The First Diplomatic Attempt of The Circassians for a Mass Repatriation in 1918

  • 25/11/2023
In the summer of 1918, the First World War was going on under the superiority of the Central Powers, of which the Ottoman Empire, the reliable ally of the North Caucasus Republic, was a part. After the USA joined the war on the side of the Allied Powers in August, the strikes of the industrial laborers in Germany, and the agitation activities among the soldiers at the front with a Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracy, the balances in the war changed suddenly. The war ended with the surprising victory of the Allied Powers. The Armistice of Mudros was signed on October 30 and Istanbul was occupied by the Allied Armies on November 13. The British Empire became the rule-maker power of the game.

The North Caucasians, who suffered the hypocritical and inconsistent policies of the German Empire during the war, hoped that they could receive British support in their struggle for sovereignty and independence in the homeland.

Marshal Deli Fuad Pasha visited the High Military Commissioner of the British Empire, Admiral Richard Webb, on behalf of the North Caucasus Political Immigrants’ Committee in Turkey, in the first days of his appointment in Istanbul.  Fuad Pasha requested help from Admiral Webb to ensure the return of 1.5 million Adyge, Ubykh, Abaza, and Apsua [Circassians] who were the subjects of the Ottoman Empire to the Caucasus. If that would happen, on the one hand, the damage caused by the Great Circassian Exile of 1864 would be compensated to some extent, and on the other hand, the Mountaineers would be saved from being a minority in the Kuban and Black Sea region, which was the most important demographic issue of the young North Caucasian Republic.

Marshal Deli (Mad) Fuad Pasha              Admiral Sir Richard Webb
(Click on the image to enlarge)
Following the Fuad Pasha’s visit, Admiral Webb sent a cipher on November 26, to the Foreign Secretary of the State, Arthur Balfour about his communication with Fuad Pasha. Admiral Webb in his cipher message stated that 1.5 million Circassians who were the victims of the Great Circassian Exile of 1864 and living in the Ottoman Empire asked for British support for their exodus to the North Caucasus.  Admiral Webb thought that the demand of Circassians was a very reasonable and realistic one and it would attract his government. He emphasized that the Circassians should be encouraged for such an exodus in terms of the principles of the right of self-determination.  He also stated that this might disturb the Russian settlers there. But then he proposed questioning the rights of these Russian settlers as they must be considered as foreign elements in the North Caucasus.[1]

Admiral Webbs Letter to the Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour about the Circassian Repatriation (Click on the image to access the original file)
Admiral Webb sent another cipher to the Foreign Office on the same topic on the same day.  While he attached a copy of Fuad Pasha’s appeal to his message, he also stated in the cipher that he was impressed with Fuad Pasha’s and his delegation's sincerity and presentability.[2] 

Admiral Webbs Letter to the Foreign Office about the Circassian Repatriation (Click on the image to access the original file)
Despite the positive views of the British High Military Commissioner, one of the prominent consultants of the Foreign Office, Professor James Young Simpson gave a confusing opinion against Admiral Webb’s arguments;[3]

“The Circassians are a sympathetic race and Deli Fuad (Mad Fuad) has always been a friend of ours, but I think this suggestion should be treated with the greatest caution. The claim that the Circassians were driven from their country by the oppression of the Russian Government must be taken with reserve.  The truth seems to be rather that they, as fanatical Muslims, emigrated to Turkey rather than remain under the rule of a Christian power.  The moment when Enver is endeavoring to create an Islamic movement in the Caucasus seems ill-chosen for favoring the return to their country of an unknown number of perhaps the most warlike of all Mohammedan races. At the same time, the Circassians are a good and might prove a reliable element to us in Turkey and it would be a mistake to enterprise them altogether.

My reply briefly in the above sense to Admiral Webb and suggest that he should tell Fuad Pasha that this is a matter which cannot be taken up until some general settlement of the Caucasus question has been reached but that Her Majesty’s Government will bear his wishes in mind.”

Professor Simpson's Suggestions Against Admiral Webb's Attitude towards Mass Repatriation of Circassians (Click on the image to access the original file)
Professor Simpson's statements revealed that he had serious problems with the religion of the Caucasians, who were massacred and exiled from their homeland half a century ago due to the provocations of the British. As a Christian theologian who produces fanatic doctrines the rehabilitation of Caucasians to their homeland was not an acceptable phenomenon for the professor. Whereas he spent great efforts for the autonomy of the Finns and the Baltic peoples, he was reluctant to show the same performance for the North Caucasians.  Based on the opinion of Professor Simpson, the Foreign Office sent a cipher to Admiral Webb on the next day[4].  Triggered by the appeal of Marshal Deli Fuad Pasha, Caucasian immigration in Asia Minor once again became an attraction point for the British. British intelligence and the Foreign Office started to prepare serial reports about Caucasian subjects of the Ottomans’.[5]

Professor Simpson's Suggestions for instructions to be given to Admiral Webb about the Mass Repatriation of Circassians (Click on the image to access the original file)
The Foreign Office reports about the Mass Repatriation of Circassians (Click on the image to access the original file)

The last report of Professor Simpson was a decisive one for the British foreign policy on that topic.  Finally, Admiral Webb was instructed not to encourage Circassians to an exodus based on the Professor’s suggestion;[6]

“Enclosed petition asks for; (1) Recognition of independence of Cis-Caucasia, (2) Restoration to Circassians of lands evacuated by them voluntarily after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus. (3) British military action against the Bolsheviks in the Terek and Kouban districts. If the ultimate settlement of Cis-Caucasia pleases them better than the ultimate settlement of Turkey, no doubt many Circassians migrate back to Cis-Caucasia.  But there is no reason why Her Majesty’s Government should promote the removal of these people.  Dispersed as they are in Turkey, they are of no great importance.  But if moved in a mass to the Caucasus, they would be a source of anxiety.”

The final suggestions of Professor James Young Simpson on the Circassians' repatriation (Click on the image to access the original file)
As a result of such dirty diplomacy, the first diplomatic mass repatriation attempt of the Circassians was foiled and the Circassians, who were forced to stay in Turkey by the Allies, were used as an instrument of political conflicts in Asia Minor.

Istanbul, 25 November 2023

[1] The National Archives, PRO, Cipher from Admiral Sir Richard Webb to the State Secretary A.J. Balfour, with Nr. 209961, dd.26/11/1918, FO. 608/84/25, L.436-7

[2] The National Archives, PRO, Cipher from Admiral Sir Richard Webb to the Foreign Office with Nr. 41/196842, dd. 26/11/1918. FO. 608/195/14, L.348

[3] The National Archives, PRO, suggestion of Professor James Young Simpson against Admiral Webb’s proposals, dd. 29/11/1918. FO. 608/195/14, L.346-7

[4] The National Archives, PRO, Cipher from the Foreign Office to Admiral Webb, dd. 30/11/1918. FO. 608/195/14, L.349-50

[5] The National Archives, PRO, reports dd. 06/12/1918. FO. 608/195/14, L.351-55

[6] The National Archives, PRO, suggestion of Professor James Young Simpson on the Circassians' repatriation, dd. 26/12/1918. FO. 608/195/14, L.357, 357b