The Mystery of Sherif Pasha


Aram S. Sayiyan
After the overthrow of the Young Turks’ power, the Ottoman Committee in Geneva, using Sherif Pasha’s ambition and childishness, managed to include him in the Ottoman delegation to the Paris Peace Assembly, and then nominated him in the position of the head of the non-existent Kurdish delegation, so that, as a counterbalance to the Armenian Issue, he would raise the Kurdish question, thus gaining the opportunity to reduce the demands of the Armenians.

However, Sherif Pasha soon began to play an independent political game, trying to become the Emir of Kurdistan with the help of the English. In order to guarantee itself from a possible double game by Sherif Pasha, the Ottoman government organized the sending of telegrams of complaints from Kurdish organizations in Istanbul and influential Kurdish tribesmen in Western Armenia to Paris to prevent allies from declaring him ruler of Kurdistan.

Though Sherif Pasha’s demands at the Peace Assembly were of no importance to Great Britain, especially since the British knew very well that there was no real Kurdish force behind him, not even a delegation, and, what is more probable, they knew about the real purpose of the Turkish game of appointing Sherif Pasha as the head of the non-existent Kurdish delegation by the Ottoman Committee, Great Britain realized that the real owners of the situation in Western Armenia were the Kurds, yet the Armenians made up a negligible percentage there. As for the Republic of Armenia, it could not ensure its security on its own, and there was no question of liberating Western Armenia by own forces. In this historical period, the only force that could resist the Kemalists inside the country were the Kurds, thus ignoring them would mean gifting them to the Turks. Therefore, in such conditions, Great Britain planned to create a Kurdish state in the territory of Southern Armenia in order to make a buffer zone between the Kemalists and its sub-mandate colony Iraq.

Along with the strengthening of the Kemalists, the British decided to unite the Armenian-Kurdish delegations, so not only Poghos Nubar Pasha, but also the Republic of Armenia had to accept the Kurdish claim, because of which the Kurds, instead of being punished like the Turks, were equated with the Armenians. Moreover, Sherif Pasha cynically stated that the Kurds had suffered a lot during the war, including from the Armenians. All this was done on the one hand to free the Kurds from the influence of the Ottoman authorities, and on the other hand to support the plans of Great Britain interested in the Armenian-Kurdish alliance, which were aimed at suppressing the growing Kemalist movement. Although such a policy was criticized by some Armenian circles, who accused both of the Armenian delegations of ceding part of the six vilayets to the Kurds, but the whole problem with it was that the Kurdish delegation had no role in resolving the territorial issues. The claim of the six vilayets turned into the so-called “Little Armenia” plan: to divide Southern Armenia and the Kurdish-populated territories into French and British zones.

According to various sources, Sherif Pasha resigned from the post of head of the Kurdish delegation in the spring of 1920, giving way to grievances between Kurds and Turks, but in our opinion, these were just occasions. Whereas the reasons were deeper, they did not depend on Sherif Pasha at all. They were two: in the spring of 1920, the Kemalists and the Bolsheviks became so powerful that they turned into a real threat to the British hegemony in the Middle East. The real owners of the country in Turkey were the Kemalists, who were joined by most of the Kurdish tribes in Western Armenia.

Combining these geopolitical realities, we come to the conclusion that the presence of Sherif Pasha would not change anything in the Kurdish part of the Treaty of Sèvres, as first the military-political situation had changed completely not in favor of the Kurds (as well as the Armenians), then the Kurds were disunited and there was no real power behind Sherif Pasha. Experienced British officers and diplomats were convinced that the Republic of Armenia would not be able to resist the Bolsheviks in the future, the only force that could do that was the Kemalists in the event of unification with the Kurds of Western Armenia. In this light, the presence of Sherif Pasha in the Peace Assembly in the spring of 1920 had lost its meaning. Neither the Ottoman delegation nor the British needed him anymore.

Thus who, after all, was Sherif Pasha? An Ottoman official who, according to his secretary, Galib Bey, carried out the task of the Turkish government, or an adventurous person who pursued the coveted goal of becoming Emir of Kurdistan being used by all interested parties for their own purposes and eventually thrown out? Analyzing his actions and expressed thoughts presented in the article, it can be concluded that the second version is more probable.