Zeynep Kaşlı tells a story of missed connections between Greece and Turkey, at a railway station stranded between contested pasts.

e-mail: kasli@iss.nl

With the Lausanne Treaty, the Meriç/Evros River in Thrace became the natural border separating Greece and Turkey. The only territories beyond the river that belong to Turkey are Karaağaç and nearby Bosnaköy, obtained as war reparations at Lausanne. Following the Greek-Turkish population exchange, the Greek inhabitants of Karaağaç were resettled just across the border in Kastanies and Orestiada, while their houses became home to Muslim refugees from Greek Thrace and Macedonia. Although the border was officially sealed off, the Karaağaç train station and its surroundings remained as a contact zone for almost half a century, serving people from Orestiada and Edirne who shared familial, personal and economic ties.  

GREEK MIGRANTS CROSSING THE MERİÇ/EVROS IN 1922
SOURCE: AINITES.GR

Although the Karaağaç railway line was built by Chemins des fer Orientaux in 1873, the train station (designed by Mimar Kemalettin) only opened in 1914. The railway connecting Istanbul with Vienna formerly crossed the river around Pythion/Uzunköprü, continuing north on what became the Greek side of the border and making a stop in Karaağaç before heading further north to Bulgaria. Article 107 of the Lausanne Treaty charged a commissioner (selected by the Council of the League of Nations) with ensuring that “travellers coming from or destined for Turkey or Greece…shall not be subject, on account of such transit, to any duty or toll nor to any formality of examination in connection with passports or customs.” 

GREEK MIGRANTS IN OCTOBER 1922
PHOTO BY T. NIKOLERIS FROM THE ASIA MINOR CAMPAIGN, SOURCE: LIFO.GR

In the years following Lausanne, Kastanies-Karaağaç remained a regional hub. In the early 1930s the local newspaper Edirne Postası described Çörekköy (Kastanies) bazaar as a gathering place for friends and family from across the border to exchange local products. Although tighter postwar border controls put paid to the bazaar older residents of Karaağaç recall forms of translocal petty trade enduring into the late 1960s, with Greek machinists coming to barter Greek coffee for cheap Turkish sugar. 

ORIENT EXPRESS TRAIN AT KARAAĞAÇ TRAIN STATION IN 1950
PHOTO BY JACK BIRNS, SOURCE: RETOURS.EU

By the early 1970s Karaağaç train station had ceased to operate as informal exchange, thanks to the construction of separate railways on either side of the border, increased red tape and customs duties. Conflict in Cyprus brought greater Turkish military presence, and minefields on the Greek side. A porous border became a wall. 

The station found a role as the fine arts campus of the newly-founded Trakya University of Edirne. In 1996 the University announced plans to construct a monument on the campus, to stand “against the internal and external activities revitalizing Sèvres and overthrow[ing] the founding principles of the republic.” After a quick national fundraising campaign, and with the support of Edirne Municipality and the Edirne Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the “Lausanne monument, museum and square” opened in July 1998.

LAUSANNE MONUMENT. SOURCE: SKOLATRAVEL.COM

To quote its inscription, the monument serves “to acknowledge the role of the [Lausanne] treaty which represents both the territorial and national foundation of modern Turkey, as it granted this piece of land, including Karaağaç, to Turkey.” Ironically 1998 saw warming relations between Greece and Turkey, something the business community of Edirne welcomed. Bowing to local pressure the Greek and Turkish authorities agreed to keep Kastanies/Pazarkule Border Gate open round the clock. Something of the old ties recovered, and new ones emerged, though both remained contingent upon ongoing bilateral conflicts. 

In 2016 one of the Karaağaç Campus buildings was transformed into the “National Struggle and Lausanne Museum.” The first floor showcases military and diplomatic documents, pictures and artefacts, as well as biographies of local commanders who joined the national struggle in Thrace. The second floor is devoted mainly to the Lausanne negotiations. As the sign at the entrance states, the museum is intended to inform the youth of the hardships their ancestors suffered.

KARAAĞAÇ IN 2018. SOURCE: TRAKYA UNIVERSITY

The old train station, the Lausanne monument and museum at Turkey’s westernmost point represents a dislocated “floating image” of a nation-state. It presents a narrative of “lost territories”, vanishing translocal ties and half-remembered tales of co-existence in Thrace. In the mundane life of a border town, today’s Karaağaç Campus welcomes newlyweds looking for a photogenic backdrop, a wish tree sporting wishes in many languages (including Greek) and more often than not some Greek visitors taking selfies with the bust of İsmet İnönü. They remind us that remembering means reappropriating space, sometimes in ways the authorities never expected. 

 FEATURE IMAGE: GEZIBAHCESI.NET

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