Editorial: Turkey Still Hasn’t Paid Debt Incurred through Treaty of Sèvres


Next year is the 90th anniversary of the Treaty of Sèvres. On August 10, 1920, all the major and minor allies during World War I, as well as the authorized representatives of the defeated Ottoman Empire, took part in the conference that was held in the city of Sèvres near Paris.

Bringing up the Treaty of Sèvres and its dispositions at the present time, when the Armenian governmental authorities are preparing to embark on a new beginning for Armeno-Turkish relations, with the opening of the borders and probably with the prospect of securing international recognition of said borders, of course will seem strange to many people. When the descendants of those having committed genocide, who are still concentrated in Ankara, continue to deny the truth with regard to the Genocide, it is up to us descendants of the Western Armenian people to demand, always demand the rights given to us by the Treaty of Sèvres.

A case dies only when its plaintiff withdraws it or forgets it for a time. Fortunately, our people and especially the Western Armenians who survived the Genocide, who are the true heirs to historical Armenia usurped by the Turks, have never ceased to pursue their just case. Hereafter they shall certainly not give up pursuing their rights, first and foremost of which undoubtedly is our lands.

The dream of having an independent Armenian state was envisioned according to the Treaty of Versailles signed on June 28, 1919. The congress’s main attention was centered on the proposals formulated in the Fourteen Points of US President Woodrow Wilson, the twelfth of which pertained to the dissolved Ottoman Empire: “The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.” Naturally, it was by this point that the Armenian people received the right to reclaim their historical lands and compensation for the Genocide.

On February 21, 1919, prior to the Congress of Versailles, our twin delegations — the National headed by Boghos Nubar Pasha and that of the Republic of Armenia headed by Avetis Aharonian — had presented the demands of the Armenian people.

The first was recognition of the independent Armenian state, which would consist of the vilayets (provinces) of Van, Bitlis, Kharpert, Sivas, Erzerum, Diarbekir and Trebizond, as well as the four sanjaks (districts) of Cilicia: Adana (including Alexandretta), Marash, Sis and Jebel Bereket. Added to these would be the current Armenian republic of the Caucasus: the entire province of Yerevan, the southern part of the province of Tiflis, the southwestern portion of the province of Elisabethpol (Elizavetpol) and the province of Kars. The fourth and fifth paragraphs of the same memorandum mentioned compensation for the massacres, deportations and destruction. And, finally, the country that would protect Armenia had to force the Turks to evacuate from Armenian lands.

It must be said that the leaders of the Versailles Congress — Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson — agreed in principle with the demands of the twin Armenian delegations. Generally speaking, the congress granted the right of self-determination to former subject peoples, ours included.

A great deal of preparatory work was done in the capitals of Europe, prior to the Congress of Sèvres. Private negotiations were conducted by the victorious Allies, in anticipation of dividing up the German and Ottoman spoils among themselves. The smell of oil had also just begun to make its presence felt in the international marketplace, and England was alertly waiting to pounce on the oil wells. Although the war had ended, however, with the creation of a new order, the allied governments, despite the quiet competition going on among them, were inclined to maintain a balance, a permanent security in order to guarantee their economic interests having emerged under a new system.

Thus, this was the overall picture when the peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire was signed in Sèvres on August 10, 1920, 14 months after the Treaty of Versailles. It was signed by all the Allies, except Russia, which was absent, and the representative of the Ottoman Empire. Articles 88-93 of this treaty were devoted to Armenian rights; Turkey was to announce that it recognized Armenia as a free and independent state, as the Allied governments had theretofore recognized it.

Unfortunately, Mustafa Kemal, who had come to the forefront of the Milli (Nationalist) movement, founded the Türkiye Cumhuriyeti (Republic of Turkey) and went on a new diplomatic campaign to gain favor with the major powers, presenting himself to them as a liberal, democratic and friendly political figure. As early as the 1920s, he had already begun to optimally play his role, warning the West that the communist movement would expand and reach the Mediterranean, thus fulfilling the centuries-old dream of Peter the Great and his successors. He added that Europe should take the necessary steps to prevent this advance, confident in the knowledge that Turkey would remain the only bulwark stopping the spread of Soviet power. Kemal knew just how to play his clever diplomatic game, while silently maintaining good relations with Moscow, when the naïve Communists of that period thought that it would easily be possible to Sovietize Turkey too.

And so, while the Armenian people were becoming tipsy over the rights presented to them through the dispositions of the Treaty of Sèvres, Kemalist Turkey had already seized Alexandropol (Giumri) and had decided to complete the final phase of the genocide. It imposed the shameful treaties of Alexandropol, Moscow and Kars, leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923. There Kemal recorded his absolute political triumph, owing to the defense of the allies whom we thought were our friends. In Lausanne, those great powers ripped up the Treaty of Sèvres and gave the Armenian, Greek, Kurdish and Arab lands to the genocidist Turk…proclaiming the agreement the “Lausanne peace treaty.” In this manner, the Treaty of Sevres was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne, which became the grave of our national case.

We had already totally lost Kars and Ardahan and the gift of the Wilsonian borders. We were left with Soviet Armenia, our homeland of 30,000 square kilometers, thanks to our permanent friend in the north, Russia, instead of Greater Armenia with an area of 130,000 sq. km.

Nevertheless, the Treaty of Sèvres continues to remain in effect for us. No treaty outside of it can change that reality. Our rights weren’t lost with Lausanne, and our case hasn’t died, nor will it ever die. Right in front of the eyes of the states preparing our final tombstone, the Armenian people liberated Artsakh (Nagorno Karabagh) and are triumphantly prepared to exercise the same patriotism and take over Javakhk and Nakhichevan. Thus encouraged, they will continue their march and, this time, become masters of Van and Yerzenga, Kharpert and Sis, so that the new generations will view the Armenian world from the heights of Mt. Ararat and marvel at the beauty of its landscape all the way to the Taurus mountains.

Next year, we should assemble as a nation in Sèvres to once again demand our just rights. Since Sèvres is known for its porcelain, we should have hundreds of thousands of souvenir plates manufactured, with a map of historical Armenia showing its expanse of 130,000 square kilometers. Then we should distribute them all over the world, to show the Turks especially that the competent party to the Treaty of Sèvres, which Kemal smashed to bits, having again gathered in the same city 90 years later, is organizing conferences and sit-down strikes. We should gather our youth from all the cities of Europe to announce that Turkey still hasn’t paid the debt it owes to the Armenian people, as dictated by the Treaty of Sèvres.

In order to do all this, we need to be solicitous toward present-day Armenia and rally the masses of our people around the homeland. Let us cooperate like blood brothers and sisters with our homeland’s government in the name of our just case.

(Hagop Vartivarian is the president of the ADL Press Committee. This article was translated from Armenian by Aris G. Sevag)