Home History The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East
The League of Nations Picks up the Pieces
After their disappointment at Lausanne, Musa Kazim and the Jerusalem delegation traveled on to the League of Nations at Geneva, and having been refused a meeting with Secretary General Drummond, they met instead with William Rappard. As in the earlier peace conferences, the League of Nations had played a minimal role, but the League was left to contend with the more unhappy results of the treaty. Rappard filed a report on their visit.
They wished to know the attitude of the League of Nations towards the Palestine Mandate under present conditions. As I had no information whatever, to give on this subject, the interview must have been very disappointing to them.
The effort of the Delegation to secure a reversal of the [Jewish] national home policy had obviously not been successful at Lausanne. The Turks had told them they would insist on some form of referendum on the Arab provinces in accor dance of Article I of the National Pact ... From the French they had received no assurance whatsoever. The British had told them they were very anxious not to offend the French, and therefore could not entertain relations with the Syrio Palestinian Delegation on account of its intimacy with discontented Syrians . The Delegation did not seem to have any clear plan of action.10
It is no wonder that, as Rappard noted, they did not seem to have a clear path before them and formidable adversaries faced them. Musa Kazim and the veteran politicians who made up the Syrian Palestinian Congress had never abandoned the Ottoman State, but as they had just learned at Lausanne, the Ottoman State had abandoned them.
Several months before Musa Kazim al-Husayni came to Geneva, Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization, had visited Rappard at his League office. Weizmann was rather more impressive to
Rappard than al-Husayni had been. Weizmann was not only a politician and lobbyist, but also a famous scientist, and former professor at the University of Geneva, where Rappard himself had a faculty appointment. Rappard was a decent and thoughtful person, and he had received al-Husayni courteously and with some sympathy, but Weizmann was in a position to make a much stronger impression and both men enjoyed what Rappard described as a long and extremely interesting meeting.11 While no mandatory citizens were ever able to meet Secretary General Drummond, or to address the League Council, or even the Mandates Commission, Weizmann was received by all three, and he had continuous access to British policy-makers and politicians at all levels. The Mandate Charter’s Article 4 acknowledged the Jewish Agency as the representative of the Jews of Palestine. It was the only representative body so recognized for the duration of the mandates. The Zionist movement had powerful friends in Europe and abroad also. Albert Einstein wrote letters to the League of Nations supporting Zionism, as did US Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis, and many others. Jewish groups the world over sent telegrams and letters to the League of Nations in support of Zionism in Palestine.12
The Treaty of Lausanne ended the state of war between the Ottoman state and Greece, Britain, and France in July 1923. The treaty represented a retreat from the expansive post-war ambitions of the victorious powers. Britain and France had sought to dismantle the Ottoman state, and partition its lands, fostering new client states run by Armenians, Greeks, Maronite Christians, and Zionist Jews, and reducing the Ottoman sultan to a domesticated captive under house arrest in some minor palace not claimed by allied occupation forces.
Instead, premier Clemenceau, prime minister Lloyd George, and Greek prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos had all been swept from power, each defeat based on the human cost of their post-war ambitions. Four-and-a-half years after the armistice, the reconstituted Ottoman army had defeated the two main client states, and the Entente powers gave up their claims to every territory not actually occupied by the British army at the time of the 1918 armistice. The colonial client states to emerge, Palestine and Lebanon, were both tiny and endlessly troublesome to their Great Power patrons.
The Lausanne Treaty codified the triumph of exclusive and violently enforced concepts of national identity. On the sidelines of the conference, and supervised by the League of Nations, Greece and Turkey agreed to the bilateral expulsion of two million people based on religious identity and their involuntary membership in mutually incompatible new nation-states: Turkey and Greece.13 The League of Nations’ first High Commissioner for Refugees, Norwegian diplomat Fridtjof Nansen, supervised and coordinated the exchange. The two new nation-states seized the property of their former citizen/subjects. Russia, France, Britain, and the Balkan states had repeatedly used Ottoman Christians as levers to justify intervention and war with the Ottoman State. From the perspective of ex-Ottoman statesmen, a homogenous state of Muslim “Turks” offered insurance against future intervention.
Former Ottoman Christians in the east of Anatolia found that the emerging model of Turkish citizenship actively excluded them and made migration to Iraq or Syria the best option. Certainly, thousands were former Ottoman soldiers, including many Christian officers, mostly, but not entirely, from the Ottoman medical corps. Many struggled for years to establish rights of residence or citizenship in the new states in which they found themselves. The League of Nations’ archives contain thousands of poignant petitions seeking redress for lost citizenship, property, or rights of residence.
The Lausanne Treaty affected individuals in ways both tragic and ridi- culous.14 Many sought pensions previously paid by Ottoman State institutions. Mandate authorities were uninterested in pledges made by their defeated enemies and refused to pay. Hundreds sought access to property lost in the settlement. A large number of former Ottoman citizens of Palestine, resident in Latin America, learned they had lost both residency rights and their property in Palestine. Hundreds more sought help returning to family far from their last post serving a government that no longer existed, paid salaries, or issued travel documents. The League of Nations was the last and ultimately futile hope for such people. A Mandates Section notation in reference to similar petitions recorded, “Is there any point in adding these to the file? No action seems to be required. Further letters will be thrown away.”15
Leon Effendi Baos of Basra in southern Iraq wrote dozens of idiosyncratic letters over five years between 1919 and 1924. Baos was born in Basra, the Greek Orthodox son of an Ottoman telegraph official, and grandson of an Ottoman army physician, who had moved his family to Iraq with the Ottoman army in the nineteenth century. Under the Ottoman capitulations, his father had been considered Greek, but during the Greek Ottoman war over Crete in 1897, he had been required to formally take an oath of Ottoman citizenship to keep his state employment. In 1919, Baos wished to know how he could be forced to accept Arab nationality in the new state of Iraq. As a lawyer, he wished to know what international law code legalized the forced nationalization of a citizen. Neither mandate nor League officials had an answer.
He wished to take Greek citizenship, but the mandate officials refused to assist him, or admit his eligibility. If he could not be Greek, then he would prefer to have his old Ottoman citizenship, and if he could not have that, he would take Turkish citizenship. He wished to understand how exactly the High Commissioner could force him to become an Arab. And how exactly the High Commissioner and his government could create from scratch “Hedjaz, Mesopotamia, Transjordanie, Egypt, and Turkey and now force people to become subjects of these new born countries.” According to his letters, there were hundreds of others known to him in similar circumstances in Basra and Baghdad. “It is not sufficient that I have suffered from the Turks while in Mesopotamia, now the British government, to back the Arabs [is] forcing me to become an Arab, when I am not!”16 His case seemed to have been unresolved.
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