Undercover Politics: Exchangee Organizations and Minority Identity in Turkey

By Leigh Stuckey
Submitted to Session P5015 (Negotiating Memories and Legacies of Communal Violence in WWI Anatolia, 2017 Annual Meeting
Diaspora/Refugee Studies; Minorities; Turkish Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The 1923 Greek-Turkish Population Exchange forcibly exiled Turkey’s Greek Orthodox population to Greece and Greece’s Muslim population to Turkey. The Population Exchange was a homogenizing measure intended to “unmix” diverse Ottoman peoples into their proper nation-states on the basis of religion (Clark, 2009; Hirschon, 2003). Minority Muslim and Christian populations were expelled without regard for their family histories, community attachments, and native languages, and many families experienced the Exchange as a trauma. In Turkey, this event was largely excluded from national history and public consciousness until the early 2000s (see I?s?z 2007). At that time, a number of national and regional organizations emerged to preserve exchangee identity and record the memories and experiences of those exchanged before they died. My paper, based on 2.5 years of ethnographic fieldwork in Turkey and Greece, examines the goals and projects of a number of these organizations. I compare the exchangee identity and heritage preservation efforts of Turkey’s national exchangee association (the Lozan Mübadilleri Vakf?, or LMV) to those of smaller regional and local groups. In Turkey, where minority identities are often repressed (see Tambar, 2014), the work of these organizations to protect and publicize exchangee heritage is inherently political. Further, their efforts often involve cooperation with Greek counterparts across a politicized national border dividing historically hostile states. In my paper, I will demonstrate how exchangee organizations in Turkey variously avoid, hide, or embrace the political nature of their projects depending on their relationship to larger state structures and institutions. I argue that distance from traditional sites of political power (i.e. governments) can give these organizations the freedom to realize social and cultural projects whose aims and effects in fact reach economic and political arenas. Finally, I conclude by tracking the effects of AK Party leadership and Turkey’s autocratic turn upon the work of the LMV and other smaller organizations.