This Saturday, thousands of people from the Kurdish community and their supporters are expected to participate in an authorised demonstration in Switzerland. The purpose of this gathering is to remind the world of the Treaty of Lausanne on the 100th anniversary of its signing, and to reiterate the Kurdish communities condemnation of this agreement.
If you don’t know your history, it can be hard to understand why a treaty that was signed in 1923 would still hold such significance that 100 years later thousands of people continue to protest against it. In addition to bringing about the end of two wars, World War 1 and the Turkish War of Independence, the Lausanne treaty can be credited with creating the Turkey we have today. It did not simply effect the transition from the Ottoman Empire to a Turkish Republic, but it drew the borders we see today and cemented the anti-Armenian and anti-Kurdish sentiments which still carry on into Turkey.
Amnesty for the Crimes Committed by the Ottoman Empire
One of the most clear-cut ways the 1923 agreement laid the foundation for the racist, and indeed genocidal nation of Turkey was through Annex VIII of the treaty, the Declaration of Amnesty. This section of the document directly granted immunity for all the crimes and the perpetrators of crimes which were evidently connected with the political events which took place during the period between 1914 and 1922. A quick Google search would make it pretty obvious which crimes happened in this time frame, and why Turkey would want to wash their hands of them. To name but a few – the Armenian genocide, the Assyrian genocide and the Greek genocide.
Historian Hans-Lukas Kierser comments on the treaty, claiming it “tacitly endorsed comprehensive policies of expulsion and extermination of hetero-ethnic and hetero-religious groups.”
The amnesty for crimes which should be remembered and should have been brought to justice set the stage for the double standard the world seems to have for Turkey, and set the precedent for the now common practice of turning a blind eye to Turkish war crimes and ethnic cleansing.
Borders Dividing a People
Another element of this historical document which is still inarguably relevant today is that of the borders it drew when it pieced out what had been the Ottoman empire. When drawing these newly imagined national borders, somehow no one remembered to consider existing communities, and consequently these communities were torn asunder. It was after 1923 that Kurdistan, the area historically inhabited by Kurdish people, was divided into four parts – southeastern Turkey, northern Syria, northern Iraq and western Iran. All of these nations proceeded to assimilate Kurdish people, repress their language and culture, and even deny their existence.
Britain had previously supported the creation of an independent Kurdistan, but as is still so often the case when world power met behind closed doors, the Kurds were forgotten and their desires sold. A modern-day example of this trend, is that despite the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) being allies of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) when former US President Donald Trump met with current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan in 2019, the US seemed to immediately forget their allies, withdrew their forces and gave Turkey the green light to attack the pro-Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).
Perhaps one reason Kurdish people still feel so strongly about the Treaty of Lausanne is that they can see their treatment by the international community has remained unchanged since 1923. The crimes of Turkey are still being pushed under the rug, as were the crimes of the Ottoman empire, the promise to give Kurds a homeland remains forgotten, world powers continue to use the Kurds when strategic, but ultimately roll over in submission whenever Turkey gets cross.
These things remain unchanged – but so does Kurdish resistance. That is why on the 100th anniversary of the Lausanne agreement we expect to see thousands of people congregate and remind the world that they remember Turkey’s crimes and that they reject the assimilation which Lausanne prefaced. We will see them this year, and I am confident that if necessary and if things do not change, we will still see Kurds resisting on the 200th anniversary.