Konstantina E. Botsiou is Professor of History and international Relations at the Department of International and European Relations of the University of Piraeus. She was previously Associate Professor at the University of the Peloponnese (Corinth), where she also served as Vice Rector. Since 2016 she is Visiting Professor at the Hellenic National Defense College (HNDC) and serves on the board of Directors of the Council for International Relations-Greece. From 2001 until 2018 she was Director of Publications, General Director and Vice President of the Konstantinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy.

Her publications focus on modern and contemporary history, European integration, the Cold War, Balkan history, Euro-Atlantic relations, political parties, defense and foreign policy. She has authored, co-authored and edited over 15 books and 150 academic articles, among them the books 1821. From the Revolution to the State (in Greek, 2021), The Balkans in the Cold War (2017) and The founders of the European Integration (2012).

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne,* Professor Botsiou spoke to Rethinking Greece** on what elements made the Treaty such a solid foundation for Greek-Turkish reconciliation; on the anti-revisionist policy adopted by both counties at the time; the “cruel novelty” of the mandatory population exchange between Greece and Turkey; the Treaty’s contribution to the wider region’s geopolitical balance; and finally on why, as a multilateral peace treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne cannot be amended.

The Lausanne Treaty provided the foundation for a peaceful co-existence between Greece and Turkey during many decades. What do you believe were the elements of the Treaty that made this possible?

A combination of factors made possible this peaceful co-existence, but the main was the prevalence of anti-revisionism after the defeat of both Greece and Turkey; entanglement in a new war unattractive, since neither country believed that the gains would exceed the losses. The dual nature of the Treaty of Lausanne as a) a Peace Treaty between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire to end the World War I and b) as a replacement for the ill-fated Treaty of Sèvres, provided a solid foundation for Greek-Turkish conciliation, on the basis of mutual defeat. We must take into account that the paramount aim of the Treaty – regarding  Greece and Turkey – was to exclude future bilateral wars that could by definition endanger the international balance of power. This aim was mostly served by a) the compulsory exchange of populations and b) the clauses regarding demilitarization. These clauses enhanced bilateral rapprochement, ensuring that neither country would be able to attack the other. At the same time, both countries would act as a joint bulwark against pressures from the North, thus serving the strategy of the Allies who, during the interwar years, considered Bolshevik Russia –and later on, the Axis– as a major threat. In uniting the eternal Russian danger with the communist threat, the new Bolshevik regime posed a geopolitical and ideological danger to the balance of powers in Europe, despite Stalin’s preference for inward-looking reconstruction. Britain’s instrumental role in Greek-Turkish arrangements at Lausanne reflected London’s suspicion towards its diehard rival in Eastern Europe. That international relations element convinced the Greece and Turkey that they could share the geography of borders that was created by the war, in order to play a stabilizing international role and use their geopolitical position to build up their war-ridden societies.

The Greek delegation at Lausanne. Seated, in the first row, from left: Dim. Kaklamanos, El. Venizelos, Andr. Michalakopoulos and Al. Mazarakis. Benaki Museum Historical Archive, Eleftherios Venizelos Archive.

In your announcement at the ELIAMEP Conference for the 100 years of the Lausanne Treaty, you mentioned that it was (and still is) a modern Treaty. Could you expand on that?

The Treaty of Lausanne has demonstrated remarkable durability. A key aspect of its longevity was that it simultaneously ended World War I for the Ottoman Empire – which was about to become modern Kemalist Turkey, founded three months after the Treaty, on 29 October 1923 – and turned the page on the country’s relations with the Allies, including Greece. Both countries adopted an anti-revisionist policy which has endured during World War II and during the Cold War as well. In World War II, half of the eight countries that had signed the Treaty of Lausanne followed a revisionist policy and cooperated with the Axis, but not Greece and Turkey. Greece has maintained the same policy to this day, whereas Turkey has adopted revisionist claims. Nevertheless, the Western orientation of both countries unites their broader interests, as they were tied together in the Treaty of Lausanne, originally with Britain as their closest ally, later with the USA taking up this role.

In the same announcement, you characterized the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, as a “cruel novelty”. How would you evaluate, 100 years on, the impact of this population exchange on both countries?

The Lausanne Treaty initiated a century of peace or “no-war” – as it was once described in the 1980s – between Greece and Turkey, despite their dispute and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Thus, the Treaty was a major turning point in the history of relations between the two countries, considering the continuous Greek-Turkish wars in the previous century. The exchange of populations was thought of as a prerequisite for peace, in order to stop both countries from claiming rights for protecting their large minorities as well as from making territorial claims based on their existence. The exchange was actually compulsory, which was quite a departure from the voluntary population exchanges that were not infrequent at that time; one had already taken place between Greece and Bulgaria after the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine (1919). Eleftherios Venizelos himself had contemplated again an exchange of populations with Turkey, that time in 1914, in order to stop Turkish persecutions in Macedonia and Thrace. It came almost 10 years later, but this time in a compulsory form. This qualitative difference of compulsivity in the exchange of populations sought to eradicate any roots of future grievances; something that was indeed a prerequisite for the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne.

The relevant agreement was signed 6 months earlier than the Treaty itself, on the 30th of January 1923. The exchange of populations was brutal for the people and the countries involved, especially for Greece that had to deal with both defeat and urgent social conditions. Hence, the exchange was a “cruel novelty”. It entailed deep human suffering; at the same time, it created conditions of national homogeneity when nationalism was at its peak, and finally it enabled a Greek-Turkish rapprochement, even s Greek-Turkish alliance in the coming years. The re-settlement of refugees was quite an accomplishment, owed greatly to the intensive efforts of the American-led Refugee Settlement Commission (RSC) which completed it within a few years (1924-30). However, it took generations for the refugees to become assimilated and accepted in Greek society, whereas several refugees were counting on substantial reparations for the properties they had left behind, or even believed that they could be repatriated. In 1930 those hopes proved futile, as the governments of the two countries signed several treaties, including the Treaty of Ankara, a Treaty of friendship between Greece and Turkey, deciding to mutually quit claims for refugee compensations. Geopolitically, this transformed reconciliation into friendship. Politically it cost dearly, foremost to Venizelos, who lost thousands of refugee votes in the 1932 general elections. But both Greece and Turkey valued national homogeneity as a source of power and sovereignty against external pressures.

 Left: Kaisariani 1950-51 © Center for Asia Minor Studies Right: Interior of a refugee residence in Kaisariani, 1950-51 © Center for Asia Minor Studies

The Lausanne Treaty was a multi-lateral treaty, with eight signatories. What would you say was the Treaty’s contribution, not just to Greece-Turkey relations, but to the geopolitical balance in the wider region?

The death of the “sick man of Europe” as the Ottoman Empire had been characterized during the previous century, resulted in a new balance of powers among smaller nation states in the Balkans; they started anew, on an equal basis with their century-old opponent. Moreover, theses countries we founded as modern nations-states at a time when communism was a rising ideological force in Europe. For that reason, Greece and Turkey were integrated into the broader strategy of the Western Great Powers against Bolshevik Russia. In a way, the Western orientation of Greece and Turkey started with the Treaty of Lausanne.  The Treaty also granted territorial stability in the Middle Eastern territories that were regulated by the colonial powers at Lausanne. When they became independent countries, they aspired to specific borders that were set then in order to avert destabilizing external influences, Turkish or Russian.

Today’s regional wars upset that stability, as the Arab spring and the War in Syria have demonstrated. The most important recent change, though, is Turkey’s effort to emerge as regional hegemon, which reminds to all countries in the region of the unwelcome Ottoman past. This is also a main source of Greek-Turkish tensions, which take place against the backdrop of a difficult geography, as both countries are members of NATO and share access to the chokepoints of the Mediterranean (Dardanelles Straits, Suez Canal). Still, Turkey does not seem determined to change the status quo created by the Lausanne Treaty as it would risk destabilizing the entire region and thus undermine the interests of its powerful allies like US and NATO. The clash of Turkey with Israel is a sign of Ankara’s difficulty to play the Muslim card and at the same time remain a Western country.

The Prime Minister of Greece, Eleftherios Venizelos with Prime Minister of Turkey, Ismet Inonou, at the signing of the Greek-Turkish Friendship Pact in Ankara On October 30, 1930

What is the legacy of the Lausanne Treaty now? What would you answer to claims that the treaty “expires” and has to be revised?

As is well known, the Treaty of Lausanne is a multilateral peace treaty and not a bilateral Greek-Turkish Treaty. Peace Treaties are not amended, even those signed before the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969) was enacted; this is because they define borders and territorial regimes. Turkey’s efforts to revise the part of the Treaty that concerns Greek-Turkish relations cannot be acceptable since the Treaty is a coherent legal entity including 28 acts. Only one part of the Treaty regulates Greek-Turkish relations after Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922. As mentioned before, the Treaty facilitated Greek-Turkish rapprochement, for instance through demilitarization, but did not link demilitarization with sovereignty, which is what Turkey claims today. Ankara choses to ignore the bilateral revision of the relevant clauses on demilitarization, which happed de jure with the Montreux Treaty (1936) on the eve of the Second World War, and de facto during the Cold War, after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Last but not least, to state only a few examples, Turkey also questions Greek sovereignty over Dodecanese islands, although it resigned from all rights and privileges on them when they were ceded to Italy under the Treaty of Lausanne. Ankara’s attitude today shows a propensity to revise the entire status in the Aegean Sea as part of a Turkish regional hegemonic strategy. Neighboring Greece is regarded as a geopolitical obstacle and the Treaty of Lausanne as a legal obstacle to this political endeavor that blurs crucial chapters of modern world history.

** The Treaty of Lausanne, the most enduring of the post-World War I peace accords, is a historic treaty signed on July 24, 1923, establishing national borders in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, with the aim of restoring peace in the region after the disastrous First World War. The treaty was signed by the Republic of Turkey, which had succeeded the defeated Ottoman Empire, on the one hand, and by the Allied and Associated Powers (France, United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Greece, Serbia and Romania), on the other hand. One of the most radical elements of the Treaty of Lausanne, particularly from a humanitarian point of view, is the obligatory exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey.

** Interview to Ioulia Livaditi

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