Bordered by Syria to the South and Turkish provinces of Adana and Osmaniye to the North, Hatay is a beautiful city in the south of Turkey, on the Mediterranean coast. In this article, we examine the fascinating journey of Hatay to unite with Turkey as the cultural mosaic of a modern city.
This study will encompass the chronological evolution of Hatay as a Turkish province: imperial interest of colonial powers on the region – resulted in British invasion after World War I, French Mandate together with Syria, establishment of Iskenderun Sanjak – District, annexation to Syria as autonomous district, UN Resolution and free elections, declaration of independence from Syria, and finally unification with Turkey.
Herewith, we shall give point to the diplomatic campaign launched by the young Republic of Turkey and emphasize on the leadership of Ataturk, proven genius not only at the battlefields but also diplomatic – political arena.
Colonial Interests and French Influence in the Region:
Given to the geopolitical advantages providing safe trade routes around Eastern Mediterranean, Iskenderun Sanjak has always been attracted to the imperial power during all its history.
Specifically, France, as a prominent colonial power of the time, was exerting intense efforts to bear influence in health, religion, and railways since the beginning of the 18th century for similar reasons.
British Invasion French Mandate:
Even though Hatay remained as part of the Ottoman Empire when the Armistice of Mudros was signed, British Forces, which had already occupied most of Syria during the World War I in which Ottomans defied, invaded Hatay as well.
That de facto invasion was always rejected by Ottoman Government and protested.
Hatay, later, like the rest of Syria, left for France by British Empire; however, the Turkish Community continued to stay in Alexandretta. Mustafa Kemal quoted later Hatay had been a Turkish homeland for 4,000 years.
Ataturk’s Initial Relevance:
At the end of World War I, at the time Mudros Armistice was signed on October 30, 1918, the Sanjak region was under the control of Turkish forces. However, in accordance with the provisions of the Mudros Armistice, the Ottoman State did no longer exist.
The interest of the great leader Ataturk on the Hatay problem began at that time.
Being appointed as the Commander of the Lightning Orders Group in Adana on October 31, 1918, Ataturk issued orders to defend against any British attack on Iskenderun. However, that attempt angered the invasion forces and Istanbul Government and they abolished the Lightning Orders Group on November 7.
Iskenderun Sanjak under French Mandate:
On November 27, 1918, by a decree issued by the French High Commissioner in central Beirut, Iskenderun Sanjak was formed annexing Antakya, Iskenderun, and Harim to be central Iskenderun. The district administration would be performed by a governor.
French Invasion and Local Resistance Movements:
On December 7, 1918, Antakya, then on December 11, 1918, Dortyol were invaded by a French battalion of 400 Armenians.
On December 19, 1918, in the village of Karakese of Dortyol, resistance was launched against the French and the detachment was withdrawn, leaving 15 dead.
Upon all those events, on July 13, 1919, an American delegation visited the Iskenderun Sanjak to explore the complacency of the community under the French administration.
The outcome of that investigation, which put forth a discontent with the current administration desiring a Turkish rule infuriated highly irritated the French Government leading to subsequent stiffer reactions.
French supported Armenian gangs began to increase their oppression towards the Turks. Against all those oppressions, Iskenderun Sanjak and the Turks remained united against the struggle.
Ataturk’s Endeavors after Republican Era:
Influenced by Ataturk’s revolutions, the Hatay people started to implement the modernization efforts; started using hats, opened courses to learn new the Turkish Alphabet etc.
Ataturk, on May 31, 1920, was confirming his commitment in the Sanjak as a response to Tayfur Sokmen’s telegraph asking whether the region was within the borders of Misak-i Milli. He was suggesting that the activities would be in the coordination of the Corps in Maras, a nearby province.
Ankara Agreement – End of French Turkish War:
On October 20, 1921, Ankara Agreement was signed between Turkey and France, according to which Payas was going to be the border, and the Iskenderun Sanjak would stay outside the borders.
However, the Treaty was also containing provisions allowing all activities to develop the Turkish culture in Iskenderun region, every convenience would be provided, and the Turkish language would be the official language.
After the Ankara Agreement, the war between Turkey and France ended.
A border was drawn between Turkey and Syria. Dortyol (including Payas), and Hassa remained in the borders of Turkey. The French withdrew from Hassa on November 15, 1921, from Erzin on January 8, 1922, and from Dortyol on January 9, 1922.
Rising Disturbance and Demands to Join Turkey:
That new era with new border arrangement was a stage on rising disturbance in between the Turkish community left out of the homeland, troubling to orientate to new circumstances. They were taking all occasions to utter – to give voice to their desire to become part of new modern Turkey.
Ayse Fitnat Hanim, a woman from Antakya was calling out Ataturk breaking away the crowd gathered for welcoming ceremony for his visit to Adana on March 15, 1923. “Save Us Great Ataturk – Great Veteran!”
“Forty years of Turkish homeland cannot be kept in captivity by the enemies!” Ataturk was replying in return – quoted from an article called ‘Hatay Tarihi Tarihcesi’.
Syrian Independence and Status of Iskenderun – Hatay:
On September 9, 1936, France agreed with Syria to grant independence to Syria, but the situation of the Iskenderun Sanjak, which had a special status, was ignored.