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Historical Observations: The Tittoni-Venizelos Agreement, July 1919

Before the conclusion of this agreement, the Italian delegation withdrew from the Paris Peace Conference on April 25 due to U.S. President Wilson’s opposition to Italy’s claim over Fiume. The Italian foreign minister, Baron Sidney Sonnino opposed Greek claims in Asia Minor and ordered the dispatch of Italian troops to southwest Turkey without the permission of Britain, France, and the United States. In response, the allies asked the Greek premier, Eleftherios Venizelos whether he could send Greek troops to occupy Smyrna on their behalf. Venizelos immediately seized the opportunity. The allies wanted to forestall a possible Italian occupation of Smyrna.

On May 15, the Greeks occupied Smyrna and over the coming weeks Greek and Italian troops almost came to blows in Asia Minor. The Italian premier Vittorio Orlando (October 1917-19) resigned on June 23, handing over power to Francesco Nitti (June 23, 1919-May 21, 1920) who wanted to resolve the differences between Italy and Greece. His foreign minister, Tomasso Tittoni who was also a personal friend of Venizelos, favored an improvement in relations between Rome and Athens.

On July 19, the Tittoni-Venizelos (T-V) agreement was signed in Paris which had been approved the previous day by the Allies. The eight articles were: (1) Italy will fully support Greek claims in Eastern and Western Thrace presented in the Greek memorandum of December 30, 1918; (2) Italy will likewise support the Greek claim (northern Epirus) within an indicated line; (3) Greece undertakes to support before the Conference the Italian claim to the Albanian Mandate and sovereignty over Valona with the necessary hinterland. The canal of Corfu shall be neutralized as well as the region from Cape Stylos to Aspri Ruga, including the islands and a 25 Kilometers zone from the coast; (4) In the event that Greek claims in Thrace and Northern Epirus are recognized, Greece will renounce in Asia Minor, in favor of Italy, the area South of the indicated line (from Otousbir-Kaya on the coast, eastward, then south and to Balachik on the Smyrna-Aidin railway; thence along the line separating the sanjaks of Smyrna and Saroukhan on the North from those of Aidin and Denizli on the south). This concession is to be made even if, owing to American opposition, Koritsa is not attributed to Greece. Greece will lease to Italy for 50 years a free zone in the port of Smyrna; (5) Italy renounces in favor of Greece the sovereignty of the islands she occupies in the Aegean Sea except for Rhodes; (6) Mutual guarantee by each Power for the subjects of the other that will be within its zone; (7) In the event that Italy does not secure her claims in Asia Minor, she will resume full freedom of action concerning all the provisions of the present agreement. The same holds for Greece if she fails to secure her claims as stated in Art. 4; (8) In as much as Italy and Greece cannot guarantee the fulfillment of the conditions of this agreement, which is intended to lay a common of action before the conference, it shall be kept secret because of the fact it is not a formal treaty.

This agreement lasted nearly 12 months until the new Italian foreign minister, Count Carlo Sforza annulled it on July 22, 1920. The Greek ambassador, Lambros Coromilas in Rome, and Venizelos were informed that Italy intended to pursue a new policy that safeguarded her foreign interests. Sforza stated that Tittoni had kept this agreement secret from the Italian parliament and “it was not for a Great Power like Italy to have a written agreement to the effect that Greece should “support” any essential point of Italian interests at the conference. Article 7 of the T-V agreement allowed both nations the freedom of action if they couldn’t fulfill their territorial ambitions. Sforza saw Article 7 as the exit clause to annul the T-V agreement.

In article 2 of the T-V agreement, the Supreme Council in Paris and the U.S. Senate resolution recognized the annexation of Northern Epirus to Greece on January 13, 1920, and May 17, 1920, respectively. Greece was permitted to occupy Northern Epirus but couldn’t undertake additional military commitments due to her fighting the Kemalists in Asia Minor.

The issues of the Dodecanese and the partition of Albania emerged from the cancelation of the T-V agreement: Sforza wanted a new agreement to settle these differences with Greece. Venizelos considered not signing the Treaty of Sevres which also impacted the Tripartite Agreement until these two matters could be resolved. Under the Tripartite agreement concluded at San Remo in April 1920, Britain, France, and Italy were to divide Asia Minor into zones of economic interest. Britain was placed in a difficult position since Italy and Greece needed to resolve their differences before any signatures could be appended to the Treaty of Sevres and Tripartite arrangement.

Sforza withdrew Italian troops from Valona and retained only the island of Sasseno. According to Nitti, Albania was draining the Italian treasury to the tune of 300 million liras per year, with no worthwhile gain for Italy. Sforza wished to increase Italian influence via indirect means in the Balkans. The idea of an Italian mandate over Albania was now history with the repudiation of the T-V agreement.  On August 2, 1920, Sforza signed an agreement with Albania guaranteeing its independence within the 1913 frontiers. Albania joined the League of Nations in late 1920. Italy and Yugoslavia settled their differences in the Adriatic with the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo on November 10, 1920. It settled the frontiers between Italy and Yugoslavia and Fiume became an independent state.

On August 10, 1920, Venizelos signed both the Treaty of Sevres and the Bonin-Venizelos agreement. Under Article 122 in the former treaty, Turkey ceded the ownership of the Dodecanese to Italy including Castellorizo whereas in the latter agreement Italy was to transfer the Dodecanese to Greece with exception of Rhodes and Castellorizo (Article 1). Regarding Rhodes, Italy would conduct a plebiscite as soon as Britain ceded Cyprus to Greece but not before 15 years (Article 2). Sforza divulged the Bonin-Venizelos agreement to the Italian parliament on August 6. On the other hand, Castellorizo didn’t belong geographically to the Dodecanese but was close to the Turkish coast in the Adalia region included in the Italian zone of interest.

With the return of King Constantine to Greece in November 1920, the allies decided the unratified treaty of Sevres needed modification and to come to terms with the Kemalists. Italy never handed the Dodecanese to Greece under the Bonin-Venizelos agreement and Britain canceled its arrangement for Cyprus.

 

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