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Turkey ghost townMy business (DifferenceWORKS) and my book (Difference Works) are about the value of difference. I just returned from nearly three weeks in Turkey. I saw a living lesson that things work better when there is diversity. I am no historian so forgive me if details are imperfect. The point is not dependent on historical accuracy!

Turkey was formed as a nation in 1923. Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) made incredibly bold decisions to coalesce a country and establish its values, culture and identity. But he did one thing that caused great hardship and long term damage.

After the messy end of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Greece and Turkey battled over possession of land. This war (1919-22) left great bitterness between the Turks and the Greeks. Atatürk and the other powers issued an order that put in motion a “population exchange.” Everyone, whether living in Greece or the new Turkey, who was Muslim was deemed to be “Turkish”; if they lived in Greece, they would be moved to Turkey. Anyone living in either country who was Christian was deemed to be “Greek” – even if they spoke and wrote no Greek. Many had lived in Turkey, speaking its language and following its customs, for decades. Christians were forced to move to Greece (many dying in the process).

Turkish towns and villages were left without the diverse populations that had lived peacefully with one another for years. I visited a true ghost town, the once bustling village of Kayakoy. The town inspired a moving novel, Birds Without Wings by Louis De Bernieres. It chronicles the formation of Turkey, the population exchange and its impact on this town (and others like it). With the Christians gone, the Muslims found that many skills and values were now missing. The town declined and eventually died. Here are the reflections of a young man who had seen friends lose friends and even fiancés in the exchange:

I was telling my son about this poignant visit and the historical context. I summed up my point by saying, without thinking:  “Difference works!” In this case a decision was made that removed difference. And it did not work!