Onur Yildirim

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2017/2018
discipline History
Professor of Social and Economic History, Department of Economics, Middle East Technical University, Ankara

Research project

The Sources of the Global Refugee Regime: Neuilly, Lausanne and Potsdam in Historical Perspective


I have long been interested in the population transfers during the interwar period with a particular focus on the voluntary and mandatory exchanges of populations that took place in the aftermath of WWI in the post-Ottoman space in southeastern Europe. The Treaty of Neuilly which led to the voluntary exchange of populations between Greece and Bulgaria in 1919 and then the Treaty of Lausanne that caused the forceful exchange of some 2 million people between Greece and Turkey in 1923 formally authorized the nation-states to shuffle populations at their convenience with a view to attaining ethno-religious homogeneity.


These two presumably "successful" examples became part of intellectual and political rhetoric during the interwar period. The small states of Eastern Europe (e. g. Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary etc.) and the Nazi Germany provided fertile ground for these discussions to take place at various levels. Almost all these states were involved in the population transfer of one kind or another before and during WWII. After the War, the Treaty of Potsdam brought about yet another massive wave of displacement across Central and Eastern Europe. Potsdam became the third leg of the tripod that constituted the template of population transfers in Europe. The notions of ‘population transfer’ and ‘refugee’ that came out of these three instances of displacement played a significant role in the formation of a refugee regime in Europe which was sanctioned at the Refugee Convention of 1951.


To this very date, these notions have continued to inform the public opinion on population displacements and refugees across the globe. The recent crisis associated with the Syrian refugees has shown that there is an urgent need to revisit the sources of our current conceptions of population transfer and refugee. The absence of coordination and cooperation between the countries, coupled with the inconsistencies in the implementation of the existing rules and regulations at national and international levels, demonstrated the flaws of the global refugee regime.


My proposed project aims to explore these three diplomatic agreements with a view to tracing the elements of continuity and discontinuity in their core principles and then showing how each of these documents had their unique contributions to the formation and reformation of the notions of "population transfer" and "refugee" not only at home but also beyond their national borders of implementation. I argue that the prevalent refugee regime which was constructed on the basis of these three incidents of massive displacement needs to be reconsidered and revised as the present phase of globalization presents new dynamics that generate refugees.






Onur Yildirim is Professor of Social and Economic History at the Department of Economics at Middle East Technical University in Ankara. He holds a Ph.D in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University and MA in History from State University of New York at Binghamton. His main research interests focus on the social and economic history of the Middle East and the Balkans, forced migration and refugees, global economic history, and comparative history.




Selected publications


'In a State of Déjà Vu: Turkey Facing the Refugee Problem', in S. Goebel et al. (eds), Flucht Migration und gesellschaftliche Transformations prozesse, Transdisziplinäre Perspektiven, Springer, Berlin, 2018, pp. 43-60. [Forthcoming]


Diplomasi ve Göç: Türk-Yunan Mübadelesinin Öteki Yüzü, İstanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayınevi, Istanbul, 2006; 2nd edition, 2016.


'Donald, Me and the Uncommon People', in S. Karahasanoğlu & D.C. Demir (eds), History from Below: A Tribute in Memory of Donald Quataert, Istanbul Bilgi University Press, Istanbul, 2016, 109-120.

'Gedik: What’s in a Name', with S. Ağır, in S. Faroqhi (ed.), Bread from the Lion’s Mouth: Artisans Struggling for a Livelihood in Ottoman Cities, Berghahn Books, New York/Oxford, 2015, pp. 217-236.

'Procurement of Naval Supplies during the Sixteenth Century: Venetian Arsenale and the Ottoman Tersane Compared', with E. Özveren, in M. D’Angelo, G. Harlaftis & C. Vassallo (eds), Making Waves in the Mediterranean sulle onde del Mediterraneo, Proceedings of the 2nd MMHN Conference Messina-Taormina, 4-7 May 2006, Instituto di Studi Storici, Gaetano Salvemini, Messina, 2010, pp. 193-206.





senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS)
discipline Cultural Studies
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS)
discipline Literature
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS)
discipline Literature
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS)
discipline Law