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Alessandro Vagnini:The Hatay Region and European Powers on the Eve of World War II

The Hatay region had an interesting role for the balance of power in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East on the eve of the Second World War. By the time it was taken from the Mameluks by the Ottoman Sultan Selim I in 1516. Antakya (Hatay) was a medium-sized town between the Orontes River and Mount Habib Neccar, famous for its historical heritage. Under the Ottomans this part of Northern Syria was known as the Sanjak (governorate) of Alexandretta. A map published on the beginning of Nineteen Century highlighted the ethnic makeup of northern parts of the region that was essentially Turkish around the city of Alexandretta (Iskenderun), while the southern parts with Antioch were mostly populated by Arabs.

After the Great War, the Ottoman Empire was disbanded and the Turkish Independence War led to the birth of modern Turkey. Alexandretta was not part of the new republic; it was put within in the French mandate of Syria. The Sanjak of Alexandretta had indeed a special status and it was autonomous from 1921 to 1923, under the French-Turkish treaty of October 20, 1921. Only in 1925 it was directly attached to the French mandate of Syria, though with a special administrative status. The Turkish interest for the area never wavered and in 1936, Atatürk demanded that Alexandretta becomes part of Turkey, taking into consideration that the majority of its inhabitants were Turks. After the Sanjak was officially given an autonomous status in November 1937, under the intervention of the League of Nations, the region was politically linked to the French Mandate of Syria, but to both France and Turkey for defence.

On September 2, 1938, the Sanjak of Alexandretta was proclaimed as the Republic of Hatay, lasting for one year under joint French and Turkish military supervision, even if its government was indeed under Turkish control. In 1939, after an agreement between Turkey, United Kingdom and France, and following a popular referendum, the Republic of Hatay became a Turkish province.

The situation of the Hatay region had a special meaning for the strategic situation in East Mediterranean. The previous Anglo-Turkish declaration of 12 May 1939 had furthermore placed the foundation for the conclusion of an agreement for mutual assistance between the Allied Powers and the Republic of Turkey. From this point of view the settlement of the region of Iskenderun was important as well. Its transfer to Turkey could be seen as a symbol of the new willingness to cooperate in the security of the region facing the threat of expanding influence of the Axis Powers. To analyse the diplomatic and strategic situation in those months of 1939, using the documents of the European powers, could be a useful instrument to understand also the complex contest characterising the Turkish policy on eve of the World War II.

Category: Abstracts | Added by: margalita (18.10.2009)
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