A Redmondite on the Armenians

t20p20oconnor20-20wikimedia-org-400x250In the debate on the Treaty of Lausanne, T.P. O’Connor, one of the last remaining Redmondite MPs left in the British House of Commons, made an impassioned plea on behalf of the establishment of an Armenian state in Anatolia, which had been abandoned in the Treaty signed by the British Empire with the Turks.

The bulk of O’Connor’s speech is taken up with quotations expressing support for the Armenians during the war and detailing the betrayal of the Armenians by the same Powers after it. However, the following sections in which O’Connor credits the Armenians with having played a vital role in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, despite attempts by the Turks to gain their loyalty, is interesting in relation to the context of subsequent events:

“Perhaps I ought to apologise to the House for turning from the subject now under discussion to an altogether different topic… Some of our best hopes of the rescue of the Armenians have been falsified by the events at Lausanne. What are the facts? My charge against the world, against the Christian countries of the world, America included, is that the story of the treatment of the Armenians culminated practically in their desertion at Lausanne. It is a, tale of perfidy.

 Let us trace what happened to the Armenians during the War. Turkey was in a tight place. She made every effort to obtain the support, or at least the quiescence, of the Armenians. She offered them autonomy when assembled at a National Congress in 1914. She applied the condition that the Armenians should join Turkey in carrying on the War against the Allies. The offer of autonomy was, of course, very attractive, but the Armenians declined to accept it. The result—and they must have anticipated it—of the refusal of the Armenians to fight for the Turks and against the Allies, ourselves included, was the greatest and the most systematic massacre of the Armenians even in their bloodstained history. Two-thirds of the population of the Armenians in Asia Minor were destroyed—about 700,000 people in all, men, women, and children. There were a great many Armenians under the dominion of Russia, who, with all her faults (and she had many faults under the late Czarist system), at least preserved the property and lives of her Armenian subjects.

 An effort was again made by Turkey to win the Armenians to their side, and they proposed to the Armenians that they should help to create an insurrection in the Caucasus, which, of course, would have been a tremendous weakening of the Russian front. Not only did the Armenians refuse this insidious offer, but they actually sent 200,000 Armenian soldiers to fight the battle of Russia, then one of our Allies, and it was their splendid resistance, when The Russian army broke down, to the Turks in the Caucasus which helped us finally to win the War. I believe I am right in saying that nearly 200,000 Armenian soldiers lost their lives fighting for the Allies during the War. If it makes no appeal to our humanity, I think that enormous sacrifice in face of immense temptations gives the Armenians a supreme right to our gratitude…

 Armenia has the sympathy, at least the lip sympathy, of every country in the world. I was in America for 13 months during the War, and I knew no sentiment which appealed more forcibly and which got more assistance from the American people than that of the Armenians. There was not a little Sunday school up and down that immense country where the little boys and girls did not carry round their subscription lists every week to get money to relieve the Armenians…

 How has it all ended? They ask for a national home. Is that an unnatural request? Those parts of Asia Minor were in the hands of the Armenians centuries before the Turks invaded Asia Minor…. The Armenians have been a cultured and civilised race for centuries. Every one of them to-day could become prosperous and safe on the one condition that they foreswore the gospel of Christ and took up the Crescent. I am proud to have lived still to say a word for the protection of this noble, this fine race.” (House of Commons Debates, 28 March 1923, vol. 162 cc630-43)

T.P. O’Connor makes a number of important points here. Firstly, that the Armenians were substantial allies who had gone into Insurrection against the Ottoman State, despite being made a very generous offer by it. Secondly, they had contributed greatly to the destruction of the Ottoman State contributing at least 200,000 soldiers to the Russian invasion forces, not to mention those who fought behind the lines in guerrilla bands.

O’Connor was a great supporter of the Armenian cause in Britain and the US. He was one of the last remaining Redmondite MPs left in the British House of Commons, after Sinn Fein had destroyed the Irish Parliamentary party in the 1918 election. The Irish people had rejected O’Connor’s party after it had gone over to Imperialism and recruited Irishmen in their hundreds of thousands to die and kill in Britain’s Great War on Germany and Ottoman Turkey.

T.P. O’Connor had been a long-standing supporter of the Armenians, and an anti-Turk in the Gladstonian “bag and baggage” tradition. He supported Russian “liberation” of the Armenians in the 1877/8 war. He was not only an M.P. for Liverpool in England but had a successful journalistic career in English Liberal circles.


O’Connor is also noteworthy as the inspirer of Wellington House, the secret British Department of State, set up under Charles Masterman, to conduct a massive propaganda campaign against the Germans and Turks through distinguished historians and literary figures (This information about O’Connor’s role in the foundation of Wellington House is contained in Lucy Masterman’s biography of her husband, p.272). It was Wellington House that published Arnold Toynbee’s ‘Armenian Atrocities, The Murder of a Nation’, which formed the basis of Lord Bryce’s Blue Book, the British Government record of the massacres, produced in 1916.

In the same year, when Russian and Armenian forces were at the height of their success, O’Connor penned an Introduction to a book by W. Llewellyn Williams, the Liberal Radical M.P., entitled ‘Armenia Past and Present, A Study, A Forecast’. In this O’Connor wrote of the Armenians:

“Such a race is indestructible, is immortal; it has risen again and again from its pools of blood and ashes. Its blood has flowed; let it be hoped for the last time. This great War of Liberation cannot end, must not end, without giving Liberty to the Armenian race; and that Liberty must be such as will enable it at last to go along the lines of its development. Armenia is passing from the tomb to the resurrection” (p. vii).

On 19th June 1919 O’Connor spoke at a meeting held in Central Hall, Westminster, in support of the Armenian cause. O’Connor appeared on the platform with Lord Bryce, Lord Gladstone (son), G.P. Gooch (famous historian) and Armenian General Andranik. A record of the proceedings was published in a pamphlet, Armenia and the Settlement, by the Armenian Bureau in London.

I wonder did O’Connor think of Sir Roger Casement when he heard Lord Bryce say:

“The Czechoslovaks earned their recognition by deserting from the Austrian Army, constituting themselves an independent force and fighting bravely against Germany in the Russian Armies. A similar service has been rendered by General Andranik and his men.”

Traitors to other states, like Masaryk, were celebrated and held in the highest esteem by Britain and they were executed in its own Empire. O’ Connor, a good Imperialist, had “not a scrap of sympathy” for Sir Roger, according to his biographer (Hamilton Fyfe, T.P. O’Connor, p.253).

Lord Bryce also said that “we should have in Armenia a homogeneous Armenian population including all these territories”. But he didn’t say how. Given that the Armenians constituted a minority in “all these territories” claimed—illustrated in a map of Magna Armenia contained in the pamphlet —one presumes the author of the Blue Book was in favour of extensive ethnic cleansing or worse, to create this “homogeneous Armenia”.

Lord Bryce felt that “The only trouble to be apprehended is from the Kurds, who are, as you know a restless population” But he had a man sitting next to him on the platform who knew how to deal with the restless Kurds:

“When the Russian armies invaded Turkey after the Sarikamish disaster of 1914, their columns were preceded by battalions of irregular Armenian volunteers, both from the Caucasus and from Turkey. One of these was commanded by a certain Andranik, a blood-thirsty adventurer.. These Armenian volunteers, in order to avenge their compatriots who had been massacred by the Kurds, committed all kinds of excesses, more than six hundred thousand Kurds being killed between 1915 and 1916 in the eastern vilayets of Turkey” (Hassan Arfa, The Kurds, pp. 26).

T.P. O’Connor revealed in his speech that he had been fighting for the Armenians for 45 years with Gladstone, the Chairman’s father, and he was angered by newspaper reports of the terms to be given to the Turks (in what became the Treaty of Sèvres):

“Why is it that the terms of the Armistice in the demands on the Turks contrast so favourably with the terms we imposed on the Austrians and Germans?.. I regard the Germans as largely responsible for the massacre of the Armenians. A word, a wire from Berlin could have put an end to these massacres in twenty four hours… when I recall these things and read in an English paper of the ‘gentlemanly Turk,’ well Ladies and Gentlemen, I see red. What is the meaning of it all? Is it money? Is it international finance? Whatever the secret is, from this platform, we declare here to-night that we go back to the old policy of our Chairman’s father: ‘Out with them, Bag and Baggage!’ (Applause) I agree with all that Lord Bryce… as to what the future Armenia should be. It ought to be a big Armenia, not a small one.”

O’Connor then advised the Bolsheviks in Moscow that Armenia would have to include a chunk of Soviet territory and warned Lenin: “I cannot think that any Russian Government of the future would ever try to bring back under Russian rule Russian Armenia”.

Immediately after O’Connor’s speech a resolution was read out pledging those present to supporting “The Future Government of Armenia and the Boundaries of the New State” as claimed by the Armenian delegations at Paris. The claim for the 7 Ottoman vilayets plus Cilicia and Russian Armenia was then read out.

The Armenians, like other peoples in strategically important areas during the Great War, found themselves being used as pawns in a new ‘Great Game.’ After being encouraged to insurgency and to attempt a national entity (that was never a practicality given their dispersion across Ottoman territories) they were quickly discarded and forgotten when Britain turned its attention to other matters like the incorporation of Mesopotamia and Palestine into its Empire. Lord Curzon wanted to make a large Armenian state, with Erzurum its capital, a buffer in the region. But the British made peace on a recognition of power relations as they existed in 1923 and Curzon, who negotiated with the Turks, gave no thought to the Armenians once they were useless to British Imperial interests.

The two main uses that Britain had for the Armenians were: firstly, to encourage American participation in the war and secondly, to cultivate and construct a case against the Ottomans in order to justify the incorporation of Moslem lands into the British Empire after the war. These were the primary interests of Britain in them and not their well-being or that they should be governed well.




One comment

  1. O’Connor should have known League of Nations, Sir Drummond in 1920 and F. Nansen in 1929:
    Text, “League of Nations Official Gazette, 21.9.1929”; declaration of Fridjof Nansen”.
    When the League began to discuss this question, it came to the conclusion that it should perhaps try to do something for those refugees.. For this decision there was at least one good reason, as regards several countries at least, since during the war, when Armenians were driven out of Asia Minor and treated so badly by the Turks, the Allied Western Powers had said to the Armenians: “If you fight with us against the Turks, and if the war ends successfully for us, we promise to give a national home, liberty and independence”. The Armenians fought for the Allied Powers. Two hundred thousand volunteers sacrificed their lives for the case of the Entente; but when the Armistice was signed and peace concluded, the promise given to the Armenians was forgotten. It has been brought in this Assembly, not once, but in three different years, and unanimous resolutions have been solemnly adopted in this Assembly to the effect that we would see to it that the Armenians get their national home.
    ******************************************************************************** “League of Nations” – Important Documents “University of Bradford” Armenia and the League of Nations – Documents from the United Nations Library, Geneva; League of Nations Archives Collections
    (a) Copy of “Note Verbal” by Secretary-General Sir Eric Drummond, dated March 1st, 1920.
    League of Nations, Sunderland House, Curzon Street, London, SW.1 20/4/34 Doc. ?41/2422/607
    Page 2: “Further, in Turkey, minorities were often oppressed and massacres carried out by irregular bands who were entirely outside the control of the central Turkish Government.”


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