International Law The Turkish-Greek Population Exchange and International Law
Onur Yildirim
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0236


The Turkish-Greek exchange of populations was the first compulsory exchange of populations that was bilaterally negotiated under the auspices of the Great Powers and agreed at a diplomatic table in pursuit of settling the terms of peace between two states, Greece, already a sovereign nation-state, on one side, and Turkey, an emerging state on its way to becoming a sovereign nation-state, on the other. Following the Mudanya Armistice that officially ended the war between Greece and the emerging Turkish state, the representatives of the two sides were summoned by the Great Powers to meet for negotiations at Lausanne on 22 November 1922. The signing of the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations on 30 January 1923 marked the end of the first phase of the Lausanne Peace Conference which was to conclude on 23 July 1923. With this convention the governments on two sides agreed to the displacement of their respective minorities within their newly drawn borders with the exception of two enclaves, namely, Constantinople and Western Thrace. While the conference continued to discuss a fully loaded package of unsettled issues of international law (e.g., borders, capitulations, minorities, etc.) related with the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the two governments launched the implementation of the exchange convention that would affect the fate of the nearly one million Greeks who had already fled from Anatolia and Eastern Thrace to Greece during the Greco-Turkish War, approximately three hundred thousand Greeks scattered across Anatolia and Eastern Thrace, some hundred fifty thousand Greeks of Constantinople, and around half a million Muslims living in various parts of Greece including the islands in the Aegean (excluding those under Italian occupation) and lastly about two hundred thousand Muslims in the western part of Thrace (Diplomacy and Displacement: Reconsidering the Turco-Greek Exchange of Populations, cited under Monographs and Collected Volumes). The convention also included in its scope the Greek and Muslim refugees displaced since the Balkan Wars (1912–1913) by granting them the same rights with those affected by the Greco-Turkish War. Although the Greeks of Constantinople and the Muslims of Western Thrace were exempted from the convention, their minority status was confirmed during the bilateral talks at Lausanne. At the time of the signature of the Greek-Turkish convention, the implementation of formerly signed agreement for a voluntary exchange of populations between Greece and Bulgaria at Neuilly-sur-Seine (27 November 1919) was still underway and the institutions such as the Mixed Commission established by this treaty were still operating in the field. Both Greece and Bulgaria were involved with hot-heated debates over the interpretation of the agreement’s provisions especially regarding the property-related issues, the definition of the persons who had been displaced prior, the bases of the property appraisals, and the manner of payments. So Neuilly had already created the legal mechanisms, procedures, and principles required for the exchange of populations. The Lausanne Convention came to adapt them to a mandatory situation and integrated them permanently into the diplomatic parlance as well as the framework of the international law, a novelty that makes it one of the most crucial documents of the international law in the twentieth century.

Monographs and Collected Volumes

The signing of the Lausanne Convention coincided with the increasing involvement of the League of Nations in minority and refugee affairs across Europe in the aftermath of World War I. The theory of international law incorporated all these developments into its expanding agenda through the writings of legal specialists during the interwar period. The immediate aftermath of Lausanne witnessed the proliferation of publications on the population exchange by legal experts, mostly, of Greek origin who had served in Greek bureaucracy in various capacities since the nineteenth century. Séfériadès 1929, Devedji 1929, and Streit 1929 sought to situate the exchange on the timeline of human rights, assessed the changing socioeconomic and political conditions of the Greeks and other minority groups in the Ottoman Empire, summarized the recent historical developments leading up to the population exchange, and cast their views on the legal aspects of the Lausanne Convention. The findings and arguments of these bureaucrat-scholars on this crucial event laid the foundations of a more scientific approach to the historical and legal aspects of this event which would be represented by the highly specialized texts of Stephen Pericles Ladas and Dimitri Pentzopoulos. Ladas 1932 has remained the most authoritative documentation and assessment of the Lausanne Convention from the perspectives of domestic and international law. Pentzopoulos 1962 treats the legal side of the convention as part of a broader research agenda addressing all aspects of the population exchange, mostly, in relation to Greece and in a relatively favorable language. Özsu 2015 takes up the convention exclusively from the perspective of international law and provides the most comprehensive and theoretical analysis to this date. In the meantime, several general studies such as Yıldırım 2006 address the legal and institutional aspects of the exchange from more holistic and comparative perspectives. Two international conferences held at Oxford and Istanbul stand out for having provided platforms for the students of the subject to present and share their research with a wider audience. The compilation of the proceedings of these two conferences, Hirschon 2003 and Pekin 2005, facilitated the debates and research on the exchange. These two volumes contain articles on the legal aspects of the Lausanne Convention involving property liquidation and compensation as well as issues of refugee settlement and minority rights. The proceedings of the conference in Istanbul were also translated into Greek and published in Tsitselikis 2006 with a few additional articles on the subject. The centennial of the event in 2023 is anticipated to see the publication of many more monographs and collected volumes.

  • Devedji, Alexandre. L’échange obligatoire des minorités grecques et turques en vertu de la convention de Lausanne du 30 janvier 1923. Paris: Imprimerie du Montparnasse et de Persan-Beaumont, 1929.

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    Examines the juridical status of the Ottoman Greeks and the impact of political developments upon their status after the Balkan Wars. Legal impediments that arose during the implementation of the exchange convention concerning the status of the remaining Greek populations and the patriarchate in Constantinople highlighted. Settlement and indemnification of Greek refugees is covered. Presented as a doctorate thesis to the Faculty of Law at Université de Paris in 1929.

  • Hirschon, Renée, ed. Crossing the Aegean: An Appraisal of the 1923 Compulsory Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey. New York: Berghahn Books, 2003.

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    The proceedings of an international conference on the Greek-Turkish population exchange held at Oxford in 1998. Several articles (chapters 3 and 8) analyze the contents of the convention from the perspective of international law. Barutciski’s contribution (chapter 3) provides a long-term assessment of the Greek-Turkish case in juxtaposition with the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s.

  • Ladas, Stephen Pericles. The Exchange of Minorities: Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. New York: Macmillan, 1932.

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    Completed between 1929 and 1932 this voluminous treatment of the Greek-Bulgarian and Greek-Turkish population exchanges by a Greek American remains the principal reference on the legal aspects of these arrangements. As a specialist in international law, he offers a close reading of legal texts and interprets the workings of local and international institutions involved with the various phases of the exchanges. His view of population exchange, though somewhat critical, is favorable.

  • Özsu, Umut. Formalizing Displacement: International Law and Population Transfers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

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    The only contemporary book on the Greek-Turkish population exchange from the perspective of international law. The author combines international law with historical sociology and economic history in its critical assessment of the event. He conceptualizes the Greek-Turkish exchange of minorities as a legally formalized method of nation-building in the twentieth century. This is the revised version of a PhD dissertation completed at the University of Toronto.

  • Pekin, Müfide, ed. Yeniden Kurulan Yaşamlar: 1923 Türk-Yunan Zorunlu Nüfus Mübadelesi. Istanbul: İstanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayınları, 2005.

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    The proceedings of the second largest international conference on the Greek-Turkish population exchange held in Istanbul in 2003. Includes several chapters on the legal aspects of the exchange convention especially regarding the property matters and the status of the minorities in Istanbul and Western Thrace. Part 3 contains several articles addressing the issues of cultural heritage conservation from the perspectives of domestic and international law.

  • Pentzopoulos, Dimitri. The Balkan Exchange of Minorities and Its Impact upon Greece. Paris: Mouton & Co/École pratique des hautes études, 1962.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783112415863Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Uses numerous primary and secondary sources to explore the subject with special reference to Greek state and Greek refugees. Chapter 2 has an appraisal of the exchange convention from a legal perspective. Chapter 3 explores the international aspect of the refugee settlement including the activities of Refugee Settlement Commission and refugee loans. Includes an extra essay on unresolved issues of the exchange. First produced in 1962 as a Princeton PhD dissertation in political science.

  • Séfériadès, Stelio. L’Échange des populations. Paris: Librairie Hachette, 1929.

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    One of the first comprehensive treatments of the exchange convention from the standpoint of international law. Starts with a brief discussion of the development of human rights and a survey of historical background and political developments after the Balkan Wars (1912–1913). Chapter 4 examines the convention. The author was a professor of international law at the University of Athens and worked closely with the Greek diplomatic circles during the Lausanne Conference.

  • Streit, Georgios S. Der Lausanner Vertrag und der griechisch-türkische Bevölkerungsaustausch. Berlin: Verlag von Georg Stilke, 1929.

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    The text of a lecture given at the Institute of International Law at the University of Kiel on 13 February 1928. It provides a historical and a legal analysis of the exchange. The author served the Greek state in various capacities during his career including as the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Venizelos government in 1913. He was a judge of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague from 1929.

  • Τσιτσελίκης, Κωνσταντίνος, ed. Η ελληνοτουρκική ανταλλαγή πληθυσμών: Πτυχές μιας εθνικής σύγκρουσης. Athens, Greece: Kritiki, 2006.

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    The expanded edition of the 2003 Istanbul conference volume cited above. Includes an article (by Triadafilopoulos and Vogel) that compares and contrasts the Greek-Turkish exchange with contemporary cases of population transfers on theoretical grounds of partition and conflict resolution. The volume contains maps, tables, and an extensive bibliography on the Greek-Turkish population exchange in addition to the text of the convention.

  • Yıldırım, Onur. Diplomacy and Displacement: Reconsidering the Turco-Greek Exchange of Populations. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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    Examines the making and implementation of the Greek-Turkish exchange convention. It explores the conditions of the refugees and the workings of domestic and international institutions involved in the settlement and indemnification of the refugees. It highlights the discrepancies between the clauses of the convention and the practical realities. The role of the international legal mechanisms amply documented and discussed. First submitted as a PhD dissertation to Princeton University in 2002.

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