17 April 2014, Thursday
Today's Zaman

‘Twice a Stranger’ exhibit seeks to confront realities of past

11 March 2012, Sunday /HATICE AHSEN UTKU
The 20th century undoubtedly comprises some of the most dramatic events of world history: widespread wars, violence, mass killings and as a consequence, displacement and migration.

Millions of people were displaced or forced to immigrate throughout the 20th century in order not to be killed due to violence and conflict.

However, one reality of the 20th century left marks that would last for decades and generations and leave behind people without countries. These are the people who were subjected to compulsory population exchanges, starting with the Turkish-Greek exchange and continuing with other cases, like exchanges between Germany and Poland, India and Pakistan, and within Yugoslavia and Cyprus. These exchanges caused collective social traumas that still have to be faced, but little has been achieved on this front so far. In this respect, the exhibition “İki Kere Yabancı” (Twice a Stranger) offers an opportunity to experience such an encounter through documentary videos and photographs.

The exhibition takes visitors on a somber journey to the past. Also featuring the works of Ayça Damgacı, a narrative video, and an installation called “Hafıza Ağacı” (Memory Tree), to which notes about being a “stranger” can be attached, the exhibition is on display until April 30 in the foyer of İstanbul Bilgi University’s Dolapdere campus.

The exhibition is an international effort by numerous institutions -- Greece’s Anemon Productions, the Refugee Studies Center in the University of Oxford in the UK, İstanbul Bilgi University, Athens’ Benaki Museum and the Leventis Municipal Museum in Nicosia, the Leventis Foundation (UK/Cyprus), the Goethe-Institut and the Cyprus Community Media Center -- and is supported by the Culture program of the European Commission.

After its İstanbul leg, the exhibition will also be presented at the Leventis Municipal Museum from June to August and at the Benaki Museum from September to November.

“The documentary videos were made exclusively for this exhibition [using archive photos and documentary footage] from that period, which have been rarely [put on public display] before,” Professor Harry Zachary G. Tzimitras of İstanbul Bilgi University, who is one of the curators of the exhibition, told Sunday’s Zaman.

“‘Twice a Stranger’ is a phrase coined from the title of a book by Bruce Clark on the same subject,” said Tzimitras. “His book is on the exchanged populations of Turkey and Greece, and [in it] he talks about the aftermath of the Lausanne Treaty [which oversees the population exchange between the two countries].”

It was with the Lausanne Treaty that the “exchange of populations” concept was introduced to international law, and thus one of the most dramatic events of the 20th century was created. “Unfortunately, this very unfortunate paradigm of Lausanne was also applied in other cases like India-Pakistan and Poland-Germany, Cyprus, Israel-Palestine, Yugoslavia,” said Tzimitras. “And in all those cases, people felt alienated in both places. The term ‘twice a stranger’ refers to the populations that were exchanged and never felt at home either before or after [the exchanges]. In their old countries, they felt excluded, and in their destination countries, they felt at least as excluded as in the past because they were not allowed to integrate into society. Even if the governments technically fulfilled their obligations, these populations were never accepted or felt at home in the new countries. And this is how they came to believe themselves to be ‘strangers’ twice, both in the old and the new destinations.”

Revisiting the past

The real influences and consequences of the process of alienation are felt in the long term; they last for generations: “Generations have lived through the trauma of the exchange. It’s not only the first generation that was exchanged themselves, but interestingly, the following generations who have absolutely no connection to the old country feel like ‘refugees.’ Therefore, we thought that we needed to move ahead [towards] the future [through a confrontation] with the past and not by pretending that it never happened. We wanted to revisit the past with a critical eye on all sides and ... more importantly, what kind of lessons and legacy it had for us and to see how we can build our present and future by dealing with this trauma, instead of allowing it to further poison bilateral relations.”

For Tzimitras, the key to all of this is “objectivity.” “We like to be as distant, as balanced and as objective as we can,” he said. “This is the key to understanding the past. Sometimes people feel not exactly exchanged but unilaterally displaced, and we need to tell them that this was not necessarily so. Additionally, the fact that the Lausanne [experience] forms the basis for other such exchanges means that it had further [consequences] than was originally envisaged. Therefore, even if we talk about the paradigms of the late 1990s’ Yugoslavia, what we’ve seen there actually means that the spirit of Lausanne was very much alive 70 years later. And we need to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Even if the logic behind it was admirable -- this is, of course, very questionable -- the outcome was terrible, so we need to deconstruct Lausanne and the logic behind it.”

On the other hand, historical accounts of the different sides vary. “[The exchange] contributed very much to the self-identifications of people,” said Tzimitras. “Turkey and Greece in particular are very ‘good’ -- or ‘horrible’ -- examples of how people identify and perceive themselves in reference to the other. The events could be seen from two different extremes. For Greeks, it was a trauma, it was a great defeat, it was a catastrophe, and for Turks, it was a great victory against all those imperial powers, it was the establishment of a new state. This is a classic example of how an event in history can be seen from two different viewpoints.”

The differences in the viewpoints are reflected in bilateral relations as well, as an outcome of the oppression and discrimination these populations encountered. “The citizens, in this case of Turkey or Greece, believe they are the only recipients of harsh treatment by the state,” noted Tzimitras. “Obviously, they either don’t know or choose to forget that this is usually the case in the other state as well, and in most cases an outcome of reciprocity that has haunted the relations for too long. The paradigm of an ethnically homogeneous society was very much prevalent back then.”

Creating nation states

Creating ethnically homogeneous nation states was one of the main goals of the states founded in the 20th century, while it cost a lot in social terms. However, it was not only the parties involved who wanted to achieve homogeneity but also the imperial powers of the time who wanted to have their interests reflected within the newly established states. “We’re saying in this exhibition that Turks and Greeks are united by the bonds of common suffering because in both cases, people were made to live with the consequences of an experiment, a horrible experiment in many respects, the consequences of which we still live with nowadays,” said Tzimitras. “There have always been schemes of third parties, those who wanted the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, those who wanted to get as much as they could out of it, others that wanted the establishment of a new state or the curtailment of another. The Lausanne experiment was not one decided solely by Turkey or Greece; there were a number of states that either took part it in or tried to impose such a plan, but the consequences were borne by the two peoples.”

Other cases of the exchange of populations perhaps bore even more severe consequences, when the number of people affected and the political and economic conditions of the relevant countries are taken into consideration. “In the case of India-Pakistan, this was a much harsher and much larger operation than Lausanne,” noted Tzimitras. “In the case of Lausanne, we’re talking about roughly 2 million people being exchanged, whereas in the case of India-Pakistan, we’re talking about 16 million people or so. And note that in that case neither the Pakistani state existed before nor did India have such a long history as it was a creation of the British Empire. In the case of Cyprus, we had Cypriot people who were forcibly split, and a new identity was forced upon them. And imagine that in the Lausanne Treaty, the characteristic that formed the basis for the exchange was not a national characteristic but a religious one. Therefore, imagine how important or how devastating it was for certain people to be selected to be exchanged on the basis of an identity that might have not even been prevalent for their self-perception.”

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