Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

The Exchange of Populations and Its Aftermath in Ayvalik, Mersin and Trabzon

Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

The Exchange of Populations and Its Aftermath in Ayvalik, Mersin and Trabzon

Article excerpt


The primary argument of this paper is that the Exchange of Populations, which was signed between the Turkish and Greek governments on 30 January 1923, dealt a severe blow to the multi-ethnic character of Asia Minor and made a major contribution to the establishment of the Turkish and Greek nation-states. Examining the phases of transition from the imperial social order to the establishment of the new nationalist Turkish Republic, in the coastal cities of Ayvalik, Mersin and Trabzon, this article aims to widen the scope of existing studies and provide new insights into the effects of the forced population transfer.

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The undeniable impact of the Exchange of Populations on the social fabric of Asia Minor accelerated the process of Turkish nation-state building in the 1920s. Specifically, the forced population transfer had a significant part in the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic and in the consolidation of Turkish nationalism under the victors of the Greco-Turkish War led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The pace of change was quite sharp in the coastal regions, where the population was more ethnically diverse due to their strategic locations and advantageous trade conditions, but the coastal towns chosen for this paper experienced quite different patterns of change and so differing effects of the Exchange of Populations on each district.

Three coastal cities, Ayvalik, Mersin and Trabzon, will be taken as case studies to reflect the transformation in the political, economic and social structure of the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey during the century following 1830. Ayvalik is located on the Aegean coast; Trabzon is situated on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, and Mersin is a port town on the Mediterranean coast of southern Turkey. Ayvalik, which was mainly populated by Greeks, probably was established at the end of the eighteenth century as a result of growing commercial opportunities. In the same era, Mersin became a major port town with a thriving, diverse population as demand increased for the agricultural raw materials, especially cotton, grown in neighboring inland districts. On the other hand, Trabzon, one of the oldest port cities in Anatolia, grew more important with the revival of the ancient trade route connecting the Black Sea ports with Iran.

The paper will provide brief information about the general outlook of the three towns during the period before the Exchange of Populations then turn to the aftermath of the forced population transfer in order to evaluate its impact. The reshaping of the economic and social structures of the new Turkish Republic also will be covered. Finally, because the majority of Muslim migrants went through a difficult adaptation period in Turkey, finding the properties they received were not equal to those that they leftin Greece or on the Greek islands and having to adjust to new customs and traditions, the problems related to their integration into the Turkish community will be addressed in the last section of this paper.

The defeat of the Greek armies by the forces of the Turkish nationalists in a way initiated the official procedure of the Exchange of Populations. On 27 October 1922, the Allies of World War I invited the Turkish governments of both Ankara and Ýstanbul to a peace conference in Lausanne. In order to prevent the Ýstanbul government from sending a delegation to the conference, however, the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara declared the abolition of the Sultanate on 1 November 1922 and denounced the last sultan, Mehmet Vahdettin, as a traitor.1 With his regime discredited, the sultan immediately leftÝstanbul, and the nationalist leaders in Ankara established themselves as the sole representatives of the new Turkish state.

At the peace conference opened on 20 November 1922, Great Britain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey were represented by envoys while the Soviet Union, Ukraine, Georgia, Romania and Bulgaria were invited to those sessions in which they had a direct interest. …

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