The Tripoli Question, 1902-1911.


There seems to be good reason for the belief that among the diplomatists assembled at the Congress of Berlin there was some informal discussion of the Tripoli question. Lord Salisbury, according to De Launay, one of the Italian representatives, intimated that Italy might look forward to expansion in Tripoli or Tunis.

After the French acquisition of Tunis in 1881 Italian aspirations in regard to Tripoli were generally recognized and even encouraged by the powers. In an exchange of views between Lord Salisbury and Crispi in 1890, the former, according to the report of Catalini, Italian Chargé d'Affaires at London, declared himself convinced that on the day when the status quo in the Mediterranean should suffer any alteration the occupation of Tripoli by Italy would become an absolute necessity. At the same time he advised Italy to wait.

In 1890 Crispi endeavored to get from the great powers permission for Italy to take possession of Tripoli. France was rather noncommittal. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and England thought that Italy had strong claims upon Tripoli and expressed their willingness to see Italy in control of it, but advised her to wait.

Differences of opinion among Italian statesmen, in conjunction with the high cost and small success of Italian colonial enterprises in the Red Sea area, account for the failure of Italy to take any definite steps for obtaining control over Tripoli until 1900.


In 1900 Italy entered into a secret convention with France covering their respective interests in North Africa. This convention was not ratified until 1902. Though the text of the agreement was not published, the general nature of the arrangement was made public by M. Delcassé in an interview in an Italian newspaper. Italy agreed that France should have a free hand as regards Morocco, receiving for herself from France a similar assurance as regards Tripoli.


From about the time of this agreement and doubtless largely in consequence of it, Italy began to push steadily the process of pacific penetration in Tripoli. The only steamships running regularly to Tripoli were Italian; the Banco di Roma maintained an agency in Tripoli and exerted a great influence. A considerable school system, subsidized by the Italian Government, was established. Railroads were projected. Tripoli was enabled to enjoy the advantages of the Italian parcel post system. As a result of these Italian activities "except for its political status, Tripoli was in 1908 practically Italian province."


The Turkish Revolution of July, 1908, by bringing the You Turks into control at Constantinople, threatened to change this situation radically. Hitherto the process of taking over control of Tripoli on the part of the Italians had encountered little opposition from the Turkish officials. Now all that was changed. The officials sent out to Tripoli, evidently under instruction, vigorously resist the efforts of Italians along the lines of pacific penetration. A series of "incidents" occurred which led to decisive action by Italy in the fall of 1911.


A lively agitation in the Italian press during the early days September, 1911, heralded the action taken by the Italian Government on the 27th of that month. In a short incisive note the Italian Government asserted the absolute necessity for putting an end to disorder prevailing in Tripoli and the right of that region to be admitted to the benefits of the same progress enjoyed by other parts of North Africa. The Turkish Government was charged with the constant manifestation of hostility toward the legitimate activity of Italy in Tripoli. Owing to the recent arrival there of military transports, the Italian Government announced that it had decided to prosecute the occupation of Tripoli. Twenty-four hours we allowed for a reply, but the Italian note clearly stated that no other solution than Italian occupation would be acceptable. The ultimatum was rejected by Turkey (September 28) and war began. The decision of Italy to delay no longer the long-foreshadowed taking of Tripoli appears to have been closely connected with the Morocco crisis of 1911.

Source: Anderson, Frank Maloy and Amos Shartle Hershey, Handbook for the Diplomatic History of Europe, Asia, and Africa 1870-1914. Prepared for the National Board for Historical Service. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1918.

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