The Lausanne debate: ‘Away with dreams and shadows’

The Lausanne debate: ‘Away with dreams and shadows’

“Neither sentiment nor illusion must influence our policy. Away with dreams and shadows! …They cost us dear in the past” (Mustafa Kemal’s 36.5-hour 1927 speech, “Nutuk,” Vol. 2) is a celebrated quote which most recently inspired the title of Robin Wright’s 2008 book, “Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East” and the title of the second chapter of Stephen Kinzer’s 2010 book, “Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future.”

The idea of “away with dreams and shadows” reflected the core philosophy of the Lausanne Treaty and shaped republican foreign policy. Nonetheless, from the very beginning of the republican regime, the Lausanne Treaty has been a matter of controversy. It has been argued that the treaty was imposed by the Western powers and especially by the British on Turkey. It is claimed that even if it seemed to have offered better terms than the Sèvres Treaty, it was at expense of the abolition of the Caliphate and the Muslim identity of Turkey. Since then, resentment concerning Lausanne has shaped and reflected right-wing criticism of the republican regime and its Westernist and secularist orientation. So much so that the treaty has come to be labelled as no less than great treason against the Muslim nation by right-wing nationalists and Islamists. The 1973 book by popular Islamist “historian” Kadir Mısıroğlu, “Lausanne, Victory or Defeat?” is the touchstone for right-wing resentment, shaping the mindset of many, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his supporters among them. 

Most recently, Erdoğan claimed that the Lausanne Treaty was no more than an injustice imposed by the West, noting that Turkey lost even the Greek islands which are very close to Turkey’s shores because of this treaty. Although it was not true historically that Turkey lost the Greek islands due to this treaty, Erdoğan’s speech accurately reflects the idea that the Lausanne Treaty was a defeat and a Western plot against Turkey. We all know that Erdoğan and his party are highly critical of Republican Turkey and eager to replace it with a “New Turkey” with more emphasis on Muslim identity. In fact, the New Turkey project is the main issue of political controversy and social tension in Turkey, since the new project is based on an authoritarian presidential system as opposed to parliamentarian democracy and a secularist constitution.

It is no coincidence that in the same speech Erdoğan also underlined the necessity of extending emergency rule as long as necessary and that even 12 months may not be sufficient. It means that until Erdoğan and his party manages to replace the current system with the so-called “Turkish type presidential system,” the country will live under a state of emergency. The supporters of the ruling party now justify both the necessity of the state of emergency and the presidential system on the ground that Turkey is facing great threats of all sorts of terrorism and the danger of the dissolution of the country. According to this mindset, Turkey is not only fighting against terrorism but fighting a “Second War of Independence” for the survival of the country.

Under the circumstances, anybody who opposes the draconian measures of the emergency laws and is critical of the final solution of the presidential system is a supporter of terrorists and a pawn of foreign plotters. 
So far, so bad, but this is not the end of the story, since the controversy on the Lausanne Treaty is a matter of foreign policy and deserves to be taken seriously. Is Turkey going to review the major treaties and international alliances that the republican regime is based on? Is the Lausanne matter going to be treated as the Versailles of Turkey? We know what happens when dreams and shadows determine domestic and foreign politics. We know what happened when the resentment concerning Versailles shaped German politics in the interwar years.