Today I wanted to share with you a story I came across at Slate.com. It’s about Kayakoy, an abandoned city in south—western Turkey. The interesting thing about this city is that it is a ruin. Now, ruins in Turkey aren’t exactly novel, but these ruins are more recent than most. Slate explains:
“But this is not an ancient city—Kayakoy in Turkey is a modern ruin, deserted for political reasons in the 1920s.
Originally built in the 1700s, the town called Karmylassos in Greek was home to as many as 20,000 Greek Orthodox residents by the early 20th century. Then came World War I, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the land grabs of the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922). Greece suffered a resounding defeat in the conflict, and had to hand territory it gained during the war back to Turkey. Residual violence and retribution was often aimed at the remaining Greek Orthodox community within the new Turkish borders, and in turn, against the Muslim Turks in Greece.
In order to stanch the bloodshed, the Greek and Turkish governments signed a population-exchange agreement in January 1923.”
Under this enforced population swap 1.5 million Greeks living in Turkey moved to Greece, while over 300,000 Turks were pushed the other way. One of the (many) tragedies from that time is that Greeks in Turkey are as ancient as the Iliad – imagine finding yourself a foreigner in a country which has been your family’s home for at least 2500 years!? Now, I am a New Zealander who can trace back 100 years of family history in this land and I certainly think that this is home and that no one can kick me out. So to imagine what the population swap was like in the early 1920s in Greece and Turkey is impossible.
Kayakoy is now a deserted ghost town of about 350 homes. The photos over at Slate are eerie and yet beautiful. You can see the homes which sit empty, many without roofs. There are also two Greek Orthodox churches, fountains and cisterns. A village without people seems so haunted, is it because it is so familiar yet so different? There should be people living here, but there isn’t. Is there an analogy with a dead body – it is familiar – it looks the same as the live person but yet is undeniably different, empty and smaller.
There are two points to ponder. First, are the sights of Kayakoy going to become more prevalent in many parts of the world as the towns and villages become deserted through low birth rates, falling populations and increased urbanisation? Second, if countries (particularly in the West) turn to increased immigration to keep their working populations growing, or at least steady, will events like forced population swaps become more likely in the future? After all, if history is any guide, then the “other” in our midst tends to become the scapegoat when economic or military problems occur.