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Documenting the Past and
Publicizing Personal Stories:
Sensescapes and the 1923
Greco-Turkish Population Exchange
in Contemporary Turkey

Asli Igsız


National identification practices and nationalist historiography in Turkey have
long focused on erasing differences and diversity and configuring a “homogeneous”
nation. More recently, an increasing personalization of geography
through familial attributes and memories became an anchor for self-identification
in contemporary Turkey, traceable through family history and personal narratives
in the public domain. This shift in the way people engage with the past
is symptomatic of nostalgia for a traceable self-identification through family
histories pursued to geographies of “origin” as opposed to the “administered
forgetting” of such identifications by nationalist ideologies. We can track this
change over the last two decades in cultural products, such as documentary
novels, memoirs, and family cookbooks, which have opened a space in the
public domain to reconsider the past and to rewrite history at an individual
level. The dynamics of this change are particularly evident in the case of the
1923 Greco-Turkish Compulsory Population Exchange and its representation
in Kemal Yalçin’s documentary novel, The Entrusted Trousseau: Peoples
of the Exchange (Emanet Çeyiz).

It was a book presented as a novel that arguably most effectively broke
the 65-year Turkish silence surrounding the 1923 Greek-Turkish compulsory
population exchange. In 1998, Kemal Yalçin published The
Entrusted Trousseau: Peoples of the Exchange [Emanet Çeyiz] which tells the
tale of the author, originally from Turkey, who goes to Greece to find
his father’s Greek Orthodox neighbors and to return their daughter’s
wedding trousseau. The trousseau was entrusted to Yalçin’s family when
their Greek Orthodox neighbors were forced to leave Turkey in the 1920s
and thought that they would soon return. The book—a collection of

Journal of Modern Greek Studies 26 (2008) 451–487 © 2008 by The Johns Hopkins University Press






452 Asli Ig¨


oral accounts of the exchanged peoples from both Greece and Turkey
whom the author met during his journey in his search for the owners of
the trousseau—received immediate public attention and many awards in
Turkey.1 But it raised questions regarding its genre: was this really a novel
or a collection of oral history accounts? When I asked him why he chose
to present this book as a novel, even though there was little fiction in it,
Yalçin replied that, at that time, he did not think the Turkish public was
“ready” for another genre to introduce this tragedy and that he reached
a larger audience through presenting his story as a novel. This choice
was strategic and his book is one of the earliest examples in Turkey of
the now recurring genre, “documentary novel.”

A year later, in 1999, a group of second generation mübadil
(exchanged people),2 originally from Greece and now established in
Turkey, started a foundation in Istanbul for the people of the exchange,
“Lozan Mübadilleri Vakfi” (literally, “Foundation for Lausanne Exchangees”)
and began collecting oral history accounts. They built a website
and established an email list that hosts more than 900 people, sponsored
conferences and documentaries on the exchange, compiled recipes,
archived photographs and other documents belonging to the mübadil,
collaborated with their counterpart organizations in Greece, such as the
members of the Association of People from Asia Minor of Rethymnon,
and organized trips to their families’ homeland which many had never
seen before with the slogan, “Greetings the soil of my birth!” (“Merhaba

dugum toprak!”).3 When interviewed, some of the founders identified
the role of both the 1999 earthquakes in Turkey and Greece and
The Entrusted Trousseau in raising an awareness of their family’s cultural
background. Turkish state officials, on the other hand, first honored the
novel with the Ministry of Culture’s 1998 Novel Success Prize. Then, in
2002, other state officials filed a complaint and prosecuted the book and
author, citing the content of the book as “offensive” and an “insult” to
Turkish national identity. The novel and its author have subsequently
been acquitted.

As the fate of The Entrusted Trousseau indicates, history is a site of
heated debates in Turkey, especially when the object of discussion is
past ruptures4 such as the 1923 Greco-Turkish compulsory population
exchange.5 Contemporary documentary genres play an important role in
making past ruptures public and in articulating self-identification(s) by
anchoring “identity” in the memory of a place. Cultural products, such as
documentary films, novels, memoirs, and family cookbooks have opened
a space in the public domain of Turkey over the past two decades, both
to reconsider the past and rewrite history at an individual level.

Furthermore, by engaging with the past, this shift is symptomatic

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 453

of nostalgia at two different levels: first, a publicly-constructed nostalgia
for a pre-nation-state “multiculturalism” or diversity crystallized in public
representations of different groups, including the Greek Orthodox
community from Istanbul in the early 2000s, for example, which became
emblematic of a selective nostalgia for Istanbul’s “past cosmopolitanism.”6
Additionally, the proliferation of individual histories traced to different
personal maps—mediated through cultural products and other public
circuits7—wove the diverse fabric of the past and present peoples of Asia
Minor (Anatolia), the heartland of Turkey today, through personal and
now-public histories. This shift might also be considered as making alternative
histories public and thus bringing a plurality or polyphony (Ig¨

2007:165)8 to the more straightforward nationalist official historiography
that contains homogenizing tendencies of the past and present peoples
in Turkey (e.g., representations of Greeks as enemies or all Muslims as
Turks, etc.) as embodied in school textbooks and problematized by various
scholars in the recent years (Çotuksöken, Erzan, and Silier 2003; Irzik
and Tarba Ceylan 2005; Ersanli 2003; Göçek 2006:107; Millas 1991:21–33;
Özbaran 1998:61–69; Stathis 1998:125–134).

Second, national identification practices and nationalist historiography
were geared toward erasing differences and diversity to create one
“homogeneous” nation of the Muslim millet (an Ottoman identification
system) as “Turks” in the geography of nationalized territory (Aktar
2003:79–95; Bali 2001; Çag¨

aptay 2006; Copeaux 1998; Copeaux and
Mauss-Copeaux 2006:48; Danaciog¨

lu 2001:1–15; Göçek 2002:207–228; Gür
2007:40–69; Keyder 2003:39–52; Körog¨¨

lu 2004; Okutan 2004; Özdogan
2001; Özyürek 2007:1–15). But we see a reversal of this equation in
some milieus in the 1990s: an increasing trend of personalization of
geography through familial attributes and memories became an anchor
for self-identification, rendered traceable through family history and
personal narratives in the public domain. In other words, the longing
for personal history is materialized in the form of recollecting family
history and tracing these histories to maps of “origin.”9 One way this is
manifested in the context of the mübadil relocated both in Greece and
Turkey is what I call “sensescapes.”10

While some scholars correctly explain the growing interest in and
nostalgia for the past through disillusionment with the present and future
in Turkey (Neyzi 2002:137–158; Özyürek 2007:2), it is also true that the
“postmodern demand” for particularism and asking the question, “who
are we?” seem to have caught up in contemporary Turkey as well (Bryant
2004:5). Obviously, the question of juncture is also important in the more
recent public interest in the population exchange: the 1999 earthquakes
in the Aegean followed by a rapprochement between Greece and Turkey,

454 Asli Ig¨


the collaboration of the foreign ministers of the two countries, and
increased questioning of competing nationalisms and state policies in
Turkey, perhaps also triggered by Kurdish claims for self-identification,
are all important factors.

As such, contemporary narratives of longing for the past and the
lost homeland among the mübadil and their family members can be
viewed as nostalgia11 for a traceable family history and a tool for identity
work, eclipsing the uniform identification overwritten by state-sponsored
narratives. Thus, at a personal level, familial references might be interpreted
as an alghos (longing or grief) for the nostos (return home, also
interpreted here as a return to the family “origins”) as exemplified by
the slogan, “Greetings the soil of my birth!” that succinctly captures this
dynamic. It is an attempt to return to family homeland soil, both literally
and metaphorically through narratives of sensescapes, a geographically
informed self-identification trope that conveys nostalgia for lost homelands
and a sensory return to the place of “origin,” which is especially
significant for the second and third generation mübadil as means to
reconnect with family histories.

In this context, documenting the past through cultural products
in general and documentary genres in particular emerges as a narrative
strategy to address past ruptures in contemporary Turkey, such as the
Greek-Turkish exchange of populations. While documentary novels such
as the Entrusted Trousseau contribute to considering new ways of reconnecting
with the past, both at a personal and public level, they also open
a space for public articulations of plurality by putting individual experiences
at their center. This initiative can be considered as a move away
from the uniformity of nationalized identity narratives of official historiography
exemplified in school textbooks, towards plurality in publicly
expressed self-identifications. This move, however, as valuable as it is, is not
unproblematic as individual accounts are increasingly presented as those
of eye-witnesses, often equated with being straightforward “informants,”
while at the same time eye-witness stature is configured as an authoritative
position that can shed light on past events in contemporary Turkey’s
public domain. This of course does not mean eye-witness accounts did
not exist before, but rather, because of the present moment they gain a
relatively new meaning as documents of the past.12

History and literature: contested sites of memory and identification

“History’s greatest trek. . . .” writes Melville Chater in the November 1925
issue of the National Geographic, “Tragedy stalks through the Near East as
Greece and Turkey exchange two million of their people” (1925:533).13

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 455

This “tragedy,” as Chater states, was a forced migration of religiouslyidentified
groups—Muslims and Greek-Orthodox Christians—implemented
in the form of an exchange of these peoples between two nation

Following the 1919–1922 Greco-Turkish War in Asia Minor, the
Lausanne Convention was signed in January 1923. Article One in the
Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations
and Protocol states:

As from the 1st May, 1923, there shall take place a compulsory exchange
of Turkish nationals of the Greek Orthodox religion established in Turkish
territory, and of Greek nationals of the Moslem religion established in
Greek territory. These persons shall not return to live in Turkey or Greece
respectively without the authorisation of the Turkish Government or of the
Greek Government respectively.14

Excluded from the exchange were about 200,000 Greek Orthodox in
Istanbul since Greek Christians who arrived in Istanbul after 30 October
1918 were not considered inhabitants of the city and, therefore, would
not be subject to the exchange. Likewise, a number of Muslims living
in Western Thrace, close to the Turkish border in Greece, were also
excluded from this forced migration.

The Lausanne Convention that specified the conditions of the
exchange “set a precedent in international politics,” anthropologist Renée
Hirschon argues, and it is “used as a reference point in discussions about
subsequent mass population displacements in many parts of the world”
(2003:xiv). And yet, despite its early characterizations as “history’s greatest
trek” and as a colossal “tragedy,” and its later impact on discussions
of mass displacements in international politics, such as the partition of
India and Pakistan and their exchange of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims,
the Greco-Turkish population exchange was surprisingly absent in the
official memory in Turkey and, perhaps to a lesser extent, in Greece where,
articulated as the Asia Minor Catastrophe, it is recollected much earlier,
not only through cultural products, but also archives such as those of the
Centre for Asia Minor Studies. For decades these publicly recollected
stories were those of the arriving Orthodox communities rather than
of the departing Muslims (Papailias 2005:1–138, 2001:267–298; Doulis
1977).15 In this sense, the record of the Muslims who left Greece—before,
during, or after the exchange—in public repertoires through books or
films is also a relatively more recent phenomenon in Greece.

“Forgotten” for decades, the 1923 Greco-Turkish compulsory
religious minority exchange has only recently started receiving wider
attention, not only in international arenas other than Greece, but

456 Asli Ig¨


also in Turkey. Whereas the international lack of interest in the event,
despite international involvement in the ratification and execution of the
exchange and its impacts on global politics, raises questions about what
happens to such ruptures in non-postcolonial settings in international
public domains and how they are treated.16 The dynamics in Turkey are
rather different as Turkish nationalist history has ignored questions of
discrimination against arriving communities; the exchanged Muslims
were expected to melt into the Turkish national identification pot, constructed
and consolidated with official history.

In this context, new initiatives geared towards Turkification were
taken in different arenas in the 1920s. For example, in the case of
language, in 1928 a new campaign was launched promoting the use of
Turkish in public spaces: “Citizen, speak Turkish!” This campaign targeted
people whose mother tongue was not Turkish, and different groups such
as Jews, Armenians, and Greek Orthodox, but also Cretan Muslims who
came as part of the population exchange and did not necessarily speak
Turkish. Constraints were implemented on the use of other languages in
public spaces such as restaurants, trams, and theaters. Rifat Bali points
out that some Turkish municipalities, such as Balikesir and Bergama
(Pergamon), fined those who did not speak Turkish in public during
the late 1920s (2001:134–135). Both Bergama and Balikesir were places
of resettlement for large groups of the mübadil arriving from Greece. In
fact, Balikesir took in 33,132 refugees, approximately 15% of the total
coming to Turkey (Ari 1995:113).17

According to Bali, the campaign calling for speaking Turkish was
at first met with negative reactions from different communities. Some
would sit under signs reading, “Citizen, speak Turkish!” and speak their
own language or simply tear down the signs (2001:136–137). It is also
around this period that Turkish Criminal Code article 159 was enacted,
according to which “Türklüg¨

ü tahkir” (“insulting Turkishness”) was made
a crime (Bali 2001:136–137). This law seems to have been intended to
protect state-sponsored Turkishness embedded in national self-esteem
discourses to promote “national dignity” in such fields as history and
national literature.18 In other words, anything that would challenge
national pride (defined as Turkish and considered vital to the nationbuilding
process) was not allowed in the public domain. For instance,
Bali gives the example of two film importers, Avram and Mateo, who, in
1929, were prosecuted for insulting Turkishness because a foreign film
they imported featured a dog named “Turk” (2001:137). As in the case
of the author of The Trousseau, the defendants were acquitted, but their
film was confiscated.

Considering how these dynamics of nationalist discourses marked

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 457

the first decades of the Republic of Turkey, it should come as no surprise
that Kemal Yalçin’s documentary novel was also labeled as offensive and
prosecuted as an insult to Turkishness.19 Articulating dissidence with
nationalist history, as well as promoting self-identifications other than the
homogeneously conceptualized national identity, was also discouraged,
both privately in the daily lives of many mübadil (as Yalçin also points
out in his book) and publicly in the limited possibilities for making their
stories known through such media as books or films. This, however, is
a large problem, not only as a civil rights issue but also because what
constitutes Turkishness and insults against it, are vastly blurred and
problematic issues.

As for the “Citizen, speak Turkish!” campaign in the early years of
the Republic, it did not last very long, although it was relaunched numerous
times afterwards (Yildiz 2001:286–288; Aktar 2000:130–131). The key
significance of the penal code and the Turkish-speaking campaign is the
way both manifest official conceptualization of public space, crystallizing
control over the public domain and activities therein.

What then was the role attributed to literature, or national literature
in those years? According to his protégée, Afet Inan, Atatürk described
literature as “Söz ve manayi, yani insan dimag¨

inda yer eden, her türlü
bilgileri ve insan karakterinin en büyük duygularini, bunlari dinliyenleri
veya okuyanlari, çok alakali kilacak surette söylemek ve yazmak sanati”
(“[t]he art of telling and writing the word and meaning, that is the highest
feelings of human character and all sorts of knowledge stored in human
mind, in a meaningfully compelling way for the audience or readers”)
(Inan 1959:272). Atatürk thus configured literature as rhetoric.20 As with
history, he attributed to it a mission: literature was seen as a fundamental
tool for education (“en esasli terbiye vasitalarindan biri”), a pedagogical
organization (“tes*

ekkül”) guarding and protecting the conditions and
future of human communities (Inan 1959:273). The human community
is the Turkish nation in this context and literature is its guardian.

Furthermore, according to Inan, Atatürk maintained how “even
a respectable and idealist profession like the military, engaging science
and technology of life and encountering blood” finds the tool it needs
in literature (1959:273). For the military, Atatürk contends, literature is
an instrument to awaken individuals, to aim at specific targets, and to
execute them, thus creating self-sacrificing and heroic individuals (Inan
1959:273). And in this process, literature helps military officers communicate
their human conditions (hal) to the social community of which
they are a part, preparing society for the great journey of humanity and
heroism (Inan 1959:273). If configured properly, Atatürk postulated,
literature education will prepare the Turkish child to express himself or

458 Asli Ig¨


herself naturally, and in a charismatic way that will engage the masses.
In turn, the public will follow the Turkish child in achieving the great
Turkish ideal (Inan 1959:273). Atatürk’s statements point to a strong
interpretation of national literature as a pedagogical rhetorical tool and
its role in education, therefore, as essential in shaping the minds of the
Turkish populace.

The early 1990s, however, brought dramatic changes in the public
domain; perhaps more than ever, the past was publicly questioned in
Turkey and earlier state policies and ruptures were increasingly probed. In
this light, the 1923 Greco-Turkish Population Exchange has arguably been
one of the most revisited ruptures in the history of the Turkish Republic

siz 2007:184–187). Perhaps it was easier to start negotiating the past
through this event because of the perceived symmetry between the Greek
and Turkish states that mutually agreed upon this exchange.21

Nevertheless, the process has not been an easy one. In fact, the 1923
Greek-Turkish population exchange, sociologist Çag¨

lar Keyder argues,
had serious “implications for the nationalist ideology that became the
official historiography of the [Turkish] nation-state” (2003:51). As the
last step in the international arena toward homogenizing the Turkish
nation,22 the exchange was “excised from national history. This national
history became, and until recently continued to be, the unchallengeable
foundation of Turkish identity. The republican founders of the state opted
for a blatantly constructed artefact with no reference to lived history,
which later emerged as the ‘true story’ of the land and its population”
(Keyder 2003:51). Thus, the absence of “the lived experience of the
existing population or [of] the abundant physical evidence of a prior
‘non-homogeneous’ population” in the “official version of national history
and identity” manifests a conscious effort to create a coherent narrative
of the past and a homogeneous Turkish nation (Keyder 2003:51;
Aktar 2000).

Similarly, historian Esra Danaciog¨

lu asks: “How permitting is our
history tradition in understanding the history that circles the town
where we live, our ordinary lives, houses, work spaces, or local history;
how able are we to comprehend history as a ‘continuous game’ where
we are also actors, rather than ‘a movie we watch?’ How much does our
grasp of history allow us to look for answers on how different groups
can co-exist and share the same geography?” (2001:11). She considers
these questions difficult to answer, given the fact that “historiography
in Turkey is state-sponsored or institutionally centralized, a field void of
human experiences [insansizlas**and even in most cases seen

as a whole of national theses” (Keyder 2003:51; Danaciog¨

lu 2001:11–12;
Özbaran 1992). At the same time, Danaciog¨

lu points out how in Turk

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 459

ish history “motherland” is sacred and how “local [interpretations of]
identities are perceived as bringing heterogeneous counter-dynamics
to the homogeneously defined territory;” in other words, as a possible
threat to homogeneity (2001:12). As such, different self-identifications
had little public space for overt articulation (with the exception of non-
Muslims) until very recently. In addition, the “administered forgetting”
that marked the first decades of the Republic, with a series of changes
that divorced peoples in Turkey from their past, such as those to the
calendar and the alphabet were upsetting. Moreover, heterogeneity and
diversity were not encouraged.

Consistent with other scholars who explore historiography and the
relationship between history and memory, Danaciog¨

lu also advocates
a change in this tradition and calls for owning history at an individual
level and “repersonifying” (read including human experiences, putting
a face on experiences) the field. In addition, her book is also a guide
for conducting oral and local history with appendices of model oral history
projects and sample interview questions.24 Around the same time,
many scholars called for a reconsideration of history and the adoption of
methodologies such as oral history in contemporary Turkey, changes that
have also been affecting other fields such as that of cultural production.25
This does not mean it was done academically in cultural products as in
scholarly history projects, but a panorama of the public domain shows
how individuals’ relationships to history have been going through changes
in contemporary Turkey. In other words, the past and identification of
the self and others, in public arenas that were previously nationalized in
the configurations of official history, have been going through a process
of reconsideration and reconfiguration.

In this sense, documentary films and non-fiction books, such as The
Entrusted Trousseau, have been instrumental in breaking away from these
dynamics and bringing plurality and polyphony to the public domain.
The story of The Entrusted Trousseau is a powerful example of the critical
role played by cultural products in this process; it contributed to the
weakening of simplistic representations of “Rum (Greeks) as enemies”
(as implied in school textbooks), bringing human stories of the experiences
of the population exchange to popular attention. Therefore, The
Trousseau contributes to polyphony at different levels; by countering the
official versions of history in Turkey as a field void of personal experiences,
the book plays a role in the process of individualizing history, making
individual stories public, and putting faces on and giving names to the
characters in these stories. Moreover, individualizing history by making
individual stories public in the body of a book de facto pluralizes the
experiences of the exchange. The exchange itself is not a monolithically

460 Asli Ig¨


experienced historical event, but contains multiple meanings for different

In contemporary Turkey, documentary genres emerge not
necessarily through their form or content, but through their function in
relation to bringing individual stories to the public domain and personalizing
or even personifying history, thus contributing to rewriting the
individual into the repertories of public memory. More often than not,
modern literary genres are identified through their thematic content,
such as romances or thrillers, or through their form, such as poetry, and
their function receives relatively less attention. Literary critic David Duff
describes the question of generic function through what genres perform
at different times and the changing meaning attributed to them as a result
(2000:7–8). For example, referring to the earlier work of Russian critic
Viktor Shklovsky, Duff exemplifies the function of genres by examining
the Russian ode that performed different functions in the eighteenth
century and during the Romantic period (2000:7).

Similarly, “documents” are traditionally considered as historical
materials preserved in institutionalized archives that bring objectivity and
provide unquestionable proofs for historical narratives. The scientific
models for history are informed by discourses of “objectivity,” “truth,”
and “documentation.”26 These views have lately been subject to debates
“in contesting scientific models of understanding [history] in Europe”
and “in dissolving superficial views of historical ‘objectivity’” (Bentley
1999:21). And yet, in comtemporary Turkey, documents and documentation
through cultural products have become a means to authenticate a
narrative told not only by historians, but also by other individuals who
publicize personal histories. But what does this mean exactly?

The documentation of truth and objectivity is largely a methodological
and rhetorical legacy of the German historian Leopold von
Ranke. A significant figure of the nineteenth century, Ranke had a
deep impact on practices of writing history, especially in the world of
English-language historiography (Warren 2003:24). As a historian of the
generation that professionalized history, Ranke advocated the practice of
archival research. Although he was not the first to suggest this, he is one
of the main proponents of a “three-step” historiography methodology:
the use of primary sources in the archives, a critical interpretation of
these sources, and then the narrativization of these accounts (Lambert
2003:45). The “tenets of Rankeanism” are the “reality of objectivity, the
possibility of meaningful interpretation of documentary evidence in an
equally meaningful attempt to understand the past on its own terms, a
rejection of the distortion of that evidence with personal and present
needs in mind” (Warren 2003:25).27 While contemporary scholarship has

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 461

dismantled the “documents as objective speakers of truth” and pointed
out the problems with such approaches to the past, in contemporary
Turkey, documenting the past through personal narratives and personal
objects (such as photographs or recipes and memory) gained a new function—
once more assuming a pedagogical role as in the early years of
the Republic, but this time not necessarily dictated from above, literary
and cultural products render the past legible through an individualized
history. Documentary genres bring a new personalized historical literacy
to self-identification, often expressed through nostalgic undertones in
the context of the Greek-Turkish population exchange.

Of course, documentary genres are not specific to the population
exchange case. It would also be simplistic to argue that documenting the
past through cultural products is only resorted to by those who reconsider
official historiography in one way or another. In fact, in the wake of a
growing tide of neo-nationalism in 2004–2005, documentary genres are
also resorted to by those who make nationalist or essentialist claims to
provide the “real truth” of Turkey’s national past. Thus, documentary
function is also not a set category, but a dynamic tool for engaging with
the past and for understanding the socio-political implications of literary
and cultural products used by individuals from all points along the
ideological spectrum.

One of the reasons why such narratives gain a documentary value
as proofs of “identity” is perhaps because of the rupture created in the
early years of the Republic by what Esra Özyürek called “administered
forgetting” of personal reference points in giving meaning to one’s self
and surroundings (2007:3–6). These included changing the calendar, the
alphabet, clothing, and systems of weights and measures, but also literature
as engineered by the nationalization project (Özyürek 2007:3–6).
In other words, personal narrations of the past and the public interest
in family histories might be identified as symptomatic of nostalgia for a
new ability to “read” in order to gain some literacy in personal history
construed as a marker of “identity” rendered illegible by the nationalization
project in the first decades of the modern Turkish nation-state.

This relatively new emphasis on the individual marks a shift in
understanding subjectivity and agency—the authority to claim one’s selfidentification
and to tell one’s stories in public. This in turn created an
inevitable dynamic in which individual stories have become “eye-witness”
accounts, gaining a documentary value while simultaneously setting up
the individual as “informant” who will unveil past obscured events.

In this context, the recently deployed “documenting” as a narrative
strategy both speaks to and is fed by a shift in subjectivities where individual
narratives gain crucial significance as the stories of eye-witnesses. In

462 Asli Ig¨


general, the position of eye-witness extends to that of “informants” who
are regarded as those who will unveil an unspoken past or a less known
event in the public domain. Thus, eye-witness stature brings a new kind
of agency—the authority to tell stories in public—while oral accounts
and testimonies seem to be predominantly configured as authentic
documents shedding light on the past. It is interesting to note that the
Rankean approach to history, prevalent in public discussions on history
in contemporary Turkey, has become a discourse of its own, embedded
in conceptualizations of “truth” and “objectivity,”especially when the
subject matter is past ruptures. Documentation as a means to construct
the “truth” also finds an expression in the ways in which documentary
genres are presented to their audiences, especially the ways in which
they stage the authenticity of the stories they embody. Even though
methodologically they are different, cultural products increasingly adopt
this discourse and function as documents, at times as nostalgic ones, that
can shed light on the details of past events that were hitherto unspoken
or less visible in the public domain.

A documentary novel: the tale of a trousseau

Yalçin’s Entrusted Trousseau: Peoples of the Exchange was first published in
1998 by Belge, and after the public showed a keen interest, was reissued
by a big corporate publisher, Dog¨

an Kitap.28 Both editions met the
public with the same quotation on the back cover calling for diversity
or multiculturalism. Taken from Yalçin’s recorded interview with Baba
Yorgo from Ayancik, Sinop, now relocated in Greece, it reads: “Look at
the beauty of this garden. Look at this peach, this plum, these flowers!
. . . They are beautiful [because they are] all together. . . . The more
[varieties of] religion, language, race within a country, the richer it is. . . .
These are my last words to you, to those from Ayancik, from Sinop, and
to Turks: There cannot be a garden with only one [type of] fruit! . . .”
By likening Rum and Muslim communities to plants in a garden, this
statement promotes diversity, as a critique of the homogenization policy
behind the population exchange, which also applies to other ruptures
such as the 6–7 September Events (the anti-Greek riots in Istanbul in
1955) (Alexandris 1983:256–266; Güven 2005).29 The book itself is a
collection of oral accounts of the stories of mübadil from both Greece
and Turkey.

The book’s “protagonist” is a wedding trousseau entrusted to author
Kemal Yalçin’s family, when his fathers’ neighbors, the Minog¨

lu family
left as part of the population exchange. Since the neighbors did not
want the trousseau to be harmed in their travel to Greece, they request

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 463

Yalçin’s grandfather to keep it for them. His grandfather treasures the
trousseau and does not allow anyone to touch it, and as such, the trousseau
has passed on to Yalçin’s father, and his mother kept it in her coffer
until 1994. Following his father’s request for him to find the owners of
the trousseau, the Minog¨

lu family and their younger daughter Sofiya,
Kemal Yalçin leaves for Greece.

The first trip produces no result, as Yalçin cannot locate Sofiya
to return her wedding trousseau, but in his travels in Greece he meets
many Asia Minor Greeks who tell him their own stories of the exchange.
Touched by these stories, Yalçin goes to Turkey, only this time to visit the
villages of Greek Orthodox from Anatolia and to find their houses and
homesteads. In these locations, he encounters the Muslims who arrived
from Greece during the population exchange who are now settled in
the villages of the Asia Minor Greeks whom Yalçin met during his first
trip to Greece. The book ends with Yalçin going back to Greece where
he finds Sofiya’s daughter and returns the trousseau to her because
Sofiya has died.

The book is therefore divided into three parts: Yalçin’s first trip
to Greece in an attempt to find the owners of the trousseau and his
encounters with the Rum who left Turkey during the exchange and
during subsequent political upheavals. The second part takes place in
Turkey, when Yalçin travels to different regions in Anatolia in an attempt
to find the houses or towns of those Rum he met in Greece during his
first trip. Here, he interviews many mübadil who came from Greece to
Turkey during the exchange. In the third part Yalçin returns to Greece
and this time finds the daughter of Sofiya, the original owner of the
trousseau, and he returns the trousseau to Sofiya’s daughter. The book
therefore operates among different chronotopes: the chronos is the 1990s
when Yalçin encountered different people who departed from Greece
and Turkey, but it is also the chronos of the memories of exchanged
peoples, during the war and during and after the exchange. The topos
is a diversity of towns and villages in both Greece and Turkey.

In addition to the documenting narrative strategy observable
through the presentation of photographs, the book’s layout as individual
accounts of mübadil from both Greece and Turkey speaks to the
eye-witness positioning of individuals as they narrate their experiences
and memories of the lost homesteads and homelands. The configuration
of the book, therefore, is a documentary one, as it is subdivided
into individual narratives recorded and transcribed by Yalçin himself.
In this sense, individuals express their past and self identification, and
the discourse of unraveling a less known past event, a rupture, through
individual narratives is also highlighted.

464 Asli Ig¨


Individual narratives in The Trousseau not only present the atrocities,
violence, and hardships people encountered in their homeland before
they left, but also the discrimination and difficulty in adapting to their
newly arrived locales. In other words, narratives of rupture and upheaval
are abundant in Yalçin’s book. This might be one of the reasons why
in these accounts, nostalgia for a lost homeland becomes a yearning
for a lost self-identification, at times brutally called into question by the
locals of the recipient country: What makes people different from each
other that creates those gaps that become abysses? How do we define
what is called “ethnicity?” The exchanged people did not necessarily
speak what is called today “ethnic” languages for not all Greek Orthodox
spoke Greek, and not all Muslims from Greece spoke Turkish. This
often resulted in their being called names (“Turkish seed” or “Greek
seed,” in both cases an insult) or being alienated by the residents of
the recipient country. Their religious affiliation did not always seem to
be enough for the recipient country’s people to “accept” the newcomers.
For a long time there were no inter-group marriages especially in
smaller towns and villages, and the exchanged people were singled out,
especially in more rural areas.30 These dynamics attest not only to how
the mübadil might have suppressed their differences and felt compelled
to adopt the homogenizing cloak of national identity, but also why their
lost homelands might be recalled through nostalgia.

For instance, a Muslim mübadil, Refet Özkan, narrates his story: “We
did not speak Turkish, our mother tongue was the Rum language. . . .
In daily life, in the field, in the garden the natives would humiliate us
and call us: ‘children of the infidel [non-Muslim]!’” (Yalçin 1999:263).
Özkan continues with an incident when his teacher spat in his face
when he realized that he did not speak Turkish (later, Özkan became
a Turkish teacher, perhaps as a reaction to such pressures?).31 Another
mübadil, Murtaza Acar, similarly narrates how the “natives,” the locals in
the recipient country, disapproved of the mübadil speaking Greek: “The
locals complained that we spoke Greek. They said: ‘What difference does
it make. . . . Those who left spoke Greek, those who arrived instead equally
speak Greek!’” (1999:188). Other Muslim mübadil, Salih Tilki and Saliha
Korucu, relate similar incidents after they came to Turkey, how people
(the “natives”) would call them “creatures” and spread rumors that the
exchanged people devour humans (1999:208–212, 238).

According to interviews conducted by Yalçin, Greek Orthodox mübadil
from Asia Minor were met with similar reactions from the “natives.”
Angela Katrini says: “We spoke Turkish. Turkish was our native language.
They [the local people] would say ‘Turks arrived! These are Turks! The
immigrants will take our fields! They should leave!’ And they would

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 465

send their dogs on us [for them to attack us]” (1999:143). Another
account from Kayserili Karabas* reads: “Because we did not speak the
Rum language they would say we were Turks, and they did not give us
any woman to marry, nor would they take any woman from us [for the
same purpose]” (1999:81).

In these accounts, it is possible to observe the significance of language
in the daily interactions between the exchanged peoples and the
“natives.” It is interesting to observe how in these narratives the newcomers
and the locals identified each other according to their place of
origin: Turks, “Turkosporoi” (“Turkish seed”), “gavur” (“infidel”), Greek
seed, or “natives” (“yerli”). Religious attributes, initially envisioned as
sufficient to homogenize the nation-state by the Greek and Turkish
state officials, were not necessarily experienced as such by the people
themselves, either by the exchanged people or the “natives.” As such,
the rupture of identification and homeland marks the mübadil accounts
in The Trousseau. These narratives of homeland and self-identification
through geographic origin are significant in terms of revealing feelings
of belonging traced through personal narratives colored with nostalgia
and anchored in geographies of “origin,” and at the same time complicating
“ethnic” attributes.

One such nostalgic trope of self-identification is sensescapes, memories
of the departed land. Sensescapes bridge individual memory with the
departed lands as mnemonics of the homeland and when incorporated
into the documentary genre, and thus made public, they contribute to
configuring the exchange as a painful experience as stories revealing
the deep attachment to the lost homeland. In other words, they turn
a personal or “private” nostalgia into a public one, weaving individual
sensescapes into the fabric of diversity in the public domain as mediated
by cultural products. One such example is the memory of “Uncle Yanni,”
a Rum from Nevs*

ehir, Turkey:

On the roof [of our house in Nevs*

ehir] my mother used to dry apples and
pears. . . . I would eat apples and pears. . . . Their taste was so different. . . .
I don’t eat pears here [in Greece]. . . . The aromatic pear of Nevs*

ehir does
not exist here! The taste of grapes was different there. . . . When the doors
were [finally] opened for us to go back in 1974, I went back to Nevs*

ehir. . . .
I found our house. . . . [Our old acquaintances were very nice, they asked
me what I wanted, and I asked for grapes and pears.] They brought one tray
of each. I ate and ate. . . . There is no such pear here! (Yalçin 1999:20)

The homeland is valued and remembered through the taste of the fruits
grown in its soil. The rupture of the exchange surfaces at yet another
level in these nostalgic narratives depicting the attachment to the lost

466 Asli Ig¨


homeland and its soil. In other words, the mübadil renders his or her
lack of compatibility legible through his or her longing for the taste of
fruits in his homeland.

Another such example is the story of Elefteria Staboulidis who
narrates the tale of her father, a Greek Orthodox from Anatolia. When
the Turkish government started issuing visas to the exchanged people
to visit Turkey in 1974, her father tells her he is too old to go back and
asks her to go to Turkey for him and to bring him soil from the garden
of his family’s old house and water from their fountain.

My father said: “My daughter, I am old. . . . I cannot go to Kayseri. You go.
Here is our address. These are the names of our neighbors. Find our house,
our (home)land [yurt in Turkish]. Bring me a bag of soil from our garden;
and, if it is still there, a bottle of water from our fountain. So; if I die, that
will be after I drink the water of our fountain and after I kiss our soil.” I
did what my father asked me to do. I went to Kayseri. I sought and found
our house. There were other people living in there but the house was in a
total state of ruin! I couldn’t get in! I sat in the garden. . . . I listened and
listened to the soil. The fountain was still there, in front of the house. . . .
I listened and listened to the sound of the water. Then, I took a bag of
soil and a bottle of water from the garden. I brought them to my father.
He put the soil inside of his pillowcase. His head on that pillow, he slept
like that until he died. He drank the water drop by drop. . . . Elefteria lit a
cigarette: “We were [also] the people of that [the same] soil. Why did we
become enemies?” (Yalçin 1999:38–39)

This emotional passage of drinking the water and touching the soil of
the lost land which was once home conveys a pain of departure and a
nostalgic sensory return to the lost home through its essential elements
of earth and water. Another significance of this passage is its representation
of geography: Staboulidis’s account highlights the common existence
of Greek Orthodox and Muslims, construed today as Greeks and Turks,
in the same geography. She suggests that both peoples belonged to the
same land; they were people of the same soil. The enmity she refers
to between the peoples is not only a reference to the war years, but it
is also reminiscent of the official narratives in Greece and Turkey that
represented (and often still represent) each other as enemies. In this
sense, a particular identification in Staboulidis’s account crystallizes, not
necessarily a national one, but one that is informed by belonging to a
same soil, a geographic identification rendered through familial affiliation
to a geography of place.

Examples of sensescapes are abundant throughout the book—how
sweet the grapes of the lost land were, as in Cretan Muslim Ismet Altayli’s
accounts (Yalçin 1999:271), and how food tasted different in the departed

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 467

lands, not only because of different ways of preparation but because of
the way vegetables and fruits tasted. Visions of the departed land, the
smell and taste of the water and agricultural products, but also music,
songs from the lost land, are part of these nostalgic sensescapes that
communicate a yearning for the lost homeland and a sensory return to
this place. Rum mübadil Yorganis Orfanidis sings songs from Anatolia
when he speaks of his homeland throughout his interview with Yalçin
(1999:40–57), as does Angela Katrini (1999:149–150). Similarly, another
Greek Orthodox from Anatolia, Hristo Kiryakidis says:

I will not speak—I will sing! . . . I used to know many songs [from Anatolia].
Opposite from our house lived the neighbor’s daughter. We would sing
together. . . . I forgot most of what I remembered. I will sing [now], listen
to the ballads and songs [that I still can remember]. (Yalçin 1999:296)

Likewise, Murtaza Acar, a Muslim mübadil from Grevena in Greece sings
songs in Greek about Samos, the island of his girlfriend before he left
Greece (Yalçin 1999:191–192).

Another recurrent theme in Yalçin’s collected narratives of the
mübadil is the significance of geographic origin and geographicallyinformed
identification. In fact, in addition to the geographic attributes
such as “natives” or “Greek seed” or “Turkish seed,” sensescapes are just
another example of this. These categorizations represent a geographicallyinformed
identification: it was the place of origin that denominated who
was who. For example, the late Ismet Altay, a Cretan Muslim woman who
was relocated to Cunda, Ayvalik, mentions how “there were no natives”
in Ayvalik when she and her family arrived (Yalçin 1999:273). She tells
Yalçin how embarrassed she is because of the neglected state of the Greek
Orthodox church in Cunda, how much she wished she could go back to
Crete, and asks for peace in the Aegean (1999:270–276).

The book also makes a break with official narratives, especially with
Yalçin’s decision to include his encounter with a Rum from Istanbul in
Athens, Hristo Samog¨

lu, who did not leave Turkey as part of the population
exchange in 1923 because the Rum of Istanbul were not part of the
exchange agreement, but migrated much later, in 1968.

Following the events of 6–7 September 1955 in Istanbul, the mass
looting of the remaining Greek Orthodox properties, and violence against
them, Hristo Samog¨

lu’s family, concerned for their peace and safety,
moved to Greece. Samog¨

lu followed them after he finished high-school
in 1968. Yalçin describes Samog¨

lu’s welcoming of himself as a fellow
countryman (1999:21). He owns a shop in Athens and when Kemal Yalçin
was there spoke to him in Turkish except when he had customers. He
tells Yalçin “As you see, I don’t speak Turkish when there are clients. It

468 Asli Ig¨


would have a negative impact [on my business]” (1999:22). And then,
he says how he wants to import shirts from Turkey, but does not want a
tag that says “Made in Turkey” on them, pointing to the animosity that
it might engender in people’s imaginations (Yalçin 1999:22).

There are two things which are significant in Samog¨

lu’s encounter
with Kemal Yalçin: he confronts Yalçin’s self-identification as a leftist and
suggests that Yalçin write an account that challenges the monologism
prevalent in official history narratives in both Greece and Turkey.

lu guesses that Yalçin must be a leftist because he is interested in
the exchange and traveled to Greece, but then he asks: “Why did you
not say anything when there was so much pressure on us in Istanbul after
the 1960s?” (1999:22). Consequently, Yalçin also questions himself in the
book: “I was embarrassed of our incomplete [understanding of] leftism
[in those days]” (1999:22). This self-questioning is also repeated in the
book when Yalçin finally returns to Turkey after 13 years:

Did I really know my friends that I grew up together with, that I played with,
our neighbors [mübadil from Greece]? Did I even ask them once where
they came from, how and why; the reason why their faces were clouded
with sadness? No. . . . How were we educated, what kind of education did
we receive that it never occurred to me to ask these questions all these
years? I am ashamed of my own insensitivity. (1999:176)

Yalçin’s questioning of his own education speaks to the processing of
collective memory repertoires in public and in schools and the models of
thinking such education system promotes. In this sense, the importance
of education in shaping repertoires of self-identification and history crystallizes
in Yalçin’s self-questioning statement. It seems as though not only
the official historiography, but also other discourses such as socialism in
Turkey did not have a space for articulating self-identificatory differences
other than in the context of the socio-economic class struggle.

As such, if memory is a repertoire processed publicly, where individuals
are exposed to particular discourses in the public domain, the school
environment is definitely one such setting where individual repertoires are
processed. Offering particular models of thinking about self-identification
and identification of others and ruptures, school education powerfully
informs repertoires, as Yalçin realizes in his encounter with Samog¨

As such, individuals might learn from public discourses, including those
circulating in schools and textbooks and, in turn, might resort to these
models in making sense of the others and themselves. Kemal Yalçin had
previously questioned the class struggle in Turkey, but the fact that he
was not aware of other types of plights, despite his exposure to them as
a child growing up in Denizli surrounded by the mübadil, suggests how

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 469

education and national discourses obviate ruptures and causes the turning
of a blind eye to history and identificatory differences.
As for the second important statement Hristo Samog¨

lu makes, it
is closely related to this issue:

What good is there to be enemies for people in Greece and in Turkey?
Both governments are guilty in this. There is a meeting in Korfu these days
where government heads and state presidents of the European Union will
get together. Today Greece vetoes Turkey. One day Cyprus will also enter
the EU. Cyprus will veto Turkey too. There is no end to this! One has to
live in peace. There are good and bad human beings. People will become
human when wars are over in the world! Until then, people will remain
animals! Both sides have bad sides. It is easy to support the Turkish side
and curse Greeks. You can also write a book like that. But such books are
sold by kilos! You can [also] support the Greek side and blame the Turkish
side. It is easy. The difficult thing is to see the good and bad in both sides
and to write that. (1999:23)


lu’s statement is telling in showing his point of view on the abundant
examples of monologic narratives, and that what is difficult is to
be able to write a polyphonic account of the Greek-Turkish common
past. In this sense, Yalçin’s book can be interpreted as an effort to bring
different memories of the exchange into the public domain. Therefore,
not only is the book about a rupture, but the content of the book can
be construed as a rupture of the official versions of historicizing Greeks
as enemies and Turks as the good protagonists in the shared history
between Greece and Turkey, or vice versa in Greece.

Through the use of documentary narrative strategies and eyewitness
accounts, Yalçin characterizes the population exchange as a plight for
many and invites his audiences to refigure their assumptions of national
identification and homogeneity, while at the same time bringing to light
individual narratives of geographic identification and sensescapes. Geography
and sensescapes, on the other hand, invite the Turkish-speaking
public to connect mentally with them and recognize the pain of the
exchanged peoples. Yalçin’s goal in writing this is clear. In the opening
pages of the book, he quotes his own mother: “If you write, then write
these [stories]! So that they are not forgotten, so that this pain is not
relived again!” Of course, many mübadil whom Yalçin interviewed were
very young when they left Greece or Turkey, and this suggests that mübadil
probably related what they learned from their families or what they
themselves made of their families’ narratives or emotions in their own
adulthood. This is an example of how individual repertoires are spiraling
from families and public discourses to mübadil and then, from mübadil

470 Asli Ig¨


stories to the complex genre, the documentary novel. As such, these narratives
have been made public and opened a space for processing public
repertoires and negotiating self-identification and national history. This
does not mean that everybody engages the stories in the same way, but
that individual stories of the population exchange have found a public
circuit in contemporary Turkey through a documentary novel.

While The Entrusted Trousseau received the Ministry of Culture’s
novel prize in 1998 and was recommended to the Ministry of Education
as supplementary reading in high schools, more nationalistic state officials
who did not welcome dissent from official history were responsible
for the prosecution of the book and its author in 2002. In other words,
polyphony was prosecuted by monologism. Even if The Trousseau itself is
not a history book per se, the historical event that is at its center, and the
stories of the plight of those exchanged, were interpreted by the prosecutors
of the book and its author as being in undesirable dissonance
with official narratives.

On the other hand, the trousseau, the centerpiece of the book, is
not only an object that was the reason Yalçin’s journey during which he
met all the mübadil on his quest to find Sofiya, the owner of the trousseau,
but it also has symbolic significance: a trousseau, prepared for a
Greek Orthodox girl that had to be left behind in the care of Muslim
neighbors, can be interpreted as symbolic of hope for return (to reclaim
the home and trousseau) and for the future (to prepare for the wedding
needs of a young girl) that highlights humanity beyond labels of nationality
and religion. This might also be one of the reasons the Entrusted
Trousseau is such a significant vehicle for publicizing the personal stories
of the mübadil.


As Mikhail Bakhtin reminds us, each setting, each sphere creates its own
kind of utterance (1996). This is true in contemporary Turkey where
documentary genres have emerged in a context in which individual stories
gain a new kind of purchase and significance in terms of rewriting and
reconsidering the past. This can be construed as an individualized manner
of rewriting history, albeit not professionally. Documentary genres
function politically and invite their intended audiences to give meaning to
their context and themselves and others through narrativization. Through
the example of The Trousseau, it has been shown how this dynamic introduces
new conceptualizations of the past and self-identificatory practices,
such as attachments to the land, crystallized in sensescape narratives
or the names that communities gave each other, such as “natives” or

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 471

“Greek seed.” In other words, what is readily available to individuals in
their repertories to make sense of their history and geography, but also
of themselves and other peoples, informed by individual experiences
and national discourses learned in school textbooks for example, is
reconfigured through different means in Turkey, and cultural products
perform an instrumental function in this process.

Does the narrative of a “plot” confirm the meanings already extant in
the repertories or does it suggest new interpretations, new narrativizations,
through its configuration? Documentary genres are reconfigurations of
readily available concepts and interpretations of new meanings such as
inviting audiences to consider Greeks not as enemies, but as kin bound to
the citizens of Turkey through a common geography and shared history.
Sensescapes, on the other hand, embody nostalgia for the lost homeland,
offering a new kind of legibility—reading of personal history traced to
the place of origin that becomes an anchor for identity.

As such, cultural products in general, and documentary genres in
particular, both make available and invite new understandings and conceptualizations
of ruptures and self-identification. With the eye-witness
accounts that become public in the body of documentary genres, readers
are invited to engage the stories they are exposed to as real stories of
ruptures, arguably more effectively than fiction.

While individual accounts contribute to the “documentary” aspect
of the stories conveyed through “novels,” (documentary) films, family
histories, and memoirs, at the same time they speak to and are fed by
the contemporary discourses of personalizing and popularizing history.
By putting individuals at the center, such factual stories bring plurality
to the narratives of the past ruptures, as each individual experiences
and narrates an event differently. Additionally, these narratives anchor
personal identification to different geographies, rendered legible or
meaningful through family histories conveyed as “legacies.”

Another inevitable consequence of this is more public articulation of
differences in self-identifications in the public domain. It can be argued
that the rise of nationalism, increasingly visible in Turkey (especially since
the early 2000s) and often attributed to the treatment of the negotiations
of Turkey’s candidacy for membership in the European Union, might
also be in part a reaction to the discourses and cultural politics that bring
descriptions of ruptures and individual stories of historical events to the
public domain. Of course, reconsidering the past through eye-witness
accounts is not unproblematic; the idea of filling the gaps in collective
memory repertories through making “private” stories public, with the
individual treated as an informant, is a valuable attempt. And yet, just
like anything else, memory is mediated, and while eye-witness accounts

472 Asli Ig¨


contribute to individualizing and personalizing history, they should also
be analyzed as such and subject to scrutiny. As for the question of why
these changes occur now, it definitely deserves more attention and is the
topic for another article, but, briefly, it is my sense, based on interviews
with numerous individuals and research, that 1) the development of
information technology that facilitates access to families, places, etc. on
the web 2) the violence that marked the 1990s with the armed conflicts
with the PKK [the principal Kurdish separatist organization in Turkey]
3) the brutality of competing nationalisms 4) the postmodern query for
questioning one’s identity and the demand for the particular as Rebecca
Bryant also suggests (2004:5) 5) the popularization of history as exemplified
by several projects launched by Tarih Vakfi (The History Foundation)
and 6) the rapprochement between the Greek and Turkish nation-states
after the 1999 earthquakes can all be counted among the factors that
have played a role in the juncture that enabled the production and
circulation of such cultural products and personal histories.

Finally, documentary genres emerge as instrumentally configured
cultural products, and while there are many examples that bring
polyphony to the negotiations of the past in the public domain, other
cultural professionals with different goals also resort to documenting
strategies to convey their messages, whether they are nationalistic or
have other agendas. One could argue that the contemporary discourses
of individualizing and personalizing history have brought new value to
individual memory and documentary narrative strategies, which in turn
opens the field of cultural production to epistemological approaches
to cultural products and individual writers who do not necessarily use
imagination as a writing strategy.

In other words, contemporary Turkey’s field of cultural production
seems to be more dominantly governed by epistemological concerns
than aesthetic ones, opening the field to individual writers who deem
their stories worthy of telling beyond literariness. What is at stake for
literature in Turkey as a result of this is still a subject for further analysis;
however, it is important to note that similar to what Bakhtin argues, as
each sphere or context creates its own utterance modes, the contemporary
public domain in Turkey has been in the process of creating its
own generic utterance modes at the intersections of the discourses of
reconsidering, personalizing, and individualizing history through documentary


Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 473


Acknowledgments. I am grateful to the American Research Institute in Turkey and to
Horace H. Rackham Graduate School, the Program in Modern Greek Studies, and the
Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan for their generous
contribution to my research for this project. I would also like to thank Rebecca Bryant
and David Sutton for their kind patience and generous comments and feedback on this

1 The awards The Trousseau received include the Ministry of Culture’s Novel Success
Prize and the (Abdi) Ipekçi Greek-Turkish Friendship and Peace Prize. The novel has also
been translated into Greek and published under the title: Mia Proika Amanati.

2 Mübadil is now an institutionalized identification marker (not only for the people
subjected to the Greek-Turkish population exchange, but also for their family members)
with the founding of the Lozan Mübadilleri Vakfi in the early 2000s.

3 I would like to thank Rebecca Bryant for kindly reminding me that in addition to
being used by the institutionalized travel groups organizing trips to Greece, this slogan
was also imprinted on t-shirts and coffee mugs and thus became incorporated into the
material culture at yet another level.

4 Briefly, what I mean by rupture here is twofold. First, I use this term as an interruption
in how one used to make sense of one’s surroundings, such as the social codes or daily
life habits, and/or in self-identification of individuals due to political and socio-cultural
changes, implemented by others or by political power(s), both violently and nonviolently.
Next, as a phenomenon that emerges in the public domain through various media, such
as cultural products; in other words, as a penetration into the public domain. I deliberately
refrain from using such terms as “trauma” and “uprooted cultures” here. While these are
valuable terms that call attention to hardships and ordeals, when used as categories of
analysis, they risk becoming self-explanatory categories that suggest how the rupture must
have been experienced by individuals, risking homogenizing experiences of the event and
providing a dangerous paradigm of “authenticity.”

5 I return to this subject and provide the historical background below.

6 One telling example for this is the increase of the “Greek” winehouses across Pera,
Istanbul, in the early 2000s. While most owners were Muslim businessmen, some of these
so-called Greek winehouses had non-Greek names, such as Victor Levi in Galata, who was
a Jew from Istanbul. His place is “Hellenized” with imitations of ancient Greek statues,
art, and Greek columns with only Greek music, ranging from rembetika to Eleftheria
Arvanitaki. I have shown elsewhere that such commodification of Greeks from Istanbul
was symptomatic of selective nostalgia for a “cosmopolitan” past, disregarding the contemporary
cosmopolitanism of Istanbul with immigrants coming both from abroad (such as
Moldovans), or from other parts from Turkey (such as Kurds), or other groups already
living there (e.g., the Roma [gypsies]) (2001b).

7 Stuart Hall argues that “meanings are produced at several different sites and circulated
through several different processes and practices,” which he calls the “cultural circuit”
(2002:1–11). My use of public circuit here is similar, but rather than putting the emphasis
on “culture” as Hall does, my emphasis is on the availability of such circuits in the public
domain, such as the internet, various media, and cultural products.

8 “Polyphony” does not conflate plural “voices”—polyvocality—with representation or
recognition in the way it is used here. Rather, I suggest that polyphony is the availability of
public circuits to express alternative opinions, counter-positions, different experiences and
stories, and the absence of implementing hegemony or dominance with these dissonant
public expressions through intimidation, violence, or legal measures. Polyphony is crucial

474 Asli Ig¨


in the meaning-making process concerning a phenomenon; as the multiple stories about
a phenomenon become publicly accessible, they contribute to different understandings
of it. That is, such public stories open a space for negotiating the past.

9 My goal in putting the word “origin” in quotations is not to undermine individual
conceptualizations of self-identification, but rather, to point out the complicated relationship
between individuals and origins; especially in former Ottoman provinces it is very
difficult to trace one’s origin to any particular reference point given the fact that there
were dynamic population movements and resettlement policies, relocations and exiles,
and, of course, conversion. In this sense, where one’s origins lie becomes an individual
choice. One anchors one’s self-identification by choosing a reference point.

10 Sensescapes emerge as a trope in many population exchange narratives: not having
immediate access to the lost homeland, many mübadil narrate their homelands through
sensory tropes, referring to the smells, sounds, the taste of food (especially fruits and vegetables),
or songs of the geography of origin. Elsewhere, I have argued that sensescapes
provide a rhetorical mental bridge for the present inhabitants of Anatolia to relate to the
past inhabitants of the same geography; in these tropes, what is central is not landscapes,
but the sensescape (2006). I have also shown that such narratives configure Anatolia as
a discursive womb, highlighting the implications of what I call “geographic kinship” that
eclipses national and religious divides: all peoples being born from the soil of Asia Minor
are thus constructed as kin due to a shared geographic origin (2007:162–187). Likewise,
in The Senses Still, C. Nadia Seremetakis argues that when the memory of the senses fails
because there are no people who can awaken the knowledge of an object in their own
bodies, the loss itself becomes an element of public culture (1996). The Turkish context
operates differently as these “losses” have only recently become a public concern and
“loss,” “displacement,” and “pain” are rather recent categories in public discourse about
the Greek-Turkish population exchange, probably because national ideologies did not
open a favorable public space for expressions of difference and plights of displacement
as publicly acceptable categories and aimed at homogenization instead.

11 In The Future of Nostalgia (2001), Svetlana Boym approaches nostalgia through
notions of modernity and collective memory and differentiates two types of nostalgia:
restorative, which she attributes to an emphasis of nostos, and explains it as a national return
to origins and conspiracy; and reflective nostalgia, which she argues emphasizes alghos, as
an exploration of multiple forms of existence across time and space. Thus, according to
Boym, this “typology of nostalgia allows us to distinguish between national memory that
is based on a single plot of national identity, and social memory, which consists of collective
frameworks that mark but do not define the individual memory” (2001:xviii, 41–56).
The case of the mübadil, on the other hand, illustrates a different take on the questions of
nostalgia with an emphasis on both the individual and the collective, as well as engaging
nostos and alghos simultaneously at different levels that fit into both restorative and reflective
nostalgia paradigms as described by Boym without necessarily falling into the nationalist
conceptualizations Boym proposes to consider restorative nostos.

12 Eye-witness accounts can be found in travel writings of the nineteenth and twentiethcentury
Ottoman and Turkish intellectuals, for example; in this sense it can be argued that
this subjectivity is not a new one. On the other hand, what is also true is that, in these earlier
narratives it was not the accounts of “ordinary” individuals that were made public through
memoirs and travelogues. And yet, in contemporary Turkey, the shift in the importance of
eye-witness stature lies precisely in the fact that it is the stories and memories of “ordinary”
individuals that become public. They gain a new authority to tell their stories in public, as
their stories become representatives of experiences of an event, configured as embodiments

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 475

of history that might shed light to past events. For a different take on the trend of making
“private” stories public, see Esra Özyürek’s Nostalgia for the Modern (2006).

13 This number is now assumed to be around 1,500,000. See for example Renée
Hirschon (2003), Kemal Ari (1995), and Ayhan Aktar (2003).

14 For the text of the protocol in English, see League of Nations Treaty Series (1925:

15 Perhaps this was because the refugees of the catastrophe were somehow reminiscent
of the Hellenic presence in Asia Minor. For more on the subject, see Penelope Papailias
(2005). As such, the fact that the Asia Minor catastrophe was recollected much earlier in
Greece does not necessarily mean that the Muslims who left were equally publicly remembered.
This, in fact, is also a relatively more recent phenomenon increasingly visible in
public domains in Greece. Thus, the dynamics that informed politics of recollection might
not have been too different after all: a more selective public memory that excluded that
which did not fit into the national restorative nostalgia paradigms that both traced the roots
of origin to Asia Minor, which in Turkey’s case accompanied the roots-tracing narratives
in Central Asia. Some recent internationally popular books include Louis De Bernières’s
Corelli’s Mandolin (1994), Birds without Wings (2005), and Bruce Clarke’s Twice a Stranger:
The Mass Expulsions that Forged Greece and Turkey (2006). Reviews of de Bernières’s novels
and interviews with him hint at the extent to which the 1923 Greco-Turkish compulsory
population exchange is little known internationally. For such examples see Geraldine
Bedell’s interview with the author (2004) or Robert Hanks’s review of Birds Without Wings

16 Ruptures experienced in colonial settings have been largely addressed in conjunction
with colonizer-subaltern dynamics. Whereas these are very important steps in negotiating
the past and a significant contribution of postcolonial studies, the question of how the
ruptures experienced in settings that have no such immediate relevance to today’s socalled
“Western” powers, or to their larger communities find international public circuits,
remains open to discussion.

17 Ayvalik, the birthplace of the Greek writer Elias Venezis and known as Ayvali to
the Greek speaking public, is an important site for the exchange of populations and falls
within the city limits of Balikesir. It is on the west coast of Turkey very near the Greek
island of Lesbos.

18 For some insight on how a nationalized self-esteem was constructed in the field of
historiography, see First and Second Turkish History Congress minutes in “Konferanslar,
Müzakere Zabitlari” in Birinci Türk Tarih Kongresi (1932) and “Kongrenin Çalis*

Kongreye Sunulan Teblig¨

ler 20–25 Eylül 1937” in Ikinci Türk Tarih Kongresi (1943). As for
constructions of national identity such as Turkish that endorse a national pride and selfesteem
in the field of literature, see Inan (1959:272–273) and Köprülü (2006:1–26).

19 This does not mean such prosecutions of acts deemed to be against Turkishness did
not go through a change over time. The reason why I reference these connections is to
point out the importance of investigating the socio-political structures that empower such
acts of “banning” historically, and not solely as a civil rights issue, which, of course, it is. Lack
of tolerance for dissidence in the public domain, however, also needs be unpacked in its
own right. I have examined elsewhere such reactions against public displays of dissidence
in contemporary Turkey. For more on this, see Repertoires of Rupture (2006:66–134).

20 The questions of national literature and the roles attributed to them are crucial
and considering only Atatürk’s ideas about it is obviously not sufficient since literature
is a complex entity that cannot be simplified as such. And yet, his conceptualization of
literature is a telling example of how much national dignity was taken seriously in the

476 Asli Ig¨


nation-state building process in Turkey, and to what extent literature was attributed a
pedagogical role in that context.

21 For example, before the application of European Union candidacy regulations in
Turkey that generated some reshuffling and changes in laws in the past decade, making
public claims to Kurdishness could have legal consequences, especially in the late 1980s and
1990s as in the case of musician, Hasan Saltik, who was prosecuted for recording the Kurdish
album Newroz in the late 1980s (Ig¨

siz 2007:185). Another striking example of how the past
is a contested site is the organization of the academic conference, “Ottoman Armenians
During the Decline of the Empire: Issues of Scientific Responsibility and Democracy,” at
the prestigious Bog¨

aziçi (Bosphorus) University in Istanbul, Turkey. The conference met
with great resistance and had to be postponed for four months before it finally took place
in September 2005, but not without difficulties. In fact, the questions raised by the conference
divided public forums in Turkey. The statement of Minister of Justice Cemil Çiçek
(of the political party AKP) that the conference was “treason to Turkey” created further
turmoil. The headlines of Turkish daily Radikal on 25 May 2005 are typical: “Konferans
Ertelendi” (“The Conference has been Postponed”).

22 For some works on the subject that analyze the exchange in the Turkish context
see also Ayhan Aktar (2003; 2000); Baskin Oran (2003); Çag¨

lar Keyder (39); Tolga Köker
(2003); Hercules Millas (2003); Onur Yildirim (2006); and Kemal Ari (1995).
23 The reference to official historiography in Turkey as a field void of human experiences
(insansizlas **

tirilmis) speaks to the concerns of other scholars on the subject, including
Salih Özbaran (1992, 1997, 1998) and Çag¨

lar Keyder (2003).

24 For other such works on contemporary Turkey, see especially the special issue on
Social Memory of New Perspectives on Turkey (2006) and Esra Özyürek’s edited volume The
Politics of Public Memory in Turkey (2007). Similarly, the History Foundation of Turkey (Tarih
Vakfi) has launched numerous projects on oral and local history in Turkey. See their website
for their projects: <>

25 In The Field of Cultural Production (1993), Pierre Bourdieu argues that each field (e.g.
economics and cultural production [literature and art]) has its own logic and guiding principles.
While his work offers crucial insights into the field of literary studies, I do not refer
to his model in this article when I mention the field of cultural production. My use of the
term here is simply to denote the practices of cultural production, such as documentaries,
films, novels, (auto)biographies, memoirs, family histories, cookbooks, and music albums
that constitute the field of cultural production beyond conceptualizations of literature as
imaginative works of fiction or universalist approaches to aesthetics.

26 In Western Europe, French philosopher and father of sociology, Auguste Comte,
bridged natural and human sciences in the 1830s by recommending the application of
scientific methods in other fields of knowledge (Moran 2002:11). His suggestion to use
clearly defined methodologies in the “non-sciences,” similar to the sciences, is “a powerful
factor in the development of new social science and humanities disciplines . . . in the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries” (Moran 2002:11). Comte’s premise is to
construct a scientific method to study society, and partly due to his postulate, the field of
history arose as a social science.

27 According to historian John Warren, the “tradition of historical scholarship associated
with Ranke provided, and continues to provide, a defence against contemporary political
and/or philosophical trends that opponents see as fraudulent or dangerous” (2003:25). To
this, Warren gives the example of the January 2000 trial of the academic Deborah Lipstadt
and Penguin Books that published her book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on
Truth and Memory (2003:23). The plaintiff was the internationally known historian, David
Irving, who was arrested because of his Holocaust denial. The defense and discussions

Greco-Turkish Population Exchange in Contemporary Turkey 477

in the London trial clustered around questions of scientific truth, objective scholarship,
and documentary evidence (Warren 2003:23–24). What is interesting in the Turkish case,
however, is the fact that the historiographic legacy attributed to Ranke takes a major part
in the discourse of proponents of the official version of what happened to the Armenians.
But it is not limited to this case; this rhetoric also takes place in any nationalist discourse
on perceived threats, such as criticism of certain past and present policies in Turkey.
Needless to say, other scholars engage nationalist discourses with the same rhetoric: they
also claim scientific truth, documentary evidence, and objectivity. In short, the roles of
scientific methods, truth, and the vital importance of documents in the process of writing
history are still debated today. And documents, in this sense, feed discourses of truth. As
such, objectivity, scientific “truth,” and documentary proof are still very much present in
Turkey’s public domain, but unfortunately they lack a critical engagement with the material
at hand—a phenomenon that some describe as “document fetishism.”

28 This statement is based on my interviews with the author and the publishers at

an Yayincilik. While it is difficult to know the exact number of copies the book has
sold, the book has gone through six editions, one in Belge, four in Dog¨

an, and one in
Birzamanlar Yayincilik that reprinted The Trousseau in 2005.

29 The events of 6–7 September 1955 are considered an example of state policies
against religious minorities in Turkey. A false rumor that the birth house of Turkey’s
founding father Atatürk in Salonika, Greece was bombed by Greeks was printed in Turkish
newspapers and quickly resulted in the mobilization of mobs against the Rum (Greek
Orthodox) of Istanbul. Their houses and properties were looted on 6–7 September 1955
and there were a number of assaults, some resulting in deaths.

30 See Ig¨

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