Unambigously, the Great conference in Paris at the end of the First World War has been drawing our attention recently. Our increased interest lays in the fact that a hundred years later we still live in a world strongly influenced by the Versailles Treaty. Basically, we are concerned about our own world.
At the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century, the data in the Balkans and the Middle East are clearly differentiated not only with the data of the First World War, but also with the data that characterized these regions until the end of Cold War. Their gradual disintegration has contributed to the rapid transformation of their contemporary mosaic, which is characterized by political instability, foreign influence and centrifugal minority trends. Additionally, the strategic encirclement by Turkey, extreme Islam, the immigration issue, as well as the ever-decreasing and increasing military power, could be considered as very important factors.
Turkey nowadays represents new geostrategic power with increasing energy tendencies in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean. According to some estimates its’ expansive revisionist policy has endangered all Mediterranean states: "If Turkey enters the Mediterranean hydrocarbons game, it could acquire an excessive power by means of which it would manage to swallow all the Mediterranean states, including Israel and Egypt, but also rich in minerals Africa".
However, Turkish president Erdogan activated nationalist alarm by claiming "that current world order might force Turkey to face Treaty of Sevres conditions", referring to 1920 document which after WWI portioned the Ottoman Empire depriving it of significant territories. Presenting his calls for extending Turkey’s current borders "as the struggle to preserve a single nation, a single homeland, a single state", he said that "At this critical time when there are attempts to restructure the wοrld and our region, if we stop we will find ourselves facing the Sevres conditions".
In order to understand the significant contemporary problems in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean as well to deal with pressing boundary disputes and problems of minorities that have emerged in recent years, one should understand the meaning of the aforementioned settlement, as the milestone in the history of these regions.
The Paris 1919 peace settlement and geopolitical reshuffle of Europe and the Middle East
The Paris Peace Conference lasted a whole year, during which Greek Prime minister Venizelos and his colleagues energetically negotiated the Greek claims. Nevertheless, at the end of the Conference they had achieved almost nothing and of this they were painfully aware. The causes of this failure should, however, not be sought in Greek diplomatic mistakes, nor were the clashes with the Turks in Asia Minor and the atrocities perpetrated by both sides responsible for the uncertainty of the Greek claim to Smyrna. The responsibility for the interminable delays and frustration of Greek hopes for a speedy and favorable peace, lies primarily with Italy and the United States. Italy obstructed all Greek claims in an effort to prevent her from gaining a preponderant position in the Balkans and in the Eastern Mediterranean. Apart from base intrigue and outright co-operation with Turkey and Bulgaria, she used the 1915 London treaty as a diplomatic weapon in Paris. Indeed the importance of this treaty in delaying the proceedings of the Conference and establishing utterly unjustifiable Italian claims in Albania, the Dodecanese and Asia Minor can hardly be exaggerated. The United States, the only Great power uncommitted to the 1915 Treaty, apart from her failure to support Greek claims to Thrace and Northern Epirus, was responsible for not forcing Italy to abandon her most outrageous claims. Even more so, however, America was responsible for obstructing the Peace Conference from dealing promptly with the Turkish question, by holding out expectations-that the Senate would sanction American mandates in the Near East. Under the circumstances, Britain and France could hardly other than wait for an American decision on mandates: France faced far more immediate problems and the British were unwilling to assume additional military commitments in Asia.
With the signing of the Treaty of Moudros (31/10/1918), the process of dissolution of the Ottoman Empire began. With the conquest of Constantinople and the collapse of the Allied forces in Asia Minor, Turkish nationalists, mainly from the Young Turks, formed the Turkish National Movement (May 1919), establishing its own parliament, based in Ankara and a provisional government headed by Mustafa Kemal Pasha and created a national army to liberate Turkey from allied occupation. This war was divided into the following phases: Armenian-Turkish 1920-21, French-Turkish 1920-21, Greek-Turkish 1920-22 and ended with the victory of the Turkish nationalists.
The peacemakers neglected the abject Ottomans throughout 1919, only drafting the terms of Sèvres in London and San Remo in the spring of 1920, by which time conditions were much altered. Sèvres recognised an independent state of Armenia, imposed strict military restrictions on Turkey, established international control over the Straits and awarded spheres of influence in Anatolia to Italy and France, whilst Greece was given most of Thrace and the opportunity to govern Izmir for five years before a plebiscite decided its fate. Italy was confirmed in the possession of the Dodecanese Islands (already under Italian occupation since the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–1912. Large portions of Southern and West-Central Anatolia (the Mediterranean coast of Turkey and the inlands), including the port city of Antalya and the historic Seljuk capital of Konya, were declared an Italian zone of influence. Antalya Province was promised by the Triple Entente to Italy in the Treaty of London, and the Italian colonial authorities wished the zone to become an Italian colony under the name of Lycia.
The Treaty of Sevres was of particular importance to Greece. Under this treaty, Turkey occupied Constantinople, but lost 80% of the Ottoman Empire's territory. The rights recognized in Greece for the Smyrna region amounted to full adherence to it. In addition, Turkey conferred on Greece almost all of Eastern Thrace and the islands of the Eastern Aegean, Lemnos, Lesvos, Thassos, Chios, Ikaria, Samos, Samothrace, and waived Greece's right to Imbros and Tenedos. This treaty would also regulate the issue of Bulgaria's exit to the Aegean and many other pending issues covering the territories from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula and Cyprus. Saudi Arabia became independent, Turkey lost the rights to Sudan and Libya, while Mesopotamia, Palestine and Syria became League of Nation mandates and were to be run by France and Britain. Nevertheless, the Treaty of Sevres was never implemented and was finally replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne. The most important factors that contributed to the non-implementation of the Treaty of Sevres were the resistance of Mustafa Kemal's nationalist movement and the change of policy of some allies, the destruction of Smyrna and the withdrawal of the Greek army from Asia Minor and the resignation of King Constantine in the aftermath of the 1922 revolution led by Plastira.
The partition of Anatolia and the presence of foreign troops over wide areas of the country was not envisaged by the Turks when they signed the Mudros armistice in 1918. The allied occupation of Constantinople in March 1920 and the subsequent occupation of eastern Thrace and most western Anatolia swelled the ranks of Turkish nationalists. The harsh terms of the Sevres treaty encouraged the growth of nationalist movement. However without outside assistance, the Turkish nationalist could not hope to defy successfully the Greek Army and the Supreme Council whose tasks were to enforce the Treaty of Sevres and to promote the aspiration of Hellenism in Anatolia. The goal of Turkish diplomacy was to seek direct foreign aid to splinter allied solidarity. Therefore, in the field of foreign policy the first step was to contact with Soviets. Allied intervention in Russia through the straits and supports of Greek claims in Asia Minor brought Moscow and Ankara closer together. Regarded as crucial to Soviets "in order to group around awakening people of the East and fight with them against international imperialism", Turkish national forces by means of the military and economic aid of the Soviet ally raised both the moral and effectiveness. No less important to the nationalist cause was the conclusion of separate agreements by the provisional Ankara government with Italy and France. The negotiations leading up to these agreements were conducted secretly and without consulting the British and clearly indicated a rift between allies which became more pronounced as the days passed.
The Turkish national government refused to recognize the Treaty of Sèvres for the partition of Asia Minor among the Allies, rejected the Sultanate government that signed it, and the Turkish National Army, backed by Soviet Russia, engaged in armed action against the Allies. The Sultan signed under duress but Kemal’s revolt was growing and in 1921 his forces halted the Greeks at the Battle of Sakarya. He then drove them back with increasing speed in 1922, culminating in a massacre at Izmir on 9th September 1922 and a stand-off with a small British force at Chanak, where war was averted by a combination of luck and good sense. With the victorious outcome of the war in favor of the Turkish nationalists, Turkey's Grand National Assembly decided to abolish the Ottoman Sultanate (1/11/1922). Sultan was deported and expelled from Constantinople, taking the route of exile, first to Malta and then to the Italian Riviera. Although the Sultanate was abolished, the Islamic Caliphate remained untouched by the political-crusading aspirations of Turkish nationalists.
The Treaty of Sèvres and Libya memorandum
The Treaty of Sevres which Turkish President referred to determined in fact the dissolution of Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of WWI. That is why he basically claimed that by the recent signing the Memorandum of cooperation with the Tripoli government he managed to avoid the new Treaty of Sevres and the negative situation for Turkey in Eastern Mediterranean.
Maybe this is the sign that even in this rapidly changing world we should not neglect the lessons of history offering us constructive analogies.
MacMillan M.,* Lessons from history. The Paris Peace Conference 1919.
Παπαδάκης Νικόλαος Εμμ., *Ελευθέριος Βενιζέλος, Ο Άνθρωπος, Ο Ηγέτης, Βιογραφία, Εθνικό Ίδρυμα Ερευνών και Μελετών, Ελευθέριος Κ. Βενιζέλος, 2017.
Pecinar A., The Paris 1919 Peace Settlement and the Balkan geopolitical realities. A small survey on post WWI geopolitical reshuffle of the Balkans and its contemporary consequences and determinants, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing 2020.