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Updated June 2012

Mesopotamia

Arab Bulletin No. 3, 14 June 1916


To the British Officers who were arranging the exchange of our wounded from Kut, Halil Pasha, Commander-in-Chief of the Turkish forces in Irak, spoke very freely on the question of the Arab attitude, At first he proposed the exchange of Indian sick for Arab prisoners of War; but later he went back on this, and refused to accept Arabs in exchange at all. He said that most of them were condemned to death, and would only be shot if they returned; and that in any case he did not want them.

He said that ninety per cent of Turks were good soldiers, and ninety per cent of Arabs were bad. He said their desire was only to get taken prisoner, and that the whole lot of them were unreliable. Under protest he excepted from his condemnation some of the Arabs of Mosul and Syria, who were, he said, sufficiently 'Turkised' to have some virtue. Kasim Bey, his Chief of Staff, agreed with what he said, and it seemed to be the view shared by the younger officers we met. I suggested to them the case of Sami Bey, and they said that the Russian War of '6o and the Defence of Kars fell on a different footing, when the Arabs were still loyal to the Ottoman Empire. Lieutenant Mehmed Riza classed the Kurd tribes with the Arabs in disloyalty and disinclination to fight. This may lend colour to previous reports of disaffection among some sub-tribes of the Mili confederation.

Representations were made to Halil Pasha concerning the fate of the Arabs of Kut. These had shown themselves, in the main, friendly to us, but had not been asked to take any active part in operations. Townshend’s surrender having been unconditional, it was impossible to make any stipulation as to their treatment, but Halil was urged strongly to show moderation, and to treat them as compelled to side with us by force majeure.

He said that he had no intention of going to extremes, and seemed rather amused at our interest in them.

He broke the understanding, however, and has to date hanged nine individuals; they comprise a Turkish officer deserter, a Jew contractor, an Arab notable of Kut and his two sons, two Mukhtars and two prominent sheikhs. Halil's record of service, which includes some months Kurd-hunting in Van before the war, and a peculiarly ghastly Armenian massacre in the Melazgherd area compels one to look upon this performance as humane.

The executions are confirmed by British Officers engaged in removing General Townshend’s wounded from Kut. It is re­ported that one prisoner, when being led to the gallows seized his Musbah (Mohammadan rosary) and flung it to a British officer over the heads of the Turks. The man may have been a Shia, indeed probably was, but even so the incident is probably unprecedented in modern Islam.

Note. Halil's remarks about the Arabs, and the incident of the Musbah at Kut were reported by officers present under privilege from the Turks, and must not, therefore, be communicated in any way. They are given here as remarkable evidence of the relations existing in Irak between the Turks and their Arab subjects.

Note. DG mistakenly states that this contribution by Lawrence appeared in Arab Bulletin No 23.

Source: DG 208-10
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 2 January 2006


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