Century-old treaty defines Turkey’s foreign policy - analysts

The legacy left by century-old treaty imposed by European powers on the Ottoman Empire has helped form Turkey’s recently emboldened foreign policy in the region, the Washington Post said in an analysis published on Monday, citing regional experts.

The Treaty of Sèvres, signed on Aug. 10, 1920, was designed to liquidate the Ottoman Empire and virtually abolished Turkish sovereignty. However, nationalists led by soon-to-be Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rejected the treaty and, after routing neighbouring forces of European powers, compelled them to settle on new terms with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which now defines Turkey’s modern borders.

Nevertheless, the memory of colonial Western schemes to deprive Turkey of sovereignty – and the armed struggle needed to foil them – still stalks the Turkish political imagination, the Washington Post said.

“Sèvres has been largely forgotten in the West, but it has a potent legacy in Turkey, where it has helped fuel a form of nationalist paranoia some scholars have called the ‘Sèvres syndrome’,” said the Washington Post, citing Nicholas Danforth, a historian of 20th century Turkey.

Sèvres syndrome is a belief in Turkey that outside forces conspire to destroy the Turkish state, and, as Danforth says, remains a significant determinant of Turkish foreign policy.

“Sèvres certainly plays a role in Turkey’s sensitivity over Kurdish separatism, as well as the belief that the Armenian genocide – widely used by European diplomats to justify their plans for Anatolia in 1920 – was always an anti-Turkish conspiracy rather than a matter of historical truth,” he said.

Turkey has played an increasingly active role in the Eastern Mediterranean, usually resulting in conflicts of interest and subsequent hostility with other countries in the region.

The Turkish armed forces have provided substantial military support to Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in a conflict against opposition forces led by General Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Russia, France, Egypt and several other countries.

In return for the support, the GNA signed a maritime border agreement with Ankara in November intended to legitimise Turkey’s claims to abundant offshore gas and oil reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, much to the ire of Greece, Cyprus, France and other nations collaborating on a pipeline project off the Cypriot coast.

Turkey is also pursuing what it calls its “Blue Homeland” naval expansion doctrine, which lays claim to wide-ranging territorial waters in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas – resulting in a series of territorial violations with NATO ally Greece.

“A key driver of Turkey’s behaviour is that, with the exception of the Tripoli government that controls half of war-torn Libya, Ankara – also involved in military action in Syria and Iraq – has virtually no allies in the region,” said Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also linked Ankara’s foreign policy with the 1920 treaty during a meeting with GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj inside a former Ottoman palace in Istanbul.

“Thanks to this military and energy cooperation, we overturned the Treaty of Sèvres,” the Washington Post cited Erdoğan as saying after one of the sessions that led to the Turkey-Libya maritime agreement.