2370) Role Of Syrian Armenians At The Outbreak Of Hatay Issue (1939-1946)

The Hatay issue at the modern Middle East history has always been one of the significant questions that influence the relations between Turkey and Syria in particular; and in general, it influences the Turkish-Arabian relations. Particularly, the British documents, which are also supported by the Turkish documents, clearly expose that Syrian Armenians had a great role at the eruption of this issue as a problem among Turkey and . . Syria.

(…) According to the documents of British Foreign Ministry; Turkey had two right justifications to demand adding Hatay to her lands. These justifications are as following: a) Owning the majority of the Turkish population; b) Turkey’s security and strategic concerns. Even though Turkey has not included Hatay into her borders that is described in the “Misak-I Milli”, since 1920 she had the privilege of using the railway in Syria with security causes by means of various agreements she had singed with France. (1)

In the beginning of 1942, Turkey demanded from England to make a change at the border for to let the former Southern railway line pass, which goes by Syria. This line was the former Baghdad railway line and joined Turkish and Iranian railway lines, which passed from Halep. Turkey was demanding the control of the region which extends from England to Halep with strategic causes. In fact, England had demanded Turkey to invade Hatay. However, Turkey had refused the offer pointing out that she cannot get into this kind of a movement during such a critical moment of the war. (2)

However, England, whose offer was rejected, refused Turkey’s suggestion after a year. The reaction of the Arabs lied beneath the mentioned move of England. Because, in September 1941, following London responded negatively to Turkey’s offer, she had given a guarantee to this country for protecting the integrity of Syria. (3)

Moreover, Turkey did not have any other important contacts with Syria and Lebanon in 1944. However, Anthony Eden, English Minister of Foreign Affairs, gave instructions to the Ambassador of England in Ankara for recognizing Syria and Lebanon, which declared independence. However, Cevat Açıkalın, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs had expressed that it would be difficult for Turkey to recognize these countries for Syrian deputy’s demand for the return of Hatay during his respond to the British Ambassador. Açıkalın added that after Syria declared that she is recognizing all the agreements done by France; it is not easy to understand why she is demanding the return of Hatay. Moreover, Açıkalan noted that Soviets Union has been inciting Syria. (4)

Accordingly, the British Ambassador expressed that following solving the Hatay issue, Turkey can materialize the recognition. (5) In return, Turkey had indicated in December 1944 by giving them a diplomatic note that she can recognize the independence of Syria and Lebanon under particular conditions. These conditions were as following: all the agreements that were done among Turkey and France would be accepted by these countries; and, special privileges to Turks and Turkish citizens would be given. However, indicating that she will not recognize these conditions, Syria brought the relations to a point of termination. (6)

1. Edmond to Clutton, 3 June 1944, FO 371/44188
2. Edmond to Clutton, 3 June 1944, FO 371/44188
3. Edmond to Clutton, 3 June 1944, FO 371/44188
4. Peterson to Eden-25 November 1944, FO2267292
6 British Consulate Damascus to British Legation Beirut, 12 Jan 1945, FO 226/292

When the relations between Turkey and Syria deteriorated following a demonstration in Damascus on 24 March 1945 which demanded the return of Hatay, the Beirut Representative of England had started a broad investigation over the eruption of the Hatay question. The report related with the investigation was completed in 1945 and accepted by all the Middle East representatives and Foreign Ministries of England. (7)

According to the report; the Hatay issue was brought on the agenda of the Syrian Parliament by the two deputies on 30 October 1944. According to this, the Hatay issue was based on two major sources: a) The immigrants, who migrated from Hatay b) The Syrian deputies, who possessed properties and lands in Hatay. The report was stressing the first article, which pointed out that the ones, who emigrated from Hatay were mostly Armenians and at the same time they were moving under the influence of the Russian propaganda. Although Armenians kept reviving the Hatay campaign continuously together with the Greeks, most of the Syrian Arabs were not interested in and did not have any activity on the Hatay issue. The Syrian communists had also taken their position on the Hatay campaign. According to the report; the Soviet Ambassador to Syria was in an effort to incite the Hatay issue. (8)

The report of England was indicating the activities of some famous Syrian politicians as the second major source of the question.

As a result, the report of England had supported the reports of Turkey, which expressed that the Hatay campaign was organized for the interests of a small minority. (9)

The Armenians had always posed a source of problem for the Turks for the last two centuries. The Armenians played a vital role over the eruption of the Hatay question in 1940’s, when the so-called Armenian genocide anxietywas brought forward following the World War I. After the Hatay issue was deeply rooted with the efforts of Armenians and Orthodox Greeks, it was also used as a domestic policy material during the later periods and so, it has poisened the relations between Turkey and Syria for along time.

Source: Assistant Professor Mustafa Sıtkı Bilgin- Kahramanmaraş/ The University of Sütçü Imam- Armenian Researches 2nd Turkey Congress Announcements- Volume II

7. British Legation to Eden, 19 May 1945, FO 2267292
9. British Legation to Eden, 19 May 1945, FO 2267292