Treaty of Sevres
In order to understand the domestic politics of the Middle East, as well as the international relations of the Middle East, it is imperative to examine The Treaty of Sevres, and the political implications of this treaty. We will analyze the formation of the Paris Peace Conference (and the Treaty of Versailles), and then the Treaty of Sevres, the context in which it was created, the what resulted from this treaty. In addition, we will discuss the effects of the Treaty of Sevres still to this day (and its relation to the Treaty of Lausanne).
What is the Treaty of Sevres?
The Treaty of Sevres was an agreement out of World War I.During this time, the Allied Powers (led by Britain and France) were negotiating a series of treaties to influence the war, whether it was with the Ottoman Empire, or with one another (such as the Constantinople Agreement in 1915, the Treaty of London, the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Saint Jean de Maurienne Agreement, August 18, 1917, the Balfour Declaration (1917), Hogarth Message, Fourteen Points, Four Principles (1918), Declaration to the Seven (1918), Four Ends, Five Particulars, the Anglo-French Declaration, or the Armistice of Mudros) (Helmreich, 1974). The desire to negotiate the end of World War I led both sides to the table to discuss what the end of the conflict would look like, as well as what the geopolitical conditions would be in the Middle East. So, the Allied Powers worked to outline what the conditions of defeat would be. However, it was the attempt to come to an agreement with the Ottoman Empire that did take the longest time for these states (Helmreich, 1974).
Who was involved in the Treaty of Sevres?
The Treaty of Sevres was between the Allied Powers and the leaders of the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty of Sevres officially ended the existence of the Ottoman Empire, and in its place, decided the boundaries of the modern state of Turkey. In addition, the Treaty of Sevres called for the Ottoman Empire to give up all claims of external territory in the region. Furthermore, Sevres offered an autonomous Armenia, as well as an autonomous Kurdish region in the Middle East (Britannica, 2016).
Interestingly, before the formation of the Sevres Treaty, the Allied Powers and their alliances were not exactly sure what demands they would inquire from the Ottoman Empire and Germany. While an earlier Armistice of Mudros outlined the end of conflict, Mudros did not specific specific conditions for the complete ending of war. In addition, the Armistice also did not outline what troop withdrawal would look like, nor did the Armistice of Mudros deal with political fate of the Young Turks within Committee for Union and Progress (in the Ottoman Empire). So, the Allied Powers came together in Paris for the Paris Peace Conference to formalize the conditions that would end World War I.
What were the goals of the Paris Peace Conference?
In order to understand the evolution of the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Sevres, we must examine what the objectives of the different actors in World War I (and the negotiations) were. Thus, in order to understand how the Treaty of Sevres was finalized, one should know the interests of Britain, France, Russia, Germany and the Ottoman Empire. For Britain, the conservatives within the government were advocating the image of a powerful Britain, whose empire would continue to exist in the Middle East and elsewhere.
For Britain, “The election only strengthened the imperialists’ position. Thus while public pressure for a peace that would force the defeated continental powers to pay the costs of the war and reconstruction was great, the chief aims of the government, both before and after the election, were the destruction of Germany’s navy and the relinquishment of all colonies held by the defeated nations. In this pro-imperial policy Britain was strongly supported by its overseas dominions (Helmreich, 1974). Britain had an interest in the Middle East, but even more than that was their imperial control over India; they wanted to make sure that nothing would jeopardize their power in India. So, Britain used the end of World War I and the Treaty of Sevres to ensure that they had control of the Suez Canal, which allowed them to still have unfettered access to India. This position was something Britain held onto since decades earlier, and even why they were supportive of the Ottoman Empire’s existence in the late 1800s and early 1900s; there was little challenge to their control of the Sublime Porte (Helmreich, 1974).
So, Britain had a few important foundational issues that they wanted to protect going into treaty negotiations. As Helmreich (1974) notes, “The demands and claims of the British delegation to the Peace Conference centered on three basic concepts. The first was the necessity of establishing as great a degree of British supremacy as possible in the Near East. Second, there was the equal necessity of reducing the competitive position of France to the lowest possible level. Finally, there was the belief that the traditional policy of supporting the government at Constantinople would no longer suffice to satisfy these ends” (12-13) (this attention to British naval control can be seen with British moved to limit French presence in the Armistice of Mudros) (Helmreich, 1974).
France and the Paris Peace Conference
Part of this again had to do with near state rivalries, one of which being France. France had its own interests in the Middle East and North Africa, which were evident during the Treaty of Sevres negotiations. Even earlier than this, France and Britain negotiated territories during the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which gave France influence over Syria and Lebanon. However, while some of the territories of the Middle East were decided amongst these powers, the rivalry between France and Britain through the 1800s and early 1900s continued into the end of the First World War. Britain was worried about giving up influence to France, despite the deal made in 1915.
Britain, seeing that France could expand its influence in the Eastern part of the Middle East, was willing to support autonomous regions of Armenia and Kurdistan, as this would keep a check on potential French expansion. So, Britain advocated US control over these areas (Helmreich, 1974).
In addition, Britain also thought about allowing the United States to oversee Palestine. This position did not last long, however, as Britain understand the geopolitical value of Palestine, particularly as it related to their interests in Egypt, with the Suez Canal, and also in the Iraq area (Helmreich, 1974). But again, they were more open to an American role than a French one, given the history that Britain had with France, and the belief that the US would not act in the same fashion as France has (and could) (Helmreich, 1974).
France had its own interests in the Middle East. Part of this had to do with their history of attempted expansion in countries like Egypt in the late 1700s, and also their colonialism in Northern African countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. The French government, driven by the “Mission to Civilize” (Conklin, 1997), and viewed themselves as the guardians of Christianity and also “civilization,” and wanted to push their ideas further in the region. France was equally worried about British presence in the Middle East, and especially the idea that Britain should control the Turkish Straits. It was for this reason that France kept arguing for the protection of the Sykes-Picot Agreement (which maintained their control of Syria and Lebanon), unless a better deal could come along (Helmreich, 1974). Yet, France, hit hard by the war, seemed to be more willing to offer some territorial control of the Middle East to Britain (which included Iraq) so that an entente would continue to exist. For France, a peace with Britain was very important to their state, and thus, were very willing to allow Britain control of Middle East territory if this would then lead to better conditions between the two powers (Helmreich, 1974).
Italy and the Paris Peace Conference
While the British and French largely drove the conversations about the end of World War I, Italy, who controlled Libya, was actually pushing for an agreement that would maintain stability in the region. As Helmreich 1974) writes: “the Italians sought, above all else, the preservation of a “Mediterranean equilibrium” following the projected breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Aside from Libya, which had for all intents and purposes been a closed Italian preserve since the Italian-Turkish War of 1911-12, this meant that Italy was less concerned with obtaining specific rights and privileges than with the maintenance and even extension of its position as a Mediterranean and colonial power. Thus any extension of territorial influence on the part of any other power in the Near East must of necessity bring a concomitant extension of Italian control or spheres of influence” (18). The Italian leaders at the time were content with not having control over territories, so long as others were in a similar position.
However, nearing the Paris Peace Conference, they realized that Britain and France positioned themselves to gain significant territory following the end of World War I and the Ottoman concession of defeat. So, they looked to secure a better lot for themselves. While Italy had a desire for some territory in what would be modern day Turkey, they understood that their claims would be challenged by Wilson and others. Furthermore, Britain and France already had a presence in areas they were looking to claim; Italy did not have such a position (In fact, France actually had troops in some areas that Italy was hoping would be their land following the Paris Peace Conference. Italy even argued, unsuccessfully, to send troops (Britain and France told them that there was no need, given the reduction in hostilities). So, Italy went into the Paris Peace Conference skeptical of any success, and unhappy, given the possibilities of further power by Britain, the US and France in the Middle East and North Africa. What made matters worse for Italy from a bargaining position was the fact that neither Britain, nor France seemed to particularly value the Italian alliance for their future objectives Yet, inside powers in Italy continued to advocate for additional territory at the Paris Peace Conference (Helmreich, 1974).
The United States and the Paris Peace Conference
The United States was an active participant in the Paris Peace Conference, although it was careful to get too involved, especially since the United States never directly declared war against the Ottomans. Plus, Woodrow Wilson understood the potential political backlash that he could face at home in America if the US was too involved in post war matters in the Middle East. Woodrow Wilson advocated that any conclusions to the war be based on his Fourteen Points. But for Wilson, applying the Fourteen Points was much more doable towards Germany, rather than Turkey, since the Ottoman Empire did not surrender with the understanding that future conditions would be built upon the Fourteen Points. However, there was also an anti-Turkish and Muslim sentiment in the United States as well. So, the United States, at the Paris Peace Conference, called for the straits to be under international control (namely, through the League of Nations).
The Paris Peace Conference and the Turkish Straits
One of the other main points of debate surrounding the Paris Peace Conferenc, and later, the Treaty of Sevres had to do with the Turkish Straits. While the other issues were more accepted during the Paris Peace Conference, there was no clarity or unanimity during the conference (and within the Treaty of Versailles) on what would happen to Constantinople or to the Turkish Straits. While there were calls in Britain to remove Turkish presence from Constantinople, others condemned this idea, worrying that it would cause a backlash in areas such as Muslim communities in India. Still, British leaders, supported by public opinion (which was aided by anti-Islamic messages in the country). But the leaders did look to the United States to control the Turkish straits, which would allow Britain to still maintain their influence in the Middle East.
However, US President Woodrow Wilson was not accepting this role. Wilson did not want to get the US directly involved, and knew that this would be a tough sell to the public. So, upon additional discussions, the British War Office agreed to have Turkey leave from Europe, and to have Istanbul overseen by an international commission (even though they kept pushing the idea of the US controlled straights throughout the Paris Peace Conference) (Helmreich, 1974).
The Treaty of Versailles
The result of the negotiations during the Paris Peace Conference was the Treaty of Versailles. The Versailles Treaty was an agreement finalizing the end of the war, and putting direct punishments on Germany. For example, “The Treaty required the new German Government to surrender approximately 10 percent of its prewar territory in Europe and all of its overseas possessions. It placed the harbor city of Danzig (now Gdansk) and the coal-rich Saarland under the administration of the League of Nations, and allowed France to exploit the economic resources of the Saarland until 1935. It limited the German Army and Navy in size, and allowed for the trial of Kaiser Wilhelm II and a number of other high-ranking German officials as war criminals. Under the terms of Article 231 of the Treaty, the Germans accepted responsibility for the war and the liability to pay financial reparations to the Allies. The Inter-Allied Commission determined the amount and presented its findings in 1921. The amount they determined was 132 billion gold Reichmarks, or 32 billion U.S. dollars, on top of the initial $5 billion payment demanded by the Treaty” (US Office of the Historian, ND).
Negotiating the Treaty of Sevres
So, while there was agreement on a number of issues out of the Paris Peace Conference, the various Allied Powers did not agree on how to approach every detail regarding the Ottoman Empire following the conference. It was not the ideas of what to do that were the issue, but rather, the logistics and effects of these decisions. As Helmreich (1974) writes: If the Straits and Constantinople were to be internationalized, how would this affect Constantinople’s religious role as the seat of the caliphate? If non-Turkish elements were to be freed, how was this freedom to be achieved; what sort of states created; what degree of independence or foreign control allowed; and under the protective wing of which European nation would each area be placed? What was meant by a “national home for the Jews”? How were Wilson’s various declarations of purpose to be reconciled with the secret agreements of the war years? How could one deter mine the wishes of the peoples of the Near East, and, if they could be determined at all, were their aims economically and politically feasible?” (24). There were also questions of what would become of the Ottoman debt. These topics quickly showed the divergent opinions on said matters during the Paris Peace Conference. Although some of the matters were still more agreed upon, disagreements remained. One of the challenges would be what to do with Ottoman Empire territory until the agreements were fully carried out. Because of states concerned with British interests, the Allied powers pushed for various mandates within the Middle East (Helmreich, 1974).
The Treaty of London (1920)
Unable to decide on all matters pertaining to the end of the Ottoman Empire, Allied powers came together in London in 1920 to discuss the future of Ottoman-related issues.
For some time, the Allied countries continued to debate the future of Constantinople. Whereas Britain was more supportive of ending Ottoman Power, France called for Turkey to retain Constantinople; Britain felt that this was their way of maintaining influence in Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East (France owned significant Ottoman debt) (Montgomery, 1972). As Montgomery (1972) explains: “There was therefore a sharp contrast between British and French policy at this time. French policy was based firmly upon two principles: the preservation of Turkish integrity; and the imposition upon Turkey of stringent controls which would guarantee the security of French investments. On these two points the French had not given ground, indeed they had if anything stiffened their attitude by reopening the issue of Constantinople” (779).
The Signing of the Treaty of Sevres
The Treaty of Sevres was signed on August 10, 1920. The Sevres Treaty dissolved the Ottoman Empire, defined the territory of post-Ottoman Turkey (within this the Sevres Treaty left Constantinople within the Turkish borders, gave independence to areas such as Armenia (despite some controversy on this issue within London (Montgomery, 1972)), and maintained the capitulations that the Ottoman Empire offered companies in countries such as Britain and France (these were economic benefits offered so that outside businesses would come and trade in Turkey). In fact, this was one of the reasons that France was so supportive of the Treaty of Sevres; they felt that they would hold a great deal of political weight throughout Turkey (Montgomery, 1972). Overall, the conditions set forth in London were rather similar during the final Sevres Treaty (Montgomery, 1972).
The Allied Powers looked to hold Turkey economically responsible for the war, although it knew that Turkey could not offer “complete reparation” for its role during World War I. So, the Allies, through the Treaty of Sevres, called for Turkey to pay “for all loss and damage suffered by civilian nationals of the Allied Powers in respect of their persons or property through the action or negligence of the Turkish authorities during the war and up to the coming into force of the present treaty” (Brown, 1927: 113). Through the Sevres Treaty, the Allied powers set up a financial commission to deal with these matters. The economic capitulations from the Ottoman Empire era were also reinforced within this treaty (the Ottoman Empire cancelled all capitulations On October 1st, 1914) (Brown, 1927).
The Treaty of Sevres also addressed the Turkish Straits: Article 37 of the Treaty of Sevres reads: The navigation of the Straits, including the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmora and the Bosphorus, shall in future be open, both in peace and war, to every vessel of commerce or of war and military and commercial aircraft, without distinction of flag. These waters shall not be subject to blockade, nor shall any belligerent right be exercised nor any act of hostility be committed within them, unless in pursuance of a decision of the Council of the League of Nations.” Later articles give power to a commission (made up of the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, and Turkey) to oversee the Turkish Straits. The Treaty of Sevres also set up the The Council of the Debt for the money the Ottoman Empire continue to owe, and also stipulated articles related to goods and international trade (Treaty of Sevres, 1920)). Moreover, the Treaty of Sevres also limited the Turkish military to 50,000 troops (Ekinci, 2016).
However, as quickly as the Sevres treaty was signed, it was being contested by Turkish forces in Anatolia. Under Mustafa Kemal (who would later be known as Ataturk), he fought for the territorial losses from the Sevres Treaty, and over time, renegotiated the agreement through the Lusanne Conference. The Treaty of Lusanne defined the new borders of post-Ottoman Turkey.
Treaty of Sevres References
Britannica (2016). Treaty of Sevres. Available Online: https://www.britannica.com/event/Treaty-of-Sevres
Brown, P.M. (1927). The Lausanne Treaty. The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 21, No. 3, pages 503-505.
Conklin, A. (1997). Chapter 1: The Setting: The Idea of the Civilizing Mission in 1895 and the Creation of the Government General, pages 11-37, in A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, Stanford University Press.
Ekinci, E.B. (2016). Treaty of Lausanne: Triumph or loss? Daily Sabah Feature. July 29, 2016. Available Online: http://www.dailysabah.com/feature/2016/07/29/treaty-of-lausanne-triumph-or-loss
Helmreich, P.C. (1974). From Paris to Sevres. The Ohio State University.
Montgomery, A.E. (1972). VIII The Making of the Treaty of Sevres of 10 August 1920. The Historical Journal, xv, 4, pages 775-787.
US Office of the Historian. The Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles. Milestones in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations. Office of the Historian. Available Online: https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/paris-peace
Treaty of Sevres (1920). Treaty of Sevres. Available Online: http://treaties.fco.gov.uk/docs/pdf/1920/TS0011.pdf