British-Turkish Relations

AN ANALYSIS ON BRITISH-TURKISH RELATIONS 1919-39

Introduction

After the geographical discoveries and colonial movements that the British Empire gained a lot through, a power hegemony started to appear concretely on the British axis. It would not be correct to match the age of British power hegemony to US power hegemony after the post-soviet era due to the other actors’ existence such as France and Italy. Naturally, British influence on World politics affected Turkish-British relations too, and bilateral relations gained importance and continued until nowadays. In this essay, 1919-1939 British-Turkish Relations will be examined in three main terms as last periods of Ottoman State (1919-1923), the newly recognized modern Turkish State (1923-1930), and the young era of the Turkish Republic (1930-1939) through the level of analysis methodology. System and State level analysis will be held on one hand, and the individual-level approach based on leaders’ behaviors and attitudes also will be reflected in every period separately.

First Touches

When we go back in history, we see the first bilateral diplomatic relations reach until the 16th century. The first diplomatic touch in the modern meaning was the appointment of an ambassador by the British side to Istanbul in the term of Murad the III. Due to the Ottoman State did not notice the slowdown of the state and did not realize the need for diplomatic relations, until the last quarter of the 18th century Ottoman State didn’t send any envoy to Britain (Oran, 2001, p.139).

The Ottoman State’s being could not catch up with the Industry Revolution, and the economic growth of European states afterward, brought the Ottoman State to the edge of collapse. Sultan and the authorities, in order to protect the land and sea borders, started to depend on big powers of the European continent and shaped their policies according to these powers’ approaches to each other. Russia’s interest and passion for the Mediterranean Sea, the possibility of the Russian existence on policy-making in the Mediterranean Sea were quite enough the trigger British decision-makers to act against Russian in the 19th century. Britain supported the territorial integrity of the Ottoman State to guarantee her trade directions sustainability until British India. Russian power influence on Ottoman State basically discouraged the British policy-makers to follow the integrity policy of Ottoman territories. Furthermore, in the following decades, Britain changed its policy on Ottoman lands and captured Cyprus and Egypt to ensure its trade routes are safe. British interests for fragmentation of Ottoman lands have not been forgotten by Turkish authorities and caused by the two state’s fight in WWI (Oran, 2001, p.139)

A. 1919-1923 Period 

Mustafa Kemal’s vision was accurate for the future of the Ottoman State and one of the reasons was the Istanbul government. According to M. Kemal, the Istanbul government wasn’t managing the process on behalf of the Turkish nation. Thus, the Turkish people had to take control of the country to live freely without any mandate. So the Turkish War of Independence started in 1919 (Hale, 2013, p.33).  From the British perspective, this movement seemed unpleasant because the British government was already in a struggle. It was clear that The British government wanted to be determinant in the Middle East. On the other hand, it had to deal with France because continental Europe could not be left in France’s governance. In addition to that, separatist movements in India were hardening the situation more. In an atmosphere like this, any further movement such as the Anatolian movement has been seen negatively. Moreover, this movement hasn’t accepted the Treaty of Sevres despite the existence of the Ferit Pasha government in Istanbul, which is supported by Britain. In this regard, it is so normal that British authorities were unable to understand this movement’s characteristics and goals at the beginning. Furthermore, this movement has been perceived pro-Soviet which wasn’t at all (Hale, 2013, p.34). Between 1919 and 1923, Great Britain did not come across directly the Anatolian movement of M. Kemal. On the contrary, by using Greek forces, Britain aimed to reach its imperialist goals indirectly. This method didn’t go well for the British plans. Neither the Greek forces nor the British forces were not able to measure the possibility of they might trigger the Anatolian movement more (Oran, 2001, p.140).

From the Turkish perspective, until the end of this term, the symbol of Islam has been used by M. Kemal in order to take people’s attraction (Hale, 2013, p. 31). M. Kemal’s capability to see the influence of the Caliphate of Islam -which was the Sultan of Ottoman State- on the Anatolian people, let him act fast against the imperialist power. M. Kemal’s calm personality was really effective between the Turkish authorities and British authorities in this term. When Mustafa Kemal is examined, most of his foreign policy approaches being calm and steady could be seen easily. His policy to name the Anatolian movement as pro-Caliphate action until 1924, affected British-Turkish relations regarding the Muslim population living in British lands. The Soviet Union and Turkey relations were also a significant ingredient of the British-Turkish relations. Oran mentions this topic as “historically when there’s a Turkish-Russian approach to each other, Britain was also included in this approach.” (Oran, 2001, p. 141). The approach of the Soviet Union to Turkey was not emotional, albeit it was a kind of relationship based on the self-interests of the communities. The Soviet Union was also in danger of western powers. Hence, M. Kemal used the Soviet factor carefully until the Lausanne Treaty is signed. As long as the Anatolian movement gained power against imperialist powers’ existence in Anatolia during the Turkish War of Independence, the Soviet factor started losing its importance on both the Anatolian movement and the Anatolian movement’s relations with western forces led by mainly Great Britain. One last phenomenon could be the Turkish type westernization of the era. The newly established assembly and the government were literally feeling insecure themselves against Western powers led by Britain. However, especially in the following years of the abolishment of the Caliphate, Turkey was on the road of the west. It looks like there’s a dilemma here. Nevertheless, this was the best way to protect itself against British-led western policies (Oran, 2001, p.142). Some of the developments during the years of establishment of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) such as the occupation of Istanbul by British forces and dissolution of Meclis-i Mebusan by British authorities have been seen negatively because of the so-called democratic history of Great Britain and interest in the democracy of British authorities. Only 18 days before the TGNA’s official establishment, the Salih Pasha government was dethroned by British forces, and the new government was determined, led by Ferit Pasha which was a more pro-British policy-maker. Mustafa Kemal’s steadiness was remarkable against the British government even at that time because the action was totally against the Anatolian movement. In this manner, we can understand how may an individual can affect the two nations’ relations. As long as the TGNA or Anatolian movement gained power, through the Treaty of Alexandropol on eastern Anatolia and the success gained in the First Battle of Inonu, recognition of the TGNA or Anatolian movement started to increase by British authorities (Oran, 2001, p.143-44).

SWITZERLAND – JUNE 30: Ismet PACHA (signing, left), Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs since 1921 and Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios VENIZELOS (signing, right), signing the clause of the Treaty of Lausanne on the population transfer on January 31, 1923. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

B. 1923-1930 Period

1923-1930 British-Turkish relations were shaped mainly on two different developments. The first topic is the After Lausanne developments upon the Lausanne Treaty which has been signed by the TGNA in 1923 with the allied forces France, UK, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The second development is the Mosul issue between Turkey and Britain which is still discussed today. Except for the Mosul issue, there were not noteworthy conflicts in British-Turkish relations.

After the Lausanne Treaty has been signed by the authorities, almost all of Anatolia became Turkish land officially (Biyikli, 2008, p.14).  Followingly a struggle emerged between Turkish and British authorities regarding the place of the British embassy. In fact, this change was not only for Great Britain but for all States that have an embassy in Istanbul. The Embassy issue was basically the refusal of British authorities to send ambassadors to Ankara, the new capital city of the modern Turkish Republic. When the capital city of Turkey was declared as Ankara, which was a small town at that time, British diplomatic relations were managed from Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman State. Due to geographical and strategic reasons, TGNA has chosen a new city, almost in the middle of Anatolia in order to manage the new modern Turkish State. Turkish approach was pretty clear and optimistic regarding the embassies’ move to Ankara (Hale, 2013, p. 34). Turkish government even allocated a piece of land for the British embassy for free. However, British authorities were not thinking positively about this issue. The reason behind this attitude of the British government was not Ankara’s being a small village in the middle of Anatolia, albeit it was indigestion for the new Republic and disengagement of Levanter Istanbul (Girgin, 2005, p. 121). The British government had deep connections with Istanbul and losing that network wasn’t necessary at all. Finally, British authorities accepted to move the embassy to Ankara in 1926 just after the Mosul issue is solved on behalf of Great Britain (Oran, 2001, p. 258).

Mosul issue is one of the most important developments for the foreign policy of the modern Turkish Republic. Even today, it is still a significant issue and discussed by the Turkish authorities because it was a loss for Turkish State Policy in the 1920s which is called “Misaki Milli”. When the Armistice of Mudros has been signed in 1918, a significant part of Mosul was still a part of the Ottoman State. However, only a few days after, British forces occupied Mosul fully. Mosul was in the borders of Misaki Milli but it was not saved in the Turkish War of Independence. Mosul was an important location for the Turkish State in terms of security, humanity, and petrol resources. However, at the same time, Mosul was important to Britain too. For British interests, Mosul was on the Indian trade road and petroleum under Mosul was attractive. Former English governor of British India Lord Curzon’s definition for the area as the ‘western border of India’ was quite enough to understand the importance of Mosul for British authorities. So, Great Britain was mainly trying to control the area. For this reason, Britain signed an agreement with King Faisal of Iraq which she put in force. Even though the Shia population, Kurds, and Mosul people, in general, react against this, this agreement was approved by Iraq under the pressure of Britain. Mosul issue was also discussed at Lausanne Conference (Şimşir, 2005, p. 862). The British side of the table was tough and almost unable to negotiate on the topic. Ismet Inonu was appointed as the minister of foreign affairs of Turkey for the negotiations. Turkish side emphasized the importance of petroleum for the Anatolian economy since there is not much petroleum in Anatolia. On the contrary, the British side was stated that the Mosul issue is not related to petroleum and in case of the existence of the Anatolian need for petroleum, Turkey could borrow from financial aid from London. Turkish claims on Mosul upon the population was clear, the population was mainly consisting of Kurds and Turks. However, the British side claimed the majority of Kurds in the area. Turkey was claiming that TGNA was also the Assembly of Kurds and Kurds in the Assembly were not satisfied with the idea of Mosul’s being given to Iraq (Hale, 2013, p.40). Legally, Mosul was occupied after the ceasefire and this was against both international law and Wilson’s principles (Oran, 2001, p.261). Also, Turkish expectation for the final decision was plebiscite but the British committee was not positive about it. British committee put the agreement forward that they have done with King Faisal of Iraq and stated that if the British give Mosul to Turkey, it would be against the treaty that they have done before with Iraq. At the individual level, Curzon was mentioning that the petroleum under Mosul was not the key point of British policies regarding the area. According to him, the issue was about to determination of the Turkish-Iraqi border (Oran, 2001, p. 262). Since the problem could not have been solved parties agreed on future negotiations. In the Istanbul Conference, the British committee stuck the negotiations and finally, the Mosul issue has been carried to the League of Nations (LN) as Great Britain wanted. In the end, the League of Nations recognized Mosul as a part of Iraq. In the beginning, Turkey did not recognize the decision of LN but followingly a Neighborhood Agreement has been signed between UK-Iraq and Turkey (Şimşir, 2005, p. 874).

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler

C. 1930-1939 Period

When it comes to the 1930s, we can state that both in Europe and the Middle East, the balance of powers was changing. Upon the effects of the great recession in 1929, there were new powers in the middle of Europe. These new powers were Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Nazi Germany (Barlas & Gulmez, 2018, p.829-30). Without mentioning the new balance of powers in the European continent, discussing the British-Turkish relations would be simple. German policies to approach Turkey and the aggressive actions of Mussolini’s Italy in the Mediterranean region took the attention of the British authorities and followingly Turkey gained more importance in the British perspective. In the middle of the 1930s, the disagreement between UK-France and Germany-Italy became more visible. 1930s Turkey was more stable, was already dealt with the problems remaining from the Lausanne Treaty. Turkey’s geopolitical impacts were not interesting only for British authorities, also France was keeping its relations tight with Turkey against Europe’s new emerging powers. Italy’s aggressive actions in the Mediterranean region helped British-Turkish relations in this manner. In fact, relations between the two countries were on a good path thanks to the agreement reached between Turkey and Greece in 1930. Hence not indirectly but also direct cooperation between the two states was not utopian. We can mention three important ingredients of British-Turkish direct cooperation as economic cooperation, political approach to each other, and alliance relations. For Germany, Turkey was also a remarkable country to improve bilateral relations. Germany was aiming to use the full potential of trade capacity between Turkey and itself. This attitude was seen clearly by the British authorities. However, besides the worries of British authorities, Turkish authorities were also worried about this increase in trade capacity (Oran, 2001, p. 272).

In the middle of the 1930s, Turkish-British commercial cooperation gained more speed. British brands and firms were encouraged in Turkey. Relations’ being positive between the two countries was on behalf of Turkey because Britain was quite supportive in some topics of the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits in the Montreux Conference. King Edward the VIII’s visit to Istanbul and Ismet Inonu’s visit to London bilaterally lifted the relations. In the same year, Italy’s armoring of the Aegean islands was not reacted peacefully by the Turkish authorities. Furthermore, Turkey was in favor of the sanctions done by the League of Nations to Italy. These developments were pushing British and Turkish authorities to act together more. On the individual level, M. Kemal’s efforts cannot be ignored for the Turkish-British approach to each other. M. Kemal’s close friend Fethi Okyar was appointed to London as Turkish ambassador. In addition, M. Kemal was in good touch with the British ambassador in Ankara, Sir Percy Loraine, and in this manner, the Turkish approach was understood better thanks to him. Italy’s aggressive actions to Eastern Europe, starting by Albania, and also Hitler Germany’s interest in Eastern Europe, starting by Poland, were not affecting only the British-Turkish relations, albeit were bringing the all World to the edge of another world war (Oran, 2001, p. 276). Ankara has wanted to be sure of the alliance including France-UK and Turkey and this request has been reflected most of the time. Finally, in 1939 Turkish-English Declaration has been ratified by both assemblies on the British and Turkish sides. Following the official signing of the Turkish-French-English alliance in Ankara, the Turkish-British alliance was providing reliable sources such as financial aids, arms assistance, etc. (Oran, 2001, p. 277). In this manner, Turkey was finally able to be a part of the British-French alliance when World War II started (Hale, 2013, p. 56).

Conclusion

All in all, we can assume that Turkish- British relations fluctuated between 1919 and the 1930s. Due to the change of Ottoman State to the modern Turkish Republic inside of the country itself, in between the years of 1919 and 1923 Anatolian movement tried to be recognized and seen as the future of Turkey. Anatolian movement -with the establishment of TGNA in 1920, the declaration of the republic in 1923, and the Lausanne Treaty in 1924- was finally recognized by British authorities. In the following years until the 1930s, relations were remained steady due to the embassy issue and Mosul problem. After 1930, British-Turkish relations gained more speed and interests of two countries to each other before WWII resulted in an alliance in 1939 WWII. 

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barlas, D., & Gülmez, S. B. (2018, May 3). Turkish-British relations in the 1930s: from ambivalence to partnership. Taylor & Francis. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00263206.2018.1462163

Biyikli, M. (2008). Kaynakçalı Ve Açıklamalı Atatürk Dönemi Türk Dış Politikası Kronolojisi. Dumlupinar Universitesi Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi, 22, 14–16.

Girgin, K. (2005). Osmanlı ve Cumhuriyet Dönemleri Hariciye Tarihimiz (Teşkilat ve Protokol) (3rd ed.). Cagaloglu: Okumus Adam.

Hale, W. (2013). Turkish Foreign Policy since 1774 (3rd ed.). Routledge.

Oran, B. (2001). Türk Dış Politikası: Kurtuluş Savaşından Bugüne Olgular, Belgeler, Yorumlar (1st ed.). Iletisim Yayinlari.

Şimşir, B. N. (2005, November 1). Musul Sorunu ve Türkiye – İngiltere – Irak İlişkileri. Dergipark. https://dergipark.org.tr/tr/pub/aamd/issue/52943/700019

Editor-in-Chief of The FEAS Journal©, Gazi University, Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Department of International Relations.
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