Treaty of Lausanne

Treaty of Lausanne


In this article, we shall discuss the Treaty of Lausanne and the impact of the Lausanne Conference on Middle Eastern Politics, and more specifically, on the politics of Turkey. We will examine the history of the Lausanne Conference in the context of World War I and the end of the Ottoman Empire, and also in relation to the Treaty of Sevres. The Treaty of Lausanne is a very important development in the history of Turkey. The implications of the Lausanne Conference can be seen when looking at the state and borders of modern Turkey today.

What is the Treaty of Lausanne?

The Treaty of Lausanne was a treaty agreed upon by World War I Allied powers and Turkey in the year 1923. Prior to this treaty, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Allied Powers came together in Paris in 1919 for the Paris Peace Conference. Here, they negotiated and laid out the plans for Europe and the Middle East following the end of the war. Among other things, in the Treaty of Versailles, they listed a number of punishments for Germany for their role in the first World War. However, unable to agree on what would become of the Ottoman Empire, various international states met in London in 1920, and then in Sevres, France, in 1920 to outline their position regarding Turkey, the Turkish straits, ethnic minority areas in the region (including Armenia and an autonomous Kurdistan), as well as the expectations for Ottoman debt still owed to European powers. As we discuss here in our article on the Treaty of Sevres, among other things, the Allied powers and their aligned states gave away much of the Ottoman Empire, save for some of Anatolia. As mentioned, it was in the Treaty of Lausanne that Armenia received independence, that the Kurds had their own autonomous area, and that Greece would take control parts of Western Turkey (such as Izmir) (Sansal, 2016).

However, Mustapha Kemal (later known as Ataturk) organized a military force within Turkey with the objectives of turning back much of what was decided in the Treaty of Sevres. He was opposed to the creation of the Treaty of Sevres, and organized a resistance force in Ankara (Ekinci, 2016). So, Mustapha Kemal pushed a military campaign both into Eastern and Western Turkey. Because of Turkish victories against Greek forces in western Turkey, “The latter development placed Turkish forces near British troops in the area of the straits and led to an armistice at Mudanya in October 1922 at which the Allied powers restored Constantinople and the straits to Turkish authority and called for a peace convention to renegotiate the terms laid down at Sèvres” (Encyclopedia, 2016).

Because of the military gain and increased popularity within Turkey, Mustapha Kemal was able to reduce the role of the Sultan (abolishing the Sultanate), and being the sole representatives of Turkey (Ekinci, 2016). Ataturk’s authority was the only recognized one on behalf of Turkey at the Lausanne Conference. Kemal’s ally İsmet Paşa, or İsmet İnönü (as later called) was the Turkish negotiator and representative at the Lausanne Conference. During these talks, the European powers attempted to maintain much of the conditions outlined in the Treaty of Sevres.

However, İnönü attempted to shift attention from that document, advocating new terms, which ultimately were to be set out in the Treaty of Lausanne. But, “İsmet found himself treated as a supplicant rather than the representative of a government with recent victories. Unable to compete with the sophisticated debate of the Allied diplomats, İsmet responded with his own unique tactics. He feigned deafness, contested every point however minor, read long prepared statements, delayed debate by consultations with his colleagues, and periodically insisted on deferring discussion pending instructions from Ankara. These tactics led to a break of negotiations for two months beginning in February 1923” (Encyclopedia, 2016).

Following continued negotiations, the different countries reached a point in which they agreed in principle to terms. However, there were concerns in Turkey that Mustapha Kemal’s delegation was giving up too much in the negotiations. Interestingly, “Knowing that a Parliament of soldiers would not accept the treaty as it was, Mustafa Kemal Pasha adjourned Parliament and founded a new government composed of his own supporters to pass the treaty” (14 of the Turkish deputies still voted against the Lausanne Treaty) (Ekinci, 2016).

The Signing of the Treaty of Lausanne

The Treaty of Lausanne was signed on July 24th, 1923 by Turkey, Britain, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Japan, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal, and Belgium (Ekinci, 2016). The Treaty of Lausanne dictated the new conditions regarding the state of Turkey, and its international relations in the Middle East and with Western powers.

The Treaty of Lausanne, among other matters (which we shall discuss below), dictated the borders of Turkey, and areas that would be given up the by the state. According to the treaty, Turkey would renounce their territorial influence in the greater Middle East (territory that the Ottoman Empire controlled).

Under this new treaty, Turkey would be able to keep control of Istanbul, and also the greater Anatolia area (including Izmir, which was previously awarded to Greece in the Treaty of Sevres). Moreover, another reverse from the Treaty of Sevres to the Treaty of Lausanne was the issue of autonomy and independence for the Kurds and the Armenians, respectively. In the Treaty of Sevres, the Kurds were to have an autonomous state, whereas the Armenians would have an independent state. However, this idea was cancelled in the Treaty of Lausanne. Comparing the Treaty of Sevres to the Treaty of Lausanne on this issue of territory, Brown (1927) wrote that

In 1920, the Sultan’s Government, under the pressure of the Allied Powers in Constantinople, was constrained to accept the Enos-Midia boundary which left to Turkey only so much of European territory as was represented by Constantinople and a small hinterland for the protection of the capital. In 1923, the Turks received back approximately their old boundary line with Bulgaria and Western Thrace, which remained with Greece, including the Holy City of Andrianople which holds the tombs of the early Sultans. In 1920 they agreed to surrender Smyrna with a large outlying district to the Greeks, though retaining a fictitious sovereignty subject to extinction by a plebiscite to be held under the auspices of the League of Nations. In 1923 they retained this territory without any restrictions whatever. In 1920 they agreed to an independent Armenia and ultimately to an independent Kurdistan. The Treaty of Lausanne makes no mention of either” (113). 

So, it has been argued that the Treaty of Sevres and the Lausanne Treaty are quite similar, as both demand Turkey give up much of the territory they controlled in the Middle East (Ekinci, 2016). However, the Lausanne Treaty gave power Anatolian territory to Turkey, reverse the position of the Armenian state (something that seemed to upset some in the US Congress at the time) (Brown, 1927), and also allowed them greater control of the Turkish Straits, something not stipulated during the Sevres Conference.

Economically, through the terms of the Lausanne Treaty, Turkey no longer owed any debt to Germany. But Turkey still owed money; “the rest of the set was divided between the new states established on the former lands of the Ottoman Empire” (Ekinci, 2016) (such as Syria, Iraq, and Palestine) (World Affairs Institute, 1923), even though the capitations that devastated the Ottoman Empire economically were no longer in place (Ekinci, 2016).

The Treaty of Lausanne Today

The Treaty of Lausanne continues to be referenced in the international relations of Turkey and the Middle East today. Scholars, political leaders and students of international relations have discussed the implications of this treaty, with some going as far as debating whether Turkey was “victorious” or whether they “lost” when signing the Lausanne Treaty. For example, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the AK Party caused a lot of controversy in 2016 about the Treaty of Lausanne. During public comments, Erdogan said that signing the treaty cannot be viewed as a victory for Turkey on account of Turkey giving up islands in that deal to Greece. This caused many members of the Republican People’s Party (the party of Ataturk) to criticize Erdogan, suggesting that this was a slight against Ataturk himself (Washington Post, 2016).

For proponents of the Lausanne Treaty, they point out that this document, the way it was negotiated by İsmet İnönü helped ensure the survival of Turkey, through the reestablishment of territory, the renegotiation of debt, as well as the greatly influence of European powers in Turkey. Without the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey would still have been expected to adhere to the Sevres Treaty, which placed much harsher conditions on the state.

Individuals in Turkey were not the only ones upset with Erdogan’s comments in the summer of 2016. For example, “In Greece, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said Friday: “Efforts to cast doubt on international treaties lead to dangerous paths.” He urged Turkey not to “pursue” those paths” (Washington Post). Some question the need for Erdogan to bring up an almost century-old treaty, especially when his comments only upset people within Turkey and also in Greece.

Treaty of Lausanne References

Brown, P.M. (1924). From Sevres to Lausanne. The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 18, No. 1, pages 113-116. 

Brown, P.M. (1927). The Lausanne Treaty. The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 21, No. 3, pages 503-505.

Ekinci, E.B. (2016). Treaty of Lausanne: Triumph or loss? Daily Sabah Feature. July 29, 2016. Available Online:

Encyclopedia (2016). Treaty of Lausanne (1923). Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. Available Online:

Sansal, B. (2016). Treaties of Sevres and Lausanne. All About Turkey. Available Online:

Washington Post (2016). Erdogan comments on historic treaty irk opposition, Greece. The Washington Post. September 30, 2016. Available Online:

World Affairs Institute (1923). Turkey and the Lausanne Treaty. Advocate of Peace through Justice, Vol. 85, No. 4, pages 149-150. World Affairs Institute. 

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