DECEMBER 29, 2015

Our national borders pass through Antioch and span east-ward, containing Mosul, Sulaymaniya, Kirkuk. We say: This, is our national border.

— Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (December 28, 1919 – National Liberation Speech)

The “National Pact” (Misak-ı Milli) is a six-article manifesto of Turkey’s War of National Liberation, accepted by the defeated, but defiant, Ottoman Parliament in January 1920, outlining the bare minimum of conditions Turkish nationalists agreed upon to end World War I. It was bypassed and ignored by the Ottoman palace, which instead signed the Sevres Treaty in August 1920, creating the great schism between the palace and the nationalists, leading to the eventual triumph of the latter under Mustafa Kemal’s leadership. There were several printed versions of the pact in 1920 that had different interpretations of borders as laid out in the 1918 Mudros Armistice between the Ottomans and the Allied Powers. Ankara’s version, for example, included the  Vilayet (Mosul, Kirkuk and Sulaymaniya) as part of Turkish national borders, whereas the Istanbul version was unclear about its status. Since the Mosul Vilayet was still under the control of the Ottoman forces at the time of signing the Mudros Armistice, the nationalist consensus was that these areas had to be incorporated into the new Turkish state. However, following British diplomatic engagements, the Ottoman palace had ordered the 6th Army to withdraw from the Vilayet of Mosul in favor of a British contingent, which occupied the city in November 1918.

The status of Mosul and Kirkuk were unresolved in the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which suggested that the matter should be resolved bilaterally between Britain and the Turkish nationalist movement. In May 1924, both sides came together for the Istanbul Conference to resolve the dispute, which failed due to a number of revolts against the British rule in Mosul. Then, the matter was forwarded to the League of Nations, where Turkish nationalists favored a self-determination referendum in Mosul — which was rejected by the British, who asked for a fact-finding mission to determine its status. The League of Nations mission concluded eventually that the Turks had no right to claim Mosul. They awarded the vilayet to the British, amidst intense Turkish protest. Since then, for Turkey, Mosul has been separated from Turkey’s national borders artificially and illegally, without an agreement, but through a fait accompli. This is the reason why, even today, Ankara sees the boundaries of the Ottoman Mosul Vilayet as a part of its natural zone of influence, if not within its real borders.

Since 1994, however, Turkish troops have had a de facto presence in the old Vilayet of Mosul, manning a number of outposts, defensive positions, and training camps. The Ba’ashiqa base, which recently appeared in the headlines following Baghdad’s outrage over Ankara’s decision to reinforce the base, is one of several front-line outposts built by Ankara in the 1990s as a part of its campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Today, in the Mexican standoff between the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the Peshmarga, the PKK, and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, these outposts act as forward operating bases (FOBs) for Turkey. They are aimed primarily at holding the PKK in check while providing training to the Peshmerga of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and gathering intelligence on the Islamic State in Mosul.

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