The Treaty of Sѐvres: A Historic Event

Greek prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos signing the Treaty of Sevres (Wikimedia Commons)

August 10 is a memorable anniversary of a historic event. On this day in 1920, the victorious Allied Powers of World War I and the defeated Turkey signed an important treaty—the Treaty of Sèvres. It was in the city of Sèvres near Paris, France that the Allied Powers and their minor allies agreed to settle their conflicts with the Ottoman Empire, to redraw the map and extend formal recognition of the newborn states of the Middle East and the Caucasus. One of the signatories of the Treaty of Sèvres was the Republic of Armenia, which had declared its independence on May 28, 1918. 

On January 18, 1919, the Allies held the Paris Peace Conference, at Versailles, France to sign a treaty with the defeated Central Powers. Armenians attended the Paris Peace Conference in February 1919. There were two delegations—the delegation of the Republic of Armenia, headed by Avedis Aharonian and the Armenian National Delegation, headed by Boghos Nubar Pasha. Later, they agreed to unite as the All Armenian Delegation. They presented their memorandum to the Peace Conference. Their proposed State included the six provinces of Turkish Armenia—Van, Bitlis, Diarbekir, Kharpert, Sivaz, Erzerum, the province of Trebizond, Mountainous Karabakh, Zangezur and four districts of Cilician Armenia. To protect the integrity of the new State the Armenian Delegation urged the Allied Powers to place Armenia under a protectorate of an Allied Power.

The Allied Powers understood that an effective treaty in the case of Armenia would involve military and financial responsibilities. Prime Minister Lloyd George of Great Britain perceived the United States to be the nation to assume that responsibility. Thus, the Supreme Council of the Allied Powers asked the United States to accept the mandate for Armenia.

In the United States public opinion was already very favorable to help Armenia. Religious and civic leaders, the missionaries and Near East Relief workers asked both Congress and President Woodrow Wilson to assume mandatory powers over the entire region and send troops to protect Armenia.

Upon his return home from the Paris Conference, President Wilson presented the proposal of an American mandate over Armenia to the Senate. The Senate rejected the proposal; however, in the United States there was great sympathy with a desire to help the Armenians. President Wilson was determined to continue his support to the Armenian Republic both morally and financially.

As the United States Senate was debating the issue of an American mandate over Armenia, the French were preparing to occupy Armenian Cilicia to consolidate their hold in the Middle East. To populate the region with non-Turkish elements, the French government arranged for Armenian refugees to repatriate to Cilicia and resettle in their communities. As a result, around 150,000 new Armenian refugees settled in the homeland which they were forced to leave during the Armenian deportations and the Genocide. The French army ordered the Turks to return the Armenian homes and properties to their rightful owners. The Turks resented this unexpected Armenian presence in their midst.

On another front, the Allied Powers encouraged the Greeks to occupy Smyrna, which became another irritant to the Turks. The dissection of their country began to incite the Turkish people to fight to preserve the Turkish fatherland. Two Turkish military leaders—Kiazim Karabekir and Mustafa Kemal—led a revolutionary movement with a slogan “Turkey for Turks.” Eventually, Kemal emerged as the charismatic leader who started terrorist activities in the interior of Turkey challenging the Allied Powers.

In January 1920, Mustafa Kemal embarked upon a guerilla attack against the French and the Armenians to chase them out of Cilicia and Anatolia. He achieved his objectives partially by freeing Cilicia from non-Turkish occupation. He mobilized his forces in the east and attacked the Armenian towns in Nakhichevan.

In February 1920, the European powers began the discussion of a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire in San Remo, Italy. In April, they agreed to give the Republic of Armenia the provinces of Van, Erzerum, Bitlis and an outlet to the Black Sea. They also asked President Wilson to draw the final borders of Armenia within the guidelines agreed upon in San Remo.

On August 10, 1920, the Turks signed a treaty with the Allied Powers in the French city of Sèvres which is known as the Treaty of Sèvres. It consisted of 110 large pages, 13 chapters and 433 articles. There were six articles in the Treaty (88-93) that related to Armenia. These articles demanded that Turkey recognize Armenia as a free and independent State (88). The signatories agreed to let US President Wilson determine the boundary between Turkey and Armenia, which would pass through the provinces of Erzerum, Trebizond, Van and Bitlis and prescribe an outlet for Armenia to the Black Sea (89). Turkey renounced any claim to the ceded land. Articles 91-93 referred to the establishment of a boundary commission; to accept obligation in the repatriation and restoration of the Armenian survivors; the prosecution of the perpetrators of the Armenian massacres; and the protection of non-Armenian citizens within Armenia.   

On November 22, 1920, President Wilson announced that he had drawn the map of Armenia under the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres. “Wilsonian Armenia” awarded the Armenian nation a territory that encompassed approximately 155,000 square kilometers. It included vast areas of historic Armenia with the exclusion of southernmost and westernmost sectors. A viable, united Armenian State had been created on paper. Unfortunately, however, Wilson’s decision was relayed too late to the Allied Nations in Europe as the Republic of Armenia was waging a losing struggle to preserve its existence. By mid-November 1920, the Turks had recaptured the entire region they had controlled prior to their withdrawal in November 1918. The Kemalist movement aligned with the Bolshevik government of Russia. To demonstrate their total rejection of the Treaty of Sèvres, the Turks attacked Armenia with a massive force advancing toward Yerevan. The Armenian leaders were now faced with two problems: one was the Turkish threat to annihilate the Armenians and the other was the Bolshevik attempt to take over. On December 2, 1920, the leaders of Armenia transferred the reign of government to the Bolsheviks, and the State of Armenia became part of the Soviet Empire.

Mustafa Kemal continued to strengthen his military and political posture and obtained enormous supplies from the Bolsheviks and the Allies. In October 1922, he toppled the 35th Sultan Mehmed the 6th, terminated the Ottoman Empire and established a Turkish Republic. 

On July 24, 1923, the Allies signed the Treaty of Lausanne. The defeated Turkey imposed its own terms on the victorious Allies. The bright expectation of the Republic of Armenia that had emanated from the Treaty of Sèvres faded into bitter disillusion.  

Undoubtedly, the Treaty of Sèvres was an internationally binding document. The Allied Powers had made a commitment to accept President Wilson’s Award as the final settlement. But unfortunately, they did not honor their pledge to their little ally, Armenia.

Should the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres concerning the Republic of Armenia be revisited? That question continues to be debated. 

Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian

Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian

Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian is the Executive Director of the Armenian Evangelical World Council.
Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian

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4 Comments

  1. So long as Armenia and the global Armenian community pursue the cause of justice , there will be no legal constraints or statute of limitations. The main issue currently is whether the Republic of Armenia will pursue legal channels for reparations and the intent of Sèvres. For decades the diaspora kept the torch alive. With the emergence of the RoA as the legitimate spokesperson for Armenian rights, the question is when and if they will attend to this “unfinished business”. When will they feel confidence enough to renounce the treacherous Treaty of Kars forced on the Armenian people. Genocide reparations, Sevres and Kars are all in the same discussion.

  2. As the old saying goes, “If only…” with the completion of the sentence being “a US Mandate over Armenia had occurred.” We Armenians had the Sèvres treaty in hand but unfortunately lacked the power to implement it in large part because of the great losses suffered during the Armenian Genocide. How completely unjust that the Turks, the very perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide reap the rewards of their ravages against the victim, the Armenian people. Nevertheless, if the day comes when Armenia can claim its power (militarily, economically, or otherwise) over Turkey, it’s on that day that we Armenians can present the legal justification via the Treaty of Sèvres to form a united Armenia.

  3. ‘Should the terms of the treaty of Sevres concerning the Republic of Armenia be revisited?’
    For the foreseeable future, it would be as futile as the first time around a century ago, likewise the ultimate futility of the Berlin Conference before that. All for the same reason, presenting our claims on paper, and lacking an iron ladle, as Khrimian Hairig concluded. Currently Armenia and the diaspora should remain focused on circling the wagons around Armenia/Artsakh while reaching out to endangered Armenians all over the Middle East.

  4. It’s not just that “defeated Turkey imposed its own terms on the victorious Allies”.
    Kemal Ataturk or the new country called Turkey signed with the Allies lucrative business deals. Moreover, the Ottoman Empire had a huge debt to pay to Europe. So it was in the interest of the European Powers to see Turkey as the continuation of the Ottoman Empire and hence for the new country to pay the debts of the Ottoman Empire. In the end, Turkey did pay parts of the Ottoman Empire’s debts and Europe was satisfied.

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