A new theatre project taking place in Lausanne, the Swiss city where a 1923 treaty was signed denying the Kurdish people an independent nation-state, will explore the impact of that political decision on the Kurds and their subsequent struggle for autonomy and self-determination. The series of participative workshops, films and round table discussions, which has been devised by the artist Jonas Staal and Kurdish politician Nilufer Koç, is entitled ’New World Embassy: Kurdistan’ and will take place at the Vidy Theatre, Lausanne, from 23 to 24 September 2023.
The project will scrutinise the treaty which laid the ground for the establishment of the modern Turkish state, but reneged on previous suggestions made by international powers that the Kurds might be granted an independent polity following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The theatre states: “One hundred years ago, the signatories of the Lausanne Treaty dismantled the Ottoman Middle East and refused a nation to the Kurdish people by dislocating its traditional territory into the new entities that would become Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Today, the current situation places the Kurds between resisting Daesh [ISIS], undergoing persecution, and establishing an experimental, extra-national, local and feminist democracy in Rojava [Syrian Kurdistan].”
The Treaty ended the conflict between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire, with its centenary a cause for celebration in modern Turkey, and Turkish political figures using the anniversary as a talking-point to assert irredentist claims to former Ottoman territories now outside the borders of the Turkish Republic as established in 1923. However, Kurdish political representatives have argued that the Treaty also marked the beginning of a century of oppression and violence. Protests around the centenary have underscored the ongoing struggle of the Kurdish people for recognition and autonomy, and their resistance against policies they perceive as genocidal.
The event also highlights the growing international recognition of the Kurdish cause and their fight for identity and freedom, in particular around the region formally known as North and East Syria, established around Rojava but also incorporating many major Arab population centres. In North and East Syria, a Kurdish-led, multi-ethnic political movement has been working to establish a form of direct-democratic governance outside the control of the central Syrian authorities.
The theatre state the two-day event will establish “the ephemeral embassy of a new world, which will host participative workshops, films and round table discussions that will bring together politicians, experts and artists around the question of democracy without the state and solidarity cultures.” There will be participants from all four regions of Kurdistan, as well as international artists, political figures and supporters of the Kurdish movement.
Jonas Staal is a visual artist whose work deals with the relation between art, propaganda, and democracy, and the founder of the artistic and political organization “New World Summit.” Nilufer Koç is a member of the National Congress of Kurdistan (KNK), an umbrella organisation based in Europe which unites Kurdish political organisations and lobbies for Kurdish self-determination and autonomy.