Displaced, in Place, and in Transit
Full title: “Displaced, in Place and in Transit: Refugee Population in Greece and the Formation of Planning Protocols and Domestic Machines.” Book chapter in: Transient Spaces: Building Shelter in Crisis Contexts. New York: The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, The City College of New York. Platon Issaias and Theodossis Issaias.
Violating the provisions of the Versailles (1919) and Sèvres (1920) Treaties that gave regional autonomy and partitioned the collapsing Ottoman Empire expanding European colonial rule towards the east Mediterranean, the Greek Army invaded Ottoman cities of the east Aegean coast and East Thrace, declaring them de facto parts of Greek sovereignty. Greek military forces under the leadership of disillusioned nationalist politicians fuelled by racist ideologies campaigned further to the east, before being forcefully attacked and overwhelmingly defeated by the organized militia of the Turkish National Front. The Greek-Turkish War lasted until October 1922 with massive military and civilian casualties, resulting in about 2 million displaced individuals from both sides. In the few months between September 1922 and January 1923, mainland Greece received 1,2 million refugees, mostly Greek speaking, orthodox Christian subjects of the collapsing Ottoman Empire. The Lausanne Treaty (Jan 1923) signed between the two countries suspended the right to return for all displaced and de-naturalised individuals, declaring them re-naturalized citizens of their – unknown and unfamiliar – “motherlands”. This is how the history of modern town planning in Greece begins: as a response to the unprecedented humanitarian crisis provoked in cities, towns, and rural areas with the arrival of the refugee population. The planning of settlements, the building of domestic units, the re-distribution of agricultural land abandoned by its original Greek-speaking Muslim owners, necessitated the organization of complex bureaucratic procedures, all administered by the Refugee Settlement Committee, a humanitarian agency initiated and supervised by the League of Nations. An uprooted population, registered, classified, divided according to profession and class organized and domesticated in place, through a system of property liquidation and exchange of re-territorialised lost capital and estimated property values.
The essay has the ambition to critically compare the 1920s experience and struggles with the current refugee crisis and its effects in Greece, its cities and its in place, in transit and displaced population. The deployment of contemporary machines of international humanitarian aid – mainly detention and processing centres, or so-called hospitality centres, i.e. militarized camps – coexists with activist interventions: squatting of abandoned properties, open facilities, and a network of solidarity and care. How do contemporary conflicts intervene within various asymmetries and power relations? What kind of architecture, knowledge and practice of city design could emerge from this new reality? How to confront state or international bureaucracy and violence through alternative spatial platforms?