15/5/1919 Greek troops land in Smyrna

Without authorisation from the Paris Conference, Italian forces have landed in the Turkish city of Antalya, using it as a base to occupy Bodrum and Marmaris. They are also rumoured to be thinking of landing in Smyrna.

Smyrna has large Greek-speaking population. Venizelos, the Greek prime minister, is close to Britain’s Lloyd George and has been making the case for its cession to Greece. He talks of attacks on Greeks in Smyrna’s vicinity by the Turks and cites the natural affinity with his country of the city’s Greek population.

The Americans are not generally supportive of Turkey being carved up among the Allies, but Lloyd George is very insistent that Smyrna should go to Greece. In the end, Wilson agrees, if only to prevent the troublesome Italians from occupying the port. The Allies authorise a Greek landing in Smyrna, over the objections of Henry Wilson, the British army’s chief of staff, who warns that they may be starting another war whose outcome is uncertain.

Greek troops land in Smyrna today. They receive a warm welcome from the city’s Greek citizens. Initially there is something of a carnival atmosphere, but as the day wears on the mood turns ugly. Some Turkish troops are beaten to death when they try to surrender. Inter-communal rioting breaks out and the town descends into an orgy of violence and looting, with disorder quickly spreading into the countryside around the city.

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Greek troops in Smyrna (Wikipedia: Turkish War of Independence)

18/3/1919 Egypt spirals out of British control

1919 Revolution (22)
Egypt is in uproar over Britain’s heavy-handed response to a request by Saad Zaghloul and other nationalist leaders to attend the Paris Conference (the nationalists have been arrested and deported to Malta). Safia Zaghloul and other wives of the exiled nationalists have led women’s demonstrations calling for their husbands’ release while the country generally has been engulfed by strikes and increasingly raucous demonstrations. The British and their local allies have attempted to maintain order forcibly but discontent is becoming more heated, with violent attacks on the British and sabotage of railway tracks and telegraph lines. Today in an incident that particularly shocks the British, eight British soldiers are killed by a mob in Deirut. The country appears to be slipping out of control and no amount of repression by the authorities seems able to bring the Egyptians to heel. In London, British officials now begin to wonder if a change of tack is required: perhaps the Egyptian nationalists need to be conciliated rather than crushed.

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Demonstrators (Revolution 1919: The first and last public revolution in Egypt (Flickr))

Women demonstrators and troops standing by (Wikipedia: Egyptian Revolution of 1919)

27/2/1919 Zionist plans for Palestine

Britain has already declared its support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Now leading Zionists address the Paris Conference in support of their plans, including the well-connected Chaim Weizmann and others from Eastern Europe, who remind delegates of the horrors being experienced by their fellow Jews there (where the massacres at Lemberg and more recently Proskurov have already shocked world opinion). In his presentation and his private discussions with world leaders, Weizmann is deliberately vague as to the political arrangements that will apply in this Jewish homeland; he is careful not to refer to a future Jewish state or even to the prospect of Jews becoming a majority in Palestine. American Zionists are more uncompromising in this regard, but their representatives have not arrived in Paris yet, so Weizmann’s more subtle approach carries the day.

Weizmann does not however have things completely his way. French Zionist André Spire also addresses the conference, suggesting that France’s ancient links to the Holy Land mean that it rather than Britain should be the mandated authority in Palestine. And to Weizmann’s chagrin, the French-Jewish scholar Sylvain Lévy affirms that, like the majority of French Jews, he is not a Zionist at all. He suggests that Palestine would not be able to support the Jewish population of Eastern Europe, should they all move there, and fears the consequences for diaspora Jews if, as some Zionists have suggested, they were to be given a share in the governance of Jewish Palestine. This all causes Weizmann to whisper to Lévy that he is a traitor.

No decision is reached today on Palestine. And, naturally, the people currently living there are not invited to send representatives to the conference.

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Proposed borders of Jewish Palestine (MidEast Web GateWay: Statement of the Zionist Organization Regarding Palestine, Presented to the Paris Peace Conference (with proposed map of Zionist borders), February 3, 1919)

26/2/1919 Armenia asks to become an American mandate

Today it is the turn of the Armenians to make their pitch to the Paris Conference. Somewhat unusually, they are not seeking their independence but rather for a big Armenia to be created as a mandate of the United States. The Armenians have suffered terribly at the hands of the Turks, who sought to exterminate them during the war, and they are fearful that a resurgent Turkey might attempt to finish the job. They also have Russia to their north and fear that without an external patron they will be invaded by either Turkey or the Red Army.

Unfortunately for the Armenians, the Americans are not keen on acquiring a dependency in the Caucasus. Any responsibility of this kind would be difficult to sell to the American public, making it unlikely that it will be included in the peace settlement.

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A proposed big Armenia (Wikipedia: Armenian national liberation movement)

6/2/1919 Emir Faisal seeks a promised kingdom

Britain has found itself in a bit of sticky wicket in the Middle East, where its contradictory promises to the French and the Arabs are now coming home to roost. Today the awkwardness is laid bare when Emir Faisal appears before the Paris Conference to advance the claims of his father, Sharif Hussein of Mecca (self-declared King of the Arabs). Faisal does not speak English, but he has the British intelligence officer T. E. Lawrence to translate for him. Faisal is seeking the Arab kingdom promised to his father, a greater Syria that would stretch from the Anatolian border all the way down to the Arabian peninsula. This unfortunately clashes with French ambitions in the Middle East and the Sykes-Picot agreement on the region’s partition. The French have a particular attachment to the area around Mount Lebanon, where francophile Maronite Christians live, and are keen both to create a larger Lebanese entity under French control and to use this to expand into Syria proper.

As can be imagined, the French are hostile to Faisal’s presentation. Wilson is curiously indifferent. The British meanwhile are in an embarrassing position. They would like to support their Arab client, but they dare not risk a rupture with France. If they have to choose, then Faisal will be disappointed.

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Emir Faisal and his delegation. Lawrence is to his right. (Wikipedia: Faisal I of Iraq)

10/1/1919 Turkey’s last army finally surrenders in Medina

Sharif Hussein of Mecca revolted against his Turkish masters in 1916. With British help his supporters soon managed to secure Mecca and most of the Hejaz region before advancing northwards into Syria. However, they were never able to capture Medina, which was strongly defended by Fahreddin Pasha, a tough Turkish general. The Arabs were not strong enough to storm Medina. Nor were they able to enforce a blockade of the town: even with intermittent Arab attacks on the railway to Medina, Fahreddin’s garrison remained in supply.

When Turkey’s representatives signed an armistice with the Allies at Mudros, Fahreddin still refused to surrender. Now though, more than two months later, the Medina garrison finally capitulates, the last Turkish army to lay down their arms. Fahreddin’s surrender is accepted by Sharif Hussein’s son Abdullah.

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Fahreddin surrenders (Ottoman Records, Twitter)

10/12/1918 Sarafand: New Zealanders massacre Palestinian villagers #1918Live

The war has ended in the Levant but large number of Allied troops remain in Syria and Palestine. Some of these will be here for some time yet as enforcers of the British or French suzerainty that is succeeding Turkish rule. Most of the Allied troops are however slated for demobilisation, but a shortage of shipping means that the soldiers cannot be transported home just yet.

Relations between the Allied troops and the local Arab population are not always warm. Incidents of thieving and pilfering by rowdy soldiers and light-fingered locals combine with racist assumptions to exacerbate tensions. A particularly unsavoury incident occurs today at the Palestinian village of Sarafand, south of Jaffa. Believing that one of their comrades had been murdered by Palestinian from the village, New Zealand troops first formed a cordon around Sarafand and then stormed the village. After driving out women, children and elderly men, the New Zealanders then set upon the remaining menfolk of the village with cudgels and bayonets. Several dozen Palestinians are killed, possibly more than a hundred.

Allenby, the British commander, is furious when he learns of the massacre. However, the New Zealanders and other nearby units refuse to co-operate with inquiries into the matter, making it impossible to identify the individuals responsible. The ANZAC murderers remain unpunished.

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ANZAC troops at Sarafand (Stuff: Old words cast fresh light on Anzac atrocity)