Armenians in the Treaty of Sèvres

The Sèvres Peace Agreement is the agreement that has had the most negative associations in Turkish history. The Ottoman State lost the First World War and then agreed to a ceasefire with the Armistice of Mudros, and immediately after that, a search started for a peace agreement. However, the Ottoman State saw that the armistice did not prevent foreign invasions and resistance started against the invasion forces, because of the need to struggle with weapons once again. The national resistance that formed in Anatolia and the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) government rejected the peace conditions that were imposed on the Ottoman State. The National Struggle that was experienced in Anatolia delayed the signing of the peace agreement and the Allied Powers tried to get the agreement signed by pressuring the Ottoman Government. However, it did not enter into force in practice or legally, even though the Ottoman delegates signed it; so it remained as a fruitless project in history.

In order to understand those articles of the Sèvres Agreement on the Armenians, it will be sufficient to look at Article 24 of the Mudros Armistice. In Article 24 of the Armistice Agreement, which the Ottoman State had to sign without negotiating, reads “the Allied powers reserve the right to invade any part of the Six Provinces in the case of the appearance of disorder….” Moreover, the expression “six provinces” in this article was written as “the six Armenian provinces” in the English text of the Armistice Agreement.

The Paris Peace Conference in which there was an attempt at establishing “the new world order” at the end of the First World War opened on 18 January 1919 and two separate Armenian delegations came to the conference. One of them was the National Armenian Delegation, which represented the Armenians who lived in the Ottoman State and other countries and which was headed by Bogos Nubar Pasha. This delegation had been recognized by the Allied Powers officially. The other delegation was the one that represented the Republic of Armenia, which was established on 28 May 1918, and which was headed by Avetis Ahoranyan. We should note that apart from these two delegations, about forty independent Armenian delegations which came from different countries carried out lobbying activities at the Paris Peace Conference (Kodaman, 18).

The subject that the Armenian delegations underlined at the Paris Peace Conference was that Armenians had supported and helped the Allied Powers during the war and therefore, they had to benefit from the gains/spoils of the war, and this had to be a great Armenian state between the Mediterranean- the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea

Bogos Nubar, who was the head of the National Armenian Delegation, made an effective speech at the Paris Peace Conference and this speech had impact in the world press and it became the subject of the Time magazine, dated 30 January 1919. Nubar said the following:

Let us declare a truth that very few people know: Armenians fought on the side of the Allies in all sections of the war from the beginning. Armenians have been a side actively fighting since they they furiously refused to be on the side of the Turks. Our volunteers have fought as members of the French Legion and have earned honors. More than 5,000 Armenians fought in the Eastern Legion, they comprised more than half of the French army in Palestine and they contributed to the absolute victory of General Allenby.

Apart from the 150,000 Armenians who served in the Russian armies in the Caucasus, 50,000 Armanians fought under the command of Antranik, Nazarbekof and others for the claim of the Allied Powers and they constituted the only force of resistance that stopped the progress of the Turks in the Caucasus after the collapse of Russia until the signing of the agreement.

Therefore, they helped the English military forces in Mesopotamia by preventing the Germans and Turks from sending their own soldiers to the other war zones. The National Armenian Delegation requested the Armenian nation to be recognized as one of the parties in the war by taking into consideration all of these points…”

(Karacakaya, 327).

The Armenian Delegation requested six provinces from Anatolia in the offficial demands of the Armenian delegations in Paris from the Allied Powers and Bugos Nubar wanted Çukurova, which would make it possible to have an opening to the Mediterranean, to be added to the Great Armenia in addition to these. As a matter of fact the delegations submitted a memorandum containing their demands to the Paris Peace Conference on 26 February 1919. According to this:

“Seven Ottoman provinces in the east, which consisted of Van, Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Harput, Sivas, Erzurum and Trabzon,

Marş, Kozan, Jabal-i Barakat, Adana and Antakya (Cilicia region),

Territories of the Republic of Armenia including Yerivan, Gumru and Kars for Great Armenia,

And the taking of 19 billion Francs from the Turks as compensation (14,598,510,000 Francs for Turkish Armenians and 4,532,472,000 Francs for Russian Armenians) were demanded”

These excessive demands against the Ottoman State, which had been defeated in the war, were far from the political, social and historical facts which were being supported by US President Wilson. British Prime Minister Lloyd George found the Armenian demands “excessive.” In spite of this, he proposed that an Armenia, whose borders would be drawn by the Allied Powers on 14 May 1919, be placed under mandate rule. The Armenian government in Yerivan became very hopeful as a result of this and declared the Great Republic of Armenia on 28 May 1919 (Bakar, 233-34). However, placing Armenia under American Mandate was an option that had more weight (Beyoğlu, 543).

Attempts of the Ottoman State

The Ottoman State wanted to intervene in the process when the so-called peace agreement was being prepared, but this was not accepted. Tevfik Pasha’s government gave a memorandum to the representatives of the United Kingdom, France, USA and Italy in Istanbul on 12 February 1919 and emphasized that the Armenian population in Anatolia did not have a majority anywhere. The initiatives of Damat Ferit Pasha also failed to bring about any results. The Ottoman State was called officially to Paris on 30 May 1919 and Damat Ferit Pasha gave a speech to the council of 4 on 17 June 1919 and he gave a memorandum on 23 June 1919. In the 11 article memorandum, it was stated that the Armenian gangs that acted together with the armies of the Tsarist Russia caused the incidents experienced in Eastern Anatolia, some adjacent territory may be given to Armenia in the Caucasus, that Armenians had never been a majority in Adana and its vicinity, and that for the Armenians in Çukurova, it would be sufficient to exchange them or to make them subject to minority law (Bakar, 234-5).

What did Anatolia say?

Another aspect of the issue was the people who lived in the territories demanded by the Armenians. They also followed the process about them that was going on and they had a negative rection to the decisions being taken about their independence and future without asking them. The people of the region started to get organized and put forward their reactions. The “Organizations for the Defense of Rights” started to be formed. The most important of the organizations that appeared under the name of National Council in the regions of Batum, Ahılkelek, Ardahan, Artvin, Oltu, Kars, Kağızman, Sarıkamış, Iğdır and Nahçivan was the Kars Islam Council. As a result of the congress that gathered on 17 January 1919, the Temporary National Government of Southwest Caucasus was established. The British forces which entered Kars on 13 February 1919 recognized tihs government at first, but their appointing an Armenian governor named Garganov caused the severing of the ties. The British raided the parliament of the Temporary National Government of Southwest Caucasus on 19 April 1919 and they sent the members of the government into exile on Malta island. After this date, the Armenian militias were emboldened by the British and then the people of the region were subjected to the raids of the Armenian militias, their opression and pressure. The invasions of the Allied Powers made it possible for the Armenian organizations to mobilize again in Anatolia and chaos became widespread in Anatolia. The civilian population had the biggest losses as a result of this situation (Bakar, pp. 235-7).

In the Black Sea and Eastern Antolia regions, the Trabzon National Association for the Preservation of Rights and the Eastern Provinces Association for the Defense of Rights organized a joint congress against the Greek and Amenian demands. On 23 July 1919, the Erzurum Congress was assembled with representatives who came from Trabzon, Sivas, Diyarbakır, Mamurat al-Aziz, Bitlis, Van and Erzincan and with the participation of Mustafa Kemal Pasha. The congress continued until 7 August 1919 and it declared that the nation would resist those activities against the unity of Anatolia, invasions and all of the acitivities of Armenians and Greeks to divide up the Ottoman homeland (Beyoğlu, p. 544).

Sivas Congress, which was held on 4-11 September 1919, confirmed the same decisions and expanded the contents. The Muslim majority in Anatolia did not want the granting of any privileges that would be based on Armenian and Greek ethnic origin and that would harm political sovereignty. American General Harbord, who had come to Anatolia to do research on this topic, and the delegation that was with him talked with Mustafa Kemal Pasha in Sivas and they reached the conclusion that contrary to the information that the Western public opinion had, the Armenians were not in danger in Anatolia. However, the French had invaded Maraş, Antep and Urfa regions and they had started to have activities to establish an Armenian Homeland in this region. Both the Ottoman administration and the people of the region reacted to this and a struggle started (Bakar, pp. 237-8).

To return to the Peace Conference in Europe, the representatives of the Allied Powers gathered at the London Conference on 12 February and 10 April 1920 and the Armenian question was addressed. Armenian delegations also participated in this conference, in which a final decision could not be taken and the talks continued at the San Remo Conference between 18-26 April 1920. Here the Peace Treaty of Sèvres was finalized. The conditions of peace that were prepared for the Ottoman State were given to Grand Vizier Tevfik Pasha on 11 May 1920 and a period of one month was given for its acceptance. This became part of the Turkish history as the peace agreement with the heaviest conditions. After this time period started, the American Congress voted on Armenians becoming subjects of an American Mandate on 24 May 1920 and the American Congress rejected it. On 25 June 1920 Damat Ferit Pasha presented the counter-proposal of the Ottoman State. However, this was not accepted by the Allied Powers and the Ottoman State delegates signed the Peace Treaty in Sèvres, which was a suburb of Paris, on 10 August 1920 as a result of the political and military threats. According to the Peace Treaty of Sèvres, the Ottoman State recognized Armenia as an independent state and the delineation of the border in the provinces of Erzurum, Van, Trabzon and Bitlis would be done under the arbitrating role of U.S. president Wilson. Armenia having acess to the sea and the demilitarization of the borders were also accepted.

The Articles on the Armenians in the Treaty of Sèvres

The relevant articles of the Treaty of Sèvres are as follows:

  • 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 Erzerum, 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.
  • 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 Pricipal 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.
  • Article 230: The Turkish Government undertakes to hand over to the Allied Powers the persons whose surrender may be required by the latter as being responsible for the massacres committed during the continuance of the state of war on territory which formed part of the Turkish Empire on August 1, 1914.

Although the Treaty of Sèvres was signed by the Ottoman delegates, it was not officially accepted because according to the Ottoman constitution, for an agreement to be accepted, it had to be ratified by the parliament, approved by the Sultan and published in the Official Gazette. The Treaty of Sèvres only had the signatures of the delegates.

The TGNA passed a law on 7 June 1920 with which it denied the validity of all the agreements that the Istanbul government signed without the approval of the Turkish Grand National Assembly starting from 16 March 1920, when Istanbul was officially invaded and all such agreements that would be signed by it without the TGNA approval. Since the Treaty of Sèvres was covered by this law, it never entered into force.

The borders of Turkey with the Republic of Armenia were drawn with the agreement that was signed in Gumru on 3 December 1920 after the liberation of Kars on 30 October 1920. Then the border that was drawn with this agreement was redrawn with the Mocsow Agreement dated 16 March 1921 and the Kars Agreement dated 13 October 1921; then these agreements were officially ratified and they entered into force (Beyoğlu, pp. 545-6).

Bibliography

Bakar, Bülent (2009), Ermeni Tehciri, Ankara.

Beyoğlu, Süleyman (2006), “Sevr ve Lozan’da Ermeni Sorunu”, Türk-Ermeni İlişkilerinin Gelişimi ve 1915 Olayları Uluslar arası Sempozyumu Bildirileri, Yay. Haz. Hale Şıvgın, Ankara, s.541-554.

Karacakaya, Recep (2005), Türk Kamuoyu ve Ermeni Meselesi (1908-1923), İstanbul.

Kodaman, Barçın (2002), Sevr ve Lozan’da Ermeni Sorunu, Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi Yayınlanmamış Yüksek Lisans Tezi, Isparta.

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