in connection with a business matter at a meeting of the railway. They were purported to be answered by the Greek Chargé d'Affaires in a letter which he wrote to the newspapers, and he met them by answering a statement which I did not make. I said that I believed three or four hundred villages had been burned in the Cassaba zone. He said that if I looked at the map I should find that there were not that number of villages on the railway. I did not say that there were. In the zone to which I referred there are, I believe, considerably more than three or four hundred Turkish villages. I wish to know what information the Government possess in regard to this matter.

My second Question concerns the burning of a mosque at a place called Keushk, and I want to know whether the Government have any information. Is it true that men, women and children were driven into this mosque, that the mosque was burned, and that a number of people lost their lives? The importance of this question lies in the fact that if my information is correct this outrage was committed not only by Greek irregulars but by Greek soldiers in uniform. That is a point upon which it is important that we should have information, and I put these Questions because I wonder whether it would be possible for His Majesty's Government to do anything to stop this kind of thing. I know it is extremely difficult. I am not asking impossibilities of the Government. I only want to suggest that it might be possible to send out English officers. There is a great respect for the English officer in uniform in Anatolia, and if but a few English officers were in the district I do not think that this kind of outrage would occur. They take place in districts where there are no independent European observers, and if somebody could be sent there to watch events it would, I believe, do something to stop these outrages.

When the Greek evacuation takes place Allied officers, as I understand, will be sent as observers, and I can only say that the sooner these Allied officers are sent out the better in order that these things should stop, because the longer the Greek occupation exists the worse is this going to be. It may be thought that these constitute acts of war, that frontier villages are being burnt in pursuance of military operations. I cannot speak of villages outside the railway zone with which I am connected, but I do say that the villages within that zone were in peaceful occupation of the Greeks. They burnt the villages, and the people are gone. What is going to happen when the Turks return? I understand it was virtually agreed at the last Conference that there is to be a Greek evacuation of Asia Minor. When the Turks come back and find the Turkish villages burnt and the people gone, what is going to happen to the Greek villages?

In the interest of the miserable population of this country—Turks or Greeks—something ought to be done to check these proceedings, and I put these Questions to the Government to-day in the hope that it may be possible, even before the Armistice, for them to send somebody into this country to observe what is going on. It may be said that there is a state of war, that technically you cannot send anybody there; but I doubt very much whether, technically, there is war. I fancy that the Greeks have never declared war on the Kemalists. Undoubtedly, warlike operations are taking place, but I question whether the Greeks have full legal rights as belligerents concerning neutral Powers. At any rate my object has been to call attention to the subject, and I earnestly hope that it may be possible for His Majesty's Government, without putting the British taxpayer to great expense, to use moral influence in order to prevent this sort of thing going on in this unfortunate country.


Lord St. Davids will understand from my reply that the information at the disposal of the Foreign Office is very sparse. As regards his Question with reference to the mosque at Keushk, the Foreign Office understand that a mixed Greek detachment, consisting partly of soldiers and partly of armed civilians, is reported to have attacked the Moslem village of Karatepe, near Keushk, in the Meander valley, on the night of Tuesday, February 14. The village appears to have been held by a Turkish band of about fifteen men, believed to have formed part of the following of the noted Turkish brigand, Tekelioglou Ismail. The Greeks are reported to have entered the village after about an hour's fighting, and to have destroyed it. They are alleged to have burnt the mosque while a number of villagers were in it, causing the death of about 150 persons. No confirmation of these allegations has been received.

As regards the zone of the Smyrna-Aidin railway, reliable information was received by Mg Majesty's Government in September, 1921, that a number of villages in the valley of the Little Meander and also in the region between Aidin and Baindir had been burnt by the Greeks during the period of their retreat after the Battle of the Sakkaria, as a result of the activity of Turkish bands and of attacks by the latter on isolated Greek posts. The village of Karatepe, near Keushk, was also burnt by Greek bands last February, in the circumstances which I have described to the noble Lord in reply to his other Question. No reliable information regarding the total number of villages destroyed, or regarding the total loss of life, has been received by His Majesty's Government.

The noble Lord says—what everybody I am sure will endorse—that it is most desirable that such outrages, by whomsoever committed, should be checked, and he suggests that the district should, in effect, be put under the control of British officers. So far as I know, no such invitation has been received from either of the belligerent Powers, and even though one were aware offhand that finances were available for such an enterprise, or that adequately trained officers who know the districts and, of course, the language as well, are available, apart from those difficulties I am afraid that under present conditions it is very questionable whether such a course would commend itself to either of the parties concerned.