Turkish delegation led by Ismet Inonu, who was the country’s foreign minister in 1923, signing the Treaty of Lausanne alongside his counterparts in Lausanne in Switzerland on July 24, 1923. (Wikimedia Commons), (Source: TRT World)

The Indian Muslims, from as early as 1877[i], and right up to 1924 and beyond, demonstrated  such exemplary sacrifice, deep passion, unwavering commitment and single-minded devotion to the cause of a people living in a distant land – a people and government to whom they were not beholden in any way, nor did they have any filial connections with them, a people whose language they did not speak, and, above all, from whom they did not expect any personal benefits to accrue– that recorded history is yet to produce anything comparable[ii].

Their contributions– social, political and economic—benefitted the recipients in numerous ways in their most difficult days. Mass protests, civil disobedience, huge public gatherings, stirring articles and poems, fund mobilization, and untold personal sacrifices characterized the movement that Indian Muslims launched to protect the dignity of the Ottoman Caliphate and the territorial integrity of the Turkish nation.

As a Turkish historian himself observes, “The Muslims of India had never been under the rule of the Ottoman Turks, but they were more warmly attached to the Turkish cause than any other Muslim community in the world”.[iii]

Whatever other benefits this untiring and dedicated struggle may have resulted in, there is no denying that the resolve and grit demonstrated by the Indian Musalman forced the British government to agree to favourable terms with the Turks, after the latter’s defeat in the First World War, leading to the Lausanne agreement.

The Humiliating Treaty of Sevres, 1920

Humbled in the aftermath of the First World War, Turkey was forced to agree to a set of humiliating terms as part of the Treaty of Sevres, on August 10, 1920. They had to forego huge chunks of territory and consent to direct interference by the Allied forces in how they managed their political, military and financial affairs. They were to pay war reparations as well. As one source mentions, “The Sevres Treaty divided the Ottoman Empire into several regions and handed administrative control to the British, French, Italians, Greeks, Armenians and Kurds. The Turks were left with a small piece of territory which was geographically one-fourth in size compared to the present map of Turkey.”[iv]

The Treaty of Serves, unrelenting, severe and iniquitous[v] as it was, caused a lot of bitterness among the Indian Muslims who felt betrayed by Britain which had promised not to humiliate the Caliph and not to dismember the Ottoman empire. Hundreds of thousands of Indian Muslim soldiers served in the British army during WWI on this assurance. Historians claim that Britain would never have been able to overpower their adversaries but for the sacrifices of their loyal Indian subjects. See extracts of the speech by Mohammed Ali produced below.

Incidentally, Mohammed Ali, a great champion of the Turkish cause, implored the then Sultan-Caliph to make his decision on acceptance or rejection of the Treaty of Sevres  “not as the Padshah of Ottoman Turks but as the Captain of Allah’s Army of the Moslems of every country and the Last Prophet of God.”[vi]

The ire of the Indian Muslims which led to wide-spread resentment manifested itself in country-wide protests and political resolutions threatening non-cooperation and civil disobedience to the Crown. Confidential government records reveal that the Viceroy and his people were indeed nervous due to the wave of discontent demonstrated by the Indian Muslim masses.

Indian Muslim Delegation to UK and European Capitals to Plead the Turkish Case

The Khilafat Movement, as the struggle began to be named in the later years, also sent a delegation to Britain and other European capitals to plead for favourable terms for their Turkish brethren. This delegation was to counter the pro-British Muslim delegation accompanying Lord Montagu. The Khilafat delegation set sail in February, 1920, under the stewardship of Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar, an Oxford graduate. Other members of the delegation were the great Islamic scholar Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadwi, Sayyid Hussain and Abul Kasim. This was no mean achievement since the delegation comprised people living as subjects of a European power at that time, and they had to pay for passage and stay from funds contributed by Indian Muslims.

An account of the delegation’s visit to the Woking Mosque, in UK, as reported in The Islamic Review, captures the true spirit of the Indian Muslims vis-à-vis Turkey.

“ The three members of the Indian Khilafat Delegation paid a visit to the Woking Mosque on Sunday, 21st March, 1920.

Mr. Muhammad Ali made a strong and convincing speech to the effect that it was not fair to ignore the rights of his Majesty’s Muslim subjects, whose number is greater than those of the Christians in the Empire. They are all devoted to the Caliph of Constantinople, and they all urge that the temporal power of the Caliph should not be reduced, nor should the Turkish Empire be broken into bits. Mr. Muhammad Ali was followed by Mr. Sayyid Husain, who made an eloquent and polished speech. He said that liberty of conscience should be granted to the people, and it should be maintained. The conscience of Indian Muslims should be respected, and a line should not be drawn across it by the English government. ”

— The Islamic Review, April 1920, p. 139

Mohammed Ali’s memorable speech in France sums up the real sentiments of the Indian Musalman, and the reason for the visit of the delegation:

“ I am not a Turk. I belong to a people who fought for you and England and I think we did a little to save both you and England. Now it is not a Turk who is speaking to you. I have come here because my religion compelled me to come here and my compatriots of other faiths have carefully examined and found that it is part of my faith and that I cannot compromise on this and they have pledged their word to me that they will not compromise either. But is there any shameless Turk in this assembly or at Versailles or in Constantinople or even in the camp of Mustafa Kamal who is prepared to sign this treaty, then tell him as we have told Lloyd George and the Viceroy of India — we at least will not accept this treaty.

“If you look at this question from our religious point of view this treaty is unacceptable to us, and remember there are more than 300 million Musalmans in the world, in India, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Asia Minor, Egypt and Central Asia, whose religious obligations are being disregarded in this treaty. Again there are distinct pledges which had been given to us and which have got to be respected by you and by England. If they are disregarded today remember you who are a banking nation…that a dishonoured cheque is not accepted twice. We ask for no gratitude for anything that we may have done for France or England but I say this to you that if the Indian soldiers knew that after their defence of France and of England and after victories of Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine, not British victories but Indian victories, if they had known that this would be the kind of treaty that would result from their victories, they would not have come to your aid in those dark hours of October 1914.”[vii]

In this context, it must also be pointed out that, the Indian National Congress, a body comprising mainly of Indian Hindus also protested against the hostile attitude of some of the British ministers towards Turkey and, in a resolution passed in the year 1919 urged  the British Government to “settle the Turkish question bearing in mind the sentiments of Indian Muslims”[viii].

The Treaty of Lausanne

Meanwhile, at about the same time, the resilient Turkish forces, virtually rising from the ashes, gained decisive victories over Greece to win back strategic areas lost in WWI. Their new found strength, and advances exposed Allied naval units in the region and a war with the Turkish forces seemed inevitable. Britain and its allies were not in any mood for further war. History remembers this moment as the Chanak crisis[ix].

All these developments led the British, despite their external protestations to the contrary, and despite being the victorious party, to agree to terms favourable to the ‘vanquished’ Turks.

To substantiate, let us quote from an authoritative work on this subject by A. C. Niemeijer:

“The Government of India was in no doubt about the necessity of placating its Muslim subjects with regard to Turkey. Time and again Lord Reading emphasized the need to come to terms with Kemal Pasha and give in to the Indian Muslims’ demands with respect to Thrace and Smyrna. Should Great Britain follow another course, he argued, the moderate Muslims’ friendship would be lost. A clear and favourable definition of Great Britain’s attitude was considered so urgent by the Viceroy, that he wanted to press his view on the Home Government in an unequivocal way. In a telegram to Montagu he summed up the three minimum Muslim demands which, in his opinion, should be granted: (1) evacuation of Constantinople; (2) acknowledgement of the Sultan-Caliph’s suzerainty over the Holy Places, and (3) restoration of Thrace – including Adrianople – and Smyrna to the Turks.[x]

At another place he writes:

“in the first half of 1923 the Lausanne Conference did its work and produced on July 4, 1923 the treaty to which it gave its name. Smyrna, Constantinople and the greater part of Thrace – including Adrianople – were restored to Turkey”.[xi]

Regarding the influence the efforts of the Indian Muslims had in bringing about this result, the following is also illustrative:

“Chirol speaks about the Khilafat agitation as “one of the decisive factors” of the Turkish success at Lausanne. A more recent author, K. K. Aziz, thinks that the pressure exerted by Indian Khilafatists forced the British Government to revise its attitude”.[xii]

A Pakistani scholar also observed that, next only to the successful Kemalist war of liberation, the Khilafat movement had contributed the most towards the political recovery of Turkey[xiii].

The fact remains that the struggle waged by the Indian Muslims brought about numerous intangible and tangible benefits to the Turks; chief among which was the favourable terms of the Treaty of Lausanne that the victors had to agree with a vanquished nation, unlike the other losing nations in WWI.[xiv]

The treaty was signed in the picturesque town of Lausanne in Switzerland. On one side were representatives of Turkey (successor to the Ottoman Empire) led by Ismet Pasha (Innonu) and Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (Yugoslavia) on the other

This singular achievement, restored, to a fair extent, the honour and dignity of the then world’s only independent Muslim nation; much to the chagrin of the dominant colonial powers and their unbelieving historians.

Lord Curzon on the Treaty of Lausanne:

The conditions under which the Lausanne Settlement were arrived at was essentially different from the conditions under which other treaties, including the Treaty of Sevres, were imposed. This essential difference was pointed out by none else than Lord Curzon himself at the Imperial Conference in these words[xv] :

“Such (dictation of terms at the point of the bayonet) had been the case with all the previous post-War treaties. These had in each case been drawn up by the victorious Powers, sitting, so to speak, on the seat of judgement, in the absence of the culprit, and imposing what penalty or what settlement they chose. Only when the terms had been drawn up was the beaten enemy admitted to be told his sentence and to make the conventional protest of the doomed man. Such, indeed, the environment in which the original Treaty of Sevres was drawn up and signed, though never ratified by the Turkish representatives. For otherwise was it at Lausanne. There the Turks sat at the table on a footing of equality with all the other Powers. Every article of the Treaty had to be debated with and explained to them. (Look what grave injustice to poor Great Britain!). Agreement had to be achieved not by brandishing the big stick but by discussion, persuasion and compromise.”

Basis of the Stand Taken by Indian Muslims

In this context, it is instructive to point out that the stand the Indian Muslims took in respect of Turkey was based on their religious beliefs and not out of any political expediency, as Westminster would have us believe. In his autobiography, Mohammed Ali has brought convincingly the real inspiration for his mission to Europe in these words: “It was certainly not politics that had lured me this time to Europe. The impulse was purely religious.” He was advised by friends not to touch upon religious matters in Europe, since he would not meet with much understanding of them over there. “But how could we do that? We were not Turkish nationalists fighting for a little space in which their race could breathe and live. We were Indians … we were Muslim subjects of a Christian sovereign to whom we had tendered our temporal allegiance on the clear understanding that he would respect our religious obligations, and it was only our religious obligations that had compelled us to voice our protest against the annihilation of a temporal power which our religion required to remain unseparated from the spiritual head of the Islamic world. Religion, therefore, was the one thing that gave us a locus standi in the Council of the Allied and Associated Nations … Moreover, he was convinced that the hatred of the Turks was basically an aversion to Islam, which Europe considered ” … as a confused jumble of spiritual tags plagiarised from the older Semitic creeds of Moses and Jesus, and of oriental licentiousness, intolerance and tyranny.”[i]

[i] As quoted in The Khilafat Movement In India: 1919 – 1924, A. C. Niemeijer, page 100: Footnote 6, Selections from Comrade, p. 70.

[i] The role of Imam Nanawtawi in supporting the cause of the Ottoman Caliphate as early as the year 1874 is noteworthy. A detailed account of the same can be found in a paper titled Al-Nanawtawi’s Islamic Political Ideology: Paradigms from Rudad, Sawanh Qasimi and other Selected Writings, by Dr. Atif Suhail Siddiqui https://religiousstudies.yale.edu/people/atif-suhail

[ii] A large number of books and dissertations have been published on the subject—too numerous to list in these footnotes.

[iii] Two Ways Of Seeing India In The Travelogues Of Kemalist Orientalists And Traditionalists, Ph.D. Dissertation, by Fatih Esenboğa, İstanbul, 2014

The same author mentions elsewhere in his dissertation that, “Worth noting here, the efforts of Indian Muslims were beyond the imagination and expectations of the Ottoman state at that time. First, the medical mission of the Indian Red Crescent Association helped the treatment of Ottoman soldiers during the Balkan Wars and second, the diplomatic Indian mission to London and then to other European capitals informed European diplomats about the sufferings of Turks and found supporters for the Turkish cause. These two initiatives were difficult for people living as subjects of a European power at that time and are a measure of the self-sacrifice of the Indian Muslim community”. Page 48

[iv] https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/turkey-still-debates-whether-treaty-of-lausanne-was-a-fair-peace-deal-14632

[v] On the nature of the Treaty of Sevres, see Sir Valentine Chirol, “Islam and Britain”, Foreign Affairs (Washington: D.C.), Vol.l, No.3, 15 March 1923, p. 49

[vi] Addressed to the Sultan-Caliph by the Khilafat delegation from Paris, 28.5.1920. It was  published only in 1924 in the Comrade (fuIl text given by Bamford, op. cit., app. F, pp. 243-50). Extracted from The Khilafat Movement In India: 1919 – 1924, A. C. Niemeijer, page 101.

[vii] Maulana Jauhar: an eloquent case pleader, by Prof Ziauddin Ahmad https://www.dawn.com/news/1064033

[viii] N.Y. Rajkumar, ed., The Background of India’s Foreign Policy (Delhi: Navin Press, 1952), p.6.

[ix] “Turkish nationalists under Mustapha Kemal were unhappy about the loss of territory to Greece under the Sèvres treaty of 1920. They expelled the Greeks from Smyrna by force in August 1922 and threatened to cross the Dardanelles. Britain feared for the security of the Straits”. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095601576

[x] The Khilafat Movement In India: 1919 – 1924, A. C. Niemeijer, page 145

[xi] Ibid, page 153

[xii] Ibid, page 153

[xiii] Sharif al-Mujahid, Ouaid-i-Azam Jinnah : Studies in Interpretation (Delhi: Low Price Publications, 1993), p. 346.

[xiv] https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/modern-europe/turkish-and-ottoman-history/treaty-lausanne

[xv] Ali Brothers: Role in Freedom Struggle, S.R. Bakshi, Anmol Publications, page 159