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a special type of unequal treaty that specified the privileges accorded foreigners by the host state. The content of the capitulations reflected the relative power positions of the parties to the treaty.
Originally, capitulations were a privilege that a government could extend to the citizens of another country and could abolish as it saw fit. Such relations existed, for example, between the Italian cities and Byzantium and between Christian principalities in Palestine and the Egyptian Mameluke sultans. In the middle of the 15th century the sultans of the Ottoman Empire granted capitulations to the citizens of Genoa and Venice. In 1535 or 1536 the Turkish sultan Suleiman I Kanuni (“the Lawgiver”) granted the first capitulation to France. This capitulation, dating from the period of the greatest might of the Ottoman Empire, as well as earlier capitulations, was not unequal. As the Ottoman Empire became weaker the content of the capitulations changed. For example, in 1740, France’s privileges in the Ottoman Empire were broadened and confirmed “in perpetuity.” From the end of the 18th century, the capitulations were included in treaties concluded by the Ottoman Empire with foreign states. From voluntarily granted privileges, capitulations became terms of bondage that fixed the privileges of the foreign states and their subjects.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the system of capitulations was spread by the European states and the USA to many countries of Asia and Africa, including China, Japan, Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. As a rule the capitulations provided for the complete freedom (immunity) of foreigners from local jurisdiction. Moreover, foreigners were granted extensive privileges in trade, navigation, and local self-administration, and they were freed from many taxes and levies. The capitalist powers used the system of capitulations to further enslave the dependent countries.
In the late 19th century, Japan succeeded in abolishing the capitulations it had granted. In the majority of Balkan countries that had been part of the Ottoman Empire, capitulations were abolished after the liberation of these countries from the Ottoman yoke. In those parts of the Ottoman Empire which were virtually turned into colonies of the European powers, the capitulations were abolished in order to establish undivided European rule. Such was the case in 1830 in Algeria, in 1883–84 in Tunisia, and in 1912 in Tripolitania.
With the rising national liberation movements in Asia and Africa, the system of capitulations began to crumble. The decline was furthered by the Soviet state, which resolutely opposed all capitulation privileges and renounced the capitulation rights that had been granted to Tsarist Russia: the Soviet policy was reflected in the treaties with Turkey and Iran in 1921 and with China in 1924. Turkey finally freed itself from the system of capitulations in 1923 under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne. The system was abolished in 1928 in Iran, between 1937 and 1949 in Egypt, and between 1943 and 1947 in China.