100th anniversary of signing of Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations

ATHENS / ISTANBUL — Monday, 30 January, marked the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations that would see the forced displacement of some 1.6 million people. Contemporary historians have referred to the exchange as legalized ethnic cleansing.

Over the course of a year, hundreds of thousands of Greeks living in Turkey and Turks living in Greece were forcibly relocated.

The population exchange was a traumatic event for those affected. The impact was far-reaching and long-lasting. Many people were forced to abandon their homes, businesses, and communities, leaving behind everything they knew. The transfers were conducted in a chaotic and often brutal manner, with families separated, possessions stolen, and individuals subjected to abuse and violence. People who were once neighbors and friends became enemies, and the cultural and linguistic diversity that once existed in both countries was lost.

The commission tasked with resettling refugees had no effective plan in place and no information on the number of refugees or available land. By the time commission officials had arrived in Greece, the government had already settled nearly 73,000 families in Macedonia using the abandoned homes of exchanged Muslims. In Turkey, arriving refugees found a more dire situation. The abandoned property of Greeks was frequently looted before the refugees could arrive, making it difficult to resettle refugees in Anatolia as these homes were already emptied or occupied.

The trauma of the exchange was passed down from generation to generation, and the yearning for a lost past has remained. Today, the population exchange remains a sensitive topic for both Greeks and Turks. While the event has been recognized as a major milestone in the history of both countries, its legacy is still felt in the form of lingering tensions and unresolved conflicts.