Conference of Lausanne

Turkish delegation sent to the Conference of Lausanne.

The Conference of Lausanne was a conference held in Lausanne, Switzerland during 1922 and 1923. Its purpose was the negotiation of a treaty to replace the Treaty of Sèvres, which, under the new government of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was no longer recognized by Turkey.[1]

The conference opened in November 1922, with representatives from the Great Britain, France, Italy and Turkey. The Grand National Assembly of Turkey selected İsmet Pasha, Rıza Nur and Chief Rabbi Chaim Nahum as their representatives. Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary, was the coordinator of the conference and dominated it.[2] France and Italy had assumed that, following the Chanak Crisis, British prestige with Turkey would be irrevocably damaged; they were shocked to discover that Turkish respect for Britain was undiminished, since British troops had held their positions at Chanak while the French had been ordered to withdraw.

The conference lasted for eleven weeks. It heard speeches from Benito Mussolini of Italy and Raymond Poincaré of France. The proceedings of the conference were notable for the stubborn diplomacy of İsmet Pasha. Already partially deaf, he would simply turn off his hearing aid when Curzon launched into lengthy speeches denouncing the Turkish position. Once Curzon was finished, İsmet Pasha would restate his original demands, oblivious to Curzon's denunciations.[3]

At the conclusion, Turkey assented to the political clauses and the "freedom of the straits", which was Britain's main concern. The matter of the status of Mosul was deferred, since Curzon refused to be budged on the British position that the area was part of Iraq.[4] The French delegation, however, did not achieve any of their goals and on 30 January 1923 issued a statement that they did not consider the draft treaty to be any more than a basis of discussion. The Turks therefore refused to sign the treaty. On 4 February 1923, Curzon made a final appeal to İsmet Pasha to sign, and when he refused the Foreign Secretary broke off negotiations and left that night on the Orient Express.

The Treaty of Lausanne was finally signed on 24 July 1923.[5]


The harsh Treaty of Sevres imposed upon the government of the Ottoman Empire after World War I by the Allied Powers included provisions that demanded the partition of Anatolia. The treaty demanded the occupation of French and Italian zones of occupation in the southeast and southwest, the cession of much of western Anatolia to Greece, and the establishment of two independent states, Armenia and Kurdistan, in the east and southwest. The Ottoman state was to have a small army and navy without heavy artillery, plane, or battleships and the Ottoman budget was to be placed under the supervisions of an Allied financial commission. Unsurprisingly Turkish nationalists were vehemently apposed to these clauses and decided to fight to inhibit their effectiveness.[6]

In the Turkish War of Independence that followed, the Turkish nationalist army defeated the Greeks and created resolutions with the French and Italians in order to secure a sovereign, independent, Turkish state in Anatolia.[7]

Preliminary meetings

The location of Lausanne, Switzerland was chosen as a neutral area by Britain, France, and Italy to discuss the new policies in the Near East. Representatives of the Soviet Union would be invited solely for the purpose of renegotiating the Straits Convention.[8] Before the Conference even began, Lord Curzon of Britain expressed doubts upon the reliability of France and Italy for support for he stated, "I am not going into the conference in order to find myself let down very likely on the first day by the French or Italians."[9] He thereto for demanded a preliminary meeting of the three nations in order to reach a preliminary strategy before traveling to Lausanne. Curzon prepared a list of British demands separated into two categories: ‘Essential’ - which included Greek retention of Western Thrace, the freedom of the Straits to shipping, demilitarized zones on the coasts and retention of Allied troops in Istanbul until a new treaty was ratified. The second category was entitled ‘Most Desirable’ and included measures for the protection of the minorities in Turkey, preliminary safeguards of the Armenian population, satisfaction of Allied requirements of the Ottoman debt, capitulations, and the future financial and economic regime in Turkey.[10] Preliminary meetings took place in Paris between Lord Curzon and the French statesman Raymond Poincaré on 18 November 1922, lasting five hours. Poincaré addressed each of Lord Curzon’s aims point by point and reluctantly agreed to the majority of them. The two then met with Benito Mussolini who quickly agreed to the agenda due to his overall indifference to the negotiations.[11]

The first official meeting of the Lausanne Conference was held on 21 November 1922 where Curzon appointed himself president of the conference and instituted three sub-commissions. The first commission (and arguably most important) addressed territorial and military questions; the second addressed the financial and economic questions; and the third was meant to answer the future of judicial status of foreigners in Turkey. The first commission was chaired by Lord Curzon, the second by the French ambassador Cemille Barrere, and the third by Italian diplomat Marquis Garone.[12]

On 23 November, Curzon’s commission began its processions. İsmet Pasha delivered a long speech in which he demanded the cession of Karaagac, a suburb of Edirne, which had been retained by Greece as part of Western Thrace. Curzon responded by chastising the Turks for making, what he considered, excessive demands. He was met with widespread support by the French and Italians and went on to state that this "exhibition of so firm an Allied front at this stage and on so important an issue took [the] Turks very much by surprise and will probably exercise a decisive influence in our future proceedings."[13] This feeling did not last however for, by December, Turkish obstruction and stubbornness as well as Italian concessions had all but halted negotiations.

The Russian delegation arrived in Lausanne on 28 November 1922 with Georgy Vasilyevich Chicherin as their chief spokesman. They demanded to be admitted to the conference as a whole, and, when the Straits commission officially met on 5 December, also demanded the closure of the Straits, in peace and war, to the warships and aircraft of all nations except Turkey. Both of these proposals were rejected and any Russian protest was ignored.[14]

On 16 December, Curzon decided that he would remain at the conference over the Christmas holiday in order to expedite the conference’s conclusion. He intended to draw up a preliminary treaty containing the points already agreed to in the meetings with the Turks and then invite İsmet Pasha to accept or reject it as a statement of agreed principle, leaving experts to fill in the rest.[15] After Christmas however, increasing Turkish inflexibility on generally all the significant clauses (as well as rumors of an imminent Turkish military advance on Istanbul), led Curzon to seek a private meeting with İsmet. He found the Turkish foreign minister "impervious to argument, warning or appeal, and can only go on repeating the same catchwords, indulging in the same futil quibbles, and making the same childish complaints."[16] Lord Curzon’s intention of presenting the Turks with a preliminary treaty was further hindered by a lack of correspondence from Poincaré in regards to the acceptability of the conditions presented to France. In mid-January 1923, Maurice Bompard, who had taken the place of the sickly Barrere as chief French delegate, visited Paris to relay with Poincaré. He then returned to the Conference with a document of 24 headings dictated by Poincaré that represented a French demand for substantial concessions to Turkey on most issues in order to bring about a faster conclusion.[17] Curzon described an "unconditional surrender to the Turks."[18] He adamantly refused to accept any of these ‘eleventh hour proposals’ and went on to decide on a fixed date for the departure of the British delegation from the conference. On that day, he explained, the Turks would be asked to accept or reject the text of the treaty which Britain would be drawing up without the inclusion of any of Poincaré’s amendments.[19]

When the draft was presented to the Turks on 31 January, İsmet asked for an adjournment of eight days. There was further meetings of the Allied delegations on the morning of 2 January during which Curzon reluctantly agreed to further modifications on capitulations and tariffs, the abandonment of reparations due from Turkey and the removal of all restrictions on the size of the Turkish army in Thrace.[20] On 4 February, the Turks accepted all the territorial terms of the draft treat, with a reservation about Mosul, but rejected the judicial, economic, and financial clauses. They also demanded reparations from Greece for the damage its army caused in Izmir[21] — a demand Curzon had already rejected due to the poverty of Greece. Although the Allies agreed to further slight changes in the economic clauses, the Turks still refused to sign the treaty on the grounds that the economic and judicial clauses were still unsatisfactory.[22]

It was then reported that for the next several hours, İsmet Pasha feigned total ineptitude in the understanding of the simplest of proposition — a ploy of stubbornness that aimed to force another revision of the treaty. Every warning, argument, or plea to İsmet lacked even the smallest effect. From there negotiations broke down and all parties returned to their respective capitals.[23]


In early March 1923, a Turkish note suggested new propositions towards the still unsettled financial, economic, and judicial questions. Curzon accepted the Turkish proposals on the basis that the conference would be revived although he ruled out any further revisions of the territorial clauses already resolved. Between 21–27 March 1923, British, French, Italian, and Japanese experts met in London to discuss Allied criteria for the settlement of the still unresolved issues of the conference.[24]

The conference eventually reopened at Lausanne on 23 April 1923. Once again three commissions were set up: the first dealing with the remaining territorial questions and the rights for foreigners, which was chaired by Sir Horace Rumbold, the primary British delegate as Curzon refused to return to Lausanne, the second under General Pelle, now the principle French delegate, on financial questions and the third, under Montagna, the chief Italian delegate, on economic questions. Most of the proceedings were of a highly technical nature and progressed slowly. France renewed her demand for the payment of reparations to the Allies by Turkey, although, as Curzon pointed out, the Allies had agreed to abandon these in February.[25] Nor could any agreement be reached with Turks on the future judicial regime for foreigners in their country. Finally, Turkish insistence that the Greeks pay reparations to Turkey for war damage in Izmir almost led to a renewal of Turco-Greek hostilities.[26] On 24 April the Greek delegation threatened to walk out of the conference on Saturday, the 26th, if the Turks had not accepted the Greek offer of Karaağaç in lieu of reparations. Mustafa Kemal intervened, and his government agreed that İsmet could accept Karaagaç in lieu of reparations if this was coupled with a favorable settlement of the remaining questions. On the afternoon of the 26th, after appeals from all the delegates at the conference, İsmet accepted the compromise which was coupled with rather vague assurances by the Allies that every effort would be made to satisfy Turkish requirements on other issues.[27]

However, after a further appeal to Poincaré by Crewe on 6 July, the French Prime Minister accepted a British proposal that a declaration about the debt interest should be omitted from the treaty and the matter dealt with in a separate note from the Allies to Turkey. After another long six-hour meeting on the subject between the Allied and Turkish delegates, the issue was finally settled. At 1.30 a.m. on 9 July 1923 agreement was reached on the debt interest and concessions questions and on the evaluation of the Allies from Constantinople after Turkey had ratified the peace treaty.[28]

However, there were still delays over the settlement of other minor issues and not until 24 July 1923 was the Treaty signed at a plenary session of the conference.

Treaty of Lausanne

It was known from early on in the Conference that Turkey was left in a perilous position for much of it had been destroyed in the wars of independence. The Turks needed an end to conflict and normal relations with Europe in order to build and sustain their economy. Though İsmet Pasha, acted extremely stubborn and near unworkable during the conference, he mainly acted this in matters that threatened Turkish independence. On matters that did not touch the heart of Turkish independence, İsmet eventually accepted Allied wishes in order to secure Turkey’s place in the future economy. He easily accepted British and French colonial rule in Palestine, Syria, and Iraq. Although İsmet would surely have loved to negate the old Ottoman debt, a great weight on the new state, he accepted a proportional division of the debt among the successor states of the Empire.[29]

On matters on independence, the Turks were resolute in their stance. The capitulations and all the rules that allowed foreigners to have their own legal systems in the Ottoman Empire, their own post offices, and other extraterritorial rights, were ended. Foreigners and minorities were to be governed by the same sets of laws and have the same rights as the Turks. Social and religious institutions of Christians were specifically allowed but not separate political institutions.[30]

Furthermore, the Treaty attempted to rectify the expulsion of entire populations in the Balkans with a final population exchange. Greeks had lived in Anatolia for centuries, and the Turks had lived in what was now Greece for more than 500 years, but both Greece and Turkey had come to realize that the two populations could no longer live together in cooperation. Though the Ottoman Empire was markedly unique throughout its power for advocating tolerance, the viciousness of the Balkan Wars essentially destroyed the tolerance between the two cultures. Most of the Turks of Greece, in fact, had been expelled after 1878, especially in the Balkan Wars. Most Anatolian Greeks had fled in 1922. At Lausanne, Greece and Turkey agreed to relocate most of the Muslims and Greeks who had remained in the other’s country. Only the Greeks of Istanbul and the Turks of western Thrace were excluded.[31]

Mosul Question

On 4 February 1923 while the Lausanne Conference was still in session, the two obstinate parties laying claim to the Mosul region — Turkey and Great Britain — deferred the dispute from the conference agenda since its deadlock was so firm. Following the first World War, the British sought to contain the Bolshevik threat by expanding its presence in the Middle Eastern regions around Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. Turkey however remained adamant that this region was owed to them based on 1.) racial unity of the Turks and Kurds, 2.) arguments that most of the disputed area’s trade was with Anatolia, 3.) illegal occupation of the Allies in Mosul, and 4.) the presence of self-determination from which the inhabitants actually wanted to be a part of Turkey. Lord Curzon however addressed each of these claims individually claiming that: 1.) racially, the majority of the inhabitants were Kurds who were of Indo-European origin — fundamentally different from the Turks, 2.) most of the trade of Mosul was with Iraq, not Anatolia, 3.) legally the British government had been entrusted with the mandate over Iraq by the League of Nations, and 4.) the frequent Kurdish revolts during the nineteenth century immediately before World War I demonstrated that the Kurds were unwilling to be a part of Turkey.[32] Britain eventually brought the dispute before the League of Nations who ruled that neither party had any right to occupy and control the area. The Kurdish population was instead divided between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq — ending any aspirations the Kurds had for self-determination.[33]

In return for Turkey’s concession, they were then afforded an invitation to join the League of Nations in order to complete the isolation of Bolshevik Russia.[34]

Straits Questions

The Straits question of the conference further emphasizes the prevailing paranoia of the encroaching Bolshevik especially by the Allies. At the end of World War I, the victorious powers imposed the terms of the Treaty of Sevres which placed the control of the Straits under the Commission of the Straits. The Commission would be composed of the representatives of the Great Powers and Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. With the recovery of Turkish power in Anatolia however, the peace treaty became inoperative within two years. The sessions of the conference devoted to the Straits question became a duel between Lord Curzon and Chicherin of the Russia who demanded that the passage of military vessels through the Straits be prohibited at all times. He further demanded the restoration of full Turkish sovereignty over the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles with an unrestricted right to fortify their shores. Eventually, the British prevailed enacting Article I of the Straits Convention of 24 July 1923 which stated the principle of freedom of transit and of navigation through the Straits in times of both peace of war. Furthermore, Article IV stipulated that the shores of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles as well as the contiguous islands in the Aegean and in Marmara would be demilitarized.[35]


The Lausanne Conference officially recognized the sovereignty of the new Republic of Turkey on an international scale. Turkey, in a sense, achieved what the Ottoman Empire set out to do prior to World War I — receiving equal treatment among the Western powers and asserted its place in the international political sphere. The treaty restricted the boundaries of Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey, and formally relinquished all Turkish claims on the Dodecanese Islands, Cyprus, Egypt and Sudan, Syria and Iraq. In Article 3,Turkey’s southern border also became rigidly defined and thereto for officially ceded the territories of Yemen, Asir, and parts of Hejaz including Medina. Turkey also officially ceded Adakale Island in the River Danube to Romania under Articles 25 and 26 under the Treaty of Lausanne. According to Article 10, Turkey also gave up any of its privileges in Libya.[36] The Armenians also lost hope of reestablishing a large presence in East Anatolia under the Treaty and were instead only afforded a small homeland in Soviet Armenia which, in 1922, eventually became a part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic.[37]

See also


  1. Hanioglu, M. Sukru (2008). A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire. Princeton University Press.
  2. Dockrill, Michael (1993). "Britain and the Lausanne Conference, 1922-23". The Turkish Yearbook. XXIII.
  3. Cleveland, William L. (2004). A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. p. 178.
  4. Othman, Ali (1997). "The Kurds and the Lausanne Peace Negotiations, 1922-1923". Middle East Studies. 33.
  5. Agoston, Gabor (2009). Encyclopedia of the Ottoman Empire. Facts on File Inc.
  6. Hanioglu, M. Sukru (2008). A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire. Princeton University Press.
  7. Hanioglu, M. Sukru (2008). A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire. Princeton University Press.
  8. Dockrill, Michael (1993). "Britain and the Lausanne Conference, 1922-23". The Turkish Yearbook. XXIII.
  9. Curzon to Hardinge (9 November 1922). Documents on British Foreign Policy, (tel 419 no. 169 ed.).
  10. Dockrill, Michael (1993). "Britain and the Lausanne Conference, 1922-23". The Turkish Yearbook. XXIII.
  11. Dockrill, Michael (1993). "Britain and the Lausanne Conference, 1922-23". The Turkish Yearbook. XXIII.
  12. McCarthy, Justin (2001). The Ottoman Peoples and the End of an Empire. Arnold Publishers.
  13. Curzon to Sir E. Crowe (23 November 1922). Documents on British Foreign Polyicy (tel 19, no. 215 ed.). London.
  14. Dockrill, Michael (1993). "Britain and the Lausanne Conference, 1922-23". The Turkish Yearbook. XXIII.
  15. Goldstein, Erik. "The British Official Mind and the Conference of Lausanne, 1922-23". Diplomacy & Statecraft. 14.
  16. Curzon to Crowe, tel 154, no. 293 (26 December 1922). Documents on British Foreign Policy.
  17. Brown, Philip Marshall (1923). "The Lausanne Conference". The American Journal of International Law. 17.
  18. Dockrill, Michael (1993). "Britain and the Lausanne Conference, 1922-23". The Turkish Yearbook. XXIII.
  19. Grew, Joseph G. "The Peace Conference of Lausanne, 1922-23". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 98.
  20. Howard, Douglas A. (2001). History of Turkey. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  21. Hirschon, Renee (2009). "History's Long Shadow: The Lausanne Treaty and Contemporary Greco-Turkish Relations". In the Long Shadow of Europe: Greeks and Turks in the Era of Postnationalism: 3. Brill.
  22. Macfie, A.L. (1998). The End of the Ottoman Empire 1908-1923. Longman.
  23. Cleveland, William L. (2004). A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  24. Dockrill, Michael (1993). "Britain and the Lausanne Conference, 1922-23". The Turkish Yearbook. XXIII.
  25. Dockrill, Michael (1993). "Britain and the Lausanne Conference, 1922-23". The Turkish Yearbook. XXIII.
  26. Hirschon, Renee (2009). "History's Long Shadow: The Lausanne Treaty and Contemporary Greco-Turkish Relations". In the Long Shadow of Europe: Greeks and Turks in the Era of Postnationalism: 3. Brill.
  27. Brown, Philip Marshall (1923). "The Lausanne Conference". The American Journal of International Law. 17.
  28. Dockrill, Michael (1993). "Britain and the Lausanne Conference, 1922-23". The Turkish Yearbook. XXIII.
  29. Zurcher, Eric J. (2004). Turkey: A Modern History. I.B. Tauris.
  30. Zurcher, Eric J. (2004). Turkey: A Modern History. I.B. Tauris.
  31. Hirschon, Renee (2009). "History's Long Shadow: The Lausanne Treaty and Contemporary Greco-Turkish Relations". In the Long Shadow of Europe: Greeks and Turks in the Era of Postnationalism: 3. Brill.
  32. Othman, Ali (2006). "The Kurds and the Lausanne Peace Negotiations, 1922-23". Middle East Studies. 33.
  33. Hanioglu, M. Sukru (2008). A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire. Princeton University Press.
  34. Hanioglu, M. Sukru (2008). A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire. Princeton University Press.
  35. MacFie, A.J. (1979). "The Straits Question: The Conference of Lausanne (November 1922-July 1923)". Middle East Studies. 15. Taylor and Francis Ltd.
  37. Hanioglu, M. Sukru (2008). A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire. Princeton University Press.


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