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Thursday, July 1, 2021

The Treaty of Lausanne—The Birth of Turkey

The Treaty of Lausanne, which came into force on 6 August 1924, proves the dictum: the great wars are not won on the battlefield but in the postwar negotiations.

Turkey (the Ottoman Empire) lost the First World War, but it won a remarkable victory in the postwar negotiations. The Entente Powers, mainly Britain, France, Greece, and Italy, played into the hands of Mustafa Kemal and his team of brilliant strategists and negotiators. The activities of Russia (which was now the Soviet Union) must have helped Turkey in having its way at the negotiations. But Kemal got the credit for saving the Turkish national identity and culture. He later became famous as Kemal Ataturk—“Ataturk” means “Father of all Turks,” which is the title that a grateful Turkish parliament conferred on him in 1934. Under Turkish constitution, the title “Ataturk” is reserved for Kemal.

The negotiations at Lausanne began on 21 November 1922. At that time, the legal status of Turkey was not clear because the Ottoman Empire was still in existence, Sultan Mehmed VI was still the sovereign, and the Ottoman Caliphate was still in existence. One of the reasons that the Entente powers decided to negotiate with the faction led by Kemal is that he had the support of the Turkish (Ottoman) army and was in a position to maintain order in the Ottoman territory. He was also the most popular figure among the Turks.

As an army commander, Kemal had not lost a single battle—he was the architect of the Ottoman victory against the British at the Gallipoli campaign, and he was responsible for saving Anatolia from the Greek forces during the Greco-Turkish war (1919-1922). Between 1919 and 1921, he relinquished his army uniform and entered politics. He turned out to be an adroit politician. In May 1919, he arrived in the town of Samson (in the North coast of Turkey) and established the National Pact, which was a local self-defense group aimed at defending the Turkish population from the foreign occupiers, mainly the Greeks. On April 23, 1920, the National Assembly met at Ankara, a city that was Kemal's stronghold, and endorsed the National Pact. After the Greeks were driven out of Anatolia, the National Pact acquired the authority to speak for all Turks.

The chief negotiator at Lausanne was İsmet İnönü, Kemal’s former field commander who had led the Turkish forces against the Greeks. İnönü won the reputation of a tough negotiator who never yielded an inch to the other side. He used to deliver his position and then switch off his hearing aid so that he did not have to hear the position of Lord Curzon, British foreign secretary. When Lord Curzon finished speaking, İnönü would get up and firmly reiterate his position. Turkey ratified the treaty on 23 August 1923, and the other signatories ratified it on 16 July 1924. 

Kemal and İnönü had managed to get almost everything that they wanted from the Entente Powers. The state of Turkey got legal recognition from the international community, and the borders, as they are today, were drawn. There was a declaration of immunity for crimes committed between 1914 and 1922—this meant that there could never be any international investigation of the Armenian genocide. An exchange of population between Turkey and Greece was mandated, and this led to the exchange of more than 1.5 million people. The Ottoman Empire was a multicultural entity, the same would not be true of Turkey, which due to the genocides and massive exchange of population became a single culture nation.

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