The Straits After the Montreux Conference

Courtesy Reuters

WHEN on April 10, 1936, the Turkish Government requested a revision of the Lausanne Straits Convention, it focused attention on a problem almost as old as history itself. The issue involved the narrow body of water between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, about 235 miles long, made up of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmora and the Bosphorus. The modern question dates essentially from 1774 when Russia won commercial access to the Straits, a right later extended to other Powers. But the waterway remained closed to warships according to the "ancient rule" of the Ottoman Empire, of which England became a guarantor in 1809. During the nineteenth century the struggle for control of the Straits was waged primarily between Russia and England: Russia wanted them open to her warships alone, while England wished them closed to all warships and open only to commerce. If, however, they must be opened to warships, the English desired that their vessels be permitted to enter the Black Sea. Russia, for a brief period, obtained access to the Straits by the Treaty of Unkiar Eskelessi in 1833. But the conventions of 1840 and 1841 closed them again to non-Turkish war vessels. This rule of closure remained the law until 1923. The treaties of 1856, 1871 and 1878 made no essential changes in the legal status of the Straits, though Germany's penetration of the Ottoman Empire in the years before the World War altered fundamentally the political situation.

The war brought the Straits an entirely new status. The Armistice of Mudros (October 31, 1918) gave Great Britain a controlling influence over the Ottoman territories, while the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) was to have sealed British dominance. Though Constantinople remained technically Turkish, a rigid "international" control was set up over the Straits, which were to "be open, both in peace and war, to every vessel of commerce or of war and to military and commercial aircraft, without distinction as to flag." But the revolt of the Turks under Mustafa Kamâl Atatürk and his subsequent victory over the Greeks in 1922

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