Wilton talk: How inept diplomacy gave rise to the Middle East
WILTON — Anyone who wonders about the inception of today’s Middle East tensions need only look to two little-remembered treaties signed at the end of World War I. The Treaty of Sèvres and Treaty of Lausanne are largely forgotten but they cast long shadows on modern international politics.
Wilton resident Jean-Pierre Lavielle will discuss how new nations in that region of the world were created in a talk, “The Treaties of Sèvres and Lausanne — Case Studies of Diplomatic Nonsense,” on Thursday, Feb. 20, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at Wilton Library. Register to attend online at www.witonlibrary.org or by calling 203-762-6334.
Thursday’s talk is the last in a series Lavielle has presented at the library, beginning in 2014, about World War I — from its causes through the armistice of November 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919.
“I left Sèvres and Lausanne aside because they cast a much longer shadow than the Treaty of Versailles,” Lavielle said in an interview last week. “The mess we are in in the Middle East now is directly from them.”
That Treaty of Versailles may have brought an end to the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers, but it was so badly negotiated, Lavielle said, it caused great resentment within Germany and paved the way for Hitler’s rise to power.
Likewise, the Treaty of Sèvres, signed Aug. 10, 1920, which dealt with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire served to humiliate Turkey, give rise to Turkish nationalism and further the imperialism of Great Britain and France.
At the end of World War I, there were four major empires: the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and the Ottoman. The Ottoman was the largest and oldest and its Arab lands were dismantled into a number of smaller, artificial countries that came under British or French influence. The one exception was Turkey.
Iraq — formerly Mesopotamia — and Palestine came under British rule. Syria and Lebanon were carved up for the French.
Saudi Arabia, formerly the Hijaz, became independent as did Armenia. Also created were Yemen, and Libya.
Turkey’s European territories were given to Greece.
“The two major powers — France and the U.K. — didn’t take into account at all how societies in the Middle East were structured,” Lavielle said. “They still are to some extent tribal societies and they tried to put in the same institutions — political organizations — that they had in the West. It was a series of blunders and mistakes and betrayal of the Kurds.”
Lavielle said he will also talk at length about the Kurds, “who have all the characteristics of being a country but don’t have a country,” he said. They are a minority divided among Syria, Turkey and Iraq.
Lavielle will also discuss the influence of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a bright, charismatic leader, who rose to prominence during the Battle of Gallipoli, at which the Ottomans, armed with long-range guns supplied by Germany, repelled the French and British fleets.
Signed two years after the armistice, the Treaty of Sèvres only served to bolster the strong sense of nationalism in Turkey — which rebelled against losing its territory — and lasted only a year.
The Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923, established Turkey’s present borders and freed it from reparations and limited militarization.
Lavielle will supplement his presentation with maps and short films and he will offer a list of books for people interested in reading more.
“These treaties may have been forgotten, but they have the longest and deepest consequences of international relations,” he said.