The Constantinople Agreement (also known as the Straits Agreement) comprised a secret exchange of diplomatic correspondence between members of the Triple Entente from 4 March to 10 April, 1915 during World War I. France and Great Britain promised to give Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and the Dardanelles (land on either coast in Thrace and Asia Minor), which at the time were part of the Ottoman Empire, to the Russians in the event of victory. The UK and France put forward their own claims, to an increased sphere of influence in Iran in the case of the UK and to annexation of Syria (including Palestine) and Cilicia for France, all sides also agreeing that the governance of the Holy Places and Arabia to be under independent Moslem rule.The Greek government was neutral, but in 1915 it negotiated with the Allies, offering soldiers and especially a geographical launching point for attacks on the Straits. Greece itself wanted control of Constantinople. Russia vetoed the Greek proposal, because its main war goal was to control the Straits, and take control of Constantinople.
Though the Allied attempt to seize the area in the Gallipoli Campaign failed, Constantinople was nevertheless occupied by the victorious Allies at the end of the war in 1918. By that time, however, Russia had undergone the Communist Revolution and withdrawn from the war, and was no longer considered one of the Allied Powers. The agreement was therefore never implemented. Its existence was revealed by the Russian Bolsheviks in 1917, making public the British diplomatic intentions and encouraging the passing of the Balfour Declaration. Knowledge of the agreement was used by Kemal Ataturk to regain Constantinople for the Turkish Republic, risking war with the Allies.
In early 1907, in the talks leading up to the Anglo-Russian Convention, Count Alexander Izvolsky, then Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, raised the question of the Straits and talks were carried on in London through the Russian ambassador, Count Alexander Benckendorff. Little is known but the "suggestion appears to have been made that Russia should have free egress from the Black Sea through the Straits, while other powers should have the right to send their vessels of war into the Straits without going into the Black Sea" together with some talk of "Russia's occupying the Bosphorus and England the Dardanelles, after which the Straits might be opened to other warships as well." In the event nothing came of the discussions at the time.
At the outbreak of war, the Ottoman Empire was diplomatically isolated; it had sought alliance with Britain at the end of 1911 and between May and July 1914 with France, Russia and on 22 July with Germany[a], to no avail. Russia was concerned about the potential arrival in the Black Sea region, of two modern warships being built by British shipyards for the Ottoman navy, the Sultân Osmân-ı Evvel, which had been completed and was making preparations to leave, and the Reşadiye. On 30 July, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Sazonov instructed Benckendorff:[b]
it is a matter of the highest importance for us that Turkey should not receive the two dreadnoughts..point out to the English government the immense importance of this matter for us, and energetically insist upon the retention of these two shps in England."
First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill had by then already decided on requisition and when the Turkish ambassador protested on 1 August, he was informed that "in view of the serious situation abroad it was not possible to allow a battleship to leave these waters and pass into the hands of a foreign buyer".
Access to the Turkish Straits was governed by the 1841 London Straits Convention which stipulated the closure of the straits to warships and, after the Crimean War, by the Treaty of Paris (1856) which made universal the principle of commercial freedom at the same time as forbidding any militarization in and around the Black Sea, later amended by the Treaty of London (1871) and reaffirmed in the Treaty of Berlin (1878). The Pursuit of Goeben and Breslau German battleships led to their being allowed to enter the Dardanelles on the 10 August, 1914.[c]
From 4 March to 10 April 1915, the Triple Entente (Britain, France, and Russia) secretly discussed how to divide up the lands of the Ottoman Empire. Britain was to control an even larger zone in Iran while Russia would get the Ottoman capital, Constantinople. The Dardanelles were also promised to Russia. The language of the agreement described the following boundaries:
...the city of Constantinople, the western bank of the Bosphorus, of the Sea of Marmara and of the Dardanelles, as well as southern Thrace to the Enez-Midye line... and... that part of the Asiatic shore that lies between the Bosphorus, the Sakarya River and a point to be determined on the Gulf of Izmit, and the islands of the Sea of Marmara, the Imbros Islands and the Tenedos Islands.
Even though the British and the French sought to limit Russian claims, they were not able to do so and also had to contend with the possibility that Russia might make a separate peace with the Central Powers. The agreement was one of a series of agreements regarding the partition of the Ottoman Empire by the Triple Entente and Italy following the war, including the Treaty of London (1915), the Sykes–Picot Agreement (1916) and the Agreement of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne(April to August 1917).
The British Gallipoli Campaign (1915–16) was aimed at seizing the Dardanelles and Constantinople but was defeated by the Ottomans, and the Allies did not gain control of the region until occupying it in November 1918, after the end of the war. By that time, the Communist Bolsheviks had seized power in Russian during the October Revolution of 1917 and had signed a separate peace with the Central Powers in March 1918, dropping out of the war. As the Allies therefore no longer considered Russia among their number, and, indeed, did not even recognise the legitimacy of the Bolshevik government, the agreement was never implemented.
- A secret alliance was concluded between the Ottoman Empire and the German Empire on August 2, 1914.
- Sazonov had made a similar request earlier in June but had been refused on the gounds that the government could not intervene in a commercial matter.
- On 6 August 1914, at 0100 hours, Grand Vizier Said Halim summoned the German ambassador,Hans Freiherr von Wangenheim,to his office to inform him that the Cabinet had decided "unanimously" to open the Straits to the Goeben and Breslau.
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