Killian Amoura, Syméon Bruzzese and Francisco Carvalho Da Costa explore how an earlier cohort of students matriculated at Lausanne and other Swiss universities sought to influence public opinion during the Lausanne conference.

Turkish student societies and clubs based in Switzerland played an important propaganda role during the Lausanne conference, planting articles in the Swiss press and organizing the publication of pamphlets by local printers such as Giesser et Held and A. Bovard-Giddey. The cantonal archives of the Vaud allowed us to explore how the “Foyer Turc” and student societies collaborated to legitimate the Kemalist project. With the students’ help the Turkish Congress of Lausanne launched a new periodical, entitled simply Turkey, which carried reports of atrocities and assassinations that allegedly demonstrated the fanaticism of Greek, Armenian and Kurd alike. Every issue also included the offer to supply any reader who wrote in with “all the true and authentic information about the Turkish question and the events of Turkey,” as well as advertisements for Kemalist pamphlets.[1]

The choice of language suggests that the British and Americans were the intended audience, rather than the Swiss.

The choice of language suggests that the British and Americans were the intended audience, rather than the Swiss. After demanding Greece understand “that as there can be no place for the Germans in the North of France or in Belgium, no place for the Austrians in Venetia, there is also no place for the Hellenes in the Turkish homelands”, one editorial went on to insist that it was “the lot of Great Britain to hasten this result.” By so doing Britain would gain “the friendship of the most useful, the most honest and the most powerful nation of the East, and will lay the solid bases of peace in Asia.”[2]

Leadership of these various “foyers”, assemblies and leagues based in Geneva and Lausanne often interlocked: Harun Alitché was a member of the Foyer Turc de Lausanne, president of the Permanent Office of the Turkish Congress, founder of the Ligue Académiste Ottomane and president of the Société Académique Intermusulmane of Lausanne. All on top of working for his degree! As this example shows, ostensibly “Turkish” groups sought to embrace and speak on behalf of other Muslim diasporas. The Turks’ assumption of this leading role could become a source of tension among those same diasporas. During the Lausanne conference a group of students from Egypt formed their own “délégation officieuse”, feeling that Turkish-dominated groups did not adequately represent the interests of their home country.

The international prestige of Swiss universities had long drawn Ottomans to Lausanne. Back in 1911 an earlier generation of Ottoman students at Lausanne had protested against the Italian invasion of Tripolitania by issuing their own press release: an “Appel à l’Opinion Publique Européene” they hoped would be carried by newspapers in Switzerland and neighbouring countries.[3] Contacts made in the Foyers Turcs of Geneva and Lausanne could stand graduate members in good stead in their later careers. Sometime president of Lausanne’s Foyer Turc Mahmut Esat Bozkurt later became Minister of Justice in Ankara, supervising the introduction of the Swiss Civil Code. In the case of Bozkurt and several others student propaganda work represented something more than a short-lived burst of youthful enthusiasm or a displacement activity. It offered a kind of training no less valuable for their personal development than their formal studies.

Translated from the French by Jonathan Conlin.

This is the second in a series of blogposts contributed by students of Lausanne University, drawing on the police archives of the Canton of Vaud and other local archives as part of their study of Global History. To find out more about this innovative pedagogical response to the Covid emergency, click here. We would like to thank Guillaume Beausire and Thomas David for making this collaboration possible.


[1] Turkey: Monthly Organ of the Turkish Congress [Lausanne], 2 (March 1921), 10.

[2] Turkey, 9 (Dec. 1921), 5.

[3] Orhan Kologlu, The Islamic Public Opinion During the Libyan War, 1911-12 (Tripoli: GSPLAJ, 1988), p. 40.

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