COVID-19, Erdoğan's donation campaign and National Tax of 1921

Taner Akçam writes: President Erdoğan defined those who were against the donation campaign launched for coronavirus crisis as “those who do not know of their own history.” He likened his campaign to to the National Tax of 1921. In fact, it is the President himself who fell into the category of “the person who does not know of his own history.” I also have to add the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to this category.

Taner Akçam

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defined those who were against the donation campaign launched for coronavirus crisis as “those who do not know of their own history.” In fact, it is the President himself who fell into the category of “the person who does not know of his own history.”  

This is what President Erdoğan said: “When the War of Liberation started, Gazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk issued an order, called “Tekalif-i Milliye” [National Tax] with 10 articles. With this order, a certain percentage of all material that is needed in the war from weapons, ammunition, clothes, food to machines and animals possessed by the people were demanded.” The first part of the wrong information is that these orders were not given at the beginning of the war, they were given toward the end of the war on August 7, 1921. Second, this was not a demand on the basis of volunteering but a forced seizure was in question. The third is, even if they were seized by force, the price of what had been taken was promised to be paid after peace. Fourth, both those who opposed the orders and hid their belongings and those who abused the practice would be declared traitors and punished. Fifth, about 75 percent of the forcefully sized goods were the goods of exiled Armenians and Anatolian Greeks. Sixth, in April 1923, a law was introduced to refund the seized goods, but a trick in the law provided that no refunds were given to Armenians and Anatolian Greeks and the government has admitted this. 

It is truly sad that a President of a country makes so many mistakes regarding the history of Turkey. 

But I have to add the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to the category of those “who do not know their own history.” He also said that 6,003,663 Turkish Liras collected as the National Tax have been paid back to those who had given them.  

The Orders of the National Tax (Tekalif-i Milliye) contained 10 orders. It was issued by Mustafa Kemal on Aug. 7-8, 1921 as the head of the Grand National Assembly and the Chief Commander. The aim was to finance the war conducted against Greece and meet war expenses. The first order arranged the commissions to be formed. The second asked for weapons and ammunition to be handed over in three days. The third listed the goods to be collected from the people and stated that anyone opposing the order would be punished with treason. In fourth and fifth orders, it was written that commodities such as food and clothes would be seized as well as 40 percent of the goods of merchants. But a certificate would be given so that their prices would be paid later.  

Among the orders, it is the sixth order that both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu and also the press does not prefer to refer to. I think this is the most important one because the biggest part of the National Tax revenue was made up of this item. It contained the seizure of the property left behind by Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians.   

As one clearly would understand from the orders, certificates showing the value of certain goods have been given to the property owner. 

As a matter of fact, the Grand National Assembly passed a law on April 12, 1923 to pay the National Tax debts. During the debate, Finance Minister Hasan Fehmi stated that the goods were collected with the aim to be “paid after peace.” He said the amount of money collected was 6,361,634 liras. There would be additions to every annual budget for these payments. The cabinet minister said the equivalent of 75 percent of the goods were not paid. The unpaid portion essentially belonged to Armenians and Anatolian Greeks, and the laws was arranged as to never pay back to them.   

But it was difficult to formulate the low saying that “we will not be paying the Anatolian Greeks and Armenians,” so the law written in very general terms. The certificates of people who were “fugitives” and “missing” would not be paid, it said. But this description had a risk of including the fugitive and missing Muslims also. 

One year later, during budget talks the matter was again brought up. The government submitted a bill to pay all the debts of the Treasury between July 1, 1908 and December 31, 1923. During the debate, the most important topic was whether to pay the Armenians and Anatolian Greeks. Some deputies were afraid that due to thevagueness of the April 12, 1923 law’s relevant article, Muslims would also be harmed and also there would be payments made to Armenians and Anatolian Greeks.  

Hasan Fehmi previous Finance Minister took the floor to deliver a speech to curb the concerns of the deputies and made a very important explanation regarding the drafting of the April 12, 1923 law. Hasan Fehmi openly said the aim of the relevant law was not to pay “the national and war tax certificates of the deported and missing Armenians and Anatolian Greeks.”  

Hasan Fehmi said, “If we wanted to pay these, we would not be able to survive. Muslims were not involved in trading before the world war. Hence, war taxes were predominantly taken from them [Anatolian Greeks and Armenians], they hold the certificates.” 

Because the session was a closed one, Hasan Fehmi was being very candid. “We thought of a solution so that the Anatolian Greeks and Armenians would not be able to benefit from the paying of the national tax certificates. However, we could not openly say Greeks and Armenians. We thought several forms and formulas. Several forms were examined. At the end, we found the least problematic form.” 

We gather from the confessions that deputies approved the bill only after promises were made that fugitives and missing Muslims will not be included in this law. 

Another procedure was done to make sure that these expressions “fugitives and missing” were only related to Anatolian Greeks and Armenians and do not refer to the Muslims. The Minister of Finance sent a secret order to provincial treasurers stating that runaway and missing terms refer to “only Anatolian Greeks and Armenians.” 

If an Anatolian Greek or an Armenian would took the matter to the local treasurer’s office, the provincial treasurers were to tell them they were investigating, they were examining, and pass the deadline. The matter was clear and left no place for interpretation. No payment would be done to Christian citizens even though they have official state documentation in their hands; their debt would not be paid.  

The last piece of information maybe I need to add is that the Finance Minister of the time (1924) was Mustafa Abdülhalik [Renda] who played very important role duringthe Armenian genocide. Renda summed up the opinion of the government with one sentence: “We will create as many difficulties as we can to those who are not one of us.” 

Now, we are fighting a dangerous virus. Because the case of the government's vault is empty it is asking for help from the citizens instead of helping them. The debates carried out on the subject, on the other hand, are revealing the disgusting smell from the cellars of the country.  

As long as the government and the opposition in this country do not understand that they have to deal with this incredibly filthy smell coning from their cellars, I think they will not be able to fight corona properly.  

My last words are to main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu: you are facing a serious problem that you cannot overcome by ordinary opposition to Tayyip Erdoğan. I wonder when you realize that just simple opposing the President is not enough for politics. 


Professor Taner Akçam is the head of the history department at Clark University.