Conspiracy theory keeps Turkey in its grip: “There is a vast conspiracy against the Turkish nation”

Ozan Ozavci in The Conversation

De Turkse delegatie na het ondertekenen van het Verdrag van Lausanne (1923). Foto: via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
The Turkish delegation after signing the Treaty of Lausanne (1923).

The signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 marked the birth of the Republic of Turkey. Now, one hundred years later, almost half of the Turkish population believes the treaty contains secret clauses that will be revealed this year. Assistant Professor of Transimperial History Ozan Ozavci (History of International Relations) explains in The Conversation why so many Turks believe this conspiracy theory.

Secret clauses in the Treaty of Lausanne

With the expiry of the secret clauses, Turkey will break free from alleged Western control, many Turks believe. “After being barred by Lausanne’s ‘secret articles’ for a century, the country will finally be able to tap its rich oil and boron resources,” Ozan Ozavci writes. “Released from this ‘straightjacket’, Turkey will become a superpower again, as it was during the heyday of the Ottoman empire, they believe.”

The source of the conspiracy theory is said to be the influential anti-Semitic authors Cevat Rıfat Atilhan and Necip Fazıl Kısakürek. “In the 1950s, Atilhan and Kısakürek argued that the Lausanne treaty was a Jewish plot,” Ozavci says. “Their conspiracy theory set out how the 1923 treaty represented a major defeat for Turkey, not only for the territorial and economic losses it inflicted through its known and ‘secret’ clauses. By paving the way for the abolition of the Caliphate in March 1924 it also weakened Turkish society morally, upending the ‘unity and consciousness of Islam’.”

Why many believe in the conspiracy

That the conspiracy theory has such a large following in Turkey is because the country suffers a kind of 'syndrome', Ozan Ozavci thinks. When Russia annexed Crimea in 1780, which was first part of the Ottoman Empire, it became clear that European powers were more powerful than the Ottomans, he explains. Eventually the partition of the Ottoman Empire became a reality and the Treaty of Lausanne redrew the boarders.

The distrust of Europe still runs deep. “Within Turkey, [some groups] hold a shared belief that ‘a great conspiracy against the Turkish nation’ has been in preparation by the foreign powers: a quote from [first Turkish president] Atatürk that current president Erdoğan often repeats,” Ozavci writes. “The ghosts of the syndrome it once prompted and the fictitious conspiracy theories it left behind continue to haunt 21st century Turkey.”