October 24, 1939 – With a war a little over a month old, and news traveling slowly, word about the British-French-Turkish Treaty signing had surfaced days after the actual event. It was a positive step in ensuring a presence in the Balkans and a roadblock to German advances toward the Middle East. Turkey had always been a pivotal place – long before wars. It was, for all intents and purposes, the meeting place between East and West. More than a strategic location, it was the cultural exchange that set the basis for a revolution in Western customs, thought, Art and music that was prevalent well into the 19th century.
But in the 20th century it was strategic for its access – to oil and, as part of the Ottoman Empire for its influence in the Arab world. Turkey had always maintained a delicate balance between the Western World and the Arab world, and as evidenced by World War 1, a formidable enemy when it got on the wrong side of a war, when the Ottoman Empire allied with the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
That wasn’t going to happen again, not this time. And with the breakup of both the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, Turkey was now, after a bitter civil war and post-World War 1 occupation by Britain from 1918-1923, an independent nation. But to ensure that Turkey would be a major stumbling block and a staging area for countering an anticipated German invasion of the Balkans, and an Axis presence in the Mediterranean by way of Ethiopia and a threatened invasion of Egypt, a Treaty with Turkey was imperative. it provided, among other things, a mutual assistance that, if Egypt and Rumania were drawn into War with Germany, Turkey would be obligated to assist France and Britain in the effort of repel German invasion attempts.
In this broadcast, via the BBC World Service, former Ambassador to Turkey Sir George Clark, discusses the details of this Treaty of Mutual Assistance, and how the alliance was a major step in winning the War in Europe. Needless to say, there were grave misgivings on both sides. The treaty however, didn’t really stick – and Turkey wound up being a major supplier of raw materials to Germany from 1941 until 1944.
This, according to the New York Herald Tribute article of October 19, 1939:
LONDON — Great Britain and France tonight [Oct. 19] won their first diplomatic victory of the war when their representatives signed a pact of mutual assistance with Turkey, by which the Allies were given free access through the Dardanelles to Roumania and Greece, bound by pacts with France and Britain, the rest of the Balkans and Russia’s back door, together with Turkey’s help in keeping the peace in the vital eastern Mediterranean. The pact was signed at Ankara at 6:50 p.m. (British Summer Time), bringing automatically into force visions by which Britain, France and Turkey jointly protect each other, Greece and Roumania against aggression and which guarantee the freedom of the Black Sea to Allied warships and troop carriers.
And that’s what was going on in our world, October 24, 1939 – as broadcast by the BBC World Service and relayed throughout the U.S. by Mutual Broadcasting.
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