Erdogan and the Ottoman Dream

By: Dr. Anas al-Raheb

After the end of World War I and the defeat of the Ottoman Sultanate by the allies, the Paris Peace Conference was held in 1919 to  discuss distributing the gains of the war, to impose the principles of peace on the defeated powers and draw the new boundaries of the Ottoman Sultanate which had occupied wide areas of lands in the Arab and European regions.

Responding to the Paris Conference, the Ottoman Parliament convened on January 12th 1920. Following several debates on the future of the Turks, the parliament announced on January 28th of the same year the so-called "Misak Milli" (Charter or constitution) that consisted of six principles. Among these principles was one that said that the future of the occupied areas inhabited by an Arab majority at the time of the signing of the Armistice of Mudros will be determined by a referendum. On the other hand, the areas which were not occupied at that time and were inhabited by a Turkish Moslem majority are the homeland of the Turkish nation.

 Ataturk had a convention that the "Misak Milli" was the basis on which modern Turkey would be built on following its defeat in the war. A new map for Turkey was drawn up on this basis, recognizing the Turks' loss of the occupied Arab states except for Aleppo and Mosul which the Turks considered as part of the new state.

The announcement of the "Misak Milli" angered the allied powers. The Greek forces attacked the western line from Anatolia on March 3rd 1920, while the allied powers occupied Istanbul within two weeks only.  As a result, the Ottoman government in Istanbul signed the "Treaty of Sevres" with the Allied Powers on the 10th of August, 1920 in the light of which new borders that contradict those recognized in the "Misak Milli" were drawn. The "Treaty of Sevres" organized the birth of the Turkish state as well as its borders with the Syrian state, and, according to article 27 of the second part of the treaty, the affiliation of Alexandretta, all Cilicia, Kilis, Birecik, Aintab, Urfa, Mardin, Nusaybin and Ibn Omar Island were allotted to Syria.

However, Ataturk, rejected the treaty and announced that he didn't recognize the Ottoman government in Istanbul, accusing it of betraying the "Misak Milli". Thus, he formed a new government in Ankara, a step that was followed by the eruption of the Greco-Turkish war of independence which ended with Turkey's victory on October 11th, 1922.

As a result of this victory, which coincided with the challenges the French were facing because of the revolutions that had erupted in the north and west of Syria, the two sides (Turkey and France) agreed on cooperation instead of going on with military confrontation. Therefore, they signed the famous treaty known as Franklin-Bouillon Agreement, also known as the (Treaty of Ankara), on October 20, 1920. The treaty provided for stopping the war between the two countries, annexing the Syrian northern provinces to Turkey in exchange for recognizing the French mandate of Syria. The biggest impact of the treaty was the amendment of the border line between Syria and Turkey which was approved by the Treaty of Sevres.

Turkey's victory helped Ataturk emerge as a national hero. On November 1st, 1922, Ataturk announced the abolition of the Ottoman Sultanate and the dissolution of Istanbul government. He stressed that the Ankara delegation to Lausanne negotiations will be led by Ismet Inonu. In doing so, Ataturk and his government gained an international recognition by inviting the governments of Ankara and Istanbul to the peace negotiations in Lausanne in 1923. The negotiations resulted in the settlement of the status of Anatolia, the demarcation of boundaries with Syria by annexing wide areas that exceeded 18,000 km, the annulment of the Treaty of Sevres and the international recognition of the Republic of Turkey.

Several agreements were made between 1926 and 1939 on the borders, until France, the mandate power in Syria, annexed Alexandretta and gave it to Turkey on July 23rd, 1939.

It is to be noted that all the agreements reached regarding the borders with Syria were made without the participation or approval of the state which was under mandate, thereby violating the fourth article of the mandate system which doesn't give the mandatory state the right to cede any part of the Syrian territories.

More recently, the Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan has tried to adopt several procedures to control more areas in the north of Syria and Iraq under the pretext of fighting terrorism. In addition, Erdogan's intervention in Libya, the establishment of a Turkish military base in Qatar, Turkey's control over the northern part of Cyprus, sending Turkish ships to drill for natural gas in the East of the Mediterranean and Turkey's continuous frictions with Greece regarding the Aegean Islands are all indications about Erdogan's bid to revive the Ottoman Sultanate. In his statements, Erdogan has repeatedly called for withdrawal from Lausanne treaty and for the reoccupation of the Middle East, focusing on what he claims about his ancestors' "properties" in the Middle East and Greece and on the claim that Turkey has kept in its official archive tens of thousands of documents on what it called assets that date back to the period of the Ottoman rule in Iraq's Mosul and Kirkuk and Syria's Aleppo.

Any attempt to understand the myth of Lausanne 2023, which Erdogan and his regime have been promoting, won't be possible except within the context of the dangerous developments that have been taking place in the Middle east since 2011 and that have turned the biggest part of the Turkish borders into hot spots where Erdogan engages in confrontations of varying degrees. These developments have also provided a strong chance for Erdogan to solve internal crises by adding new resources-rich geographic areas to his national borders.
Turkey's aspirations in Syria are well-known and they have become clearer through the Turkish regime's creation of and support for armed terrorist militias, through its attempt to settle the Syrian refugees, residents in Turkey, in Syria's northern area as it did before in Alexandretta and northern Cyprus.

The importance of this data lies in the fact that it comes while the Turkish occupation army continues to expand its military operations in northern Syria including the (Operation Euphrates Shield), the (Operation Olive Branch ) and most recently the (Operation Peace Spring) within the framework of a Turkish scenario based on complete Turkification policy. This has been evident in Turkey's procedures in this area which include changing the identity and names of streets and hospitals, opening Turkish schools and university branches, such as the Gaziantep University branch.

What is happening in northern Syria is not mere a development of the Syrian crisis, because the Turkish military operation in the Syrian territory has certain dimensions that go beyond the crisis in Syria and the US-Turkish negotiations which aim at realizing the withdrawal of the Kurdish armed groups from northern Syria, transferring the Syrian refugees to what it called "safe zone" and making a change in the demographic structure (through coercive transfer of people from areas to another areas). Thus, this region becomes, in the long-term, similar to the Turkish vital space in northern Cyprus, which is, according to the International Law, to the Fourth Geneva Convention (article 49) and to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, a war crime and a crime against humanity.

Through contributing to chaos in the Middle East since 2011 and to tough financial crises in Greece and through the Turkish presence in northern Cyprus,  Erdogan has provided himself with an opportunity to use the Misak Milli as a historical document to continuously threaten his neighbors and impose military presence in neighboring states as a fait accompli to redraw the country's borders the way he likes.

This plan by Erdogan goes in line with the schemes of the Turkish nationalists before almost 100 years ago. Those Turkish nationalists had given up on  their dreams, but Erdogan seems more insistent and more determined to continue his adventure to the end which heralds a more disastrous end than that experienced by his ancestors-the sultans in the defunct Ottoman State.

Translated by: Hamda Mustafa