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The Lausanne Conference

The Lausanne Treaty codified the birth of the independent Anatolian Republic. Mustafa Ismet Pasa (Ismet Inonu) was the chief negotiator for the nationalists. His Kurdish family hailed from the upper Euphrates town of Malatya and he had attended military middle and preparatory school in Sivas, and graduated from the military academy in 1903, and the staff college in 1906. Ismet Pasa ended the war at the Battle of Nablus, a colonel and deputy to Mustafa Kemal. He joined the march north and became famous for his victories during the Anatolian insurgency. He went to Lausanne in November 1922, and stayed till the signing of the treaty in July of 1923. He exasperated the British delegation with his stubborn refusal to compromise.

The last Ottoman parliament had issued the Misak-i Milli, or the National Pact, in early 1920. Ismet Pasa used the pact as his negotiating document at Lausanne and it came to be the foundational document of the Turkish Republic. The first article stated that Ottoman regions with an Arab majority under British or French occupation should have their status determined by the free choice of the inhabitants by referendum, a position Ismet Pasa emphasized. He noted that the populations of Iraq and Syria had not been consulted about their wishes, and he accused the British of coveting the oil resources of Mosul.3 Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon countered by claiming his government was bound by three pledges. First, the “Arab nation” would not be returned to “Turkish rule.” Second, his government was bound by a pledge to the Arab king (Faysal) who, he claimed, was elected by the whole country. Finally, Great Britain was bound by a pledge to the League of Nations, which had assigned a mandate over the whole of Iraq. No territorial adjustments were possible without the consent of the League. “I hope that my argument will convince that it is quite impossible for my country, consistently with a due sense of honour, to run away from pledges it has given, to break its word before the world, to cut out the vilayet of Mosul from the mandates territory, and give it back to the Turkish delegation.”4 Invocations of British honor cannot have been impressive to Ottoman citizens, whatever their religion or ethnicity.

Several years earlier, in the midst of the war, Lord Curzon had prepared a memo for the war cabinet titled “British Policy in Mesopotamia.” The memo, drafted shortly after the British capture of Baghdad, contained similar arguments to those offered at Lausanne, but unlike the public arguments, Curzon’s memo revealed the depth of British imperial anxiety over the Turco-German alliance and noted frankly that even if defeat loomed, Britain could never reconcile itself to a resumption of German and Turkish control over Basra, the Persian Gulf, and the frontier of India. According to Curzon, the war’s central issue and “the real dream of German world policy” was an empire “stretching through Europe and Asia Minor, and as far as the Persian Gulf, and is the weapon, with which, in a future war, the British Empire is to be struck down.”5

The disagreement over Mosul was drawn out and Britain successfully framed the discussion based on the national idea and the identity of the population. British claims centered on the “Arab” character of the region. Ismet Pasa noted the Ottomans had ruled these places for centuries and knew who lived there, but the Anatolian nationalist movement had abandoned claims to speak for the Arabs. Adopting the language of ethnic nationalism as defined by Woodrow Wilson, Britain, and the League of Nations, Ismet Pasa argued instead that all places with a Kurdish- or Turkish-speaking population should be part of the Anatolian state. People could speak Arabic or Kurdish and still be Turks. In any case, Turks, Kurds, and Arabs had long lived together harmoniously. Having argued strenuously for an undivided “Turkish” Anatolia, Ismet Passa’s delegation could not do more, and those who spoke for other former Ottoman lands still under occupation, were on their own.6

At Lausanne, Ismet Passa represented the Anatolian state and nationalist movement, but politicians and ex-officers from many parts of the Ottoman state attended. They wished to learn how events would affect the former Ottoman citizens of British-occupied Palestine and Iraq and French-occupied Syria. Musa Kazim al-Husayni led the Arab Palestinian Congress delegation, organized under the umbrella of the Syrian Palestinian Congress. The congress included Shakib Arslan, Amin al-Tamimi, and several other Istanbul-educated former Ottoman officials. The delegation demanded the independence of Syria, including Palestine and Lebanon, and the rejection of the Balfour Declaration.7 They called on Ismet Passa and their former comrades to lend support to their movement for independence from imperialism.

The outcome was a triumph for those who spoke for the Anatolian nationalist movement, but it was a bitter experience for those who represented former Ottoman regions under British or French occupation. The message to those left out of the settlement was the same as that Mustafa Kemal addressed to the National Assembly at Ankara: the right of self-determination could only be taken, and was never given. The Anatolian insurgency provided an example to follow, and a bitter warning to those left behind in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq.

King Faysal had determined his interests best served by obedience to British policy. Faysal dispatched Jacfar al-cAskari to attend the conference as Iraqi delegate. Al-cAskari had no official status since the British delegation negotiated the border between Turkey and the Iraqi Mandate without Iraqi consultation. The British delegation to the conference considered al-cAskari an inoffensive and loyal bystander in their wrangling with Ismet Pasa over Mosul.8

Faysal’s brother, Amir Abdallah in Amman, had no reason to send a delegate and did not bother. The British government had recently decided to acknowledge Abdallah as ruler of Transjordan, subject to his compliance with a few points, most especially that he “place Britain in a position to fulfill its international obligations.”9 In 1924, the British government separated its Palestine Mandate from its Transjordan Mandate, and began considering Transjordan a separate mandate from Palestine.

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