The Diplomatic War in Turkey


THE main objective of all the diplomatic skirmishing over the Turkish situation has been much obscured in the confusion of the many side-issues of this dramatic play. Behind the maze of press dispatches and magazine articles dealing with refugee movements, technical treaty work, theoretical economic wealth, and desertion of the harem by Turkish women, there has been one main story running. This is the story of the political antagonism which arose between Great Britain and France over the control of the Mesopotamian oil lands.

It was just before the war, about 1912, that the potential value of the petroleum-bearing regions in Asia Minor was fully recognized. Immediately, the strongest European powers took occasion to concern themselves in the economic welfare of Turkey, and there was a rush to win concessions covering these territories. Momentary dismay reigned when it was found that American interests had, in 1910, already obtained the enviable Chester concession, admitting railroad rights through all the valuable oil regions and including the privilege of mineral development. However, satisfaction ran high again in Europe when it was seen that American capital hesitated to enter a dubious oil-promotion venture in so distant a field, particularly when production of petroleum at home was so far exceeding consumption. And since the Chester rights were not strongly followed up, the Germans, French, and British got a shoulder in.

According to the sentiment prevailing in Germany, France, and England about 1912, petroleum was nearly worth the cost of a war. To Germany and France, struggling under a rankling monopoly held by the Standard Oil Company, an assured oil supply meant industrial independence, while to England fuel oil meant the turningpoint in English naval supremacy. So ‘ catch-as-catch-can’ rules were resorted to in the diplomatic contest for the ‘favored-nation’ pledge from Turkey and for the exclusive right to exploration of petroleum-bearing lands under her dominion. Three years after the signing of the Chester grant by the Turkish Minister of Public Works, Germany, France, and England had secured later concessions duplicating the privileges conceded to Mr. Chester and placing in the hands of these European Powers practically all the territory promised to American interests.

The German project was the Berlinto-Bagdad railroad. The Turkish Government looked upon this with favor, since it would open a main stream of commerce between the European markets and the productive agricultural districts of Mesopotamia. To the Germans the railroad meant control of the Mosul region — richest of the oil regions.

French entry into the arena was effected through a railway concession in northern Anatolia, duplicating in part the lines proposed for construction by the Chester grant. The concession is dated 1913, and the French paid a considerable portion of a loan of 500,000,000 francs to the Turkish Government to secure their rights.

British capital made the most direct effort. The Turkish Petroleum Company was organized for the stated purpose of developing the Mesopotamian oil regions. The British Government itself held a controlling share in this Company. Turkey was much interested in the enterprise, and in 1913 the Turkish Petroleum people secured concessions from the Government covering the Mosul and all the productive Mesopotamian territories.

So, at the beginning of the Great War, German and British oil interests found themselves facing each other on the same ground, with France edging her way in. Mesopotamia became one of the chief objectives of the fighting forces. Germany was apparently ready to place a considerable portion of her strength on this front to protect her cherished ‘Berlin-toBagdad’ railroad, while the British Foreign Office felt that the realization of this project must be forestalled at any cost. ‘To foil this scheme,’ said Sir Charles Greenway, of the AngloPersian Oil Company shortly after the cessation of hostilities, ‘was the sole purpose of the British army in Mesopotamia during the war.’

Even the imminent danger of collapse of the Allies’ Western front did not divert the minds of the European nations from the problem of oil. Probably it was because of the constant reminder pressed by the hampering shortage of fuel oil and the dependence of the Allies’ navies upon the American oil companies. That France was not overlooking the material advantages of occupation of the Mesopotamian field was evidenced when as early as 1916 she asked for the Syrian mandate. The British continued to allow the Mesopotamian forces vast extravagances. The opposing armies in the East were pushed back; Palestine, the Mosul, and Bagdad were won over, and a British mandate was set up over these territories. But this was accomplished at a cost which made all England indignant when the bills were reckoned up after the Armistice. Meanwhile, on the Western front, America carried the Allies to victory ‘on a wave of oil.’


The Peace Conference opened. The American people, now that the spectre of a German victory had vanished, showed a pronounced unwillingness to lend counsel in any of the readjustments through which Europe was passing beyond the advice of President Wilson. This left France and England to settle things by themselves, with possibly a little advice from south of the Alps. So these two saviors of civilization coolly decided, it seems, to wring every possible advantage from the situation in Eastern Europe, and to divide the proceeds into two portions only. And secretly, as evidenced by later events, the English and French leaders determined to yield no emolument to each other which could be retained for one country alone.

At the conclusion of the Armistice, France pointed out that it was her right to hold the mandate over Syria, both by right of her concessions in that territory gained from the Turkish Government before the War, and through her operations in that field during the conflict. This mandate was granted, Great Britain holding a similar control over the adjoining regions of Mesopotamia. The English were now in a somewhat disadvantageous position, because the French controlled nearly the entire coast. The British army held the Mosul, to be true, but there was no outlet for the oil, either from this region or from Persia, where the Anglo-Persian Oil Company was operating other valuable concessions. Somehow there must be a link between the oil fields and the Navy. It was necessary to secure the coöperation of the French, and the British were afraid they would be pinched and forced to pay dearly for an outlet to the sea. So the British Foreign Office set about to devise a plan by which the French could be made to ensure safe passage of the British oil to points on the Mediterranean, and at the same time prevent France from profiting from the strategic position she held.

It was first necessary to prevent the oil interests of France becoming estranged from those of England. There had been much talk in France, just after the war, of floating new oil companies. France held rights in the oil lands of Russia, Rumania, and Mesopotamia, as well as potential fields in her African colonies. She wished to become independent in regard to the problem of fuel. British capitalists determined to divert this interest of French capital in oil, and a clever scheme was hit upon which won the support of French capital for the English oil companies.

Early in 1919 when the pound was rising and the franc dropping, English bankers commenced to flood France with shares of the Royal Dutch, Shell Transport, and other English-controlled companies. French capital accepted these eagerly, since the shares could be bought at a fair figure, and then sold at a considerable profit as the franc dropped. The French brokers were so interested in this speculation and easy profit that much of the capital originally ready to enter the support of the new French oil companies went to buy blocks in the British companies instead. A little later the pound began to drop and the franc to rise, as the British had suspected it would. To sell the English oil shares now meant a loss for the French speculators. There was no turning them to profit except by holding them and waiting for dividends. The franc rose steadily, and much of the stock was sold out at a loss, recrossing the Channel to England. Thus the French brokers who still retained shares were forced to back the projects of the English companies to save their investments. This left insufficient capital to finance the visionary French-producing companies, and the considerable French capital invested in English companies exerted no great influence there. France would still have to ask favors from her Ally.

This was the occasion on which the British industrialists made their offer to France. France wanted oil, and France had insufficient unemployed capital to produce oil herself. So through the British Foreign Office the following proposals were presented to Clemenceau: that Great Britain and France undertake the mutual exploitation of all oil lands formerly belonging to enemy powers; that British capital be allowed to develop the oil resources of the French colonies and of the French mandate in Syria; that England grant to France twenty-five per cent of all the oil produced in Mesopotamia through the Government exploitation, or, in the event that exploitation should be carried out by a private company, that the French should be allowed a twenty-five per cent participation in the same; that in return for this ‘gift’ of the oil so produced, France should coöperate with England to the extent of guaranteeing the security of pipe-lines across Syria from the Mosul and Persian oil fields to Mediterranean ports.

These proposals seemed to the French to be fairly conceived. The guarantee of twenty-five per cent of the oil produced in Mesopotamia was an important consideration. Still, the less impetuous French statesmen were reluctant to enter so binding an agreement. There were many influencing circumstances, however. The Arabs had begun to grow uneasy under the French dominion in Syria, and under the leadership of the native king, Feisal, commenced to resist the authority of the French troops. A campaign against Damascus was initiated, and the situation demanded the support of Great Britain’s military forces in Mesopotamia. Lord Curzon said, ‘Sign the Mesopotamian oil agreement, and we will help you secure Syria. If our military interests should be coördinated, so also should be our commercial interests, and we must have a contract of coöperation.’ Yet the French diplomats hesitated.

Then came the question of whether France should have the left bank of the Rhine. Lloyd George said, ‘Certainly our old Ally shall have it; but if we are willing to rest in accord with France in the attaining of so important an object, France should be willing to grant us the favor of her coöperation in the project of the Mesopotamian oil development.’ Clemenceau was eager to see French troops in control of the left bank of the Rhine, and quickly granted the ‘favor.’ So the secret Pact of San Remo was signed on April 24, 1920, confirming the propositions previously presented by the British Foreign Office; and on the same day a twenty-five per cent holding in the Turkish Petroleum Company was transferred to the French Government. The British forces united in action with the French in Syria, and the Arabs were subdued in their restless movements, though again at enormous expense. Then a second secret pact was signed, definitely assigning to France the old provinces of Syria and Lebanon. The conclusion of these pacts was followed by the signing on August 10, 1920, of the Treaty of Sevres with Turkey, by which the feeble Turkish Government sanctioned vast concessions to the Turkish Petroleum Company, in accordance with the plan of the Anglo-French exploitation of the oil in Russia, Rumania, and Mesopotamia, as well as northern Africa.


Now came a turn in French opinion. The more conservative and skeptical political elements began to point out that the officers of the nation had naively delivered to the British every advantage in Asia Minor. The possession of the twenty-five-per-cent sha re in the Turkish Petroleum Company gave France little influence in determining the tactics of this organization, and the control of the entire oil business centred in London. On their part, the French were guaranteeing a British pipe-line across their territory, a privilege for which England could have been made to pay dearly, if properly ‘sold,’ since it was the only outlet for the Persian and Mosul oil fields. Public addresses were made by Barthou, Briand, and Tardieu, condemning in the severest terms Clemenceau’s hasty action in entering the San Remo Pact. To increase the excitement of the French, the Arab forces under Emir Feisal continued to threaten the invasion of Syria, and the British refused to put more men into that field. The Paris periodicals shouted that Curzon intended France to be pushed gradually out of Asia Minor, and that London would soon be holding dominion over Syria. It was going to be another situation like that of India, they said. The resentment against the British Foreign Office and its alleged underhand tactics became intense.

Consequently, France herself initiated a little arch-conspiracy, and proved herself past-master in the Machiavellian arts. France wished first to protect herself in Syria and next to extract herself from the San Remo Pact. So she tried to pass the Arab menace on to the British in Mesopotamia, and at the same time make the newly signed Pact untenable for England. This she accomplished in one move. Secret negotiations were entered upon with Turkey, which resulted in the signing in London, on March 9, 1921, of the preliminary articles of a treaty through which France returned to Turkey a portion of her Syrian mandate, consisting of Cilicia and a long narrow strip running just south of England’s Mosul holdings, which formed a kind of barrier between the French and British mandates. In return, France was promised first consideration in the granting of all concessions by the Turkish Government.

This treaty was concluded without any consultation of Great Britain or the League of Nations. Now the French had the Turks on their side to throw back the Arabs, who, meeting this new barrier, would probably turn their energies upon Mesopotamia. Concerning the San Remo Pact, if the Anglo-Persian Oil or Turkish Petroleum Company wished to run pipelines through to the sea, the guaranties of the San Remo agreement were not sufficient, since Turkey’s consent must be obtained to cross this strip of northern Syria.

As a sequel, the French withdrew 50,000 soldiers from the Anatolian army, on the plea that their maintenance was too expensive. The spectacle of the combined French and British forces had been sufficient to quell the restless movements of the Arabs; but now that one half of this strength had disappeared, insurrection again loomed up as imminent. The determined attitude of the Turks in their newly acquired territory turned the Arab energies upon Mesopotamia. The British hold seemed very precarious. Lloyd George bitterly denounced these acts of France in a public address delivered on November 24, 1921, saying that it was a pure case of ‘one power stealing a march on the other.’

British diplomats saw only one solution of the difficulty. In August 1921, England recognized Emir Feisal as King of Iraq, or Mesopotamia, and by the treaty of October 10, 1922, Mr. Lloyd George’s Government guaranteed the new country financial and military protection for twenty years. It was no more than recognition of naturally asserted nationality, the English maintained in accordance with the catch-phrase of the year. In fact, the English felt that Iraq was destined to become a more consolidated nation than Turkey, and consequently favored the dismembering of the latter country and the corresponding growth of Iraq. Needless to say, King Feisal was immeasurably grateful, and willing to grant the British limitless concessions of any nature.

Again the French felt themselves being outwitted. If Great Britain’s Near East policy were realized, Feisal would be the dominating authority in Asia Minor. The young kingdom of Iraq seemed ready to burst its bounds and take in Syria. The Paris periodicals shrieked that England was trying to deny France her share of the oil in Mesopotamia, and that Great Britain was deliberately forcing France to give up the mandate of the League of Nations in Syria. Obviously it was to France’s advantage to see that the Turkish dominion should be extended as widely as possible.


The dramatic scenes of the Turkish defiance before Great Britain followed. Smyrna was burned in September 1922, and the forces of Mustapha Kemal swept up the Anatolian coast and confronted Constantinople. The British threatened to chastise the audacious participants in this disrespectful disorder; but the Turks, far from yielding, continued to advance their forces and increase their demands. In London there was a tense situation between the aggressive and pacifist parties, which eventually resulted in the resignation of Lloyd George; and finally the London Government agreed to ‘compromise’ with the Turks — which meant almost a complete acquiescence with the Turkish demands.

It cannot be asserted with any degree of conviction that the Paris envoys coolly proposed the Turkish venture. However, the British were uncertain of the support of the French in the event of armed conflict, and it was this doubt that lent the Turkish position its strength. A new ‘balance of power’ was being effected. The Turks persisted in a mode of conduct which assaulted the dignity of England, but the British exhibited the greatest self-control evidenced in centuries and extracted themselves from the arena without a tussle. When the dismay of Europe was at its height, France sent Franklin Bouillon to treat with the rowdy Turks, who were ready to fight anyone. This gentleman and diplomat, who had so nicely arranged the Bouillon Treaty of 1921, now whispered a little counsel in the ear of his old acquaintance, Mustapha Kemal, telling him that France considered Turkey had done well enough with her show of armed force, and that Angora must look for further support from Paris only through a diplomatic conference. So the informal Turkish conquest ceased, and Franklin Bouillon advised the world that he considered himself one of the greatest peacemakers of history.

Then the sessions of a new Lausanne Conference opened, on November 20, 1922. On this occasion the representatives from Angora spoke as often and as loudly as those of any government. Turkey had suddenly become a power, not a pawn. France, too, gazed with some wonder and chagrin upon her determined protégé. She had reason for dismay, because the promises of preference in the way of concessions, specifically stated in the Bouillon Treaty, were now ignored by the new Angora Government. This time the cat’s-paw scratched the cat. Angora was skeptical — commercial agreements offered too much opportunity for political intervention. So the Government determined to repudiate unequivocally all the old English and French agreements. At the same time it washed to keep the good-will of France — so much depended on keeping the two Allies estranged in their Near East policies and on preventing united opposition to Turkey’s growth. The Government’s problem was to escape from the binding conditions of the Treaty of Sèvres — through which such sweeping concessions were placed in the hands of the Turkish Petroleum Company as practically to give this corporation control of the industrial future of the country — and also to evade the obligations to France specified in the Bouillon and previous treaties, without embittering Paris.

The way out was the Chester concessions, old, never ratified, antedating and embracing all the later concessions granted to the British and French. In April 1923, a thrill ran through the diplomatic world when it was broadcasted that Turkey had recognized without reservations the validity of the Chester grant. This meant that the exclusive right to exploit the valuable oil regions of Asia Minor was placed in American hands, and that the British claims to the earliest concessions in these petroleum-bearing lands were discredited beyond dispute. The French raised a disturbance on the ground that the Chester concession included privileges granted to the French in 1914, for which France had advanced a large loan to the Turkish Government. However, the validity of the Chester claims was held not to be affected by these French objections, and American capital possessed an absolute monopoly on Turkish trade.

Notwithstanding, remarkably little fuss was stirred up through diplomatic channels over the recognition of the Chester grant. The feeling in England and France was that the exclusive rights given American interests would never be exerted, because the widely proclaimed policy of the ‘open door,’ guiding the Washington Government, would permit no such inconsistency. This sentiment was verified when, on May 2, Mr. Grew, the American Minister to Switzerland, announced officially that the United States would not support any claim against the acquired rights of other nations. This sounded the death knell for the Chester programme, since without the support of Washington, American capital was afraid to embark upon the enterprise. The Chester concessions were annulled in December.

So Turkey cleaned the sheet in the way of concessions. She is now starting a new page in her economic and political history. The successful termination of the Lausanne Conference has confinned the return to Turkey of the territories given her by France through the Bouillon Treaty. Equality of all nations in commercial matters is guaranteed. Apparently the diplomatic bout of Great Britain and France over Asia Minor has failed because neither nation now holds advantage in the dominions of the Angora Government, while Iraq may soon pass under the control of the League of Nations.

We cannot, however, expect this state of equilibrium to remain undisturbed long, since in politics as well as in athletics a neutral victory means another struggle. Already there is a new uneasiness in the air. A corporation backed by French capital has recently obtained the promise of concessions duplicating the annulled Chester grant. British commercial enterprises are stubbornly combating this project on the same ground. Turkey’s prosperity still depends in large degree in continuing her game of playing France and England against each other, and she will endeavor to sustain the hopes of each in the success of their Near East programme. The ‘eternal triangle’ means that Turkey is safe as long as two strong nations are courting her favors. Angora will keep on flirting with London and Paris.

Other events in Europe are not drawing France and England more closely together, and it seems a safe wager that the diplomatic war in Turkey is not yet concluded. The oil lies in the Mosul, and in the recently signed Lausanne Treaty it was left in abeyance whether these valuable petroleum regions should be included in Iraq or Turkey. Here lies the prize for which the French and English leaders have dared so much. How much further will they dare?