Başlangıç > Politics > TURKISH FOREIGN POLICY BETWEEN 1923-1939


When we examine 1923 – 1939 period of Turkish foreign policy, firstly we should look at 1923 Lausanne Treaty. This treaty was a cornerstone for Turkish foreign policy and Turkey satisfied with the settlement. After then, Turkey pursued a conservative stance rather than being a revisionist. However, there left several problems in Lausanne such as Mosul, Hatay, straits and exchange of population issues. Then I will try to explain Balkan Pact of 1934 and Saadabad Pact and finally I will examine the relations between Turkey and great powers of the period.

To begin with, Mosul question occupied a great attention for Turkish Foreign Policy makers between 1923- 1926. Mosul was a problem, because It meaned the abnegation from National Pact of Turkey. Actually, the insistence on Mosul province was due to oil resources. Both sides, Turkey and Britain, did not want to give up their objectives on Mosul. Britain conveyed the issue to the League of Nations which Turkey was not a member. Of course, League of Nations’ solution to the problem was that Mosul should be a part of Iraq, because Britain was standing a dominant position in League of Nations. In 1926 Britain and Turkey settled a bilateral agreement which stated that Turkey gave up her policy over Mosul. There were two reasons led this decision: first one was The Sheik Said Rebellion in eastern part of Turkey, the other one was Atatürk’s unwillingness to wage a war against Britain. Because, Turkey was in wars for eleven years and the nation were so tired of them.

Another issue was the Turkey’s relation with Greece. There were lots of Turk in Greece and lots of Greek in Turkey. In order to establish a nation state, both countries decided to exchange of populations between minorities in the countries. The dispute over properties continued until 1929 and solved peacefully. These good relations continued until the mid 1950s when Cyprus problem was emerged.

Peaceful relation between Greece and Turkey gave us a clue about function of Turkish Foreign Policy. In 1932 Turkey became a part of League of Nations. Before that Turkey wanted to get consent of Soviet Union, because she did not want to deteriorate her relations with SU. In 1934, when SU also became a member of League of Nations, the problem was solved. However, when League of Nation behaved indifferently towards the aggression of Germany, Japan and Italy, it was proved that the principle of collective security of League of Nations did not work. Therefore, Turkey started to look for new alliances to preserve peace.

After 1933, Italy was perceived as a probable enemy by Turkey. Italy was a revisionist state that could not satisfy her desires during World War 1. Therefore, she had desires on Balkan states and may be on Turkey. Yugoslavia, Romania and Greece were enlarged countries which wanted to keep status quo in Balkans. Turkey also can be added to the side of anti-revisionist group. On the other hand, Bulgaria, Hungary and Albania pursued a revisionist policy in Balkans. In order to reach a general consensus among Balkan states, they conducted conferences between 1930 and 1933 which were resulted in Balkan Pact in 1934.  In the pact, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Romania and Greece were part. However, this pact was far away to settle a real security environment for Turkey. Because, Turkey still could be exposed to an Italian aggression. Due to two reasons Balkan pact became in effective: Firstly, Bulgaria and Great powers were not a part of the Pact. Secondly, Yugoslavia and Romania approached  to Germany. As Türkeş wrote in his article, Turkey put a reservation to the pact which protects Turkey to get in a war with Soviet Union.

In 1937, Turkey participated in the Saadabat Pact in which also Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan join. Establishing an Eastern Entente was similar to Balkan understanding of 1934 which aimed to create a security umbrella on Middle Eastern countries. Another crucial point in the Saadabad Pact was that neither Iran nor Iraq would support any Kurdish rebel on Turkey or vice verse. Because there was no objective about mutual contribution or military commitment, the pact had a psychological value rather than material one.

After 30’s international arena was getting worse and turkey felt that she had to be a part of an alliance. Turkey’s priorities were to revise Lausanne Treaty in favor of Turkey especially on straits and Eastern Thrace issues, and modernization of army, and to constitute an alliance with Britain and France without deteriorating relations with SU. Turkey, as William Hale said, did not want to do same mistake in 1914, by siding with Germany. Because Turkey knows that allied powers would be the victorious part and she wanted to be on the side of victorious powers.

Turkish foreign policy makers’ timing to bring the issue to the agenda was very good. A limitation on army in eastern Thrace left Turkey with lack of security against Italy, and constitutes limitations on sovereignty of Turkey. At the end, Britain realized that Turkish desires on straits and Eastern Thrace were also relevant with British strategy. In 1936, part states signed Monteux Treaty which revised the strait settlement in Lausanne treaty. Treaty settled the conditions such as in war and peace that Turkey would implement the rule in straits. The point here is Turkey got what she desired about straits with using the opportunity from worsening international environment.

Turkey after 1933 was very curious about the developments in Europe. Italian and German aggression let other powers to establish an alliance. As I said before, Turkey wanted to be on the side of allied powers. Yet Britain was not so willing until German aggression increased in 1939. Britain became a willing part to constitute an alliance between Turkey, France and Britain. At that point, German desire from Turkey was to be neutral in this struggle. According to the agreement between Turkey and Britain, both were responsible for aid and assistance if one of the sides were attacked by an outsider.

After this declaration Turkeys’ two important targets was to bring France into the alliance and integrate SU’s expectations. However, Turkish foreign policy makers should solve the problem of Hatay with France to get her into the alliance. After Lausanne treaty Hatay was left inside of French ruled Syria. When Arab nationalists in Syria and France came to an agreement that would lead to independence of Syria, Turkey started to assert her objectives on Hatay that Turkey did not want to be a part of independent state. In 1938 Hatay declared she as a sovereign and independent state and in 1939 Hatay was annexed to Turkey. This let Turkish-Franco relations better but it also let Turkey and Syria relations bad.

In 1939 Turkey, Britain and France get into negotiation in politics, military and economy. Germans wanted Turkey to be on the side of her, but aggressive attitudes of Italy impeded this. Turkeys another aim was to sign a non aggression pact with SU. However when Germany and SU signed a non aggression pact, Turkey was shocked, because Turkey always wanted SU to be on the side of allied powers. Turkey was worried about a war between her and SU which she never wants to think about that.

In conclusion, Lausanne treaty had a great impact on Turkish Foreign policy. Turkey satisfied with the settlement at Lausanne, except Mosul, straits and Hatay issues, and became a conservative state. Those all unresolved international problems remained at Lausanne were solved by peaceful means during this period of 1923-1939. In this period we can conclude that Turkey was accepted as a part of European state system. Secondly, Turkey pursued good relations with neighbors and preserve peace in Balkans with Balkan Pact and in Middle East with Saadabad Pact. Finally Turkey always pursued her foreign policy according to Ataturk’s rhetoric “peace at home peace at world”

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