Turkey has the Sevres Syndrome

Tensions are high in the Asia Minor since the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey. While Turkey claims that the Russian jet was violating its airspace and did not heed to repeated warnings, the Russians argue otherwise.

The Russians further dispute that even if they were violating Turkish airspace; it’s ludicrous to assume that Russia would have attacked Turkey, a member of the NATO defense alliance. The Russians contend that everyone knew that the jet was on its way to target ISIS. So why did Turkey attack the Russian jets? Perhaps Turkish history can provide some insight.

Sèvres Syndrome – Justified Fear or National Psychosis?

While analysts and politicians attempt to find out the rational behind the incident, it appears they are neglecting a common fear that lingers in the mind of Turks since WWI. Traumatic national experiences can have long term ramifications on a state and its people. There are many examples of such experiences in history i.e. the Chinese Century of Humiliation, France and Russia’s apprehension of a fully armed Germany, etc. The Turks have undergone something similar and is referred to as the Sèvres Syndrome.


After the defeat of the Ottomans in WWI, Turkish representatives signed the Treaty of Sèvres. One of the major stipulations of the treaty was that the Ottoman Empire would be carved up into many pieces and allotted to the different nations that comprised the victorious coalition. The Turks were given Ankara and the surrounding area to create a Turkish enclave. The once mighty Ottoman Empire was rendered into a city-state. The terms of the treaty fomented resentment amongst the Turks and stirred nationalistic feelings.

Perturbed by the treaty, Mustafa Kemal Attaurk, the father of modern Turkey, started the Turkish War of Independence. The war led to the Treaty of Lausanne, which superseded the Treaty of Sèvres . The Treaty of Lausanne created the modern Turkish Republic and evicted all of the occupation forces from Turkey.

However, the initial attempt by outside forces to implement a treaty that compromised Turkish sovereignty has led to a national attitude that “there are forces which continually seek to disperse and destroy us, and it is necessary to defend the state against this danger.” The trauma experienced by the treaty created a popular notion that the West and Russia are continually looking to “weaken and carve up Turkey.” This event molded a perception amongst Turks that they are circumscribed by hostile forces bent on the destruction of their country.

The Sèvres Syndrome appears to be a major element in Turkish foreign policy. With the recent shift in Turkish political culture towards more of a neo-Ottomanism approach, symptoms of the Sèvres Syndrome can be more evident now than ever. It is this “irrational fear in Turkey regarding the Treaty of Sèvres, which unites liberals and nationalists alike.”


As politicians and analysts continue to understand Turkey’s reaction in regards to the Russian jet, it should not rule out Turkish perception and history. Due to the Sèvres Syndrome, any type of violation with regards to Turkish sovereignty will always lead to such extreme reactions.

Luis Durani
Luis Durani
Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani