The Ambassador in Turkey (Skinner) to the Secretary of State

No. 653

Sir: In continuation of recent despatches which I have sent to the Department in regard to the Turkish desire for a revision of the Straits Convention, I have to report that in the course of my inspection journey to Izmir, concluded only a few days ago, I passed over the road from Chanakele very near the mouth of the Straits to the site of ancient Troy, during two-thirds of the way on the main military road which connects with the railway. This road has a hard surface and is now being rebridged in about eight different places where I was obliged to make detours, the bridges at the moment being down. According to my inexpert observation, these bridges are being renewed with much stronger structures than those they are intended to replace. Furthermore, a military encampment actually at the mouth of the Straits on the Asiatic shore was pointed out to me, this encampment having been set up within the preceding ten days. It was said that the General in command had about 250 men under him, and the presumption seemed to be either that they were engineers making studies for permanent fortifications or perhaps were actually engaged in erecting fortifications. It would be unfair to the Turkish Government to assume that it proposes to imitate the German example and confront the parties to the Straits Convention with a “fait accompli”, but I should say that it was clearly the case that the military authorities are taking the most active preparatory steps to the end in view.

My British colleague takes a reasonable view of the Straits problem. On the military side he recognizes that mobile artillery rather than permanent fortifications is the essential thing, but nevertheless mobile artillery requires gun emplacements and these emplacements could not at present be built in the demilitarized zone. Dr. Aras, our Minister of Foreign Affairs, had told him that his proposals at Geneva were not intended in any sense as an ultimatum but merely as the raising of a question of interest to Turkey. The British habit was, when something or other was working reasonably well, to let it alone and not make any change without the clearest sort of reason for so doing, and apparently London is now awaiting satisfactory proof that a change would be for the better and, of course, an international agreement could not be changed unilaterally.

Sir Percy Loraine agrees with the view that I have put forward heretofore that the Turkish Government looks upon the demilitarized zones as a blot upon Turkish independence. He himself had the impression [Page 1030] that the Soviets were back of the Turks in this matter, especially as the Soviet Ambassador had asked him some days ago how the British Government felt on the subject.

I sometimes wonder whether the Turks are not getting into deeper water with the Russians than they know, or had any intention of getting. The Russians now seem to be moving in the direction which had Mr. Chicherin’s approval when the Lausanne Treaty was under negotiation. The Russians, after all, do not change. In the days of the Tsar their eyes were constantly fixed upon Constantinople. The new Tsar, Stalin, works in a different way. He makes a military alliance with Turkey; he becomes indispensable to Turkey, or so believes; he encourages the fortification of the Straits; he endows Turkey with certain industries; he obtains a privileged position, generally, in this country. How far will this movement proceed, and what would happen if the strong and able leader of Turkey today should disappear as some time he must, leaving the Government in the hands of men of untested ability who might or might not agree among themselves? In such circumstances would not Russia command the situation?

It would be extremely interesting to return to this country 25 years hence and institute comparisons.

Respectfully yours,

Robert P. Skinner