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Historical Observations: Lord Curzon and the Greek situation, 1920

December 25, 2021

The British Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, wrote a note on November 27, 1920, outlining what actions might be taken to prevent the return of King Constantine to Greece, which also included the French position. The French hated King Constantine with a passion never forgetting their clash with royalist troops in Athens in early December 1916.

The French Premier, Georges Leygues, offered five suggestions of how to handle the situation. These were: (1) the guaranteeing powers to decline the recognition of Constantine. Italy wasn’t one of the original guaranteeing powers; (2) severing diplomatic relations and downgrading their diplomatic representation from ministers to charge d’Affaires. Embassies could function with representatives of lower diplomatic standing, but it might not work and Constantine’s reappearance might allow the German minister to become master of the situation; (3) the withdrawal of financial aid to Greece. Two methods could be employed here: The International Financial Commission could oppose the issue of new currency by the National Bank of Greece. The second method involved the Anglo-French-Greek financial arrangement of 1918 which was concluded with the Venizelos government. This agreement would become null and void, leading to the collapse of the drachma and making it difficult for Greek businesses to access credit for their overseas purchases; (4) The allies could refuse to allow the Greeks to remain on the northern side of the Straits because it couldn’t entrust its security to an enemy state. The powers thought that Greece was incapable of being masters of the Straits. It was important that either in the present or future that Greece didn’t become a danger to the allied powers by controlling the entrance to the Straits; (5) The powers should decline to hand over Smyrna to Greece as outlined in the peace treaty.

The first four points were easy to implement but Smyrna was an entirely different proposition. Greece already administered Smyrna along with its surrounding territory with its army and its administration was considered superior to that of Turkey. A voluntary withdrawal or demobilization of the Greek army might offer Mustapha Kemal the opportunity to eject them from Smyrna. It was doubtful whether the Greek people and army would wish to surrender Smyrna to the Turks.

Curzon noted that points 4 and 5 raised the question of the complete revision of the Treaty of Sevres and whether the allies had the desire to revise it. He outlined six possible reasons for what revision meant of the treaty: “(1) it will involve the continuance of a state of war with Turkey and the indefinite postponement of peace; (2) it will entail another meeting of an Inter-Allied conference, and, later the Supreme Council, to consider and agree upon the revision. At these meetings the three Great European Powers will also have to be present; (3) If a revised treaty could be prepared and agreed to by them, it will have to be presented for signature and subsequent ratification to some Turkish Government; (4) But, certainly, the revision cannot in such conditions be confined to Smyrna or the Straits alone. The same argument will be applied to Thrace, and the claims of Turkey and Bulgaria will again be heard. Turkey will herself revive the question of Constantinople, and the Tripartite Agreement will come under review, because the Italians will want to succeed to the Greek heritage in the Smyrna district, and we shall be plunged once more in the morass of the Eastern question; (5) Such a revision may, at any moment, be complicated and prejudiced by the appearance of Mustapha Kemal as a military factor of some importance. He may even, instead of accepting terms, be in a position to dictate them; (6) The Treaty, if revised, will require the assent of all signatories of the existing treaty, viz, Armenia, Belgium, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Roumania, Serbia, and Czechoslovakia.”

Curzon believed that it was inadvisable to revise a treaty that had recently been concluded. He strongly believed in the ratification of the treaty but if the Greeks failed to fulfill their obligations or keep her troops in Smyrna, then the time had arrived to make concessions to the Turks.

He understood that it might be difficult to prevent Constantine’s return but the allies could recognize a new King (father or son) under certain conditions. These included: (1) all peace treaties signed by the previous Greek government (Venizelos) would need to be accepted and complied with. This would also apply to Turkey; (2) The Royalists would need to stop the persecutions and prosecutions of Venizelists, and also grant an amnesty to all political prisoners; (3) Greek officials or military officers “who had acquired an unenviable notoriety in the war for their anti-Ally attitude or action should be debarred from all official employment”; (4) Former Kings and politicians who fought against the allies should be banned from entering Greece; (5) That Greece doesn’t enter into any new treaties or alliances with other nations without the approval of the powers. [There was a concern that Greece could make a private deal with Mustapha Kemal over Smyrna or elsewhere]; (6) The Greek government or King couldn’t negotiate for any loans without the express authority of the international financial commission in Athens.

If these conditions were violated either by Constantine or his son, then the allies were in a position to withdraw their recognition and inflict penalties on Greece. Venizelos had proposed Prince George as King but the issue remained whether the Royalist government could persuade voters to elect George instead of Constantine. There was also the possibility that if George became King that he could be a mere puppet with Constantine, the real power behind the throne, pulling all the strings in the background.

Curzon concluded that “the question turns in the last resort upon the policy of adherence to the Treaty; and if this question be answered in the affirmative, upon the acceptance of the candidate for the Greek Throne who is most likely to be true to it.”

 

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