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Turkish foreign policy 100 years after the lausanne treaty: between hopes and illusions.

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Written: By Renas Sino

CEO of Tevn International




Turkey is present today in three countries at the same time (Syria, Iraq and Libya) and through its presence it seeks to establish bases in these three countries, bases with strategic objectives. This has angered and surprised many observers in light of the complexities of the political scene in the regional and international arena, however, I find this not surprising, because it was not a coincidence, but a realistic reflection of the AKP's foreign strategy since it came to power in Turkey in 2002.

AKP’s main objective was to restore Turkey's glories and give it a regional and international role, with a significant difference in objectives and tools between the Era of Abdullah Gul, Davutoglu, Ali Babajan and Erdogan. With Erdogan and the first afore-mentioned group, they adopted a soft, open-minded policy that sought to build positive and balanced economic partnerships and relations with all the countries that were under previous Ottoman control. However, the second-mentioned group above relied on the coarse policy of restoring the glories of the Ottoman Empire and restoring its control over neighboring states and entities through the use of force and the use of religious and nationalist discourse through local allies to strengthen its influence and increase its power, as is now happening in Syria and Libya.

But why now? Why are conflicts escalating in such an uncontrolled manner and accelerating in record time? Additionally, from where does Erdogan take his power? What are the strategic objectives of simultaneously intervening in these three countries? These are questions that need answers in order to understand their strategy towards these illegal interventions in independent sovereign states.

Lausanne Convention.

The answers to these questions lie in the Second Lausanne Convention, signed on July 24, 1923 in Lausanne, Switzerland, on the status of Anatolia and Eastern Thrace (now the European part of Turkey). This area was settled by the Ottoman Empire in nullifying the Treaty of Sever, which was signed by the Ottoman Empire as a result of the Turkish War of Independence, between the forces of the Allies of World War I and the Supreme National Assembly of Turkey (Turkish Nationalist Movement) led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This treaty led to international recognition of the Republic of Turkey, which inherited the place of the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty of Sever gave the inhabitants of the Kurdistan Region the right to hold a referendum to determine the fate of the region that includes Mosul province in accordance with clauses 62-64 of the third paragraph.

Erdogan does not stop attacking the agreement, clearly saying that the Lausanne agreement will expire in 2023, although there are not one of the 143 clauses in the agreement that indicates the expiry date of the agreement. Erdogan's supporters have also made widespread public declarations by publishing news, articles and research supporting their vision, although international law is clear on the mechanisms to end the agreement. There are no provisions that allow international conventions to expire over time, but there are other clauses indicating that changing the circumstances and facts of the treaty may bring it to its end; that is, Erdogan must fight a war against the Allies and win it, as Ataturk did, to be able to sit at the negotiating table. The question remains whether that can happen now. This possibility still exists, despite Erdogan's claims that the agreement is not fair to Turkey. Turkey is not satisfied with the agreement although it has given Turkey undeserved rights, such as rule over Kurdistan and the Iskenderun Brigade, in exchange for some oil concessions among others. As a result, this has created one of the biggest crises in contemporary history. Under the agreement, Turkey had relinquished its influence in oil-rich Libya and in Cyprus, which explains the simmering conflict between Turkey and Mediterranean countries such as Egypt, Greece and Italy; it also explains Turkey's attempts to establish bases in Libya using Syrian mercenaries.

Turkey is preparing to be an “oil country” with customs control over one of the most important global straits for the export of oil in the Middle East and North Africa. It is rumored that the Lausanne Agreement, whether the first or the second, has deprived Turkey of its right to explore for oil and gas and as such is "incorrect". The two agreements can be reviewed in the annexes; the purpose of using this propaganda is to legitimize Turkey's interventions and control over the lives of the people and the Arab world. In the same strategic framework, Turkey has announced its intention to open another canal linking the Black Sea and Marmara to the Mediterranean, and the construction of Istanbul International Airport is part of the same strategy in the coming years: this airport is expected to connect the three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa, and contribute to the exchange of traffic and trade with 300 different destinations, serving more than 200 million passengers annually.

In this context, we may see a tripartite alliance between Qatar, Iran and Turkey. This will prove terrifying for the interests of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the Gulf in general and Egypt. The same may be said for Europe.


Returning to Erdogan's behavior and speeches, the man follows the example of Ottoman sultans and their achievements; this was in evidence when he was inaugurated as president, following a ritual of the Ottoman Empire. I would not be surprised if he reinstated the post of sultan in lieu of president. His political project is inclined to the form of governance based on the use of religion and its laws to be the bearer of the state and seeks to lead the Islamic world according to his own perspective.

And that's the main reason why he's allied with Qatar's money and the Muslim Brotherhood, he sees trojans in them. Erdogan used the July 15, 2016 military coup to tighten his grip, gain full control over the state and its institutions and weaken the authority of his opponents. He changed the constitution to make the form of government presidential after he was a parliamentarian and removed all his party partners to keep them away from the leadership of the party and the state. He also handed over to his family and loyalists the most sensitive and important positions in the country, such as the handover of the Ministry of Finance to his brother-in-law, Birat al-Bayrak.


The border between Turkey and Syria was established under the Ankara Agreement of October 20, 1921 between France and the Turkish national government. The allies adopted the bilateral agreement with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. The border with Syria has since been redrawn, including the annexation of vast territories, which include the cities and regions of Mersin, Tarsus, Al-Qalqia, Adana, Antab, Kels, Marash, Orfa, Haran, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Nusaybin and Butan Island, in exchange for Turkey's abdication of Libya. Since then, Turkish-Syrian relations have been tense until the AKP came to power, beginning a phase of economic and cultural openness with Syria and increased trade relations. Turkey began its invasion of Syrian and Arab societies overall through a policy of cultural openness, which included a range of television programs, political trips and exchanges with local councils. After the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011, Turkey stood against Bashar al-Assad after Assad rejected Turkey's demands to share power with the Muslim Brotherhood due to the rejection of the proposal by Damascus's allies, Russia and Iran.

The current Turkish government has stood against Damascus and tried to board the “American-European train”. It managed to establish a foothold in Syria, taking advantage of the presence of the opposition on its territory and the use of Islamic currents such as the Muslim Brotherhood and later, the use of The Turkmen of Syria. It then began climbing on the “Russian train” since the downing of the Russian plane in November 2015, which marked a turning point for meeting with Putin and Rouhani, whose interests and spheres of influence on local allies have become instruments for the exchange of influence and control in order to minimize Turkey's greatest challenge: preventing the Kurds from gaining autonomy, much like Iraq's Kurdistan region. This is also to prevent the Kurds them from separating. Such a discourse has a large audience among the Syrian political and military opposition parties.


Entry into Iraq and the desire to establish bases there are aimed at reviving an old dream of taking Mosul and Kirkuk. The Lausanne Agreement did not address the fate of Mosul and decided to postpone and settle it later. Turkey has continued to claim that Mosul was a Turkish city, to this day, although all the committees that have been formed have recognized that Kirkuk and Mosul are Iraqi Kurdish cities. In fact, the Kink Crane Commission recommended that they be under Kurdish control during the British mandate. In the coming period, we may see the opening of a crossing between Turkey and Iraq from the Zakho side after Turkey began to build larger bases in order to facilitate logistical as well as commercial operations there. This was done in order to surround the Kurdistan region of Iraq, especially in light of the great differences between Erbil and Baghdad. The justifications for Turkey's foreign policy to fight the PKK are incorrect, the solution exists in Ankara and is very simple: return to the negotiating table to achieve political and economic stability that will benefit the Turkish people and the Kurds alike, which will have positive effects on Turkey's regional relations.

Turkish position on Kurdistan.

Actions indicate that Erdogan intends to return to the borders of the Zahab Agreement between the Safavid and Ottoman states of May 17, 1639, which established the first division of Greater Kurdistan; this agreement annexed both parts of Syria and Iraq to Turkey while Iran retained the remaining part. The border remained unchanged until the signing of the Second Lausanne Convention in 1923 which drew the current boundaries of the countries dividing Kurdistan.

This project reminds us of the project of Turket Azal, the liberal president of Turkey, the owner of the economic renaissance in the late 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s and the owner of the EU accession project. Azal believed that economic and political stability could not be achieved without a lasting solution with the Kurds, not only in Turkey but also in Syria and Iraq. He arrived at this result not by coincidence, as he first tried to use a different approach based on the liberalization of restrictions on national and religious affiliations and the establishment of a multicultural state, making some reforms along the way. Faced with pressure from Turkish military generals and the PKK's distrust of its intentions, he resorted to force to end the PKK, invading the Kurdistan Region with thousands of soldiers and equipment, but failed significantly. Azal then realized that the Kurdish problem could only be resolved peacefully, but his efforts were unsuccessful in his quest, as he was poisoned the night before the signing of the Peace Declaration agreement with PKK leader Abdallah Ocalan. It seems to me that Erdogan is inspired by his plan for Kurdistan Syria and Iraq from the vision of Turket Azal, with vast differences in perception: Azal sought a real partnership with the Kurds, while Erdogan seeks to crush the Kurds and end their existence while making major demographic changes at all levels.

Despite Erdogan's hatred and grudge against the Kurds, his policies may achieve what the Kurds have failed to do in the past 100 years: to unite the three parts of Kurdistan under the control of one country, as was the case when the Shirin-Zahab agreement was signed between the Safavid and Ottoman states.

This strategy is beginning to be more clearly defined: creating the Ottoman Crescent, similar to the Shiite crescent, which poses a threat to Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf, as well as Egypt, Greece, Italy and France.

The Power.

Erdogan's moves and military interventions give rise to widespread confusion because of the weak reaction of the international community, especially the major powers. It is bewildering because of the imbalance that this represents in the parity of regional and international powers. This is due to two things: the first is to exploit the gaps in the global system regarding the balance of power that exist between the two traditional international rivals, America and Russia, on one side and on the other, Europe and Russia. The current Turkish government knows very well that its geopolitical position, its presence in NATO and its involvement in Astana and building strong relations with Iran and Russia alike have made it a key player in the current international conflict. It knows very well that all parties have sensitive relations with Turkey, in such situations as the refugees, NATO, and the Russian S-300 missile system. This explains why everyone seeks to win over Turkey because it is strong, yet this is a wrong belief because no one wants the situation to deteriorate more than it currently is.

The other and most important point is the current US administration represented by Donald Trump. Turkey has always had a distinguished position in US foreign policy in the Middle East as a result of its geopolitical position and the presence of Iran and Israel on the other hand. During the era of Bush Jr., for example, the AKP Party was prominent in US policy towards the Middle East, with very large differences between Trump's policy and Bush Jr. The former was seeking to preserve the allies of the United States, while the latter wanted to replace these US allies.

Trump, who has personal and family interests with Erdogan and his government, runs foreign policy as if it were a trading company based on the logic of profit and standing by the strong and victorious side, regardless of who has the right or the values of democracy and freedom that the United States boasts. For example, his vision of resolving the Turkish-Kurdish conflict in northeastern Syria was to launch Erdogan's hand in it. Without the friendly pressure groups of the Kurdish people in America, such as the Evangelists who hold 30% of the electoral votes, Turkey would today control all the northeast. These foreign policy trends are certainly not appropriate for its ally, Europe, but it is known to all that Trump does not see any benefit in partnering with Europe; on the contrary, he believes that Europe is without an economic future.


The great transformation of Turkey's foreign policy is represented in its transformation from a policy being built by a group of individuals and state institutions into an individual foreign policy. This transformation has had many negative effects, although its external appearance suggests that it is better. All these attempts to restore the glories of the Ottoman Empire are for economic reasons first and ideological second, and certainly there are psychological and personal factors that have played a large role in shaping Erdogan's vision of foreign policy. Through the analysis of Erdogan's Turkish foreign policy, it is clear that the man is not open to democratic countries or presidents with liberal or leftist tendencies. Rather, he is inclined towards totalitarian states, autocratic leaders, and singular leaders. In the past, the AKP policy was based on “zero problems” with neighboring countries, but today it is based on “zero friends”. Conflicts and enemies give them justification for controlling the state’s capabilities and directing them according to its policy. The man who got rid of all his friends in the party won the party for himself and won Turkey, and one has to admit that he has been able until now to achieve what he wants through the masses and advocacy. However, he also excels through repression, his policy based on creating conflicts, feeding national and religious feelings, and spreading hatred. But will these conflicts achieve political and economic stability for Turkey and its people? Can Turkey turn once again into a global empire with a respectable position among developed countries?

Personally, I do not think so. We must not forget that there are always possibilities for internal transformation, such as losing elections, a coup or a change in the policies of countries from which he takes his power, such as the United States. Likewise, this approach has exceeded its time and its continuation may place Turkey within the countries of “the axis of evil” and be besieged economically and diplomatically. Today, we are in the orbit of great interests between Iran, Qatar and Turkey; they share the same enemies and seek victory in order to share influence in the Middle East and North Africa But there are basic obstacles, which are Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and also Egypt. Therefore, these three countries join in their support for the Brotherhood to control Egypt and ignite the Gulf, even to reduce its role. In the end, we may witness new military confrontations and their victory means their return, and its loss means that Istanbul becomes an independent country.

In front of these projects and their strong bearers, the Kurds must adopt a clear strategy and choose the partners closest to them. It seems that the Arabs, headed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, are the logical partners in addition to Europe, America and Russia. The Kurds also have to take advantage of the policy of blanks, but they must first arrange their internal house not only in a part of Kurdistan but in the four parts while building a democratic project based on inclusion and participation of all the components that live in Kurdistan. They must adopt an approach that is consistent with a civilized world and finally adopt one project, either Federalism or the right to self-determination.

Although some people have fears that Erdogan will seek to cancel the second Lausanne Agreement. I believe that we all share this point with him. It may be that canceling it will restore the right to its owners, but we must be ready.

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