The Lausanne Treaty and the caliphate

The Lausanne Treaty and the caliphate

It is to everyone’s benefit that rumors that have not been filtered through the intellect are open to scrutiny by “intellect and knowledge.” 

One such rumor is that İsmet İnönü, the chief negotiator at the Lausanne talks, was not only “completely defeated” but that he also “sold out” the caliphate at the table. The proof of this is supposedly that the British parliament ratified the Lausanne Treaty only after the caliphate was abolished in Turkey. 

In Lausanne, the treaty that was signed on July 24, 1923, was submitted to the Turkish parliament on Aug. 14. Debate started on Aug. 21 and there were serious discussions. The treaty was ratified on Aug. 23. 

Turkey did not procrastinate because upon ratification, the British and French occupation in Istanbul and Çanakkale was to come to an end, and that is what happened.

It is claimed that Britain waited for Turkey to lift the caliphate. Well, the caliphate was abolished on March 3; the British parliament started Lausanne talks on April 1 and ratified them on Aug. 6. 

Yes, this was “accepted” as proof. 

As a matter of fact, the timing is not “rather meaningful,” because Britain did not adjust its debate on Lausanne in correlation with situation of the caliphate in Turkey. 

The reason was a government crisis in Britain. After several government changes, Labour Party chair Ramsay McDonald came to power in February 1924 arguing that it was time for Britain to abandon “Eastern issues” and deal with the economy, which was at the threshold of hunger, and Europe’s issues. He submitted the Lausanne Treaty for approval in April.  

In a June 6, 1924, session of the House of Commons, former Prime Minister Lloyd George, who was still defending Sèvres, criticized Lausanne as the defeat of British diplomacy. The treaty was ratified on Aug. 6. 
One of our respected historians, Şükrü Hanioğlu, wrote in daily Sabah on Oct. 9 the following: “Turkey, which declared the republic after the Lausanne Treaty was signed, continued the institute of the caliphate for about eight months. Decisions made in these fields were not due to the commitments introduced by the treaty but because of the preferences of the country’s leadership.” 

When I read Hanioğlu, I decided to write about this. It is true, there was no causal relation between Lausanne and, afterward, the republic and the caliphate. Leader Mustafa Kemal, who already had these projects in mind, waited for the peace agreement to be signed that set the borders of the country. To speak about abandoning the caliphate would have caused major harm to the War of Independence domestically and internationally.  

The argument from Kazım Karabekir that the caliphate was abolished too soon due to the Mosul question is not something to be sneezed at. 

History should be read not to collect evidence for today’s political and ideological battles but to “understand.” 
Can we think correctly without reading the Lausanne minutes, the debates in parliament, British politics, the changes in these politics and the power equilibrium of the time? More importantly, will our “comprehension” skills develop? 

It’s not just Lausanne, but our history from the past two centuries – or at least their main chapters – should be read, and we should think with this knowledge in mind. Instead of this, what will happen if we look at history with sentiments, prejudices, conspiracy theories and ideological blueprints? Our lives would be dominated by a clash of political cultures with a low level of knowledge and analysis and a huge load of sentiments and prejudice.

In fact, we do not need to exchange republican romanticism for an Ottoman one; we need to understand our historic experience, interpret it within the changing world and look into the future with such a mental accumulation.