The Constantinople Agreement (18 March 1915) was a set of secret assurances made by the Triple Entente 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 city of Constantinople was intended to be a free port.
It was never carried out due to the failure of the Dardanelles campaign and the threat Britain saw in Russia after the former finally reached the city in 1918. The agreement was revealed by the 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.
- 1 Details
- 2 Text
- 2.1 Aide-mémoire from Russian Foreign Minister to British and French ambassadors at Petrograd, 19 February / 4 March 1915
- 2.2 British aide-mémoire to the Russian Government, 27 February / 12 March 1915
- 2.3 British Memorandum to the Russian Government, 27 February / 12 March 1915
- 2.4 French Ambassador in Petrograd to Russian Foreign Minister, 1/14 March 1915
- 2.5 Russian Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs to Russian Foreign Minister, 2/15 March 1915
- 2.6 Russian Foreign Minister to Russian Ambassador in Paris, 3/16 March 1915
- 2.7 Russian Foreign Minister to Russian Ambassador in Paris, 5/18 March 1915
- 2.8 Russian Foreign Minister to Russian Ambassador in London, 7/20 March 1915
- 2.9 Note verbale from French Ambassador at Petrograd to Russian Foreign Minister, 28 March / 10 April 1915
- 3 Conflicting promises
- 4 Responsibility
- 5 Purpose
- 6 Consequences
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
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. Even though the British never wanted the Russians to control Constantinople or the Dardanelles, they saw this agreement as a means to keep Russia in the First World War. With the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Russia dropped out of the war and thus the agreement never affected Russian control over former Ottoman lands.
Below is the actual correspondence between the Triple Entente for the agreement.
Aide-mémoire from Russian Foreign Minister to British and French ambassadors at Petrograd, 19 February / 4 March 1915
"The course of recent events leads His Majesty Emperor Nicholas to think that the question of Constantinople and of the Straits must be definitely solved, according to the time-honoured aspirations of Russia.
"Every solution will be inadequate and precarious if 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, should henceforth not be incorporated into the Russian Empire.
"Similarly, and by strategic necessity, 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 must be incorporated into the (Russian) Empire
"The special interests of France and Great Britain in the above region will be scrupulously respected.
"The Imperial Government entertains the hope that the above consideration will be sympathetically received by the two Allied Governments. The said Allied Governments are assured similar understandings on the part of the Imperial Government for the realization of plans which they may frame with reference to other regions of the Ottoman Empire or elsewhere."
British aide-mémoire to the Russian Government, 27 February / 12 March 1915
"Subject to the war being carried on and brought to a successful conclusion, and to desiderata of Great Britain and France in the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere being realised, as indicated in the Russian communication herein referred to, His Majesty's Government will agree to the Russian Government's aide-mémoire relative to Constantinople and the Straits, the text of which was communicated to His Britannic Majesty's Ambassador by his Excellency M. Sazonof on February 19 / March 4 instant."
British Memorandum to the Russian Government, 27 February / 12 March 1915
"His Majesty's Ambassador has been instructed to make the following observations with reference to the aide-mémoire which this Embassy had the honour of addressing to the Imperial Government on February 27 / March 12, 1915.
"The claim made by the Imperial Government in their aide-mémoire of February 19 / March 4, 1915, considerably exceeds the desiderata which were foreshadowed by M. Sazonof as probable a few weeks ago. Before His Majesty's Government have had time to take into consideration what their own desiderata elsewhere would be in the final terms of peace, Russia is asking for a definite promise that her wishes shall be satisfied with regard to what is in fact the richest prize of the entire war. Sir Edward Grey accordingly hopes that M. Sazonof will realise that it is not in the power of His Majesty's Government to give a greater proof of friendship than that which is afforded by the terms of the above-mentioned aide-mémoire.
"That document involves a complete reversal of the traditional policy of His Majesty's Government, and is in direct opposition to the opinions and sentiments at one time universally held in England and which have still by no means died out. Sir Edward Grey therefore trusts that the recent general assurances given to M. Sazanof have been most loyally and amply fulfilled. In presenting the aide-mémoire now, His Majesty's Government believe and hope that a lasting friendship between Russia and Great Britain will be assured as soon as the proposed settlement is realised.
"From the British aide-mémoire it follows that the desiderata of His Majesty's Government, however important they may be to British interests in other parts of the world, will contain no condition which could impair Russia's control over the territories described in the Russian aide-mémoire of February 19 / March 4, 1915.
"In a view of the fact that the Constantinople will always remain a trade entrepot for South-Eastern Europe and Asia Minor, His Majesty's Government will ask that Russia shall, when she comes into possession of it, arrange for a free port for goods in transit to and from non-Russian territory. His Majesty's Government will also ask that there shall be commercial freedom for merchant-ships passing through the Straits, as M. Sazanof has already promised.
"Except in so far as the naval and military operations on which His Majesty's Government are now engaged in the Dardanelles may contribute to the common cause of the Allies, it is now clear that these operations, however successful, cannot be of any advantage to His Majesty's Government in the final terms of peace. Russia alone will, if the war is successful, gather the direct fruits of these operations. Russia should therefore, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, not now put difficulties in the way of any Power which may, on reasonable terms, offer to co-operate with the Allies. The only Power likely to participate in the operations in the Straits is Greece. Admiral Carden has asked the Admiralty to send him more destroyers but they have none to spare. The assistance of a Greek flotilla, if it could have been secured, would thus have been of inestimable value to His Majesty's Government.
"To induce the neutral Balkan States to join the Allies was one of the main objects which His Majesty's Government had in view when they undertook the operations in the Dardanelles. His Majesty's Government hope that Russia will spare no pains to calm apprehensions of Bulgaria and Roumania as to Russia's possession of the Straits and Constantinople being to their disadvantage. His Majesty's Government also hope that Russia will do everything in her power to render the co-operation of these two States an attractive prospect to them.
"Sir E. Grey points out that it will obviously be necessary to take into consideration the whole question of the future interests of France and Great Britain in what is now Asiatic Turkey; and, in formulating the desiderata of His Majesty's Government with regard to the Ottoman Empire, he must consult the French as well as the Russian Government. As soon, however, as it becomes known that Russia is to have Constantinople at the conclusion of the war, Sir E. Grey will wish to state that throughout the negotiations, His Majesty's Government have stipulated that the Mussulman Holy Places and Arabia shall under all circumstances remain under independent Mussulman dominion.
"Sir E. Grey is as yet unable to make any definite proposal on any point of the British desiderata; but one of the points of the latter will be the revision of the Persian portion of the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907 so as to recognize the present neutral sphere as a British sphere.
"Until the Allies are in a position to give to the Balkan States, and especially to Bulgaria and Roumania, some satisfactory assurance as to their prospects and general position with regard to the territories contiguous to their frontiers to the possession of which they are known to aspire; and until a more advanced stage of the agreement as to the French and British desiderata in the final peace terms is reached, Sir E. Grey points out that it is most desirable that the understanding now arrived at between the Russian, French, and British Governments should remain secret."
French Ambassador in Petrograd to Russian Foreign Minister, 1/14 March 1915
"I should be grateful to Your Excellency for informing His Imperial Majesty that the Government of the French Republic, having studied the conditions of the peace to be imposed on Turkey, would like to annex Syria together with the region of the Gulf of Alexandretta and Cilicia up to the Taurus (mountain) range. I should be happy to inform my government, without delay, of the Imperial Government's consent."
Russian Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs to Russian Foreign Minister, 2/15 March 1915
"The French Ambassador has told me that it is his impression that Syria "includes Palestine". I deemed it useful to remind him that there is in Jerusalem an independent governor."
Russian Foreign Minister to Russian Ambassador in Paris, 3/16 March 1915
"After arrival at General Headquarters, the French Ambassador informed me of the contents of Delcasse's telegram which asks for consent by Russia to the annexation of Syria and Cilicia by France. Paleologue explains that in his opinion the French Government refers also to Palestine when speaking of Syria. However, since in this telegram there is no question of Palestine, it would be desirable to elucidate whether the explanation of the Ambassador really corresponds to the view of the French Government. This question appears important to us; for, if the Imperial Government should be prepared largely to satisfy France's desires concerning Syria and Cilicia proper, it is indispensable to study the question with closer attention, if the Holy Places are involved."
Russian Foreign Minister to Russian Ambassador in Paris, 5/18 March 1915
"On 23 February [8 March 1915], the Ambassador of France declared to me, in the name of his Government, that France was prepared to consider in the most benevolent manner the realization of our desires relative to Constantinople and the Straits, which I explained to you in my telegram No. 937 and for which I charged you to express my gratitude to M. Delcasse. In these earlier conversations with you Delcasse had assured us several times that we could count on the sympathy of France and had simply pleaded the necessity of elucidating the attitudes of England, from whom he feared objections, before he could himself give more formal assurances in the sense already indicated.
"Now, today, the British Government has expressed to us in writing its full accord in the matter of the annexation by Russia of the Straits and Constantinople within the boundaries fixed by us; it has simply formulated one reservation concerning the safeguard of its economic interests and an equally benevolent attitude on our part toward the political aspirations of England in other areas.
"Insofar as it concerns me personally, the assurance received from Delcasse is amply sufficient, because of the complete confidence that he inspires in me; but the Imperial Government would desire the French Government to issue more precise declarations like [those of the] British Government regarding its assent to the complete realization of our desires."
Russian Foreign Minister to Russian Ambassador in London, 7/20 March 1915
"Referring to the memorandum of the British Embassy here of 12 March, will you please express to Grey the profound gratitude of the Imperial Government for the complete and definitive approval of Great Britain to a solution of the question of the Straits and Constantinople that satisfies Russia's desires. The Imperial Government appreciates fully the sentiments of the British Government and is convinced that the sincere recognition of their respective interests will guarantee in perpetuity firm friendship between Russia and Great Britain. Having already given assurances respecting the commercial regime in the Straits and Constantinople, the Imperial Government sees no objection to confirming its assent to the establishment (1) of free transit through Constantinople for all goods not deriving from or destined for Russia and (2) free passage through the Straits for merchant vessels.
"With a view to facilitating the capture of the Dardanelles undertaken by the Allies, the Imperial Government will endeavor to obtain the intervention on reasonable terms of those states whose help is considered useful by Great Britain and France.
"The Imperial Government completely shares the view of the British Government on the maintenance of the Muslim Holy Places under an independent Muslim government. It is necessary to elucidate at once whether [those places] will remain under the suzerainty of Turkey, the Sultan retaining the title of Caliph, or it is contemplated to create new independent states, in order to permit the Imperial Government to formulate its views in full knowledge of the case. For its parts the Imperial Government desires that the Caliphate should be separated from Turkey. In any case, the freedom of pilgrimage must be completely secured.
"The Imperial Government confirms its assent to the inclusion of the neutral zone of Persia in the English sphere of influence. At the same time, however, [the Imperial Government] regards it as equitable to stipulate that the districts adjoining the cities of Isfahan and Yazd, forming with them an inseparable whole, should be reserved for Russia in view of the interests that Russia possesses there; a part of the neutral zone which now forms a wedge between the Russian and Afghan frontiers and touches Russia's frontier at Zulfiqar, must also be included in the Russian sphere of influence.
"Railway construction in the neutral zone constitutes for the Imperial Government a question of capital significance that will require further amicable discussion.
"The Imperial Government expects that in the future its full liberty of action will be recognized in the sphere of influence thus delimited and that in particular it will enjoy the right preferentially [to develop] its financial and economic policy.
"Finally, the Imperial Government considers it desirable simultaneously to solve the question of northern Afghanistan adjoining Russian in conformity with the wishes expressed on the subject by [the Imperial Government] in the course of negotiations last year."
Note verbale from French Ambassador at Petrograd to Russian Foreign Minister, 28 March / 10 April 1915
"The Government of the [French] Republic will give its agreement to the Russian aide-mémoire addressed by M. Isvolsky to M. Delcasse on 6 March last [Doc. 1, above], relating to Constantinople and the Straits, on condition that war shall be prosecuted until victory and that France and Great Britain realise their plans in the Orient as elsewhere, as it is stated in the Russian aide-mémoire."
The agreement was one of a series of negotiations regarding the actions to be taken against the Central Powers following the war, including the Treaty of London (1915) and Sykes–Picot Agreement (1916). France, Britain, and Russia mapped out the distribution of land for each country in advance and then proposed it at the Paris Peace Conference. "He [Sir Edward Grey] had emphasized, too, that the Constantinople agreement they had just reached was to be kept secret".
France, Britain, and Russia (also known as the Triple Entente) were responsible for this agreement. They gave away Ottoman land at the end of the First World War. The Triple Entente wanted to split up the Ottoman Empire so they could distribute it between themselves to use for their own advantage and make it seem as if the post-war territorial division wasn't secretly planned well in advance.
The purpose of the Constantinople Agreement was to partition the Ottoman Empire and readjust British territorial control in Iran. There were actually three instruments for the partition of the Ottoman Empire. One was the Treaty of London (26 April 1915), the Sykes–Picot Agreement (April to October 1916), and the Agreement of Saint-Jean de Maurienne (April to August 1917). The Treaty of London was for Italy to leave the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy) and join the Triple Entente. Then Italy was to declare war against Germany and Austria-Hungary to gain some territory. The Sykes–Picot Agreement was a secret agreement between France's Francois Georges-Picot and the United Kingdom's Sir Mark Sykes discussing their division of Ottoman Arab lands after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The Agreement of Saint-Jean de Maurienne was between Italy, France, and the United Kingdom to secure the position of Italian forces in the Middle East, as had been earlier agreed upon in the Treaty of London.
Implementation of the Constantinople Agreement was unsuccessful due to the failure of the Gallipoli Campaign which was to conquer Constantinople. Furthermore, the Russian government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in 1917. The Bolsheviks discovered these various above agreements when they gained control over government archives. They then published the agreements but the French and the British completely denied them and claimed that it was propaganda by the Bolsheviks.
- The Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relations: A-E, Ed. Cathal J. Nolan, (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002), 350.
- "The Constantinople Agreement". 1–7
- Fromkin, David. A Peace to End All Peace. N.p.: Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated, 2001, p.139
- Bassett, Sarah Guberti. "'Excellent Offerings': The Lausos Collection in Constantinople." The Art Bulletin 82.1 (2000): 6–25. JSTOR. Web. 24 Nov. 2009. 
- Fitzgerald, Edward Peter. "France's Middle Eastern Ambitions, the Sykes–Picot Negotiations, and the Oil Fields of Mosul." The Journal of Modern History 66.4 (1994): 697–725. JSTOR. Web. 25 Nov. 2009. 
- Fromkin, David. A Peace to End All Peace. N.p.: Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated, 2001. Print.
- Helmreich, Paul C. "Italy and the Anglo-French Repudiation of the 1917 St. Jean de Maurienne Agreement." The Journal of Modern HIstory 48.2 (1976): 99–139. JSTOR. Web. 24 Nov. 2009. 
- Manners, Ian R. "Constructing the Image of a City: The Representation of Constantinopole in Christopher Buondelmonti's Liber Insularum Archipelagi." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87.1 (1997): 72–102. JSTOR. Web. 23 Nov. 2009.