23 Aug 1920, Sevres, France --- 8/23/1920-Sevres, France: Signing the Turkish Treaty with the Allies- Photo shows Haki Pacha signing. The inkstand being used is the one ordered by the Kaiser in 1914 for his personal use. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Treaty of Sèvres and Cilicia Special Section: Marking the Centennial of the Treaty of Sèvres

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A century has passed since the signing of the Treaty of Sèvres on August 10, 1920, in the town of the same name in France. The treaty sought the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and recognized the smaller nations in the empire as well as relegated the empire’s influence from the Arab regions.

The treaty had stemmed directly from the surrender of Germany on November 11, 1918. On June 28, 1919, Germany and the Allied Nations (including Britain, France, Italy and Russia) signed the Treaty of Versailles, formally ending the war.

As an ally of Germany during World War I, the Ottoman Empire was then targeted by the Allies. The Allies, in addition to punishing the Ottoman authorities, believed in a new type of existence, one in which justice would prevail. In this case, justice applied to the smaller nationalities of Armenians, Kurds, Greeks and Arabs in the Ottoman Empire.

The official name of the treaty, The Treaty of Peace between the Allied and Associated Powers and Turkey, pitted the British Empire, France, Italy and Japan, with their associated nations, Armenia, Belgium, Greece, the Hedjaz, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, the Serb-Croat-Slovene State and Czecho-Slovakia.”

The pact also provided for an independent Armenia, for an autonomous Kurdistan, and for a Greek presence in eastern Thrace and on the Anatolian west coast, as well as Greek control over the Aegean islands commanding the Dardanelles.

According to the treaty:

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Whereas on the request of the Imperial Ottoman Government an Armistice was granted to Turkey on October 30, 1918, by the Principal Allied Powers in order that a Treaty of Peace might be concluded, and

Whereas the Allied Powers are equally desirous that the war in which certain among them were successively involved, directly or indirectly, against Turkey, and which originated in the declaration of war against Serbia on July 28, I914, by the former Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Government, and in the hostilities opened by Turkey against the Allied Powers on October 29, 1914, and conducted by Germany in alliance with Turkey, should be replaced by a firm, just and durable Peace,

President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points

To understand how the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres were reached, we have to go back again to the end of World War I, a bloody four-year war the likes of which the world had never seen. Lands were drenched in blood and many participants who survived could not shake off the horrors they had seen. Many leaders, US President Woodrow Wilson included, hoped to draw up and arrive at a new world order, one in which a global war, which had seen more than 20 million dead and even more injured, could not take place.

It was this tragic event, which led Wilson to draw his Fourteen Points, one based on guaranteeing peace and respect for human rights. Number 12 on the list addresses Armenia. They appear below, abridged.

  1. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
  2. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.
  3. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.
  4. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.
  5. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.
  6. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest coöperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations.
  7. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations.
  8. All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.
  9. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.
  10. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.
  11. Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.
  12. The Turkish portions 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, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.
  13. An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea.
  14. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.

Back to Sèvres

The Treaty of Severs was drawn up as a direct result of the Fourteen Points, replete with Wilsonian idealism.

The following articles in the treaty asked for the creation of an independent Armenia from the Armenian provinces in the Ottoman Empire, though Cilicia, the most important one, was not part of this new Armenia.

ARTICLE 88.

Turkey, in accordance with the action already taken by the Allied Powers, hereby recognizes Armenia as a free and independent State.

ARTICLE 89.

Turkey and Armenia as well as the other High Contracting Parties agree to submit to the arbitration of the President of the United States of America the question of the frontier to be fixed between Turkey and Armenia in the vilayets of Erzurum, Trebizond, Van and Bitlis, and to accept his decision thereupon, as well as any stipulations he may prescribe as to access for Armenia to the sea, and as to the demilitarization of any portion of Turkish territory adjacent to the said frontier.

ARTICLE 90.

In the event of the determination of the frontier under Article 89 involving the transfer of the whole or any part of the territory of the said Vilayets to Armenia, Turkey hereby renounces as from the date of such decision all rights and title over the territory so transferred. The provisions of the present Treaty applicable to territory detached from Turkey shall thereupon become applicable to the said territory.

The proportion and nature of the financial obligations of Turkey which Armenia will have to assume, or of the rights which will pass to her, on account of the transfer of the said territory will be determined in accordance with Articles 241 to 244, Part VIII (Financial Clauses) of the present Treaty.

Subsequent agreements will, if necessary, decide all questions which are not decided by the present Treaty and which may arise in consequence of the transfer of the said territory.

ARTICLE 91.

In the event of any portion of the territory referred to in Article 89 being transferred to Armenia, a Boundary Commission, whose composition will be determined subsequently, will be constituted within three months from the delivery of the decision referred to in the said Article to trace on the spot the frontier between Armenia and Turkey as established by such decision.

ARTICLE 92.

The frontiers between Armenia and Azerbaijan and Georgia respectively will be determined by direct agreement between the States concerned.

If in either case the States concerned have failed to determine the frontier by agreement at the date of the decision referred to in Article 89, the frontier line in question will be determined by the Principal Allied Powers, who will also provide for its being traced on the spot.

ARTICLE 93.

Armenia accepts and agrees to embody in a Treaty with the Principal Allied Powers such provisions as may be deemed necessary by these Powers to protect the interests of inhabitants of that State who differ from the majority of the population in race, language, or religion.

Armenia further accepts and agrees to embody in a Treaty with the Principal Allied Powers such provisions as these Powers may deem necessary to protect freedom of transit and equitable treatment for the commerce of other nations.

What Happened

The good intentions of Wilson and the other powers became simple ideals that were not followed through.

The treaty was never signed by the United States of America. The treaty was signed but never ratified by the Ottoman Empire.

The proposed boundaries incorporated the Ottoman vilayets of Erzurum, Bitlis, and Van. This region was extended to the north, up to the west side of Trabzon to provide the First Republic of Armenia with an outlet to the Black Sea.

The United States Senate rejected the mandate for Armenia in 1920. The outbreak of the Turkish War of Independence led to the Ottoman Empire not ratifying the Treaty of Sèvres. Later in that year, the Turkish–Armenian War broke out. Armenia was defeated and signed the Treaty of Alexandropol on November 2, 1920 renouncing its territorial integrity under the Sèvres Treaty. The Treaty of Kars was negotiated between Soviet Russia and Turkey following the annexation of the Democratic Republic of Armenia by the Soviet Army in December 2, 1920, and signed between the Soviet government in Armenia on October 23, 1921. The latter was never accepted, either by the overthrown Armenian government nor later by the Republic of Armenia. The government of Soviet Russia separately negotiated a similar border between what it considered its territory of Armenia and Turkey in the Treaty of Moscow (1921).

The final Turkish and Armenian borders were internationally agreed upon in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 which replaced the generally unratified and unimplemented Sèvres Treaty.

 

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