Memoirs of Khalil Pasha

Historian and writer Şevket Süreyya Aydemir authored the memoirs of the victorious commander of the Battle of Kut al Amara, Khalil Pasha. The memoirs were serially published in the daily Akşam in 1967, 10 years after Khalil Pasha's death. Pasha's memoirs were collected into a book (titled Memoirs of the Kut al Amara Hero, Khalil Kut – Editor: Erhan Çifci) for the first time in honour of the 100th Anniversary of the Victory of Kut al Amara.

A sad farewell to Erzurum

Khalil Bey was only 33 years old when he was ordered to go on a campaign in Iraq and had not become a pasha yet. The 3rd Army's Right Wing, which he was a member of, was still at war with the Russians, but he was ordered to set off immediately.

"I visited the commander of the army in Erzurum, Mahmut Kamil Pasha before leaving the front. I still remember something he told me then. He held my hand, looked me in the eye and said in a sad voice: 'Khalil, you will go to Iraq and save Baghdad, but Erzurum will fall...' We separated in tears. Yes, we did save Baghdad - at least for a while. But Erzurum was going to fall and it did. I, on the other hand, had to run to Iraq with the 51st and 52nd divisions in my command. Problems were getting increasingly complicated."

A journey of life or death

Khalil Bey immediately departed. He was diagnosed with appendicitis while they were on the side of the Siirt Stream, but it was impossible to operate on him there. He could not ride a horse under the circumstances either. They made a make-shift raft with the sheepskin they got from the villagers. The commander, who suffering from severe pain, was placed on the raft and carried by the river.

"The situation was very bad. My appendicitis could burst, which would immediately lead to peritoneal inflammation. In short, I could die any minute. But I didn't. We went down to the south over the Siirt Stream. There was a terrifying silence around. But at the same time it was wildly magnificent. Finally, our raft reached Mosul."

Bribe offer from the British

Khalil Bey was still bed-bound when he and his men came to Nurettin Bey's rescue on November 15th 1915, which helped the Ottoman army gain advantage over the British in the Battle of Salman Pak. British forces were besieged in the city of Kut. Khalil Bey was first appointed, by the German Commander of the 6th Army, Colmar von der Goltz, to the command of the Tigris Corps, replacing Nurettin Bey, and later became the Commander of the 6th Army and the Governor of Baghdad after the death of Goltz.

Unable to circumvent the Ottoman siege, the British offered 1 million pounds in bribe to Khalil Pasha in an effort to save their soldiers. Khalil Pasha rejected this offer. In his memoirs, he recalls this incident as follows:

"As for the one-million-pound cheque offered to me personally, I clearly and strongly told him that we were no longer living in the era of Baltacı Mehmet Pasha who facilitated Tsar Peter's campaign in return for presents he received from Catherine the Great. There was nothing left to talk about, so I told him goodbye and left so that he could think and decide."

Surrender of the British

British forces surrendered on April 29th 1916. Khalil Pasha describes, in his memoirs, the symbolic importance of their surrender as follows:

"The size of the British forces, who had to surrender in Kut, marked the highest number of British troops that fell captive in a battle to date."

Khalil Pasha treated Major General Townshend, who was 22 years older than him, very kindly. He recalls one of his conversations with the captured British commander:

"I saw that he needed to be consoled sincerely and so I acted accordingly. His situation resembled that of Gazi Osman Pasha during the Siege of Plevna. Townshend was the leader of an invasive army though. However, taking revenge on a surrendered enemy would be beneath us. I talked to him in an encouraging way and said 'General, you protected the honour of your army and your nation. You are not a war prisoner, but a valuable guest of our Sultan and the Turkish people. You will be treated the way the Russian Tsar treated Osman Pasha."

Request for coal

Major General Townshend and his officers were transferred from Kut to Istanbul. A total of 13,309 British soldiers, including 6,988 Indian troops, on the other hand were walked first to Aleppo and then to prison camps in Anatolia. Although their number differs from source to source, many of the captured soldiers died on the way due to diseases. Some British sources claim that Turks did not treat these prisoners well, but Khalil Pasha's memoirs paint a different picture:

"I did not want to make these exhausted soldiers walk in the deserts. I had a ship, but I had no coal. I wrote a letter to the British commander, General Goringe, thinking that I could get coal from him which would of course be used for his own soldiers. I asked him if he could provide us some amount of coal enough to transfer his men by the river - at least to Baghdad."

The British general in Basra replied to Khalil Pasha:

“We are proud of fighting such a noble enemy. However, it is materially impossible for us to send you coal as we are in a state of war.”

Halil Pasha's message of victory

In his message of victory he delivered to his soldiers, Khalil Pasha said:

"Lionhearts! Today the spirits of our martyrs are flying happily and joyfully in the sunny skies under which Turks achieved a glorious victory while the British suffered a heavy defeat. I kiss you on your pure foreheads and congratulate you all. Praise be to Allah who helped us achieve a success, which has been unprecedented for the last 200 years. And Allah the almighty gave you the chance to be the ones who for the first time recorded such a defeat in 1,500 years of British history."

"I call this day the 'Kut Day'. Every member of my army shall celebrate it every year and pray for our martyrs."

The victorious commander of the Battle of Kut al Amara, Khalil Pasha got the surname "Kut" after the Surname Law was enacted. The Kut Day, which the Turkish Armed Forces continued to celebrate until 1952 when Turkey became a member of the NATO, was later forgotten.