Historical Observations: Constantinople and the League of Nations 1919

A resident British resident and Vice Consul in Geneva, WG Middleton Edwards offered his suggestions in a memorandum to the British delegation in Paris regarding the future of Constantinople.

He argued that the Ottoman Empire proved incompetent of ruling over its minorities and that the future seat of the League of Nations should be based in Constantinople.  Edwards disagreed with the idea of internationalization but "the whole thing was to establish an area around Constantinople, the Dardanelles, and the shores of the Marmora Sea to a Republic."

He named this new entity the Republic of Constantinople which had the following features. Citizenship would be based on being a resident of ten years or more with foreigners being allowed to retain their original citizenship. Voting at government elections would be established on "limited suffrage" that included men and women. Initially, three presidential candidates would be chosen by the League of Nations and "later by such political organizations as may develop." The President of the republic would be elected for a single term of ten years and would also appoint ministers "from members of the Chamber of Deputies " who would " BE RESPONSIBLE TO THE CHAMBER."

Edwards's views on the Chamber of Deputies would function as follows: " members [would be] elected by the different nationalities with members based on the proportion to their population. [For instance], Turks having ten members; Greeks seven members; Armenians  seven members; Jews five members." The Bulgarians, Albanians, Rumanians, and Serbians could have one or two representatives.  He further advocated that "each of the western powers" Britain, US, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia should have four representatives who had to "be residents for at least ten years."

The official language of the new state would be French and English but if no consensus could be reached then "it is possible to adopt Esperanto." The latter was an artificial language developed as a neutral one for all humanity during the late 19th century.

A police force would be created to maintain law and order. During the "first ten years, this force should be made up of 10,000 Americans who would be directly dependent on the League of Nations for law and order and not upon the Republic of Constantinople." Recruitment would also take place from the local population as it gradually built up its force overtime. The Americans would progressively be sent back to the US as local recruit numbers increased. At the end of ten years, there would be  10,000 native police plus 1500 Americans who would stay composed of commissioned and non-commissioned officers.

The Republic of Constantinople would be economically and politically an independent nation where " it could charge a small import duty for revenue." Edwards thought that direct taxation was a better and more efficient method of raising revenue.

In the end, "the whole structure rested on being guaranteed by the League of Nations. Executive of League of Nations could be established at the Palace of Dolma Baghtche."  The idea of Constantinople becoming the official seat of the League of Nations would  require the approval of both west and east and should "avoid being solitary European."

As a member of the British delegation, Arnold Toynbee minuted on Edwards' memorandum. He stated that " its past political and religious associations should have already given the place world renown; This new world capital should in itself express the progress of the world in the ideal of the League of Nations. League of Nations should be situated outside the capitals of western Europe."

Toynbee concluded " the capital and its environs should not belong to any single nation and it must lend itself to a form of political and geographical independence. It must have access to the sea" and the Straits were more important than the capital of the League of Nations.

Edwards sketched out a plan for Constantinople and the League of Nations based on his experience living in Turkey. His suggestion was never acted upon by the British delegation other than Toynbee's comments.


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