The assignment during the Republican Period of important tasks in matters such as the settlement of immigrants and the Kurdish question to former Union and Progress members like Mustafa Abdülhalik Renda who played active roles in the perpetration of the Armenian Genocide, clearly shows that social engineering policy of Union and Progress influenced the violence, enforced migration and assimilation practices of the State in the Republican Period.
Elements of continuity between the Union and Progress regime and the single-party regime are among the most discussed historical issues of recent years. These elements of continuity in personnel and ideology are highly significant in understanding the nature of the newly established regime and its attempts of social engineering. The assignment during the Republican Period of important tasks in matters such as the settlement of immigrants and the Kurdish question to former Union and Progress members like Mustafa Abdülhalik Renda who played active roles in the perpetration of the Armenian Genocide, clearly shows that social engineering policy of Union and Progress influenced the violence, enforced migration and assimilation practices of the State in the Republican Period.
Brother-in-law of Talaat Pasha
Born in Yanya in 1881, Abdülhalik Bey, the future brother-in-law of Talaat Pasha, following his graduation from the Faculty of Political Science, served in various positions as civil servant and district governor. Following the Balkan Wars, he was first appointed Governor of Siirt Province, and then, on 26 March 1914, Governor of Bitlis. The reason for his appointment was the uprising led by Sheikh Selim against the Union and Progress government and the Ottoman-Russian Treaty that proposed a reformation of Eastern provinces. Bitlis Governor Mazhar Bey, who was claimed to have failed to quash the uprising, was dismissed, and Abdülhalik was appointed in his place. Abdülhalik Bey played an important role in quashing the uprising, and sent with Van Governor Tahsin Bey a telegram to the Capital stating that the conditions in Kurdistan were not suitable for reformation, that sheikhs, mullahs and Abdürrezzak Bedirxan provoked an uprising, and demanded the implementation of strict measures. Thus began efforts to ‘domesticate’ the anti-government Kurdish tribes and sheikhs and the State sought to increase its influence in the region in collaboration with certain tribal leaders and notables.
Massacres in Bitlis
Abdülhalik played a leading role in the implementation of the Genocide in Bitlis. It is known that he held a meeting in late April 1915 with Dr. Nazım regarding the massacre of the Armenians. Parallel to the arrest of Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul, arrests targeting Armenian notables began in Bitlis as well. Abdülhalik formed mobs in the region by recruiting from among Kurds and other groups, and from mid-June on, along with the arrests, organized the massacres carried out in the peripheral regions of Bitlis. Along with Cevdet Bey’s ‘butcher brigades’ that had withdrawn from Van and the units under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Halil Bey, he purged the Bitlis, Siirt, Muş, Hizan and Genç regions from Armenians. Witnesses of this period note that Armenian settlements in Muş were bombed and burned down, that the majority of Armenians died in fires, and that the city lay in ruins.
After Bitlis, Abdülhalik was appointed Governor of Aleppo in September 1915. The failure of the former Governor of Aleppo Bekir Sami in realizing the purge of Armenians was the primary reason for Abdülhalik’s appointment to this post. His new task was the Armenians who had been deported from the West and had arrived in Syria. Here, he fulfilled numerous tasks, ranging from preventing the entry into the city of Armenians who sought to flee to Aleppo, to the re-exile to camps of Armenians hiding in the city.
Released without trial
After the end of the war and the fall of the Union and Progress government, he was arrested for the crimes he committed, and placed in the Bekir Ağa Prison. He remained in detention here for a while, but was then released; yet in May 1920 he was rearrested by the English and sent to Malta. Abdülhalik was to be tried in the category of those who occupied administrative positions in the Armenian massacres. Among charges against him were participation in meetings held for the deportation and mass extermination of Armenians, the massacre of Armenians in the Bitlis, Muş and Sason regions and the seizure of Armenian properties. According to Malta records, he was among those responsible of the killing of 150 thousand Armenians in Bitlis.
Despite all these charges, Abdülhalik Bey was released without trial in accordance with the agreement for the exchange of prisoners signed between the Ankara government and England. Upon his return from Malta, Abdülhalik was appointed to positions of undersecretary and governor, and following the capture by Kemalist forces and arson of İzmir, he became the first governor appointed here. He was one of those closest to Mustafa Kemal, such that he was a marriage witness at Mustafa Kemal’s wedding to Latife Hanım. He became Çankırı Member of Parliament at the 1923 elections, later being appointed Minister of Finance.
Task of Turkification
When the Sheikh Said rebellion broke out, Abdülhalik once again stepped in. Because of his knowledge of the area, he was appointed president of the commission sent to Kurdish provinces to carry out inspections. During the trip, Abdülhalik sent a telegram to İsmet İnönü explaining that it was necessary for the settlement of Turkish migrants in areas purged of Armenians for the solution of the Kurdish question in the best possible manner. He proposed that the Armenian properties in Diyarbekir, Siirt, Bitlis, Van and Muş should not be sold and kept for settlement. He presented these proposals to İnönü in a report. The Plan for the Rehabilitation of the East, adopted on 25 September 1925, was prepared on the basis of Abdülhalik’s report. In brief, Abdülhalik, who had played a key role in the expulsion of the Armenians from the region, now assumed the task of Turkifying the area. Within this scope, the settlement of migrants in this area significantly contributed to the implementation of procedures such as the exile of tribes that displayed a ‘rebellious’ potential to internal areas and the prohibition of Kurdish. Abdülhalik Bey also served as Minister of Finance, National Defence and Navy, and was elected Speaker of Parliament in 1935, remaining in that post until 1946.
Abdülhalik Bey, who played a role in the deportation and massacre of thousands of Armenians, let alone being tried, assume key positions in the new regime, and eventually rose to the position of Speaker of Parliament. His knowledge and approach regarding population engineering, violence and assimilation procedure which contributed to the implementation of the various stages of the Genocide also shed light on the strategies the single party regime developed regarding the Kurdish question and the settlement of migrants, and Abdülhalik Bey assumed an influential role in determining State policy on these matters.