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The Treaty of Lausanne at 100: New Research from the Lausanne Project

RoundTable VII-5, sponsored byGingko, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 8:30 am

RoundTable Description
The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne may have been the last of the post-World War One peace settlements, but it was very different from Versailles —and remains the only such treaty still in force. Like its German and Austro-Hungarian allies, the defeated Ottoman Empire had initially been presented with a dictated peace in 1920. In just two years, however, the Kemalist insurgency turned defeat into victory, enabling Turkey to claim its place as the first sovereign state in the Middle East. Meanwhile those communities who had lived side-by-side with Turks inside the Ottoman Empire struggled to assert their own sovereignty, jostled between the Soviet Union and the resurgence of empire in the guise of League of Nations mandates. For 1.5 million Ottoman Greeks and Balkan Muslims "making peace" involved forced population exchanges, a peace-making tool now understood as ethnic cleansing. With this being the case, it is arguable that the Ottoman lands were the region most profoundly reshaped by World War One, yet the treaty that cemented many of these changes has remained oddly understudied. Although diplomatic historians had long recognized Lausanne as exceptional, as “the longest-lasting of the post-war settlements” (Alan Sharp), it continued to figure as an outlier or semi-detached epilogue in accounts focused on the 1919-20 treaties. The Lausanne Project was conceived in 2017 partly as a response to this scholarly oversight. The convenors were struck by the contrast between the excess of academic attention paid the centenary of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and the dearth of scholarly attention paid to Lausanne outside of Turkey. The convenors then gathered a diverse array of scholars and tasked them with bringing fresh attention to important aspects of the treaty, or to revealing new and overlooked elements of it. This has resulted in a flurry of scholarship in the form of podcasts, short research blog posts, and a published volume of ground-breaking scholarship about the treaty which will be out in the spring of 2023. On the year of the Lausanne’s centenary, this roundtable brings together several members of the Lausanne Project to discuss its findings and the implications of these findings for the study of the Middle East. It also includes an expert on the era who is unaffiliated with the project. This person will assess the Lausanne Project’s scholarly output and suggest further avenues for study.
Business & Public Administration
International Relations/Affairs
Political Science
  • On January 13, 1923, Turkish delegate to the Lausanne Conference Ismet Inonu probed American delegate Richard Washburn Child about the American stance on the border between Turkey and the new British Mandate in Iraq. Child parried this loaded question (which clearly had implications for potential oil deposits), arguing that “the United States Government does not concern itself in the question of boundary” but would “adhere to its policy of the Open Door” in whatever new polities came into existence. This interchange showed the epitome of the American economic stance at the conference which was the determining factor of their policy. With the United States being a growing industrial power, the key to American economic expansion was the export of goods. Protectionist imperial regimes or monopolistic treaties with the newly sovereign countries like Turkey were some of the main obstacles to this. American businesses watched Lausanne closely but, with the US delegates (chosen by the pro-business Harding administration) effectively representing their stance, they were able to maintain a fairly hands-off posture. Standard Oil is a telling example. It did not interject itself more directly into the proceeding because the US diplomats were doing what they wanted, which was to insist on an economic ‘open door’ in the post-Ottoman lands and to fight against the inclusion of the Turkish Petroleum Company in any of the final documents. This reveals one element of the Lausanne conference: It was a battle over the economic restructuring of both Turkey and the region as a whole. My contribution to this roundtable will be to discuss my own business-focused portion of the Lausanne Project’s research, and to highlight other contributions that have concentrated on other economic aspects of the conference. Scholars associated with the project have presented new research on the building of the Turkish economy in this era and the place that Ottoman debt held in this debate. Further research has focused on the Turkish Republic’s stance on international opium regulations, recent research on the electrification of Turkey, and the fate of German holdings in the Ottoman Empire. In all, this new research shows that business interests played a lively but somewhat withdrawn role at the Lausanne Conference. Diplomats on all sides were, however, operating under the large shadow of these interests and were generally doing their bidding in the battle to determine the economic future of the Middle East.
  • Lausanne Treaty of 1923 is celebrated in official Turkish historical narrative as the foundational document of modern Republic. It is similarly recalled as the basis of the post-1923 radical Westernizing and secularizing reforms, such as abolishment of the Caliphate, change of the alphabet and adoption of Swill civil codes, creating a rupture with Turkey’s imperial and Islamic past to pave the way ahead for a modern European nation. There are, however, many contradictions in this thesis of Lausanne as rupture with both Pan-Islamism and Eastern Question: The leaders of Turkish War of Independence, including Kemal and Ismet, were comfortable utilizing Pan-Islamic anti-imperialism in the ten years preceding Lausanne. They combined their Pan-Islamic rhetoric with their espousal of an international law free from Christian bias towards Muslims, and with calls for recognition of Turkish sovereignty. The Lausanne delegation was not very different from their Ottoman predecessors. Recent scholarship on the global history of empire, the racialization of Muslims, transnational Muslim identity and international law can help us make sense of the links between competing yet entangled narratives about Lausanne. Why does the Lausanne Treaty appear so significant for both the Pan-Islamic internationalist as well as the liberal eurocentric theories of nationalism and secularism? This paper will discuss the contradiction of the competing narratives on Lausanne Treaty by focusing on the nature of Pan-Islamic narratives, specifically their symbiotic relationship with eurocentric Ottoman narratives of self-strengthening and civilizing reforms.
  • International Law and the Greek-Bulgarian and Greek-Turkish Population Exchanges After World War I The Greek-Bulgarian and Greek-Turkish population exchanges existed as bilateral conventions appended to two multilateral treaties—the Treaty of Neuilly (with Bulgaria, November 1919), and the Treaty of Lausanne (with Turkey, July 1923). The treaties as well as the conventions operated at the intersection of the history of international law and the history of state sovereignty. The exchanges proved a critical episode in the construction of the ethno-national state itself. The complexities and dilemmas of ethnic difference that had so bedeviled drawing boundaries, minority treaties, and plebiscites in Central and Eastern Europe were reduced by the time of the Greek-Turkish exchange to a single criterion - religion as the sole determinant of ethnic identity. International law legitimized both exchanges, though the transfers themselves largely had already taken place. The conventions helped to create a largely fictional distinction between a “voluntary” exchange between Greece and Bulgaria and an “involuntary” exchange between Greece and Turkey. The legalism underpinning the exchanges also supported a mistaken impression that the Great Powers who still largely controlled the making of international law actually played the determining role in the movement of peoples along these two former fronts of the First World War. Through the exchanges, international law after the First World War served to articulate the purposes both of successor state nationalism and Great Power politics. Both conventions on population exchange, and the treaties to which they were appended, served the same basic political purpose - the creation or affirmation of ethno-national states recognizable as such in the international system. But the differences in the two documents, in their origin, their content, and their application, speak to considerable changes that took place in that system in a relatively short period of time. I will begin each section with a discussion of the convention as written. I will then examine the evolving international system which produced the conventions and then proceeded to implement them as matters of international law.
  • My contribution to this roundtable considers new perspectives on the history of the Treaty of Lausanne. Only over the last decade, historians (like those working under the auspices of the Lausanne Project) have begun reconceptualizing Lausanne by incorporating a number of new themes, new methodological approaches, and new sources. In this roundtable, I will underline three particularly important contributions: First of all, this new and ongoing historiography enables us to re-interpret Lausanne beyond the narrow confines of official histories and as a truly transnational moment. By bringing novel actors, movements, and geographies into the story, it presents a much richer, multi-dimensional, and fascinatingly complex history of the treaty. Second, it places the Treaty of Lausanne firmly in its broader post-World War 1 context and enters in a productive dialogue with the broader historiography on post-war settlements. This comparative treatment provides a fuller picture about the similarities and differences among the post-war treaties, socio-political and cultural contexts that surrounded them, the reactions they received at home and abroad, and finally the trajectories they followed during the interwar years and beyond. Third, the new historiography examines the impact of the treaty over a significantly extended chronological span and recognizes the profound and lasting legacies that it left. My contribution to the roundtable will be to critically assess the achievements of the new historiography about the Treaty of Lausanne under these three subheadings and suggest further avenues for study.
  • My presentation for the round table will examine the Ankara government’s use of international law in at the Lausanne Peace Conference (1923). I will trace the shift from Ottoman diplomatic practice of preserving sovereignty by treaty to the Ankara government’s focus on ending foreign interference into the domestic affairs of the state. In particular, I will look at the work of Mehmed Münir (Ertegün) who was deeply engaged in wartime diplomacy and peacemaking. Between 1918 and the late 1920s, Mehmed Münir would lead or assist negotiations related to nearly every legal aspect of the dissolution of the Empire and the forging of the Republic - from the end of the Capitulations and the distribution of the Ottoman debt to the treatment of minorities in Turkey and the final borders of the state. He was a legal advisor for negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, for the Ottoman Delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, and after Lausanne attempted to negotiate for the return of Mosul at the League of Nations. He was also a key figure in establishing the new Foreign Ministry in the Turkish Republic. Despite the fact that the Ankara government operated on the theory that the Ottoman Empire had been destroyed, the Turkish delegation at Lausanne operated with many of the same goals that had animated the wartime government under the Committee of Union and Progress: end the Capitulations and other privileges for foreigners, incorporate the remaining autonomous provinces into the regular system of administration, and achieve true equality (not paper equality) in international relations.