Gillespie Mission to Angora

By Stavros Stavridies

While the major European powers- France, Great Britain and Italy and their nationals sought economic concessions in Anatolia, the activities of the United States could not be overlooked in the period 1921-22.

Julian E.Gillespie, US Assistant Trade Commissioner in Constantinople, visited Angora to investigate the opportunities for American commerce and trade in the Near East. British High Commissioner in Constantinople, Sir Horace Rumbold considered the Gillespie mission important enough to inform his superiors in London.

Gillespie’s mission

On February 25, 1922 Gillespie reported to the Commerce Department in Washington that he visited Angora “for the purpose of making an economic and commercial survey of the country” and wanted “to find out the attitude of the [Angora] government toward American business.” The immediate trade opportunities in Anatolia were non-existent due to the stalemate in the Greek-Turkish war. He pointed out that the Turkish nationalists were keen in establishing close commercial links with the US.

Gillespie alludes that the Turks preferred to give commercial privileges to a powerful financial group backed by the political power of the US than to the Europeans. The Turks believed the European powers might use future peace discussions as leverage in their attempts, to extract additional economic and financial concessions from Angora. However, the Turks would not allow the goals of the National Pact (Article 6 economic independence) to be compromised.

In Angora, Gillespie told Turkish nationalist politicians: Dr Adnan Bey, the Vice President of the Grand National Assembly, Raouf Bey, Public Works Minister, Djelal Bey, Economics Minister, Fethi Bey, Interior Minister and Yussuf Kemal Bey, Foreign Affairs Minister, that he represented the US Commerce department and that he had no connection whatsoever with the State Department. He conducted his negotiations with Raouf Bey who spoke excellent English and was “impressed by his apparent sincerity, frankness and honesty.”

Gillespie submitted a list of questions to the Angora government seeking answers from them. Some of the questions were: “What projects of construction or development are now being studied by the government? Which of these projects are open to American capital for study and development?.”

Raouf Bey outlined the following projects that might be considered promptly by Angora. He stated that “All Black Sea ports, railways joining these ports with the principal lines in the interior; mines in this region; Angora-Sivas and Sivas-Erzeroum; Bayazid-Erzeroum-Trebizond; Trebizond-Rizeh railways; Harput-Arghana-Marden-Diarbekir railways.” Other projects that might be contemplated were the development of “the Port of Mersine; irrigation and draining of Adana Plain; [and] electricity works in Bairburt and Zongouldak.” Angora needed foreign capital to develop and modernize its economy but as long as this was achieved within the objectives of the Nationalist Pact.

Besides the commercial aspects of Gillespie’s trip, the Angora government told Gillespie they were antagonistic towards American missionaries but were tolerant of the Christians. Gillespie continued that “At various interior centers there is a suspicion of the American relief workers (Near East Relief) part of which is caused by misunderstandings between local officials and not because of the attitude of the Central Government.” He also mentioned that in mid-December 1921 on his trip to Ineboli to Angora. he “saw no evidence of banditry or disorder.”

While Gillespie’s visit provided valuable information for the US State and Commercial Departments’ but there are aspects of his report that require a brief explanation. The overall tone of his report is very partial to the Kemalists. Gillespie never raised the issue of deportations and massacres in Pontus with the Kemalists and simply was interested in developing American economic interests in Anatolia. He would have had some knowledge of what was happening in Pontus from either reading newspaper accounts or having personal contact with American businessmen who visited the Anatolian interior.

Gillespie failed to defend or even mission the tireless efforts of American missionaries involved in relief work who provided clothing, food and shelter, to both Christians and Moslems. It is evident that Gillespie did not wish to irritate his Angora hosts.

Rumbold’s comments

On February 7, 1922 Rumbold informed Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary that the Americans were trying to secure economic concessions to the rich oil fields of Eastern Anatolia, Caucasus and Persia and also increase their trading opportunities in the Near East. Rumbold mentioned that Gillespie’s mission was to assess and report on the commercial prospects for American trade in Anatolia. If Gillespie’s study was found to be favorable, then American business groups and financiers might be heartened by it to pursue those new business opportunities. Rumbold like Gillespie stated of the uncertain conditions prevailing in Anatolia.

In his dispatch, Rumbold sent summaries of Turkish press reports on Gillespie’s mission to the Foreign Office in London. The Tefhid-i-Efkiar reported that Gillespie acted as an intermediary for an American group who wanted “to complete the construction of the Angora-Erzeroum and the Angora- railways and for the construction rights of the harbors of Samsoun and Ineboli.” According to Yeni Gun, Gillespie mentioned of American companies in Constantinople who were ready to invest in Anatolia. “Apart from concession hunting”, Gillespie was trying also “to unload the large quantity of goods that Mason Day, Managing Director of the American Foreign Trade Corporation, had landed in Constantinople in 1920 for the purposes of transshipment to Russia which owing to the debacle he has been unable to get rid.”

In conclusion, the main impediment to American commerce and trade was the unresolved Greek-Turkish conflict. Gillespie’s mission to Angora provided valuable information to the US Commerce and State Departments in Washington and to American business groups who wanted to invest in Anatolia.

Gillespie had established a good rapport with Angora government officials whereas the British were concerned at American commercial activity in Asia Minor.

Stavros T.Stavridis

Portland, Oregon

(Posting date 28 September 2009)

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