THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC)
Signature of the Treaty of Sèvres
(August 10, 1920)
The victory of the Allies in World War I imposed the signature of a series of treaties to end the war and legalize the defeat of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria). The Peace Conference of Paris, which opened in January 1919, prepared a package of treaties. Four treaties were signed with Germany (Versailles, June 1919), Austria (Saint-Germain, September 1919), Bulgaria (Neuilly, November 1919), and Hungary (Trianon, June 1920). The fifth and last was with the Ottoman Empire.
Negotiations about the terms of the treaty with Turkey dragged on until mid-1920. They started at the Peace Conference, continued at the Conference of London (February 1920), and took definite shape only after the Prime Minister’s meeting at the San Remo Conference (April 1920). The delay was the result of the inability of the triumphant powers to come to an agreement, and in turn, this allowed the beginning and development of the Turkish national movement, which by the time of the signature of the Treaty of Sevres was seriously challenging the authority of the Ottoman government.
The treaty was signed in an exhibition room at the famous porcelain factory in Sèvres, outside Paris. It was signed by Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Belgium, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Armenia, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Hejaz, on one side, and the Ottoman Empire on the other. Avetis Aharonian, as President of the Delegation of the Republic, signed on behalf of Armenia.
The treaty liquidated the Ottoman Empire. In Asia, Turkey renounced sovereignty over Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine (including Jordan), which became British mandates; Syria (including Lebanon), which became a French mandate; and the kingdom of Hejaz (now Saudi Arabia). Turkey retained Anatolia but was to grant autonomy to Kurdistan. Armenia became a separate republic, and Smyrna (modern Izmir) and its environs were placed under Greek administration pending a plebiscite to determine its permanent status.
In Europe, Turkey ceded parts of Eastern Thrace and certain Aegean islands to Greece, and the Dodecanese and Rhodes to Italy, retaining only Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and its environs, including the Zone of the Straits (Dardanelles and Bosphorus), which was neutralized and internationalized.
Armenia was recognized de jure as an independent republic by Turkey. Both countries agreed to leave the delimitation of the borders in the provinces of Erzerum, Trabizond, Van, and Bitlis to the arbitral award of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, including his proposals for an outlet to the Black Sea for Armenia and the demilitarization of the border. (The award was presented to the Allied powers on November 22, 1920, and left to Armenia a territory of 90,000 square kilometers, which, including the actual territory of the independent republic, would become a total of 161,730 square kilometers.) The Armenian borders with Azerbaijan and Georgia would be resolved through direct negotiations among the sides. The Ottoman law of 1915 on abandoned property was declared illegal, while the Ottoman government ensured its cooperation to deliver war criminals, including people responsible for massacres, to military courts and to find and rescue people who had disappeared or been deprived of their liberty after November 1914.
The treaty was accepted by the government of Sultan Mehmed VI at Istanbul but was rejected by the rival nationalist government of Kemal Atatürk at Ankara. Atatürk’s separate treaty with the USSR and his subsequent victory over Greece during the “war of independence” forced the Allies to negotiate a new treaty in 1923 (Treaty of Lausanne), where the Treaty of Sevres was superseded. Nevertheless, Wilson’s award became law of the land, while the U.S. Congress never ratified the Treaty of Lausanne.
The Treaty of Sevres, despite having never been put into practice, remains grounds for Armenian territorial reclamations.