İlkim Büke Okyar explores the ways in which Turkish cartoonists visualized the Lausanne negotiations, distilling complex proceedings into fairy tales and soap opera, under the bemused gaze of Akbaba, Karagöz and Hacivad.

Political cartoons emerged as a vehicle for Ottoman public opinion in the nineteenth century. Ever since Turkish cartoonists have used them to visualize political oppression and make their views on international events and other socio-economic issues known. Their cartoons looked to entice a literate public, if not garner their support.

Karagöz (Black Eye) and Akbaba (Vulture) were the leading publishers of political satire in the early 1920s. Both newspapers supported the government in Ankara. Karagöz from the beginning of the Great War, and Akbaba, from the time it was relaunched in 1922, operated as the government’s mouthpiece. Their political cartoons not only disclosed the attitudes, emotions and perceptions of the Kemalist elites, they also served to boost supporters’ morale and undermine that of opponents in the challenging times of the interwar period. It was through the imagination of their cartoonists that the Turkish public visualized the intrigues behind the Lausanne negotiations of 1922-3. 

Illustrating the developments in Lausanne between November 1922 and July 1923, both papers remained loyal to their political positions. They nonetheless differed in the manner in which they spotlighted political and international matters on the conference agenda.

“Once Upon a Time”: Lausanne as fairy-tale romance

The biweekly Akbaba cover-story depicted a romance between sulh (or Peace, depicted as the goddess of victory Nike) and Turkey (occasionally presented as Ismet Pasha). The Allied Powers appeared as monstrous creatures or vicious bandits standing between the two lovers and seeking to stymie their union (Figures 1, 2, and 3). Akbaba’s coverage thus seemed like a soap opera in which the hero overcame all the obstacles thrown in his way by opponents and rivals (Figures 4 and 5). Akbaba preferred to remain dully aloof from the specifics of the conference. Instead, it focused its cartoons on the outcomes of the discussions, which were reduced to simple questions,  such as who would be to blame if the conference was suspended.

FIGURE 1: AKBABA, ‘‘A TALE OF PEACE’, 12 JULY 1923

[Top Line, R to L]: Once upon a time… -There was a castle called Europe -In this castle lived a three-headed monster and a beautiful fairy -The entire world was in love with her -Much blood had been shed for her sake

[Middle]: – The dead were dead, and the others survived -The lovers who wanted to open the door to the castle -Looked day and night for a secret charm -Yet, there was a seducer among them. She managed to trick everyone! -However, the lovers did not give up and continued their journey

[Bottom]: -Finally, they arrived at a city called Lausanne -Walking on a thorny road, they found a magic axe -They stuck the axe in the castle’s door -Three-headed monster melted away -The lovers united with each other, and lived happily ever after
FIGURE 2: AKBABA, 8 MAY 1923

(The door is labelled ‘Lausanne’. The caption reads: ‘Closed-door policy!’)
FIGURE 3: AKBABA, 25 JUNE 1923

The Frenchman: ‘You can wish whatever you want!’
Peace: ‘You could move away out of the sun and not cast a shadow on me!’
FIGURE 4: AKBABA, 16 JULY 1923

(Turkish journalist): – Hello, hello, who is it? – Istanbul? – Everything is over, the peace is coming in two days!
(Peace): – Hello, hello, who is it? – The afterlife. – I’m done here! I’m coming in two days!
FIGURE 5: AKBABA, ‘BRIDAL CORTEGE’, 23 JULY 1923

Caption: Let those who love God bless the couple!

[The groom is Ismet Pasha, the head of the cortege is Venizelos on behalf of Greece, behind are Curzon (or Rumbold?) representing Britain, Garroni of Italy, and Pelle of France]

Unlike Akbaba, Karagöz (also a biweekly) devoted a larger share of its political cartoons to details, controlling and channelling popular public discourse. Among the several issues raised during the conference, it paid particular attention to the Mosul question, which would remain unresolved until 1925.

Mosul’s territorial future and its oil supplies were discussed in the conference from December 1922 to January 1923. During this time, Mosul oil and British claims to it appeared in Karagöz’s cartoons almost weekly, as an extension of larger rivalries surrounding the newly awarded Middle East mandates. The cartoons portrayed the Allied nations as engaged in cut-throat commercial and diplomatic competition over Mosul’s bounty, and reflected on how national and corporate avarice increasingly trumped visions of intelligent cooperation intended to foster the progress of civilization (Figures 6, 7, 8, and 9).

Figure 6: KARAGÖZ, ‘THE LAUSANNE PEACE FEAST’, 23 DECEMBER 1922

Hacivad: – They all have their meals of which they are trying to take a bite, what do you think will come of this Karagöz?
Karagöz: – This is exactly what I was afraid of! By the time they get to the dessert that stands in the middle they will lose their appetite and will be full.

[The dessert is labelled ‘peace’]
FIGURE 7: KARAGÖZ, ‘MOSUL OIL STREAM’, 3 JANUARY 1923

Karagöz (addressing Curzon, at the tap): – You don’t understand a word I say; I keep telling you not to play with oil, if you have an accident, you are the first to burn.

[The fountain reads: ‘Mosul oil’.]
FIGURE 8: KARAGÖZ, ‘MOSUL OIL,’ 13 JANUARY 1923

The Lausanne Conference: – I am sitting here; ain’t I sitting here, you can talk as much as you want; I won’t get off.
Karagöz: – There is no need to say anything, my friend! The back of my sword is enough to take out the whiskey bottles that caused your illusions, if you keep insisting; I will start to take them in order

[The bottles read: Whisky]
FIGURE 9: KARAGÖZ, 27 JANUARY 1923

Curzon: – As we failed to share this between us, let’s leave it to the League of Nations. What do you say?
Karagöz: – Don’t be deceived my pasha (referring to Ismet Pasha), the League of Nations is their own [making]. If they insist on delegating the matter somewhere else, tell them to delegate it to our army: then watch how they sue for peace!

[The door reads: The League of Nations; the tank reads: Mosul]

Although the Ankara government was dissatisfied with the decision to delegate the Mosul question to the League of Nations, the disappointment was concealed by the Turkish desire for immediate peace.  (Figure 10). As the people’s voice, the protagonists of Karagöz celebrated the news – while remaining, as ever, sceptical of the Allied powers and their claims to the moral high ground and “civilization”.

FIGURE 10: KARAGÖZ, 25 JULY 1923

Hacivad: – Our child, born after nine years of faith and nine months of struggle, should be carried on our shoulders, not in a carriage.
Karagöz: – Yes, this baby came into the world through the blood of thousands of heroic people. The whole world should appreciate it, otherwise, more blood will be shed.