Closed by the British, opened by Kemal Pasha

Closed by the British, opened by Kemal Pasha

There are two dates which come after each other and symbolize the end of the Ottoman reign and the beginning of independent Turkey. The first is March 18, 1920, when the Chamber of Deputies of the Ottoman Empire met for the last time and adjourned on grounds that it could not be able to work under British occupation. 

The second is March 19, 1920, when Mustafa Kemal Pasha in Ankara issued a circular that a Grand National Assembly would be opened and elections should be held for this.  

The National Liberation Movement, which did not have any military victories that time, had become such a political power with the convening of the Sivas Congress that Grand Vizier Damat Ferit Pasha had to resign on Sept. 31, 1919. The course of events was as such: 

Oct. 2, 1919: Sultan Mehmet VI, recognizing that there should be conciliation with the Anatolian movement, appointed Ali Rıza Pasha as grand vizier. Other names from the national forces (Kuvayı Milliye) were also in the cabinet.  

Jan. 12, 1920: The Ottoman Chamber of Deputies was reopened following new elections. A group was formed in the chamber chaired by Mustafa Kemal’s close friend Rauf (Orbay). The chamber was also supporting the national struggle. 

Feb. 14, 1920: At the Allied Powers Conference in London, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George argued that the occupied Aegean city of İzmir should be annexed to Greece. In the following days Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos said, “The movement of Mustafa Kemal is a bluff… It would be defeated with an operation in 15 days.” 

Feb. 17, 1920: The National Oath accepted on Jan. 28 was declared to the press, the public and the whole world. The draft of the oath was sent from Ankara by Mustafa Kemal and was accepted in the chamber by the nationalist group. 

March 3, 1920: Protesting the advance of Greek forces and the pressure of the Allied Powers, Grand Vizier Ali Rıza Pasha resigned. 

March 10, 1920: The Allied Powers, concerned about the developing national forces, decided in London to occupy Istanbul on the grounds that “minorities were maltreated in Turkey.” The decision was sent to the high commissioners in Istanbul. 

March 16, 1920: Istanbul was officially occupied; the press was censured, all state institutions were seized. The arrests of patriots began. The chamber was raided in the evening and deputies were arrested. Some of the arrested were to be sent to Malta. 

Mustafa Kemal Pasha in Ankara issued a declaration to the Islamic world, stating that the occupation was a threat to the freedom of all Muslims. 

March 18, 1920: Protesting the British occupation, the Chamber of Deputies adjourned itself. There was no organ left in Istanbul representing the national will.

March 19, 1920: Delegation of Representatives head Mustafa Kemal Pasha issued a circular to all provinces and branches of the Societies for the Defense of Rights. This circular is one of the most important documents not only for our national liberation history but also our history of democracy. It starts with Article one: “An assembly with extraordinary powers will convene in Ankara to manage and monitor the affairs of the nation.”

The power to manage the nation now belonged to Ankara, not Istanbul. This assembly would not only legislate but also administrate and control; in other words, a union of powers. The new parliament to be opened in Ankara would represent all the segments of the nation, in a way fully democratic and unifying.

April 23, 1920: The assembly, upon Mustafa Kemal Pasha’s choice, was opened on a Friday and with an unprecedented Islamic ceremony not seen in Ottoman chambers up to that day. They all conducted their Friday prayers at the Hacıbayram Mosque, then proceeded to the assembly building all together with Islamic chants. 

As historian Tarık Zafer Tunaya has stated, in the assembly there were revolutionaries, Ottoman reformists, Muslim clergymen, local leaders with their local clothes (Kurdish chieftains) and leftists sympathetic to Bolshevism. 

There was an organic continuity between the closed Ottoman Chamber of Deputies and the Grand National Assembly; Ottoman deputies arriving in Ankara were now members of the Grand National Assembly.

At the opening of the parliament and the next day on April 24 at the long speech delivered by Mustafa Kemal Pasha, and in the following period, the emphasis on loyalty to the sultanate and caliphate was strong.

However, these two sentences below uttered during the April 24 speech were signs of the future:

“Now, there is no existing power above our supreme assembly… The caliphate and the sultanate will take its honorable and blessed place within the laws to be issued by our supreme assembly.” 

As the national struggle developed, the idea of a republic also developed, and this assembly was to form the republic. 

I wish a happy April 23 holiday to all of us.