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Turkey and Russia — friends for a while, now foes once again

It is true that Tsarist statesmen were required to claim Constantinople (“Tsargrad”) as theirs. But when they saw the problems that would follow, they drew back: better a weak Turkey, controlled by them through an autonomous Armenia, or perhaps even Kurdistan, than a troublesome colony or an English-managed Greek imposition.

In 1833 Russian troops stopped an Egyptian-Syrian army from taking Istanbul. And when, in 1920, the Ottoman Empirewas finally collapsing, and the British were promoting the Greek and Armenian causes, the Russians came to the Turks’ rescue. Indeed, you have to wonder if Turkey would even exist without the help it received from Moscow then.

On the National Monument in Taksim Square in Istanbul there are four identifiable figures: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, is the most obvious. Most surprising, perhaps, is Semyon Aralov, the first Soviet ambassador to Turkey. He co-operated with the Turkish nationalists who had opened up for business on a small scale in Ankara in 1919, resisting the western allies’ plans for Anatolia.

In the summer of 1920, representatives of Sultan Mehmed VI signed the treaty of Sèvres, creating a Greater Armenia, a Greater Greece and perhaps Kurdistan. The Sultan would have become ruler of a quaint emirate.

Resistance to the treaty gathered and won Soviet support. Just as it was being signed, there was a meeting in Moscow between Georgy Chicherin, Soviet commissar for foreign affairs, and Ali Fuat Pasha, who represented Ankara. They agreed that the Soviets would give up Armenia and the Turks would forget about Azerbaijan. Money and weapons then helped the Turks to defeat their enemies.