Until the early years of the twentieth century, there had been thousands of Greeks living in Turkey, and Turks living in Greece, preserving their own culture and ways of life over many centuries. But by the 1920s, both Turks and Greeks had been through a period of real upheaval, with a series of wars including the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922. Senior politicians in both countries could see problems ahead if largely Muslim Turks remained in Greece, and largely Orthodox Greeks remained in Turkey.
Their solution though, was a shocking one. Following the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, thousands and thousands of Turks and Greeks were in effect deported from the lands where they and their ancestors had been living for centuries, back to their country of ethnic origin. They were given almost no time to prepare or to pack belongings: they were displaced refugees. Large Greek communities such as Smyrna were quite simply emptied of their citizens, to be stocked with Muslim Turks and re-named Izmir . The regional ethic mix which had prevailed for centuries ceased.
Though it’s hard to regard what happened then as anything better than ethnic cleansing, many Turks nowadays will say that now the dust has settled, and with the passage of time, both Greece and Turkey are the better for it. Greco-Turkish relations have often been poor, and with the two populations now separated, there’s one less thing to fight over.
It’s a hugely complex issue about which I know next to nothing. What I do know is that we spent the last morning of our Turkish holiday in Şirince, one of those villages that was forcibly de-populated, then re-populated, in this case by Turks moved out of Thessaloniki in Greece. It’s a charming place, set on a hillside amongst olive groves and orchards; a tourist trap for Turks and foreign tourists alike. But on a quiet warm morning in February, it was no hardship. We used the time to sample the fruit wines for which the village is noted: mulberry, peach, morello, quince (no, we didn’t try them ALL). We bought last-minute souvenirs: local olive oil, honey, pomegranate vinegar. It was easy to feel, strolling through the narrow streets, that we might be in Greece rather than Turkey, even though we didn’t hear, as promised, any of the older inhabitants speaking Greek.
It was a peaceful way to end our holiday. We’ll be back, as independent travellers next time. And from now, it’ll be posts from misty moisty England. For a while at least.