It is possible to find many publications on Turkey’s diplomacy during the Second World War. However, for the first time, this subject has been published as a doctoral thesis. Dr. Nezihe Selcen Korkmazcan’s work titled “Turkish Diplomacy in the Second World War”, the first of which was published in 2018 among the publications of the Turkish Historical Society, was published for the second time in 2021. The author has conducted meticulous research by referring to many local and foreign sources. The 388-page book contains 1683 footnotes. The archives of the Prime Ministry and the General Staff, the library of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, the London National Archive and US sources were utilised. Despite two attempts by the author, it was not possible for him to use the archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as he was told that the classification was still in progress. The correspondence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could only be accessed through correspondence with the Prime Ministry. In the book, which is written from a balanced perspective, it is noteworthy that the views of local and foreign historians are presented objectively, even though there are differences between them.
The book also covers the issues of the Aegean Islands and some territories in the north of Syria offered to Turkey by both sides of the war in return for Turkey’s entry into the war, and the transmission of the documents of the British Embassy in Ankara to the Germans, known as the “Çiçero Incident”.
Naturally, the author has made extensive use of the memoirs of Churchill and İnönü, who are the most frequently mentioned figures in the book. In addition, the memoirs of ministers, soldiers and ambassadors who were in office at the time, such as Molotov, Italian Ciano, von Papen, Kazım Karabekir, Feridun Cemal Erkin and Behiç Erkin, are also utilised.
Although Turkey’s diplomacy during the Second World War has been the subject of much public debate on various aspects, I think it would be interesting and useful for those working in the field of international relations to record some of the information and noteworthy points in the book, even if briefly, here:
– “I remember with gratitude the great Atatürk, who showed how foreign policy should be conducted, and the statesmen and diplomats of the period, especially İsmet Pasha, who acted in Turkey’s interests during the Second World War.” (p.X)
– Inönü evaluates Turkey’s situation just before the war as follows: “Our foreign relations were unstable and unfounded. Our relations with the Soviets were shady, our relations with the Nazis were suspicious and our relations with the Western world were baseless.” (p.59)
– According to Lord Kinross, many years ago Atatürk compared the Maginot Line (which the Germans had destroyed in a lightning attack) to Nasrettin Hodja’s mausoleum, with its openness on all sides, even though the front wall and gate were locked (p.104).
– After the overthrow of Mussolini, Hitler made the following confession: “I believe that we would have been much more successful without this unpredictable people on our side… They (the Italians) cost us great losses of prestige and real defeats.”(p.111)
– The author, noting that Churchill, who is the leader whose name is mentioned the most along with İnönü in the book, did not lose caution in the steps he took regarding Turkey, explains the reason for this with the following sentences from Churchill’s memoirs “Let me talk about myself. The Gallipoli campaign of 1915 caused me to disappear from the political arena for a time… The bitter lesson I learnt in this affair made me a kind of alter ego.” (p.131)
– Inönü explained the situation that kept Turkey out of the war in 1943 as follows: “…the dispute between remaining faithful to our commitments and demanding that the Allies fulfil their duties towards us kept us out of the war. So the result was this: It was not possible for us to enter the war, and our allies never had the means or the opportunity to find us wrong in this respect.” (p.168)
– Selim Deringil opposes Churchill’s statement that Turkey had to be “strong and ready” to enter the war as follows: For Turkey, “being strong” means being strong in order to stay out of the war.(p.201) Korkmazcan also emphasises that the expectations from Turkey were constructed not for Turkey’s interests but for Britain’s interests. (s.271)
– Commenting on the Tehran Conference held in November 1943, Vakit newspaper writer Asım Us wrote in 1947: “If Turkey had declared war against Germany after the Tehran Conference…today Istanbul and the Straits would be under the occupation of Soviet troops.” (p.235)
– Former Foreign Minister Necmettin Sadak (1949-1950) stated that if Turkey entered the war unprepared, it would experience the Soviet “liberation” after the German occupation (p.294).
– In the concluding chapter of the book, the author states: “The fact that a non-participating state was so important in the event of war can be explained not only by the national interests of the great powers, but also by Turkey’s effective diplomacy.”
I sincerely recommend it to history buffs who have not yet read it.