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

No. 688

Sir: I called on Dr. Tevfik Rüstü Aras, Minister for Foreign Affairs, yesterday, with whom I had a protracted conversation in regard to various political questions. It will be recalled that as a member of the Council of the League of Nations and until recently its President, he has had many opportunities to be in touch with European political leaders. Referring to the question of the defense of the Straits he said that the question was now open for discussion, that the powers interested were aware of Turkey’s desires, but up to the present time no formal demand for a decision had been advanced. That would come later. From the members of the Balkan Union he had been promised the most definite support and he had high hopes that although Great Britain and France may be somewhat slow to come over to the Turkish point of view, nevertheless they will do so. The subject was discussed on June 20 at Bucharest where the representatives of the four Balkan States composing the Entente held their last meeting, [Page 1031] at which time Dr. Aras obtained from them the promise that they would support the following Turkish demands:

The right to install a certain number of mobile coast batteries.
The militarization of Turkish territory in Europe through the protection by means of mobile guns of routes leading to the Straits.
The right to plant submarine mine carriers on the coast.
The right to maintain at Çanakkale two bases for submarines each with a given number of those vessels.
The right to maintain a base for hydroplanes and another for airplanes.

The above, Dr. Aras said, comprised definitely the complete Turkish desires respecting the rearmament of the Straits.

I mentioned that at the Lausanne Conference Ismet Pasha had agreed to the present legal position as representing what were then Turkish wishes, that his acceptance of the terms had irritated Mr. Tchitcherin, representative of Russia, and that the present application for the right to rearm, something that Russia, also, seemed to desire still, indicated a complete change in the Turkish point of view. He agreed that this was so and explained it on the ground that Turkey had accepted the Straits Convention which carried with it a guarantee of protection by the signatory powers, because at the time it seemed probable that the disarmament of Germany would be followed by disarmament everywhere; but exactly the reverse situation now prevailed, as every power was arming heavily and Turkey could not be left in her present defenseless position. As to a special treaty with the United States giving us the right of transit under all circumstances, Turkey would be very pleased to negotiate such a treaty but would require us to come to her assistance in case of trouble. I pointed out that we would be most unlikely to accept any commitments of that kind in Europe, and we left the subject there.

The Italian Ambassador had just left Dr. Aras, in consequence of which he was full of the subject of Ethiopia.18 Turkey was extremely interested in the situation in Africa and he, as President of the Council of the League of Nations, had done his utmost to prevent the outbreak of war. He explained the failure of the League to do anything positive about Ethiopia on the ground that precipitate action would certainly have led to the withdrawal of Italy from the League with a consequent chaotic situation in Europe, and said that in informal session the various members of the Council had pressed the Italian delegate very hard and that he himself had obtained a positive promise of entirely unofficial character that Italy would not go to war with Ethiopia but would submit her claims to some sort of arbitration. [Page 1032] Whether Italy could hold back in present circumstances was another question—at all events, she was under moral obligation to do so. Dr. Aras thought that perhaps, but only perhaps, the extensive military preparations made by Italy were intended for bluffing purposes, the object being to force Great Britain to secure an arrangement under which an Italian railroad might be built from Eritrea to Italian Somaliland, thus uniting the two colonies now separated by the French colony. To the question whether the powers possessed any right whatever to arrange for the construction of a railroad through Ethiopia without Ethiopia’s consent, he observed that it might be immoral but also it might enable Italy to save her face. The danger, he avowed, was very great, because there was always Mr. Mussolini who had never made war and whose ambition to be a new Caesar was sufficiently revealed in his public addresses.

I asked whether he had any information about the allegation that France not only had washed her hands of Ethiopia in order to hold Italy in line in Europe but also had loaned three billion francs to the Italian government. Dr. Aras said that Mr. Laval denied to him that such a loan had been made but that he had obtained from his Ambassador in Paris information that a loan of at least one billion francs had actually been made. He was unable to give any particulars but thought the operation had been arranged through the Bank of France.

Ethiopia is now represented in Turkey by a Chargé d’Affaires who seems to be an intelligent young man and he had discussed with Dr. Aras the matter of Turkish military advisers for his country. Dr. Aras said that he had refused this request because Turkish advisers, even though they proceeded to Ethiopia voluntarily, would deprive Turkey of some measure of her influence at Geneva when the Ethiopian question next came up for discussion. The Ethiopians seemed to understand this point of view. Dr. Aras made the interesting statement to me that Italy is sounding other members of the League to consent to the expulsion of Ethiopia from that organization on the ground that she was not an organized state and therefore disqualified from membership. Turkey was definitely opposed to any such action and furthermore the League had provided no machinery for the expulsion of any of its members on any such grounds. Ethiopia had been regularly admitted and if there were powers that questioned her qualifications for membership they should have done so before she was in fact admitted. Furthermore there were other members of the League certainly no better organized or more abundantly qualified than Ethiopia which, at all events, was a completely independent power and had maintained its independence for centuries, [Page 1033] whereas Irak was of recent creation and doubtful independence and India did not even possess what the British call “dominion status.”

I was interested to receive from Dr. Aras himself confirmation of the statement already made to the Department, that the Greek government during the late revolution applied to Yugoslavia and Turkey for assistance and received the promise of assistance in the way of military equipment. The Turkish government, he said, responded at once to the request of Premier Tsaldaris18a on the understanding that whatever was furnished should be purchased. As a matter of fact, nothing had been purchased because the insurrection itself had collapsed before anything could be done. He did not know precisely what the Greeks had desired to acquire. The assistance offered to the Greeks was not based upon any implied obligation arising under the Balkan Entente but was based purely on the ground of friendship. Dr. Aras thought that since the insurrection had been crushed the Greek government had proceeded without moderation and with very little capacity for conciliating the conflicting interests. Turkey had received Greek refugees after the defeat of the rebellion and had urged clemency for Messrs. Papanastassiou, Cafandaris, and others. Furthermore, Turkey, Rumania and Yugoslavia, all three, had joined in advising Greece not to raise the question of the regime for several years. Mr. Maximos, the Greek Foreign Minister, was a very reasonable man and desired to do his utmost to heal the wounds caused by the insurrection but the others were far less manageable. Dr. Aras spoke more generously of Mr. Venizelos18b than I had expected. He takes the charitable view that Mr. Venizelos did not start the insurrection and probably would have opposed it had he been in a position to do so; he felt that his friends had committed themselves in his absence and when it was too late for them to retreat he was moved by sentiments of loyalty to join with them. It might be a long time before Greece would recover her political equilibrium.

The large and active Chinese mission with a permanently installed Minister Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary now in Turkey has aroused a great deal of sympathetic feeling in Turkish circles. Dr. Aras was obviously flattered in his feelings as a Turk that this mission had come out for no other apparent purpose than to ascertain how Turkey had reorganized herself in the short period of 11 years. Dr. Aras has provided his Chinese friends with the secret: he recommends that as they cannot face the Japanese in a military sense they must simply yield to superior force, protesting all the time, and retire into the interior. Let them establish themselves at some definite point, making no effort to keep the whole Chinese Empire together, [Page 1034] but organizing such small territory as they can certainly control in the most efficient way and then, as a drop of oil slowly spreads in every direction, so also the Chinese power will spread over the whole of China no matter what the Japanese do or refrain from doing. It may take a very long time but it will work.

Our conversation terminated in a somewhat bantering tone with a short talk about Russia. I reminded Dr. Aras that Russia after all was a federated socialistic Republic and according to its system of government might take on Turkey some day as a very desirable addition. In a humorous way he denied that the Russian influence was making any headway in the sense of anything more than a good understanding to the advantage of both sides. The Turks were getting a good deal of material assistance from Russia and Russia was getting invaluable support from Turkey, so the accounts were even. There was no likelihood, and in fact no possibility, that the Sovietic principles of government would ever be adopted in Turkey, which was absolutely opposed to them and looked upon Russia as a foreign government just as she looked upon Germany and Italy as foreign governments, domestic systems not being matters with respect to which Turkey felt she had any concern whatever.

The Prime Minister and Dr. Aras are leaving today or tomorrow on a holiday trip to Van and other cities in Eastern Turkey. At least it is described as a strictly holiday excursion.

Respectfully yours,

Robert P. Skinner
  1. For correspondence relating to the American attitude toward the Italo-Ethiopian crisis, see pp. 723 ff.
  2. Panayiotis Tsaldaris.
  3. Eleftherios Venizelos.