Metin Camcigil, Former President of ASA

A general assessment
The international community concluded a variety of agreements between its members since time immemorial. Friendly pacts such as exchange, co-operation or assistance agreements, defensive pacts such as non-aggression or neutrality agreements, or strategic alliances, and agreements to end hostilities such as peace treaties. An overwhelming majority of peace treaties were the punitive conditions dictated by the victor to the vanquished. It is this pervasive punitive nature of peace treaties that in fact sawed the seeds of subsequent wars. The peace treaties concluded at the end of WWI were no exception. The Sevres Treaty concluded between the victorious Allied powers and the dying Ottoman Empire was one of them. True to the paradigm, this Treaty engendered the Turkish national movement and the independence war.

The Turkish Independence War was fought by a decimated nation (not a state) against the most colonialist, imperialist, powerful, hence the most arrogant and aggressive states of the time, Britain and France, and their cronies Italy and Greece. That war was not between states, between nations within a state, or by a nation against its state. The Turkish Independence War was between one nation and the most powerful and aggressive several states. It was a war by a nation deprived of all resources, even human resources, which was depleted by at the least 1\3 after more than ten years of continuous wars at several fronts at the same time, some of which were one thousand mile apart. This nation’s success was due to the good fortune of having a genius for leader, and to the extraordinary energy, anger, revolt, and determination born out of long suffering, humiliation and unfairness.

The Independence War started as between unequals and ended with a peace treaty between equals. This is one characteristic of the Lausanne Treaty. This document was negotiated with long and hard deliberations spreading over an eight month period, including an almost three moths interruption. There was neither imposition of terms by the victor Turkey, nor easy giving in by the vanquished super-powers.

The Lausanne Treaty should be considered as the Treaty that changed the course of world affairs and set the course for the 20th century’s free and democratic system. While the very first anti-colonialist war was the American war of independence in 1776, colonial regimes under imperialistic designs continued until the end of WWI. The series of peace treaties concluded at the end of WWI and particularly the establishment of the League of Nations heralded the dawn of a new era of freedom. However, none of these international agreements and the organization survived. In fact, in the mean time, the Soviet communism created a new type of imperialism. It was rather the defeat of the most imperialistic state, Britain, although victorious out of WWI, by the determination of Turks that put an end to the colonialist practices of superpowers. The Turkish success for equal treatment sparked a will in the heart of many oppressed nations. No history book would admit these facts and define the Lausanne Treaty as defined here, because the losers of the colonialism write them. But the most unfortunate aspect is that the builders of this success, the Turks, do not perceive and celebrate and promote the Treaty as such. Nonetheless, the Lausanne Treaty still stands tall in the international scene as a monument for freedom, equality and peace, while many other treaties have failed to achieve freedom or peace, and were buried in history.

A distinguishing feature of the Lausanne treaty is that it was not only a peace instrument, more importantly it was an international recognition of a new state. It was the death certificate of the Ottoman Empire and the birth certificate of the Turkish republic. This change of power also took place differently than the accustomed fashion. It was not the result of a domestic uprising, not a fratricidal revolution like the French, American, German or Russian revolutions. It was a peaceful forcing out of an old regime by persuasion. The birth of this new state was neither a grant by the sovereign, like in the case of Egypt and other Arab states, nor a grant by the grace and force of some external intervention, like in the case of Greece and Bulgaria. The Turkish independence was won with the blood of its own heroes.

The making of the Treaty
After the defeat and expulsion from Anatolia of the British surrogate Greek troops on September 10, 1922, and the confrontation of Turkish troops with the British troops a week later at the occupied zones of the Straits, the British finally agreed to call for armistice. Armistice was signed at Mudanya on October 11, 1922. Occupying allied forces were withdrawn from Istanbul, and the Straits. The Turkish troops entered Istanbul on October 19. On the same day, Lloyd George was forced to resign. The Allies invited Turkey to a peace conference in Lausanne on October 27.

The Conference started on November 21. The Turkish delegation was composed of Ismet Inonu, as the head of delegation, Dr. Riza Nur, and Trabzon Deputy Hasan. One time Finance Minister Cavit and Chief Rabbi Naum were advisors. The other parties to the Conference were Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, and Serbo-Croatia. Turkey also requested Russia’s participation in the negotiations for the status of the Straits. Subsequently, Belgium and Portugal were also invited to take part in the discussion of the financial matters. United States of America attended as observer.

The position of the parties at the outset was as follows:

  • Turkey was the victorious party, but as a battered and new nation it was an underdog. However, it was, for the same reason, motivated, jealous of its independence, insistent in being treated as an equal, although it also wanted peace. It resisted any identification with the Ottoman administration. It was very realistic on territorial issues, but very adamant about lifting the Ottoman era “capitulations”. The borders were to be determined along the lines of the National Pact declared in 1920. “Capitulations” had to go at all cost.
  • Britain considered the new Turkish authority as the successor of the Ottoman administration. Therefore, Britain was the victor of WWI and Turks were beaten. Britain was the superpower that could dictate to a poor, new borne state in need of everything. Furthermore, Lloyd George considered that Turks did not know how to govern themselves and deal with the minorities and with other countries; therefore they did not deserve independence. The old policy toward the Ottomans should continue. British imperial interests in the Straits, Middle East oil, and the Suez Canal should be under British control. He wanted to avenge the British defeat and retreat at the Dardanelles in 1915 and the disastrous defeat and surrender of General C. Townsend at Kut el-Amara in 1916. He wanted to achieve at the Conference table what he could not on the battlefield. He was prepared to continue the war
  • France did not want to continue the hostilities. They did not hold such enmity towards Turks, as did Britain. They were aware of the British expansionist plans especially in the Middle East, and they wanted to block the British, to hold on to some territory in the Middle East. The only concern of France as regards Turkey was to protect their economic interests (Capitulations) in Turkey that was granted to them by the Ottoman administrations.
  • Italy did not want to continue the war either, but they always harbored colonial ambitions without success. As usual they were waiting in the sidelines to collect their spoils from WWI. They wanted to have some control over the Eastern Mediterranean, such as the Aegean islands and navigation rights.
  • Greece was the vanquished. It could only rely on the usual British protection, which was abundantly available.

The negotiations were tough. Both the British and the Turks were determined to get what they wanted. The Conference broke down on February 4, 1923. Atatürk staged a tactical move to disarm the French resistance regarding the economic issues. He convened an Economic Conference in Izmir on February 17 to discuss and define the economic policies of the new administration. The Conference concluded that no privileges would be given to foreign businesses operating in the country, they will enjoy equal rights under the Turkish law. This decision proved to be effective to neutralize the French at the Lausanne Conference.

The Conference reconvened at Lausanne on April 23, 1923. Parties had to make compromises on their original positions. On the question of the Straits, Turkey was prepared in any case to agree to the free passage of commercial traffic and limited passage of warships. However, it had to agree also to demilitarize a 20 km wide zone and to establish an international commission to oversee the traffic through the Straits. (These provisions were subsequently superseded by another Treaty signed at Montreux on July 20, 1936).

Turkey tried hard to define its border>s as declared in its National Pact in 1920, and wanted to include Mosul and Iskenderun within its territory. But, these areas remained occupied by the British and the French forces respectively since the end of WWI. Britain wanted to hold on to the oil reserves of Mosul. In the absence of an agreement the matter was referred to bilateral negotiations to take place after the Lausanne Conference. The status of Iskenderun was similarly postponed. In the subsequent negotiations Turkey agreed to cede Mosul to British mandate in exchange of some monetary compensation. Ataturk was personally involved in the annexation of the province of Iskenderun (Hatay). By use of military force and by negotiation he first obtained independence for the province on September 2, 1938. A short time later on June 23, 1939 Hatay joined Turkey.

As to the western border, both eastern and western Thrace was Turkish, and Turkey’s general goal was to incorporate them into its borders. In view of the reality that a military action in western Thrace would meet with a strong allied European resistance, Turkey had to forgo the Western Thrace much to its chagrin.

Although Greece was to pay reparations for the war damage it caused in Anatolia, it was in no financial condition to pay it. Turkey agreed to forgo the payment in exchange of the town of Karaagac. There was also the question of exchange of Turkish populations in Thrace for Greeks in Anatolia (excluding those in Istanbul). This became a difficult issue to resolve, numerous negotiations continued until after the Lausanne Conference, and could be definitively resolved on October 30, 1930 during the Greek President Venizelos’ visit to Turkey. The agreement was that, the populations will be exchanged with the exception of those in Western Thrace and in Istanbul, and their property will be transferred to the respective government.

After these compromises the final form of the Treaty provided that:

  • The Turkish-Syrian border was defined as in the October 20,1921 Ankara agreement between Turkey and France.
  • The Turkish -Bulgarian border was defined as in the 1913 Istanbul agreement between Turkey and Bulgaria.
  • The Turkish-Greek border was defined as the Meric River, and the Aegean islands, with the exception of Imroz, Bozcaada and Tavsanli, were to go to Greece on the condition that they would be demilitarized.
  • Dedocanese islands were given to Italy (which after WWII were surprisingly transferred to Greece).
  • Definition of the border with Iraq was deferred until after the conference, and was settled later as mentioned above.
  • All residual rights of Turkey over Egypt, Sudan and Cyprus were transferred to Britain.
  • The status of the Straits was to be defined in a separate document as mentioned above.
  • Capitulations gradually granted to foreign businesses and minorities by the Ottoman administrations were to end.
  • Some provisions dealt with the settlement of the Ottoman debts, which Turkey paid in full in the succeeding years.
  • Many provisions of the Treaty regulated the status of minorities in Turkey and in Western Thrace.

The Lausanne Treaty was signed on July 24, 1923, and entered into force on August 6, 1924 after Turkey, Britain, France and Italy ratified it. The Treaty consists of the Peace Treaty, the Agreement on the Status of the Straits, the Agreement regarding the Western Thrace Border, the Agreement regarding the Judicial Competence, the Trade Agreement, the Agreement regarding the Exchange of Turkish and Greek Populations, the Turco-Greek Agreement regarding the release of the Interned Civilians and the War Prisoners. There were also several subsidiary Protocols and Exchange of Letters.