The agreement to make a formal separation between the populations of Greece and Turkey, through a two-way process of deportation, sent a convulsion through the region and the world when it was announced, tentatively in December 1922 and definitively the following month. There was undeniably a certain cold, deadly logic about it. New borders were being drawn, economic assets were being reallocated, and as a natural consequence, people were being divided up as well. Henceforth, it was determined, Greece would be an almost entirely Orthodox Christian country, while in Turkey, the overwhelming majority of citizens would be Muslim. Anybody who lived in the 'wrong' place, from the viewpoint of religion, would be deported across the Aegean to start a new life in the 'right' country. It was a natural move, in the sense that the atrocities and humanitarian disasters of the past few months, the war of the past three years, and the economic and social changes of the past century, all seemed to point in that direction; and at the same time, it was profoundly unnatural.
The terms of the divorce were laid down in the grim words of a convention signed on 30 January 1923 at the conference in Lausanne, where a triumphant Turkey, an exhausted Greece and the leading world powers had gathered to map out the future of a volatile region then known as the Near East. The conference, which did not conclude for another six months, was intended to put an end to a decade of continuous warfare and, from Turkey's point of view, to consolidate in the diplomatic arena the hard-won gains of the battlefield.
Article One of the Lausanne convention reads as follows:... 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 Muslim religion established in Greek territory. These persons shall not return to live in Turkey or Greece without the authorization of the Turkish government or of the Greek government respectively.
[...] In the Ottoman system, spiritual affiliation had served as by far the most significant distinction between the subjects of the Sultan. It made a huge difference to your life whether you were an Ottoman Muslim, an Ottoman Orthodox Christian or an Ottoman Jew. This determined how much tax you would pay, what role you would play in public life and by what law you would be judged. Because the empire was organized as a Muslim theocracy, it expected its non-Muslim subjects to behave, as it were, theocratically; in other words, to organize themselves into religious groups where the spiritual leader also doubled as head of the community, and could answer to the Sultan for the behaviour of his flock. In stressing the primacy of religion, the Ottoman authorities were to some extent following the precedent set by the Byzantine theocracy, as well as Islam's own theocratic tradition. In any case, at least in its classic form, the Ottoman system did not distinguish between its subjects by virtue of their speech or customs or beliefs about their own 'national' origins. An Ottoman Muslim might speak Serbian, Arabic, Albanian or Turkish; it made no difference to that person's status in the eyes of his rulers.
By the end of the Ottoman era that was changing; religion was giving way to 'nation' as the main source of identity and affiliation. When the Ottoman theocracy was at its height, the Greek-dominated Patriarchate of Constantinople, which was an important agency of the imperialregime, enjoyed huge influence over all the Orthodox Christians of the empire; but in the 19th century, as the intensity of ethnic consciousness increased, new religious authorities were created or revived by the Slavs and Arabs in particular, which were identical to the Greek Patriarchate in doctrine but gave expression to a different national identity. Formally speaking, the bitter conflict which raged in Ottoman Macedonia at the end of the 19th century was between the bishops of the Greek and Bulgarian hierarchs of the Orthodox church; but this was not so much a religious war as a war over national identity in religious disguise.
In most parts of the Ottoman empire, as in most other places that were either in Europe or influenced by European ideas, the elite had been infiltrated by a new doctrine, that of modern nationalism. This was a theory which aspired to supplant religion as the main category by which people defined themselves, and was itself something akin to a religion in its claim to explain and guide human behaviour, and to deal in eternally valid truths.
[Διπλά Ξένος: Πώς Διαμόρφωσε τη Σύγχρονη Ελλάδα και Τουρκία η Μαζική Εκδίωξη],Harvard University Press, 2006,
pp./σσ. 11, 14, 15.
Βιβλιοπαρουσίαση: Οι ανταλλαγές πληθυσμών ανάμεσα στην Ελλάδα και την Τουρκία,
Ενημερωτικό Δελτίο ΑΩ του Συνδέσμου Υποτρόφων του Ιδρύματος Ωνάση (onassis.gr), Σεπτέμβριος 2007.