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Compilation year



Prophet's relics



Deliberations at the Lausanne Conference - pressure on the Ottoman delegation to hand over Prophet's relics taken for safekeeping from Medina to Istanbul at the close of the First World War 1914-1918


The Conference of Lausanne held in Switzerland in 1923 was one of a series through which the victors of the Great War (1914-18) - Britain and France - extracted reparations and compensations from the vanquished powers - Germany and Ottoman Turkey. At the preceding Paris Peace Conference, Germany was compelled to cede its rich mining regions of Ruhr and Sahr to France and also pay massive financial reparations (breeding a resentment that contributed to World War II - 1939-45). Similarly Ottoman Turkey was forced to cede its European provinces - for example Albania, Bosnia-Hercogovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary ...and Britain was able to obtain mandates over its Eastern provinces, Iraq and Palestine (avowedly to be held in trust until the peoples of the region could attain self-government). This period coincided with the emergence of strong-man Mustafa Kamal Pasha at the head of a new Turkish government, and fresh 'negotiations' commenced in Lausanne. The British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon "held all the cards" - as observed by a British official in these files. Curzon had amassed a vast collection of Indian and Persian artefacts - for his stately home, Kedleston. British officials at Lausanne raised the issue of the Prophet's relics that had been taken from Medina by Turkish forces when facing attack from Britain's Arab mercenaries under Sherif Hussein of Hejaz. However Chukry (Shukry) Bey of the Turkish delegation did not budge:

Telegram from Secretary of State of Viceroy, Foreign Department, dated 2nd Feb 1923.

Mr Ryan in raising general question of restitution of objects transferred during war said he had in mind particularly treasures removed from the Prophet's tomb at Medina in 1917. There were removed by Fakhri Pasha as a military measure apparently out of genuine concern for their safety and without consent of immediate custodian namely Emin-ul-Haram. Fakhri to allay excitement caused in Medina had definitely promised restoration at end of war, but treasures were still in Constantinople. British delegation had double interest firstly as having been asked by King Hussein to take matter up secondly because question affected whole Moslem world and Great Britain as a Moslem power was concerned to obtain satisfaction for natural desire of Moslems. Treasures were all given for purpose of adorning tomb and it was not only right but duty of King of Hedjaz to ensure treasurers being kept in place intended by donors who included Indian rulers. British Delegation asked Turks to consent to inclusion in Treaty of article binding Turkey to restore treasures. They felt that Turkey could not fail to have same concern as Great Britain for Moslem religious sentiment. French representative associated himself with foregoing.

Chukri Bey maintained that custody of treasures belonged to Calif as such that one of his chief prerogatives was guardianship of Holy Places and that matter was purely religious to be determined in accordance with principles of religious law with which Conference had not concern. Turkish delegation were therefore unable to discuss matter.

Mr Ryan in reply said matter was undoubtedly of Moslem concern and he had made it clear that he was speaking on behalf of King Hussein and Moslems of India... Protection of treasures was now right and duty of King Hussein. In past ultimate responsibility had rested on Sultan as severeign of Turkish Empire. Firmans empowering immediate custodians were issued by Sultan as sovereign. If insertion of article in Treaty could not be agreed to, Mr Ryan urged that Turkish Government should formally promise to return treasures to Medina as soon as Peace Treaty comes into force. Debate dropped after further exchange of observations in which Chukri Bey maintained his view and Italian representative also associated himself with Mr Ryan.

A meeting of commission on 27th January Lord Curzon impressed on Turks desirability of returning to Medina relics and treasures which their army had snatched from tomb of Prophet and carried off to Constantinople in 1917 but appeal failed to move Turks.

The relics are now housed at the Topkapi Palace, alhamdu lillah. For details on Fakhri Pasha click here

J&P (S) 6976, 1923 (125)  

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