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III. Armenian Question in a Historical Context

III. Armenian Question in a Historical Context

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Published by: Gültekin ÖNCÜ on Dec 30, 2012
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III. Armenian Question in a Historical Context
The Armenian Question from Lausanne until Today
 
Ömer Engin LÜTEM* 
 
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In this article we will draw attention to the fact that the plan to give part of theOttoman lands to Armenia with the Sèvres Treaty did not materialize. We will pointout that from the legal point of view the Armenian territorial claims were resolved withthe 1921 Moscow and Kars Treaties and the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. Then we willdescribe the position of the Armenians and Armenia from the signing of theLausanne Treaty until the end of the Second World War. Also, we will recall that atthe end of the war the Soviets demanded land from Turkey in order to give it to Armenia, reviving the Armenian nationalism. The genocide allegations too fanned Armenian nationalism and led to the emergence of the Armenian terrorism thattargeted Turkish diplomats. When the Armenian terrorist attacks finally came to anend the Armenian question was shifted into the international arena. And the Armenians have focused on gaining official recognition for their genocide allegationsfrom various countries and international organizations to pave the way for demandsfor territory and compensation. These efforts have gained momentum during Turkey’sEuropean Union (EU) membership process.I. Armenia’s territorial claims in the wake of the First World War In 1915, that is, the second year of the First World War, negotiations began amongthe Allied Powers (Britain, France, Russia) on how to split up the Ottoman Empire.They reached an agreement on this issue in 1916 and Italy joined them in 1917 (Map1). That partition plan did not envisage the giving of territory to the Armenians. East Anatolia, which was sought by the Armenians, was assigned to Russia in that plan. And Russia had no intention of setting up an Armenian state there. What was beingenvisaged for the Armenians was autonomy at best. After Russia withdrew from the war in 1917 the possibility of Armenia getting part of East Anatolia appeared on the agenda. However, what was now being contemplatedfor Armenia was foreign mandate rather than independence. It was assumed that theUSA would be willing to undertake that task.[1]When a Peace Conference was convened in Paris at the end of the war, BoghosNubar Pasha, speaking on behalf of the Ottoman Armenians, called for unification of  Armenia (that is, the country situated in the Caucasus) with those parts of theOttoman Empire where the Armenian Ottomans were residing. He listed these partsin the following manner: Erzurum, Bitlis, Van, Diyarbekir, Harput and Sivas provinces(which the Ottomans used to call the Six Vilayat, that is, the Six Provinces), Cilicia,part of the Trabzon province and the sanjak (subdivision of a province) of Maras. Theterritory demanded by Boghos Nubar Pasha corresponds to 24 provinces of modern
 
Turkey, namely, Artvin, Kars, Rize, Trabzon, Giresun, Tokat, Sivas, Mersin, Adana,Kahramanmaraş, Adıyaman, Malatya, Elazığ, Tunceli, Gümüşhane, Erzincan,Bayburt, Erzurum, Ağrı, Van, Diyarbakır, Batman, Siirt and Muş. Attached to thisarticle is a map (Map 2) we have drawn to show the places demanded by BoghosNubar Pasha. That was an area amounting to some 390,000 square kilometers. Thatis roughly half the territory of modern Turkey.Boghos Nubar Pasha’s proposal was not accepted since in no part of that vastterritory the Armenians were the majority. Millions of Muslims were living in theseplaces. For that reason, even if such an arrangement were to be imposed on Turkeythere would have been no way such an Armenian administration could last long. Inother words, the big powers would have to help the Armenians in those regionsforever. No one wanted to shoulder such a burden. Furthermore, there was a major point that Boghos Nubar Pasha did not know or seemed to forget: A great part of theland he demanded was to be given to France under the aforementioned 1916agreement.British Prime Minister Lloyd George dismissed Boghos Nubar Pasha’s suggestionsas “Boghos’s fairy tales”.[2] Meanwhile, the big powers still could not solve theproblem of which regions exactly would be given to the Armenians. In the end, theallied powers put into the Sèvres Treaty, signed on Aug. 10, 1920, the provision(Article 89) that the task of drawing the boundaries of Armenia would be left toPresident Wilson of the USA.[3] Attached to our article is a map that shows thefrontiers determined by President Wilson (Map 3).The Turkish territory to be handed over to the Armenians under the Sèvres Treatyamounted to some 120,000 square kilometers. That was only 30 percent of the totalarea sought by Boghos Nubar Pasha. However, here too the Armenians were theminority – both prior to and in the aftermath of the war. That area corresponds to theVan, Ağrı, Kars, Artvin, Erzurum, Bingöl, Muş, Bitlis, Siirt, Erzincan, Gümüşhane,Bayburt, Trabzon, Rize and (part of) Sivas provinces of modern Turkey.How would these provinces, a great part of which was in the hands of the Turkishforces, be handed over to the Armenians? Under normal conditions one wouldexpect France and Britain to help the Armenians occupy these areas since these twocountries had fought against the Ottoman Empire and were still present in the region.However, these two countries had discharged a great part of their troops immediatelyafter the war and they did not have adequate forces to assign to that task. Under thecircumstances, the Armenian forces would have to tackle on their own the task of seizing the areas outlined by Wilson. However, the Armenian forces which weremostly “armed gangs” could hardly be expected to defeat the Turkish forces thatwere still a regular army though they had been decimated in the war. The clashesbegan in late September 1920 and lasted for nearly two months. The Armenianforces were defeated everywhere. With the Treaty signed in Gyumri, Armenia, onDec. 3, Armenia lost all the provinces it was supposed to get under the SèvresTreaty. With the Treaty of Gyumri the two sides agreed on today’s frontier betweenthe two countries and Armenia also admitted the invalidity of the Sèvres Treaty.
 
Since Armenia joined the Soviet Union, the Treaty of Gyumri could not be ratified andit could never take force. Four months later, with the Soviet Union that had by thenbecome the “owner” of the Armenian lands, Turkey signed a treaty in Moscow. Thetreaty acknowledged today’s frontier. In other words, regarding the frontier, theTreaty of Moscow confirmed the relevant provisions of the Treaty of Gyumri.Concerned about the possibility that due to the federal structure of the Soviet Unionthere might be different interpretations of this issue in the future, the Ankaragovernment demanded that the Soviet republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijantoo acknowledge its eastern frontier. The Treaty of Kars signed on Oct. 13, 1921ensured that.[4]The Treaty of Kars remains in force; therefore, legally Armenia does not have theright to demand territory from Turkey.II. Armenians from the Lausanne Treaty to the End of the Second World War During the negotiating process of the Lausanne Treaty the Turkish delegation nippedin the bud Britain’s attempts to raise the Armenian question. Since Turkey’s border with Armenia had already been determined by the Treaties of Moscow and Kars, noborder problem existed anymore. Thus, from the legal standpoint, the Armenianquestion ceased to exist.[5]We see that in the new era that began with the Lausanne Treaty the Armenianquestion ceased to exist from the political standpoint as well. Indeed, a great part of the Armenians had gone to Armenia, following the Russian armies. Meanwhile, aconsiderable part of those Armenians that had been subjected to mass relocationspread to various parts of the world from Syria and Lebanon. And the Armenia thathad made territorial claims on Turkey, ceased to exist as an independent country.Furthermore, the big powers that had been responsible for the emergence of the Armenian question, Russia, Britain, France and, especially, Germany, were no longer displaying an interest in the Armenians now that a new and strong Turkish state wasfounded in Lausanne.During the next two decades there was very little talk about the Armenians andalmost none about Armenia on the international scene. Trying to get used to andbecome settled in the countries to which they had migrated the Diaspora Armenianswere, relatively speaking, politically inactive. However, from time to time, they didengage in anti-Turkey activities. For example, due to the influence exerted by the Armenians, the US Congress did not ratify the Friendship and Trade Agreement theUSA had signed with Turkey in Lausanne on Aug. 6, 1923. As a consequence theUSA was not able to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey. That issue was to beresolved in 1927, that is, five years after Lausanne.[6]Meanwhile, after becoming a Soviet republic, Armenia disappeared altogether fromthe international political scene. The country was subjected to a vigorouscollectivization drive and with the exception of the Communists all political forces, theDashnaks especially, were eliminated. Shortly after becoming a Soviet republic thecountry lost contact with the outer world just as the other parts of the Soviet Union.

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