Occupation of Constantinople
Occupation of Constantinople
Part of the Turkish War of Independence
USS Noma off Istanbul Turkey 1920.jpg
USS Noma (SP-131) off the Dolmabahçe Palace (1920)
Date November 13, 1918 – September 23, 1923
Location Constantinople (present-day Istanbul)
Result Constantinople occupied by the United Kingdom, followed by the Triple Entente, then abandoned.
Britain officially dismantled the Ottoman Empire parliament on March 16, 1920 and restored it on September 9, 1922 to the Ankara Government
United Kingdom United Kingdom
France France
Italy Italy
 Ottoman Empire
Turkey Turkish Revolutionaries
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe
France Louis Franchet d'Esperey
Ottoman Empire Ali Sait Pasha¹

Turkey Selâhattin Âdil Pasha²

1: Commander of the XXV Corp and the Istanbul Guard (October 6, 1919-March 16, 1920[1])
2: Commander of the Istanbul Command (December 10, 1922-September 29, 1923[2])

The Occupation of Constantinople (November 13, 1918 – September 23, 1923) was the occupation of the capital of the Ottoman Empire by the Triple Entente, following the Armistice of Mudros which ended Ottoman participation in the First World War. The first French troops entered the city on November 12, 1918, followed by British troops the next day. The occupation had two stages: the occupation was in accordance with the Armistice from November 13, 1918 to March 16, 1920; from March 16, 1920, it was made lasting by the Treaty of Sevres, until that was overridden by the Treaty of Lausanne, signed July 24, 1923. The last Allied troops departed from the city on September 23, 1923. The first Turkish troops entered the city on October 6, 1923. Allied troops occupied based on the sections of Constantinople and set up an Allied military administration beginning early in December 1918. It was the only time the city had changed hands since the Ottomans took control of Constantinople in 1453.

The occupation along with the occupation of Smyrna, mobilized the establishment of the Turkish national movement and the Turkish War of Independence.[3]



The population of Constantinople in 1920 was variously estimated between 800,000 and 1,200,000 inhabitants; the Ottomans had collected population claims from the various religious bodies. The uncertainty in the figure reflects the inaccuracy of the method, disagreements as to the boundaries of the city, and above all the uncounted population of war refugees. Half or less were Muslim, the remainder being largely Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish; there had been a substantial Western European population before the war. [4]

Legality of the occupation

Armored cruiser Averof of the Greek Navy in Bosphorus, 1919.

The Armistice of Mudros, which defined the end of World War I for the Ottoman Empire, mentions the occupation of Bosphorous fort and Dardanelles fort. On October 30, 1918, Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe, the British signatory ( British enforcer during the Turkish War of Independence ) stated the Triple Entente's position that they had no intention to dismantle the government or place it under military occupation by "occupying Constantinople".[5] This verbal promise and lack of mention of the occupation of Constantinople in the armistice did not change the realities for the Ottoman Empire. Admiral Arthur G. Calthorpe puts the British position as "No kind of favour whatsoever to any Turk and to hold out no hope for them"[6] The Ottoman side returned to the capital with a personal letter from Calthorpe, intended only for the eyes of Rauf Bey, the Grand Vizier, and the Sultan, in which he promised on behalf of the British government that only British and French troops would be used in the occupation of the Straits fortifications. A small number of Ottoman troops could be allowed to stay on in the occupied areas as a symbol of sovereignty.[7] The occupation was illegal until 16 February 1920 when the allies took steps to find a legal basis.[8][9]

The Sultan's position

According to Sir Horace Rumbold, 9th Baronet, the British ambassador to Constantinople (1920–1924), the Sultan had never grasped or accepted the form of Kemalist national perspective which was represented by the Turkish national movement. He never perceived the significance of the military and political events following the Armistice of Mudros, failing to realise that the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire was a reflection of his captivity. For him, it was he and his close circle who formed and represented the Turks. There was a group of real Turks who were loyal and working to save the Empire at any cost. Most probably based on their individual activities, some of the Turkish revolutionaries fell in/out of the Sultan's definition of a Turk. Also according to Rumbold, the Sultan claimed that Mustafa Kemal was a Macedonian revolutionary of an unverified origin, Bekir Sami[who?] was a Circassian and that other individual revolutionaries were Turkish-speaking Albanians, Circassians, etc. Moreover, Rumbold maintained that the Sultan thought that resistance against the Allies with support found in the Bolsheviks would bring Turkey the same fate as Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which had become the Azerbaijan SSR. The ideology behind the Sultan's perception of the events had taken a very different path.

In the following years, Enver Pasha went to Moscow and later to Central Asia, where his ultimate intention was to regain power (against the Allies) by using the Bolsheviks through the organization of the Union of Islamic Revolutionary Societies and an affiliated Party of People's Councils. The Turkish national movement did not give way to the Bolsheviks but instead made peace with the Allies. Enver Pasha was killed fighting the Red Army. Atatürk's Reforms abolished the Caliphate; the Khilafat Movement did not save the Ottoman Caliph, but became a nationalistic movement that improved Hindu-Muslim relations.

Military administration

British occupation forces at the port of Karaköy, in front of the coastal tram line. The art nouveau style building in the background is the Turkish Maritime Lines (Türkiye Denizcilik İşletmeleri) headquarters.[10]

The Allies did not wait for a peace treaty for claiming the Ottoman territory. Just 13 days after the Armistice of Mudros, a French brigade entered İstanbul on November 12, 1918. The first British Troops entered the city on November 13, 1918. Early in December 1918, Allied troops occupied sections of Istanbul and set up an Allied military administration.

On February 8, 1919, the French general Franchet d' Espèrey entered the city on a white horse, emulating Mehmed the Conqueror's entrance in 1453 after the Fall of Constantinople, signifying that Ottoman sovereignty over the imperial city was over. On November 13, 1918, the Allied fleet sailed into the Bosphorus.

Somerset Calthorpe, December 1918 – August 1919

After the armistice, High Commissioner Admiral Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe was assigned as the military adviser to Constantinople. His first task was to arrest between 160 and 200 persons from the Government of Tevfik Pasha in January 1919.[11] Among this group, he sent thirty to Malta (Malta exiles).

Establishing authority

The British rounded up a number of members of the old establishment and interned them in Malta, awaiting their trial for alleged crimes during World War I. Calthorpe included only Turkish members of the Government of Tevfik Pasha and the military/political personalities. He wanted to send a message that a military occupation was in effect and failure to comply would end with harsh punishment. His position was not shared with other partners. The French Government's response to those accused was "distinction to disadvantage of Muslim-Turks while Bulgarian, Austrian and German offenders were as yet neither arrested nor molested".[12] However, the government and the Sultan understood the message. In February 1919, allies were informed that the Ottoman Empire was in compliance with its full apparatus to the occupation forces. Any source of conflict (including Armenian questions) would be investigated by a commission which neutral Governments can attach two legal superintendents.[12] Calthorpe's correspondence to Foreign Office was "The action undertaken for the arrests was very satisfactory, and has, I think, intimidated the Committee of Union and Progress of Constantinople".[13]

Conflict resolution

Constantinople, May 23, 1919: Protests against the occupation

The message of Calthorpe fully noted by the Sultan. There was an eastern tradition of presenting gifts to the authority during the serious conflicts; sometimes "falling of heads". There was no higher goal than preserving the integrity of the Ottoman Institution. If the anger of Calthorpe could be calmed down by the foisting the blame on a few members of the Committee of Union and Progress, which Ottoman Empire could thereby receive more lenient treatment at the Paris peace conference;[14] that could be achieved. The trials began in Istanbul on April 28, 1919. The prosecution come-up with "forty-two authenticated documents substantiating the charges therein, many bearing dates, identification of senders of the cipher telegrams and letters, and names of recipients."[15] On July 22, the court-martial found several defendants guilty of subverting constitutionalism by force and found them responsible for massacres.[16] During its whole existence from April 28, 1919 to March 29, 1920, Ottoman trials did performed very poorly with increasing inefficiency; as presumed guilty people were already intended as sacrifice to save the Empire. However, as an occupation authority, the historical rightfulness of the allies were on the table. Calthorpe wrote to London; "proving to be a farce and injurious to our own prestige and to that of the Turkish government.".[17] The Allies considered Ottoman trials as a travesty of justice, which Ottoman justice had to be replaced with the Western justice by moving the trials to Malta as "International" trials. The "International" trials declined to use any evidence developed by the Ottoman tribunals. When the International trials were staged, Calthorpe was replaced by John de Robeck. John de Robeck regarding the trials; "that its findings cannot be held of any account at all.[18]" All of the Malta exiles were released.

A new movement

Calthorpe was alarmed when he learned that the winner of Gallipoli had become the inspector general for Anatolia and Mustafa Kemal's behaviors during this period did nothing to improve matters. Calthorpe urged that Kemal be recalled. Thanks to friends and sympathizers of Mustafa Kemal's in government circles, a 'compromise' was developed whereby the power of the inspector general was curbed, at least on paper. "Inspector General" became a title that had no power to command. On June 23, 1919, Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe began to put the pieces on Kemal and his role in the establishment of the Turkish national movement. He sent a report about Mustafa Kemal to the Foreign Office. His remarks were downplayed by George Kidson of the Eastern Department. Captain Hurst (British army) in Samsun warned Calthorpe one more time about the Turkish national movement, but his units were replaced with a Brigade of Gurkhas.

Arthur Gough-Calthorpe was assigned to another position on August 5, 1919 and left Constantinople.

John de Robeck, August 1919–1922

From August 1919 to 1922 John de Robeck replaced Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe with the title of "Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, and High Commissioner, at Constantinople". He was responsible for activities regarding Russia and Turkey (Ottoman Empire-Turkish national movement).

John de Robeck was very worried by the defiant mood of the Ottoman parliament. When 1920 arrived, he was concerned by reports that substantial stocks of arms were reaching Turkish revolutionaries, some from French and Italian sources. In one of his letters to London, he asked: "Against whom would these sources be employed?"

In London, the Conference of London (February 1920) took place; it featured discussions about settling the treaty terms to be offered in San Remo. John de Robeck reminded participants that Anatolia was moving into a resistance stage. There were arguments of "National out" (Misak-ı Milli) were circulating and if these would be solidified that would take a longer time and more resources to handle the case (partitioning of the Ottoman Empire). He tried to persuade the leaders to take quick action and control the Sultan and pressure the rebels (from both directions). This request posted awkward problems at the highest level: promises for national sovereignty were on the table and United States was fast withdrawing into isolation.

Treaty of Sevres

The Ottoman parliament of 1920

The newly elected Ottoman parliament in Constantinople did not recognize the occupation; they developed a National Pact (Misak-ı Milli). They adapted six principles; which called for self-determination, the security of Constantinople, and the opening of the Straits, also the abolishment of the capitulations. While in Istanbul, self-determination and protection of the Ottoman Empire was voiced, the Khilafat Movement in India try to influence the British government to protect the caliphate of the Ottoman empire and although it was mainly a Muslim religious movement, the Khilafat struggle was becoming a part of the wider Indian independence movement. Both these two movements (Misak-ı Milli and Khilafat Movement) on the ideological level share a lot of notions, which during the Conference of London (February 1920) allies concentrated on these issues.

The Ottoman Empire did lose in World War I, but Misak-ı Milli in the local Khilafat Movement in a global sense was in conflict with the Allies' plans.

Solidification of the partitioning, February 1920

The plans for partitioning of the Ottoman Empire needed to be solidified. At Conference of London on March 4, 1920, the Triple Entente decided to implement its previous (secret) agreements and form what will be the Treaty of Sèvres. In doing so, all forms of resistance originating from Ottoman Empire (rebellions, Sultan, etc.) had to be dismantled. The Allies' military forces in Constantinople ordered to take the necessary actions; also political side increased the efforts to put the Treaty of Sèvres] in writing.

On the political side, negotiations for Treaty of Sèvres presumed a Greek (Christian Administration), a French-Armenian (Christian Administration), Italian occupation region (Christian Administration) and Wilsonian Armenia (Christian Administration) over what was Ottoman Empire (Muslim Administration). Muslim citizens of the Ottoman Empire perceived this plan as losing their sovereignty. British intelligence registered the Turkish national movement as a movement of the Muslim citizens of Anatolia. The Muslim unrest all around Anatolia brought two arguments to the British government regarding the new establishments: the Muslim administration (Ottoman Empire) was not safe for Christians; the Treaty of Sèvres was the only way that Christians could be safe. Enforcing the Treaty of Sèvres could not happen without repressing Mustafa Kemal's (Turkish Revolutionaries) national movement.

On the military side the British claimed that if the Allies could not control Anatolia at that time, they could at least control Constantinople. Plan was step by step beginning from Constantinople dismantle every organization and slowly move deep into the Anatolia. That meant facing with what will be called as the Turkish War of Independence. British foreign department was asked to devise a plan to ease this path. British foreign department developed the same plan that they used during the Arab revolt. This policy of breaking down authority by separating the Sultan from his government, and working different millets against each other, such as the Christian millet against the Muslim millet, was the best solution if minimal British force was to be used. The details of these covert operations in Anatolia are covered under Turkish war of independence.

Military occupation of Constantinople

Dissolution of the parliament, March 1920

The Telegram House was occupied on March 14. On the night of March 15 British troops began to occupy the key buildings and arrest Turkish nationalists. It was a very messy operation. The 10th division and military music school resisted the arrest. At least 10 students died under the gunfire of the British Indian army. The total death toll is unknown. On March 18 the Ottoman parliament met and sent a protest to allies; "it was unacceptable to arrest five of its members" declared the parliament. This marked the end of the Ottoman Political system. The British move on the parliament left the Sultan as sole controller of the Empire; without parliament the Sultan stood alone with the British. Beginning with March 18, the Sultan become the puppet of the British foreign department, saying, "There would be no one left to blame for what will be coming soon"; the Sultan revealed his own version of the declaration of dissolution on April 11, after approximately 150 politicians were exiled to Malta.

The dissolution of the parliament followed by the raid and closing of the journal Yeni Gün (New Day). Yeni Gün was owned by Yunus Nadi Abalıoğlu, an influential journalist, and was the main media organ publishing the news about the resistance (Turkish War of Independence) to the outside world.

Official declaration, March 16, 1920

On March 16, 1920, third day of hostilities the allied forces declared the occupation:

In an effort to prevent the spread of Turkish nationalism, General Sir George Milne and an Allied force occupied Constantinople.
  • The Allies gave assurances that they had no intention of taking over the government.
  • The Allies sought to keep the Straits open and to protect the Armenians.
  • The Allies persuaded the Ottoman government to denounce the Turkish nationalists and sent many into exile.
  • The Sultan had established a Damad Ferid government.[19]

Forcing the peace treaty

Early pressure on insurgency, April – June 1920

British claimed the insurgency of the Turkish revolutionaries should be handled by the forces within the Anatolia through British training and material support. In response to this request, the Istanbul government, government without parliament, appointed its own extraordinary Anatolian general inspector Süleyman Şefik Pasha and a new Security Army, Kuva-i Inzibatiye, to enforce its rule and fight the nationalists with British support. British also supported detachment guerrilla groups around the Anatolia (the term used for them was independent army), led by Circassians refugees driven into Anatolia by the Russians. Most famous, Circassian, Ahmet Anzavur, a conservative movement and force with money and arms provided by the Constantinople government and the British. Ahmet Anzavur even led the Kuva-i Inzibatiye, or more properly some battalions, and his bands began to ravage the countryside.

The details of these military units against the Turkish National movement is explained under Turkish War of Independence. These forces were unsuccessful against the national movement, such that the clash outside İzmit brought serious consequences. The British forces opened fire on the nationalists and bombed them from the air. This bombing forced a retreat but there was a panic in Constantinople. The British commander, General George Milne, asked for reinforcements. This initiated a chain reaction to determine how much power was required to handle the national movement. Marshal Ferdinand Foch signed the final report with summation to twenty seven divisions. The British army did not have twenty-seven divisions and was not willing to channel these forces while they claimed that World War I had ended with their victory. A deployment of this size could have had political consequences that were beyond the British government's capacity to handle.

The British were quick to accept the fact that the nationalistic movement, which had hardened during World War I, could not be faced without the deployment of consistent and well-trained forces. On June 25 the forces originating from Kuva-i Inzibatiye were dismantled on the advice of the British, who said that there was no use for them.

Presentation of the treaty to the Sultan, June 1920

The treaty terms were presented to the Sultan in the middle of June. The treaty was harsher than anyone expected. However, because of the military pressure placed on the insurgency from April to June 1920, the Allies did not expect that there would be any serious opposition.

End of the occupation

  • October 11, 1922: Signing of the Armistice of Mudanya, end of the Turkish War of Independence.
  • October 19, 1922: Fall of David Lloyd George's Ministry.
  • November 1, 1922: Abolition of the Ottoman Sultanate.
  • November 17, 1922: Departure of the last Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI Vahideddin from Constantinople.
  • July 24, 1923: Signing of the Treaty of Lausanne.
  • August 23, 1923: Allied forces start evacuating Constantinople in the frame of the Treaty of Lausanne.
  • September 23, 1923: Last Allied troops depart from Constantinople.
  • October 6, 1923: First Turkish troops enter Constantinople.
  • October 29, 1923: Proclamation of the Republic of Turkey, with Ankara as its capital city.
  • 1930: Istanbul becomes the only accepted name for the city in Turkey as part of Ataturk's reforms.

List of Allied High Commissioners


  • November 1918 – January 1919– Louis Franchet d'Esperey
  • January 30, 1919 – December 1920– Albert Defrance
  • 1921– October 22, 1923– Maurice César Joseph Pellé


  • November 1918 – January 1919– Count Carlo Sforza
  • September 1920 – October 22, 1923– Marchese Eugenio Camillo Garroni

United States of America:

  • November 1918, January 1919– Gabriel Bie Ravndal
  • March 1919 – October 22, 1923– Mark Lambert Bristol


  1. ^ T.C. Genelkurmay Harp Tarihi Başkanlığı Yayınları, Türk İstiklâl Harbine Katılan Tümen ve Daha Üst Kademlerdeki Komutanların Biyografileri, Genelkurmay Basım Evi, 1972, p. 51.
  2. ^ T.C. Genelkurmay Harp Tarihi Başkanlığı Yayınları, Türk İstiklâl Harbine Katılan Tümen ve Daha Üst Kademlerdeki Komutanların Biyografileri, Genkurmay Başkanlığı Basımevi, Ankara, 1972, p. 118. (Turkish)
  3. ^ Mustafa Kemal Pasha's speech on his arrival in Ankara in November 1919
  4. ^ Clarence Richard Johnson Constantinople To-day; Or, The Pathfinder Survey of Constantinople; a Study in Oriental Social Life, Clarence Johnson, ed. (New York: Macmillian, 1922) p. 164ff.
  5. ^ Criss, Bilge, Istanbul under Allied Occupation 1918–1923, (1999) p. 1.
  6. ^ Simsir BDOA, 1:6.
  7. ^ Yakn Tarihimiz, Vol. 2, p. 49.
  8. ^ Ford, Roger Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East Pegasus Books, 2010. p. 474 [1]
  9. ^ Criss, Bilge Istanbul under allied occupation, 1918-1923 BRILL, 1999 ISBN 9004112596 p.10 [2]
  10. ^ Turkish Maritime Lines
  11. ^ Public Record Office, Foreign Office 371/4172/13694
  12. ^ a b Public Record Office, Foreign Office, 371/4172/28138
  13. ^ Public Record Office, Foreign Office, 371/4172/23004
  14. ^ Vahakn N. Dadrian, "The Documentation of the World War I Armenian Massacres in the Proceedings of the Turkish Military Tribunal", International Journal of Middle East Studies 23(1991): 554; idem, "The Turkish Military Tribunal's Prosecution of the Authors of the Armenian Genocide: Four Major Court-Martial Series", Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 11(1997): 31.
  15. ^ Dadrian, "The Turkish Military Tribunal's Prosecution", p. 45.
  16. ^ The verdict is reproduced in Akçam, Armenien und der Völkermord, pp. 353-64.
  17. ^ Public Record Office, Foreign Office, 371/4174/118377
  18. ^ Public Record Office, Foreign Office, 371/4174/136069
  19. ^ League of Nations Archives, Palais des Nations, CH-1211, Geneva 10, Switzerland Center for the Study of Global Change,


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