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Photo by Monique Ligtenberg

What lies behind the story of a table that the President of the Swiss Confederation gifted his Turkish counterpart?

Written by Nistiman Erdede; read by Michèle Breu & Patrick Balaraj Yogarajan

Tables are designed for everyday use. When they are no longer needed, they often end up in a thrift shop, or if they are of historical importance, in a museum. And so, many tables have found their way to the Swiss National Museum, except for one that should have, which because it would have deserved it. In a way, it forms a gap in the museum’s inventory. Because said table was part of a momentous political event on July 24th, 1923. 

In 1923, the table stood in Lausanne. On it, a treaty was signed that sealed the birth of modern Turkey and secured its international recognition. As a result, numerous minorities of the Ottoman Empire – namely the Armenian, Kurdish, and Greek minorities – lost the rights they had been granted three years earlier in the Treaty of Sèvres: the foundation of an independent Armenia and an autonomous Kurdistan. The Treaty of Lausanne legitimized Atatürk’s regime and dealt a death blow to the project of an autonomous Kurdish region. It sealed the end of an independent Armenia after more than half of its population had already fallen victim to genocide. 

When Pascal Couchepin, the President of the Swiss Confederation, visited Turkey in 2008, he gifted the table to his Turkish counterpart as a gesture of goodwill. However, the table does not only commemorate the common history of Switzerland and Turkey, but also the Treaty of Lausanne and the suffering that it caused for countless people in Turkey at the time. To this day, pro-Kurdish activists take to the streets of Lausanne every year on July 24th to demonstrate against the treaty’s signing. 

Was the President of the Swiss Confederation aware of the symbolic significance such a gift could have for the minorities who were victims of massacres and deprived of their rights? In a post-colonial Switzerland, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to exhibit such a table in the Swiss National Museum, in order to point out the Swiss entanglements in the local border demarcations of today’s Turkey and to critically question them? In any case, for numerous refugees from this region who have been living in Switzerland for many years it would be a symbol of recognition of their history. 

Nistiman Erdede (*1979, Northern Kurdistan/TR) is a decolonial artist, curator, freelance radio journalist, and copywriter, based in Zurich. His work focuses on themes of exile and collective culture of remembrance.