The Lausanne Treaty


FOLLOWING close on the heels of our declaration of war against Germany came the rupture of diplomatic relations with Turkey. This move was made by the Ottoman Government, not by ours; an unprovoked act brought about solely through the close relationship then existing between Turkey and Germany. Turkey herself thus gave us our first good opening for a decisive hand in the settlement of the NearEastern question.

In 1917 we might well have countered Turkey’s unfriendly act by a declaration of war against her. She had, some years before, repudiated all Capitulations (exterritorial rights), including ours. She had outraged us by her wholesale massacres and deportations of her Armenian subjects. She was the avowed ally of Germany, and as such we might have declared war on her with at least as good grace as we later did against Austria-Hungary. Had we done so we should have conferred upon ourselves a voice in the settlement of the Near-Eastern question equal to that of England, France, or Italy. But we chose instead to ignore Turkey.

With equal firmness we held aloof from the Near East during the period of flux which followed the war. In 1919 and 1920 we were approached by our late Allies for assistance in the solution of their Turkish problems. But we concerned ourselves not at all with the radical changes which the Allies proposed to effect in their peace settlement of Sevres. After the Allied Conference at San Remo the question of an American mandate over Armenia was formally presented to our Congress — and formally and very decisively turned down. There was a certain amount of public sympathy among us for the remnants of the Armenian race. We were content to see our President named in the Treaty of Sevres as arbitrator of the frontier between Turkey and Armenia. But we were not signatories of that Treaty, the President’s delineation of a frontier did not in any way commit us, nor was our wrath aroused to action when Armenia later disappeared as a political entity. We congratulated ourselves on the fact that one of the byproducts of our part in the winning of the World War had been the driving of the Turk out of Europe and the internationalization of the Straits. But we were quite content to stand aside and let the Allies handle the matter.

Then we stood by and watched the Allies blunder steadily and consistently through four years. We saw a new revitalized Nationalist Turkey rise under their noses and throw the Greeks into the sea. When but a few British soldiers stood between the victorious Turkish Army and Constantinople, we were amazed — but we did nothing about it. The blaze of Smyrna horrified us — but we stayed our hand.

Our complete and voluntary detachment from the Near-Eastern question is a fact which I have put baldly, not by way of criticism, but simply in order to bring it out. It is essential to a true comprehension of the present situation that we recognize the deliberate and voluntary nature of our policy of standing aloof in the Near East. Whether that policy was deplorable or commendable is a question of opinion, not of fact. It was consistent with our traditions and defensible on the grounds of that consistency and on that of public opinion. It is also a debatable question whether, even had we chosen to throw ourselves into the Near East, we could have held the Allies together against the centrifugal force of their national aspirations. Could we have built up a stable system in which the rights of majorities, minorities, and of foreign Powers would have been respected, and in which the great waterways of the Straits would have been internationalized? It is certain we could not have done it unless we had maintained considerable armed forces five thousand miles from home, spent great sums of money, and run the risk of war. Who shall criticize us if we chose to maintain our policy of ‘hands off and to assume no political obligations whatsoever?

Yet there are many people in America who apparently do not accept the pivotal fact of our policy of detachment in the Near East, or at least not its logical implications. We have recently negotiated treaties at Lausanne which are in essence nothing but ordinary engagements of reciprocal amity, commerce, and extradition between ourselves and a government which we, in common with the rest of the world, recognize as sovereign, de facto and de jure, in its own land. These treaties fail to give us exterritorial rights in Turkey or to guarantee, under our protection, the rights of any minority group of Turkish citizens. They give us neither more nor less than similar treaties give England, France, or Italy. We chose the path of complete aloofness from the problems of the Near East, and it has brought us to exactly the same spot which our more ambitious friends have reached by devious paths of trial and humiliation. One would suppose that we have little cause for complaint.


On the fifth of May, 1923, when the Turks formally proposed to us the negotiation of a treaty of amity and commerce at Lausanne, an entirely new situation had arisen in the Near East.

There was, in the first place, a new Turkey. The old Ottoman Empire, an attenuated dominion over heterogeneous races, had given place to a compact and relatively homogeneous state. The autocracy of the Sultan had been succeeded by at least the forms of democracy. A government based on little sense of nationality or patriotism had been followed by one which had overcome its many enemies through the possession of those virtues. The Ottoman Empire had survived under a system of balance of foreign intrigue and influence in its internal affairs; Nationalist Turkey was in plain sight of complete sovereignty. Whether the new Turkey represented a reform and a zeal in nationalism which would prove to be lasting was another matter; but the fact of transformation could not be questioned. Nationalist Turkey then differed from the old Ottoman Empire at least as much as the United States after the adoption of the Constitution differed from the American Colonies before the Revolution.

Another factor of the greatest importance in the new situation was the complete change in the attitude of the Allies toward Turkey. The Great Powers had attempted to settle the NearEastern question largely on a basis of partition into mandates and spheres of influence. But in June 1923, it was obvious that they were on the point of surrendering their capitulatory rights, withdrawing their forces, and recognizing the full sovereignty of Turkey (steps which they have since taken). We were faced with the prospect of a kind of detachment neither traditional with us nor to our liking — an anomalous position in which the protection of our interests in Turkey would be based neither on Treaty rights nor on diplomatic or consular representation, while Turkey’s late enemies in the war and our commercial rivals in the Near East enjoyed all of these advantages.

Capitulatory rights in Turkey were obviously lost to us as well as to all other Powers, whether we negotiated or not. There was but one way in which exterritoriality might be reestablished, and that was by war. We who had carefully refrained from taking part in the strong-arm policy by which the Capitulations had been maintained would certainly not go to war for them at a time when Europe was on the point of acknowledging their abolition. On the other hand it seemed highly probable that our citizens and interests in Turkey would need, in the period of readjustment following the capitulatory era, such protection as our diplomatic and consular officers might afford. We were somewhat skeptical of the reforms in Turkish administration and jurisprudence by which alone fair play to foreigners was to be secured. And it was obvious that we could give our people the usual or normal diplomatic and consular protection only through a treaty which recognized the new régime and our rights under it, and reestablished normal relations between ourselves and Turkey.

There was also another factor of considerable importance to us in the situation then existing: Turkey was not in the Bolshevist camp. Whatever we might think of the Angora Government, we were at least sure that it was not subservient to Moscow and not leagued with those who strove, by propaganda and corruption, to overthrow existing governments in the interests of world revolution and communism. In their desperate struggle to free their country from Greek invasion, the Nationalist Turks, cut off from all open aid from Europe, accepted munitions from Russia. But they refused to adopt even the forms of communism, and Bolshevist propaganda made no progress among them. When Ismet Pasha refused to follow Chicherin at Lausanne in December 1922, Turkey placed herself definitely outside of the Russian orbit.

The question over which Ismet broke with Chicherin at Lausanne was also significant. The Western Powers (as well as ourselves) wanted to secure the greatest possible freedom of passage through the Straits. After the war the plan had been to internationalize them and keep them open to all vessels at all times. When the Turks again came into power the West hoped to secure free passage for at least all vessels flying flags of nations not at war with Turkey. But Russia wanted the Turks to close the Straits to all foreign warships at all times. Much was to be said for this contention from the point of view of Turkish interests. But the Turks refused to support it.


Such was the situation on the first of June, 1923, when our Government finally consented to negotiate with the Turks at Lausanne. Whatever we may have thought of the men then in power in Turkey or of the Turks themselves, there was no denying that the Turkish State was a new entity in the world, that it had won its sovereignty in open fight with foreign enemies, that it represented the will of the majority of its people, and that in form at least it followed our traditions of independence and democracy. In entering into ordinary treaty relations with Turkey we should be following our traditional policy with respect to new democracies, and at the same time we should establish a basis for the protection of our interests in Turkey during a critical period of reformation.

It has often been said that these were not our real motives, but that, on the contrary, we surrendered at Lausanne our capitulatory rights and the interest of Christian minorities in Turkey to obtain the Chester Concession. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the first place our capitulatory rights were already lost beyond possibility of recovery save by war. We had obtained them almost a century before from the Imperial Ottoman Government, not by our own efforts, but by virtue of their having been secured by other Powers. In 1914 the Ottoman Government had repudiated them. It is true that we had refused to sanction that repudiation, but in 1923 the Capitulations were placed still further beyond our reach by the disappearance of the Ottoman Government and the succession of a new State not at all disposed to take up the exterritorial handicaps of its predecessor.

Nor was the protection of Christian minorities in Turkey ours to hold or to surrender at will. We had deliberately avoided meddling in Turkish affairs in the interest of the Armenians or other Christian minorities. We had formally refused an offered mandate. Other Powers had assumed certain protectory rights over Christian minorities, with the net result of encouraging them to assert themselves and then leaving them in the lurch at the mercy of the Turk. We had kept out of that sort of thing. We did not surrender a protectory position at Lausanne for the reason that we had no such position to surrender, even if we had chosen to do so.

As to the influence of the Chester Concession on our Lausanne treaties, the joke of it all is that the Concession was ratified by the Angora Assembly on April 10, 1923, nearly four weeks before the Turks proposed negotiations and over seven weeks before we definitely consented to negotiate!

The ratification of the Concession was not made in any way contingent on the scope of our negotiations or even on whether or not we negotiated. The Concession was granted by the Turkish Government for reasons of their own, the principal ones probably being that they believed it would be beneficial to the development of their country (as it would have been) and that it would exert a certain pressure on the European Powers with whom they were then negotiating peace (as it did).

The Chester project was an old one. As far back as 1910 it had been approved by the Turkish Minister of Public Works. After the rise of the new Turkish Government in Angora, ten years later, the Ottoman-American Development Company (the Chester people) entered into negotiations for its ratification by that Government. During all these years and right up to its final ratification in April 1923, the American Government took no steps to secure it, and lent the Development Company only such support as American citizens engaged in legitimate business were entitled to receive. In point of fact the unequivocal position of our Government in refusing to give special support to the Chester project beyond the Open Door Policy was a contributory cause of its failure to obtain the necessary financial backing in America.

So, when we consented to negotiate treaties with the Turks at Lausanne, our hands were free. We were in no way influenced by an important railroad and mining concession which had already been obtained without the aid of the American Government. We were free of political obligations to any minority group in Turkey save our own citizens domiciled there. We sought protection for our legitimate interests in the only way, short of war, open to us — their definition in treaty form and the reestablishment, by treaty, of normal diplomatic and consular relations.


On August 6, 1923, we signed two treaties with the Turks at Lausanne. The basis of both was reciprocity and the mutual granting of privileges accorded to the ‘most favored nation.’

The first treaty, that of amity and commerce, reestablishes diplomatic relations, acknowledges the abrogation of the Capitulations, guarantees protection by the Turks of the lives, liberty, property, and business rights of Americans in Turkey, places in the hands of American tribunals all questions of personal status and family law affecting non-Moslem Americans in Turkey; provides for freedom of commerce and navigation, including freedom of the Straits under the ‘most favored nation clause’; provides for a just levy of taxes and custom duties; reestablishes consular relations, defines their functions and privileges; and abrogates previous treaties between the two countries. It is, as Secretary Hughes has said, ‘such a treaty as would be negotiated with any other sovereign State.’

The second treaty provides for the extradition of persons charged with crime. It differs in no essential from many other extradition treaties now in force between the United States and other foreign States.

On the same day that these two treaties were signed the American and Turkish delegates, by an exchange of notes, came to a partial agreement on two important points — the status of American benevolent institutions in Turkey and of American claims against Turkey. In the first case the Turks recognized those institutions which existed prior to October 30, 1914, and agreed to examine favorably those which had been established since that date. In the case of the American claims, it was agreed to discuss the question after a short interval, and it was actually discussed in Constantinople during the following November and December. This discussion led to a final decision in the form of an agreement for the establishment of a Claims Commission, composed of two Americans and two Turks, to meet six months after ratification of the Lausanne Treaties. The Commission is to have authority to examine all American claims against Turkey which are passed upon by our State Department.

To a certain extent the question of American benevolent institutions in Turkey is still an open one. It is a matter of adjustment which time alone can settle. The Turks oppose two courses of action — any attempt to convert Moslems to Christianity and any partiality shown the racial minorities, particularly the Greeks and Armenians. Now, our institutions are supported to some extent by money donated in the hope of converting Moslems. They are also under suspicion of partiality toward the racial minorities, largely because those minorities have taken more kindly to our schools and hospitals than have the Turks. It is perhaps in this matter more than in any other that adjustment will be most difficult and in which the Turks, as well as our own people, will be called on to show liberality and fair play.

Suppose for a moment that some non-Christian nation was very much richer than the United States and very much more advanced in civilization. Suppose its missionaries came to our country and here established schools and hospitals which offered our people advantages far beyond anything we could give them. Suppose these missionaries were actuated by a sincere desire to convert us to a religion which was shared by only small racial minorities in our country. Would there not be considerable friction between such foreigners and, say, the Ku Klux Klan?

There is another important question between the United States and Turkey. It hinges on divergent views on naturalization. It was not possible to settle it at Lausanne, even by the tentative method of exchange of notes employed in the case of our schools and hospitals.

In the old days of the Capitulations a foreigner in Turkey enjoyed many advantages over a Turkish subject. He was not called for military service, paid no direct taxes, and could not be tried by Turkish courts. He was protected in his commercial dealings by his consul — an official far more powerful than is a foreign consul in our country. Those were also the days of unrestricted immigration into the United States. The natural result was that many Turkish subjects, mostly Greeks, Armenians, and Jews, came to America. In a few years they went back to Turkey and lived there under the protection of our citizenship and the Capitulations.

The Ottoman Government countered by refusing to recognize foreign naturalization in the case of Ottoman subjects. This was a move well within the sovereign rights of Turkey and one which could not be challenged successfully save by force. It brought about a situation of dual nationality, and resulted in an impasse that has continued to the present day. Recently there has been some indication that the present Turkish Government would recognize American naturalization provided we should recognize their right to exclude from Turkey American citizens of Turkish origin — a proviso which we are naturally unwilling to accept.

So the matter stands, a difficult question still, though much easier of solution now that we have practically closed our doors to Turkish immigration and the Capitulations are no more.

The situation is, then, this: — We have negotiated two treaties which are in the nature of fundamental bases for amical relations and for further negotiation and adjustment of differences. We have also established modi vivendi for the solution of the questions of our schools and hospitals in Turkey and of our monetary claims against Turkey. The question of naturalization is still outstanding, and it will undoubtedly be followed by other important questions arising in the future. Our decision to ratify or not to ratify the Lausanne Treaties really comes down to a decision as to whether we want to establish a basis of contact and from that point work toward complete agreement, or whether, on the other hand, we prefer to break relations altogether with the present Turkish Government, and begin again on a more favorable basis at some more favorable time. In this decision a very important consideration should be the record of the Turkish Government since the signature of the treaties in August of last year.


In considering this record there are two touchstones by which it should be tested — stability and fair play. A foreign government worthy of treaty relations with us should be able to convince us that it is reasonably stable and that it means to play fair, at least so far as we are concerned.

It so happens that the past year in Turkey has seen phenomenal changes. In October 1923, the last of the Allied troops were withdrawn from Constantinople, Thrace, and the shores of the Dardanelles, and the whole zone came into the hands of the Turks. In that same month the National Assembly at Angora, at the instigation of Mustapha Kemal, voted in the ‘Republic of Turkey,’ a step which involved fundamental changes in the form of government. In March of this year the Caliphate was abolished. All members of the old imperial House of Osmanli were banished from the country. Church and State were completely separated. Church property was expropriated to the use of the State, the civil jurisdiction of religious courts was abolished, and practically the whole of the publicschool system was transferred from religious to secular control. In April came the climax in political metamorphoses, the adoption of the new Constitution. This reorganized the whole fabric of government, and incidentally granted a limited form of woman suffrage. And throughout the year a vast exchange of populations was being effected, and brigandage, which had prospered exceedingly for several decades, was being effectively stamped out.

Had these startling changes not been imposed by a small group upon a people singularly subservient to authority, they would be even more remarkable. But there is no disguising the fact that the Republic of Turkey is an oligarchy. Popular elections have so far been only the form by which candidates chosen by the ruling group are instated in office. In the Constitutional debates the Assembly may have shown unexpected firmness in the defense of its rights and limited in some degree the powers of the President — that does not alter the matter. The cavalier manner in which the Constitution was finally adopted (the half of it after only a few hours’ debate) and the almost complete indifference to its provisions shown by the country at large clearly indicate that constitutional government in Turkey is not yet taken seriously, if indeed the meaning of it is understood.

Nevertheless, the record of Turkey for the past year, considered as a feat in political transformation, is almost without parallel. And it was all done without the slightest internal disorder of any kind. A Government which can ‘get away with’ such things without opposition from its people, even though they be by nature subservient, which can change its form of government, separate a hitherto inseparable Church and State, cast off the spiritual head of a great religion, and draw up and adopt a new Constitution, all within a twelvemonth, certainly exhibits strength and, by inference at least, stability.

Whether the Turks will run their country into the ground, as many foreigners predict, is another matter. Financially they are having their difficulties, and they are going to have more of them. It is of course obvious that their administrative ability is by no means equal to their ambitions or to their nominal progress toward democracy. But it must always be remembered that Turkey is an agricultural State whose people are largely illiterate and content with very little. Administrative inefficiency which would set our people by the ears leaves the Turk cold. He asks only that his taxes and his military service be light, that he be protected from brigandage and from foreign spoliation, that he be let alone. And that is exactly what he is getting. Angora’s feverish zeal for political transformation passes over his head almost unnoticed. An Englishman who knows the people well was recently asked whether Mustapha Kemal is still popular among the Turkish peasants. ‘I should not say popular, he replied, ‘but rather accepted and — forgotten.’ Not at all a bad position, that, for an Oriental potentate!

In deciding whether or not we shall establish relations with a foreign government we often have to judge the stability of that government by existing facts, and not by the true test of time. Under present conditions we should have few treaties with foreign governments were we to insist on their stability being proved to the hilt. We believe that a democracy is more stable and in other ways preferable to an oligarchy rendering only lip service to popular government. But we also have to recognize that some people, not yet advanced beyond the forms of democracy, must perforce content themselves with autocratic rule. We have more than once established normal diplomatic relations with a new government which had won its sovereignty by success in arms over external enemies, and which was fortified by the moral force of that victory. We have made rather a point of doing this when the new government followed at least the forms of democracy, when it appeared to have the support of at least the majority of its people, and when it could not be charged with usurpation of power rightfully belonging to its own people or to us.

This is the case with Turkey of today. We cannot be sure that the Angora Government will endure. Like all revolutionary movements it is being run on unfamiliar lines by men of no great administrative experience. The times are unsettled and the future dim; but at least we are sure that there is now no open opposition among the Turks to their present government. Whatever secret opposition exists probably tends largely toward the reestablishment of the Sultanate. The record of the Turkish Empire was not one which should incline us toward sympathy for that form of government.

To a large extent predictions of the early failure and dissolution of the Angora Government should be discounted because they come from foreigners who have lost their special privileges under the old regime and the Interallied occupation, and also from thousands of ex-subjects of Turkey now in America and Europe who are racially and fanatically opposed to the success of any Turkish Government.

On the head of stability, therefore, we have little reason to throw the Government at Angora out of court. Fair play is another matter. To some extent it is a question of what we should reasonably expect from a Government hardly beyond the revolutionary stage, from a State so very new in all its form and functions, from a country torn by eleven years of almost continual war, from a people who have long suffered from foreign spoliation, and who have recently been embittered to the point of intense chauvinism and xenophobia. However, American firms do continue to do business in Turkey, American institutions (at least the more important of them) do continue to function, and American citizens do travel all over the interior without let or hindrance.

Against this must be balanced the petty annoyances of governmental red tape and inefficiency, and the far more serious attitude assumed toward certain of our interests. The crux of the matter is that our delay in ratifying the Treaties of Lausanne has given us an opportunity of judging the vital issue of Turkish fair play. On the manner in which the Government at Angora has met and is meeting that issue should depend our decision to ratify or not to ratify the Treaties. But let us also show fair play, and not blind prejudice, in making that decision.