A slice of Turkey

The Paris Peace Conference was tasked with setting the peace terms for the Central Powers after their defeat in the First World War. The Treaty of Versailles dealt with the principal belligerent, Germany. It was, however, accompanied by four less well known treaties dealing with the other countries. The Treaty of Sèvres was drawn up to deal with the Ottoman Empire but, by the time it came to be signed, the Sick Man of Europe was dying.


Guns on front lines across Europe and around the world fell silent following the series of armistices in October and November 1918. In the Middle East, the fighting ending with the signing of the Mudros armistice by the Ottoman Empire on 30 October 1918.

Council of Four at the WWI Paris peace conference, May 27, 1919 (candid photo) (L - R) Prime Minister David Lloyd George (Great Britian) Premier Vittorio Orlando, Italy, French Premier Georges Clemenceau, President Woodrow Wilson By Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps) (U.S. Signal Corps photo) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Whilst truces were agreed, the powers were many months away from deciding on the peace terms. In the meantime, other sounds would fill the silence left by the cessation of war.

Shouts rang out from the streets as cities were convulsed in strikes and protests, cracks of gunfire echoed marking the start of uprisings and revolutions. Not quite as distinct, but no less important, was the crashing sound of an old order making way for the new.

Empires were convulsed and ripped apart by nationalist movements, dynasties that had ruled for centuries were toppled and the occupants of thrones were unceremoniously and sometimes violently deposed. The imperial eagles, symbolising Hohenzollern, Habsburg and Romanov rule, fell – sometimes literally as coat of arms were wrenched from positions of authority and allowed to shatter on the ground.

The forces that were unleashed by the First World War were not restricted to the European powers. The Central Powers of Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary had been joined by the Ottoman Empire. This fateful decision had sealed the fate of one of the world’s longest lived and, in its height, most successful empires.

The Treaty of Sèvres

The negotiation of the Treaty of Sèvres epitomised the fluid situation facing the diplomats charged with forging a peace. It was finally signed on 10 August 1920 and by this date the USA had withdrawn from the process to follow an isolationist agenda, Russia had been firmly excluded from the talks and the Ottoman Empire barely remained in existence.

The four Ottoman signatories of the Treaty of Sevres

Under the terms of the treaty, the Ottoman Empire was to be cut up into a host of successor states with the rump to become Turkey. New states would be formed as Kurdistan, Armenia, Hejaz (Arabia), whilst Iraq, Palestine and Syria became mandates (Iraq and Palestine under the British Empire and Syria under the French).

Most humiliating of all, Turkish control of its Anatolian heartland would be diminished by Greek possession of the city and hinterland of Smyrna (modern day İzmir), Turkey would be stripped of the vast majority of its European territory, with East Thrace transferring to a Greece that was to assume almost Byzantine proportions and control over the Dardanelles Straits would be vested in an international commission.

Map of Turkey in Asia, Syria, Palestine, Hejaz and Arabia by Frank Moore Colby By FRANK MOORE COLBY, M.A. FRANK MOORE COLBY, M.A. NEW YORK DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY 1922 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Greece was to be the greatest beneficiary of the proposed dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, but Italy also laid claim to the the Dodecanese Islands and Rhodes.  Both France and Britain would have their empires enlarged by mandates over vast swathes of the Arabian peninsula and Britain would maintain its vital link to India.

In many ways, the treaty terms were to have been even more punitive than those imposed on Germany under the Treaty of Versailles. Although the Ottoman Empire was to be spared reparations, it was to lose sovereignty over its financial affairs, with the Allies controlling the Ottoman Bank, budget decisions and loans.

Turkish National Movement

The terms only served to increase the temperature in an already incendiary situation in the heart of the crumbling empire. The Ottoman Empire had been discredited by years of military reversals and humiliations at the hands of European powers. It had lost vast swathes of its European territory in the last 50 years as Serbia, Albania Greece and Bulgaria emerged as independent states and Austria-Hungary gobbled up much of the rest of the Balkans.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres, the Ottoman Empire would lose far more territory. Worse still, Greece would be granted rights over lands in the Turkish heartland of Anatolia. This was too much for the nationalistic group of military officers who formed the Turkish National Movement.

Led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the National Movement sparked and then won the Turkish War of Independence, abolished the Ottoman Sultanate on 1 November 1922 and proclaimed the Republic of Turkey on 29 October 1923.

In the process, the ensured that the Greek forces in Anatolia were pushed back to the sea, taking with them much of the Greek population, emptying the melting pot city that had been known as Smyrna (would henceforth assume its Turkish name of İzmir.

Prominent nationalists at the Sivas congress. Left to right: Muzaffer Kılıç, Rauf (Orbay), Bekir Sami (Kunduh), Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), Ruşen Eşref (Ünaydın), Cemil Cahit (Toydemir), Cevat Abbas (Gürer) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the National Movement’s biggest successes for the newly created Turkish state was that the Treaty of Sèvres was never put into effect. The new government instead negotiated the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 which provided recognition of Turkey’s borders.

Turkey thus avoided being completely dismembered and dominated by the Allies and would, instead, forge its own future in a modern, republican setting.