The Specter of Sevres Treaty over Turkey


By Edmond Y. Azadian

The borders and the very existence of the modern Republic of Turkey are defined by two major treaties which were signed early in the 20th century; the first was the Treaty of Sevres of 1920 and the second, the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. The latter annulled the former, thereby preventing further partition.

The Sevres Treaty was meant to bring justice for minorities which had suffered the indignation of slavery for six centuries under the Ottoman yoke.

Turkey’s participation in World War I at the side of Germany spelled disaster and broke up the Ottoman Empire. Military tribunals were held in Istanbul and the Ittihadist rulers were convicted and several were executed as war criminals. But above all, the treaty officially mandated former raya nationalities to become independent states, carving their historic homelands out of the Ottoman Empire.

But a charismatic leader, Mustafa Kemal, who was no less a criminal than the Ittihadist rulers, managed to convince the signatories of the Sevres Treaty to void its stipulations and with the collusion of former Ittihadist apparatchiks, he rescued Turkey from further fragmentation. He successfully used the fledgling Bolshevik regime in Moscow against the West and he was able to wrest from them a new treaty which was signed in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1923, where the territorial claims of the Armenians and Kurds were replaced by vague clauses, supposedly defending minority rights. Since 1923, Turkish authorities have used and abused the stipulations of that treaty whimsically, thumbing their noses at the very powers which pretended that they had guaranteed minority rights in Turkey. That was a quite a feat for a defeated country.

Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had been complaining recently that the Lausanne Treaty had been unfair for Turkey, especially the transfer of littoral islands to Greece. As if that were not a big enough gift for a defeated country, he had given himself up to Ottoman nostalgia, claiming Mosul in Iraq as well as territory in Syria, as the heir of the Ottoman Empire. Never mind that the empire had also left behind a legacy of genocide, which the successor state still refuses to recognize.

At present time, Turkey is in crisis mode and President Erdogan has become completely unhinged.

Nations that choose to use terrorism to achieve immediate military gains inherit long-term problems which outweigh that gain. The biggest example is the US, which armed and trained Osama Bin Laden to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan; it worked and the Soviets left that country defeated. But the US inherited the powerful Bin Laden, this time as an enemy, whose legacy of terror has not abated to this day.

But these precedents don’t always serve as a lesson to the rulers of the same frame of mind. Erdogan was also tempted by the same policy. Therefore, he trained and armed ISIS terrorists and facilitated their entry into the Syrian war theater through his own country. His purpose was to topple the president of neighboring Syria.

Erdogan’s plan coincided with the West’s “Arab Spring,” supposedly to bring democracy to the Arab world, with the help of two medieval potentates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Syria was the tail end of the chain of regime changes after the invasion of Iraq and Libya. Turkey was expecting its windfall during the partition of Syria. But Erdogan’s calculations proved to be wrong as the zeal for regime change had run its course and had met furious resistance from Russia and Iran.

Under Erdogan, Turkey improved its economy and initially enjoyed some democratic reforms, courtesy of the European Union. But his intoxication with power led him into some disastrous adventures and all but eliminated the breeze of a distant human rights gains; the concocted coup broke the camel’s back and Erdogan reverted back to his original mode: repression.

In the meantime, he inherited two terrorist threats: ISIS, which was of his own making, and the PKK, which had laid down its arms and was negotiating with the government to achieve its political goals through the democratic process. Jailed PKK leader Abdullah Oçalan, who had started his national liberation movement to achieve full independence for the Kurds, had toned down his rhetoric to settle for cultural autonomy. Erdogan broke off negotiations and began a full-scale war against the Kurdish minority. In this day and age, no power can contain 25 million people and trample on their rights.

Repressions, which are exercised under martial law, have terrorized the entire population of Turkey, have alarmed NATO partners and all but dissipated the dream of joining the European Union. Recently, former European Union Ambassador to Turkey Marc Pierini, said that post-coup purges in the military, the courts, the universities and the police have paradoxically compromised the country’s ability to protect the public. Mr. Pierini also took issue with the government’s contention that its response to threats has been appropriate.

“As we have seen after the coup, the reaction is way outside the formula of rule of law. You started arresting police and gendarmes, now writers, actors, journalists — so there is no ‘limit,’” he said. “When you start pulling the thread on the rule of law, the whole sweater can come off. And that’s where we stand.”

Irrespective of their criticism, Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu is blaming the European Union for its so-called “double standard” and “arrogant approach” toward Turkey. In the meantime, Erdogan’s defanged press has been directing its fire against the US for all the ills Turkey is facing at this time.

As if the government-induced terror was not enough, bombs are falling all over — Ankara, Izmir, Istanbul, you name it. And each terrorist act comes with its signature; indiscriminate bombing of innocent people in clubs or public gatherings are the works of ISIS. And a ruthless war against army and police is conducted by the Kurdish militants.

Erdogan is cringing in the atmosphere of terror that he has created. He seems to have given up on the hope of joining the EU. He can hear voices are getting louder in the West to oust Turkey from NATO and above all, he has toned down his Ottoman ambition. On the contrary, he feels the noose around his neck that that old claims may be revived.

During the 33rd convention of Mukhtars (public officials), an intimidated Erdogan stated: “Turkey is again waging its war of independence. If we win this battle, we will achieve our goals of 2023 [centennial of the Republic of Turkey]. And if we lose this war, we will face whatever our enemies could not succeed in enforcing. We will be faced with a new Treaty of Sevres.”

Erdogan feels that the partition of Turkey is so close, with historic lands to be awarded to the Kurds and Armenians.

But if Turkey’s enemies could not revive Sevres, Erdogan’s disastrous adventures may hasten the process.