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.
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.
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).
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”.