This dissertation is an examination of Woodrow Wilson's policy of self-determination and how it was applied to the Ottoman Empire. It is my aim to explore the development of this principle in Wilson's writings during the American involvement in World War One, its use at the Paris Peace Conference, and its subsequent application to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. The underlying question of this dissertation will be whether or not national self-determination, as developed by Wilson and his colleagues during the War years, was fully applied to the post-war territorial settlement in the Ottoman Empire. If it was not applied, or only partially so, what were the reasons and considerations that led to its non or partial application? This question is especially important as national self-determination, in the form of the Fourteen Points, was an important basis for the discussion of peace before and after the end of hostilities in November 1918.
The introduction of this essay will study the development of Wilson's national self-determination during the War years. The concept of national self-determination was first developed in the eighteenth century. Wilson was not the first proponent of the concept. He was, however, one of the first exponents of the principle who combined moral belief with political power. Wilson's views on the subject, especially during the war years, were influenced by a number of sources. Prominent among these sources were the leaders of nationalistic movements hoping for American support in the continuation of their cause. During late 1917, Wilson was also heavily influenced by the Inquiry, a group of 'experts' who Wilson had appointed to provide him with the background detail and recommendations he felt were necessary to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace at the end of the War. Their recommendations were the basis for the Fourteen Points address, which will be covered in Chapter One. By the start of the Paris Conference in early 1919, Wilson had a clear idea of what he felt national self-determination was, and how it should be applied in the territorial settlement.
Chapter Two will examine the formation of the mandate system. Wilson's concept of national self-determination was severely tested at Paris by what he termed 'European' power politics. The victorious Allies had secretly partitioned the Ottoman Empire in a series of treaties during the War. Their desire for colonies clashed with Wilson's concept of national self-determination, the supposed basis for peace. The situation was complicated by the fact that the United States had not declared war upon the Ottoman Empire and, therefore, did not technically have a voice in its dismemberment. Wilson, however, was determined to be involved in the Ottoman peace process. The resulting compromise between colonialism and self-determination resulted in the establishment of the mandate system. This system was not what Wilson and many subject nations had desired in proclaiming national self-determination. Given the weak American claims of involvement in the Ottoman settlement, and fact that the majority of mandate territory had previously been in the Ottoman Empire, Wilson at least attempted to protect the subject nationalities from rampant European colonialism. It is questionable as to whether or not he succeeded.
In the final chapters, this essay will analyse in more detail the role of Wilson in the deliberations that led to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. In particular, the ambiguous position that the United States took towards accepting a mandate for Constantinople and Armenia will be examined. The uncertainty of the American position on this subject, emphasised by the domestic debate over the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, made it increasingly easier for the European powers to divide the Ottoman Empire upon lines which they found acceptable. This was especially so after Wilson's final departure from France in June 1919.
For the sake of convenience, this essay will end in late August 1919, when the King-Crane Commission, which was sent to the Ottoman Empire to investigate the desires of the local populations as to the allocation of mandates, reported its findings to Wilson. The territorial settlement with the Ottoman Empire, however, had not been completed by this time. The treaty of peace with Turkey would not be signed until August 1920, and a final settlement in the former Ottoman Empire would not truly be achieved until the Treaty of Lausanne in July 1923. To put this work in context, therefore, a postscript has been attached to explain the complicated events that eventually led to the settlement of territory in the former Ottoman Empire.
The major primary source for this essay is the monumental series edited by Arthur S Link, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson. The title of this essay, 'For the Lesser People', has been taken from a letter to Wilson from Rabbi Stephen Wise contained in this series. The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series have also been used in the later chapters. The majority of this dissertation will be based upon these primary sources. For the Introduction and the Postscript, however, the essay also draws upon a number of secondary sources, notably Derek Heater's book. In the Introduction, Heater's work has been used to explain how the concept of national self-determination developed. In the Postscript, secondary sources have been used as a means of summarising the political settlement in the former Ottoman Empire after the period that this essay will cover.
The Ottoman Empire was selected as the focus of my essay for a number of reasons. The foremost reason was that there has not been a great deal of academic study of the specific relationship between the Ottoman Empire and the United States during and immediately following the Wilson Administration. Laurence Evan's and Roger Trask's works are notable exceptions. There also do not seem to be any works relating specifically to Wilson's national self-determination and how it was applied to the Ottoman Empire. A degree of originality is required in completing this essay, so the lack of secondary sources makes this slightly obscure topic more understandable.
The Ottoman Empire is also not the most obvious example of the application of national self-determination following the Great War. That position is held by a number of European countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and even Yugoslavia. Why then was the Ottoman Empire selected? It was a convoluted process, with the topic seeming to evolve as more research was completed. The author's interest in the Ottoman Empire, and the Middle East in general, certainly played a role. With the amount of territory and peoples involved in the dismemberment of the Empire, complicated by the ambiguous position of the United States and the role of the Arab armies in helping defeat the Ottoman forces, it is an interesting area of study. The opportunity to examine Woodrow Wilson, a fascinating man by any standard, was an added incentive. The selection of this topic was, therefore, more a process of evolution than of careful planning.||