You may have heard murmurings in the last weeks of Turkish President Erdogan speaking of tossing out the Treaty of Lausanne. The Greeks and others are understandably nervous about his rhetoric. Perhaps it is a serious desire of Mr. Erdogan or maybe his words are simply nationalistic bluster designed to further consolidate his ever increasing hold on power.
The Treaty of Lausanne was signed in 1923 and it officially ended the various conflicts in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean (from at least 1912 through WWI). The signatories were the British Empire, France, Italy, Greece, Romania, and the (new) Republic of Turkey.
The Lausanne Treaty superseded the Sevres Treaty of August 1920 between the Ottoman empire and Britain France and Italy (and Japan!) which essentially carved up the defeated Ottoman empire into spheres of influence in the Middle East. Upon looking at the Sevres map (below) you can see why the terms caused unhappiness to the Turks. In fact, Turk unhappiness led directly to the Turkish revolution in which nationalist Turks overthrew and ended the Ottoman caliphate and established the Republic of Turkey (1922).
The Lausanne Treaty of 1923 (see map at top) was effectively a renegotiation of the Sevres Treaty (1920). The new Turkish Republic regained the portions of Anatolia which Sevres ceded to Greece and gained sovereignty over other parts of mainland Anatolia which had been delivered to France and Italy. Lausanne recognized the Turkish Republic and negotiated its current borders – which Turkey agreed not to challenge. The Lausanne treaty upheld the British and French administration of the parts of the Middle East which would become Iraq and Syria.
Back to 2016…
Mr Erdogan argues that Lausanne was unclear about the status of the Eastern Aegean Islands. Basically he is speaking of the tiny islands between the Dodecanese (which Sevres had given to Italy) and mainland Turkey. He thinks that the treaty needs to be renegotiated to give some islands closer to Anatolia to Turkey.
As with most conflicts these days it’s all about energy. The Sevres and Lausanne treaties gave Britain and France free access to Middle East oil. That was the point of the treaties. The late 20th century discovery of petroleum and gas deposits in the Aegean, not nationalism, is fueling Turkey’s desire to renegotiate Lausanne and extend its claim of parts of the Aegean undersea energy deposits which until now are just out of its reach.