Twice a Stranger: How Mass Expulsion Forged Modern Greece And Turkey, by Bruce Clark

Second paragraph of third chapter:

My sister was caught when the war ended. The Turkish army came to the place where we were. In the ensuing battle my sister, a young girl, was captured. A baker from Kayak took her and adopted her. He raised her as though she were really his child.

Quite a short book (270 pages) about a big big topic: the forced exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1923, following on the Treaty of Lausanne which officially ended the First World War, but also put a full stop to the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-22 and notoriously stipulated that Muslims living in Greece (except Eastern Thrace) and Orthodox Christians living in Turkey (except Istanbul) would be transferred to the other country. This meant 1.2 million Christians and 400,000 Muslims, many (possibly most) of whom did not speak Greek or Turkish respectively as their first language, if at all, suddenly became citizens in lands where their ancestors had never lived; historic communities were unmixed, cultures were wiped out, and unspoken traumas endured.

Bruce Clark wrote this book at the beginning of the century when a fair number of eyewitnesses were still alive, if elderly, and prepared to talk about what had happened to them eighty years before; I shouldn't think there are many left now. So he combined historiography of the early Greek state, late Ottoman Empire and nascent Turkish Republic with powerful first-person accounts. These eyewitness stories are not only of violence and expulsion. A surprising number of his interlocutors were happy to talk about the happy times before the conflict, when villagers all lived together without fussing too much about whether they went to the mosque or the church, or indeed indivudal acts of humanity by neighbours as the situation accelerated. This nostalgia had survived eight decades of indoctrination by the Greek and Turkish states.

One fascinating (and sad) aspect is that in fact the Christians and Muslims who were displaced were a lot more diverse than the cultures into which they were then ruthlessly assimilated. I was already familiar with the Bektashi sect of Islam, which flourished in what is now Greek Macedonia and is now basically restricted to the Albanian-speaking world. I wasn't previously aware of their neighbours the Valaades, or of the crypto-Christians of Anatolia, populations whose identity depended on the mixed cultures of their environments.

All of this is set against the high politics of the negotiations between Venizelos and Kemal (not yet Atatürk), who were both very much in favour of unmixing their respective populations, but both also faced significant internal opposition – both were nominally democracies with elected parliaments, but we should always remember that even autocratic states can have vigorous internal politics. (The subtitle of the book uses the word "forged", which of course means both making and faking.) There were significant interventions in managing the displaced populations from external players as well, notably in Greece which was very dependent on external aid from the British government and from American individuals such as Henry Morgenthau.

It did make me wonder about an alternate timeline where Greece actually won the 1919-22 war. I don't think the territorial gains on the Aegean coast could have been sustainable in the long term, given Turkey's much greater population and advantage of strategic depth. The new Turkish state (Kemalism would not have survived) would have aligned firmly with the Axis in the second world war, rather than the neutrality of our timeline, and would surely have taken back all or most of the territory, with a second huge wave of human displacement.

Clark doesn't especially look at other cases of forced mass population movement – he mentions Cyprus in passing (tragic indeed, if on a smaller scale) but one could add the Partition of India, which was an order of magnitude bigger on the human scale, or the Balkans in the 1990s, or indeed the place where both Clark and I come from which saw thousands forced from their homes in 1969. It's enough to look in detail at this one particular situation. He does however assess the outcome as a success for both the Greek and Turkish states, considered in their own selfish and brutal terms; a success gained at the cost of vast human misery.

(Also, Japan participated in the Allied military occupation of Constantinople/Istanbul! I had no idea!)

A great book, very readable I think even for those who are less familiar with the history and geography of the subject. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2015. The next might be The Best of Tor 2015, but it's rather long and I may skip it.

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