​Mehmet Gelal Bey (1863 - 1926)

the vali of Aleppo who opposed the Armenian genocide

Gelal Bey was the governor of Aleppo from 11 August 1914 to 4 June 1915. He opposed the deportation of the caravans of women, elders and children to the desert of Der-es-Zor, he organized refugee camps for the Armenians, predisposed a network that rescued the ill and distributed food and helped many flee or reunite with their families. He also opposed the extermination plan by trying to organize the resettlement of the deportees who came from every corner of the Empire.

Armin T. Wegner, the German officer enlisted as a military nurse in Mesopotamia, eyewitness to the extermination of the Armenians along the route of deportation from Constantinople to Baghdad, wrote that Gelal Bey, when he was the vali of Aleppo, sent a telegram to Talaat Pasha, the Interior Minister of the government of the Young Turks who was in charge of the deportations, and asked him what he had to do about the hundreds thousand Armenins who came to Aleppo, and what their destination was. The minister replied: “Their destination is nothing”[1]. Gelal Bey, a “disobeying” officer, was demoted and sent to Konya, where he kept on opposing the deportation orders.

When the caravans of the deportees arrived, he provided them with livelihoods and tried to sent their families to the small villages of the district in order to rescue them. Until Gelal Bey kept his post, the Armenians of Konya remained in town and together with American missionaries they helped the thousands who transited from the railway station. This is why, in October 1915, he was sacked. After rescuing many human lives, he was not allowed anymore to hold public posts and he lived in poverty for many years, embittered for not succeeding in stopping the extermination, prey to his own helplessness.

The author of memoirs which witness to the truth of genocide, Gelal Bey strongly asserted that many Muslims and Turks did not approve of the heinous crimes perpetrated by the obedient officers. In his memoirs, Gelal Bey recalled the image of somebody sitting on the shore of a river, “too helpless to save anybody. All along the river thousands corpses of innocent children, unapproachable elders, hopeless women, and young, strong people, were swept away, towards Nothing. I rescued those I could with my bare hands, the rest were borne along by the river past the point of no return”.

Gelal Bey kept on fiercely opposing the UPC (Union and Progress Committee( and published in 1919 a series of articles in the Vakit newspaper, in which he said he had never believed the official justifications of the extermination of the Armenians.

He was a “witness to the truth”. He asserted that the conflicts between Kurds, Turks and Armenians had been taken as an excuse; he admitted believing at the beginning that the deportations were temporary domestic measures necessary because of war, and not being able even to imagine that the government had sought to destroy its own subjects. Turks and Muslims were politically exploited by the government, while many of them went to him because they wanted to host the Armenians in their homes. He also remembered that many ulemas, the Muslim scholars, were grateful to him for treating the Armenians humanely, because the protection of the powerless was demanded by the Sharia, and that among the Turks and Muslims he had met, no one approved of those crimes, of which on the contrary they were ashamed.

In 1919, the newspapers of Constantinople, eventually free from the cloak of terror imposed by the UPC, burst with criticism, accusations, confessions, and also Gelal Bey joined the chorus of revelations, unveiling the orders of Constantinople, his attempt to oppose massacres and how he had been demoted. Other tales and pieces of testimony followed, in a crescendo of horror, until the picture of the extermination of the Armenian people was clearly outlined.


[1] Armin T. Wegner e gli armeni in Anatolia, 1915. Immagini e testimonianze, Guerini&Ass. Milano 1996, from an interview that Wegner granted to Martin Rooney in December 1972, in Rome, page 52

Gardens that honour ​Mehmet Gelal Bey

​Mehmet Gelal Bey is honoured in the Garden of Milan - Monte Stella.

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Before, during, and after the genocide, the Righteous helped victims, tried to stop the massacres, or bore witness to what happened. They also denounced, at their own personal risk, the planning and implementation of the genocide.

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