'Are We Going to Establish this Nation Divided?': Institutionalization of Refugee/Exchangee Identity and State Opposition After the 1923 Greco-Turkish Population Exchange

By Irmak Şensöz
Submitted to Session S6704 (CUMES Undergraduate Research Poster Presentation, 2021 Annual Meeting
Nationalism; Turkish Studies;
The 1923 Turkish-Greek population exchange stripped approximately 1.2 million Greek-
Orthodox Christian Anatolians and 400,000 Muslims from Greece of their pre-war citizenship, uprooted them from their homes, and forced them to resettle on the opposite shores of the Aegean Sea. Given the fact that Greece had to absorb a significantly greater number of refugees than Turkey, it is perhaps not surprising that the historiography of the post-exchange period has largely focused on the resettlement of Christian refugees in Greece. As Onur Yıldırım points out in his Diplomacy and Displacement, historians have traditionally assumed that most Muslim refugees in Turkey were simply given property and swiftly assimilated into their new society. My research challenges the narrative about post-exchange Turkey by exploring how nationalist attitudes and government resettlement policies hindered refugee attempts to develop a collective identity in the 1920s. First, I examine the different ways in which refugees tried to create a communal identity outside of Turkish nationalism. I utilize periodicals from archives such as the Hakkı Tarık Us Collection and the Atatürk Library to trace the activities of local refugee social organizations, workers’ unions, and political advocacy groups. I also analyze published interviews with Muslim refugees, in texts such as İskender Özsoy’s İki Vatan Yorgunları, to identify shared narratives of exclusion, integration, and reaction to resettlement. Second, through debate transcripts from the Turkish Parliament’s Archive, I show that the policymakers of the early Republic rejected and looked to take action against this creation of a distinct refugee identity. In doing so, this research attempts to fill an important gap in the historiography, shed light on the lived experiences of exchanged populations, and build on existing work about assimilation in Early Republican Turkey.