Jonathan Conlin on how the Turks originally refused to send a delegate to Lausanne if the Belgians were allowed to attend. As the Belgian Foreign Ministry archives show, the Turks nonetheless found a use for them.

In the heady closing days of January 1923, as the Lausanne Conference seemed on the verge of breaking up over Mosul, the Secretary General of the Turkish delegation, Rechid Safved Bey, consulted the Belgian delegate, Ludovic Moncheur, on what the Turks should do. They should send the treaty back to Ankara and have the chamber vote, Moncheur advised. Safved replied that Ismet was in regular contact with Ankara and repeated that the Turks would never give way on Mosul.

When Moncheur proposed arbitration Rechid testily asked why the Belgians were on the British side. To quote Moncheur’s report to Brussels:

I replied by turning to a map on the wall. “Look at this map, see where Belgium and where Mosul are. Our political interests in the region are null [nuls]…I am not in a position to advise Lord Curzon on Iraq. 

Moncheur suspected that the Turks’ stated plan to depart Lausanne the next day was a bluff, and that the Belgians were being used to relay their threat to the British and get them to back down.

While he was certainly correct about Belgian interests in Iraq, Moncheur was well aware of possible opportunities for Belgian oil interests eager to compensate for expropriation of their large investments in the Caucasus. These investments were coordinated by the Antwerp-based Waterkeyn group. Nationalized by the “Reds” after they drove the “Whites” from the Caucasus in 1919, as early as the 1920 Genoa conference rumours were circulating that these oil assets were to be leased or re-sold to third parties willing to negotiate with Soviet Commissar for Foreign Trade Leonid Krasin for “stolen” oil. In 1923 Waterkeyn was one of severak Belgian and French oilmen organized as the Groupement International des Sociétés Naphtifères (commonly known as the “Front Uni”), seeking to employ a sales embargo to force Krasin to the bargaining table. Unfortunately this group was led by Henri Deterding of Royal Dutch-Shell, who repeatedly put his company’s interests before the Front Uni’s. Not that Waterkeyn had much ground to complain: his group held its own secret talks with Krasin in London in 1921.

When Ismet told Moncheur in January 1923 that, for all their intransigence on Mosul, he was ready “to award large oil concessions in this region” the latter was quick to point out “that Belgium must have her share, all the more so because our country had already demonstrated its skill in oil production.” As it happens, the Belgians would find themselves in an analogous position to the Italians: repeatedly issued promises of Mosul oil that were never realized.

Born in 1857 to a Catholic Walloon family, Moncheur was a career diplomat close to retirement. He could afford to be philosophical. His account of the dramatic departure of Ismet and Curzon on 4 February 1923 is that of a dispassionate observer bemused by the efforts of the French and Italians to keep both parties talking in Lausanne. First Bompard and Montagna rushed to the Turkish delegation’s hotel for “one last effort”, followed by the Americans, in such a hurry that they forgot their overcoats. In a final ruse the departure of Curzon’s Orient Express was delayed by half an hour.

Moncheur accompanied Curzon to his 935 am train. At the station they were joined by a breathless Bompard and Montagna, who had failed to persuade the Turks to stay. As Moncheur wrote in his dispatch to Brussels:

Anyone familiar with the Oriental mind can imagine the effect created on the morale of the Turk, seeing the representatives of the two Great Powers clutching at their suitcases in an effort to stop them leaving. He will only become more intransigent.


Rapports de Délégation, Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, Brussels, 10508 and 10512

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