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II. Armenian Question in a Historical Context

II. Armenian Question in a Historical Context

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Published by Gültekin ÖNCÜ

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Published by: Gültekin ÖNCÜ on Dec 30, 2012
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 II. Armenian Question in a Historical Context
The Lausanne Peace Treaty and the Armenian Question
Gündüz AKTAN* 
The Armenian problem is not an issue that is taken up and discussed in a LausannePeace Treaty context. Yet, lately, Armenians have begun to make intense efforts topersuade the world to recognize the “genocide”, seeking ways of reviving the generalapproach that had once been embodied by the Sèvres Treaty and, in this context,proving, from their own standpoint, that the Lausanne Treaty is invalid.The Armenian argument boils down to the following: “What happened in the past wasa genocide. There can be no statutory limitations for the punishment of genocide.The reality of genocide cannot be erased with a treaty. For this reason, the LausannePeace Treaty is unlawful, invalid vis-à-vis the “Armenian genocide”. It cannot beapplied to this issue. Under the circumstances, the relevant provisions of the earlier Sèvres Treaty would automatically gain validity and become applicable.”But can it be so? The Lausanne Peace Treaty is a highly important contract, anagreement that was signed and ratified and put into effect by the quasi-totality of thethen international community according to the proper procedure and still remains inforce, an agreement that covers all the political, military, economic, financial andhumanitarian issues pertaining to the Republic of Turkey being the successor of theOttoman State, an agreement that creates an objective status in this regard and,therefore, has consequences for third countries as well. Issues such as revision,alteration or termination of this treaty can be examined and assessed not accordingto the subjective demands and evaluations of the Armenians but only according tothe specific principles and rules cited in the treaty itself and the general tenets andprocedures of the Law on Treaties.The Lausanne Peace Treaty constitutes a general legal framework that regulatesmultilateral relations whereas Turkey-Armenia relations are bilateral, specialrelations. In fact, relations between Turkey and Armenia had been the subject of several agreements concluded prior to the Lausanne Peace Treaty, namely, theTurkey-Armenia Peace Treaty signed in Gyumri on Dec. 2, 1920, the Turkey-ArmeniaPeace Treaty signed in Moscow on March 16, 1921, the Turkey-Soviet RussiaFriendship and Brotherhood Treaty signed in Moscow on March 16, 1921, and theFriendship Treaty signed by Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in Kars onOct. 13, 1921. Just as the Sèvres Treaty, the first one of these, the Treaty of Gyumri,was not ratified. (The Soviet invasion of the Caucasus prevented the ratifficationprocess.) Therefore, just as the Sèvres Treaty, it could never be implemented. Thelatest two of these agreements, on the other hand, are still in force. As can be seen, from Turkey’s standpoint the Armenian problem is an issue that was
resolved in the period that preceded the Lausanne Peace Treaty. Armenians madecertain efforts during the Lausanne process but these should be seen as a newpolitical and diplomatic initiative - one that failed.In this context, it may be useful to explain the discussions that took place in thecourse of the Lausanne process on the Armenian incidents. In 1915, that is, one year after the start of the First World War, the Ottoman armies were fighting on threefronts. The war was continuing with the British and French in Gelibolu (Gallipoli), withthe Russians on the eastern front and with the British first in Suez and later in Iraq.The relocation of the Armenians from one part of the Ottoman Empire to another began in May 1915. The Allied Powers (Britain, France and Russia) promptly issueda communiqué on May 24. They said that the Ottoman Empire was committingcrimes against humanity and stressed that the Porte, that is, the OttomanGovernment, would be held personally responsible for what was being done to the Armenians. That communiqué was important with respect to the Sèvres Treaty.In 1916, with the assumption that the Ottoman Empire would be defeated in the war,an Englishman and a Frenchman, Sykes and Picot, were assigned the task of drafting agreements on how the Ottoman Empire would be divided. Theseagreements, signed between the Allied Powers (France-Britain, Britain-Russia andFrance-Russia), came to be known as the Sykes-Picot Accord. With theseagreements it was planned that the eastern parts of Anatolia would be given toRussia and that the Armenians too would live there.[1]However, a number of developments that occurred in 1917 changed the situationaltogether: A revolution took place in Russia. As a result Russia withdrew from thewar. The USA joined the war but, while declaring war on Germany, it did not declarewar on the Ottoman Empire.In the end the Central Powers (Germany - Austria - Ottoman Empire) lost the war in1918 and the Ottomans signed the Armistice of Moundros on Oct. 30, 1918.During that period President Wilson of the USA made his “14-points” declaration onpeace, advocating the adoption of the “self-determination” principle. Article 12 of thedeclaration said that Turks should be granted the right to self-determination in thatregion of the Ottoman Empire to be left to the Turks. However, it did not mention theboundaries of that region. The region to be left to the Turks was to be the subjectmatter of the Sèvres Treaty. Wilson declared that the “nationalities” to be “freed of Turkish rule” including the Armenians would be entitled to an autonomous politicalentity and life. It was under such conditions that the peace conference that was toculminate in the Sèvres Treaty began in January 1919. The Ottoman Empire couldnot actually take part in that conference and in its deliberations.[2] Despite that, ittook the conference a very long time to reach decisions. It began in January 1919and ended in August 1920. Although it did not witness serious negotiations it couldnot be brought to a conclusion all that time because the participants could not find asolution to the Armenian problem.
 Armenians took part in the conference with two delegations. One of these was calledthe Delegation of the Republic of Armenia and the other, which represented thosethat were outside Armenia, the Armenian National Delegation. The latter was headedby the much talked-about Bogos Nubar Pasha, allegedly an Ottoman pasha. (He wasan Egyptian Armenian.) At the start of the conference Bogos Nubar Pasha made astatement in the vein of, “We fought against the Ottomans. For this reason we areone of the warring parties. It is in this capacity that we want to take part in theconference.” Even if the 1948 UN Genocide Convention had been retroactive —which it is not-and a legal assessment were to be made on the basis of thatassumption, these words would create a highly interesting situation indeed. According to the UN Genocide Convention, if a given group is a party to an armedconflict, its members will not be placed into the category of persons to be protectedwithin the framework of the Convention.[3] Therefore, by saying that the Armenianswere one of the warring parties, Bogos Nubar Pasha confessed that the Armenianshad made war against the Turks, rendering/groundless right from the beginning thegenocide allegations that were to be made at a later date.Throughout this process the Armenians demanded establishment of a new Armenianstate (in addition to the territories of the existing Republic of Armenia) in an areacovering six eastern provinces of the Ottoman State plus Cilicia, that is, the regionbetween Adana and Maras in the south. The six Ottoman provinces in questioncorrespond roughly to 18 provinces of modern Turkey. This is a total area of 250,000— 300,000 square kilometers. The westerners sympathized with the Armeniandemand. However, the Armenian population in that region was too small to createand govern a state of such size. For this reason, prior to the Russian withdrawal fromthe war it had been contemplated to place the planned Armenian state in Anatoliaunder Russian protection. After Russia withdrew from the war it was contemplated togive the region to the USA instead. US President Wilson had a warm reaction to thissuggestion. However, he could not push the motion through the US Congress. TheUS Congress did not want an Armenia under US mandate, supporting instead theidea of an independent Armenian state.The Sèvres Treaty was signed on Aug. 10, 1920. Many of its articles concern“Armenia”. The most significant one of these is Article 88. That article says thatTurkey recognizes in advance the independence and freedom of the (stillnonexistent) new Armenian state. And, according to Article 89, the power of fixing theexact frontiers of that Armenia was being assigned to President Wilson. And it wasstated clearly where these frontiers should lie. The article says that the frontier should be delimited in such a way that the whole or any portion of (that is, animportant part of) Erzurum -Trabzon-Van- Bitlis -Lake Van would be transferred to Armenia. Wilson was being asked to provide the answer to the question whether theterritories of the planned Armenian state should encompass all or part of theaforementioned provinces. With that treaty Turkey was renouncing in advance all itsrights and title over the territory in the provinces it would thus lose. Articles 226-230 section of the treaty too involved the Armenians. These articlesenvisaged that those responsible for the “Armenian incidents” would be tried by the

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