“Mosul should have been ours” statement could be explained by expansionism

Mosul and the National Pact(Misak-ı Milli) became a topic of discussion once again. Recently, President Erdoğan said, “Mosul was ours. Read some history. Some people got disturbed because I mentioned the National Pact. Why do you feel disturbed by my history lessons? We are patriotic, that is why.” This statement made the issue a current debate once again. Prof. Dr. Baskın Oran from Ankara University Political Science Department is one of the most knowledgeable scholars concerning Mosul and the National Pact. We spoke to Oran about the course of these two issues throughout the history of republic and their reflections to the present day.

Let's start with the ethnic structure of Mosul. What was it like back in '20s? I am talking about '20s, since it is the period that became a matter of discussion today. 

It was utterly complicated back then as it is today. Ottoman government divided Iraq into to three provinces based on ethic, religious and sect groups. Roughly speaking, Shiite Arabs in Basra on the southernmost part, Sunnite Arabs in Baghdad at the center and mainly Kurds (Sunnite) in Mosul on the north. In this third province, there are also Turkmens, Arabs and ancient Christian groups like Syriacs and Yazidis. There are different denominations and languages within the same clan, religion and sect. For instance, Barzani government ruling the north of Regional Iraqi Government is Naqshbandiyya and speaks Kurmanji like the Kurds in Turkey. Talabani government in the south is Qadiriyya and speaks Sorani, which is very different from Kurmanji. I mean, Mosul is the most complicated part of Iraq.

This situation is extremely fragile, but the structure has its own balance. During '80s, Saddam tried to upset this balance by force, favoring Sunni and Arab groups. Now, there is foreign intervention all around and also Erdoğan wants to step in with using Sunnism.

He doesn't use Turkmens, since 60% of Turkmens are Shiite and they are disturbed by the favoritism to Sunnite, though they are not denying their origins. Furthermore, most of them express their fundamental identity as “Iraqi”. They are living together with Kurds and Arabs and they will continue to do so.

For instance, Turhan Mufti, Chair of the Nationalist Turkmen Peoples’ Party says: “Turkey should get permission from Iraqi government. Turkey is our cognate, but we are Iraqi.” During Iran-Iraq war started in 1979, Iraqi Shiites didn't approach to Iran, they acted like Iraqi.

We will come back to this, but let me ask something else first. This issue left its mark on the years of establishment of the republic. The main thesis of Ankara government claims that Mosul was within the borders of Ottoman Empire during the ceasefire. They say that British forces seized the city after the ceasefire. As far as we know, Ankara government hadn't easily complied with giving Mosul away.

Let's deal with one issue at a time. When the Armistice of Mudros (30 October 1918), which was treated as a milestone in the National Pact, was signed, majority of Mosul province was belong to Ottoman Empire and the rest was belong to British. Beginning from November 3, British forces started to seize the entire province on basis of Article 7 to the Armistice of Mudros. For oil was found in the region and United Kingdom was even stronger than the present-day US. They would have never let go of Mosul. In fact, there is a detail: In Sykes-Picot secret agreement, Mosul was given to France, but Britain took it back after oil was found. France had never accepted this and that is why France come to terms with Mustafa Kemal in 1921 in Ankara and left Britain -and thereby Greece- out in the cold.

Coming to the second issue, after the Lausanne Treaty was signed, the criticism concerning Mosul didn't come from the government, but from the opposition in the parliament. Mustafa Kemal didn't want Mosul, because he was determined to sign the treaty as soon as possible in order to establish a nation-state in an exhausted country and embark on western reforms. Nation-state means making everyone Turkish. Kurds in Turkey were enough, he didn't want to deal with the Kurds in Iraq. Moreover, as I said, Britain wouldn't have let go of Mosul, since there was oil. Mustafa Kemal was realistic indeed.

Atatürk wasn't concerned with Mosul; his real concern was İskenderun Sanjak, Hatay. It was his “personal cause”. He said it himself: “It is my personal issue. It is my cause. You should know that it is dead serious.” France, discovering that there is no oil in Hatay, presented the city as a gift, when World War II was about to start, in exchange of Turkey's approach to Germany.

There are a lot discussions concerning the National Pact. We will talk about its role in the current politics, but let me ask first: What kind of a text was this National Pact? I mean, how should we assess the Pact in terms of international law, international politics and Turkey's domestic politics?

It is a controversial text in many aspects. Commonly-held opinion is this: It was adopted either in the secret meeting of Chamber of Deputies (Meclis-i Mebusan) on 28 January 1920 (there is no record of this meeting) or most probably in the meeting of “Salvation of the Homeland” (Felah-ı Vatan), which was sympathetic to Asia Minor movement of the Chamber and it was approved in the meeting of the Chamber on February 17. There was no discussion or voting concerning the Pact in Ankara.

The National Pact is a unilateral political declaration which determines the independence of the country in accordance with the principles of Erzurum and Sivas Congress. It doesn't mean anything in terms of international law.

Now, Erdoğan uses this unilateral independence declaration in order to trespass the independence of Iraq. However, there is Batumi, which was included in the National Pact more openly than Mosul; he doesn't talk about it at all. When the National Pact was accepted on January 1920, Batumi had been completely controlled by Turkish forces. It was left Georgia by Soviet Russia's demand upon Article 2 to Treaty of Moscow that became effective on September 22, 1921.

The issue of Arab provinces, which include Mosul, is the first article in the National Pact. What does this article say? It is a bit complicated and there was different interpretations.

There are such problems indeed, but the most important issue is this: There is no map in accordance with the text of the National Pact, since Mustafa Kemal, due the reasons (Kurds and Britain) I have mentioned, wanted to interpret Article 1 as narrowly as possible. The kernel of the article is this: The territories inhabited by Ottoman-Muslim majority [meaning: Turk and Kurd] in and out of the borders determined by the Armistice of Mudros are a whole and can never be divided.

Mustafa Kemal first removed “and out of the borders” part. This was the logical thing to do. He also talked about the armistice borders as the following: “Is there such a border? No, there isn't. During Erzurum Congress, we considered the homeland and said that the territories under our control determine our borders.”

He was also critical: “The ones who added the article concerning western Thrace [Article 3] to the National Pact weren't thinking. I am not the one who added this article. It is invented later.”

There is another thing: Article 5 was stating that “The rights of minorities will be issued on condition that the rights of the Muslim minorities in neighboring countries are protected.” The principles concerning these rights were accepted on the basis of “race, language and religion” back then. Ankara had hard times because of this Article 5, when they were trying to exclude Kurds and Alevis from the international guarantee.

Mosul question was brought to Lausanne as well. Thus, it seems that Erdoğan brought Lausanne forward by way of Greek Islands because of this fact. How was the Mosul question negotiated in Lausanne and what was the ultimate solution?

Greek Islands are irrelevant, but now we understand why Erdoğan started to criticize Lausanne all of a sudden. Because of the Mosul question, the conference in Lausanne wasn't going anywhere and that is why it was referred to the League of Nations (thus to United Kingdom). And now, Erdoğan wants to be “the conqueror of Mosul”. However, there is no state or ethnic-religious group that want Turkey to enter the region. There is a rule accepted by United Nations as well: “the old sovereign” cannot be a part of the international arrangements (peacekeeping etc) in the lands in question.

The commission formed within the League of Nations gave Iraq to mandate of Britain and Turkey left Mosul to Iraq with Ankara Agreement signed on June 5, 1926. Turkey didn't even demand minority rights for Turkmens, because Britain might have brought the rights of Kurds in Turkey forward in turn. We should keep in mind that Mustafa Kemal's strategy was “getting stronger by getting smaller in size”. It wasn't about non-stop expansion like in times of feudalism.

This issue has been discussed through the history of republic. In general, “Mosul was ours” is a favorite topic for the right-wing politics. Most recently, during the Gulf War, this issue was brought forward by Özal. So, we can say that this issue is brought forward, whenever there is disturbance in Iraq. Which circles use this issue and what do they expect from it?

This issue has been brought forward by right-wing politicians and expansionist nationalists from time to time. It was useful because people don't know about the conditions of those times and the content of the National Pact, though they hear about it a lot.

And for these people, Turk means “Muslim Turk”. Just like they cannot manage to abandon the Ottoman mentality that considers the Muslims as dominant over non-Muslims, they still have the imperial mentality of Ottoman times. The reason is that they have still the mentality of feudalism, where the land means everything.

This can be seen as normal in times of War of Independence, because Turks and Kurds were seen as a united Muslim nation back then. Notion of “ummah” was dominant then. However, saying “Mosul was ours” after 90 years and endless Kurdish rebellions can be explained only by expansionism. I use this term because I try to avoid using imperialism.

Irredentism would also be a wrong term, since it is about claiming neighboring territories inhabited by cognate groups and Kurds are not cognates of Turks. Besides, they don't want to be included in Turkey. These ambitions violate Ankara Agreement.

"There is no single country or group that doesn't object against Turkey's intervention in Mosul. The first objection came from Arab League; in 2015, they issued a reprimand about Turkish existence in Bashiqa."

Let's come back to the present time. AKP government insists on being a part of Mosul operation, but Iraqi government wants Turkey out. How does Arab world evaluate Turkey's claims about Mosul?

Such consensus is rare in international politics. As I said, there is no single country or group that doesn't object against Turkey's intervention in Mosul. The first objection came from Arab League; in 2015, they issued a reprimand about Turkish existence in Bashiqa. The attitude of the US and Iran is obvious. Barzani said, “You have to come terms with Baghdad for being a part of Mosul operation” and posed threats through Cabbar Yaver, the Secretary-General of Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs Ministry: “Turkey cannot be a part of the operation; foreign forces will be targeted by coalition planes.”

However, political conjuncture helps Erdoğan's plans: the West is fed up by the refugee crisis and Russia tries to weaken NATO by using Turkey.

Given the upheavals, is it possible for Turkey to have control over Mosul or over a part of Mosul? Would Turkey risk war for achieving this? Or is this just a heroic discourse aiming to domestic politics?

Erdoğan doesn't want this. The only thing he wants is to send troops to Mosul, to be declared “the conqueror of Mosul” by pro-AKP media and establish his “one man regime” by using this. And he wants to prevent the Kurds there from establishing a canton.

The parents of the soldiers who were killed during the operations against PKK hadn't risen up, but if the soldiers die in a godforsaken desert people would revolt.

"The only thing he wants is to send troops to Mosul, to be declared “the conqueror of Mosul” by pro-AKP media and establish his “one man regime” by using this."

Let me ask one more question. Article 7 to National Pact is forgotten. It is about the punishment of war criminals. Can we say that it was eliminated, since it might have brought 1915 forward?

Yes, the National Pact had a 7th article. It stipulates investigation against “the members of cabinet and their accomplices who damaged the state and the nation with their actions in joining the war, commanding the war and foreign and domestic politics.”

This article was eliminated because it is about an internal issue and then forgotten. It was exceptional to the content of the National Pact and more importantly, as an article concerning the deportation of Armenians, it had no priority in a time when “United Armenia” plan was still prevailing. Furthermore, it would have alienated the Anatolian notables who supported the Asia Minor movement (and seized Armenian properties).


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Yetvart Danzikyan