When the idea of the Lausanne Project (TLP) first hatched during an e-mail exchange five years ago, our plan was to edit a volume about a peace treaty forgotten by the world beyond Greece and Turkey. The Gingko Library in London quickly agreed to fund a workshop in Paris and publish the book. Given Gingko’s impressive record in publishing a series related to the Versailles treaty – The Makers of the Modern World – we were delighted to have their support.
Our 2019 call for papers attracted proposals from over forty scholars, who included some of the finest historians of the early twentieth-century Middle East and its relationship with the rest of the world. As word of the Project spread curators began contacting us, inviting us to collaborate in their own plans for the centenary. These included Gaby Fierz and Laurent Golay (director of the Musée Historique Lausanne) as well as Pieter Trogh of IFFM (In Flanders Fields Museum) in Ypres, Belgium. Although the Lausanne show opens next year, the Ypres exhibition For Civilisation: the Great War in the Middle East is now on, and will run until next October.
The original idea for a TLP website was inspired by the Covid emergency, which forced us to postpone our workshop twice, and then move it online. A website, we hoped, would provide a forum where contributors to our volume could share ideas. It soon became clear that we could do much more with it, and here we must thank our intern, Bryony Harris, for doing such a marvellous job in designing it. The end result has attracted much more interest than we initially thought – thanks to those of you who have contributed blogposts or submitted to interviews on your current research, be that in history, anthropology or international relations.
Launched exactly a year ago, the Lausanne Project website has hosted visitors from 167 countries. Its blogposts, interviews and podcast episodes have covered a wide range of topics that were debated at and around the negotiating table during the peace conference of 1922-23. These include the much-debated Greco-Turkish (Muslim) population exchange, which unfortunately continues to inspire present-day policy thinking, as well as contested borders in Thrace and the politics of energy – which we have been privileged to explore from both historical and anthropological perspectives. We’ve featured the Lausanne table (twice!), Lausanne syndrome (and Sèvres syndrome), as well as the myths Lausanne has since prompted. Our contributors have ranged from early career researchers to distinguished scholars whose insights have shaped the discipline.
All along our aim has been to consider Lausanne from a global perspective – uncovering not only what happened during its making but what it has come to symbolize since. We recognize that here we still have work to do, particularly when it comes to exploring ways in which the debates surrounding Lausanne were received and responded to in Italy, Russia, Egypt, India and the rest of Asia. If you are reading this and think you can help us in this regard, please get in touch!
In the coming year we hope to use the website to introduce (in podcast form) some of the research which eventually will be published in our Gingko centenary volume: topics include the Armenian (non-)participation at Lausanne, Syrian dreams of a democratic state, the fate of the Ottoman Debt and Kurdish aspirations and disappointments during and after World War I.
Some of our blogposts are currently being translated into Turkish by our intern Yasir Safa Doğancil. By early 2023, therefore, we hope that TLP will be able to cater not only to anglophone scholars, journalists and others, but also to a Turkish audience eagerly anticipating the supposed revelation of the treaty’s “secret clauses” on 24 July 2023 (Spoiler Alert: there were no “Secret Clauses”!).
Of course, we aren’t quite foolish enough to believe that even a Turkish-language TLP will go viral in 2023. That is unlikely to happen, even if we did do another blogpost on postage stamps. Reaching a broad audience needs creative thinking, and so we are particularly proud to announce that, thanks to follow-on funding from Gingko, we will also be publishing a graphic novel about Lausanne in 2023: a child-like (but not childish) account of 1922-3. We aspire to combine the wit of the Hungarian artists Aloïs Derso and Emery Kelèn with the wisdom of Karagöz and Hacivat – the two folk heroes that Armenians, Turks, and Greeks all claim as their cultural heritage.
In recent years academia in general and the humanities in particular have faced excruciating budget cuts, heavy-work loads and a challenging job market. Studying the past and understanding the dynamics of human relations have rarely been more important, however. Hopefully, TLP will in its small way foster a shift from an outworn professional culture of the competitive ‘rat race’ to a culture that places greater value on sharing expertise, sources and skills, that recognises everyone’s worth and contribution. With this hope, naive perhaps, we invite colleagues to bring about a new understanding of relations between the Middle East and the rest of the world, and to reflect on Lausanne’s legacy – together.