Behind the Iron Curtain – Chapter XI (fourth part)

42. The resistance of Turkey.

Turkey is situated in an even more important place than Greece in the way of Russian ambitions southwards. She holds the two straits, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, through which Russian navigation has to pass in order to get from the Black Sea into the Aegean and the Mediterranean. The key of both Straits is Constantinople, the fascinating Metropolis of Byzantine prestige, the legendary “Tsargrad”, the Imperial City whose heirs the Russians imagine to be since the marriage of the last Byzantine emperor’s niece to the Grand – Prince of Moscow Ivan III.

Turkey who has always felt against Russia the same hereditary distrust as Rumania, has been very careful in her policy towards her powerful northern neighbour since the latter has taken the Soviet form of government. Mustapha Kemal signed as early as 1921 a treaty of friendship with Russia. A cautious policy of good neighbourliness was carried on by Mustapha Kemal, later Kamal Atatürk, until his death in 1938. The same policy has been continued by his successor, President Ismet Inönü.

The alliance with Great Britain signed in the spring of 1939, six months before the outbreak of World War II, has perhaps been considered by the Turks like an assurance against Russia as well as against Germany.

As a matter of fact, Turkey succeeded by herself in securing her neutrality in 1941 when the German troops, after their rapid campaign in Yugoslavia and Greece, were the masters of the Balkans and menaced her European frontiers. Thus Turkey rendered a serious service to the Allies. One might imagine what would have been the consequences of an occupation of Turkey by the Germans at a moment when in Iraq revolution was brewing, when it had overthrown the pro-British government and attacked the British garrisons, at a moment when the whole Arabian world was in a dangerous turmoil. The end of the war would perhaps not have been the same and Turkey’s merit is the greater as Germany and Russia were then almost allied.

Turkey remained neutral during the following years. Mr. Churchill himself, although publicly accusing Turkey of excessive prudence during the spring of 1944, was unable to change her policy. Turkey was familiar with Russian policy for centuries. A Russian victory in Europe and a Russian occupation of the Balkans directly hit her interests and she could not be expected to co-operate in the realization of such an object. In fact it might seem natural that she should try to prevent it and if Turkish insistences did effectively work at Bucharest trying to prevent Rumania’s capitulation towards Russia in August 1944, such insistences might only have been consistent with Turkish interests.

In this respect, however, a serious reproach should perhaps be made to the Turkish government. It was said that an Anglo-American army was ready for landing in the Balkans during the autumn of 1943, should Turkey have entered the war. This army was to occupy the whole South-Eastern Europe after the capitulation of Rumania who was to surrender to British, American and Turkish armies and not to Russian ones. As a matter of fact, the Russians still were on the Dnieper at that time. If this were true and these plans were not fulfilled following the excessive prudence of the Turkish government, the latter might be considered as directly responsible for the Russian occupation of South-Eastern Europe and for all its consequences, including a possible third World War[1].

Turkey only joined the war in 1945 when there were no more Germans left at her frontiers, and only in order to be one of the United Nations and so be more able to defend her interests.

The careful policy of the Turkish government as well as the attitude of the Turkish press and public opinion thoroughly displease Russia. Hence the periodical attacks of the Russian press against Turkey and the Turkish press, with the ritual and unavoidable accusation of “Fascism”, hence the inimical policy of the Russian government towards Turkey. The first public demonstration of hostility against Turkey was the denunciation in April 1945 of the treaty of “friendship and good neighbourliness” which both countries had signed in 1925. Although the Russian government stated that this denunciation was not an act of hostility and that negotiations with the Turkish government would start in order to prepare a new treaty; in fact nothing has been done and the relations between Russia and Turkey are left to their own devices.

The main problem between Russia and Turkey refers to the Straits. The navigation through Bosphorus and Dardanelles is regulated by the Montreux Convention ratified by Turkey, the great powers and the Black Sea riparian countries, a convention to which Russia also adhered. Turkey exerts navigation control. The Montreux Convention was signed for a ten year period, that is until August 1946 and was to be automatically prolonged unless any of the signatories would express a wish to modify it. Russia has in due time demanded a new convention that would have given her either the right to solely control the Straits or to share control with Turkey. Turkey rejected any limitation of its sovereignty. The United States of America and Great Britain supported Turkey on this subject but admitted the idea that other aspects of the Montreux Convention could be modified. The second pending problem between Russia and Turkey refers to the Kars – Artvin region that is connected with the even more serious problem of Armenia.

The Kars – Artvin region is situated in Transcaucasia, at the frontier with the soviet republics of Georgia and Armenia. Its surface is 10.000 sqm and it has 550.000 inhabitants. It was taken by the Russians from the Turks in 1878 at the Berlin Congress and was returned to the Turks in 1918, through the Treaty of Brest – Litovsk. After the annulment of the Brest – Litovsk Treaty, the annexation to Turkey in 1921 was confirmed by the treaties in Moscow and Kars. At present the region is again claimed by the Russians, but the Turks firmly reject this demand.

Formerly, the region had been inhabited by Armenians and Georgians. Now, its inhabitants seem to be Turks in their majority, after the former inhabitants had been killed or deported during the first years after World War I. In Turkish Armenia, including the Kars – Artvin region, there seem to be now less than 100.000 Armenians instead of nearly one million before the first World War[2]. It may be understood why the Armenians feel an outstanding hatred against Turks.

Russia began to stir up the Armenian question during the summer of 1945. The Kars – Artvin region was claimed for Soviet Armenia as well as for Soviet Georgia. At Etchimiadzin, the religious centre of the Armenians situated in Soviet Armenia, a congress was held during the summer of 1945 with the participation of delegates of numerous communities from abroad, including Rumania. The Armenians from abroad were invited to return to their “fatherland” Soviet Armenia and several thousands returned from Turkey, Syria and even from Rumania. In Rumania, an “Armenian Front” was created in order to assemble all the Armenians of this country into an organization friendly to the Soviet Union[3]. The same is said to have happened in Hungary and Poland while the Armenians from Syria and Lebanon as well as those from the United States agitate the question Kars – Artvin. The Armenian problem was very well chosen as a weapon against Turkey. On one side the Turks might be put on this question in an unfavourable position, on the other side the rich Armenian communities of the Near East, Central Europe and the United States might be gained over for Russia and thus bring into the Russian game a fairly great number of clever and influential propagandists.

It may be seen that the relations between Russia and Turkey are not of the best, and might grow worse at any moment. Today, Turkey’s international position is still good and too brutal a pressure or an aggression against her would lead to an Anglo-American intervention and to the outbreak of a third World War. On the contrary, should Russia confine herself to a war of nerves and attempt to obtain concessions by diplomatic pressure, as for instance in the question of the Straits, the Anglo-Saxon Powers and consequently Turkey would perhaps yield in order to prevent complications.

[1] The plan of landing Anglo-American troops in the Balkans seems to have been abandoned during the Conference of Teheran. President Roosevelt seems to have given in before Generalissimo Stalin’s imperialistic demands, in spite of Mr. Churchill’s opposition. Thus, there seems to be no more question of a responsibility of the Turkish government …. (See: Elliot Roosevelt, “As He Saw It”).

[2] According to the Turkish census of 1935, there were only 58,000 Armenians in the whole of Turkey. The real figures are most probably higher. Indeed, one may suspect many Armenians of having prudently declared themselves to the recensor as Turks.

[3] There are about 16,000 Armenians in Rumania among whom 7,000 in Bucharest and 4,000 in Constantza. The Armenian community in Bucharest is ancient and very rich. The Armenians were sensibly more numerous in Rumania some decades ago. Many of them are now assimilated and have lost their national consciousness.

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