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Erdogan’s rebellion against the Lausanne Treaty

By Dr. Anas al-Raheb

Turkey is part of Europe and a NATO member whose army ranks second among other members in terms of strength.  It is also the biggest economy in the Middle East. The United States believes that Turkey is important in confronting China and Russia. Also, the European Union sees that Turkey is important as a central point between the EU on the one hand and Asia and the Middle East on the other. Turkey also has influence in the Balkans and the Caucasus.

Turkey, under Recep Tayyib Erdogan, is in a state of conflict with all, be they friends or non-friends, and there are serious calls for expelling it from NATO due to its provocative and aggressive behavior towards Greece and Cyprus, the two European Union (EU) member states. Also, Turkey engaged itself in an open war in both Syria and Libya.

 A hundred years after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, the Turks plan to reconsider their arrangements within a special strategy that considers new developments in a different light.

One hundred years ago, France, Britain and Italy held a meeting in the southwest of Paris to divide the Ottoman Empire. The meeting concluded after signing the "Treaty of Sèvres" on August 10th, 1920 after World War I, which paved the way for the reformation of the New Middle East.

The treaty put harsh conditions on the defeated Ottomans. The nationalists Ottomans led by Ataturk rejected the treaty, waged several wars on the French, the Greeks and the Italians and managed to drive them out of Anatolia and force them to sign a new treaty with new conditions in 1923 known as the "Treaty of Lausanne" that set the borders of modern Turkey.

Taking into consideration the new developments in the region, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) found that Turkey has many elements that help it be an international player, not a regional one, with an independent policy just like the world’s super powers. To achieve this, Turkey has to get out of the box of "Lausanne Treaty" of 1923 and regain its influence through expanding itself on the ground even by force.

 Turkey’s Islamic Caliphate aspirations

Hence, the AKP has to start changing the internal awareness and convince the Turkish people that Turkey needs to regain its Pre-WWI heritage through realizing a new identity that bears the character of the new Ottomans within a Turkish-led Islamic federation with the help of foreign tools such as alliance with Islamic groups, mainly the Moslem Brotherhood. The aim is to expand its past colonies and establish the Islamic Caliphate.

The Turkish President “Erdogan” has on several occasions stressed the need to reconsider the "Lausanne Treaty" and hinted that some border cities, such as the ones neighboring Turkey in Bulgaria, are located within Turkey’s spiritual borders. Erdogan also has repeatedly talked about Turkey’s “historical rights and national interests” in Iraq’s Mosul. Events in the northern part of Syria unveil that Turkey is imposing geopolitical changes through expanding its borders and adopting a Turkification policy. Pro-Erdogan TV channels have presented the maps of the Turkish state, maps that include new borders that are not internationally recognized and yet show Turkey's expansion towards the Balkans, Syria and Iraq.

The conflicts, which are being ignited by Turkey in the Middle East to embody Erdogan's expansionist dreams, have caused political crises, proxy wars as well as military, civil, sectarian and ethnic disputes and led to the displacement of millions of people, like what happened in the eastern part of Syria and the western part of Iraq.  These conflicts are associated with the ones created by Erdogan's Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean area under energy and refugees-related pretexts, and in Cyprus (the north of which was occupied by Turkey in 1974), in Greece and in Libya in order to expand in the region and control it to establish exclusive maritime economic zones. These efforts were crowned in Turkey's agreement with the National Accord government in Libya on the demarcation of borders, although there are no maritime borders between the two sides. Turkey also deployed troops in several countries including Qatar, Somalia, Libya and the north of Syria. By doing so, Erdogan has caused limitless conflicts, disputes, proxy wars, mass displacement of tens of millions of people, creation of separatist hotbeds that extend over wide geographic areas.

Threats against Greece and Europe

Recently, Ankara has implemented its threats against Greece and Europe when it allowed tens of thousands of asylum seekers to cross into Greece as a bargaining tool. It has provocatively turned the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul into a mosque, which is a sensitive issue for Russia and Greece, the centers of Orthodox Christianity, aiming to increase escalation and leading to a policy that might ignite wars.

Moreover, when the Turkish troops and the Turkish Peace Force Command in Northern Cyprus conducted military drills in the Mediterranean, the Turkish army claimed that it was assuming its responsibilities and doing its missions in the Eastern Mediterranean under the guise of protecting Turkey's interests and rights in a direct challenge to Greece. Also Turkey resumed drilling for gas in the disputed areas with Cyprus, and conducted seismic surveys off the northern coast of Cyprus.

Greece's response

On its part, Greece responded to the Turkish provocations on several fronts. In January 2019, Cyprus, the Israeli entity, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Italy and Greece established the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum which aimed at establishing a regional gas market and an export center for Europe which seeks diversifying its sources to avoid cuts of supplies from Russia. In January 2020, Greece, Cyprus and the Israeli entity also signed an agreement to build an undersea pipeline of 1900 km long that is called "EastMed" to connect the gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean area to the European markets via Greece and Italy. Turkey was excluded from this cooperation, due to its non-recognition of Cyprus and refusal to allow Cyprus to benefit from its gas resources before an agreement on sharing the revenues with the Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus. Greece also signed an agreement with Egypt to demarcate the borders in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is based on international law and which nullifies the Turkish-Libyan agreement. Besides, Greece conducted naval exercises with France, Cyprus and Italy.

EU’s reaction

The European Union, on its part, announced its support for Greece and Cyprus in the face of Turkey and the French President announced that his country has temporarily reinforced its military presence in the region, in response to the Turkish steps, and sent two fighter jets as well as a naval frigate to back Greece. He described the Turkish incursion into Libya as "criminal".

The roots of Greek-Turkish hostility extend back to the era before the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic. However, during the recent years of the past decade, the most serious disputes have concentrated on the status of Cyprus.

The Turkish invasion of the island in 1974 led to the occupation of the northern third of the island and to the displacement of the Greek Cypriots from the area. Since then, tension has escalated between the two countries to reach the brink of war in 1996 because of their dispute over two uninhabited islands in the Aegean Sea. Greece says that all the islands on the continental shelf around which the dispute revolves, are its property and that it has exclusive rights to excavate in its waters for energy resources. Its foreign minister accused the Turkish president of developing a "neo-Ottoman" strategy in the eastern Mediterranean area as part of an attempt to implement expansionist goals against neighbors and allies.

The "Lausanne Treaty" forced Turkey to demarcate its borders with its neighbors, consequently, Turkey ceded the islands of the Aegean Sea to Greece, including the island of Kastellorizo, which Italy had taken and then given to Greece in 1947. The island is only 2 km far from the Turkish coast and about 500 km far from the Greek coast.

As the 100th anniversary of signing the "Treaty of Lausanne" approaches, the composition of the Middle East begins to disintegrate and return once again to a situation that is similar to what the shape of region was in the pre-Lausanne agreement era. The region witnessed Turkey’s return to the most important countries and regions from which it withdrew after the signing of that agreement, by pushing Turkish forces into the battlefield, like what happened in Libya, and before that in Syria and Iraq. After a long absence from the region as a result of the Kemalist policies, Turkey returned as the Justice and Development Party came to power to make shifts in Turkey's foreign policy, including the "neo-Ottoman vision" that views the Middle East as its "strategic depth", which was accompanied by the discoveries of the huge gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean region.

Can Turkey cancel the Lausanne Treaty

Faced by these facts, Turkey started working to get rid of the "Treaty of Lausanne", though it realizes that it will pay a price, and also the Middle East, when it abandons that treaty, which Erdogan has repeatedly and publicly denounced.

Hence, we understand Erdogan's statements which say that Turkey will enter a new era and start drilling for oil and digging a canal linking the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea which caused political tension between Turkey and some European Union countries.

However, the question that arises is that "Is there an article in the international law that states that international treaties are valid for only 100 years?" There are many countries that have abandoned similar agreements signed previously, including the "Treaty of Nanking" in which China ceded Hong Kong to Britain, and, in 1984, following years of negotiations, it signed a new agreement that provides for restoring the island to China in 1997.  Germany also canceled a treaty in the 1930s, 20 years after it was signed. So, Can Turkey do that? If this happened, will Turkey return to be a modern Ottoman empire in the region? Will the geopolitical and economic map of the region change? How will the present super powers deal with the Turkish demands?

Any change that will be made by Ankara to the "Treaty of Lausanne" will result in similar demands of many countries that have already submitted or accepted treaties that led to the alteration of their borders, or even their disappearance or expansion, as happened with the Austrian and Hungarian empires. And if we go back in time, can Damascus, the capital of the Umayyads, demand the return of its lands that stretched from Spain and France to Africa and Asia?

Erdogan has put himself in a challenge in front of all countries, as these countries won't ignore his threats to international peace and security, especially in the northern Mediterranean region. These countries have begun to respond to Erdogan's actions, indicating that his downfall may be not far away, whether through internal or external factors. This is what we witnessed in 2016 in the coup attempt in Turkey which was exposed by Moscow before it was completed.

Translated and Edited by Hamda Mustafa