Memorialization Projects on Lausanne Treaty Emigrants

With the beginning of the Second Constitutional Era in the Ottoman Empire (1908), the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) began to employ Turkification policies that specifically targeted all non-Turkish communities living under Ottoman rule. When the empire lost its territories in the Balkan region in the course of the Balkans Wars (1912-13), these policies became more radical, culminating in the Armenian genocide in 1915. Being on the losing side in World War I led to the organizational demise of the CUP. Nevertheless, its ideological legacy survived among the Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal. Turkey and Greece went through a bloody war in the post-W.W. I period that continued until 1922. It ended with Turkish recovery of its Aegean territories and crystalized hatred between the societies. In 1923, the political status of the Ottoman Empire in the international system was determined by the Lausanne Treaty, which resolved most existing border conflicts. During the Lausanne negotiations, Turkey and Greece, which had already been pursuing policies of homogenization on their own territories, agreed to carry out a compulsory population exchange. As a result of these negotiations, approximately 1,200,000 Christians were deported from Turkey to Greece, while some 500,000 Muslims were forced to emigrate to Turkey. Gross human rights violations took place during this exchange, even though both states agreed to cause no economic hardship for the deportees. The criterion for deportation was the religious identity of the community, rather than language or race. Therefore, some Turkish communities in Greece that had converted to Christianity were not forced to migrate to Turkey. Non-Turkish-speaking communities such as the Pomaks, who spoke Bulgarian or Albanian, Romanian-speaking Ulahs, and Albanians who spoke their own language were just a few examples of groups that were forced to migrate to Turkey. These communities were later subjected to assimilation policies in Turkey. Under the agreement, the Greeks of Istanbul and the Turks of Western Thrace were exempted from the forced migration policy. One of the main issues in this process was the inability of the Turkish state to settle Muslim migrants, due to lack of effective planning and scarcity of housing. Many of the migrant families remained without housing for years and were forced to re-migrate from one city to another. The Foundation of Lausanne Treaty Emigrants is an NGO that organizes memorialization projects with a special focus on the past and present grievances experienced by these emigrants.

Scope and Purpose

The shared purpose of memorialization projects on the forced migrants is to commemorate the suffering of millions of people who were forced to leave their homes. A prominent memorialization effort is the Population Exchange Museum in Istanbul, initiated by the Catalca Municipality and the Foundation of Lausanne Treaty Emigrants. Its main purpose is to preserve and exhibit cultural and historical materials pertaining to the population exchange period, thereby keeping the history alive in the memory of new generations. The migration-related objects exhibited by the museum include trousseaus, instruments and music notebooks, household belongings and kitchen utensils, photographs and documents from the period, and property liquidation request forms. The museum is located in a neighborhood that once had a large Greek population, and a restoration project was planned that would return the neighborhood to its historic appearance. The Foundation of Lausanne Treaty Emigrants has initiated other dynamic memorialization efforts, such as an “Exhibition of Family Stories,” in which descriptive information and photos of migrant families are exhibited. In addition to commemorating the collective suffering, the foundation has developed other crucial projects aimed at protecting cultural heritage in Turkey and Greece. The Foundation also conducts documentation. It has published a series of books focusing on the narratives of forced migrants and their cultural and musical history, as well as the cities they once lived in. The Foundation has also conducted projects on the citizenship rights of minorities in Turkey and Greece, and aims to enhance minority mass media and empower minority-led civil society organizations by organizing conferences and preparing reports.

Furthermore, the first memorial in Turkey on the population exchange of Greeks was built in Küçükkuyu town of Çanakkale in 2012. Municipality organized the opening of the memorial with the participation of guests from Greece and held it inside the port to remind the experienced human tragedy. The “Population Exchange Memorial” was built in memory of Greeks who were exchanged to Crete and Lesbos islands, who are considered to be the founders of Küçükkuyu town. The memorial is built right at the spot where Crete and Lesbos migrants first landed on Küçükkuyu, in the form of a family with their local dresses 130 years ago in Crete island.


The essential reason for the huge forced migration between Turkey and Greece was the drive for the homogenization of nation-state territories. Yet this effort caused great harm to nearly 2 million people. By commemorating the victims of the population exchange, the memorialization projects mentioned above bring this historical episode to the attention of the societies in which it happened. The first generation of immigrants experienced great emotional trauma, and in many cases could not even visit their original hometowns before their death. For such a collective trauma, the museum and its struggle against forgetting have had a healing effect on migrant families. More importantly, these projects also protect the cultural and social history of forced migrants and thus remind new generations of the human effects of nation-state projects. In another vein, these projects are not limited to the problems of the 1920s, but also have an important impact on the contemporary problems of the affected groups, including the minorities that remained in each country. Although the compulsory population exchange was completed by the 1930s, the difficulties experienced by the remaining Greeks in Turkey and Turks in Greece did not end with the exchange. Both countries based the treatment of their minorities on the principle of reciprocity, which made the collective rights of minorities a matter for political bargaining. This caused further repression for non-immigrant minorities in the coming decades. Due to the Cyprus question, relations between Turkey and Greece worsened from the 1950s to the 1970s. In 1964, the remaining Greek minority in Turkey was forced to migrate; this affected some 13,000 people. One of the most significant impacts of the memorialization projects conducted by the Foundation is to bring the issues of minorities and forced migration to the attention of policymakers and society.


The Foundation of Lausanne Treaty Emigrants was able to raise public and private funds from the government, the EU, and NGOs to carry out many of its projects. However, the problems of Greek and Turkish migrants in the two countries persist, especially in such fields as minority schools in each country, freedom of conscience, and the perception of minorities in mainstream media. Although relations between Turkey and Greece have been restored in recent decades, the Cyprus question continues to constitute a serious barrier, since it remained unresolved. This issue constitutes a potential threat to the political, economic, and cultural rights of minorities in the two countries and makes them vulnerable to racist attacks. Lastly, one of the main demands of migrants in Turkey is the chance to visit their hometowns in Greece without being subject to visa restrictions. While migrant associations have started initiatives to overcome this problem and brought the issue to the Turkish parliament, there has been no progress on the issue so far.