In the treaty of Sevres, the Ottoman Empire was made to cede not only all (?) territories outside modern-day Turkey, but also:

  • Control of the Bosphorus straight and the Dardanelles
  • Significant amounts of territory with large ethnic-Turkish minorities to Greece and France
  • A huge chunk of land ceded to Armenia (was it even a thing at the time, after the genocide? Or was that intended to be controlled by the powers?)
  • Most of the rest of Turkey under official "foreign influence" (mostly France and Italy if we ignore the Kurdish regions); I haven't quite figured out what that means, but let's count that as co-sovereignty.

and there's the oil, and a bunch of islands and maybe other stuff.


Now, even back then - there must have been, what, 20-25 million Turks or so? With a very active national movement, large army over a huge territory, and no strict foreign occupation to keep all that in check? Isn't it obvious that that treaty was made to be broken at the first opportunity?

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    But the Ottomans were willing to sign those away so who were the Allies to say no? :P
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 19:15
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    @Semaphore: They could have had the Sultan stand on one leg and quack like a duck... doesn't mean that's a good idea.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 19:34
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    It would have been funny though.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 23:40
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    In the same sense, I think the capitulations that were imposed to the Ottoman Empire were also over-reaching. And Turkish sources are saying that this was one of the main reason that the Young Turks allied with Germans even though Great Britain was asking them to stay neutral.
    – Ömer
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 2:45
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    @einpoklum What is your reason to think it was more "over-reaching" than treaties imposed to other central powers, such as Germany and Austria ? I don't think it is. Austria was basically reduced to ~20% of it's former territory, and lost many lands with German majorities. I think what was supposed to happen to turkey was less worse - the only difference is that it didn't happen.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 7:15

4 Answers 4


You are correct, the Turkish National Movement heavily resisted treaty of Sevres which culminated in the Turkish War of independence...the treaty didn't last long.

Isn't it obvious that that treaty was made to be broken at the first opportunity?

Yep. And potentially intentionally. Prior to the first world war, the British subscribed to a balance of power model of policy with the idea that a united (or conquered) Europe under one banner would be an existential threat to Britain and therefore it was in Britains best interest to maintain the balance of power between opposing forces on mainland Europe. The Ottoman empire was a beneficiary of this policy as a weak Ottoman empire could be overrun by the Russians who would be in turn strong enough to cut into the Austrians and the rest of Europe. The policy actually saw the UK declare war on Russia.

The treaty of Sevres was formulated in that mindset...divide the territory and power up and ensure a single entity didn't have all the power. I think the power of the Turkish nationalist movement was either ignored or badly under estimated...as long as one European nation didn't 'own' the former body of the now defunct Ottoman empire, I don't think the drafters of the Treaty of Sevres cared what their lines did beyond that...if the Ottoman lands were to be conquered, the aggressor would now need to declare war on the allies in their entirety.

Just to add a bit more: The treaty conditions here were far more punishing than the treaty of Versailles and was entirely done to setup a 'puppet' nation where the allies (mainly France and Britain, but Italy as well) would control the territories finances, trade, and resources. The Treaty of Sevres was as much as anything, an attempt to divide the spoils of war (the former ottoman empire) to the allies (keeping in mind that this included Iraqi oil for the British).


It wasn't so much that the WW I Allies were "overreaching with The Treaty of Sevres"; rather, it was the fact that the WW I Allies had underestimated the rising wave of Kemalism and a new Turkish Republic movement which still retained the ferocity, ruthlessness and steadfast determination of the centuries old Ottoman Empire.

From the Greek perspective, The Treaty of Sevres, was initially, a victory for Greece. Beginning in 1919, Greece had regained-(though to a limited extent), the ancient region of Ionia in Western Turkey/Aegean Turkey, including, the centuries old city of Izmir/(Smyrna). It had been over 500 years since the Greeks had territorial control over this historic region and by 1919, the return of Ionia and Smyrna to Greece was, in a way, a near completion of the 100 year Hellenic struggle over Ottoman colonial rule. However, the return of Ionia and Smyrna to Greece only lasted 3 years and it culminated in a disastrously fiery end for the Greeks. This devastating event was titled, "The Smyrna Catastrophe" whereby the Greek citizens of Smyrna fled for their lives, due to the rising onslaught of rabidly anti-Greek Turkish Nationalists led by.......Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk". By September, 1922, the city of Smyrna, was "ethnically cleansed" and the city's entire Greek population fled the city's fiery destruction- (sparked by Turkish Nationalists).

From the British and French perspectives-(regarding Greek Ionia/Aegean Turkey), they lost a key geopolitical Greek ally. With the loss of Greek Ionia to the Turkish Nationalists, the Eurasian Aegean region, was now officially divided between an enfeebled Greece and a powerful Post-colonial Turkish Republic. In other words, the British/French interest in weakening and punishing the Turks for co-starting the First World war, actually emboldened and strengthened the Turkish Nationalist cause, resulting in, the present-day geography of the Turkish nation-state.

The WW I Allies naively and erroneously believed that the Turkish Nationalists would be satisfied with a state that was confined to much of Central Anatolia. They absolutely underestimated the ability of the Turks-(despite the birth of the Young Turks movement a generation earlier) to transform their cultural and political identity into a Post-Ottoman Westernized Republic.

So again, it wasn't necessarily an overreach on the part of the WW I Allies, but more of an underestimation of the Kemalists and the Turkish Nationalists vis-a-vis, The Treaty of Sevres.

  • But what made them think that carving up what seems to be an arbitrary section of Anatolia would "pass" with the locals?
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 20:58
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    Well, that is what I had stated in my posting; the British and French were unaware of the ability of the Turks to transform themselves into a new Westernized Republic and they had also underestimated the widespread Turkish civilian support for the Kemalists and Nationalists. Put this together and one can see, retrospectively, that it was indeed, "an overreach", though it was more of an underestimation of the overall political, as well as civilian response.
    – user26763
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 21:09
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    But even without such a transformation, what the allies were planning seems extremely unstable. I mean, it's not as though they had a good indication that the Turks are going to become docile and easy to control. At best it was a wild bet.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 21:30
  • I agree that in retrospect it was very risky or "a wild bet".....and ultimately, all parties lost.........except the Turks.
    – user26763
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 23:26

This treaty has clearly underestimated, as stated in user26763's answer, the power of the nationalism movement of Turkey. However, this tretay is perfectly in the mindset of the other treaties made at the same time, which dismantled as well the Austrian Empire and the Russian Empire, and with the mindset of the Allies which was: "Divide in order to reign".

You consider Turkey with today's border, but back in 1918 you should remember that the Ottoman Empire was larger with multiple minorities, and as far as I know there were no distinctions between today's borders of Turkey and the rest of the Ottoman empire. Thus, when the Allies tore Medinah, Jerusalem and Irak off the Ottoman Empire, why should'nt they separate as well the West of Anatolia, full of Greek population, or the East, where Armenians suffered an extermination (genocide with today's words)?

When the nationalist movement, under Mustapha Kemal, started fighting back, it has no clear revendication. The geography made it stopped at the West coast, on territory with important Greek population, and not political revendications (which could have gone even further into Europe). They solved the problem of minorities with heavy population displacement (and the reciprocate made by Greece with Turkish minority), a brand new solution which reveals itself to be more stable than the breakdown of former borders made by the treaties.

  • There are very clear distinctions: The presence of ethnic Turks and the use of the Turkish language as a common spoken language. Not to mention the capital and its surroundings...
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 25, 2019 at 22:36
  • @einpoklum could you explain where those distinctions apply on my answer? About the difference between ethnicity and the use of language, both were used by the Turkish and Greek governements to trigger massive population displacements Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 11:56
  • I'd say there is a difference between "divvying up" territories which have foreign rulers anyway, and placing a population which was "self-ruling" (albeit through an autocracy) under rule by foreigners who have just occupied that country by force.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 12:14
  • @einpoklum Ok but which country are you thinking about? Iraq versus Anatolia? Because those two were under ottoman rule before 1918 Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 12:19
  • I'm talking about Anatolia. Look at the Yellow part of the map: Even if you ignore the more Kurdish area to the east - it's still the case that most of Turkish Anatolia comes under foreign occupier control.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 12:23

The reason it may not have been obvious to them that they overreached at Sevres is that they spent much of the war imagining how they would change the map of the Near East with tsarist Russia as one of the victorious powers. When Russia got knocked out, the other allies somewhat understandably but very mistakenly thought they could grab for themselves what Russia would have taken or make changes that really would have depended on Russian force projection. Let's just say that the world was not blessed in 1917-1922 with the flexible and perspicacious diplomatic thinkers that saw it through 1814-1820.

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