It was assumed that Turkey would join the League of Nations after ratifying the 1923 Treaty. But as Carolin Liebisch-Gümüş shows, there were some bumps in the road from Lausanne to Geneva.

Carolin is a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute Washington

When assessing the Lausanne Peace Conference, historians tend to focus on its outcomes rather than the things it did not bring about – such as Turkey’s membership in the League of Nations. Early in the negotiations, the British delegate Lord Curzon pushed the Turkish delegation to commit to the League, in an almost aggressive fashion. İsmet Pasha (İnönü), head of the Turkish delegation, reassured him that “Turkey would be happy to enter the League of Nations upon the conclusion of peace.”[1]

Behind the scenes, the Turkish government approached the League. İsmet Pasha sent two envoys to visit the Secretariat of the League in Geneva. After the Lausanne Conference, he inquired about the earliest possible accession date. [2] Meanwhile former Turkish envoy to Geneva Cemil Selman (Tiyenşey) wrote a confidential letter to the League’s Secretary-General, Eric Drummond, asking how much Turkey would have to contribute to its budget. [3] Yet the Turkish government surely entertained doubts. The Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Sèvres had shown how the League could serve as a tool for imperialistic policies, including plans for the partition of Ottoman Turkey. In 1923 Turkey’s accession to the League nonetheless seemed imminent. [4]


The League Secretariat also took action. In November 1923, the Information Section hired a freelance “liaison officer for Turkey.”[5] Thirty-five-year-old Zia Husni (Ziya Hüsnü) had studied in Geneva during the war and was working as correspondent for the Turkish newspaper İleri as well as the national press agency Anadolu Ajansı. Cemil Selman recommended him, remarking on his connections to influential people in Ankara. Translating articles from the Turkish press, Zia Husni kept the Secretariat informed about public opinion in Turkey, even as he played an active part in shaping that opinion through his journalism. The ambassador in Bern, Ahmet Rüştü (Demirel), told Drummond in a letter from May 1924 that Zia Husni had contributed a lot to the positive image of the League in the Turkish press.

In letters from 1924 and 1925, Ambassador Ahmet Rüştü and Foreign Minister Tevfik Rüştü added their appreciation for Zia Husni’s work and urged Drummond to grant him a permanent position. As they explained, Turkey’s official entry to the League was in the offing – once the “petites questions” left open by the Lausanne Treaty were solved.

In June 1925 the Turkish government approached the German embassy in Turkey suggesting a concerted entry into the League, to be balanced by a mutual expression of friendship towards the Soviet government.[6] Several months later, in December 1925, however, the prospect of forthcoming membership went up in smoke, thanks to one of those unresolved “petites questions” – the Mosul question. That same month the League’s Council decided the question in favor of the British and allocated Mosul to mandatory Iraq.[7] With the judgment causing huge resentment in Turkey, Zia Husni suddenly found himself in the role of a crisis manager. As the Director of the League’s Information Section, Pierre Comert, noted, “in view of the present situation with Turkey, it is possible his collaboration will be more than ever necessary to us.” League membership was nonetheless off the table for the time being.

Unofficial diplomacy between Ankara and Geneva sheds light on Lausanne as an open moment of hope and expectations. It shows just how close League membership was.

Historians identify the Mosul dispute and the distrust it generated as key reasons why Turkey did not become a League member until 1932. While this is true, they tend to overlook the role of contingency. Unofficial diplomacy between Ankara and Geneva sheds light on Lausanne as an open moment of hope and expectations. It shows just how close League membership was.

It remains in the realm of speculation whether a formal invitation from the League and the European Powers would have made a difference. Letters indicate that İsmet Pasha and Mustafa Kemal Pasha (Atatürk) did expect such an invitation.[8] Prior to Turkey’s accession in 1932 the government attached much importance to receiving an official invitation (in fact, they ended up arranging it themselves by pressing the League Secretariat to draft one). Cementing Turkey’s recognition on the international stage, Lausanne was also a very symbolic moment at which the government expected a gesture of acknowledgement and appreciation before they would turn unofficial feelers into binding ties.



[1] Lausanne Conference on Near Eastern Affairs. Records of Proceedings and Draft Terms of Peace, presented to Parliament by Command of his Majesty (London: Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1923), 221.

[2] See British Documents on Foreign Affairs. Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print, vol. 30, ed. Bülent Gökay (Bethesda/Maryland: University Publications of America, 1997), 202-4.

[3] In file “La Turquie et la Société” from the League of Nations Archives, R1596-40-32191-24661.

[4] Internal correspondence among Turkish government leaders during the Lausanne Conference see: Lozan Telegrafları. Türk Diplomatik Belgelerinde Lozan Barış Konferansı, vol. 1, ed. Bilâl N. Şimşir (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 1990), 215-6.

[5] All letters and quotes mentioned here can be found in: League of Nations Archives, Personnel Files, Zia Husni.

[6] See also Joachim Wintzer, Deutschland und der Völkerbund 1918-1926 (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2006), 507.

[7] On Mosul and the League see Aryo Marko, Arbitrator in a World of Wars. The League of Nations and the Mosul Dispute 1924-1925, in: Diplomacy & Statecraft 21 (2010): 631-49; Sarah D. Shields, “Mosul, the Ottoman Legacy and the League of Nations,” International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies 3, no. 2 (2009): 217-30.

[8] İsmet Pasha to Mustafa Kemal Pasha, January 26, 1923, Turkish Republican Archives, BCA, 218.472.29.

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